Anticipated Issues – Georgia 2010 Legislative Session
The overriding issue for the 2010 legislative session will be the state budget. With the economy where it is, and state revenues in free fall (the latest numbers continue the dismal trend), the state is now in a fiscal crisis. PPG and other safety net service organizations can no longer simply advocate that programs not be cut – there is simply no money. The state cannot “cut” its way out of this crisis. Georgia needs to take a balanced approach through which we make wise spending choices and take a real look at revenue options.
We also anticipate that the Georgia General Assembly will continue attempts to restrict access to family planning services, to further restrict or ban abortion, to elevate the legal status of an embryo, to unduly regulate reproductive medicine and to allow insurance companies to eliminate currently mandated health care coverage. If politicians in Georgia truly cared about preventing unintended pregnancies, they would work with Planned Parenthood to increase access to prevention initiatives: birth control and sex education.
Looking at the Budget:
Balancing Target Cuts with Revenue Enhancements
PPG has joined with other non-profit health, social service, education and environmental groups in a campaign to push policymakers to look at ways to increase revenues (yes – we mean some targeted tax increases, and fewer tax breaks), update our antiquated revenue collection system, while making targeted cuts. We need to build upon past investments rather than undermine them with cuts to core services. We must reform our revenue system to ensure that we have the resources to protect these investments and ensure a prosperous future.
Family Planning Medicaid Waiver
Last session we were successful in getting $250,000 appropriated in the FY 2010 budget to start work on a Medicaid family planning waiver. Getting the funding was just the first step and we are currently advocating for the state to apply for the waiver. A Medicaid waiver would allow Georgia to expand its Medicaid program to provide contraceptive and pregnancy planning services to low income women at the same eligibility level as that applied to pregnancy care. This type of waiver program has been implemented in 27 states, and has proven to yield great savings. An enhanced federal match of 90% for family planning services means that Georgia would pay only 10% of the cost of most of the services in would provide under a waiver program. The Family Planning Medicaid Waiver is a solution to the state budget woes and would improve family planning access to thousands of women in Georgia.
Abortion Access and Reproductive Medicine:
Over the last several sessions Georgia Right To Life has pushed legislation in many forms to create “personhood” for an embryo (beginning at fertilization). The implications of such legislation are so broad that it could potentially ban abortion in Georgia, as well as ban certain forms of contraception and prevent women from utilizing assisted reproductive treatments. These bills put politics above the health and safety of women. Several bills have also been introduced in the House and Senate that would unduly regulate infertility facilities and their treatments. The bottom line is that couples who are challenged with fertility issues should not have road blocks that interfere with their ability to build their families. Carryover legislation from last session includes:
House Bill 1 (HB 1 – Franklin) - Crimes and offenses; prenatal murder: HB 1 criminalizes all abortions and makes performing an abortion a felony in Georgia. It is yet another attempt to outlaw abortion in Georgia. As currently written, this legislation is unconstitutional. After a hearing during the 2008 session this bill failed to pass out of committee. It was again assigned to the House Judiciary Committee, but saw no action last year.
House Resolution 5 (HR 5 – Scott) - Paramount Right to Life Act; Constitutional Amendment: HR 5 is a proposed constitutional amendment to establish the “personhood” of each citizen from fertilization until natural death. HR 5’s implications are so broad that it could potentially ban abortion in Georgia, as well as ban certain forms of contraception and prevent women from utilizing assisted reproductive technology. After hours of hearings during the 2008 session the resolution was tabled, it is assigned to the House Judiciary Committee, but saw no action last year.
Senate Bill 169 (SB 169 - Hudgens) – Ethical Treatment of Human Embryos: SB 169, in its original form, would have unduly regulated infertility facilities and their treatments; banned cloning and stem cell research; elevated the legal status of an embryo; restricted unused embryo options and eliminated compensation for egg and sperm donors. This bill was the center of much legislative maneuvering and much of the original language was removed. In its current form the bill would ban cloning and stem cell research. This version passed the Senate and is assigned to the House Science and Technology Committee. It is likely that there will be a renewed effort in the Senate to revive this issue by restoring some of the original language to this bill or to another bill.
House Bill 351 (HB 351 – Loudermilk) – Parental Notification for Contraception: HB 351 mandates that teens under 18 notify a parent before obtaining family planning and contraceptive services, including a referral for such services from any state and county health departments. Many young people can and do involve their parents in health care decisions. However, not every family is a model family. The teens most at risk for pregnancy and STDs may be the least able to turn to their parents for help and counsel. HB 351 also puts at risk Title X family planning funding for the state of Georgia. It was assigned to the House Judiciary Committee, but saw no action last year.
Access to Health Care:
Senate Bill 223 (SB 223 – Unterman) – Creation of a Women’s Reproductive Health Legislative Oversight Committee: SB 223 would establish a committee made up solely of appointed legislators for the purpose of reviewing and evaluating family planning, teen pregnancy prevention, reproductive health education, sexually transmitted diseases, abortion and other women’s reproductive health programs and services. Although this may be well intentioned it lacks scientific expertise and does not ensure its intended results. In a March 27, 2009 alert, Georgia Right to Life reveals their purpose of this bill: “We need this bill to prove that the reporting and enforcement of the Woman’s Right to Know laws are not being done.” This bill passed out the Senate and is assigned to the House Judiciary Committee.
The Women’s Right to Know law enacted in 2005 and further enhanced in 2007 requires that all women seeking abortion services be read a state-authored script and wait 24-hours prior to the procedure, be offered misleading state issued materials, be offered to view an ultrasound and listen to fetal heart tones. It also increased the parental notification requirements and requires providers to do burdensome administrative reporting on parental notification, waiting period and ultrasound requirements.
Health Care States Rights Protection Constitutional Amendment; Constitutional Amendment
On September 3, 2009, in a statement to the Georgia Senate Press Office, Senator Judson Hill (R) announced that he will introduce legislation that would "prohibit any government from punishing an individual or business that does not participate in [federally mandated] health plans. Passage of this Amendment is the best way to protect Georgians from the Democrat led Congress’ attempt to socialize healthcare through their ‘public option’ health care mandate.” Senator Hill believes this would be a “positive plan” for health care. Yet Georgia currently ranks among the top 10: highest infant mortality, low birth weight, and teen pregnancy rates; and highest cases of sexually transmitted diseases including HIV/AIDS.
What Can You Do To Help?
It will be the strength of our voices that will ensure that our side prevails. Make sure you are informed. Sign up for Planned Parenthood’s Action Network (PPAN) at www.plannedparenthood.org/georgia; then click “Take Action.” Through PPAN you’ll be able to take direct action and voice your opinion to your elected officials on critical issues.
Mary Beth Pierucci