Gold Dome Report - February 22, 2016
Greetings from the Gold Dome! Governor Deal weighed in today on the Pastor Protection Act, HB 757, which passed out of the Senate on Friday. Governor Deal indicated that he has some concerns about the legislation and in particular about potential loss of jobs in the State as a result of this legislation. He is working with the House and Senate leadership on the bill, and the bill is not completed at this time due to changes made from the House version in the Senate. It looks like we will hear more on this initiative as the days roll forward.
FY 2017 Budget – As Passed House
The House has passed HB 751, the State's Budget for FY 2017 which is a total of more than $23.7 billion in funds. We have highlighted below some of the changes in various Departments and programs made by the House from Governor Deal's original proposal. One item seen throughout the budget is the House's elimination of the Governor's proposal of an adjustment in merit system assessments. Another change throughout is the House's addition in the employer share of the Employees' Retirement System contribution rate to provide a one-time benefit adjustment of three (3) percent to retired State employees. [Amounts below are reflecting State funds only and not any associated federal moneys.]
Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities
- Adult Addictive Diseases Services – Original proposal for program was $45.5 million; House proposal is $46.27 million
- An addition of $750,000 is added as one-time funds for the Highland Rivers CSB Home Again pilot initiative to serve residents in region one
Department of Community Affairs
- State Economic Development Programs – This program was originally proposed to be funded with more than $36 million; the House took this program's funding to more than $26 million
- The House eliminated the proposed addition of $10 million to increase funding for Regional Economic Business Assistance Grants
- Payments to Georgia Environmental Finance Authority – Originally, this program was to be funded with $733,495; funding set by the House is $813,495
- The House increased by $25,000 funds for the Georgia Rural Water Association
- The House added $55,000 for funds for the grants for Resource Conservation and Development Districts
- Payments to OneGeorgia Authority
- The House added language to "establish a new contract with the Georgia Forestry Commission for $450,000 for the reading, maintenance, and management of all aspects of the Agricultural Water Metering Program"
Department of Community Health
- Departmental Administration and Program Support – Governor set this spending at $62.1 million; the House increased this to $63.26 million
- The House cut contracts by $275,625
- The House added language to "utilize existing funds to initiate contract services with an external firm for mandatory nursing home audits"
- The House reflected $1.4 million as transfer funds from the Medicaid: Aged, Blind and Disabled program for "positions and operational costs related to the CCSP program"
- It further added language to "redirect any administrative savings from the transfer of the CCSP to fund additional slots and report to the Georgia General Assembly on progress by January 1, 2017"
- Additional language is added that the "Department of Community Health, pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 49-4-142.1, et seq., is hereby authorized to submit a request to the United States Department of Health and Human Services Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services for a waiver pursuant to Section 1115 of the federal Social Security Act"
- Health Care Access and Improvement – Funding roughly remains the same with changes; Governor's proposal included $10.74 million and House version is almost the same
- $250,000 is eliminated in one-time start-up funds for Federally Qualified Health centers
- $500,000 is reduced in funding for charity clinics
- $500,000 is added for funding two Federally Qualified Health Center community start-up grants in Jackson and Jenkins Counties
- $250,000 is added for increased funding for services for medically fragile children who do not qualify for the Katie Beckett TEFRA Deeming waiver
- Language is included to "utilize existing funds to continue the Rural Hospital Stabilization Committee's grants to the current pilot sites in Emanuel, Crisp, Appling, and Union Counties"
- Medicaid: Aged, Blind and Disabled – The Governor's proposal set funding at $1.64 billion; the House added some funds bringing total spending for this program to $1.65 billion
- The House deepened reduction to $31.3 million, rather than $29.4 million, to reflect the adjustment for the growth in Medicaid based on projected need
- The House also did not add as much as the Governor for the increase of funds for the projected increase in the Medicare Part D Clawback payment (Governor had added $8.2 million; the House added slightly more than $8 million)
- The House reduced by $4.1 million funding for previous changes in rate calculations to nursing facility operator changes to reflect projected expenditures
- House added $11.3 million to provide for a 3 percent inflation adjustment on the 2012 nursing home cost reports
- More than $3.7 million is added for the Independent Care Waiver Program Personal Support rates to match the CCSP and SOURCE program rates
- $399,670 is added for the reimbursement rates for Adult Health Centers by 5 percent to provide parity with the other home and community based services' providers
- $1.36 million is added to increase reimbursement rates for occupational therapy and physical therapy providers within the Medicaid Children's Intervention Services program
- Language is added to "evaluate budget neutral payment methodologies for Medicaid member access to services provided by newly-enrolled long-term acute care and inpatient rehabilitation hospitals"
- $1.4 million in transfer funds are moved to the Departmental Administration and Program Support programs for positions and operational costs related to the CCSP
- Medicaid: Low-Income Medicaid – Governor Deal set this program at $1.411 billion; the House moved funding to $1.403 billion
- Originally, Governor Deal added $132 million for an increase of funds for growth in Medicaid based on projected need; the House only added $98.1 million
- The House added more than $26 million to increase reimbursement rates for select primary care and OB/GYN codes to 100 percent of 2014 Medicare levels (this follows a similar increase made in 2015 for the FY 2016 budget)
- The House added $634,314 to increase the Advanced Life Support (ALS) emergency transport code reimbursement rate for EMS providers by 7 percent
- Two language items are included
- "Effective July 1, 2016, Care Management Organizations (CMOs) are required to increase their current per unit reimbursement rates for contracted primary care, OB/GYN, and EMS providers at the increased rates mandated by HB 751"
- "The Department of Community Health is directed to evaluate cost-saving measures through accurate diagnosis of ADHD and report back to the Georgia General Assembly by January 1, 2017"
- State Health Benefit Plan
- Language items are included:
- "Authorize a pilot program for non-certificated system-directed health care coverage for a 24-month pilot effective for coverage year January 1, 2017, at the end of which the participating systems may opt to return to the State plan without penalty"
- "Reflect a total fund balance for Other Post-Employment Benefits (OPEB) liabilities of $925,103,053 by recognizing 2015 payments ($478,094,972) and pending deposits ($314,627,314)"
- Language items are included:
Department of Corrections
- County Jail Subsidy – Funding for this by Governor Deal was set at $50,000; now only $5,000 is provided
- House reduced by $45,000 funding for these subsidies to counties
- Departmental Administration
- Language is added
- "Provide a report to the General Assembly regarding the effectiveness of educational programs within the department including county correctional facility GED and vocational certificate programs, the charter high school initiative, vocational/technical programs and the GED fast track program by January 1, 2017 and a follow-up report by January 1, 2018"
- Language is added
Department of Early Care and Learning
- Pre-Kindergarten Program
- Language is added
- "Utilize $1,150,500 in existing departmental contract funds to provide a $300 one-time materials grant for each Pre-Kindergarten classroom"
- Language is added
Department of Economic Development
- Tourism program – Governor Deal set this program at $10.6 million; the House brought this amount of spending to $11.69 million
- House added $1 million for tourism marketing and promotion
- $100,000 was added for an increase of funds for the Georgia Historical Society for historical markers
Department of Education
- Agricultural Education program – Governor Deal set this total at $8.8 million and the House increased the spending to $9.19 million
- House added $244,504 for a 3 percent salary adjustment effective July 1, 2016
- House added $150,000 for an increase of funding for the Young Farmers program in Atkinson and Toombs Counties
- Communities in Schools program – This program originally was proposed to have $1,053,100 in funds; the House increased this to $1,203,100
- $150,000 is added for local affiliates
- Georgia Virtual School – Total funding was originally proposed at $3.3 million; the House moved this to just slightly more than $3 million
- The House removed $324,372 in State funds so as to replace those moneys with revenue from tuition
- Information Technology Services – This program was proposed to have $21.5 million; the House shifted this to $20.3 million
- The House only increased by $1.65 million funding to support the information technology applications utilized by local school systems (Governor Deal had proposed $2.8 million)
- Non-Quality Basic Education Formula Grants – In total, funding was proposed at $12.2 million; the House reduced this to $11.3 million
- Governor Deal proposed $118,101 for funding merit based pay adjustments and employee recruitment and retention initiatives effective July 1, 2016; the House moved this to $93,411
- Governor Deal proposed more than $1.4 million to increase funds for Residential Treatment Facilities based on attendance; the House reduced this amount to $528,121
- Nutrition – Overall funding was proposed at $22.8 million; the House moved this to $23.5 million
- The House added $706,079 to fund a 3 percent salary adjustment for lunchroom workers effective July 1, 2016
- Quality Basic Education program – The Governor had set this amount at $9.843 billion in State funds; the House moved this to $9.844 billion
- The House eliminated the $2.6 million proposed by Governor Deal for the Special Needs Scholarship and added language "realize savings from program attrition in the Special Needs Scholarship to fund additional growth"
- Two salary enhancements are included
- $912,932 is added to provide a 3 percent salary adjustment to school nurses effective July 1, 2016
- $2.5 million is added for a 3 percent salary adjustment for school bus drivers effective July 1, 2016
- Language is added to "provide for a scheduled increase of the employer contribution rate for non-certificated school service employees from $746.20 to $846.20 effective January 1, 2017"
- Regional Education Service Agencies (RESAs) – This program was proposed to receive $10.2 million and the House increased this to $10.7 million
- $286,073 is added to fund a 3 percent salary adjustment effective July 1, 2016
- $250,000 is added to fund personnel for Positive Behavioral Intervention Supports (PBIS) trainers
- Technology/Career Education – This program's funding was originally proposed at $17.1 million; the House increased this to $17.4 million
- $371,499 is added by the House to fund a 3 percent salary adjustment effective July 1, 2016
Department of Human Services
- Child Support Services – This program's original funding was $28.8 million; the House increased this funding to $29.1 million
- An addition of $247,267 is included to fund 10 parent accountability court coordinator positions
- Child Welfare Services – This program was to be funded by $156.4 million; the House moved this to $156.8 million
- The House added $500,000 to increase funding for Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA to enhance statewide capacity for the program
- Elder Community Living Services – This area was to have funding of $19.9 million; the House moved this funding to $20.6 million
- The House added $750,000 to transition 125 seniors from nursing homes into community settings
- Elder Support Services – This total funding was set at $3.6 million and the House added funds, making total funding of more than $3.8 million
- $250,000 is added in the House version to provide additional funds for Meals on Wheels and senior center nutrition programs
- Out-of-Home Care – Overall, Governor Deal set this funding at $182 million and the House set the total funding at $186 million
- $4.25 million is added to provide a 1.5 percent provider rate increase for Child Caring Institutions, Child Placing Agencies, foster parents, and relatives
- Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency: Departmental Administration
- The House added language to "encourage the Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency to create third-party cooperative arrangements with the Technical College System of Georgia to maximize financial assistance for vocational rehabilitation clients"
Department of Juvenile Justice
- Community Services – This program was set to receive $92.7 million; the House set spending at $93 million
- Part of the changes include an addition of a 1.5 percent provider rate increase for Child Caring Institutions in the amount of $272,100
Georgia Public Defender Council
- Public Defenders – Overall, this program's funding was originally proposed at $44.1 million and the House added funding, bringing the total funding to $44.9 million
- $415,201 is added to provide salary and operating expenses in accordance with the Cordele settlement agreement
- $163,715 is reduced in funding to reflect "savings" associated with the purchase of new vehicles
- $556,033 is added for funds for personal services for recruitment, retention, and career advancement of assistant public defenders
Department of Public Health
- Adolescent and Adult Health Promotion – Total funding was proposed by the Governor in the amount of $10.5 million; the House raised this to $12.3 million
- House restored $75,000 proposed cut of one-time matching funds for the Georgiacancerinfo.org website
- House added $651,897 to replace federal funds
- House added $1 million in funding for the Positive Alternatives for Pregnancy and Parenting Grant program
- Departmental Administration – Total funding originally proposed in this program was $22.4 million; the House shifted this to $22.5 million
- House added $122,196 for telehealth maintenance and infrastructure
- Epidemiology – Total funding was proposed by Governor Deal at $4.5 million and the House's version has $4.7 million
- $100,000 is added for the Georgia Poison Center to support additional staffing needs
- $100,000 is added for the Georgia Poison Center for a telephone-based stroke support program for pre-hospital providers
- Infant and Child Essential Health Treatment Services – Total funding was originally set at $22.9 million and the House moved that amount to just over $23 million
- House restored the Governor's proposed cut of $50,000 to eliminate one-time funds for the Georgia Comprehensive Sickle Cell Center
- The House added $117,178 to increase funding for the Medical College of Georgia Sickle Cell Center at Augusta University
Board of Regents - University System of Georgia
- Agricultural Experiment Station – This funding was proposed at $38.5 million and the House changes moved the funding to $38.8 million
- $336,000 is added for a ruminant nutritionist ($168,000) and a row crop physiologist ($168,000)
- Cooperative Extension Service – Total funding for the program was proposed at $33.7 million and the House version sets funding at $34.9 million
- $504,000 is added for funding a viticulturist ($168,000), a grain crop agronomist ($168,000), and a vegetable pathologist ($168,000)
- $720,000 is added to increase funds for personnel for 12 extension agents
- Medical College of Georgia Hospital and Clinics – This program's funding was proposed at $29.6 million and now it is $29.8 million
- House added $200,000 to provide for funding a new re-entry into obstetrics program for OB/GYN physicians licensed in Georgia and practicing in underserved areas
- Public Libraries – Total funding was proposed at $33.5 million; the House increased this to $37.2 million
- $4.4 million is added to increase funding for public library materials to $.35 per capita
- Public Service/Special Funding Initiatives – This program's funding was proposed at $22.9 million and the House set it at $23.1 million
- $125,000 is added by the House in State funding to transfer funds to the Georgia Research Alliance Program
- Payments to Georgia Military College – Overall funding in this program was $3.1 million; the House increased the college's funding to $5.1 million
- $2 million is added to provide funds for student services
Technical College System of Georgia
- Adult Education – This program's original funding was set at $16.08 million; the House version is $16.06 million
- It adds language to "utilize existing funds to provide GED and educational opportunities for inmates in county correctional facilities"
- Departmental Administration – Overall funding in this program was set at $8.9 million and the House raised it to $9.03 million
- $97,236 is added to increase the employer share of the Employees' Retirement System contribution rate to provide a one-time benefit adjustment of 3 percent to retired state employees
- Language is added: "encourage the Technical College System of Georgia to create third-party cooperative arrangements with the Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency to maximize financial assistance for vocational rehabilitation clients"
- Technical Education – This program was proposed to receive $313 million in funds; the House moved this to $312.8 million (the across the board merit system addition was the difference in funding)
- Language is also added here: "encourage the Technical College System of Georgia to create third-party cooperative arrangements with the Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency to maximize financial assistance for vocational rehabilitation clients"
Five bills were on the Senate Rules Calendar:
SB 271, by Sen. Dean Burke, MD (R-Bainbridge), was presented as a Committee Substitute from the Senate's Health and Human Services Committee. The legislation addresses notices required to be provided to individuals with mental illness and their representatives. Such notices are to be provided upon arrival at an emergency receiving facility or as "soon as thereafter as reasonably possible given a person's condition or mental state at the time of arrival." There are other changes in this legislation amending Chapter 3 of Title 37, including a procedure for the continued involuntary hospitalization of a person who has mental illness when a discharge has been scheduled and is deemed unsafe. It passed 46-5.
SB 337, by Sen. Larry Walker, III (R-Perry), was also presented as a Committee Substitute from the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. This legislation adds a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. § 49-4-158 so that the Department of Community Health is required to "allow legal residents who are dependents of a military service member and who are absent from this State due to the member's military service to be added to a data base to indicate the need for medical assistance upon return to this State." It requires that a dependent of a military service member provide the Department with certain documentation (the service member's DD-214 or equivalent discharge paperwork and proof of military service member's legal residence in Georgia as prescribed by the Department). The dependent who is a legal resident of Georgia and has been previously determined to be eligible for developmental disability services, including waiver services, is to retain eligibility for those developmental disability services as long as he or she remains a legal resident of Georgia, regardless of having left the State due to military service member's military assignment outside this State due to the military service member's military assignment as long as he or she is otherwise eligible for the services. The Department is also to permit a dependent who resides outside of Georgia to be placed on a waiting list for developmental disabilities services if the dependent left the State due to the military service member's military assignment outside of Georgia and is otherwise eligible for such services – again the individual must provide the Department documentation. SB 337 passed 52-0 by Committee Substitute. This was the first bill brought to the Floor by Sen. Walker.
SB 275, by Sen. Michael Williams (R- Cumming), adds a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. § 36-80-1 and came to the Floor as an Ethics Committee Substitute. The legislation addresses general provisions relating to counties, municipalities, municipal corporations and other governmental entities (including local board of education), so that such entities are prohibited from adopting or maintaining any policy, rule, practice, or other provision that has the effect of preventing the free exercise of the right of freedom of speech by the members of such governing body and the ability of the members of that governing body to discuss freely the policies and actions of such governing body. This limitation is not to apply to any matter(s) in executive session as defined in O.C.G.A. § 50-14-1(a) or those which are exempt from disclosure as found in O.C.G.A. § 50-18-72. It was explained that it re-enforces freedom of speech. Sen. Steve Henson (D-Tucker) inquired about elections of school boards – those members serve not only the portion of a district which they represent but the entire district. Sen. William Ligon, Jr. (R-Brunswick) spoke in support of the Bill. The Committee Substitute passed 52-1.
SB 316, by Sen. Steve Gooch (R-Dahlonega), amends O.C.G.A. § 16-12-60(f), eliminating the current permissible daily prize limitation (in cash or gifts) for bingo games at $1,500.00. The $3,000.00 cap for cash and gifts to be earned in a week remains. There was a Floor Amendment offered by Sen. Ed Harbison (D-Columbus) to move the weekly limit from $3,000.00 to $10,000.00; that was included in SB 188 initially and followed a great deal of dialog from various organization which compete with border states. By moving the limit upwards, it makes Georgia competitive with its neighboring states. There were no questions when Sen. Gooch explained the legislation. Sen. Bill Heath (R-Bremen) said these are "trying times" in which we live. He recalled that the General Assembly dealt with bingo when he was first elected; the legislation is again before the General Assembly. It is not simple. After quoting scripture, he asked his colleagues to think seriously about the legislation. He said this was a "con" game – it was not about supporting a nonprofit's cause. Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford) said that bingo had been on her desk since 1998 – it has changed dramatically since that time. It was previously not as regulated. Money raised locally, stays locally. She asked that her colleagues support SB 316. Amendment Number 1 by Sen. Harbison received objection; the Amendment Number 1 failed. The Bill passed 39-14.
SB 348, by Sen. Lindsey Tippins (R-Marietta), addresses college and career academies and provides that they are charter schools or schools within a strategic waiver school system or charter system and the requirements for such.
The House had a number of bills on the Rules Calendar:
HB 784, by Rep. John Carson (R-Marietta), came to the House Floor as a Committee Substitute. It seeks to provide that insurers and insurance producers in Georgia may advertise or conduct certain promotional programs whereby certain items not exceed $50.00 in value and will not be considered as an unfair trade practice or an unlawful inducement in O.C.G.A. § 33-6-4 and O.C.G.A. § 33-9-36. This applies to giving out prizes, goods, wares, store gift cards, gift certificates, sporting event tickets, or merchandise to current or prospective customers (per customer in any one calendar year). It passed by a vote of 170-0.
HB 831, by Rep. Calvin Smyre (D-Columbus), which is to be known as the "Protecting Guardsmen's Employment Act" in O.C.G.A. § 38-2-280(d), will require private employers to re-employ certain members of the National Guard of another state who have been discharged or suspended from employment by his or her employer due to being called into active State service. It passed by a vote of 165-0.
HB 910, by Rep. Spencer Frye (D-Athens), amends Chapter 33 of Title 31 to provide that the costs of copying and mailing of patient records will also apply to psychiatric, psychological and other mental health records. It passed by a vote of 166-1.
HB 965, by Rep. Mike Cheokas (R-Americus), is the legislation which if passed will be known as "The Honorable Jimmy Carter Cancer Treatment Access Act" in Chapter 24 of Title 33. It prohibits a health benefit plan, as a provision of hospital, medical, or surgical services, directly or indirectly covers the treatment of stage four advanced metastatic cancer from limiting or excluding coverage for a drug approved by the FDA by mandating that the insured shall first be required to fail to successfully respond to a different drug or drugs or prove a history of failure of such drug or drugs. However, the drug or drug is required to be consistent with best practices for the treatment of stage four advanced, metastatic cancer and is supported by peer-reviewed medical literature. This bill passed by a vote of 166-0.
HB 808, by Rep. Wendell Willard (R-Sandy Springs), came to the House Floor as a Committee Substitute from the House Judiciary Committee. It is the companion to HR 1113 and creates a new Judicial Qualifications Commission in O.C.G.A. § 15-1-12.1. This Commission will be composed of seven members: two judges from any court of record selected by the Supreme Court; one member of the State Bar who has active Bar status for at least ten years who will be appointed by the Governor; one member of the State Bar who has an active Bar status of at least ten years who is to be appointed by the Speaker; one member of the State Bar who has an active status with the Bar for at least ten years who will be appointed by the President of the Senate; and two citizens – neither of whom is a member of the State Bar of Georgia – also to be appointed by the Governor. This passed by a vote of 123-45.
HB 859, by Rep. Rick Jasperse (R-Jasper), is the gun bill which is authorizing the carrying and possession of handguns in certain situations by weapons carry license holders in certain buildings or on real property owned or leased to public institutions of postsecondary education. This will not apply to the carrying of guns to buildings or on property used for athletic sporting events or student housing (including fraternity and sorority houses) and only applies to the carrying of handguns which a licensee is licensed to carry and which are concealed. Debate on HB 859 was limited to one hour. The legislation passed 113-59.
HB 903, by Rep. Brian Strickland (R-McDonough), is to prevent fraud and abuse of the Unemployment Trust Fund. It authorizes in O.C.G.A. § 34-8-130 the Commissioner of the Department of Labor to submit and receive from the State's Revenue Commissioner information related to persons paying into or receiving funds from the Unemployment Trust Fund. The Commissioner is to verify the earnings of such individual and whether those earnings are more or less than the amount of income reported by that individual to the Department of Revenue. It passed by a vote of 171-0.
HB 904, by Rep. Brian Strickland (R-McDonough), amends Chapter 8 of Title 34 and changes the employer contribution rates and credits for employment security so that for periods prior to April 1, 1987 or after December 31, 2022, a new or newly covered employer is to pay contributions at a rate of 2.7 percent of wages paid by that employer with respect to employment during a calendar year until the employer is eligible for a rate calculation based on experience as defined in this Chapter. Also, for periods on or after January 1, 2017, but on or before December 31, 2022, each new or newly covered employer is to pay contributions at a rate of 2.64 percent of wages paid by such employer with respect to employment during each calendar year until the employer is eligible for a rate calculation based on experience. The legislation also addresses administrative assessments in O.C.G.A. § 34-8-180. It went on to pass by a vote of 172-0.
HR 1113, by Rep. Wendell Willard (R-Sandy Springs), is the Constitutional Amendment proposal to amend Section VII of Article VI of the State's Constitution by adding a revised Paragraph VI pertaining to the Judicial Qualifications Commission and its powers and composition. It permits the General Assembly the ability to create in general law and provide for its composition, manner of appointment and governance. This Commission has the ability to discipline, remove and cause involuntary retirement of judges. The House took up the House Committee on Judiciary's Substitute to this Constitutional Amendment. HR 1113 passed by a vote of 125-43.
HB 763, by Rep. Penny Houston (R-Nashville), came to the House Floor as a Committee Substitute from the House Committee on Ways and Means. The proposal seeks to address the sales and use tax exemption in current law for the sale of food and food ingredients to food banks and for the use of food and food ingredients donated to a qualified nonprofit agency in O.C.G.A. § 48-8-3(57.1) and (57.2), respectively. The current exemption is to expire for sales of food to food banks on June 30, 2016; this extends the sunset to June 30, 2021. The current exemption for the use of food and food ingredients donated to qualified nonprofit entities is to expire on June 30, 2020; this moves that expiration date to June 30, 2021. It passed by a vote of 168-0.
HB 1068, by Rep. Margaret Kaiser (D-Atlanta), seeks to provide a duty for medical professionals to counsel in Chapter 9C of Title 31. It will be known as the "Postpartum Depression Act" and requires that physicians, certified midwives, and other licensed health care professionals providing prenatal and postnatal care to mothers to counsel and provide information regarding postpartum depression, postpartum psychosis, and the subsequent impact on maternal and child health to all mothers who deliver in hospitals and birthing centers prior to their discharge. This information will include at least a fact sheet with symptoms and what the subsequent impact will be (maternal attachment bonding and potential for neonatal and self-harm when left untreated). It also requires these healthcare professionals to screen new mothers for the symptoms using the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale prior to discharge and at the first postnatal follow up visit. If the mother's score indicates a possible pregnancy-related mood disturbance, the healthcare professionals are to provide resources on counseling and psychiatric treatment providers; refer the mothers to appropriate counseling and psychiatric treatment providers; or refer them to appropriate emergency psychiatric evaluation and treatment. It requires this screening, and any referrals, to be documented in the patient records for a period of no less than three years. It further permits treatment for postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis to be "taken into consideration as a mitigating factor in a child protection action or child custody petitions absent marked abuse or neglect by the mother at the discretion of the judge." It does not require the mother to receive the treatment or have further psychological evaluation or submit to voluntary inpatient hospitalization.
HB 1070, by Rep. Katie Dempsey (R-Rome), addresses Georgia's adoption laws and amends O.C.G.A. § 19-8-23(b.1) to permit the Department of Human Services to use any information contained in the records of the Department concerning an adopted child and the adopted child's biological parents in connection with the placement of another child in the home of the adoptive parents of the child or in connection with the investigation of a report of child abuse or neglect made concerning the adopted child's biological parents.
HB 1071, by Rep. Pam Dickerson (D-Conyers), inserts a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. § 19-10A-8, concerning the safe place for newborns. It requires that the Department of Community Health develop a sign to be posted at any medical facility to inform the general public that the facility is authorized to receive a left newborn child.
HR 1055, by Rep. Sharon Cooper (R-Marietta), recognizes February 25, 2016 as Health Information Technology Day at the Capitol.
HR 1458, by Rep. Keisha Waites (D-Atlanta), encourages all State, County, and local law enforcement agencies to engage in emergency pursuits only in the most necessary instances.
SB 407, by Sen. Jeff Mullis (R-Chickamauga), addresses O.C.G.A. § 42-1-12(f)(4) and the State's sexual offender registry. It increases a sexual offender's reporting requirements if the offender's conviction occurs after June 30, 2016, so that he or she is to report in person to the sheriff within 72 hours prior to the date that is six months after such offender's birthday.
SB 408, by Sen. Josh McKoon (R-Columbus), seeks to add a new Chapter 39 in Title 50 to create a compact among the states to prohibit public financing of professional stadiums. The purpose of the Compact is to promote effective use of taxpayer funds by limiting taxpayer subsidy of athletic stadiums and barring any taxpayer subsidy of athletic stadiums for any for-profit athletic franchise that attempts to relocate from a ratified state to another ratified state. The Compact becomes effective once three quarters of the states ratify it.
SB 411, by Sen. Horacena Tate (D-Atlanta), addresses Chapter 8A of Title 34 to enact the "Georgia Family Medical Leave Act of 2016." It establishes at O.C.G.A. § 34-8A-4 a "temporary family medical leave insurance program" to provide up to six weeks of wage replacement benefits to individuals who take time off work due to a disability or for care leave. These funds will be payable from the Family Medical Leave Fund – maximum amount to be paid will be six times the employee's weekly benefit amount but in no case more than the total wages paid to the individual during his or her base period. It limits such leave benefits so that one can have only six weeks within any 12-month period. It outlines when an individual is deemed eligible for this temporary medical leave in O.C.G.A. § 34-8A-5 and provides for the weekly benefit amount in O.C.G.A. § 34-8A-6. It requires in O.C.G.A. § 34-8A-7(f) that an individual who is entitled to leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 as amended "shall take leave under this chapter concurrent with leave taken under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 as amended." As a condition of receiving this temporary family medical leave insurance benefits, the employer may require an individual to take up to two weeks of earned but unused paid leave prior to the individual's initial receipt of the benefits. See O.C.G.A. § 34-8A-7(g). O.C.G.A. § 34-8A-11 addresses disqualification from receipt of these benefits.
SB 413, by Sen. Jeff Mullis (R-Chickamauga), adds a new Article 9 in Chapter 7 of Title 50. It provides that the Department of Economic Development establish a statewide site development initiative to create a portfolio of properties in the State which are ready for industrial development. Each site which meets the minimum physical criteria, as outlined by the Department, is to be inspected, and, if approved, then placed on this statewide site development initiative work plan. The entity proposing the site is to obtain a minimum option to purchase or lease commitment of at least two years at a fixed price per acre in order for the site to be included in the work plan. Once on the work plan, the Department of Economic Development is to solicit engineering and due diligence studies of the site and once complete the Department is to review the studies for potential issues in developing the site. If there are no issues, the Department is required to create fliers and promotional materials for the site and then actively market the site to potential industrial developers. Costs of the statewide site development initiative are to be divided between State and local revenues; the State is to fund at least 50 percent of the cost (not to exceed 75 percent) in funds to be appropriated by the General Assembly.
SB 416, by Sen. Bill Cowsert (R-Athens), adds a new Article 9 in Chapter 3 of Title 35. It establishes the Georgia Information Sharing and Analysis Center within the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. This center is to have a fusion center maintaining a terrorism analytical component. The Director of the GBI will oversee this center. The Director through the center is to share and provide homeland security activity information to the Director of Emergency Management – this includes threats, warnings, and developing situations when an investigation reveals conduct of a terroristic nature or in material support of terroristic activities, recruitment of terrorists, or information on the activities of known terrorist organizations. This center is to work with the FBI, Joint Terrorism Task Force, United States Department of Homeland Security and local, State and federal intelligence and law enforcement officials. It describes in O.C.G.A. § 35-3-204 the membership of this center – which includes the GBI director, Director of Emergency Management, Commissioner of Public Safety, Commissioner of Natural Resources, Commissioner of Corrections, State Fire Marshal, the Attorney General and adjutant general of Georgia.
SR 1031, by Sen. Joshua McKoon (R-Columbus), amends the Constitution to set term limits for the Speaker of the Georgia House of Representatives. It would provide that no person shall hold such office for more than four terms.
SR 1032, by Sen. Jeff Mullis (R-Chickamauga), creates the Senate Sexual Offender Registry Study Committee, which would examine the State's approach to monitoring the activities of registered sexual offenders and determine how such monitoring can be strengthened.
SR 1035, by Sen. Horacena Tate (D-Atlanta), amends the Constitution to provide for the Family Medical Leave Fund, which would act as a trust fund for individuals who need to take leave from work due to their own sickness or non-work related injury; the sickness or injury of a family member; or the birth, adoption, or foster care placement of a new child. The fund would be administered by the Georgia Department of Labor.
SR 1037, by Sen. Jeff Mullis (R-Chickamauga), creates the Senate Study Committee on Alternative Fuels Infrastructure. It would study how providing market incentives for installation of refueling infrastructure for alternative fuel vehicles would serve as a catalyst for the realization of cheap and clean fueling options for the public.
SR 1038, by Sen. Jeff Mullis (R-Chickamauga), creates the Joint Alternative Fuels Infrastructure Study Committee.
SR 1040, by Sen. Ed Harbison (D-Columbus), amends the Constitution to provide that the proceeds of one or more State lottery games shall go towards assisting Veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder; homeless veterans; the cost of veterans' health insurance; veterans' disability benefits; the long term care of veterans; or veteran employment and employment training.
House Insurance Committee
The House Insurance Committee, under the leadership of Rep. Richard Smith (R-Columbus), met in the early morning and took up two bills: HB 838 (by Rep. Shaw Blackmon (R-Perry) which sets the minimum compensation a health insurance agent may receive on sales of policies) and HB 943 (by Rep. Carl Rogers (R-Gainesville) which addresses contract indemnifications for engineering and architectural services).
Rep. Shaw Blackmon (R-Perry) presented HB 838 which previously moved out of the House Insurance Committee but had been recommitted by the House Rules Committee. This morning a Substitute was presented and Rep. John Meadows (R-Calhoun) offered an amendment to clarify the amounts of commissions to be paid by health insurers to agents on sales of health benefit policies. Meadows' amendment sets the commissions for individual health plans at a minimum of four percent and for group plans at five percent. The legislation passed with the amendment being adopted and included. Rep. Meadows explained that most commissions for individual plans were two to six percent and this was the "middle of the road." Rep. Meadows expressed that six health insurance companies had suggested writing letters to Commissioner Hudgens to address the commission issue; Rep. Meadows indicated that Commissioner Hudgens might only be in office another four years and he wanted to make sure that these commission payment requirements were in statute. Rep. Darlene Taylor (R-Thomasville) inquired if the commissions applied to insurance navigators and Rep. Meadows said that these do not (or anything relating to the Affordable Care Act).
Rep. B.J. Pak (R-Lilburn) presented HB 943 for Rep. Carl Rogers (R-Gainesville). This legislation regards indemnity at O.C.G.A. § 13-8-2 and provisions in contracts to clarify that such indemnity from liability in those contracts applies to those individuals who are negligent or do something wrong (and in this case architects and engineers). The American Council of Engineering asked for this legislation. Insurers cannot insure for liability of another party. Rep. John Carson (R-Marietta) asked a question if other industries might ask for this indemnity from liability – Rep. Pak indicated that could be the case as it would make sense to limit liability to only that which the individual/entity could be responsible for. This legislation received a do pass recommendation and now moves to the House Rules Committee.
Chairman Smith took a moment at the conclusion of the meeting to wish Rep. Pak well as Rep. Pak will not seek re-election in this next election.
House Judiciary Committee – Fleming Subcommittee
The following proposals were on Rep. Fleming's Subcommittee's agenda:
HB 685, by Rep. Brian Strickland (R-McDonough), received a hearing and no action was taken. This legislation proposes the "Georgia Real Property Common Interest Act" in Chapter 3 of Title 44.
HB 920, by Rep. Trey Kelley (R-Cedartown), passed out of the Subcommittee. This legislation restricts legal actions against passive investors in nursing homes and immediate care homes.
HB 938, by Rep. Brian Prince (D-Augusta), passed out of the Subcommittee. This initiative addresses tax sales and requires that property be maintained in accordance to local laws and ordinances.
HB 1017, by Rep. Barry Fleming (R-Harlem), is the electronic discovery legislation which has been proposed. It does not necessarily follow federal rules and will likely be brought up later. Thus, no action was taken.
HB 1025, by Rep. Tom Taylor (R-Dunwoody), passed favorably from the Subcommittee. This bill proposes changes in O.C.G.A. § 15-10-62(c) regarding service of citations involving alleged violations of ordinances involving real property (service would be accomplished by these means: mailing a copy to the owner of record; leaving a copy at the premises; and filing a copy with the magistrate court clerk).
HB 1027, by Rep. Barry Fleming (R-Harlem), passed out of the Subcommittee. This proposal allows for court filings of pleadings to be done electronically in Title 15.
House Education Committee – Academic Support Subcommittee
HB 135, by Rep. Wayne Howard (D-Augusta), seeks to enact the "Too Young to Suspend Act." This initiative seeks to prevent schools from suspending Pre-K students and Kindergarten children unless the students either cause or threaten serious bodily injury or bring weapons (firearms, knives, explosives or dangerous substances) to schools. No action was taken but the Subcommittee asked that the Department of Education work with Rep. Howard.
HB 942, by Rep. Dexter Sharper (D-Valdosta), addresses provisional enrollment in elementary and secondary education. This proposal allows kinship caregivers to provisionally enroll children in school – it seeks to extend the current 30 days to 90 days, giving the caregivers more time for provisional enrollment of the students. There are requirements in the legislation to require enrollment rules to be posted. The Subcommittee tabled the legislation; more changes are needed on this Bill.
House Juvenile Justice Committee
The Committee chaired by Rep. Tom Weldon (R-Ringgold) had a full agenda:
SB 64, by Sen. Chuck Hufstetler (R-Rome), was originally introduced in 2015 and it came to the House Committee and was later passed by the full House. However, the proposal got caught in the agreement process in 2015 and did not make it all the way through. It addresses repealing voluntary legitimations and also changes hospital procedures for paternity. This legislation received a do pass recommendation to the Rules Committee.
HB 825, by Rep. Earnest Smith (D-Augusta), is the legislation to enact the "Protecting Military Children Act." This proposal also received a do pass recommendation to the House Rules Committee.
HB 887, by Rep. Chuck Efstration (R-Dacula), addresses parental rights and would prioritize placement of a child with an adult or fictive kin qualified to care for the child. This legislation passed out of the Committee; it is on its way to Rules Committee.
HB 962, by Rep. Stacey Abrams (D-Atlanta), is to create within the Department of Human Services the appointment, removal and duties of the kinship care enforcement administrator. This legislation received a do pass recommendation.
HB 963, by Rep. Stacey Abrams (D-Atlanta), proposes enactment of "The Kinship Educational Consent and Transparency Act." This initiative was referred to the Efstration Subcommittee.
HB 725 was discussed in part; the bill addresses the release of child abuse records by Child Advocacy Centers. Rep. Wes Cantrell (R-Woodstock) has worked on this legislation and presented the newest Substitute version. This bill will be heard again on Tuesday.
House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee
Medical marijuana was back before the Committee. HB 722, by Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon), relates to the patient registry program for the use of medical cannabis. This legislation has received another overhaul of sorts. The in-state cultivation language in the proposal has now been stripped out. Prosecutors are still concerned about the legislation. Chairman Rich Golick (R-Smyrna) expressed that the cultivation of cannabis/marijuana was problematic. The expanded list of disorders which could benefit with cannabidiol is still included (HIV/AIDS, Tourette's syndrome, and epidermolysis bullosa). This Bill will likely be voted on in Committee on Wednesday.
HB 979, by Rep. Johnnie Caldwell, Jr. (R-Thomaston), addresses punishments for individuals who commit crimes upon hospital emergency department and medical services personnel. This legislation cleared the Committee and now heads to the House Rules Committee.
House Committee on Human Relations and Aging
This Committee had one proposal on its agenda and that was the legislation authored by Rep. Tom Kirby (R-Loganville), HB 934, so that kinship caregivers can apply for public assistance benefits. This legislation was favorably reported out of Committee.
Senate Education and Youth
Chairman Lindsey Tippins (R-Marietta) called this meeting to order. The Committee considered five pieces of legislation today, including SR 723, SB 281, SB 374, SB 328, and SB 395. SB 310, authored by Sen. William T. Ligon Jr. (R-Brunswick) was held until the next meeting.
Sen. Donzella James (D-Atlanta) presented SR 723 to the committee. It encourages all institutions and public recreational authorities that organize high school athletics to guarantee rights to personal safety for their young athletes. It encourages free access to the proper examinations and also encourages education on risk factors associated with youth athletics and venue-specific emergency actions. The Brain Injury Association and the Georgia Athletic Trainers Association were both in support of this legislation. Also, it was indicated that less than 10% of students currently get pretested. Chairman Tippins agreed with the premise of the resolution, but wants to determine if it should be a right guaranteed by the state. He fears creating a cause of action. SR 723 was held in committee.
SB 281 was presented by Sen. Ligon. It requires schools to give notice to parents before using a new digital learning program. The bill seeks to address the fine grain data gathered by third parties from such programs in order to create psychological profiles of individuals (students in this case). There have been breaches in the past and this would aim to protect student data. Sen. Fran Millar (R-Atlanta) expressed some concern that it would be too strict with student data and could complicate the longitudinal data system that is currently used. He indicated that the bill would prohibit a lot of student information (growth rates, etc) from being stored. Teachers like to have this information so they know how their students have progressed. Sen. Stone echoed these same concerns. The Department of Education also indicated that it would be difficult to implement with the longitudinal data system in place. Chairman Tippins determined the bill needed to be looked at more and held it in Committee.
Chairman Tippins presented SB 374, which provides for a temporary exemption from certain financial reporting requirements for local school systems participating in a federally authorized pilot program for school years 2016-2017. It also requires that the local school system determine which certificated professional personnel would have been funded by federal funds if funds were not consolidated and report such personnel to the Department as being funded from sources other than State and local funds. This bill received a do-pass recommendation.
SB 328, by Sen. Emanuel Jones (D-Decatur), seeks to provide that no child spend more than 2 semesters in alternative education programs. It seeks to address cases where students, once suspended, are not given adequate time for a hearing so they may possibly reenter school. Sen. Jones said the bill makes no revisions on how students are suspended. Sen. Freddie Powell Sims (D-Dawson) supports the bill and stated that alternative schools are not a good academic setting for students and that students should not have to remain in such schools until graduation. Chairman Tippins indicated that he has concerns with automatically returning disruptive students to school after 2 semesters. Sen. Jones clarified that this bill would ensure the students get a hearing, but would not ensure that they would return to school. Despite some concerns by the chairman, this bill received a do-pass.
SB 395 was the last bill discussed today. Sen. Hunter Hill (R-Atlanta) presented this legislation, which would expand the special needs scholarship to children of military personnel. It would be known as the "Junior G.I. Bill Scholarship." Sen. Hill said this would allow students with IEPs to attend alternative schools. Chairman Tippins had concerns that this is essentially using the special needs scholarship program (which is meant for students with disabilities) as a vehicle for a voucher program for students attending private/alternative schools. The Chairman said that by opening up this scholarship to "special classifications," you open it up to all. The bill remained in committee and they adjourned.
Senate Insurance and Labor Committee
Chairman Charlie Bethel (R-Dalton) convened and adjourned his Committee literally in a matter of seconds. The Committee had one bill on its meeting agenda, SB 286, by Sen. Michael Williams (R-Cumming). Sen. Williams asked that his legislation, which addresses premium taxes, be held. Thus, no legislation proposals were discussed. Chairman Bethel announced that the Committee will not meet on Thursday; the next Committee meeting will be on March 7.
Senate Health and Human Services Committee
Chairwoman Renee Unterman (R-Buford) and her Committee discussed at length her proposal, SB 382, on "surprise billing" by providers when a healthcare service is not covered under contract. It outlines a number of definitions and what is considered as in-network or out-of-network. Sen. Unterman explained she wanted to help individuals who are struggling financially because of such bills. They pay their insurance premiums and deductibles along with co-pays for services and medications. Her bill contains an alternate dispute resolution, taking out the patient, leaving the insurer and provider to work out the issue. The Insurance Commissioner will oversee the consumer issues. She does not have a fiscal note on the bill; it will require more staff at the Department.
Graham Thompson, for Georgia Association of Health Plans, commended Sen. Unterman for bringing this legislation to have more discussion on surprise or balanced billing. He stressed it brought transparency, establishes a fair payment rate and binding arbitration. He suggested that a closer look be taken at "actual" versus "billed" charges. Further, he said one-third of all Americans have received the surprise bills. Alan Hayes, the lobbyist for America's Health Insurance Plans, also provided support for the concept.
Beth Stephens, with Georgia Watch, spoke to the need for the legislation noting that there was a recent survey of 407 Georgians and 41 percent of those had received a "surprise" bill. Georgia has a higher than national average on these types of bills. She mentioned that the states of Texas, Maryland and New York had passed laws on surprise bills and that Florida has a pending bill. Additionally, there is a bill pending in Congress on this issue.
Meredith Gonsahn, with Georgians for Healthy Future, testified in support of this legislation.
Emergency room physicians were represented at this meeting. They indicated that many times it was the deductible on a health plan that a patient encountered; it was not the surprise bill. EMTALA laws require treatment of patients when they show up in emergency rooms. They argued that a fair, independent solution was needed. Insurers, though, need to pay fair rates. They encouraged the first dollar of coverage for emergency services. Additionally, they discouraged having a short list of CPT codes to determine what was to be billed at what rates. They urged looking at usual and customary fees and indicated that Medicare rates were an artificially applied schedule (the use of multipliers to the Medicare rate was not justified). They also stated that there needs to be a claims dispute resolution process and insurers must have network adequacy and access addressed.
Steve Walsh, an anesthesiologist, and Jet Toney, a lobbyist for the Georgia Society of Anesthesiologists, spoke to the bill. They urged the Committee to look at the healthcare market when looking at other states' laws on this issue. There are many root causes for "balanced" bills and anesthesiologist may send more bills than other physicians in hospital settings. The State's anesthesiologists are on call 24/7 annually.
Marcus Downs, with the Medical Association of Georgia, indicated that MAG has looked at this issue for a couple of years. They have worked with the insurance industry to see if there was a way in which to avoid legislation. Additionally, they have hosted focus groups and met with Senators on this matter. Insurers, according to Mr. Downs, know which provider is in-network or not.
Sen. Unterman asked that individuals wishing to comment on the legislation go line by line with the proposal and explain what they like or do not like and why, as well as provide suggestions. No vote was taken on SB 382 today.
Sen. Judson Hill (R-Marietta) brought his legislation, SB 385, which is an attempt to address board certifications of physicians. The legislation was brought as an effort to help protect the patients so that they are aware of what certifications their physicians have. Sen. Ben Watson (R-Savannah) and also a physician asked some questions about future certifying entities for specialties. The issue is complicated. At the end of the discussion, Sen. Unterman asked that the author and others get together on added language. No other action was taken on SB 385.
SR 1029, by Sen. Chuck Hufstetler (R-Rome), proposes to create the Senate Study Committee on Integrated Health Care. His goal is to look at both mental and physical health and a data system for such. Sen. Hufstetler mentioned that South Carolina has set up an integrated state data system. The Committee moved this proposal forward without questions. It goes to Senate Rules.
SB 381, by Sen. Bruce Thompson (R-White), is the legislation which the Committee heard last week about stem cells' regulation and use. Sen. Unterman indicated that the legislation was too broad and that she thought a study was needed on the use of stem cells. Therefore, this legislation was held.
Sen. Hunter Hill (R-Atlanta) brought SB 389, which is his attempt to address individuals' needs for self-sufficiency and receiving TANF. In part of his legislation, it proposes that the Department of Human Services permit an individual to receive a "cash diversion" when they have a hardship. This cash infusion would be a one-time amount and an effort to prevent individuals from going onto the State's welfare roles. The legislation also addresses work activity requirements and sanctions for non-compliance. The Department of Human Services' Jackie Tate spoke briefly about the legislation. Ms. Tate indicated that the Department was reviewing the legislation. However, due to the Department's development of a new integrated eligibility system, which goes live in the State on January 1, 2017, the Department needed this legislation to go into effect after that time and asked for an effective date of July 1, 2017. Ann Mintz, a lobbyist with the United Way of Greater Atlanta, spoke favorably to the idea for cash diversion. No vote was taken today on SB 389.
Senate Finance Committee
SB 344 and SR 624, by Sen. Michael Williams (R-Cumming), which address "impact fees" and their uses, were heard in the Committee. These pieces of legislation would specifically permit a local board of education to impose such impact fee if ratified by voters. No action was taken on either.
Sen. Hunter Hill (R-Atlanta) presented SB 386, which addresses occupational license fees being charged by the City of College Park for property at Atlanta-Hartsfield Jackson Airport, was held. No vote was taken. It was explained that the legislation would specifically prohibit this duplication of taxation on such licenses.
House Ways and Means Committee
The House Ways and Means Committee hosted a lengthy, late afternoon discussion on a number of pieces of legislation.
HB 364, by Chairman David Knight (R-Griffin), was held due to a new Committee Substitute.
HB 471, by Chairman Ron Stephens (R-Savannah), was also suspended after the Committee found that they did not have the correct Substitute and Amendment language. This underlying proposal addresses sales taxes and ad valorem taxes on rental companies' equipment – it prevents the sales tax being applied on top of ad valorem taxes; the Amendment is to establish a sunset for this exemption as well.
HB 818, by Rep. Virgil Fludd (D-Fayetteville), did not move forward as the correct Committee Substitute was not available for the Committee's consideration.
HB 899, by Rep. Jay Powell (R-Camilla), was presented. It addresses the escrow payments which tobacco companies are paying which are not parties to the Tobacco Settlement Agreement so they do not have a competitive advantage. The legislation addresses the enforcement of the escrow agreement; if not enforced, it is a potential impact of $75 million to the State. The legislation received a do pass recommendation and the legislation moves forward to the House Rules Committee.
Next up was HB 911, by Rep. Geoff Duncan (R-Cumming). This legislation addresses the sales and use tax exemption permitted for agricultural equipment. It permits an aggregate of sales of $10,000.00. The legislation also has clarifying language on the "GATE" cards. Rep. Terry England (R-Auburn) indicated he had some concerns about the retailers' requirements. Rep. Tom Rice (R-Duluth) inquired if a fiscal note was obtained. Despite questions, the legislation passed with one individual opposing the initiative.
HB 919, also by Rep. Duncan, is the legislation for rural healthcare which will be known as CPR². It allows individuals and companies to pay their taxes owed to the State directly to a healthcare entity (defined) and would require hospitals file a 990 form and have an audit. This program is only for counties with less than a 35,000 population and only for not-for-profit healthcare entities. There is a definition in the proposal around what the entity provides in the way of uncompensated care. It will allow an $.80 credit on every $1.00 for the taxpayer. It caps the total amount of this program at $250 million. Rep. Duncan's bill got a do pass recommendation and no questions were raised. The legislation moves to the House Rules Committee.
HB 922 was back before the Committee due to a scrivener's error. The Committee moved the new version forward without really any debate except for a question about date and retroactive applicability. Thus, legislation passed to the Rules Committee.
HB 935, by Rep. Brett Harrell (R-Lawrenceville), addresses a new Freeport exemption for fulfillment centers. A local ordinance will be required for such exemption. This legislation also received a do pass recommendation and moves to the House Rules Committee.
HB 981 also moved through quickly. It allows certain for-profit entities (limited liability companies) which have an indirect ownership in a home for the mentally disabled to have a property tax exemption. HB 981 also moves to House Rules.
HB 987, by Rep. Tom McCall (R-Elberton), spoke to his legislation which will allow not-for-profit rodeos to come under COUVA qualifications. This legislation also passed by Committee Substitute without opposition.
HB 991, by Rep. Bill Hitchens (R-Rincon), is to be known as the "Returning Heroes Act" and will permit a National Guardsman who has not filed his or her property taxes due to being deployed outside of the country to make such payment within 60 days after his or her return without any penalties. In the original bill, it required the Guardsman to make the payment in 30 days. A Committee amendment changed this to 60 days. A new Amendment was offered in Committee to also address language relating to the 60 day change in the preamble of the bill; that Amendment was adopted. The legislation cleared the Committee as a new Committee Substitute and now moves to the House Rules Committee.
HB 1014 was held and not considered. This bill addresses income tax on conservation use property.
HB 951, by Rep. Chad Nimmer (R-Blackshear), came to the Committee as a Committee Substitute. It now incorporates not only language which permitted a sales tax exemption on ticket sales for major sporting events but also the "sales tax holiday" language for this year. It clearly identifies the weekend for the sales tax holiday for sales of back-to-school items and Energy Star appliances. There was an amendment made in Subcommittee by Rep. Stacey Abrams (D-Atlanta) and Rep. John Carson (R-Marietta) which tightens the repeal language – the proposal for the sporting event tickets will repeal December 31, 2020 but if the State has already applied for a major event and "wins" that event as the location then the sales tax exemption will be permitted. To be considered a major sporting event, ticket sales must be at least $50 million. An amendment by Rep. Powell was offered to tighten the qualifier of the $50 million; his amendment was adopted. The Committee Substitute was passed as Amended and now moves to the House Rules Committee.
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.