Gold Dome Report - January 28, 2016
Lawmakers convened this morning for the 12th Legislative Day of the Session.
2017 Budget work commences in earnest next week. Some of the House-scheduled hearings 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.
The House, led by Rep. Rick Jasperse (R-Jasper), honored State Trooper Jacob Fields who was shot in an incident on I-75 on January 27, 2016. That action caused a shutdown of the interstate for seven hours. Another State Trooper Nathan Bradley was honored for his work in caring for a family of children who were tragically left as orphans after their Morgan County parents were killed in a traffic accident last Halloween.
In happier news, Savannah-Chatham Day was observed today. Legislators were encouraged to feast at the Georgia Freight Depot on fresh seafood from the coast.
HB 742, by Rep. David Knight (R-Griffin), is the Department of Revenue's annual update so that Georgia's law is in conformity with federal Internal Revenue Code law. It makes permanent the $500,000 Section 179 giving certainty to the business community. Research credit is permanent. There are a number of date changes for due dates so that Georgia's return and payment dates are in conformity with the federal return and payment dates. HB 742 had no questions from the Floor and sailed quickly out of the House be a vote of 174 to zero. Rep. Knight asked that the bill be immediately transmitted to the Senate; that was done without objection.
The House took up HB 750, the State's Amended 2016 Budget. The legislation was presented by Rep. Terry England (R-Auburn), who chairs the House Appropriations Committee. He mentioned the midterm adjustment, heightened lottery sales and transportation initiatives (including new revenues from HB 170). There are minimal changes made by the House to the Governor's original proposal. There was some "truing up" of numbers throughout the budget document. $758 million for roads is included in the proposal. Compared to 2008 Budget, per Chairman England, there is little "growth" in this Budget. CCSP (Community Care Services Program) projected a $2.3 million shortfall and that has been addressed. DFCS issues are addressed – looking at the added 630 caseworkers over the last couple of years with more caseworkers in 2017 to come. DFCS offices are overcrowded with staffing and clients being served, so in this Budget there are adjustments made to their offices' moving expenses. Thus, the House included more than $1.4 million for relocating high-priority county offices. Some of the other changes include:
- Court of Appeals – changes to funds for new judgeships requested and their staffing needs (originally requested at $976,463 and this brings it to $806,916 (no new positions are created in the Amended budget but there is a small add with a reporter position)
- Prosecuting Attorneys – there is a lag on the roll out for the 26 new DAs which were to be hired July 1, so an adjustment was made
- Corrections – a reduction to the County Jail Subsidy is reduced by $45,000 – this leaves them $5,000 for the county jails (this reduction is a result of Criminal Justice Reform)
- Education – slight adjustment is made to QBE which really involved the State Commission Charter School supplement
- Board of Regents – A unit and B unit budgets are addressed so as to help make salary rate adjustments
There were no questions raised in Chairman England's presentation. The House as the Committee of the Whole, by Committee Substitute, passed out HB 750. The House then passed the Committee Substitute on HB 750 176 to zero. It was immediately transmitted to the Senate.
On the Senate Floor today, Senator Judson Hill (R-Marietta) motioned that SR 756, which sets prioritized funding requirements, be withdrawn from Appropriations Committee and committed to the Joint Committee on Revenue Structure. Senator Steve Henson (D-Tucker) asked Lieutenant Governor Cagle what the rule is regarding notifying the Senate body about transmittals of legislation between committees. The Lieutenant Governor indicated that when the chairmen of both committees agree to transmittal, it is the unwritten rule of the Senate to not object. SR 756 was then transmitted to the Joint Committee on Revenue Structure, without objection.
Sen. Bruce Thompson (R-White) presented SB 263 on the floor. This purpose of this bill is to allow law enforcement officers to retain their firearm and badge after retiring from service. There were no questions and it passed by a vote of 50-1.
The Senate went into recess and planned to reconvene at 5:00 p.m. today.
SB 302, by Sen. P.K. Martin (R-Snellville), establishes a new Chapter 20C in Title 33 to require health insurance companies to maintain accurate provider directories. This issue is one which was discussed in the Study Committee chaired by Sen. Dean Burke, MD (R-Bainbridge) over last summer and fall and has also been addressed in other states. At O.C.G.A. § 33-20C-2, it requires a health carrier to "post on its website a current and accurate electronic provider directory for each of its network plans." These provider directories are to be easily accessible in a standardized, downloadable, and machine readable format. Health insurance carriers are to update these online provider directories no less than every 30 days. These directories are also to be printed and provided to a covered person upon request by that individual or a prospective covered person. For each network plan, the following information must be included in this provider directory (See O.C.G.A. § 33-20C-4 for full list of items): 1) healthcare professionals (name, gender, contact information, participating office location or locations, etc.); 2) for hospitals (hospital name, hospital type, participating hospital location, hospital accreditation status and telephone number); and 3) for facilities other than hospitals (facility name, facility type, types of services performed, participating facility location or locations, and telephone number). The Commissioner for the Department of Insurance is given enforcement authority over these requirements.
SB 303, by Sen. Elena Parent (D-Atlanta), seeks to add a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. § 16-11-172.1, Brady Law Regulations, to require that a gun lock be furnished to the buyer in all retail firearm sales made by firearm dealers. A violation of such would be a misdemeanor.
SB 304, by Sen. Elena Parent (D-Atlanta), addresses O.C.G.A. § 35-3-4, disclosure and dissemination of criminal records to private persons and businesses, resulting responsibility and liability of issuing center and provision of certain information to the FBI in conjunction with the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. The change is to allow for the preservation of a person's involuntary hospitalization information received by the Georgia Crime Information Center. [In current law, after five years have elapsed from the date that a person's involuntary hospitalization information has been received by the GCIC, the center is to purge its records of that information as soon as practicable and in any event within 30 days after the expiration of such five year period.]
SB 305, by Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford), addresses Georgia's POLST laws. It amends the Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST) forms at O.C.G.A. § 31-1-14(b) to require that the Department provide notification of the chairpersons and each member of the House Committee on Health and Human Services and the Senate Health and Human Services Committee at least 60 days prior to implementing and modification of the POLST form (this would occur on and after July 1, 2016).
SB 306 , Sen. P.K. Martin (R-Snellville), addresses Chapter 1 of Title 10:
- Amends O.C.G.A. § 10-1-191(4) concerning identity theft so that telephone notification is not a permissible means of informing a person of a potential breach of security involving personal information.
- Amends O.C.G.A. § 10-1-914(p), concerning consumer requested security freezes, so that a consumer credit reporting agency shall not be permitted to charge a fee for the placement or permanent removal of a security freeze to a person notified in O.C.G.A. § 10-1-912 of a breach in the security of computerized data (including personal information) upon submission of a copy of such notice or other documentation which indicates that personal information was accessible to the information broker or data collector during the time when a breach of the security of the system took place.
SB 307, by Sen. Brandon Beach (R-Alpharetta), amends O.C.G.A. § 32-6-51 and addresses public rights of way and authorizations of commercial advertisements by a transit agency. It adds a definition for "multiple media display (device by which the message, image, or text is capable of electronic alteration by movement or rotation of panels or slats"). Further, "commercial advertisements" will also include "multiple media displays" (current law addressees multiple message signs).
SB 308, by Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford), adds a new Article 2 in Chapter 2A of Title 31. It is to establish the "Positive Alternatives for Pregnancy and Parenting Grant Program" which is to promote healthy pregnancies and childbirth by awarding grants to nonprofit organizations that provide pregnancy support services. This program will be overseen by the Department of Public Health which is authorized to contract with a contract management agency to administer this program. The following services will be funded by the program as outlined in O.C.G.A. § 31-2A-34: 1) medical care and information (pregnancy tests, health screening, ultrasounds, etc.); 2) nutritional services and education; 3) housing, education, and employment assistance during pregnancy and up to one year following a birth; 4) adoption education, planning and services; 5) child care assistance if necessary for the client to receive pregnancy support services; 6) parenting education and support services for up to one year following a birth; and 7) material items supportive of pregnancy and childbirth (cribs, car seats, etc.). Grants will be awarded to direct client service providers annually on a competitive basis and grant amounts are not to exceed 85 percent of the annual revenue for the prior year of any provider which meets certain criteria including that it is a 501(c)(3) entity and with a primary mission in promoting pregnancy and childbirth. These direct client service providers have to collect and make reports annually to the Department which in turn will conduct annual audits and report information annually to the General Assembly on its use of trust funds.
SB 309, by Sen. Burt Jones (R-Jackson), amends the "Quality Basic Education Act" and adds a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. § 20-2-316.3 to provide that high schools that receive State funding cannot participate in an athletic association which prohibits religious expression on the clothing of student athletes. This proposal mirrors HB 870 below.
SB 310, by Sen. William Ligon, Jr. (R-Brunswick), adds a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. § 20-1-11 prohibiting the implementation of certain grants affecting education policy regarding pre-kindergarten through grade 12 education until a written analysis is provided (looking at long-term projects of unfunded costs from the grant's implementation; impact on state and local education policy (e.g., resulting line of accountability or transfer of governing control of any aspect of education from state or local officials to any entity inside or outside Georgia); purposes and effect of the grant program; compliance mandates and policy directives associated with satisfying the terms of the grant; and any laws which must be passed or rescinded to comply with the terms of the grant) and the grant terms are ratified by the General Assembly.
SR 848, by Senator Renee Unterman (R-Buford), commends public health nurses for the outstanding contribution they make to health care in Georgia.
SR 855, by Senator Mike Dugan (R-Carrollton), recognizes February 29, 2016 as REACH Georgia Day at the state capitol. Realizing Educational Achievement Can Happen (REACH) Georgia is a public-private mentorship and needs-based scholarship program designed to promote academic success and increase access to post-secondary education.
HB 865, by Rep. Mike Dudgeon (R-Johns Creek), is to be known as the "Building Educational Success Together ("BEST") Act" if passed. It addresses exemptions from State income taxation to for individual and corporate donors to student scholarship organizations at O.C.G.A. § 48-7-29.16A. These tax credits will be on a first-come, first-served basis and are capped at $25 million annually with no single BEST student scholarship donor able to receive more than $2.5 million in credits per tax year. A corporate donor will be permitted to have a credit against tax imposed for donations to a student scholarship organization in an amount not to exceed the actual amount expended or $2.5 million, whichever is less. An individual donor will be permitted a credit against the tax imposed by this chapter for donations to a student scholarship organization in the amount contained in O.C.G.A. § 48-7-29.16(b). Prior to making a contribution to a student scholarship organization, the BEST student scholarship donor is to notify the Department of Revenue which in turn will make a decision to pre-approve or deny the requested amount within 30 days of receiving the request. To receive the tax credit, the BEST student scholarship donor is to make the contribution to the student scholarship organization within 60 days of receiving notice from the Department that the amount was pre-approved. The legislation also adds a new Article 2 in Chapter 2A of Title 20 establishing "BEST" and qualifications for a BEST eligible student (a Georgia resident and qualifies for a free or reduced lunch in Georgia schools and before enrolling in a BEST qualified school was enrolled in and attended for at least six weeks a Georgia secondary or primary public school or who is eligible to enroll in a qualified first grade or kindergarten program). The new provisions outline what is a "BEST qualified school or program (e.g., annually administers nationally norm-referenced tests or the state tests that measure learning gains and provide for value-added assessment to all participating BEST students in grades that require testing under this State's accountability testing laws for public schools, etc.) At O.C.G.A. § 20-2A-16, it outlines what a student scholarship organization is to do once it receives funds from a BEST student scholarship donor designated for scholarships or tuition grants to a BEST qualified school or program on behalf of a BEST eligible student within 24 months of receipt of those funds.
HB 866, by Rep. Shaw Blackmon (R-Bonaire), addresses Chapter 50 of Title 33 and specifically O.C.G.A. § 33-50-3. This proposal concerns multiple employer self-insured health plans and will exempt those from the payment of premium taxes on the plan's net premium.
HB 868, by Rep. Terry Rogers (R-Clarkesville), proposes to eliminate the Georgia State Games Commission which is now in Article 3 of Chapter 12 of Title 50.
HB 870, by Rep. Brian Strickland (R-McDonough), amends the "Quality Basic Education Act" and adds a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. § 20-2-316.3 to provide that high schools which receive State funding cannot participate in an athletic association which prohibits religious expression on the clothing of student athletes other than as required to protect the safety of the participants or the conduct of the athletic event in a manner consistent with the rules of the particular athletic event. Further, it prohibits a high school which receives funding under Article 6 of Chapter 2 of this Title from participating in, sponsoring, or providing coaching staff for interscholastic athletic events which are conducted under the authority of, under the rules of or scheduled by any athletic association which prohibits its member schools from "organizing and playing scrimmage games, matches, or other athletic competitions with schools which are not member schools even though: 1) prior to such athletic competition, the administrators of both schools agree in writing to participate in such competition; 2) each school is in compliance with the requirements of Code Section 20-2-319.2; 3) each school is in compliance with the requirements of Code Section 20-2-324.1; and 4) such athletic competitions are limited to high school student athletes."
HB 871, by Rep. Robert Dickey (R-Musella), addresses Georgia's Lemon Law and amends O.C.G.A. § 10-1-791 and the $3.00 fee collected by new motor vehicle dealers from the consumer at completion of a sale or execution of a lease of such new motor vehicle. The fee is currently forwarded quarterly to the Office of Planning and Budget. This proposal will have such fee forwarded quarterly to the Department of Law for deposit in the new motor vehicle arbitration account created in the State treasury.
HB 873, by Rep. David Clark (R-Buford), is a change to the "Quality Basic Education Act" to enact the "Sudden Cardiac Arrest Prevention Act" at O.C.G.A. § 20-2-324.2. It requires that the Department of Education develop and post on its publicly accessible website guidelines and relevant materials to inform and educate students participating in or desiring to participate in an athletic activity, their parents, or guardians, and coaches about the nature and warning signs of "sudden cardiac arrest" including the risks associated with continuing to play or practice after experiencing symptoms. It permits the school to hold an informational meeting prior to the commencement of each athletic season to discuss symptoms and warning signs of sudden cardiac arrest. Further, it requires that a student be removed from participation in the athletic activity when the student passes out or faints while participating in, or immediately following, an athletic activity. There are additional duties imposed on the athletic trainer and coaches as well. Students cannot return to participation in the athletic activity until the student is evaluated and cleared to return to participation, in writing, by an appropriate healthcare provider. To be eligible to coach, coaches are required once each school year to review the guidelines and relevant materials or view an educational video approved by the Department of Education. The initiative also addresses liability and prohibits a coach from being liable for his or her actions/inactions unless he or she is found to have acted in a grossly negligent or reckless manner.
HB 874, by Rep. Bert Reeves (R-Marietta), addresses Titles 15, 16 and 24 in an effort to improve the ability to prosecute street gang terrorism. In part, it adds at O.C.G.A. § 16-15-4(b) that it is "unlawful for any person to encourage another to become a member or associate of a criminal street gang, to participate in a criminal street gang, or to conduct or participate in criminal gang activity." It also provides for the admissibility of juvenile adjudications under certain conditions.
HB 875, by Rep. Lee Hawkins (R-Gainesville), addresses Chapter 24 of Title 33 to require issuers of health benefit policies to provide certain information to enrollees and establish certain processes and limits relating to specialty drugs at O.C.G.A. § 33-24-59.20. If passed, this provision will be known as the "Patient Access to Specialty Tier Drugs Act." "Specialty drug" is defined as "any generic or brand name drug which may be identified by an issuer of a health benefit policy as a high cost drug used to treat complex or rare medical conditions." It is to ensure that a copayment, coinsurance or other form of cost sharing for a covered specialty drug for an individual prescription not exceed $200.00 for 30 day supply; $1,000.00 per insured; and $2,000.00 per insured family per plan year; make available standardized definitions of drug tiers, posted on the website with drug formularies, drug costs, prior authorization information and other key resources and establish a dedicated pharmacy consumer service phone line for advocates, physicians and prospective consumers to call for inquires; establish an exception approval process; and ensure that prior authorization approvals for specialty drugs not be changed for the duration of the plan year.
HB 877, by Rep. Margaret Kaiser (D-Atlanta), amends O.C.G.A. § 48-7-40.16 regarding income tax credits for low-emission vehicles. It does amend the definition for "alternative fuel" to mean "methanol, denatured ethanol, and other alcohols; natural gas; liquefied petroleum gas; hydrogen; coal derived liquid fuels; and fuels other than alcohol derived from biological materials." It adds a definition for "plug-in vehicle" which means "a motor vehicle which is fully or partially functional on electricity, provided that any such vehicle shall have a battery capacity of not less than four kilowatt hours and be capable of being recharged from an external source of electricity." It permits a tax credit for the purchase or lease of a new low-emission or plug-in electric vehicle that is registered in Georgia. Amounts of these credits from July 1, 2016 to December 31, 2017 are for any new low-emission vehicle and will be 10 percent of the cost of such vehicle or $2,500.00 (whichever is less); plug-in electric vehicle with a battery capacity of not less than four kilowatt hours but not more than ten kilowatt hours will be 10 percent of the cost of such vehicle or $2,000.00 (whichever is less); and for any new plug-in electric vehicle with a battery capacity of more than ten kilowatt hours, a credit of 10 percent of the vehicle or $3,000.00 whichever is less. There are similar credits proposed for the period January 1, 2018 to December 31, 2019. It also adds that no taxpayer is eligible for a tax credit for the lease of a clean fueled vehicle under this Code Section if such taxpayer has received such tax credit for a lease of a clean fueled vehicle in the immediately preceding three tax years.
HB 878, by Rep. Scott Holcomb (D-Atlanta), amends O.C.G.A. § 40-2-151(a)(19)(A)(i) to lower the annual license fee for operating an alterative fueled vehicle (not commercial) from $200.00 to $75.00.
HR 1198, by Rep. Lynn Smith (R-Newnan), encourages the Environmental Protection Division of the Department of Natural Resources to review its regulations as they relate to aquifer storage and recovery, to ensure that such regulations are sufficient to provide for the protection of the State's aquifers. It also encourages the Division to consider the availability of other water supply sources.
HR 1199, by Rep. Don Parsons (R-Marietta), would add a new paragraph at Article 1 Section I of the Constitution, so as to provide for "Victims' Rights". A 'victim' would be defined as any person against whom a crime was committed or who was directly harmed by the commission of a crime. It also includes any spouse, parent, grandparent, child, sibling, grandchild, or guardian of a person who is deceased, incompetent, a minor, or physically or mentally incapacitated. Each 'victim' would have the following rights:
1) Right to be treated with fairness and respect for victim's safety, dignity, and privacy;
2) Right to receive notice of proceedings involving the criminal conduct;
3) Right to be heard in any proceedings during which a right of the victim is implicated;
4) Right to reasonable protection from the accused;
5) Right to reasonable notice of the release or escape of the accused;
6) Right to refuse an interview, deposition, or other request made by the accused;
7) Right to full and timely restitution;
8) Right to proceedings free from unreasonable delay and a prompt conclusion;
9) Right to confer with the attorney for the government; and
10) Right to be informed of all rights enumerated in this paragraph.
HR 1200, by Rep. Andy Welch (R-McDonough), would create the House Study Committee on agency Attorneys, Contract Attorneys, and Special Assistant Attorneys General. This study committee would address the growing number of attorneys serving as "in-house counsel" for state agencies. Many have started to question whether hiring such attorneys is the best method for delivering legal services to State agencies and whether it would be better to have agencies utilize the services of the State Law Department instead. This study committee will review the scope of contracts with such attorneys, as well as the rates of compensation and scope of services.
House Education Committee - Subcommittee on Academic Achievement
The purpose of this meeting was to hear HB 739, by Rep. Kevin Tanner (R-Dawsonville). This subcommittee is chaired by Rep. Mike Dudgeon (R-Johns Creek). HB 701 was originally on the agenda for this meeting, however it would have required at least 12 hours of mandatory alcohol and drug instruction at schools. It was removed from the agenda at the request of Chairman Brooks Coleman (R-Duluth) and Chairman Dudgeon because it would have placed additional burden on teachers. The Education Reform Commission had recommended not passing more legislation which adds more work for teachers or is an unfunded mandate. Other committee members seemed to be in agreement.
Rep. Kevin Tanner presented a substitute to HB 739 (LC 33 6379S), which would make the State's recommendation process for approving instructional materials optional. It also requires that current and proposed instructional materials are posted to the State Board of Education website. Rep. Tanner indicated that there is an effort by school boards to no longer adopt text books and curriculum at the State Board level. Many local districts want more flexibility in making that decision. As such, the substitute removes the mandated local procedures because it would have been considered an unfunded mandate. It could be costly for some local school systems to make their materials available online.
Some members of the Committee had concerns. Rep. Margaret Kaiser (D-Atlanta) agreed with removing the mandate, asking if supplemental and auxiliary material (such as lessons pulled from websites, news articles, etc.) must go through the same review process. They do not. Supplemental materials would only be available if a parent or guardian requests to see them. Rep. Kaiser had additional concerns about people without internet access. She suggested that the same materials posted on the website could be available in print copies at the schools or at local libraries. Rep. Tanner believes that could become a major cost to local systems. Rep. Kaiser also made the point that notification should be given to parents by local school boards when instructional materials and the review process become available. Chairman Dudgeon agreed this is a good point, indicating that it is the author's intent that parents are notified.
There were a few public comments. Sarah Salisbury is a resident of Gwinnett County and has reviewed the materials at Gwinnett County schools. She had concerns about a book titled "Church and State" and also believes that parents should be notified when the adoption process occurs. Ken Craft, a taxpayer, also had concerns about a few books being used by school systems, including a book on "Marxist Theory" and a book that compares the Arab Spring to the American Revolution. Tonya Ditty, State Director for Concerned Women of GA, spoke in support of the bill, saying that it is a "common sense bill".
Chuck Clay, speaking on behalf of the Georgia Education Coalition, expressed the GEC's appreciation for hearing concerns over an unfunded mandate. He indicated that this debate over the availability of materials online has pressured some systems into doing so on their own. He also mentioned that public libraries have internet access, so that would be available to residents without internet. He stressed that we do not need to add more burden to local school systems.
After public comments were heard, the bill was passed and was then amended. The first amendment was at Line 69 to require notice be given to parents when the recommendation process for materials is available. Another amendment was made to Line 72 which makes the list of instructional materials available in printed form, for students and parents without internet access. The last amendment was in Line 77, which requires that "proposed" materials, in addition to locally approved materials, are made available upon request.
Once amended, HB 739 was passed on to the full Education Committee.
House Juvenile Justice Committee
Rep. Tom Weldon (R-Ringgold) and his Committee met and assigned HB 713 to the Welch Subcommittee (this bill addresses termination of parental rights) and HB 725 was assigned to the Atwood Subcommittee.
The Child Fatality Review Commission presented its annual report. Arleymah Gray, a Child Fatality Review Specialist within the GBI, made the presentation for information from calendar year 2014. Ms. Gray explained that their process involved a multidisciplinary approach and was modeled after "best practices." There is a child fatality review committee in each Georgia county. The Commission utilizes the Healthy People 2020 objective and also the National Case Reporting System. In 2014, there were 503 sudden unexplained deaths of children with the largest cause being sleep-related. Of those deaths, 324 were male and 179 were female. 265 were African Americans. There are actually three major groups of deaths:
- Sleep related – 96 were unexplained; 52 died of asphyxia; 8 died of SUID medical causes and 2 of SIDS. In this sleep-related category, 66 percent of these deaths where of a child less than four months of age and 60 percent of the children were in adult beds.
- Medical – in this group, 62 percent were males. The medical group consists of cardiovascular, pneumonia, asthma, and neurological deaths (including seizures).
- Motor vehicle-related – in this group, 62 percent were males and most were white males. The greatest number of these deaths were children ages 15-17 years of age and most were motor vehicle passengers. There were 23 pedestrian deaths involving children and 16 driver deaths (the youngest was age 10).
The Commission emphasized its promotion of the following to address some of these deaths:
- School-based health centers
- Suicide prevention
- Youth mental health first-aid training
- More drug screens of parents following a child death
- Data sharing between public and private entities
- More discussion about "safe sleep" and "water safety"
The Committee asked a few questions. Some were focused on drug screen requirements and law enforcement training regarding the need for drug screens. The Committee also inquired whether it might be prudent to have a recommendation that a teen driver be allowed only one passenger in a vehicle. Judge Peggy Walker, who serves on this Commission, said that would be wise.
Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS) Director Bobby Cagle presented his Division's information on deaths of children in State care or who had been served by the State.
There were 102,003 children in 2014 who were touched by DFCS. Of those, DFCS screened out 24,813 children and assigned 77,190 children to Child Protective Services. Of those, 34,464 were assigned to Family Support and 42,726 were assigned to Investigations.
15,085 of the children were in foster care in 2014 which was an 11 percent growth and 9,499 were family preservation cases, reflecting 26.7 percent increase in 2014.
In 2014, there were 169 deaths of children; there were 180 in 2013. Many of the children who DFCS reaches are medically fragile children and 52 percent of the deaths are natural or accidental. The youngest children are the largest at-risk group.
Over five years, there were 676,827 children deaths. Director Cagle noted that there were 25 deaths per 100,000 and 169 died in 2014. The overall rate was 61 per 100,000. Children ages two years and younger were 56 percent of the deaths. South Georgia had the higher number of fatalities. There were four homicides of children in care in 2014 involving a private agency foster parent (not a DFCS foster parent). 58 percent (98) of deaths involved caregivers with a history of substance abuse and 38 percent of the deaths (65) had caregivers previously convicted of a crime.
In looking at how the State can improve, Director Cagle noted these ideas:
- Adequate staffing for DFCS agency
- Control of turnover rates of staff
- Integration of trauma-informed practices
- Ongoing community involvement
- Adoption of research-informed child welfare practice model solution-based casework
- Utilization of the Blueprint for Change
Director Cagle was asked the starting salaries for Georgia caseworkers. He indicated that they started at $28,000 per year but if they were Master's degree-level trained that they started at $32,000. Rep. Paulette Braddock (R-Dallas) indicated that she had heard it was not the caseworker salary which was the cause for the turnover but based on the number of cases per caseworker. She indicated that DFCS should better train the workers to understand how to cull out those cases which did not need the greatest amount of attention. Director Cagle asked for her to sit with him and review cases, as sometimes those that a worker might consider one that does not require in-depth need for services were the cases where the child ends up dying.
Director Cagle noted that sometimes resources were not available for families when substance abuse issues were found. He also mentioned that DFCS has engaged Clark-Atlanta University to conduct a study on foster care and compare Georgia's with best practices. Some of Georgia's current foster care requirements are Georgia-specific requirements in addition to the federal requirements which must be met in order for the State to receive federal funds.
House Government Affairs Committee – State Government Administration Subcommittee
HB 561 was presented by Rep. Joe Wilkinson (R-Atlanta). His legislation proposes to enact that the "adoptable dog" be the official State dog of Georgia. He noted that it was good to give dogs a second chance just like the State of Georgia did when the colonists formed the State. This proposal is of no cost to the State. This legislation was provided a do pass recommendation and moves to the full Committee.
Next up was HB 497 by Rep. Valencia Stovall (D-Lake City). Her proposal seeks to allow small nonprofits in Georgia the ability to obtain up to $2,000.00 annually in leftover, fair-market value property from State and local governments through a first-come, first-served basis through the Department of Administrative Services. Rep. Buzz Brockway (R-Lawrenceville) and Rep. Barry Fleming (R-Harlem) asked a number of questions regarding her proposal. The nonprofit entity, per her proposed change in O.C.G.A. § 50-5-144, would be required to be a 501(c)(3) entity in existence for at least two years and with fifteen or fewer employees. Some of the major questions concerning the proposal were whether the State was running afoul of the State's Constitution and in particular the "gratuities clause." There were a few who testified at this hearing. In the end, Rep. Fleming indicated he needed some more answers on what the Department of Administrative Services thought of this proposal and clarification of the law surrounding the gratuities clause. Thus, the Subcommittee postponed action on HB 497.
House Transportation Committee
Chairman Christian Coomer (R-Cartersville) called this meeting to order. He announced the discussion on Truck Weights, which was originally on the agenda, had been cancelled. The purpose of this meeting was to discuss the Ten Year Strategic Plan for transportation projects throughout the State, which was a requirement of HB 170. Department of Transportation (DOT) Commissioner Russell McMurry and DOT State Planning Director Jay Roberts presented the committee with an overview of the plan. It is worth noting that Jay Roberts was the author of HB 170 last year, prior to vacating his seat.
Commissioner McMurry began by responding to a recently released news article that he said was factually wrong. The article said that 84% of transportation investment is being spent in Atlanta. This is false and those levels of investment are going on all throughout the State. He then discussed some of the funding sources utilized by the strategic plan. Funding incorporates State Transportation Improvement Projects (STIP), the used managed lane implementation plan, the strategic highway safety plan, and other programs. City and County planning processes are also incorporated into the strategic plan. They use an asset-based approach to paving roads and bridges, which requires a complicated rating process that prioritizes projects based on results. The federal government recently approved a 5-year transportation bill. Georgia's apportionment level is $1.3 billion. Unfortunately, States never receive all that is promised, so the total amount Georgia receives is $1.24 billion, which equals a 20% match to State funding.
Distribution of funds under this 10-year plan can be divided into five categories. The total percentage allocation of funds for each project was also discussed.
- Construction and New Highway Projects – Consists of widening roads; adding passing lanes; building new routes or bypasses; and building express lanes. The total percentage allocation for these projects is between 39%-45% over 10 years.
- Maintenance of Existing Infrastructure – Consists of resurfacing and rehabilitation projects; and routine maintenance. The total percentage allocation for these projects is between 25%-30% over 10 years.
- Bridge repairs and replacements – Consists of bridge rehabilitation and maintenance. The total percentage allocation for these projects is between 11%-15% over 10 years.
- Safety Enhancements – This includes funding for intersection improvements; roundabouts; operational improvements; quick response projects; safety hardware upgrades; Transportation Alternative Program improvements, including wider side walks; and traffic management programs (HERO and traffic signal upgrades). The total percentage allocation for these projects is between 7%-10% over 10 years. Additionally, capital projects typically include some safety component separate from this category.
- Administration – Funding for everything it takes to deliver the project, including construction management and inspection; procurement and bidding processes; human resources and payroll functions; and in-house charges for administering consultant contracts (70% of work has been outsourced to consultants and that is increasing to 80%). The total percentage allocation for these projects is 9% over 10 years.
Members of the Committee thanked Commissioner McMurry and the Department for their great work in drafting this plan. A few questions were raised.
Rep. Tommy Benton (R-Jefferson) asked if any funding is going towards re-laning I-85, coming out of Gwinnett County. He was assured that they plan to work on re-laning major roads, moving northward towards South Carolina.
Rep. Benton further inquired about maintenance. Specifically, he wanted to know if anything is being done about litter on the sides of the roads. Commissioner McMurry said that litter pick up is very critical and they plan to start mowing interstates 4 times each year, instead of 3 which should help keep roads clean.
Rep. Al Williams (D-Midway) asked if potholes will be a priority for the I-16/I-95 interchange in Savannah. This area is prone to potholes due to heavy traffic going to and from the ports. The Commissioner assured him that their policy is to fill these potholes. Funding allocated for road maintenance does covers potholes.
Rep. Chuck Williams (R-Watkinsville), who is not a member of the committee, asked what they were doing about replacing bridges throughout the State. In response, the level of investment for replacing bridges has been tripled. Their plan is to have bridges replaced every 75 years, which is the typical life span of bridge.
The Committee approved the strategic plan and forwarded it to the House Appropriations Committee for their consideration. Chairman Coomer adjourned the meeting.
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