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Lawmakers pass trauma care bill minus funding

ATLANTA - The House overwhelmingly passed legislation Thursday setting up a state commission to oversee a network of trauma care centers across Georgia.

All it needs now is money.

House members signed off on the proposal 158-1 after a brief discussion. The bill, which originated in the Senate, now goes to Gov. Sonny Perdue's desk.

The legislation stems from the work last year of a House-Senate study committee that examined the status of trauma care in Georgia and found it lacking.

"The state of Georgia is 20 percent below the national average in trauma outcomes," said Rep. Larry O'Neal, R-Warner Robins, who presented the bill to his House colleagues. "Seven hundred people this year will die who possibly didn't need to die if we had an average trauma system."

Rep. Gene Maddox, R-Cairo, said the problem is too few trauma centers scattered across a huge state. Outside of the coastal region, Georgia's only trauma center south of Macon is in Thomasville.

"It's a tragic situation if you happen to be in need of a trauma center and aren't near one," Maddox said.

The bill would create a nine-member commission to manage a state fund that would be dedicated to trauma care.

Money from the fund would be used to help the 15 hospitals already in the state's trauma care network improve their services and to entice hospitals not in the network to open new trauma centers.

While the legislation doesn't provide the funding, the bill's supporters were hoping that several other measures introduced into the General Assembly this year would generate at least some of the estimated $80 million a year needed to operate the network.

A measure being pushed by Gov. Sonny Perdue to levy extra fines on "super speeders" was intended to raise money for trauma care, as was an amended version of a bill related to fines for motorists caught by red-light cameras.

Sen. Cecil Staton, R-Macon, chief sponsor of the trauma care bill, also proposed a 3.5 percent surcharge on rental cars to finance trauma care.

But those bills are not expected to pass this year, leaving the proposed trauma care commission with a trust fund but no money.

"It's regrettable that we pass a bill saying this is a good thing to do, but we don't have any money to fix it," Staton said following Thursday's House vote.

Staton said some of the opposition to the funding bills came from lawmakers who would prefer paying for trauma care out of the state's general fund rather than dedicating money from fines or fees specifically for that purpose.

"Philosophically, I don't like raising taxes and fees," he said. "But this is such a critical thing."