VALDOSTA -- Affordable health insurance, tort reform and a drug free workplace discount will be on the minds of local delegates during the new year.

In preparation for Georgia's 2005 legislative session, state representatives and the Valdosta-Lowndes County Chamber of Commerce met Tuesday at the annual Legislative Eye-Opener breakfast to discuss items that will be key for a pro-business agenda.

"I feel like we've accomplished some really big goals last year," said Fred Wetherington, chairman of Chamber's Governmental Affairs Committee. "I really think our greatest efforts are in not only getting our business community involved but getting statewide recognition to issues on the table."

While reflecting on recognition Lowndes County and Valdosta have received from the Georgia Chamber of Commerce and Georgia's Retail Association in the past year, state representatives said they will continue to focus on legislation that will benefit local business.

Rep. Jay Shaw said tort reform will remain a pressing issue with the state. The controversial bill addresses a limit on liability and the amount of damages that may be awarded in personal injury lawsuits.

"We had a tough year on tort reform," Shaw said. "There's going to be another effort this year."

Shaw, who serves on the board for South Georgia Medical Center, said supporting tort reform will help rural hospitals as well as areawide hospitals.

"I see every month what this costs us at the hospital," Shaw said. "Something is going to come out of the House on tort reform. We will continue to vote on tort reform."

Health insurance will also be a concern among medical issues during the next legislative session.

"Insurance and affordable health care is without question the No. 1 concern in society," said Sen. Tim Golden.

The Chamber of Commerce's legislative agenda requests a "blue ribbon task force" to educate the state in developing more affordable health care such as association health plans and state funded insurance that will alleviate costs for local businesses.

"This is not the only bill I will be supporting, I have a number of other bills I'm working on," Golden said. "This has the potential to crush a business community and society if we don't get a handle on it. I can assure you one thing -- this delegation will be strong on business as we've always been."

In addition, Golden said he will ask for an extension on the drug free workplace discount that is available to local businesses. The 7.5 percent discount on workers' compensation is offered to companies that participate in anti-drug programs. The discount was offered with an eight-year limit that expires this year.

"This is an outstanding program that does so much for companies," Golden said. "It's an incentive to make sure business is safe and free of drugs. We'll be pushing that issue again to make it permanent. It needs a permanent place in society."

Other goals addressed on the 2005 legislative agenda included the possibility of two sales tax holidays and clarifying attendance as a reason for dismissal to correct an error in unemployment insurance.

Rep. Ron Borders said both bills are in the process of being pre-filed for the 2005 session.

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