Gold Dome Report - February 1, 2017
Today marked the 11th legislative Day this Session.
The House and Senate adopted SR 132, the Adjournment Resolution, setting the schedule for the remaining legislative days. SR 132 reflects that crossover day, Legislative Day 28, will be on March 3 and Sine Die, Day 40, will be March 30, 2017.
The House considered two bills today. HB 38, by Rep. Alan Powell (R-Hartwell) provides that operators of three-wheeled motor vehicles that are controlled by steering wheel are required to obtain a class C license instead of a Class M (motorcycle) license. It passed by a vote of 169-0. The other bill was HB 49, by Rep. Clay Pirkle (R-Ashburn). This bill updates licensing requirements for livestock dealers and market operators to allow the Georgia Department of Agriculture to charge an annual fee of $25 for livestock dealers and livestock order buyers, as well as a triennial fee for livestock markets not to exceed $200. It exempts Georgia 4-H Clubs and Georgia Future Farmers of America from the requirement to procure surety. It passed 170-3.
The Senate did not vote on any legislation; however they did adopt their new adjournment resolution, SR 132, which sets the Senate schedule until the end of the Session.
HB 16, by Rep. Keisha Waites (D-Atlanta), proposes to address student discipline in elementary and secondary schools. It amends current law relating to bullying and prohibits bullying and harassment of students and school employees. It adds new definitions in O.C.G.A. § 20-2-751.4 for the terms, 'bullying,' and 'harassment.' It further states in this Code Section that it applies to conduct by students and school employees occurring on any elementary or secondary school premises; at any school sponsored functions; or activities; and on school-sponsored transportation. It will also apply to usage by students and school employees of electronic technology and electronic communications occurring on any elementary or secondary school premises; at any school sponsored functions or activities; on school-sponsored transportation; and on school computers, networks, forums and mailing lists. Local boards of education are required to adopt policies prohibiting bullying and harassment incorporating the model policy established by the Department of Education and such policy is to meet certain requirements (and will also apply to State charter schools).
HB 188, by Rep. Stacey Abrams (D-Atlanta), seeks to create a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. § 49-4-159 that would authorize appropriations for the purpose of obtaining federal financial participation for medical assistance payments to providers on behalf of Medicaid recipients and funding the State's portion of the cost to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Such appropriations would provide up to a maximum of 138 percent of the federal poverty level.
HB 193, by Rep. Scot Turner (R-Holly Springs), proposes to amend O.C.G.A. § 48-7-27 to require that the Department of Revenue establish rules governing annual cost-of-living adjustments to reflect the effects of inflation and deflation. These rules must include the determination and use of an appropriate cost-of-living index reflecting such inflation or deflation. The Consumer Price Index may be used to make this determination, as long as the Department determines that it reflects the effects of inflation or deflation.
HB 194, by Rep. Todd Jones (R-South Forsyth), proposes to amend O.C.G.A. § 36-66-5 to provide that the standards that are adopted by local governments relating to their exercise of zoning power shall now consider the effect that such proposed zoning action has on local school systems and the potential overcrowding of schools within such systems. The participation of a for-profit corporation or other entity in the indirect ownership of such a home shall not operate to disqualify such a home for the exemption under this paragraph.
HB 195, by Rep. Brett Harrell (R-Snellville) proposes to amend O.C.G.A. § 48-5-41 to provide that indirect ownership of a home for the mentally disabled through a limited liability company that is fully owned by a tax exempt organization shall be considered direct ownership.
HB 198, by Rep. Katie Dempsey (R-Rome), proposes to amend O.C.G.A. § 20-2-778 to provide that if local school systems provide information on influenza to parents or guardians of students, then such information shall include recommendations by the 'Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices' of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
HB 200, by Rep. Mark Newton (R-Augusta), seeks to add a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. § 20-2-776.5 to require local school boards to adopt a policy authorizing students to carry and self administer sunscreen while they are in school, at a school sponsored activity, under supervision of school personnel, and in before-school or after-school care on school property. Such local school system shall incur no liability other than for willful or wanton misconduct for any injury to a student caused by his or her use of sunscreen.
HB 203, by Rep. Brian Strickland (R-McDonough), addresses limitations of actions relative to breach of restrictive covenant in O.C.G.A. § 9-3-29(c) so that the right of action shall accrue immediately upon the erection of a permanent fixture which results in a violation of the covenant restricting lands to certain uses or the violation of a set-back line provision. When an allegation is based upon a continuous violation of the covenant resulting from an act or omission, the right of action shall accrue each time such act or omission occurs. It further amends O.C.G.A. § 44-3-89 relating to the expansion of a condominium after the declarant's right to expand has expired and provides for procedures for such expansion (requiring two-thirds of the votes in the association).
HB 204, by Rep. Brett Harrell (R-Snellville), seeks to add a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. § 48-5-33, relating to ad valorem property taxation, to provide that property tax bills are not to include any non-tax related fees or assessments (including but not limited to storm-water service fees or solid waste fees). If passed, this new Code Section will be applicable to all taxable years beginning on or after January 1, 2017.
HB 206, by Rep. Trey Kelley (R-Cedartown), proposes to amend O.C.G.A. § 26-4-118, removing an exception relating to certain audits conducted by the Department of Community Health relating to Medicaid, by providing that any clerical or record-keeping error shall not in and of itself constitute fraud or constitute a basis to recoup full payments made by providers. No such claim would be subject to criminal penalties without proof of intent to commit fraud. The recoupment amount shall be limited to the amount paid. It would give a provider of medical assistance 30 days to correct any errors or omissions, following receipt of notice. Such provider would also be afforded the right to a hearing for any attempted withholding of reimbursement or recoupment.
HB 207, by Rep. Miriam Paris (D-Macon), proposes to enact the "Georgia Fair Pay Act" in O.C.G.A. § 50-5B-6. It would direct the State Accounting Officer to pay State obligations to vendors within a certain time period (15 working days of receipt of undisputed invoices filed electronically and in the event of an undisputed invoice is submitted in writing, then it is to be paid within 30 calendar days. If invoices are not paid timely, the State Accounting Officer is to pay or cause to be paid interest of 12 percent per annum on the invoices. It also addresses time for paying invoices which have been disputed.
HB 209, by Rep. Lee Hawkins (R-Gainesville), seeks to enact the "Russell D. Rego USMC Act" in O.C.G.A. § 48-5-48(g). This legislation addresses the homestead exemption by qualified disabled veterans and the filing requirements to provide that certain disabled veterans are to be issued refunds of certain ad valorem taxes paid during certain periods of time when such disabled veterans receive final determinations of disability containing retroactive periods of eligibility.
HB 210, by Rep. Jodi Lott (R-Evans), seeks to amend O.C.G.A. § 31-22-1 to alter the current definition of 'clinical laboratory' so it excludes any specimen collection station that collects human blood for the manufacturing of biological products and is regulated by the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research (CBER) within the federal Food and Drug Administration.
HB 211, by Rep. Beth Beskin (R-Atlanta), proposes to create a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. § 48-7-29.21 to provide for an annual tax credit of up to $2,500 for up to five years for taxpayers who purchase, own, and occupy a dwelling that qualifies for a homestead exemption located within a school attendance zone assigned to a public elementary school that is among the lowest five percent of academic achievement public elementary schools in the State. The bill also requires the Department of Education to annually provide the Department of Revenue with a list of those public elementary schools that the Office of Student Achievement determines to be among the lowest five percent. The tax commissioner for each county that contains such a school shall provide DOR with a list of all owners of record for all qualifying homesteads by January 18 each year. This tax credit shall not exceed the taxpayer's income tax liability for that year.
HB 212, by Rep. Beth Beskin (R-Atlanta), proposes to enact a recommendation by the Georgia Child Support Commission by amending O.C.G.A. § 19-6-15 to provide that, in situations in which work-related child care costs are variable, the court may remove such costs from the calculation of support, and divide such costs pro rata, to be paid within a time specified in the child support order. If a parent or custodian fails to comply with such an order, A) the other parent may enforce the payment by any means permitted by law; or B) child support services shall pursue enforcement when such unpaid costs have been reduced to a judgment in a sum certain.
HB 213, by Rep. Golick (R- Smryna), proposes to amend O.C.G.A. § 16-13-31 to prohibit the sale, manufacture, delivery, or possession of four grams or more of 'fentanyl.'
HB 214, by Rep. Golick (R-Smyrna), seeks to amend O.C.G.A. § 16-9-5 to provide that forging proof of insurance documents shall be a felony. It also increases the fine for forging such documents from $5,000 to $10,000 and increases imprisonment time to no less than two, nor more than ten, years (currently the punishment is no more than three years of imprisonment).
HB 216, by Rep. Debbie Buckner (D-Junction City), seeks to create the "Georgia Jobs Matter Act." It in part requires in contracts or purchases of more than $100,000.00 that local boards of education have a local school system, when issuing a request for a competitive bid, state in that bid request and places the bidding contractors on notice that the school or school district will consider information relating to the effects on employment within the State. It further requires that all bids must be accompanied by an employment impact statement (e.g., number of jobs expected to be created or jobs expected to be retained that might otherwise be lost if the contract is awarded to another contractor etc.). These changes are included at O.C.G.A. § 20-2-500. Similar requirements for bids are also made:
- for local government (counties, municipalities, or consolidated governments) in O.C.G.A. § 36-84-1
- for government purchasing of supplies, equipment, materials and printing produced in Georgia generally in O.C.G.A. § 50-5-60, and
- for State and local authority preferences for supplies, materials, equipment and agricultural products produced in Georgia in O.C.G.A. § 50-5-61
Further, it proposes to add a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. § 50-5-62 to require that the Department of Administrative Services, in awarding all contracts, give preference to: sellers of products produced, grown, or manufactured in Georgia; sellers who maintain a business located in Georgia; providers of services who are located in Georgia, businesses who maintain a business license in the State and promise as a condition of any such contract to continue to remain so located and licensed during the duration of the contract; any business that promises to employ residents of Georgia for the purpose of satisfying the terms of any such contract and that promises to continue such employment throughout the duration of the contract as a condition of the contract; and any person or entity that pays income taxes to the State.
HB 217, by Rep. John Carson (R-Marietta), proposes to amend O.C.G.A. § 48-7-29.16(f), regarding the imposition, rate, computation, and exemptions from State income taxes, to increase the amount of the aggregate cap on contributions to certain scholarship organizations in order to receive income tax credits. It would cap these credits as follows:
- $58 million for tax year ending December 31, 2017
- $150 million for tax year ending December 31, 2018
- $157.5 million for tax year ending December 31, 2019
- $165 million for tax year ending December 31, 2020
- $172.5 million for tax year ending December 31, 2021
- $180 million for all subsequent years
Such credits are required to be approved by the Commissioner of Revenue.
HB 218, By Rep. Stacey Evans (D-Smyrna), addresses retirement and pensions in Title 47 so as to provide that an election to participate in the Board of Regents Retirement Plan in lieu of the Teachers Retirement System of Georgia is to be revocable at will. These changes are added in O.C.G.A. § 47-3-68. There are notice requirements which are to be fulfilled. It further provides that persons who made an irrevocable election for such participation may nonetheless elect to participate in the Teachers Retirement System of Georgia. There are also permissions for creditable service. This specifically authorizes individuals who elected to join the Board of Regents Optional Retirement Plan to revoke such election to become a member of the Teachers Retirement System. Deadlines for exercising this option are as follows:
- Any person employed on or before July 1, 2018 who has at least five years of reemployment as an eligible university system employee must submit his/her application and payment to the Teachers Retirement System on or before December 31, 2018
- Any person employed on or before July 1, 2018 who has less than five years of employment as an eligible university system employee must submit his or her application and payment to the Teachers Retirement System any time during the sixth year of his/her employment
- Any person who first or again becomes employed after July 1, 2108 must submit his/her application and payment any time during the sixth year of his/her employment as an eligible employee of the University System of Georgia.
HB 220, by Rep. Karen Bennett (D-Stone Mountain), proposes to add a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. § 48-7-40.32, relating to the imposition, rate and computation and exemptions from State income taxes, to provide for a Georgia Veterans Work Opportunity Tax Credit. This credit is to provide an incentive to private sector employers to hire veterans who face employment barriers. This would be a one-time tax credit for each new employee hired by a qualified employer. There would be no limit to the number of new hires who can qualify an employer for the credit. It outlines amount of the credit permitted for a taxable year so that such would be equal to 40 percent of the qualified first-year wages of an individual in a targeted group for a specified year. In the case of an individual who has performed at least 120 hours, but less than 400 hours, of service for the employer, the Georgia Veterans Work Opportunity Tax Credit for a taxable year is to be equal to 25 percent of the qualified first-year wages. There is a requirement that the Department of Labor make a certification as to the targeted group.
HB 222, by Rep. Shaw Blackmon (R-Bonaire), proposes to amend O.C.G.A. § 20-3-519.1 to provide that members of the Georgia National Guard or a member of a reserve component of the armed forces shall meet residency requirements to be considered for HOPE Scholarship.
HB 224, by Rep. Dave Belton (R-Buckhead), proposes to create a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. § 20-2-295 to provide that military students may attend any school within the school system where the military base or housing is located. It requires that school systems establish a streamlined process for such students to implement transfer requirements and notify parents of such students to notify them of the options available.
HB 226, by Rep. Jay Powell (R-Camilla), proposes to amend O.C.G.A. § 48-7-55 to authorize the Commissioner of the Department of Revenue to require any return, report, or other required document to be filed electronically with the commissioner. The Commissioner would also be authorized to establish a process for individuals to receive a waiver from the electronic filing requirement.
HB 227, by Rep. Jay Powell (R-Camilla), seeks to address the administration of revenue and taxation to provide for the value of interest to be paid on refunds of certain overpayments made pursuant to a direct payment permit in O.C.G.A. § 48-2-35(b). It adds in a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. § 48-8-49.1 that the Department of Revenue establish and maintain a direct pay reporting program for the purposes of enabling qualified taxpayers to directly pay to the Department taxes that are imposed on qualified taxpayers.
HB 228, by Rep. Brad Raffensperger (R-Johns Creek), seeks to require health plans to provide coverage for hearing aids for children (ages 18 and under) and requires up to $3,000.00 per hearing aid and allows for replacement of one hearing aid per hearing impaired ear every 48 months for covered individuals. Parents/guardians would be responsible for billed charges in excess of such benefits. There is language that such coverage will not be required if an actuary has certified in writing that the coverage has caused a one (1) percent increase in premiums. This language is proposed for O.C.G.A. § 33-24-59.21.
HB 229, by Rep. Matt Dollar (R-Marietta), seeks to add a new Article 3 in Chapter 3 of Title 20, concerning postsecondary education, to limit yearly tuition and student fee increases within the university system It would require that no later than April 1 of each year that the Georgia Student Finance Commission publish and certify to the Board of Regents and the governing board of each institution in the University System the rate of inflation to be used for calculating the maximum allowable tuition rates and student fees for the upcoming academic year. The legislation proposes definitions for the terms, 'average tuition,' and 'average student fee.' There is a waiver permitted so that the maximum tuition or student fees may be waived in any academic year for any institution within the University System, if prior to July 1 immediately preceding such academic year, the Senate Higher Education Committee and the Appropriations Subcommittee of the House Committee on Higher Education agree by majority vote to make such waiver of the requirements (it can be granted in the event of a recession, decline in State appropriations, change in institutional mission, consolidation, or other type of circumstance that the Committees deem appropriate).
HB 230, by Rep. Rhonda Burnough (D-Riverdale), seeks to amend O.C.G.A. § 20-2A-1 to require that schools, in order for to qualify for scholarships or grants, can not discriminate in hiring or admission on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, disability, or gender-related characteristics.
HB 231, by Rep. Bruce Broadrick (R-Dalton), is Georgia's proposed annual dangerous drug update legislation. It adds new controlled substances in Chapter 13 of Title 16 which are Schedule I, II, IV and V controlled substances to this list. It includes a new "fentanyl analog structural class" of drugs and derivatives, salts, isomers or salts of isomers.
HB 233, by Rep. Pedro Marin (D-Duluth), addresses prestige plates and plates for certain persons and vehicles in O.C.G.A. § 40-2-74.1 to provide for special decals issued to persons with disabilities to include a photograph of the person issued such decal. It also corrects a cross-reference relating to holders of special disability permits in O.C.G.A. § 10-1-164.1.
HB 236, by Rep. Sam Teasley (R-Marietta), proposes changing O.C.G.A. § 48-7-29.16, regarding qualified education tax credits, so as to increase the aggregate amount of tax credits allowed – raising the aggregate amount of the tax credits from $58 million to $150 million per tax year; provided, however, that such aggregate amount shall be increased by $7.5 million beginning in tax year 2018 and each tax year thereafter. It would also have the Department of Revenue Commissioner to establish two "windows" for these credits – the initial one would begin on January 1 of each year with tax credits not to exceed $100 million per tax year and the subsequent application window would begin on July 1 with credits not to exceed $50 million per tax year; provided, however, that the initial application window beginning on January 1, 2019 is to be increased by $5 million and each tax year thereafter, and the subsequent application window beginning on July 1, 2019 is to be increased by $2.5 million and each tax year thereafter. It addresses the Commissioner's pre-approval of these credits and re-submittal of applications.
HR 158, by Rep. Jay Powell (R-Camilla), proposes to amend Georgia's Constitution at Article III, Section IX, Paragraph VI and redesignating subparagraph (o) as subparagraph (p) regarding the dedication of revenues derived from fees or taxes to the public purpose which they were designated from the excise taxes on fireworks. It would allow the General Assembly to provide by general law for the dedication of revenues derived from the fees or taxes to the public purpose for which such fees or taxes were imposed and would include an automatic expiration of such fee or tax within a period not to exceed ten years.
HR 159, by Rep. Matt Dollar (R-Marietta), seeks to add a new subparagraph (g) to the Constitution of Georgia at Article VIII, Section IV, Paragraph 1 that would provide that annual tuition or student fee increases at institutions of the University System of Georgia shall not exceed the rate of inflation, as measured by the Consumer Price Index (CPI). It further authorizes the General Assembly to provide for exceptions and conditions, including the individualized waiver of such limitations on tuition or student fee increases for a particular academic year by the Senate Higher Education Committee and the Appropriations Subcommittee of the House Committee on Higher Education.
SB 106, by Sen. Greg Kirk (R-Americus), seeks to amend O.C.G.A. § 43-34-283 to address the licensure requirements for pain management clinics. It specifically amends subsection (g) so that "No controlled substance shall be prescribed or dispensed in a pain management clinic nor shall a controlled substance prescription be distributed to a patient from a pain management clinic unless a physician, a physician assistant authorized to prescribe controlled substances under an approved job description, or an advanced practice registered nurse authorized to prescribe controlled substances pursuant to a physician protocol is on-site at the pain management clinic. For purposes of this article, dispensing shall not include the administration of anesthesia by a certified registered nurse anesthetist practicing pursuant to Code Section 43-26-11.1."
SB 107, by Sen. Fran Millar (R-Atlanta), proposes changes to Georgia's ethics in government laws and specifically would revise the dates for the filing campaign financial disclosure reports to include an additional date prior to the general primary in O.C.G.A. § 21-5-34(c). Currently, in election years, reports are required on January 31, March 31, June 30, September 30, October 25, and December 31. This would require such reports on January 31, March 31, May 10, June 30, September 30 and October 25.
SB 109, by Sen. Michael Williams (R-Cumming), proposes to enact the "Recognition of Emergency Medical Services Personnel Licensure Interstate Compact" also known as REPLICA in Article 4 of Chapter 3 of Title 38.
SB 110, by Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta), seeks to amend the qualifications and eligibility for office in O.C.G.A. § 45-2-1(1) by lowering the age from 21 years to 18 years except for such offices of a judicial nature provided however that by local law counties and municipalities may provide that citizens of Georgia who are otherwise qualified and shall have attained at least 21 years of age to be eligible to hold any county or municipal office except such offices of a judicial nature.
SB 111, by Sen. Josh McKoon (R-Columbus), seeks to establish the "Office of the State Prosecutor" in a new Article 3 of Chapter 15 of Title 45. It would be an independent unit within the office of the Attorney General. It would also create the "State Prosecutor Selection and Disabilities Commission" and this Commission would reprimand or recommend to the Governor the removal of the State prosecutor after a hearing and the State Prosecutor is found guilty of misconduct; persistent failure to perform the duties of the office; or conduct prejudicial to the proper administration of justice.
SB 112, by Sen. Josh McKoon (R-Columbus), proposes to amend portions of Title 21 concerning elections to remove the requirement that independent and political body candidates file nomination petitions for ballot access.
SB 113, by Sen. Josh McKoon (R-Columbus), proposes changes for scholarships, loans and grants for postsecondary education in Article 7 of Chapter 3 of Title 20 to provide for automatic eligibility for a HOPE scholarship to children of certain public officials (firefighters, law enforcement officers, and prison guards or while an employee either full-time or part-time, or an officer or official whether elected or appointed of this state or any county, municipality, department, board, bureau, branch, agency, commission, authority, or political subdivision of this State and was permanently disabled or killed in the line of duty while performing duties assigned in the normal course of employment) who have been killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty.
SB 114, by Sen. Josh McKoon (R-Columbus), proposes changes in Chapter 2 of Title 21, concerning elections and primaries, to provide for the tabulation of advance voting ballots in the same manner as absentee votes cast on DRE voting equipment. See O.C.G.A. § 21-2-386(a).
SR 145, by Sen. John Kennedy (R-Macon), commends the Georgia Trauma Commission, the Georgia Trauma Foundation, the Georgia Society of the American College of Surgeons, and Georgia Trauma Commission Chairman Dr. Dennis Ashley. It also recognizes February 7, 2017 as Trauma Awareness Day at the capitol.
SR 146, by Sen. John Kennedy (R-Macon), proposes an amendment to Georgia's constitution at Article I, Section I adding a new Paragraph XXX for rights of certain individuals who are victims and who have suffered or been harmed due to an act committed or attempted to be committed in violation of the criminal or juvenile delinquency laws of Georgia.
House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee – Setzler Subcommittee
The Setzler Subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Ed Setzler (R-Acworth), heard a presentation on one bill today.
HB 30, authored by Rep. Kevin Tanner (R-Dawsonville), seeks to add 3,4-dichloro-N-(2-(dimethylamino)cyclohexyl)-N-methylbenzamide, known as U-47700, to Schedule 1 of the Georgia Controlled Substance Act. U-47700 was formulated in the 1970s and subjected to animal testing, but it has never been subjected to human testing nor does it have any approved therapeutic use. The bill is supported by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. The Subcommittee voted to recommend the bill DO PASS and be sent to the full Judiciary Non-Civil Committee.
House Judiciary Committee - Fleming Subcommittee
The Fleming Subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Barry Fleming (R-Harlem), heard a presentation on one bill today.
HB 126, authored by Rep. Wendell Willard (R-Sandy Springs), is the Judicial Qualification Commission Improvement Act of 2017, originally heard in the Subcommittee on Monday. Pat O’Connor, President of the Georgia Bar, appeared before the Subcommittee and asked that the State Bar be allowed direct appointment, with Senate confirmation, of 3 of the reformed JQC’s 10 members (two to the investigation panel and one to the hearing panel). Rep. Willard expressed concern that if the State Bar appointed members rather than elected officials, a problem could arise where the non-elected and non-politically appointed members of the JQC recommend discipline or removal of an elected official. The Subcommittee did not formally consider or vote on the State Bar’s proposed amendment. The Subcommittee voted to recommend the bill DO PASS by committee substitute and to send it to the full Judiciary Committee.
Senate Judiciary Committee - Subcommittee A
Subcommittee A, chaired by Sen. William Ligon, Jr. (R-Brunswick), heard a presentation on one bill today.
SB 45, authored by Sen. Larry Walker III (R-Brunswick), seeks to criminalize surreptitious filming or photography under another’s clothes, commonly known as “up-skirting”, where the individual has a reasonable expectation of privacy. The bill follows a case in Houston County where a conviction was overturned where an individual filmed another in a public place but state law only prohibited filming in a private place. The Prosecuting Attorneys Council requested that the offense be elevated to a felony. The Subcommittee TABLED the provision for further consideration.
Senate Health and Human Services Pharmacology Subcommittee
The Subcommittee met Wednesday afternoon with Sen. Ben Watson (R-Savannah) presiding to consider his bill, SB 16. The bill lowers the maximum THC level for medical cannabis to three (3) percent and adds autism spectrum disorders to the list of medical conditions for which medical marijuana may be prescribed. Senators William Ligon, Jr. (R-Brunswick), Dean Burke (R-Bainbridge) and Butch Miller (R-Gainesville) attended the meeting. It heard from five witnesses on the bill.
Rick Ward, Executive Director of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said that his physicians cannot be supportive of autism being included as a condition at this time as no current medical research exists that CBD oil or medical marijuana would address autism spectrum disorder. He did say that such oil would be effective for control of seizures in children with epilepsy.
Virginia Galloway, of the Faith and Human Freedom Coalition, also opposed the inclusion of the autism spectrum disorder as an eligible disease category as this point in time without fuller evidence of efficacy and suggested the Marcus Center should first identify conditions that are shown scientifically to respond to medical cannabis with acceptable side effects.
Let’s Be Clear Georgia also warned against medical cannabis's use by any citizen under age 25 as the frontal lobe development has not been completed until that time and there will could be a loss of IQ as a consequence.
Dale Jackson spoke next. Mr. Jackson explained that he presently treats his son, who has autism, with cannabis oil. His son responded and recognized him for the first time in a long time when he was treated with cannabis oil. He asked that autism be included. He also commented that positive effects such as these outweigh any risk of IQ loss. Another patient urged that the maximum level of THC not be reduced from 5% to 3%.
Dr. Cheda, from the Wellstar Hospice program, testified in his individual capacity as to the positive benefits of use of medical cannabis for autism patients and for hospice patients. After this testimony, Sen. Burke proposed an amendment that limited the use of medical cannabis to patients 18 years of age or older. The bill passed out of Subcommittee by a vote of two to one with Senator Ligon casting the no vote.
Senate Education and Youth Committee
Chairman Lindsey Tippins (R-Marietta) called this meeting to order. The group held hearings on two bills today, including SB 76, by Sen. Ellis Black (R-Valdosta) and SB 97, by Sen. Elena Parent (D-Atlanta). Chairman Tippins indicated that there will be a constitutional amendment required for SB 76 that is being worked on.
Sen. Black presented SB 76 to the Committee. It passed out of the House Committee last session but did not make it to the floor. He indicated that they will need to consider a constitutional amendment to accompany this bill. The companion resolution will be available at the next meeting.
SB 97, by Sen. Parent was up next. She said that her bill addresses low income children by providing their families' with assistance for the costs of child care. The added burden of child care can potentially cost around $7,000 annually, which hinders low income parents. She believes that we need higher percentage of students to earn associates degrees. Students' parents would be able to access the program for the entire length of time it takes for a student to earn an associates degree. Sen. Jesse Stone asked if there was a fiscal note attached to the bill. She indicated that there is no fiscal note. There is a 3-to-1 match with federal dollars for this program. Chairman Tippins asked if this legislation would have an effect on the amount of federal funding the State receives. She indicated that it will not have such an effect. She said that the Governor has recommended around $5.5 million in State funds for this program.
No votes were taken on either of these bills before the Committee was adjourned.
House Insurance Committee
Chairman Richard Smith and his Committee worked swiftly this morning through its agenda.
HB 64, by Rep. Shaw Blackmon (R- Bonaire), cleared with a do pass recommendation by Committee Substitute, which establishes that agents are to be compensated if they provide services to individuals with purchase of insurance. It permits in the Substitute that the Department of Insurance can adopt rules and regulations as necessary. It also will be applicable to policies issued on January 1, 2018 and after. Rep. Sam Teasley (R-Marietta) inquired if this would be necessary if the Affordable Care Act is repealed. Rep. Blackmon really did not respond stating essentially only that the federal law had a life of its own.
HB 74, by Rep. Darlene Taylor (R-Thomasville), also addresses this Department of Insurance initiative. It addresses the risk-based calculation to a more conservative number to better protect consumers. This is really an accreditation issue. It requires carriers to stay in line with others across the country. It will keep Georgia in compliance with the NAIC. This bill also moved to House Rules.
HB 92, by Rep. John Carson (R-MARIETTA), addresses property and casualty insurance so that single and multi-car policies are on the same playing field. It also received a do pass recommendation and now moves to House Rules Committee.
HB 127 was next up and was Chairman Smith's bill. It deletes two obsolete laws - Chapters 18 and 19 of Title 33. The first addresses Blue Cross and the second addresses Blue Shield. Neither law has been used in 50 years. The Committee also moved this forward with a do pass recommendation.
HB 146 was presented in the form of a new Committee Substitute by Rep. Micah Gravley (R-Douglasville). This legislation has struggled to find compromise, but this Committee amended the Substitute and gave it a do pass recommendation. It will allow firefighters to have access to insurance for certain cancer diseases which they have received diagnosed as a part of their jobs. The list of specified diseases is based on other states' laws, research from the Centers for Disease Control, etc. It permits a $25,000 payout and if the disease is a permanent disability there is a 36 month payout with salary protection. The legislation takes into consideration volunteer firefighters. It will not impact firefighters who have their own private policies. Numerous questions were raised - especially in relation to female firefighters and protecting them if they get diseases which impact women such as cervical cancer. They also asked how often this list would be reviewed and updated with new cancers which research indicates are prevalent in firefighters and caused due to the performance of their jobs. Other questions centered on how local governments would handle this - whether to have self-insure for instance. HB 146 got a do pass recommendation, adding cervical cancer to the list of diseases in the Committee Substitute.
House Medical Cannabis Workgroup
This House workgroup is tasked with considering legislation that would expand access to medical cannabis or CBD oil, specifically by expanding the number of acceptable medical conditions. They will also discuss the prospect of in-state cultivation; however those discussions will take place in future meetings.
The main discussion today related to HB 65, by Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon) that would expand current law by adding six additional medical conditions to the list of those able to be prescribed medical CBD oil. It would also remove the in-state qualification from five of the current conditions in law; remove the one-year residency requirement for those seeking to receive such oil in Georgia; and remove the quarterly reporting requirement. This meeting was specifically meant to hear from two different speakers regarding this legislation, as well as some public comment.
The first speaker was Dr. David Bradford, who is the Busbee Chair of Public Policy in the Department of Public Administration and Policy at the Terry College of Business at the University of Georgia. He spoke to the Committee about a study he conducted about the benefits that medical cannabis provides to State economies and how it can reduce the number of opioid-related deaths. His studies have shown that medical cannabis is effective for treating chronic pain in adults, and provides nausea reduction for chemotherapy patients. His data also shows that by adopting medical cannabis laws, States may reduce traffic fatalities by up to 9% and reduce suicides. Such laws are shown to not have an effect on underage drinking or other substance use. More importantly, medical cannabis laws are shown to significantly lower opioid mortality rates. Using data on all prescriptions filled by Medicare Part D enrollees in the U.S. from 2010 to 2013, his data has found that the use of prescription drugs fell significantly once a medical cannabis law was put in place. After reaching those findings, they have expanded their study to look at the effects such laws have on prescription drug spending in Medicaid and Medicare, through 2014. For Medicare Part-D, they found significant effects on Medicare spending for pain, anxiety, depression, nausea, psychosis, seizures, sleep disorders and spasticity. Nationwide, $150 million less Medicare spending occurred due to medical cannabis laws. The size of reductions ranged from 80 daily doses per year to over 1200 daily doses per year. If Georgia had developed a dispensary-based medical cannabis program in 2014, spending would have been $8.59 million less for State fee-for-service Medicaid, $16.63 million less for federal fee-for-service Medicaid, and $13.60 million less for federal Medicare dollars. In addition, developing such a program would significantly reduce the death rate among prescription opioid users.
Many members of the Committee were very interested in this data, especially due to the cost-savings it could provide to the State and the possibility that it could assist in combating the opioid problem. Rep. Stacey Evans asked if Dr. Bradford believes that pharmaceutical companies who manufacture prescription opioid medications have an interest in keeping medical cannabis illegal because it is an alternative to such medications. He said that reporters always ask him this question. He does not know about any specific research, but there is evidence that such manufacturers do donate money to support keeping medical cannabis from being approved. Rep. Allen Peake indicated that they would follow up with Dr. Bradford at a future date for more information. He will likely testify again.
The Committee heard public comment regarding HB 65 from a number of individuals. Rick Ward spoke on behalf of the American Academy of Pediatrics and indicated that they cannot be supportive of autism being included as a condition at this time. No current medical research exists indicating that CBD oil or medical marijuana would address autism spectrum disorder. He did say that such oil would be effective for the control of seizures in children with epilepsy. Dale Jackson spoke next. He illegally treated his son, who has Autism, with cannabis oil. His son responded very positively and recognized him for the first time in a long time when he was treated with cannabis oil. He asked that autism be included as a condition and believes that it works.
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