October 30, 2017 10:00 AM
This week’s Courier Herald column:
We’re upon the season where people dress up in costumes in order to pretend to be characters they are not, often to frighten their neighbors and/or small children. Halloween is a perfect reminder that we need to look ahead to the next session of the Georgia General Assembly, which will begin in a couple of months.
This is a campaign year, with many statewide races lacking incumbents. This includes the top two positions of Governor and Lieutenant Governor. Quite a few folks seeking higher offices currently serve in the legislature, which means there likely will be more overt politics than usual hanging over the activities under the gold dome.
The expectations for an election year usually can be assumed to include a speedy session with few breaks. Officials serving in state elected office are prohibited from raising campaign funds with the legislature in session. Legislators will find they have six to eight weeks from the time the gavel rings sine die to the time the first primary votes are counted. That means you can expect the level of fundraising requests received during November and December to be more frequent and fervent than usual.
The desire to leave session by mid or late March may be greater on the State Senate side than from the Georgia House, where the Lieutenant Governor and the Senate President Pro Tem are both seeking higher office and face competitive primaries. While several House members are seeking higher office, the chamber’s leadership appears content to stay put and thus have less motivation to leave early to fundraise.
This sets the table for what legislation will be considered beyond those signature issues designed to have a bill – but not a law – in order to provide campaign fodder.
The first bill that will get significant attention is House Bill 159, which began as a routine update to Georgia’s adoption code sponsored by Marietta Republican Bert Reeves. The bill was designed to update and streamline Georgia’s adoption laws, with a goal to reduce the amount of time children spend in foster care.
The bill was amended in the Senate last year to include language that was viewed as discriminatory to LGBT families and stalled without resolution. Expect the House to send the original version of HB 159 back to the Senate. The Senate’s response is likely to signal whether we’re in for a short session, or one that may seem at times like it will never end.
There will be other issues of significance addressed. Rural healthcare’s challenges remain a problem, with the state forced to call audibles in an effort to continue to patch together a system without a clear expectation for long term stability from Washington.
The healthcare debate will not only be one of funding, but one of the most serious efforts to open and reform Georgia’s Certificate of Need laws is likely to occur this year. These are the local monopolies granted to hospital organizations in exchange for an agreement to provide a specific set of services. That list of services as well as what constitutes a “hospital” under CON law will be a major fight.
Other legislation impacting rural Georgia is possible as a result of the House’s Rural Development Council, which is a study committee on steroids. It’s chaired by the House Appropriations Committee Chairman Terry England and Ways and Means Chairman Jay Powell. Any committee that includes the Chairmen that write the budget and set the tax code should be taken seriously for recommended action.
There is an additional committee working to secure solutions for a statewide transit plan. This will likely include an eventual plan to extend some form of transit into the Atlanta suburbs, coupled with some form of dedicated and recurring state investment in the transit component of transportation.
Not all of the issues are ones that generate sensational headlines or are easily understood by most Georgians. One such issue is how the state may get involved in the local permitting process for wireless and broadband equipment. Wireless technology companies are trying to deploy 5G service while cable providers continue to struggle with rural and urban broadband deployments and upgrades.
The state has heard loud and clear how access to quality broadband and data transmission is essential to economic development and quality of life. Local governments’ disposition toward placing new equipment often ranges from indifferent to hostile, with confiscatory permitting fees often attached for revenue generation. This will be one of the more interesting “inside baseball” battles, as the cries of “local control” will be met with evidence of local ineffectiveness.