Gold Dome Report - February 25, 2016
At the House Rules Committee this morning, it was announced, by Chairman John Meadows (R-Calhoun), that Rep. Bob Bryant (D-Garden City) had died early this morning. Rep. Bryant was first elected to the Georgia House in 2004 and had been very involved in public service, serving for 20 years in the United States Army and two terms as Mayor Pro Tem of Garden City before coming to the House. Our sympathies are extended to Rep. Bryant's family.
It was Lupus Awareness Day at the Capitol. Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford) brought a Resolution to the Floor of the Senate to raise awareness of the disease.
Tomorrow will be Day 29 of the Legislative Session followed by Monday as cross-over day. Thus, there is a huge push for legislation to clear their respective originating bodies to remain viable for the remainder of the Session.
Dorothy Benson was recognized on the Senate Floor as Distinguished Older Georgian for 2016. The Atlanta 500 was announced and it is NASCAR Week in Georgia – various drivers were recognized on the Floor by Sen. Rick Jeffares (R-McDonough) and his colleagues.
Sen. Charlie Bethel (R-Dalton) took the Well to remind colleagues that there were millions of individuals enslaved – as many as 27 million. He asked fellow Senators to take an active stance with "End it."
Sens. Ben Watson (R-Savannah) and Lester Jackson (D-Savannah) took a few moments to recognize a member of their Savannah Delegation, Rep. Bob Bryant – speaking of their colleague as a man with a reasoned voice and a man who was an Airborne Ranger who loved his family.
Georgia State University's football team and program were recognized as it was their first year to make it to a bowl game. They were recognized by Sen. Curt Thompson (D-Tucker).
The Senate's 28th Legislative Day Rules Calendar contained eight bills for debate (SB 391 was withdrawn from consideration by its author):
Sen. Fran Millar (R-Atlanta) authored SB 258 and explained the legislation to his colleagues. This legislation amends O.C.G.A. § 48-5-311(e), concerning the creation of county boards of equalization, duties, review of assessments and appeals. His proposal is to provide that the assessed value of property for a taxable year may be lowered by the deciding body based upon evidence presented but cannot be increased beyond the assessment value established by the board of tax assessors. The change in this subsection does not apply to any appeal where the taxpayer files an appeal during a time when O.C.G.A. § 48-5-299(c) is in effect for the assessment being appealed. Sen. Millar stated that Association County Commissioners of Georgia support the proposal. There was no objection by Tax Assessors. Sen. Steve Henson (D-Tucker) inquired about causing a line of appeals. SB 258 passed by Committee Substitute 51-0.
SB 302, by Sen. P.K. Martin (R-Lawrenceville), seeks to amend Georgia's insurance laws to require that health insurance carriers maintain accurate provider directories. The legislation has had several forms since its introduction, as Sen. Martin held numerous meetings with groups of hospitals, insurance carriers, physicians, and consumers to comet to an agreeable form. The legislation creates a new Chapter 20C in Title 33 which will be known as the "Provider Directory Improvement Act" and in part requires the health insurance carrier to post on its website a current and accurate electronic provider directory for each of its network plans. National Association of Insurance Commissioners has embarked on a process for up-to-date provider directories and that entity's model language was used as a guide in drafting this legislation, per Sen. Martin. Accuracies of the directories are paramount in consumers making decisions about health plans. A Floor Amendment was offered which Sen. Martin proposed. Sen. Judson Hill (R-Marietta) offered this Floor Amendment and described it as a common sense measure – to make it illegal for a patient to enter into a direct financial relationship, as it is considered health insurance. This Amendment is his "concierge medicine" which has been offered as a standalone bill, SB 265, "Physician Direct Pay Act." Sen. Hill asked folks to "do the right thing." Folks who need this the most are the uninsured across the State, arguing these are persons who work for small companies and cannot afford insurance. Sen. Hill agreed, upon a commitment from Chairman Charlie Bethel (R-Dalton) to pass his underlying legislation separately, to withdraw his Amendment. Sen. Nan Orrock (D-Atlanta) asked if the General Assembly expanded Medicaid, would some of these issues would not exist. With unanimous consent, Amendment 1 was withdrawn without objection. The legislation passed by Committee Substitute 50-0.
SR 604 was presented by Sen. Bill Heath (R-Bremen). It is a Constitutional Amendment proposal to amend Article VII, Section I, Paragraph II of the State's Constitution by specifically revising subparagraph (a) to prohibit the levy of State ad valorem taxes on or after January 1, 2017 on tangible property. The provision is still in the Constitution although the laws have changed; there is no fiscal impact and this Resolution will remove current language in the Constitution as no ad valorem tax is collected now. Sen. Steve Henson (D-Tucker) spoke to the legislation but cautioned colleagues about enacting a law limiting or eliminating taxes. He noted specifically the law passed on income taxes done previously. Further, he noted that bond rating entities look at the State's laws – this change would tie the State's hands so that it could not impose ad valorem taxes, in the event that there was a need. Further, he believes that eliminating this and it would constrain future General Assemblies to fund the State's needs. He urged folks to vote, "no." The vote was 35-11; it failed as it did not receive the Constitutional majority for passage. Sen. Heath served notice for reconsideration and the motion would be on the calendar for February 26 for that notice.
Sen. David Shafer and President Pro Tem (R-Duluth) presented SB 365, which creates a special license plate for the Georgia Pet Foundation in O.C.G.A. § 40-2-86(n)(5). Funds raised with the sales of these special license plates will be disbursed to this Foundation. The legislation passed 46-1.
Sen. John Kennedy (R-Macon) brought SB 367, a comprehensive set of reforms proposed by the Georgia Council on Justice Reform. These reforms address many matters involving juvenile justice changes. In part, the legislation:
- Expands accountability courts and pretrial intervention and diversion programs.
- Defines "risk and needs assessment" in O.C.G.A. § 15-1-19(a) to help determine the juvenile's needs and criminal risk factors to reduce the likelihood that the individual will return to criminal behavior.
- Has language addressing charter schools in the Department of Corrections and Department of Juvenile Justice Facilities – it authorizes a State charter school, upon the approval of the commission, to enter into a contract with the Department of Juvenile Justice or the Department of Corrections to operate a school and deliver education services to school age children or youth incarcerated within any facility of the Department of Corrections or incarcerated or committed to the Department of Juvenile Justice in O.C.G.A. § 20-2-2084.1.
- Addresses school discipline – in part, it requires that the local board of education be required to develop a system of progressive discipline that may be imposed on a child violating O.C.G.A. § 20-2-1181 before initiating an actual complaint.
- Changes the reorganization within the Board and Department of Community Supervision in O.C.G.A. § 42-3-2 – and in part requires this Board of Juvenile Justice to also include reentry services for children who have been released from restrictive custody and who were adjudicated for a Class A designated felony act or Class B designated felony act and are transferred to the Board of Community Supervision. It also expands the Board for the Department of Community Supervision from nine to eleven.
- Addresses First Offender Treatment and record restrictions.
- Provides for misdemeanor probation services.
Sen. Kennedy presented this piece of the Governor's legislative package for the Senate's consideration. Sen. Harold V. Jones, II (D-Augusta) spoke that this legislation will impact constituents' lives and he supported the bill. The legislation passed easily with a vote of 53-0.
SB 388 was authored by Sen. David Lucas (D-Macon). Sen. Lucas's proposal amends O.C.G.A. § 50-27-78 and adds a new subsection (h) concerning bona fide coin operated amusement machines. It makes it unlawful to remove or deface a permit sticker which is attached to a bona fide coin operated amusement machine without authorization by the owner of such machine or the corporation – violations are considered misdemeanors. There were no questions posed to the author and the Senate moved swiftly to a vote. The legislation passed 50-0.
SR 842 is the Resolution authored by Sen. William Ligon, Jr. (R-Brunswick), creating the Senate Study Committee on the Legislative Process. He has suggested a review to improve efficiency and transparency. It passed as a Committee Substitute 52-0.
SB 331, by Sen. Bruce Thompson (R-White), addresses domestic relations and crimes against juveniles. It adds that when an individual causes his child to be conceived as a result of rape in violation of O.C.G.A. § 16-6-1, the violation is considered in the "aggravated circumstances" definition in O.C.G.A. § 15-11-2. It further states that causing a child to be conceived as a result of rape is considered as creating a presumption against legitimation in O.C.G.A. § 19-7-22(c) and a parent's parental rights may be terminated by the court if the parent caused his child to be conceived as a result of rape in O.C.G.A. § 19-8-11(a)(3). There were no questions raised and the legislation passed 49-0.
Before the House got down to business, they took time to reflect and remember their colleague Rep. Bob Bryant (D-Garden City). Speaker David Ralston, Minority Leader Stacey Abrams, Majority leader John Burns, House Dean Calvin Smyre, and Rep. Al Williams each spoke at length about Rep. Bryant's great personality and contributions to Georgia.
The House's Debate Calendar had eleven proposals:
Rep. Tom Rice (R-Norcross) authored HB 205 which contains revisions in Chapter 5 of Title 40 and Chapter 8 of Title 42, addressing drivers' licenses and ignition interlock devices as a condition of probation. It amends laws concerning individuals who are arrested for driving under the influence and provides for the issuance of an optional ignition interlock device limited driving permit upon arrest for driving under the influence – under certain conditions. He presented the legislation with trepidation. There are changes for the first time in 20 years with additional options for folks with DUIs. Rep. Dustin Hightower (R-Carrollton) spoke in favor of the legislation; it is an "opt in" and has nothing to do with DUI courts. HB 205 passed 169-4.
HB 770, by Rep. Chuck Efstration (R-Dacula), amends O.C.G.A. § 16-5-46 regarding trafficking of individuals for labor or sexual servitude and includes that such sexual servitude can be by coercion or deception; from an individual who is under the age of 18 years of age; from an individual whom the accused believes to be under the age of 18 years; from an individual who has a developmental disability; or from an individual whom the accused believes to have a developmental disability. It was presented as a Committee on Judiciary Non-Civil Substitute and passed 167-3.
HB 897, by Rep. Betty Price (R-Roswell), provides for the establishment and operation of a drug repository program to accept and dispense unused over-the-counter and prescription drugs in a new Article 10 of Chapter 8 of Title 31. It addresses donations for these drugs as well as dispensing the medications. It was presented as a Committee Substitute, which was passed 166-0.
Rep. Mandi Ballinger's (R-Canton) HB 905 came to the Floor as a Judiciary Non-Civil Committee Substitute. It amends Georgia's child abuse laws and in part requires that any person who in good faith has possession of materials or images in violation of Article 3 of Chapter 12 of Title 16 and who immediately notifies law enforcement officials or any person that is required by O.C.G.A. § 19-7-5 to report suspected child abuse, or makes such notification within 72 hours from the time there is reasonable cause to believe such person is in possession of such materials or images, shall be immune to the same extent as a law enforcement officer would be immune from criminal liability for such possession. This bill passed 167-0.
HB 911, by Rep. Geoff Duncan (R-Cumming), was presented as an amendment to sales and uses taxes and provides for cooperation by the Departments of Revenue and Agriculture in the administration and enforcement of the State sales tax exemption for agricultural machinery and equipment and specifically addresses who is considered a "qualified agricultural producer." In that definition it changes criteria and raises the amounts for "qualified agricultural producer" and permits an aggregate amounts of products sold to be increased from $2,500.00 to $10,000.00 in a year and the person or entity in the business of performing agricultural operations has provided $10,000.00 of such services during the year (current law is $2,500.00 in services). This bill passed 165-0.
A second bill was brought by Rep. Geoff Duncan (R-Cumming), HB 919. This legislation is to assist rural hospitals and permit individuals and corporations to make payments to a "rural health care organization" and in exchange those entities will receive an income tax credit. For individuals and married couples, the credit is $.80 on each $1.00 and such credit per individual is up to $2,500.00 per tax year and up to $5,000 for a married couple. A corporation or other entity is allowed a credit against the tax imposed in an amount not to exceed 80 percent of the actual amount expended or 75 percent of the corporation's income tax liability. In no event, is the aggregate amount of the tax credits to exceed $250 million per tax year. The program will be administered by the Department of Public Health. An amendment was offered from the Floor, moving the cap to $100 million for these credits. The credits are sunset on December 31, 2020. This legislation has been pushed by HomeTown Health with the goal of assisting the State's rural hospitals. Rep. Duncan explained this as a "reform" bill. The idea for this legislation came to him in church – and his church's program on "how to be rich." That program at his church is really about how much each of us gives, alleviating poverty. Rep. Duncan spoke to the four "Cs": churches, corporations, charities and citizens. Rural healthcare is in the midst of a crisis and this legislation encourages Georgians to laser focus on rural healthcare. Several questions were raised. Rep. Tom McCall (R-Elberton) appreciates the effort; his rural hospital has issues with meeting payroll and this legislation can be seen as an economic development driver. Rep. Duncan agreed with his statements. Rep. Dominic LaRiccia (R-Douglas) asked if another approach would be creating jobs in rural areas – like manufactured housing. Rep. Duncan stated that Rep. LaRiccia knows of what he speaks. Rep. Jason Shaw (R-Lakeland) expressed his support on behalf of the rural caucus. Rep. Chad Nimmer (R-Blackshear) expressed his appreciation along with other South Georgia colleagues on the legislation. Rep. Robert Trammell (D-Luthersville) appreciated the legislation, but stated that the House needed a broader conversation as many individuals do not have health insurance coverage, noting that Georgia could expand Medicaid (funds available to close the coverage gap under the Affordable Care Act). Rep. Trammell urged that the House "do more." He read a letter from a constituent who expressed frustration that Georgia will not expand Medicaid; she indicated that prisoners had better access to healthcare than individuals who are trying to be productive citizens. Rep. Winfred Dukes (D-Albany) also spoke to HB 919; he also supported the legislation as he represents two rural hospitals in Southwest Georgia which are on "life support" in their communities. He named a number of other rural hospitals which were not as fortunate and have now closed. These facilities are economic engines in the communities, providing some of the highest paying wages. When individuals do not have healthcare, then the lives of the individuals and their families are at risk. He questioned whether this was the best way to do this; $100 million could leverage Medicaid and draw down another $300 million. This fund could also be used to leverage billions if the State did expand Medicaid. Rep. Pat Gardner (D-Atlanta) also spoke to the legislation but she opposed HB 919 – not because she does not care about rural hospitals but because of the fragmented system and underlying healthcare issues. Georgia is a leader in criminal justice reform; but it is also a leader in numbers of uninsured with the fifth largest uninsured population in the country. Those who have been helped with criminal justice reform have, however, no assistance with healthcare coverage. There are issues around paying enough to the doctors and nurses. The Governor announced $200 million would be needed, in this room, to provide healthcare to those who need it (the uninsured). She urged her colleagues to vote "no." Rep. Stacey Abrams (D-Atlanta) does not oppose the legislation but has concerns. As a tax lawyer, she has done a lot of tax work for hospitals and helps them access the resources that they need. There is no single provision in the legislation about the responsibility of the entity which receives the funds, no obligation for the hospital to spend money on healthcare services/care. She plans to offer an Amendment to limit the credit at $50 million. Rep. Spencer invoked his right not to vote on this legislation under Rule 133. The Duncan Amendment was AM 34 0727; there was objection to the adoption of the Amendment but the Amendment by Rep. Duncan was adopted by a vote of 114-52. The Amendment lowers the cap from $250 million to $100 million. Rep. Abrams' amendment was ruled, then, out of order with the passage of Rep. Duncan's amendment. HB 919 as amended was passed 137-30.
HB 216, proposed by Rep. Micah Gravley (R-Douglasville), came to the House Floor as a Committee Substitute addressing compensation for occupational disease and amends O.C.G.A. § 34-9-280. It adds that for firefighters, (defined at O.C.G.A. § 25-4-2), the disease of cancer, otherwise considered an ordinary disease of life, "is shown by preponderance of the competent and credible evidence, which shall include medical evidence, to have been attributable to the firefighter's performance of his or her duties as a firefighter" and should be included in occupational diseases. Rep. Wendell Willard (R-Sandy Springs), Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, took the Well in opposition. He indicated that the bill recognizes a single profession and treats cancer as a disease that is specific to firefighters, despite the millions of other people who are affected by cancer. He said it may be unconstitutional. Rep. Willard also said that, unfortunately, it is not difficult to find a doctor who will tell you exactly what you want to hear, which could lead us down a slippery slope with individuals gaming the system. Despite his opposition, the legislation passed 148-19.
Rep. Sam Teasley (R-Marietta) brought HB 802, a bill amending O.C.G.A. § 48-7-27(a)(11.1). It revises the deductions from income for contributions to savings trust accounts which are established pursuant to Article 11 of Chapter 3 of Title 20. Specifically, it expands deductions permitted by a contributor which files a joint return from $2,000.00 to $4,000.00. The legislation passed 165-0.
Rep. Betty Price (R-Roswell) brought HB 939, which is another Tax Code bill. Her legislation addresses the procedures for the transfer of setoffs by the Administrative Office of the Courts to the court to whom such debt is owed. It gives the Administrative Office of the Courts discretion in the transfer of amounts to the court, excluding the administrative collection assistance fee. It passed 168-0.
HB 981, by Rep. Brett Harrell (R-Snellville), came to the House Floor in the form of a House Committee on Ways and Means Committee Substitute. Another Tax Code legislative initiative, it permits for-profit corporations to participate in the indirect ownership of a home for the mentally disabled for primarily financing purposes, addressing "indirect ownership" of these homes through a limited liability company that is fully owned by such exempt organization. It permits a referendum to decide whether this financing for construction or renovation by the limited liability company or limited partner may share in any tax credits for these homes for the mentally disabled. This bill passed 164-0.
HB 987 was brought to the Floor by Rep. Tom McCall (R-Elberton) in the form of a Committee Substitute from the House Committee on Ways and Means. It addresses bona fide conservation use property, residential transitional property, application procedures, penalties for breach of covenant, classification on tax digest, and annual report. It allows for all or part of the property subject to the covenant to be used to host a not-for-profit rodeo event in which spectator admission and participant entry fees are charged in an amount that in aggregate does not exceed the cost of hosting such event in O.C.G.A. § 48-5-7.4(p). This legislation passed 169-0.
House Small Business Committee
HB 952, by Rep. Chad Nimmer (R-Blackshear), addresses a Supreme Court ruling in NC State Bd. Of Dental Exam'rs v. FTC, 135 S. Ct. 1101 (2015), which requires states which have professional licensing boards and board members to have "active supervision" in order to have immunity for federal antitrust violations. In addition, another requirement for these boards and their members to have such immunity is if "their anticompetitive conduct is consistent with 'clearly articulated' state policy." The "Georgia Professional Regulation Reform Act" seeks to provide for active supervision oversight of licensing boards so as to establish a State policy for the regulation of certain professions and businesses. This bill cleared out of the Committee today with a Committee Substitute. In the original proposal, this active supervision would have been done by the Governor or his/her designee. This version places such active supervision with the Secretary of State. An amendment was attempted in Committee by Rep. Buddy Harden (R-Cordele) who is also a former member of the Georgia Board of Pharmacy – his amendment originally passed and it was determined it would nullify the provisions that the Substitute provided; thus, a motion was made to reconsider the Committee's action. The motion carried and the Committee reconsidered, passing the Substitute version of the legislation as presented by its author.
House Regulated Industries Committee
The Committee took action on the two pieces of legislation that would legalize casino gambling in the State if ratified by the voters. HR 807, by Rep. Ron Stephens (R-Savannah) would amend Georgia's Constitution to allow a limited number of resort casinos in Georgia. HB 677, also by Rep. Stephens would create the Georgia Casino Gaming Corporation and the Georgia Gaming Commission. Both measures were cleared out of the Committee and now head to the House Rules Committee. There was a good bit of discussion on these proposals, which were presented by Rep. Stephens and Rep. Matt Ramsey (R-Peachtree City). In the newer versions, there are essentially up to four locations that can receive licenses. The largest, in Atlanta, is proposed to have a licensure fee of $40 million which will keep Georgia competitive. There are two such licenses proposed in the metro area; two other licenses are proposed for region 2. Originally, the regulatory structure and oversight was placed with the Georgia Lottery. In the newer version of the enabling legislation, this oversight is to be done by the five member Independent Gaming Commission which will be a newly created entity solely regulating casinos. Further, the new versions have 90 percent of the proceeds going towards education (HOPE, tuition and fees, pre-K); 10 percent may go towards these (1 percent towards problem gaming assistance; 1-3 percent towards establishing a new fund for public safety needs for areas where the facilities will be developed; and 1-5 percent on operations of the Gaming Commission). The Committee asked that consideration be given to having some of these proceeds go towards healthcare – in particular Rep. Alan Powell (R-Hartwell) advocated and debated this need especially funding for healthcare; some requested money for mental health services (this was requested by Rep. Lee Hawkins (R-Gainesville) and Rep. Paulette Rakestraw (R-Powder Springs)). The original projections for revenues from this gambling were $280-$300 million; Rep. Stephens indicated that the newer versions might have increased the projections. The Atlanta project does have a minimum threshold which must be invested – it requires $1.25 billion (this would include the land, construction, permitting fees, etc.).
There was some public testimony – all opposing the gambling ideas. A University of Illinois law professor expressed that Congress had a National Gambling Impact Study Commission report – that Commission indicated that there should be a moratorium on gambling; that there should not be slot machines and they should be re-criminalized. He argued that slot machines do not create jobs and that Georgia should be looking for an economic multiplier effect and projects which had "consumer development." He also noted that tribal entities will come and establish casinos; he said that these would have other serious drawbacks. Casinos will cause other social issues to intensify – including more crime and more drug use.
The Georgia Baptist Convention also argued against the passage of these measures – such will jeopardize the moral integrity of the State. These proposals were only legalizing more vices and were a bad influence on our State's children. By letting the people decide was just wrong; he said that there would not be a fair vote in that process and that the legislators needed to remember that they were elected by the people.
Concerned Women for America also opposed the proposal, citing their reason was for the pure protection of the family. Gambling hurts children and causes "casino kids"; gambling hurts women; and gambling impacts the State's foster care system. It is "poor public policy."
Concerned Citizens of Gwinnett also voiced disapproval.
The Chairman called for a vote after Rep. Ron Stephens (R-Savannah) read a letter from the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, voicing its support for the casino legislation. The Committee moved both the bill and resolution forward with do pass recommendations.
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.