‘Georgia Grown Trail: 37’ designed to promote agri-tourism in South Georgia

2/4/2013

To help promote agri-tourism as an economic development tool, I have introduced legislation (HR 48) that would designate a scenic highway route through South Georgia as “Georgia Grown Trail: 37.”

As the resolution states, “South Georgia is one of the few areas remaining in the United States where there are miles of rural landscape, historic small towns and abundant agricultural operations.” Dedication of Georgia 37 from Homerville to the Alabama state line and Georgia 76 from Nashville to the Florida state line as Georgia Grown Trail: 37 would promote economic prosperity through agri-tourism.

The portions of these highways to be included wind through miles of centennial and family-owned farms, pristine hunting plantations, unique lodging, u-pick farms, farm stands, hands-on farming experiences, farm-to-table restaurants, establishments dedicated to preserving and sharing local recipes and traditions and time-honored and progressive crops and farming techniques.

I was honored on Jan. 29 to be joined by Speaker David Ralston and a number of my House colleagues when we welcomed several organizers and producers of the Georgia Grown Trail: 37, including Charlie Cowart from Still Pond Vineyards, Jerry Connell from the Adel-Cook County Chamber of Commerce, Lauren Basford from the Quitman-Brooks County Chamber of Commerce, Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black and Lauri Jo Bennett from Lauri Jo’s Southern Style Canning in Norman Park.

Richie DeMott from Gin Creek in Hartsfield was also very instrumental in organizing and coming up with the idea of this agri-tourism trail idea. Maggie Potter with the Georgia Department of Economic Development was also in Atlanta last week, and she was recognized for all of her hard work in organizing the joint effort between the Departments of Economic Development and Agriculture to promote agri-tourism opportunities throughout the state. Georgia Grown is a trademark program managed by the Department of Agriculture.

A few of the other Georgia Grown producers who were not present but will be featured on this trail network after completion will be White Oak Pastures in Bluffton, Hose Creek Winery in Nashville and Sparks, along with Georgia Olive Farm, Gayla’s Grits and Patten Pecans, all from Lakeland.

If HR 48 is approved, the Department of Transportation will be authorized and directed to erect and maintain appropriate signs dedicating the Georgia Grown Trail: 37. The measure is now under consideration in the House Transportation Committee.

Following a week’s recess for Appropriations Committee members to examine the Gov. Nathan Deal’s proposed budget, the House of Representatives reconvened and made progress on some of the other major issues affecting Georgia. The past week dealt with legislation addressing wiretapping, synthetic marijuana and funding for our state’s Medicaid program.

The first piece of legislation approved by House members was HB 55, which would allow Superior Court judges to issue a warrant with statewide application. To issue a statewide warrant, the judge must have jurisdiction over a particular crime under investigation. HB 55 responds to a recent Supreme Court ruling that placed a multitude of wiretaps in jeopardy of being found unconstitutional.

The problem is particularly compelling because modern technology makes it easier than ever for criminal enterprises to extend beyond one single area of local jurisdiction. Judges, therefore, need the ability to grant statewide wiretaps, so that law enforcement can launch effective investigations against large scale organized crime. The House approved this legislation with near unanimous support, so it will now go to the Senate for consideration.

House members also voted on HB 57, legislation to protect Georgians from the growing problem of synthetic marijuana and narcotic “bath salts.” These designer drugs can cause extreme paranoia, suicidal tendencies, hallucinations, or even death in some cases. HB 57 helps remove these dangerous substances from store shelves by expanding the list of substances that are considered illegal by the state of Georgia.

The General Assembly passed similar legislation last year, but the makers of these drugs constantly change their chemical formulas to avoid the newly passed laws. Consequently, HB 57 is needed to add the most recently developed components that give these substances their narcotic effects to the state list of Schedule I narcotics. The House also approved HB 57 with near unanimous support, so it too will now go to the Senate for consideration.

The final bill the House passed this week, SB 24, will ensure necessary funding for Georgia’s Medicaid program, which provides healthcare for indigent women and children, as well as elderly patients. This legislation essentially continues a funding mechanism first created in 2010 to cover a Medicaid shortfall that was in the hundreds of millions. The General Assembly enacted the 2010 mechanism after hospitals asked to enter into a payment agreement with the state in order to provide a funding stream that could be used to draw down additional federal Medicaid funds and returned to hospitals with an increased Medicaid reimbursement rate.

This provider payment allows the state to avoid a Medicaid rate cut that would be devastating for many Georgia hospitals and physicians. In fact, this financial program is so successful that 49 states and the District of Columbia now have similar provider payment agreements.

The 2010 Hospital Provider Payment Arrangement stated that it would automatically end on July 1, 2013. Now that this sunset date is drawing near, state leaders have once again worked with our state’s hospitals to assess the Medicaid funding arrangement used for the past three years and to decide how the state should move forward. SB 24 authorizes the Department of Community Health (DCH) to establish, assess, and discontinue provider payments on hospitals.

To ensure that the payments remain beneficial to the state’s hospitals and provide oversight, SB 24 allows the General Assembly to override DCH provider payment assessments. The General Assembly will also retain the ability to adjust the amount of money flowing to hospitals through the funding it appropriates in the state budget. Finally, similar to the previous 2010 measure, SB 24 will automatically sunset after four years.

The delicate balance struck in SB 24 will once again allow our state to forgo substantial Medicaid cuts that would have likely resulted in the closing of at least 10 hospitals throughout the state. These cuts would have most affected Georgia’s rural communities, where people already have to travel long distances to reach the nearest hospital. The loss of these hospitals would also hurt our attempts to encourage job creation and economic development throughout the state. Now that both the House and Senate have approved SB 24, it will go to the Governor for his likely signature.


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