The House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly March 10 to approve legislation that calls for statewide water conservation measures. The sponsor of HB 1094 said the measure would help Georgia in its continuing negotiations with Florida and Alabama over the allocation of water from Lake Lanier.

 

The legislation would phase in by 2012 requirements for the installation of low-flow plumbing devices in new residential and commercial buildings and include an outdoor watering restriction similar to the statewide regulation in effect during recent drought conditions. Local governments would be prohibited from enacting stricter outdoor water restrictions unless they receive authorization from the state Environmental Protection Division.

 

The Senate passed similar legislation the same day, and the measure is expected to be signed into law relatively quickly. While there is nothing wrong with the provisions that are in HB 1094, the bill does not address the issue of inter-basin transfers, a controversial strategy that was recommended by Gov. Sonny Perdue’s water management task force last fall. Separate legislation that would prohibit inter-basin transfers is currently stuck in the House Natural Resources & Environment Committee.

 Governor Cuts Hospitals

In the wake of the February revenue report, which showed a decline in state tax collections for the 15th consecutive month, Gov. Perdue announced March 11 he is lowering his revenue estimate for the current fiscal year and transferring $342 million in federal stimulus funds from the fiscal year 2011 budget to help pay the bills for the remainder of the current year. To fill that 2011 budget hole, the governor is calling for $96 million in new fee increases and slashing Medicaid reimbursements to Georgia hospitals by 10.25 percent. Along with removing the sales tax exemption on purchases by non-profit hospitals, the governor’s plan will cost the Georgia health care community a total of $274 million. These cuts would have a devastating impact on the delivery of health care in our state and likely slam the doors on some rural hospitals that were already troubled financially.

 State Crime Labs

On March 11, I joined state Sen. Jeff Mullis (R-Chickamauga) and Chattooga County Commissioner Jason Winters for a meeting with Irene Munn of the lieutenant governor’s staff to discuss strategies aimed at keeping the Summerville Crime Lab in operation. Georgia Bureau of Investigation Director Vernon Keenan and Assistant Director Dan Kirk were also in the meeting. The next day, I talked with House Speaker David Ralston about the issue. As a lawyer, Speaker Ralston is well aware of the problems that closing these crime labs would cause for our criminal justice system and law enforcement agencies. Friday afternoon, I learned from the GBI that the Governor was proposing to cut another $2.1 million from GBI operations. Since the Governor has already cut three labs from his 2011 budget, news like this makes it more difficult to secure funds to reinstate the labs in the budget.

 Local School BoardsHouse members voted March 8 to approve legislation that would give the governor the authority to remove local school board members in systems that lose or are threatened with the loss of accreditation. I voted against SB 84 because I am opposed to giving one elected official the power to remove another. We already have a recall process that can be used in these cases. The people’s right to vote is sacred. The amended legislation now goes back to the Senate for final approval. Food Safety

On March 9, the House approved legislation aimed at strengthening food safety. HB 883 would require food processing plants to have a written food safety plan and make it a misdemeanor to fail to report problematic test results. Under the bill, knowingly introducing a tainted substance into finished food or food ingredients at a plant would be a felony with penalties of up to 20 years in prison and a $20,000 fine for violations. HB 883 now goes to the Senate for its consideration.

 Distinguished Older Georgian

On March 8, House members welcomed the Rev. Warren L. Jones of Rome to the Capitol and adopted HR 1452, which I introduced to commend Rev. Jones on being named as the Distinguished Older Georgian for 2010. At age 88, Rev. Jones is still an active leader in the community and for many years was active in the Silver Haired Legislature program at the state and national levels. He was instrumental in the effort that resulted in the placement of a portrait of former U.S. First Lady Ellen Axson Wilson in the State Capitol.

 Speaker Tom Murphy

The House chamber was at capacity on March 10 for the unveiling of a portrait honoring the late Thomas B. Murphy, who served as Speaker of the House during Georgia’s greatest years of progress, from 1974 through 2002. The portrait will remain in prominent display in the Capitol. Having served for several years with Speaker Murphy, I can say this is a well-deserved and long-overdue tribute to his leadership.

 Read Across AmericaDuring “Read Across America” Week, I had the opportunity to visit and tour McHenry Elementary School in Floyd County. I wish to thank the principal, media specialist and faculty for their hospitality and all they are doing for public education. UGA School of Veterinary ScienceOn Saturday, I joined members of our Young Farmer organization and their families for a tour of the University of Georgia’s School of Veterinary Science.  Even the very young farmers enjoyed walking through animal hospital and learning how animals are diagnosed and treated.  Our Veterinary school is rated third in the nation. Afterwards, I attended the Rome American Legion Post 5 celebration of the 91st birthday of the Legion.  Happy Birthday!  Thank you to all veterans for your service. 

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.  She is also Secretary of the Rural Caucus.