Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Like We Aren't In the Biggest Crisis Since
The Great Depression

In further proof that the General Assembly could care less about the state's dire economic straits or the well-being of any state employees--aside from the ones who now run their separate-but-equal budget offices--House lawmakers have moved forward with threats to impeach Attorney General Thurbert Baker.
AJC's Political Insider has the details here.
This is an unsurprising move from the chamber that convened until almost midnight on last week's Crossover Day to make up for 29 legislative days of getting nothing done.
So now House lawmakers want to tie up another legislative day or two--they only have nine left--by staging a show trial to make sure every Georgian knows how upset they are about the President's health care reform package.
As if we couldn't tell already.
But bill resolution author Rep. Mark Hatfield, R-Waycross, (you can't make this stuff up!) tells the AJC that he is "not concerned with the politics of the situation."
I assume that must be because the entire situation is politics.
Get back to work General Assembly, this state of people who are suffering through higher-than-the-national-average unemployment is losing patience with your posturing.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Kidd Takes the Floor

Here is a picture that goes along with tomorrow's stories about state Rep. Rusty Kidd, I-Milledgeville, taking the well to pass legislation and raise hell.

Lucid Idiocy Exposes the Green Door Committee

And he has pictures too!

Some of y'all might remember state Rep. Rusty Kidd, I-Milledgeville, talking during the special election about some unknown committee that does all the real budget writing for the State of Georgia. It may have sounded like some kind of election year mumbo jumbo at the time, but the Telegraph's Travis Fain stumbled upon the end of the rainbow today and found the committee's secret meeting spot.
Read all about it here.

Who'd a Thunk It

In news that anyone could've guessed, but few took the time to actually find out, the AJC is reporting that in this time when no state department or agency is safe from drastic budget cutting, legislators' own budget is rising.
...under the original budget lawmakers approved for this year, spending on the House, Senate and joint legislative operations jumped more than 20 percent from 2003.
The story says the rising budget is due in part to increases in legislators' per diems (not sure if that spelling is correct) and the creation of separate budget offices for each legislative chamber.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Kidd Passes his first bill

State Representative Rusty Kidd passed his first piece of legislation through the house Wednesday.
Kidd authored House Bill 1310, which--with the utmost efficiency (see the link)--amends the Official Code of Georgia Annotated to allow the Brain and Spinal Injury Trust Commission to solicit federal funds.
Mr. Modesty, Kidd didn't mention that anything special had happened when I interviewed him Thursday about Crossover Day and his perception of his first session, so far.
I read it on Tom Baxter's Twitter feed this morning:
Rep. Rusty Kidd passes his first bill. Says dad Culver is looking on with pride "from somewhere."

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Lessons from the Healthcare Debate

If we've learned anything from the healthcare debate in Washington, I think it is that the American Republic is unable to consider a complicated issue without reverting back to the most base of reactionary behavior.
To illustrate my point, I'll link you to two stories describing scenes from the final days of the healthcare debate: This post appeared in the AJC's Political Insider blog about racist taunts hurled at U.S. Congressman John Lewis last week; and here we have an aftermath story from the Washington Post detailing a spat of attacks and threats against Democratic Congresspersons before, during and after the healthcare vote Sunday.
"It was surprising and alarming to know that people, when they have so many opportunities for expression in this country, that somebody would resort to a brick."
It's amazing to hear about these kinds of reactions from people on an issue as innocuous as healthcare reform--and I say innocuous because this is an effort (at least initially) to open healthcare to more people. You'd hope debate would grow this intense when the government is thinking about sending its military to some foreign land or when lawmakers decide to write legislation that lets corporations send the country's manufacturing base to another part of the world.
As I posted sometime a long time ago--and yes it is sad that it takes me this long to read a book--I have been reading Rolling Stone Editor Matt Taibbi's "The Great Derangement" about the growing divide between Americans of opposing political view points. Well I finally finished the book last night and although I don't feel Taibbi did a good job of reporting his purported observation--going to the ideological fringes of society will undoubtedly illustrate your point, but does little to prove the depravity is seeping into our societal DNA--his thesis is definitely valid and a good primer for what we're seeing from this healthcare debate.
I think the healthcare overhaul has been a total failure in the sense that it could have been a conversation about expanding a sector of the economy that can't be easily outsourced to somewhere else. If the debate could have been couched as an effort to encourage Americans to get a medical education so as to train enough doctors and nurses to put federally-subsidized medical clinics within reach of every American, I think it would not have become this black hole in which bureaucrats are throwing taxpayer dollars by the bundle. I think that more accurately describes the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Like Taibbi in his book, I'm not sure where I'm going with this, but I know where I'd like to end up: A place where we can calmly talk over our differences, come to the best conclusion possible and then forget our differences and move forward on making the best America possible.
I get the feeling that may be too much to ask.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The power of the gavel and those who wield it

Picture of former Georgia House Speaker Tom Murphy by the Associated Press
Now that health reform has passed its latest hurdle, newspapers' feature writers are getting in on the action.
The Washington Post has this interesting story about the history and symbolism behind the three gavels House Speaker Nancy Pelosi used to signal the final moments of the health care debate in the nation's capital this weekend.
The article also gives some insight into the history of the gavel in the United States and its meaning in modern politics.
Those of you in Atlanta can go to the Capitol Museum on the top floor of the state Capitol to see one of the gavels used by the state Speaker of the House, which looks like a wooden Foster's Oil Can on a stick to me. Now that we know all this, I'd be interested to know a little about the wooden block that is struck by the gavel, ie. is it made of a certain kind of wood?, how often is it replaced?, etc.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Healthcare, Reform or Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)?

Let it be known that I first heard they passed the health-reform bill In The Talking Straight Zonee with Quentin T. Howell and Beverly Calhoun. Then they played Michael Jackson and the Jacksons "Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)." As they should have.
Both my wife and I agreed that neither of us know what this means, if anything, for us.

Raising A Little Hell--What Can It Hurt?

Update 2: Silly of me not to notice this, but legislators changed the General Assembly's calendar and will not be meeting today. Although I haven't talked with since the calendar change was enacted, I assume Kidd will address the state House Thursday morning.

Update: Representative Kidd just texted to inform me that he will be scheduled to speak about the situation at Central State Hospital from the well Wednesday morning.

State Representative Rusty Kidd, I-Milledgegville, called me Sunday evening to say he is going to take a point of privilege Monday morning and go to the well on the House floor and speak against the closing of Adult Mental Health Services the Powell Building.
Kidd said he has been talking with employees on the phone and at his downtown offices all weekend.
"I've been meeting with employees and the things they are saying make me want to take the well and raise hell," he said. "It's not right to any employee to fire them when they only need four more months to retire with 34 years."
Kidd said he also has questions about the specific reasoning behind closing Adult Mental Health Services at Central State--was it a federally mandated or recommended closure, or was it a budgetary decision?
Kidd said, and several Central State employees have told me, that physical plant, staffing and training changes were being made to meet federal requirements right up until the January announcement that Adult Mental Health Services was closing.
You can keep him honest live here.

Making the most of the furlough weekend

Milledgeville became the focus point Saturday in the hunt for the Democratic nomination in this year's goobernatorial primary when the Central Georgia Democratic Coalition invited all statewide candidates to speak at a job and career fair on the Georgia College & State University capmus.
I think there is room somewhere in this post to ponder the implications of a group of taxpayer-employed public servants--almost all of whom are undercutting their collective performance in their current positions to spend significant amounts of time applying for a better, higher-paying job--talking to residents of one of the hardest hit areas in the state economy--many of whom were recently subject to state separation letters--about how their brand of Georgia politics is going to get everyone back on their horses and riding.
Well if it worked once, and that is all you can remember, then it might be worth another try.
One notable non-candidate, Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond, provided useful information by addressing extensions in federal unemployment benefits, the federal Earned Income Tax Credit and the HOPE grant for gaining an education at one of the state's network of technical and vocational colleges.
But Thurmond also gave what was possibly the most progressive vision of what the recession can be, relating the story of a simple family produce business that paved the road for his climb to public service. He said the recession may make you unable to buy those things that you used to supplement the love you showed family and friends during good times, but it can't prevent you from being the loving person you want to be during these hard times.
"That $120 pair of LeBron James tennis shoes may help you jump one centimeter higher, but it does nothing for your reading comprehension. We can't continue judging our families by what we can buy our children; we must return to judging them by how much we love our children.
"Just because they can lay you off, downsize you and furlough you, doesn't mean they can downsize the love you have for your child."
Master of Ceremonies Quentin T. Howell introduced Thurmond saying the Commissioner was in Milledgeville despite lingering pain from a car accident suffered several days earlier.
Because I'll undoubtedly be rewriting something of this for Tuesday's print edition, I'm going to keep it lite and hopeful this Sunday morning.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Barbecue returns to political spotlight today in Statesboro

Peach Pundit is bull-horning a Statesboro barbecue party aimed at swaying Congressman John Barrow's vote on Healthcare Reform.
Barrow is one of several Georgia Blue Dog Democrats sitting on the fence with their vote for or against healthcare overhaul legislation. Georgia Public Broadcasting reports that eighth District Democrat Jim Marshall has already signaled he will vote no on the reconciled bill and says that Barrow will likely side against the bill as well. Sanford Bishop, a southwest Georgia Democratic representative, is reportedly undecided at this time, according to GPB.

Buzz From the Capitol: Post Spring Break (pt.1) Edition

The following is a newsletter from state Senator Johnny Grant's office.

This week, the Senate returned from a two-week working recess. We took that valuable time to go over the FY 2011 budget line by line to find inefficeinces and waste in order to close the revenue gap. Unfortunately, we are at the point where no one will be spared cuts. Everyone must do their part and share the burden.

The last two weeks have seen a frenzy of talks about drastic cuts and massive layoffs within the University of Georgia. A large concern for rural areas is cuts to the 4-H and county extension programs. I strongly support these programs and will fight to see they are not completely cut from UGA’s community outreach program. 4-H touches the lives of more than 156,000 students and aides them in developing valuable life skills that prepares them for being leaders in their careers and community. Economic growth and success of Georgia agribusinesses greatly rely on the next generation of innovators. The Extension Service helps Georgians become healthier, more productive, financially independent and environmentally responsible. Most counties have a combination of agents who specialize in agriculture and natural resources, youth development and family and consumer sciences. These vital areas, run through the university system, will face some reductions, but they cannot shoulder the burden alone.

The Senate unanimously passed a significant bill targeted at protecting one of Georgia’s most vital natural resources: water. This conservation legislation will change the fundamental way water is conserved throughout the state. Local governments will now have the right to impose more stringent outdoor watering restrictions during non-drought periods whereas current law only allows them during drought periods. Many state agencies are reviewing practices, policies, programs, and rules/regulations to identify opportunities to provide programs and incentives for voluntary water conservation and enhancement of the state’s water supply.

The most sweeping overhaul of the Georgia property tax system in decades received unanimous consent in the Senate this week. This bill is the result of much testimony highlighting the inefficiencies and errors of the property tax system. One of the biggest issues is that the system is based on human assessment of value that is rampant with error, politics, and inaccuracies.

The two major concerns we heard from citizens was subjectivity of the process and lack of clarity in the appeal process. Many Georgians stated the inconsistencies of tax assessors who didn’t even enter their homes or take into account the actual market price of their homes. Many noted the lack of transparency and the convoluted nature of the process. Many of you in Middle Georgia have had your requests for appeal turned down simply because you missed a deadline you didn’t know existed.

Simply put, Georgians and Middle Georgians deserve better. I am proud of the work we accomplished this week in the Senate and I am ready for the work ahead. There is much work left to do with the FY 2010 and FY 2011 budgets but I am confident we will come together and face the uphill battle with a common understanding that Georgia will come out of this recession a stronger state.

As always, it continues to be an honor to serve in the General Assembly on the behalf of my constituents throughout the 25th district. I look forward to the remaining days in session and I vow to work tirelessly ensuring all legislation that comes across my desk works for you and all Georgians.

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Whoah, it's been a while...

Sorry to have been so absent for so long. And I can't really promise that today's posts will mark a reinvigorated One Capital Removed in the month to come. Continuing projects, new opportunities and the prospect of a personal life that remains a top priority have pushed this blog to the back burner for the time being.
But in keeping with my promise to at least forward on the content other people are writing I've signed back in--if just for an early afternoon.

Monday, March 1, 2010

New York Ordered to comply with Americans with Disabilities Act

An anonymous reader--or perhaps one whose e-mail address I should recognize--sent this link from The New York Times about a federal judge ordering the State of New York to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and seemingly though not mentioned, the Olmstead decision by building 4,500 units of supportive housing over the next three years to move adult mental health consumers out of "warehouse-like" adult homes in New York City.
"The judge said that only people with the most severe mental illness, including those deemed a danger to themselves or others, should be housed in adult homes. He also said that residents who were eligible for supportive housing may choose to stay in adult homes as long as they have been apprised of their options."
The article goes on to say that the judge has ordered the appointment of a federal monitor to oversee the process of making supportive housing available and transitioning consumers into it.
More stories like this are sure to lend credence to The Baldwin Bulletin headlines that say President Barack Obama's administration is advocating for adult mental health services to be administered in the community setting, in accordance with Olmstead, and not in the institutional setting.
But now there is a measuring stick with which we can compare what is yet to come in the State of Georgia's struggles to retain control over its mental health system.

Rep. Kidd's Mid-Session legislative update

The following is a legislative update from state Representative Rusty Kidd, I-Milledgeville.

Mid Year Update

The Georgia Legislature of 40 working days is ALMOST half over but Senator Grant and I have been at the capital some 30 plus days so far this session with weekend appropriation meetings to begin this month.

As you read daily the main topic is the budget and the lack of State funds to continue State programs. We here in Baldwin County are very knowledgeable about budget shortfalls for we have seen over 2200 State jobs lost and another 1700 regular jobs lost just over the past 2 years with possibly a few more before the bleeding stops.

At Central State the real culprit is the buildings are old and cost too much to retrofit or to build a new facility. Hence the Federal Justice Department and the State Department of Behavioral Health have closed and are closing some of the older buildings moving the clients to other facilities within the region.

Senator Grant and or I have met with the Governor 4 times, the director of Behavioral Health 5 times and the Federal Judge once trying to find ways to better utilize what we have left and how Baldwin County can continue to have a “significant” mental health presence, maintaining current jobs and hopefully creating more jobs.

One good announcement hopefully will breed more positive results.

Yes Baldwin County was selected as the site for a new 1000-2500 bed privatized prison. Construction should start around July 1, 2010.

With our growing prison population there is a new interest on the part of Oconee Regional Hospital to take over management and re-open the Kidd Medical Surgical Hospital at CSH. If all works out it would be available for inpatient and outpatient treatment of prisoners in and around Baldwin County. It would also treat those who are housed at the War Veterans Home, Craig Nursing Home and CSH patients. It would also be available, via its emergency room, to treat the general public for those in need on the Southside.

We are looking now for a privatized provider to begin talks about a nursing home on the Southside to house only the elderly prison population. This the state needs and will contract with or build in the near future.

Already we have people looking at the Ireland YDC property to reopen as a traditional YDC or as a State compound to begin transferring some of the 22,000 county jail inmates who have been diagnosed with some form of mental illness. Relieving the responsibility of these prisoners with mental illness from our county jails and county budgets.

July 1, 2010 the State will issue an RFP for another 200 bed forensic facility. Hope we will get that also.

As you see we are constantly working trying to find ways to replace the unemployed with good jobs in Baldwin County. Bring us your ideas, for we want and need them.

Some of the main issues being discussed now are obviously the budget. Roughly 88% of the state budget goes toward Education, Medicaid and Prisons. That leaves only 10 – 12% for all other state programs and services.

Half of Georgia’s budget goes to Pre-K through 12th grade schools and education. Some of the approved budget is 29 million going to school nurses. Teachers a bonus of 7.2 million. The University system budget is cut by 236 million which will probably result in higher tuition.

Funds were restored to fund Liberal Arts at Georgia College.

23 new State Troopers are funded and 1.7 million for a center of Health Science at our Tech School.

$1.38 million is appropriated to design and construct diverting the Baldwin Building at CSH to a Mental Health Building. $2,245 million to replace natural gas lines at CSH. $505,000 for improvements to Georgia War Veteran Home. $315,000 for improvements to the Vinson Building at CSH.

Some of the issues I have received calls or emails about are:

HR 1177 Pari-mutuel Horse Racing
HR 1090 One term for Governor for 6 years
HB 669 Boating under the influence
HB 307 1.6% hospital bed tax
HB 919 2% sales tax increase to be repealed when revenue equals 2006 level
HB 1141 Voters Petition
SB 99 Lake Sinclair
HB 919 Ethics
HB 1030 Merging Department Pardons and Parole with Department of Corrections
HB 788 Animal euthanasia
HB 180 Tattooing
HB 1073 Absentee ballots for those in Military
HR 1401 Coroner education
HB 819 Handgun License
HB 39 Increase tobacco tax by $1 per pack
SB 425 Community Health Boards – members shall have no conflicts of interest
SB 5 Seatbelts – Mandatory to all drivers wear seatbelts, to levy a Gov. Proposal 1% sales tax for transportation
HR 912, HB 912 & HB 920 Ethics legislation and lobbyist disclosures
Georgia Trauma Centers – Several bills
Beer Alcohol Tax increase

To contact Representative Rusty Kidd:
Atlanta (404) 655-0334
M’vill (478) 452-1354
Cell (478) 451-7029

To contact Senator Johnny Grant:
Atlanta (404) 656-0082

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I think Rusty's update is interesting as it includes the list of things constituents are calling him about.