Gold Dome Report - February 10, 2016
Greetings from the Gold Dome! The State's amended FY 2016 Budget makes its way one step closer to the finish line as the Senate took up HB 750 this morning.
Governor Deal made an announcement that the State will make an additional $70 million investment in two medical schools (Morehouse School of Medicine and Mercer University) as a result of a settlement with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
The House Rules Calendar contained six pieces of legislation.
HB 635 addresses the Probate Courts Retirement Fund and increases the number of years of mandatory contribution to such fund and increases the maximum number of years used to calculate benefits. In current law in O.C.G.A. § 47-11-40(7), it provides that the requirement for dues ceases after the member has paid such dues for a period of 20 years; this legislation moves that to 30 years. Also, it adds a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. § 47-11-43 so that individuals may obtain creditable service for any service in excess of 20 years as a judge of the probate court, employee of the board, or secretary-treasurer but not more than the actual number of years of service or 30 years, whichever is less. The bill came to the House Floor in the form of a Committee Substitute from the House Retirement Committee; it passed 128-28. 17 judges will benefit from this per the bill's author Rep. Bubber Epps (R-Dry Branch). There will be no cost to the State initially with this legislation per the State auditor. Rep. Chuck Martin (R-Alpharetta) asked for some clarification on costs associated with this initiative. Rep. Wendell Willard (R-Sandy Springs) asked about fines received by Probate Court (over $1 million) – does that money stay with the local jurisdictions or is it remitted to the State. It goes to the local governments; thus, there is an expense to the State of more than $400,000 (a contribution from the State to the retirement fund).
HB 659 came to the House Floor in the form of a Committee Substitute from the House Committee on Education. It seeks to address accountability assessment programs and adds a new Part 3A in Article 2 of Chapter 14 of Title 20. It requires that each "local board of education and each State charter school make readily accessible to the public the following school site budget and expenditure information for each school not specifically made confidential by law: (1) the costs of all materials, equipment and other non-staff support; (2) salary and benefit expenditures for all staff; (3) the cost of all professional development, including training, materials, and tuition provided for instructional staff on an annual basis; (4) the total cost of facility maintenance and small capital projects; and (5) the cost of new construction or major renovation reported on a cost-per-square-foot basis, based on the school system facility plan."
HB 840 came to the House Floor also as a Committee Substitute from the House Committee on Game, Fish, and Parks. Rep. Ron Stephens (R-Savannah) presented the proposal. In part of the several revisions to the laws regarding Natural Resources, the legislation re-defines "feral hog" as "any hog which has lived any part of its life in a wild, free-ranging state and is currently in such state or has been taken" in O.C.G.A. § 27-1-2(28). It also adds a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. § 27-2-13.1 so that it makes it unlawful for an individual to keep, hold or possess any wildlife in captivity for film production. The legislation cleared the House with a vote of 155-2.
HB 844, by Rep. Howard Maxwell (R-Dallas), amends the Georgia Firefighters' Pension Fund in O.C.G.A. § 47-7-61(a)(2) and tax on premiums charged by fire insurance companies. It also amends O.C.G.A. § 47-7-124 and adds a venue provision for any action brought in the superior court against this fund or the board – the venue will rest in the superior court of the board's county of domicile. The legislation came to the Floor in a Committee Substitute form and was brought by the Chiefs and Firefighters in addition to the Fund. Property rated less than a class nine would not be subject to the tax. It is a "clean up" bill according to the author. No questions were raised and the legislation passed with a vote of 163-0.
HB 509, by Rep. Jesse Petrea (R-Savannah), establishes a new Article 10 in Chapter 7 of Title 31 and will require that the Department of Community Health implement initiatives to improve quality and delivery of patient-centered and family-focused palliative care in Georgia. Also, it will create a nine-member Georgia Palliative Care and Quality of Life Advisory Council who will be appointed by the Commissioner (experts on palliative care will be on this Council). It came to the House Floor in a Committee Substitute form. It is a priority for the American Cancer Society. It focuses on quality versus quantity of life. Rep. Patty Bentley (D-Reynolds) expressed that she hoped that individuals who live in rural areas of the State were represented on the Council. Rep. Nikki Randall (D-Macon) spoke to the legislation. She supported HB 509 and spoke to her experiences in working directly with long-term care. The Committee Substitute was adopted and then passed with a vote of 138-23.
HB 726, by Rep. Kevin Tanner (R-Dawsonville), adds language in O.C.G.A. § 48-11-2(f), concerning taxes on tobacco products, to clarify certain charges which are not subject to Georgia's excise tax – it states: "if the dealer or distributor separately states the amount of any federal excise tax or shipping charges on the sales invoice for the tobacco product, such amount shall not be taxed pursuant to this chapter." Twenty-three percent on cigars and little cigars is now imposed. There was a question from Rep. Lee Hawkins (R-Gainesville) – paid upon invoice receipt and not the sale. The legislation passed with a vote of 163-0.
HB 659 was presented by Rep. Dave Belton (R-Buckhead). It proposes in O.C.G.A. § 20-14-45 to require transparency in education so that local educations will be required to disclose what is being spent on education. Every Student Succeeds Act (which supersedes No Child Left Behind) will require this financial data. PAGE and Georgia Chamber of Commerce both support this legislation. The Department of Education is supposed to provide additional education and training and there is a one-year implementation time for this disclosure to occur. A substitute from the Committee was adopted and the legislation passed with a vote of 162-0.
HB 870, which was originally on the Rules Calendar for February 9 and was postponed until today, was taken up. It is an education bill and was presented by Rep. Brian Strickland (R-McDonough). It permits two schools to play in an event; it places the decision with local schools and they can enter into an agreement to do so. It adds language in O.C.G.A. § 20-2-316.3. It also addresses religious expression and safety of players. Rep. Tommy Benton (R-Jefferson) asked about religious items/expression and the wearing of headbands. Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon) also commended the efforts of Rep. Strickland. He commented on recent actions taken by GSHA but they are not final "actions." The GSHA's actions were taken in a Committee meeting on the same day that this legislation was in Committee. Rep. Chuck Martin (R-Alpharetta) asked for clarification on the event which caused the legislation; it dealt with the disqualification of a runner who wore a headband with some sort of insignia. It is not illegal to wear a headband but because the headband had some sort of insignia/language it was illegal. This legislation clarifies all of that per Rep. Strickland. Rep. Tom Dickson (R-Cohutta) asked about lines 27-29 and competitions with other schools – does it limit to scrimmage or others or does it envision full competition? It permits the schools to play and they get to choose the type of game that they wish to play. Rep. Demetrius Douglas (D-Stockbridge) asked about lines 19-25 – it does not impact national events. Rep. Mike Dudgeon (R-Johns Creek) explained the vetting that was done on this legislation; there are seven pages in the rule books about uniforms. There are narrow exceptions in every sport on what can be permitted (on logo/writing on equipment). Chairman Brooks Coleman (R-Duluth) also spoke on the legislation; they met with the Georgia High School Association and their attorneys for hours on this issue. The Georgia High School Association will still govern. It provides local control for the schools. HB 870 passed with a vote of 136-25.
This morning, the Senate addressed two items.
HB 750, the State's Amended FY 2016 Budget, was presented by Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee Jack Hill (R-Reidsville). He indicated that a majority of the increase in funding is a result of proceeds from HB 170, the major transportation bill which was passed last session. Once it passed the Senate, it was immediately transmitted back to the House.
The other legislation was SB 262 which addresses judges and grand jurors' disqualifications. It amends three Code Sections O.C.G.A. § 15-1-8(a)(2) relating to when a judge or judicial officer is disqualified and requires the judge to do so if related by consanguinity or affinity within the fourth degree as computed according to the civil law to any party interested in the result of the case or matter. Current law is sixth degree. Also, it amends O.C.G.A. § 15-12-70, regarding disqualification for relationship to an interested party for grand jurors and also establishes that they must be disqualified if related by consanguinity or affinity to any party in the result within the fourth degree – again, current law is the sixth degree. Finally, it makes the same amendment and requirement for all trial jurors in Georgia courts at O.C.G.A. § 15-12-135(a). Sen. Jesse Stone presented the legislation and it was then passed by a vote of 47-1.
HB 969, by Rep. Tom Taylor (R-Dunwoody), seeks to add a new subsection (g) at O.C.G.A. § 20-2-161 so as to allow that the allotment of funds provided to the county school system, of any county having, in addition to the county school system, one or more independent school systems, shall be reduced in each fiscal year by the amount of ad valorem taxes collected on behalf of such county school system in the preceding year attributable to that part of such county school system's millage rate in excess of 20 mills.
HB 970, by Rep. Eddie Lumsden (R-Armuchee), addresses fire protection and safety in Title 25. Part of the revisions include: O.C.G.A. § 25-3-22 requires that for a fire department to be legally organized to operate in the State, the chief administrative officer of the fire department notify and submit all required documentation to the executive director that demonstrates that the organization meets the minimum requirements specified in Code Section 25-3-23 and the rules and regulations of the Georgia Firefighter Standards and Training Council. It further states that if the executive director is satisfied that the fire department meets the minimum requirements, then the executive director is to recommend that a certificate of compliance be issued by the council to that fire department. It adds a definition for the term "recruit" in O.C.G.A. § 25-4-2(8.1) which means essentially a prospective firefighter who has not been certified or registered by the council.
HB 971, by Rep. Tommy Benton (R-Jefferson), adds a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. § 49-1-8 to authorize the Department of Human Services to provide the same medical assistance and health insurance coverages to kinship caregivers for the children in their care that are provided to foster parents and the children in their care. It would be at the same rate, for the same periods of time, and under the same conditions for kinship caregivers and the children in their care as they are to any foster parent or parents or the children in their care.
HB 972, by Rep. Taylor Bennett (D-Brookhaven), creates a new Chapter 5A in Title 34 to be known as the "Georgia Pregnant Workers Fairness Act." It establishes definitions in O.C.G.A. § 34-5A-3 and at O.C.G.A. § 34-5A-4 it states that it will "constitute an unfair employment practice for an employer, unless such employer can demonstrate that an undue hardship on such employer's program, enterprise, or business would result, to:
(1) Not make reasonable accommodations to job applicants or employees for circumstances related to pregnancy, childbirth, or related conditions, including but not limited to the need to express breast milk for a nursing child, if the job applicant or employee so requests;
(2) Take adverse action against an employee who requests or uses an accommodation, including, but not limited to, failing to reinstate such employee to such employee's original job or to an equivalent position with equivalent pay and accumulated seniority, retirement, fringe benefits, and other applicable service credits when such employee's need for reasonable accommodations ceases;
(3) Deny employment opportunities to an otherwise qualified job applicant or employee, if such denial is based on the need of the employer to make reasonable accommodations to such job applicant or employee for circumstances related to pregnancy, childbirth, or related conditions;
(4) Require a job applicant or employee affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related conditions to accept an accommodation that such job applicant or employee chooses not to accept; or
(5) Require an employee to take leave if another reasonable accommodation can be provided to such employee for circumstances related to pregnancy, childbirth, or related conditions.
Further, it requires that the employer engage in a timely and interactive process with the job applicant or employee to determine "reasonable accommodations." It also has a notice (which has to be written) that the employer is to provide to be free from discrimination in relation to pregnancy, childbirth and related conditions. It places the burden to prove undue hardship on the employer in O.C.G.A. § 34-5A-5. At O.C.G.A. § 34-5A-6, it permits an aggrieved individual to institute a civil action and that the court may grant relief as it deems appropriate, any permanent or temporary injunction, temporary restraining order or other order – which could include the hiring/reinstatement of the individual and back pay as well as court costs and attorney's fees to the prevailing party. The Department of Labor is mandated to develop instruction to inform employers, employees, employment agencies and job applicants about their rights under this new Chapter.
HB 973, by Rep. Christian Coomer (R-Cartersville), is the annual permitting and regulation of tow truck drivers by regulating them through the Department of Public Safety. It adds a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. § 40-1-9 and defines "towing service provider" as any "person or company utilizing a vehicle to tow disabled, damaged, abandoned, or wrecked vehicles at the request of the vehicle owner or law enforcement in exchange for a fee." The permits will permit these services to be used on the State's interstate system from 12 months from the date they are issued and will have an annual fee not to exceed $200.00.
HB 974, by Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver (D-Decatur), addresses applications for driver's licenses or instructional permits for minors. In particular, it addresses situations where children are in State custody or control. Code Section 40-5-26 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated, relating to applications of minors, is amended by revising subparagraph (a)(1)(A) as follows:
Signed and verified by the father, mother, or guardian of the applicant before a person authorized to administer oaths, or, in the event there is no parent or guardian, by another responsible adult, or for an applicant committed to the care, custody, or control of the Department of Human Services, by an employee of the Division of Family and Children Services of the Department of Human Services, an employee of a child-caring institution or a group-care facility, as such terms are defined in Code Section 49-5-3, or a caregiver, as such term is defined in Code Section 49-5-3.
It also provides immunity for individuals who sign an application for an instructional permit or driver's license for a minor in O.C.G.A. § 51-1-55. This includes individuals who are employees of DFCS, a child-caring institution, or a group-care facility or a caregiver who is under contract with DHS who makes a "careful and sensible decision that maintains the safety and best interests of a minor."
HB 975, by Rep. Jason Shaw (R-Lakeland), revises Georgia's Insurance Code and specifically O.C.G.A. § 33-10-13 to provide for updates to the standard valuation law as it relates to the reserve requirements for companies allowed to opt out of the principal-based reserves standards. It permits them to hold reserves based on mortality tables and interest rates defined by the valuation manual for net premium reserves and using the methodologies described in O.C.G.A. § 33-10-13(g) through (m) as they apply to ordinary life insurance in lieu of the reserves required in O.C.G.A. §33-10-13(o) and (p) under certain conditions (for instance the insurer is a member of a group of life insurers and they have combined premiums less than $600 million).
HB 976, by Rep. Bill Hitchens (R-Rincon), addresses the minimum retention periods for video recordings from law enforcement surveillance devices, law enforcement body-worn devices or devices located on or inside of a law enforcement vehicle. These requirements are outlined in O.C.G.A. § 50-18-96. Video recordings from law enforcement surveillance devices are to be retained for 30 days (with some exceptions). Video recordings from law enforcement body-worn devices or devices located on or inside of a law enforcement vehicle are to be retained 180 days from the date of the recording (with some exceptions). The Code Section does not require destruction of the video recording after the required retention period. It adds in (g) that the governing body or law enforcement officer "shall not have a duty to redact or obscure people, objects, or information that appear in a video recording from any law enforcement surveillance device, law enforcement body-worn device, or device located on or inside of a law enforcement vehicle, nor shall such body or officer have any civil liability for such depiction." Also it adds a $12.00 fee for any copying of the video recordings.
HB 977, by Rep. Matt Ramsey (R-Peachtree City), adds a new Article 3 in Chapter 3 of Title 20 to limit yearly tuition and student fee increases within Georgia's university system. It requires that no later than April 1 of each year that the Georgia Student Finance Commission is to publish and certify to the Board of Regents and the governing board for each institution in the university system the rate of inflation to be used for calculating maximum allowable tuition rates and student fees for the upcoming academic year in O.C.G.A. § 20-3-101. There is a waiver of the maximum tuition or student fees permitted for any academic year for any institution within the system; it outlines the process to be completed prior to July 1 of the preceding academic year in O.C.G.A. § 20-3-103. The bill does have a Constitutional Amendment requirement so that it would not become law unless ratified by the voters in November.
HB 979, by Rep. Johnnie Caldwell, Jr. (R-Thomaston), addresses assault and battery and related offenses in Title 16. It increases the punishment for aggravated assault and aggravated battery committed upon hospital emergency department personnel and emergency medical services personnel (not less than five nor more than 20 years imprisonment) in O.C.G.A. § 16-5-21(n) and O.C.G.A. 16-5-24(i).
HR 1326, by Rep. Matt Ramsey (R-Peachtree City), is the Constitutional Amendment for HB 977 concerning tuition and fee increases within the University System of Georgia. It proposes language at Article VIII, Section IV, Paragraph I at subparagraph (g).
HR 1334, by Rep. Stacey Abrams (D-Atlanta), honors kinship caregivers in Georgia who take care of children in their care.
SB 357, by Sen. Michael Williams (R-Cumming), addresses elementary and secondary education in O.C.G.A. § 20-2-49 and revises provisions relating to standards for local board of education members. It in part addresses motivation to serve as a member of a local board of education. Current motivation includes improving schools and his bill adds that it should include maintaining accreditation, the academic achievement of all students, and the effective representation of parents and other constituents' interests in the operation of the local school system. Further, it permits the local board of education the ability to create a code of conduct and conflict of interest policy "by which each member should abide, provided that no such code of conduct or conflict of interest policy may interfere with a member's right to free speech under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article I, Section I, Paragraph V of the Georgia Constitution." It eliminates in O.C.G.A. § 20-2-51(e)(2) the current requirement for local board of education members to annually disclose compliance with the State Board of Education's policy on training for members of local boards of education, the code of ethics of the local board of education and the conflict of interest provisions. It further amends O.C.G.A. § 20-2-72, regarding the code of ethics for local board of education members, and strikes current law regarding the local board's adoption of a code of ethics after three months from when the State Board of Education has adopted its model code of ethics. It further strips out, in O.C.G.A. § 20-2-230(b), current requirement for the State Board of education to adopt a training program for members of local boards of education.
SB 366, by Sen. Steve Gooch (R-Dahlonega), amends O.C.G.A. § 50-22-7 and adds a new subsection (e) to provide for an alternative selection process for the Department of Transportation (DOT) for professional services. This is written into the exemptions from requirements of State agencies relative to the selection of and award of contracts with providers of professional services. It allows DOT to select three or more persons qualified to provide professional services for a project and accept proposals of the cost to provide such professional services from such persons. Once DOT receives the proposals, the Department may enter into a contract with the person who submitted the lowest priced proposal or negotiate a lower contract price with such person. If no contract is entered with the person who submitted the lowest price, then DOT may attempt to enter into a contract with the person who submitted the next lowest price proposal.
SB 368, by Sen. Michael Rhett (D-Marietta), seeks to add a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. § 49-4-158, regarding Georgia's Medicaid program, to allow for a program of premium assistance to enable eligible individuals the ability to obtain healthcare coverage. This coverage would be provided to individuals between ages 19 and 65; have incomes that equal or are less than 138 percent of the federal poverty level, including individuals who would not be eligible for Medicaid in Georgia; has been authenticated as a United States citizen or documented qualified alien; and has not been determined to be more effectively covered through other public assistance programs for healthcare needs (such as those who are medically frail or have exceptional medical needs). It requires that the department create and administer a program to provide premium assistance to enable these eligible individuals to enroll in a qualified health plan through an exchange (as defined in O.C.G.A. § 33-23-201) and pay premiums and supplemental cost-sharing subsidies directly to providers of qualified health plans for enrolled individuals. It requires the eligible individual who enrolls in the qualified health plan contribute not more than five (5) percent of his or her annual income as a "personal responsibility premium" and the Department would set up a sliding scale for such responsibility based on income and ability to pay. There is a process by which a person would be "disenrolled." The Department is also required to work with healthcare providers, qualified health plans and other State agencies to create processes to reduce the amount of uncollected personal responsibility premiums and reduce administrative costs for collecting such. It further requires the State to submit any Medicaid state plan amendments necessary and apply for any federal waivers to implement this program. It requires the Department to terminate the program within 120 days after a reduction of certain specified federal medical percentages (one hundred percent in 2017; ninety-five percent in 2018; ninety-four percent in 2019; and ninety percent in 2021 or any year after 2021). It requires healthcare coverage be achieved through a qualified health plan at the "silver level" as outlined in federal law. Eligible individuals who are enrolled are to affirmatively acknowledge that the program is: (1) not a perpetual, guaranteed entitlement; (2) subject to cancellation upon notice; and (3) not an entitlement program. It requires the Department to develop a model for CMS approval and to allow a limited number of enrollees to participate in a pilot. A Legislative Oversight Committee for Health Care Premium Assistance is also to be created with eight persons; this Committee is to periodically inquire into and review the implementation and operation of this program.
SB 364, by Sen. Lindsey Tippins (R-Marietta), is a series of changes proposed in the Quality Basic Education Act to address annual teacher, principal, and assistant principal evaluations and to revise laws regarding student assessments. The amendments are in part made in O.C.G.A. § 20-2-210(b). The current law permits the State Board to define and designate teachers of record, assistant principals and principals. This adds that such is provided; however, "that growth in student achievement shall not include the test scores of any student who has not been in attendance for a specific course for at least 80 percent of the instructional days for such course." It establishes that for local school systems which are not under a flexibility contract, that they must follow certain evaluation measurements. It requires that teachers of record, assistant principals, and principals be evaluated using "multiple, rigorous, and transparent measures" and that beginning in the school year 2016-2017 that these individuals are to be provided written notice of the evaluation measures and specific indicators that will be used in their evaluations. Those systems which are under a flexibility contract have evaluation measurements elements defined. Changes are also made to student assessments at O.C.G.A. § 20-2-281 – in part it requires the student assessment program include "a comprehensive summative assessment program for grades three through 12. In addition, each local school system shall administer, with State funding, a research-based formative assessment with a summative component that is tied to performance indicators in English and language arts/reading in grades one and two, subject to available appropriations." There are further requirements for later grades included.
Senate Higher Education Committee
Chairman Fran Millar (R-Atlanta) called this meeting to order. The committee took up SB 329 today, which relates to dual credit and HOPE Scholarship eligibility. Before proceeding, Chairman Millar announced that a study committee will be formed with a focus on tuition increases and funding.
SB 329 (LC 3364416) was presented to the Committee by Chairman Lindsey Tippins (R-Marietta) which deals with dual-credit enrollment and eligibility requirements for the HOPE Scholarship program. It seeks to address two issues. First, it addresses the current push to encourage expansion of curriculum in schools. Second, it addresses HOPE scholarship eligibility, which needs to be addressed due to the lack of available funding sources. This bill would also allow a student with a high school diploma to meet the rigorous requirements currently set for HOPE.
Senate Health and Human Services
The Committee took up two bills. Sen. Larry Walker (R-Perry) presented his first bill, SB 337. It permits dependents of military service personnel to remain eligible for medical assistance and disability services in certain circumstances if they have left Georgia due to their parent or spouse serving on active duty and to not be disqualified because of temporary absence from Georgia. The bill does not permit Georgia payments for waiver services while the eligible person is out of Georgia unless federal law otherwise permits that. The bill sailed through Committee and the Committee congratulated new Sen. Walker.
Next, the Committee considered SB 319 by Sen. Lester Jackson (D-Savannah) and passed it on a tie vote that Committee Sen. Unterman broke to send the bill to the Rules Committee. The bill amends the definition of professional counseling in O.C.G.A. 43-10A to add an authorization to diagnose mental and emotional problems for counselors who have experience and training in treating mental illnesses and disabilities. Sen. Jackson labeled the bill as one not changing any existing scope of practice, but as necessary to keep counseling practices in business because insurance companies were refusing to pay for services unless counselors had a power to diagnose in their scope of practice. He introduced Savannah counselor Dr. Tommy Black who supported the bill and runs a large practice in Savannah whose claims had been audited by Amerigroup. He also testified that Tricare and the Department of Defense were changing their reimbursement rules to require a diagnosis of medical necessity before paying for counseling services. He testified that the bill was necessary to assure rural access to services for Medicaid patients in areas that did not have sufficient psychologists of LCSWs to evaluate and diagnose patients. Representatives of the Georgia Psychological Association and National Association of Social Workers Georgia Chapter testified against the bill because the training currently required for diagnosing mental illnesses for professional counselors is not as intense as that for the other mental health professionals. The representative of the psychologists also urged that the definition of psychological testing be inserted in the statute before diagnostic powers were granted to professional counselors and that more graduate level training should be required before a counselor is authorized. The lobbyist for the marriage and family therapists testified for the bill, as did a counselor who previously worked for DBHDD, and urged that the Georgia settlement agreement with the federal Department of Justice would be disrupted if counselors did not have diagnostic authority. The witnesses were extensively questioned by Senators Orrock, Hufstetler, Butler and Kirk. Sen. Orrock urged that the bill be held for a week to push a compromise among the counselors and psychologists. The Chair called for a vote, but indicated she would consider the compromise evolving in the House.
House Insurance Committee
Chair Richard Smith (R-Columbus) convened an early morning meeting Wednesday, February 10 to hear five bills, which all passed. Rep. Joyce Chandler (R-Grayson) presented HB 555 that requires the juvenile courts to report annually to the Administrative Offices of the Courts the number of petitions by women under 18 seeking approval of abortions without parental or guardian approval and the disposition of the cases. The collection of results would not contain names of the petitioners and would be destroyed at the end of six months after reporting. There was spirited and emotional discussion of the need for the bill, but it passed by voice vote with one dissent.
Rep. Darlene Taylor (R-Thomasville) presented three bills that change financial reporting requirements in the current Insurance Code to comply with new NAIC standards: HB 882, HB 883, and HB 884. These bills help avoid duplicate filings by insurers in other states because the Georgia standards are not in compliance with the NAIC standards used by other states. HB 882 relates to securities that may be held by insurers for investment, HB 883 to capital reserve requirements, and HB 884 adds a broader definition of a health care organization who must report to the Commissioner of Insurance.
The Committee next held a spirited discussion of HB 838 brought by Rep. Shaw Blackmon(R-Bonaire) relating to mandatory insurance broker commissions on health insurance exchange commissions. The bill is vigorously supported by House Rules Chair John Meadows (R-Cartersville) who wishes to backstop reductions in broker commissions for the less expensive ACA exchange products that smaller companies seek. It applies to health insurance products sold to companies with fewer than 50 employees. He and Rep. Blackmon presented the bill as protecting struggling small businesses, namely smaller insurance agencies who are helping companies shop for the best coverage. The substitute bill establishes a minimum 5% commission on the cost of the policy to the insured, but exempts policies sold during special enrollment periods (following disqualification of an insured from coverage under ERISA and ACA) from the requirement. The mandate does not base the commission on the cost of the policy including any subsidy provided by the federal government. There were numerous questions about the practices off the health insurance industry in regard to commissions, but the bill readily passed by unanimous voice vote, under the diligent tutelage of the Rules Committee Chair.
House Judiciary Non-Civil
This Committee took up HB 827, which addresses the large amount of untested rape kits that are still on shelves throughout the State. This bill was supported by victims' rights advocates and the Georgia Hospital Association. Rep. Scott Holcomb (D-Atlanta) presented the bill. Section B requires law enforcement to retrieve rape kits within 48 hours of when they are taken. Kits must be transferred to GBI within 30 days of receipt. Chairman BJ Pak (R-Lilburn) indicated that the statute of limitations relating to the length of time kits may be held could be addressed next session.
This bill also requires law enforcement to keep a log of all kits received and requires the GBI to create a report to be shared with the General Assembly which reports on the number of outstanding rape kits. This bill does not require kits be tested and that decision will be left up to the GBI. Without opposition, HB 827 received a do-pass recommendation.
Special Joint Committee on Revenue Structure
This committee was created through the passage of HB 170, the Transportation Funding Act which was signed by the Governor last year. The Committee is composed of 14 members, which includes 4 House members and 4 Senate Members. Additionally, the Lieutenant Governor and the Speaker are each given authority to appoint three members to the committee. There were no House members in attendance at this meeting. Sen. Judson Hill (R-Marietta) will serve as the Chairman of the committee.
The purpose of today's meeting was to hear a presentation from Professor Robert Bushman with the Fiscal Research Center at Georgia State University. Unfortunately, the Senate Rules Committee was meeting and so Mr. Bushman's remarks had to be cut short. He did speak on SR 756, which sets prioritized funding requirements and grants the General Assembly the authority to appropriate those funds. It sets specific triggers so that when the State's general fund exceeds $23 billion and general reserve fund holds at least 7 percent of that amount, the State income tax shall decrease by .2 percent. The next trigger kicks in once the general fund exceeds $23.6 billion dollars. The income tax would be reduced by .2 percent until it reaches the 5 percent minimum. Mr. Bushman indicated that, based on projected revenues, the cost would be $263 million in total. Assuming the first trigger is reached for FY 18, there should be a $470 million impact by 2020.
Mr. Bushman also indicated a few problems the General Assembly may encounter if it moves forward with SR 756. If the 2nd trigger is reached earlier than expected, it could cause a shortfall in State revenues. Also, he warned that if the targeted trigger is reached by only a small margin and then the United States goes into another recession, it would have a major negative impact on State revenues since revenues generated through the State income tax would be reduced moving forward. Additionally, if the State faces a slow economy or it allows for more tax cuts, it will take longer to reach the targeted trigger than originally expected.
Chairman Hill thanked Mr. Bushman for his work and then adjourned the Committee.
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