Legislative Session Comes to Frenzied and Fractious Conclusion

Wednesday, April 7th will mark the 40th and final day of the 2004 Legislative session.  Most everyone involved in this year?s legislative process agrees that Wednesday will conclude the most contentious and divisive session in memory.  A combination of divisive issues, partisan politics and lack of leadership has made the session difficult for all.  Below is a rundown of the issues that have frustrated the lawmakers most.  

* Redistricting

While their constituents care very little about this issue, political survival is the most important issue facing lawmakers.  After the legislature failed to meet a March 1st deadline to draw new maps, a Federal Court submitted maps that would have altered the current boundaries.  The Court?s map also drew many legislators into the same district, pitting several legislative leaders and friends against one another.  In response to the legislature?s outcry, the Court responded by drawing new map that separates many incumbents, but leaves other running against one another in the Fall.  

* Constitutional Amendment Banning Gay Marriage  

After sailing through the Republican controlled Senate, a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage was carefully considered in the House.  On February 26th the measure, which needed to pass with a 2/3 majority in each house to get put on the November 2nd ballot, was initially defeated on the House floor.  However, immediately after its defeat, the amendment?s supporters moved to have it reconsidered.  A month of intense lobbying followed.  Finally, on March 31st, the amendment returned to the House floor and passed by a vote of 122-52.  The deciding votes were cast by members of the Black Caucus who had initially voted against the measure, but were persuaded by conservative pressures within their communities.

* Tort Reform

Hospital and doctor groups remain deadlocked in a battle with the trial attorneys over several tort reform issues.  While business groups have aligned with the doctors and hospitals, for the most part they remain on the sidelines while the two main protagonists battle one another.        

* Budget

It appears that the Republican controlled Senate and the Democratically controlled House will fail to agree on the FY 2005 budget before the end of the Session.  If no last minute agreement is reached, the Governor will call for a Special Session.  Unlike years past, these difficult financial times mean political differences over the State budget could not be solved by giving all sides a piece of the budget pie.  
Budget Remains Unresolved Between House and Senate

It looks increasingly likely that the General Assembly will not pass a FY 2005 budget before it adjourns on April 7, 2004, forcing the Governor to call a Special Session.   The largest unresolved issue pits the House against the Senate over the funding of two state programs.  The Republican controlled Senate is pushing for $376 million in funding for the state?s medicaid program, while the Democratic House is advocating that these funds be earmarked for the state?s public schools.  

While both sides profess to be looking after their constituents, especially those in need, some astute political insiders have recognized the underlying politics.  Politically, the issue comes down to a decision to help the state?s public school professionals and students versus a decision to help the state?s medicaid providers recoup money they are owed for providing care.  In the end, the political decision, especially in this election year, is to help one?s own voting base.  For the Democrats, that means helping middle class public school employees, while the Republicans favor helping affluent doctors and hospital administrators who are likely to be strong financial supporters of their campaigns.        
Hospitals Hijack and Torpedo Trauma Network Legislation
      
Early in the legislative session there was momentum created for the creation of a statewide trauma network.  This momentum was used by the hospitals to hijack the issue to press for funding of uninsured trauma care in the state.  While this is an important piece in the creation of an overall trauma network, it narrows the issue while not having an impact on our ability to save more lives in Georgia.  

A group of trauma hospitals worked with legislators to introduce H.R. 1420, a constitutional amendment, to the floor of the House.  If passed, the amendment would ask voters in November if they support action by the legislature to fund uninsured trauma care, without designating a specific method of funding.  When the resolution reached the House floor on March 17, 2004, an amendment was added to ask voters to fund this measure by adding a 1-cent tax to diesel fuel in the state.  While this amendment was overwhelmingly defeated, the resolution passed as originally worded and sent to the Senate, where it will likely die.

Those who understand the political complexities of establishing trauma networks have lambasted the hospitals for hijacking the issue for their narrow, greedy purposes, recognizing that it is going to take a coordinated coalition of all interested parties for Georgia to establish a trauma network.  
Pressure Rises as Tort Reform Conference Breaks Down

With one-day before the end of the Session, a Joint House and Senate Conference Committee on tort reform has apparently broken down as the Senate negotiators have pulled away from a compromise.  

Guiding the Senate in the process has been the interests of the doctors and the hospitals.   MAG Mutual, a medical malpractice insurance company established by the Georgia Medical Association has been leading the fight.  Some on the inside of this debate have picked up on MAG Mutual?s conflict of interest in the debate.  While it is a doctor-supported group, MAG Mutual has been seen lobbying more intensely for interests of the hospitals.   It will take weeks, if not months, to sort out the last minute negotiating that has taken place during the last days of the Session.  Expect that an inherent and unspoken conflict between the Medical Association of Georgia (MAG) and MAG Mutual to severely limit if not ultimately torpedo civil justice reform in 2004.  

   Reece & Associates Hosts General Counsels on Civil Justice Reform

On Thursday, March 25, 2004, Reece & Associates organized a dinner with corporate general counsels on behalf of Porsche Cars North America, AIG Agency Auto, Progressive Insurance, JM Family Enterprises and InterContinental Hotels Group to discuss civil justice reform with House Judiciary Chair Mary Margaret Oliver.  Oliver had asked for the meeting to get meaningful input on the issue from the Georgia business community.  

The dinner, at the home of Wayne Reece was attended by:

Representative Mary Margaret Oliver
Patricia Britton, Porsche Cars North America
Charles Morgan, BellSouth
Henry Walker, BellSouth
Mark McIntosh, BellSouth
Ray Fortin, Sun Trust
Kent Alexander, Emory University
Craig Edwards, Builders Insurance Group
Chris Greene, AIG Agency Auto
Wayne Reece, Reece & Associates
Joel Mercer, Georgia Pacific
Nimesh Patel, InterContinental Hotels Group
Steve Farrow, Dalton Attorney & Chair of the State Ethics Commission
Members Continue to Switch Parties

The Republicans have picked up one additional seat making up for a seat they lost earlier this year.  Representative Ann Purcell, elected as a Democrat from Rincon has switched to the GOP.  Purcell?s re-alliance cancels out the small Democratic advance gained when Representative Scott Dix (D-Lilburn) left the Republican Party a few months ago.  Purcell?s strategic switch aligns her with a district that has been redrawn to be primarily Republican. The House is now comprised of 107 Democrats, 72 Republicans and 1 Independent.  
H.B. 1579 Passes, Sunsets Subsequent Injury Trust Fund

Builders Insurance Group Leads the Effort

House Bill 1579 cleared its final hurdle in the General Assembly on April 1, 2004, passing the Senate by a vote of 42-2.  The bill now goes to the Governor?s desk for his expected signature.  The workers? compensation legislation sunsets the Subsequent Injury Trust Fund with a date of June 30, 2008, as the last date for an injury to occur that is eligible for reimbursement.  Included in the legislation is a mandate that the Fund complete an actuarial study by January 1, 2005.

It is expected that this actuarial study will help workers? compensation insurers better understand the unfunded liabilities contained within the Fund.  The likely result of the study will prove that the Fund?s cost far outweigh any benefits and will encourage the legislature to shorten the 2008 date in next year?s session.

The passage of the legislation was heralded by Builders Insurance Group and their small business clients.  They, like other small businesses throughout the state, were disproportionately harmed by the Fund.  Fighting the legislation were large employers who have been able to ?game? the system, using the Fund to their advantage and taking back more money then they paid in assessments.    

Several lawmakers were instrumental in the bill?s passage.  Representative Mary Margaret Oliver, who authored the legislation, and her chief co-sponsor Representative Charles Bannister, can be credited for moving the legislation along at every step, even when its detractors had seemingly derailed it.  Senators David Shafer, Don Balfour and Robert Lamutt provided unwavering support for the bill in the Senate.  Joining these legislators were 20 of their colleagues who signed on as co-sponsors.  This bi-partisan group of co-sponsors were also instrumental in the bill?s success.
Porsche Cars North America Teams Up With Congressman Nick Rahall to Focus on Rural Road Safety

Congressman Nick Rahall (D-WV) and U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta participated in a Rural Road Safety Roundtable organized by Reece & Associates on behalf of Porsche Cars North America, on March 29, 2004 in Huntington, West Virginia.  The meeting, chaired by Rahall, brought together experts from around the country to discuss the epidemic of traffic crashes, injuries and fatalities on rural roads.  Rahall?s concern for the issue began when he learned that over 60% of all traffic fatalities in the United States are on rural roads, while federal, state and local highway safety efforts rarely, if ever, focus specifically and holistically on the problems unique to rural areas.

Secretary Mineta also addressed the group, pledging his support for moving the issue forward.  With his leadership at the Department of Transportation and Congressman Rahall?s leadership in Congress, the group was hopeful of moving the issue forward to reduce the more than 42,000 traffic fatalities that occur each year in the United States.  

Several partners were critical in the meetings success, including the Nick J. Rahall Appalachian Transportation Institute at Marshall University as well as the meeting?s corporate sponsors.  Joining lead sponsor Porsche Cars North America to help fund the initiative were State Farm Insurance and Federal Express.  
Atlanta Business Community Welcomes Senate Candidates

As the 2004 election season heats up, several Senate candidates have come to Atlanta to fundraise for their campaigns.  Members of the Atlanta business community who understand and appreciate the importance of participating in the political process have warmly welcomed these elected officials.  Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Chris John (D-LA), Tom Carper (D-DE) and George Nethercutt (R-WA) are among the Senate candidates that have appreciated the warm Georgia hospitality.  
InterContinental Hotels Group Holds Designs of Hope Benefit for UNICEF in Chicago

InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) hosted an evening of culinary delights, auction action, and fashion flair to showcase the diversity and talent of Chicago’s community with an emphasis on style and fun last month.  The charity event (to benefit the U.S. Fund for UNICEF’s Midwest Region) was held to raise money to provide care and support to orphans and children made vulnerable by HIV/AIDS.  IHG is the initiator of the Designs of Hope event and has made UNICEF its major philanthropic benefactor.  While this was Chicago’s first event, Atlanta has held two similar events and another is currently being planned for Houston.  Vicki Gordon, Senior Vice President of Corporate Affairs for InterContinental Hotels Group, is the National Event Chair for Designs of Hope.  She is busy working on the details for the next event that will be held at the new InterContinental Hotel in Buckhead (scheduled to open this Fall) in January.  Atlantans should definitely be looking forward to this spectacular evening!
Upcoming Event: The Producers

Reece & Associates will host in excess of fifty people on April 14, 2004 at a performance of Mel Brooks? musical The Producers.  Georgia legislators and other dignitaries will join representatives from the hosting sponsors for dinner before the show at the Georgian Terrace hotel.  The host companies for the event include:

AIG Agency Auto
Builders Insurance Group
InterContinental Hotels Group
JM Family Enterprises, Inc.
Porsche Cars North America
Progressive Insurance
Southeast Toyota Distributors

www.reeceassociates.com
Email Wayne Reece