The 2020 General Session is again underway, ending eight days of deliberation in appropriations meetings to determine how to effectively tackle the enormous task of balancing the 2020 supplemental budget, while also protecting the vital programs and services they provide to Georgia citizens. State agency heads advised legislators on how their programs would be affected, and whether proposed changes would allow them to continue serving the citizens of Georgia effectively.

Last week, I spoke about the challenges at hand. Under law, the governor sets the annual revenue estimate, based on how much income the state is expected to bring in, and the legislature cannot budget for any spending above that mark. The governor has his priorities, and the legislature — as an equal branch of government — has theirs. The governor recommends a budget to fulfill campaign promises and administrative priorities, and the legislature will modify items within that financial plan, based on the common desires of 180 house members and 56 senators. I described many of the cuts that will affect specific programs, including big-ticket salary increases in some areas, and exemptions in others. By the time of this writing, I suspect the house version of the amended 2020 budget will be passed, and it will move to the Senate for further consideration.

Many bills under debate address the number one problem faced by our society — affordable health care. We are seeing bills relating to lower drug prices, and those that spotlight “pharmacy benefit managers,” those parties who negotiate prices between pharmaceutical companies and dispensing pharmacies and guide patients toward certain drugs. Of course, they are paid to do this, and pharmacy benefit managers receive enormous rebates from drug manufacturers. Doctors take issue with these facts: 1) these managers decide whether to pay for certain drugs, and when; and 2) they determine what drugs require prior authorization or can be delivered by mail order. This might not worry some folks. But if you’ve had a heart attack or heart failure and must submit for prior authorization, then wait 24 to 72 hours for approval and shipping, you are confronted with a big problem.

Solutions to eliminate “surprise medical billing” are also gaining momentum in both the house and senate. Surprise billing refers to extra hospital charges a patient may receive after certain medical procedures (i.e. anesthesiology or emergency room services performed by out-of-network specialists). These out-of-network expenses can run into thousands of dollars and blindside the patient. These medical specialists claim they are underpaid by working in-network, but they are paid much more out-of-network, and, of course, the patient gets the ‘surprise’ when the billing starts. When passed, these costs would be worked out between insurers and medical providers.

Atlanta’s professional athletics teams have become energized to support legalized sports gambling. These pro teams, along with their national league counterparts, have formed a coalition to promote a constitutional amendment to legalize sports betting via cell phone applications. I think this is interesting, given that no jobs are created and there is no real economic development — no sales taxes, no hotel taxes, no property taxes. Gambling is gambling and, whatever form it takes, it will still require a vote of the people at the ballot box in November to decide.

The ‘Georgia Right to Farm Act,’ a legislative initiative that has been in the works in both houses for several years, is now moving forward. Because of the high rate of residential growth in traditional agricultural areas and the natural occurrence of conflicts usually based on odors, agriculture-based operations are subject to a growing number of nuisance lawsuits. The base of the proposed legislation is that anyone wishing to file a nuisance suit must be located within five miles of the source. These suits must be brought within two years of the occurrence. The hope is that owners living in agricultural zoned areas would expect agricultural operations to have certain nuisances not expected in cities or zoned residential areas. We will see what the final version looks like.

Despite an active week in committee meetings, I was delighted to meet with groups from the Georgia Farm Bureau, as well as students from Youth Leadership Franklin. It’s always a great pleasure to have local citizens visit their Capitol.

I am honored to serve you and, as always, appreciate your thoughts and interest. Please feel free to contact me via phone at 404-656-0276 (Legislative Office) or 706-206-6500 (Cell) or email at alan.powell@house.ga.gov or alanpowell23@hotmail.com.

Alan Powell represents the District 32, which includes Franklin, Hart and a portion of Madison counties, in the Georgia House of Representatives.

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