Gold Dome Report - January 31, 2017
It is hard to believe that we are now through Day 10 of the Legislative Session AND that the month of January has flown by. Some of the most significant news came from the Senate hopper late this afternoon with a proposed Adjournment Resolution (SR 132 by Sen. Bill Cowsert (R-Athens)), setting the schedule through Day 40. This Resolution must be introduced and voted on by legislators before it becomes effective. Lawmakers will end this week on February 2 as Legislative Day 12.
The proposed schedule is as follows for the remainder of this year's Session:
- February 7 – Legislative Day 13
- February 8 – Legislative Day 14
- February 9 – Legislative Day 15
- February 10 – Legislative Day 16
- February 14 – Legislative Day 17
- February 15 – Legislative Day 18
- February 16 – Legislative Day 19
- February 17 – Legislative Day 20
- February 21 – Legislative Day 21
- February 22 - Legislative Day 22
- February 23 – Legislative Day 23
- February 24 – Legislative Day 24
- February 27 – Legislative Day 25
- February 28 – Legislative Day 26
- March 1 – Legislative Day 27
- March 3 – Legislative Day 28
- March 6 – Legislative Day 29
- March 9 – Legislative Day 30
- March 10 – Legislative Day 31
- March 13 – Legislative Day 32
- March 14 – Legislative Day 33
- March 15 – Legislative Day 34
- March 16 – Legislative Day 35
- March 20 – Legislative Day 36
- March 22 – Legislative Day 37
- March 24 – Legislative Day 38
- March 28 – Legislative Day 39
- March 30 – SINE DIE Legislative Day 40
On Wednesday at 8:00 a.m., the House Insurance Committee will take up Chairman Richard Smith's (R-Columbus) proposal on balanced billing of consumers their costs of medical care when they have health insurance. Also at 8:00 a.m., the House Appropriations Committee's Subcommittee on Education will meet to begin hammering out details for the FY 2018 Education budget.
In the Senate this morning, Sen. John Kennedy (R-Macon) honored two of Georgia's fallen officers. He and his colleagues paid tribute to the sacrifices that Peach County law enforcement officers Sgt. Michael Patrick Sondron (SR 59) and Deputy Daryl Wayne Smallwood (SR 61) made in responding to a call concerning a disturbance in Byron. Both of these individuals were shot and died responding to that call. There was no significant news on the House side.
SB 98, by Sen. Elena Parent (D-Atlanta), proposes to amend O.C.G.A. § 20-2-260(b) and (m) regarding capital outlay funds in elementary and secondary education so that capital outlay funds may be used for educational facilities for voluntary pre-kindergarten programs provided by the local school system.
SB 99, by Sen. Elena Parent (D-Atlanta), seeks to address disclosure and dissemination of criminal records to private persons and businesses resulting in responsibility and liability of the Georgia Crime Information Center and the provision of certain information to the FBI in conjunction with the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. Specifically it proposes to provide for a judicial procedure for purging a person's involuntary hospitalization information received by the center for the purposes of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System in O.C.G.A. § 35-3-34(e). A person may petition the court in which the hospitalization proceedings occurred for relief with a copy of the petition for relief to be served upon the opposing civil party or the prosecuting attorney (or their successors who appeared in the underlying case). The court is to hold a hearing within 60 days of receiving the petition but it can extend the time if determined there is good cause to do so. The legislation outlines what the court is to consider as evidence – including such things as the circumstances which caused the petitioner's hospitalization; the petitioner's mental health and criminal history records, if any such exist, etc. The court is then to render a decision in a written order on this petition no later than 30 days following the hearing. If the individual is involuntarily hospitalized, then that person is not entitled to petition for relief prior to being discharged from that hospitalization. An individual's first petition for relief may be filed only after the expiration of 12 months from the date of such person's discharge from involuntary hospitalization. No petition for relief may be filed within a period of two years from the date of the final order on a previous petition for relief. Information obtained by the prosecuting attorney pursuant to this paragraph is not to be used against the petitioner in any other case or context unless that information is obtained in such other case or context by other rules of evidence or discovery.
SB 100, by Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta), seeks to add a new Chapter 39 in Title 50 so as to provide that no person possessing a valid visa to enter the United States shall be detained or rejected from entry into the United States at any airport or water port in Georgia.
SB 101, by Sen. William Ligon, Jr. (R-Brunswick), addresses Georgia's laws relating to the Employees' Retirement System of Georgia (ERS), adding a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. § 47-2-101 to provide for creditable service for prior service as a full-time hourly employee with the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) immediately prior to becoming a member of the ERS and so that person will be entitled to obtain such creditable service for all such service rendered prior to November 1, 2016. To do so, the individual will have to apply, if this law is passed, to the board on or before December 31, 2018, in a manner that the board prescribes; provide for proof of such service with the DNR; and pay to the board of trustees an amount determined by the board of trustees to be sufficient to cover the full actuarial cost of granting such creditable service.
SB 102, by Sen. Butch Miller (R-Gainesville), is the follow up legislation from the 2016 Study Committee on Emergency Cardiac Care Centers. This legislation creates a new Article 7 in Chapter 11 of Title 31 to allow for the designation of emergency cardiac care centers and establish an Office of Cardiac Care within the Department of Public Health. The designations establish a three-level designation system and the criteria for each level of emergency cardiac care center.
- Level I – these are to have cardiac catheterization and angioplasty facilities available 24 hours, seven days per week, 365 days per year; on-site cardiothoracic surgery capability 24 hours, seven days per week, 365 days per year; established protocols for therapeutic hypothermia for out-of-hospital cardiac arrest patients; the ability to implant percutaneous left-ventricular assist devices for support of hemodynamically unstable patients experiencing out-of-hospital cardiac arrest or heart attack; neurologic protocols to measure functional status at hospital discharge and the ability to implant automatic implantable cardioverter defibrillators.
- Level II – these are required to have cardiac catheterization and angioplasty facilities available 24 hours, seven days per week, 365 days per year but no on-site cardiothoracic surgery capability; established protocols for therapeutic hypothermia for out-of-hospital cardiac arrest patients; neurologic protocols to measure functional status at hospital discharge; and a written transfer plan with one or more Level I emergency cardiac care centers for patients who need left ventricular assist devices or cardiothoracic surgery.
- Level III – these are required to have established protocols for therapeutic hypothermia for-out-of-hospital cardiac arrest patients and a written plan for systematic transfer to a Level I or Level II facility.
These centers are encouraged to coordinate through written agreement with one another to provide appropriate access to care. Hospitals will apply to the Department of Public Health's Office of Cardiac Care for designation. This Office is also to establish a data reporting system on all out-of-hospital cardiac arrest patients and all heart attack patients with this data being analyzed systematically in an effort to improve survival rates of cardiac arrest patients and heart attack patients. This Office is also encouraged to award grants, subject to appropriations by the General Assembly, in order to ensure establishment of these emergency cardiac care centers. This Office is also required to annually prepare a report to be sent to the Governor, President of the Senate, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, and the chairpersons of the House and Senate Health and Human Services Committees regarding the distribution of grants and which hospitals applied for grants. Beginning June 1, 2018, the Office is to provide a list of emergency cardiac care centers so designated to the medical director of each licensed emergency medical services provider in the State and post such listing on the Office's website as well as develop triage assessment tools and protocols related to triage, assessment, treatment and transport of these patients by licensed emergency medical services providers.
House Judiciary Committee
The House Judiciary Committee, under the leadership of Chairman Wendell Willard (R-Sandy Springs), met today and considered seven measures:
- HB 1, authored by Rep. Jason Spencer (R-Woodbine), also known as the Georgia Space Flight Act, is an amendment to Title 51 of the Georgia Code to add limitation of liability for space flight entities from space flight participants. Rep. Stacey Evans (D-Smyrna) offered two amendments proposed by residents of Cumberland Island and Little Cumberland Island, adding a sunset provision and removing indemnity for parties that fail to comply with applicable federal regulations. The Evans Amendments failed by votes of 5 to 6 along party lines. The Committee voted to recommend the bill DO PASS.
- HB 14, authored by Rep. Jeff Jones (R-Brunswick), codifies the current practice that Georgia sheriffs paid by salary turn fees collected over to their respective county treasury. The Committee voted to recommend the bill DO PASS.
- HB 75, authored by Rep. Wendell Willard (R-Sandy Springs), expands exemptions under Georgia's Open Records Act to protect records of the Department of Family and Children Services (DFCS) that contain or memorialize records of on-going criminal investigations provided to DFCS by law enforcement. The Committee voted to recommend the bill DO PASS.
- HB 76, authored by Rep. Rick Jasperse (R-Jasper), seeks to correct concerns raised by surveyors relating to electronic filing of plats with the clerks of superior courts. The Committee voted to recommend the bill DO PASS.
- HB 88, authored by Rep. Barry Fleming (R-Harlem), seeks to amend the statute setting forth qualifications for Georgia's Superior Court judges to prevent a candidate facing disbarment from seeking election as a superior court judge. The Committee voted to recommend the bill DO PASS.
- HB 121, authored by Rep. Chuck Efstration (R-Dacula), revises Georgia's trust code by codifying provisions currently in the common law and adopting certain provisions (original and modified) of the Uniform Trust Code. The State Bar of Georgia has approved HB 121 and included it in its annual legislative package. The Committee voted to recommend the bill DO PASS by committee substitute.
- HB 122, also authored by Rep. Chuck Efstration (R-Dacula), extends Georgia's codification of the Uniform Rule Against Perpetuities from 90 years to 360 years. This revision aligns Georgia with Florida and other neighboring states. The Committee voted to recommend the bill DO PASS.
SR 130, by Sen. Chuck Hufstetler (R-Rome), seeks to create a Joint Transparency and Open Access in Government Study Committee. This Study is to study the various amounts of valuable information and reports that State agencies have, and in particular look at duplication of the data and records which may result in the maintenance of inconsistent data and records relating to a citizen. It will look at new information technology which may be used and can aggregate large quantities of data to allow the State to provide better information to citizens with increasing efficiency and thoroughness.
House Health and Human Services Committee
This afternoon Chairman Sharon Cooper (R-Marietta) and her Committee tackled the legislation addressing general supervision of dental hygienists (HB 154) so that dental hygienists can perform more dental cleanings for children and the elderly without having direct supervision by dentists. This legislation came to the Committee in the form of a new Committee Substitute worked out by the dentists and dental hygienists and was presented by Rep. Matt Hatchett (R-Dublin). The Georgia Dental Association, the Georgia Dental Hygienists Association, Georgia Council on Aging and CO-AGE, the State's Long-Term Care Ombudsman, and Georgia VOICES for Children spoke in favor of the initiative. The legislation received a motion for DO PASS recommendation by Rep. Ed Rynders (R-Albany) which received a second from Rep. Michele Henson (D-Stone Mountain). The DO PASS motion carried and the legislation now moves to the House Rules Committee for its consideration.
The Committee also heard a presentation on "ME/CFS" – chronic fatigue syndrome - which is linked to inflammation in the brain. Researchers and scientists believe that they have the right resources, equipment and scientists to find the answer to this disease which could help individuals with fibromyalgia and traumatic brain injuries. Research is ongoing now at the University of Alabama–Birmingham. The Centers for Disease Control are also working on this disease; they noted that there is a genetic component to the disease. The number of new cases of this disease in Georgia is unknown, but the median age of individuals with a diagnosis is in their 40s or 50s. However, young children have also been diagnosed with the disease.
Senate Health and Human Services
The Senate Health and Human Services met Tuesday to consider three bills. SB 4 by Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford) creates a Georgia Mental Health Task Force and results from one of the recommendations of the mental health study committees from the summer of 2016. The Task Force will be charged with examining a wide range of mental health issues relating to serious and persistent mental illness, determining what can be financed through Medicaid and planning for and submitting an application for a 1115 waiver or a Medicaid block grant to use Medicaid funds for increased mental health services. The Task Force, as proposed, would include three members from the House and Senate and nine members appointed by the Governor, including the Commissioners of DCH, DBHDD, Public Health, Community Affairs and Human Services, an appointee from Georgia Sheriff's Association, two mental health advocates and a community services board representative. The Committee adopted an amendment to add to the membership representatives of an acute care hospital with a psychiatric unit and of a private psychiatric institution. The Commission is to report by January 1, 2018 and appears to be set up to get ready for and take advantage of federal Medicaid and Affordable Care Act changes,
The Committee also heard but held S.B. 41, which was also sponsored by Sen. Unterman (R-Buford) that would establish licensing by the Board of Pharmacy for sellers of durable medical equipment. The bill in substitute form is likely to return to the Committee very soon, perhaps as early as this week.
Finally, Sen. Dean Burke (R-Bainbridge) presented SB 44 which provides an exception to the open records act for records relating to the identity of donors to rural hospitals under the tax credit for individuals and corporations who make donations to these rural facilities, unless the records redact the donors' names. It passed easily.
Senate Public Safety Committee
Sen. Tyler Harper (R-Ocilla) and his Committee heard presentations from several law enforcement agencies in an effort to learn more about each of those entities' work.
- Department of Corrections – It was learned that there are 91 facilities around the State and the current population is 52,962. Violent offenders make up about 67 percent. Most offenders are in medium security. The Commissioner indicated that there are "stable" commitments. This year there have been four homicides and five suicides. There have been no escapes this year. Cell phones are still a problem. The Department operates 19 fire departments (many have helped in the Albany response in the last few weeks). GED rates have improved. Sen. Mike Dugan (R-Douglasville) inquired about the numbers of inmates who attend "other" worship services (DOC indicated that there are prisoners who are Wiccans and other less mainstream religions). Sen. Dugan also asked about the numbers of religious converts in the system; DOC did not have that information but indicated that it could track that information. Sen. Lee Anderson, now a member of this Committee, is a former DOC Board member and inquired about what types of rewards or honors the inmates receive if they successfully complete their GEDs. The Commissioner indicated that there is a graduation ceremony which recognizes such.
- Department of Juvenile Justice – Commissioner Avery Niles reported on the 26 facilities that his Department oversees. Their facilities were built in the 1950s and 1960s – so many are old and outdated and were built for a different type of youth. Now, DJJ rehabilitates and educates children. DJJ operates the 181st school district – the average child has been out of school 60 days by the time that he or she comes to DJJ. Those youth are also 2.5 to 3 grades behind. Their population is growing in terms of the severity of youth served. More youth are now being handled in the community since the passage of SB 440. Sen. Dugan inquired about the ages of the youth served; Commissioner Niles reported that DJJ serves youth up until the age of 21 and generally get the youth when they are 13 or 14 years of age. There were questions about the average lengths of stay (depending on whether the child is in a YDC or RYDC). A youth in a RYDC can be there as long as 6-8 months; and a child in a YDC can be there 2.5 to 3 years. Sen. Valencia Seay (D-Riverdale asked about drug issues – Commissioner Niles indicated that youth with drug issues are more common and youth coming into the system with addicted parents are more common. Sen. Chuck Payne (R-Dalton) inquired about mental health services and Commissioner Niles stated that they look for opportunities to provide services. However, he acknowledged that the rural areas of the State were more challenging. Sen. Anderson inquired about the percentages of males and females in DJJ; there are 64 beds designated for females in a YDC. Annual costs to house a child are roughly $100,000.00.
- Pardons and Paroles – A five-member Board oversees this entity. It has 190 employees with a $16.4 million budget. Last year 13,374 individuals were released. There were also 36,648 on parole last year. It was reported that this entity provides a $450 million cost avoidance (last year) so criminal justice reforms are working.
Our 2017 Georgia Capitol team consists of Stan Jones, Helen Sloat, Chuck Clay, George Ray, and Logan Fletcher. We will also try our hand at tweeting this year – so follow us! @GDR_Live
The articles published in this newsletter are intended only to provide general information on the subjects covered. The contents should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Readers should consult with legal counsel to obtain specific legal advice based on particular situations.