January 24, 2017 10:48 AM
Yesterday, Governor Nathan Deal, Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle, and House Speaker David Ralston all spoke to municipal elected officials and city staff at the Georgia Municipal Association’s annual Mayor’s Day breakfast in downtown Atlanta.
Governor Nathan Deal
Last May, Governor Deal vetoed HB 216, which would have granted workers’ compensation to firefighters diagnosed with cancer. Cities and counties in Georgia feel that requiring this retroactive coverage amounts to a budget-crippling unfunded mandate – and the Governor indicated that agrees.
At the time of the veto, Deal stated, “I am concerned that codifying an exception for one occupation at this relatively low standard of proof with no time limitation on diagnosis or restriction on eligible types of cancer is a broad solution for a problem not yet abundantly demonstrated in Georgia.”
Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle
The Lieutenant Governor expressed his understandable delight with the deepening of the Port of Savannah, and segued immediately to his enthusiasm for a swift repeal – and replacement – of the Affordable Care Act. He emphasized that Georgia must be prepared for the repeal-and-replace process, and that ensuring access to healthcare in rural areas is a priority.
Cagle then related his experience last year when he dabbled in the “online ordering of products.” He clarified that while he tries to buy local whenever possible, sometimes it’s necessary to buy things online. He was amazed at the ease of online shopping, from that first click to the email he received informing him that his package was en route, complete with a tracking link that told him exactly when he could expect that package to land on his front porch. All of which is to say, he concluded, is that government should be able to deliver service with that same level of efficiency and transparency.
House Speaker David Ralston
Speaker Ralston began by thanking Mayor Kasim Reed for his being a great friend and partner over the years. He continued by saying that public service is by no means a part-time job, a fact that he’s reminded of every time he tries to buy a loaf of bread at the supermarket in Blue Ridge.
Ralston believes that good jobs make the American dream a reality, and he wants to ensure that Georgia remains a state where businesses can grow and expand. He stated that one of the business assets critical to continued growth is transit, and told the attendees that the House will propose a commission on transit governance and funding, as Georgia has an exciting future to plan for – and transit infrastructure is a critical part of those plans.
He continued by reminding those in attendance that Georgia’s economic borders extend beyond Interstate 285 (N.B.: as should metro Atlanta’s transit priorities), and to this end, the House will also have a commission to focus on rural business development. “Our work is a team effort,” he said to the many rural Georgia leaders in the room.
Like Deal, Ralston then turned his attention to Georgia’s firefighters. “As science advances,” he continued, “we understand how illnesses like cancers begin, and how smoke and fumes” from fires takes a toll on the health of firefighters.
“We also know,” he added, “that workers’ comp isn’t equipped to deal with this relationship.” Ralston told the attendees about how he learned of this issue from a firefighter in his community who scheduled his chemotherapy appointments around his shifts with the fire department, and emphasized that, for him, the workers’ compensation issue is “personal.” Ralston was clear that “We can’t remain best state for business and not support our firefighters. We have to find a reasonable solution because this is right thing to for firefighters and their families.”
Workers’ compensation coverage for firefighters diagnosed with cancer is clearly an issue to watch this session. Georgia is one of a handful of states that classifies cancer as “an ordinary disease of life” that doesn’t automatically merit workers’ compensation benefits for firefighters. Georgia’s firefighters have no intention of relenting on their cause; compromise between firefighters and the cities and counties in Georgia that employ them to protect the public is critical, and is undoubtedly a priority of all involved groups.
TL;DR: Expect to see a lot of firefighters at the Capitol this session.