Gold Dome Report - February 17, 2016
The Amended FY 2016 Budget, HB 750, is now on its way to Governor Deal's desk for his review and approval. The Senate voted to adopt the House Amendment which was negotiated by both Chambers on the Budget passed by both the House and Senate.
The Senate had four pieces of legislation on its calendar which it tackled after meeting with various visitors including Congressman John Lewis.
- SB 319, by Sen. Lester Jackson (D-Savannah), adds the word "diagnose" at O.C.G.A. § 43-10A-3(10) to the licensed professional counselor's scope of practice, and it passed unanimously from the Senate with a vote of 51-0. The National Association of Social Workers Georgia Chapter and Georgia Psychological Association who had sought in the Health and Human Services Committee to increase graduate level training and clinical supervision for counselors' work in the mental health field stood down in the floor consideration of the bill. Sen. Steve Henson (R-Tucker) spoke of the connection of the issue of define psychological testing to the grant of permission to professional counselors to diagnose mental health problems and urged that both issues be resolved during the 2016 Session of the General Assembly. Sen. Greg Kirk (R-Americus), also a licensed professional counselor, spoke in favor of the bill and stated that he had not practiced counseling in 16 years.
- SB 282, by Sen. Jesse Stone (R-Waynesboro), passed by Substitute with a Floor Amendment supported by Sen. Stone with a vote of 39-16. The legislation is to be known as the "Georgia Firearms Industry Nondiscrimination Act" in O.C.G.A. § 10-1-439, et seq. It is to prohibit the discriminatory refusal in the provision of credit or financial services to individuals engaged in the lawful commerce of firearms or ammunition products. A second amendment was proposed by Sen. Steve Henson (D-Tucker) but it failed with a vote of 14-39 (Sen. Henson's amendment was to add language so as to protect others from discrimination (sex, gender, race, national origin and religion)). Sen. Stone's legislation creates a protected industry/class (firearms dealers). The legislation was opposed by the Georgia Chamber of Commerce and banking industry.
- SB 270, by Sen. P.K. Martin (R-Lawrenceville), also passed with a vote of 54-0. The initiative permits retired federal law enforcement to carry their handguns anywhere in the State as long as they meet federal standards. Thus, they will be treated like Georgia retired law enforcement officers.
- SB 305, by Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford), amends requirements for the Physician Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment forms in O.C.G.A. § 31-1-14(b). It requires the Department of Public Health to notify both the House and Senate Health and Human Services Committees prior to modifying this form.
HB 1034, by Rep. Christian Coomer (R-Cartersville), seeks to amend O.C.G.A. § 32-6-28 to provide for an annual 'wrecker tow permit.' It also defines 'replacement' as a term for a commercial vehicle that is towed to the location of a disabled, damaged, or wrecked commercial vehicle and that has similar weight and dimensions of the car being replaced.
HB 1035, by Rep. Bill Hitchens (R-Rincon), seeks to add a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. § 43-5-243, addressing county taxation. It will provide that a tax collector or tax commissioner has the authority to waive the collection of penalties and interest assessed for failure to comply with the laws governing the assessment and collection of ad valorem taxes under certain instances (for instance if the failure/default was because the person was in military service and in a combat zone and if the taxpayer makes full payment of taxes due, not including penalties and interest, within 30 days of the taxpayer's return from military service).
HB 1036, by Rep. Bill Hitchens (R-Rincon), also authored this legislation on eminent domain in Chapter 3 of Title 22. A number of provisions are included. It changes the exercise of power of eminent domain for construction of petroleum pipelines and the environmental permitting requirements for the petroleum pipelines. It establishes a State Commission on Petroleum Pipelines and its duties in O.C.G.A. § 22-3-82, et seq. It provides for the temporary suspension of the powers of eminent domain granted in O.C.G.A. § 22-3-85 under certain instances.
HB 1037, by Rep. Valerie Clark (R-Lawrenceville), amends Chapter 2 of Title 31 by adding a news code section at O.C.G.A. § 31-2-14, so as to expand the certified nurse aide registry to include nurse aides who provide services in temporary or permanent private residences. The registry would provide a method for submitting inquiries and complaints regarding such nurse aides. Inquiries would be handled in the same manner as it is for nurses in licensed facilities. Finally, the Department of Community Health would need to provide a link to the registry on the department website.
HB 1039, by Rep. Jason Shaw (R-Lakeland), amends Chapter 34 of Title 33 by adding a new code section at O.C.G.A. § 33-34-10. Subsection (b) provides that insurers in this State shall not deliver, issue for delivery, or renew a named driver policy. Such policies only cover the person named on the policy and do not cover the insured's household. Subsection (c) provides that insurers shall not issue policies that contain a named driver exclusion if the exclusion excludes a class of drivers. Such policy may use a named driver exclusion if the exclusion specifically names each excluded driver.
HB 1040, by Rep. Alan Powell (R-Hartwell), amends O.C.G.A. § 40-1-1 to provide a definition for 'Autocycle'. This is a three-wheeled motor vehicle that has a completely enclosed seating area and is equipped with air bag protection, a roll cage, three-point safety restraints, and antilock brakes. Such vehicles are designed to be controlled with a steering wheel and pedals.
HB 1041, by Rep. Ronnie Mabra (D-Fayetteville), amends O.C.G.A. § 21-14-44, relating to the American Experience Mortality Tables, by adding that 'the court and the jury shall also be authorized to consider any other table determined by the court to be accurate to determine the life expectancy of a person. It amends O.C.G.A. § 24-14-45 by adding language at subsection (c) to provide that the life tables for the United States Social Security Administration are to be considered 'lawful and allowable evidence'.
HB 1043, by Rep. Trey Kelley (R-Cedartown), amends O.C.G.A. § 43-34-26.1 relating to vaccine protocol agreements. It exempts activities conducted by a hospital or health system with respect to influenza vaccinations under certain conditions and if all are met:
(A) A signed and dated consent form by which the vaccine recipient consents to the administration of the vaccine is obtained;
(B) If the vaccine recipient is a patient within the hospital or health system, the administration of the influenza [vaccine] shall be noted in such patient's health record maintained by the hospital or health system, including, but not limited to, the administering pharmacist's or nurse's name, address, telephone number, and professional license number; the name, dose, manufacturer, and lot number of the vaccine; and the date of administration and injection site;
(C) If the vaccine recipient is not a patient within the hospital or health system, a personal immunization card on card stock paper containing the vaccine recipient's name, the pharmacist's or nurse's name and phone number, the name and dosage of the vaccine, the injection site on the vaccine recipient, the date of the administration of the vaccine in legible writing or printed type in a format made available by the Department of Public Health, and written information developed by the Department of Public Health on the importance of having and periodically seeing a primary care physician shall be provided to the vaccine recipient; and
(D) If requested by the patient, the influenza vaccine shall be administered in an area or location with portable screening, at a minimum.
HR 1393, by Rep. Brooks Coleman (R-Duluth) recognizes February 18, 2016 as Georgia Association of Educators (GAE) Day at the Capitol.
SB 381, by Sen. Bruce Thompson (R-White), adds a new Chapter 52 in Title 31 to provide regulations for administration, compounding, and importation of certain cellular material. It provides a number of definitions including "allogeneic," "autologous," and "nonembryonic and nonfetal cells." It establishes in O.C.G.A. § 31-52-2 that except as provided in this new Chapter, no entity can regulate, take disciplinary action against, or impose civil or criminal liability or any other penalty upon an activity authorized by and in compliance with this chapter." It outlines which cells may be administered to an individual (either by himself/herself or physician) in O.C.G.A. § 31-52-4 and it outlines specifics about compounding for a drug, medicine, or health product in O.C.G.A. § 31-52-5 using certain cells. Importation of a compound drug, or other treatment containing autologous nonembryonic and nonfetal cells, under certain conditions, is permitted in O.C.G.A. § 31-52-6.
SB 382, by Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford), establishes a new Chapter 20C in Title 33. This legislation will be known, if passed, as the "Surprise Billing and Consumer Protection Act."
SB 384, by Sen. Bruce Thompson (R-White), would add at 16-13-30 a mandatory minimum sentencing for the sale of or trafficking in heroin. The mandatory minimum prison term for possession of 4 grams or more would be ten years and would include a $50,000 fine. For a subsequent offense or if the person is in possession of between 14-28 grams, the term would be 15 years and the fine would be $100,000. If the quantity is found to be greater than 28 grams, the person shall be sentenced to 25 years and must pay a fine of $500,000. Such mandatory minimum sentencing shall not be suspended, stayed, probated, deferred, or withheld and any such person sentenced shall not be eligible for any form of pardon, parole, or early release administered by the State Board of Pardons and Paroles or the Department of Corrections.
SB 385, by Sen. Judson Hill (R-Marietta), seeks to add a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. § 43-34-22.1 to address requirements for the advertisement or publication of representations of physicians' board certification. It prohibits a physician from advertising or holding himself/herself out to the public "in any manner as being certified or board certified in any specialty or subspecialty by a public or private board, including, but not limited to, a multidisciplinary board, unless: (1) the advertisement or publication states the full name of the certifying board; and (2) such certifying board either: (A) is a member board of the American Board of Medical Specialties or the American Osteopathic Association; or (B) requires successful completion of a postgraduate training program approved by the Accreditation Commission for Graduate Medical Education or the American Osteopathic Association that provides complete training in the specialty or subspecialty certified, followed by prerequisite certification by the American Board of Medical Specialties or the American Osteopathic Association board for that training, field, and further successful completion of an examination in the specialty or subspecialty." It further permits the board to impose disciplinary action if violations are found.
SB 388, by Sen. David Lucas (D-Macon), adds a new subsection (h) to O.C.G.A. § 50-27-78 regarding "bona fide coin operated amusement machines" to prohibit the removal of a permit sticker without the authorization of the owner of the machine or the corporation. Violations will be misdemeanors.
SB 389, by Sen. Hunter Hill (R-Atlanta), addresses temporary assistance for needy families in Chapter 4 of Title 49.
- Adds at O.C.G.A. § 49-4-182(b) that a lifetime maximum is not to apply to a family which the Department has granted an exemption for reasons of hardship or if such family includes an individual who has been battered or subjected to extreme cruelty (provided that the average monthly number of such families in a fiscal year is not to exceed 20 percent of the average monthly number of families to which TANF is provided during that current fiscal year or immediately preceding fiscal year).
- Amends O.C.G.A. § 49-4-183(b) so that, among the duties of the board, in addition to consideration of income and resources of an applicant for assistance in determining eligibility, it is, in order to encourage the formation and maintenance of two-parent families when a TANF recipient marries, the new spouse's income and assets are to be disregarded for six consecutive months – however, the disregard is a once-in-a-lifetime benefit to the recipient. Further, it also addresses personal responsibility and obligations and work activity requirements and current requirements on providing counseling and abstinence until marriage so that a single custodial parent with a child under 12 months of age may be exempt from such work activity requirement until adequate child care is available. The board is also to develop rules and regulations for "procedures to determine whether a recipient has cooperated with work activity requirement and procedures for notification of a caretaker relative, second parent, or payee receiving the financial assistance on behalf of the recipient's family unit."
- Adds a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. § 49-4-184.1 to require that the Department implement a "cash diversion program" which grants eligible TANF recipients "lump sum grants for short-term needs, as well as job referrals or referrals to career centers in lieu of signing up for long-term monthly cash assistance program upon a showing of good cause (e.g., catastrophic illness/accident; loss of employment; domestic violence incident) as determined by the Department." Lump sum grants will be available once in a 12-month period; five times in a lifetime.
- Adds a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. § 49-4-185.1 which requires that after an investigation is conducted by the Department finds that a recipient is not cooperating with a work activity requirement under TANF, then the Department is required to meet face-to-face with the recipient to explain potential sanction and requirements to cure sanction. The recipient is given six weeks to comply with the work activity requirement and if still not in compliance, the Department is to immediately apply a sanction, terminating 50 percent of the TANF benefit to the recipient (and recipient's family) for a maximum of ten weeks. To cure a sanction requires recipient to perform work activities for at least minimum wage of 30 hours per week for one month – if recipient fails to cure the sanction, then the case is closed. It further outlines processes to return to the TANF program after being sanctioned and removed from the caseload.
SB 391, by Sen. Hunter Hill (R-Atlanta), changes provisions of the "Fair Employment Practices Act of 1978." It amends, in part, O.C.G.A. § 45-19-21 concerning the general purposes of this article in Title 45. It adds a new definition for "discrimination" in O.C.G.A. § 45-19-22(4) and adds a definition for the term, "standards of presentation" ("any job requirements provided by the employer to the employee in writing pertaining to cleanliness, uniforms, style or manner of dress, or personal grooming when uniformly applied to a class of employees for a reasonable business purpose or for the health, welfare, or safety of such employees"). The overall effort is to include differential and preferential treatment for any reason other than that of individual merit, performance, qualifications or noncompliance with standards of presentation.
SB 395, by Sen. Hunter Hill (R-Atlanta), amends O.C.G.A. § 20-2-2111 so as to expand scholarship programs to children of military personnel in this state. Specifically, it outlines a new 'Junior G.I. Bill Scholarship' for students who reside in Georgia and have a parent in active service in the military or Georgia National Guard. The parent of the student must obtain acceptance for admission of the student to a participating school and must assume full financial responsibility for the student, including transportation to and from school. Test scores of private school students participating in state-wide assessments shall not be applied to the system averages of the resident school system for data reported for federal and state requirements. Students enrolled in a school operated by the Department of Juvenile Justice are not eligible. Parents would also be able to switch the participating school the student attends.
SR 985, by Sen. Horacena Tate (D-Atlanta), proposes an amendment to the State's Constitution at Article III, Section IX, Paragraph VI by adding a new subparagraph (o). This is to create the "Worker and Family Paid Leave and Disability Fund" to provide temporary disability leave insurance benefits to workers to care for themselves and their family members. The Fund is proposed to be administered by the Georgia Department of Labor.
SR 988, by Sen. Jesse Stone (R-Waynesboro), urges the United States Congress to enact the "Fair Tax Act."
SR 991, by Sen. Elena Parent (D-Atlanta), recognizes the month of April, 2016 as Genocide Prevention and Awareness Month at the Capitol.
SR 993, by Sen. Donzella James (D-Atlanta), proposes to create the Senate Strengthening Parental Participation in Education Study Committee.
SR 1001, by Sen. Fran Millar (R-Atlanta), proposes the Senate Study Committee on Higher Education Affordability. It is to look at the rising cost of college with the varying state and federal funding and fluctuating need-based grant aid. It outlines that, for attendance in 2013-2014 fall and spring semesters at an institution in the university system, attendance costs are between $16,000.00 and $23,000.00 per year.
SR 1007, by Sen. Dean Burke, MD (R-Bainbridge), commends Georgia CORE and recognizes March 2, 2016 as Georgia CORE Day at the State Capitol.
House Appropriations Committee – Economic Development Subcommittee
Rep. Penny Houston (R-Nashville) and members of her Subcommittee voted out their version of the FY 2017 Budget over which they have responsibility. Some of the highlights from their version of the proposal are included here. There were some additional funds included in the Department of Community Affairs Budget for environmental projects in the amount of approximately $50,000 and a reduction from $10 million for the regional economic assistance grants to zero funding. The Subcommittee also included $1 million for tourism and marketing efforts within the Department of Economic Development and noted that for every dollar invested, Georgia receives $7.00. This Subcommittee also oversees the Transportation Budget and made no changes in that area.
House Appropriations Committee – Human Resources Subcommittee
Rep. Katie Dempsey (R-Rome) and members of this Subcommittee met quickly and passed out their version of the FY 2017 Budget. Some of the changes included:
- Within the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, an addition of one-time money for Highland Rivers CSB was included. This particular community service board serves 11 counties and has experienced a high number of foster care youth being served.
- In the Department of Human Services, there were additional funds added for Court Appointed Special Advocates to address capacity needs. Special Attorneys General, which address DFCS issues, also received a rate increase (they are currently paid $52.50 per hour and this boost increases their pay to $57.50 per hour) in the amount of $1 million. The elderly also received some assistance with folks needing CCSP and SOURCE services; an additional $750,000, to help with the waiting list for services, was included. Also, the Meals on Wheels preparers are to get an additional $254,909 in funding.
- In the Division of Family and Children's Services, there is an addition of a 1.5 percent rate increase for child welfare providers (CPAs, CCIs, foster care and relatives) for a total of $4.25 million (there has been only one increase for this group in the last ten years).
- Language was added to ask that there be a third-party cooperative arrangement with the technical schools so that there can be a leveraging of Vocational Rehabilitation funds with the four-to-one match.
- In the Department of Veterans, the request for added funds for the Vietnam certificate program did not receive added funds. Rather, the Subcommittee included language that the Department should essentially find a way to fund the program using existing funding.
House Appropriations Committee – Health Subcommittee
Rep. Butch Parrish (R-Swainsboro) and members of his Subcommittee made a number of changes in the Health Budget for FY 2017. Some of these included:
- Department of Community Health
- Department Administration and Program Support
- Decrease Budget by $275,625 for contracts.
- Transfer $1.4 million from Medicaid: Aged, Blind and Disabled program for positions and operational cost related to the CCSP program.
- Redirect any administrative savings from the transfer of the CCCSP program to fund additional slots and report to the General Assembly on progress by January 1, 2017 (no added funding, language only).
- Health Care Access and Improvement
- Eliminate one-time start up funds for Federally Qualified Health Centers in the amount of $250,000.
- Reduce funds for charity clinics by $500,000.
- Provide for two Federally Qualified Health Center community start-up grants in Jackson and Jenkins Counties in the amount of $500,000.
- Increase contract funds for services for medically fragile children who do not qualify for Katie Beckett TEFRA Deeming Waiver in the amount of $250,000 (Champions for Children).
- Language instruction to utilize existing funds to continue the Rural Hospital Stabilization Committee's grants to the current pilot sites in Emanuel, Crisp, Appling, and Union Counties.
- Medicaid: Aged, Blind and Disabled
- Add more than $26.5 million for increases in funding to cover expenses related to higher pharmacy costs of Hepatitis C drugs and Cystic Fibrosis drugs.
- Decrease State funds by more than $31 million to reflect an adjustment for growth in Medicaid based on projected need.
- Transfer $52.6 million in State/Tobacco Settlement funds for the CCSP program from the Elder Community Living Services Program in the Department of Human Services to DCH and this program.
- Reduction of $4.1 million to reflect changes in rate calculations for nursing facility operator changes to reflect projected expenditures.
- Add $11.3 million in State funds for a 3 percent inflation adjustment on the 2012 nursing home cost reports.
- Add $3.7 million for funds in the ICWP personal support rates to match the CCSP and SOURCE program rates.
- Add a five percent pay boost for Adult Day Health Centers' rates to provide parity with other home and community-based services in the amount of $399,670.
- Add $1.36 million to increase reimbursement rates for occupational therapy and physical therapy providers within the Children's Intervention Services Program.
- Language was added to instruct DCH to evaluate budget neutral payment methodologies for Medicaid member access to services provided by newly-enrolled long-term acute care and inpatient rehabilitation hospitals.
- Medicaid: Low-Income Medicaid
- $98 million is added to increase funds for growth based on projected need.
- $26.2 million is added for increases in reimbursement rates for selected primary care and OB/GYN codes to 100 percent of 2014 Medicare levels.
- $634,314 is added for an increase in reimbursement for Advanced Life Support emergency transport code reimbursement rates for EMS providers by seven percent.
- Language instruction to the Department, "Effective July 1, 2016, CMOs are required to increase their current per unit reimbursement rates for contracted primary care, OB/GYN, and EMS providers at the increased rates mandated by HB 751." Additional language is included that DCH is "directed to evaluate cost-saving measures through accurate diagnosis of ADHD and report back to the Georgia General Assembly by January 1, 2017."
- State Health Benefit Plan
- Language is added to "authorize a pilot for non-certificated system-directed health care coverage for a 24-month pilot effective for coverage year January 1, 2017."
- Language is also added to "reflect a total fund balance for Other Post-Employment Benefits (OPEB) liabilities of $925,103,053 by recognizing 2015 payments ($478,094,972) and pending deposits ($314,627,314).
- Department Administration and Program Support
- Department of Public Health
- Adolescent and Adult Health Promotion
- Restore proposed elimination of one-time matching funds for the georgiacancerinfo.org website of $75,000.
- Add $1 million for funds for Positive Alternatives for Pregnancy and Parenting Grant Program.
- Add $100,000 for an increase in funds for the Georgia Poison Center for additional staffing needs.
- Add $227,711 in funds for the Georgia Poison Center for a telephone-based stroke support program for pre-hospital providers.
- Infant and Child Essential Health Treatment Services
- Restore the proposed $50,000 elimination of one-time funds for Georgia Comprehensive Sickle Cell Center.
- Add $117,178 in funds for the Medical College of Georgia Sickle Cell Center at Augusta University.
- Adolescent and Adult Health Promotion
House Insurance Committee
In an early morning meeting, Chairman Richard Smith (R-Columbus) and his Committee met and unanimously passed HB 965, "The Honorable Jimmy Carter Cancer Treatment Access Act" by Rep. Mike Cheokas (R-Americus). This legislation requires in O.C.G.A. § 33-24-59.20 the appropriate level insurance coverage for patients with advanced metastatic, Stage Four cancer. It prohibits exclusion of a drug if approved by the FDA and the patient is not required to first fail another drug in a step therapy in order to access such drug. The legislation would allow this subset of patients the option to start their treatment at the most aggressive level if prescribed by their physician.
The Committee also passed HB 784 by Rep. John Carson (R-Marietta) by committee substitute. It permits insurance agents to offer promotional items at a cost of up to $100 without violating the unfair practices provisions of the insurance code.
Chair Richard Smith announced that the Committee would meet two more times, including Monday February 22 and Wednesday February 24 prior to crossover day.
House Insurance Committee – Administration and Licensing Subcommittee
This Subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Jason Shaw (R-Lakeland), took up three bills this afternoon.
HB 909, by Rep. Barry Fleming (R-Harlem), had a hearing. No action was taken to move this legislation forward. The legislation amends O.C.G.A. § 33-9-4 and addresses the use of "Insurance Services Organization" which is used by insurance carriers (property and casualty) in determining rates for home owners' policies. They currently look at where the property is located with respect to fire hydrants/fire departments. This legislation mandates that the insurer may not set rates solely on this ISO system. Rather, they should look at other characteristics such as how long a fire department's response time is. Wilkes County Commission Chairman Sam Moore testified that rural areas have experienced huge insurance rate increases and it is due to how insurers currently use the ISO in determining rates. There were a number of questions raised by the Subcommittee. Rep. Bruce Williamson (R-Monroe), and also a former property and casualty agent, spoke about how insurers use actuarial science in calculation of rates and a rate is based on risk. Insurers are competitive, according to Rep. Williamson. He has not seen an issue in his area although he did acknowledge that Walton County, which is part of the area he represents, is partially rural. Rep. Shaw did acknowledge that he had seen rates go up in his rural area. Commission Chairman Moore indicated that many rural areas have addressed their fire department equipment and staffing as ways to help improve rates for homeowners. Rep. Carl Rogers (R-Gainesville) inquired about the number of fire departments which had been built in Wilkes County in the last few years; there have been two. Rep. Williamson encouraged Mr. Moore to look at insurance loss ratios to see if carriers had lost money.
The second proposal discussed was HB 1000, a bill by Rep. Darlene Taylor (R-Thomasville). This initiative establishes a new Code Section in O.C.G.A. § 45-18-6.1 to require that the Department of Community Health conduct an annual audit of the claims processing of the pharmacy benefits manager(s) (PBMs) contracted by the Board to process claims for the State Health Benefit Plan (SHBP). Rep. Taylor pointed out that millions of dollars were expended on the SHBP pharmacy program and the General Assembly needed to understand how PBMs are monitored and she wants an audit against the PBM's State contract to see if it is properly maintained and adjudicated. Rep. John Carson (R-Marietta) asked if this was a financial audit or other sort of audit as he envisioned that it was an efficiency and operational audit. Rep. Taylor indicated that it was an audit which would prove those points and it could be done for about $20,000 or less. Robert Highsmith, the lobbyist for Express Scripts which is the SHBP pharmacy benefits manager, explained that drug costs could be alarmingly high if not managed. Express Scripts holds the prescription drug expenditures down and uses generic drugs as one of its focus areas for cost savings. Mr. Highsmith described the Express Scripts contract as "robust" and included audit provisions (citing to page 71 of the contract). He did not think annual audits would be helpful as trend data is really necessary. He also cautioned about running afoul of federal privacy requirements. Mr. Highsmith explained that the Department of Community Health decides when and where to audit. There was no other testimony.
The last bill up was HB 943 by Rep. Carl Rogers (R-Gainesville). This legislation amends O.C.G.A. § 13-8-2 and addresses broad versus limited forms of indemnification provisions for engineering and architectural services. The legislation passed easily through the Subcommittee.
House Juvenile Justice Committee – Ballinger Subcommittee
This Subcommittee took up Rep. Wes Cantrell's (R-Woodstock) bill, HB 725, to restrict and provide confidentiality to child abuse records housed with child advocacy centers. Rep. Cantrell's goal is to make sure that these records do not fall into the wrong hands. This Subcommittee entertained another Substitute on this legislation. It defines the child advocacy center; addresses the motion and use of subpoena to access records and deals with the criminal defense bar, judges and prosecutors' concerns; exempts the victim from the process so that he or she has access to their own records; etc. This legislation passed out of the Subcommittee in this new version.
House Education Committee – Academic Innovations Subcommittee
The subcommittee looked at HB 864 today, which relates to the "Move on When Ready Act" and dual credit courses. The bill's author, Rep. David Casas (R-Lilburn), presented it to the subcommittee. It revises the definition of 'Eligible postsecondary institution' to require that the accrediting agency providing the accreditation is recognized by either the Council for Higher Education Accreditation or the U.S. Department of Education. This bill was held today in Committee.
The Committee also considered HB 895, by Rep. Rahn Mayo (D-Decatur), which would require finance directors employed at charter schools to participate in initial training for a new charter school. Such training includes payroll, purchasing, government accounting, financial policies, internal controls, and budgeting training. It further requires these financial directors participate in annual training conducted or approved by the State Charter Schools Commission. This bill was held in the committee so that members can take a further look at the language.
House Education Committee – Academic Achievement Subcommittee
The Subcommittee considered HB 819 today, which is authored by Rep. Dar'shun Kendrick (D-Lithonia). It would direct the Department of Education to work with the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities to develop a list of training materials related to mental health, developmental disabilities and learning disabilities. It requires local school districts to decide whether or not to use those materials. Rep. Kendrick clarified that it does not mandate local districts to provide such materials. It only requires the Department to offer them to the local districts. DOE indicated that it supports this legislation.
Rep. Tommy Benton (R-Jefferson) expressed concerns about the necessity of the legislation, since it is an optional program. Chair Mike Dudgeon (R-Johns Creek) seemed to support it; however, he decided to hold the bill in subcommittee.
Next was HB 959, by Rep. Beth Beskin (R-Atlanta), which provides for an exception for students enrolled in dual credit courses so that they are exempt from taking the end-of-course assessment if they have an A, B, or C in the course. It also provides that the Department of Education and the Governor's Office of Student Achievement (GOSA) can share information relating to educational outcomes. This is outlined in Sections 4 and 6 of the bill. The bill was approved by the subcommittee and sent to full committee, where it received a hearing later in the day.
House Education Committee
The full House Education Committee considered HB 959 and HB 614. Chairman Brooks Coleman (R-Duluth) also assigned the following bills to Subcommittees:
- HR 961 - Rep. Keisha Waits - Public schools; funding driver education and training courses; authorize General Assembly – CA
- HR 1269 - Rep. Dee Dawkins-Haigler - General Assembly; authorize establishment of an Opportunity School District; revise ballot question - CA
- HB 1013 - Rep. Chuck Efstration – "Georgia Special Needs Scholarship Act"; enact
- HB 969 - Rep. Tom Taylor - Education; county school system financing; provide allotment of funds reduced in each fiscal year by the amount of ad valorem taxes collected
- HR 1253 - Rep. Dexter Sharper - Local boards of education; instruction on dugout safety to youth athletes participating in baseball; encourage
- HR 1342 - Demetrius Douglas - Education; school children; request more recess time
Rep. Beth Beskin (R-Atlanta) presented HB 959, which was considered by the Academic Achievement Subcommittee earlier in the day, where it received a do-pass recommendation. It was then passed out of the full committee and goes on to the House Rules committee.
Rep. Valencia Stovall (D-Lake City) discussed HB 614, which provides for a pilot program for the placement of video monitoring cameras in classrooms for special education students. It was withdrawn from the House Rules Committee and sent back to the House Education Committee at the request of Rep. Jan Jones (R-Milton). Rep. Jones had concerns that the State has gotten carried away with the number of pilot programs, so she asked that the word 'pilot' be removed from each line in the bill where it currently is. The Education Committee removed the language and then sent HB 614 back to Rules.
Senate Health and Human Services Committee
Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford) and her Committee heard from Sen. Michael Rhett (D-Marietta) this afternoon. He presented SB 368 to his colleagues as an alternative to consider in allowing more individuals to be covered by insurance by providing premium assistance under Medicaid. There were a number of questions from the Committee. Some individual groups rose in response to the legislation including Georgians for a Healthy Future who expressed that they appreciated this discussion as 300,000 Georgians were still in the "coverage gap." Georgia Hospital Association's Ethan James asked that the stakeholder group organized with the Georgia Chamber of Commerce delve further into the issues and crisis of the uninsured and complete its independent study on the issue. Tim Sweeney with the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute also noted the benefits to the State if it expanded Medicaid; other states are now looking at covering groups who do not currently get federal subsidies now. Marcus Downs, with the Medical Association of Georgia, also testified and indicated that his group, especially primary care physicians, was also pleased to see dialog on this coverage issue.
Chairwoman Unterman announced that there were three pieces of legislation remaining in her Committee which would be heard on Friday (SB 381, SB 382 and SB 385). Also, the Committee will hear reports from the Georgia Trauma Commission and an update on Hepatitis C after Day 30.
House Judiciary Committee – Fleming Subcommittee
Rep. Barry Fleming (R-Harlem) authored the newest proposal on "electronic discovery" in Title 9 and how such discovery is to be conducted. His legislation, HB 1027, received a hearing in his Subcommittee. No action was taken, though, at this meeting. Rep. Fleming has indicated that there is a dispute regarding sanctions for destroying electronic evidence and how many types of discipline the judge may enforce. The State Bar of Georgia is weighing in on the discussion concerning sanctions, and the Chamber of Commerce has asked that the sanctions be narrower in scope.
Senate Higher Education Committee
Sen. Charlie Bethel (R-Dalton) cleared a Substitute to his SB 312 this afternoon after several questions and some lengthy discussions. This legislation addresses the HOPE scholarship program and is encouraging students to attend state colleges and receive up to $2,000 to cover their tuition costs. Sen. Bethel explained that currently all those schools had tuition costs below $2,000 for a full load (12-15 hours). There was a fiscal note on the proposal. He pointed out that one of the biggest reasons that students drop out of college is that they cannot afford to pay tuition; that information was from Chancellor Huckaby. The changes are proposed in O.C.G.A. § 20-3-519 and O.C.G.A. § 20-3-519.10. Before the Committee voted the legislation forward (with Sen. Frank Ginn's (R-Danielsville) dissent), Sen. Nan Orrock (D-Atlanta) provided some history on HOPE and explained that when it was first implemented it was for lower income students so that they could attend school without paying tuition.
Next on the Committee's agenda was SR 467 by Sen. Donzella James (D-Atlanta). Her Resolution proposed the creation of a study committee to be known as the Senate Higher Education Access and Success for Homeless and Foster Youth Study Committee. This Resolution failed to move forward by Sen. Fran Millar (R-Atlanta) and the Chairman of this Committee committed that he would address the issue but wanted to look further at legislation which was being put forth in the House, addressing the Child Welfare Reform Commission's recommendations and report.
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.