Reps study healthcare, gang laws


This week the Georgia General Assembly convened for days 5-8 of the 40-day session. The majority of the work this week was done in committee rooms around the Capitol as bills begin moving through the committee process so that they may be considered by the full House and Senate later in the session.

This week several district attorneys from around Georgia and various other law enforcement officials made a presentation to the House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee on the challenges that gangs continue to pose to the safety of Georgia’s citizens. The influence of gangs is prevalent in virtually every county in the state.

The presentation was done in support of legislation (HB 1015) that I and several of my colleagues on that committee have co-authored to provide a number of updates and revisions to our state’s anti-gang statute.

The law was last revised in 2006 and continues to be an excellent tool used by law enforcement and prosecutors in the effort to keep our communities safe. In fact, the DeKalb County district attorney testified that there has been a significant decrease in violent crime and significant increase in successful gang member prosecutions since the law was enacted.

The law was challenged on constitutional grounds by several criminal defense attorneys in the case Rodriguez v. State, 284 Ga. 803 (2009). The attorneys in that case argued that the statute infringed on their gang member client’s constitutional rights by being overly broad and by limiting their right to freely associate with whomever they choose.

Thankfully the Supreme Court rejected these arguments and upheld this critical public safety measure. It is vitally important that our anti-gang law keep up with the ever changing modes and methods employed by gangs to ensure prosecutors and law enforcement have every tool possible to employ in the fight to keep Georgia safe from the scourge of gang activity.

In that regard, I look forward to working with my colleagues to move HB 1015 through the House and Senate and to the governor’s desk for signature this session.

Next week I will be introducing legislation on behalf of Gov. Sonny Perdue aimed at drastically expanding the range of available individual health insurance plan options available to Georgia citizens and families. The measure proposes to allow health insurance plans sold in other states to be sold in Georgia. The bill also retains important consumer protection measures required of plans currently sold in Georgia.

This is an important step toward providing consumers with more choice and options in the health insurance market. This will become extremely important if the Obama Administration and the Democratic leaders of the U.S. House and Senate are successful in passing a major healthcare overhaul which includes a mandate that every U.S. citizen buy health insurance.

This legislation, if enacted, would dramatically expand the range of available options to individuals and families and get the forces of the free market working in favor of Georgia’s consumers. This stands in stark contrast to the healthcare solutions being offered in D.C. which will ultimately reduce or even eliminate the private health insurance market if they achieve their ultimate goal of imposing a single-payer, government-run insurance system.

I will also be introducing another component of Gov. Perdue’s legislative agenda next week which proposes measures to ensure the integrity of Georgia’s testing system. Last year several news stories brought to light multiple instances where teachers and other school officials in DeKalb and other counties engaged in and subsequently covered up efforts to help students cheat on standardized tests.

It is critical that Georgia be able to trust student achievement data as we seek to continue to improve our state’s educational system. The few bad apples that would willfully tamper with or facilitate cheating on standardized tests undermine that effort and damage the reputation of all the good and hard working individuals we have in our state’s schools.

The legislation will make it a misdemeanor infraction to tamper with tests required by the state Department of Education and subject violators to a potential loss of their state certification and fines.

I will continue to provide updates as the session moves forward. As always, please do not hesitate to call or write with any questions or concerns related to matters pending before the General Assembly.

[Rep. Matt Ramsey (R-Peachtree City) was first elected to the District 72 post in December 2007. He is a law partner with Warner, Hooper, and Ramsey, P.C., in Peachtree City.]