Gold Dome Report - January 25, 2017
Today was Day 7 of the legislative session. Lawmakers joined together in the House Chamber this morning to hear the State of the Judiciary, given by Chief Justice P. Hanes Harris. During his remarks, he acknowledged the three recently-appointed Supreme Court Justices, including Michael Boggs, Nels Peterson and Britt Grant. He praised the State of Georgia and Governor Deal for being a 'national leader' regarding criminal justice reform in the court system. He stated that the Criminal Justice Reform Council will be making more recommendations this year regarding the probation sentencing for low-risk, non-violent offenders with a goal of freeing up 140 probation officers over the next five years. He stated the goals of making legal representation more affordable to Georgians; fixing technological shortcomings in courts; improving the juvenile court's handlings of child neglect and abuse cases; and providing law clerks for superior court judges.
Joint House and Senate Education and Youth Committee
A joint meeting of the House and Senate Education Committees met today to hear from a number of State agencies that deal with education. Chairman Brooks Coleman (R-Duluth) and Sen. Lindsey Tippins (R-Marietta) called the meeting to order and welcomed everybody in attendance. The first presenter was State School Superintendent Richard Woods on behalf of the State Department of Education (DOE), who made a few comments to the Committee. He stressed the importance of reading comprehension and ensuring that students are working in environments that are conducive to learning. DOE is currently working to improve the literacy rate around the State and will continue to reach out to sister agencies to determine the best plan moving forward. He hopes that Georgia will be at a national level in graduation rates for K-5 education. Superintendent Woods recognized Arianne Weldon to present on the "Get Georgia Reading Again" campaign. Currently two out of three of children are not at the adequate reading level at the 3rd grade. Public schools give 85% of their curriculum in a reading format, so reading comprehension is critical. Literacy plays a major role in a student's ability to be successful in math. She also indicated that school climate ratings have a strong correlation to CCRPI performance. Georgia is the 14th fastest growing performer among all states in 'student achievement'. There was also a presentation on 'game-based assessments' which are computer games catered to students that are meant to encourage students to learn in the classroom. Funding for such assessments was included in the Governor's budget.
Debbie Gay is the program manager and presented to the Committee. She indicated that the Department has partnered with the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities on 'Project Aware', which is a program meant to increase awareness of mental health issues among school-aged children. Chairman Coleman discussed the 'strong' relationship the Committee has with the Department and the State Board of Education. He and Sen. Fran Millar (R-Atlanta) asked if the Department had been discussing how to address failing schools with the Governor's office. It was indicated that those conversations have taken place and there is a piece of legislation being drafted that is meant to address failing schools. The bill will be considered and fleshed out by the House and Senate Committees. Chairman Coleman stressed that the legislation will not be a school 'takeover' bill, but instead indicated that the legislature will be "going in and helping these schools" and will be accepting feedback from school districts.
A number of education advocacy groups were present at the meeting and made introductions to Committee members. The Professional Association of Georgia Educators was introduced first. Director Craig Harper stated that PAGE represents 92,000 members including teachers, support staff, and future educators. He indicated they would like to be in the conversation over 'chronically failing schools'. He also believes the CCRPI has resulted in harsh judgments against certain schools. PAGE believes that the way to improve education is through a transformation model rather than a reform model. The Georgia Association for Career and Technical Education was represented by Executive Director Matthew Gamble. He offered to work with the Committee to make sure that Technical Education remains a viable alternative to standard education provided by schools in the State.
The School Social Workers Association of Georgia was also represented at the meeting. President Cynthia Turner introduced the association to the Committee and offered to work with the Committee during the session. Additionally, the Georgia Speech-Language Hearing Association was present. LaBrita Cash-Baskett introduced herself and the GSHA team to the Committee and offered to work as a partner moving forward. These last two groups were only given a few minutes to present and were invited to make another presentation at a future meeting.
Chairman Brooks Coleman adjourned the meeting and indicated that the House Education Committee will hold its individual meeting tomorrow.
HB 90, by Rep. Dan Gasaway (R-Homer), would amend Title 16, relating to abuse of governmental office, by adding a new Code section (O.C.G.A. § 16-10-6.1) to address conflicts of interest that may arise when a county, municipality, school system or developmental authority purchases real property. The bill provides that it is illegal for an elected member that has a substantial interest in the real property to be purchased to discuss or vote upon whether the governing body should purchase that property.
HB 116, by Rep. Bert Reeves (R-Marietta), would amend the Juvenile Code to provide the superior court with exclusive jurisdiction over the trial of any child 13 to 17 years of age who has committed aggravated assault with a firearm or aggravated battery. The superior court has the discretion to transfer cases back to the juvenile court, but only if the victim in the case is not a peace officer or someone over the age of 65.
HB 118, Rep. Trey Kelley (R-Cedartown), would amend Chapter 1 of Title 10, relating to selling and trading practices, by adding a new Article 35. Officially titled the “Fantasy Contests Act,” the legislation provides that fantasy contest operators must register with the Secretary of State and pay an annual fee before offering fantasy contests in this state. A fantasy contest is defined in the bill as a game or contest for which the value of all prizes and awards is fixed and where winning outcomes in based on individual, rather than group, performance. Finally, the bill lists a number of procedures a fantasy contest operator must implement in O.C.G.A § 10-1-933.
HB 124, Rep. David Clark (R-Buford), would revise Title 16 and Title 49 relating to fraud and public assistance by replacing the term “food stamps” with “food instrument,” defined in the bill as a voucher, check, EBT card, or coupon used to obtain public assistance.
HB 127, Rep. Richard Smith (R-Columbus), would amend Titles 31, 33, and 45 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated by deleting all references to nonprofit medical service corporations and nonprofit hospital service corporations.
HB 128, by Rep. Paul Battles (R-Cartersville) would amend O.C.G.A § 47-3-22, providing that the board of trustees for the Teachers' Retirement System of Georgia shall elect a chairperson from among its membership.
HB 129, by Rep. Paul Battles (R-Cartersville) would amend O.C.G.A § 47-2-22, providing that the board of trustees for the Employees' Retirement System of Georgia shall elect a chairperson from among its membership.
HB 135, by Rep. Amy Carter (R-Valdosta), would amend O.C.G.A § 47-2-226, relating to the Employees' Retirement System of Georgia, to include "any investigator of the Department of Driver Services" under the definition of the term 'law enforcement officer'. Currently law enforcement officers are eligible to obtain up to five years of credible service for certain prior service with a local government, provided they were not eligible for a defined benefit or defined contribution plan. The bill clarifies that credible service could be obtained if such law enforcement officers are not eligible to receive a present or future benefit from the local governing authority in which they were employed. Members wishing to purchase such creditable service would be required to pay the full actuarial cost of the service granted.
HB 138, by Rep. Lee Hawkins (R-Gainesville), would add a new Part 3A in Title 20, relating to the transparency and accuracy of financial information of local school systems. A new Code Section O.C.G.A § 20-14-45 provides that the intent of the new part is to provide the public with ready access to all financial information not specifically made confidential by law. Another new Code Section is added at O.C.G.A § 20-14-46 which provides that local boards of education and each state charter school shall make school site budgets and expenditure information accessible to the public. Such information includes:
- The cost of all materials, equipment and non-staff support
- Salary and benefit expenditures
- Cost of professional development training, materials, and tuition cost
- Total cost of facility maintenance and small capital projects
- Cost of new construction or renovation on a cost-per-square-foot basis
The bill further states that the local board shall make available to the public:
- The annual budget of the local board of education
- Annual audits conducted on the board's finances
- Ratios of expenditures to revenues
- The total dollar amount of local property tax revenue the school is authorized to collect
- The total dollar amount of all other tax revenue collected by the school system
It further requires local boards of education to post on their websites:
- The annual budget
- The annual personnel report prepared by state auditor
- The most recent audit conduced by the Department of Audits and Accounts
- Any findings of irregularities or budget deficits
- Information regarding the sales tax for educational purposes
It further would require that public schools shall most the following information on their websites:
- Financial efficiency ratings for the school
- The web page where all the previous information required under this code section is located
O.C.G.A § 20-14-47 would provide that the State Board of Education shall develop rules to enforce this code section, no later than January 1, 2018. O.C.G.A § 20-14-48 would provide that, if funding is available, the Office and Planning and Budget shall publish an online sortable list for each local school system on the per student expenditures used to determine the financial efficient rating and report the relative financial performance of local school systems and schools.
HR 57, by Rep. Amy Carter (R-Valdosta) would create the Joint Elementary and Secondary School Nutrition Programs Study Committee which would study and collect information on the overall condition of school nutrition programs in Georgia and to discuss opportunities for improvements to the state administration of these programs.
HR 58, by Rep. Tom Taylor (R-Dunwoody) would amend the Constitution by defining an 'independent school system' as a school system operated under the control and management of a board of education of a municipality or other political subdivision of this state other than a county school district. A 'county school district' would also be defined as a school system operated under the control and management of a county board of education.
HR 68, by Rep. Amy Carter (R-Valdosta) recognizes February as Career and Technical Education Month and February 9, 2017 as Georgia Career and Technical Student Organizations Day at the capitol.
HR 73, by Rep. Betty Price (R-Roswell) recognizes January 25, 2017 as Physician's Day at the Capitol.
HR 101, by Rep. Joyce Chandler (R-Grayson) would create the House Study Committee on College Course Credit.
SB 47, by Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, (R-Rome), adds a new Code section (O.C.G.A. 43-34-29.3) that exempts certain physicians licensed outside the state from Georgia’s licensure requirements. Physicians that provide care to the members or coaching staff of an out-of-state sports team and physicians invited by a national sport governing body to provide care to team members or coaching staff during a sporting event are exempt from licensure requirements when practicing within their scope in Georgia.
SB 50, by Sen. Hunter Hill (R-Atlanta), amends Chapter 7 of Title 33, relating to insurance, by adding a new Code section (O.C.G.A. § 33-7-2.1) that deems that an agreement between a physician and a patient in which the physician provides services for a fixed fee and period of time (“direct primary care agreement”) is not subject to the insurance laws of this state. The agreement must in writing, signed by both parties, allow for 30-day written notice for termination, define the scope of the services, and specify the duration and fee for the services. Physicians are not obligated to enter into a direct primary care agreement with a patient and can discontinue care under the agreement if a patient fails to pay the fee, commits fraud or abuse, or repeatedly fails to adhere to the treatment plan.
SB 52, by Sen. P.K. Martin (R-Lawrenceville) would repeal Section 2A of Act No. 546 to authorize a professional counselor to perform certain acts relating to mental health.
SB 55, by Sen. Josh McKoon (R-Columbus), adds a new chapter (Chapter 11) to Title 37 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated relating to mental health by creating a new type of advanced directive form called a psychiatric advance directive that allows competent adults to specify their mental health care preferences. Created in the recognition of the fundamental right of individuals to have control over their mental health care decisions, this bill would allow individuals to document the situations that have been known to cause the person to experience a mental health crisis and dictate what responses or types of assistance are most effective during such crisis. The person can also appoint a mental health agent that can make mental health care decisions when the person is unable to do so. The psychiatric advance directive form is contained in O.C.G.A § 37-11-15. It must be signed and witnessed to be effective, and once effective, providers and health care facilities must comply with the patient’s directive to the fullest extent possible.
SB 56, by Sen. Josh McKoon (R-Columbus), amends Title 33 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated by adding a new chapter titled the Accuracy and Transparency in Physician/Provider Profiling Act. The bill sets evaluation criteria for physician profiling programs, i.e. programs that compare a physician’s or physician group’s performance, quality, and cost of care against set standards in order to rank or classify such physician or group against others in the same specialty or subspecialty. The purpose of the standards is to ensure that profiling programs are representing a fair and accurate representation of the physician or physician group. Physician profiling programs must disclose the methodologies, criteria, data and limitations of the data used to make its determination to patients and the profiled physicians. Finally, physicians may appeal a profiling program’s ranking.
SB 60, by Sen. Horacena Tate (D-Atlanta), adds a new chapter to Title 34 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated titled the Georgia Equal Pay Act. The Act prohibits employers from paying an employee of one sex more money than the employees of the opposite sex if both are performing equal work in terms of skill, effort, and responsibility. Difference in payment that is based on a seniority system, merit system, or other system is not subject to this Code section, however, if an employer uses a particular employment practice that causes a disparate impact on the basis of sex those exceptions do not apply. Employers may not prohibit employees from discussing wages with one another, but may establish reasonable limitations about when and where such conversations can take place at work. If a dispute arises between an employer and an employee on the basis of unequal pay, either of the parties may request arbitration. Finally, the labor commissioner or an employee may also bring civil action against an employer violating this Act.
SB 61, by Sen. Horacena Tate (D-Atlanta), establishes the Georgia Family Planning Initiative Program within the Department of Public Health in a new Code Section at O.C.G.A § 31-2A-19. The program can receive public and private funds and distribute those funds to agencies for the purpose of providing family planning services such as long-term birth control, breast and cervical cancer screening, pregnancy testing and counseling, and screening for sexually transmitted diseases. The target population is low-income women, uninsured, and underinsured patients. No patient can be denied services because of an inability to pay.
SB 62, by Sen. Emanuel Jones (D-Decatur) would amend O.C.G.A § 21-2-4 to provide that the summary of general amendments to the Constitution shall be prepared by a "seven-member proporsal summary committee consisting of two appointees of the dean of the University of Georgia School of Law, two appointees of the dean of the Georgia State University College of Law, and three appointees of the Supreme Court of Georgia." Currently, such summary is prepared by the Attorney General, the legislative counsel, and the Secretary of State.
SB 70, by Sen. Butch Miller (R-Gainesville) would amend O.C.G.A § 31-8-179.6 by extending the sunset provision relating to the hospital Medicaid financing program in order to extend the date of repeal to June 30, 2020 (it is currently June 30, 2017).
SR 6, by Sen. Elena Parent (D-Atlanta), proposes an amendment to the Georgia Constitution by adding a new Section IV relating to legislative and congressional reapportionment. The bill creates the Citizens’ Redistricting Commission that is charged with the duty to conduct public hearings and meetings for the purpose of creating proposals for the redistricting of U.S. congressional and Georgia House of Representatives and Senate legislative districts. The commission will consist of 14 members (five Republicans, five Democrats, and 4 that do not identify with any political party). The bill also details eligibility requirements for the members and the application process for becoming a member. The commission will dissolve after the approval or final rejection of each of the proposed redistricting plans.
SR 7, by Sen. Elena Parent (D-Atlanta), proposes an amendment to the Georgia Constitution by adding a new Section IV relating to legislative and congressional reapportionment. The General Assembly would be required to reapportion the state during regular session the year after the federal decennial census. If the General Assembly does not enact a reapportionment act before session ends, or if such act is vetoed, a special session lasting up to 30 days will be established for adopting such legislation. If such act is not enacted during the special session, the Supreme Court must be petitioned to make such reapportionment. After the reapportionment act is enacted, the Attorney General must petition the Supreme Court to determine the validity of the act. If the act is deemed invalid, another special session lasting up to 15 days will be established and the General Assembly must address the Court’s concerns in a new reapportionment act. Finally, the bill sets forth certain non-discrimination provisions that prevent a reapportionment plan that favors one political party or an incumbent.
SR 68, by Sen. Jeff Mullis (R-Chickamauga) honors President Donald Trump on becoming the 45th President of the United States.
SR 73, by Sen. Horacena Tate (D-Atlanta) would amend Article III, Section IX, Paragraph IV of the Constitution by adding a new subparagraph stating that the General Assembly may provide for the creation and administration of a Family Medical Leave Fund as a trust fund from which funds shall be disbursed to provide a program for individuals who need to take leave from work due to their own sickness or non-work related injury, the sickness of injury of a family member, or the birth, adoption, or foster care placement of a new child. Revenues raised for purposes of such fund could be paid into and disbursed without being subject to current limitations. The fund would be administered by the Georgia Department of Labor.
Our 2017 Georgia Capitol team consists of Stan Jones, Helen Sloat, Chuck Clay, George Ray, 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.