A bill that would increase consumer choice for health insurance plans was passed by the Georgia House of Representatives Friday.
Also passing the House on “Crossover Day” was a bill that would ban text messaging while driving for drivers of all ages, in addition to a full ban on all cellphone use while driving for those under 18 years old.
By passing before the end-of-Friday deadline, both bills can be taken up in time for potential passage by the Senate before the legislative term ends.
The health insurance bill would allow all licensed insurance carriers in Georgia to offer health insurance plans to individuals that are available for purchase in 49 other states, said Rep. Matt Ramsey of Peachtree City, who carried the legislation on behalf of Gov. Sonny Perdue.
“It’s all about providing consumers with more power,” Ramsey said. “Putting more choice in their hands and the ability to shop for the plan terms, price and coverage that meets the needs of the individual or family.”
The legislation does not apply to group health insurance plans but only to those offered to individual residents of Georgia, Ramsey said. The bill is a necessary alternative to the recently-passed federal healthcare overhaul, Ramsey added.
The health insurance legislation contains provisions that allow for consumers having difficulty with such plans the power to sue in Georgia courts and also to work with the Georgia insurance commissioner’s office.
The cellphone bill approved by the House is similar to the one Ramsey sponsored last year in that it includes provisions to restrict all cellphone usage from drivers under 18 years old. However the bill bans drivers of all ages from text messaging as well.
Ramsey said he was hopeful to get some action on the issue before the legislative session ends, he noted the bill won widespread support from the House.
The House was unable to pass a comprehensive transportation funding bill, but there is still a possibility of action due to a conference committee that still exists from last year’s failed attempt at passing such legislation, Ramsey noted.
Ramsey supported the governor’s proposal to allow voters to consider a regional transportation sales tax, though there was no provision for any counties in such regions to “opt out” of the tax, meaning voters in Fayette for example could vote down a regional transportation SPLOST yet if it is approved by the 10-county metro Atlanta region in an aggregate vote count, Fayette would still be assessed the tax.
Ramsey previously has said he was comfortable with the structure of the board that would oversee the expenditures so Fayette would be well represented.
The House did pass legislation to require more accountability at the state transportation level. The bill would require state transportation board members to be subject to the same financial reporting requirements and lobbying restrictions as legislators, Ramsey said.
“They are making decisions that are hugely important,” Ramsey said, noting that financial disclosures and a code of conduct will help provide transparency to voters.
The House was also unsuccessful in passing a bill for a constitutional amendment referendum that would have frozen property tax assessments, Ramsey said.
Ramsey said he is looking forward to supporting a Senate bill that would require school systems with sizable reserve funds to tap into that money before enacting furlough days on school personnel. Local school systems in the state have a combined $1.2 billion in reserves from which to do that, Ramsey said.
With Crossover Day a memory, the legislature will now be focusing on the upcoming budget for the 2011-2012 fiscal year. With state revenues continuing to fall compared to last year’s, leaders have forewarned of the “painful decisions” the state faces. The legislature is mandated to pass a balanced budget.