Legislative Notebook: High school sports accounts under scrutiny

January 21, 2014 

A top state senator wants Georgia’s high school sports organizing body to publish an annual audit online that would include a list of its properties and other assets and liabilities.

“When it’s public taxpayer dollars subsidizing the activity, I believe that it should be open and transparent,” said state Sen. Charlie Bethel, R-Dalton, the sponsor of Senate Bill 288.

The Thomaston-based Georgia High School Association sets regions and divisions and organizes playoffs for sports including football. The nonprofit derived about half of its roughly $4 million annual income from playoff ticket sales last year.

But because the state cannot tell the GHSA what to do, Bethel’s bill feints: It would bar schools from joining athletic bodies that do not publish full audits.

“We believe we have in place a lot of transparency” via an annual independent audit that is distributed to the trustees, said GHSA Executive Director Ralph Swearngin at a hearing of the Senate Education and Youth Committee. It’s also subject to state open records laws and puts its meeting minutes online, he said.

But that’s not good enough, according to the committee. It voted 7-0 to pass the bill Tuesday.

The Senate Rules Committee chairman has already signed the bill, so prospects look good for Senate passage.

Stop picking on rural hospitals

Suburban Atlanta state Rep. Sharon Cooper, R-Marietta, chairwoman of the House Health and Human Services Committee, got in trouble with some of her rural counterparts after a radio interview quoted her saying some hospitals in the most sparsely populated areas of Georgia should probably close.

State Rep. Debbie Buckner, D-Junction City, responded on the House floor Tuesday.

“It seems incongruent to me that people in rural Georgia would not deserve to be healthy and receive health care in a local area,” said Buckner, adding that hospitals provide some of the best jobs in rural counties.

Many rural Georgians live dozens of miles from a hospital or even a doctor. The state considers Crawford, Peach and Twiggs counties underserved by health professionals.

But keeping these hospitals viable, especially when they see lots of indigent patients, is an ongoing question at the Capitol.

Buckner said the Warm Springs Medical Center in her district, however, has worked hard to bring itself back “from the brink of financial disaster” and has been operating in the black for nearly a year.

Second try to limit gunfire by roadways

A new bill would make it a misdemeanor to fire a gun within 50 yards of a road unless there is a good reason, such as being at a roadside firing range or firearm safety course.

House Bill 773 by state Rep. Robert Dickey, R-Musella, is similar to one he filed two years ago that never got a committee hearing. Republican Reps. Bubber Epps of Dry Branch and Willie Talton of Warner Robins are co-sponsors. No hearing is scheduled yet.

-- Maggie Lee

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