Gold Dome Report - February 11, 2016
The Capitol was swarming with visitors again today. Persons with disabilities, dental hygiene students and individuals from rural hospitals were among the many visitors packing the halls.
It is now "half time!" Today was the 20th legislative day; lawmakers return to the Capitol on Tuesday, February 16, 2016, to tackle the second half of this year's legislative session.
The Senate had four pieces of legislation on the Rules calendar for today (SB 115, SB 158, and SB 271); however, the Senate only had enough time to debate SB 308, by Senator Renee Unterman (R-Buford). This bill would provide grant funding to organizations known as 'pregnancy resource centers' which provide pregnancy services to women seeking positive alternatives to abortion. The Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) would oversee the program. Sen. Unterman gave a passionate defense of funding such organizations. She recounted her own personal experience of having to give up a baby for adoption and argued that these programs encourage women to have a safe birth.
The bill faced opposition by Senate Democrats, who argued that grant funding should also be provided to pregnancy resource organizations that provide abortions. Sen. Unterman was opposed to any amendments addressing this.
Senator Elena Parent (D-Atlanta) expressed concern that there is no requirement that these pregnancy resource centers or their staffs be licensed physicians. She also pointed to current federal legislation targeting women's health clinics that are accused of false advertising. These clinics allegedly advertise themselves as providers of abortions, even though many do not provide those services and actively advocate against abortions. Sen. Unterman indicated that this federal legislation is biased and is part of the ongoing controversy over Planned Parenthood.
After some deliberation, Sen. Nan Orrock (D-Atlanta) offered an amendment that would have required these facilities to be supervised by a licensed physician. Her amendment failed to be adopted. Sen. Parent offered her amendment that would have DPH promulgate rules to prohibit false advertising for abortion services when such services are not actually provided. This amendment also failed to be adopted. SB 308 passed on the Senate Floor as a committee substitute, by a vote of 38-16.
Due to a lack of available time, the Senate adjourned before considering the other bills. They will reconvene on Tuesday, February 16 at 10:00 am.
The House passed eight pieces of legislation today:
HB 193, by Rep. Carl Rogers (R-Gainesville), is known as the 'Life Insurance Consumer Disclosure Model Act'. It provides that no insurer shall penalize an agent for advising a policy holder of the living benefits contained in a life insurance policy. It passed by a vote of 157-0.
HB 219, by Rep. Jeff Jones (R-Brunswick), exempts private swimming pools, including pools in apartment complexes, country clubs, subdivisions, condominium associations, town homes, and time shares from health inspections by the Department of Public Health. It also states that a resident, member, or the owner of such private pool may request an inspection at any time for informational purposes only. This bill passed by committee substitute by a vote of 152-8.
HB 757, by Rep. Kevin Tanner (R-Dawsonville), is known as the 'Pastor Protection Act'. This bill came as a response to the controversy over SB 129, by Sen. Josh McKoon. It provides for ministerial protections for religious clergy in the State. Specifically, it provides that such clergy shall not be required to solemnize any marriage that would be in violation of his or her right to freely exercise religion, under the United States or Georgia Constitutions. Any refusal would not give rise to a cause of action. It also prohibits any business from being compelled to work on Saturdays or Sundays. It further exempts religious organizations from being required to rent or lease property space to be used for purposes that are objectionable to such religious organization. There were a number of folks who spoke to this proposal. Rep. Kevin Cooke (R-Carrollton) stood before colleagues as a son of a pastor and the grandson of a pastor. He explained that the legislation creates classes and does not protect all classes. Rep. Randy Nix (R-LaGrange) also rose, with mixed emotions, in support of the legislation and expressed that he is dismayed that the State needs to provide such faith community protections from overreaching government. Rep. Paul Battles (R-Cartersville) also spoke to the legislation as did Rep. Ed Setzler (R-Acworth). Rep. Al Williams (D-Midway) also took the Well to speak and expressed the need to have "freedom of the pulpit." HB 757 passed by a vote of 161-0.
HB 769, by Rep. Lee Hawkins (R-Gainesville), provides a permanent ad valorem tax exemption for watercraft held in inventory by a dealer for sale or resale, by removing the sunset provision set to expire on December 31, 2019.
HB 811, by Rep. Bruce Williamson (R-Monroe), makes various changes to Title 7 so as to revise the powers of the Department of Banking and Finance. It passed by a vote of 161-1.
HB 821, by Rep. Al Williams (D-Midway), requires professional licensing boards to implement a process by which military spouses and transitioning service members may qualify for temporary licenses, licenses by endorsement, expedited licenses, or a combination of these for each profession, business, or trade for which a license is issued. It passed by a vote of 164-0.
HB 822, by Rep. Christian Coomer (R-Cartersville), revises the definition under the 'energy used in agriculture tax exemption' by updating the obsolete reference to 'prepaid "state" tax' to 'prepaid tax.' Rep. Coomer explained that this legislation clears up ambiguity in the law which was created by the passage last year of HB 170. This bill passed by a vote of 154-0.
HR 1198, by Rep. Lynn Smith (R-Newnan), encourages the Environmental Protection Division to review its current regulations regarding aquifer storage and recovery to ensure they are sufficient and to revise those rules if necessary. This resolution was adopted by a vote of 161-0.
HB 981, by Rep. Jay Powell (R-Camilla), amends O.C.G.A. § 48-5-41, to provide that for-profit corporations that participate in the indirect ownership of a home for the mentally disabled for primarily financial purposes, shall not operate to disqualify such home for a property tax exemption.
HB 997, by Rep. Geoff Duncan (R-Cumming), amends O.C.G.A. § 48-7-27 by deleting an income tax deduction for physicians serving as community based faculty physicians. It also creates a new income tax credit for licensed physicians, advanced practice registered nurses, or physician assistants who provide uncompensated preceptorship training to medical students. A community based faculty preceptor would see a $10,000 income tax credit when he or she conducts at least three preceptorship rotations in a year. This credit shall be accrued for preceptors who are physicians on a per preceptorship rotation basis in the amount of $1,000 per rotation. For preceptors who are advanced practice registered nurses or physician's assistants, the credit shall be $750 per rotation. This program shall be administered by the statewide Area Health Education Centers Program Office at Augusta University. The preceptor would claim the credit on his or her tax return for the current year and shall submit any documentation required by the commissioner. The total amount of this credit shall not exceed the taxpayer's income tax liability.
HB 999, by Rep. Darlene Taylor (R-Thomasville), amends O.C.G.A. § 49-5-12, to require child welfare agencies that are licensed in other states to also be licensed in Georgia in order to engage in placement activities in Georgia. This includes any child welfare agency in another state that solicits, advertises, or contacts residents of this state via the Internet and that attempts to engage in placement activities with those residents. Agencies found in violation of this code section would be guilty of a misdemeanor and would be punished by a fine of between $500 and $1,000 for each offense.
HB 1000, by Rep. Darlene Taylor (R-Thomasville), amends Article 1 of Chapter 18 of Title 45, by adding a new code section at 45-18-6.1 which would provide for an annual independent audit of pharmacy benefits managers. Under this new code section, an independent entity would perform an annual audit of the claims processing of pharmacy benefit managers who are contracted to provide pharmacy claims processing for the state health insurance plan. Notwithstanding code section 45-18-19, such pharmacy benefits managers would be required to make all claim forms and other records available to this independent entity. Any pharmacy benefits manager found in violation would become ineligible to contract with the board in the future.
HB 1005, by Rep. Jay Powell (R-Camilla), relates to joint county and municipal sales and use tax. It is to lengthen the period before such tax can be reimposed after it is not extended. It establishes a new subsection (c) in O.C.G.A. § 48-8-85.
- If the governing authority of a county or qualified municipality located wholly or partially within a special district in which a joint county and municipal sales and use tax was imposed on or prior to July 1, 2016, allows the tax to be discontinued due to the failure to file a new or revised certificate with the commissioner in accordance with the provisions of O.C.G.A. § 48-8-89 or 48-8-89.1, the question of the imposition of the tax shall not again be submitted to the voters of the special district until after five years immediately following the month in which the collection of the previously levied joint county and municipal sales and use tax was discontinued.
- If the governing authority of any county or qualified municipality located wholly or partially within a special district in which a joint county and municipal sales and use tax was imposed on or prior to July 1, 2016 allows that tax to be discontinued due to the failure to file a new or revised certificate with the commissioner in accordance with the provisions of Code Section 48-8-89 or 48-8-89.1, the question of the imposition of a tax under the provisions of Article 2A of this chapter shall not again be submitted to the voters of the special district until after five years immediately following the month in which the collection of the previously levied joint county and municipal sales and use tax was discontinued.
- In any county or qualified municipality located wholly or partially within a special district in which a joint county and municipal sales and use tax was imposed on or prior to July 1, 2016, which tax was later discontinued due to the failure to file a new or revised certificate with the commissioner (per O.C.G.A. § 48-8-89 o4 48-8-89.1), the board of education may choose to levy a second sales tax for educational purposes pursuant to Article VIII, Section VI, Paragraph V of the Constitution.
This legislation places (c)(3) on the ballot to be approved in November; if it is approved by the voters, it becomes effective January 1, 2017. If rejected by the voters, then (c)(3) will be repealed. See also HR 1344 (below) which is the accompanying Resolution for the Constitutional Amendment.
HB 1006, by Rep. David Clark (R-Buford), addresses the "Georgia State Nutrition Assistance Program ("SNAP")" and makes several proposed changes:
- O.C.G.A. § 2-17-5, concerning SNAP and annual reports, eliminates the requirement to include the dollar value of Georgia products distributed, the number of people and households served in each county, and the type and weight of food purchased. Now, an entity with which the Department has contracted for the operation of the program will submit, within 90 days of the conclusion of the State's fiscal year, an annual report which fully accounts for and specifies the expenditure of funds made pursuant to the program. It then requires, within 180 days of the end of the State's fiscal year that the Commissioner submit an annual report to the Governor, President of the Senate and Speaker of the House of Representatives which is to include "information concerning the operation of the program for the preceding fiscal year; the quantity and dollar value of the Georgia products distributed; the number of people and households served in each county; the mean, median, and mode of the amount of time program participants are provided assistance; the number of program participants who concurrently received other types of public assistance and the types of public assistance; and the type and weight of food purchased."
- Adds a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. § 2-17-5.1, adding a definition for "sanction" and establishing that a program participant is to be subject to sanction for failing to comply with the State plan should there be a violation of personal responsibility or work participation requirement – providing an exception that a single custodial parent with a child under 12 months of age may be exempt from any work participation requirement until adequate care is available; except for violations of this chapter which result in the program participant no longer being eligible for assistance, violates any other term or condition specified in the federal Social Security Act, the state plan, or the rules and regulations of the board; or fails to pay child support.
- Establishes in O.C.G.A. § 2-17-5.2 that no later than January 1, 2017, the Department procure and enter into a competitively bid contract with a contractor to provide verification of initial and ongoing eligibility data for assistance under the program. The contractor, after completing eligibility data verification, is to notify the department of the results, except that the contractor shall not verify the eligibility of persons residing in long-term care facilities whose income and resources were at or below the applicable financial eligibility standards at the time of their last review. Within 20 business days of the notification, the Department is to make an eligibility determination and it retains authority over such determinations. Within 30 days of the calendar year, the Department and contractor are to file a joint report (with Governor, President of Senate and Speaker of the House) containing the number of applicants and program participants determined ineligible for assistance programs based on eligibility data verification by the contractor and the reasons for the determination of ineligibility.
- Amends O.C.G.A. § 49-4-182(b) so that current lifetime cash assistance is amended so that rather than 48 months, assistance would be limited to 12 months (whether or not consecutive).
- Amends O.C.G.A. § 49-4-185(a) and defines that "sanction" is a 100 percent (not 25 percent) reduction of any cash assistance provided.
- Two new Code Sections are added at O.C.G.A. § 49-4-194 and O.C.G.A. § 49-4-195 and these address eligibility data assistance for the Georgia TANF Program and essentially mirror changes made in O.C.G.A. § 2-17-5 and O.C.G.A. § 2-17-5.1 above.
- The last change is revising O.C.G.A. § 50-27-29, lottery for education, so that the corporation provide to the Departments of Human Services and Agriculture monthly written reports no later than the 20th day of each month listing the names, addresses, and winning amounts of all individuals who during the prior calendar month claimed winnings in excess of $1,000.00. The written reports generated are to retain their confidentiality and be used only in the administration of public benefits.
HB 1009, by Rep. John Carson (R-Marietta), proposes to amend the Cobb County Act to consolidate the offices of the tax collector and tax receiver into one office of tax commissioner of Cobb County and change the compensation of some employees of that office.
HB 1013, by Rep. Chuck Efstration (R-Dacula), addresses elementary and secondary education and proposes substantive revisions to the "Georgia Special Needs Scholarship Program" in Article 33 of Chapter 2 of Title 20. Some of the revisions include
- Moves the oversight of this program from the Department of Education to the Office of Student Achievement.
- Establishes a definition in O.C.G.A. § 20-2-2112(10) for the term, "scholarship funds" to mean the "funds awarded on behalf of scholarship student."
- It eliminates the requirement for the resident school system to provide specific written notice of the options available under the article to the parent at the initial Individualized Education Program meeting in which a disability of the parent's child is identified. Rather, the resident school system is to notify prior to the beginning of each school year the parent of a student with a disability by letter, electronic means, or such other reasonable means in a timely manner of the options available to the parent. See O.C.G.A. § 20-2-2113(a). It further requires in (b) of this Code Section that the student qualifies to participate in the program if the parent signs an agreement promising: 1) to provide an education for the scholarship student in at least the subjects of reading, grammar, mathematics, social studies and science; 2) not to enroll their child in a local school system school, charter school or other state charter school; and 3) to only use scholarship funds for certain identified expenses (e.g. tuition and fees at a participating school; textbooks; tutoring services; etc.).
- Other qualifications for the student to qualify for a scholarship are identified in O.C.G.A. § 20-2-2114 (e.g. does require that the parent resides in Georgia and has been a resident for at least one year (there is an exception for military parents); has spent the prior year in attendance of one of Georgia's public schools; has an IEP and has submitted an application to the Office of Student Achievement.
- It requires that the student have an annually administered nationally, norm-referenced test identified by the Office of Student Achievement.
- It requires that the scholarship remain in force until the student returns to his or her assigned school in the resident public school system, graduates from high school or reaches the age of 21 (whichever occurs first) and a scholarship student may return to the student's zoned public school in his or her resident school system at any time after enrolling in the program.
- In O.C.G.A. § 20-2-2116, it requires that the Office of Student Achievement develop a system for parents to direct scholarship funds to participating schools and service providers of their choice.
- It establishes that the Office of Student Achievement, in O.C.G.A. § 20-2-2117, have the authority to conduct or contract for the auditing of scholarship funds on an annual basis. If misuse of the funds is found, the Office is to report such to the Attorney General for investigation.
- The Office of Student Achievement is to make a report no later than December 1 of each year to the General Assembly and the contents of such report are included in O.C.G.A. § 20-2-2118 (e.g. level of students' satisfaction; level of parental satisfaction; scholarship student performance on the nationally norm-referenced tests; high school graduation rates and college acceptance rates of the students; etc.).
HB 1014, by Rep. Jay Powell (R-Camilla), addresses the exemption from State income taxes so as to extend the sunset date of the existing donation of real property for conservation use in O.C.G.A. § 48-7-29.12. Currently, beginning on January 1, 2016, the aggregate amount of tax credits allowed under this Code Section are not to exceed $30 million per calendar year. The Department of Natural Resources is also not to accept new applications for tax credits after December 31, 2021. This legislation adds that "prior to any renewal of the exemption for donations of real property beyond the date authorized by subparagraph (A) of this paragraph, the Department of Natural Resources shall provide a report to the Governor, the President of the Senate, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, and the chairpersons of the House Committee on Ways and Means and the Senate Finance Committee on the activity of the program occurring during the preceding years. The report shall include, but not be limited to: (i) the number of applications and the total number of acres donated; (ii) the value of the qualified donations accepted into the program and which two of the five conservation purposes contained in paragraph (2) of subsection (a) of this Code Section were the basis for the qualification of the property; (iii) the aggregate amount of income tax credits granted pursuant to this Code Section; and (iv) a listing of the direct and indirect benefits to the State due to the donation of land for conservation purposes."
HR 1341, by Rep. Richard Smith (R-Columbus), would create the House Study Committee on Professional Employer Organizations. This study committee would consider the role of professional employer organizations in the provision of insurance benefits. It will examine the need for licensing and regulation of representatives of such organizations in the provision of insurance plans.
HR 1342, by Rep. Demetrius Douglas (D-Stockbridge), requests schools in Georgia to allocate more recess time for school children. Some schools have shortened recess to only 15 minutes per day in order to make time for test preparation.
HR 1343, by Rep. Tom McCall (R-Elberton), encourages the United States Environmental Protection Agency to withdraw the proposed 'Waters of the United States Clean Water Plan' rule. As written, the rule threatens Georgia's core interests and authority over water policy and water resources.
HR 1344, by Rep. Jay Powell (R-Camilla), proposes an amendment to Georgia's Constitution at Article VIII, Section VI by adding a new Paragraph V. It is to allow boards of education, subject to a referendum, to impose, levy, and collect a one (1) percent sales and use tax for educational purposes and to adjust millage rate limitations upon and the millage rate levied by school systems to take into account the proceeds received from the sales and use tax by each school system the preceding year. It further allows that the ad valorem millage rate limitation applicable to school systems under Paragraph 1 of this section and any ad valorem tax millage rate limitation now or hereafter applicable to a school system is to be reduced for every taxable year beginning on or after January 1, 2017, by a millage rate which, if levied against property taxable for educational purposes within each school system, would produce an amount of revenue "equal to the proceeds of the local sales and use tax provided for in this Paragraph received by such school system in the immediately preceding taxable year." Further, school systems are authorized to contract or otherwise provide for the collection and administration of this tax imposed in this Paragraph.
HR 1345, by Rep. Michael Caldwell (R-Woodstock), creates the House Study Committee on Georgia Craft Brewery and Distillery Competitiveness which will be composed of five members of the House of Representatives. It proposes to undertake a study of the conditions, needs, issues, and problems mentioned above or related thereto and recommend any action or legislation.
SB 372, by Sen. Elena Parent (D-Atlanta), concerns resolution of annexation disputes and proposes these changes:
- O.C.G.A. § 36-36-113(c) requires the objection to annexation and grounds and procedures to also be delivered not only to the municipal governing authority but also to the Department of Community Affairs by certified mail, statutory overnight delivery or email with electronic read receipt to be received not later than the end of the thirtieth calendar day following receipt of the notice.
- O.C.G.A. § 36-36-114(a) requires again that not later than the fifteenth business day following the date the municipal corporation and the Department of Community Affairs receive the first objection provided for in O.C.G.A. § 36-36-113, that an arbitration panel be appointed. In subsection (b), it requires that the pool of arbitrators who are individuals with a master's degree or higher in public administration or planning and who are currently employed by an institution of higher learning that the higher learning institution have a physical presence in Georgia, other than the Carl Vinson Institute of Government.
SB 373, by Sen. Horacena Tate (D-Atlanta), seeks to enact the "Georgia Equal Pay Act" in a new Article 5 in Title 34. In part, it requires in O.C.G.A. § 34-5-2(a) that "no employee shall be paid a wage at a rate less than the rate at which an employee of the opposite sex in the same establishment is paid for equal work on a job, the performance of which requires equal skill, effort, and responsibility and which is performed under similar working conditions." This will not apply where payment is made pursuant to a differential based on: "(A) a seniority system; (B) a merit system; (C) a system which measures earnings by quantity or quality of production; or (D) a bona fide factor other than sex, such as education, training, or experience. Such factor shall not be based upon or derived from a sex based differential in compensation and instead shall be job related with respect to the position in question and shall be consistent with business necessity." These listed exceptions, though, will not apply in certain instances (such is the employee demonstrates that an employer uses a particular employment practice that causes a disparate impact on the basis of sex). At O.C.G.A. § 34-5-3(a), it states that "no employer shall prohibit an employee from inquiring about, discussing, or disclosing the wages of such employee or another employee." O.C.G.A. § 34-5-4(a) provides that the Commissioner for the Department of Labor will have the power to carry out this Chapter 5 requirements. If a dispute arises between any employer and employee covered under this Chapter, then either of the parties has the right to request arbitration of the dispute (with written notice) in O.C.G.A. § 34-5-5. The Commissioner may bring legal action if the employee is found to be paid less than what he or she is entitled to receive and O.C.G.A. § 34-5-6 outlines how damages can be calculated and paid. O.C.G.A. § 34-5-7 provides for a statute of limitations on such actions (an action to recover upon a liability imposed is to be commenced within six years).
SB 374, by Sen. Lindsey Tippins (R-Marietta), addresses financing under Georgia's "Quality Basic Education Act." Specifically, it adds a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. § 20-2-172 to provide for a temporary exemption from certain financial reporting requirements for local school systems participating in a federally authorized pilot program for school years 2016-2017 (conducted pursuant to 20 U.S.C. Section 6414(a). It also requires that the local school system determine which certificated professional personnel would have been funded by federal funds if funds were not consolidated and report such personnel to the Department as being funded from sources other than State and local funds; and the Department is mandated not to pay the program adjustment amount for training and experience for such personnel, as provided in O.C.G.A. § 20-2-161(e), or contributions to the health insurance fund for such personnel, as provided in O.C.G.A. § 20-2-892.
SB 375, by Sen. Steve Gooch (R-Dahlonega), adds a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. § 36-31-13, concerning the incorporation of municipal corporations, to provide certain requirements and standards for the incorporation of a new municipal corporation. It requires financial viability, fiscal impact and service delivery study and prohibits the creation of unincorporated islands. Further, it provides for special districts to amortize obligations and requires a referendum for approval.
SR 959, by Sen. Lindsey Tippins (R-Marietta), commends the School Social Workers Association of Georgia, Inc. for its role in enhancing the school social worker profession and improving Georgia's education system, students' learning environments, and attendance and graduation rates.
SR 960, by Sen. Lindsey Tippins (R-Marietta), commends the Professional Association of Georgia Educators (PAGE) and the Georgia Association of Educational Leaders (GAEL) and recognizes February 16, 2016 as 'PAGE and GAEL Day' at the State Capitol. Both organizations are commended for their contributions to education and educators.
Our 2015 Georgia Capitol team consists of Stan Jones, Chuck Clay, Helen Sloat, 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.