Gov. Nathan Deal signed SB 349 into law Wednesday at Southwest Georgia Regional Airport. The new law revises the functions of the state Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities. Deal also talked about the ongoing Port of Savannah Project and an attack by GOP gubernatorial challenger David Pennington. (Staff Photo: Terry Lewis)
Gov. Nathan Deal signs SB 349 in Albany
Gov. Nathan Deal conducts a news conference Wednesday at Southwest Georgia Regional Airport in Albany, where he signs Senate Bill 349, legislation that changes to the powers and duties of the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities.
ALBANY — Gov. Nathan Deal flew into Albany Wednesday afternoon to sign into law Senate Bill 349, which revised the functions of the state Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD).
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The governor arrived ahead of schedule, before much of the local media got to the Southwest Georgia Regional Airport conference room. The room, however, already was jammed with state legislators, supporters and political hopefuls. Smiling, Deal pulled up a chair and sat down.
“It looks like we have some time to kill, so let’s talk,” the governor said. “Any of y’all got any questions?”
Deal was asked about the current status of federal funding for the proposed deepening of the Port of Savannah. Money for the project is hung up in Washington and was not included in President Barack Obama’s Fiscal Year 2015 budget proposal.
“That’s a good question,” Deal said. “I remain hopeful that we will get a positive response out of Washington soon. The problem is in that in there is a federal spending cap of $300 million on these types of projects and (Savannah) will cost $652 million. Raising that spending limit has been lumped into the (federal) water bill and has been passed by both the House and Senate.”
While both houses of Congress have passed a Water Resources Development Act, the House version has passed the Senate with some changes that would have to be ironed out in a conference committee and then adopted by both chambers before it could be signed by the president and go into effect.
Constant deepening of the port has enabled Savannah to handle larger container ships and has allowed Georgia to keep pace with international trade competition. The held-up project is needed because of the soon-to-be-completed expansion of the Panama Canal, which will allow even larger container ships access to East Coast ports. Savannah’s port is not currently deep enough to accommodate the mammoth ships.
It’s a critical economic issue for the state. Savannah is the East Coast’s second largest port, with more than 352,000 people connected with the facility that has an annual economic impact of approximately $18.5 billion.
Deal then moved on to SB 349, praising the work of DBHDD Commissioner Frank Berry who took the office in 2012.
“Frank wants world-class health and behavioral medicine for Georgia,” Deal said. “We want to hold our system accountable and our community service boards are the backbone of our system.”
The intent of the newly signed law is to enhance the quality of services provided by the DBHDD, as well as to create a state public safety net program following the state’s recent transition from institutional care to community care. The law revises the administration of mental health, developmental disabilities, addictive diseases and other disability services provided by the DBHDD.
The law also establishes governing boards and clarifies the powers and duties for all 26 community service boards in the state.
“I’d like to thank you (Gov. Deal) for all your help with this new law, you have really supported the group home concept, and we appreciate it,” said Annette Bowling, who was the long-time director of the Albany Advocacy Resource Center and now is a public policy consultant.
After signing the bill into law, Deal was asked about a news conference held outside of his Atlanta office earlier Wednesday afternoon by Republican gubernatorial challenger David Pennington, who likened Deal to Richard Nixon.
In a prepared statement Pennington said, “History has a way of repeating itself. Richard Nixon so poisoned the well for Republicans that the nation elected Jimmy Carter as president. Now 40 years later, Nathan Deal is so poisoning the well for Georgia Republicans that Jimmy Carter’s grandson (Democrat state Sen. Jason Carter) could be Georgia’s next governor.”
Deal responded quickly.
“I am not going to engage in a debate in the media with David Pennington,” Deal said. “The bottom line is that people who make accusations need to get their facts straight and this is where David Pennington fails.”
Deal was then asked if he would debate his Republican challenger before the May 20 primary.
“I haven’t made that call one way or the other, but I wonder if Jason Carter will have one either,” Deal said.