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Key bills await governor’s signature

The 2011 legislative session came to an end on Thursday, April 14, when the House and Senate completed the 40th and final legislative day.

This last day of session is known as “Sine Die,” a Latin term meaning “without assigning a day for further meeting.”

Because the General Assembly is constitutionally limited to a 40-day session, Sine Die was the last opportunity of the year for bills to make their way through the state legislature. With this deadline in mind, we worked long hours to ensure the passage of key legislation. Bills approved by the House and Senate now head to the governor’s desk for consideration.

The Fiscal Year 2012 (FY 2012) state budget, also known as House Bill 78, was a major achievement this week due to its far-reaching effects on all aspects of the state and its programs that affect you and your family. The FY 2012 state budget directs state spending from July 1, 2011, through June 30, 2012, and totals $18.3 billion in state funds. While state funds have experienced a net increase of 2 percent as a result of improving economic conditions, total spending for FY 2012 has decreased by more than 14 percent due to expiring federal stimulus funds. Although significant cuts have been made to account for these reductions, we were able to preserve critical services and programs in areas such as health care, education and state infrastructure.

With the most recent budget cuts in mind, I would also like to tell you about House Bill 87, the Illegal Immigration Reform and Enforcement Act of 2011. While I welcome and encourage legal immigration, the recent economic recession made it clear that our reduced state budget literally cannot afford to support illegal aliens who unlawfully take advantage of taxpayer-funded services. Specifically, HB 87 will require employers with 10 or more employees to ensure that their new hires are eligible to work in the United States. The bill also requires secure and verifiable identification for official purposes and helps local law enforcement agencies handle issues associated with illegal immigration. This legislation does not affect existing programs that provide legal avenues for foreign workers to lawfully come to Georgia and work in our state.

Senate Bill 10 was another thoroughly debated piece of legislation that received a lot of attention when it received final passage this week. After years of discussion, this legislation allows local communities to decide whether they want to allow Sunday sales of alcohol. SB 10 would do this by allowing city councils and county commissions to call for referendums on whether Sunday alcohol sales should be allowed at stores in their cities and counties. The state already permits the purchase of alcohol at bars, restaurants and special events on Sunday, but does not allow for the purchase of alcohol at retail stores. SB 10 simply gives our community the opportunity to directly decide Sunday alcohol sales for ourselves.

The General Assembly also passed two House bills this week that will make it easier for Georgians to purchase health insurance. House Bill 167, known as the Insurance Delivery Enhancement Act (IDEA) of 2011, does this by allowing private companies to come together under a Trade Association Clause when purchasing group insurance policies. This simple adjustment will allow normally unaffiliated business to increase the size of their own private insurance pools, which will lower their employees’ premiums and thereby make insurance more affordable for those Georgians. HB 167 also includes a prompt pay provision that will require insurance companies to pay service claims in a uniform and timely fashion. This will help doctors and other health care providers anticipate payment schedules, which will in turn allow for better budgeting and ultimately reduce administrative healthcare costs.

Similarly, House Bill 47 will make health insurance more affordable by providing Georgians with greater health insurance options. The bill accomplishes this by allowing insurance companies licensed in Georgia to sell accident and health insurance policies that are approved for sale in other states. This would allow new, less expensive health insurance plans to be sold in the states. It would also increase competition in the Georgia health insurance market, which should further reduce health insurance prices for Georgians.

Finally, I would like to tell you about Senate Bill 178, which establishes the “assisted living community” as a new category of long-term health care provider. Assisted living communities meet the needs of older Georgians who require more assistance than what is available at personal care homes, but who do not need the high level of care provided by nursing homes. Under SB 178, seniors will be able to age in place at assisted living communities, where they can receive an intermediate level of service between that of personal care homes and nursing homes. These communities would be allowed to have medication aides on staff and would also be able to take care of residents who cannot move on their own in an emergency, so long as there is enough staff to see that the residents remain safe.

Now that these bills have received final passage from the General Assembly, they will go to the governor for consideration. If signed by the governor, they will become law.

With the conclusion of legislative day 40, the General Assembly’s 2011 legislative session has adjourned sine die. Although session is over, I encourage you to continue contacting me with any questions or concerns that you might have regarding your state government. You can reach my administrative aide, Leigh Goff, at my capitol office at (404) 656-0152. Additionally, I will be spending most off my time in the district now, so feel free to contact me locally at 377-1812.

Thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative. It has been a difficult session but serving you is always an honor.

Rep. Gene Maddox, R-Cairo