Gold Dome Report - February 21, 2017
Today was Day 21 at the State Capitol. Lawmakers were busy at work this afternoon, holding numerous committees. Pharmacists, Catholic priests, and child welfare providers were among the many guests crowding today's halls and working the ropes.
Educators have played an important part in Governor Deal's work throughout his tenure in office and it has continued this year. Today, he released 'Encourage,' which is the fifth in a series of videos about real Georgia teachers and what they do in their communities. Governor Deal has been working on these videos with the Governor's Office of Student Achievement. http://gov.georgia.gov/press-releases/2017-02-21/watch-deal-unveils-%E2%80%98encourage%E2%80%99
In other news later this afternoon, Governor Deal's important executive order permitting a standing order from the Department of Public Health for the issuance of Naloxone (or Narcan), used for individuals who are experiencing a drug overdose, was addressed in the House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee's Setzler Subcommittee. There, HB 249, by Rep. Kevin Tanner (R-Dawsonville), presented the proposal to the Committee that is an effort to address Georgia's concerns with the prevalence of opioid use and abuse. Rep. Tanner's proposal passed out of the Subcommittee with some minor amendments after many questions were raised and addressed. More on this bill is included in the Report below.
HB 250 passed by a vote of 159-0. It was authored by Rep. Mandi Ballinger (R-Canton) and provides that an employee of an early care and education program who has received a satisfactory fingerprint records check determination within the previous 24 months is exempt from submitting applications for an additional background check for the purpose of providing care to foster children.
HB 254, by Rep. Butch Parrish (R-Swainsboro), was passed by a vote of 125-34. It provides for non partisan elections for the Board of Education in Emanuel County.
HB 257, by Rep. Jan Tankersley (R-Brooklet), requires local governments to register with the Department of Community Affairs in order to remain eligible to receive state funding. It further requires certain reporting requirements for such local governments. It passed by a vote of 160-2.
HB 174 was presented by Rep. Eddie Lumsden (R-Armuchee) and it expands an insurer's medium of payment of a policy to include any other method of payment approved by the Commissioner. It quickly passed by a vote of 162-2.
HB 210, by Rep. Jodi Lott (R-Evans), seeks to alter the current definition of 'clinical laboratory' so it excludes any specimen collection station that collects human blood for the manufacturing of biological products and is regulated by the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research (CBER) within the federal Food and Drug Administration. This bill passed by a vote of 162-0.
Rep. Trey Kelley (R-Cedartown) presented HB 206, also known as the Pharmacy Audit Bill of Rights, and it passed unanimously by a vote of 166-0.
The Senate also took up a few bills this morning. Sen. Tonya Anderson announced that today is Female Veterans Day at the Capitol and honored those individuals for their service. It was also 'Future Farmers of America Day' today. Young farmers were recognized by Sen. John Wilkinson (R-Toccoa) with a resolution.
The first bill to be considered was SB 50, by Sen. Hunter Hill (R-Atlanta), which makes numerous changes to law in order to authorize the use of direct primary care agreements in Georgia. It passed without discussion by a vote of 49-0.
SB 71 was up next, which is authored by Sen. Jesse Stone (R-Waynesboro). The legislation exempts health savings accounts and medical savings accounts from bankruptcy. It passed 51-0.
SB 106, by Sen. Greg Kirk (R-Americus), passed the floor by a vote of 49-2. The bill addresses pain management clinics by requiring that a physician, physician assistant, or an advanced practice registered nurse be on site at such clinic when a controlled substance is prescribed.
SB 125, by Sen. Rick Jeffares (R-McDonough), also addresses prescription drugs, providing that a physician can delegate authority to a physician assistant to issue prescriptions for hydrocodone for a period of five days or less. It passed 48-3.
HB 441, by Rep. Barry Fleming (R-Harlem), establishes the "qualified self-settled spendthrift trust," an inter vivos irrevocable trust with a spendthrift provision that restrains voluntary and involuntary transfers of the interest in the trust. Under this bill, the settlor may retain a qualified interest in the trust. The bill provides for the manner in which a trustee vacancy position must be filled at O.C.G.A. § 53-12-92, and outlines in O.C.G.A. § 53-12-93 the rights, powers, and interests that the trust instrument may provide to be considered irrevocable. Finally, the bill provides for claims of relief by creditors.
HB 446, by Rep. Alan Powell (R-Hartwell), establishes the Local Government 9-1-1 Authority for the purpose of administering, collecting, auditing, and remitting 9-1-1 revenue for the benefit of local governments. The legislation provides for additional duties and responsibilities of the Authority in subsection (c) of O.C.G.A. § 36-93-3. The Authority will be managed by a board of directors that will be appointed according to the guidelines in subsection (d)(1) of O.C.G.A. § 36-93-3 and the authority of the board is outlined in subsection (f) of the same Code section. The Authority will collect 9-1-1 charges, retain up to 3% of such charges to cover its administrative costs, and distribute the remainder to local governments. Further, O.C.G.A. § 36-93-7 authorizes the Authority to contract with an auditor to oversee service suppliers and provides for civil penalties for noncompliant suppliers.
HB 447, by Rep. Stacey Evans (D-Smyrna), would provide retroactive payments to students who graduate with an associate degree or receive a diploma or certificate in an amount equal to the difference between the HOPE scholarship amount and the cost of tuition. The student must graduate "on time," defined as the number of semesters or quarters that it takes to complete the coursework if the student is taking a full-time load plus one additional semester or quarter.
HB 448, by Rep. Chuck Williams (R-Watkinsville), requires the education and postsecondary educational institutions listed in subsection (a) of O.C.G.A. § 20-3-250.3 to qualify for exemptions with the Nonpublic Postsecondary Education Commission. The bill also revises the membership requirements for the Commission, providing that at least one member represent each of the following institutions: degree-granting nonpublic postsecondary schools; nonpublic postsecondary schools that grant certificates only; and exempted education and postsecondary educational institutions.
HB 450, by Rep. Alan Powell (R-Hartwell), would allow an individual convicted of any violation under the Georgia Controlled Substances Act and on probation as a result of such conviction credit up to 30 hours of a DUI Alcohol or Drug Use Risk Reduction Program toward his or her community service hours.
HB 451, by Rep. Bubber Epps (R- Dry Branch), adds a new Code section, O.C.G.A. § 36-60-27, that requires counties to provide exceptions for trucks carrying heavy loads to travel on otherwise prohibited roads when such truck is making a delivery, picking up a delivery, or performing a service on that road, and when traveling on that road reduces the total distance of the driver's trip by at least ten miles.
HB 452, by Rep. Jesse Petrea (R-Savannah), requires the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) to publicly report on its website the names of undocumented immigrants that have been arrested, booked, detained, incarcerated or convicted during immigrant and criminal law enforcement investigations. The bill further requires jails to provide the GBI with a list of undocumented immigrants currently incarcerated or recently released from jail on a monthly basis, and provides that the GBI must publish this list online within five days of its receipt. The penalty for noncompliance is a withholding of state and possibly federal funding for the duration of the noncompliance and for six months after noncompliance ends.
HB 453, by Rep. David Dreyer (D-Atlanta), amends O.C.G.A. § 36-15-1 by adding the chief justice of the magistrate court to the board of trustees of the county law library in each county.
HB 454, by Rep. Cannon Park (D-Atlanta), would require health care providers that offer HIV tests to ensure that individuals who test positive receive information on treatment options and individuals who test negative are advised on the need of periodic testing and provided information on methods that reduce the likelihood of contracting HIV.
HB 455, by Rep. Pam Stephenson (D-Decatur), would establish the fundamental right of women to choose to obtain safe and legal abortions and would prohibit the state from interfering with that right in any way. The bill is officially titled the Whole Women's Health Act and provides a list of prohibited actions at O.C.G.A. § 31-9C-3 that would interfere with a woman's access to an abortion.
HR 353, by Rep. Paulette Rakestraw (R-Powder Springs), seeks to create the House Study Committee on Internet Filter Protection Technology which will study the feasibility of installing filters on all products sold in this state that enable internet access and enacting a filter deactivation fee to fund mental and behavioral health and addiction programs.
HR 354, by Rep. Dar'shun Kendrick (D-Lithonia), would urge the Georgia Department of Education to develop and provide school systems with training materials meant to increase awareness of mental health issues and learning disabilities.
HR 355, by Rep. Katie Dempsey (R-Rome) commends Georgia's Community Service Boards (CSB) and recognizes February 23, 2017 as Community Service Boards Day at the Capitol.
HR 361, by Rep. Don Parsons (R-Marietta), encourages the enactment of a Regulation Freedom Amendment to the U.S. Constitution by the U.S. Congress.
SB 230, by Sen. Josh McKoon (R-Columbus), proposes to provide requirements for physicians performing or inducing an abortion to have certain hospital admitting privileges. It further proposes to require physicians performing or inducing an abortion to provide information to the pregnant woman. At O.C.G.A. § 31-7-2.1(a), Sen. McKoon has added, in the current rules and regulations relating to health care facilities, which requires that when the Department of Community Health adopts rules and regulations, it is to require that the standards for an abortion facility be equivalent to the standards established by the Department for an ambulatory surgical center. He proposed the physician's obligations in performing abortions at O.C.G.A. § 31-8B-21 (which does include that if a physician violates such that he or she is guilty of a misdemeanor which is punishable by a fine of not to exceed $4,000.00). The requirements are:
- The doctor on the date that the abortion is to be performed have admitting privileges at a hospital located not further than 30 miles from the location where the abortion is performed or induced and that provides obstetrical or gynecological healthcare services
- The pregnant woman will be provided with a telephone number so that the woman may reach the physician or other healthcare personnel employed by the physician or by the facility where the abortion was performed or induced with access to the woman's medical records 24 hours a day to request assistance in case there are complications which may arise from the performance of the abortion or induction of the abortion or ask health-related questions concerning the abortion
- The pregnant woman will be provided the name and telephone number of the nearest hospital to her at which an emergency that might arise from the performance of the abortion or induction would be treated
His proposal also includes a new Chapter 9C in Title 31 which outlines specifics as to what must be done when a person provides, prescribes or administers an abortion-inducing drug. In part it requires the physician make a physical examination of the pregnant woman and document in the woman's medical record the gestational age and intrauterine location of the pregnancy. The physician must also provide the pregnant woman certain information including a copy of the final printed label of the abortion-inducing drug and contact information for follow up care (how to reach the physician). The physician is also to schedule a follow up visit for the woman to occur not more than 14 days following the administration or use of the drug which is to confirm that the pregnancy is completely terminated and to assess the degree of bleeding of the patient. Physicians are to report any serious adverse events, if known, to the United States Food and Drug Administration through the administration's available system.
SB 231, by Sen. Josh McKoon (R-Columbus), provides that if a person is not a United States citizen then he or she shall not gain admission to the practice of law. To practice law, a person who is not a United States citizen must possess a lawful alien status; provided, however, that such person may be admitted to practice under a licensure of foreign law consultants within the limited scope of practice of such licensure as provided for in the Rules Governing Admission to the Practice of Law of the Supreme Court of Georgia in effect on January 1, 2016. It further requires that the Board of Bar Examiners "shall utilize the procedures in subsection (e) of this Code section before any person may be admitted to the practice of law or become a duly licensed attorney at law." If affirming that he or she has lawful alien status, then the Board of Bar Examiners must confirm such through the SAVE program. The legislation also addresses educators and proposes changes to O.C.G.A. § 20-2-200 and the regulation of certificated professional personnel by the Professional Standards Commission, requiring those certificated professional personnel to be citizens or have "lawful alien status." It would also require that the person affirming lawful alien status be confirmed through the SAVE program by the Commission. Similar language is added at O.C.G.A. § 20-3-66 for the determination of in-state resident status of students for the purposes of tuition and/or fees – again such students, if not United States citizens, are required to have "lawful alien status" which is to be verified through SAVE by the University System. The proposal also would require in the current laws regarding HOPE Scholarships and grants and eligibility for HOPE Scholarships and grants that students be United States Citizens or have "lawful alien status" and students seeking eligibility would be required to be confirmed by the Georgia Student Finance Commission through the SAVE program. At O.C.G.A. §20-4-21(b)(2), it adds that noncitizen students "shall not be classified as in-state for tuition purposes at any postsecondary technical school operated by a local board of education, an area postsecondary technical education board, or the Technical College System of Georgia unless each such student possess a lawful alien status and there is evidence to warrant consideration of in-state classification as determined by the local board of education, area postsecondary technical education board, or the Technical College System of Georgia, respectively." A new Code Section is added in O.C.G.A. § 35-3-14 to require, to the extent permitted by federal law, that the Georgia Bureau of Investigation post on its website the names of persons who are aliens who have been arrested, booked, detained or incarcerated during immigration and criminal law enforcement investigations and who have been released from federal custody within the boundaries of this State as such names are presented within the Enforcement Integrated Database of the United States Department of Homeland Security. The bill also adds language in Title 40 to allow that persons who possess a lawful alien status are the only category of non-citizens who may obtain certain licenses, permits or cards. At O.C.G.A. § 48-5-40(1), it adds a definition for lawful alien status in the definitions for property tax exemptions and then adds a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. § 48-5-57 to require that individuals seeking a property tax exemption be United States Citizens or have lawful alien status which is verified through SAVE.
SB 232, by Sen. Steve Gooch (R-Dahlonega), proposes to enact the "Facilitation Internet Broadband Rural Expansion ("FIBRE") Act." It is composed of several changes in Title 36, 46, 48, and 50.
SB 233, by Sen. Marty Harbin (R-Tyrone), seeks to enact a new Chapter 15A in Title 50. The legislation is to provide for the "preservation of religious freedom." In this new Chapter, it proposes that "the provisions of 42 U.S.C. Chapter 21B as such existed on January 1, 2017, regarding government burdens on the free exercise of religion, shall in like manner apply to this state or any political subdivision thereof." If passed, it would become effective upon approval of the Governor or its becoming law without such approval.
Setzler Subcommittee of House Judiciary (Non Civil)
The Subcommittee considered two bills, but spent its most time on HB 249 by Rep. Kevin Tanner (R-Dawsonville) which primarily deals with the use of the Prescription Drug Monitoring Bill by dispensers, pharmacists, and prescribers, doctors and physician assistants, of prescription pain medicines. Rep. Tanner brought a substitute to the Committee which had been worked out with the Medical Association of Georgia, the Georgia Hospital Association, and the Georgia Pharmacists Association. Rep. Tanner was joined by Rep. Sharon Cooper, Chairman of the House Health and Human Services Committee who had helped craft the compromise on behalf of physician groups. They both accented the goal of the bill to increase the policing of misuse, overuse or illegal distribution of opioid drugs contributing to the opioid epidemic facing Georgia.
Dispensers already report the scripts they fill for Schedule substances to the PBMP. This obligation was accelerated to within 24 hours and the subcommittee defeated an amendment to delay this period to the next business day. The checking obligation is limited to certain drugs that have been the subject of abuse rather than to all Schedule I and II drugs, including benzodiazepines, opioids, opiates, opioid analgesics or opioid derivatives. It contains a set of exemptions from the obligation to check and report to the data base in selected settings, such as health care facilities and outpatient hospice programs and in circumstances when fewer than three days' supply or 26 pills are part of the prescription. This language was amended slightly during the meeting
When the PDMP reaches a performance standard of 99.5% of the random test of its operability, prescribers will be required to register with the data base after January 1, 2018 and then to check the data base on each patient by July 1, 2018. Dispensers and prescribers can delegate this task to 2 delegates per dispenser present in a pharmacy per shift or 2 per physician per shift. The Tanner version of the bill has been preferred by physician groups because it refers violations of this reporting requirement to the professional Board of Medical Examiners for disciplinary action and excuses most violations from any civil or criminal liability except in limited cases of intentional misuse. The bill also offers civil immunity for most causes of action relating to misuse.
The bill also expands use of naloxone for heroin or prescription drug overuse.
After extensive discussion and vetting, the bill unanimously passed the subcommittee.
House Judiciary Committee – Kelley Subcommittee
Yesterday (February 20), the Kelley Subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Trey Kelley (R-Cedartown), held a second hearing on one bill today. HB 192, authored by Rep. Beth Beskin (R-Atlanta), statutorily creates a gross negligence standard of care for business decisions made by officers and directors of banks, trust companies, and corporations and clarifies the burden of proof. The Subcommittee heard from John Latham of Alston & Bird, who noted that the legislation would encourage corporations to incorporate in Georgia and would not affect consumer suits against a company. Professor Emeritus Phil Carney from Emory Law, who spoke on the history of Delaware and Georgia corporation law, also spoke. Rep. Chuck Williams (R-Watkinsville) addressed the Subcommittee as a banker and director of a bank that was closed during the mortgage crisis and offered support for the bill based on his experience. Representatives of the Secretary of State's office, Georgia Bankers Association, Community Bankers Association of Georgia, and Georgia Credit Union Affiliates also spoke in support of the bill. Bill Clark of the Georgia Trial Lawyers Association spoke in opposition of the bill, stating that it was the "ultimate solution in search of a problem" and Georgia law, even post-Loudermilk, provides sufficient protection to directors and officers. There was some skepticism among Judiciary Committee Chairman Wendell Willard (R-Sandy Springs) and Rep. Andy Welch (R-McDonough) as to whether the legislation returns the business judgment rule to its understanding before Loudermilk or if it simply creates a new standard of care (and, therefore, reflects a new policy decision). Given there was some concern as to whether the legislators would want to expand such limitation of liability, the Subcommittee HELD the bill pending further discussions.
Committee news for February 20:
House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee
The House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee, chaired by Rep. Rich Golick (R-Smyrna), heard two propositions today:
- HB 213, authored by Chairman Golick, adds fentanyl to the list of controlled substances under Georgia's drug trafficking statute. The bill was previously heard by the Committee and discussion suspended pending questions from Rep. Betty Price (R-Roswell), regarding the impact on derivatives and analogs of fentanyl. The legislation was amended to include these derivatives and analogs and provide a more comprehensive approach to fentanyl control. The Committee recommended the bill DO PASS by committee substitute and the bill will be sent to the Rules Committee.
- HB 65, authored by Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon), relates to medical cannabis and the Low THC Oil Registry in Georgia. The legislation amends the provisions first enacted in 2015 to allow for possession and use of Low THC Oil in Georgia. This bill adds eight conditions to the list of conditions eligible for participation in the Registry, expands five conditions already in the law, removes the one-year residency requirement, and provides for reciprocity with other states. The Committee heard testimony in support and opposition of the bill. The presentation was designated as hearing only, and the Committee therefore HELD the legislation for further consideration.
House Judiciary Committee
The House Judiciary Committee, chaired by Rep. Wendell Willard (R-Sandy Springs), heard five bills today:
- HB 15, authored by Chairman Willard, mandates that all Georgia courts of record participate in and require electronic filing of civil actions and pleadings by January 1, 2018. Since introduction, the proposition had been revised to protect against exposure of documents from open records requests prior to acceptance by the court, bar exclusivity agreements between clerks and individual vendors, and provide for automatic consent to e-service of documents through e-filing in a case. Concerns were expressed by witnesses based on the delegation of development of e-filing by vendors rather than the state as well as the distribution of e-filing fees between vendors, clerks, and the Superior Court Clerks' Counsel. The Committee adopted several "clean up" amendments, including language providing for access to electronic filings by judges and establishing that the filing fee paid to a vendor is a recoverable cost. The Committee recommended the bill DO PASS and be sent to the Rules Committee.
- HB 78, authored by Rep. Dar'Shun Kendrick (D-Lithonia), updates Georgia's securities code to comply with federal law. The proposition is sought by and supported by the Georgia Secretary of State's office. The Committee recommended the bill DO PASS and be sent to the Rules Committee.
- HB 266, authored by Rep. Trey Kelley (R-Cedartown), increases the award amount for which a qualified conservator must be appointed by the court under the Georgia Transfers to Minors Act. Georgia law currently requires a qualified conservator to be appointed for any award over $15,000, and the legislation raises that amount to $25,000. The Committee recommended the bill DO PASS and be sent to the Rules Committee.
- HB 279, authored by Rep. Mandi Ballinger (R-Canton), allows for a name change to be filed under seal where the petitioner is a victim of domestic violence. Judge Robert McBurney spoke in support of the legislation, noting that survivors of domestic violence file name changes approximately once a week in Georgia. The Committee recommended the bill DO PASS and be sent to the Rules Committee.
- HB 308, authored by Rep. Beth Beskin (R-Atlanta), relates to child support and the enforcement of child support orders. The legislation is offered on the recommendation of the Georgia Child Support Commission. The proposition was amended to incorporate the provisions in HB 212, which allows for a court to remove work related child care costs from a child support award. The Committee recommended the bill DO PASS and be sent to the Rules Committee.
Senate Judiciary Committee – Subcommittee A
Subcommittee A, chaired by Sen. William Ligon, Jr. (R-Brunswick), considered five propositions today:
- SB 125, authored by Sen. John Kennedy (R-Macon), clarifies venue as to tort actions brought against the state. The bill provides that tort claims may only be brought in the county where the tort occurred, except that claims for wrongful death may be brought in the county where the tort or death occurred. The Subcommittee recommended that the bill DO PASS and be sent to the full Judiciary Committee.
- SB 194, authored by Sen. Jesse Stone (R-Waynesboro), is a cleanup bill following last session's rewrite of Georgia's garnishment law. The proposal incorporates feedback from members of the Bar who have worked within the new regime. The Subcommittee recommended that the bill DO PASS and be sent to the full Judiciary Committee.
- SR 146, authored by Sen. John Kennedy (R-Macon), is the Georgia Crime Victims' Bill of Rights, known nationally as "Marsy's Law." The resolution seeks to amend Georgia's Constitution to include rights for victims that are already provided to suspected and convicted offenders. This proposition was originally heard in the Subcommittee on February 14 where there were concerns relating to a victim's remedy upon violation of a right. The Subcommittee considered two versions of the resolution, one as presented by Sen. Kennedy and a second presented by Sen. Jesse Stone (R-Waynesboro). The main point of contention between the dueling versions was whether the Constitution should provide for a cause of action to enforce rights (as in Sen. Kennedy's version) or whether remedies for enforcement of rights should be promulgated by the General Assembly (as in Sen. Stone's version). The Subcommittee amended Sen. Kennedy's version of the resolution to (1) include a provision that would allow a victim to file a motion for injunctive or equitable relief in a criminal proceeding; (2) remove the rights to a speedy trial, refuse interview by a criminal defendant, and restitution; (3) and include that the General Assembly shall promulgate laws enforcing the rights under the constitutional provision. The Subcommittee recommended that the resolution DO PASS by committee substitute and be sent to the full Judiciary Committee.
- SB 126, also authored by Sen. Kennedy, allows a victim of crime to file a motion with the court when he or she does not receive the notification of proceedings required under the currently codified Crime Victims' Bill of Rights. This bill is presented by Sen. Kennedy as a companion to SR 146, but it is not enacting legislation. The Subcommittee recommended the bill DO PASS and be sent to the full Judiciary Committee.
- SB 189, authored by Sen. Blake Tillery (R-Vidalia), is a cleanup bill relating to the legal defense of indigent criminal defendants. The legislation is recommended by the Georgia Public Defenders Council. The Subcommittee recommended the bill DO PASS by committee substitute and be sent to the full Judiciary Committee.
House Human Relations and Aging Committee
Rep. Tommy Benton chairs this Committee and he called the meeting to order. HB 330 was presented first by Rep. Stacey Abrams (D-Atlanta) which requires the informing of relatives of kinship navigators. She thanked the Committee and specifically Chairman Benton for their support during the kinship care study committee that met in 2015. She indicated that this legislation addresses those findings and ensures that information is provided to parents, including what services are available to them. Rep. Sandra Scott (D-Rex) asked how this bill could affect parents who do not go through the DFCS process. Rep. Abrams said this language is specific to families who do engage with DFCS, but DFCS does a good job of notifying schools and others about their processes. It is difficult in a number of districts for individuals to enroll a child in school without being the guardian. She said there are three types of foster care scenarios: 1) Children are taken by DFCS and placed into foster care; 2) Children are placed with kinship caregivers to create guardianship; 3) Kids who are just dropped off without having adequate background information (which is the largest category). Rep. Tom Kirby (R-Loganville) asked about Line 19, the definition of 'fictive kin.' He wondered if this is the first time they would be defining this in the code. She indicated that the definition is already used in the adoption section of the code. Polly McKinney with Voices for Georgia's Children supports this bill. Rep. Terry Rogers (R-Clarkesville) made a motion to do pass. The bill passed out of Committee and will be heard at Rules tomorrow.
Rep. Valencia Stovall (D-Forest Park) presented her bill, HR 279, which was brought to her attention by a constituent. It would designate March 21 every year as "Single Parent Day". The Committee passed out the bill and it will now be heard in rules. Chairman Benton adjourned the meeting.
House Budget and Fiscal Affairs Oversight Committee
The Committee today heard updates from both the Employees Retirement System (ERS) of Georgia and the Teachers' Retirement System of Georgia (TRS). They did not have any legislation on the agenda. Jim Potvin with ERS discussed the current status of the system, and provided a few insights into how the system functions. He indicated that 90% of individuals stay in the plan. 60% of the population is currently saving at a level that will get them the matching amount. Current market value is around $12.5 billion. Their 25 year return has exceeded the target. Rep. Jones asked for a better explanation on the pooled investment returns, pointing to the fact that in 2008 and 2009 there was a negative return. Mr. Potvin indicated that there is some variation and this time period was right around the beginning of the recession.
Buster Evans gave an update for TRS, indicating that the typical retiree retires with 30 years of service. He discussed the biggest problem that TRS faces, which is the lack of new members entering into the system, despite the growing number of retirees. There was no specific legislation to debate today, so once Mr. Evans concluded his presentation, the Committee was adjourned.
Senate Finance Committee – Subcommittee on Tax Reform
This Subcommittee took up the legislation by Sen. Dean Burke's (R-Bainbridge), SB 180, which makes changes to the 2016 law creating the Rural Hospital Tax Credit. In his bill, it increases the tax credit percentage from 70 percent for individuals and corporations to 90 percent for both. The legislation also places the aggregate amount of these tax credits allowed from 2017 through 2019, moving such to be capped at $60 million per year. The legislation increases individual's tax credit allowance to $5,000 and $10,000 for couples filing jointly. It also has in SB 180 Sen. Burke's language from SB 14 in an effort to improve the financial attractiveness of these credits for certain corporate donors (Subchapter S corporations and limited liability companies) so that they might make contributions to hospitals through the program. No vote was taken today. A vote was not taken during the subcommittee.
House Ways and Means Committee
HB 301 was presented by Rep. Jodi Lott (R-Evans). It addresses unpaid preceptorships by physicians allowing additional healthcare professionals to take advantage of the tax credits. It allows community-based faculty physician preceptors a tax credit of $500 for the first three preceptorship rotations and $1,000 for any further rotations up to ten. The program would also allow community-based faculty advance practice registered nurse and physician assistant preceptors a tax credit of $375 for the first three preceptorship rotations and $750 for any further rotations up to ten. This bill passed out of the Committee and now moves to the House Rules Committee.
Senate Health and Human Services – Scope of Practice Subcommittee
Today, Chairman Fran Millar (R-Atlanta) hosted a Subcommittee meeting on two bills. The first was Sen. Josh McKoon's SB 55 which is the psychiatric advance directive so that an individual may outline his or her treatment requests should the person become incompetent. Despite some lingering concerns from the Georgia Hospital Association, Sen. Steve Henson (D-Tucker) moved do pass on the proposal which received approval. SB 55 now moves to the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. Next up was SB 153, by Sen. Matt Brass (R-Newnan), which is an attempt to permit the internet sales of unregulated hearing aids by unlicensed professionals. There were lots of comments today on this proposal and its impact to consumers. There were numerous references to the Food and Drug Administration and its expected guidance on these types of products and their sales. Sen. Brass graciously noted the work done by the Georgia Academy of Audiology and various representatives from the hearing dispenser and dealer community. While a new Substitute was presented (in part to define what a preprogrammed hearing aid is), there were still cautions and concerns flagged for the Subcommittee – including possible dangers of such products when purchased by consumers. In the end, Sen. Henson made a motion do not pass. While this legislation did not move out of the Subcommittee today, it is expected that SB 153 will emerge later this Session in another form.
House Health and Human Services Committee
The House Health and Human Services Committee moved through several bills this afternoon:
- HB 157 was presented in the form of a new Committee Substitute, which was Rep. Trey Kelley's (R-Cedartown) proposal addressing advertising of medical specialties. Eugene Smith, MD rose to explain that the proposal would deny patient access to super specialists as the language would exclude a patient from finding those types of physicians. The Committee Substitute passed but Rep. Betty Price, M.D. (R-Roswell) voted no.
- HB 241 by Rep. Lee Hawkins (R-Gainesville) also cleared the Committee. It requires that parents be provided information on Krabbe disease so that they may make informed decisions about whether to have their babies tested for the disease (which is prevalent in children with Scotch-Irish and Scandinavian backgrounds – thus many Georgia children are at higher risk). The test for this disease would be done when the newborn screening is conducted but parents would pay for the test (which would cost $3-$5 per test). There are no requirements placed on Medicaid or private insurance. There was emotional testimony from families who have been impacted by this disease – babies do not live longer than two years. Thus, finding the disease early allows parents to opt to have stem cell treatment in an effort to help their children.
- HB 427 also passed. This legislation by Rep. Mark Newton (R-Augusta) is an expansion of the loan repayment program for rural healthcare practitioners, adding such not just for physicians but also for Advanced Practice Registered Nurses, Physicians' Assistants, and dentists who practice in rural areas after completing their training. The physicians and dentists may receive up to $25,000 per year and the APRNs and PAs can receive $10,000 per year.
- HB 360, this year's Expedited Partner Therapy, also cleared the Committee. This year's version is being carried by Chairman Cooper. She explained that 38 states allow physicians to give medicines to the partner when their patient is found to have Chlamydia or gonorrhea. Rep. Betty Price raised questions about the "prescribing" without seeing the patient and possibly not knowing the partner's antibiotic allergy history – her concerns are in part to the rising numbers of cases of antibiotic resistance. HB 360 passed with Rep. Price opposing the proposal.
- HB 161 by Rep. Price also received a do pass to the Committee Substitute after some modifications were made in the Committee, deleting references to community organizations' counseling, homeless services and advocacy. This legislation is to address the rising numbers of hepatitis C and HIV cases with the use of Harm Reduction Organizations which will be managed by the Department of Public Health. It will allow for the safe disposal of dirty needles so as to get those off the streets and lessen the spread of these diseases. The Medical Association of Georgia strongly supported the proposal. It now moves to the House Rules Committee.
Our 2017 Georgia Capitol team consists of Stan Jones, Helen Sloat, Chuck Clay, George Ray, and Logan Fletcher. We will also try our hand at tweeting this year – so follow us! @GDR_Live
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.