The Flip-Flopping Sen. Balfour & GA Senate Committee Assignments

The GA Senate committee assignments for the 2010-2011 Regular Session of the Georgia General Assembly have been announced.  Click here to visit the Senate’s website and review the assignments.

At the bottom of this post I will list the members of the all important Senate Rules Committee.  The Rules Committee establishes the rules for the orderly procedure and placement of bills on the legislative calendar.

Senator Don Balfour  (pictured to the top left) is back for the 2010-2011 Regular Session.  Why do I say he’s back?  Well, for a brief period Senator Balfour wanted to leave state politics for Congress; however, he changed his mind about Congress AND briefly the State Senate.  Here’s an excerpt from one of Senator Balfour’s press releases from March 2010.

“Being a congressman has been something I thought I wanted to do. Needless to say, when John Linder announced that he was not running for re-election, I jumped at the opportunity to be the new voice of leadership. However, for the past three weeks, I have not been at peace about this decision. I feel this is an appropriate time to let all my supporters know that I will also not be seeking reelection for the 9th district senate seat.”

Flash forward to April 2010 for a press release from Senator Balfour:

“I would like to thank my family, friends, and devoted supporters who reached out to me and encouraged me to continue leading and making a difference in the lives of Georgians by seeking re-election for the 9th District Senate seat. I have spent many nights worrying about the safety of my son in Afghanistan and the future of our country at home. There is still much to be done and I simply cannot continue to make the changes that Americans need from the sidelines. In times like these, what our state needs most is a dedicated, seasoned leader who will stand up for what’s right and put Georgia back on the road to economic recovery and prosperity.”

Here’s to hoping that the Senator Balfour left his flip-flopping nature in 2010!

Rules Committee Officers
Chairman:  Balfour, Don
Vice Chairman:  Hamrick, Bill
Secretary:  Mullis, Jeff
Rules Committee Members
Ex-Officio Members

Gov. Perdue Wants to Screw Nonprofit Hospitals

First, I feel my feelings about Governor Sonny Perdue
may best be expressed through a picture and WordArt.

Now, I want to share part of a newsletter:

This week, the governor unveiled his latest proposal to address the budget shortfall by announcing a 10.25% Medicaid cut to hospital and physician payments and the repeal of the nonprofit hospitals sales tax exemption. He made this proposal due to a lack of support among lawmakers for the hospital revenue sick tax.

The heat is being turned up under the Gold Dome with the focus of the 2010 legislative session on the budget shortfall.  On Thursday, the governor lowered his revenue estimate for the FY 2010 (current fiscal year) revenue estimate by $343 million and the FY 2011 (fiscal year beginning July 1) revenue estimate by $443 million.

The governor’s proposal to take away the tax exemption on nonprofit hospitals is a tax increase! And, if a 4% state tax on revenues is placed on purchases, it’s likely that counties and municipalities will in turn place a sales tax on purchases and on property.  A 4% sales tax in Georgia could quickly become 8% doubling the impact on certain hospitals in the state.

When lawmakers go back into session on Tuesday, March 16, they will be in day 24 of the legislative session.  That leaves 16 legislative days left in the 40 day session.    Time is not on our side!

Please consider voicing your opinion today to Lt. Governor Casey Cagle, Speaker Ralston and your House and Senate members! Even if you have already contacted them, please do so again!!!! Ask them to oppose a tax increase on nonprofit hospitals by removing the current sales tax exemption. This financial impact could result in job layoffs, a reduction or elimination of capital projects, and reduction or elimination of free community health projects that provided by hospitals.

Lt. Governor Casey Cagle’s Contact Info:
Click here to use the Lt Gov’s online contact form.
Call: 404-656-5030
Fax: 404-656-6739

House Speaker David Ralson’s Contact Info:
Capitol #:  404-656-5020
Email his staff: Dianne Hardin (dianne.hardin@house.ga.gov), Leishea Johnson (leishea.johnson@house.ga.gov), and Gina McKinney (ginny.mckinney@house.ga.gov)

"At vigil for Jaheem, mother weeps over his suicide"

At vigil for Jaheem, mother weeps over his suicide
Family says 11-year-old was bullied at elementary school

By CHRISTIAN BOONE, KATIE LESLIE
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A crowd of about 60 gathered Tuesday night at the DeKalb home of Jaheem Herrera to remember the fifth-grader who committed suicide last week. The 11-year-old boy hanged himself at his home after — according to his family — relentless bullying at Dunaire Elementary School.

Masika Bermudez, the boy’s mother, spoke briefly at the vigil that started about 7 p.m.

After a short prayer, Bermudez told friends and parents to make sure their children understand that whatever problems they have “don’t be afraid to talk to your mother.”

As Bermudez spoke, she clung to two daughters — Ny’irah, 7 and Yerralis, 10. Yerralis discovered her brother’s body last Thursday after school.

“His sister was screaming, ‘Get him down, get him down,’” said Norman Keene, Jaheem’s stepfather.

When Keene got to the room, he saw Yerralis holding her brother, trying to remove the pressure of the noose her brother had fashioned with a fabric belt.

“It’s heartbreaking,” said Jennifer Errion, assistant director of student support services, prevention-intervention for DeKalb schools.

DeKalb County schools have programs in place to combat the types of bullying and violence that may have led to Jaheem’s death, but a Errion acknowledged the prevention program is “not a vaccine.”

Two years ago, DeKalb public schools adopted an anti-bullying program called “No Place for Hate,” she said. The program, sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League, helps train faculty and students on accepting differences, promoting diversity and inclusion.

“We’ve created the idea that bullying is a rite of passage, and I don’t think it is,” said Errion.

At the vigil, the mother of Jaheem’s best friend relayed a story from Jaheem’s last day.

“Jaheem asked if anyone would miss him if he wasn’t here,” said Alice Brown, mother of Jaheem’s 10-year-old classmate A.J. “[A.J.] told him ‘He was his friend and he would miss him.’ “

Keene said the family knew the boy was a target of bullies, but until his death they didn’t understand the scope.

“They called him gay and a snitch,” his stepfather said. “All the time they’d call him this.”

Earlier this month the suicide of a Massachusetts boy, Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover — who suffered taunts that he was gay — attracted national attention.

He was also 11. His mother found him hanging from an extension cord in the family’s home.

Bermudez also said her son was being bullied at school. She said she had complained to the school.

School officials won’t discuss allegations that bullying may have contributed to the boy’s suicide. Davis said Tuesday morning that officials are legally unable to comment on student-related records, such as whether the school had received complaints that Jaheem was being bullied.

The family has hired an attorney.

AJC article may be found here.

Other Articles:
Anti-Gay Bullying Claims Another: Jaheem Herrera, 11, Kills Himself
My bullied son’s last day on Earth
Georgia Family Blames 11-Year-Old Boy’s Suicide on Severe Bullying
Six ways to stop bullying

Legislation Update ~ THE ASHE ADVOCATE

Georgia Politics

The following legislation originating from the Senate was approved by the House this week:

SB 13, which would allow a sentence of life without parole to be imposed, even when prosecutors do not seek the death penalty. Currently life without parole is allowed only as an option in death penalty cases.

SB 14, which would prohibit anyone on the national or state sex offender registry from being eligible for election to or service on local school boards.

SB 44, which would require school systems to give preference to products manufactured in Georgia when purchasing supplies, equipment and food.

SB 61, which would establish the Life Settlements Act, providing oversight and regulation of life settlement contracts and requiring brokers to be licensed and regulated by the Georgia Department of Insurance.

SB 69, which would require citizens to report suspicions of sexual exploitation of children.

SB 155, which would remove buffer zones from streams carrying mostly rainwater. I voted against this proposal because it offers too broad an exemption from environmental protection measures.

SB 165, which would authorize the Department of Community Health to obtain income eligibility verification from the Department of Revenue for Medicaid and PeachCare for Kids applicants.

SB 170, which would prohibit companies that do business in Sudan from submitting proposals for Georgia state contracts in the future.

House members also approved an amended version of HB 233, which would freeze property valuation reassessments for the next two years. The Senate agreed to final changes, sending the bill to the governor for his signature.

All credit to State Representative Kathy Ashe as this information was copied and pasted from her newsletter, The Ashe Advocate.

A Message from State Rep DuBose Porter

Here is a message from State Representative DuBose Porter (picture to the left):

Congratulations Nurses and Friends of Georgia’s Children,

Thanks to our combined efforts and money from the stimulus package, school nurses are included in the 2009 supplemental budget. (However things are still up in the air for the 2010 budget, so we need to keep fighting.)

This session’s effort on behalf of nurses has created a last minute change in key Republican talking points. This change is a good indication that our efforts had an impact. I am urging you to continue to make your voices heard so that the fight will not have to be as intense next year.

Here is a short synopsis of the sea change we were able to create with your help:
At the beginning of the 2009 session, the Republican Leadership’s strategy was to go after nurses’ jobs and children’s healthcare with a vengeance. In a group setting at the capitol when asked, “How can you take nurses away from our school kids?” the talking points delivered by a key Republican leader to the group was verbatim as follows: ”You know, these kids are just soft. These kids need to just toughen up. They used to take kids out west on wagon trains and they did fine… Today’s kids will just have to toughen up. We just need to focus this money somewhere else.”

As you know nurses spend untold hours becoming qualified to administer health care services. Often they have given up higher paying jobs to help take care of our state’s schoolchildren. School Nurses are vital to our state’s future and our Republican Leadership was ready to toss them aside.

Thanks to your efforts in voicing your concern and by our Democratic House Caucus keeping this issue in the foreground, a few key Republicans in Leadership are starting to publicly change their tune. This was a great indicator that we would win the battle. Some key Republicans even posted pro nurses in schools videos on their websites this week when they realized the nurses would be added back into the budget- just as if they have been for nurses all along. We welcome each and every one of them on board. Nurses must stay in public schools, and united, our voices are making a difference. Now that they have come forward we must make sure they do not revert to their original views next year. To insure this I ask you to stay engaged in the process.

Without a majority of votes in the House and Senate our job is to hold that majority party accountable. Our strongest allies in doing this are the voices of fellow Georgians who understand the damaging effects across the board cuts have on healthcare and education. As you know, even when times were good and Georgia had surplus money in the budget, our Republican State Leadership cut 1.6 billion from public education and as much as they could from Public Health. These short sighted efforts have and will continue to greatly damage Georgia’s ability to bounce back from this recession. A healthy and well educated public is key to our economic recovery.

Once again, thank you for your efforts. Your voices have helped us to hold the Republican Leadership’s feet to the fire. With this year’s supplemental budget we have started to win the fight. I ask you to stay engaged and continue your efforts. With a school nurse’s care, more of Georgia’s children can stay in the classroom, more parents can stay at their jobs and more teachers can spend their time teaching. By working together we can secure a more healthy future for Georgia.

Elected Officials Too Good to Pay Their Taxes?

A few weeks ago I heard rumblings that there are members of the Georgia Senate and House of Representatives behind on paying their state taxes. Then the AJC ran an article on the issue. Now, 11 Alive has tackled the issue.

There are 16 House Representatives and 3 Senators who are not up to date on their taxes. 11 Alive has placed calls to elected officials giving them a chance to comment on whether or not their taxes are paid. Click here to see who 11 Alive is waiting to hear from and who has cooperated with 11 Alive. The elected officials won’t remain nameless forever. Once they have been served papers from the Georgia Department of Revenue and given time to respond, their names will available to the public.

Senator Eric Johnson (pictured above), Chairman of the Senate Ethics Committee, in some circles, is receiving credit for trying to crack down on his peers who aren’t paying their taxes. Before you praise Senator Eric Johnson, please note that a majority of the lawmakers who are not current on their taxes have been delinquent for a couple of years or more. Why did Senator Eric Johnson wait so long to raise the red flag? Oh, I guess his candidacy for Lt. Governor has something to do with it.

A message for Senator Eric Johnson: At first, some of the good citizens of Georgia will probably fall for your “I care routine,” but it won’t take them to see you treat politics like a game of poker, and sir, you play dirty. Your actions show your interest lies within your desire for power. For the sake of your own dignity, please stop the pathetic pandering for votes, and do what an elected official should do– genuinely look out for the citizens of Georgia.

Let us turn our attention to Senator Valencia Seay (pictured to the right). When 11 Alive called Senator Valencia Seay to ask about her Georgia tax status, well, she told 11 Alive it is none of their business. Woah—I did not see that answer coming from a Senator who has been serving since 2002. Is it just me or is Senator Seay telling her constituents and the rest of Georgia that she is above public disclosure?

Senator Valencia Seay serves as the Minority Caucus Vice Chair, which makes this matter even more disappointing. She is in a leadership position, and leaders should lead by example. I am happy that most of her peers are not following her example!

Contact Senator Valencia Seay to tell her to disclose whether or not she is current on her taxes. I especially urge the people of Senate District 31 to hold Senator Valencia Seay accountable. Is Senator Valencia Seay who the people of District 31 want respresenting them?

Senator Seay’s Contact Information
Email: valencia.seay@senate.ga.gov
Capitol Office Phone: 404-656-5095
Capitol Office Fax: 404-657-9728

I sent my email to Senator Valencia Seay asking her to disclose whether or not she is up to date with her Georgia taxes. Of course, I will share what she has to say in I Was Born Doing Reference Work in Sin.

Remember: If we don’t hold our elected officials accountable, who will?

UPDATE: Senator Seay speaks!

House votes to leave in March, return in June

House votes to leave in March, return in June

By Aaron Gould Sheinin | Friday, February 6, 2009, 09:50 AM
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The state House just voted unanimously to split the 40-day legislative session into two parts, which lawmakers hope will give them flexibility to deal with whatever economic stimulus package comes from Washington.

The House voted 165-0 to meet three days a week through March 25 and then return in late June. The General Assembly is constitutionally required to meet for no more than 40 days a year, although those 40 days do not have to run consecutively.

House Majority Leader Jerry Keen (R-St. Simons) said Senate leaders have also agreed to the change, although that body must approve the adjournment resolution before it takes effect.

This, Keen said, allows the Legislature to be “responsive to things that may or may not come down from Washington.”

Congress is debating a $800 billion to $900 billion economic stimulus package, which by some estimates could send $5.6 billion in additional federal dollars to Georgia for education, Medicaid, infrastructure and more.

State lawmakers, meanwhile, are consider an amended budget for the current fiscal year that must find $2 billion in savings, as well as a budget for the year that begins July 1 that seeks even deeper cuts.

Going to a three-day work week — the House and Senate would convene Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday — slows down the clock and allows budget writers and Congress more time to figure out what money is available.

“All of us see the news and read the newspaper,” Keen said. “We have worked very hard with the Senate to craft a schedule to let you know where we are but at the same time allow us enough flexibility to respond to what may or may not happen in Washington.”

Committees, especially budget-writing panels, would likely continue to meet on Mondays and Fridays, Keen said.

March 25 would represent the 35th day of the session, under the adopted resolution, and returning June 27 would give lawmakers five full days before the beginning of the next fiscal year July 1.

“If we leave and things change, this will allow us to come back in a five-day period,” he said. “It gives us a lot of flexibility and options in terms of what we do.”

Perdue Says School Nurses Are NOT Needed

FROM THE ASHE ADVOCATE, a newletter written by State Representative Kathy Ashe…..

House Democrats fight to keep nurses in schools
According to the Governor’s FY 2009 amended budget proposal school nurses will soon become a thing of the past. The recommendations submitted by the Governor last week cut $30 million in state funds which would eliminate the school nurse program. The Georgia House Democratic Caucus opposes this cut and has pledged to work to restore the program.

Democrats believe in promoting preventive medicine and supporting nurses in schools so children can focus on learning and avoid complications that arise when health problems go untreated. They also believe every family should have access to a doctor and every school should have a nurse.

“We have a growing number of working families without health insurance and some of those parents rely on school nurses to keep their children safe and healthy while they are in school.” said Rep. Pat Gardner (D-Atlanta), Chairperson for Health and Human Services Policy Committee for the Georgia House Democratic Caucus.

Georgia House Democratic Caucus Education Policy Chair, Rep. Kathy Ashe (D-Atlanta), said, “We must fight for our children and their right to receive appropriate health care while they are in school. If children don’t receive the care they need their medical issues could escalate. It’s a short sighted approach that will eventually cost our state additional funds and more importantly, diminish our children’s ability to do the job they go to school to accomplish – learning. I am asking our parents and teachers to express your concern about these cuts to your state representative and state senators. Email gadhcissues@gmail.com if you need assistance finding your elected representatives.”

Removing school nurses is extremely short-sighted. Georgia House Democratic Leader, Rep. DuBose Porter (D-Dublin) added real life examples. “In Dublin, we have one nurse for four elementary schools. Numerous daily school-age related illnesses aside, our nurse manages diabetic children who must undergo daily blood sugar testing, she takes care of a child on a feeding tube, and has a student going through stage 4 cancer. The management of these health issues takes a trained professional.” said Porter. “In one of the four schools alone there are 38 students on asthma inhalers, students who at times have had to be rushed to the hospital with acute asthma attacks. We should not balance the state’s budget by cutting health care to sick children or making our teachers become health care providers.”

Georgia House Democratic Caucus Chairman Calvin Smyre (D-Columbus) agreed and pointed out legal questions that may arise, regardless of safeguards designed to protect the school. “The governor should be asking, who will administer this care… the teachers? The liability on untrained school employees administering health care could easily become an issue. Teachers in Georgia schools now are not allowed to administer medications. Nurses in our schools give out over 5 million doses per year. There are approximately fifteen million annual visits to the office or school health room for illness, medication and injury in Georgia,” said Smyre. “Children can’t learn when they are sick and teachers can’t teach when they are running a health clinic.”

In conclusion Porter noted, “We are willing to fight to stop this cut that will directly damage our schools and our children, but it will take a great effort to get the message to this Governor. Now is the time for Georgians to engage in the political process. Times are changing and Georgians can no longer assume basic services will continue. Georgians must become involved in the process.”

The Georgia House Democratic Caucus has an e-mail address to handle issues that relate to the Governor’s proposed cuts. To voice your concern, e- mail gadhcissues@gmail.com. Together we can continue to protect our children’s future.

Rep Karla Drenner Email

Taken word for word from an email sent out by State Representative Karla Drenner:

Friends, Neighbors, and Supporters,

As the 2009 Legislative Session convened this week, we will be addressing issues that are being discussed around kitchen tables throughout the state of Georgia. As Georgians in every corner of our state closely watch their bottom line during this economic downturn, it will also be a tough session for lawmakers as we determine the fate of state programs and projects as we face a budget deficit.

Since state tax revenues are lower than had been projected, we will have to address spending cuts for the last six months of the current fiscal year. Gov. Sonny Perdue has proposed a large program funded on borrowing, but has not detailed how he would spend the money. We are also waiting to see how much President-elect Obama’s stimulus package will affect individual states. Once these two issues are clarified, we will have to roll up our sleeves and determine the most responsible way to proceed.

In regard to taxes, both House and Senate l eaders have expressed support for plans to cap property taxes, although the details have not been agreed upon. We recognize that any tax relief would be welcomed by the citizens of Georgia, but we must be diligent so that any such legislation doesn’t get drowned by dissenting legislators in a myriad of party-line details.

Roads and transportation will also be a major issue this session. As the more populous cities in the state experience an increase in traffic congestion, and as rural areas desire roads to entice employers, at the same time environmental groups want a mass transit system. All three interests are being represented as business groups and environmentalists are jointly lobbying for a constitutional amendment that would allow a group of counties to impose a regional sales tax to support transportation projects. The proposal would have to be passed by voters in the 2010 general election, so there is time for us to carefully consider all of the ramifications.

Trauma care is an issue that 20 lawmakers have wrestled with for years and one that will likely be another top priority. Because there is a dire need for a dedicated funding source for a statewide network of facilities to provide advanced trauma care, including specialized equipment, air transportation for patients, and physicians, this is a cause for legitimate concern. Without a solution, there is a concern that trauma centers could be forced to close amid recent operating losses in the millions of dollars. Because of the dire need coupled with a suffering economy, this will undoubtedly be a hot-button topic again this year.

The Savannah Port continues to create jobs and bring in significant revenue for the state, and because of this the harbor deepening project that the Georgia Ports Authority hopes to partially fund with money from the state will more than likely be approved. The Port wants to deepen the harbor from 42 feet to 48 feet to allow for larger vessels. Due to the budget crisis, it is more than likely that bonds will be issued to pay for this construction project. It is most likely that a final review of this project will take place later this year. Georgia0s deepwater ports and inland barge terminals support more than 286,000 jobs throughout the state and contribute $14.9 billion in income and almost $3 billion in state and local taxes. I am honored to be your representative. I will keep you informed through weekly updates. Your opinions and concerns are important to me and I consider it an honor to serve you at the state capitol and in our district.

Governor’s Proposed Budget

Fellow Georgians:

I know many of you are excited about the change happening in Washington; however, in our Obama excitement, we can’t forget about the change that is needed in Georgia. I hope you will keep your eyes on what is happening in the ’09 Georgia General Assembly, and I especially hope that you will keep an eye Governor Perdue.

Are you curious about the budget? If not, you should be. Click here for information regarding Perdue’s proposed budgets.

A few items from the Governor’s budget include:
1. Continued cuts to the QBE education formula that go to operate schools.
2. Elimination of 10 conservation rangers and 18 staffers at the Environmental Protection Division.
3. Cuts for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation crime labs and arson investigators at the Georgia Forestry Commission.
4. Reduction of case workers at the Child Protective Services Division.
5. Closing of four prisons.

*Thanks to Representative Benfield’s weekly updates for this information.*