Gold Dome Report - February 16, 2017
Today marked legislative day 19 of the Session. Committees are now meeting at full tilt, as lawmakers move legislation through the pipeline and as crossover day rapidly approaches (Day 28 of the Legislative Session set for March 3).
Governor Deal announced a new judge for the Macon Judicial Circuit. David L. Mincey, III was appointed to fill the judgeship vacated by Tilman E. "Tripp" Self, III as Judge Self was appointed to the Court of Appeals.
The Senate recognized Pinewood Studios this morning for their contributions to Georgia's growing film industry. Pinewood is currently located in Fayetteville and they have hosted numerous movie productions from Marvel Entertainment's Avengers franchise. Additionally, Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford) and Sen. Nan Orrock (D-Atlanta) discussed the importance of combating elder abuse and also recognized the Better Outcome Foundation volunteers for their work in providing CPR training for individuals.
The Senate also had two bills under consideration today. The first, SB 15, by Sen. Michael 'Doc' Rhett (D-Marietta) provides that uniformed law enforcement officers can receive a free weapons carry license. Sen. Rhett indicated that he had worked with Frank Rotundo on this bill. It passed the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee and the full Judiciary Committee unanimously. He stated that the financial impact of this bill would be marginal at best. It went on to pass by substitute by a vote of 51-0.
SB 16, by Sen. Ben Watson (R-Savannah) was also on the floor today, which adds autism to the list of conditions that are legally treatable by THC oil. The bill also reduces the acceptable amount of THC in such oil to a 3% concentration. Sen. Watson, Sen. William Ligon Jr. (R-Brunswick) and others are worried that the current level of 5% is too much THC and it might possibly result in patients getting high. Senators who were opposed to the amendment reducing the THC percentage argued that by reducing the percentage to 3%, they would be doing a disservice to the children and families in Georgia who currently use the 5% THC oil to treat conditions. They would be forcing those families to break the law. There were three amendments offered. The first amendment strikes the age definition and the requirement that a patient receive a physician's approval for treating autism. The first amendment failed to be adopted. A second amendment would have reduced the acceptable level of THC to 1%, down from 3%. This amendment also lost. A third amendment was offered and it would have deleted the definition of low THC oil and the amount of cannabidiol permitted at lines 9-18. The third amendment lost by a vote of 21-32. SB 16 went on to pass the Senate by a vote of 41-12. The Senate was then adjourned.
The House took up a few bills today on the floor.
HB 73, by Rep. Penny Houston (R-Nashville) would establish tax credit incentives for the purpose of promoting the revitalization of vacant rural downtown areas. The bill gives the commissioners of the Department of Economic Development and the Department of Community Affairs authority to designate such areas as "revitalization zones." It provides a $2,000 employee tax credit to business owners in such a zone who hire two or more new employees, which provides an incentive. This bill went on to be passed by a vote of 158-4.
HB 160, by Rep. Kevin Tanner (R-Dawsonville) creates the Georgia Commission on Transit Governance and Funding, which will be charged with studying and assessing the State's need for more mass transportation facilities in metro areas around the State. The Commission is to submit a report to the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and the Speaker of the House by December 31, 2017, which shall include a recommended governance structure, as well as funding recommendations. HB 160 passed by a vote of 166-1.
HB 198, by Rep. Katie Dempsey (R-Rome) requires school systems to provide information relating to influenza and influenza vaccines if the school already provides information on immunizations, infectious diseases, medications or other schools. It passed 166-2.
HB 125, by Rep. Ron Stephens (R-Savannah) provides for an exemption from State sales and use taxes for any portion of boat maintenance that exceeds $500,000. It went on to pass 152-14.
HB 214 was presented by Rep. Rich Golick (R-Smyrna) and it seeks to make the falsification of insurance documents within the criminal and insurance sections of the Georgia Code a felony. It passed 162-6.
HB 1, by Rep. Jason Spencer (R-Woodbine) provides for a limited waiver of liability for participants in space flight activities and operations if such participants sign a waiver agreeing to limitations. It does not cover injuries cause by gross negligence or intentional injury. It also provides that any lawsuits relating to space flight shall be brought in the State of Georgia. HB 1 passed by a vote of 162-5.
HB 231, by Rep. Bruce Broadrick (R-Dalton) is the annual narcotics update relating to Schedule I, II, IV, and V controlled substances. It specifically addresses synthetic opioids and synthetic marijuana, which are commonly referred to as 'bath salts'. This bill passed 164-2.
HB 396, by Rep. Bert Reeves (R-Marietta), seeks to amend O.C.G.A. § 17-10-6.2(b), regarding punishment for sexual offenders. His legislation states that any sentence is to include, in addition to the mandatory term of imprisonment, an additional probated sentence of at least one year; "provided, however, that when a court imposes consecutive sentences for sexual offenses, the requirement that the court impose a probated sentence of at least one year shall only apply to the final consecutive sentence imposed. It also states that no person convicted of a sexual offense is to be sentenced as a first offender pursuant to Article 3 of Chapter 8 of Title 42 or any other provision of Georgia law relating to the sentencing of first offenders.
HB 397, by Rep. Dale Rutledge (R-McDonough), deals with property tax exemptions at O.C.G.A. § 48-5-40(3)(N) and in particular homesteads. It adds that "absence of an individual from such individual's residence because of health reasons, including stays in a nursing home or assisted living facility, shall not in and of itself be considered as a waiver upon the part of the individual in applying for a homestead exemption if all other qualifications are otherwise met." It permits the individual's immediate family or a friend to notify the tax receiver or tax commissioner of the individual's absence as is currently in the law; upon receipt of the notice, the tax receiver or tax commissioner is to grant such homestead exemption for the person absent due to health reasons.
HB 398, by Rep. Paul Battles (R-Cartersville), proposes changes to the "Peace Officers' Annuity and Benefit Fund" in Title 47, adding a position eligible for membership to that fund so that investigators with the Board of Dentistry are eligible if they are also P.O.S.T. certified. The Board of Dentistry would have to make the employer contribution for each such member, equivalent to the full actuarial cost of participation. The amendment is specific to O.C.G.A. § 47-17-1(5)(I).
HB 400, by Rep. Stacey Evans (D-Smyrna), seeks to address controlled substances and their regulation, providing limitations on prescriptions for opioids. Her legislation would be known as the "Opiate Abuse Prevention Act" if passed. It proposes a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. § 16-13-56.1 so that "a prescriber is not to issue a prescription to a patient for an opioid without first attempting a non-opioid prescription to alleviate pain; provided, however, that this shall not apply to a patient in hospice care." Further, if a prescription is issued, then it cannot be for more than a seven-day supply and no refills are to be permitted. Prescribers are also required to give their patients information on the risks of using opioids and the manner in which to dispose unused opioid products. It also requires that a prescriber who issues prescriptions for opioids is to take back any unused opioids from a patient for disposal. The prescriber is required to post a notice concerning these unused products which may be returned. The prescriber is also to report annually to the Department of Public Health "aggregate non-identifying data on prescriptions issued by such prescriber for opioids" and that Department is to determine the guidelines for such submission of data.
HB 401, by Rep. David Clark (R-Buford), seeks to change current law regarding the wearing of devices which impair either hearing or vision while operating a motor vehicle in O.C.G.A. § 40-6-250(a) – it exempts provisions of the subsection so that such do not apply to operators of motor cycles and in (b) it states that "no person shall operate a motor vehicle while wearing any device which impairs such person's vision."
HB 402, by Rep. Sharon Cooper (R-Marietta), seeks to enact the "Nurse Licensure Compact" and authorizes the Georgia Board of Nursing to exercise certain powers regarding the compact (issue and renew multistate licenses pursuant to Article 4 of Chapter 26 of Title 43; and to take any action necessary regarding a multistate license issued by Georgia and with respect to the privileges to practice in the State under such license). The Compact is included in a new Article 4 of Chapter 26 of Title 43 beginning at O.C.G.A. § 43-26-60 et seq.
HB 403, by Rep. Matt Dubnik (R-Gainesville), addresses interstate cooperation in O.C.G.A. § 28-6-1. It proposes to clarify the members of the Senate Interstate Cooperation Committee of at least five members who are Senators; currently it refers to this Committee as the Senate Committee on Interstate Cooperation. It also proposes at least five members also be members of the House of Representatives.
HB 405, by Rep. Bill Hitchens (R-Rincon), proposes changes to the emergency powers of the Governor and seeks to add a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. §38-3-58. It would require the Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency to establish a statewide system to facilitate the transport and distribution of essentials in commerce during a state of emergency which is declared by the Governor. It defines what are "essentials" (which are goods consumed or used as a direct result of a state of emergency or consumed or used to preserve, protect or sustain life, health, safety or economic well-being). It requires in (c) that this system is to provide a certification of organizations and entities which facilitate or are likely to facilitate the transport or distribution of essentials. It also addresses employees or agents of these certified organizations or business entities and how they may enter or remain in a curfew area beyond restrictions for the limited purposes of facilitating the transport or distribution of essentials.
HB 406, by Rep. Alan Powell (R-Hartwell), seeks changes to Georgia's carrying of handguns, long guns or other weapons, license requirements, exceptions for homes, motor vehicles, private property and other locations and conditions at O.C.G.A. § 16-11-126(e). It specifically addresses reciprocity of recognizing and giving effect to licenses to carry from other states. At (1), it states that such licensee to carry a weapon in any other state shall carry the weapon in compliance with the laws of this State; and at (2), it states, "No other state shall be required to recognize and give effect to a license issued pursuant to this part that is held by a person who is younger than 21 years of age."
HB 407, by Rep. John Carson (R-Marietta), is a local bill addressing Cobb County. It seeks to change the compensation of the clerk of the superior court, sheriff, and judge of Probate Court of Cobb County from the fee system to the salary system. It also seeks to change the salary of the clerk of the superior court, the deputy clerk, the executive assistant, and the executive secretary.
HB 409, by Rep. Barry Fleming (R-Harlem), proposes to alter O.C.G.A. § 47-2-244(m), concerning optional benefits available to appellate court judges, notice of election of benefits, eligibility for benefits, disability benefits and survivors benefits to decrease the age of eligibility for certain benefits from 65 years of age to 60 years of age except for incapacity.
HB 411, by Rep. David Clark (R-Buford), seeks to establish the "Blue Star Family Scholarship Act" at O.C.G.A. § 20-2-2140 et seq. This program is for children of military service members (active duty military member stationed in Georgia, a member of the Georgia National Guard, or a member of a reserve component of the armed forces residing in Georgia) and would allow a consumer driven savings account to be established composed of State funds accrued on behalf of an eligible student and which may be used for qualifying educational expenses, including future postsecondary education expenses. It outlines what are considered "qualifying educational expenses" (such examples are tuition and fees at a participating school; textbooks required by a participating school; etc.) At O.C.G.A. § 20-2-2142, it outlines how the eligible student shall qualify and if the parent signs a written agreement – to provide an education for the eligible student in at least the subjects of English and language arts, mathematics, social studies and science; to acknowledge that funds shall cease being deposited into the savings account if the eligible student returns to a public school; and to use the funds deposited into the savings account only for qualifying educational expenses for the eligible student. It requires the Office of Student Achievement to deposit for each participating student an "amount equivalent to the costs of the educational program that would have been provided for such student as calculated under O.C.G.A. § 20-2-161 if he or she were enrolled in and attending school in the student's resident school system less the statewide average local five mill share per student and less any administrative costs withheld pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 20-2-2143(c). The amount deposited shall not include any federal funds."
SB 189, by Sen. Blake Tillery (R-Vidalia), proposes changes to criminal procedures in Georgia's Public Defender laws at O.C.G.A. § 17-12-1 et seq. In part, his legislation proposes to delete obsolete references; change and clarify provisions relating to the authority and responsibilities of the Georgia Public Defender Council and its director (which is permitted to establish conflict case divisions in certain instances); and authorize the creation of more divisions within the Council.
SB 191, by Sen. Rick Jeffares (R-McDonough), proposes changes concerning the conservation and natural resources, eminent domain, and State government. It proposes specifically for the regulation and permitting of petroleum pipelines in O.C.G.A. § 12-17-1 et seq. It would require, in O.C.G.A. § 12-17-2(a), that on or after July 1, 2017 that any construction of a new petroleum pipeline, any expansion or an extension in Georgia be required to obtain a permit from the Director of the Environmental Protection Division. It requires such permit without regard to whether the petroleum pipeline company intends to "exercise eminent domain pursuant to Part 1 of Article 4 of Chapter 3 of Title 22." The legislation outlines the requirements for the application for this permit in O.C.G.A. § 12-17-3. Amendments are also added regarding the construction, operation, etc. of petroleum pipelines in Part 1 of Article 4 of Chapter 3 of Title 22. It also adds a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. § 50-23-32.1 and at (b) outlines that on or after July 1, 2017 that a petroleum pipeline company which desires to use the power of eminent domain to acquire property for a new petroleum pipeline or an expansion or extension is to be required to obtain a "certificate of need" from the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority; the legislation outlines the requirements for a company's application for a certificate of need and considerations undertaken in the whether to grant such certificate of need.
SB 192, by Sen. Rick Jeffares (R-McDonough), proposes changes to Georgia's elections' laws. His changes are included at O.C.G.A. § 21-2-132(c), regarding notices of candidacy, nomination petitions, and affidavits, so as to permit non-partisan elections for district attorneys, sheriffs, coroners, tax commissioners, and clerks of superior courts. It also adds the permission for authorizing such elections at O.C.G.A. § 21-2-139(a).
SB 193, by Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford), proposes changes to the 2016 law, "Positive Alternatives for Pregnancy and Parenting Grant Program" in Chapter 2A of Title 31. It seeks to:
- Change the definition of "contract management agency" or "agency" so that it now means "a nongovernmental charitable organization in this state which is a 510(c)(3) tax-exempt organization under the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 and whose mission and practice is to promote alternatives to abortion services and it shall not refer, encourage, or affirmatively counsel a person to have an abortion unless the person's attending physician diagnoses a condition which makes such abortion necessary to prevent her death."
- It redefines the "purpose" of this program so that it "shall be to promote healthy pregnancies and childbirth and to promote the substantial state interest of public health by providing, extending, and improving direct maternal and child health services and access to maternal and child health services by awarding grants to nonprofit organizations that provide pregnancy support services."
- It requires at O.C.G.A. § 31-2A-33(a) that this contract management agency selected by the Department of Public Health "meet the definition of a contract management agency as defined" in O.C.G.A. § 31-2A-31.
- It expands the grants awarded annually on a competitive basis in O.C.G.A. § 31-2A-35 so that such may be awarded to providers who display competent experience in providing any of the services (rather than all the services) included in O.C.G.A. § 31-2A-34.
- It further adds that "Nothing in this article shall be construed to prohibit any direct client service provider from promoting or expending nongrant funds for a political or religious purpose."
SB 194, by Sen. Jesse Stone (R-Waynesboro), proposes changes to Georgia's garnishment laws in Chapter 4 of Title 18. It is amending the current law to change the maximum part of disposable earnings subject to garnishment and conform the form used for such. Currently, at O.C.G.A. § 18-4-5(a)(1)(B), it permits the "amount by which the defendant's disposable earnings for that week exceed $217.00" and this proposes to move it to $217.50. It also seeks to amend O.C.G.A. § 18-4-5(a)(2) so that "in case of earnings for a period other than a week, the proportionate fraction or multiple of 30 hours per week at $7.25 per hour shall be used."
SB 195, by Sen. John Albers (R-Roswell), proposes enacting the "Georgia Jobs First Act of 2017." It would be created in a new Article 10 of Chapter 7 of Title 50 to provide for notice from employers that receive benefits from the State and then move facilities or operations from the State. The employer, at O.C.G.A. § 50-7-126, would have to notify the Commissioner within at least 120 days before such relocation is scheduled to occur. Starting July 1, 2017 and every six months thereafter, the Commissioner is required to compile a list of employers who have relocated their operations/facilities to a location outside of Georgia – the list would be transmitted to the Governor, Lt. Governor, Speaker of the House of Representatives, the Clerk of the House of Representatives and Secretary of Senate (and then on to all members of the General Assembly).
SB 196, by Sen. Ellis Black (R-Valdosta), seeks to amend O.C.G.A. § 47-3-22(a) regarding the Teacher's Retirement System of Georgia so that the board of trustees are required to elect a chairperson from among its membership (the chairman now is not required to be selected from the membership).
SB 197, by Sen. Ellis Black (R-Valdosta), is another retirement bill. This one proposes to amend O.C.G.A. § 47-2-22(a) so that the Employees' Retirement System of Georgia would have its board of trustees select from among its membership a chairperson.
SB 198, by Sen. Elena Parent (D-Atlanta), proposes to amend O.C.G.A. § 7-3-13, concerning the false advertising relative to industrial loans – it prohibits persons engaged in the business of making industrial loans from issuing payment instruments (check, money order, draft or negotiable demand instrument) which create a loan contract upon redemption unless a previous contract has been entered into between the two parties.
SB 199, by Sen. Brandon Beach (R-Alpharetta), seeks to enact the "Better Employee Benefits Act" in Title 34. It is to provide for the recognition and regulation of "professional employer organizations" operating in the State. This is similar to legislation offered by Rep. Chuck Martin (R-Alpharetta), HB 333.
SB 200, by Sen. Chuck Hufstetler (R-Rome), proposes a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. § 33-24-59.21 in an effort to "synchronize" patients' chronic medications. It requires that a health benefit policy providing prescription drug coverage in this State shall permit and apply a prorated daily cost-sharing rate to prescriptions that are dispensed by a pharmacy for less than a 30 days' supply if the prescriber or pharmacist indicates the fill or refill could be in the best interest of the insured patient or is for the purpose of synchronizing the insured patient's chronic medications." It also prohibits a health benefit policy providing prescription drug coverage from denying coverage for the dispensing of any drug prescribed for the treatment of a chronic illness that is made in accordance with a plan among the insured, a practitioner, and a pharmacist to synchronize the refilling of multiple prescriptions for the insured. Further, no health benefit policy providing prescription drug coverage is to use a payment structure incorporating prorated dispensing fees determined by calculation of the days' supply of medication dispensed. Dispensing fees are to be determined exclusively on the total number of prescriptions dispensed.
SB 203, by Sen. Bruce Thompson (R-White), addresses elementary and secondary education in Chapter 2 of Title 20. His legislation proposes that the State Board of Education to provide for the designation of a nonprofit organization to govern high school athletics in Georgia at O.C.G.A. § 20-2-621. It outlines the governing structure of this organization at O.C.G.A. § 20-2-623 which is to "operate as a representative democracy in which the sovereign authority is within its member schools" and to be governed essentially by its own bylaws. There are annual applications for membership where each school names its official representative to the organization (principal or his/her designee (whos is either the assistant principal or athletic director within that same school). The organization's membership is permitted to be divided along existing county lines into four contiguous and compact administrative regions with each containing an equal or nearly equal number of member schools to ensure equitable representation on the organization's board. This board of directors is to have 15 members with three-year terms (with members from public and nonprofit schools included as well as geographic representatives). The legislation outlines the authority and duties of this board (which does include the levying of annual dues and other fees and to set the percentage of contest receipts which are to be collected by the organizations). In O.C.G.A. § 20-2-625, the legislative authority of the organization "shall be vested in a representative assembly." In O.C.G.A. § 20-2-626, it requires that the organization is to establish, sustain, fund, and provide staff support to a public liaison advisory committee which is composed of 15 persons; this liaison advisory committee is to elect its own chairperson and vice chairperson and no member of the board of directors is permitted to serve on this liaison advisory committee. this group's powers are enumerated in this – 1) act as a conduit through which the general public may have input into the decision making process of the organization and to assist the organization in the development of procedures regarding the receipt of public input and disposition of complaints related to high school athletic and competition programs; 2) conduct public hearings annually in the four administrative regions so that interested parties may address issues regarding the effectiveness of the rules, operation and management of the organization; and 3) conduct an annual evaluation of the organization as a whole and present a report on its findings, conclusions and recommendations to the board of directors, the State School Superintendent and the Senate Education and Youth Committee and the House Committee on Education. At O.C.G.A. § 20-2-627, it establishes a committee on appeals so that there is a procedure which ensures each student the opportunity to appeal an unfavorable ruling with regard to his or her eligibility to compete. No member of the appeals committee may serve more than six consecutive years.
SB 204, by Sen. John Kennedy (R-Macon), addresses the preparation and transmittal of records on appeal by the court clerk, retention of copy by the cleark, furnishing at no cost to Attorney General in capital cases and notification where defendant is confined to jail. The changes proposed are in O.C.G.A. § 5-6-43 so as to provide for expeditious preparation and transmittal of record and transcript on appeal by court clerks and an added process in situations when the clerk is unable to transmit the record and transcript within the timeframe prescribed by law – it requires that the clerk notify the judge, appellant and appellee in writing within three days if for good cause the clerk is unable to transmit such record and transcript and within 30 days of receipt of that notice, the judge, upon scheduling and holding a hearing with the appellant, appellee and clerk, is to issue an order establishing a schedule for the transmittal of such record and transcript but such would be as expeditious as possible based upon the facts and circumstances but not to exceed 90 days after the filing of the notice of appeal. There is punishment to be imposed if there is a failure to meet the deadline without good cause shown.
Senate Health and Human Services Committee
Chairman Renee Unterman (R-Buford) and her Committee passed out two measures this afternoon. The first was a Substitute to the Chairman's "balanced billing" initiative, SB 8. The legislation defines what is a "surprise bill" (such as a bill for non-emergency healthcare services received a covered person for services which are rendered by a nonparticipating physician at a participating facility either when a participating physician is unavailable or a nonparticipating physician renders services without the covered person's knowledge or when unforeseen medical services arise at the time care is needed). The legislation requires disclosures to be made by providers (group practice, diagnostic and treatment center or health center) which are to be done online or in writing and also verbally at the time an appointment is scheduled. It also adds language to require information to be provided by insurers to enrollees – for instance make available a description of how an enrollee can submit a claim for health services and provide examples of anticipated out-of-pocket costs for frequently billed out-of-network healthcare services. There is also a dispute resolution process for such bills. In the discussions this afternoon, there were several amendments tacked onto the proposal including moving the language from 60% usual and customary charges (of the benchmark database) to 80% of such charges for a particular service performed by a provider in the same or a similar geographic area.
Sen. Ben Watson (R-Savannah) presented SB 96, which also received a do pass recommendation. This legislation is similar to a bill by Rep. Sheri Gilligan (R-Cumming), HB 944, which failed to be passed in 2016. Under Sen. Watson's bill, it does permit a registered professional nurse, advanced practice registered nurse, and a physician's assistant, in addition to a physician, to pronounce a patient's death when that patient is in hospice and an organ donor. Sen. Watson explained that corneas to be donated needed to be harvested within 15 hours of death and the permission to expand who can pronounce these patients' deaths will make that more feasible. Additionally, he reminded the Committee that when the hospice laws were originally written most hospice was provided in inpatient settings; now it is provided in the homes of the patients. There were no changes made to SB 96.
House Education Committee
The full House Education Committee held a meeting in order to consider HB 338, by Rep. Kevin Tanner (R-Dawsonville) which is the replacement legislation for the failed Opportunity School District initiative that failed last year through referendum. In this legislation, it seeks to install a "Chief Turnaround Officer" (CTO) who is to be an expert in the field of Education and make determinations as to the schools that need improvement. In presenting his bill, Rep. Tanner made it clear to the Committee that this legislation in its current form is much different than the OSD proposal last year and it seeks to remove the political and partisan aspects of the debate. There were over 20 speakers who were recognized to speak for the bill.
The first speaker was State School Superintendent Richard Woods, who made some recommendations for the Committee to consider in a new substitute bill. He suggested that the Chief Turnaround Officer should be an employee under the State Department of Education, which will likely be included in the next substitute revision. He stated that the CTO's authority is too broad and recommended language at line 38 to ensure the focus is on those schools with the highest need. At line 59, new language would require the CTO to provide an annual report indicating the lowest performing schools, in order to remain focused on those schools. He would also like the Committee to consider other changes to the bill that would remove some authority from the CTO and give it back to the State Board and the Superintendent. Chairman Brooks Coleman (R-Duluth) indicated that substitute will be drafted and released prior to the next full Committee meeting.
Mike Royal, Chairman of the State Board of Education, provided comments to the Committee as well and expressed some concerns about the broad authority given to the Chief Turnaround Officer and how that individual would be expected to interact with the State Board. He recommended that the Committee include a member from the State Board on the Accreditation Study Committee attached to this bill.
Other speakers were also present and they echoed the concerns already mentioned, but also express optimism that Rep. Tanner is willing to work with the appropriate parties to make sure the authority given to the CTO does not overreach. Groups in attendance who indicated a willingness to work with the author included the Professional Association of Georgia's Educators, the Georgia School Boards Association, Advanced Ed, and many others.
Chairman Coleman indicated that the Committee will hold HB 114, which would allow students who do not attend a school, but have taken at least one course at such school, to be considered for valedictorian or salutatorian status. Proponents of the measure argue that students who enter into a school system after their freshman year should be eligible to win the top award at that school. Opponents of the legislation argue that in some cases, students who are not a part of that schools community will take that schools' top award, which does not sit well with parents whose children have attended all four years. Additionally, many local school systems maintain their own policies on valedictorian status and this legislation would take away local control.
The Committee also considered two other pieces of legislation today. HB 244 allows students from military families who live on military bases or in military housing to attend any public school within the district they reside. It was passed out by the Committee fairly quickly. HB 148 was also on the agenda. This bill requires students in military families to maintain a unique identifier label to keep track of their record when they move to a new military base. This bill was also passed.
House Judiciary (Civil) Committee
The House Judiciary (Civil) Committee, chaired by Rep. Wendell Willard (R-Sandy Springs), heard two propositions today.
HB 159, authored by Rep. Bert Reeves (R-Marietta), is a comprehensive revision of the adoption code in Georgia law. The major policy changes in the bill are as follows. The bill reduces the minimum age for single petitioner adoptions from 25 to 21, but retains discretion for judges to decide on a case-by-case basis whether adoption is appropriate. Current law requires a ten year age gap between the child and prospective adoptive parent; this bill removes that requirement for stepparent or relative adoptions. The bill also removes the requirement for out-of-state adoptive parents to establish six months of residency in Georgia before filing for adoption. Further, HB 159 eases the domestication of foreign adoptions and related processes and codifies case law that has developed in the field. The bill further allows birth mothers to waive the ten-day revocation period when surrendering parental rights, so that the surrender becomes permanent upon signature. Finally, the bill allows for prospective adoptive parents to pay the birth mother's living expenses during her final trimester. Rep. Willard asked whether the law provided safeguards to ensure that individuals could not essentially "buy babies" by paying for living expenses and it was explained that attorneys must account for all expenses paid in an adoption when filing the adoption paperwork, and thus judicial oversight is provided. Rep. Willard commended the bill author and legislative counsel for the improvement of adoption forms in the legislation, which are now more concise and easier for a layperson to read, and Rep. Oliver also commented that she was impressed with the quality of work put into this bill. The bill received a do pass recommendation and moves to the Rule Committee.
HB 203, authored by Rep. Brian Strickland (R-McDonough), addresses issues created after the recession regarding rebuilding and expanding condominiums and rebuilding or finishing subdivisions. The bill distinguishes when the right to action accrues for continuing violations and one-time violations. The bill also allows homeowners to vote (by a two-thirds majority) on whether to expand the number of units in a condominium. The bill was amended to change the term "allegation" to "alleged violation or complaint" on line 17 of the bill, to provide clarity as to when a right of action begins to accrue. The bill received a do pass recommendation and moves to the Rules Committee.
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