General Assembly won't slow down, leaders say

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ATLANTA - As lawmakers get ready for a two-week hiatus, legislative leaders are cautioning against the idea that the General Assembly is going to take things easy.

To the contrary, they say, it will be the behind-the-scenes work of fine-tuning bills and two state budgets that will occupy their time.

"There are some bills that need some work," said House Majority Leader Jerry Keen, R-St. Simons Island.

Most urgent for the House are the budgets - first the revisions to the spending plan that runs through June 30, then the $20.2 billion budget for the spending year that begins the next day.

Getting those budgets done will hinge largely on action Congress takes, particularly when it comes to plugging the $131 million funding gap for the joint state-federal PeachCare program, which provides health care for children whose families earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to afford private insurance.

Mr. Keen said he hopes that by the time the General Assembly restarts March 19 the federal government will have given the state a reason to think that the PeachCare gap has been filled.

He acknowledged that the state likely would have to set aside some money for the program as a sort of loan until the federal money can reach the state. But Congress needs to pick up the tab in the end, Mr. Keen said.

"Anything short of that will really take us back to square one," he said.

He also said he believed the Board of Community Health should push ahead with a plan, set to be approved at its meeting Thursday, to shut off enrollment for the program, beginning Sunday.

Five House appropriations subcommittee meetings are already set for next week.

Concerned there might not be enough members in Atlanta this week to reach a quorum for many committees, Senate leaders have dedicated March 13-15 as time to work through the bill list.

"We're just setting those three days as standing committee days if you can get your committee together next week," Senate Majority Leader Tommie Williams, R-Lyon, told committee leaders when outlining the schedule for the next month and a half.

Bills that have not received a vote in either chamber have until the 28th working day, March 19, to make it out of a committee in order to be considered this year.

Under an agreement between the two chambers, a bill must have passed either the House or the Senate by the 30th working day of the session, currently March 27, to be considered this year by the other chamber.

Reach Brandon Larrabee and Vicky Eckenrode at (404) 681-1701.


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