Gold Dome Report - February 18, 2016
Today marked the twenty-third legislative day in the 2016 Session. There were many people in the halls today bringing awareness to Alzheimer's disease – purple shirts were evident in various parts of the State's house.
Governor Deal made another economic development announcement today with more jobs. Textron, Inc. has announced that one of its entities, Textron Specialized Vehicles, Inc., will open a new operation in Augusta. This new effort creates about 400 jobs and is a $40 million investment.
Lawmakers reconvene Friday for another day and they intend to have several Committee meetings in an effort to get any remaining bills through the process as Day 30 (crossover) is February 29.
The House had several proposals on its Rules Calendar:
HB 676 passed 170-0. Rep. Buzz Brockway (R-Lawrenceville) revises O.C.G.A. § 50-29-3, which is known as the "Accountability, Change Management, and Process Improvement Act of 2016." In part it requires that all State agencies, boards, authorities and commissions of the executive branch of government provide a written business case for every information technology project which is in excess of one million in value. There have been numerous contracts which the State has engaged in that seem to require more funding than projected. These business cases are to be provided to the Georgia Technology Authority at least 30 days prior to any request for funds or the issuance of any procurement documents for the project.
HB 876 passed 162-4. Rep. Clay Pirkle (R-Ashburn) addresses the license and surety requirements of livestock dealers and livestock market operators in O.C.G.A. § 4-6-1, et seq. An annual fee is to be paid by each livestock market operator and shall be proportionate to the surety (such as letter of credit, certificate of deposit or other written instrument or executed by a lending institution or bonding, surety, or insurance company which is licensed in Georgia, guaranteeing the faithful performance of the terms of the contract of purchase, including the payment of the purchase price of all livestock purchased by the holder of the instrument, made payable to the commissioner for the benefit of persons sustaining loss resulting from the non-payment of the purchase price or the failure to fulfill the terms of the contract of purchase) acquired by the operator but not to exceed $200.00.
HB 777 passed 166-0. Rep. Mike Dudgeon (R-Johns Creek) amends O.C.G.A. § 40-6-165(b) to permit school bus drivers to use cell telephones in a "similar manner as a two-way radio to allow live communication between the driver and school officials or public safety officials."
HB 826 passed 167-1. Rep. Betty Price (R-Roswell) presented this initiative adding a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. § 43-34-22.1 providing for requirements for advertisement or publication of representations of physicians' board certifications. The advertisement must include the full name of the certifying board and certify that the board is either a member of the American Board of Medical Specialties or the American Osteopathic Association or requires successful completion of a post graduate 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.
HB 879 passed 168-3. Rep. Tom Taylor (R-Dunwoody) authored this legislation to provide for the issuance of a seal of bi-literacy for high school graduates who have achieved a high level of proficiency in speaking, reading and writing one or more languages in addition to English in O.C.G.A. § 20-2-159.5.
HB 745 passed 162-0. Rep. Earl Ehrhart (R-Powder Springs) authored this legislation which extends the automatic repeals of current law relating to the writing off of small amounts which are owed to the State in O.C.G.A. § 50-16-18(b). Currently, those laws sunset on July 1, 2016 – this moves the date to July 1, 2021. The legislation also extends the automatic repeals of laws relating to non-lapsing revenue of institutions in the University System of Georgia and the Technical College System of Georgia.
HB 772 passed 166-0. Rep. Heath Clark (R-Warner Robins) revises Georgia's election laws at O.C.G.A. § 21-2-385 and the period of time for advance voting with regard to Saturday voting.
HB 783 passed 163-2. Rep. Bruce Broadrick (R-Dalton) presented Georgia's annual update to its "dangerous" drug list. This updates the Schedules I and IV controlled substances in Chapter 13 of Title 16. It further adds a "restricted dangerous drug" and definition for such – and it places salvinorin A and salvia divinorum on that restricted dangerous drug list. It further adds in O.C.G.A. § 16-13-79(e) that any person who knowingly distributes or resells any non-prescription injectable insulin product which was first obtained through an over-the-counter sale to a patient from any pharmacy, practitioner, or other source will be guilty of a felony upon conviction and is to be punished by imprisonment of not less than two years nor more than five years or by a fine not to exceed $10,000.00 or both.
HB 847 passed 140-26. Rep. David Clark (R-Buford) presented his legislation addressing public assistance and efforts to prevent fraud in obtaining public assistance, food stamps or Medicaid. His legislation amends Titles 16, 48, and 49.
HB 927 passed 120-45. Rep. Christian Coomer (R-Cartersville) presented reforms to be known as the "Appellate Jurisdiction Reform Act of 2016." This legislation contains revisions to Title 15. Part of the revisions relate to the appointment of law assistants for Supreme Court and Court of Appeals – requiring that these individuals be admitted to the State Bar but it further permits the appointment of attorneys who have graduated from law school but not yet a member of the State Bar as long as he or she is admitted to the Bar within one year of such appointment. It proposes appellate jurisdiction changes, moving some cases from the Supreme Court to the Court of Appeals: 1) cases involving title to land; 2) equity cases except those which involve a sentence of death (imposed or could be imposed and those cases concerning the execution of a sentence of death); 3) all cases involving wills; 4) all cases involving extraordinary remedies (except concerning proceedings in which a sentence of death was imposed or could be imposed and those cases concerning the execution of a sentence of death); 5) all divorce and alimony cases; and 6) all other cases not reserved to the Supreme Court or conferred on other courts. It also addresses additional judgeships created in 2016 for the Supreme Court (moving the number from seven to nine) to be appointed by the Governor for a term beginning on January 1, 2017 and continuing through December 31, 2018 and until their successors are elected and qualified. They will be elected in non-partisan elections.
Four pieces of legislation were on the Senate Rules Calendar:
SB 277 passed 39-14. This legislation by Sen. John Albers (R-Roswell), it is to be known as the "Protecting Georgia Small Business Act" and adds a Code Section at O.C.G.A. § 34-1-9 to provide that neither a franchisee nor a franchisee's employee is deemed to be an employee of the franchisor for any purpose.
SB 309 passed 39-16. Sen. Burt Jones (R-Jackson) presented this bill prohibiting a high school receiving state funding to participate in an athletic association which prohibits religious expression.
SB 314 passed 55-0. Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford) authored this initiative which updates Georgia's registered nurse laws and adds a definition for "advanced practice registered nurse" into the Code at O.C.G.A. § 43-26-3.
SB 329 passed 56-0. This legislation, presented by Sen. Lindsey Tippins (R-Marietta), expands the law permitting high school students to receive diplomas based on dual credit coursework.
HB 1052, by Rep. Scott Holcomb (D-Atlanta), seeks to add a new Article 18 in Chapter 2 of Title 14 to provide for "benefit corporations," a corporation whose articles of incorporation contain a public benefit provision. It includes definitions for "public benefit" and "public benefit provision" in O.C.G.A. § 14-2-1802(b). It addresses issuance of stock as well the name requirements of the entity. It outlines the duties of the board of directors of these entities in O.C.G.A. § 14-2-1806.
HR 1402, by Rep. Sharon Cooper (R-Marietta), commends Georgia CORE and recognizes March 2, 2016 as its Day at the State's Capitol.
HR 1419, by Rep. John Carson (R-Marietta), recognizes March 1, 2016 as Boy Scout Day at the State's Capitol.
SB 386, by Sen. Hunter Hill (R-Atlanta), addresses O.C.G.A. § 48-13-13(5) regarding occupation taxes. It revises the levy of occupation taxes, regulatory fees, or administrative fees on any state or local authority, municipality operating a facility under 14 C.F.R. Part 139 and supporting facilities, nonprofit organization, or vendor operating under a contract with a tax-exempt agricultural fair as such term is defined in Code Section 2-2-8.
SB 398, by Sen. Josh McKoon (R-Columbus), adds a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. § 36-60-27, regarding counties and municipal corporations and depositories for county and school district moneys, respectively. It provides for the establishment of banking improvement zones to encourage the opening of financial institutions in areas which are underserved by financial institutions. The Department of Community Affairs will designate these banking improvement zones. Upon approval of a banking improvement zone, the governing body of a local government may, through ordinance or resolution, designate a financial institution within a banking improvement zone as the depository for local government funds provided that applicable standards for deposits of public funds set forth in Chapter 8 of Title 45 have been satisfied. The ordinance/resolution, subject to agreement between the governing body of the local government and financial institution, is to designate a fixed rate of interest which is at or below the posted two-year certificate of deposit rate at the financial institution.
SB 400, by Sen. Josh McKoon (R-Columbus), adds in O.C.G.A. § 15-6-62.1 that a vendor of the clerk of superior court's choice may be utilized for the back-up of records rather than the Georgia Superior Court Clerks' Cooperative Authority.
SB 402, by Sen. Jeff Mullis (R-Chickamauga), creates a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. § 26-5-21, concerning drug abuse treatment and education programs, providing a moratorium on the issuance of new licenses to narcotic treatment programs through June 30, 2017 so that the General Assembly can study needed changes to their licensure requirements for the operation of such programs. It also creates an eleven member State Commission on Narcotic Treatment Programs and outlines its duties to be accomplished by December 31, 2016 (which includes, in part, examining the current narcotic treatment program licensure requirements for adequacy and the current licensure requirements and enforcement of such requirements and how they meet the purpose of providing adequate medical, counseling, vocational, educational, mental health assessment, and social services to patients).
SB 403, by Sen. Josh McKoon (R-Columbus), seeks to enact the "Sweepstakes Savings Account Act of Georgia" in O.C.G.A. § 7-1-239.10, et seq. It proposes creation of the sweepstakes savings accounts by financial institutions and gives the Department of Banking and Finance the authority for oversight of these accounts. At O.C.G.A. § 16-12-20(4), it states that a lottery is not a sweepstakes savings account which conforms to the requirements of Part 14 of Chapter 1 of Title 7.
SR 1019, by Sen. Josh McKoon (R-Columbus), creates the Senate Study Committee on Legislative and Congressional Redistricting. This would be composed of five members of the Senate.
SR 1020, by Sen. Elena Parent (D-Atlanta), recognizes February 19, 2016 as American Massage Therapy Association – Georgia Chapter Day at the Capitol.
SR 1022, by Sen. P.K. Martin (R-Lawrenceville), requests that the United States Congress call a convention under Article V of the United States Constitution to propose an amendment to the Constitution of the United States to set a limit on the number of terms that a person may be elected as a member of the United States House of Representatives and set a limit on the number of terms that a person may be elected as a member of the United States Senate.
Senate Insurance and Labor Committee
Chairman Charlie Bethel (R-Dalton) and his Committee met for a relatively short meeting to take up two proposals:
- SB 302, by Sen. P.K. Martin (R-Lawrenceville), was presented in the form of a new Committee Substitute. This legislation creates requirements for health insurers to maintain accurate provider directories (electronic and printed) in Chapter 20C of Title 33. There were a couple of questions raised by Sen. Marty Harbin (R-Tyrone) including whether these directories would indicate if the provider was taking new patients. Sen. Martin stated that would be the case. Sen. David Shafer (R-Duluth) made the motion to give the legislation a do pass recommendation by Committee Substitute; Sen. Harbin seconded the motion and the legislation passed. Prior to passing the legislation, Sen. Martin remarked that he had worked with numerous groups on the legislation, including the Department of Insurance.
- The next piece of legislation was SB 347, by Sen. Bethel. This legislation follows the passage in 2015 of HB 552 of the "pure captives" legislation. This bill addresses "agency captives" which serve as reinsurers on products that they have written. Lindsay Scott, with the Department of Insurance, spoke to the proposal explaining it is a modernization of captives and streamlines the law. She also mentioned that if the State has more domestic captives, then those will generate more premium taxes. She highlighted a few of the changes including that there is a reference to "LLCs" now; there are some new definitions; and a new formation process. Sen. Harbin asked some questions relating to accident and sickness insurance and whether that also included health; that is a term of art used in the industry according to Stacy Freeman (lawyer and lobbyist for the Georgia Captive Insurance Association which supports this legislation). Sen. Harbin also inquired about the captives' participation in the insolvency pool; they can do so but there are legal requirements around those writing workers' compensation. Otherwise, there were no questions and the Committee passed out the Committee Substitute (Sen. David Shafer recused himself from this vote).
This Committee will not meet again until Monday; they plan to take up SB 286 at that meeting (which addresses premium tax proceeds – the legislation by Sen. Tommie Williams (R-Lyons)).
House Small Business Development Committee
Chairman Bubber Epps (R-Dry Branch) and his Committee heard from Rep. Chad Nimmer (R-Blackshear) on HB 952. Rep. Nimmer presented Governor Deal's legislation which proposes to enact the "Georgia Professional Reform Act" in Title 43. Rep. Nimmer spent a good bit of time explaining how Georgia and the Governor were in the posture of needing to put a law in place to address a decision resulting in the Supreme Court from a North Carolina case (N. C. State Board of Dental Exam'rs v. FTC). That case dealt with the North Carolina State Board which issued cease and desist orders for the closure of teeth whitening clinics; they appealed and won at the Supreme Court. As a result, the Supreme Court's opinion outlines necessary oversight of state licensure boards. This proposal inserts that the Governor or his or her appointee will have the authority to oversee and actively supervise the professional licensing boards in Georgia. The Governor met with the Secretary of State and Attorney General in crafting this legislation. Rep. Mike Dudgeon (R-Johns Creek) spoke in favor of the proposal, stating that the Supreme Court case, which he had followed, was a good decision. He stated that boards have too much power and the State has too many regulations; the General Assembly should determine if there are too many boards and he would like to see reform with fewer regulations. There are more than 40 professional boards in Georgia; his fear is that Georgia will comply with the Supreme Court and do nothing more. Rep. Buddy Harden (R-Cordele) spoke the longest and is against the legislation as written. He expressed that he has serious problems with it. The appointment of an individual by the Governor is his largest concern; this individual will have equal powers to the Governor. Harden repeatedly stated that, in his experience as previously serving on a State board, the Attorney General's representative assigned determines legality of rules and regulations. If a board does not follow the advice, then the State cannot provide any immunity from liability to that board. Georgia has active "supervisors" in place. Rep. Harden believes that this legislation will, if passed, be a "jobs killer." This appointee will have great powers. Currently, the Attorney General has oversight as does the Secretary of State. The General Assembly also oversees these boards to a degree. Rep. Harden inquired whether North Carolina had a legal advisor at its board meetings. Rep. Harden further reminded everyone that the professional boards license individuals such as contractors and healthcare providers who are small businesses in the State. He asked that the Committee slow down; they do not want to undo something which is "in good shape." Rep. Nimmer asked follow up questions and whether Rep. Harden thought there were too many regulations; Rep. Harden stated that no, he did not, that the regulations were there to protect the safety of the public. Rep. Harden further indicated that perhaps a "study" would be the best approach; he further indicated that he thought the boards operated efficiently. Rep. Nimmer also asked Rep. Harden what happens if the Attorney General sits in a board meeting and the board takes action which does not follow the Attorney General's "counsel." Rep. Harden stated that in that case the State does not have to protect the board if legal action is brought against that board. Rep. Harden stated that this legislation creates a new agency/department. Rep. Nimmer stated it was a "simple solution" for now to a problem. Rep. Michele Henson (D-Tucker) also took issue with the legislation and stated that turning this matter over to the Governor was her concern (she made clear that it did not matter who was sitting in the Governor's office). She believes that this legislation gives too much power to the executive branch and creates a new bureaucracy. Rep. Henson also remarked that there was no fiscal note with this legislation and it would require the hiring of new staff to oversee these boards. She also remarked that the various boards are currently understaffed even though they raise enough in fees to have adequate staffing (the fees are paid to the General Treasury and the appropriations process does not provide enough funding to hire staff as needed). Rep. Henson asked why the issue was not turned over to the Attorney General; it will need 40 new lawyers to provide this oversight and those individuals will need to be experts in their fields. Rep. Nimmer argued that it would not require that many additional staff. Rep. Paulette Rakestraw (R-Powder Springs) indicated her thoughts echoed Rep. Dudgeon's. These "unelected bodies" making rules are an issue. There does need to be a streamlined process but not another bureaucracy. She preferred to see legislative oversight but also asked that the Committee take this matter slowly and do a comprehensive look. Rep. Dexter Sharper (D-Valdosta) asked if a Study Committee would be a better option for this matter at this time. Rep. Nimmer stated that this legislation was a "safety net" and provided an appeals process for board rules and actions. Aubrey Villines, an attorney and lobbyist, spoke to the legislation. Mr. Villines explained that the North Carolina facts were very different than how Georgia's professional boards are managed. The passage of this legislation would make boards "useless." He also inquired if the legislation would take away an individual's right to pursue action in court. He offered some amendments for the Committee's consideration but no action was taken on those. Bob Schmidt, another lobbyist speaking for a Gwinnett business, said that they supported Rep. Nimmer's bill, stating it was "critically important" to look at the powers of licensure boards. He further stated that they would be fine with the Governor's or legislature's oversight. Tom Bauer, a lobbyist, spoke as to the difference in the facts in the North Carolina matter which really addressed anti-competitiveness. As written currently, the Governor or his appointee would have involvement in each rule considered by a board. He also stated that this would move away from the posture of having oversight of the professions by experts in those fields. Mr. Bauer again stated that the Attorneys General in these board meetings are providing advice; this is really a narrow issue and the legislation, though, is well-intentioned. The final speaker stated that the legislation is creating a "political process" for approval of board rules and regulations and/or actions taken by the various boards. After all the discussion, no action was taken. It is likely that this proposal will be back before the Committee next week.
House Regulated Industries – Regulations Subcommittee
HB 727, the consumer fireworks refinement legislation by Rep. Paul Battles (R-Cartersville), passed out of the Subcommittee in the form of a new Substitute. There were really no questions. Rep. Paulette Rakestraw (R-Powder Springs) still took issue with the language in Section 3 which addresses the use of fireworks while drinking; she asked that the Section be removed from the legislation.
Rep. Sandra Scott (D-Rex) presented her legislation addressing tattoos, HB 654. The original legislation required tattoo entities to post a warning sign about placing tattoos on the face, neck, forearm, hand, and lower leg and how that would disqualify an individual from United States Military Service. She presented a Substitute proposal at this meeting; it now includes fines and fees. Her legislation passed in the new Substitute form and moves to the full Committee.
House Regulated Industries – Professions, Boards and Commissions Subcommittee
Chairman Tom Dickson (R-Cohutta) and his Subcommittee dealt with two proposals. Neither of these passed. Rep. Dominic LaRiccia (R-Douglas) presented a new bill on secondary metal recyclers which would have permitted individuals to be paid in cash for sales up to $20. His legislation today caused a number of entities to oppose the idea. Law enforcement, counties, cities, and utilities spoke about the legislation passed in 2012 which really impacted the numbers of metal thefts and caused those crimes to go down. Each urged the Committee to reject Rep. LaRiccia's HB 996. The Committee tabled this legislation.
Rep. Rusty Kidd ((I-Milledgeville) presented a Substitute to his HB 889. The legislation addresses advertisements by funeral homes and crematories in O.C.G.A. § 43-18-81. Rep. Kidd stated that he had brought this legislation to address a funeral home establishment in his district which also had operations in another county; a competitor had disagreed with the advertisement by that entity because it did not delineate the location of the crematory as the funeral home did not have a crematory in each of its operations. The Substitute was to address instances where the business had the same name and was operating within a 40-mile radius of the crematory. Rep. Patty Bentley (D-Reynolds) took issue with this bill and appeared before the Subcommittee to testify. She stated that she was in the funeral home business and Rep. Kidd had not talked with her about this legislation. Rep. Kidd stated that she too had not talked with him about his bill and that he had been in contact with the funeral home associations. Rep. Bentley stated that Rep. Kidd had not talked to one association which was the Georgia Funeral Services Practitioners Association; Rep. Kidd stated that he had talked with two State associations. After some back and forth with the Subcommittee, there was no vote on the proposal and it was held.
House Income Tax Subcommittee of Ways and Means Committee
Rep. Bruce Williamson (R-Monroe) chaired consideration of 5 bills. Rep. Jay Powell (R- Camilla), Chair of Ways and Means, brought his bill HB 1014 for extension of the conservation tax credit for donated property. The bill is a policy proposal of the Georgia Conservancy. The renewal contains a new sunset to December 31, 2021 from 2016. It also requires a report from the Department of Natural Resources to the Governor, Speaker of the House, President of the Senate and the Chairs of the House and Senate Ways and Means and Finance Committees of the annual amount of tax credits claimed and which qualifying uses were involved. There was a discussion about reducing the annual amount of the credits from $30 million or $25 million, but an amendment to reduce it to $25 million failed. The bill passed unanimously. In the first years of use of the credits, the amount granted has been $21 million and $22 million.
HB 997 by Rep. Geoff Duncan (R-Cumming) was discussed for first hearing only. It grants an income tax credit for licensed physicians who serve as preceptors for advanced practice registered nurses or physician assistants or medical students in an amount of up to $10,000 per year for those who mentor 3 or more rotations in a tax year. The credit per preceptorship is $1000 for a physician preceptor and $750 for an advanced practice nurse or physician assistant. The credits in a single year may not exceed tax liability and cannot roll over to past or future tax years. The Area Health Education Centers Program Office at Augusta University administers the program. The second hearing will include testimony from the Director.
The Committee next discussed HB 919 by Rep. Geoff Duncan (R-Cumming) for its first hearing. HB 919 permits a new tax credit for donations to rural health care organizations located in counties with fewer than 35,000 persons who treat Medicaid and Medicare patients and indigent patients who constitute at least 25 percent of its gross net revenue. The donations cannot be otherwise deductible from federal income tax as charitable contributions but an individual taxpayer can receive a credit of up to $2500 per year for 90% of the contribution to the health care organization and married joint taxpayers up to $5000. However, a corporation or other entity can receive a tax credit for 75% of the contribution up to its full income tax liability. The total credits permitted are $250 million.
Rep. Penny Houston (R-Nashville) presented HB 921 with the Department of Economic Development. For investments in designated downtown areas of local jurisdictions of fewer than 15,000 people which meet specified criteria for vacancy rates and investments, known as revitalization zones, an individual is permitted a tax credit for up to five years of $2000 for each new job created and certified investors can receive a tax credit for up to 50 percent of the purchase price of revitalized property up to $250,000. The bill received extensive questioning about how to demonstrate that new jobs were created and to assure that the tax credit generated long lasting job creation effects and not just new investment boondoggles. The sponsor and Department agreed to take the questions into account, to seek an overall limit on the amount of credits that could be earned, and to bring a substitute back to the Subcommittee.
Rep. Virgil Flood (D-Fayetteville) brought for vote a substitute to HB 828 that permits a state income tax credit of up to $50,000 per year for businesses which employ qualified parolees in jobs that pay at least the average wage of the lowest average wage county in Georgia. The job must be full time involving a work week of 30 hours per week for at least forty weeks. Each parolee hired under these conditions generates an income tax credit of $2500 for one tax year. The bill passed unanimously.
Our 2016 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.