Gold Dome Report - January 21, 2016
Today, Lawmakers swiftly moved through Day 7 of the Legislative Session.
Around 1:00 p.m., Governor Deal made an announcement that the large, national healthcare provider Kaiser Permanente will be moving its Member Service Contact Center to Gwinnett County. This move to Atlanta's northern suburbs brings around 800 jobs to the State, and it will be a $51 million investment in Georgia by this healthcare giant. A number of members of the Georgia Kaiser Permanente leadership team were on hand for this announcement including the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of Georgia CEO Julie Miller-Phipps and the Southeast Permanente Medical Group Executive Medical Director Mary Wilson, MD. Kaiser Permanente physicians and staff have been providing care to Georgians in the metro-Atlanta area for more than 30 years, and this announcement of the opening of the Member Service Contact Center brings the total numbers of individuals employed by this healthcare leader to around 5,000 in the State. We extend our warm congratulations to Kaiser Permanente and to Georgia on this signficant move and economic development activity.
Late this afternoon, Governor Deal also issued a "state of emergency" for 21 counties in Georgia due to the anticipated bad weather in north Georgia. Additionally, he has announced that the Capitol and State agencies will close mid-day on January 22. The Governor does not wish for Georgians to encounter a situation like they endured two years ago when the State was caught off guard by the ice and snow which caused many issues for Georgians getting home forcing many to be trapped in their cars on icy roads.
HB 784, by Rep. John Carson (R-Marietta), amends O.C.G.A. § 33-6-4(b)(8)(C) regarding insurance industry unfair trade practices to provide that certain insurer advertising and promotional items, not exceeding $100.00 in value, will not be considered an "unfair trade practice" or an unlawful inducement. This includes prizes, goods, wares, gift cards, gift certificates, sporting event tickets, or merchandise not exceeding $100.00 when given to all clients who have policies in effect for at least 60 days. Additionally, the proposal adds this same language at O.C.G.A. § 33-9-36(f).
HB 788, by Rep. E. Culver "Rusty" Kidd (I-Milledgeville), amends O.C.G.A. § 47-1-17 to provide that a member of any retirement system shall be eligible to change his or her designated beneficiaries at any time, provided that written notice is provided to the system administrator. Retirement system administrators would be required to promulgate the method by which such written notices would be executed and filed.
HB 789, by Rep. Rusty Kidd (I-Milledgeville), adds a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. § 36-1-27 (which is the provisions of the Code regarding counties) so as to authorize the power to grant franchises to or make conracts with certain utility systems and to charge certain fees as a result of such franchise agreements or contracts. It defines "utility system" as railroads; street railways; transportation companies; companies providing electricity, light, power, heat, gas, steam heat, water telephone, or wireless service; or other public utilities. Such term shall not include cable and video services regulated pursuant to either Chapter 18 or Chapter 76 of this title."
HB 791, by Rep. E. Culver "Rusty" Kidd (I-Milledgeville), amends Title 40 by adding a new code section at O.C.G.A. § 40-1-201 to require ride sharing services and transportation referral services to provide access to wheelchair accessible vehicles. They would need to provide at least one wheelchair-accessible vehicle for every 30 drivers enrolled in the State.
HB 792, by Rep. Buzz Brockway (R-Lawrenceville), amends O.C.G.A. § 16-11-127.1 to authorize the carrying, possession, and use of electroshock weapons (tasers) by students or staff employed at any postsecondary institution in this State, so long as such weapons are only used in self defense. An 'electroshock weapon' includes both tasers and stun guns.
HR 1051, by Rep. Mike Dudgeon (R-Johns Creek), proposes to amend Article IX, Section II of the Constitution to provide that the General Assembly may create townships for the limited purposes of exercising the power of zoning and the regulation of land use and development within the boundaries of such townships and provide for the funding and operation of such townships.
HR 1053, by Rep. Dar'shun Kendrick (D-Lithonia), seeks to create the House Study Committee on Technology Workforce Development. The purpose of this Study would be to strengthen Georgia's technology-based training and educational engagement infrastructure; increase workforce development initiatives for students pursuing technology-based degrees; increase technology sector talent retention; and bolster a qualified labor force to compliment industry growth.
HR 1054, by Rep. Dar'shun Kendrick (D-Lithonia), propoeses to create the House Study Committee on Policing and Mental Health, which would aim to identify strategies and solutions for better policing involving individuals suffering from mental illness.
SB 273, by Sen. Dean Burke (R-Bainbridge), amends O.C.G.A. § 31-22-1 to provide that the term 'clinical laboratory' does not include laboratories which are nondiagnostic only and regulated pursuant to the federal Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA), whose sole function is to perform examination of human blood or blood components intended as source material for the manufacture of biological products.
SB 275, by Sen. Michael Williams (R-Cumming), amends O.C.G.A. § 36-80-1 to provide that the governing body of any county, consolidated government, municipality, or local board of education shall not adopt any policy that would prevent the free exercise of the right of freedom of speech by the members of such governing body.
SR 715, by Sen. Mike Crane (R-Newnan), proposes to amend Article V, Section II, Paragraph VIII of the Constitution so that a person who was appointed by the Governor to fill a vacancy in public office is not designated as an incumbent. To be considered an incumbent, the person must have been elected, qualified, and served a full term in office.
SR 716, by Sen. Mike Crane (R-Newnan), seeks to amend Article III, Section V of the Constitution, to prohibit the General Assembly from adopting a conference committee report, bill, or resolution unless it has been publicly available for 48 hours prior to a vote.
SR 717, by Sen. Mike Crane (R-Newnan), seeks to amend Article III, Paragraph IV of the Constitution, to prohibit a member of the General Assembly from being appointed by the Governor to a paid position within two years of his or her last day in the General Assembly.
SR 719, by Sen. Donzella James (D-Atlanta), encourages local boards of education to guarantee safety rights to youth athletes in sports competitions.
SR 722, by Sen. Donzella James (D-Atlanta), seeks to create the Joint Study Committee on Mental Illness Initiative, Reform, Public Health, and Safety to focus on examining county and municipality infrastructures inclusive of residential and congregate care housing options. The Study would consider: transportation needs; crisis services; life span service requirements; geographic and diversity gaps; workforce needs; and provider network development and accountability. Additionally, the Study would consider funding requirements and the need to keep dollars within the system as the State transitions from hospital-based service delivery treatment models.
SR 724, by Sen. William Ligon, Jr. (R-Brunswick), proposes to amend Article IX, Section II of the Constitution to provide that the General Assembly may create townships for the limited purposes of exercising the power of zoning and the regulation of land use and development within the boundaries of such townships and provide for the funding and operation of such townships.
SR 725, by Sen. Judson Hill (R-Marietta), proposes to amend Article III, Section X of the Constitution to provide that public funds associated with any retirement or pension system supported by public funds shall not invest in any foreign country that is designated as a state sponsor of terrorism. It also would require that such public funds shall not be used to purchase a security issued by an entity that engages in for-profit activities with a state sponsor of terrorism, if such activities relate to the provision of military equipment, oil or mineral extraction, or the generation of electricity.
SR 732, by Sen. John Wilkinson (R-Toccoa), recognizes the week of February 1-5 as National School Counseling Week.
House Judiciary (Civil) Committee
Chairman Wendell Willard (R-Sandy Springs) called the meeting to order a little after 2:00 p.m. The purpose of this meeting was for the Committee to hear recommendations presented by the Georgia Appleseed Project.
Rob Rhodes, Director of Projects at Georgia Appleseed, made some comments to the Committee. He referenced a study they conducted which aimed to foster crucial conversations throughout the State about the relationship between law enforcement and the communities they serve. He also thanked the Committee for their service and commitment to improving the juvenile justice system in Georgia.
Georgia Appleseed is a nonprofit organization with a goal of improving justice throughout the State. They leveraged volunteer services from various law firms throughout Georgia, with the primary firm being Nelson Mullins. The study included interviews between various stakeholders and law enforcement agencies. The Study findings recommend a couple of improvements. The first recommendation is to revise the minimum training requirements for police in Georgia. Mr. Rhodes suggested legislation calling for a multidisciplinary advisory committee which would advise the training process.
Mr. Rhodes' second recommendation was to introduce legislation that would require immediate reporting of incidents and/or require reporting of the demographic make-up of police departments. There was indication during their study that police departments sometimes do not reflect their communities, which is a problem. He recommended that data be collected more consistently and that agencies have a more efficient way of collecting data.
Following these comments, Chairman Willard indicated that he would like to see a resolution be adopted this session that would encourage police departments to adopt adequate training programs. It was also recommended that Mr. Rhodes and Georgia Appleseed bring these recommendations to the House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee and to the House Public Safety Committee for their consideration. Mr. Rhodes indicated that they plan to address those additional committees.
Chairman Willard then adjourned the Committee meeting.
House Ways and Means Committee – Income Tax Subcommittee
Under the leadership of Rep. Bruce Williamson (R-Monroe), the House Ways and Means Committee's Income Tax Subcommittee met and discussed HB 742 by Rep. David Knight (R-Griffin). HB 742 is the Department of Revenue's annual update of Georgia law with federal law changes. In part it amends O.C.G.A. § 48-7-56, concerning the time and filing place of returns. Currently, only corporations are exempt from filing returns by April 15 of each year; this change also now permits the exemption be extended to partnerships. It requires Subchapter 2 corporiations and partnerships to file their tax returns, made on the basis of a calendar year, on or before the 15th day of March following the close of the calendar year; subchaper S corporations and corporations made on the basis of a fiscal year are to file their returns on or before the 15th day of the third month following the close of the fiscal year. There are also changes to the requirements for release of information on 1099 forms where withholding occurs in O.C.G.A. § 48-7-105 and O.C.G.A. § 48-7-106. It was described that these changes would permit "certainty" for taxpayers. The proposal received a do pass recommendation and moves to the full Committee for its consideration.
House and Senate Appropriations Committees – Human Development Subcommittes
This afternoon Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford) and Rep. Katie Dempsey (R-Rome) co-hosted a hearing on the FY 2016 Amended Budget.
Commissioner Brenda Fitzgerald presented changes proposed by the Governor in the Department of Public Health budget. She highighted some of the Department's work including its efforts on telehealth and explained that there were some ongoing maintenance agreements which would be added costs. The Department also intends to move its Vital Records program from its current location to a newer facility and has asked for more than $342,000 for this move. Commissioner Fitzgerald also commented on the Low THC Oil Registry (medical cannabis) as the legislation from 2015 was signed into law in April 2015; that registry went live two months later in an electronic format. Currently, the registry has 210 physicians and 465 patients registered with most of the patients being treated for seizure disorders. Commissioner Fitzgerald reported to the Subcommittees that DPH's work on ebola and the monitoring of that disease, explaining that 2,920 Georgians had been monitored for 21 days (34 became sick but not with ebola).
The Department of Veterans Services, through Commissioner Mike Roby, commented on its work with its Certificates of Honor for Vietnam veterans (serving 1955-1975). There are a total of 234,000 Georgians who served in Vietnam; the Department has requested an additional $25,000 for printing and mailing costs of the certificates as well as ceremonial costs. There were some questions posed by the Subcommittees. Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver (D-Decatur) inquired about the veterans' nursing homes – there are a total of 392 patients (last month) and 16o are in Augusta and 232 in Milledgeville. Rep. Tommy Benton (R-Jefferson) asked more about cemetery maintenance; two additional workers have been requsted for Milledgeville and one for Linville. Rep. Tom Kirby (R-Loganville) inquired about license plates for disabled veterans. His concern was Georgia is too restrictive in permitting veterans the ability to obtain license plates when they are disabled. The Commissioner outlined the Department of Motor Vehicles' process requirements to show disability – which depend on how the federal Veterans Affairs classifies an individual. It appears that a veteran can receive 100 percent disability but still maintain functionality; those individuals can receive these license plates.
Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency also presented information. Director Greg Schmieg provided an update on the Agency since its inception in 2012. Quickly, he outlined a number of accomplishments, including these:
- Agency infrastructure is now 95 percent in place (information technology will be the last to be completed July 1, 2016)
- Warm Springs hospitals have been transferred to GRU
- Disability Adjudication Services are in a collaborative relations with the Social Security Administration
- There are reserves in the Georgia Industries for the Blind
- Vocational rehabilitation has been restructured and there is no waiting list
- A formal memorandum of understanding is in place with the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities
- A pilot initiative with the Department of Juvenile Justice has been developed for youth with disabilities who are transitioning out of YDCs
- Georgia is one of four states which has obtained a five-year demonstration grant for career pathways
- The Agency has created a business division and
- It has eliminated $20 million deficit.
A few questions were posed to the Agency. In particular, Rep. Benton inquired about deaf and blind services and whether there were fewer served. It is true that more were served in 1994 than in 2014. Rep. Oliver inquired about the waiting list for services; that list was more than 10,700 which has now been eliminated (through working with the Center for the Visually Impaired and Bobby Dodd Center). Sen. Butch Miller (R-Gainesville) asked about federal funds for vocational rehabilitation as Georgia never utilizes its maximum amount because of not appropriating a full State fund match. Last year, the Agency returned $20 million. However, the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities provided $800,000 in an effort to help close the gap in State funds and both The Technical College of Georgia and Board of Regents have been approached at putting up some of their State funds to allow the Agency to draw more of its federal funding.
Last on the agenda today were the Department of Human Services and Division of Family and Children's Services (DFCS). Commissioner Crittenden and Director Cagle made presentations. Director Cagle highlighted the increase of more than $51.48 million in State funds for growth in the out-of-home care utilization and the replacement of prior year TANF funds with State moneys of more than $49.3 million. He also highligted the more than $7.36 million for the additional 175 additional child protective caseworkers which has been proposed in the Child Welfare program and more than $584,049 for ten more kinship navigators that was also added in that program. Rep. Oliver inquired about the TANF discussion and news from the federal level discussions; Director Cagle indicated that it will likely take place in 2018, and that the budget impact to Georgia will occur at that point. Rep. Benton noted that he was receiving calls from constituents around lack of call backs when they tried to reach DFCS; Director Cagle explained that his Division was working on its customer service efforts and felt like that they had made strides in improvements. Rep. Tom Taylor (R-Atlanta) asked about per diem's paid to child welfare providers. Director Cagle indicated that there were varying rates and that, for instance, base rates for foster care for children ages six to twelvere were $17.00 per day; ages 13 and older were $19.36 per day. Child placing agencies are paid rates from $22.00 to $83.00 per day based on the acuity needs of the child. Special rates are also paid to children with medical conditions. Rep. Taylor followed up, inquiring about lengths of stay for children in foster care and Director Cagle reminded the Subcommittees that there were federal and State laws regarding lengths of stay (no more than 24 months and if a child is in care more than 15 months that there was an obligation to move towards having parental rights terminated). Rep. Taylor further asked about educational qualifications and salaries of caseworkers as well as rates of turnover in those positions. Director Cagle indicated that DFCS pays a social worker with a bachelor's degree an annual salary of $28,000 and a social worker with a master's degree receives a salary of $32,000. Turnover in these positions is between 30-36 percent annually. The General Assembly's infusion of $5 million in the 2016 Budget has helped DFCS provide raises to employees of between 2.5 and 7.5 percent, depending on merit and numbers of years of service. Rep. Benton, who also served on the House Study Committee on Kinship Care, asked about rates paid to families who take children. His goal is to provide help to those families who testified that they did not receive the same types of foster care supplements. Rep. Benton pointed out that these families save the State money. Director Cagle noted that his goal was to have 50 percent of foster children in "relative care." It is better for the child and the Budget. Rep. Benton asked Director Cagle if he would ask for more money for kinship care; Cagle responded that there was in excess of $584,000 in the 2017 Budget proposal for kinship navigators. Rep. Oliver indicated that this might be an area where Georgia could pull down more Title IV-E funding. Rep. Tom Kirby (R-Loganville) asked about "understaffing" of caseworkers. Director Cagle responded to Rep. Taylor's question that Governor Deal was funding an additional 175 caseworkers in the 2017 Budget proposal. These added caseworkers, if funded, bring the total of new caseworker positions over the last three years fiscal years to 628. Director Cagle did acknowledge that the added caseworkers proposed, though, would not bring caseloads per caseworker down to 1:15 but around 1:18. Thus, DFCS is probably only 60 percent staffed – likely needing 400 more. There, however, has been a $28 million investment in caseworkers over the last three fiscal years. Director Cagle was also asked about the numbers of DFCS eligibility workers, different than caseworkers. There are 2,100 eligibility workers. Rep. Taylor also inquired about efforts to locate out-of-state relatives of children; Director Cagle stated that there are federal and State law requirements to locate families – citing to the Interstate Compact for Placement of Children. Within the Department of Human Services' budget, there are really only two small changes: one change addresses Teamworks' expenses and the other an additional $1.3 million for the Department's integreated eligibility system.
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
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.