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Patient protection bills still alive
• Now that it is past Crossover Day, lawmakers have less than four weeks left to pass their legislation.

Sen. Chuck Hufstetler

Rep. Mitchell Scoggins

Legislation that would make it easier to know what prescription medicine is covered under your health insurance is pending in the Georgia General Assembly.

With less than a month to go before the 2019 session ends on April 2, local law makers are focused on getting final passage for their bills that made the Crossover Day cut. Thursday was the deadline for bills to pass at least one chamber.

Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome, was the lead sponsor on eight bills and all but one is in the House. His SB 195 — the Prescription Drug Benefits Freedom of Information and Consumer Protection Act — passed the Senate on Crossover Day, 56 to 0, and is assigned to the House Insurance Committee for review.

The bill would require insurers to post online a searchable database of prescription drugs that clearly spells out if the medication is covered and if there are any prior authorizations required. A standardized and simplified prior-authorization form would be created, and insurers would have four days to respond to a request.

Hufstetler also is the sponsor of SB 56, the lone piece of legislation attempting to address so-called surprise medical bills for emergency out-of-network care. It's also in the House Insurance Committee.

He's also shepherding several other bills through that chamber, including one aimed at getting a better picture of online retail sales in the state.

Credit card companies and other entities like PayPal and Amazon that process payments for retailers already must file 1099-K forms with the IRS reporting the transactions. Under his SB 183, they also must file the 1099-K electronically with the Georgia revenue commissioner. It's assigned to the House Ways & Means Committee.

Also assigned to that House committee are his SB 128, which would penalize employers who don't provide timely W-2 statements of income taxes withheld, and SB 127, which would require all gas retailers to submit their motor fuel tax reports to the Georgia Department of Revenue electronically.

Hufstetler also sponsored two bills dealing with the state's retirement systems, along with SB 91, which would accept the national Commission on Dental Accreditation ruling on private dental schools.

His SB 55 sets up a method for retirees to purchase a supplemental lifetime annuity and is assigned to the House Retirement Committee. His SB 129 lets state employees under the Regents Retirement Plan switch to the Teachers Retirement System of Georgia. Retirement bills operate on a different schedule and take two years to pass.

Here's a look at what Floyd County's House delegates have on the table:

Rep. Katie Dempsey's signature legislation this year is HB 197, which would establish the Georgia Data Analytic Center.

The Rome Republican is working with Gov. Brian Kemp's office to merge information about government social services from various agencies into a centralized system. She said the data could be tapped by policy-makers and other entities to determine the most effective and cost-efficient solutions to problems such as the opioid crisis.

Dempsey also has two bills on treatments for obesity and a housekeeping measure dealing with state law on foster care pending action in the Senate. Her HB 578, which would have expanded background checks on interns, volunteers or students in the Georgia Department of Human Services, did not make it out of committee review.

Rep. Eddie Lumsden, R-Armuchee, has three bills pending in the Senate.

His HB 33 would extend the time an active duty service member has to renew a Georgia gun carry permit while serving out of country. HB 279 would let certified officers with the Georgia Department of Revenue use their vehicles for approved off-duty security jobs, and HB 387 provides a mechanism for nonprofit volunteer fire departments to recover the cost of responding to fires at property owned by nonsubscribers.

Freshman Rep. Mitchell Scoggins, R-Cartersville, passed his first bill through the House last week. HB 257, which updates regulations governing the Council of Magistrate Judges, is assigned to the Senate Special Judiciary Committee.


Race takes runners around Berry
Rain mostly holds off for runners

Runners of the Berry Half Marathon and 10K race left the starting line in front of the Ford Buildings on Saturday morning at 8 a.m. under an overcast sky, with the 5K runners following them 25 minutes later.

There were just over 1,200 runners total in the race, said race coordinator Lori Frederik. The Berry Half Marathon and 10K wound its way around the main campus before heading to the mountain campus where runners passed Berry Elementary and Middle School, WinShape Retreat, the WinShape Center and the Old Mill before returning back to the finish line in front of the Ford Buildings.

Runners in the 5K race received a surprise rain shower at the beginning of the race which only lasted a few minutes. Their course took them around the main campus before coming back to the combination start and finish line.

Corey Pitts of CMP Training said his plan was to crush the course, while his co-runners set their goals for under the half-hour mark. "You may have to push me over the finish line," Mina Martin said, laughing.

Before the race, runners could be seen stretching and jogging sections of the course. The winner of the half marathon was Thiago Bianchini who completed the course in an hour and 13 minutes. Bianchini is from Brazil but lives in Woodstock.


The Georgia Educational Scholarship Act and local schools
• A proposed savings account could mean a potential loss of funding.

Jeff Wilson

Lou Byars

Tony Daniel

A change in how state public school funds are handled has been discussed by the state Senate and has attracted criticism from local school officials who fear that the bill will create more problems than it solves.

Concerns about the Georgia Educational Scholarship Act were brought up during a Friday meeting between Rome City Schools Superintendent Lou Byars, Floyd County Schools Superintendent Jeff Wilson, board chairman for Floyd County Schools Tony Daniel and board member for Rome City Schools Jill Fisher.

"It's wrong for Georgia. It's wrong for Georgia's kids. It's certainly wrong for public education," Wilson said. "I think we just need to stand strong on that."

The bill was being co-sponsored by Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome, and would allow the state money a public school receives for a student annually to be placed in a savings account for that student should they choose to leave the public school system provided they, and the school, meet certain requirements.

To understand how this works, it is important to first understand how the schools receive this money to begin with. The public schools get reviewed twice a year to determine how much money a school will receive, Wilson said. This is usually around $5,000 per student. Around 20 percent of that money is used to take care of that student, which is determined by something called the Quality Basic Education formula. The rest is put toward other school programs, Byars said. If a student leaves the school system, they would take with them the entire amount under this new bill, leaving the school system in the hole.

Hufstetler said during a phone interview Saturday that this bill was primarily designed for students with special needs. The bill lists 11 disabilities which would qualify a student to receive a savings account using the annual funds which would normally go to the school.

Byars questioned why this bill is being considered when the Georgia Special Needs Scholarship Act was passed in 2007, and it allows students with special needs direct funding from the State of Georgia without impacting local schools.

The bill also lists other qualifying factors such as a student's parents must reside in Georgia, have a documented case of bullying, have a family income of 200 percent of the federal poverty level, have been adopted or in foster care, and/or a parent who is in active military service. Another qualification currently on the bill is a student must be enrolled in a public school during the preceding October and March full-time equivalency counts. Hufstetler said he has been assured by the governor's and lieutenant governor's staff that this part of the bill will be changed if it reaches the House.

To have a savings account set up parents must first fill out an application and sign an agreement that they will follow stipulations when using the money. According to the bill, parents must agree to provide an education for their students, not enroll them in a public or charter school while in the program, use funds only for the education of their children and agree to the financial responsibility of educating their child.

Wilson said he has not had the language explained to him, and is concerned with the accountability of this proposed system.

"How do we know the parents won't use the money to go on vacation?" he asked.

"It's a bad bill," Daniel said.

Hufstetler said he did not see these impacts. Looking at information gathered from the school systems in his district, which includes Floyd, Gordon, Chattooga and Bartow, as well as from the state department of education, he said he doesn't think the impact would be that great on the school system.

The Georgia Educational Scholarship Act was brought to the Senate floor March 5 where it failed 25-28 with Hufstetler voting for it. The bill received a notice to be reconsidered last Thursday, but Hufstetler requested that it wait until some changes could be made.


Trail of Tears Association brings education and heritage
• The group's first meeting of the year is held in Rome.

The Georgia Trail of Tears Association met in Rome on Saturday for their first meeting of the year at Chieftains Museum to talk about Native American history and to connect with their heritage.

There are five meetings a year which are free and open to the public, said Walter Knapp, vice president of the Georgia chapter of TOTA. Last year the organization focused on learning about one subject throughout all of their meetings, and they plan on doing the same this year.

Former Georgia Trail of Tears president and current Funk Heritage Museum Director Jeff Bishop gave Saturday's historical presentation on the Creek Native Americans who will be the focus of the group's study this year. Bishop was there to specifically talk about the Red Stick War, also known as the Creek war in the early 1800s. Several of the Creek Native Americans decided that they had enough of the new ways imposed on them by the newly formed U.S. government and decided to revolt against Americans and other Native Americans.

The story had local ties with Major Ridge, who resided by the Oostanaula River in the house that is now Chieftains Museum. Ridge was publicly against the radical Creek tribe and was nearly killed for speaking out against them. The new ways were good for Major Ridge, Bishop said. He had a plantation, slaves, orchards and ferries.

"He was fully invested in this way of life," Bishop said. "He had a lot to lose."

The Red Stick War spilled over into Alabama and was eventually ended by a combined effort of Cherokee, Creek and the Tennessee Volunteers led by Andrew Jackson, who would eventually become president and sign the Indian Removal Act.

After the presentation was over the TOTA members voted on an updated brochure of the Trail of Tears which will be distributed by the National Park Service. The group is not exclusively Rome-based, said Knapp, who is from Roswell.

A visitor to the meeting, Woodstock resident Betsy Ludlow, said she is trying to find out more of her family's Cherokee heritage. She said she has traced family records to the Rome area but said the government did not keep records on Native Americans prior to 1920.

"I am still in the information-absorbing stage," she said.

A California man who now lives in Georgia said he is part Shawnee and Cherokee, and calls himself a 21st century Native American. Green Eyes Walking said he feels more at home in Georgia and harbors no ill will against white people, although he understands there is a lot of bitterness felt by Native Americans.


TODAY'S YOUNG ARTIST

Today's artwork is by Jacob Cooper, a fifth-grade student at Alto Park Elementary School.