Rep. Holt’s “View from the House” • Doug Holt, GA State Representative
Last week, we crossed the halfway mark for the legislative session. The pace is really picking up, with the second half promising to be very intense. The House voted on 22 bills and resolutions during the week. Most were fairly minor issues or housekeeping measures, though we did pass two bills to restructure MARTA, which were obviously significant for folks inside the perimeter.
One other bill was of significance. HB 178 is the latest in a series of bills we’ve seen in recent years targeted at “pill mills”. As I’ve related previously, this is a problem in which businesses known as “pain management clinics” are occasionally little more than front operations for criminals dealing in narcotic pain relievers. We’ve had testimony from law enforcement and the medical community that there is a real problem here, which I don’t doubt. HB 178 proposes doing several things to combat the situation. It would require that pain management clinics be a specific, regulated type of business, for which a license would have to be obtained from the Georgia Composite Medical Board. The Board would have significant powers to ensure such businesses are monitored for suspicious activity, investigated and have their licenses revoked if anything is getting out of hand. Also, since many of the “pill mill” operations have been owned by convicted criminals, the bill would simply make it unlawful for anyone with a felony conviction to even have an ownership stake. The other significant provision in the bill is the requirement that any new pain management clinics must be owned by licensed physicians, under that logic that such individuals have too much at stake to allow any nefarious activity. This last condition troubles me greatly. It sets the precedent that government can reserve the right of participation in a sector of the economy to an arbitrarily selected group. Not to exclude criminals, as above; nor as a matter of specific skills or training necessary to do the work, as for say, plumbers or dentists -- but simply as policy. While some might say it is reasonable in this instance, the question of what might be offered as justifiable down the road has to be raised. We might soon be debating whether only dietitians should be allowed to own restaurants. I don’t think we should explore that road, so I opposed the bill. Nonetheless, after only a limited debate, it passed, by 150 to 15.
Now for a couple of interesting new bills. HB 25, entitled the “Fully Informed Jury Act of 2013” would require that judges allow a defendant to argue for jury nullification in court proceedings. Jury nullification happens when a jury either disagrees with the law the defendant is being charged under, or feels that the law shouldn’t be applied in the case before them. Thus the jury essentially takes the law into its own hands and acquits. The author seems to feel that judges are given undue discretion in whether to allow discussion of nullification.
HB 49 is a definite sign of the times. The bill seeks to create regulatory oversight of what it calls the “foreclosure rescue” industry. The term refers to businesses that offer various means of preventing foreclosure on often desperate homeowners. While there are legitimate firms in the business, apparently there are also a large number of scam artists: people who lure these unfortunate homeowners into arrangements that cost them even more money, while doing nothing to actually keep them in their homes.
On Monday, Melinda Sheldon of High Shoals was at the Capitol to express her support for Medicaid expansion. Friday brought Dave Belton back to Atlanta, continuing his focus on school finance issues.
Contact Info: My office phone is 404-656-0152, and email address is Doug@DougHolt.org.
Printed in the February 28, 2013