Friday, January 30, 2009

Now for the item we've all been waiting for...

Legislation was filed in the state House today to reorganize the Department of Human Resources.
Representative Mark Butler, R-Carrolton, filed H.B.228 today. Butler is a member of the Gov.'s Health and Human Service Task Force, which made the recommendation for the reorganization.
“This legislation reorients our approach to healthcare from inputs to results,” Governor Perdue said. “Georgia spends $3.8 billion within DHR every year – an agency that hasn’t undergone major change since it was formed over three decades ago.”
Under the plan mental health and addictive diseases will get their own Department of Behavioral Health, which would report directly to Perdue. The Department of Community Health would be merged with "the public health and health regulation programs of DHR to create the Department of Health." And "the remaining social services under DHR would become the Department of Human Services. Programs included in this department include Developmental Disabilities, Aging, Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS) and Child Support."
Haven't yet been able to look through the 252-page document. And with the amount of work we have, I doubt I'll be able to. But stay tuned for reaction from the local delegation.

Most popular lawmaker continued...

The Telegraph is reporting that House bill to reinstate funding for the Homestead Relief Tax Grant program in this year's supplemental budget passed this morning 117-55.
"House Bill 143, sponsored by Warner Robins state Rep. Larry O'Neal, wouldn't force the governor to put the money back into the budget. But it sends a strong message that, if he doesn't, he's going against the will of the legislature and faces the possibility of an veto override."
Macon's intrepid Travis Fain also reports that the House adjourned before taking up the issue of assessment caps for residential and commercial property taxes.
I wrote about this for the UR yesterday, but can't link to it because it didn't make the Web. We've got to do something thing to keep the paper flying off the rack.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Who'll be this year's most popular legislator?

Forget the 2010 Governor's race, the race to see who'll be the most popular legislator to emerge from this year's session of the General Assembly began sometime late last week.
Representative Larry O'Neal, R-Warner Robins, introduced H.B.143 to require the state to pony up the $428 million necessary to fund the Homestead Relief Tax Grant program in this year's supplemental budget.
The Gov. Roy Barnes-era entitlement program that saves homesteaders between $200 and $300 each year on their property taxes was left out of Gov. Sonny Perdue's supplemental budget this year.
But according to the AJC's reading of the bill, future funding of the grant program will hinge upon state revenue growth. Future funding will not be plugged into any future budgets until the mid-fiscal year supplemental budget and will require adequate tax revenues to support the grant.
AJC's Political Insider smells politics on this bill per the list of heavy republican hitters who are co-sponsoring the bill.
It's good to see that despite all the hard times, the General Assembly is still living up to all expectations.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Either they're crazy or we're crazy...

Baldwin County Commission Chair James "Bubba" Williams found a receptive audience at the 202nd Robert E. Lee Birthday celebration for some thoughts on revisionist history and the decision to move the state capital to Atlanta.
"A lot of people say it was a terrible mistake to separate the legislature from the mental hospital," he said.
By golly, I think he's on to something.

Friday, January 23, 2009

"She's just a wizard who can make money appear out of thin air."

That's state Senator Johnny Grant,R-Milledgeville, about how the Department of Human Resources, and especially Commissioner B.J. Walker (pictured), intend on to make good on the state's settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice on Civil Rights violations in Georgia's Mental Health system.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has told us that these things cost money:
"The settlement agreement, which requires a federal judge’s approval, binds the state to “undertake its best efforts” to find enough money to transform the hospitals. If legislators fail to allot the money, federal authorities may ask a judge to force additional spending.
State officials have not determined how much compliance will cost. A Journal-Constitution analysis last year found that increasing mental health spending in Georgia to the national average would require more than doubling the current annual budget of about $465 million."

But according to Grant, Walker says the state will be able to meet the terms of the yet-undisclosed settlement while parting with about $29 million due to the governor's proposed budget cuts.
Now that's government in action for ya.

Givin' em Hell

Budget discussions with Department of Human Resources Commissioner B.J. Walker are going on in the new Capital as we speak.
State Rep. Bobby Parham, D-Milledgeville, told me yesterday that he was going to study up to be able to catch Walker on something. And this Lucid Idiocy post has his finger prints all over it.
Instantaneous update: Parham called while posting this and told me that he had in fact caused this little moment of mirth.
"Yeah, I was grinning like hell," he said. "I had her and she knew it. She fell for it like a fish on a hook."
After reviewing DHR's reorganization, Parham characterized it as simply "passing the buck."
"You can't just create another department without making preparations for taking care of the mentally ill," he said. "This is just passing the buck...someone has got to take care of mental health. We can't just throw them in jail and in prison and expect they'll get the care they need. Even if you could, the cost of doing it is way out of sight."

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Halfway there

The development moratorium imposed in December 2008 to allow time for Baldwin County Commissioners to explore site planning and architectural standards for several "gateway" corridors to the City of Milledgeville expired Wednesday.
The Baldwin 20/20 initiative to assert aesthetic quality-of-life as a driver for future economic development has seemingly stalled in both City Council and the County Commission.
In their Jan. 13 meeting, City Council sent the proposed standards back to the Planning and Zoning Commission for a fourth vote.
P&Z, like council, has tabled decision on the standards before. But not having the luxury of being able to do so repeatedly, the city's zoning board has given the proposal a negative recommendation the past two times it came before them.
The City of Milledgeville's development moratorium will expire at the end of January.
Commission Chair James "Bubba" Williams said that he thinks the Corridor Gateway Standards are about halfway there, he just thinks they need a little more input from the community's small business owners.

Back to the good ole days

County Commissioner Sammy Hall proposed a plan for improving the aesthetic quality of Baldwin County in a planning work session Wednesday.
Hall said he would like to find a way to coordinate state prisoner roadside clean up crews with county mowing crews to keep the abundance of roadside litter from getting mowed to pieces and strewn across the county right-of-way.
If increasing the number of prisoner work hours with the state is nonnegotiable, Hall said he knows of 350 possible candidates who are moving into a new Baldwin County jail in early March.
Hall said he wouldn't mind if he heard a little jingle when they walk.
Milledgeville-Baldwin County Development Authority Director Angie Gheesling, who recently spear-headed efforts to make Milledgeville-Baldwin County an affiliate of Keep America Beautiful, warned commissioners that Baldwin County's historic reliance on roadside prison details is probably adding to the community's litter problem and not cleaning it.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Budget talks get serious starting now

The joint House and Senate Appropriations Committee begins hashing out the state budget situation in Atlanta today.
We'll be doing our best to stay close through Rep. Bobby Parham and Sen. Johnny Grant so we can learn the fate of the community's many state institutions, the most important of which being the state's oldest mental health institution.
Grant and Parham both said they expect to hear from Department of Human Resources Commissioner B. J. Walker on Thursday.
For those of you who can't wait that long, here is a grim report on the state's funding for all forms of well-being through public health courtesy of the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute.

Hope for the next administration

One of the bloggers at Peach Pundit wrote an interesting entry about the need to cast aside party allegiances and at least hope we don't fall flat on our faces during the next four years.
Political differences aside, if nothing else I think we all need to be thinking about how we're going to get through these hard times intact, and not about what color tie our leaders are wearing and what ideology they look to for solutions to our problems.
We spent six years with one of the two dominant political ideologies, I think we can afford two or four years with the other before deciding that maybe there are more than two ways for proceeding into the future.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

How news is made...

Almost the entire Union-Recorder news team was together sharing this moment. Above is a picture of the newsroom as the Oath of Office was being administered.
You can read text of the President's Inaugural Address here.
"Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America - they will be met."-President Barack Obama

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Come to Milledgeville, where every month is...

Aside from the business of balancing a budget, making sure the feds don't swoop in and take charge of our mental health system and trying to improve the state's system of roads, some lawmakers under the gold dome are focusing on what's really important.
This just makes me think about a Saturday last April when I was first introduced to the former capital's lust for history.
I think the only person more clueless than I was the Georgia College & State University professor who asked me what was with all the cannon fire on the day the college was celebrating the kick off of Earth Week.
But for all you Civil War buffs out there, don't miss out on the Robert E. Lee Birthday Bash happening next weekend at the Old Capital Museum.

Friday, January 16, 2009

A day in the life...

Update: Fox 24 coverage of this great victory: here

This is the way I like to do it. Multiple people raising their hands and waiting their turn to answer the questions I ask them.
These students are members of the Green ExStream, a group of Oak Hill Middle School students who have joined together to spread environmental awareness throughout the Milledgeville/Baldwin County community. Through their efforts this year, they were awarded $10,000 in the Lexus Scholastic Eco Challenge.
This is the third time I've written about this group of young people, and with their positivity, I hope it won't be the last.

Georgia announces settlement with Department of Justice on state's mental health system

The U.S. Department of Justice and the state of Georgia announced a settlement in the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act case against the state's seven mental health hospitals.
On first glance it appears the state will have to improve in the areas of "choking and aspiration risk assessment and prevention, suicide risk assessment and prevention, patient on patient assault prevention and enforce more consistent emergency medical codes in the first year of the agreement."
Note that in the governor's release there is less mention of "ensure that patients are free from undue bodily restraint." No blame cake to be eaten here.
The majority of the DOJ's findings were based on the Georgia Regional Hospital in Atlanta, and it is still unclear whether DOJ made it down to Milledgeville to inspect the mother of all Georgia mental health facilities.
But we should see in the next week or so whether Asylum City will continue to be an appropriate nick name after this session of the General Assembly.
More to come as the settlement is still pending approval by a federal judge.
Read the AJC's article about the settlement and the steps to come here.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Milledgeville in the State of State

The state's former Capital made it into the State of the State and its rebuttal twice, one reference in each.
The Governor began his State of the State address with the story of Jeremy Lee, a young man who escaped the Bill Ireland Youth Development (or Detention, take your pick) Center the right way, by graduating with a high school diploma. Perdue mentioned the youth as an example of how resilience can bring an individual out of life's missteps, or as the YDC has been described to me: A place with more hell than hell itself.
State Rep. Dubose Porter, D-Dublin, also brought listeners to our fair city to talk about the 82 war veterans who were told to find a new place to live because of the across the board budget cuts recommended by the governor to mitigate the $2.2 billion revenue shortfall being experienced by the state of Georgia.
I find that both stories speak of the failure of the state to provide critical services to citizens most at need, one explicitly, the other less so.
Had Jeremy Lee been challenged by a proper education in the state's school systems, maybe his rebellious energy wouldn't have been channeled in the wrong direction.
Both stories say that the only way out of Milledgeville is through sheer will power and personal determination. Don't expect the state to throw you a bone, unless it's to be paraded around for politics.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

No pork on this plate

State Rep. Bobby Parham gave some interesting insight into why he didn't make it to this year's Wild Hog Supper, the aptly-named smorgasbord that has preceded the Georgia Legislature's opening day in each of the last 47 years.
Parham said he and his wife Juanita shun the event because of the amount of germs spread by the different politicos reaching out to grab the pork with their bare hands.
I used to go and enjoy the event, but when she started talking about the germs I started to thinking she might be right, he said.
And who can blame him. With the amount of back slapping and handshaking going on in those circles you could be eating off the hands of the entire state of Georgia.
Picture by Kimberly Smith of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

And we thought it was just going to be about the budget

In addition to warning legislators that this lame duck governor has nothing to lose in the next two years of governing, Gov. Sonny Perdue issued a warning to school board officials who can't seem to keep their school systems in the press for the right reasons.
Perdue announced a legislative proposal to ensure that school board officials keep the priorities of the local school system's students at the top and not their own personal agendas.
“Never again, do I intend for the state to be handcuffed by our current law and powerless to help students who are being failed by the adults in their community,” the Governor said.
According to his Eggs and Issues press release, Perdue wants legislation that will "standardize board ethics policies and board training, clarifies law delineating the roles and responsibilities of superintendents and board members, creates minimum qualifications for board candidates and gives the state the ability to find responsible citizens to serve on school boards when existing members fail to serve the interests of their students."
Everyone in the former state capital has known that this session of the General Assembly was going to be pertinent on the local level, but I think we all failed to see just how pertinent.