Roads Cleared, News Coverage Still Encountering Snow Related Congestion
While last week’s winter weather is in the rear view mirror, the postmortem evaluation of the government’s response continues to receive considerable coverage. The General Assembly, however, has moved right back into business as usual.
Legislation, Study Committees, and Rumors to Watch
– Education –
Senate Bill 288 moved through senate without opposition. The bill from Sen. Charlie Bethel (R-Dalton) would prohibit public schools from participating in interscholastic athletic events officiated by outside organizations, such as The Georgia High School Association, unless those third party groups release annual financial reports.
In December we learned that the GA Dept. of Education will be launching a College and Career Pathways initiative, which will require students to select a career path that will shape their high school course work. Rep. Eddie Lumsden (R-Armuchee) introduced House Bill 766, the “Work Based Learning Act”, which would permit schools – in collaboration with the Department of Labor and the Technical College System of Georgia – to award secondary credit for approved off campus work to students 16 and over.
Sen. Mike Dugan’s (R-Carrollton) Senate Bill 283 passed the Senate and moved to the House this week. The bill would authorize schools to educate students regarding “traditional winter celebrations,” and officially permit the use of “traditional greetings” like “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Hanukkah.” It’s a distressing sign of the times that a bill like this is considered necessary.
– Child Welfare –
Sen. Tommie Williams (R- Lyons) is encouraging support of “Ava’s Law” (House Bill 309 & Senate Bill 191), which would require Georgia private insurance companies to cover treatment for autism. According to the CDC, autism spectrum disorders affect 1 in 88 children. Gov. Deal’s 2015 budget included proposed funding for such coverage in the State Employee Health Plan, though neither the Governor’s proposal nor this legislation would result in coverage under Medicaid or PeachCare.
A bill to privatize most of the state’s child welfare services was introduced this week by Senator Unterman (R-Buford). The legislation, Senate Bill 350, would require the Department of Family and Children Services (DFCS) to develop a plan by January of 2015 by which it would contract with a limited number of regional lead agencies to provide the vast majority of child welfare services that are now, at least in part, offered by the state. The program would be phased in over the course of two years.
While lead agencies would be allowed to provide up to 35 percent of the services needed within a region, the law would require that they contract with other local agencies to provide the majority of services.
Contracts between the state and lead agencies would be for five years with DFCS having the ability to extend the contract for an additional three years. While DFCS would no longer be a direct service provider, it would retain responsibility for providing oversight of the contracted agencies.
As an incentive to agencies to find suitable permanent placements for children in their care, the law would fund agencies with per-child payments for a maximum of six months. After six months agencies would be required to pick up the tab for children that remain in their care. Likewise, agencies would not be eligible for per child payments for any child returning to the agency within 12 months of a permanent placement.
The reform is modeled after similar efforts in Florida and more than a dozen other states over the last couple of decades and has been driven by Georgia’s continued failures to adequately serve the children in its care.
While privatization is supported by many state leaders, including the Governor and Lt. Governor, opponents to the change say that it is being done too quickly and without considering ways to reform the system without privatization.
Evidence from Florida and other states shows that privatization can have beneficial effects, including improved safety for the children in care and a reduction in the number of children in state custody.
Yesterday, the legislation was favorably voted out of the Healthcare Delivery Subcommittee of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. A stakeholder meeting was expected to be held today.
– Welfare Reform –
Representing an extension of a 2012 law requiring mandatory drug testing for Georgia welfare recipients, Rep. Greg Morris (R-Vidalia) has introduced House Bill 772 which would impose the same standard for receipt of Food Stamps. This will be an interesting piece of legislation to watch, as a Federal Court overturned similar legislation in Florida.
– Ethics and Government Reform –
Sen. Josh McKoon (R-Columbus), Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is part of a coalition proposing some interesting changes. Two have received attention in the past week: First is a request to require conference committee reports be filed by day’s end of the 39th day of legislative session. This seems a wise and rational move, as it would protect Georgians from having to pass a bill in order to find out what is in it. In addition, Senate Resolution 7 would allocate permanent funding that would provide for the separation of the Georgia ethics commission from the office of the Governor.
Our friends at the American Federation for Children are hosting a nonpartisan candidate training school in Atlanta on February 22nd. The training is free but requires registration to attend. For more information, please see this flyer for the event or email Brian Pleva to register.
Despite last week’s encounter with snow, Georgia is not the state you expect to be producing Winter Olympic medalists. However, as the Sochi Games kick off today, the Peach State is indeed represented by Douglasville native Elana Meyers, who will be seeking her second Olympic metal in Bobsledding.
After last week many Georgians likely have a new found respect for those able to control a vehicle on ice at high rates of speed. Check out Meyers’ team’s story of determination and perseverance here, and be sure to tune in to cheer her on as she represents our great State.
Thanks to Jamie Lord, our director of government affairs, and Jacob Stubbs, our legislative intern and John Jay Fellowship alumnus for their able contributions to this update.