As the 2013 session begins, the state's budget is the biggest topic. The session began Monday, Jan. 14.
"The top legislation will begin with the state budget," Weldon said. "Again we are facing deep shortfalls in our tax revenues due to the recession, and the recovery has been weaker than expected."
Weldon says that growing state medical costs are a big reason for a the deficit.
"One of the biggest issues we are seeing is the exponential growth of indigent medical care costs throughout the state," Weldon said. "As a result of the expansion of indigent medical costs, we have a huge budget deficit likely exceeding $450 million from the growth in Medicare and Medicaid paid by the state. Not surprisingly, a big reason this session to address this expansion is the hospital provider fee legislation that expires this year unless it is renewed by the legislature."
The hospital provider fee is revenue sharing among hospitals that contribute to the indigent medical costs.
"The fee requires all hospitals to contribute part of their revenues to a pool that is disbursed among hospitals based upon the amount of indigent care that each hospital provides," Weldon said. "Erlanger at Hutcheson Medical Center (in Fort Oglethorpe) has benefited from this program. Hutcheson provides approximately $20 million indigent care and uncompensated care. Because of the hospital provider fee, which is matched by the federal government such that the government pays Georgia $2 for each $1 of the provider fee that is collected and that money is then dispersed to the hospitals, including Erlanger at Hutcheson."
In addition to the budget, Weldon says he will be sponsoring two bills this session regarding pain management clinics and the licensing of roofers.
"The Pain Management Clinic Act (last year known as House Bill 972), addresses the issues Catoosa County and all of Georgia face with the 'pill mills' that are showing up throughout the state and are merely organized crime that are masquerading as legitimate pain clinics, but are actually drug dealers that are issuing prescription drugs — e.g. Oxycodone, Hydrocodone, Xanax, Soma and other narcotics and benzodiazepine type drugs — to 'patients' that are either drug dealers or addicts," Weldon said. "This has the effect of dumping drugs on the streets of Georgia that expose our children to drivers that are under the influence of drugs, and also provides access to young children and young adults."
Weldon says his focus is to legitimize the process and create a stricter screening process.
"This bill provides that the owners of pain management clinics will be required to report the location of the clinic, conduct background checks on the employees of the clinic, and this bill gives more regulatory authority to the Medical Composite Board to issue regulations that these clinics must comply with."
The Roofer Licensing Act is the second bill that Weldon is sponsoring, and he says that the devastation of the April 2011 tornado that struck Ringgold is a driving force behind the bill.
"It's a bill that will require that all roofers to be licensed by the state of Georgia in order to conduct business in Georgia," Weldon said. "This bill is in response to the problems that we faced as a result of the tornado that struck Ringgold and the surrounding areas in April 2011. Many homeowners were conned out of their insurance money to fix their houses by shysters from other states that came in and offered to 'help' with roof repairs and replacements. This bill, if signed into law, will provide a substantial protection against some of the tactics that were used by these con men. Also, there is a large problem with the roofers that operate in this area outside of the tornado event that have preyed upon unwary homeowners by taking the insurance money for the installation of a new roof, and never performing any work on the consumer's property."
Student safety in schools is another issue, not just in Georgia, but nationwide, which has prompted Weldon to co-sponsor a bill that would equip school administration with a firearm.
"I have co-sponsored a bill that will allow school districts to employ an administrator that will be authorized to carry a gun on the school premises during school hours," Weldon said. "This administrator will be required to complete a firearm training class through the POST certification that law enforcement officers are required to complete and the administrator will be required to be re-certified each year."
Rep. Tom Weldon of Ringgold
Represents House District 3, which includes most of Catoosa County (the precincts of Ringgold, Boynton, Catoosa Keith, Fort Oglethorpe, Duncan Park, Graysville, Lakeview, Westside, and Poplar Springs).
Committees: Appropriations (member); Banks and Banking (member); Code Revision (vice chairman); Judiciary (member); Retirement (secretary); Rules (member); Special Joint Committee on Georgia Criminal Justice Reform (member).
Local mailing address: P.O. Box 1459 Ringgold, Ga. 30736
Local phone: 706-965-4007
Capitol mailing address: 401 Coverdell Legislative Office Building Atlanta, Ga. 30334
Capitol office phone: 404-656-0152