Gold Dome Report - February 19, 2016
It was a long Friday at the Capitol. The House passed out its version of HB 751, the FY 2017 Budget. The spending plan for next fiscal year is $23.7 billion. The House immediately transmitted its version of the Budget to the Senate, and the Senate Appropriations Committee's Subcommittees are scheduled to meet throughout next week to review the changes made by the House. In the other chamber, the Senate considered HB 757, the 'Pastor Protection Act.' That debate lasted well into the afternoon, causing most of the afternoon's committee meetings to be canceled.
Governor Deal announced the appointments to boards today: William Bowen, a fourth-generation owner of the Bowen-Donaldson Home for Funerals in Tifton, has been named to the State Board of Funeral Service. In other appointments, there were four individuals named to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Advisory Council and those individuals are: Demarius Brinkley from Madison; Christine Miller-Betts from Grovetown; Rita Jackson Samuels from Atlanta; and LaQuoia Singleton from Atlanta.
The House considered four pieces of legislation on the Rules calendar, including HB 751, the FY 17 State Budget, which passed by a vote of 163-0. It indicated a set revenue estimate of $23.7 billion. This is an increase of $673.9 million (2.9%) over the FY 16 Amended Budget.
HB 886, by Rep. Sharon Cooper (R-Marietta), requires Georgia pharmacies, including specialty pharmacies, to use a shipping method that is in accordance with recognized standards when shipping medication to a patient via mail order. It passed by a vote of 155-4.
HB 902, by Rep. Katie Dempsey (R-Rome), requires assisted living communities to provide residents with annual educational information on the flu virus. This includes information on the risks of influenza and the availability and effectiveness of influenza vaccines. Rep. Dempsey clarified that assisted living communities would not be required to pay for vaccinations. It passed by a vote of 140-23.
HB 579, by Rep. Tom McCall (R-Elberton) provides that "farm vehicles" may be driven by farmers on public roads for use in agricultural pursuits, if the vehicle has a slow-moving vehicle emblem. Municipalities would still be able to prohibit such operation of farm vehicles if it endangers the safety of the public. This bill passed by a vote of 163-0.
HB 757, the 'Pastor Protection Act' was combined with the 'First Amendment Defense Act' (SB 284) in the Senate Rules Committee earlier this week and was the main initiative discussed on the Senate Floor today. It was engrossed by a vote of 36-19 so that no Floor changes could be made. Sen. Greg Kirk (R-Americus) authored SB 284 (HB 757 was by Rep. Kevin Tanner (R-Dawsonville)) and he presented the combined legislation, traveling as HB 757, to the Senate. The bill would provide that pastors are not obligated to perform marriage ceremonies at odds with such pastors' religious beliefs. Sen. Kirk argued that it will only impact government's interactions with faith-based organizations or a person who has sincerely held religious beliefs.
Prior to the lunch recess, Senate Democrats put forth three amendments intending to protect against social discrimination to be added to the bill. The Senate voted against the amendments. After the recess, the debate on the bill began. The Republican side emphasized that the bill only has to do with equal protection, so that pastors are not forced to participate in ceremonies that conflict with their personal religious beliefs. They also made a point to say that LGBT and cohabiting couples are welcome and are not the target of this legislation. The debate lasted until 4:30 p.m., when the Senate ultimately voted to pass HB 787 by committee substitute by a vote of 38-14.
The Senate also considered SB 370, by Sen. P.K. Martin (R-Lawrenceville), which changes the training requirements for clerks of superior court by requiring that the certificate of additional training be issued by a professional court management association, or an accredited college or university, in addition to the Institute of Continuing Judicial Education. It passed by a vote of 53-1.
HB 1045, by Rep. LaDawn Jones (D-Atlanta), amends Title 35 by adding a new code section at O.C.G.A. § 35-1-20 to provide for centralized reporting standards for use of force complaints relating to law enforcement. It further enables the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to use collected data for rendering assistive measures to law enforcement agencies that have a large number of use of force complaints. It requires every law enforcement agency in the State to provide monthly reports of such complaints to the GBI, the first of which shall be made by August 15, 2016. Reports are to be made by the 15th day of each month. Complaints shall include the identity of the complaining party and each officer subject to the complaint, including any corresponding case numbers. It also requires every district attorney, chief solicitor general and their staffs to provide such complaints to the GBI. Any agency with "use of force complaints" that are at least 25 percent higher than the state average would have to employ safety training and tools within 12 months of receiving notice from the GBI.
HB 1046, by Rep. LaDawn Jones (D-Atlanta), amends O.C.G.A. § 16-13-2 to provide that possession of one ounce or less of marijuana is not punishable by imprisonment. Under this bill, for the first violation, it would require a fine of no more than $250 and a required clinical evaluation and, if recommended by such evaluation, completion of a substance abuse treatment program. For a second violation, the fine is increased to $500. For third and subsequent violations, the fine would be $750.
HB 1055, by Rep. Wendell Willard (R-Sandy Springs), is an overhaul of Georgia's Certificate of Need (CON) laws to repeal Chapter 6 of Title 31, the current program in place, effective December 31, 2017. It also repeals O.C.G.A. § 31-7-155, concerning certificates of need for new service or extending service area and exemption from certificate of need. O.C.G.A. § 31-7-179 seeks to repeal CON for hospice and also revises O.C.G.A. § 31-7-307 so a CON is not required for private home care provider licenses. It also addresses the Indigent Care Trust Fund as well as the Georgia Trauma Care Network Commission (under the Commission and clarifies the definition so that a burn trauma center is not considered or treated as a trauma center for purposes of identifying safety net hospitals). It eliminates the reference to CON for continuing care retirement communities in O.C.G.A. § 33-45-3(b) and also the reference to CON for crisis stabilization units in O.C.G.A. § 37-1-29(j). Other conforming references are made in the Code for this repeal. It does add in O.C.G.A. § 31-7-1 a new definition for the term, "freestanding emergency department," which means "a facility that is structurally separate and distinct from a hospital that receives individuals for emergency care." In that same Code Section, it defines the term, "specialty hospital" to mean "a hospital that is primarily or exclusively engaged in the care and treatment of one of the following: patients with cardiac condition, patients with an orthopedic condition, patients receiving a surgical procedure, or patients receiving any other specialized category of services defined by the department. Such term shall not include a destination cancer hospital or a psychiatric hospital." O.C.G.A. § 31-7-3 is amended to address other requirements in addition to a permit which an existing licensed general hospital, destination cancer hospital, specialty hospital, freestanding emergency department or diagnostic and treatment center must have after January 1, 2018. Some of those requirements are:
- Written administrative policies that prohibit the exclusion of services to any patient on the basis of age, race, sex, creed, religion, disability, or the patient's ability to pay;
- A written commitment to offer services for indigent and charity patients at a standard that meets or exceeds 3 percent of annual adjusted gross revenues for the general hospital, destination cancer hospital, specialty hospital, or diagnostic and treatment center;
- A written commitment to participate in the Medicare, Medicaid, and PeachCare for Kids programs;
- A written commitment to participate in any other state health benefits insurance programs for which the hospital is eligible; and
- Documentation of the past record of performance of the applicant, and any facility in Georgia owned or operated by the applicant's parent organization, of providing services to Medicare, Medicaid, and indigent and charity patients.
Failure to comply with requirements may be grounds for the Department to "revoke, suspend, deny, or not renew the general hospital's, destination cancer hospital's, specialty hospital's, freestanding emergency department's diagnostic and treatment center's or applicant's permit."
In addition to permit requirements, existing ambulatory surgical treatment centers also have additional requirements:
- A hospital affiliation agreement with a hospital within a reasonable distance from the center or the medical staff at the center has admitting privileges or other acceptable documented arrangements with such hospital to ensure the necessary backup for the center for medical complications. The ambulatory surgical treatment center shall have the capability to transfer a patient immediately to a hospital within a reasonable distance from the center with adequate emergency room services. Hospitals shall not unreasonably deny a transfer agreement or affiliation agreement to the center; and
- A written comment to provide care to:
- Medicaid beneficiaries and, if the center provides medical care and treatment to children, to PeachCare for Kids beneficiaries and to provide uncompensated indigent and charity care in an amount equal to or greater than 2 percent of its adjusted gross revenue; or
- If the center is not a participant in Medicaid or the PeachCare for Kids Program, provides uncompensated care to Medicaid beneficiaries and, if the facility provides medical care and treatment to children, to PeachCare for Kids beneficiaries, uncompensated indigent and charity care, or both in an amount equal to or greater than 4 percent of its adjusted gross revenue;
Provided, however that the ambulatory treatment center provides exclusively ophthalmologic care and is not required to comply. Failure to comply is grounds for the Department to revoke, suspend, deny or not renew the ambulatory surgical treatment center's or applicant's permit. It states that no permit is to be issued for a freestanding emergency department that is not affiliated with a general acute care hospital and no permit is to be issued for a specialty hospital on or after December 1, 2016.
HB 1058, by Rep. Betty Price, MD (R-Roswell), amends O.C.G.A. § 24-12-21 to provide that AIDS confidential information may be disclosed to an incompetent person's parent or legal guardian, if such person is a minor. It would amend O.C.G.A. § 31-17-4.2 by clarifying that a woman "shall have the opportunity" to refuse an HIV test. It also removes a requirement in O.C.G.A. § 31-22-9.1, that the Department of Public Health develop brochures providing information about HIV/AIDS counseling.
HB 1059, by Rep. Bill Hitchens (R-Rincon), addresses local government and public utilities to add a new Chapter 93 in Title 36 to be known as the "Local Government 9-1-1 Authority Act." It establishes new definitions in O.C.G.A. § 36-93-2 and includes a definition for "wireless enhanced 9-1-1 charge." At O.C.G.A. § 36-93-3, it establishes a "Local Government 9-1-1 Authority" as an instrumentality of the State and provides that it may contract and be contracted with and bring and defend actions. All counties, municipalities, consolidated governments and regional authorities which operate or contract for the operation of 9-1-1 services, are to form the authority. This authority, overseen by a board of directors, is to "administer, collect, audit, and remit 9-1-1 revenue for the benefit of local governments in Georgia." The Authority has other duties enumerated – such as to study and evaluate statewide services and identify any changes needed to have a more effective and efficient 9-1-1 service. At O.C.G.A. § 36-93-5, it requires that on and after January 1, 2017, all 9-1-1 charges and all wireless enhanced 9-1-1 charges imposed by a local government governing authority, are to be collected by a service supplier and remitted monthly to the Authority not later than the twentieth day of the month following the month in which they are collected. Interest will accrue if the charges are not remitted in a timely manner. The Authority, per O.C.G.A. § 36-93-6 is permitted to retain moneys to cover its costs of administration of the Authority – but not to exceed three percent. The remainder of the charges are to be paid by the Authority to the county/municipality which operates a 9-1-1 public safety answering point monthly on a pro rata basis based on the remitted amounts attributable to each county or municipality. It also makes several changes in Title 46. Among those include a change to O.C.G.A. § 56-5-134.2(b), regarding the imposition of fees by localities, collection and remission of charges, and distribution of funds. Currently, counties and municipalities which have a 9-1-1 public safety answering point are authorized to impose, by ordinance or resolution, a prepaid wireless 9-1-1 charge in the amount of $.75; this legislation increases that to $1.50 per retail transaction.
HB 1060, by Rep. Rick Jasperse (R-Jasper), is another gun bill regarding the carrying and possession of firearms in Chapter 11 of Title 16. It adds in O.C.G.A. § 16-11-125.2(a) that "pursuant to Article I, Section I, Paragraph VIII of the Constitution of this State, the General Assembly finds that the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed." It adds changes in O.C.G.A. § 16-11-126(e) and (f), relating to having or carrying handguns, long guns, or other weapons, license requirement, exceptions for homes, motor vehicles, private property, and other locations and conditions. It adds that "any person who is not a weapons carry license holder in this State and who is licensed to carry a handgun or weapon in any other state whose laws recognize and give effect to a license issued pursuant to this part shall be authorized to carry a weapon in this State for 90 days after he or she becomes a resident" – but the person has to carry the weapon in compliance with Georgia laws and submit a weapons carry license application and remain licensed in the other state for the duration of the time that he or she is a resident of Georgia but is not a weapons carry license holder in this State. Further, it permits an individual with a valid hunting or fishing license on his or her person, or any person not required by law to have a hunting or fishing license, who is "otherwise engaged in legal hunting, fishing, or sport shooting on recreational or wildlife management areas owned by this State may have or carry on his or her person a knife without a valid weapons carry license while engaging in such hunting, fishing, or sport fishing." It clarifies the meaning of "private property" in O.C.G.A. § 16-11-127(a)(5) to mean "real property that is not owned or controlled by any government entity; provided, however, that such term shall not mean leased government property" (which is property that is owned by a government entity but of which an individual or entity which is not a government entity is the lessee, licensee, or renter). It amends current law regarding the carrying of weapons within school safety zones, at school functions or on a bus or other transportation furnished by a school in O.C.G.A. § 16-11-127.1(c) (so that the Code section is not to apply to any extent to persons who are provided for under O.C.G.A. § 16-11-130). It adds in O.C.G.A. § 16-11-129(a.1)(1) that a probate court judge, at his or her discretion, after receipt of a weapons carry license application, may provide the applicant printed information on gun safety produced by any person or organization that offers practical advice on gun safety. The Department of Natural Resources is also to provide information to the public on its website about resources on gun safety and classes and courses on gun safety. It adds immunity from liability for the probate court judge and DNR for any personal injuries or damage to property arising from conformance with this Code Section. In this Code Section, it also addresses name changes (for instance marriage or divorce) or address changes so that individuals are to be issued a replacement weapons carry license for a fee (when there is more than 90 days left on their license before its expiration). The proposal also amends O.C.G.A. § 16-11-130(c) and exemptions from the requirement to have a weapons carry permit – allowing retired law enforcement officers with powers of arrest under the laws of any state of the United States or of the United States; if separated from service in good standing (based on criteria established by the Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council); and possesses an identification card for retired law enforcement officers. Currently, a sheriff, retired sheriff, deputy sheriff, and retired deputy sheriff may carry without a license – this also adds a member of the Georgia State Patrol, retired member of the Georgia State Patrol, agent of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, retired agent of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and retired law enforcement officer. It adds definitions for terms "commercial service airport" and "major airline carrier" in O.C.G.A. § 16-11-130.2(a.1). It also amends definitions and disposition of personal property in the custody of a law enforcement agency in O.C.G.A. § 17-5-54 – included in the changes are the ability of a municipal corporation, the State, a political subdivision, or a law enforcement agency to employ or partner with a licensed firearms collector, dealer, importer, or manufacturer to facilitate sales of firearms and requires that a municipal corporation, political subdivision, and law enforcement agency file with the GBI an inventory of all unclaimed firearms in its possession beginning on December 15, 2016. It amends O.C.G.A. § 35-3-34, concerning disclosure and dissemination of criminal records to private persons and businesses, resulting responsibility and liability of issuing center and provision of information to the FBI in conjunction with a National Instant Criminal Background Check System to allow for the preservation of a person's involuntary hospitalization information received by the Georgia Crime Information Center with exceptions. It also outlines the procedure for purging a person's involuntary hospitalization information which is received by the Georgia Crime Information Center and restoration of the individual's ability to legally carry and possess a firearm.
HB 1061, by Rep. Tom Dickson (R-Cohutta) provides in O.C.G.A. § 20-2-210 that when determining performance evaluations, growth in student achievement shall not include test scores of students who have been absent from at least 90% of the instructional days for that specific course. For teachers of record, the annual evaluation would now be based on 50% classroom evaluations; 30% student growth; and 20% professional growth. For assistant principals and principals, it would be based on 30% school observation; 40% student growth; and 30% professional growth. Professional growth for teachers of record who have rating levels of 'Exemplary' may include agreeing to mentor another teacher; serving as an evaluator in his or her subject area; or serving in other professional development roles. The number of classroom observations for teachers of record and for assistant principals and principals would be left to the discretion of the local school system.
HB 1064, by Rep. Bill Hitchens (R-Rincon), addresses the off-duty use of motor vehicles by the Uniform Division of the Department of Public Safety in O.C.G.A. § 35-2-56. At subsection (b), it permits the members of the Uniform Division to use a department motor vehicle while working an off-duty job that "requires vested police powers as a condition of employment if such job has been approved by the commissioner," provided that "no employee shall for purposes of this subsection, use a department motor vehicle at any political function." When approving this off-duty job, the commissioner determines whether the off-duty officer is to reimburse the department for the use of the vehicle. If required to make reimbursement, the officer is to enter into a written agreement with the department to pay the amount determined by the commissioner. Similar provisions are inserted in O.C.G.A. § 35-2-101(e) and O.C.G.A. § 35-2-123.
HB 1065, by Rep. Scott Holcomb (D-Atlanta), adds a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. § 28-1-18 to require that no later than January 17, 2017, the House of Representatives and Senate are to adopt rules governing the submission of written or pre-recorded audio-visual statements by members of the general public to standing committees regarding pending legislation which is in possession of such standing committees. (Rules are to address procedures, format, length, means and custody of the submissions).
HR 1428, by Rep. Erica Thomas (D-Austell), seeks to create the House Study Committee on Reducing the Caseloads of Foster Kids' Caseworkers. This Study will be conducted by a number of members of the House as determined and appointed by the Speaker. The Committee will be abolished on December 1, 2016.
HR 1427, by Rep. Paulette Rakestraw (R-Powder Springs), seeks to create the House Study Committee on Electronic Cigarettes, E-Liquids, and Other Vapor Products. This study is looking at the alternatives, risks, licensing and registration of the products, age restrictions and scientific review of new tobacco products and other issues around electronic cigarettes, e-liquids, and vapor products. This Study is to be conducted by five members of the House and the Committee is to be abolished on December 1, 2016.
SB 397, by Sen. Judson Hill (R-Marietta), addresses agency laws in Chapter 6 of Title 10. It is an update and seeks to conform provisions relating to powers of attorney to a uniform Act.
SB 402, by Sen. Jeff Mullis (R-Chickamauga), addresses drug abuse treatment and education programs in Georgia and adds a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. § 26-5-21. It places a temporary moratorium on the acceptance of new applications and issuance of new licenses to narcotic treatment programs authorized under Chapter 5 of Title 26 through June 30, 2017. The reason for the moratorium is to permit the General Assembly the ability to "study the need for any changes to the licensure requirements for the operation of such programs and the enactment of any other additional laws to ensure the safety of Georgia's citizens." In subsection (b), it creates the 11-member State Commission on Narcotic Treatment Programs and outlines in (c) what the Commission is to do by December 31, 2016 (includes examining the current program's licensure requirements for adequacy; assess licensure and enforcement of those requirements; etc.). It abolishes this Commission on January 1, 2017.
SB 405, by Sen. Bill Heath (R-Bremen), amends O.C.G.A. § 16-11-125.1(2) and the definition of "knife" in the definitions for carrying and possession of firearms. It now defines the term to mean a pointed or sharp edge instrument consisting of a blade that is greater than 12 inches in length which fastened to a handle." Current law defines knife as "a cutting instrument designed for the purpose of offense and defense consisting of a blade that is greater than five inches in length which is fastened to a handle."
SB 406, by Sen. Bill Heath (R-Bremen), addresses O.C.G.A. § 27-2-23(11). This addresses a freeze in the cost of certain hunting licenses that are renewed before expiration. It permits the continuing renewal of the license for the original purchase price.
SB 407, by Sen. Jeff Mullis (R-Chickamauga), amends O.C.G.A. § 42-1-12(f)(4), regarding the State's sexual offender registry, to increase a sexual offender's reporting requirements when the offender's conviction is after June 30, 2016. Then, he or she shall also report in person to the sheriff within 72 hours prior to the date that is six months after such offender's birthday.
SB 409, by Sen. JaNice VanNess (R-Conyers), adds a new Code Section in the "Quality Basic Education Act" at O.C.G.A. § 20-2-324.2 to require that every public school post a sign in a visible location in a public area of the school readily accessible to all students in English and Spanish which contains a toll-free telephone number operated by the Division of Family and Children's Services to receive reports of child abuse or neglect 24 hours per day, seven days per week.
SR 1023, by Sen. Tyler Harper (R-Ocilla), recognizes February 22, 2016 as Emergency Medical Services Recognition Day.
SR 1024, by Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford), commends individuals who are diagnosed and living with Type 1 Diabetes and recognizes February 23, 2016 on their behalf.
SR 1025, by Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford), recognizes March 11, 2016 as X and Y Chromosome Variations Awareness Day.
SR 1027, by Sen. Jeff Mullis (R-Chickamauga), proposes a Joint Music Economic Development Study Committee looking at the impact of the music industry on the quality of life and economic welfare of Georgians. It seeks to also look at music content creators in Georgia and how to retain and attract talent; look at the music and sound recording sector here; examine music tourism in Georgia (live music and performance, festivals, etc.), state of music technology and entrepreneurship and supporting and promoting innovation and enterprise investment; looking at musical tour and theatrical production; examining the post-secondary music education opportunities in Georgia; reviewing the business side of music; looking at how the Georgia Music Hall of Fame can promote music in Georgia.
SR 1028, by Sen. Jeff Mullis (R-Mullis), creates the Senate Music Economic Development Study Committee. Like SR 1027, it seeks to also look at music content creators in Georgia and how to retain and attract talent; look at the music and sound recording sector here; examine music tourism in Georgia (live music and performance, festivals, etc.); the state of music technology and entrepreneurship and supporting and promoting innovation and enterprise investment; looking at musical tour and theatrical production; examining the post-secondary music education opportunities in Georgia; reviewing the business side of music; looking at how the Georgia Music Hall of Fame can promote music in Georgia.
SR 1029, by Sen. Chuck Hufstetler (R-Rome), seeks to create the Joint Study Committee on Health and Social Services Integrated Data Platform. This Study will be conducted by five members of the Senate and five members of the House.
SR 1030, by Sen. Chuck Hufstetler (R-Rome), recognizes the Georgia Academy of Anesthesiologist Assistants.
Senate Health and Human Services Committee
Chairwoman Renee Unterman (R-Buford) and her Committee held a late afternoon meeting. Originally, three pieces of legislation were included on the agenda: SB 381 (concerning stem cells); SB 385 (regarding physicians' board certifications); and SB 382 ("surprise" or balanced billing by healthcare providers). SB 382 was held for review on Monday, February 22.
SB 381 was presented by Sen. Bruce Thompson (R-White) and brought two stem cell experts to the hearing to discuss the benefits of stem cells. While the Committee heard the merits of the use of stem cell, the Committee struggled with the real need and understanding of Sen. Thompson's legislation. Timothy Ganey, Ph.D. spoke to the FDA's proposed actions on stem cell therapies and explained their uses and economic value. In 2013, the sales of stem cell products were $236 million. In 2014, the sales jumped to $380 million. Only one individual from the audience spoke to the bill; former State Senator Chuck Clay and lobbyist for Georgia Bio stated that his group was not opposed but some of the larger entities which are members of his organization had not had a chance to respond to him about the legislation. Sen. Chuck Hufstetler (R-Rome) struggled with the need for this legislation as did Chairwoman Unterman. At the end of the lengthy presentations and discussions, the legislation was held so that some additional information could be provided. SB 381 would enact the "Nonembryonic and Nonfetal Cell Therapy Act" in Chapter 52 of Title 31. Sen. Thompson explained that if Georgia passed a law on this regulation, administration, compounding and importation of cellular material, the FDA is considering moving to a "drug" in April, then perhaps these types of therapies/procedures would remain available to individuals.
Sen. Judson Hill (R-Marietta) presented his legislation SB 385. This initiative would create a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. § 43-34-22.1 to provide for requirements for the advertisement by a physician of representations to his or her board certification. There is a similar proposal pending now in the House by Rep. Betty Price, MD (R-Roswell) and that bill is HB 826. Sen. Hill explained that the intent of the legislation was to protect the public about physicians and their board certifications. It is based on model AMA language and also on a resolution adopted by the Medical Association of Georgia's House of Delegates. Sen. Unterman indicated her big concern was making sure that subspecialty area certifications were also addressed. Marcus Downs with the Medical Association of Georgia testified supporting the proposal but this particular issue had not been a part of the 2016 legislative priorities for his Association. Sen. Unterman indicated that she wanted to hold the legislation pending an opportunity for the Composite Medical Board to weigh in on the proposal.
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.