Category Archives: 2012 Legislative Session

Virginia & Arizona Nullify NDAA, Georgia Legislature Nullifies Legitimacy

Last week, the State of Virginia did a tremendous thing: they nullified the NDAA. Arizona followed suit yesterday. The NDAA (National Defense Authorization Act) is an unconstitutional act just recently passed by our lovely Congressional representatives. Each year, Congress authorizes the NDAA but this past year is far scarier. The law effectively “empowers the Armed Forces to engage in civilian law enforcement and to selectively suspend due process and habeas corpus, as well asother rights guaranteed by the 5th and 6th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, for terror suspects apprehended on U.S. soil.” You may say, hey! This is a good thing! NO. IT. IS. NOT. It is the first time since 1950 that our country has codified the power of indefinite detention into law. Have you ever thought about how discretionary the word ‘terror suspect’ is? Have you ever thought of what is truly defined as ‘terrorism’ (the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purposes) and what other kinds of things can be included in that category? And tell me, regardless of WHO IT IS, this is the United States and we have a Constitution for a reason. Offenders on U.S. soil and U.S. citizens should demand those rights. This law can be used by authorities to detain (forever) anyone the government considers a threat to national security and stability – potentially even demonstrators and protesters exercising their First Amendment rights.

Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson both voted in favor of the 2012 NDAA. So did Jack Kingston, Lynn Westmoreland, Tom Price, Rob Woodall, Austin Scott, Paul Broun and Phil Gingrey. The only GA Republican to vote no? Tom Graves. Even 2 Democrats were smart enough to vote ‘No’, but our Republican leadership, this is how they are leading us. –You can read more about why the NDAA is unconstitutional here.–

Virginia and Arizona both established protection for their people, invoking the 10th amendment. But Georgia did not.

But do you know what the Georgia Legislature did do during the 2012 Legislative Session? THEY PASSED 500 BILLS!!! Sure, 300 of them were local and many of them had to do with the redistricting maps, but all of them had to be voted on by EVERYONE and you certainly cannot convince me that every Representative and every Senator knows what is in each and every bill that was passed in those 40 days.

Some of their wonderful accomplishments include:
John Albers’ welfare drug testing bill, which has received harsh criticism for its’ unconstitutionality and lack of good research could actually COST Georgia taxpayers money when it is challenged in court.
HB 247: Requiring fingerprinting and investigation of emergency medical personnel.
HB 253: Allowing to sell or trade surplus vehicles.
HB 398: Fulton County Board of Education -pension and retirement, correct typographical errors (Should we even have to do this in the first place??)
HB 785: Provide Insurance limitations on licensure requirements for certain health care providers (so very important).
SB 183: Education; school health nurse programs; revise provisions
SB 515: City of Americus, provide for a date of expiration of office for terms of councilmembers and the mayor
These may be important to SOME people, but are they more important than our personal freedoms and protections from the NDAA?

Through the Facebook grapevine, I found that a few Georgia Senators who hosted a Town Hall told constituents that there ‘simply wasn’t enough time’ and they didn’t know enough about the NDAA to craft legislation regarding it. Oh, wait. Then why do you represent us? Your lack of knowledge and concern for time could prove quite dangerous. We may not have until the next year. And if the people vote right, you won’t be around for the next Legislative session.

So let’s talk priorities. You (being Senators and Representatives of the State of Georgia) thought it was more important to create more government oversight through drug testing to save a mere $103,000/year, to create licensure requirements for insurance companies, to allow trading of surplus vehicles and to edit school nurse programs but you didn’t think protecting one of our CORE FREEDOMS was important enough? I guess some of you are too busy getting your shoes tied.

I encourage you to call your Senators and Representatives and ask them why they aren’t protecting you and WHAT is more important. If they tell you they didn’t have time, I suggest you get on their opponents campaign team. Contact information can be found at http://www.legis.ga.gov/en-US/default.aspx

Advertisements

SB 292: Bad Policy & Bad Politics

Guest Blogger Jenna Howard on SB 292: Jenna holds a B.A. in Political Science from Georgia State University. She works at the Southern Arts Federation, a regional nonprofit, and is working on her Masters in Public Policy at Georgia Tech.

Hi again, folks! I’m pleased that I was asked to guest blog on the Perspicacious Conservative again, BUT, I’m even more pleased that I’m blogging about yet another one of Senator Albers (and others…) poorly researched and thought-out bills. Before I get started with this bill, I want to make one thing straight. I’m a numbers gal for which I will blame Georgia Tech. When I do any sort of policy analysis, I look at the numbers first then, try to understand the arguments around the numbers. This brings me to my next caveat; policy and politics are separate creatures. Most often, good policy doesn’t make good politics and that goes for both sides of the aisle. A politician’s goal is to get reelected and most politicians aren’t equipped to do their own policy analysis. Also, they aren’t bound to do what their policy analysts suggest (if they even have one). Glad we got that out of the way.

Now, onto this bill. The last guest blog I wrote was about a bill Senator Albers advocated to force those on unemployment to complete at least 24 hours of volunteer service for a non-profit organization. You can read more about how that was a bad idea here. This new bill, also introduced by Senator Albers (and others..), comically named, “The Social Responsibility and Accountability Act” would require a drug test for those in Georgia receiving Temporary Assistance to Needy Families. This Act does not include programs such as Food Stamps, Medicaid, Medicare, or to pay our lovely state lawmakers or other state workers. This bill probably sounds familiar because Florida and Michigan both enacted similar legislation. Georgia is requiring those seeking TANF to undergo a swab test in lieu of a urinalysis. It would initially be paid for by the person seeking the assistance and, if tested negative, the state would reimburse them. If the person tests positive, they don’t receive or reimbursement and they are banned from receiving benefits for a certain time period. The average swab test costs $17.

Before discussing the arguments here, I immediately looked at the Florida evaluation that came out a few months ago. The first evaluation was put out by The Department of Children and Families and Florida. They reported that about 1,000-1,500 people take the test monthly. So far, 2% of applicants have failed, 96% have tested positive, and 2% have declined completing the process. Florida’s urinalysis costs $30 and the state has about 1000-1500 applicants per month. In this evaluation, 96% tested negative forcing the state to owe $32,200-$48,200 worth of reimbursements. It is estimated that the state will save $40,800-$98,400 annually on rejected applicants for a program that cost almost $200 million. Obviously, more rules and regulations require more staff and resources, so we can go ahead and that savings to their paychecks. Currently, both Michigan and Florida are fighting this legislation in court on account that it violates unreasonable search and a violation of privacy. So, let’s go ahead and throw a lot more taxpayer dollars into the mix. That’s means we’ve got a deficit on our hands, folks.

Idaho commissioned a cost-benefits analysis for precisely this question. The results? The legislation would cost more than it saved. In their words,

“To fund the costs of the program, the State would need either appropriate additional funding for a drug testing program, or divert funds from current programs for the screening, testing and treatment activities… State leaders should be prepared for any drug testing policy to be challenged in court, which could result in expensive legal fees during the first year following implementation…The costs of legal action alone during the first year could exceed the costs of the drug testing and treatment program.”

So, Idaho did their homework(take note, Georgia lawmakers). Their analysis showed this just wasn’t going to save the state the money they anticipated. But there are certainly other reasons why this isn’t a great piece of legislation. A report from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism shows there is no significant difference in the rate of illegal drug abuse by welfare applicants compared to the rest of the population. In fact, 70% of drug users are full-time workers between the ages of 18 and 49.  This study is dated, but was released when Clinton’s welfare reform was enacted so I find it highly relevant to this debate.

I understand the arguments for proponents of this piece of legislation. It goes straight to the heart of “subsidizing others” and “funding drug abuse.” I understand that proponents feel like their hard earned money shouldn’t be going to others in the first place, much less to their “habits.” I understand that proponents feel like because they have to take a drug test for a job, so should welfare recipients. I find all of these arguments compelling. At first glance, I think this seems like a valid piece of legislation. But the evidence just doesn’t support the cost-benefits or that these people are using drugs to that extent. I’m not claiming that none use drugs, just like I’m not going to claim that the other people receiving taxpayer dollars don’t use drugs. Our money goes to a lot of people and I’m betting most of them aren’t using that money in the best way. If you want to help drug abuse, target the whole drug-using population.

Senator Albers claims that this legislation is “compassionate.” He wants to help those people with drug problems. Senator Albers, I ask you, what happens if these people test positive for drugs? Are you going pay to send them to a rehabilitation center? Are you going to use more taxpayer dollars to actually help those people who may, in fact, have a problem with drugs? I didn’t think so. This legislation is not compassionate, it’s a political step. It’s a perfect example of bad policy being good politics. Why aren’t we using the money we’re going to spend on this program to create jobs? Senator Albers is, in fact, on the Economic Development Committee. Why aren’t we trying to raise wages (since they’ve been stagnant since the 1970s). I would find these initiatives to be far more compassionate for the people seeking these benefits and for those taxpayers who are funding this program.

I’m going to bet this legislation will be a hit with much of the constituency. I’m going to bet our lawmakers will ignore the cost-benefit analysis that shows this legislation will cost more money than it is worth. I’m also going to bet that people are going to overlook the unconstitutionality of this legislation. And I’m going to bet those in the Gold Dome pushing this legislation won’t care about losing money or violating constitutional rights. Why? They’re not pushing this bill for the right reasons – they’re pushing it for all the wrong ones.

Here is the link to SB292 in its’ entirety.

Today on the House Calendar…

20120124-085039.jpg

Some interesting bills on the House floor today….

Most intriguing and irritating to me:
HB 424 – “Superior Court Clerks’ Retirement Fund; death benefit for members; provide”.
This bill would extend the $5,000 death benefit that Superior Court Clerks receive to both active AND retired persons. The original legislation and existing code only designates the $5,000 benefit to those who die while serving. Now, the $5,000 benefit is payable to someone who has retired from the position and then passed away.

The problem with the Bill? It’s wasteful spending….they’re only doing it because the money is there. Further, if someone is retired, they are receiving retirement benefits/pensions and in the event of a death, the benefits –up to 50%– are transferred to the spouse. Why are we just giving away more money? “Because we can” is not an answer. Why not use the money on something a little more effective. Better yet…SAVE THE MONEY.

Some days I feel like they are just writing legislation for kicks and giggles…there are a lot of useless initiatives!! Some other Bills up today:

HB 295 addressing the Georgia State Employees Pension and Saving Plans and the transfer of accrued benefits.

HB 683 in regards to garnishment proceedings as a result of the Supreme Court of Georgia’s approval of the Unauthorized Practice of Law Committee Advisory Opinion in 2010.

HB 713 which is the Quality of Basic Education Act. Essentially, this Bill requires a career education study in grades kindergarten through the end of 11th grade. (?????)

All legislation, past and present can be found on the Georgia General Assembly Website.

I encourage people to read legislation BEFORE it hits the floor so you can have an impact and voice your opinion to your legislators.

Hold the Applause….

Did you happen to listen to or read Governor Deal’s ‘State of the State’ the other night? If you haven’t, you can read the transcript here or watch the speech here. It was interjected with repeated applause, ovations and cheers as the Governor spoke. And, it’s propositions we’re quite spendy.

Much appreciation goes to the Georgia General Assembly who balanced the budget in 2011 and funded many essential Georgia programs. Appreciation is the keyword. Not applause, not praise, not commendation. We are SUPPOSED to have a balanced budget. That’s is the job of the legislature: to ensure efficiency (as well as transparency, accountability and legitimacy) and delegate good use of our tax dollars. That being said, it’s great to hear that the rainy day fund increased 183% to $328 million and that in 2012, 10% of Georgia programs will begin working off a zero-based budget. (Why it’s only 10%, I’m not sure…I don’t know how any organization or business DOESN’T work off zero-based budgeting, but I’m not in charge).

That being said, I question a lot of the spending proposed for this year.
-$20 million for the need-based one percent program (1. The title is quite the oxymoron, and 2. For the one millionth time, Education is not a right).
-$111.3 million for enrollment efforts at technical colleges & universities. (People know what college is. So what is an enrollment EFFORT? Also, I don’t like efforts, I like execution when we are talking about implementation of hard-earned tax dollars.)
-$146 million to support enrollment efforts in K-12 (Isn’t schooling mandatory until age16? Maybe enrollment efforts aren’t the right words, but I’m not keen on spending money to promote something that is already obviously mandatory).
-$55.8 million to fund salary increases for teachers K-12
-Supplemental grants of an undescribed amount to support charter schools in an Amended budget and in 2013.
-$46.7 million for deepening the Port of Savannah to improve both transportation and infrastructure.
-$10 million for Accountability Courts to lower recidivism rates in the criminal justice system. (How? Again, what’s the cost of implementing this?)

I can appreciate the efforts to rectify the failing school systems across the state and to try and improve the overall quality of the State, but where is the data that shows how this money will help? And how much will it cost to implement new programs? What about oversight to ensure efficiency? Will we need more state employees for that? I’m not a fan. As I become more frugal in my personal life, I become more frustrated with spending on the local and state level (I have temporarily given up on the federal level).

And another thing… a true pet peeve of mine is praising and applauding our legislators and executive officers. I flashed back to a recent event where Johnny Isakson spoke. He received a standing ovation and people were chanting his name, defending him as he was being questioned by other constituents. Why stand? Why clap? Why treat them like celebrities? WE elected THEM. THEY work for US. It is a privilege to serve and they should thank the people for the opportunity to do so.

Georgia SB-63…Preventing Fraud…and a bunch of other hidden stuff too

On March 14th, the Georgia Senate passed SB-63 which “requires that Medicaid cards integrate a computer chip that includes a digital photograph of the card holder”. Sources claim that Medicaid fraud costs U.S. tax payers $60 billion a year, and $26 million just in Georgia.

According to Senator Albers, a Republican from Roswell, the legislation will “preserve the Medicaid program for those who truly need it”. It is apparent that an overhaul of the current system is necessary to save Medicaid (if that is what we, as a state, intend to do), but this bill is nothing short of inappropriate. Unfortunately, it was introduced, sponsored and pushed through the entire process by Republicans.

The original bill stated that “patients will also provide a fingerprint scan when they enter the office and before they leave”. Supporters of the bill claim this will prevent providers from charging Medicaid for services that were not rendered since the patient will verify everything before he/she leaves. At some point in the process, the Senate Health & Human Services Committee dropped the fingerprint ID stipulation and it was not included in the final bill.

Thankfully, this is only going to be used as a pilot program to ensure that it is beneficial and cost effective…but even in a trial period, one must ask:
1) How is this any different from a national ID card that so many conservative representatives vehemently oppose?? While it will only apply to Medicaid participants, I can’t help but be incensed by the idea of a photo and computer chip installed on a card that people will be carrying in their wallets. Who’s to say that this won’t be used by the government in a more overbearing manner later on down the road??
2) Many opponents to this legislation claim that there will be a significant administrative burden on the offices when this is implemented. The doctor’s will be required to have the appropriate technology to facilitate the new measures this legislation requires. According to Senator William Ligon, the program will initially cost about $26 million to implement (Note: this is the same amount of money the state loses each year on the Medicaid fraud). By increasing the cost of doing business for these medical offices, we risk further increasing the costs to the patients, which in turn affects the Medicaid program.
3) How much will these “smart cards” cost the Medicaid program and it’s participants?????????????? Who will eat the cost? The program? The participants? The tax payers?

The Republicans in the Georgia Senate very much so missed boat on this legislation. It is imperative that we establish programs that are cost-effective and efficient. I’m not so sure Senate Bill 63 is going to facilitate in this movement……

————**UPDATE**————
————(3/23/2011)————-
I spoke with Senator Albers last week in regards to both this blog and his legislation (SB-63).

Senator Albers wanted to clarify that the cost of implementing the legislation would only be $3 million, contrary to the $26 million his colleague earlier stipulated. He claims the reduction in cost is due to the elimination of the fingerprinting portion of the program.

Senator Albers continued to point out that I did not have a “better solution” for the Medicaid program despite my assertion that this blog is analytical and an editorial and that I am not an elected official.

Senator Albers also emphasized that Medicaid is a voluntary program that participants do not pay in to, unlike Medicare. He used this to justify the implementation of computerized chips in the cards and compared them to credit cards.

After our conversation, Senator Albers and I agreed to disagree on this issue. I stand firm on my implications that this program is vulnerable for misuse down the road and does not seem to be cost effective. Senator Albers maintains that this is the best plan for Georgia and that it is not a fascist move. He mentioned the use of a similar proposal in the future for the food stamps program. For more information, or to contact Senator Albers, visit www.senatoralbers.com

————-*UPDATE*————
————-(3/28/2011)———–

This article was sent to me after the posting of this blog and it’s update by two different readers.

http://www.ajc.com/news/georgia-politics-elections/medicaid-smart-card-idea-885664.html