Gold Dome Report - February 17, 2017
Lawmakers convened this morning for Day 20, which marks the half-way point during this 40-day legislative session. Crossover Day is on Day 28, which gives legislators only eight more days to get their bills passed from the originating chamber over to the other chamber.
A couple of Senators, including Sen. Dean Burke (R-Bainbridge), recognized doctors who practice in rural areas of the State and who have completed the Country Doctor Scholarship Program. Sen. Jesse Stone (R-Waynesboro) presented perhaps the most exciting resolution of the morning, SR 196, which recognizes February 11-18 as "Georgia Court Reporting and Captioning Week" at the Capitol.
SB 2, by Sen. Mike Dugan (R-Carrollton) was the first bill to be heard. It is known as the "FAST Act" and is intended to ease regulatory burdens on small business in Georgia in order to give them a better chance to succeed. A single amendment was adopted that cleaned up some of the language currently in the bill without changing the purpose or intent of the bill. It went on to pass unanimously, 52-0.
Sen. Lindsey Tippins (R-Marietta) presented SB 3 next on the floor. This bill is known as the "CONNECT Act" and seeks to expand credentialing training for Career Technical and Agricultural Education (CTAE) programs throughout the State. A Committee substitute was presented and it passed unanimously, 52-0.
SB 117, by Sen. P.K. Martin (R-Lawrenceville) instructs the Georgia Technology Authority to adopt policies and standards addressing the use of technology in State agencies and within the Executive branch in order to improve cyber security for the State's data systems. The bill also provides for a waiver whereby an agency can waive GTA's adopted policies when it is deemed to promote the best interests of the State. SB 117 went on to pass unanimously, 53-0.
The House had under consideration three pieces of legislation this morning, including the Fiscal Year 2018 State Budget. HB 44, by Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) sets the FY 18 budget with a revenue estimate of $24.9 billion, which indicates a $1.25 billion (5.3%) increase from the original Fiscal Year 2017 budget. The FY 18 budget was passed by a vote of 167-1.
HB 9, by Rep. Shaw Blackmon (R-Bonaire), seeks to criminalize 'up-skirting' which is when a person uses a device to observe and/or record underneath another person's clothing without that person's consent. It further makes it unlawful to disseminate any such images or recordings. This bill has seen widespread support among both chambers. The Senate passed a similar measure earlier this week with SB 45. HB 9 passed the House floor by a vote of 156-1.
The last bill considered today was HB 138, by Rep. Lee Hawkins (R-Gainesville), which adds a fifth superior court judge to the Northeastern Circuit to be appointed by the Governor for a term through December 31, 2020, at which time a successor will be elected. The new term, beginning on January 1, 2021, is set at four years. This bill passed by a vote of 158-0.
HB 414, by Rep. Sam Teasley (R-Marietta), addresses income taxes, revising O.C.G.A. § 48-7-29.16(f). This concerns qualified education tax credits so as to provide unapproved and unused tax credits to be carried forward and added to the aggregate amount of tax credits for the next taxable year.
HB 415, by Rep. John Meadows (R-Calhoun), proposes a new Article 13 in Chapter 2 of Title 20, concerning elementary and secondary education, to provide for the designation of a nonprofit organization to govern high school athletics in Georgia. It requires that the State Board of Education designate a nonprofit organization to govern high school athletics for public schools and permits a nonpublic school which wishes to engage in high school athletic competition with a public high school to become a member of this organization. At O.C.G.A. § 20-2-623 it proposes the governing structure of the organization, which is to operate as a "representative democracy in which the sovereign authority is within its member schools." The executive authority of this organization is vested in its 15 board of directors. At O.C.G.A. § 20-2-625 it requires that the legislative authority for the organization be vested in a "representative assembly" and it outlines the composition of such representative assembly. In O.C.G.A. § 20-2-626 it requires that the organization establish a liaison advisory committee, outlining its composition. In part this public liaison advisory committee, which meets four times annually, is to act as a conduit so that the 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; conduct public hearings annually; conduct annual evaluation of the organization and make a report to the State School Superintendent and House and Senate Education Committees; etc. The organization is also to establish a procedure to ensure each student has the opportunity to appeal an unfavorable ruling with regard to his or her eligibility to compete.
HB 416, by Rep. Earl Ehrhart (R-Powder Springs), seeks to amend O.C.G.A. § 43-30-1(2) to authorize doctors of optometry to administer pharmaceutical agents by injection, related to the diagnosis or treatment of diseases and conditions of the eye and adnexa oculi except for sub-tenon, retrobulbar, peribulbar, intraorbital nerve block, intraocular, or botulinum toxin injections. Before being able to administer these injections, the legislation outlines the requirements for the optometrist, including that he or she hold a current license or certificate of registration issued by the board and has obtained a certificate of successful completion of an "injectables training program consisting of a minimum of 30 hours approved by the board; or is enrolled in an injectables training program consisting of a minimum of 30 hours approved by the board and under the direct supervision of a doctor of optometry licensed or registered under this chapter or a physician licensed under Chapter 34 of Title 43 and board certified in ophthalmology." This legislation is similar to HB 36 which failed in the House Health and Human Services Committee earlier this month.
HB 419, by Rep. Deborah Silcox (R-Sandy Springs), proposes to address provisions regarding local governments in order to enable the governing authorities within the Atlanta Regional Commission, including the Counties of Cherokee, Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Douglas, Fayette, Fulton, Gwinnett, Henry and Rockdale to further regulate the use or ignition of consumer fireworks in O.C.G.A. § 36-60-24(d.1).
HB 420, by Rep. Stacey Evans (D-Smyrna), is a proposal to address the compensation of the clerk of the superior court, the sheriff, and the judge of the Probate Court of Cobb County from the fee system to the salary system. It also seeks to change the compensation of the judge of the probate court and the compensation of the clerk of the probate court.
HB 423, by Rep. Valencia Stovall (D-Forest Park), seeks to alter O.C.G.A. § 20-2-2068.2, proposing that each local board of education shall make its unused facilities that are not being utilized by any of its local charter schools available to any state charter schools that are located within the local school system boundaries. It outlines that the terms of the use of such a facility by a State charter school is required to be subject to negotiation between the board and the State charter school and is to be memorialized in a separate agreement. The State charter school which is allowed to use such facility under an agreement is prohibited from selling or disposing of any interest in the property without the written permission of the local board. Further, the State charter school may not be charged rental/leasing fees for the existing facility or for property normally used by the public school which became the State charter school. If the local board of education sells an unused facility to a State charter school, it shall be a nominal amount of $1.00.
HB 424, by Rep. Bert Reeves (R-Marietta), seeks to enact another bill concerning Cobb County. This proposes to amend the creation of the State Court of Cobb County and to change the compensation of judges of that court.
HB 425, by Rep. Joyce Chandler (R-Grayson), proposes adding new subsections at O.C.G.A. § 20-2-218 concerning elementary and secondary education student assessments. It adds in (t), with respect to "any standardized assessments developed and administered pursuant to this Code section, the State Board of Education or local school system is strongly encouraged to allow the administration of any such assessment in a paper-and-pencil format for any student whose parent or guardian requests such format and to any student 18 years of age or older who requests such format; provided, however, that this shall not apply to make-up assessments." Further, it proposes adding at (u) that the State School Superintendent is to develop guidelines, approved by the State Board of Education, that identify a range of appropriate policies which a local school system is strongly encouraged to adopt when considering how students not participating in a state-wide assessment will be supervised and what, if any, alternative to the assessment will be provided to them during the test administration. This is an effort to address "sit and stare."
HB 426, by Rep. Sharon Cooper (R-Marietta), seeks to address the delegation of certain medical acts to advanced practice registered nurses in O.C.G.A. § 43-34-25(g). It provides an exception to the number of advanced practice registered nurses with which a delegating physician can enter into a protocol agreement at any one time for nurses in emergency medical services system operated by, or on behalf of, any county or municipality with a full-time medical director. It further adds that a delegating physician may not enter into a nurse protocol agreement with more than ten advanced practice registered nurses at any one time; may not supervise more than four advanced practice registered nurses at any one time pursuant to nurse protocol agreements; and shall not be required to conduct any meetings, observations, or review of medical records except under certain conditions (maintains evidence-based clinical practice guidelines; is accredited by an accrediting body approved by the board; requires the delegating physician to document and maintain a record of review of at least 10 percent of the advanced practice registered nurses' medical records to monitor quality of care being provided to patients (which may be conducted electronically or onsite); and requires the delegating physician and advanced practice registered nurse to participate in and maintain documentation of quarterly clinical collaboration meetings (by phone, in person, or onsite for the purpose of monitoring the care being provided).
HB 427, by Rep. Mark Newton (R-Augusta), proposes to amend Chapter 34 of Title 31, expanding the service cancelable loan program for physicians in underserved areas to other health care practitioners. If passed it would be known as the "Physicians and Health Care Practitioners for Rural Areas Assistance Act."
SB 152, by Sen. Emanuel Jones (D-Decatur), addresses elementary and secondary education to provide that the policy of the State is that students who are subject to compulsory attendance are not to be assigned to an alternative education program for more than two semesters except for serious offenses (physical assault or battery of school personnel or other students, bullying and unlawful use or possession of illegal drugs or alcohol). It does permit that any student assigned to an alternative education program for a serious offense has the right to request a hearing as outlined in O.C.G.A. § 20-2-754 after two semesters in such alternative education program for the purposes of returning to a regular classroom. See O.C.G.A. § 20-2-154.1(a). Amendments are also offered in the Code Section concerning adoption of policies by local boards to improve student learning environment at O.C.G.A. § 20-2-735(f); relating to student codes of conduct at O.C.G.A. § 20-2-751.5(d); and expulsion or suspension of students for felonies at O.C.G.A. § 20-2-768(b) and (c).
SB 188, by Sen. Donzella James (D-Atlanta), requires each local board of education to adopt a policy prohibiting school personnel from taking actions in regards to a parent or guardian placing, or not placing, a student on psychotropic medications in O.C.G.A. § 20-2-779.2.
SB 189, by Sen. Blake Tillery (R-Vidalia), proposes changes in Title 17 to clarify provisions relating to the legal defense of indigents in Title 17.
SB 190, by Sen. Rick Jeffares (R-McDonough), seeks to transfer intake services of the Juvenile Court of Newton County to the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 15-11-69.
SB 192, by Sen. Rick Jeffares (R-McDonough), seeks to address elections and primaries. It amends O.C.G.A. §21-2-132(c), regarding filing notices of candidacy, nomination petitions and affidavits, to provide for the nonpartisan election of district attorneys, sheriffs, coroners, tax commissioners and clerks of superior court. It also amends O.C.G.A. § 21-2-139(a) regarding the authorization of nonpartisan elections for these individuals.
SB 193, by Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford), proposes changes to the "Positive Alternatives for Pregnancy and Parenting Grant Program" in O.C.G.A. § 31-2A-31(3), redefining the term, 'contract management agency.' It adds that such is a "nongovernmental charitable organization in this State which is a 501(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 also amends O.C.G.A. § 31-2A-32 restating the purpose of this Program adding that it is 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." In O.C.G.A. § 31-2A-35, it broadens the awards of these grants so that a direct service organization may receive the funds, on a competitive basis, and which displays competent experience in providing any of the services outlined in O.C.G.A. § 31-2A-34 rather than all the services.
SB 194, by Sen. Jesse Stone (R-Waynesboro), changes the maximum part of disposable earnings which are subject to garnishment and proposes to conform the forum used in O.C.G.A. § 18-4-5(a)(1)(B) and O.C.G.A. § 18-4-7(b). It raises the amount by which the defendant's disposable earnings exceed $217.00 to $271.50 and in the 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 is to be used.
SB 196, by Sen. Ellis Black (R-Valdosta), addresses O.C.G.A. § 47-3-22(a), so that it changes how the Teachers Retirement System of Georgia selects its chairperson for the board of trustees – "the board of trustees shall elect a chairperson from among its membership and shall elect an executive director, who shall not be one of its members." Thus, this allows a woman to be elected to the chair position of this organization.
SB 197, by Sen. Ellis Black (R-Valdosta), proposes to change O.C.G.A. § 47-2-22(a) and the Employees' Retirement System of Georgia and its selection of its chairperson of the board of trustees. It requires that "the board of trustees shall elect from among its membership a chairperson and shall employ a director who shall not be a trustee."
SB 200, by Sen. Chuck Hufstetler (R-Rome), proposes a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. § 33-24-59.21 so 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, which provides prescription drug coverage, from dispensing any drug prescribed for the treatment of a chronic illness that is made in accordance with a plan among the insured, practitioner, and pharmacist to synchronize the refilling of multiple prescriptions for the insured. No health benefit policy providing prescription drug coverage is permitted to use payment structures incorporating prorated dispensing fees determined by calculation of the day's supply of medication dispensed. Dispensing fees are to be determined exclusively on the number of prescriptions dispensed.
SB 201, by Sen. Butch Miller (R-Gainesville), seeks to add a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. § 34-1-10 to allow employees to use sick leave for the care of immediate family members. It does not require that the employer offer sick leave of any kind or require an employer to allow an employee to use more than five days of earned sick leave for the care of an immediate family member.
SB 202, by Sen. Michael 'Doc' Rhett (D-Marietta), proposes to address Georgia's Medicaid program so as to provide for an increase in the personal needs allowance to be deducted from a nursing home resident's income at O.C.G.A. § 49-4-142(d). It would require that the Department of Community Health, no later than July 1, 2017, implement a modification to the State Plan for Medicaid or any affected rules or regulations so that there shall be deducted a personal needs allowance of not less than $70.00 per month which shall include the minimum amount required by 42 U.S.C. Section 1396a(q)(2).
SB 206, by Sen. P.K. Martin (R-Lawrenceville), seeks to add a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. § 33-24-59.21 to require health plans to provide coverage for hearing aids for children ages 18 years of age and younger. It requires that coverage for billed charges of one hearing aid per hearing impaired ear not to exceed $3,000.00 per hearing aid. It also requires coverage to provide for the replacement of one hearing aid per hearing impaired ear every 48 months for covered individuals. Such coverage will apply individual or group plans, policies or contracts for health care services issued, delivered, issued for delivery or renewed in Georgia as well as to Medicaid and self-insured health plans not subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, 29 U.S.C. Section 1001, et seq. It does permit the insurer not to provide coverage if an actuary, in an actuarial analysis, finds that by providing such coverage the average premiums charged have been increased by more than one (1) percent. The mandate does not apply to any accident and sickness contract, policy, or benefit plan offered by an employer with ten or fewer employees.
Senate Education and Youth Committee
The Committee considered three pieces of legislation today. SB 139, by Sen. Hunter Hill (R-Buckhead) was presented as a substitute and it adds a new career pathway to the career pathway law by creating a new "leadership" program that is meant to provide instruction to students through the 'classical model' of teaching. Sen. William Ligon, Jr. (R-Brunswick) presented the bill on Sen. Hill's behalf. He indicated that the advantages of adopting such a model would be to foster critical thinking in students. Two speakers were signed up to address SB 139. Colonel Steve Lambert is an assistant principal at Atlanta Classical Academy. He discussed the benefits of such an education, including the fact that it fosters critical thinking and leadership skills. Chairman Lindsey Tippins (R-Marietta) said that he agrees that leadership skills are important for students to have; however he would like to confer with the Department of Education on this particular bill. Sen. Elena Parent (D-Atlanta) and Sen. Horacena Tate (D-Atlanta) expressed some concern about the practical applicability of adding leadership pathways. Sen. Tate indicated that these 'leadership pathway' courses may already be covered in after-school activities, church programs, and other community programs which specialize in providing leadership training to students outside of the school setting. Sen. Tippins indicated that SB 139 would be held in Committee to be looked at further.
SB 152 was also up for consideration. Sen. Emanuel Jones (D-Decatur) presented the legislation and indicated that an identical bill was passed out of the Senate Education Committee last year and its purpose is to limit the time that students must spend in alternative schools, excluding kids who commit serious offenses and provides a pathway for such students to improve. He indicated that the Barton Politics Center collaborated with the Criminal Justice Reform Council last year on this issue. Also, Polly McKinney spoke in support of this legislation on behalf of Voices for Georgia's Children. In concluding, Sen. Tippins asked that language be included maintaining that these "provisions are dependent on the acceptable behavior of the student while they are in the program". The bill remains in Committee.
Sen. Lester Jackson presented SB 181, which would provide public schools with the same tax credits that the State gives to private schools, which he said would indicate a positive direction for Georgia's students. Sen. Jesse Stone (R-Waynesboro) asked if there is any limitation on the aggregate amount of funding allocated or if there is a fiscal note attached. No fiscal note exists; however Sen. Jackson said there would be some cost to the State. Chairman Tippins asked that a fiscal note and/or a dollar limit be attached to the bill. SB 181 remained in Committee. The Committee was then adjourned.
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
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