Doctor of the Day
On Feb. 17, it was a pleasure for me to host Dr. Melissa Dillmon of the Harbin Clinic in Rome, who served as Doctor of the Day in the House of Representatives. Dr. Dillmon practices in the Medical Oncology Department at the Harbin Clinic and is recognized as a leading specialist in the treatment of cancer.
Visitors to the Capitol
This week, Vicki Entrekin, President of the Arc of Chattooga, met with Sen. Mullis and me to advocate for citizens with developmental disabilities and mental health issues.
Tuesday, Jodi Hurley of Summerville and Zach Cargle of Armuchee, along with their families, attended Equine Youth Day at the Capitol. Students from across the state gathered in the Rotunda for a ceremony and photograph with Governor Deal and local legislators. They attended an Awards Luncheon where students were recognized for horse projects and participation in High School rodeo activities.
Gail Garland, Director of Harbor House in Rome, and other Child Advocacy Center staff from across Georgia met with legislators to promote the safety and well being of children. Harbor House serves Floyd, Polk and Chattooga Counties.
The House Transportation Committee voted Feb. 15 to approve legislation that would weaken the state’s restrictions on cutting down or trimming trees that block the view of billboards on Georgia roadsides. HB 179, supported by the state’s outdoor advertising industry, would allow billboard owners to remove trees and vegetation on public right-of-ways within a 350-foot-wide “target view zone” along the highway where a billboard is located. Under the proposal, billboards would have to be lowered to a maximum height of 75 feet. Members of the Georgia Garden Clubs and other environmental groups oppose the measure on the grounds that trees should not be sacrificed for the benefit of advertising signs. Many say cluttered signs would diminish tourism which is Georgia’s No. 2 industry. HB 179 now awaits action by the full House.
House members voted Feb. 16 to approve legislation that would require engine coolant or antifreeze sold in Georgia and containing more than 10 percent ethylene glycol to include denatonium benzoate as a bitter tasting agent to make it unpalatable. HB 40 is a public safety precaution to prevent incidents of poisoning deaths, accidental or intentional, caused by consumption of these liquids. The bill now goes to the Senate for its consideration.
State Mental Health Hospitals
In the face of recent economic downturns, portions of Central State Hospital in Milledgeville were closed. Now, the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities plans to completely close Rome’s Northwest Georgia Regional Hospital in June. According to the agreement with the US Department of Justice, all patients must be placed in community settings by 2015.
This week, I met with Dr. Frank Shelp who heads the department to discuss the planned closure. He agreed with me that the federal agreement does not require hospital closure. But, the department expects to save money by closing hospitals and applying it toward integrating the mentally disable back into communities. Patients will receive housing, counseling and medical services from private healthcare providers through state contracts. Forensic patients who have been placed in state institutions by court order will be moved from NWGRH to another hospital.
I, like many in our community, continue to have concerns that community services will not be in place by June to insure that these patients receive quality care and the level of supervision needed. In addition, I am not convinced that closing the facility will save the state money. On Friday, I toured the campus and met with many of the staff. I was impressed with the modern pharmacy department and the high-tech laboratory and the professionalism of the staff. I continue to work with community leaders, hospital employees and families to keep part of the hospital in operation. We are compiling information that we hope will show that closing the hospital is not financially feasible.
NWGRH serves a 31 county area with a population of almost three million. This is 1/3 of the population of Georgia. NWGRH is the only state hospital north of Atlanta.
State of the Judiciary
On Feb. 16, Chief Justice Carol Hunstein of the Supreme Court of Georgia delivered her annual State of the Judiciary speech to a joint session of the Senate and House of Representatives, addressing in particular problems the state is having with our criminal justice system. She noted that while Georgia is the nation’s 10th largest state, we have the fourth largest number of people incarcerated, costing taxpayers more than $1 billion per year. The Chief Justice echoed the comments of Gov. Nathan Deal in his State of the State address last month, calling for a review and possible changes in sentencing guidelines and mandates, along with an increased use of drug courts and other alternative programs for dealing with nonviolent offenders to relieve the pressure on our overcrowded jails and prisons.
General Assembly Online
Throughout the session, you can read the details and check the status of legislation and watch live broadcasts of House and Senate proceedings and all House Committee Meetings online at www.legis.ga.gov. Lawmakers were scheduled to return to the Capitol on Tuesday, Feb. 22, for Day 17 of the 40-day session.
State Rep. Barbara Massey Reece represents the 11th District (Chattooga and Floyd counties) in the Georgia House of Representatives. Contact her at 512 Coverdell Legislative Office Building, Atlanta, GA 30334; by phone at 404-656-7859; or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.