Friday, May 20, 2011

Thank You to Georgia Citizens

Last week Governor Nathan Deal signed into law House Bill 87 that I co-authored with many other outstanding legislators which aims to comprehensively address the social and economic consequences of illegal immigration. Over the course of the last several months similar comprehensive efforts in some other states have failed and I have been asked repeatedly “why did Georgia’s effort succeed when other’s failed?” My answer has always been “because the CITIZENS of Georgia demanded action.” This was not an issue led by politicians, but rather by the hard working people of Georgia that recognize the serious consequences of our federal government’s failure to secure our borders. The purpose of this note is to simply say THANK YOU to every Georgia citizen that took the time to write, e-mail, call or visit the Capitol on behalf of this bill. The measure would not have become law without you.

In particular I want to thank the Dustin Inman Society, under the leadership of D.A. King, for its untiring and unflinching work on behalf of this initiative. D.A. has been the staunchest advocate in Georgia for years on behalf of efforts to address the issues posed by illegal immigration and his knowledge and passion are unmatched. There is no one in Georgia that has a greater knowledge of state and federal immigration law enforcement efforts than D.A. and he was integral in the passage of the landmark illegal immigration reform measure SB 529 in 2006 and HB 87 this year. D.A. is the voice for thousands of Georgians that are fed up with their federal government’s failure to enforce the rule of law and I appreciate his friendship and am proud to have worked with him on HB 87 and look forward to working with him in the years ahead as we continue the effort to address this critical issue.

I have never been involved in an issue that had such a high level of citizen involvement and engagement and the measure would not have ever gotten out of committee, much less signed into law, without the persistent lobbying efforts of thousands upon thousands of Georgians. Let me again say thank you to all of the thousands of Georgians that supported this effort.

Matt Ramsey

Friday, May 13, 2011

Rep. Matt Ramsey Comments on Signing of HB 47

Rep. Ramsey (R) watches as Governor Deal signs HB 47
State Representative Matt Ramsey (R-Peachtree City) released the following statement today regarding the governor’s signing of House Bill 47:

“I want to thank Governor Deal for signing this legislation today, and by doing so, providing Georgians with more options in the health insurance market.

“HB 47 places more power into the hands of insurance-buying consumers and makes it possible for us to break down the barriers to competition in the health insurance market in our state. As a result, consumers will see an increase in options and greater latitude in their ability to make decisions that benefit their families. The consumer wins when the forces of the free-market are unlocked on their behalf, and that is exactly what HB 47 provides.”

Representative Matt Ramsey represents the citizens of District 72, which includes portions of Fayette County. He was elected into the House of Representatives in 2007, and was elected by the House Majority Caucus to serve as their Caucus Vice-Chairman in 2010. He also serves on the Appropriations, Congressional and Legislative Reapportionment, Judiciary Non-Civil, and Regulated Industries committees.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Affordable Health Care through Free-Market Solutions

The following is a response to opponents of HB 47 and free market health insurance solutions
by Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers and House Majority Caucus Vice-Chair Matt Ramsey

Georgians don’t just need access to affordable health care; Georgians need greater access to meaningful health care. The free-market principles of competition can help drive down costs, provide for greater accessibility, and provide Georgians with more health care options.

It’s true that House Bill 47 will allow Georgia licensed insurance companies to sell products they sell in other states to Georgians. It is also true that cost isn’t the only consideration for the uninsured. Many consumers are stuck in a stagnant health insurance market with fewer carriers and plan choices than their cross-border neighbors. HB 47 would help the uninsured access a more-customized benefits package that meets their health needs.

18% of Georgia’s population has no health insurance. These Georgians are one bad illness or accident away from a complete health and financial disaster. Our state’s uninsured are individuals, families and small business owners that do not have access to insurance through their employer or a family member. The only option they have to purchase insurance is in Georgia’s one-size-fits-all individual market place, which simply lacks the choice and competition to work well for the consumer. HB 47 will unlock the forces of the free market and provide more options for Georgia’s insurance buying consumers.

In addition to bringing greater choices and access to health insurance, HB 47 will also allow Georgia to benefit from innovative plans in other states. Cross-border purchasing of health insurance will cause pressure to create a more competitive Georgia health insurance market. It will bring about quicker access to innovative plans because insurers would face fewer “barriers to entry” into Georgia. In other words, HB 47 will allow Georgians to benefit from new ideas in other states while maintaining access to all of the core consumer and licensing protections important to this state.

If a greater range of plans enters Georgia’s market, it only means that Georgians are freely choosing those plans and becoming insured and it would also reveal that Georgia’s current market place, which inhibits choice, simply is not working. It is also important to remember that this will be Georgia companies selling plans it offers in other states to Georgia consumers. This will ensure Georgia citizens with access to Georgia courts, Georgia’s Insurance Commissioner’s grievance resolution process and all other consumer protections afforded insurance buyers today in Georgia. Simply put, the purpose of insurance regulation is not to achieve fairness or protection for insurers. It is to achieve fairness and protection for Georgians.

It is clear that a one-size-fits-all solution is not working for Georgia’s diverse uninsured population. The Georgia Legislature chose to provide a way for Georgians to gain greater access to more affordable, meaningful coverage without added government regulation.

In the end the debate boiled down to one simple point. Opponents of HB 47 believe the state government is in the best position to decide what is and is not in a consumer’s insurance policy in Georgia. The majority party in the General Assembly, on the other hand, trust Georgia’s citizens to make an informed choice about what insurance option is best for their family or business. We also understand that in the history of humankind it has been proven over and over again that it is a good thing for consumers to have more choice and more competition in a market place. That is exactly what HB 47 will provide.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

4/20/11 Sine Die Wrap Up

Last Thursday night, just before midnight, the gavel came down and brought the 2011 legislative session of the Georgia General Assembly to a close. It was a tough, but in many ways, a very productive session. Earlier in the session the legislature again passed a balanced budget without raising taxes on Georgians that will ensure Georgia will remain a leader among states in terms of fiscally conservative and responsible budgeting practices. The General Assembly also took necessary action to ensure the financial solvency of the HOPE Scholarship program for future generations of college students by realigning the program with the fiscal realities of a program that was paying far more in benefits than it was receiving in lottery receipts.

I wanted to use this letter as an opportunity to give a quick update on legislation I was personally involved in that was still in doubt on the last day of the session. First, and perhaps most talked about, was HB 87, legislation I sponsored to address the social and economic consequences of illegal immigration. I am happy to report the measure received final passage by both the House and Senate on Thursday and is on the way to Governor Deal’s desk. I have never been involved in a more difficult and time consuming legislative initiative and believe the final product is one that will truly make a difference in the years ahead in the State of Georgia. I believe the bill will benefit the taxpayers, who are currently subsidizing the presence of nearly 500,000 illegal aliens in Georgia. I believe the bill will benefit our public schools, which are overcrowded and underfunded. I believe the bill will make our communities safer. I also believe it will ensure jobs are protected for U.S. citizens and LEGAL immigrants. In the waning days of the session there was a great deal of debate and discussion with the opponents of the measure, but in the end, we got the vast majority of what we wanted in the bill with the most critical provisions remaining intact. In fact, it has been called the toughest, most comprehensive bill in the country. To citizens that wrote me and other members of the legislature in support of this measure, please know the support of grass roots citizens is what made the enactment of this bill possible by allowing us to overcome the special interests that were lobbying against the bill.

Another bill that came down to the wire on Thursday that I have been working on for more than two years is a bill to allow Georgia health insurance companies to sell products to GA consumers that they sell in other states. This is a critical free-market oriented reform meant to give Georgia insurance buying families and businesses the benefits of more choice and competition in the individual insurance market. I am very happy to report that with about an hour to spare on the last night of the session we were able to secure final passage of the bill in the Georgia House. HB 47 is now on the way to Governor Deal’s desk for his signature.

Finally, a less talked about but important bill I sponsored this year also received final passage on the final day of the legislative session. Many have read in recent weeks about the proliferation of internet sweepstakes cafes around the state, including a facility right here in Fayette County. Prosecutors and cities alike have been struggling with how to address these facilities which have been exploiting what they believe is a loophole in our state’s gambling laws and have been operating what are tantamount to slot machine casinos under the guise of running legitimate sweepstakes. City officials in every city in which one of these facilities have been opened or are attempting to open have expressed concern about their impact on crime and safety and a degradation of local community standards. The bill I sponsored with other legislators, and which is now on its way to the Governor’s desk, closes the loophole that has been exploited. I worked very closely with the Prosecuting Attorneys Council of Georgia, the Georgia Municipal Association and the Attorney General’s office in crafting the language and they all believe this will address the issue we sought to address.

Thank you again for giving me the honor of serving on behalf of Fayette County in the Georgia General Assembly this year. Please never hesitate to contact me if I can be of service or address any question or concern you may have regarding your state government.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Rep. Matt Ramsey Comments on Passage of Common Sense Immigration Reform

State Representative Matt Ramsey (R-Peachtree City) released the following statement today in response to the passage of House Bill 87:

“Today members of the General Assembly came together and firmly resolved to uphold the laws of our society. This legislation closes gaping loopholes that have allowed illegal aliens to flood into our country and state, where they unlawfully take advantage of taxpayer funded services. Current economic conditions have made it painfully obvious that the state of Georgia literally cannot afford to continue this broken system. Our classrooms are more crowded, our healthcare system is at its limits, our transportation infrastructure is overburdened and our law enforcement community is pushed to the brink. Georgians have demanded action, and their state legislature has complied. We continue to welcome and encourage legal immigration, and this legislation helps those individuals, as well as all other legal Georgia residents, by ensuring that employment opportunities are filled by legal residents.”

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Rep. Ramsey to Introduce “Illegal Immigration Reform and Enforcement Act of 2011”

There is no country in the world more welcoming to immigrants than the United States of America. While we offer immigrants an opportunity to improve their employment, standard of living, and personal freedoms, perhaps the greatest opportunity we provide is a chance for immigrants to join the American melting pot of cultures and become American. Only in America does the stranger become, not simply a permanent resident, but one of us; every bit as American as the descendant of a Mayflower pilgrim.

With this great privilege, however, comes responsibility. The most basic responsibility, shared by us all, is to obey the law. The rule of law is the keystone that holds together our orderly society. Unfortunately, it is clear that we have experienced a complete breakdown of America’s immigration law.

Though long ignored by Washington, Georgia literally cannot afford to ignore the economic burden created by our unsecure borders. The economic downturn caused Georgia’s unemployment to rise to record highs and state revenues to plummet to new lows. We continue to see huge reductions to every segment of our state budget, meaning state services are stretched thinner than ever before. School classrooms are more crowded, our healthcare system is at its limits, transportation infrastructure is overburdened and our law enforcement community is working feverishly to do more work with fewer resources. It would be patently irresponsible not to address the issues posed by Georgia’s estimated 400,000- plus illegal aliens.

With this in mind and after a great deal of study, the members of the Special Committee on Immigration Reform are introducing the “Illegal Immigration Reform and Enforcement Act of 2011.” This legislation includes numerous common-sense reforms aimed at addressing the social and economic consequences in Georgia resulting from the federal government’s inability to secure our nation’s borders.

This legislation will require the use of the federal E-Verify system by private employers in this state. This is a common sense step towards ensuring that available job opportunities are afforded only to our legal residents and that employers stay within existing law.

The legislation will also protect citizens from an unlawful burden on taxpayer-funded services by requiring the use of only secure and verifiable identification documents for any official purpose, including the dispensation of public benefits. Further, it will provide greater incentives for law enforcement agencies to apply for participation in federal partnerships that provide for faster and more efficient identification and transfer of illegal aliens.

In addition, the bill provides important new tools for law enforcement officers and provides them greater latitude in handling immigration issues during a lawful stop or detention. The bill also creates criminal penalties for any individual that encourages an illegal alien to come to Georgia or that transports or harbors an illegal alien once they arrive. This is not an exercise in scapegoating. Our nation’s illegal immigration crisis ultimately represents a failure of government. The federal government’s failure to secure our borders serves as an open invitation for illegal immigration. The employers who encourage and reward illegal immigration are certainly not blameless. Make no mistake: those here illegally did not act alone. However, violation of the law cannot be simply ignored, particularly when the enormous costs of those violations weighs so heavily on Georgia taxpayers during these difficult economic times.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Week 1 Legislative Update

Last week saw the 2011 term of the Georgia General Assembly gavel into session. However, it was certainly the most unusual start to a legislative session in my short career. There was tremendous uncertainty with the weather on the eve of session as snow and ice began to fall. However, the Georgia Constitution does not have any provision for bad weather and states we SHALL convene on the second Monday in January. With that in mind I set off for what turned out to be a four hours plus roundtrip commute to Atlanta on Monday to be sworn in myself and to see the inauguration of Georgia’s 82nd Governor, Nathan Deal, which had to be hastily moved inside to the House chambers due to the bad weather. Governor Deal gave an excellent speech which set out many of his goals and aspirations for his impending first term.

Governor Deal’s inaugural speech on Monday was followed on Wednesday by his first state of the State address before a joint session of the House and Senate. The state of the State address is historically primarily focused on the Governor’s budget recommendations and this year’s speech by Governor Deal was no different. Taken in the aggregate, his budget calls for an average spending reduction of roughly 7 % per agency, however, his recommendations certainly did not call for straight across the board cuts. Governor Deal in his speech underlined his intention to hold state funding for K-12 education harmless. Governor Deal’s budget also calls for the elimination of 14,000 state government positions, many of which are already vacant. This is definitely a good step in continuing the efforts the General Assembly have advanced in recent years to reduce the size of state government. Now that the Governor has unveiled his suggested FY 2011 amended and FY 2012 full year budgets the House and Senate Appropriations Committees will begin this week holding agency by agency hearings to review his requested budget and begin the process of authoring the appropriations bills for the General Assembly to consider in the weeks ahead.

Wednesday was the General Assembly’s second and final legislative day of the week and I introduced my first bill of the session before we adjourned that afternoon. The measure is House Bill 47 and is very similar to legislation I authored last year to allow health insurance companies to offer health insurance products that they sell in other states to Georgians. The measure passed the House last year mostly along party lines, however, stalled in the Senate Rules Committee before it could be considered by the full Senate before the end of the session. In my opinion it is a critical free-market oriented reform that will provide the hundreds of thousands of Georgians that only have access to insurance through the individual market a much greater opportunity to find a policy that fits their specific needs. This is particularly important in light of the Obama Administration’s health care reform measure that imposes a mandate on every American to buy health insurance. It is critical that we as state policy makers remove barriers to competition and put more power in the hands of the Georgia insurance buying consumers.

Due to my position in House leadership I serve on the Committee on Assignments which is tasked with making committee assignments for every member of the State House. Much of my time at the Capitol last week was spent in meetings with that Committee working to get House standing committees set for the next two years. On Friday Speaker Ralston announced the slate of Committee Chairmen and Committee positions for 2011-2012. I was honored to be appointed to serve as the Vice-Chairman of the House Reapportionment Committee. I look forward to working with the Chair of that Committee, Roger Lane (R-Darien), and all of its members over the next year to do the constitutionally mandated once-a-decade process of redrawing Georgia’s State House and Senate and Congressional legislative lines to reflect population shifts that have occurred over the past ten years. I was also appointed to serve as the Vice-Chairman of the Special Rules Committee and as a member on the House Appropriations and Ethics Committees. In addition, I will continue to serve on the House Judiciary Non-Civil and Regulated Industries Committees, as I did last term.

Next week the House and Senate are out of session so that joint Appropriations Committee hearings can be held. Over the next few weeks the legislative pace will pick up as more legislation is introduced and committees begin to meet. I look forward to providing regular legislative updates so that the citizens of this community remain informed on the goings on at their State Capitol. As always, I encourage any feedback or questions and hope citizens will call on me if I can be of any service to them.

1/17/11 - Majority Caucus Vice-Chairman Ramsey Announces Legislation Aimed at Providing More Options in the Health Insurance Market

Today House Majority Caucus Vice-Chairman Matt Ramsey (R-Peachtree City) announced the introduction of House Bill 47. This legislation is aimed at providing Georgians with more options in the health insurance market.

“We are convinced that the best way to provide Georgians with more affordable and varied health insurance options is to unlock the forces of the free market and put more power in the hands of the health insurance buying consumer,” said Rep. Ramsey. “In light of the Obama Administration’s imposition of a mandate to buy health insurance on every single American through his healthcare reform package, it is absolutely critical that we break down the barriers to competition in the health insurance marketplace in Georgia.”

Similar legislation to HB 47 passed the House last year before stalling in the Senate. HB 47, like its predecessor, would allow insurance companies licensed in Georgia to sell health insurance products that are approved for sale in other states.

Joining Representative Ramsey in introducing the measure were House Insurance Committee Chairman John Meadows (R-Calhoun), House Retirement Committee Chairman Howard Maxwell (R-Dallas), House Majority Whip Edward Lindsey (R-Atlanta), House Majority Caucus Chairman Donna Sheldon (R-Dacula), House Majority Caucus Secretary/Treasurer Allen Peake (R-Macon) and more than a dozen other majority caucus Representatives.

1/7/11 - 2011 General Assembly Session Set To Convene

With the recent flip of the calendar from 2010 to 2011, it is almost time for the Georgia General Assembly to convene again for its annual 40 day session beginning on January 10th. I wanted to take the opportunity to give a preview of some of the prominent issues that will be considered by the State House and Senate this year. Before I do that, however, I would like to wish all of the readers of this column a very blessed and happy new year. I would also like to again say thank you to the citizens of Fayette County for giving me the opportunity to serve our home in the State House. I will be sworn in as a member of the Georgia General Assembly for my third term on January 10th, and please know I continue to believe the greatest honor of my professional career is to serve a wonderful community like ours.

The General Assembly has been forced to deal with some challenging issues in recent years brought on by the historic economic downturn and the resulting unemployment. I have written much in recent years about the state’s budget difficulties that have resulted in billions in spending cuts and a large reduction in the size of our state government. This has not been an easy process, but the good news is that our state maintains its balanced budget and we remain among the three lowest per-capita spending states in the country. While the state’s economy is beginning to show some signs of stabilization, we will have another session of very difficult choices, with many predicting we will need to make well in excess of $1 billion in spending reductions to keep our budget balanced. It is critical we continue to balance our budget by reducing spending and the size of government rather than look to Georgia’s families and businesses for additional revenue through the enactment of broad based tax increases. Further, we must continue the process we have engaged in over the past three years to scrutinize every dollar that is being spent by the state government to ensure taxpayers are receiving the greatest value possible for their hard earned state tax dollars.

Along those lines, I am very hopeful that a measure I have strongly supported and co-sponsored in recent years, the Zero Based Budgeting Act, will be brought up very quickly in the legislative session for consideration by the State House. The measure passed both the House and Senate last year but was ultimately vetoed by Governor Perdue. It will give current and future legislatures another tool in the effort to ensure agencies are spending tax dollars in the most efficient manner possible.

The Georgia unemployment rate continues to hover above 10 percent, and it is vital that we continue to promulgate policies that promote job creation, business expansion and business relocation to Georgia so that Georgia’s 650,000 unemployed can get back to work as soon as possible. Relatively speaking, Georgia is an incredibly well managed state considering the fact we are one of only a small handful of states to maintain its AAA bond rating through the current fiscal crisis and are among the lowest tax states in the country. However, we must continue to look at our tax code to ensure we are poised as a state to remain an economically vibrant and competitive state for generations to come. In that regard, last year the General Assembly created a Tax Reform Council whose mission was to comprehensively study our state’s tax code and provide recommendations to House and Senate on potential reforms. The Council will be releasing its findings in the coming days, and I very much look forward to reviewing the product of their months of study and public input. I strongly believe that we, as a state, need to move our tax code to one that is more consumptive based and less reliant on the taxing of individual and corporate income. Numerous states have moved in this direction and it is already bearing fruit for those states from an economic development standpoint. This is an issue that will surely receive serious consideration this session.

Another issue that must be addressed this session is the financial solvency of the HOPE scholarship program. HOPE has been very successful over its almost two decades of existence and has helped tens of thousands Georgia students continue their education beyond high school. Unfortunately, the program is becoming a victim of its own success in that its annual benefits are exceeding the amount it is collecting in lottery receipts, its primary source of revenue. Over the last several years the state has been forced to withdraw significant sums from the program’s reserves to fund benefits. In fact, the House Budget Office recently estimated that the amount that will need to be drawn down from HOPE reserves in 2011 will be approximately $250 million. The fund’s reserves peaked in 2009 at just over $1 billion, but if current projections are accurate the fund will drop to just over $300 million in 2012, a $700 million decrease in just three years. Clearly this is a trend that cannot be allowed to continue. The House Higher Education Committee has been meeting throughout the summer and fall analyzing potential solutions to this critical issue. At the moment, all options are on the table to ensure the financial stability of this important program. Although no legislation has been filed to date, this will certainly be an issue that receives a great deal of attention this session.

Finally, an issue I have been personally involved in that will undoubtedly be hotly debated this upcoming session will be that of illegal immigration reform. Georgia has passed aggressive laws in recent years seeking to address the social and economic problems that have resulted from the federal government’s failure to secure our nation’s borders; however, more needs to be done. In that regard, Speaker Ralston and Lieutenant Governor Cagle created a Special Joint Committee on Immigration Reform this past fall, and Speaker Ralston honored me by appointing me as the House Chair of the panel. We have engaged in an exhaustive study process over the past several months in anticipation of the upcoming session and will have legislation ready to be introduced in the first two weeks of the session. I will certainly write a great deal more about this topic upon the introduction of the legislation and look forward to interacting with constituents on this important issue.

As we are set to embark on another session of the Georgia General Assembly, I again very much look forward to interacting with constituents from Fayette County. Please know how much I depend on and appreciate feedback from the citizens of this great community. As always, please never hesitate to call on me if I may be of service.