Valdosta Daily Times

Top News

January 11, 2013

Speaker: Guard health care, change lobbying rules

ATLANTA — House Speaker David Ralston has broadly endorsed the idea of extending a high-profile hospital industry tax that generates a sizable portion of revenue for state health care.

In a separate matter, the Blue Ridge Republican promised during a wide-ranging interview Thursday that he will push for changes to Georgia’s ethics law, including broadening the definition of who qualifies as a lobbyist to bring more people under rules that govern interactions with elected officials.

The so-called “bed tax” and lobbying law promise to be major themes of the General Assembly’s annual session that opens Monday.

Ralston said he wants his colleagues to give “very serious thought” to continuing the tax in some manner, echoing forecasts from Georgia Hospital Association leaders that failure to do so will force several hospitals around the state to close. The Medicaid financing idea involves assessing hospitals, using that money to secure federal support, then plowing the entire pot of money — more than $650 million this year — back into Medicaid payments to health care providers.

The speaker dismissed outside political pressure, led by national GOP powerbroker and anti-government activist Grover Norquist, not to renew the measure. Some lawmakers, particularly Republicans, fear re-election campaigns in which they could be branded as tax-and-spend politicians. The speaker went so far as to argue the current arrangement isn’t a tax at all: “It’s an assessment that allows us to draw down our money that we sent to Washington.” Those who vote to extend it certainly wouldn’t be supporting a tax increase, the speaker added.

“Anyone who says that is being dishonest,” Ralston said. “I would hope we could put aside what might be on the (campaign) mail pieces and look at the facts. ... Young children depend on this.”

Legislators adopted the hospital tax — it’s actually an assessment on patient revenues — in 2010 to help make up for lagging revenues blamed on the Great Recession. Each Georgia hospital pays a 1.45 assessment on their net patient revenue. That increases Georgia’s contribution to Medicaid, a joint state-federal program in which the federal government matches local spending at varying rates based on factors like a state’s per-capita income. The money yields an 11.88 percent Medicaid rate boost for hospitals.

Georgia hospital leaders have submitted to Gov. Nathan Deal and lawmakers a proposal to extend the current assessment and then add a second fee, to be paid by certain private hospitals that lose money on the initial levy because they don’t treat many Medicaid recipients. Like the patient-revenue tax, the secondary assessments would be used to get more federal money. But that second pot would be used for payments targeted back to the private hospitals, mitigating their losses from the overall concept.

Ralston said specific Medicaid finance legislation is still being drafted. He did not say whether it would exactly reflect the industry proposal, nor did he identify a sponsor.

Republicans will introduce legislation next week seeking to tighten the rules governing who must register as a lobbyist and disclose their spending on politicians.  Under current law, those seeking to influence Statehouse lawmakers must register if they spend more than 10 percent of their monthly working hours on lobbying. They must also register if they spend $1,000 or more annually to lobby.

“We’ve got a lot of people running around this capitol that should be registered lobbyists wearing badges because they’re advocating for one side of an issue or another, and they’re not registered,” Ralston said. He would not discuss what specific steps may be taken to tighten those requirements.

That statement marks another development in Ralston’s public views on the issue. In the past, he had defended Georgia’s system that forces lobbyists to disclose — though it does not limit — what they can spend to influence legislators. Ralston had said voters could decide whether a politician was acting egregiously, and he said setting firm limits on lobbyist spending would drive that activity underground.

His stance shifted this summer after 81 percent of Georgia voters, or more than 1 million people, voted in favor of limiting lobbyists’ spending in separate nonbinding ballot questions in the Republican and Democratic primary elections. He opposes a Senate proposal that would generally cap lobbyist gifts at $100. The Senate may vote on adopting that limit as an internal chamber rule as soon as Monday.

“I don’t know how you can tell the people of Georgia that it’s real reform when you can spend 99 dollars on them but not a hundred-and-one,” Ralston said, referring to the Senate’s $100 cap.

The chairman of the House Ethics Committee, Rep. Joe Wilkinson, R-Atlanta, said he was trying to create a system that would achieve the ban sought by Ralston without making some things illegal, such as preventing a statewide parent teacher association from paying for a luncheon with the entire General Assembly.

1
Text Only
Top News
  • blood drive.jpg Give Blood

    Give Blood

    August 1, 2014 1 Photo

  • Man arrested in Valdosta drug raid

    Man arrested in Valdosta drug raid

    August 1, 2014

  • Taiwan Gas Explosions_Stew.jpg Gas explosions in Taiwan

    At least 24 people were killed and 271 others injured when several underground gas explosions ripped through Taiwan’s second-largest city overnight, hurling concrete through the air and blasting long trenches in the streets, authorities said Friday.

    August 1, 2014 1 Photo

  • Immigration Overload_Roge.jpg Immigration courts speed up children’s cases

    Immigration courts are speeding up hearings for the tens of thousands of Central American children caught on the U.S. border after criticism that the backlogged system is letting immigrants stay in the country for years while waiting for their cases to be heard.

    August 1, 2014 1 Photo

  • Extra jurors seated for long Ga. salmonella trial

    After three days of jury selection, a panel with plenty of extra members was seated Thursday to hear the case of three people charged in connection with a deadly salmonella outbreak traced to a southwest Georgia peanut plant five years ago.

    August 1, 2014

  • Liberia West Africa E_Roge.jpg Ebola outbreak tops 700 deaths

    The death toll from the worst recorded Ebola outbreak in history surpassed 700 in West Africa as security forces went house-to-house in Sierra Leone’s capital Thursday looking for patients and others exposed to the disease.

    August 1, 2014 1 Photo

  • Mideast Israel Palest_Roge.jpg U.S., U.N. announce deal on Gaza cease-fire

    Israel and Hamas have agreed to a 72-hour humanitarian cease-fire beginning Friday, during which time there will be negotiations on a more durable truce in the 24-day-old Gaza war, the United States and United Nations announced Thursday.

    August 1, 2014 1 Photo

  • APTOPIX Congress_Stew.jpg Congress oks VA, highway bills, not border measure

    Congress ran full-tilt into election-year gridlock over immigration Thursday and staggered toward a five-week summer break after failing to agree on legislation to cope with the influx of young immigrants flocking illegally to the United States.

    August 1, 2014 1 Photo

  • Wisconsin Unions_Stew.jpg Wisconsin Supreme Court upholds union law

    The fight over Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s signature policy achievement, a law effectively ending collective bargaining for most public employees, ended Thursday with the state Supreme Court declaring it to be constitutional.

    August 1, 2014 1 Photo

  • Today in History

    In 1714, Britain's Queen Anne died at age 49; she was succeeded by George I.

    August 1, 2014

Top News
Poll

Do you agree with the millage rate increases?

Yes. We need to maintain services
No. Services should have been cut.
     View Results