Originally created 01/12/97

Locals await Legislature



Shortly after Phalonda Howard was murdered, her accused killer walked out of jail after posting bond, which was set at $15,000.

That was four years ago. And even though the killer was eventually sent to prison, it still bothers Barbara Thurmond.

Ms. Thurmond - head of Blacks Against Black Crime, a nonprofit anti-violence group based in Augusta - doesn't think people charged with murder should be out on bail, and she is taking her cause to Atlanta.

Ms. Thurmond has been working with state Rep. Henry Howard to introduce a bill in the upcoming legislative session that would keep people charged with murder and manslaughter in jail until they can be tried in court.

The 1997 session begins Monday, and Ms. Thurmond is one of many local residents who see the upcoming session as an opportunity for change.

Getting a bill passed in the Legislature is no easy trick. Many bills languish and die in committees without ever coming up for a vote, and sometimes it takes several sessions before a bill is passed.

Last year, 811 bills were introduced in the House, and 347 - about 43 percent - passed, according to statistics from the clerk of the House office.

In the Senate, it's even harder: 310 bills were introduced, and 111 - 36 percent - passed.

Contrary to popular belief, most ideas for bills come not from the minds of the legislators but from the voice of the people, said Sen. Don Cheeks, D-Augusta.

Reba Sarkar is one of those people. Mrs. Sarkar is working to get tobacco companies and smokers to help pay for the fight against cancer by taxing tobacco products. The taxes would be earmarked for cancer research, treatment and prevention.

Mrs. Sarkar is working with Rep. Louise McBee, D-Athens, to introduce a bill that would lead to a voter referendum on the issue in 1998.

Mrs. Sarkar, a volunteer for the American Breast Cancer Association, got the idea for the tax when she read about a similar tax in California - the California Breast Cancer Act of 1993.

"In Georgia we might have a tough time (passing the bill)," she said. "California is not tobacco country."

"Crime and health care will be two of the biggest issues this year," said Rep. Ben Harbin, R-Evans.

With the graying of the baby boomers and drastic changes in the business side of medicine, Mr. Harbin expects health care to be a hot issue for the next 20 years.

Many local residents are concerned about who is allowed to provide health care.

Dr. Steve Hobbs, chairman of the Augusta State University Department of Psychology, has asked local legislators to allow people with master's degrees in psychology to be licensed by the state.

With the graying of the baby boomers and drastic changes in the business side of medicine, Mr. Harbin expects health care to be a hot issue for the next 20 years.

Many local residents are concerned about who is allowed to provide health care.

Dr. Steve Hobbs, chairman of the Augusta State University Department of Psychology, has asked local legislators to allow people with master's degrees in psychology to be licensed by the state.

Between 10 and 15 students graduate each year with a master's degree in psychology from Augusta State, he said. Without a license, the graduates must go out of state to practice clinical psychology, Dr. Hobbs said.

David Barbee would like to change the law to allow his company, HRP Nursing Services, into the homehealth field. Entry into the market is based on certificate of need, a program that requires health care providers to get state approval before investing in new services.

The program is designed to limit unfettered expansions by hospitals, home-health agencies and nursing homes, but Mr. Barbee said it kills competition in the health industry.

Other local residents are looking to the future to prevent problems they think may develop.

Dr. James Lesher Jr., a local dermatologist, is both a user and advocate of the emergent telemedicine technology - technology that helps link physicians via computer.

The technology is promising, Dr. Lesher said, but he also worries patient care could become compromised if rules are not established on where and when it should be used.

"Some regulation of telemedicine is in order because it's a new technology and a different technology," he said.

Sen. Charles Walker, D-Augusta, said he expects to introduce legislation this week that would require Georgia physicians who are using the technology to be licensed to practice medicine.

"Right now, telemedicine is wide open for fraud and quackery," said Mr. Walker..

All those hoping for legislation realize there will be challenges to their efforts.

Mrs. Sarkar expects tobacco companies to fight her cigarette-tax bill. Dr. Hobbs knows many psychologists with doctorates will oppose the licensing proposal because it could affect their client base. Mr. Barbee expects home-health and hospital groups to oppose the CON legislation.

Ms. Thurmond expects defense lawyers and other legal groups to fight the bill to keep accused murderers in jail. But an even bigger fight may be the one just to have her voice heard, she said.

"What we've learned about the Legislature is that you've got a bunch of folks who go to Atlanta and forget the people they represent," she said. "It might not be different for us, but we're going to try."



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