Gold Dome Report - January 27, 2016
Today marked the 11th Legislative Day of the 2016 Session. The House will take up, before the full House, HB 750 tomorrow, the FY 2016 Amended Budget.
Governor Deal announced today some news regarding Georgia's charter schools commission – it received a "perfect score" on the national assessment, NACSA's Index of Essential Practices. This "test" if you will is administered annually – there are 161 authorizers around the country and Georgia's State Charter Schools Commission is one of those and one of two authorizers in the State and one of 31 nationally who got a perfect score.
One of the more hotly discussed issues, horse racing, was taken up in the Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities Committee. In that meeting, the Committee approved a Constitutional Amendment which will allow Georgians to vote on horse racing in the fall ballot. This Resolution is now headed to the Senate Rules Committee so it will decide if the measure will go to the full Senate.
There are several Budget hearings concerning the 2017 Budget which have been scheduled. Some include:
February 1, 2016 – House Appropriations' Health Subcommittee with presentations by Department of Community Health at 2:00 p.m. in Room 406 Coverdell Legislative Office Building
February 2, 2016 – House Appropriations' Health Subcommittee with Department of Public Health at 2:00 p.m. in Room 406.
February 2, 2016 – House Appropriations' Public Safety Subcommittee with presentations from Departments of Corrections, Juvenile Justice, Community Supervision, Appeals, Georgia Public Safety Training Center, Firefighters' Standards and Training Council, and Peace Officers' Standards and Training Council at 3:00 p.m. in Room 515 of Coverdell Legislative Office Building
February 3, 2016 – House Appropriations' Health Subcommittee public comments hearing at 2:00 p.m. in Room 406 of Coverdell Legislative Office Building.
In the Senate, SB 137 by Sen. Marty Harbin (R-Tyrone), passed with a vote of 48 to zero. SB 137 addresses Georgia's property insurance laws and specifically amends O.C.G.A. § 33-32-5 concerning fire insurance coverage to expand the ownership restriction to also include any legal entity wholly owned by a natural person or persons as it relates to the application of the value of property covered against loss by a fire. This legislation now moves to the House.
SB 295, by Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta), addresses the Department of Administrative Services, adding a new Article 5 in Chapter 5 of Title 50. It would create a "Division of Supplier Diversity" and the proposal outlines this Division's duties. This Division Director is to encourage and assist contracting agencies in their efforts to increase participation by minority and women-owned business enterprises on State contracts and subcontracts so as to facilitate "the award of a fair share of such State contracts and subcontracts to them." It would also create a statewide advocate to act as a liaison for minority and women-owned business enterprises to assist them in obtaining technical, managerial, financial and other business assistance for certified businesses and applicants. The advocate would also have the authority to investigate complaints brought by or on behalf of minority and women-owned business enterprises concerning certification delays and instances of violations of law by State agencies.
SB 300, by Sen. Josh McKoon (R-Columbus), requires in a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. § 50-5A-12 that the Office of the State Treasurer establish and maintain a database to be known as the "Expenditure Data Base of the State of Georgia" which is to contain all expenditures of State government made during a State fiscal year and such would be accessible to the public for a period of up to five years from its publication (without charge). Such expenditure would include the amount, date expenditure was paid, and the State entity that made the expenditure or requested such expenditure to be made.
SB 301, by Sen. Horacena Tate (D-Atlanta), addresses Georgia's fireworks' laws and specifically amends O.C.G.A. § 25-10-2(b)(3)(B) to revise the days and times in which consumer fireworks may be lawfully used/exploded. Currently, it permits fireworks to be exploded on any day between the hours of 10:00 a.m. and midnight only; provided, however, that it shall be lawful for any person, firm, corporation, association, or partnership to use or explode or cause to be exploded any consumer fireworks on January 1, July, 3, July 4, and December 31 of each year between the hours of 12:00 midnight and 2:00 a.m. This proposal seeks to permit explosion of fireworks on any day between the times of 10:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m. and on July 3, July 4, and December 31 of each year between the times of 10:01 p.m. and 11:59 p.m.; and on January 1 and July 4 of each year between the time of 12:00 midnight and 12:15 a.m.
SR 828, by Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta), is a proposed Constitutional amendment to the Constitutional Amendment, passed in SR 287 in 2015, concerning the Opportunity School District. It revises the ballot question for voters to consider. In the original Resolution as passed in 2015, the question for the ballot in 2016 was:
Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow the State to intervene in chronically failing public schools in order to improve student performance?
In the proposal this year, the question for 2016 is posed as follows:
Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow an appointee of the Governor to take over local school operation, buildings, and control of all federal, state, and local funding if a school has low scores on standardized tests or for any other reason a future legislature may allow?
SR 842, by Sen. William Ligon, Jr. (R-Brunswick), proposes creation of the Senate Study Committee on the Legislative Process to look at ways to improve efficiency and transparency and encourage the deliberative process.
HB 855, by Rep. Tommy Benton (R-Jefferson), amends O.,C.G.A. § 1-4-1(a) to specifically name January 19 as Robert E. Lee's birthday and April 26 as Confederate Memorial Day.
HB 856, by Rep. Barry Fleming (R-Harlem), amends O.C.G.A. § 15-9-7 to increase the surety bond for serving as clerk of the probate court posted by a judge of the Court from $25,000 to $100,000.
HB 858,, by Rep. Margaret Kaiser (D-Atlanta), creates in O.C.G.A. § 51-1-29, relating to immunities for medical acts in emergencies, to add immunity from civil liability for property damages for rescuing an incapacitated or endangered dog from a locked car.
HB 859 by Rep. Rick Jasperse (R-Jasper) proposes to add an exception to the prohibition of carrying weapons in schools or on school buses in O.C.G.A. § 16-11-127.1 to permit licensed weapon carry holders of certain firearms permitted under O.C.G.A. § 16-11-129 on the premises of public technical schools, vocational schools, colleges, universities or other postsecondary educational institutions except at sporting events or in student housing, including fraternity and sorority houses.
HB 860, by Rep. Patty Bentley (D-Reynolds), addresses election, commission, removal, qualifications and affidavit of qualifications for coroners at O.C.G.A. § 45-16-1(b)(1)(F) to provide that persons who have been pardoned from previous convictions are qualified to serve as coroners. Current law states that an individual who has not been convicted of a felony offense or any offense involving moral turpitude contrary to the laws of Georgia, any other state or the United States are qualified.
HB 861, by Rep. David Casas (R-Lilburn), proposes an amendment to O.C.G.A. § 48-7-29.20 relating to state income tax to create an income tax credit of $1000 per year for the expenses of home school dependent children for books, materials, supplies, computer equipment, software and supplementary materials, without receipts therefor. The credit may not exceed annual tax liability but may be carried over to future years.
HB 862, by Rep. David Knight (R-Griffin), relating to homestead property tax exemptions in C.C.G.A. § 48-5-48 for veterans, loosens the conditions of un-employability for which the exemption is permitted.
HB 864, by Rep. David Casas (R-Lilburn), amends the "Move on When Ready" law in O.C.G.A. § 20-2-161.3(b). It adds a change to the definition of "eligible postsecondary institution" to also include any postsecondary institution in Georgia that holds institutional accreditation by an accrediting agency that is recognized by either the Council for Higher Education Accreditation or the United States Department of Education.
HR 1179, by Rep. Tommy Benton (R-Jefferson), proposes a constitutional amendment for the protection of Stone Mountain to propose that the Park shall maintain and appropriate memorial to the Confederacy and that the engraving not be altered.
Senate Health and Human Services Committee
Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford) and her Committee held a meeting to address several issues and adopt their Rules. Sen. Unterman also introduced the newest member of this Committee, Sen. JaNice VanNess (R-Conyers). Sen. VanNess has also been placed on two Committee Subcommittees: Healthcare Delivery (chaired by Sen. Chuck Hufsteter (R-Rome)); and Pharmacy (chaired by Sen. Ben Watson (R-Savannah)). This year, this Committee will meet on Mondays and Wednesdays for one hour.
Paul Silver, a "self advocate" for autism, spoke to the Committee at the Chairman's request. Mr. Silver suffers from Asperger's Syndrome. He spoke about the passage of Ava's Law as a beginning to help individuals who suffer with autism spectrum disorders.
SB 248, by Sen. Valencia Seay (D-Riverdale), was heard by the Committee – no vote was taken on this matter. Sen. Seay described how Georgia was one of four states in the country with "deserts" (without access to oral care). It proposes, in part, to create a new profession to be regulate by the State – dental hygiene therapy. Currently, there are no schools providing training in dental hygiene therapy which is different than dental hygiene. Two states have passed laws to permit this type of practice: Alaska and Minnesota. It does outlines the licensure requirements for this new profession which would, in part require the individual to have a bachelor's degree in dental hygiene; successfully completed a dental hygiene therapy program; completed 2,000 supervised clinical hours; passed a comprehensive clinical examination; etc. There are proposed supervision guidelines in the current proposal so that no dentist would have no more than four dental hygiene therapists licensed under him or her at any one time and further no dentist would supervise more than two dental hygiene therapists at any time. Committee members inquired about whether this legislation should follow the Georgia Occupational Review Committee process. The Georgia Dental Association was on hand in this Committee and expressed their willingness to work with Sen. Seay on her proposal but did ask for some clarification as to where these "deserts" were.
The next bill for discussion was SB 273, by Sen. Dean Burke MD (R-Bainbridge). SB 273 addresses regulation of clinical laboratories in O.C.G.A. § 31-22-1 so that Georgia regulation would not apply to clinical laboratories which were non-diagnostic. In those instances, the non-diagnostic laboratories would be solely regulated by federal CLIA (Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments whose sole function is to perform examination of human blood or blood components intended as a source material for the manufacture of biological products. This imitative, if passed, will be beneficial to the Baxter Pharmaceutical facility which is now located in Georgia. The Committee passed this measure forward without much discussion; there were no amendments.
Senate Education and Youth Committee
The Senate Education and Youth Committee held a brief meeting today so they could adopt Committee rules and assign a number of bills to subcommittees. Chairman Lindsey Tippins (R-Marietta) welcomed members and introduced Rep. JaNice VanNess (R-Conyers) as the newest Committee member. He also assigned Sen. Freddie Powell Sims (D-Dawson) to the Academic Achievement Subcommittee.
Three bills were assigned to subcommittees:
- SB 281 (relates to instructional content) -> Academic Achievement Subcommittee
- SB 287 (would provide for a specialized home room class for at-risk students) -> Academic Achievement Subcommittee
- SR 723 (which encourages local boards of education to guarantee certain safety rights to athletes) -> Academic Support Subcommittee
Senate Finance Committee
Sen. Judson Hill (R-Marietta) and members of the Senate Finance Committee took up several measures:
- SR 604, by Sen. Bill Heath (R-Bremen), passed. It is a Constitutional Amendment to prohibit the levy of State ad valorem taxes. Sen. Heath indicated that a law was passed previously to eliminate this but the Constitutional provision remained. This provision would apply to real property and has no effect on counties, cities or schools' revenues.
- HB 408, by Rep. Wendell Willard (R-Sandy Springs), received a great deal of debate because of its complexity. It addresses hotel-motel tax issues that have been imposed in Fulton County – currently, Sandy Springs and Johns Creek are not addressed as those cities were not created when the other laws were enacted. Several asked questions about how the tax was used (now it is used to fund bonds for the Mercedes Benz stadium and was originally implemented to fund the Georgia Dome). After numerous questions about the revenues and use of proceeds from this tax, the initiative was assigned to Sen. Bruce Thompson's Subcommittee (other members include Sens. John Albers (R-Roswell), Steve Gooch (R-Dahlonega), and Lester Jackson (D-Savannah)). Tony West, with Americans for Prosperity, was the only individual who testified about HB 408 – speaking in opposition to the idea as another "attempt at special favors" and he argued that funding sports stadiums do not spur economic growth and such would promote the worse kind of wealth distribution.
- HB 496, by Rep. Matt Hatchett (R-Dublin), also was heard but was shipped to the Sen. Bill Heath (R-Bremen) Subcommittee (other members of this Subcommittee are Sens. Freddie Powell Sims (D-Dawson), Michael Williams (R-Cumming) and Hunter Hill (R-Atlanta)). Rep. Hatchett's legislation addresses property tax assessments and COUVA/FLIPA properties. This would allow properties to be removed from the current existing covenant as long as they were used for solar energy generation. No one testified in favor or against this legislation.
- Next was SB 258 by Sen. Fran Millar (R-Dunwoody). It has been brought to address appeal processes regarding property valuations in O.C.G.A. § 48-5-311. It clarifies that the property assessment could not be increased by the board of equalization (the three citizen members) as the tax assessor cannot do so when an individual appeals. There has been a loophole in the law and individuals were constantly appealing to keep their value the same and if they won an appeal, then they kept that value for a three-year time frame and again just kept appealing to keep this "lock" on their value. No action was taken on this initiative so that the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia could work on the legislation further with Sen. Millar.
- SB 259 was the last piece of legislation discussed. It addresses millage caps and proposes a statewide cap of the CPI or three percent whichever is greater. This change will only affect residential property. Sen. Millar is attempting to address instances where some property owners have faced 30-60 percent increases in their values. Sen. Gooch raised concerns that rural areas might have flat growth and had concerns about "uniformity" and whether this was a guarantee of more value. Sen. Gooch offered that perhaps it should be tied to the Sales Ratio Studies which the Department of Revenue conducts. This proposal was assigned to Sen. Bruce Thompson's Subcommittee.
House Industry and Labor Committee
Rep. Jason Shaw (R-Lakeland) and his Committee cleared HB 402 today as a new Substitute. This legislation came before this Committee in the form of a Substitute. Its author, Rep. Eddie Lumsden (R-Armuchee), presented the proposal describing the work-based learning initiative and the "apprenticeship" program for youth who are in grades k-12. This law was originally created in 19802 but was updated two years ago (HB 766). Businesses are to serve as partners with schools so as to allow 16-17 year old youth to get training. However, due to employers' concerns about workers' compensation, no entities were participating as hoped. Thus, Rep. Lumsden has worked with the Departments of Insurance and Education, Lt. Governor and many others to come up with the Substitute which was before this Committee. It is modeled after the Drug Free Workplace Act and it will permit a five percent in employers' worker's compensation premiums (on incremental basis) should they opt to participate.
House Retirement Committee
The House Retirement Committee held a hearing to consider a number of pieces of legislation. Additionally, the Committee heard testimony from representatives of the Employees' Retirement System (ERS), regarding the lack of money in the retirement fund. Chairman Paul Battles (R-Cartersville) called the meeting to order.
HB 421, presented by Rep. Chad Nimmer (R-Blackshear), would permit disability allowances for community supervision officers at the Department of Community Supervision. There have been some concerns from employees who had such disability allowances at the State Board of Pardons and Paroles and the Department of Corrections. They worry that they would be ineligible under the new department. This legislation ensures that such officers receive their allowances. There were no financial changes to the legislation. HB 421 was then passed out of committee.
HB 690 (LC 430267S) was presented by Chairman Amy Carter (R-Valdosta). This bill allows POST-certified law enforcement officers, who do not have local pensions, to pay to enter into the Peace Officers' Annuity and Benefit Fund. This legislation aims to retain such officers in Georgia, instead of losing them to federal jobs. Jamie Steinberg, with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, stated that he wants to attract officers from local government to work for the GBI and become vested in the State.
Committee members had concerns with some of the language used in the bill, which resulted in two amendments. The first amendment was striking Lines 36-38 by removing the requirement that the full actuarial cost would be determined by the board of trustees. Chairman Battles stated that he wants to be sure that the board of trustees is charging the full cost. The second amendment was to Line 30. It changed the word "this retirement fund" to "the retirement system". Once this was adopted, the HB 690 was passed out of the committee.
HB 635 was presented by Rep. Bubber Epps (R-Dry Branch). This legislation changes the number of years of mandatory contribution to the Judges of the Probate Courts Retirement Fund. It allows active judges to purchase additional years of service, up to 30 years. They would pay the full actuarial cost, so there is no cost to the retirement fund. 17 Judges would be eligible if this bill were to pass. There was some confusion over this. Rep. Howard Maxwell (R-Dallas) believed that such funds must be appropriated through a budget request. However, it was clarified that the additional cost ($311,000) comes from fines and fees, instead of from the State. Legislative Council agreed that this request is okay. Rep. Christian Coomer (R-Cartersville) and Rep. Maxwell both indicated they would prefer to have more clarity on where the money comes from the bill, before it goes to the floor. HB 635 was tabled until the next meeting.
HB 508 was presented by Rep. Barry Fleming (R-Harlem). It reduces the eligible retirement age for State appellate court judges from 65, to 60. Rep. Fleming said that 95% of state court judges retire at age 60. This would bring uniformity to the way judges are paid. The bill also includes a requirement for a 10 year vesting period. This bill quickly passed out of committee.
Before concluding the meeting, representatives from the Employee's Retirement System of Georgia (ERS) testified before the Committee regarding concerns over inadequate funding of the State retirement fund, which is down to 72%. Committee members had received a lot of emails about this and asked ERS if any money had been diverted from the fund. ERS has no knowledge of the diverting of any funds. They explained that once the money is in the trust fund, it cannot be diverted for any purpose. A valuation is approved by the ERS board of trustees and then must be appropriated to the systems. The reason for the decline, according to ERS, can be partly attributed to the ".com" crash in the 1990's and the 2008 recession.
Additionally, the Board will not grant COLAs unless funds are at 80%, which was recommended by a research study. Chairman Battles asked how we could get back to the 80% mark. There could be a change in the funding policy for ERS, which could require an amortization period. The Chairman thanked ERS for their comments.
Chuck Clay, speaking on behalf of the Georgia State Retirees Association (GSRA), indicated they would like to work closely with Committee members and make introductions to GSRA members.
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.