Gold Dome Report - February 27, 2017
Lawmakers convened today for Legislative Day 25. Both chambers have a busy week ahead of them, as Crossover Day (Day 28) will be this Friday, March 3.
Last week, the Criminal Justice Reform Council issued its report. Since his tenure in office, Governor Deal has worked to address Georgia's issues with the State's overcrowded jails and prisons, sentencing, probation programs and rehabilitation efforts, including ways to get individuals back to work so as to end recidivism in Georgia's criminal justice system. You can find more about the Report and the Governor's announcement on this Report in this link:
The House worked swiftly through its calendar, but did postpone action on two bills as you will see below.
HB 116, by Rep. Bert Reeves (R-Marietta), would amend the Juvenile Code to provide the superior court with exclusive jurisdiction over the trial of any child 13 to 17 years of age who has committed aggravated assault with a firearm or aggravated battery. The superior court has the discretion to transfer cases back to the juvenile court, but only if the victim in the case is not a peace officer or someone over the age of 65. It passed by a vote of 130-36.
HB 124, by Rep. David Clark (R-Buford), would revise Title 16 and Title 49 relating to fraud and public assistance by replacing the term “food stamps” with “food instrument,” defined in the bill as a voucher, check, EBT card, or coupon used to obtain public assistance. The House postponed action on this piece of legislation until the next Legislative Day.
HB 213, by Rep. Golick (R- Smryna), proposes to amend O.C.G.A. § 16-13-31 to prohibit the sale, manufacture, delivery, or possession of four grams or more of 'fentanyl.' The bill was passed 161-5.
HB 279, by Rep. Mandi Ballinger (R-Canton), allows victims of family violence or children of victims of family violence to petition the court for a name change. If such petition is granted, the court may also waive the requirement for publication of the name change in the legal organ of the county in which the petitioner has filed for a name change. HB 279 was passed as amended by a vote of 163-0 as amended.
HB 308, by Rep. Beth Beskin (R-Atlanta), proposes to address domestic relations in Title 19. It seeks to enact provisions recommended by the Georgia Child Support Commission on child support and enforcement of child support orders. It passed 164-0.
HB 343, by Rep. Scott Hilton (R-Peachtree Corners), seeks to make changes in criminal procedure law in Title 17 to replace outdated terminology. This is about the use of the terms, 'mental retardation,' 'mentally retarded 'and ' intellectual disability.' It adds a definition for the term, 'intellectual disability' at O.C.G.A. § 17-7-131(a)(2) to mean “Having significantly sub average general intellectual functioning resulting in or associated with impairments in adaptive behavior which manifested during the developmental period.” Corrections are made throughout Title 17, removing 'mental retarded' or 'mental retardation,' and inserting "intellectual disability." The bill went on to pass unanimously 168-0.
HB 360, by Rep. Sharon Cooper (R-Marietta), seeks an amendment to O.C.G.A. § 26-4-80(c)(2), concerning prescription drug orders and the control of venereal disease. It revisits a bill from 2016 in an effort to provide for "expedited partner therapy" for patients with Chlamydia or gonorrhea. A new Code Section is added in O.C.G.A. § 31-17-7.1 which defines "expedited partner therapy" and permits the licensed practitioner who diagnoses a patient to be infected with Chlamydia or gonorrhea the ability to utilize the expedited partner therapy in accordance with rules developed by the Department of Public Health. The House postponed action on this piece of legislation until the next Legislative Day.
HB 405, by Rep. Bill Hitchens (R-Rincon) would require the Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency to establish a statewide system to facilitate the transport and distribution of essentials in commerce during a state of emergency which is declared by the Governor. It defines what are "essentials" (which are goods consumed or used as a direct result of a state of emergency or consumed or used to preserve, protect or sustain life, health, safety or economic well-being). It requires in (c) that this system is to provide a certification of organizations and entities which facilitate or are likely to facilitate the transport or distribution of essentials. It also addresses employees or agents of these certified organizations or business entities and how they may enter or remain in a curfew area beyond restrictions for the limited purposes of facilitating the transport or distribution of essentials. It passed 163-0.
HB 427, by Rep. Mark Newton (R-Augusta), proposes to amend Chapter 34 of Title 31, expanding the service cancelable loan program for physicians in underserved areas to other health care practitioners. It would be known as the "Physicians and health Care Practitioners for Rural Areas Assistance Act." It passed 167-1.
HB 264, by Rep. Chuck Efstration (R-Dacula) increases the bonding capacity for bonds issued by the Geo. L Smith II Georgia World Congress Center. This bill passed by a vote of 159-4.
HB 265, by Rep. Chuck Efstration (R-Dacula), creates an exemption from state income tax for taxpayers that invest in real or personal property with the intention to create quality jobs in the state. The bill revises O.C.G.A. § 48-7-40.17 by adding definitions for "qualified investment property," "qualified investment property requirement," and "qualified project." Together, these definitions create the parameters for the types of investments that will qualify for the exemption. The taxpayer must invest a minimum of $2.5 million in a project that involves the construction or expansion of one or more new facilities in this state. Any taxpayer that makes such an investment after January 1, 2017 is eligible to begin a subsequent seven-year job creation period for the qualified project. In the first year, the taxpayer must create at least 50 quality jobs and in each subsequent year the average number of jobs created must be above the previous year's average. Additionally, this bill provides that non-profit organizations that own and operate an art museum, symphonic hall, or theater with the primary purpose of providing arts and education programming are eligible for a sales and use tax exemption on ticket sales, fees, and admission charges. Additionally, the sale or use of tangible personal property in the renovation or expansion of those facilities is exempt from taxation from July 1, 2017 until January 1, 2019 and is capped at a maximum amount of $750,000 per facility. HB 265 passed with a vote of 155-4.
HB 301, by Rep. Jodi Lott (R-Evans), seeks to delete current law concerning the income tax on physicians serving as community-based faculty physicians. In its place she is proposing a new income tax credit for taxpayers who are licensed physicians, advanced practice registered nurses or physician assistants who provide uncompensated preceptorship training to medical students, advanced practice registered nurse students or physician assistant students for specific periods of time. This proposal is addressed in O.C.G.A. § 48-7-29.21 with the credit accrued on a per preceptorship rotation basis in the amount of $500 for the first, second and third preceptorship rotation and $1,000.00 for the fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, or tenth preceptorship rotation completed in one calendar year by a "community based faculty preceptor" (who is a physician). These tax credit amounts are less for the faculty who are advanced practice registered nurses and physician assistants, permitting them to get $375.00 for first, second, or third such preceptorship rotation and $750.00 for the fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, or tenth rotation. It does state that no individual can accrue more than ten preceptorship rotations in one calendar year. HB 301 passed 162-0.
HB 293, by Rep. Debra Silcox (R-Sandy Springs) was the last measure considered by the House this morning. It passed 161-2.
The Senate considered a few measures today. Majority Leader Bill Cowsert (R-Athens) made a motion for SB 133 and SB 156 (both tax-related measures) to be engrossed, which ultimately passed. Therefore, no debate would be allowed for either of those measures. The Senate also pushed all of their Committee meetings back one hour to make more time for Floor debate.
SB 201, by Sen. Butch Miller (R-Gainesville) allows employees to use sick leave for the purpose of taking care of an immediate family member. Sen. Miller indicated that employees could use up to five days of such leave. It went on to pass by a vote of 41-10.
SB 133, by Sen. Larry Walker, III (R-Perry), addresses Article 4 of Chapter 13 of Title 48. It proposes to amend the laws relating to corporate net worth tax so as to make such tax inapplicable to corporations worth less than $100,000.00 (including capital stock, paid-in surplus, and earned surplus) meaning that such corporations would not have to pay the tax. SB 133 passed on the floor by a vote of 38-16.
SB 121, by Sen. Butch Miller (R-Gainesville), seeks to provide that the State's Health Officer may issue a standing order permitting certain persons and entities to obtain opioid antagonists under the conditions that the State Health Officer may impose. It requires that every pharmacy in the State keep a copy of the standing order and record all opioid antagonist dispensed pursuant to the order. The record is to include the purchaser's name and address and is to be maintained by the pharmacy for two years – this can be kept electronically. Pharmacists are not required to submit this information to the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program and the standing order is not to require pharmacies to maintain opioid antagonists in their biennial inventores. The legislation proposed also amends O.C.G.A. § 16-13-29, regarding controlled substances in Schedule V, adding naloxone to this Schedule V list. This legislation is to be known as the "Jeffrey Dallas Gay, Jr. Act." It passed unanimously 53-0.
SB 156, by Sen. Fran Millar (R-Atlanta) provides for certain restrictions with regards to the Equalized Homestead Option Sales Tax, which passed 36-18 as amended.
Senate Health and Human Services
The Committee met both at 8:00 AM and at 6:00 PM in an effort to push several bills to the Senate Rules Committee for possible consideration before cross over day on Friday, March 3. It passed SB 153 (by freshman Sen. Matt Brass (R-Newnan)) that establishes certain parameters for the sale of over-the-counter hearing aids by any person, focusing on internet sales. The bill was brought on behalf of a Savannah ENT who also sells a new low-cost hearing aid manufactured by ICOT. The Georgia Academy of Audiology President from Columbus spent the day negotiating the terms with the bill's author, Sen. Brass, after her testimony in Subcommittee last week had resulted in a do not pass motion. Despite that do not pass, the full Committee brought the bill before it for discussion and consideration. The additions to the bill require the patient to prove to a seller that he or she has had an audiogram within the past six months and limits sales to adults (over the age of 18). An over-the-counter hearing aid is defined as one approved by the FDA that is preprogrammed for patients with mild to moderate hearing impairment. The seller must include a disclosure in its marketing materials that the hearing aid is an over-the-counter one. The effect of the legislation is to allow sales without dispensing by a hearing aid dealer or dispenser.
Sen. Bruce Thompson (R-White) brought SB 239 that requires notice to a woman seeking a chemical abortion that it can be reversed by an antidote within one day after the abortion is performed. Committee members questioned the scientific efficacy of the reversing procedure, and the Chair announced that no action would be taken on it this Session after more research had been conducted by the Senate Research Office and Legislative Counsel.
Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta) brought SB 29 to require lead testing and inspection of water lines and fountains in schools to assure minimal lead levels in drinking water. It passed unanimously.
Sen. Butch Miller's (R-Gainesville) SB 245 also passed easily. It renames the provision in the Code to teach cardio pulmonary resuscitation and use of automated defibrillators in high school the "Cory Joseph Wilson Act." The Committee also passed Sen. Renee Unterman's (R-Buford) SR 307 and SB 242. SB 307 creates a statutory Sex Exploitation Task Force to study and evaluate the policing of trafficking and provision of services to its victims. SB 242 adds emergency medical services systems, operated by a county or municipality, to the settings where a nurse protocol agreement may be exercised between a nurse and a physician medical director to supervise up to four nurses. The number of nurses that may be delegated functions in such an agreement may now include up to 10 nurses, but only four may be supervised at any one time.
House Education Committee
The House Education Committee met today and considered three bills. HB 415, by Chairman John Meadows (R-Calhoun) was presented as a bill meant to restructure the Georgia High School Athletic Association. Chairman Meadows is the co-chair of the Georgia High School Oversight Committee and he believes the current board of the association is ineffective and disorganized. This bill sets up a new board system for the association that is entirely open. Chairman Brooks Coleman (R-Duluth) agreed with the idea that the association has done a very poor job and should be held to account. Mr. Jay Russell, the Assistant Director of the Georgia High School Athletic Association recognized that the association has some issues to work out. He explained that one of the criticisms of the association has been its use of money. He indicated that they try to keep an entire years’ budget in reserves, which amounts to $5 million. He believes this is where some of the perceptions of overreach come from. Without further discussion, HB 415 was passed and sent to the Rules Committee, where Chairman Meadows will consider if it should move forward.
HB 437 was the next bill presented, by Rep. Robert Dickey (R-Musella) and it would allow the sunset to continue for the Agricultural Advisory Committee, which meets a couple of times a year. This bill received a do-ass out of Committee without discussion. HB 273, by Rep. Demetrius Douglas (D-Stockbridge) ran into some problems, despite being passed out of subcommittee. The bill seeks to require an average of 30 minutes of recess time each day for students in grades K-5. During the subcommittee meeting, they believed that by specifying that such recess time can be “structured” or “unstructured” that it would address those schools that participate in the ‘power up for 30’ program. However the language does not distinguish between already-established recess or P.E. programs already offered at schools. So schools would be mandated to provide an average of thirty minutes of recess time in addition to activities already offered by the schools. Many Committee members were concerned about this and the bill was eventually tabled. Chairman Coleman indicated that it would be taken up at the Committee’s next meeting on Tuesday. The Committee was then adjourned.
House Judiciary Committee – Fleming Subcommittee
The Fleming Subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Barry Fleming (R-Harlem), considered three provisions today:
- HB 381, authored by Rep. John Corbitt (R-Lake Park), is the Abandoned Mobile Home Act, which sets forth a streamlined process for property owners to dispose of abandoned mobile homes. Currently, Georgia law creates a cumbersome process for disposal of mobile homes that involves removal and storage. The author has worked with GMA, ACCG, and the Georgia Bankers Association, but there were still concerns from Rep. Fleming that the bill creates a completely new area of law without full explanation. The Subcommittee HELD the bill pending resolution of these concerns and a more thorough review.
- HB 436, authored by Rep. Robert Dickey (R-Musella), is a bill intended to push Bibb and Monroe counties to settle a county line dispute. The legislation requires tax collections in the disputed area to be placed in escrow pending resolution of a border dispute and allows the prevailing county to collect attorney’s fees. There were concerns among the Subcommittee about whether this legislation would apply retroactively to the current dispute Rep. Dickey is trying to resolve. The Subcommittee recommended the bill DO PASS with the caveat that Rep. Dickey determine whether the bill would have the desired effect prior to its hearing in the full Judiciary Committee.
- HB 497, authored by Rep. Chuck Efstration (R-Dacula), revises the juvenile code to provide for the consideration of de facto custodians in child custody proceedings. Under current Georgia law, when a parent is deemed unfit, a court may only consider blood relations for custody of the child. This legislation would allow the court to consider certain non-related individuals who have housed the child and meet other requirements. The legislation also provides for delay to juvenile delinquency proceedings when the child is participating in a diversionary program. The Subcommittee recommended the bill DO PASS and be sent to the full Judiciary Committee.
Senate Judiciary Committee
The Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Sen. Jesse Stone (R-Waynesboro), considered three bills today:
- SB 105, authored by Sen. Harold Jones II (D-Augusta), provides that possession of marijuana under two ounces is a misdemeanor punishable by fine and/or incarceration of up to one year. Current law provides that possession over one ounce is a felony, and this legislation would create two tiers: possession up to half an ounce punishable by fine only, and possession between half an ounce and two ounces punishable by fine and/or jail time. The Committee recommended the bill DO PASS and be sent to the Rules Committee.
- SB 212, authored by Sen. John Kennedy (R-Macon), makes comprehensive revisions to the administrative license suspension process administered by the Department of Driver Services. This process provides for the administrative suspension of licenses where individuals are cited and/or convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. There were concerns that this bill proposes wide-sweeping changes at a busy time of the session and there could be unintended consequences. The Committee TABLED consideration of the bill.
- SB 250, authored by Sen. Jeff Mullis (R-Chickamauga), requires that individuals convicted of sexual offenses in other countries that would require registration under Georgia law register in the Georgia Sex Offender Registry. The legislation also provides for a sentencing superior court judge to make the risk assessment classification as part of sentencing for sexual offenders convicted in the state. The Committee recommended the bill DO PASS and be sent to the Rules Committee.
House Governmental Affairs Committee – State Governmental Affairs Administration
The Subcommittee of the House Governmental Affairs Committee, chaired by Rep. Buzz Brockway (R-Lawrenceville), met to take up one of the most hotly debated issues under the Gold Dome: Certificate of Need. Two bills were brought to this Subcommittee – both authored by the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee Rep. Wendell Willard (R-Sandy Springs). There was one hour of testimony on each proposal with each side of the issue permitted to have thirty minutes to state their cases.
HB 299, the legislation which would eliminate the State's Certificate of Need (CON) process for hospitals which would like to make a capital expenditure or add additional beds as well as allow for the construction of free-standing emergency departments and/or allow for more mental health and addiction treatment programs, was tabled upon a motion made by Rep. Jay Powell (R-Camilla). His motion carried. Josh Belinfante, an Atlanta lawyer, had argued to the Subcommittee over the lengthy process now involved for facilities to add better equipment and/or services. He noted that 15 states do not have a CON program – and likened Georgia's population, in terms of rural and urban, to Indiana. There were several who opposed this bill including Navicent Health, Northeast Georgia Health System, Medical Center of Columbus, Emory University Hospitals, Archbold Health System, Life Point, Georgia Alliance of Community Hospitals and the Georgia Hospital Association. Ms. Conley reminded the Subcommittee of the stated purpose of the CON program as outlined in Title 31. She also argued that Georgia hospitals have a number of requirements on them which require them to look for, and protect, services which are profitable. EMTALA laws require hospitals to be set up for emergencies and to take patients who come to their emergency departments. Those facilities, which specialize only "cherry pick" the patients which may have insurance, leave those without to the community facilities. No where is there any competition, per Ms. Conley, for hospital services for the "medically complex" including trauma – thus, CON stabilizes hospital revenue. Mr. Veazy, a former legislator and now president of the Georgia Alliance of Community Hospitals, noted that he had voted for CON laws when they were first implemented 40 years ago as a legislator. He also noted that HCA, the for-profit chain of hospitals, now has a different position on CON than it had previously and has pushed for HB 299. However, he also stated that HCA was not the same company it was ten years ago – HCA has purchased a number of facilities and now needs growth and revenue to keep its Wall Street investors happy. Additionally, HCA has $2.8 billion, per Mr. Veazy, to invest – thus, it seeks to "drop anchor" in urban areas and build these freestanding emergency departments. He told the Subcommittee that it should look at what has taken place in the states of Texas and Ohio. These freestanding emergency departments, though, are not hospitals and are not required to follow EMTALA laws. Mr. Belinfante, who spoke for HCA, noted that in 2015 HCA had $85 million in uncompensated care. He also told the Subcommittee that in the opponent's arguments none had argued for removing the capital expenditure threshold amounts or eliminating CON for mental health programs. This legislation has nothing to do with rural hospitals – it is to empower hospitals to make business decisions. Mr. Belinfante also remarked that Home Town Health was not present in this hearing.
The second bill, HB 464, would essentially rewrite the destination cancer treatment facility law written in 2008 for Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA). Rep. Chuck Martin (R-Alpharetta) spoke passionately about the care his mother received at the CTCA facility in Newnan. He argued that any specialty cancer hospitals should be able to proceed without CON – including facilities like Emory, Northside and CTCA. A CTCA patient was also present to give his testimony on the care he had received, and continues to obtain, at CTCA. Ray Williams, a lobbyist for CTCA, spoke about the company's compliance with Georgia laws and its Medicaid patient load. He noted that CTCA had turned away 71 Georgians who had sought care because of the 65 percent out-of-state requirement for its patient base. Opponents also rallied on this proposal including Piedmont Healthcare, Navicent, Tanner Health Center, Medical Center of Columbus, Northeast Georgia Health System, Georgia Hospital Association, and WellStar Health System. Georgia Hospital Association remarked about CTCA's lack of discharge data but CTCA attorney Victor Moldovan countered that CTCA did not report discharge data because the Georgia Hospital Association collected that information and would not allow CTCA to become one of its member hospitals. Rep. Scot Turner (R-Canton) moved to do pass the proposal; however, Rep. Alan Powell (R-Hartwell) made a substitute motion to table which took precedence. Rep. Powell's motion carried.
The meeting ended with both bills being tabled and with tempers frayed by the discussions – to the point that two lobbyists were almost in fisticuffs with one another.
Senate Insurance and Labor Committee
The legislation pushed by two Georgia moms (Kelly Jenkins and Sara Kogan) to provide hearing aid insurance coverage to children on their parents' policies passed out of the Committee. SB 206, by Sen. P.K. Martin (R-Snellville), is a health insurance mandate which requires health insurers to provide insurance coverage for children who need hearing aids up to the age of 18 years of age. There are exemptions for the legislation's requirements for companies with ten or fewer employees and if insurers can show that premiums are driven up by more than one percent in a year's time. Comer Yates, the executive director of the Atlanta Speech School, spoke in favor of the proposal as did several mothers and children. The bill now moves to the Senate Rules Committee.
Senate Special Judiciary Committee
The Committee did not take up HB 250 which would address criminal background checks for individuals who may work for an early learning facility and also with foster care children. However, it did move through with a do pass recommendation, despite some ongoing concerns, SB 170 which would establish a tiered system for volunteers to be vetted and wished to work with the State's foster care population. SB 170 has been supported by Promise 686 and others. The Division of Family and Children Services has remained concerned about the proposal. SB 170, in a new Committee Substitute, moves to the Senate Rules Committee.
Our 2017 Georgia Capitol team consists of Stan Jones, Helen Sloat, Chuck Clay, George Ray, and Logan Fletcher. We will also try our hand at tweeting this year – so follow us! @GDR_Live
The articles published in this newsletter are intended only to provide general information on the subjects covered. The contents should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Readers should consult with legal counsel to obtain specific legal advice based on particular situations.