Special Edition Gold Dome Report -
January 9, 2017
Lawmakers convened under the Gold Dome this morning for Day 1 of the 2017 Legislative Session. Leaders in both chambers were administered the oath of office and voted on leadership positions.
In the Senate, Lt. Governor Casey Cagle called the chamber to order and recognized former Senator Charlie Bethel to administer the oath of office to the Senators. Sen. David Shafer (R-Duluth) was reelected as President Pro-Tempore of the Senate. David Cook was reelected as Secretary of the Senate and John Long was elected as Sergeant at Arms of the Senate. The Senate also considered SR 1, which sets the Senate Rules for the 2017 session. SR 1 was first engrossed before it was adopted by a vote of 37-18. SR 2 and SR 3, which notify the House and the Governor that the Senate has convened, were also adopted.
In the House, David Ralston was reelected as the 73rd Speaker of the House and Jan Jones was reelected to her position as Speaker Pro Tempore for the 2017-2018 term. During Speaker Ralston's remarks, he said that "We begin this session at a moment of unprecedented change. Our Nation has chosen a new course, due in part to the feeling of many that their voices were not being heard." He indicated that the House of Representatives will focus on a number of important issues this year, including healthcare, education, economic development and salaries and benefits for public safety personnel.
The House also adopted HR 9, which is the adjournment resolution that sets the General Assembly's schedule through February 2, 2017. The General Assembly will convene on the following days:
- Tuesday, January 10
- Wednesday, January 11
- Thursday, January 12
- Monday, January 23
- Tuesday, January 24
- Wednesday, January 25
- Thursday, January 26
- Monday, January 30
- Tuesday, January 31
- Wednesday, February 1
- Thursday, February 2
Lawmakers will use the week of the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday to hold hearings on the State's Budget. Many also plan to trek to Washington for President-Elect Trump's inauguration.
Governor Deal announced today information about the State's finances. He stated in a press release that:
"Georgia’s net tax collections for December totaled nearly $2.06 billion, for an increase of $15.2 million, or 0.7 percent, compared to December 2015. Year-to-date, net tax revenue collections totaled approximately $10.86 billion, for an increase of $414.4 million, or 4.0 percent, over last year when net tax revenues totaled $10.44 billion."
See full press release: http://gov.georgia.gov/press-releases/2017-01-09/deal-december-tax-revenues-07-percent
Governor Deal will make his State of the State address on January 11, 2017 at 11:00 a.m.
House Appropriations Committee – Subcommittee on Public Safety
Chairman Andy Welch (R-McDonough) and his Subcommittee took up a proposed piece of legislation which addresses the issue of criminal background checks and fingerprints required for various Departments/agencies employees, contractors, vendors and volunteers.
Dawn Diedrich, an attorney who is the Director of the Office of Privacy and Compliance with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, spoke to the Subcommittee about the current use of criminal history records by the non-criminal justice community when considering individuals for employment and licensing. The Georgia Crime Information Center, which oversees fingerprint submissions, received more than 990,000 in FY 2016 – of those 50 percent were applicant submissions (rather than Departments/agencies making such requests). Applicants pay for their own background checks – so there are no costs borne by the State. The Federal Bureau of Investigation also as the Next Generation Identification (NGI) Rap Back Service – this program is for non-criminal justice purposes and provides timely notification of criminal activity which occurs after the initial fingerprint-based criminal history background checks for those who are authorized to receive the information. This means that the recipient is to have statutory authority to retain applicant fingerprints; requires that the entity be enrolled in Rap Back; and requires validation by a Department/agency that the applicant is either still actively employed or licensed. Rap Back does not permit that one set of fingerprints be submitted for multiple purposes or provide any new authority. Rap Back does have benefits: 1) notification of future events which may affect suitability of persons serving in positions of trust; 2) possible elimination of renewal background checks; and 3) enhances public safety. Ms. Diedrich outlined Public Law 92-544 on this – included is that the authorization for such fingerprints is the result of legislative enactment; must expressly or by implication authorize use of FBI records for screenings; authorization must not be in opposition to public policy; and must not be overly broad. Ms. Diedrich outlined a number of statutes in Georgia law (impacting Departments of Early Care and Learning, Human Services, Community Health, Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, Driver Services, Banking and Finance, Public Health, Secretary of State, Education Agencies, Georgia Court Services, Office of Insurance Safety Fire Commissioner, city/county government and law enforcement agencies, ) –
- O.C.G.A. § 20-1A-34 (directors and employees of daycare centers, group/family daycare homes, etc.)
- O.C.G.A. § 49-2-14; O.C.G.A. § 49-5-64; and O.C.G.A. § 49-5-69.1 (foster care parents, child welfare agencies, directors and employees of child care centers, etc.)
- O.C.G.A. § 31-2-9; 31-7-254 (personal care homes, private home care, community and assisted living) and O.C.G.A. § 37-1-28 (employees or contractors involved in direct care, treatment, custodial responsibilities)
- O.C.G.A. § 10-5-35; O.C.G.A. § 43-24A-8; O.C.G.A. § 43-25A-5; O.C.G.A. § 43-26-7; O.C.G.A. § 43-26-36.1; O.C.G.A. § 43-38-6/7 (Registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, private detectives/security businesses, used motor vehicles, etc.)
- O.C.G.A. § 20-2-211.1 (school teachers, principals, other certified professionals, school bus drivers, and cafeteria workers employed by local school districts)
- O.C.G.A. § 16-11-129; O.C.G.A. 35-3-33; O.C.G.A. § 29-9-19; O.C.G.A. § 19-8-16 (weapon carry permits, State bar admissions, guardianships/conservatorships, adoptions)
- O.C.G.A. § 33-23-5.1 (Department of Insurance licenses)
- O.C.G.A. § 25-4-8; O.C.G.A. § 3-3-2; O.C.G.A. § 17-6-50; O.C.G.A. § 38-3-27; O.C.G.A. § 35-8-8; O.C.G.A. § 15-16-1; O.C.G.A. § 35-3-35 (firefighters, alcohol beverage control applicant, retail liquor licenses, ordinances, etc.)
- O.C.G.A. § 40-5-82; O.C.G.A. § 40-5-83; O.C.G.A. § 43-13-5; O.C.G.A. § 43-12A-6; O.C.G.A. § 43-13-6; O.C.G.A. § 46-7-85 (owners/operators of DUI alcohol/drug reduction, driver improvement, training schools, ignition interlock device providers, awareness program instructors, ride share, etc.)
- O.C.G.A. § 7-1-682; O.C.G.A. § 7-1-702; O.C.G.A. § 7-1-1004 (check or money order, check cashing business, mortgage licensees and employees)*
- O.C.G.A. §31-11-51 (emergency medical services)
*Note that mortgage loan originator license applicants have direct access to the FBI for records' checks. The Department of Banking and Finance gained this direct access under a federal law passed in 2016.
The National Child Protection Act and Volunteers for Children Act were mentioned in the discussions. Federal statute is used in the absence of a State statute when providing direct care for vulnerable populations with the results going back to a governmental agency. The Adam Walsh Protection and Safety Act is used in the absence of a State statute for child welfare agencies and private elementary and secondary schools.
Various Departments and agencies stood for questions by the Subcommittee and reported the numbers of employees, contractors, vendors and volunteers which are screened for criminal history records. For instance, Commissioner for Human Services, Robyn Crittenden, testified that there were 30,000 average fingerprint checks done annually and specifically 30,461 done in calendar year 2016. It costs that Department $52 for background checks for each individual. Division of Family and Children's Services' Director Bobby Cagle noted that his agency had 13,972 background checks done last year (mostly for foster parents) and another 472 were conducted for foster home renewals. The federal requirement is for these checks, per Cagle, to be done every five years. Another 1,726 checks were done for his staff in calendar year 2016. Lindsey Scott, with the Department of Insurance, indicated that 200,000 insurance agents are licensed annually – they are also required to have these "checks." Department of Juvenile Justice's John Smith reported that the Juvenile Justice entity conducts approximately 6,000 background checks annually.
The legislation at the root of this hearing is proposing to amend O.C.G.A. § 35-3-33, relating to the powers and duties of the Georgia Crime Information Center, so as to allow the Center to retain fingerprints of individuals under certain circumstances (such as suitability or fitness for employment, placement, registration, a permit or a license for an agency or qualified entity which is participating in the federal program that allows an ongoing and continuing review of such individual's criminal history (but the fingerprints are to be retained and maintained securely and separately from records relating to the identification of criminals).
The cost for this proposal is approximately $500,000 but will have an ongoing personnel cost of $313,000 on an annual basis.
There were some questions by lawmakers on whether this separate database of individuals might be problematic for certain industries or groups – specific questions were asked about drivers for cars for hire and gun permit holders.
New Prefiled Legislation
HB 23, by Rep. Billy Mitchell (D-Stone Mountain) would provide accountability requirements for charter schools. It would lay out the General Assembly's legislative findings at O.C.G.A § 20-2-2064.2 to clarify that the original intent of charter schools was to act as "incubators" for school reform. It also makes the claim that other States are exempting charter schools from state assessments and public reporting. It further states that charter schools must have the same accountability as public schools. The legislation would discourage local boards of education, the State Board of Education, and charter petitioners: A) from including an exemption of state-wide assessments in the charter petition; B) from including state developed assessments in the accountability system of a charter school for students enrolled in kindergarten, first grade, or second grade; and C) from using state-wide assessments for other purposes for which they are not valid and reliable. They would also be required to review standardized assessments, including the financial cost of the assessments and feedback from parents, students, and educators. Students' parents or guardians would have the right to review the assessment booklet and the supplemental materials used in administering the assessment. Such materials would need to be made available within 45 days of receipt.
HB 24, by Rep. Billy Mitchell (D-Stone Mountain) would amend O.C.G.A. § 20-2-212.3 for the purpose of encouraging incentive pay for quality teachers in schools systems with high numbers of low-income children. It states that financial assistance should be provided to such school systems to ensure that children meet academic standards required by the State. It requires the Department of Education to establish a program of incentive pay in order to retain talented teachers. This may include salary increases or bonuses. HB 24 further requires Local Boards of Education to provide the Department with an annual roster of teachers who would qualify for such incentive pay.
HB 25, by Rep. Robert Trammell (D-Luthersville) would amend Title 27 by replacing the current one-year honorary veterans hunting license with a lifetime hunting license that is free of charge. It would remove the fee requirement at O.C.G.A. § 27-2-3.1. It would also remove the definition of "returning veteran" at O.C.G.A. § 27-2-4. Finally, it would remove military personnel and their dependants from the definition of "Resident" at O.C.G.A. § 27-1-2.
HB 26, by Rep. Erica Thomas (D-Austell) would amend O.C.G.A. § 20-2-690.1 to raise the age of mandatory education for children from 16 to 17.
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.