Gold Dome Report - February 16, 2016
Legislative Day 21! Lawmakers returned to the Capitol this morning after a long weekend.
Governor Deal has "tapped" a new individual for a judgeship. Deal announced the appointment of Glen A. Cheney as Superior Court Judge for the Atlantic Judicial Circuit. Judge Cheney will fill a vacancy which was created when Judge David L. Cavender resigned.
The House Appropriations Committee's Subcommittees will vote out their recommendations tomorrow morning on the FY 2017 Budget.
A number of pieces of legislation were on the House Rules Calendar today, marking the longest calendar this Session. Also note that the House voted to agree to the Senate Substitute as amended to HB 750 (FY 16 State Budget) by a vote of 169-0.
HB 561, by Rep. Joe Wilkinson (R-Atlanta), seeks to designate the "adoptable dog" as the official State dog in O.C.G.A. § 50-3-87. This bill passed by a vote of 172-0.
HB 592, by Rep. Brett Harrell (R-Lawrenceville), addresses laws governing professional engineers and land surveyors to provide for the profession of professional structural engineer at O.C.G.A. § 43-15-2. It defines the profession as a "professional engineer with specialized knowledge and expertise in the practice of structural engineering. Such person shall be qualified by reason of knowledge of mathematics, physical sciences, and principles by which mechanical properties of matter are made useful to man in structures, acquired through professional education and practical experience, to engage in the practice of structural engineering. Such persons shall further possess a current certificate of registration as a professional structural engineer issued by the board." It establishes requirements for the "certificate of registration" in O.C.G.A. § 43-15-9.1. HB 592 passed by a vote of 169-2.
HB 738 addresses county law library fees and how those fees are used. There are county law libraries in each Georgia county. A "board" oversees the fees collected. This legislation adds that the district attorney of the circuit in which the county is located is also to be a member of this board (along with the chief judge of the superior court of the circuit, the judge of the probate court, the senior judge of the state court, a solicitor general of the state court, clerk of the superior court and two practicing attorneys from the county (who are selected by the board of trustees)). If this board, in O.C.G.A. § 36-15-7(c), determines it has excess funds, then the board of trustees is to disburse the funds either: 1) granting them to a charitable tax-exempt organization(s) which provides civil legal representation for low-income individuals; or 2) use the moneys to purchase software, equipment, fixtures, or furnishings for any office-related to county judicial facilities or services including but not limited to courtrooms and jury rooms, provided, however, that the county commissioners are provided a copy of the receipts of these purchases. Upon further determination of excess funds, the board of trustees is to turn over to the county commissioners and upon being turned over shall be used by the county commissioners for the purchase of software equipment, fixtures, or furnishings for the courthouse. This legislation came to the Floor in the form of a House Governmental Affairs Committee Substitute. That substitute passed by a vote of 168-1.
HB 882 came to the Floor in the form of a House Insurance Committee Substitute. It seeks to eliminate the foreign and alien insurer deposit requirement of securities eligible for the investment of capital funds in certain amounts at the discretion of the Insurance Commissioner in O.C.G.A. § 33-3-9. HB 882 passed by a vote of 167-0.
HB 883 is another House Insurance Committee Substitute but dealing with insurers' rehabilitation and liquidation in Chapter 37 of Title 33. It changes the current law related to reciprocal states and domiciliary liquidators in O.C.G.A. § 33-37-52. It was passed by a vote of 166-0.
HB 884, by Rep. Darlene Taylor (R-Thomasville), seeks to add a new subparagraph in O.C.G.A. § 33-56-3(a)(1), regarding risk-based capital levels, to revise the definition of company action level event to include a "health organization with total adjusted capital which is greater than or equal to its company action level RBC but less than the product of its authorized control level RBC and 3.0 and triggers the trend test determined in accordance with the trend test calculation included in the health RBC instructions." HB 884 passed by a vote of 170-0.
HB 885, by Rep. Jan Jones (R-Milton), repeals O.C.G.A. § 31-3-2.1, the statute relating to the option for certain counties to create a county board of health and wellness by ordinance. If passed and it becomes law, any county board of health and wellness which was "established by county ordinance pursuant to the former provisions of Code Section 31-3-2.1 and which is still in existence as of the effective date of this Act, the members of such board shall remain in office and such board shall remain in existence until a county board of health is constituted pursuant to Code Section 31-3-2 for such county or until December 31, 2016, whichever occurs first." HB 885 passed by a vote of 151-17.
HB 34 seeks to enact the "Georgia Right to Try Act" and was originally filed in 2015. Rep. Mike Dudgeon (R-Johns Creek) explained that his bill will add a new Chapter 52 into Title 31 to provide for investigational drugs, biological products and devices for patients who have terminal illnesses. These "investigational" drugs, products, or devices are those which have successfully "completed Phase I of a federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved clinical trial but has not yet been approved for general use by the federal Food and Drug Administration and currently remains under investigation in a federal Food and Drug Administration approved clinical trial." For an individual to be eligible for these drugs, products or devices, "a physician is to document in writing that the individual: 1) has a terminal illness; 2) has, in consultation with the physician, considered all other treatment options currently approved by the federal FDA; 3) has been given a recommendation by the physician for an investigational drug, biological product, or device; and 4) has given written informed consent for the use of the investigational drug, biological product, or device." The legislation outlines what the written informed consent is to contain. There is no obligation for the manufacturer or health benefit plan or governmental agency to pay coverage. HB 34 passed by a vote of 173-0.
HB 588 is a piece of legislation to regulate controlled substances and in particular those medications which contain ephedrine, pseudoephedrine and phenylpropanolamine and restrictions of sales on those products in O.C.G.A. § 16-13-30.3. Rep. Valerie Clark (R-Lawrenceville) authored this proposal. The products which have as a sole active ingredient, pseudoephedrine, may be offered for retail sale only if sold in blister packaging. Nonprescription products whose sole active ingredient is ephedrine or pseudoephedrine are only to be sold in a pharmacy in a manner which complies with the State Board of Pharmacy Rules. It establishes gram limitations for these products and how much of the products an individual may have over a 30-day period. It requires the pharmacy to maintain a record on each sale of a nonprescription product containing ephedrine or pseudoephedrine for a period of two years from the date of each transaction – only law enforcement agencies are permitted access to these pharmacy records (either written or electronic). Pharmacies can destroy the records after two years from the date of the transaction. On and after January 1, 2017, pharmacies (before completing a sale of these nonprescription medications) must electronically track all such sales and submit required information to a real-time electronic logging system – if a stop-alert is generated, the pharmacy is prohibiting from completing the sale. HB 588 passed by a vote of 151-19.
HB 764 came to the Floor in the form of a House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee Substitute to require drivers of motor vehicles to stop at crosswalks with user-activated rectangular rapid flash beacons (defined in O.C.G.A. § 40-1-1(50.02). It also requires drivers of motor vehicles to stop at crosswalks for bicycles riders in O.C.G.A. § 40-6-91. This bill passed by a vote of 169-0.
HB 798, by Rep. Joyce Chandler (R-Grayson) seeks to provide for eligibility for Zell Miller Scholarships for home study students and students graduating from ineligible high schools who receive scores in the eightieth percentile or higher on the ACT or on the combined critical reading and math portions on a single administration of the SAT in O.C.G.A. § 20-3-519(27). It also provides for eligibility for HOPE scholarships for students graduating from ineligible high schools when they earn a score in the seventy-fifth percentile or higher nationally on a standardized college admission test such as SAT or ACT in O.C.G.A. §20-3-519.2. HB 768 passed by a vote of 164-7.
HB 853 is an update to the "Coverdell-Murphy Act" so as to change the current system's levels of certified stroke centers to more accurately reflect advances in stroke treatment and therapy. It adds "comprehensive stroke centers" which are established in hospitals. The legislation came to the Floor as a Committee Substitute from the House Health and Human Services Committee. It passed by a vote of 170-0.
HB 871, by Rep. Robert Dickey (R-Musella), amends O.C.G.A. § 10-1-791(a), regarding Georgia's "Lemon Law." It requires that the $3.00 fee which is collected by the new motor vehicle dealer from the consumer at the sale or execution of a lease on each new vehicle be forwarded quarterly to the Department of Law for deposit in the new motor vehicle arbitration account rather than the Office of Planning and Budget. The House passed HB 871 by a vote of 168-0.
The Senate pulled two of the three pieces of legislation which it did not get to on its Senate Rules Calendar from last Thursday. Those bills were: SB 115 and SB 158. SB 271 was not considered on the floor today.
SB 115, by Sen. Chuck Hufstetler (R-Rome), was introduced in 2015 and had hearings last year prior to being called up again this year. Physicians have pushed back against the legislation which amends O.C.G.A. § 43-34-103(e.1) concerning the physician's authority to delegate duties to a physician's assistant. The original legislation proposed that a physician's assistant could prescribe Schedule II controlled substances. This legislation has now narrowed this so as allow the physician's assistant the ability to prescribe "any hydrocodone compound product" as long as such hydrocodone product prescribed is not in excess of a 15-day supply. A physician's assistant may already prescribe Schedule III, IV or V controlled substances under a delegated authority with a physician. The physician's assistant is also, in addition to having a delegated authority by a supervising physician, to complete three hours of continuing education biennially in the "appropriate ordering and use of Schedule II controlled substances." Sen. Hufstetler indicated that even under this bill, Georgia still takes a more conservative approach to this issue than in 42 other states. This legislation was endorsed by the Medical Association of Georgia and the Rural Health Association. There were no amendments or objections and SB 115 passed by a vote of 50-1.
Sen. Dean Burke, MD (R-Bainbridge), authored SB 158 in 2015 and it is now proposed to be known, if passed and signed into law, as the "Insurer Transparency Act." Several hearings evolved on the issues outlined in the original SB 158 over the summer and fall. This legislation is now narrowed to address the registration of rental preferred provider networks in Chapter 20C of Title 33. It defines a "rental preferred provider network" as a "preferred provider network that contracts with a health insurer or other payor or with another preferred provider network to grant access to the terms and conditions of its contract with providers of health care services. Such contracts are often referred to as "renting" or "leasing" the network. The term "rental preferred provider network" does not refer to a proprietary network of a licensed insurer or to arrangements providing for access to the proprietary network of a licensed insurer by affiliates of the licensed insurer or by entities receiving administrative services from the licensed insurer or its affiliates." These entities are to "register" with the Commissioner of the Department of Insurance within 30 days of commencing business in Georgia – unless already licensed as a health insurer in the State. Registration contains three elements: 1) official name of the rental preferred provider network including any d/b/a designations used in Georgia; 2) mailing address and main telephone number for the rental preferred provider network's main headquarters; and 3) the name and telephone number of the rental preferred provider network representative who shall serve as the primary contact with the department. The Commissioner for the Department is to maintain an "approved list" of these networks and may remove a network and revoke its registration under certain conditions as found in O.C.G.A. § 33-20C-3. This Chapter does not apply to a number of entities – the State's Medicaid, Medicare, or PeachCare programs; employers, church plans or government plans receiving administrative services from a rental preferred provider network or its affiliates or pharmacy benefits managers; circumstances where access to these networks is granted to an entity operating under the same brand licensee program as the contracting entity; medical services for injuries covered by workers' compensation; or self-funded, employer sponsored health insurance plans which are regulated by ERISA (see 29 U.S.C. Section 1001, et seq.). SB 158 passed by a vote of 54-0.
SB 290, by Sen. Charlie Bethel (R-Dalton) provides that an attorney who is collecting insurance policies or advising his or clients on adjustments does not need to register as an insurance agent. This is Sen. Charlie Bethel's bill and did not receive any debate. The only change made to the committee substitute was correcting a scrivener's error. It then passed by a vote of 51-0.
SB 320, by Sen. Ben Watson (R-Savannah) was the final bill considered before adjourning. It provides for a presumption of validity and revises current exemptions for non-residents who have valid driver's licenses from their home state or county. It revises provisions relating to a "nonresident" so the exemption for those individuals would read: "A nonresident who has in his or her immediate possession a valid driver's license issued to him or her in his or her home state or country; provided, however, that such person would otherwise satisfy all requirements to receive a Georgia driver's license and provided, further, that in the case of a driver's license issued by the driver's licensing authority of a foreign country, any applicable requirements of Code Section 40-5-21.3 are satisfied." SB 320 passed by a vote of 51-0.
HB 1016, by Rep. Taylor Bennett (D-Brookhaven), would amend Article 1 of Chapter 5 of Title 21, by adding a new code section 21-5-16 to prohibit the mailing of political campaign literature that advocates the election or defeat of a specific candidate, unless such literature bears the name of the person or organization mailing. Any person in violation would be subject to a fine of no more than $500.
HB 1017, by Rep. Barry Fleming (R-Harlem), seeks to provide for discovery of electronically stored information in Georgia's Civil Practice Act and particularly general provisions relating to discovery in O.C.G.A. § 9-11-26. It adds in that Code Section language for "claiming privilege or protecting trial preparation materials" (for information withheld and information produced). It also adds in O.C.G.A. § 9-11-33(c) interrogatories to parties' language pertaining to the "option to produce business records" which will now read:
When the answer to an interrogatory may be determined by examining, auditing, compiling, abstracting, or summarizing a party's business records including electronically stored information, and the burden of deriving or ascertaining the answer is substantially the same for either party, the responding party may answer by: (1) specifying the records that must be reviewed in sufficient detail so as to enable the interrogatory party to locate and identify such records as readily as the responding party could locate and identify such records; and (2) giving the interrogating party a reasonable opportunity to examine, audit, or inspect such records and to make copies, compilations, abstracts, or summaries.
There are further refinements concerning the production of documents and things and entry upon land for inspection in O.C.G.A. § 9-11-34 – in particular the "scope" which identifies the items which are in the responding party's possession, custody or control. In the response and objections under (b), procedure, it does add that "in addition to other bases for objection, the response may state an objection to production of electronically stored information from sources that the party identifies as not reasonably accessible because of undue burden or cost. The response shall state any objection to a requested form for producing electronically stored information. If the responding party objects to a requested form or if no form is specified in the request, the responding party shall state the form it intends to use." Another change addresses O.C.G.A. § 9-11-37 and adds a new subsection (e) to address failure to preserve electronically stored information. In issuing a subpoena to a nonparty to produce electronically stored information, the party requesting the documents is to take reasonable steps to avoid imposing undue burden or expense on such nonparty in O.C.G.A. § 9-11-45(a)(1)(C).
HB 1022, by Rep. Tom Kirby (R-Loganville), would add a new code section at 12-8-24.3 which would require inert waste landfill operators to provide notification of closure of a landfill within 30 days of receiving the final load of waste. It sets additional requirements. Only waste that does not produce "leachate" can be disposed in the landfill. Also, the landfill shall not be within 100 linear feet of any property line or enclosed structure. It requires disposed materials to be compacted to the least volume practical and at least one foot of clean earth must be placed over exposed waste material at least monthly (two feet of earth is required after 'final placement' of inert waste in such facility). The landfill site must also be graded and drained to prevent erosion; have designated authorized entrances; and have adequate fire prevention in place.
HB 1027, also by Rep. Barry Fleming (R-Harlem), seeks to provide the filing of documents in superior and state courts by electronic means in O.C.G.A. § 15-6-11 and O.C.G.A. § 15-7-5. Such would be permitted by court rule and documents filed by electronic means are to be in a format prescribed by the court and comply with O.C.G.A. § 9-11-7.1. It does require that such pleadings have electronic signature (as defined in O.C.G.A. § 10-12-2) and does address how any oath, verification or oath is to be filed (such as what is provided for in O.C.G.A. § 10-12-11).
HB 1031, by Rep. Sam Teasley (R-Marietta), would amend 21-2-495 to provide that, if the votes received by a candidate in a primary or election are within 1 percent of the total votes, that candidate would qualify to request a recount.
HR 1363, by Rep. Wendell Willard (R-Sandy Springs), creates the House Special Study Committee on Judicial Qualifications Commission Reform. This study would be undertaken by seven members of the House and a report would be made of any findings or recommendations. The Committee will be abolished on December 1, 2016.
HR 1365, by Rep. David Clark (R-Buford), establishes the Joint Committee on Veterans' Health and Employment Initiatives. His proposal is to look, in part, at such issues as health, safety and employment for veterans and state agencies and nonprofit entities and businesses which employ veterans and provide health and wellness programs to returning veterans. The Speaker of the House of Representatives is to appoint seven members from the House; the President of the Senate is to designate five members of the Senate to serve on this Joint Committee.
HR 1366, by Rep. Sharon Cooper (R-Marietta), would create the House Study Committee on a Georgia Abuser Registry to address the growing elderly and disabled population in the State. Its purpose would be to address the state-wide abuser registry created by SB 138, which passed in 2015 and fosters collaboration between state agencies that investigate crimes of abuse, neglect, and exploitation of vulnerable populations.
HR 1367, by Rep. Darlene Taylor (R-Thomasville), would create the House Study Committee on the Pharmacy Benefits Managers Process. It would review and evaluate the pharmacy claims processing procedure to determine if there are areas that could be improved to enhance efficiency and increase transparency.
HR 1378, by Rep. Brooks Coleman (R-Duluth), commends the School Social Workers Association of Georgia.
HR 1381, by Rep. Brooks Coleman (R-Duluth), 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 Capitol.
HR 1382, by Rep. Debbie Buckner (D-Junction City), encourages the Department of Community Health to create and seek the counsel of a State Health Benefit Plan Customer Advisory Council, composed of customers of the state health benefit plan. They would advise the Commissioner on components, provisions, elements, strategies, marketing, and customer satisfaction.
SB 352, by Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford), has been introduced to regulate Georgia's fantasy sports industry. Part of the legislation's goal is to provide some protection to Georgia consumers about the various sports' contests and impose some industry standards. The legislation adds a new Article 35 in Chapter 1 of Title 10. It defines "fantasy contest" as a "fantasy or simulated game or contest with an entry fee and offered to the general public in which : (A) the value of all prizes and awards offered to winning players is established and made known to the players in advance of the contest; (B) all winning outcomes reflect the relative knowledge and skill of the players and are determined predominantly by accumulated statistical results of the performance of individuals, including athletes in the case of sporting events; and (C) winning outcomes are not based on the score, point spread, or any performance of any single actual sports team or combination of such teams or solely on any single performance of an individual athlete in any single actual sporting event." It states in O.C.G.A. § 10-1-931 what is required for a "fantasy contest operator" to implement by imposing restrictions on how games are played and who may play (for instance a person must be 18 years of age or older to play). Annual audits are to be conducted by a third party with the results of the audit to be submitted to the Attorney General. Each of these operators is also to register with the Attorney General and pay an initial registration fee of $50,000.00 and an annual renewal fee of $10,000.00. The fees paid are to be paid into the Lottery for Education Account. There are penalties imposed for individuals who violate this new Article and those who operate a contest without a valid registration are guilty of a misdemeanor. It exempts these fantasy contests from "gambling" in O.C.G.A. § 10-1-934: "Fantasy contests of any form, whether public or private, for profit or not for profit, shall not qualify as a bet or be considered gambling under Article 2 of Chapter 12 of Title 16 or any other provision of law."
SB 376, by Sen. David Shafer (R-Duluth), amends Title 21 by adding a new code section at O.C.G.A. § 21-6-1 so as to enact the 'Agreement Among the States to Elect the President by National Popular Vote'. Each state that enters into the agreement would be required to conduct a statewide popular election for President and Vice President.
SB 379, by Sen. Frank Ginn (R-Danielsville), amends O.C.G.A. § 48-8-3 to provide a sales and use tax exemption for fire districts which have elected governing bodies and are supported by ad valorem taxes
SR 975, by Sen. John Wilkinson (R-Toccoa) commends Georgia's Court Appointed Special Advocates for their hard work and dedication to improving the lives of Georgia's children.
SR 983, by Sen. Fran Millar (R-Atlanta), creates the Senate Study Committee on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals to perform an extensive study on providing tuition benefits to 'unauthorized students' who are subject to deportation and have applied for deferred action. The study committee will weigh the advantages and disadvantages of extending tuition benefits to such students.
Senate Retirement Committee
The Committee had three bills on the agenda for consideration.
SB 370, by Sen. P.K. Martin IV (R-Lawrenceville) would allow court clerks to have more options for their continuing education. It would allow them to go to an accredited college or university to satisfy educational requirements. If the person does not receive the full 15 hour requirement, they may go back the following year to get the remaining hours. This bill received a do pass from the Committee.
SB 335, by Sen. Ellis Black (R-Valdosta), which relates to permissible investments in commingled funds and collective investment funds, was not heard today. Sen. Black requested to hold off on this bill so that additional language may be added or changed.
SB 336, by Sen. Ellis Black (R-Valdosta), came as a request from GMA. It permits the governing bodies of municipal corporations to enact and operate multiple defined benefit retirement plans. There was no discussion and it received a do pass recommendation.
The meeting was adjourned.
House Industry and Labor – Pruett Subcommittee
This subcommittee was chaired by Rep. Jimmy Pruett (R-Eastman). It considered HB 216, by Rep. Micah Gravely (R-Douglasville), which would provide firefighters with presumptive coverage for cancer developed while performing their duties. Members of the Douglas County Fire Department and other fire departments throughout the State were in attendance. This was a hearing only.
The main purpose of HB 216 is to increase the likelihood that firefighters receive fair consideration when seeking workers compensation coverage for cancer that, they claim, was developed during their job, due to smoke inhalation. The legislation would require a "preponderance of the evidence" when considering the causes of a firefighter's cancer, instead of "beyond a reasonable doubt" as was requested by some.
Rep. Gravely presented the bill to the subcommittee. He indicated that, two sessions ago, he presented a resolution offering condolences to the family of Michael Richardson, who was a Douglas County Firefighter. He suffered from smoke inhalation during an operation and, as a result, developed an aggressive form of cancer. This indicates the emerging dangers that firefighters face when entering burning buildings. Approximately 70 different toxins are released in an average home fire. These toxins come from manufactured materials that are found in various household items. He also said that 37 other states currently provide firefighters with presumptive coverage for cancer.
Rep. Barry Fleming (R-Harlem) asked a number of questions relating to funding. He wondered how many firefighters would be covered. A "firefighter," as defined in current law, includes all county, state, city, and volunteer firefighters. Rep. Fleming indicated there could be some complications with including volunteer firefighters, since they aren't necessarily provided workers compensation (which some do provide voluntarily). He further inquired as to how this would impact the premiums of all other people within a county, since they are all pulling from the same pot. Nobody had that information on hand. Chairman Pruett asked that Rep. Gravely address these concerns and indicate what policies are currently in place for covering volunteer firefighters at the local level.
Speaking on behalf of Professional Fire Fighters of Georgia was Mr. Jim Daws, who is a retired fireman of 30 years. He believes that scientific evidence has made it clear that the law needs to be changed. Firefighters should not be sent into a burning building without proper coverage. Bobby Potter also spoke. He was the chairman of the legislative committee at the State Board of Workers Compensation. He indicated that presumptive coverage is not a wise way to go; however he is open to working with legislators and the firemen to figure out a solution.
House Ways and Means Committee – Sales Tax Subcommittee
In a push to move through several pieces of legislation, this Subcommittee had an aggressive agenda in an early morning meeting:
HB 763, by Rep. Penny Houston (R-Nashville), seeks to remove the current sunset for the sales and use tax exemption for sales of food and food ingredients to a qualified food bank in O.C.G.A. § 48-8-3(57.1). In present law, the exemption is to expire on June 30, 2016; this change would allow the exemption to be permanent. Also, the legislation proposes to remove the sunset provision for the exemption on use of food and food ingredients donated to a qualified nonprofit agency and used for hunger relief purposes in O.C.G.A. § 48-8-3(57.2). This second exemption is to expire on July 1, 2015; again, the removal would make this exemption permanent. This legislation received a do pass recommendation to the full Committee.
HB 836, by Rep. Amy Carter (R-Valdosta), seeks to create a new exemption from State sales and use tax, for a limited period of time (July 1, 2016 and ending on June 30, 2018), for property used in renovation and rehabilitation of affordable housing. This initiative is written for Habitat for Humanity (a bona fide nonprofit entity). This legislation was held.
HB 911, by Rep. Geoff Duncan (R-Cumming), proposes changes to the current sales and use tax exemption for agricultural machinery and equipment in O.C.G.A. § 48-8-3.3(c) and in part seeks to change the definition of a "qualified agricultural producer" so that the threshold in determining if a person or entity is the owner or lessee of agricultural land or other real property from which $10,000 or more of agricultural products were produced and sold during the year, including payments from government sources would be one of the criteria used – currently, that threshold is $2,500. It further requires that the seller of the products is to make a good faith effort to separate items exempt from taxation under this code section from items subject to taxation and to complete the sales in separate transactions (see subparagraph (e)). This legislation was also held.
HB 923, by Rep. Regina Quick (R-Athens), is the sales and use tax exemption to provide an exemption for fire districts which have elected governing bodies and are supported by ad valorem taxes at O.C.G.A. § 48-8-3(1). In current law, it permits that sales to the United States government, this state, any county or municipality of this state and bona fide departments of such governments enjoy such exemption when paid for directly to the seller by warrant on appropriated government funds. This proposal received a do pass recommendation and moves to the full Committee.
HB 924, by Rep. Bubber Epps (R-Dry Bridge), is the Goodwill tax exemption proposal which is to be added in O.C.G.A. § 48-8-3(97). It proposes that for a limited period of time there be an exemption from State sales and use tax to certain sales to a qualified job training organization (has to be located in Georgia; must be a 501(c)(3) entity; specializes in the retail sale of donated items; provides job training and employment services to individuals with workplace disadvantages and disabilities (includes reentry citizens, people with disabilities and veterans); and uses majority of revenues for job training and placement programs) It seeks that this exemption become effective on July 1, 2017 and sunset on July 1, 2020. This legislation was passed.
HB 937, by Rep. Brett Harrell (R-Lawrenceville), relates to the sunset provision in current law for the State sales and use tax for sales of tangible personal property used for and in the construction of projects of "regional significance" (the location or expansion of some or all of a business enterprise's operations in Georgia where the Commissioner of the Department of Economic Development determines that the project will have a significant regional impact). This current exemption is to expire on June 30, 2016; this will extend this sunset date to June 30, 2019. This initiative was held.
HB 951, by Rep. Chad Nimmer (R-Blackshear), creates a new sales and use tax exemption for sales for admissions to major sporting events in O.C.G.A. § 48-8-3(97). These events are defined as National Football League championship game, any semifinal game or championship game of a national collegiate tournament, a Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer, or National Basketball Association all-star game, or any other major sporting event determined by the Commissioner of the Department of Economic Development and the State's Revenue Commissioner to be expected to generate revenue of at least $50 million in the host locality (revenue will include lodging, meals, vehicle rentals, and admissions to tourist attractions). If passed, this exemption would become effective on July 1, 2016 and applicable to all admissions purchased on or after January 1, 2017. There is NO sunset provision included. This bill was also held.
Two proposals regarding joint county and municipal sales tax were taken up. HB 1005, by Rep. Jay Powell (R-Camilla), addresses negotiations between counties and cities over the distribution of the one (1) cent Local Option Sales Tax (LOST). LOST is a significant revenue source for several Georgia cities and counties so that there is less reliance on property taxes. Current negotiations on LOST are to occur once every ten years; sometimes this leads to protracted negotiations. This legislation places another option on the table and places penalties for those who fail to come up with a LOST distribution. The legislation permits local Boards of Education to have voters, in a referendum, institute an Education Local Option Sales Tax (E-LOST) so as to continue the one (1) cent sales tax with proceeds funding education and with a corresponding reduction in the property taxes levied by local Boards of Education. This would permit property owners tax relief from the education portion of local property taxes. The Constitutional Amendment for this endeavor is HR 1344, by Rep. Jay Powell (R-Camilla). Only hearings were held on this enabling legislation and Resolution.
House Health and Human Services Committee
Chair Sharon Cooper (R-Marietta) held a meeting to address the following proposals:
HB 684, by Rep. Chuck Martin (R-Alpharetta), has already been before this Committee on two occasions. The underlying proposal sought to provide for delegable services and procedures which may be performed by dental hygienists. Dentists have pushed back on this legislation because of scope of practice concerns. A new Substitute was before the Committee. The sub passed unanimously without testimony.
HB 897, by Rep. Betty Price (R-Roswell), seeks to add a new Article 10 in Chapter 8 of Title 31 so as to allow for establishment and operation of a drug repository program to accept and dispense unused prescription medications. Rep. Price was joined by the executive director of Sirim, a non profit that distributes surpluses. This bill also passed handily.
HB 916, by Rep. Dustin Hightower (R-Carrollton), addresses "The Pharmacy Audit Bill of Rights" and removes an exception relating to audits to be conducted by the Department of Community Health so that now it will apply to the State's Medicaid program in O.C.G.A. § 49-4-151.1. – it does state that clerical or record keeping errors, (e.g., typographical errors, scrivener's errors, or computer errors, unintentional errors or omission in billing, coding, or required documentation; or isolated instances of incomplete documentation by a provider) are not considered as fraud or constitute the basis to recoup full payment for Medicaid payment provided. The committee continued its string of quick and unanimous approval.
HB 944, by Rep. Sheri Gilligan (R-Cumming), is a bill which has been pushed by Visiting Nurse Health System and other entities which have hospice facilities or services. Specifically, it addresses the pronouncement of death of patients who are in nursing homes or hospice care when those patients are organ donors. It further proposes to provide for the pronouncement of death of these patients who are organ donors, in hospice care, may be done by a registered professional nurse. Representatives from Visiting Nurse, the Georgia Hospice Association, AARP and the Georgia Healthcare Association were present to testify in favor of the bill but no testimony was requested by the chair. Rep Gilligan requested amendments to ensure that registered nurses, physician assistants and nurse practitioners were permitted to pronounce death on each of the hospice and nursing home situations. The bill passed easily and is Rep. Gilligan's first bill. The hazing questions that accompany a first bill did not occur. This bill was passed out of committee.
HB 954, by Rep. Chuck Efstration (R-Dacula), seeks to enact the "Uniform Adult Guardianship and Protective Proceedings Jurisdiction Act" in Chapter 11 of Title 29. It permits a Georgia court to communicate with a court in another state concerning a proceeding which may arise under Chapter 11 – and the parties may also participate in the communication. The bill passed.
HB 915, by Rep. Andy Welch (R-McDonough), was on the agenda in the form of a Committee Substitute. It addresses the numerous criminal records background checks required by Department of Human Services, Department of Juvenile Justice, Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, Division of Family and Children's Services, and Department of Community Health to be undertaken by child welfare agencies. It requires the Department of Juvenile Justice to perform these background checks on behalf of all agencies in O.C.G.A. § 49-2-14.1. Each of the affected agencies/departments is to cooperate with the Department of Juvenile Justice in this effort; presently, each of these entities conducts its own criminal records background checks. Because Rep. Welch was not able to get to the committee meeting, this bill was held.
HB 900, by Rep. Sharon Cooper (R-Marietta), contains revisions to Chapter 13 of Title 16. It authorizes the retention of database information for two years concerning the electronic database of prescription drugs (Schedule II, III, IV and V controlled substances). Currently, the law requires one year. It further addresses who may access this information which is not subject to open records in O.C.G.A. § 16-13-60 – it does permit individuals who have delegated prescription authority to have access to information for the sole purpose of providing medical or pharmaceutical care to a specific patient. It also presently permits GDNA and Georgia Composite Medical Board to access this information; this also permits any other state regulatory board governing prescribers or dispensers or the Department of Community Health for the purposes of the State's Medicaid program to gain access upon issuance of an administrative subpoena by such agency, board or department pursuant to their existing subpoena power or to the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid upon the issuance of a subpoena by the federal government pursuant to its existing subpoena powers. The Medical association of Georgia joined rep cooper to support the bill and it passed.
House Ways and Means Committee – Tax Reform Subcommittee
Chairman Paul Battles (R-Cartersville) and his Subcommittee had three proposals on their agenda:
HB 793, by Rep. Mandi Ballinger (R-Canton), had a hearing in the late afternoon. This legislation provides a property tax exemption to Moose Lodges. There were no real questions.
HB 939, by Rep. Betty Price (R-Roswell), piggybacks on legislation passed in 2014, HB 1000, and revises procedures for the Administrative Office of the Courts to arrange for debt setoff. It is an effort to intercept tax refunds when there is a State debt owed. This legislation received a do pass recommendation and passed to the full House Ways and Means Committee.
House Ways and Means Committee – Public Finance and Policy
HB 899 was also brought before the Subcommittee by Chairman Jay Powell (R-Camilla). This legislation addresses Georgia's tobacco settlement agreement and issues with the entities who are to place funds in escrow and not actually into the Tobacco Settlement Fund. The legislation was brought at the Attorney General's request. Convenience store operators raised questions about directories of approved brands and products sold at retail when they may not have known whether those producers of the products were to pay funds into escrow. This action today was a hearing only; there will be changes made to the legislation which will come back to the Subcommittee.
HB 356 came to the Subcommittee in the form of a Substitute. It addresses the title of boats and how tax will be imposed on those boats when sold. Rep. Lee Hawkins (R-Gainesville) presented his legislation which now caps the sales tax at $300. The legislation will capture new sales as well as "casual sales." The Subcommittee had inquiries on the sales tax lost with this methodology as well as why the changes were proposed. Originally, the author had attempted to impose taxes like taxes imposed on automobiles but found that did not really work. There were suggestions to change the dates on when the changes would take place so that there would be coordination on capturing titles. Tax Commissioners asked that some "salary supplement" for them because of the added work involved be considered. This legislation was before the Subcommittee only for a hearing. Another meeting will be held on this legislation.
Rep. Bruce Williamson's (R-Monroe) legislation addressing the "Georgia Uniform State Tax Execution Registry Act," HB 912, received a hearing. This legislation creates an electronic process for tax liens. It was discussed that local governments should not be affected by this legislation and it will not change the law concerning lien priority.
House Education Committee – Subcommittee on Academic Support
Two pieces of legislation were on this Subcommittee's agenda:
HR 1313, by Rep. Mike Glanton (D-Jonesboro), urges local boards of education to avoid scheduling high school graduations or matriculation ceremonies or commencements on the same day that the general primary election is to be held.
HB 873, by Rep. David Clark (R-Buford), is the "Quality Basic Education Act" amendment to enact the "Sudden Cardiac Arrest Prevention Act" in an effort to inform students (and their parents) about the nature and warning signs of sudden cardiac arrest.
House Ways and Means Committee – Income Tax Subcommittee
Seven proposals were heard by Rep. Bruce Williamson (R-Monroe) and his fellow Subcommittee members:
HB 768, by Rep. Lee Hawkins (R-Gainesville), was before the Subcommittee in a new Substitute. It creates the ABLE program to permit families to set up tax exempt accounts to pay qualified expenses for eligible individuals. 30 states have already passed legislation. This legislation received a "do pass" recommendation and moves to the full Ways and Means Committee.
HB 828, by Rep. Virgil Fludd (D-Fayetteville), also had a new Substitute and permits businesses to get tax credits when they create jobs for qualified parolees. Rep. Fludd explained that to incarcerate an individual costs the State $53 per day; it also costs more than $4.00 per day for an individual to be on parole. Juvenile costs for incarceration are $91,000 (annual). The goal is to put individuals to work as it is shown that employment is the immediate reason for less numbers recidivating and ending back in jail/prison. Employers will receive a $2,500 tax credit per parolee job (meeting certain criteria such as pay for the work is at least $470 per week; the job is 35 hours per week and the employed individual remains employed for 40 weeks). Doug Ammar with the Georgia Justice Project spoke in favor of the proposal. Other states have passed similar credits. The Georgia Department of Economic Development also discussed some of its efforts made in returning folks to work. This legislation was held for additional refinements.
HB 865, by Rep. Mike Dudgeon (R-Johns Creek), was passed by Committee Substitute from the Subcommittee. This legislation addresses enactment of the BEST Act (an income tax exemption for school scholarship funding) which will parallel the current student scholarship program. Rep. Dudgeon indicated that this tax credit had a minimal accountability requirement attached and did require a norm-administered test. It is a way in which to focus on children and will capture more of the middle class. There was a lot of discussion around a one-for-one credit; Chairman Powell does not like to see credits given without individuals having "skin in the game" and asked that it be an $.80 credit for every dollar provided. There was discussion about impact on corporate foundations. However, the Powell Amendment to change this credit amount was passed and moves forward now as a new Committee Substitute.
HB 919, by Rep. Geoff Duncan (R-Cumming), received a lot of discussion in the Subcommittee. This legislation proposes to provide funding for rural health care organizations. Rep. Duncan described his bill as a "big idea" as rural healthcare is a problem. It identifies a rural healthcare organization as a healthcare organization in a rural county (35,000 or less population) and has 25 percent indigent care. There are 53 counties which have populations of 35,000 or less. It permits an income tax credit up to $2,500 per individual and $5,000 per married couple so that those funds may be paid directly as a contribution to the local rural healthcare organization. They can obtain a credit of 80 percent on $1.00; this applies to corporations as well. The program will be overseen by the Department of Public Health. There is a cap on this program of $250 million (a very large number). The program will be called CPR². There is no sunset although Rep. Ron Stephens (R-Savannah) inquired about such. There were also questions around making sure that no "shell" or parent corporation for one of the rural healthcare organizations could benefit by these payments being made. Jimmy Lewis, CEO of HomeTown Health, testified in favor of the legislation reminding the Subcommittee that hospitals are economic drivers in their communities; they help with the tax digest in the counties; and they are the largest employers in many instances. Another idea which Rep. Duncan is entertaining is about tying this program to counties with Critical Access Hospitals – that was more appealing to Rep. Trey Kelley (R-Cedartown) but his county, Polk, exceeds the 35,000 population requirement. Tim Sweeney, with the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, also spoke to the legislation but cautioned that another issue was really "coverage," noting that individuals do not have access to health insurance coverage. This legislation only received a "hearing" today.
HB 922, by Rep. Bruce Williamson (R-Monroe), came before the Subcommittee in the form of a Substitute and it also cleared out of the Subcommittee. The taxpayer may include "disregarded entities." The Georgia Chamber of Commerce requested this legislation addressing job tax credit programs – it creates quality job tax credits for higher paying jobs.
HB 936, by Rep. Brett Harrell (R-Lawrenceville), also received a do pass recommendation by the Subcommittee. This legislation was requested by the Department of Economic Development and addresses the wage of each new job which is created in O.C.G.A. § 48-7-40 and O.C.G.A. § 48-7-40.1.
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.