Getting Organized

While the first session of Georgia?s 148th General Assembly officially began on January 10th, the session?s real substantative work began this week, and the new reality under the gold dome became apparent.  Most, if not all, of the big changes made by the new Republican majority in the House and an expanded majority in the Senate, can be understood by geography.  

Around the capitol a legislator?s power is often reflected by the proximity of his/her office to the chamber.  Glenn Richardson has completed his move into the Speaker?s office (adjacent to the House chamber) and very graciously assigned former Speaker Terry Coleman to another Capitol office?the only Democratic House member with such an honor.  The rest of the House Democrats and most of the Senate Democrats are ?exiled? across the street to the Legislative Office Building.  

Speaker Richardson has explained that few bills will be passed this year and that all successful legislation must meet one or more of the following criteria if they are going to be considered for passage:

* Reduce the size of government
* Strengthen our traditional family structure
* Reduce the tax burden on our citizens
* Increase personal responsibity

The Republican leadership has also vowed to conclude the session in less than 40 days.  In addition, Reece & Associates learned that the pivotal crossover day, the last day a bill can originate in one chamber, will be moved up from the 33rd day.
Tort Reform

Efforts to pass comprehensive tort reform legislation are underway in the General Assembly.  On Thursday, Senate Bill 3, sponsored by Senate Judiciary Chair Preston Smith (R-Rome), passed out of the Judiciary committee.  On Monday, House Speaker Glenn Richardson (R-Hiram) appointed a special committee, chaired by Barry Flemming (R-Augusta), to study the issue in his chamber.  The new House committee is comprised of 10 Republicans and four Democrats.  

Senate Bill 3 mostly considers tort reform as it relates to the medical field.  Below are some of the highlights.

*       Cap non-economic jury awards at $250,000 or $750,000 if multiple defendants are found liable.  

*       Imposes a $250,000 limit on "pain and suffering" damages in malpractice trials, with an upper limit of $750,000 for multiple defendants.

*       Includes provisions to make it easier for defendants to transfer a malpractice case to another venue.

*       Allows physicians to make apologies to their victims without the statement being used against them at trial.

*       Compels plaintiffs to accept settlement offers from defendants.

*       Places more restrictions on the use of testimony from expert witnesses.

*       Gives hospitals immunity from non-economic damage awards resulting from emergency room treatment of a patient and makes hospitals not liable for the actions of healthcare professionals who are not hospital employees.

*       Abolishes "joint and several" liability in a malpractice trial.

Subsequent Injury Trust Fund

On Friday, January 28, 2005, a bill to sunset Georgia?s Subsequent Injury Trust Fund ahead of the 2008 date set by the legislature last year, was introduced.  House Bill 200, sponsored by Industrial Relations Chairman Mike Coan (R-Lawrenceville), will hasten the date of the Fund?s sunset.  April 15, 2005 would become the last date for an injury to occur for it to be eligible for reimbursement from the Fund.  He was joined on the bill by a broad and diverse coalition of more than 60 co-sponsors including Democrats and  Republicans from throughout the state.  

The Fund, created in 1977 before the advent of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), was intended to help individuals with preexisting injuries find employment.  The outdated bureaucracy has ballooned into an agency with 29 employees and a budget of $2.5 million.  An actuarial study mandated by last year?s legislation was completed and showed the Fund has over $1.0 billion in unfunded liability.  If the Fund continues until 2008, this number will grow to $1.25 billion.  
Potential Changes to the Corporate Income Tax
Reece & Associates has learned that the Republican leadership in the Georgia House of Representatives plans to introduce legislation to change the corporate income tax formula to benefit Georgia domesticated companies.  The current formula considers, among other things, the number of employees in Georgia and the national and Georgia sales figures.  It is expected that the proposed formula would be based solely on Georgia sales, which will favor large corporations that do significantly more business outside of Georgia, than inside the state.
Atlanta Business Community to Welcome Montana Senator

The Atlanta business community will welcome U.S. Senator Conrad Burns (R-Montana) for a fundraising luncheon on February 18, 2004.  Burns, up for re-election in 2006, may face a tough challenge.  In 2000, Burns narrowly won with 51% of the vote.  Although Montana is officially a ?red state,? in 2004, Democrats won the Governor?s race and most of the down ballot contests.  Burns sits on several important committees including the Commerce, Science and Transportation committee and the Agriculture committee.  
New Committee Chairs Take Control

The House?s new committee chairs eagerly got to work this week holding organizational meetings and getting their members acquainted with the committee process.  Speaker Richardson?s policy will be to rely heavily on committees to vet bills.  He demands quality legislation that will limit extemporaneous debate and amendments when it reaches the house floor.  

Richardson has asked his Committee Chairs to develop working relationships with members of the minority party on their committees.  Several Democrats were given leadership roles and appointed sub-committee chairman.  Noticeably included were several Democrats who crossed party lines and voted for Speaker Richardson?s election.

Below is a listing of all of the House Committee Chairs

Agriculture & Consumer Affairs ? Tom McCall (R-Elberton)
Appropriations - Ben Harbin (R-Evans)
            Vice Chair ? Health ? Jeff Brown (R-La Grange)
            Vice Chair ? Education ? Jan Jones (R-Alpharetta)
            Vice Chair ? Public Safety ? Mac Crawford (R-Concord)
            Vice Chair ? Higher Ed ? Bob Smith (R-Watkinsville)
            Vice Chair ? Economic Dev ? Carl Rogers (R-Gainesville)
            Vice Chair ? General ? Don Parsons (R-Marietta)
MARTOC ? Jill Chambers (R-Atlanta)
Information & Audits ? John Heard (R-Lawrenceville)
Ethics ? Joe Wilkinson (R-Sandy Springs)
Banks & Banking ? James Mills (R-Gainesville)
Children & Youth ? Judy Manning (R-Marietta)
Economic Development & Tourism ? Ron Stephens (R-Savannah)
Education ? Brooks Coleman (R-Duluth)
Game, Fish & Parks ? Bob Lane (R-Statesboro)
Governmental Affairs ? Austin Scott (R-Tifton)
Health & Human Services ? Sharon Cooper (R-Marietta)
Higher Education ? Bill Hembree (R-Douglasville)
Human Services & Aging ? Len Walker (R-Loganville)
Industrial Relations ? Mike Coan (R-Lawrenceville)
Science & Technology ? Amos Amerson (R-Dahlonega)
Insurance ? Tom Knox (R-Cumming)
Interstate Cooperation ? Ron Forester (R-Ringold)
Intra-governmental Coordination ? Roger Williams (R-Dalton)
Judiciary ? Wendall Willard (R-Atlanta)
Judiciary ? Non-Civil ? David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge)
Motor Vehicles ? Tom Rice (R-Norcross)
Natural Resources & Environment ? Lynn Smith (R-Newnan)
Public Safety ? Burke Day (R-Tybee Island)
Public Utilities & Telecommunications ? Jeff Lewis (R- White)
Legislative & Congressional Reapportionment ? Bobby Franklin (R-Marietta)
Regulated Industries ? David Graves (R-Macon)
Retirement ? Ben Bridges (R-Cleveland)
Rules ? Earl Ehrhart (R-Powder Springs)
Special Rules ? Calvin Hill (R-Canton)
State Institutions & Property ? Terry Barnard (R-Glenville)
State Planning & Community Affairs ? Tommy Smith (R-Nicholls)
Transportation ? Vance Smith (R-Pine Mountain)
Ways & Means - Larry O?Neal (R-Warner Robins)

Below is a list of Senate Committee Chairs

Agriculture and Consumer Affairs-John Bulloch (R- Ochlocknee)
Appropriations-Jack Hill (R-Reidsville)
Banking and Financial Institutions-Bill Hamrick (R-Carrollton)
Economic Development-Jeff Mullis (R-Chicamauga)
Education and Youth-Dan Moody (R-Alpharetta)
Ethics-Renee Unterman (R-Buford)
Finance-Casey Cagle (R-Gainesville)
Health and Human Services-Don Thomas (R-Dalton)
Higher Education-Seth Harp (R-Midland)
Insurance and Labor-Ralph Hudgens (R-Comer)
Interstate Cooperation-Ed Harbison (D-Columbus)
Judiciary-Preston Smith (R-Rome)
Natural Resources and the Environment-Ross Tolleson (R-Perry)
Public Safety and Homeland Security-Brian Kemp (R-Athens)
Reapportionment and Redistricting-Chip Rogers (R-Woodstock)
Regulated Industries and Utilities-Mitch Seabaugh (R-Sharpsburg)
Retirement-Bill Heath (R-Bremen)
Rules-Don Balfour (R-Snellville)
Science and Technology-David Shafer (R-Duluth)
State and Local Governmental Operations-John Wiles (R-Marietta)
State Institutions and Property-Regina Thomas (D-Savannah)
Special Judiciary-Michael Meyer Von Bremen (D-Albany)
Transportation-Tommie Williams (R-Lyons)
Veterans and Military Affairs-John Douglas (R-Covington)
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