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Doug Holt: House tends to education, workers comp, border dispute issues

Doug Holt

Doug Holt

The House voted on 20 bills and resolutions during the fourth week of the session, as our overall pace began to pick up. The committee system is now up to full speed, working on the fiscal 2014 budget and many other bills. We have a lot of interesting matters to consider in the weeks ahead!

Several of the items we saw on the House floor are worthy of note. HB 115 tweaks the rules under which the state Board of Education can consider suspending local board of education members, if their system is at risk of losing accreditation. The primary change was extending the window for holding a hearing on possible suspension from 30 to 90 days. Another change was to protect local board members who had been elected subsequent to a system first being notified of the risk of losing accreditation. I supported the measure, and it passed 151-15.

HB 154 changes elements of how the Workers Compensation system operates. The bill would cap the length of time for medical payments on non-catastrophic injuries, and requires more timely and favorable processing of other expenses and possible lump-sum payments in a case. The bill also sets standards to require a good faith effort by an employee to try an alternative job offered to him or her. It passed unanimously.

HB 198 would give Georgia oversight on how an aspect of the health care exchange that the federal government will set up in this state will work. The federal law will allow individuals and firms to offer their services as "health insurance navigators" to citizens using an exchange to select a health care policy. Since there are no standards in the federal legislation on how such individuals should operate, it is possible for these navigators to offer advice leading to the purchase of policies from which they might receive a commission or other benefit, an obvious conflict of interest. HB 198 would put "navigators" under the oversight of Georgia's Insurance Commissioner, requiring that they be licensed and meet certain standards of training and conduct. Since the exchange is being imposed on Georgia as a federal mandate, I think the state has an obligation to protect citizens from problems it could cause wherever it is in our power to do so. I voted in support, and the bill passed 154-16.

HR 4 proposes an offer to settle Georgia's nearly 200-year-old border dispute with Tennessee. The dispute stems from the fact that the 1818 survey, which drew the current line, was clearly flawed. The survey drew a line roughly 1 mile south of the 35th parallel, which Congress specified as the boundary when Tennessee was admitted to the Union in 1796. The reason this error has our attention is that the 35th parallel boundary would give Georgia access to water from the Tennessee River, a channel whose regular flow could easily spare enough to solve our water supply needs for the foreseeable future. HR 4 offers to settle the issue by having Georgia accept the 1818 boundary line for all but the westernmost mile of the border between the two states. Georgia would retain that 1-mile slice with its direct access to the river. Conveniently, this small chunk of territory is all federal TVA land, and has no residents, thus no one would be forced to change their state of residence. The resolution empowers Gov. Deal to take up negotiations with Tennessee on the issue. I think this is a very reasonable offer and it is based on solid legal precedents. I voted "yes," and the resolution passed 171-2.

Tuesday brought Chase Berry of Covington to page. He saw the passage of the resolution seeking to settle our border issue with Tennessee. I appreciate his help! That same day, Mansfield Mayor Estona Middlebrooks came with Todd Hilton to work with me on power line legislation. On Wednesday, Newton Commission Chairman Keith Ellis was in Atlanta to discuss and coordinate on various issues with members of the county legislative delegation. On Thursday, Vic Edens of Oxford was at the Capitol to keep an eye on legislation affecting his industry and I enjoyed the chance to meet him.

State Rep. Doug Holt can be called at 404-656-0152. His email address is Doug@DougHolt.org.