Gold Dome Report - February 2, 2016
Today marked the 14th Legislative Day of the 2016 session. It was Girl Scouts Day today, and hundreds of young scouts swarmed the halls to meet with legislators. They also were interested in learning about the General Assembly and the passage of laws. Additionally, Firefighters Day took place this morning. Many firefighters from around the State took center stage on the south steps and were recognized for their important service provided to all Georgians daily.
Governor Deal announced that Anthem, Inc., a leading provider of health benefit solutions, will expand their Customer Care Center in Columbus, Georgia. This expansion is expected to create 450 new jobs and represents a capital investment by the company of over $3 million in Muscogee County. In his remarks, Governor Deal indicated that "this expansion further bolsters Georgia's reputation as the nation's top destination for health IT companies." The full press release can be found here: Deal: Anthem, Inc. to create 450 new jobs in Muscogee County
Also today, Governor Deal received the final report from the Criminal Justice Reform Council, which was created by the Governor in 2011. The final report can be found here: GA Council on Criminal Justice Reform Final Report
The Senate considered a few bills today. Senator Charlie Bethel (R-Dalton) presented SB 193 on the floor. This legislation defines the penalties for 'family violence battery' to better align with the intent of Georgia law. This bill passed on the Senate floor with a vote of 51-0. This legislation was fitting as it was Violence Against Women Day under the Dome.
SB 243, by Sen. Jack Hill (R-Reidsville) was up next for a vote. SB 243 restores admission eligibility for the Georgia Judicial Retirement System, to include attorneys in the Office of Legislative Counsel. This bill passed with a vote of 50-0.
HB 882, by Rep. Darlene Taylor (R-Thomasville), addresses authorization and general requirements for the transaction of insurance. It eliminates the foreign and alien insurer deposit requirement of securities eligible for the investment of capital funds in certain amounts at the discretion of the Insurance Commissioner in O.C.G.A. § 33-3-9. Additionally, it provides for the elimination of newspaper publication by insurers of certain financial information and proof of such publication to the Department of Insurance Commissioner in O.C.G.A. § 33-3-16 (currently, an insurer is to, on or before March 1 of each year, publish in a newspaper of general circulation a statement showing income, assets, expenditures, and liabilities in gross as of December 31 of the preceding year).
HB 883, by Rep. Darlene Taylor (R-Thomasville), is another insurance proposal but addressing rehabilitation and liquidation. It changes the provisions in current law addressing "reciprocal states" in O.C.G.A. § 33-37-3 and domiciliary liquidators in O.C.G.A. 33-37-50(d). It does permit a domiciliary liquidator of an insurer domiciled in another state - see O.C.G.A. § 33-37-51. It also addresses transfer of title by the Commissioner under his or her control to a domiciliary receiver; it modifies provisions relating to the rights of nonresident claimants in proceedings against domiciliary insurers; it addresses rights of resident claimants in proceedings in other states against non-domiciliary insurers; and removes the use of reciprocal in superiority of order of distribution in liquidation proceedings.
HB 884, by Rep. Darlene Taylor (R-Thomasville), also addresses insurance and risk-based capital levels. It specifically amends O.C.G.A. § 33-56-3(a)(1)(D) and adds:
If a health organization has total adjusted capital which is greater than or equal to its company action level RBC but less than the product of its authorized control level RBC and 3.0 and triggers the trend test determined in accordance with the trend test calculation included in the health RBC instructions.
HB 885, by Rep. Jan Jones (R-Milton), seeks to repeal O.C.G.A. § 31-3-2.1 which would remove the option for certain counties to create a county board of health and wellness by ordinance.
HB 886, by Rep. Sharon Cooper (R-Marietta), amends O.C.G.A. § 26-4-60(a), relating to the employing of mails or common carriers to sell, distribute, and deliver prescription drugs. It removes the ability of the State Board of Pharmacy to promulgate a list of medications which may not be delivered by mail and instead would require shipping methods be in accordance with "recognized standards." It will permit a pharmacy mailing medications to use temperature tags, time temperature strips, insulated packaging or a combination of these.
HB 887, by Rep. Chuck Efstration (R-Dacula), amends O.C.G.A. § 15-11-135, to require the Department of Family and Children Services, when placing a child in a foster care home, to place such child with a relative who is an adult or fictive kin. The relative must be willing and found by the court to be qualified to care for the child. It also specifies, in O.C.G.A. § 15-11-146, that DFCS shall prioritize the temporary placement of a child with such relative, so long as the relative meets DFCS requirements. Finally, O.C.G.A. § 15-11-321 is amended to require the court to initially attempt to place a child with a relative who is an adult or fictive kin.
HB 889, by Rep. "Rusty" Kidd (I-Milledgeville), amends Part 4 of Article 1 of Chapter 18 of Title 43 by adding a new code section at O.C.G.A. § 43-18-81, to authorize anyone who operates one or more funeral establishments, but only one crematory, to advertise access to their crematory and cremation services.
SB 316, by Sen. Steve Gooch (R-Dahlonega), addresses O.C.G.A. § 16-12-60(f) concerning bingo rules and regulations. It removes the daily permissible prize limitation of $1,500.00 in cash or gifts of equivalent value but preserves the $3,000.00 weekly prize limitation in cash or gifts of equivalent value.
SB 317, by Sen. Steve Gooch (R-Dahlonega), amends O.C.G.A. § 44-12-300(a) concerning tribes, bands, groups, or communities which are recognized in Georgia as "legitimate American Indian tribes," adding a new tribe: The Tsigamogi Tribe (in Dahlonega). It also updates each of the existing tribes’ address information.
SB 318, by Sen. Rick Jeffares (R-McDonough), contains amendments in Chapter 2 of Title 21, concerning elections and primaries. It makes changes in the following Code Sections to permit nonpartisan elections for district attorneys, sheriffs, coroners, tax commissioners and clerks of superior courts: O.C.G.A. § 21-2-132(c) and O.C.G.A. § 21-2-139(a). It also addresses qualifications for these offices.
SB 319, by Sen. Lester Jackson (D-Savannah), seeks to change O.C.G.A. § 43-10A-3(10) and the definition of "professional counseling" in the definitions relating to professional counselors, social workers and others. It adds the word "diagnose" to their scope of practice like the legislation proposed by Rep. Lee Hawkins (R-Gainesville) in HB 498.
SB 320, by Sen. Ben Watson, MD (R-Savannah), amends Chapter 5 of Title 40 pertaining to the issuance, expiration, and renewal of licenses. At O.C.G.A. § 40-5-21(a)(2), it revises provisions relating to a "nonresident" so the exemption for those individuals would read: "A nonresident who has in his or her immediate possession a valid driver's license issued to him or her in his or her home state or country; provided, however, that such person would otherwise satisfy all requirements to receive a Georgia driver's license and provided, further, that in the case of a driver's license issued by the driver's licensing authority of a foreign country, any applicable requirements of Code Section 40-5-21.3 are satisfied." It also adds language in a new Code Section in O.C.G.A. § 40-5-21.3 to provide for a rebuttable presumption for the validity of a driver's license issued by the driver's licensing authority of a foreign country.
Senate Appropriations Committee – Education Subcommittee
The Senate Appropriations Committee's Subcommittee on Education held a short hearing this afternoon to hear a number of additional funding requests for the FY 2016 Amended Budget. The Department of Early Care and Learning, the Department of Education, the Governor's Office of Student Achievement, and the Professional Standards Commission each testified. Chairman Lindsey Tippins (R-Marietta) recognized DECAL first.
Commissioner Amy Jacobs presented only one change to add to their original request. In Section 126.1, they asked for an additional $199 so they can be in compliance with the Affordable Care Act.
The Department of Education had a number of requests, including additional funding to migrate the Department's current IT infrastructure to a new facility in Suwannee, GA. Their current infrastructure is housed on the 15th floor of the twin towers, across from the Capitol building. An additional request at line 152.3 of the Tracking Document would add additional funding for schools that have declared their intention of becoming a charter system.
Executive Director Martha Ann Todd of the Governor's Office of Student Achievement (GOSA) said her office had no changes to the Amended Budget; however she gave Subcommittee members a document which provides an overview of GOSA's ongoing projects.
There are no changes to the request from the Professional Standards Commission for the Amended FY 2016 Budget request. Education preparation providers are doing a much better job aligning their structures with local school districts. Colleges and universities understand the practical need of local districts, particularly at the student-teaching level. Chairman Tippins asked if there is a formalized system in place that keeps local school districts informed on decisions regarding teacher evaluations or performance. The Professional Standards Commission indicated that they have visited every RESA in the State and those conversations were very productive.
House Regulated Industries Committee
The House Regulated Industries Committee held a hearing on HB 775, authored by Rep. Earl Ehrhart (R-Powder Springs). This bill relates to prescriptions for contact lenses and spectacles, and it would require a comprehensive eye exam before contact lenses or spectacles can be prescribed. This is basically the law as it is currently; however certain out-of-state companies can bypass it by hiring an ophthalmologist who sends the prescriptions after an online assessment is performed. Rep. Ehrhart mentioned one facility in Tennessee that uses an online assessment and employs one ophthalmologist to write prescriptions. There were other examples of this occurring; however, they did not discuss those cases. It is concerning because online assessments are not viable for assessing a need for contact lenses.
A substitute to HB 775 was presented which relaxes the imposed penalty to a misdemeanor. Previously, it was a felony. Additionally, Rep. Ehrart clarified that nothing in this legislation will put limits on Telemedicine services. He said that Telemedicine has very clear protocols for delivering services to people.
Chairman Terry Rogers (R-Clarkesville) expressed some concern that people who use online services to get prescriptions for contacts would not receive proper preventative eye care by using an online assessment, since it does not include a thorough examination. Eye examinations also assess eye health and check for any potential medical issues with a patient's eyes. The Committee passed the HB 775 as a substitute and it now moves to the House Rules Committee for its consideration.
House Government Affairs Committee – Government Affairs Administration Subcommittee
Rep. Buzz Brockway (R-Lawrenceville) and his Subcommittee tackled several proposals:
- HB 738, by Rep. Johnnie Caldwell, Jr. (R-Thomaston), was passed as a Committee Substitute proposal with an amendment. In the Substitute, which addresses funding for county law libraries, it adds that the district attorney is to be included as a member of the Board of Trustees which oversees each county law library and its funds (derived from civil and criminal court case fees). Under current law, any excess fees amassed are to be used to fund legal services to the poor – in the new proposal, it expands how these "extra" funds may be used (if any) so that they may also go towards upkeep on the courtrooms, solicitor and district attorney offices, sound systems in the courtrooms in addition to legal fees for indigent (which is still the primary purpose of the extra funds). Rep. Jay Powell (R-Camilla) added a clarifying amendment so that any excess funds, upon a determination made by the Board of Trustees, are to be turned over to the county. Rep. Powell's amendment was adopted and the Committee Substitute passed as amended.
- HB 497, by Rep. Valencia Stovall (D-Lake City), was heard for the second time. Rep. Stovall came to the Subcommittee hearing with a legal opinion from Legislative Counsel to address the Subcommittee's concerns regarding questions on the possible violation of the "gratuities clause" in the State's Constitution. This legislation will permit small, nonprofits to obtain up to $2,000.00 in surplus goods from the Department of Administrative Services without paying for such goods on a first come, first served basis. The nonprofit could have no more than 15 employees and will have to be in existence for two years to qualify. Rep. Stovall explained that her legislation would "substantially serve public interest" which appeared to be the test which Legislative Counsel applied in determining that this legislation would not run afoul of the gratuities clause. Rep. Darlene Taylor (R-Thomasville) inquired about what would take place if the nonprofit gave away the property after it was obtained. The bill does not contemplate such although it does contemplate future sales. Rep. Taylor also asked who tracked this surplus property. Rep. Barry Fleming (R-Harlem) moved do pass on the Substitute presented and an amendment was offered by Rep. Jay Powell (R-Camilla) to address Rep. Taylor's concerns – so that the nonprofit could not sell or give away the property for at least one year once it was conveyed to the nonprofit. The bill passed by Substitute with the amendment.
- HB 765, by Rep. Jay Powell (R-Camilla), seeks to address experience and diversity of individuals serving on local division of family and children's services boards. Currently, no retired individual may serve on these boards – it only allows individuals who are currently employed. His bill passed.
- HB 781, by Rep. Brad Raffensperger (R-Johns Creek), addresses eligibility and qualifications to serve on local authorities, school districts, commissions, councils and boards so that each individual must be a legal resident of Georgia and a United States citizen. Rep. Ronnie Mabra (D-Fayetteville) inquired what issue this bill was seeking to address. He further asked if it was merely a preventative measure; Rep. Raffensperger said he did not know of a current problem but California had experienced issues around service of individuals on local governmental entities. Rep. Fleming stated he was appreciative of the changes in Rep. Raffensperger's proposal, which was a Substitute to address border county/state folks. Rep. Raffensperger indicated he also wished to address military folks' who may not meet the residency requirements but had the willingness to serve. This legislation cleared with these changes so that military personnel stationed in Georgia may serve.
House Health and Human Services Committee
In a three hour plus meeting, this Committee took up several proposals. This particular Committee does not utilize Subcommittees in their "vetting" process.
Rep. Lee Hawkins (R-Gainesville) passed out a Substitute on HB 853, the changes to the "Coverdell-Murphy Act" which was first passed in 2008 by former Sen. Don Thomas (R-Dalton). The legislation before the Committee today was a "modernization" of the current law so as to include at least three levels of stroke centers, including comprehensive stroke centers, in O.C.G.A. § 31-11-110. Now, not only hospitals use "clot busting drugs" but they also utilize techniques much like those used with heart attack patients. EMS/EMT/Ambulance providers supported the proposal but did ask for a small amendment. The Georgia Hospital Association supported the legislation along with the American Heart Association. Michael Frankel, M.D., a neurologist at Grady and a professor at Emory University, spoke about the changes to stroke care and advances made in Georgia (which have led to world-wide changes). There were some questions regarding the Department of Public Health's reporting requirements and whether there was added funding or a fiscal note on this proposal. No added funds from the federal government will be forthcoming because of the changes. A motion was made to provide a do pass recommendation; the EMS/EMT amendment was made, and approved, to address transporting patients to appropriate stroke centers and flexibility with protocols. The Bill then passed as a Substitute.
HB 34, by Rep. Mike Dudgeon (R-Johns Creek), also cleared out of the Committee. This legislation originally passed in 2015 out of this same Committee; however, the initiative stalled in the House Rules Committee. It permits patients the ability to get access to experimental therapies which have not received full FDA approval. The trials are voluntary and no one is forced to pay for the treatment. Rep. Dudgeon indicated he had worked out issues relating to the legislation with the Medical Association of Georgia and Georgia Trial Lawyers Association. Texas has passed similar legislation along with 23 other states; there are 15 states considering similar proposals. Americans for Prosperity supported the proposal. There were no amendments made and the legislation passed.
Rep. Rick Jasperse (R-Jasper) presented his legislation for "expedited partner therapy", HB 813. His legislation comes in part as a result of an article presented in the New York Times on February 3, 2015 on this matter. The legislation defines "expedited partner therapy" in O.C.G.A. § 31-17-7.1. The change will allow easier access to medications for individuals who have contracted certain sexually transmitted diseases. The Department of Public Health was supportive of this legislation as Chlamydia and gonorrhea are two prevalent sexually transmitted diseases in the State; this change will permit more individuals to get access to medications so as to limit spread of the disease by getting individuals treated. It has also been dubbed the "buddy bill." The legislation passed by Substitute.
Next, the Committee had a presentation on medications used in treating children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorders. Shire Pharmaceuticals had one of its products, Vyvanse taken off of one of the CMO's (WellCare) preferred drug list which impacted 7,000 children that WellCare covered. Shire was there to address some issues which constituents had raised about the issues – the change now requires that a child undergo treatment using other medications and get prior approval for access to Vyvanse. WellCare was also present to defend its change in policy citing the need for children to undergo taking "short-acting" rather "long-acting" products first and Vyvanse is a long-acting product. Shire argued, along with a Medical College of Georgia physician, that Vyvanse had great results in the treatment of these children, and that WellCare's timing of its policy change came during the school year which caused other complications for children and their families. WellCare noted that 59,000 of its members have "ADHD" diagnoses and about one-third were approved to obtain Vyvanse in December. There were some questions about the costs of Vyvanse versus other medications and whether parents could potentially ask for vouchers from the pharmaceutical company (yes, one voucher may be obtained for a one-month supply which can be used while obtaining prior approval). Rep. Karla Drenner (D-Avondale Estates) pointed out that there had been no information on "superiority studies" – she indicated that if the drug/agent worked, then it should be available and not be just solely about cost of the medication or a company's bottom line. Chairman Cooper (R-Marietta) reminded WellCare that she and her colleagues were paying attention to these issues and that they were aware when CMO contracts were put out for bids.
Rep. Bruce Broadrick (R-Dalton) brought the final legislation for the afternoon, HB 783. This legislation was supposed to be an easy proposal – it is Georgia's annual update to its dangerous drug list. However, in this year's version at Section 6 of the legislation, it creates a new class of drugs to be known as "restricted dangerous drug list." In this list, it proposes to move some plants which have no medical use and may not be legally prescribed by a practitioner. In particular, salvia and Mitragyna speciosa (Kratom) are proposed to be added to this "restricted dangerous drug list." Kratom was the one plant which caused a firestorm of response from the public. The Georgia Drugs and Narcotics Agency (GDNA) had included this "drug" because it had been brought to its attention by the GBI Crime Lab as being a problem. The Committee asked numerous questions after learning that Kratom has been banned in other states and Thailand. There is no synthetic for Kratom per GDNA Director Rick Allen. One passionate mother Leann Harder spoke about her son's experience with the drug and its negative side effects. Various individuals came to the hearing to support the American Kratom Association – its folks testified to the great benefits which the plant provides to individuals who suffer chronic pain and other health issues. The Botanical Education Advocacy Group also had a representative to speak to the benefits of Kratom and a California and Nevada licensed physician, who is conducting a clinical trial on its use, also spoke to the Committee. After many questions and statements, the Committee tabled the proposal.
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.