Gold Dome Report - January 25, 2016
Greetings from the Gold Dome! Today was National Guard Day at the capitol and Governor Deal and others were on hand to recognize the contributions that the State's Guards' men and women make.
Governor Deal announced today that The Georgia Appellate Review Commission, created in October of last year, had submitted its final report. The Commission was asked to review jurisdictional boundaries of Georgia's appellate courts and ways to help modernize and improve efficiencies. The full Report may be found through this link:
Governor Deal also made economic development news today that additional jobs were coming to the State. Valmiera Glass Group, a Latvian-based fiberglass manufacturer, announced that it will expand its operations in Dublin which will create 425 jobs. In total, this is an investment of $90 million through 2022.
It was announced that Rep. Mike Dudgeon (R-Johns Creek) will not seek reelection for a fourth term due to business commitments at Hirez Studios in Alpharetta, where he is the chief technology officer. Rep. Dudgeon represents District 25.
HB 809, by Rep. Spencer Frye (D-Athens), amends Georgia's property tax exemptions as found in O.C.G.A. § 48-5-41 to provide an exemption from ad valorem taxation for housing furnished by a nonprofit organization to physically disabled persons. Currently, Georgia's law already permits such exemption for homes owned by nonprofits for mentally disabled. The initiative would, if passed, be placed on the November 2016 ballot to be either approved or rejected by voters.
HB 810, by Rep. Spencer Frye (D-Athens), proposes to address Georgia's laws on health records and the costs associated with copying and mailing of health records. It clarifies in O.C.G.A. § 31-33-3(a) that a party requesting the patient's records shall be responsible to the provider for the costs of copying and mailing the patient's record – "however, that the provider shall not be permitted to charge any fees for a request which includes only the patient's medical bill or billing statement with that provider." It also amends O.C.G.A. § 31-33-8(f) which currently addresses electronic records so that "except as provided otherwise under federal law, upon receiving request for a copy of a record from a patient or an authorized person under Code Section 31-33-3, a provider shall provide copies of the record in either tangible or electronically stored form." This change allows that if a record "is provided via electronic mail, no copying costs shall be imposed pursuant to Code Section 31-33-3 on the party requesting the record."
HB 811, by Rep. Bruce Williamson (R-Monroe), is the Georgia banking law update in Title 7. This is a comprehensive update of the banking laws to modernize some provisions and bring others into conformance with new federal law. It includes governance and merger or acquisition changes for entities such as merchant acquired limited purpose banks and recognizing permission for "virtual currency." The use of federally guaranteed obligations or instruments other than cash is permitted for reserves. The ease of expansion of branches from adjoining states into Georgia and Georgia banks into such states is increased.
HB 813, by Rep. Rick Jasperse (R-Jasper), addresses both the pharmacy and healthcare laws. In O.C.G.A. § 26-4-80(c)(2), it includes additional language for prescription drug orders. The name and address of the patient is to be on such drug orders transmitted by facsimile or computer unless the prescription drug order is prescribed pursuant to expedited partner therapy in accordance with O.C.G.A. § 31-17-7.1 for use by a sexual partner of a patient clinically diagnosed with Chlamydia, gonorrhea or trichomoniasis. It also excludes pharmacies from maintaining certain records in O.C.G.A. § 26-4-83 when the prescription drug orders dispensed pursuant to expedited partner therapy for use by a sexual partner of a patient clinically diagnosed with Chlamydia, gonorrhea, or trichomoniasis. It also excludes in O.C.G.A. § 26-4-85(d)(4) the pharmacist from having to counsel these sexual partners of patients clinically diagnosed with Chlamydia, gonorrhea, or trichomoniasis and who are to receive expedited partner therapy. At O.C.G.A. § 31-17-17.1 it adds a new code section relating to the control of venereal disease – it defines "expedited partner therapy" and permits a licensed practitioner to use such therapy in accordance with any rules and regulations established by the department for the management of the patient's sexual partner or partners. "Expedited partner therapy" is the "practice of prescribing or dispensing antibiotic drugs to the sexual partner or partners of a patient clinically diagnosed with Chlamydia, gonorrhea, or trichomoniasis without physical examination of the partner or partners." Licensed practitioners and pharmacists, who do so in good faith, will not be subject to criminal or civil liability or having engaged in unprofessional conduct.
HB 814, by Rep. Mike Glanton (D-Jonesboro), seeks to create the "Educating Children of Military Families Act" by adding a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. § 20-2-324.2 to authorize the Department of Education to establish a unique identifier for each student whose parent or guardian is an active duty military service member in the armed forces of the United States and whose parent is a member of a reserve component of the armed forces of the United States or the National Guard in a manner which will allow "for disaggregation of data for each category."
HB 816, by Rep. Billy Mitchell (D-Stone Mountain), seeks to enact the "Georgia Student Religious Liberties Act of 2016" in a new Article 4B of Chapter 2 of Title 20. It begins in O.C.G.A. § 20-2-90 to prohibit a local school system from discriminating against students or parents on the basis of a religious viewpoint or religious expression and requires the local school system to treat a student's voluntary expression of a religious viewpoint, if any, on an otherwise permissible subject in the same manner the local school system treats a student's voluntary expression of a secular or other viewpoint on an otherwise permissible subject. It permits in O.C.G.A. § 20-2-91 that students may express their beliefs about religion in coursework, artwork, and other written and oral assignments free from discrimination based on the religious content of their submissions. At O.C.G.A. § 20-2-92, it addresses prayer and permits students in local schools the ability to pray or engage in religious activities or religious expression before, during, and after the school day in the same manner and to the same extent that students may engage in nonreligious activities or expression. It allows students to organize prayer groups, religious clubs and other gatherings. It requires local school systems in O.C.G.A. § 20-2-93 to develop a "model policy" and it outlines its contents in O.C.G.A. § 20-2-94 (addressing students' expressions of religious viewpoints; student speakers at non-graduation events; student speakers at graduation ceremonies; religious expression in class assignments; and freedom to organize religious groups and activities).
HB 817, by Rep. Dexter Sharper (D-Valdosta), seeks to add a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. § 20-2-324.2 to require that youth athletes receive instruction in baseball dugout safety (this applies to all local boards of education, nonpublic elementary or secondary school, governing body of a charter school or public recreation facility). Instruction is to include instruction on being aware of high velocity baseballs which may enter a dugout during a baseball game and the importance of remaining attentive to such. It also encourages school or recreation facilities to be protected overhead and on all sides (such as netting).
HB 818, by Rep. Jason Shaw (R-Lakeland), addresses Georgia's workers' compensation laws in Chapter 9 of Title 34. Among changes in this proposal:
- Amends O.C.G.A. § 34-9-47(c) so that at an administrative law judge has the power to subpoena witnesses and administer oaths and may take testimony in cases brought before the State Board of Workers' Compensation. It further requires that the administrative law judge be subject to the Georgia Code of Judicial Conduct.
- Amends O.C.G.A. § 34-9-121(a) concerning duties of the employer to insure that the State Board has sufficient information to make an adequate assessment of the employer's workers' compensation exposure and liabilities and provide other evidence satisfactory to the Board of such employer's financial ability to pay the compensation directly in the amount and manner and when due.
- Increases at O.C.G.A. § 34-9-261 compensation for total disability from $550.00 per week to $575.00 per week.
- Increases at O.C.G.A. § 34-9-262 compensation for temporary partial disability from $367.00 per week to $383.00 per week.
- Amends O.C.G.A. § 34-9-265(d) concerning total compensation payable to a surviving spouse as a sole dependent at the time of death and where there is no other dependent for one year or less after the death of the employee to increase that amount from $220,000.00 to $230,000.00.
- Amends O.C.G.A. § 34-9-380 and O.C.G.A. 34-9-381 concerning Self Insurers Guaranty Trust Fund and in part clarifies what the term "self-insurer" does not mean.
- Amends O.C.G.A. § 34-9-382 concerning the establishment of the Self-Insurers Guaranty Trust Fund and the assets which can be invested (in obligations issued or guaranteed by the United States government). It also excludes certain entities from membership in this Fund (e.g., a captive insurer for instance, as provided in Chapter 41 of Title 33).
- Amends O.C.G.A. § 34-9-385 regarding bankruptcy provisions for participant insolvent insurers.
HB 819, by Rep. Dar'shun Kendrick (D-Lithonia), adds a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. § 20-2-779.2 to require that the Department of Education, in consultation with the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities and mental health experts, develop a list of training materials for awareness of mental health, behavioral disabilities, and learning disabilities which may include training materials currently utilized by a local school system. It does add language that no person "shall have a cause of action for any loss or damage caused by any act or omission resulting from any training, or lack thereof, conducted pursuant to this Code Section." The training, or lack thereof, is not to be construed to impose any specific duty of care.
HB 820, by Rep. Dar'shun Kendrick (D-Lithonia), addresses chronic disciplinary problem students and adds a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. § 20-2-766.2 and would require on and after July 1, 2016, any time a student in kindergarten through third grade has been placed in:
(1) out-of-school suspension for the third time during the same school year;
(2) Out-of-school suspension for a second time within a four-week period within the same school year; or
(3) An alternative education program,
that school personnel develop and implement a documented "behavior correction action plan for such student." Such plan would be required to include specific, measurable, attainable, and timely goals and strategies.
HB 821, by Rep. Al Williams (D-Midway), addresses Georgia's licensure laws for the various professions covered under Title 43. It seeks to create the "Military Spouses and Veterans Licensure Act" in a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. § 43-1-34 so that by no later than July 1, 2017, each professional licensing board and other board shall adopt rules and regulations implementing a process by which military spouses and transitioning service members may qualify for temporary licenses, licenses by endorsement, expedited licenses, or a combination of those for each profession, business or trade where a license is issued. It may require the review of whether the individual held a license in another state for which training, experience and testing substantially met or exceeded Georgia's licensure requirements and whether the individual obtained a specialty, certification, training or experience in the military.
HB 822, by Rep. Christian Coomer (R-Cartersville), amends O.C.G.A. § 48-8-3.3(4) regarding sales and use tax exemptions to change a definition for the term "energy used in agriculture." Fuels subject to prepaid state tax are currently removed from the exemption for agricultural foods and this removal is changed to include any prepaid tax.
HB 823, by Rep. Stacey Abrams (D-Atlanta), adds a new code section to create the "Expand Medicaid Now Act" at O.C.G.A. § 49-4-158. It provides for the authorization of the appropriations for the purposes of obtaining federal financial participation for Medicaid payments to providers under the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010. It establishes that such appropriations authorization "shall provide a maximum amount of 138 percent of the federal poverty level."
HB 824, by Rep. Kimberly Alexander (D-Hiram), seeks to address Georgia's labor laws and enact "The Paid Sick Leave Act" in a new Chapter 11 of Title 34. In part, it will require employers to implement a sick time policy which allows an employee to earn and accrue at least 56 hours of paid sick leave per year – it will accrue at the rate of one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked. Such leave will accrue on the first day of employment with the employer and unused sick leave is to be carried over from one year to the next. It does permit the employer to adopt a policy which limits an employee from accruing or using more than 56 hours of paid sick leave in a year. Employees, exempt from overtime requirements under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, as amended, 29 U.S.C. Section 213(a)(1), are presumed to work 40 hours in each workweek for the purpose of accrual of paid sick leave unless the actual workweek of the employee is less than 40 hours and then it will be based on actual workweek of the employee. At O.C.G.A. § 34-11-3, it mandates that the employee is eligible to use paid sick leave beginning on the 90th calendar day of employment with the employer and may use such paid sick leave as it is accrued. At O.C.G.A. § 34-11-5, it outlines how paid sick leave may be taken by the employee (mental or physical illness of the employee, preventive medical care, diagnostic care or treatment of mental or physical illness, care for a family member who has a mental or physical illness or injury or needs diagnostic or preventive care, etc.). If the employee takes more than 24 consecutive hours for leave outlined in O.C.G.A. § 34-11-5, then the employer may require the employee to provide verification from a healthcare provider of the need for sick time or some other type of certification for the need for leave. The legislation outlines the types of records to be maintained by the employer. Individuals who are employees of the building and construction industry or who work as a longshoreman or stagehand are not covered by this new code section (they are covered by collective bargaining agreements). It also permits a right of action can be taken by an aggrieved individual and permits a court to award compensatory damages or $200.00, whichever is greater, and punitive damages.
HB 825, by Rep. Earnest Smith (D-Augusta), seeks to create the "Protecting Military Children Act" at O.C.G.A. §9-7-5 to provide that in the event of a report of child abuse by a military parent or guardian, the child welfare agency is to notify the Department of Defense Family Advocacy Program. It further adds that filing a report of child abuse to military law enforcement to the reporting of child abuse to an appropriate police authority is permitted.
HB 826, by Rep. Betty Price (R-Roswell), addresses medical practice advertisements and adds a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. § 43-34-22.1. It prohibits a physician from advertising himself or herself out to the public in any manner as being certified or board certified in any specialty or subspecialty by a public or private board, including a multidisciplinary board unless:
1) The advertisement or publication states the full name of the certifying board; and
2) Such certifying board either:
- Is a member board of the American Board of Medical Specialties or the American Osteopathic Association; or
- Requires successful completion of a postgraduate training program approved by the Accreditation Commission for Graduate Medical Education or the American Osteopathic Association that provides complete training in the specialty or subspecialty certified, followed by prerequisite certification by the American Board of Medical Specialties or the American Osteopathic Association board for that training field, and further successful completion of an examination in the specialty or subspecialty certified.
HB 827, by Rep. Scott Holcomb (D-Atlanta), amends O.C.G.A. § 35-1-2, regarding law enforcement officers, to provide requirements for submitting evidence which is collected from a forensic medical examination to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation – placing a duty on each law enforcement officer who is responsible for having a forensic medical examination performed on an individual to provide email notification to the GBI within 72 hours of collecting such evidence that it has been collected and to ensure that the evidence submitted to the GBI is done within 30 days of its collection. Law enforcement officers are also to create a list of evidence which is the result of such forensic medical examination. Beginning December 1, 2016, the GBI is also to issue an annual report detailing the number of cases for which it has tested evidence and the number of cases for which it is storing evidence pursuant to this code section. If passed, this will be known as the "Pursuing Justice for Rape Victims Act."
SB 289, by Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta), amends Georgia's elections laws and in particular registration of lobbyists. It adds a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. § 21-5-77 to prohibit employees of the executive branch of State government from registering as a lobbyist or engaging in lobbying for a period of one year after terminating their employment with the State. It also prohibits such employees from being hired or contracted as a consultant with any agency or entity of the executive branch of State government for a period of one year after termination of employment.
SR 794, by Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford), recognizes January 26, 2016 as Human Trafficking Awareness Day at the State capitol.
SR 799, by Sen. Ben Watson (R-Savannah), recognizes the month of February 2016 as "Self-Care Month" in Georgia as citizens in the State benefit when they practice appropriate self-care (such as use of appropriate over-the-counter medications).
Senate Insurance and Labor Committee
Sen. Charlie Bethel (R-Dalton) convened the Senate Insurance and Labor Committee at 2:00 PM. He announced that SB 136, by Sen. Marty Harbin (R-Tyrone), would be held as additional provisions were being negotiated with Members of the House. He then proceeded to a hearing on SB 137, also by Sen. Harbin, and SB 158 brought by Sen. Dean Burke, MD (R-Bainbridge).
SB 137 adds limited liability companies owned by a natural person to the insurance provision in O.C.G.A. § 33-32-5 that provides that the full value of a fire insurance policy shall be deemed fair market value and paid for a residential property destroyed by fire, absent fraud or arson. LC37 2079S is the number of the substitute for SB 137 that passed unanimously.
Sen. Burke presented a substitute to his original SB 158 that dealt with one of the parts of the original bills, rental of preferred provider networks. Marcus Downs of the Medical Association and Trey Reese of the Association's law firm Hall Booth and Smith presented the bill and characterized it as a transparency bill to register rental preferred provider networks with the Commissioner of Insurance and provide circumstances in which they could be removed from the registry and thereby terminated from Georgia business. The substitute had several new provisions expanding the circumstances in which a rental network could be terminated from registration, with the main discussion focusing on its removal of an exemption for ERISA health insurance plans. Mr. Reese explained why he thought the bill did not "relate to" the business of insurance for such plans and could withstand ERISA preemption under federal law – the bill was for transparency of its public registration requirements and did not affect business. This was questioned by Sen. David Shafer (R-Duluth) and Mr. Graham Thompson from the Georgia Association of Health Plans indicated that his Association had not had time to examine whether this position was correct nor to analyze the effects of other changes to the bill. He reminded the committee that ERISA preemption issues had been litigated by the State of Georgia, unsuccessfully, under the extension of the prompt pay law to employer self-insured health plans. The Georgia Dental Association and the Georgia Association of Anesthesiologists indicated their support of the bill and Georgia Chiropractic Association stated its support for an amendment to assure that doctors of chiropractic and optometrists were added to the bill's protections for medical doctors. With several questions from Senators on these provisions, Sen. Bethel indicated he wanted to afford all parties more time to examine the substitute and he indicated it would not be voted on until the week of Feb 1 at the Thursday committee meeting that month.
Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford) reported that she was interested in a balance billing provision that would protect consumers, that she had it drafted, and that she wished for this issue, which was examined last summer and fall in the Study Committee on Consumerism, to be addressed.
House Human Relations and Aging Committee
The House Human Relations and Aging Committee, under the leadership of Chairman Tommy Benton (R-Jefferson), met briefly and adopted its Committee Rules with one minor amendment addressing a typographical error. A quorum of four Committee members was established for a meeting . There are no leftover pieces of legislation in the Committee from 2015.
House Education Committee
The initial House Education Committee meeting was held this afternoon. Chairman Brooks Coleman (R-Duluth) discussed some proposed Committee Rules including the addition of a new Rule which will address "urging or suggestive" ideas – those will now become Resolutions so that the State Board of Education can set policy. That Rule was adopted. Their Committee Rules will maintain the same number for a quorum as was established in 2015. They intend to create a new Rule on addressing burdens placed on teachers, as was raised in the Education Funding Reform Commission. However, that proposal has not been finalized.
Chairman Coleman introduced the members of the Committee and its staff.
HB 16 addresses magnet schools and will be taken up by the full Committee.
Additionally, the following proposals were forwarded to the Committee's three subcommittees:
Academic Achievement/Curriculum (chaired by Rep. Mike Dudgeon (R-Johns Creek)):
Academic Innovation (chaired by Rep. Valerie Clark (R-Lawrenceville)):
Academic Support (chaired by Rep. Randy Nix (R-LaGrange)):
A new proposal on public/private schools by Rep. Brian Strickland (which has no HB number).
Joint House and Senate Education Committee
Chairmen Brooks Coleman (R-Duluth) and Lindsey Tippins (R-Marietta) hosted a Joint Education Committee meeting to hear in part the following:
- A presentation was made by the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education to identify its Top 10 Issues:
- Success for all – looking at chronically failing schools and how to make turnarounds
- Assessments – when are they right?
- Georgia teaching pipeline – how to balance rigor
- Student funding – more equitable per student funding
- Mind the gaps – looking at equity and outcomes in education
- Early learning – as an economic foundation for learning
- After school time
- Workforce readiness
- Post-secondary education – access and success of students
- Future of education in Georgia – where are we going as a state (focusing on technology)?
Members of the Committee raised some questions. Rep. Dave Belton (R-Buckhead) inquired about teacher morale and how that was to be addressed. Rep. Margaret Kaiser (D-Atlanta) asked about the Opportunity School District and looking at legislation passed in Tennessee and Louisiana and especially focusing on workforce readiness (and soft skills). Rep. Mike Dudgeon (R-Johns Creek) inquired further about assessments – the response provided was that the State should have a study committee on assessment to have a better understanding on testing. Sen. Janice VanNess (R-Conyers) asked about public-private groups in participation with after-school efforts. Sen. Donzella James (D-Atlanta) inquired about graduation rates and her concern about the number of dropouts – there needs to be a better examination of reasons why students drop out.
- Betty Gray and Dr. Phillips-McClure provided some testimony on the challenges that they see which students and parents face from a Cobb County perspective. They noted that where there are challenges there are also opportunities. However, schools need to listen and look at what the child's needs are. They urged the building of relationships.
- Superintendent Richard Woods was also on hand to talk about what he has seen. He has been in 70 counties. He talked about the fact that education is about life and that Georgia does need guaranteed and viable standards which are based on the child. Georgia needs to focus on k-5 as the foundation – looking at reading and reading comprehension. He applauded the Move on When Ready and dual enrollment for students. He also mentioned the importance of arts and play for children in schools. Education, though, needs to be personalized training. Georgia needs to increase the numbers of its graduates; diplomas cannot be mere pieces of paper. Superintendent Woods also discussed the survey responses which the Department had received from teachers, noting that 53,000 (about half) of Georgia teachers responded. Time was of major importance to teachers – more so than discipline. He noted that 44 percent of Georgia teachers leave the profession by year five of teaching. He acknowledged that testing was on teachers' minds – 33 tests are required in Georgia; only 11 are required by federal law. He mentioned that teachers appeared to like the tiered observation method in determining who was an effective teacher.
House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee
Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon) presented his latest version of medical cannabis, HB 722, to this Committee. In part, it will expand the numbers of conditions in which THC may be used. The products used will be lab-tested products. This afternoon's meeting was merely a hearing for those who are in favor of HB 722. A separate hearing will be held to hear from those opposed to the legislation.
House Ways and Means – Income Tax Subcommittee
The House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Income Tax held a meeting to discuss HB 768, which would establish Georgia's ABLE program by establishing tax-exempt savings accounts for disabled persons. Rep. Lee Hawkins (R-Gainesville) presented the legislation. He indicated that ABLE accounts would be different under this legislation because qualified withdrawals would be non-taxable (non-qualified withdrawals are taxed at 10 percent). Additionally, the annual contribution limit would be raised to $14,000. The federal ABLE Act was signed by President Obama in 2014; however Georgia has not yet passed its own legislation.
A number of disabled individuals testified to the committee, stating that they have issue with the $2,000 limit imposed on people who receive disability benefits. They say it hinders them from being able to build assets over time and also limits their ability to pursue continuing education.
House Ways and Means – Full Committee
The full House Ways and Means Committee met briefly this afternoon to hear HB 742, by Rep. David Knight (R-Griffin). This is an annual update to the Internal Revenue Code (IRC). Knight, who was the presenter, said that they have received a fiscal note from the Department of Revenue. He indicated that the bill makes both the extended exemption amount and the research credit permanent. It also extends mortgage insurance premiums through 2016. The IRS has changed due dates on returns and so this bill changes the dates so as to conform to the federal code.
Rep. John Carson (R-Marietta) indicated that he had spoken with his CPA colleagues and they cannot stress enough the importance of getting these code revisions done early. The bill was then passed out of committee and the Chairman stated that it would be expedited so that it may pass quickly.
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.