Photo by Michael Buckelew
The fifth week of the legislative session continued at a steady pace, with 12 bills and resolutions reaching the floor of the House for a vote.
HB 785 would clarify state policy by basing licensure for physicians and dentists strictly on competence, education and merit. It would explicitly declare that a license cannot be predicated on signing a contract with any particular third party government payer. As such, the bill is intended to do two things. The first goal is to make the state more attractive to these professionals, because we have one of the lowest numbers of physicians and dentists per capita in the country. The second goal is to make it clear that Georgia will not allow any federally imposed health care arrangement to use control of licensure as a lever to force professionals into contracting with such a plan. The federal government has not taken that step so far, but the author feels that Georgia should make a statement. The bill saw some questions, but no real opposition. It passed, with my support, by 167 to 1.
HB 744 is an overhaul of existing law governing partition of property when an estate with no will must be divided. Current law is inadequate to the task, and can result in significant expenses to the heirs seeking their share of an estate. This bill is the result of a lengthy review project and offers a much more thorough and efficient approach that will allow conflicts to be resolved without as much being spent by the heirs. It passed unanimously.
HR 1325 deals with a problem created by federal law prohibiting the use of devices that jam cellphone traffic. There is a growing problem in state and local government prisons in which inmates are using cellphones smuggled into prison to continue orchestrating their criminal activities. During fiscal year 2011 8,500 phones were confiscated, resulting in the arrest of over 300 visitors and 60 staff members attempting to smuggle in phones. The only practical solution to the problem would be jamming cell traffic within the prisons, but this currently can't be done due to the federal statute. This resolution urges the U.S. Congress to update federal law to allow state and local governments to use jammers for this specific purpose. This legislation also passed unanimously.
Now I'll turn to a couple of new bills. HB 670 seeks to equip Georgia to actively evaluate and respond to federal encroachments on our rights as individuals and as a state under the U.S. Constitution. The bill would do this by creating a "Constitutional Guardian Advisory Council," whose members would be the senior elected and appointed officials of the state. As a group, they would be tasked with examining actions of federal officials, bodies and agencies that potentially intrude on Georgia's citizens and government. I've learned that the state of Utah has already enacted a similar bill, and that a number of other states have similar legislation pending.
HB 822 proposes a "Georgia Taxpayer Protection False Claims Act," intended to combat fraudulent efforts to get money, property, services or other benefits from the state or local governments. The bill would empower the state attorney general to investigate and prosecute under its provisions, and would create authority for private citizens to pursue actions as well. This is a very interesting idea, but one that also calls for caution. That need is well demonstrated by the fact that the lion's share of the bill is composed of restrictions on how its provisions can be used -- the author has clearly recognized the potential for abuse that the broad powers of the bill could create. It will need a thorough vetting before moving forward.
On Thursday, this year's Leadership Newton classes, both youth and adults came for their state government day under the guidance of Danny Stone. They met with the Newton legislative delegation, with Secretary of State Brian Kemp, then came in to the gallery to watch part of the session in the House and finished up with a photo with Gov. Deal, making quite a day of it!
State Rep. Doug Holt can be reached at 404-656-0152. His email address is Doug@DougHolt.org.