Legislature Returns to Session and Announces Tentative Schedule

The Georgia Legislature reconvened this week, completing its ninth day of the forty-day session.  Very little was passed in both chambers this week, as both the Republican controlled Senate and Democratically controlled House continue to size each other up.  

The legislature is expected to meet for the next two weeks on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.  Wednesday will be reserved for committee meetings.  
House to Study Development of Statewide Trauma Network

In preparation for the 2004 Session the House Democratic Caucus announced its legislative priorities.  The agenda entitled P.E.A.C.H. is short for prosperity, ethics, academic opportunity, children and healthcare.  Included among the Democrat?s healthcare action items is a commitment to advance the issue of a statewide trauma network.  The Democrats want to, ?establish a study committee to determine a method of providing state funds to assist local trauma care hospitals in paying for uninsured trauma care and develop a statewide trauma system.?  

This represents a small step forward for those who have passionately lobbied the legislature for years on this issue.  On January 8, 2004, Reece & Associates coordinated a meeting with over 250 leaders on this issue from around the state.  Over 60 legislators and state constitutional officers attended.
Reece & Associates Insights?Weekly Observations from Behind the Scenes

Georgia Democratic Party Will Endorse New Chairman

Bobby Kahn, former Chief of Staff under former Governor Roy Barnes, has been selected to serve as the interim chairman of the Georgia Democratic Party as Representative Calvin Smyre (D-Columbus) steps down.  Many Democratic Party insiders are fearful that Kahn?s negatives may outweigh the value of his acerbic personality.  On February 21st, Kahn must be endorsed before the 250-member state Democratic Committee.  Challenging Kahn for the position is Steve Leeds, best known for his role as chief fundraiser in Senator Max Cleland?s campaigns.  Leed?s faces an uphill battle as some high-ranking Democrats and other party officials have described him as self-serving and ineffective.   Kahn holds the support of Lieutenant Governor Mark Taylor, Speaker Terry Coleman and many other high-ranking Democrats.  

Ethics System Needs Fixing

This week the interim Chairman of the Democratic Party, Bobby Kahn, filed an ethics complaint against Governor Sonny Perdue with the State Ethics Commission.  Kahn is accusing Perdue and his aides of using taxpayer resources and property for his own political and personal use.   The Governor appears to have a real blind spot when it comes to ethics rules and regulations, speaking long and hard about ethical conduct but not practicing what he has preached.  This Fall, Perdue was caught ferrying family members in a state helicopter.  Two decades ago this type of behavior was not only permitted, but expected of our public servants.  However, under current rules it is no longer appropriate.  

Maybe what the State needs is a set of guidelines that accommodates certain uses of government resources for personal matters.  
A 1% Sales Tax Increase For Atlanta?

Senator Eric Johnson of Savannah, the Republican leader of the GOP controlled state Senate, has announced his support for legislation allowing Atlanta to raise its sales tax to 8%.  This 1% hike would be used to pay to fix the city?s ailing sewer system.   If approved by the legislature, city voters would have a chance to approve the measure.  Before it goes on a ballot, state lawmakers want assurances that that the sales tax increase will not be accompanied by substantial hikes in individuals? sewer and water rates as well.  

Many business groups, including the Atlanta Metro Chamber of Commerce and the Atlanta Convention and Visitor Bureau, are reluctantly supportive of the measure. Other business groups are opposing the sales tax, fearful that the tax would cause businesses to leave Atlanta.  Particularly leery of the tax?s ramifications are the automotive and hospitality industries.    
Congressman Nick Rahall Calls on Experts to Focus on Rural Road Safety

On March 29, 2004, highway safety practitioners and policy makers from around the country will join together to address the critical problem of rural road safety.  The roundtable discussion will be hosted by Congressman Nick Rahall (D-West Virginia) at the Nick J. Rahall Appalachian Transportation Institute at Marshall University.  Joining Congressman Rahall at the event will be U.S. Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta and Deputy National Highway Safety Administration Administrator Otis Cox.  

Sixty percent of the nation?s motor vehicle fatalities in 2000 occurred on rural roads.  Eighty-eight percent of those crashes were on roads other than interstate highways.  To date the highway safety community has not attacked this problem holistically.
Republicans Push for Miller Statue on Capitol Grounds

An effort is underway at the state capitol to erect a statue to honor Georgia Senator and former Governor Zell Miller.  Miller, a maverick Democrat, has endorsed and campaigned for George W. Bush.  At the moment, sentiments about Miller could not be any higher among Republicans and lower among Democrats.  Some people say that Miller is an odds on favorite for a cabinet position in a second Bush Administration.  However, should the Democrats win the presidency, Miller will be a persona-non-grata in both parties and his popularity will plummet.  This could create big problems for Miller.  Many former staff have remarked about his tremendous need to be liked on one hand and his difficult, condescending and caustic personality on the other.  
Tort Reform Stagnant in Senate

Two tort reform bills have been withdrawn and recommitted in the Senate.   Both remain buried in committee.  Senate Bill 432 was withdrawn from Health and Human Services Committee and committed to the Judiciary Committee in the Senate.  It proposes to place a compensation cap on medical malpractice suits at $250,000 and limit the liability for certain health care providers.  Senate Bill 434 was withdrawn from the Insurance Committee and committed to the Judiciary Committee in an effort to restrict the limit for specific recovery of damages arising from a tortuous injury. The cap would be determined based on a percentage of the amount recovered.
Are Special Lanes Coming to HOTlanta?

HOT (High Occupancy Toll) lanes could be the answer that Atlantans have been looking for to deal with its growing traffic problem.  A few Georgia state senators have introduced a resolution requesting that the Georgia Department of Transportation study the feasibility of implementing HOT lanes in the metropolitan Atlanta area and/or converting existing HOV (High Occupancy Vehicle) lanes to paying customers.  The Georgia DOT is expected to make a report of its findings and recommendations to the Senate Transportation Committee on or before December 1, 2004.  While this study has not even officially hit the desk of those involved, two distinct sides have apparently already formed: those who would gladly pay to bypass traffic and those who feel that they should not be taxed twice, first to build the lanes and then pay to drive in them.

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