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Local legislators recap 2014 session
by Everett Catts
April 07, 2014 09:19 AM | 2426 views | 0 0 comments | 22 22 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Edward Lindsey
Edward Lindsey
slideshow
Wendell Willard
Wendell Willard
slideshow
Joe Wilkinson
Joe Wilkinson
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Hunter Hill
Hunter Hill
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(UPDATED MONDAY AT 9:17 A.M. WITH CORRECTED INFO ON STATE REP. JOE WILKINSON CO-SPONSORING HOUSE BILL 885)

With the 2014 Georgia General Assembly ending March 20, local legislators last week talked about the bills they co-sponsored, which had mixed results.

District 54 State Rep. Edward Lindsey, R-Atlanta, who represents Buckhead, said there were four bills he was pleased with.

He was happy to see the passage of House Bill 943, the Cancer Treatment Fairness Act, part of which came from HB 707, which Lindsey co-sponsored. The act requires a health insurance policy to provide coverage for intravenously administered or injected chemotherapy for cancer treatment on the same level as orally administered chemotherapy.

“I worked with fellow bill co-sponsors and other parties to salvage as much as possible of the bill,” Lindsey said. “My amendment bans the state from using state funds or personnel from implementing or promoting the un-Affordable Care Act. Along with HB 990, which I also co-sponsored, the bill that requires state legislative approval before expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare, the Georgia General Assembly has marked out a clear and unambiguous state public policy in opposition to this disastrous federal policy.”

He was also pleased to see HB 794, the Compact for a Balanced Budget, approved. It calls for a constitutional amendment to amend the federal Constitution to require a balanced federal amendment.

“A federal balanced budget amendment has been debated in Congress since 1982 when the federal debt was $1 trillion,” Lindsey said. “The debt now exceeds $17 trillion. It’s time to force Congress’ hand and stop the out-of-control federal spending madness.”

He also was happy to see HB 973, the Anti-Medicaid Fraud Update Act, get passed. It provides stiffer penalties against those who fraudulently or falsely file Medicaid claims.

“This successful program enables the attorney general and private whistle blowers to go after individuals and entities who defraud the state Medicaid program,” Lindsey said. “In the last three years alone the program has recovered over $60 million in taxpayer revenue that had been defrauded from the state.”

Finally, Lindsey was proud of the passage of HB 804, the Child Witness Protection Act. It allows children under 18 and either the victims of or witnesses to physical or sexual abuse to testify remotely in a criminal trial against the suspect accused of the crime.

District 51 State Rep. Wendell Willard, R-Sandy Springs, who represents part of that city, said he was disappointed HB 819, which would have eliminated the Fulton County tax commissioner’s extra fees, was not approved. The bill was passed in the House March 3 but tabled by the Senate.

“I was perplexed as to why the Senate did not pass it,” Willard said. “It was there for several days and was on the table, but was never called to a vote. But what bothers me is we’ve got Republican senators protecting this Democratic office holder. “

Fulton Tax Commissioner Arthur Ferdinand is one of the few tax commissioners in the state who collects a 50-cent fee on each property tax paid, and Fulton is Georgia’s largest county. Ferdinand also receives $1 for parcels in the cities of Atlanta, Johns Creek and Sandy Springs, which contract with the county to collect property taxes, boosting his salary and bonuses to a total of more than $270,000.

Willard was also disappointed HB 1, which would have unified the state’s forfeiture laws regarding funds and property seized from criminals by municipalities’ law enforcement agencies and district attorneys, was not approved. Originally filed in 2013, the bill for the second straight year never made it to the House floor for a vote.

“I want the court to have a greater insight and give people a chance to challenge a conversion of property by the government,” Willard said, adding it requires law enforcement officials and district attorneys to be more accountable for the seized funds/property. “The state’s sheriffs were against it and it did not come up this year.”

He also said he continued to overhaul changes in Georgia’s juvenile justice code, which were approved last year.

District 52 State Rep. Joe Wilkinson, R-Sandy Springs, who also represents part of Buckhead, said he was pleased to see the passage of HB 310. The bill will allow all Georgia municipal elections to take place at the same time as the federal ones, which were moved up to allow military personnel and others living overseas to file absentee ballots in time for runoff elections, to comply with a July ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Steve Jones of North Georgia.

“The bottom line was we need to comply with the federal judge’s ruling,” Wilkinson said.

He said he was also pleased to see HB 1080, which will bring a statue of Martin Luther King Jr. to the Capitol grounds. Wilkinson said he is working with the Georgia Building Authority and the Capital Arts Standards Commission on “finding a prominent and appropriate location for it.”

“I believe we need to have a thorough review of the monuments currently on the capital grounds to find out if there are better locations for them,” he said, adding private funds will pay for the King statue

But Wilkinson was disappointed to see HB 885, the medical marijuana bill, not get approved. The bill, which would allow sick patients to take a marijuana derivative legally to ease their symptoms, was approved by the House March 3 but failed in the Senate when attached to a separate bill that included an insurance component. Wilkinson co-sponsored the bill and his office suitemate, District 141 State Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, was the main co-sponsor.

“Our office became really the central headquarters for these families,” Wilkinson said. “I cannot tell you the number of the families I have met and seen firsthand these children who have [up to] 300 seizures a day. All of them touch me. But it was gut-wrenching to know there is a product out there that has been proven to bring relief and to have that bill fail on the last day was devastating. However, Rep. Peake and all of us are determined to do what it takes to see it pass next year.”

Wilkinson also said he was pleased to complete his 14th year of perfect attendance at all regular or special House sessions.

District 6 State Sen. Hunter Hill, R-Smyrna, who represents Vinings and parts of Buckhead and Sandy Springs, said he was pleased to see the approval of SB 320, which calls for the creation of a Veterans Court division. Hill, a veteran who served two tours Afghanistan one in Iraq, and District 15 State Sen. Ed Harbison, D-Columbus, a Vietnam veteran, co-sponsored the bill.

“It’s just the same concept as the drug court so the judges and the legal apparatus will understand what veterans have gone through,” Hill said. “I think it will be good for some of our veterans that have had traumatic experiences and they come home and do something irresponsible. It won’t give them a free ride but it will give them the ability to get preferred help and not just language in the legal system where they did something wrong when they got home.”

Hill said he was disappointed two other bills were not passed. Senate Resolution 8, which would have reformed the state’s tax code, including eliminating income taxes, did not advance to a Senate vote. SB 255, calling for the Partnership for Public Facilities and Infrastructure Act to create more public/private collaborations, was approved by the Senate in February but never voted on by the House.

“I’m going to continue to work on [those bills] this summer,” Hill said. “I have a plan for getting them passed in 2015.”
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