The 2011 Georgia General Assembly kicks off on January 10th. There will be a lot of new faces this year as there will be 33 new representatives in the House. 12 of 56 incumbent state senators either moved on or were defeated on election day. And of course, Governor Sonny Perdue has reached the two term limit and will be succeeded by former Congressman Nathan Deal.
This significant turnover can be an opportunity to build relationships with new legislators. Getting to know your legislators now and staying in touch with them can be vital when an issue that is critical to you comes before them. To locate which district you live in, go to the Secretary of State’s My Voter page at: http://www.sos.ga.gov/mvp/
As always, the General Assembly will have a number of important issues to tackle in 2011. Here is a preview of some of the things that are likely to be on the legislative to-do list:
The legislature will have to reconcile the ambitions of some leaders who wish to spur growth through income tax cuts with the reality of a budget deficit between $1.5 and $2 billion. This gap will have to be closed through spending cuts and/or increasing revenue. Several years of declining revenues have left few options for further spending cuts. A commission has been examining ways to improve Georgia’s tax structure and will be making a recommendation to the legislature next year. A broad introduction of higher tax rates in a down economy seems unlikely, but some special interest tax breaks may be coming to an end.
Expect action on the issue of illegal immigration. A special committee was appointed this fall to consider new laws to limit unauthorized immigration into Georgia.
The legislature and governor are likely to spend a considerable amount of time on water. In the next year and a half, Georgia must come to some agreement with Alabama and Florida on water use or be faced with dialing back consumption to levels not seen in over 30 years.
Georgia Watch will be monitoring the legislature and speaking out on behalf of consumers. Some of the consumer issues that we hope legislators consider include:
Utility customers large and small have begun to unite for fairness in rates and management decisions. Georgia Watch has represented consumers at the PSC and will continue that advocacy at the Capitol.
The foreclosure crisis continues in our state with no sign of relief in the near future. In addition to the devastation that the loss of a home has on a family, foreclosure leaves neighborhoods with blighted properties, robbing equity from nearby homeowners and depressing local government revenue. Tenants are thrown out of their rental homes through no fault of their own. Protecting families and communities affected by foreclosure will continue to be a Georgia Watch priority.
Last year the Supreme Court of Georgia stood up for the Constitutional rights of injured patients and their families by striking down the notorious cap on damages in medical malpractice suits. But it remains to be seen whether this legislature reacts with another big government intrusion into the courtroom. Georgia Watch will remain vigilant in opposing laws that impose a one-size-fits-all answer to those who are injured through no fault of their own.
It is important to make sure that hospitals are billing patients in a fair and transparent manner, and that finances are being managed prudently. In the wake of last year’s new tax on hospitals, some expect that hospitals will have a considerable amount of clout at the Capitol. We intend to make sure accountability and fairness are a part of any policy discussions regarding hospitals.
For more information on legislative matters or to volunteer your time at the Capitol, call us at (404) 525-1085.