“Many consumer advocates’ goals on track in Georgia General Assembly”

By Walter C. Jones Wed, Jan 14, 2015 @ 5:11 pm

ATLANTA | Consumer advocates were beaming Wednesday over their fortunes on just the third day of the legislative session because most of their main goals are on track.

The Atlanta-based Georgia Watch organization learned from key lawmakers at a breakfast the group hosted that all but one of their positions is going its way. The good news for them included action by a House subcommittee the previous afternoon to recommend passage of a bill that hadn’t even been introduced, which will simplify the financing of solar panels for homes and small businesses.

Another priority of the group is to stop efforts carried over from last year to require anyone registering a patient in a nursing home to sign a binding-arbitration agreement so that disputes could only be settled out of court. Liability insurance is a large expense for nursing homes, in part because of legal expenses that would be minimized in arbitration.

The chairmen of the House and Senate judiciary committees who would likely deal with arbitration legislation both said they also oppose it.

“I’m very reluctant to do anything that limits access to the courts,” said House Judiciary Chairman Wendell Willard, R-Sandy Springs.

Plus, he announced he is sponsoring a bill to protect seniors and the disabled from flimflams by protecting investment companies that report suspicious withdrawals.

The chairmen were also skittish about raising the cap on what debt-settlement companies can charge to help customers shrink debts, another concern of advocates.

“A lot of times, [customers] end up in worse financial distress after working with these services,” said Senate Judiciary Chairman Josh McKoon, R-Columbus. “We certainly don’t want to open the door any wider.”

The one area of disappointment for the advocates didn’t surprise them. They hope the legislature will break with Gov. Nathan Deal and vote to expand Medicaid as envisioned by Obamacare.

Rep. Mike Dudgeon, R-Johns Creek, told them legislators have made no effort to investigate Medicaid expansion since taking the decision away from the governor during last year’s session. The majority agrees with Deal that pressure on Congress will lead to cuts in federal spending on the expansion, leaving state taxpayers holding the bag.

“At some point, the markets and the world situation is going to force the federal government to cut spending,” Dudgeon said.

SOURCE: http://jacksonville.com/breaking-news/2015-01-14/story/many-consumer-advocates-goals-track-georgia-general-assembly