“Chattahoochee Tech obviously is a big technical school in Cobb, and there are others, so this will help them get more students back into the classroom and ultimately graduate and back into the workforce, so we’re very excited about that,” Evans said.
Two years ago, state lawmakers raised the GPA to 3.0 to address what was then a decline in lottery revenues that fund the HOPE program. Since then, the technical college system has seen a notable decline in enrollment as students lost access to the grants.
The plan passed Thursday would return the qualifying grade point average to 2.0. The bill heads to the Senate and is likely to pass because it has bipartisan support and the backing of legislative leaders and Republican Gov. Nathan Deal.
Supporters say an increase in lottery revenues allows for the change, and the move could benefit several thousand students at an estimated cost of $5 million to $8 million annually.
Reforms pass House
Thursday’s frantic day of voting came on what state lawmakers call “Crossover Day,” the 30th day of Georgia’s annual 40-day legislative session. Under internal rules, any bills not approved by at least one chamber of the General Assembly by Thursday were at risk of failing for the year. There are some exceptions to the rule.
State Rep. Sharon Cooper (R-east Cobb) said she was pleased to see the House approve a bill that updates and modernizes Georgia’s statutory definition of elder maltreatment to include both sexual abuse and financial abuse. About 84 percent of elder abuse incidents are not reported, Cooper said.
Cooper also cosponsored the creation of Joint Study Committee on Medicaid Reform, which the House passed in the form of House Resolution 107.
“Medicaid is 14 percent of the current state budget, and it is growing every year,” she said. “Legislators are concerned about how quickly the costs are escalating and also whether we are getting quality for the amount of money we are paying.”
The committee would look for alternative ways to treat Medicaid recipients so they get better care at a lower cost, Cooper said.
Another bill cosponsored by Cooper and state Rep. Matt Dollar (R-east Cobb), House Bill 511, creates a pilot program to provide coverage for bariatric surgical procedures for the treatment and management of obesity.
Cooper said the state used to pay for state employees who were morbidly obese to have gastric bypass surgery if they met certain guidelines. The program was killed a few years ago.
“We believe the program was effective by preventing even more costs to the state because of the complications of all the medical problems later on,” Cooper said. “This is a study of what’s involved to prove whether the surgery is successful and a money saving cost expenditure for the state long term. In the long term, it saves the state money because it prevents all the complications that morbidly obese patients often face like diabetes and stroke.”
Reporting on tax credits
Senate lawmakers took up changes to a tax credit program that provides scholarships for children to attend private schools. The changes, which passed unanimously, include a reporting requirement on the average household income of recipients and a requirement that eligible students must have attended public school for at least six weeks, with a few exceptions.
Under the program created a few years ago, people can receive state tax credits by giving nonprofit scholarship providers donations of up to $1,000 for individuals and up to $2,500 for married couples.
The Southern Education Foundation had raised concerns that donors may have been allowed to earmark donations, although supporters had argued that was prohibited under the law. The Senate bill would add language specifically prohibiting that.
The bill would keep the current $50 million cap on the program, although the existing law allows for cost-of-living adjustments.
Sen. Jason Carter, D-Decatur, said he does not support the program but worked to make key changes to improve the existing law.
“It is an improvement, but it does not do everything we need it to do,” Carter said.
The bill moves to the House for consideration.
In other bills, the Senate approved a proposal that would require nurses to report alleged professional violations by their colleagues. The bill also requires nursing agencies and health care entities that employ nurses to report to the state anytime a nurse is fired or resigns for disciplinary reasons.
The rules are intended to strengthen enforcement of nursing standards by the state’s two primary nursing boards. They are the Georgia Board of Nursing and the Georgia Board of Examiners of Licensed Practical Nurses.
The bill passed without opposition and now heads to the House.
The Senate also voted to ban Georgia law enforcement agencies from setting minimum waiting periods before they will act on a reported missing person case.
The bill clarifies the statewide alert system that can be used for a person whose medical conditions could explain their disappearance. The measure passed without opposition and now goes to the House.
The new law would be named for Stacey Nicole English, an Atlanta woman who suffered from mental illness when she disappeared in December 2011. Her body was found weeks later, and an autopsy showed she died from exposure to the cold.