Blue Cross Blue Shield (Possibly) Offering Insurance on Exchanges in 2018

Recently, there was some speculation (read: outright panic) over whether or not 96 of our 159 counties would have insurance plans available on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) exchanges in 2018. Last week, Blue Cross Blue Shield submitted proposed rates for all areas of the state to the Office of Insurance and Fire Safety Commissioner, according to the Macon Telegraph:

The Georgia insurance department had asked insurers that want to offer exchange coverage to submit their proposed rates by May 16, while the federal deadline is June 21.

The proposed rates will be publicly available after June 21, the agency said.

Submitting rates is only the first step in the process, however, as Commissioner Ralph Hudgens has to sign off of them, and Blue Cross Blue Shield still can opt to withdraw at any time. This latter point is important, given the current state of PPACA and the plans to repeal it.

Blue Cross Blue Shield’s signaled commitment to the Georgia exchanges in 2018 comes at a time when the Trump Administration and House Republicans have filed a motion in federal court to hold a case for 90 days regarding the constitutionality of cost-sharing reductions in PPACA. The purpose of the cost-sharing payments is to reduce the out-of-pocket expenses of low income consumers, but Republicans in Congress have refused to fund the payments in the past, leading to the Obama Administration funding them without a specific allocation. House Republicans sued the Obama Administration in 2014 for illegally authorizing the payments, and a lower court agreed with them. Continue reading “Blue Cross Blue Shield (Possibly) Offering Insurance on Exchanges in 2018”

LaGrange Sued for Restricting Access to Utilities

A lawsuit representing the Georgia State Conference of the NAACP, the Troup County NAACP, Project South, and seven residents of LaGrange was filed in Atlanta Thursday, alleging that the city illegally restricts access to basic utilities with policies that unfairly target African-Americans and Latinos. The city of LaGrange, the sole provider of utilities in the area, disconnects utilities for consumers with outstanding court fines and refuses service to those who cannot provide a Social Security Number and a photo ID issued by the state or federal government. It is also a crime in LaGrange to open a utility account on behalf of someone without proper documentation.

LaGrange has been using the court fees policy as a stream of income because, unlike many other Georgia cities, it does not collect property tax. The problem: In a review of individuals affected by the policy in 2015, 90 percent were African-American, though African-Americans only make up 49 percent of the population. This violates both the Fair Housing Act of 1968 and Georgia state laws regarding discrimination, according to the lawsuit.

From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

“There are enough collateral consequences associated with a criminal conviction,” said Atteeyah Hollie, one of the lawyers in the case. “Being threatened with water or electricity disconnection shouldn’t be one of them.”

Georgia Power to Build Its “Largest Ever” Solar Farm in Warner Robins

With Plant Vogtle on the eastern side of the state receiving a barrage of bad news and bad press over the past few months, Georgia Power has been looking for something — anything —that could counter all of the negativity and reframe the debate abut clean energy in Georgia. With the announcement Tuesday of an 800 acre solar farm that will contain more than 500,000 solar panels, they may have found it.

The farm is projected to begin construction soon and should provide power for 35 years, beginning in 2019, the projected opening date It will be located close to Robins Air Force Base, and it will have the ability to serve the base directly in times of grid outages.

From WMAZ:

“It is about enhancing the military value of the economic engine of this community and of this state,” says Major General, Robert McMahon.

The 139-megawatt facility will be the largest single solar project ever to be constructed by Georgia Power.

A Runoff for You! And a Runoff for You! Everyone Gets a Runoff!

I was reading the Atlanta Journal-Constitution last Wednesday night when I came upon the realization that there will be two different runoff elections within the next two months. More accurately, I was reading Jim Galloway’s “Ahead of Georgia’s Sixth District contest, a May 16 test vote,” which alerted me to the fact this was happening. Having spent time working for the Representative from Alaska, I came to like the fact that there were no runoff elections in that state. I wrongly believed until this week that North Carolina didn’t have runoffs, either, because I didn’t see one in the two years I lived there as the requirement to trigger one is that no candidate reaches a 40 percent threshold in a general, primary, or special election. (They used to require candidates to reach a majority, but changed the law in 1989.)

Here, however, we have runoffs all. the. time. Why do we do this to ourselves?

Before I go any further with this, I want to emphatically say while an article about the current races for state senate district 32 and congressional district 6 prompted me to look into the cost and turnout of Georgia runoff elections, this post is not intended to be for or against any particular candidate in those two races, nor am I advocating changing the rules midstream. Rather, I hope to start a conversation about the reasoning behind why our elections process is the way it is and whether or not we should look at making changes for future elections. Continue reading “A Runoff for You! And a Runoff for You! Everyone Gets a Runoff!”

Georgia Ranks Fifth in the Country for Drinking Water Violations

I moved back to Georgia at the end of June 2016. Since that time, I have been through four — yes, really — water “crises” in Milledgeville in which it was unsafe to drink the water or shower in it. Last week, we had algae blooming in the water source, which isn’t harmful to drink, but tastes and smells bad. On Tuesday morning, after returning from a short trip out of town, my water turned shades of green (cold) and orange-ish brown (hot) before clearing up. I’ve yet to drink water from the tap at my house. Would you?

It could be nothing. It could be something. Either way, it looks gross, and I’d rather be safe than sorry. Therefore, I exclusively drink and cook with bottled water. (In case anyone’s wondering, the cats also exclusively drink bottled water. And yes, it crushes my soul a little to use that much plastic, but I buy gallons or larger and recycle the empty containers.) I get a little nervous every time I shower or wash a load of clothes that the water will turn either that green or orange-ish brown halfway in, but I’ve been lucky so far.

So, when WABE published a story that Georgia was fifth in the United States for drinking water violations, I wasn’t surprised. The National Resource Defense Council (NRDC), the group that published the study, asserts that most of the state’s violations happen in rural areas or small towns, but a little bit of research found problems in Atlanta within the last five years, so it seems community size is actually irrelevant. Continue reading “Georgia Ranks Fifth in the Country for Drinking Water Violations”

Yarbrough: Adoption Law Update Fiasco a Rancid Sausage; Cagle and Shafer Implicated in Disgusting Creation

Dick Yarbrough is the latest to weigh in on the debacle that killed Rep. Bert Reeves’ adoption law update on the last day of the 2017 session of the Georgia General Assembly. His words aren’t kind, nor should they be. I’ve seen us lose more good and necessary legislation (locally and federally) to purposefully-toxic amendments than I want to count, and here is yet another.

We’re all familiar with Senator William Ligon’s role in this process. In fact he rightfully bears the brunt of the blame for the sad end to the legislative session in which the update on Georgia’s adoption laws was sent back to committee for “further study” because a small group couldn’t have their RFRA amendment attached to it. Never mind that Governor Deal had already demanded a clean bill and seemed ready to veto any bill with the amendment attached.

But as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution‘s political team points out this morning, Yarbrough spreads the blame and includes details of that final night in the session that look mighty unflattering for one man seeking higher office in 2018 and another who is probably going to also run for a higher office. Here are the key sentences:

But as time dwindled down to the wee moments before adjournment, Senate President Pro Tempore David Shafer, who is making noises about running for lieutenant governor, threatened to have Rep. Reeves thrown off the Senate floor for trying to encourage senators to pass his bill. Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, who is obviously running for governor, seems to have taken a pass on the whole matter. As the session ended, the Senate “recommitted” the bill for more study, effectively killing two years of hard work by Rep. Reeves.

Continue reading “Yarbrough: Adoption Law Update Fiasco a Rancid Sausage; Cagle and Shafer Implicated in Disgusting Creation”

Georgia’s 2015 House Redistricting Headed to Court

In 2015, the Georgia General Assembly reworked seventeen House districts’ boundaries through H.B. 566. A lawsuit filed Monday alleges that the changes in Districts 105 and 111 violate the Voting Rights Act because lawmakers diluted black voting strength with the changes in order to protect incumbents. The suit asks a three-judge panel to review the changes and redraw the two districts.

According to the Chattanooga Times Free Press:

The lawsuit says the changes increased the percentage of white voters in Chandler’s district to about 53 percent in 2016 elections, compared to 48 percent. Black voters went from 32 percent to 30 percent. The suit says the changes increased the percentage of white voters in Strickland’s district to 58 percent in 2016 elections, compared to 56 percent. Black voters went from 33 percent to 31 percent.

Both Republicans were re-elected to their seats last year over black Democrats.

Continue reading “Georgia’s 2015 House Redistricting Headed to Court”

You Can’t Have a Hospital Because We Don’t Get to Build It

In the continuing saga that is the building of a hospital in Columbia County, The Augusta Chronicle reports today that the Georgia Court of Appeals has voted to send the case Doctors Hospital filed against the Georgia Department of Community Health back to Fulton County Superior Court. Doctors Hospital had asked for a judicial review of the GDCH’s decision to award Augusta University Medical Center a Certificate of Need (CON) through an exemption in 2014, and somehow, all the documentation for the review did not make its way to the Appeals Court. Specifically, Doctors Hospital had asked that some documents be added to the file, and they weren’t for whatever reason. Fulton County was supposed to send those documents within 10 days of the request back on November 8, 2016.

They missed the deadline by 154 days as of this morning.

Now, they have been ordered via ruling to submit the complete review to the Appeals Court, where it will be re-docketed for the next term. Yes, it’s a paperwork error, probably just an oversight from someone who earnestly made a mistake and had no ulterior motives, but Columbia County residents have been held hostage by this drama for almost four years already. Continue reading “You Can’t Have a Hospital Because We Don’t Get to Build It”

That Tuition Increase and Other Riveting University System of Georgia News

In case you were working on an end-of-semester project, sleeping off a hangover, or just disconnected from all things public college in this state, tuition is going to go up 2 percent for the 2017-2018 academic year. That should work out to between $27 and $98 per semester for full-time, in-state undergraduates, depending on the college or university.

Don’t worry, exactly zero dollars and zero cents will be added to my salary (or almost any other professor’s salary) from this increase!

The Chancellor and the Board of Regents have to say things like “we thank the General Assembly that we were graciously allowed to raise costs,” and probably it’s not smart for an untenured, assistant professor (who is a librarian, nonetheless) to point out reality, but as costs to educate increase, our funding has to come from somewhere, and it’s almost assuredly not going to come from state appropriations. Continue reading “That Tuition Increase and Other Riveting University System of Georgia News”

Georgia’s Tax Incentives for Film and Television Add $7.2 Billion to State’s Economy

In 2016, television and film added $7.2 billion to the Georgia economy during FY 2016, according to an article in AdWeek. The 245 in-state productions had a direct impact of $2.02 billion, largely around the Atlanta area. Explore Georgia has the full list of films and television filmed in state for those curious.

This is up almost 50 percent from FY 2013, when 142 productions filmed in state contributed $3.3 million to the economy.

In case you were wondering how the breakdown on a single movie might look, the Atlanta Business Chronicle has you covered with a breakdown from The Fast & Furious 8: The Fate of the Furious. ($3.29 million on hotel rooms alone!) Continue reading “Georgia’s Tax Incentives for Film and Television Add $7.2 Billion to State’s Economy”