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There Should be Consequences in the City of South Fulton

Recently, Fox 5 Atlanta’s Dale Russell published an article on City of South Fulton Solicitor LaDawn Jones and her voter registration “incentive.” In it, Russell described how Jones offered defendants in municipal court a reduced fine if they registered to vote or had already voted.

From the article:

“On her Twitter feed, Ms. Jones linked to an article describing Taylor Swift’s call for voter registration and proclaimed: “We registered voters in the City of South Fulton today. Everyone got $50 off their citation if they registered or confirmed their registration….

A court clerk told me there were 110 people on Judge Tiffany Seller’s calendar yesterday and that approximately 90 percent took the $50 off their fine to register or showed they had already registered.”

Jones told Fox 5 that she was considering ‘civic involvement’ when determining the fine and noted that she did not ask anyone with which political party they associated.

After reading about the ‘incentives’, I quickly found myself with with some pretty strong opinions on this incident. Perhaps it is the perception of hypocrisy after her calls for criminal charges against Brian Kemp, or maybe it is the blatant disregard for the law, or it could be the “rules for thee but not for me” mentality that seems to emanate from elected and appointed officials these days. Whatever the cause, my opinions and understanding of the law lead me to believe there should be consequences.

Jones is undoubtedly well-versed on the law as a practicing lawyer, a former state representative, and a current prosecutor for a city in one of our state’s largest counties. She also credits herself with a candidate school where she trains political candidates running for office. Jones is a political pundit – including here at GeorgiaPol.com – and talks shop on outlets across the state. She should know better and I believe she doesknow better.

The municipal judge in the City of South Fulton told Fox 5 that she did not believe any laws were broken, but election law attorney Bryan Tyson is quoted in the Fox 5 article and he later penned his own onMedium where he stated the act was illegal. And a felony.

In Georgia, our laws dictate that you cannot offer another person anything of value in exchange for voter registration, a vote, or a vote for a particular candidate. When federal candidates appear on the ballot as well – like instances Congressional races – it becomes a violation of federal law.

This is not an interpretation of the law either. It is clear as day. O.C.G.A. 21-2-570 reads: Any person who gives or receives, offers to give or receive, or participates in the giving or receiving of money or gifts for the purpose of registering as a voter, voting, or voting for a particular candidate in any primary or election shall be guilty of a felony.

A reduction of a fine owed is money in your pocket, is it not? If so, the reduction of a fine under the discretion of a prosecutor who considered voter registration status in reducing said fine (that is otherwise codified by state law or local ordinance) is a financial gift, is it not?

If you visit the referenced chapter of the Georgia code, most of the other election-related offenses are misdemeanors, but incentivizing or offering gifts in exchange for something related to a vote is a felony…because it is much more serious.

[If you have the time, I encourage you to read Tyson’s article as he does a nice job articulating specific examples of what is and isn’t okay when encouraging “civic duty.”]

Something similar happened in New York in September of this year where gift cards were offered in exchange for voter registration. It was deemed illegal by election law experts there, too. It comes up every election cycle and every election cycle, legal experts remind people NOT to do it.

Federal law is just as stringent and offers stiffer penalties — up to $10,000 in fines and/or imprisonment up to five years. While it requires ‘willful’ commission, federal law does not require that the payment actually be made or that any individuals actually register to vote or vote for the act to be considered committed. This is stricter than state law because it is clear about ‘anything’ of monetary value, which seems to cancels Jones’ defense to the Atlanta Journal Constitution in which she says no money was actually offered.

The Alliance for Justice has a voter advocacy guide the states, “ Similarly, handing out free cupcakes to individuals to register to vote or offering a service at a discounted rate to individuals who provide proof that they voted would be prohibited” under federal law.

Though we could all speculate and grandstand about the political leanings of those who benefitted from the incentive Jones offered, it really is not necessary. This is not a partisan issue – it is an integrity issue that can’t be excused by the idea of civil disobedience or the public interest of ‘civic engagement.’ The integrity of our elections should be sacred.

It is not unusual for municipal judges to be unclear about the law, but I doubt that any action will be taken locally, even with the codified evidence brought to light and Jones’ admission that the act occurred. Not handling it locally leaves a district attorney in another county, the GBI, or federal authorities, given the clear violations of the law.

Whether or not a bar complaint is necessary, or perhaps an ethics complaint in the City of South Fulton, is not for me to decide. But some sort of deterrent to keep this from happening in the future would go a long way.

There should be repercussions for this kind of flagrant behavior that occurred and was showcased on social media after the fact. Jones’ position as solicitor is a position of power and, therefore, sets a higher standard of moral and ethical character. Jones can’t claim ignorance here, but she could claim it was “a mistake.” Much like those who appear before her in the City of South Fulton, Jones knows that state law requires people be held accountable for their “mistakes.”

And if Jones doesn’t like the law, I would encourage her to lobby her elected officials for a change.

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BREAKDOWN: 2 Ballot Referendums In Addition to 5 Constitutional Amendments

I previously penned a breakdown on the 5 proposed Constitutional Amendments that will appear on all ballots across Georgia this fall. It can be found here or in the content at the bottom of this article.

But the 5 Constitutional Amendments won’t be alone. They’ll be joined by two statewide ballot referenda as well. [You may also find local referendums on issues pertaining to your city and/or county, but those won’t be broken down here as there are far too many. If you have questions about them, feel free to reach out!]

The two ballot referendums, also known as “legislatively referred state statutes, appear because the state legislature voted to place those measures on the ballot for voters to decide. [ Georgia does not allow citizen-initiated ballot referendums.] The proposed changes referred by the legislature are changes in the laws – by way of approval or rejection – but do not alter the state Constitution.


Referendum A – Provides for a Homestead Exemption for residents of certain municipal corporations

The referendum stems from House Bill 820 in the Georgia legislature. It was approved 158-6 in the House and 55-0 in the Senate. State Representatives John Pezold, Michael Caldwell, Park Cannon, Matt Gurtler, David Stover, and Scot Turner voted NO. Five of the six of the NO votes are limited government conservative state representatives.

The question on the ballot will read:

“Do you approve a new homestead exemption for a municipal corporation that is located in more than one county, that levies a sales tax for the purposes of a metropolitan area system of public transportation, and that has within its boundaries an independent school system, from ad valorem taxes for municipal purposes in the amount of the difference between the current year assessed value of a home and the adjusted base year value, provided that the lowest base year value will be adjusted yearly by 2.6%?

This one is confusing, so bear with me.

For most people, this referendum will not apply because they do not meet all the criteria. The measure was sponsored in the House & Senate by metro Atlanta legislators, but once it becomes law, it could affect any city or county that someday meets the criteria.

The “adjusted base year value” is defined as either the lowest base year value or, if available, the previous base year value adjusted annually by 2.6 percent plus any change in value. “Lowest base year value” for exemptions first granted in the 2019 tax year is defined as the lowest among the 2016, 2017, and 2018 valuations multiplied by 1.0423, which is the inflation rate for December 2015 through December 2017.

These municipalities referenced already have different millage rate and taxation guidelines.

VOTING YES — means you support the measure to provide a homestead property tax exemption for some cities equal to the difference between the current year and the adjusted base year.

VOTING NO — means you do NOT support the measure to provide a homestead property tax exemption for some cities equal to the difference between the current year and the adjusted base year.

If approved, it will change and make law OCGA 48-5-44.1. Approval by the voters means it will take effect on January 1, 2019 and will apply to all tax years beginning on or after that date.


Referendum B – Provides a tax exemption for the mentally disabled.

The referendum stems from House Bill 196 in the Georgia legislature. This bill started off as a music industry tax credit piece of legislation but was gutted from its original form to include the language for the nonprofits in order to get the bill passed before the close of the legislative session. Therefore, if you search the legislation, it may appear with a different name and subject matter but the content reflects what the referendum pertains to.

This initiative was sponsored by State Representative Matt Dollar and passed 49-5 in the Senate and 149-3 in the House. The three dissenters in the House were State Reps Matt Gurtler (R), Brenda Lopez (D), and Matt Dollar (likely because his bill was gutted from its original intent and replaced with an initiative of someone else.) The give dissenters in the Senate were Senators Bill Heath (R) , Lester Jackson (D), Emanuel Jones (D), David Lucas (D), and Josh McKoon (R ).

The question on the ballot will read:

“Shall the Act be approved which provides an exemption from ad valorem taxes on nonprofit homes for the mentally disabled if they include business corporations in the ownership structure for financing purposes?”

B is much easier to understand than A and is a simple exemption for nonprofit organizations that assist the mentally disabled, even in instances where corporations are involved. Essentially, homes that are owned by Limited Liability Corporations, LLCs, are exempt from taxation if the parent company is a 501(c)3 nonprofit.

Concerns would be that corporations would use the nonprofit industry as a tax shelter. Additionally, any ‘exemption’ or manipulation of the tax code provides for a different standard of treatment for a specific group of people – making some more equal under the law than others.

VOTING YES means you support this measure to allow a tax exemption for nonprofits that serve the mentally disabled even in instances when housing constructed is paid for by financing from corporations.

VOTING NO means you DO NOT support this measure to allow a tax exemption for nonprofits that serve the mentally disabled even in instances when housing constructed is paid for by financing from corporations.

If approved, it would amend OCGA  48-5-41 and would become law beginning January 1, 2019.


You can visit ‘My Voter Page’ on the Georgia Secretary of State’s website to get a full size sample ballot. Early voting is already underway and Election Day is Tuesday, November 6, 2018.


For good measure, the breakdown of the Constitutional Amendments is below.

5 Constitutional Amendments to the State Constitution will appear on the November general election ballot. Are you informed about what those ballot questions mean?

Here’s a brief rundown.

Amendment 1 — Portion of Revenue from Outdoor Recreation Equipment Sales Tax Dedicated to Land Conservation Fund Amendment 

This would give the state the authority to dedicate “up to” 80% of the existing sales and use tax on outdoor sporting goods to be used for land conservation.  This was initially supposed to happen when the sales tax was put into place, but never occurred. The “up to” 80% language means the legislature is still not required to allocate the tax money but can allocated up to that percentage.

The funds would be used to support state parks and trails, provide stewardship of conservation lands, and acquire land for the provision or protection of clean water, wildlife, hunting, fishing, military installation buffering, or outdoor recreation.These initiatives would be carried out by creating the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Trust Fund, which would be handled by the state. 40% of the 80% allocated would go to this fund.

It will appear on the ballot as follows:

Without increasing the current state sales tax rate, shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to create the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Trust Fund to conserve lands that protect drinking water sources and the water quality of rivers, lakes, and streams; to protect and conserve forests, fish, wildlife habitats, and state and local parks; and to provide opportunities for our children and families to play and enjoy the outdoors, by dedicating, subject to full public disclosure, up to 80 percent of the existing sales tax collected by sporting goods stores to such purposes without increasing the current state sales tax rate?

VOTING YES means you support allowing the state to authorize up to 80% of the sales tax for outdoor goods for conservation.

VOTING NO means you oppose support allowing the state to authorize up to 80% of the sales tax for outdoor goods for conservation.

The Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Coalition is one of the main sponsors of this amendment as is The Georgia Conservancy.

Opponents of the amendment say it doesn’t go far enough or have enough enforcement teeth to require the money actually be used for conservation. It simply allows the state to send the money to the fund if it chooses.


Amendment 2 – Business Court Creation

Amendment 2 would create a new court system in the state of Georgia, specifically for businesses. This will allow judges in the business court to be APPOINTED not ELECTED. All judges would be appointed by the Governor and there would be no limit on how long a judge could serve.

It will appear on the ballot as follows:

Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to create a state-wide business court, authorize superior court business court divisions, and allow for the appointment process for state-wide business court judges in order to lower costs, improve the efficiency of all courts, and promote predictability of judicial outcomes in certain complex business disputes for the benefit of all citizens of this state?

VOTING YES means you support amending the Constitution to authorize the state to create a state business court and would set the rules, term length and qualifications of the court.

VOTING NO means you oppose amending the Constitution to authorize the state to create a state business court which would appoint judges by way of the Governor,  set the rules, term length and qualifications of the court.

This Amendment was sponsored by the Governor’s floor leaders and others, including Representatives Chuck Efstration, Terry Rogers, Trey Rhodes, Christian Coomer, Wendell Willard, and Barry Fleming. All are Republicans.

Governor Nathan Deal told WABE that, “A constitutional created business court would provide an efficient and dependable forum for litigants in every corner of our state.” This is a measure that was part of his Court Reform Council in his earlier years as governor. The amendment has the support of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce and is being pushed by “Georgians for Lawsuit Reform.”

Here’s the link to the bill.


Amendment 3 – Forest Land and Timberland Conservation

This amendment would revise current law by subclassifying forest land conservation use property for ad valorem taxation purposes. It would also change the method for establishing the value of forest land conservation use property and related assistance grants.

Amendment 3 will appear on the ballot as follows:

Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to revise provisions related to the subclassification for tax purposes of and the prescribed methodology for establishing the value of forest land conservation use property and related assistance grants, to provide that assistance grants related to forest land conservation use property may be increased by general law for a five-year period and that up to 5 percent of assistance grants may be deducted and retained by the state revenue commissioner to provide for certain state administrative costs, and to provide for the subclassification of qualified timberland property for ad valorem taxation purposes?

VOTING YES means you support allowing the legislature to change the formula used to calculate the tax on forest land conservation use property and create a new land designation for commercial timberland. This also allows the state to establish a percentage of local grant assistance funding that could be retained by the state for administration.

VOTING NO means you oppose allowing the legislature to change the formula used to calculate the tax on forest land conservation use property and create a new land designation for commercial timberland. This also allows the state to establish a percentage of local grant assistance funding that could be retained by the state for administration.

The bill is supported by the Georgia Forestry Commission and Governor Deal. Andres Villegas, president and CEO of the Georgia Forestry Association was quoted saying, “For more than 100 years, the Georgia Forestry Association has been instrumental in timber tax legislation, which has positioned the state as a global leader in forestry. Thanks to the leadership of our elected officials and Governor Deal, we can, once again, ensure that our tax policy supports the growth and vitality of our working forests and the communities that depend on them.”

You can read the bill here.


Amendment 4 – Marsy’s Law/Victim’s Rights

Amendment 4, known as Marsy’s Law, addresses rights of victims of crime. It is part of a national effort to add additional rights and privileges for victims of crime.

The amendment allows, upon request, crime victims to have specific rights, including the right to be treated with “fairness, dignity, and respect;” the right to notice of all proceedings involving the alleged criminal; the right to be heard at any proceedings involving that release, plea, or sentencing of the accused; and the right to be informed of their rights. The amendment also explicitly stated that the legislature was able to further define, expand, and provide for the enforcement of the rights.

The amendment will appear on the ballot as follows:

Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to provide certain rights to victims against whom a crime has allegedly been perpetrated and allow victims to assert such rights?

VOTING YES means you support adding more rights of victims of crimes to the State Constitution, known as Marsy’s Law.

VOTING NO means you oppose adding more rights of victims of crimes to the State Constitution, known as Marsy’s Law.

Marsy’s Law for Georgia is a special advocacy organization created just for this bill and is the main sponsor. The amendment is endorsed by a number of victims’ rights groups.

Joe Mulholland, a District Attorney in South Georgia, told his local paper that the amendment is technically already part of the law. “It’s already technically part of Georgia law, but the legislature felt like being a part of the constitution is even stronger. Having that and knowing its part of the constitution, I think it gives peace of mind to prosecutors.”

The Georgia Public Policy Foundation, a nonpartisan think tank, has voiced concerns about the unintended consequences of the law, even penning a piece on it. You can read that here, but among the concerns are 1) additional attorney costs and costs for support staff for victims, 2) the risk of infringing the rights of someone accused of a crime, 3) an increase in false accusations, and seemingly most severe, the accused could “lose their right to be presumed innocent until convicted.”

The Georgia Public Policy Foundation also said in an article published on their website that“A constitutional amendment is no place to risk infringing the rights of someone accused of a crime. The accused have the presumption of innocence until convicted; their life and liberty are at stake. For many suffering victims and their surviving families, there’s a fine line between justice based on a court of law and vengeance based on the alleged wrongdoing.”


Amendment 5 – School Sales Tax Referendums

Amendment 5 is the School Sales Tax Referendums Amendment. This amendment, if passed, would allow school districts or groups of school districts within a county to call for a sales and use tax referendum. For example: Fulton County and Atlanta City Schools or Cobb County and City of Marietta Schools.

The sales tax would be used for the educational purposes of the school districts and would be 1%. The term could be upwards of 5 years.

It will appear on the ballot as follows:

Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to authorize a referendum for a sales and use tax for education by a county school district or an independent school district or districts within the county having a majority of the students enrolled within the county and to provide that the proceeds are distributed on a per student basis among all the school systems unless an agreement is reached among such school systems for a different distribution?

VOTING YES means you support the amendment to allow a school district or districts with a majority of enrolled students within a county to call for a referendum to levy a sales tax for education purposes.

VOTING NO means you oppose the amendment to allow a school district or districts with a majority of enrolled students within a county to call for a referendum to levy a sales tax for education purposes.

Ballotpedia quotes Senator Ellis Black, a sponsor of the Amendment, in an interview saying, “the measure was designed to put provisions in place so that a school system with a majority of the full-time equivalent (FTE) students can place a renewal of an ESPLOST on the ballot before voters without having to ask all the systems within a county. Black also said the measure was designed to prevent a smaller school system from essentially blackmailing a larger school system within the county from passing a resolution to place an ESPLOST renewal on the ballot, and similarly, that it would stop a larger school system from preventing smaller systems from putting the issue before voters.”

The bill passed 33-17 down party lines.

My Take on the GOP Insurance Commissioner’s Race.

The further we get down the ballot, the less research people are willing to do in order to make informed decisions. By default, the lack of influence and information circulating about the lower ballot races often leaves us with elected officials we wish weren’t elected. Offices like Insurance Commissioner and Public Service Commissioner are often less exciting, as even the jobs are boring, but they’re important. So hang in there and continue seeking information before you head to the polls.

Current Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens announced in June of 2017 that he would not seek re-election. He was first elected in 2010 and has served two four-year terms. The Office was chastised last year for going over the budget and forcing layoffs and furloughs and his office garnered a lot of negative publicity over the years for repeatedly approving the premium hikes for health insurance companies and automobile companies. And we’ve been ranked nationally as the first or second in most recent years when it comes to rate increases. In fact, few good things have come out of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner and most are happy to see Hudgens off to do something else. The bar here is set very low.

Unfortunately, two of the candidates seeking to replace Hudgens, who also happen to be the frontrunners, worked for Hudgens during his tenure.

The candidates running on the Republican ballot for Insurance Commissioner include Jim Beck, Jay Florence, and Tracy Jordan.  At one point. Shane Mobley, a middle Georgia Republican, was also running, but he departed the race and is seeking a State House seat instead. If you planned on voting for him for Insurance Commissioner, you’ll have to find another option.  One of the three Republicans will face one of the two Democrats – Janice Laws or Cindy Zelden – in November.

Jim Beck

Visit his website

Beck is a former Deputy Insurance Commissioner, has a degree in marketing, and served as the Chief of Staff to Hudgens. He’s also worked at an independent insurance agency and a casualty insurance company. He serves as a guest editor for STAND UP GEORGIA, an entity that has been used to advance his message throughout the campaign through email blasts. He also worked for the Georgia Underwriting Association – a state-created insurance company that was created to help people get insurance when they can’t in the open market. He resigned after a Fox I-team investigation which highlighted his work at the Association while working full-time at the Georgia Insurance Commissioner’s Office.

He’s married to his wife, Lucy, with whom they have one son – Jimmy Beck, Jr. They live in Carrollton.

 

FUNDRAISING:

As of the March 31 fundraising deadline, Beck had raised $1,163,593.00 with $44,928.82 in in-kind non-monetary donations. He’s raised thousands more, as reported on his two-day reports, since the March 31 reporting.

ON THE ISSUES

  • “He knows where fraud occurs and how to stop it in its tracks.” per his website
  • He promises to “deploy four rolling regional offices, where one can sit down across the table and talk face-to-face with an investigator.”
  • On his website, he promises to double the penalties on insurance companies guilty of victimizing veterans and the elderly.
  • He will make complaint statistics public for all insurers doing business in Georgia.
  • Beck promises to hold tele-town halls on insurance premium hikes
  • His website lists him as a grassroots conservative who “ is often seen speaking on Fox News, CNN, and other nationwide stations defending our Georgia values.”

PROS: He knows the industry.

CONS: He worked for Hudgens and he’s raised over $1,000,000 for this race, meaning he likely “owes” people. Additionally, doubling penalties for certain classes of people is similar to hate crime legislation – it creates some classes of people that are more equal under the law than others. That’s not a conservative ideal.

Jay Florence

Visit his website

An Athens resident, Florence is an attorney and is listed as the former Georgia Deputy Insurance Commissioner. His website touts that he was the campaign manager for the Hudgens re-election campaign, that he served as an Enforcement Attorney for the office, partnered with the Georgia General Assembly as an employee for the Office of Insurance, and spent time working for Senator David Shafer. He bounced around on jobs, campaigns, and eventually returned to the Department of Insurance in January 2017, about six months ahead of Hudgens’ announcement to resign.

FUNDRAISING:

As of the March 31 filing deadline, Florence had raised $731,614.00. His two-day reports indicate that since March 31, he’s collected more than $50,000 in donations since the reporting period.

Florence is also backed by an independent political action committee, Insuring America’s Future, which is littering mailboxes with pro-Florence literature. The PAC has $224,000 in donations (as of May 8) from insurance companies.  Former Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine has also donated $6,600 to Florence.

On this issues: 

  • “He will put the insurance Department on an equal footing with the big insurance companies and make sure that you have someone that will look out for you.”
  • “Insurance Fraud costs all of us money.  Jay will make sure that criminals are prosecuted and has a history of doing so.”
  • “Jay will work to make sure that Georgia has the most competitive insurance marketplace in the country and ensure that Georgia’s consumers have choices.”
  • He touts catching $7 million in fraud while working at the Office.

His website also highlights that he was endorsed by UGA Coach Ray Goff and radio host Erick Erickson.

PROS: Having served as the Deputy Insurance Commissioner under Hudgens, he’s already familiar with the office. He’s worked in several departments in the office as well.

CONS: He’s endorsed by current Commissioner Ralph Hudgens, which means he’s likely to carry on the legacy of destruction we’ve seen out of the office in the last 8 years. Florence is the top recipient of campaign donations for auto and health insurance companies. And, did you read those positions points? There’s very little substance. No meat. I recognize that insurance can be complicated, but voters aren’t so dense that they can’t comprehend basic policy positions.  On a petty note, I found it odd that his website refers to him as “Mr. Florence,” as if he is some kind of superior before even being elected.

Tracy Jordan

Visit her website

Jordan is a Pharmacist, a full-time Realtor and a Hoschton City Council member. She also owned her own business, West Jackson Medicine Center, for 19 years before merging with another company. She touts her time as a pharmacist and her work to help people fight their insurance companies for claim payments and timely reimbursements as one of her qualifications for office.

FUNDRAISING:

As of the March 31 filing deadline, Jordan raised $40,570.00.

On the issues:

  • Jordan wants to “End “File and Use” which would repeal the Legislation from 2008 which has allowed for the escalation of Automobile Insurance Premiums.
  • She pledges to reform reimbursement policies which often lead to “Delayed payments, ridiculous Prior Authorization Practices, and unfair reimbursements” that have “caused many Independent Pharmacies and Private Practice Physicians to close or merge their practices.”
  • Jordan pledges, on her website, to protect consumers and make filing complaints a more simple process
  • She’s also quoted as saying she would ban insurance and small loan executives from giving to candidates for insurance commissioner.

PROS: She hasn’t worked for Hudgens. She’s also served in elected office before but isn’t a career politician. Her low donations mean she isn’t accountable to insurance companies on Day 1.

CONS: She’s underfunded. She also comes from the industry side of pharmaceuticals so she could be limited in her knowledge elsewhere. The Office is

 

God willing, one of the first things the next Commissioner will do is get a new website. The Primary Election is May 22…if you haven’t already heard.

 

Today I got new health insurance…

Today, after a series of chaotic calls to my health insurance provider and a perusal of Healthcare.gov options to compare health insurance, I finally got the new one.

I was notified in mid-January that I would be dropped because of a “business decision by Humana to eliminate plans like [mine].” After 7 static years, I was told that even though I liked my plan, I could not keep it.

Not looking forward to the process of obtaining new insurance, I did sign up for the Healthcare.gov to see what plans were available for me. What I found was that I could get the exact same coverage for a doubled monthly premium and a deductible twice what I currently had. Joy!

So, in all my procrastination and consideration for different companies, I called Humana Monday morning with just 18 hours until my coverage was to lapse.

After a ‘brief’ hold time of just 11 minutes, I was connected a man named Hernando. My recently acquired friend Hernando had such a thick accent that I found myself squinting every time he spoke, but considering the timeliness of my call, I knew I would need to give Hernando the benefit of the doubt. He seemed to have a good attitude and called me “Miss Jessica.” Still, despite being 8:15 a.m., I felt like I needed to pour myself a glass of sangria.

Hernando asked me to confirm my Social Security number as well as my most recent address on file. I offered him my current address, the one I held in 2015, the addresses of my the homes I lived in in 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011 and 2010. None of them matched. Why? Because despite my requests, which Hernando confirmed were noted in my file, Humana had not updated my address since 2009. After 8 guesses and an offer to mail a blood sample to confirm my identity, we unlocked the treasure chest of plans for which I qualify.

Or so I thought. Turns out Hernando wasn’t all that good with the system, so he had to place me on hold to ask a colleague. I’m not exaggerating when I say that a rendition of the song below, the circus tune, is what played when I was on hold. How fitting.

 

Hernando returned after another ‘brief’ hold to let me know that there were 5 plans for which I was eligible, and we discussed them at length.

If I wanted the same coverage as before with the same deductible – which was already $3,500-, I could pay a premium three times as high as my last one. If I wanted to keep my premium the same, I could raise my deductible to $6,850. Not to delve too far into the personal side of things, but I’m not exactly at a point in my life where I can fork out thousands a month for health care coverage.

Hernando, despite working for Humana, wanted to emphasize that I could go on the exchange, still have Human coverage, but instead pay a subsidized amount and receive credits.

I would rather die

I asked him if, under the plan I was considering, women’s annual visits were covered. Hernando replied, “Like, you mean a check up?” No, an actual annual visit to a doctor only women see. “Oh Miss Jessica!! I do not know. You can see a primary care doctor for $25 co-pay three times under this plan.”

“Hernando, I’m sitting here drinking a protein shake that tastes like grass. I do everything I can to avoid the doctor. I don’t like doctors and I don’t like medicine. I just want to visit my doctor once a year to make sure that when the time is right, I can procreate. I don’t really want to explain to you what that entails, but it’s not a primary care check-up. That is the only reason I’m getting health insurance.”

“Okay, Miss Jessica. If I may, place you on a brief hold again.” Hernando had to call his supervisors in another office because he didn’t want to give me the wrong information. Apparently, the information on the health prompter

[insert circus music]

At this point, I began to think that perhaps I could go a year without healthcare coverage and see how things work out. After all, barring anything catastrophic, I’m out almost $7,000 anyway. I frequently get kidney stones, but it doesn’t cost near that to be hooked up to morphine for a bit when they hit.

It’s amazing how quick your thoughts seem to come and go when circus music is playing in the background, too. I think I could almost feel my eyes dilating.

After seven minutes of the holding again, Hernando returned to let me know that, yes, it was considered preventative care and I was indeed covered for the services I need. We agreed to start the application but I would need to be placed on a brief hold while he completed the paperwork.

He asked a few questions about my lifestyle choices, and said, “Miss Jessica, one more thing before I place you on a brief hold: is that Jessica with one ‘S’ or a double ‘S’ like “sst sst”

…What? Two. J-E-S-S-I-C-A. (Keep in mind, he is looking at a file that has 7 years of information on me.)

[Cue circus music]

After 11 more minutes of high-wire walks and elephant tricks, Hernando returned to confirm my  data and take payment information. My coverage is effective tomorrow, but barring some heavy-duty tax refund come April 15, I can’t reasonable afford to meet my deductible.

At the end of the day, I walked away with mediocre coverage and a $6,850 deductible “just in case” something happens. I also had to explain intricate health care services to  a non-native man with clearly no knowledge of the industry. The system is so very broken and the insurance companies are hiring people like Hernando, who may have nice customer services skills, but knows nothing about what they’re doing – just to stay afloat. At the end of the year, we’ll see if this was the right decision.

But, I don’t know what I fear more: the IRS and our government heavily entrenched in our healthcare or actually having to utilize my healthcare coverage.

No, Employers shouldn’t get tax breaks for paying student loan debt

I’ve seen a few articles circulating the social media networks lately following the bill introduced by Congressman Rodney Davis which would grant employers a tax break, up to a certain amount, for loan assistance they offer their employees. AllOnGeorgia.com recently ran an Associated Press article on the issue as well.

Essentially, The Employer Participation in Student Loan Assistance Act proposes making a maximum of $5,250 a year in employer payments for student loan debts tax-free for the worker, and eligible for tax breaks for the employer.

I don’t know where to begin. We’ve over-incentivized student loans for so long causing what we now know to be the “student loan bubble” that is, in fact, on the verge of collapse, and the first step of a solution is to make sure the student gets an “untaxed gift” because someone else pays for something that is considered a burdensome debt?

We, as a nation, created this monster when we opened the flood gates of student loans to everyone – regardless of major, institution, amount, or ability to repay. Then we expanded the payment plans to be income-based, staggered, deferred, anything at all to make it “easier.” We allow interest on student loans to be tax-deductible much like a mortgage. But let’s face it: It isn’t working. The average amount of student loan debt of the 2014 graduating class was nearly $30,000 and almost 14% of those in repayment are in default.

I’ve been open and honest about my student loan debt. It’s suffocating and probably a mistake. Some days I wish I hadn’t gone to grad school, because the percentage of my work that entails what I learned is minimal, but I did and I recognize my own personal responsibility about it. I have to pay it back no matter what the cost and no matter long it takes. No one made me pull out a loan for school.

You wouldn’t ask your employer to include a loan reimbursement for your mortgage, or your car, or your credit card debt, or starting your side small business as part of your benefits package (the latest could be managed by Lendgenius for short term loans). What is the difference here? The student loan operation is already so far from the reality of life. You don’t pay your mortgage back based on income. You can’t refinance your house at a lower amount because you lose your job or take a pay cut.

This is the federal government we’re talking about here. If you offer a tax deduction for it, you’re encouraging a subsidy.

By continuing to manipulate the market and incentivize different behavior, we’re only pushing the already overloaded bubble one step closer to explosion. The correct answer is not to talk about the deductions taxpayers get for “something else,” because any tax deduction is a step away from lassiez faire economics. What we don’t pay now, we’ll be paying for later.

When this $1.2 trillion bubble bursts, it will be worse than the mortgage crisis. Except this time, it won’t be the big banks the fail. It will be federal government. And let’s not trick ourselves into thinking it’s a conservative foundation to use the government to incentivize someone to do anything.

I’ve said it before – if you’re unwilling to payback an investment you made into yourself, you’ll never be willing to pay back anything