Speaker proposes car fee to fund trauma care

ATLANTA - Georgia motorists would pay an annual car registration fee to fund a statewide trauma care network under legislation unveiled by House Speaker Glenn Richardson on Thursday.

A $10 fee per vehicle would raise about $85 million a year, most of what it would take to provide trauma care to Georgians injured anywhere in the state, Richardson, R-Hiram, told reporters during a briefing at his Capitol office.

The rest of the money - about $8 million to $10 million - would come from increased fines levied against "super-speeders" caught driving well above the speed limit, he said.

"Most trauma care originates from a motor vehicle collision," he said. "We've been looking for a (funding) source that made sense. This makes the most sense."

A legislative study committee that met during the summer and fall of last year found some major gaps in trauma care coverage throughout Georgia. Of particular concern was the lack of a Level 1 trauma center along heavily traveled Interstate 75 south of Macon.

During this year's General Assembly session, lawmakers passed a bill creating a commission to oversee the planned network of trauma care centers. However, the legislature didn't find a way to pay for the project.

At one point during those discussions, Richardson suggested imposing a 911 surcharge on phone bills.

But on Thursday, Kevin Bloye, spokesman for the Georgia Hospital Association, said a car registration fee would be a good choice because it would be broad-based.

"Every Georgian would participate in it," he said. "It wouldn't hit any one group particularly hard."

As the only Level 1 trauma center in the Atlanta region, Grady Memorial Hospital would stand to receive a significant share of the network's funding.

Sen. David Adelman, D-Decatur, said the money would help the financially struggling hospital's bottom line.

But Adelman, whose Senate Public Affairs Committee has held hearings on Grady's plight, said it wouldn't be a panacea for what ails Georgia's largest public hospital.

"Grady is the premier trauma care hospital in the state," he said. "But the financial problems at Grady aren't solved by creating a statewide trauma care network."

Richardson said he has met with Gov. Sonny Perdue on the proposal and received his support.

A bill socking super-speeders with hefty fines was part of the governor's legislative agenda this year but didn't make it through the General Assembly.