View Mobile Site
 
Posted: January 6, 2013 8:08 p.m.

Off to the races?

2013 Legislative Preview

/

More Photos

General Assembly season is right around the corner as legislators reconvene Monday, Jan. 14, for a new two-year cycle in the 152nd session of the Georgia General Assembly. 

Issues in the hot seat this year include pari-mutuel betting/horse racing, the “bed tax” paid by hospitals.

Rockdale’s returning state legislators are District 90 Rep. Pamela Stevenson, District 113 Rep Pamela Dickerson, District 91 Rep. Dee Dawkins-Haigler, District 114 Rep. Tom Kirby, District 42 Sen. Ronald Ramsey, District 17 Sen. Rick Jeffares.

Newly elected legislators are District 92 Rep. Tonya Anderson and District 109 Rep. Dale Rutledge.

A Pre-Legislative Town Hall Meeting with Rockdale’s legislators will be held Saturday, Jan. 12, 10 a.m., Nancy Guinn Memorial Library, 864 Green Street. 

 

Parimutuel Betting and Horse Racing

The prospect of bringing horse racing to Georgia may be close to becoming a reality if the General Assembly decides to pass a bill this year that will allow voters to decide on pari-mutuel betting. 

Proponents of horse racing have been lobbying heavily on the issue for several years and say this could be the year, now that the T-SPLOST and Sunday Alcohol Sales referendums are out of the way.

The city of Conyers has a tremendous stake in the legislation, which has been discussed over the last two years but has never made it to both the House and Senate for a vote. With a 1,400-acre horse park situated in a prime location, local lawmakers are hoping the bill will pass this year and voters will see the referendum on the 2014 ballot.

"The infrastructure is in place right now to support a horse track," City Manager

 Tony Lucas said this week of the Georgia International Horse Park, built to host the 1996 Olympic equestrian events. He said the 1,400-acre park is a prime location for a horse track due to its location - 3.5 miles from I-20 with a four-lane highway and a four-lane parkway leading to the park. 

Currently legal in many states including nearby Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, South Carolina and Kentucky, horse racing and pari-mutuel betting would be a tremendous economic boost for the state, said Lucas. 

Proponents said previously racing could bring $1 billion in revenue to the state, while other estimates say the amount would be closer to $50 million. In Kentucky, racing is a $4 billion industry and in Florida about a $2 billion industry. 

Rep. Harry Geisinger (R-Roswell), who is spearheading the push for horse racing, already pre-filed HB 4, a constitutional amendment to allow pari-mutuel betting and horse racing. 

In an interview with WABE-FM, Geisinger said the economy will be the strongest factor in making horse racing happen in Georgia. “Unless you bring new business to Georgia, where you have employees working who will pay taxes, and bring tourism in, we’re just going to stagnate.”

“It will create so many jobs and put so many people to work…What it will do is allow us to establish an industry that will allow us to grow.”

And even if the facility is not located in Conyers, the Horse Park could see a residual benefit from the other opportunities generated by the multi-million dollar horse racing industry.

"Given the facilities we have, if another entity such as a private developer built their $200 million facility somewhere around metro Atlanta, we could still do many different things at our park," Lucas said. "Having a small track, boarding, a livery, training - there is opportunity all over the place for the secondary things that go on. It is extremely exciting and has the best potential of passing in this assembly then it has to date."

The proposed referendum would require a two-thirds vote of both the House and Senate before appearing on the 2014 ballot. The governor's signature is not required before the referendum appears on the ballot.

A February 2012 survey by Landmark Communications of 1,000 Georgians found that 72 percent supported a voter referendum on horse racing and pari-mutuel betting. 

 

Bed Tax

An issue that will be watched closely by the healthcare industry is the sunsetting of the provider tax for Medicaid, also called the “bed tax,” on hospitals this year and whether it’ll be renewed or replaced. 

Hospitals pay a percentage of their revenues to the state which the state uses to match for more federal Medicaid funds. Those funds are distributed to hospitals serving patients on Medicaid, which often pays less for expenses.

Hospitals with fewer Medicaid patients, such as Piedmont Hospital, object to subsidizing hospitals with more Medicaid patients, such as Children’s Healthcare.

Rockdale Medical Center CEO Deborah Armstrong said RMC has a higher than average number of Medicaid patients for Georgia hospitals. 

RMC's percentage of Medicaid patients grew from 18.4 percent in 2011 and 20.8 percent in 2012.

“We pay money in and get more money back,” she said. 

She said the Georgia Hospital Association has worked with hospital. “The Georgia Hospital Association worked with hospitals across the board to try to lessen the negative impact.”

If the bed tax were to sunset, it would significantly reduce the amount of federal dollars the state would be able to draw down. Federal funds make up about two-thirds of Medicaid funding in Georgia while state funds make up about one-third.

If the tax were to sunset, Armstrong explained, “The hospitals assume there would be a Medicaid reimbursement cut. The range is anywhere from 18-34 percent cut in reimbursement. If you assume the bed tax sunsetted, and you just pick a middle number like 22 percent, that’s about $5 million.”

“It’s very significant,” she said, adding that a cut that big would probably result in program cuts and job cuts.

The Conyers-Rockdale Chamber of Commerce listed as one of its draft 2013 legislative priorities supporting a tweaked model “bed tax” which would exempt critical access hospitals, psychiatric hospitals and state owned hospitals. 

 

Education

Rockdale County Public Schools issued its 2013 Legislative Priorities recently, focusing again on restoring funding and ending austerity reductions and opposing legislation that overrides the authority of the local school board.

The charter school referendum last November allowed the state to set up an appointed board that could approve charter school applications without local school board approval.

On the national level, the school board also opposed federal health care mandates that are increasing the cost of health insurance.

According to the school system, insurance costs have increased around 174 percent over the last two years for staff members.

“Increases in employer portion of health insurance for employees has created undue burden on public systems,” the priorities read. The Board also asked that if there are increases, they be made before the school’s budget for the year is set. 

 

Local 

The county is still in the process of gathering input from constitutional and elected officers and department heads on what local bills the county would like to request, said Chief of Staff Greg Pridgeon. The county often relies on Association of County Commissioners of Georgia to advocate for and track legislation that affects all counties. 

Rep. Pamela Dickerson said she had already pre-filed two bills that did not make it out of the chambers last year – a bill to increase penalties for cyberbullying and a bill on laws regulating donated food service. 

Sen. Ronald Ramsey said he would be filing a bill that would urge school boards to allow Principals to use funds set aside for para-professionals instead for hiring POST certified personnel, such as a retired officer or young officer, who could carry a firearm in the school. 

"This is legislation that would be on a voluntary basis."

As for the issue of making Probate and Magistrate judge seats non-partisan, Ramsey said he was not opposed to it, but he was opposed to the timing of a bill last year that would have changed the seat after candidates had declared their candidacy, he said.

As for horse racing, Ramsey said the legislative climate seemed more conducive to passing a bill on a  horse racing/betting referrendum. "The state has revenue issues and any times there are revenue issues people tend to be more open to new ideas."

Sen. Rick Jeffares said with the the state facing a $550 million shortfall due to Medicaid, the budget was going to be the biggest issue to tackle. 

However, among several other bills he was working on, he said he intended to introduce a bill stopping the practice of allowing Clerks of Court to keep passport fees. 

"I feel like they’re county employees... They shouldn’t be getting that fee."

 

Commenting is not available.

Commenting not available.

Please wait ...