Gold Dome Report - January 20, 2016
Greetings from the Gold Dome! Yes, lawmakers are making their way through the 40-day Session with today marking Day 6. The House and Senate Appropriations' Committees held a joint meeting on Tuesday to hear from the Governor, the State's economist and various State agencies on the proposed budgets for FY 2016 Amended and FY 2017. Today, those same Committees held Subcommittee meetings to allow for further questions, and in some instances, public testimony on the proposals.
Please see our Special Edition Report on the FY 2017 Budget.
Sen. Mike Crane (R-Newnan) announced mid-afternoon that he intends to seek the Congressional seat being vacated by Congressman Lynn Westmoreland (who holds the Third District seat).
Sen. William Ligon, Jr. (R-Brunswick) also announced that he was introducing Senate Bill 272, which would require a Constitutional amendment (SR 724) to be voted on by all the voters in Georgia. If approved, then citizens of unincorporated areas around the State would be permitted to vote, by local referendum, to set up a township.
In the Senate, Together Georgia, a statewide association of child welfare providers, was honored for their work in assisting children and families by Sen. Fran Millar (R-Dunwoody) and many of his colleagues. Several Senators took a few minutes on points of personal privilege.
- Sen. Josh McKoon (R-Columbus) rose to take issue with the appointment of Dax Lopex to the federal court bench because of membership on a board (Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials – a seat he has since resigned) that its members advocates on conflicting with current laws.
- Sen. Bill Heath (R-Bremen) made a point to recognize Robert E. Lee and his service to the country (January 20 is Lee's birthday).
- Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta) took the Well to again raise questions regarding the Secretary of State's "data dump" of private information belonging to Georgia voters by the Secretary's office.
- Sen. Greg Kirk (R-Americus) took a few moments to outline some information on his legislation to be introduced on same sex marriage; he asked for other lawmakers to review his proposal and sign with him (he also described his bill as modeled after federal legislation offered by Sens. Purdue and Isakson).
Mark Newton, MD served as Doctor of the Day; Newton is the Medical Director/ Chairman of Department of Emergency Medicine at Doctors Hospital Augusta.
SB 270, by Sen. P.K. Martin (R-Snellville), proposes changes in Georgia's gun carry laws and specifically amends O.C.G.A. § 16-11-130(c) to permit individuals who are qualified retired law enforcement personnel ("qualified" are those provided for under the Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act of 2004, 18. U.S.C. Sections 926B and 926C) to carry handguns anywhere in the State.
SB 271, by Sen. Dean Burke, MD (R-Bainbridge), relates to the examination and treatment for mental illness in Chapter 3 of Title 37. It amends O.C.G.A. § 37-3-44, concerning the notice to patients/his or her representative upon the patient's admission to an emergency receiving facility so that it makes clear that while currently the law in (a) requires such notice to be made "immediately upon arrival of a patient at an emergency receiving facility" that the change permits such written notice be provided, as an option, "soon thereafter as reasonably possible given the patient's condition or mental state at time of arrival." The legislation further makes changes in O.C.G.A. § 37-3-83(d) adding more language in the law regarding the procedure for continued involuntary hospitalization – so that "if, within 40 days of the expiration of an order for involuntary treatment relating to a patient for whom discharge has been planned, the chief medical officer determines discharge would now be unsafe, the chief medical officer may execute a certificate to be filed with a petition for continued involuntary treatment pursuant to this chapter." There are requirements for such certificate but such does not require a referral to the Committee for Continued Involuntary Treatment Review prior to its filing. The chief medical officer, though, is also required to file a petition for an order authorizing such continued involuntary treatment along with an updated individualized service plan with the Office of State Administrative Hearings and a copy to the patient (and outline what the patient and his/her representative can do in terms of obtaining counsel). It also directs the facility to keep the patient until a ruling is issued if the order has expired. If there is a determination that the patient is no longer mentally ill, then the patient is to be immediately discharged.
SR 709, by Sen. David Lucas (D-Macon), commends the Georgia Science Teachers Association and recognizes February 15, 2016 as Science Day at the Capitol.
SR 713, by Sen. Brandon Beach (R-Alpharetta), recognizes November as Epilepsy Awareness Month.
SR 714, by Sen. Brandon Beach (R-Alpharetta), recognizes April 2016 as Parkinson's Disease Awareness Month in Georgia.
HB 768, by Rep. Lee Hawkins (R-Gainesville), is another version to provide for the establishment of a qualified ABLE program in Georgia. This is the "Georgia Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act" proposed as a new Chapter 9 in Title 30. It does create the Georgia ABLE Program Corporation to administer this Program. The legislation outlines in O.C.G.A. § 30-9-4 the Corporation's Board's duties and authorities. There is a required "participation agreement" with certain things to be included in O.C.G.A. § 30-9-7 (and it does limit those set forth in Section 529A of the Internal Revenue Code). It further creates in O.C.G.A. § 30-9-8 the Georgia ABLE Program Trust Fund as a separate fund in the State's treasury. Account contributors are permitted to contribute only cash, except as permitted under Section 529A of the Internal Revenue Code. In O.C.G.A. § 30-9-13, the Departments of Community Health, Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, Human Services, Vocational Rehabilitation Agency and Education are to assist, cooperate, and coordinate in the providing of public information and outreach for the ABLE program. It does outline in O.C.G.A. § 30-9-14 what is to occur when a beneficiary dies and permits a claim with the Georgia ABLE Program to be submitted. There is a tax law change at O.C.G.A. § 48-7-27(a)(11.2) so that individuals may obtain an exemption for taxable years beginning on or after January 1, 2016 up to the contribution but not exceeding $2,000.00 per beneficiary.
HB 774, by Rep. Alex Atwood (R-St. Simons Island), addresses consumer fireworks and changes the law passed in 2015 in O.C.G.A. § 25-10-2(b)(3) regarding their regulation. It proposes to make it lawful for a person, firm, corporation, association, or partnership to use or explode or cause to be exploded any consumer fireworks on January 1 of each year between the times of 12:00 Midnight and 1:00 a.m. and 10:00 a.m. until the conclusion of such calendar day and on July 3, July 4, and December 31 of each year between the times of 10:00 a.m. and until the conclusion of such calendar day at any location where such person, firm, corporation, association, or partnership is lawfully present and lawfully permitted to use or explode or cause to be exploded consumer fireworks. It further limits such fireworks owned or operated or under the custody and control of the governing authority of a county or municipal corporation – unless an ordinance permits such. It also adds in (3)(D) that such consumer fireworks may be exploded at any time – if they are permitted by ordinance of the governing authority of the county or municipal corporation – but that governing entity may require the issuance of a special use permit for such use of those fireworks.
HB 775, by Rep. Earl Ehrhart (R-Powder Springs), amends O.C.G.A. § 31-12-12, addressing control of hazardous conditions, preventable diseases, and metabolic disorders, to provide for the restrictions on the sale and dispensing of spectacles (it does define the term "spectacles" – essentially lenses to correct or enhance vision). Further, it proposes that no person in Georgia shall write a prescription for contact lenses or spectacles except persons who are licensed and regulated by Chapter 30 or 34 of Title 43 and no person in Georgia shall write a prescription for contact lenses or spectacles unless an eye examination is performed by such person – the prescription must take into consideration any medical findings and any refractive error discovered during the eye examination.
HB 776, by Rep. Sharon Beasley-Teague (D-Red Oak), adds a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. § 33-24-59.20. It prohibits any health benefit policy which issued, delivered or renewed in Georgia, as a provision of its hospital, medical, or surgical services, and directly or indirectly covers the treatment and management of achalasia, from limiting or excluding coverage of a peroral endoscopic myotomy surgical treatment on the basis that such surgical treatment is an experimental or investigational medical treatment. This would apply to the State's health plan and Medicaid plan.
HB 777, By Rep. Mike Dudgeon (R-Johns Creek), seeks to amend O.C.G.A. § 40-6-165(c), regarding the operation of school buses, to allow school bus drivers the ability to use cellular telephones in a manner similar to a two-way radio (allowing live communication between the driver and school officials).
HB 778, by Rep. Pete Marin (D-Duluth), amends O.C.G.A. § 16-11-129. Again, this is another attempt to alter Georgia's "gun carry" laws. It seeks training for persons who are licensed to carry a pistol or revolver by requiring that they demonstrate the completion of a firearms safety training program within three years prior to applying for a gun carry license. It further requires that such training proof take the form of a notarized affidavit signed by the individual who provided the instruction.
HB 779, by Rep. Kevin Tanner (R-Dawsonville), is a bill addressing the uses and regulation of unmanned aircraft systems and images captured by such systems. It creates a new Article 6 in Chapter 11 of Title 16 and makes it unlawful for a person to use an unmanned aircraft system to capture an image of a private place or an individual in a private place; knowingly use an image in a manner prohibited in O.C.G.A. § 16-11-212; possess an image knowing that such was captured in violation of the law; or disclose, display, distribute or otherwise use the image knowing that it was captured in violation of the law. It sets such violations as misdemeanor crimes as well as their prosecution. In O.C.G.A. § 16-11-212, it enumerates where it is lawful to capture an image using an unmanned aircraft system in various situations (such as an operation, exercise, or mission of any branch of the United States military; with the consent of the individual who owns or lawfully occupies the real property captured in the image; for law enforcement purposes; etc.). At O.C.G.A. § 16-11-215, it prohibits (except in certain instances) law enforcement from using unmanned aircraft systems to gather evidence or other information in a private place or of an individual in a private place. It adds at O.C.G.A. § 16-10-24.5 a new misdemeanor offense in the use of an unmanned aircraft system by a person who knowingly and willfully obstructs or hinders any law enforcement officer, firefighter, or park ranger in their lawful discharge of their official duties or by a person who knowingly and willfully obstructs or hinders any emergency medical technician, emergency medical professional or properly identified person working under the direction of an emergency medical professional in the lawful discharge of their emergency medical duties. Additionally, it adds in O.C.G.A. §27-3-151(a) that it will also be unlawful to use an unmanned aircraft system in the taking of wildlife.
HB 780, by Rep. Jodi Lott (R-Evans), relates to clinical laboratories and amends O.C.G.A. § 31-22-1(2) so as to exempt certain clinical laboratories from State licensure. It adds language, "The term 'clinical laboratory' shall not include laboratories which are nondiagnostic only and regulated pursuant to the federal Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA) whose sole function is to perform examintation of human blood or blood components intended as source material for the manufacture of biological products."
HB 781, by Rep. Brad Raffensperger (R-Johns Creek), amends O.C.G.A. § 36-80-1 relating to counties, municipal corporations and other governmental entities. It particularly would prohibit an individual to be appointed to serve on an authority, school district, commission, council or board for a local governing body unless he or she is a United States citizen and has been a legal resident of the jurisdiction for one year prior to being appointed to such. It also amends O.C.G.A. § 45-2-10 regarding eligibility and qualifications for public office to also require that those individuals serving on any municipal or county board, commission or authority be a citizen of the United States and a legal resident of the jurisdiction for one year immediately preceding such appointment and to serve on any state authority, board, council or commission not only is the person required to be a United States citizen but he or she must be a legal resident of the State for four years immediately preceding such appointment. Finally, it adds a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. § 50-1-10 so that no individual shall be appointed to serve on a State authority, board, council or commission unless he or she is a citizen of the United States and has been a legal resident of the State for four years immediately preceding such appointment.
HB 782, by Rep. Carl Rogers (R – Gainesville), would provide for the continuation of the distribution of the net proceeds of the sales and use tax for education purposes among the school districts for Hall County, Gainesville City and Buford City. The method of distribution is authorized under Article VIII, Section VI, Paragraph IV of the Constitution.
HB 783, by Rep. Bruce Broadrick (R-Dalton), amends Chapter 13 of Title 16 to provide for an "annual update" to Georgia's dangerous drug list relating to Schedules I and IV controlled substances. Additionally, it adds in O.C.G.A. § 16-131-71 a new subsection (b.1) to provide for the creation of a "restricted dangerous drug list." This is "any other drug or substance declared by the General Assembly to have no medical use, which cannot be legally prescribed by a practitioner, and which cannot be manufactured, grown, produced, distributed, used, or otherwise possessed in this state; to include any of the following drugs, chemicals, or substances: salts, isomers, esters, ethers, or derivatives of such drugs, chemicals, or substances which have essentially the same pharmacological action; and all other salts, isomers, esters, ethers, and compounds of such drugs, chemicals, or substances unless specifally exempted, identified as restricted dangerous drugs: (1) mitraynine; (2) 7-hydroxymitragynine; (3) genus Mitragyna; (4) salvinorin A; and salvia divinorum – except as otherwise provided for in paragraph (4.3) of Code Section 16-13-72."
HR 1031, by Rep. Roger Bruce (D-Atlanta), encourages the development of minority owned plasma centers.
HR 1033, by Rep. Pete Marin (D-Duluth), requests that the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners work on easing the traffic woes facing its constituents and to listen to citizens' demands for an increase in mass transit options.
HR 1042, by Rep. Kim Alexander (D-Dallas), recognizes January 18, 2016 as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
HR 1047, by Rep. Tom McCall (R-Elberton), recognizes February 3, 2016 as Veterinary Medicine Day at the Georgia Capitol.
House and Senate Appropriations- Joint Education Subcommittees
This afternoon a hearing was held to learn more about the portions of the Budget for FY 2016 Amended which touch on education. There was no public testimony and limited questions by the Subcommittees' Members. The Employees Retirement System (ERS) stated that the Governor made no recommended changes - they did discuss briefly the rolling of folks into a 401(k) plan versus the old defined benefit pension plan. The ERS has seen no COLA (cost of living adjustment) since 2009; however there has been a study done on COLA a few years ago. Like ERS, the Teachers Retirement System (TRS) explained that its budget had no proposed changes. Rep. Tom Dickson (R-Cohutta) inquired about a reference in the Department of Education Budget for non-certificated personnel of $837,000. TRS could not answer that issue or provide an explanation. The Department of Education talked about funding changes for the Special Needs Scholarship - the idea is to reduce the funding as projected need is not as much as originally thought. Also, they identified the proposed addition of funds for QBE growth – there are 13,000 in seven counties with six of those in metro Atlanta. The Department of Early Care and Learning (DECAL), which oversees Georgia's pre-k program, talked in part about the $7.9 million for merit salary increases. DECAL explained that funding was needed to help attract and retain the lead and assistant teachers. Classes for pre-k are 22 students in each classroom. Teaching staff ratio is (1) to (11) children. Georgia is among the three best pre-k programs in the country. Demand for pre-k continues, according to DECAL, - there are 5,000 on the waiting list. DECAL stated it needed quality providers, but there are space issues with school systems and they cannot locate space for pre-k classes.
House and Senate Appropriations – Joint Human Services Subcommittees
These Subcommittees met mid-afternoon to allow public comments on the FY 2016 Amended Budget as proposed by Governor Deal. There were requests from the Long-Term Care Ombudsman, asking for assistance with additional funding for three percent pay raises. This Office's staff is funded solely with federal funds, and it requires State dollars to allow for a three percent increase. Melanie McNeill, the Long-Term Care Ombudsman, also updated the Subcommittees on the added funding her Office received (last year) to allow them information technology to collect data in the field (all of which is going very well). There were representatives from Together Georgia, an association of child welfare providers from around the State, who testified. They asked the Subcommittes' consideration for funding the private child welfare providers with a rate increase as they have not received an enhancement in their rates in a number of years. John Blend, Andrea Gibbs and Kate Cantrell fielded several questions which the Subcommittees' members had regarding actual rates paid, average lengths' of stay by children, types of services provided, work on reunification with families, reasons why children end up in State care, and the like. Mr. Blend outlined for the Subcommittees that approximately 7,000 of the total foster care children in Georgia are served by private providers; the providers have asked for $15 million to help improve their rates. Average, annual salaries for the caseworkers, as described by one of the providers, is between $30,000 and $33,000. Adult Day Care providers also were on hand to ask for five percent rate boosts; they explained that their last increase was in 1998.
House and Senate Appropriations – Join Health Subcommittees
The Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities spoke in part about the need for rate enhancements for "ICWP" rates. There are three levels within this Independent Care Waiver Provider class, and Dawn Alford gave personal testimony on her own situation in trying to locate assistance with current rates paid. A group of CIS providers have also asked that the Subcommittees enhance therapy services' rates for occupational and physical therapists. Many of these providers see children in the Children's Intervention Services and Babies Can't Wait programs. It has been thirteen years since they have received a rate increase – and in many instances over that time frame, they received cuts. CCSP providers were also on hand inquiring about rates. Adult Day Health Care providers also asked for a five percent raise from these Subcommittees. Finally, Shire Pharmacy raised a question regarding one of the medications it produces which has been removed from the State's preferred drug list and loss of the drug rebate ($3.5 million) – it noted issues surrounding continuity of care and convience issues as well (for parents to get children access to the medication (Vyvanse®).
Our 2015 Georgia Capitol team consists of Stan Jones, Chuck Clay, Helen Sloat, and Logan Fletcher. We will also try our hand at tweeting this year – so follow us! @GDR_Live
The articles published in this newsletter are intended only to provide general information on the subjects covered. The contents should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Readers should consult with legal counsel to obtain specific legal advice based on particular situations.