Repeal of Georgia?s Subsequent Injury Trust Fund Gains Momentum

Supporters of a plan to reform Georgia?s workers? compensation system by eliminating the Subsequent Injury Trust Fund  (the Fund) received a boost this week.  Many legislators on both sides of the political aisle have expressed a desire to co-sign and support a bill to do away with the Fund.

Established in 1977, the Fund, which has never worked as intended,  was designed to assist workers with a previous injury in finding new employment, has never worked as intended.  Even so, the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits discrimination in hiring practices, has superceded the Fund.   Those who are left advocating for the Fund?s continuation are companies that annually withdraw more than they contribute to the Fund.   Their self-serving arguments are likely to be attacked by legislators who are skeptical of an unnecessary state bureaucracy that subsidizes big business at the expense of small business in Georgia.  
Reece & Associates Insights?Weekly Observations from Behind the Scenes

Many Conservative Republicans in Georgia Are Angry with Bush

In the back halls of the Georgia Capitol this legislative session, conservative Republicans are expressing their discontent with President Bush.  While his aggressive tax cuts were met with praise from this group of lawmakers, they feel betrayed by the Administration?s spending increases and record deficits.  

Another flash button issue that has galvanized conservative discontent with the Administration has been its initiative to court Hispanic voters with a guest worker program.  Here in Georgia, most conservatives oppose the plan to grant status to millions of illegal immigrants.  Passions on this issue have been inflamed surrounding the debate of Senate Bill 181 that would authorize illegal immigrants from western-hemispheric countries to obtain drivers licenses and car insurance in Georgia.  Senator Sam Zamarripa (D-Atlanta) introduced the measure to make Georgia roads safer and help lure the headquarters of the Free Trade of the Americas (FTAA), a hemispheric trade organization that is looking for a permanent home.  

Lawmakers Seek Votes with Wedge Issues

In 2002 the Republican Party used Georgia to test the effectiveness of promoting wedge issues to win elections. Wedge issues are intended to energize a politician?s base of support by playing to their constituents? fears on controversial issues and cause their opponents to say away from the polls. In 2004 Republicans are expected to take this strategy nationwide. Several political pundits are looking for the Democrats to also use this strategy in an effort to court women voters in 2004.  These strategists suggest that the Bush Administration?s vigorous prosecution of Martha Stewart will backfire on the Republicans who have held up Stewart?s prosecution as a crack down on corporate governance. However, former Enron executive Ken Lay and others continue to go free. Smart Democrats may use discrimination of women as a wedge issue in 2004.  

Here in Georgia politicians have not forgotten that 2004 is an election year.  In the past week we have seen several ?wedge? issues surface. Senate Majority Leader Bill Stephens (R-Canton) is taking the lead with this strategy by introducing Senate Resolution 595 to amend the state?s constitution to prohibit same sex marriages in Georgia.  However, the state?s constitution already only sanctions marriages between a man and a woman.  Most political insiders see right through the Senator?s strategy to garner support from the Republican conservative base by evoking their latent fears.  A similar strategy has been utilized by the Senate Republicans to counter Senate Bill 181 that would permit illegal immigrants to apply for divers licenses (see above).  It is likely that Republican State School Superintendent Kathy Cox release of a proposal to eliminate the word evolution from Georgia textbooks was intended to float the viability of using this a wedge in 2004.  Look to the Republicans to also float prayer in public schools as a wedge in the upcoming election.
Larry Walker Announces Retirement

Representative Larry Walker (D-Perry), a Former House Democratic Leader, announced his retirement on Thursday, February 4, 2004.  In 2003, Walker, with the backing of House Republicans and Governor Sonny Perdue, attempted an unsuccessful coup to succeed Tom Murphy as Speaker of the House of Representatives.  Since his defeat to Terry Coleman, Walker has been banished from the Democratic leadership.      
Cox?s proposal to Remove Evolution from Georgia Textbooks Flops

Georgia?s State School Superintendent Kathy Cox (not to be confused with Secretary of State Cathy Cox) announced a proposal late last week to eliminate the word ?evolution? from students? textbooks.  Criticism of the proposal, seen as a concession to religious conservatives in the state, was sharp and swift.  President Carter, who is widely respected for his religious convictions, weighed in heavily against the measure, saying it would embarrass the state.  The plug was pulled after the state?s Republican leadership, including Governor Sonny Perdue, criticized the plan.
The Fight Continues to Save HOPE

Lawmakers are enveloped in the bipartisan debate over how to cut costs from the popular lottery-funded scholarship program.  Currently, the program covers tuition, books and fees for above-average students at public colleges.  The two biggest money-saving proposals from the House and Senate Higher Education Committees to shave costs would are proving to be unpopular.  Chairman of the Senate Higher Education Committee Bill Hamrick’s (R-Carrollton) submission calls to end scholarship contributions for books and fees, saving around $125.5 million by 2005 if implemented this fall. Senator Hamrick and chairwoman of the House Higher Education Committee Louise McBee (D-Athens) propose settling on a new criterion for calculating high school grade point averages, which over a three year span would shave $105 million if established by 2007.  Some legislators who argue they should wait another year before making any deep cuts are criticizing both plans. Economists say if changes are not made, the lottery reserves will be depleted by the end of the decade.
Local Communities Apprehensive about Governor Perdue?s Health Care and Educations Cuts

In attempt to bring balance to Georgia?s budget, Governor Sonny Perdue has proposed to cut overall state spending by two and a half percent for the remainder of the fiscal year and doubling the cut for the 2005 fiscal year.  Both health care providers and education officials predict that the money the state saves will have to be made up local communities.  Policymakers stand by helplessly, unable to provide any help on the issue.  
Senate Gives Perdue a Passing Grade on Education Plans

The Georgia Senate passed a series of changes to former Governor Barnes? education reforms.  Governor Perdue is advocating for the measures to revamp school liability protocol to put the power back into the hands of the teachers.  The first of the bills passed provides that students with 10 unexcused absences within one semester have their driver?s license suspended.  The second bill passed places a hold on current class size rather than reducing it as per Barnes? proposal.  Cutting class sizes is expensive to administer and by not allowing for a cut, puts more flexibility in parentally active schools.  The final adjustment to Barnes? reforms reduced middle school core academic class time to four and a half hours rather than five, which allows more time for electives and physical education.
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