Northwest Regional Hospital – During the first week of session, Representatives were told that the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities would close Northwest Regional on June 30, 2011.  An agreement with the U. S. Department of Justice requires that developmentally disabled patients be placed in community settings for services and housing.   Remaining patients at the hospital would be placed in other state hospitals.  The savings from closing Northwest Regional would be used to contract for community services across the 31 county area served by Northwest Regional.   

Our delegation immediately met with Governor deal who assured us the hospital will not close until services are in place in the community.  I feel this transition should be approached cautiously to assure the best placement for each patient.   During this time, I have talked with many employees and patients’ family members.  I have shared information I have compiled with the Governor’s Chief of Staff and the Speaker’s staff.  Almost $8 million in infrastructure and building improvements has been spent on the campus since November of 2007.  Even now, there are several contracts for building improvements under way.  These contracts total $3,396,622. 

It is not logical to me that the state would invest millions yet close the facility in June.   Additional costs related to closing such as mothballing 589,000 square feet of buildings and paying unemployment benefits for 760 employees will be staggering.  Hopefully, the leadership will reverse their decision or delay the closing so that patients will be better cared for and employees can be placed in other jobs.   

Immigration Legislation – In 2006, the General Assembly passed one of the toughest immigration bills in the nation.  Portions of the bill were copied by other states.  HB 87 which was introduced last week strengthens provisions of the previous legislation but adds other provisions which will be soundly debated as the bill moves through the Judiciary Committee.   The bill would require business owners with more than five employees to provide evidence they have used the federal E-verify system to check the citizenship status of their employees. HB 87 would also provide Georgia residents an ability to sue a police force or other government agency in Superior Court if they believe the agency is not enforcing the immigration law.   Supporters of the proposal say it is in response to a breakdown in federal enforcement of immigration laws and is aimed at protecting employment opportunities for legal residents.   Opponents claim enactment of the measure would adversely affect Georgia businesses, with an especially negative impact on the agriculture and tourism industries.  

Rome Chamber Honored – On Jan. 26, the House adopted a resolution I co-sponsored, commending the Greater Rome Chamber of Commerce on the occasion of its 100th annual meeting. HR 70 states the chamber “has earned a well-deserved reputation for sound policies, effective organizational procedures and its positive impact on the community.” The chamber’s 100th annual meeting took place Jan. 27.   

Ethics Reform The Georgia Alliance for Ethics Reform, a coalition of groups including Common Cause, the Tea Party and Georgia Watch, has called for stronger standards in the state’s ethics laws. The alliance is pushing for a $100 limit on the amount lobbyists can spend on an elected official in their efforts to influence action on proposed legislation. The groups also want expanded disclosure of lobbyist expenditures, restrictions on the transfers of money from political action committees to individual candidates’ campaign accounts and stronger conflict of interest laws.   

Water Transfers – The State Board of Natural Resources has voted to approve new regulations governing inter-basin transfers of water in Georgia.  Under the new rules, the director of the Environmental Protection Division (EPD) should consider environmental and economic standards in deciding whether to grant a permit to transfer water from one river basin to another. Many rural legislators want tighter restrictions on inter-basin transfers out of concern the practice will result in their areas’ water supply would be severely affected by transfers to the metro Atlanta region.   

QBE Study Committee – Gov. Deal announced his plans to appoint a study committee to review the Quality Basic Education funding formula used by the state to determine how much of the state’s budget is distributed among  local school systems. The committee may make recommendations for adjusting the formula, which has been in place for more than 25 years. The governor said he will also be appointing advisory commissions on business competiveness and water supply.   

Tax Refund Mistake – On Jan. 20, the Georgia Department of Revenue issued approximately 30,000 electronic tax refunds, totaling about $12 million. Afterwards, it was discovered that about $633,000 of the refunds were overpayments caused by what new Revenue Commissioner Doug MacGinnitie called a “computer glitch.” The department then reversed the electronic transfers of the overpaid refunds to individual taxpayers’ bank accounts, causing some recipients who had not been made aware of the reversal to have their checks bounce and be hit with overdraft fees by their bank. MacGinnitie said the department is working to re-process the refunds and is working with the banks involved so that the overdraft fees charged to the taxpayers are waived.    

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 online at www.legis.ga.gov.    

Rep. Reece may be reached at 404-656-7859 or barbara.reece@house.ga.gov.  Rep. Reece serves on the Education Committee, State Institutions and Properties Committee, Science and Technology Committee, and the Legislative and Congressional Reapportionment Committee.