The two state senators who represent Jackson County as the 2013 legislative session nears see challenges for the General Assembly in funding increased health care costs in the wake of passage of the Affordable Health Care Act.
Sen. Frank Ginn represents the bottom half of Jackson County following the realignment of his 47th District last year. A Republican from Madison County, Ginn has represented the district for two years.
Sen. John Wilkinson (R-Toccoa) represents the eight Jackson County precincts in the northeast half of the county — including all of Commerce. A former program manager for the Department of Education, he was elected to the Senate in a special election in 2011.
When reapportionment took place, Wilkinson lost all of Hart County and the only precinct he had in White County. He also represents two precincts in Hall County, plus Habersham, Rabun, Towns, Stephens, Banks and Franklin counties.
Wilkinson expects the Affordable Health Care Act to have a “big” impact on the budget in terms of the state’s costs for Medicaid and Medicare.
“The big issue is the assessment on hospital beds,” he said. “That comes up to be renewed this year.”
The fee was implemented during the administration of Gov. Sonny Perdue. The state levies a per-bed fee against hospitals and leverages that to get federal funding.
“We charge a fee, the federal government matches it, but if that assessment is not renewed, we’ll have to come up with $400 million,” said Wilkinson.
What the legislature will do, he added, is difficult to say.
“Where the challenge is, some people view that as a tax,” he noted, which can be fatal for a revenue stream in Georgia. “It’s something that has been in place already and we actually get two federal dollars for every state dollar. It’s a good deal for the state.”
Ginn said that the Affordable Health Care Act “is basically a $400 million cost in the budget for increases in the state portions of Medicare and Medicaid.”
Gun Control Legislation
Following the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, both legislators expect to see talk about gun control.
For his part, Ginn said he plans to introduce legislation so Georgians can carry firearms into South Carolina under the Georgia Carry Permit. It’s a bill he was working on before the Connecticut tragedy occurred, he pointed out.
Ginn said the National Rifle Association told him that South Carolina is not among the states that honor the Georgia permit.
“Right now if you drive north from Commerce into South Carolina, your carry permit means nothing,” he said.
Ginn said he’s been working with the NRA to make a training “endorsement” available to Georgia permit carriers that would lead South Carolina to welcome pistol packing Georgians. He envisions 4-8-hour courses conducted by NRA-trained instructors or by public safety organizations like the Commerce Police Department and the Madison County Sheriff’s Department.
Wilkinson is in no hurry to see new gun-related legislation.
“Any time you have a horrific incident, there are always suggestions that come up,” he said. “I think it’s wise not to have a knee-jerk reaction. It’s better to look at the big picture, how we deal with mental health and with all the factors that impact an incident like (the Sandy Hook shootings).”
Leadership Changes In The Senate
The recent overhaul of the Senate leadership will return a lot of power to Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle that was stripped off two years ago, both senators pointed out.
“We’ve got a new president pro tem, a new majority leader and a new caucus chairman,” Wilkinson observed.
Last year Cagle was kept off the Committee on Appointments. This year he chairs it.
“That is a big change,” said Wilkinson.
Ginn counts himself as a supporter of Cagle and says he’s “looking forward to a lot of good things happening.”
“The lieutenant governor is president of the Senate and, quite honestly, elected statewide,” he said. “I think he’s done an outstanding job. …He’s a great leader and I think he will be much more involved.”
On other subjects, both Ginn and Wilkinson expect to see changes in ethics policies, if not through state law that affects all lawmakers, then through the Senate Rules Committee, which would cover just members of the Senate.
“The problem is, if you do it legislatively, the House can mess with it any way it wants to,” Ginn explained. “If we do it with Senate Rules, we can do so without having their, guidance, so to speak.”
Georgia voters sided overwhelmingly with ethics reform on referenda held separately by the two parties during the General Primary Election July 31. Wilkinson pointed out that he was ahead of the curve on ethics legislation.
“I was one of six that signed the ethics reform legislation last year,” he said. He also predicted that Senate leaders will use the Rules Committee to establish a limit on the dollar amount of gifts Senators can accept, setting it at $100.