Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Governor's Allies Propose Legal Immunity for Drug Makers
by Maggie Lee
Georgia Online News Service

ATLANTA Four state senators are proposing civil immunity for drug and medical device companies that have a major presence in Georgia.

Two of Gov. Sonny Perdue's Administration Floor Leaders were among the sponsors: state Sens. Bill Cowsert (R-Athens) and Bill Heath (R-Bremen).

Senate Bill 101 applies to companies that have a U.S. headquarters, a substantial research and development or manufacturing facility, or more than 200 employees in Georgia. If the bill becomes law, the companies cannot be sued in if their Food and Drug Administration-approved products prove defective.

"I think that's a horrible bill," says Allison Wall, executive director of the state's biggest consumer watchdog group, Georgia Watch. "It doesn't take a lot of research to realize that there've been a lot of pharmaceutical and medical device products that have had FDA approval and that have been proven to cause life-threatening side effects,"

In 2004, pharmaceutical maker Merck withdrew its FDA-approved arthritis drug Vioxx from the market after studies associated it with increased heart-attack risk. More recently, the FDA decided to require new warnings with some approved anti-depressants to indicate that they may increase suicide risk.

But for Perdue, "the legislation will make Georgia an even more attractive environment for biotechnology companies," according to comments he made at a January address to the Georgia Chamber of Commerce.

He framed the legislation as showing "respect" for the role of the FDA.

But the legislation comes as the FDA is taking a black eye by failing to prevent a salmonella outbreak that began in the Peanut Corporation of America facility in Blakely. The Georgia Department of Agriculture also inspected the facility, but the FDA is considered the country's ultimate food-safety guarantor.

An example of a company that would be covered by this bill is Marietta-based Solvay Pharmaceuticals, a subsidiary of Belgian pharmaceuticals and chemical giant Solvay.

Maggie Lee specializes in quality of life topics, Atlanta's international communities and general reporting. She covers Georgia economic development and the Chinese community as a stringer for China Daily and chronicles life in Georgia's most diverse county for the DeKalb Champion.   [full bio]

Editor's note: Hello, Georgia! You've likely heard by now that the Georgia Assembly is planning on splitting the current session. Georgia Online News Service (GONSO) political editor Tom Baxter explains some of the issues behind the split session in today's lead story.

Meanwhile, GONSO reporter Maggie Lee looks at a bill that would grant immunity from lawsuits to Big Pharmaceutical companies whose drugs are approved by the Food and Drug Administration but later turn out to have harmful and lethal side effects.

And, for today's Soapbox, Alan Essig and Sarah Beth Gehl of the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute have a suggestion for legislators during the budget crisis: Stop giving sweet tax breaks to special interest groups.

As always, we'd like to hear from you. Send your comments and any story ideas to executive editor John Sugg at john.sugg@georgiaonlinenews.org. You can also call us at 800-891-3459.

Today's GONSO

The New Federalism is Old News

by Tom Baxter
Even as the Republicans in Atlanta were announcing a split legislative session to handle anticipated federal stimulus revenue, Republicans in the US Senate were successfully paring down the very parts of the package that would help the state most directly.
Full Story

Governor's Allies Propose Legal Immunity for Drug Makers

by Maggie Lee
Four state senators are proposing civil immunity for drug and medical device companies that have a major presence in Georgia.
Full Story


Tax breaks: The state should quit playing favorites

by Alan Essig and Sarah Beth Gehl
In this time of crisis, with our most vulnerable Georgians at risk, its time that the General Assembly stop giving out tax breaks as if they were candy, and begin to take a cold, hard look at the existing special interest tax breaks. What Georgia needs is zero-based taxation.
Full Story

Tomorrow's Budget
Senate OKs Georgia Power Nuke Financing Plan
by Maggie Lee
What do we call two legislators who have started a witch-hunt in academia? Dumb and Dumber
by John Sugg
Per-student school funding soars as graduation rates fall
by Ben Scafidi

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