Gold Dome Report - February 15, 2017
Today marked the 18th legislative day for this Session. Psychologists from around Georgia who are members of the Georgia Psychological Association were on hand so that they could educate lawmakers about their practices and the services which they provide to Georgians. Governor Deal also signed HB 43 today, the State's FY 2017 Amended Budget.
The House took action on five bills today:
HB 185, by Rep. Christian Coomer (R-Cartersville), was the first bill to be heard. It removes the prohibition that probate court judges engage in the practice of law outside of their roles, when that judge is serving as a judge advocate general or in any other military role in a reserve component of the armed forces. This bill passed 168-0.
HB 117, by Rep. Sam Watson (R-Moultrie), was next. It excludes voluntary contributions to 'places of amusement, sports, or entertainment' from the definition of retail sales. It passed 170-0.
HB 195 was the next bill to be considered. Rep. Brett Harrell (R-Snellville) presented this bill, which allows members of a limited liability company to participate in the indirect ownership of a home for the mentally disabled. It passed 170-1.
Rep. Jay Powell's (R-Camilla) bill, HB 61, requires certain retailers to either collect or remit sales and use taxes or provide notification to the State. It passed by a vote of 157-11.
HB 139 was the last bill to be considered. Rep. Dave Belton (R-Buckhead) is the author. The bill seeks to create more transparency and accuracy with regard to the financial information of local school systems. It requires that these local systems post certain financial information (cost of materials and staff; salary and benefit expenditures; annual system budget; etc) on their websites or publicize them through some other means. It passed 170-0.
Sen. Lindsey Tippins (R-Marietta) presented a resolution (SR 178) to recognize Marietta City Schools for being the 2016 Charter System Innovator of the Year. It was also indicated that today is Georgia Farm Bureau Day at the Capitol. The Senate considered three pieces of legislation today.
SB 45, by Sen. Larry Walker III (R-Perry), prohibits the use of electronic devices to film under or through an individual's clothing in public, without consent. This practice is commonly known as "upskirting" and this bill seeks to make it a felony. It passed 49-0.
SB 46, by Sen. William Ligon Jr. (R-Brunswick), limits the liability of space flight operators for tort actions, except in cases of gross negligence. A substitute was introduced and the bill was passed by substitute by a vote of 49-2.
SB 89, by Sen. David Shafer (R-Duluth), is also known as the 'Georgia Right Track Act' and it provides for state investments in railways and railroad facilities and equipment. It gives the Commissioner of the Department of Transportation the authority to administer a freight railroad program. SB 89 passed by substitute with a vote of 49-0.
HB 368, by Rep. Barry Fleming (R-Harlem), proposes changes concerning clerks of superior courts. In this legislation, it adds a new paragraph (3.1) in subsection (c) of O.C.G.A. § 15-6-50, concerning the clerk's term of office and his or her qualifications and training. This language states that each clerk of the superior court would be authorized to "voluntarily complete training administered by the University of Georgia Carl Vinson Institute of Government resulting in designation as a certified superior court clerk and in a compensation supplement as provided for in Code Section 15-6-88.1" It then adds a new O.C.G.A. § 15-6-88.1 so that upon an award of a certificate from the University of Georgia evidencing that the clerk has successfully completed the training administered by the Carl Vinson Institute of Government resulting in "designation as a certified superior court clerk," that individual would be eligible for a compensation supplement of $200.00 per month to be paid from funds of the county – this supplement would be in addition to the clerk's minimum salary and other salary provided by general or local law.
HB 370, by Rep. Scott Hilton (R-Peachtree Corners), proposes to add a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. § 36-32-41, regarding the Council of Municipal Court Judges of Georgia, to authorize this Council to create and administer a savings plan and deferred compensation plan for its members.
HB 372, by Rep. Don Parsons (R-Marietta), proposes a piece of legislation to address issues raised in the broadband technology study last year. This legislation seeks to amend O.C.G.A. § 48-8-3 and add a new paragraph (99) in the State sales and use tax exemptions to create an exemption for broadband equipment used in the deployment of broadband technology in an eligible county (a county designated by the commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs in the prior calendar year as either a tier 1 or tier 2 county (per O.C.G.A. § 48-7-40) or a county in which at least 10 percent of the population does not have access to fixed broadband service) by a provider of broadband technology regardless of whether the equipment is purchased by the owner, contractor or a subcontractor. The Commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs is to make these annual designations prior to July 1 of each year and publish such on the Department's website. A person making the sale of broadband equipment is to collect the tax imposed on the sale unless that purchaser furnishes a certificate issued by the Commissioner certifying that the purchaser is entitled to make the purchase without paying the tax.
HB 376, by Rep. Brenda Lopez (D-Norcross), seeks to amend Georgia's HOPE scholarship. It would specifically amend O.C.G.A. § 20-3-519.2(d)(3), concerning eligibility requirements, to eliminate a provision making students ineligible for the scholarship seven years after high school graduation or its equivalent.
HB 382, by Rep. Jimmy Pruett (R-Eastman), seeks to amend O.C.G.A. § 50-12-80 and add a new subsection (d), concerning the Commission on Women, so that this Commission would be assigned to the Department of Public Health for administrative purposes.
HB 384, by Rep. John Carson (R-Marietta), addresses the office of the tax commissioner of Cobb County. It amends the compensation of employees of tax commissioner; chief clerk, executive secretary and administrative specialist.
HB 389, by Rep. Amy Carter (R-Valdosta), proposes the "Social Media Privacy Protection Act" in a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. § 34-1-10. It proposes to prohibit employers from requesting usernames, passwords, or other means of accessing an account or service for the purpose of accessing personal social media through electronic communications devices of employees or prospective employees with certain exceptions. It does add that nothing in this new Code Section "shall affect an employer's existing right and obligations to request an employee to divulge any personal social media activity reasonably believed to be relevant to an investigation of allegations of an employee's misconduct or violation of applicable laws and regulations, provided that the social media activity is used solely for purposes of that investigation or a related proceeding."
HB 391, by Rep. Heath Clark (R-Buford), addresses the safe place for newborns in Chapter 10A of Title 19. It proposes to expand the locations where a newborn child can be left and where that mother would not be subject to prosecution if she left that child at such safe place. Under current law, the mother may leave the baby at a medical facility and this expands current law to include fire stations and police stations. Under current law, if the child is left at a medical facility and is no more than one week old, the mother will not be prosecuted – this changes the time frame, allowing the mother up to 30 days. It also allows the mother to show her identity, and name and address, if she is willing.
HR 282, by Rep. John Carson (R-Marietta), proposes to create the House Study Committee on Distracted Driving. This study is proposed because the numbers of overall accidents have increased over the past decade per 100 insured vehicles. Also, Georgia's highway deaths are at their highest level since 2007.
HR 283, by Rep. Tom Kirby (R-Loganville), seeks to create the House Study Committee on Title Ad Valorem Taxes. This comes after the General Assembly's overhaul of the system in 2013.
HR 284, by Rep. Dominic LaRiccia (R-Douglas), offers to create the House Study Committee on State and Local Construction Management. It will look in part at local and State governmental entities which use taxpayer funds for construction projects.
HR 285, by Rep. Randy Nix (R-LaGrange), proposes to create the Joint Georgia-Alabama Study Committee. It is an attempt to promote cooperative working relationships between the two states.
HR 288, by Rep. Sheila Jones (D-Atlanta), seeks to create the House Study Committee on Minority Business Participation in State Contracts. The study is to research and evaluate the procurement and contracting policies, practices and goals of State departments, boards, commissions, authorities, and other agencies regarding minority business participation in State-issued contracts.
SB 180, by Sen. Dean Burke, M.D. (R-Bainbridge), addresses indigent care provided by hospitals. It seeks to add additional reporting requirements for rural hospitals in O.C.G.A. § 31-8-9.1(c)(1)(B) and require any payments made to a third-party to solicit, administer, or manage the donations that a rural hospital receives pursuant to this Code Section or O.C.G.A. § 48-7-29.20 be reported. It further proposes to amend O.C.G.A. § 48-7-29.20 to increase the amount of the credits allowed the individual taxpayers, moving the amount to 90 percent of the actual amount or $5,000 per individual ($10,000 for a married couple filing a joint return) and allowing individuals who are members of a limited liability company, shareholder of a Subchapter S corporation or a partner in a partnership to have up to 70 percent of the actual amount expended or $10,000.00 per tax year. It also sets the limits of the aggregate credits at $60 million for years 2017, 2018 and 2019. It further adds that a taxpayer who is preapproved by the department shall retain their approval in the event the credit percentage is modified for the year in which the taxpayer was preapproved. Further, it also clarifies that the taxpayer preapproved by the department is to receive the full benefit of the income tax credit established even if the rural hospital organization to which the taxpayer made a donation does not comply with the reports or filings.
SB 181, by Sen. Lester Jackson (D-Savannah), proposes a Tax Code change in O.C.G.A. § 48-7-29.16(a)(2). It seeks to change the definition of "qualified education expense" to read:
Means the expenditure of funds by the taxpayer during the tax year for which a credit under this Code section is claimed and allowed for funds received by any Georgia public school system established as a local education agency recognized by the Georgia Department of Education, for funds received by any Georgia public school system foundation established as a nonprofit organization that provides financial resources to enhance public education and for funds received by a student scholarship organization pursuant to Chapter 2A of Title 20 which are used for tuition and fees for a qualified school or program.
SB 182, by Sen. Horacena Tate (D-Atlanta), proposes to create within the Department of Administrative Services the Division of Supplier Diversity at a new Article 5 of Chapter 5 of Title 50. At O.C.G.A. § 50-5-151(a), it proposes that the director of this Division assist the Governor in the "formulation and implementation of laws and policies relating to minority and women owned business enterprises." The legislation outlines the duties of this director which includes an annual report to the Governor and chairs of the Senate Finance Committee and House Ways and Means Committee on the level of minority and women-owned business enterprises participating in each contracting agency's State contracts, etc. It also requires the director to review practices and procedures of each contracting agency for compliance with the provisions of this new Article. Within this new division, it proposes to create the office of minority and women-owned business enterprises' statewide advocate.
SB 184, by Sen. Chuck Hufstetler (R-Rome) proposes to establish the Integrated Population Health Data Project, within the Office of Planning and Budget, and create a governing board of ten individuals for the oversight. This is proposed as a new Part 3 of Article 4 of Chapter 12 of Title 45 beginning at O.C.G.A. § 45-12-150, et seq. It requires at O.C.G.A. § 45-12-152 that no later than July 1, 2018, the Office of Planning and Budget "with the assistance of the Georgia Health Policy Center" "establish an operational iPHD Project capable of securely receiving, maintaining, and transmitting data in accordance with this part and the HIPAA privacy and security standards applicable to this part. The Office of Planning and Budget may employ staff to assist with carrying out the functions associated with the establishment and maintenance of the iPHD Project." The legislation outlines this governing board's responsibilities. It does allow the iPHD Project governing board and the Georgia Health Policy Center to apply for and receive funding from various sources, including grants from research or other private entities, fees, federal grants and grants or other financial assistance from State or local departments, agencies, authorities and organizations.
SB 185, by Sen. Elena Parent (D-Atlanta), seeks to change O.C.G.A. § 17-7-131(c)(3), concerning proceedings upon a plea of insanity or mental incompetency at the time of a crime, to change the standard of proof when the defendant pleads guilty but mentally retarded so that such will be a "preponderance of the evidence that the defendant is mentally retarded."
SB 186, by Sen. Lindsey Tippins (R-Marietta), proposes changes relating to the Move on When Ready Act and HOPE grant eligibility requirements. At O.C.G.A. § 20-2-161.3(g), it seeks to change dual credit courses taken at or through an eligible postsecondary institution by an eligible high school student so that such will not count against the maximum hourly caps in O.C.G.A. § 20-3-519.2(d) or O.C.G.A. § 20-3-519.5(e). It states that:
Hours for dual credit courses taken at or through an eligible postsecondary institution pursuant to this Code section by an eligible high school student shall count against the intermediate hourly checkpoints included in subparagraph (b)(1)(A) and subsection (c) of Code Section 20-3-519.2 and in paragraph (1) of subsection (a) of Code Section 20-3-519.5.
His bill also seeks changes to O.C.G.A. § 20-3-519.5(a.1) for eligibility for a HOPE grant so that a student seeking an associate degree at a branch of the Technical College System of Georgia or a unit of the University System who received a high school diploma through completion of a technical college diploma program and all postsecondary academic education and technical education and training prerequisites for any State, national or industry occupational certifications or licenses required to work in the field or at least two technical college certificate of credit programs in one specific career pathway and all postsecondary academic education and technical education and training prerequisites for any State, national or industry occupational certifications or licenses required to work in the field as determined by the Technical College System of Georgia will be eligible for the HOPE grant as long that student meets the residency requirements.
SB 188, by Sen. Donzella James (D-Atlanta), proposes a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. § 20-2-779.2 to require that each local board of education adopt a policy prohibiting school personnel from taking action to deny any student access to programs or services because the parent or guardian of the student has refused to place the student on psychotropic medication or compel, attempt to compel or require any specific actions by the parent or guardian in placing a student on psychotropic medication. It states that this new Code Section is not creating any prohibition against any school personnel from consulting or sharing classroom based observations with a parent or guardian regarding that student's academic and functional performance, behavior, or need for evaluation for special education or related services.
House Appropriations Committee – Subcommittees' Meetings
In a series of early meetings this morning, the various Subcommittees met to discuss and finalize their recommendations for the FY 2018 Budget. These recommendations will be made public on Friday after the full Committee has been presented the ideas. We will report back on more details of the outcome of these recommendations.
House Committee on Ways and Means – Income Tax Subcommittee
This subcommittee of Ways and Means considered three pieces of legislation today, although they did not have time to consider some other bills listed on the agenda. Rep. John Carson's (R-Marietta) bill, HB 217, was the first bill heard and there was a big crowd in the audience waiting to hear the bill. This was the first hearing and they were going off of version LC 34 5120S. The bill is meant to give students greater flexibility by increasing the cap on contributions to scholarship organizations in order to receive income tax credits. One of the main issues the Department of Revenue has faced is oversubscription which has forced them to do a proration of the funding received. There was a question by the Chairman regarding the potential for a waiting list. Commissioner Riley indicated that if a proration component was modified so that the Department could put applications into a queue, perhaps the department could provide for a waiting list option.
There was a discussion on the fees allowed under Title 20. Chairman Jay Powell (R-Camilla) recommended that they attempt to provide for a statutory cap increase and to allow for unfunded credits to roll into the current or next tax year. Rep. Allen Peake (R-Johns Creek) asked if Rep. Carson would be agreeable to adding language that allows unfunded credits to roll over and become part of any statutory cap that may be set in place. He indicated that the current substitute addresses this issue. Chairman Carson indicated that his concern would be that there could be a windfall in fees. Josh Stephens spoke to the bill, on behalf of the Professional Association of Georgia's Educators. He stated that PAGE is opposed to vouchers in any form and would like to see a means test included due to the lack of accountability with regards to private schools.
The next bill was HB 283, by Rep. David Knight (R-Griffin). Rep. Knight introduced an amendment that strikes some sections from Title 48 between lines 57-226, regarding audit procedures for partnerships. They were trying to align Georgia with the Federal government; however there is uncertainty with regards to the approach the new Trump administration will take. State Revenue Commissioner Lynne Riley voiced her support for this bill.
HB 59, by Rep. Ron Stephens (R-Savannah) was the last bill heard by the Committee and it relates to tax credits for historic structures. It was indicated that the Committee was provided with the newest substitute to HB 59 only two hours before they convened. Some members were concerned that they did not have enough time to review the changes prior to the meeting. Chairman Powell stated that the bill will be taken up at the next meeting.
House Education Committee - Subcommittee on Education Innovation and Workforce Development
The Subcommittee today held hearings only on two bills, HB 24, by Rep. Billy Mitchell (D-Stone Mountain) and HB 224, by Rep. Dave Belton (R-Buckhead). HB 24 would provide for a system of incentive pay for quality teachers in schools that are predominately comprised of students from low-income families. The bill requires that the Department of Education develop a program to determine schools and teachers who would be eligible for incentive pay.
HB 224, by Dave Belton also got a hearing. It provides that students who live on a military base or in military housing can attend any school in the local school system in which they reside. The local school systems would be responsible for developing processes to make sure military students are accommodated. Parents on the other hand would be responsible for covering the costs of transportation of the student to and from the school.
Since both bills were 'hearing only,' no action was taken by the subcommittee before they adjourned.
House Small Business Development Committee
One of the more interesting meetings this afternoon was that of the Committee led by Chairman Chad Nimmer (R-Blackshear). At that meeting, Commissioner Brantley with the Department of Economic Development gave the Committee a brief update on small businesses and the work done by the Department of Economic Development. The Commissioner told the Committee that small businesses take up a lot of their time at the Department and that they receive many questions from small business owners across the state, including businesses focused on home health. There are 57 percent of businesses which have fewer than 20 employees and 84 percent have fewer than 100 employees here in the State. He also mentioned several facts about Georgia's film industry, noting that it has a $7 billion economic impact annually. He also noted that Georgia vendors, which are small vendors, benefit greatly from the film industry. He gave some examples including Myers Carpet in Dalton which has $1 million in business from the film industry and Cofer Brothers in Tucker which has 35-40 percent of its product used by the film industry. Commissioner Brantley also highlighted the work on the Georgia Council of the Arts and the fact that it had provided $1.2 million in grants to 187 entities in 90 different counties.
The Committee also took up HB 87, by Rep. Brad Raffensperger (R-Johns Creek). After numerous questions concerning the renewals of these corporations' filings, the bill was held so that the author could speak more with the Secretary of State. Presently, if a company renews between January and April, they can update their officers, directors, and other information without paying more than their annual renewal – after that time, they pay $20 for updating their company's information. Under Rep. Raffensperger's proposal, he seeks to allow a company to opt as to whether it wishes to renew annually, every two years or every three years – but the company would not receive any "break" for updates on their changes to be submitted such as new officers or directors.
House Industry and Labor Committee
Rep. Bill Werkheiser (R-Glennville) presented his legislation, HB 243, to the Committee. It received few questions and addresses predictive scheduling and inserts preemption for local government mandates requiring additional pay for employees based on scheduling changes. It was described by Rep. Werkheiser as making Georgia more business friendly. It received a do pass recommendation from the Committee and now moves to the House Rules Committee.
Senate Judiciary Committee – Subcommittee B
Subcommittee A, chaired by Sen. Josh McKoon (R-Columbus), heard presentations on three propositions today:
- SB 132, authored by Sen. Blake Tillery (R-Vidalia), removes the case initiation and disposition forms from the Georgia Civil Practice Act and allows the Judicial Council of Georgia to promulgate new forms with approval of the Supreme Court of Georgia. These forms are used by the Administrative Office of the Courts to track court workloads, and the proposition also provides that this data be transmitted directly to the AOC for these purposes. Victoria Anderson of Judicial Watchdogs expressed concern about the bill because it removes the domestic relations initiation form that was recently added by statute without any requirement that the Judicial Council replace it. The Subcommittee recommended that the bill do pass, and it will now move to the full Judiciary Committee.
- SB 148, authored by Sen. John Kennedy (R-Macon), creates a statutory process for foreign non-profit corporations to domesticate in Georgia. Currently under Georgia law, a foreign non-profit corporation may only domesticate through merger with an existing Georgia non-profit corporation. This legislation passed the Senate last session as SB 333 but was not taken up by the House. The Subcommittee recommended that the bill do pass, and it will now move to the full Judiciary Committee.
- SB 159, authored by Sen. Lee Anderson (R-Grovetown), provides another way for property owners to mark property boundaries for purposes of the criminal trespassing statute. The legislation would allow a landowner to mark trees with purple paint to designate a boundary. The Subcommittee recommended that the bill do pass, and it will now move to the full Judiciary Committee.
House Insurance Committee
The House Insurance Committee met this morning and considered a new substitute to HB 174, by Rep. Eddie Lumsden (R-Armuchee). This bill would expand an insurer's medium of payment of policy or contractual obligations from the sole medium of legal tender to include other payments. The original bill had allowed the Commissioner to approve the methods of payment. This new language added in the substitute adds other payment methods, including wire transfers, cashier's checks, electronic funds transfer, etc. in addition to permitting the Commissioner the ability to approve the methods of payment.
The Committee also discussed HB 35, Rep. Bruce Broadrick's (R-Dalton) bill relating to pharmacy benefit managers, which will have an impact on Medicaid and the State Health Benefit Plan. There were many questions asked regarding HB 35 by the members. No action was taken by the Committee today and the bill was held in the Committee since it would have an effect on 1.7 million Georgians. The Committee was then adjourned.
Senate Insurance and Labor Committee
The Committee only considered one bill today. HB 127 was presented by Chairman Richard Smith (R-Columbus). The bill repeals Chapters 18 (Blue Cross) and 19 (Blue Shield) in Title 33. There were no changes or discussion and the bill was passed out of the Committee. It will now go to the Senate Rules Committee to determine whether it will go to the Senate Floor for a vote.
Our 2017 Georgia Capitol team consists of Stan Jones, Helen Sloat, Chuck Clay, George Ray, and Logan Fletcher. We will also try our hand at tweeting this year – so follow us! @GDR_Live
The articles published in this newsletter are intended only to provide general information on the subjects covered. The contents should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Readers should consult with legal counsel to obtain specific legal advice based on particular situations.