The 2008 legislative session is now more than half-way complete but much important work remains. Key issues that we still must address are tax reform, a budget that is fiscally responsible and meets the needs of our citizens, transportation, and trauma care. We continue to debate tax reform in committee but with tax reform must come spending reform. This week, the House laid out our spending priorities for the Fiscal Year 2009 budget.
At a press conference this week, members of the House Appropriations Committee laid out spending priorities for the Fiscal Year 2009 budget. Among other things, my colleagues on the Appropriations Committee announced that the House is committed to fully restoring $141 million in austerity cuts in education. This will put education money back in the hands of local communities, rather than sending it to our schools with bureaucratic strings attached, or worse with unfunded mandates without the resources to pay. The budget also funds priorities such as health care, public safety and natural resources, such as water. The 2009 budget will also be one of the forums for the debate on our overburdened trauma care system in Georgia. Georgia’s citizens have the worst access to Level 1 trauma care of any state in the southeast. Georgia should be a leader, not a follower in protecting the lives of our citizens. We have lagged behind other states for far too long in providing access to trauma care. Our budget will focus on righting this long overdue wrong.
Georgia’s method of funding transportation infrastructure has come under attack this session by cities, counties and a variety of private organizations. These groups have argued that the motor fuel tax is an outdated and insufficient mechanism by which to fund our transportation system which has led to a shortfall in resources and system-wide gridlock. The House and Senate Transportation Chairmen have both unveiled plans that would give all Georgians the ability to vote on a ballot initiative in November that provides an alternative funding source for transportation. I will keep you updated as more details about the House plan are unveiled and the debate ensues. Different regions of the state have different priorities and I think it is prudent to put any such proposal before the voters so they can decide if it best suits the collective needs of our state.
This week in the House Judiciary Non-Civil committee we voted to send House Bill 250 to the full House for a vote. This legislation would authorize the Professional Standards Commission to open an investigation when it has received a written complaint from a local school board, the state school board or an individual resident of Georgia alleging an educator has been convicted of possessing or selling a controlled substance or has been convicted of a sexual offense. We must protect our students when they are in the classroom and this bill provides additional methods to do just that.
In recent months we have seen stark examples of the dangers of abusing prescription drugs. Most recently, the professional wrestler Chris Benoit took his own life after taking the life of his wife and son. News accounts tell us that prior to this tragedy, Benoit’s doctor supplied him with a 10-month supply of testosterone every three to four weeks. As a result of this and other similar tragedies, the House Judiciary Non-Civil committee passed House Bill 455 establishing the Georgia Prescription Monitoring Program. The program would require pharmacists that dispense Schedule II, III, or IV drugs to submit weekly reports containing specific information regarding when a prescription was filled, the quantity dispensed and the number of prescriptions filled to each individual patient. All information would be submitted to the Georgia Drugs and Narcotics Agency. Hopefully with this level of reporting in place we can give law enforcement the tools necessary to monitor and identify irregularities in the prescribing of these potentially dangerous drugs.
I will continue to keep you up to date on our actions as the legislative session progresses. Should you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact me at my Capitol office at (404) 656- 0109. I look forward to hearing from you soon.
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