Harrison’s quest for elderly affairs department clears Legislature

Rep. Joe Harrison, R-Gray

By ZACHARY FITZGERALD zfitzgerald@daily-review.com

State Rep. Joe Harrison’s bill to bring a constitutional amendment to a vote in order to create a Department of Elderly Affairs passed two minutes before the end of the legislative session Monday, he said.
Harrison, R-Gray, said House Bill 341, which was a constitutional amendment to allow a 21st state department in order to create the Department of Elderly Affairs, passed the House just before the 6 p.m. Monday end of the session. The bill is name only expansion meaning it just gives the department the right to deal directly with the federal government as far as helping senior citizens in the state, Harrison said.
HB 341 was a major victory, Harrison said. “The governor’s office fought that right up to the wire, which is unbelievable to me that they would neglect to see the need for our senior citizens,” Harrison said.
An Office of Elderly Affairs was already in place, but the office was not being funded, Harrison said. Therefore, creating a Department of Elderly Affairs was to ensure it gets the necessary funding, he said.
The bill is model legislation for several states because of the massive growth of the senior population, Harrison said. By 2020, senior citizens will make up more than 30 percent of the state’s population, he said.
The Advocate called the Department of Elderly Affairs bill the “Cinderella story” of the legislative session, Harrison said. “It was an all-day back and forth, and they kept trying to kill it with amendments,” Harrison said.
Overall, the session went well for Harrison as he passed 14, or 90 percent, of his bills, he said.
Harrison passed a bill on homeowners’ insurance that requires all insurance cost factors to be listed on the Internet so that people can see what is available in different regions, Harrison said.
During the next legislative session, Harrison hopes to call a constitutional convention of the Legislature, he said. “We need to get higher education and health care out from under the gun of being the only two undedicated areas of government,” Harrison said. “That’s the only areas you can go in and take money out of.”
The state could potentially have up to $2 billion in debt by the end of 2015, he said. The state is giving away too much to companies in economic development incentives, Harrison said. “You have to have something coming back in eventually, and we’re just not seeing it,” Harrison said.
The Legislature needs to undedicate all programs in the state and get rid of what is not needed, Harrison said. Calling a constitutional convention would be the least expensive and most efficient way to cut out unnecessary programs, he said. “We have to undedicate all areas. That way they have to all come in and justify their existence,” Harrison said.
The state budget still has a lot of “fat” that needs to be cut because funds are dedicated for a specific department and they cannot be cut, Harrison said.

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