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Jim Galloway, Greg Bluestein and Daniel Malloy

House GOP: Take Medicaid expansion away from governor

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Speaker pro tem Jan Jones, R-Milton, left, Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge are the sponsors of a bill that would put Medicaid expansion in the hands of the Legislature. AJC file

Just before the state Capitol shut down on Tuesday, House GOP leaders dropped a bill that would take the power to expand Georgia’s Medicaid program and place it in the hands of the Legislature.

In other words, the governor of Georgia would no longer have a free hand in negotiating with the White House over a deal – as has been cut in Arkansas and elsewhere — that would broaden health care coverage with the billions of federal dollars that are being made available through the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare.

Your daily jolt on politics from the AJC's Political insider blogAs such, consider H.B. 990 the most important bill of the 2014 session.

The lead signatures on the bill: Speaker pro tem Jan Jones of Milton; Speaker David Ralston of Blue Ridge; and Majority Leader Larry O’Neal of Bonaire.

From the bill:

[N]either the department, the board, nor any other representative of the state shall expand Medicaid eligibility under this article through an increase in the income threshold without prior legislative approval.”

In an interview from a downtown Atlanta apartment, where he is waiting out the storm, the House speaker said the measure is not a power grab, nor an expression of doubt in Gov. Nathan Deal’s re-election.

Or concern that Republican control of the governorship may slip after Deal.

Ralston pointed to a fourth signature on the bill, belonging to Chad Nimmer, R-Blackshear, the governor’s floor leader, as evidence that Deal is on board with the effort.

“I’m totally confident that Nathan Deal is going to be re-elected governor. This is simply an opportunity for the Legislature to stake out the issue as policy,” Ralston said. “I have no concern about Republican governor getting elected this year, four years from now, or eight years from now.”

Tim Sweeney, director of health policy for the center-left Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, declared himself startled that the Legislature would stake out the territory at the expense of the executive branch.

“Seeing the bill was a little surprising, given that just last year the Legislature was giving the Department of Community Health taxing authority,” Sweeney said.

Updated: At a presser to address the aftermath of the ice storm, I asked the governor if he was indeed on board with ceding the power to expand Medicaid to the Legislature. “I’m fine with that, yeah,” Deal replied — clearly preoccupied with other matters.

One thing to note in the language of H.B. 990: The bill would not give the Legislature the power to reduce Medicaid coverage in Georgia. Only expand.

***

On that same note, the Washington Post notes this milestone for Obamacare:

For the first time since the federal and state health-insurance marketplaces opened early last fall, the number of people who signed up for coverage exceeded the government’s expectations for the month in January, bringing the overall total to about 3.3 million.

Across the country, nearly 1.2 million people enrolled in health plans last month through the new insurance exchanges — more than federal officials had envisioned when they compiled monthly targets late last summer, weeks before the sign-ups began.

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Given the sudden push to allow medicinal marijuana in Georgia, this New York Times op-ed by Orrin Devinsky and Daniel Friedman, physicians at the NYU Comprehensive Epilepsy Center, is required reading. A taste:

The truth is we lack evidence not only for the efficacy of marijuana, but also for its safety. This concern is especially relevant in children, for whom there is good evidence that marijuana use can increase the risk of serious psychiatric disorders and long-term cognitive problems.

The recent wave of state legislatures considering and often approving medical marijuana raises significant concerns. By allowing marijuana therapy for patients with diseases such as difficult-to-control epilepsy, are state legislatures endorsing the medical benefits and safety of a broad range of marijuana species and strains before they have been carefully tested and vetted?

***

An LGBT rights group has joined the liberal chorus against Michael Boggs to serve as a federal judge from Georgia.

The statement last night from the Rev. Darlene Nipper, deputy executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, started with praise for recent Obama administration nominees in Illinois and Florida, who would become the second openly lesbian black federal judge and first openly gay black federal judge, respectively. Nipper ended the message on this note:

“However, the nomination of Georgia State Appeals Court Judge Michael P. Boggs— who has a deeply troubling track record as a Georgia state legislator having voted against changing Georgia’s racist Confederate flag, against marriage equality for same-sex couples, and against reproductive choice — is both surprising and disappointing.

“We urge the President to withdraw this nomination and continue his outstanding record by nominating a slate of diverse jurists that share his vision of a just and free society.”

Among LGTB groups, the Human Rights Campaign carries the most clout. A spokesman there told us Wednesday that “We generally don’t make a determination about a nominee until a hearing but we’ll let you know if anything changes.”

It’s worth noting here that nominees typically remain silent during the confirmation process, and Boggs’ allies will likely have to prepare a public counteroffensive.

***

Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., was on the Senate floor on Wednesday, offering praise to former Atlanta Braves manager Bobby Cox:

Isakson spent a good deal of time explaining Cox’s record for ejections:

“Bobby Cox fought for his players. He knew how to motivate the crowd. He knew how to get on an umpire’s back. He knew how to turn the team bench around. His 132nd ejection took place in November of 2007 in a game – one of the playoff games – when he went out and argued a third called strike against his star player Chipper Jones. Two innings later the Braves rallied and won.”

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