Gold Dome Report - February 29, 2016
The day was long with numerous bills trying to push their way from one chamber to the other. After a weekend to think things over, the Speaker announced that casino gambling legislation would not move out of the House. Thus, HB 677 and HR 807 (both by Rep. Ron Stephens (R-Savannah)) have died.
In other news, Governor Deal has named Bert Brantley to succeed Rob Mikell as Commissioner of the Department of Driver Services. Mr. Brantley is currently the deputy executive director of the State Road & Tollway Authority (SRTA).
Tomorrow is Super Tuesday and lawmakers have essentially taken the day off, permitting folks an opportunity to vote at home.
The House's Debate Calendar contained two actual calendars:
House Rules Calendar
As mentioned above, the two proposals regarding legalizing casino gambling were originally slated to be debated on February 26, 2016 and were held for today. However, HB 677 by Rep. Ron Stephens (R-Savannah) which was the enabling legislation for legalized casino gambling and HR 807, also by Rep. Stephens (R-Savannah), the Constitutional Amendment to permit casino gambling, were both held and no vote was taken. There had been concerns raised from many, including Governor Deal, about how it could negatively affect Georgia's image. Speaker Ralston had asked House members to go to church and speak with their constituents over the weekend. On Monday, the Speaker indicated that the issue was not ready for a vote.
HB 513, by Rep. Ron Stephens (R-Savannah), came to the House Floor as a House Committee on Judiciary Non-Civil Committee Substitute. The legislation addresses Chapter 11 of Title 9, revising provisions regarding the procedure for claims asserted against a person or entity arising from an act by that person or entity which could reasonably be construed as an act in furtherance of the right of free speech or the right to petition government for a redress of grievances. Rep. Stephens indicated that this updates Georgia's anti-slapp legislation. Rep. Stacey Evans (D-Smyrna) offered a floor amendment aimed at preventing the filing of lawsuits or counterclaims without merit strike. This amendment failed by a vote of 71-98. HB 513 was then passed 131-41.
HB 934, by Rep. Tom Kirby (R-Loganville), authorizes the Department of Human Services to provide a separate link or portal on its website providing kinship caregivers information and access necessary to apply for public assistance benefits in O.C.G.A. § 49-1-8. This bill passed 167-0.
HB 12, by Rep. Terry Rogers (R-Clarkesville), came to the House Floor as a Committee Substitute from the House Committee on Judiciary Non-Civil. It addresses fraud and related offenses and will be known as the "Georgia Military Service Integrity and Preservation Act." It makes it unlawful for any individual, with the intent to secure a tangible benefit for himself or herself, to make a false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation that such individual is a military veteran or recipient of a military decoration in O.C.G.A. § 16-9-63. It also makes it unlawful to wear a military uniform in court, with the intent to deceive. A person violating this Code Section will be guilty of a misdemeanor unless the violation involves a military medal award and that person would then be guilty of a misdemeanor of a high and aggravated nature. HB 12 passed 170-0.
HB 171, by Rep. Dustin Hightower (R-Carrollton), came to the House Floor as a Committee Substitute from the House Judiciary Committee. It addresses venue in O.C.G.A. § 9-10-31.1 and provides for an additional consideration for the court to consider in applying the doctrine of forum non conveniens: "whether the forum outside of this State provides for impartial tribunals and procedures that are consonant to the requirements of due process of law as required by the Constitution of the United States and the State of Georgia." This bill passed 165-0.
HB 699, by Rep. Andy Welch (R-McDonough), seeks to address elections and primaries in Chapter 2 of Title 21 and was brought to the House Floor as a Committee Substitute from the House Committee on Governmental Affairs. This bill effectively eliminates the "Lame Duck" period between the November election and the time of swearing in for city council members and county commissioners. Under current law, some municipal office holders' terms are provided for in a municipal charter. This amends the law in O.C.G.A. § 21-2-541.1 so that notwithstanding any other provision of law to the contrary, beginning with persons elected on or after the effective date of this legislation, the term of office of a member of the municipal governing authority, including a mayor, is to begin on the Monday following that person's election to the office unless a petition to contest the results of that election is filed. It a petition is filed on the election results, then the individual will not be sworn into office until a judgment is rendered or the petition is withdrawn or dismissed. At (c) in that Code Section, it addresses terms of office for members of a county governing authority, including a county commission chairperson or chief executive officer of a county, to begin on the Monday following the person's election which is at least five days following the certification of the results of such person's election to that office unless a petition to contest the result of the person's office is filed. If such petition is filed, the person is not to be sworn into office until a judgment on the petition has been issued or the petition is withdrawn or dismissed. Actions taken by a county or municipal governing authority during the period between the date of an election in which an incumbent of the governing authority has been defeated and the date that those members of the governing authority, including a major, county commission chairperson, or chief executive officer of a county, elected in such election take office are to be voidable if such actions are rescinded by the governing authority during the 30-day period beginning on the date when the last member of the governing authority elected in such election takes office. It also provides for the filling of vacancies in municipal governing authorities or counties in O.C.G.A. § 36-60-27.
Rep. Andy Welch introduced an amendment that would have included an "opt-out" provision for counties that don't wish to participate. The "opt-out" would require local legislation to be passed next session for each county that wants it. Rep. Henson rose to speak against the legislation. She described the concerns expressed by ACCG that the legislation assumes that all lame duck elected officials are 'bad ducks.' She believes this is a local issue that needs to be resolved at the local level. She also raised the point that if a lot of counties choose to opt-out, then the General Assembly would have to pass many pieces of local legislation next session. Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver also had concerns with the bill, since many counties and cities hold elections at different times each year. Chairman Earl Ehrhart rose in support of this legislation, stating that it is good government legislation. He was also very critical of ACCG by saying they didn't come to the table and give their opinion on this bill.
Rep. Welch offered the amendment providing for the opt-out provision on lines 16-31 and it was adopted. The bill then failed to pass by a vote of 81-78. There was a motion to reconsider HB 699, which passed by a vote of 104-62. HB 699 was voted on again and failed a second time 82-81.
HB 727 is this year's fireworks law revision and came to the House Floor as a Committee Substitute out of the House Committee on Regulated Industries. Rep. Paul Battles (R-Cartersville) presented the Substitute legislation and there was a Floor Amendment considered. There are new definitions in the Code at O.C.G.A. § 25-10-1(a) for "electric plant," "public gathering," "wastewater treatment plant," and "water treatment plant." Further, it amends O.C.G.A. § 25-10-2 so as to make it illegal to explode or cause to be exploded fireworks, consumer fireworks or any items outlined in O.C.G.A. § 25-10-1(b)(2) indoors, within five yards of a vertical or overhead obstruction, or across, into, or within the right of way of a public road, highway or railroad in Georgia. This addresses situations where fireworks were being exploded off of apartment/condo balconies. It further alters times when individuals, firms, corporations, associations, or partnerships may explode "consumer fireworks." They may be used on January 1 between midnight and 1:00 a.m. and 10:00 a.m. and 11:59 p.m.; July 3, July 4 and December 31 of each year between the times of 10:00 a.m. and 11:59 p.m. and any day other than those provided between the hours of 10:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m. if such use or explosion is lawful pursuant to any noise ordinance of the county, municipal corporation or consolidated government where the location of the fireworks are being exploded. It prohibits use of fireworks within 100 yards of an electric plant; water treatment plant; and wastewater treatment plant in addition to a facility engaged in the retail sale of gasoline or other flammable or combustible liquids or gases where the volume stored is in excess of 500 gallons or in containers of 500 water gallons; a facility engaged in the production, refining, processing or blending of any flammable or combustible liquids or gasses for retail purposes; and any public or private electric substation or a jail or prison. Further, such fireworks may not be exploded within 100 yards of a hospital, nursing home or other healthcare facility – unless that owner or operator causes the explosion of such fireworks on the property of the facility. It also has a prohibition in using consumer fireworks by someone who is "under the influence of alcohol or any drug or any combination of alcohol and any drug to the extent that it is less safe or unlawful for such person to use or explode or cause to be exploded consumer fireworks and a prohibition from using fireworks for the purpose of "deliberately or intentionally" harassing, intimidating or causing harm to others or where a law enforcement officer has probable cause to believe that such use or explosion is for the purpose of deliberately or intentionally harassing, intimidating or causing harm to others. The legislation also addresses periods where there is a declaration of drought, permitting the local government the ability to enact further regulations and restrictions. At O.C.G.A. § 25-10-2.1, it makes it unlawful for a person to use or explode or cause to be exploded fireworks or consumer fireworks while under the influence of alcohol. It establishes a license fee for the distributor of selling consumer fireworks from a temporary consumer fireworks retail facility at $750.00 per location which is payable to the local governing authority in O.C.G.A. § 25-10-5.1(e) and it also addresses the times for those licenses to be valid ( a determination must also be made by a fire department that a distributor of fireworks has met necessary requirements for the issuance of a license within 15 days of submitting an application for the license). Excise fees are addressed in O.C.G.A. § 48-13-131, requiring a local excise tax to be imposed at a rate of one (1) percent per item sold and such tax is to be paid by the seller and paid to the local governing authorities where the sales take place.
A floor amendment was offered by Rep. Alan Powell (R-Hartwell) that would have made extensive changes to the bill; however it failed 51-121. HB 727 went on to pass by a vote of 165-8.
HB 734, by Rep. Jason Spencer (R-Woodbine), is to enact the "Georgia Space Flight Act" in Chapter 3 of Title 51. It provides for the facilitation of space flight activities in Georgia's tort laws and places a limitation on liability of space flight entities related to injuries which are sustained by the participants who have agreed in writing to such a limitation (along with warnings). It went on to pass 164-8.
HB 779, by Rep. Kevin Tanner (R-Dawsonville) is the legislation addressing use of "drones." It makes amendments in current law in Chapter 2 of Title 6, Title 16 and at O.C.G.A. § 27-3-151. It regulates use of unmanned aircraft systems and the gathering of evidence or information by those systems. At O.C.G.A. § 16-11-211, "except for United States military operations or federal governmental contracts involving research using weaponized unmanned aircraft systems, it shall be unlawful to sell, transport, manufacture, possess, or operate an unmanned aircraft system that is equipped with a weapon." Persons violating such will be guilty of a felony and may be convicted by imprisonment or a fine or both. It provides that it is unlawful for such a vehicle to launch from private property without permission; interfere with a train, aircraft, or motor vehicle; or harass, threaten, or intimidate another person. The penalty for such crimes would be a misdemeanor. It adds at O.C.G.A. § 16-11-212(a) that no law enforcement agency (except under certain conditions) is permitted to use an unmanned aircraft system to gather evidence or other information in a private place or of an individual in a private place. Any data that is collected must be destroyed within five days and anything retained longer than that is subject to open records requests. Rep. Tanner indicated that the bill makes clear that state law preempts any local laws or ordinances. Additionally, it provides that drones cannot be used for the purposes of hunting. HB 779 passed 171-0.
HB 825, by Rep. Earnest Smith (D-Augusta), is to be known as the "Protecting Military Children Act" in Chapter 7 of Title 19 and addresses the reporting of child abuse by a military parent or guardian. It requires the child welfare agency to notify the Department of Defense Family Advocacy Program and also adds that a report of child abuse must be filed with military law enforcement. It passed 165-0.
HB 868, by Rep. Terry Rogers (R-Clarkesville), eliminates the Georgia State Games Commission by repealing Article 3 of Chapter 12 of Title 50. All property held by the Commission on the effective date shall revert back to the State. It passed 162-0.
HB 976 was presented by Rep. Bill Hitchens (R-Rincon). It came to the House Floor as a Public Safety and Homeland Security Substitute to address State records management in Chapter 18 of Title 50. It requires in O.C.G.A. § 50-18-96 that video recordings from law enforcement body-worn devices or devices located on or inside of law enforcement vehicles are to be retained for 180 days from the date of such recording. If such recordings are part of a criminal investigation, shows a vehicular accident, the arrest or detainment of an individual, an officer's use of force, or contains evidence anticipated to be necessary in pending litigation, it shall be retained for 30 months. It also permits fees to be imposed for copying of video recordings. This bill passed 164-0.
HB 1060 also came to the House Floor as a Committee Substitute from the Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee. Rep. Rick Jasperse (R-Jasper) described this legislation regarding weapons carry laws as a housekeeping bill. It makes changes in Chapter 11 of Title 16. In part, the legislation addresses instances where an individual may have a weapons carry license from another state and has moved to Georgia – it permits that individual the ability to carry a weapon for 90 days after he or she becomes a resident; however, that person is to carry the weapon in compliance with Georgia laws and is to "as soon as practicable" submit a weapons carry license application and maintain his or her license in the other state for the duration that he or she is a resident of Georgia but not yet a weapons carry license holder. It passed 120-52.
HB 1066, by Rep. Alan Powell (R-Hartwell), amends O.C.G.A. § 42-2-8(c) regarding the duties of the Commissioner of the Department of Corrections so as to authorize the chief of staff to the Commissioner to issue warrants for the arrest of an offender who has escaped from the custody of the Department. It passed 164-6.
HB 1070, by Rep. Katie Dempsey (R-Rome), adds a new Subsection (b) in O.C.G.A. § 19-8-23, regarding adoption. It permits the Department of Human Services the ability to use 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 concerning the adopted child's biological parents. The bill passed 162-0.
HB 364 was brought to the Floor by Rep. David Knight (R-Griffin). It addresses O.C.G.A. § 48-5-342 (and review of county tax digests by the Commissioner of Revenue adding a new subsection (e)). It changes provisions regarding approval of the tax digests; imposes sanctions including non-taxable properties on the tax digests; and provides for refunds of taxes improperly collected. Further, it adds an additional jurisdiction for the Georgia Tax Tribunal (regarding refund petitions) in O.C.G.A. § 50-13A-9. This bill passed 157-4.
HB 471 came to the House Floor in the form of a Substitute from the House Committee on Ways and Means. Rep. Ron Stephens (R-Savannah) presented the legislation which adds a new Article 8 in Chapter 13 of Title 48 to levy and impose a 1.5% tax on persons who enter certain rental agreements with equipment rental companies so as to collect such taxes and remit them to the county tax commissioner for credit against that company's ad valorem tax liability for the equipment. This addresses equipment rental companies as described in Code 532412 or 532310 of the North American Industry Classification System published by the United States Census Bureau in 2012. This bill passed as a committee substitute 161-0.
HB 722 was presented by a House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee Substitute. Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon) has championed his "medical marijuana" proposal for several years. This version addresses the establishment of the Low THC Oil Patient Registry (the oil now may contain an amount of cannabidiol and not more than 5 percent by weight of tetrahydrocannabidiol. It amends at O.C.G.A. § 31-2A-18 the conditions which are permitted to use medical cannabis – it adds: autism spectrum disorder; epidermolysis bullosa; human immunodeficiency virus or acquired immune deficiency syndrome; peripheral neuropathy; Tourette's syndrome; terminal illness with a probable life expectancy of less than two years, if the illness or its treatment produces one or more of the following: severe pain; nausea or severe vomiting; or cachexia or severe wasting; and post-traumatic stress disorder. The initiative was stripped of provisions permitting this medical cannabis from being grown in the State. It also includes low THC oil into the code regarding driving under the influence. HB 722 passed 152-8.
HB 828, by Rep. Virgil Fludd (D-Tyrone), came to the Floor as a Committee Substitute from the House Committee on Ways and Means. It adds a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. § 48-7-40.31, regarding State income taxes, to create an income tax credit for employers who hire parolees for full-time jobs. The tax credits would begin on or after January 1, 2017 and end in three years. The parolee will have to work at least 40 weeks during a 12-month period for the employer to be eligible for a $2,500.00 credit for each qualified parolee. Employers are limited to $50,000.00 in credits per tax year and the employer is only eligible to receive the credit once per individual. It further requires a report to be prepared by the Commissioner of the Department of Revenue to be submitted to the General Assembly's Senate Finance Committee and House Committee on Ways and Means on the statistics for these credits – for instance, numbers of employers who have claimed such credits and the value of the credits earned. This bill passed by a vote of 153-16.
HB 935 was brought to the House Floor by Rep. Brett Harrell (R-Lawrenceville). It addresses exemptions from ad valorem taxes and adds fulfillment centers as a new class of Freeport exemptions in O.C.G.A. § 48-5-48.2. It passed 169-0.
HB 936 also by Rep. Brett Harrell (R-Lawrenceville) and amends O.C.G.A. § 48-7-40 to clarify the job tax credit for jobs created in tier 4 counties. It provides that the average wage of each new job created must be above the average county wage in the county with the lowest average wage. This bill passed 166-0.
HB 937 was another tax proposal by Rep. Brett Harrell (R-Lawrenceville), relating to exemptions from State sales and use taxes. It amends O.C.G.A. § 48-8-3(93) concerning sunset provisions for sales of tangible property used for and in the construction of a "competitive project of regional significance." Currently, such exemption expires on June 30 2016; this legislation moves that sunset to June 30, 2019. It passed by a vote of 161-6.
HB 990 came to the House Floor as a Committee Substitute from the House Ways and Means Committee. It was presented by Rep. Jay Powell (R-Camilla) and Chairman of that Committee dealing with the ascertainment of taxable property and changing values established by certain appeal or agreement in O.C.G.A. § 48-5-299. It clarifies in (c), that when the value of real property is reduced from the value on the initial annual notice of assessment or a corrected annual notice of assessment issued by the board of tax assessors and such valuation has been established as the result of an appeal decision rendered by the board of equalization, hearing officer, arbitrator, or superior court pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 48-5-311 or stipulated by written agreement signed by the board of tax assessors and taxpayer or taxpayer's authorized representative, the new valuation so established by appeal decision or agreement may not be increased by the board of tax assessors during the next two successive years, unless otherwise agreed in writing by both parties (with some exceptions). HB 990 passed by a vote of 164-2.
HB 1014 was also by Rep. Jay Powell (R-Camilla). It addresses the imposition, rate, computation and exemptions from State income taxes and extends the sunset date of the existing exemption for donation of real property for conservation use in O.C.G.A. § 48-7-29.12(d). It moves the sunset for the current credits permitted to December 31, 2021. Currently, those are to expire on December 31, 2016. Also, it adds that prior to any renewal of an exemption for donations of real property beyond the date of December 31, 2021, the Department of Natural Resources is to make a report to the Governor, President of the Senate and Speaker of the House along with Chairpersons of the House Committee on Ways and Means and Senate Finance Committee on the activity of the program. This bill passed by a vote of 165-0.
HB 1028 was authored by Rep. Bill Werkheiser (R-Glennville) and adds a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. § 12-8-24.3, concerning solid waste management. It requires the owner or operator of a municipal solid waste landfill to notify the local governing authorities of any city and county, where the landfill is located, of any significant release from there within 14 days of confirmation of such release by the Division. It passed by a vote of 163-0.
House Supplemental Calendar
HB 54, by Rep. Keisha Waites (D-Atlanta) authored this proposal amending Subpart 7 of Part 3 of Article 7 of Chapter 3 of Title 20, concerning grants to children of law enforcement officers, firefighters, and prison guards. It provides financial assistance in postsecondary education for children of a law enforcement officer, firefighter, prison guard, emergency medical technician, or other public employer and Highway Emergency Response Operators who was killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. This allows the Department of Revenue to establish a contribution method in which Georgia residents can deem that part of their tax refund is to go towards financial assistance. HB 54 passed by a vote of 168-0.
HB 542, by Rep. David Wilkerson (D-Powder Springs) would have expanded the parameters for the Georgia Higher Education Savings Plan by adding incentives for low-income families to save for higher education. In addition to the incentives, the state would create and implement a program to match low-income families' contributions with state funds. This bill received a lot of opposition because it allocates more dollars to the families with less. Chairman Pak asked whether this would be prohibited under the gratuity clause. Rep. Wilkerson stated that it would not be prohibited since it would be no different than any other tax credit. Chairman Ehrhart, spoke in opposition, by stating that it would be hard to differentiate between families that make certain incomes and would not be fair. He also pointed out that there is no cap or sunset in the legislation. Minority Leader Stacey Abrams spoke to the bill as well, stating that there are 9500 students who dropped out of college last year and if they had extra money, it would have improved that statistic. Facing opposition, this bill failed to receive passage by a vote of 74-87.
HB 957, by Rep. Stacey Abrams (D-Atlanta) amends O.C.G.A § 15-9-61 relating to costs and compensation of probate courts, so as to require that the judges and clerks of the probate courts publicly post notice of the availability of the affidavit of indigence. This bill passed by a vote of 170-0.
HB 1025, by Rep. Tom Taylor (R-Dunwoody) amends provisions relating to violations of county and state ordinances. Notice requirements have been added to current law for serving notice of these violations. Service requirements consist of leaving a copy of the citation at the premises where the alleged violation occurred, mailing a copy to the owner, and filing a copy with the magistrate court. If the accused fails to appear for the court hearing after notice was given following these steps, a judgment will be issued against the accused and a penalty will be assessed. It passed by a vote of 145-22.
HB 1037, by Rep. Valerie Clark (R-Lawrenceville) amends Chapter 2 of Title 31 by adding a news code section at O.C.G.A. § 31-2-14, so as to expand the certified nurse aide registry to include nurse aides who provide services in temporary or permanent private residences. The registry would provide a method for submitting inquiries and complaints regarding such nurse aides. Inquiries would be handled in the same manner as it is for nurses in licensed facilities. Finally, the Department of Community Health would need to provide a link to the registry on the department website. HB 1037 passed 170-2.
HB 229, by Rep. Brian Strickland (R-McDonough) expands the grandparent's visitation statute to include great-grandparents, aunts and uncles in O.C.G.A. § 19-7-3. A great-grandparent, aunt or uncle may seek visitation rights when a child custody case has gone before a court or in cases where the parents are no longer living together. In order to be eligible for visitation rights, a great-grandparent, aunt or uncle must prove that that they have a relationship with such child through clear and convincing evidence, that the health and welfare of a child will be harmed without such visitation, and that the visitation is in the best interest of the child.
A floor amendment was offered by Rep. Strickland to clarify at Line 23 that any family member (previously, it was only grandparents) shall have the right to intervene in and seek to obtain visitation rights. This amendment was adopted. HB 229 passed, as amended, by a vote of 164-4.
HB 365, by Rep. David Knight (R-Griffin) provides that in any county in which an ad valorem tax was levied on motor vehicles pursuant to a local constitutional amendment on behalf of a local governing authority on March 1, 2013, the proceeds must be equally distributed to the percentage collected in the 2012 taxable year. Rep Knight indicated that the legislation has been narrowly drawn and allows counties to allocate percentages of distribution. It passed 160-0.
HB 381, by Rep. Andrew Welch (R-McDonough) proposed a substantial rewrite to Georgia's laws governing "notarial acts" or notaries public in Chapter 17 of Title 45. It repeals Chapter 17, relating to notaries public, and creates the 'Revised Georgia Law on Notarial Acts of 2015.' The substantive changes include modernizing notary laws of Georgia. Currently, Georgia law does not authorize electronic notarial acts, and this legislation would render Georgia's notary laws more uniform with other states. Additionally, the bill increases protections against fraudulent notarial acts and allows for electronic notarial acts and licensing and registry with a database created and managed by the Georgia Superior Court Clerk. Every notary public would be required to comply with the act after July 1, 2016 (with the exception of replacing an official seal prior to renewal).
The bill requires a notary to maintain an electronic journal to chronicle all electronic notarial acts he or she performs, with entries describing the parties involved, date, time, and fee (if any). Entries must be made contemporaneously with the notarial act. The notary must retain the journal for 10 years after the performance of the last notarial act chronicled in the journal. This journal shall not be a public document. The bill provides requirements for lost or stolen journals, and procedures for when a notary's commission is suspended or revoked, or the notary dies or is adjudicated incompetent. The bill requires a notary to pass an examination administered by the Georgia Superior Court Clerks' Cooperative Authority (GSCCCA).
GSCCCA must adopt rules and regulations to implement the requirements laid out in the Act, including, among other things: regularly offer a course on becoming a notary; approve a notary's requested use of technology if it conforms to the standards adopted by such authority; and maintain an electronic database of notaries for individuals to verify the authority of a notary. The GSCCCA must also keep a record of certain personal information for each notary: his or her name, address, signature, age, sex, and commission term, and whether he or she has been approved to perform notarial acts on electronic records.
The bill provides for recognition of other state's or federally-recognized Indian tribe's notaries if the laws of the state or tribe are substantially similar to Georgia laws and the act is performed by a notary public of such state or tribe or by any other individual authorized by the law of the state or tribe to perform a notarial act. The bill also recognizes that a notarial act performed under authority and in the jurisdiction of a foreign state (excluding Cuba, Iran, Sudan, or Syria) or under the authority of a multi-national or international governmental organization has the same effect as though performed by a Georgia notary.
Rep. Welch offered one amendment that removes the phrase "void ab initio" from line 81. Chairman Wendell Willard and Rep. Welch authored another amendment that states that a notary public shall be a matter of public record. It states that the journal retained by the clerk of superior court shall not be subject to disclosure under Article 4 of Chapter 18 of Title 50.
Both amendments were adopted and then HB 381 went on to pass 108-64.
HB 605, by Rep. Tom Weldon (R-Ringgold) amends O.C.G.A. § 47-23-63 relating to the calculation of benefits under the Judicial Retirement System (JRS). The calculation for part-time service is currently calculated as one of credit for each three months of prior part-time service. This bill's calculation for part-time service changes to a ratio determined by dividing the average monthly compensation for the highest average producing 24 consecutive month period of part-time service by the average monthly compensation for the highest average producing a 24 consecutive month period of full-time service. The resulting percentage will be multiplied by the part-time service and the result added to the total full-time service, resulting in the total service to be used in all benefit calculations. This bill has been certified by the Georgia Department of Audits and Accounts as a fiscal retirement bill. The actuary has determined that a state appropriation is not required to implement the changes set forth in this bill. Chairman Penny Houston confirmed that there is no cost to the State associated with this. This bill passed by a vote of 134-29.
HB 725, by Rep. Wes Cantrell (R-Woodstock) amends O.C.G.A. § 49-5-40 to provide for greater confidentiality of child abuse records by requiring a court order before the release of such records. Moreover, when a court does authorize the release of such records, the court shall issue a protective order covering those records where anyone allowed to access such records be required to acknowledge, in writing, that he or she agrees to be bound by the protective order. In addition, those records released shall be returned to the court upon completion of the matter that caused the release of such records. Any failure to obey the protective order may be punished as contempt of court. This bill passed 170-0.
HB 895, by Rep. Rahn Mayo (D-Decatur) amends O.C.G.A § 20-2-2072 to require governing boards of approved charter schools to participate in two or three hours of training regarding sound fiscal management. The State Board of Education shall establish a charter school financial management certification program for charter school leaders. The bill further provides that a leader, principal, or equivalent shall not serve simultaneously as the chief financial officer. It passed by a vote of 162-8.
HB 943, by Rep. Carl Rogers (R-Gainesville) amends O.C.G.A. § 13-8-2 to address the use of indemnification clauses in contracts that force architects and engineers to indemnify other parties, even when there is no fault by the engineer or architect. It codifies case law and prohibits parties in construction contracts from having to indemnify another party within said contract for that third parties' negligence. There was a floor amendment by Chairman Wendell Willard that clarified some language and included 'recklessness of intentionally wrongful conduct' of the indemnitee. The amendment was adopted and then the full HB 943 passed 169-0.
HB 1004, by Rep. Rick Jasperse (R-Jasper) provides requirements for maps, plats, and plans to be filed of record with the clerk of the court. Each map or plat page image shall have a caption providing information, such as: the county where the property lies; the names of all property owners; name of subdivision; contact information for the land surveyor; a certificate from the land surveyor that the plan meets the current specifications for filing with the clerk of the court; and other information. The image attached in the filing information box has been changed from being not less than an eight and one-half inch square to not less than a three-inch square. Further, the bill provides that all images of maps, plats, or plans shall be an electronic image certified and presented to the clerk in conformance with all specifications set forth in any rules and regulations promulgated by the Georgia Superior Court Clerk's Cooperative Authority. The clerk shall electronically note information, such as: the filing date, book, and pages numbers on the image and shall transmit a copy of the map, plat, or plan with such filing information to the email address of the person filing. This bill passed by a vote of 170-2.
HB 1036, by Rep. Bill Hitchens (R-Rincon) relates to the exercise of power of eminent domain for special purposes, changes certain provisions relating to the exercise of power of eminent domain for construction of petroleum pipelines and the environmental permitting requirements for petroleum pipelines. The bill creates a study commission to consider 'eminent domain' as it relates to establishing a moratorium on property taken for purposes of developing a pipeline to run parallel to the Savannah River. Rep. Hitchens indicated that citizens and companies have a desire for more specificity and clarification on the issue and the commission would seek to provide that. He also mentioned that Governor Deal had previously expressed his opposition to the pipeline. There needs to be a determination whether it is good for public convenience or public necessity. Rep. Al Williams spoke in support of the legislation since part of his district falls in the path of the proposed pipeline. The bill went on to pass by a vote of 165-2.
HB 1043, by Rep. Trey Kelley (R-Cedartown) requires a pharmacist or nurse to take an appropriate case history, as opposed to a complete case history, before administering the influenza vaccine. Additionally, under the provisions of this bill, hospitals and health systems that administer the influenza vaccine are exempt from certain requirements under O.C.G.A § 43-34-26.1, as long as the following conditions are met: (1) the vaccine recipient signs and dates a consent form; (2) if the vaccine recipient is a patient within the hospital or health system, the administration of the influenza vaccine should be noted in the patient's health record; (3) if the vaccine recipient is not a patient within the hospital system, the hospital or health system must issue a personal immunization card to the patient, and (4) if requested by the patient, the influenza vaccine must be administered behind a portable screen. This bill passed 173-0.
HB 1053, by Rep. Darlene Taylor (R-Thomasville) provides for the nonpartisan elections of the Grady County Board of Education. It passed by a vote of 105-56.
HB 1058, by Rep. Betty Price (R-Roswell) would allow a person employed by or an agent of a "harm reduction organization," defined by the bill as an organization that provides direct assistance to at-risk individuals to slow the spread of HIV and other infectious diseases among intravenous drug users, which may include hypodermic syringe or needle exchange programs. Additionally, HB 1058 allows women to have the opportunity to refuse a HIV test during a pregnancy screening. Finally, this bill removes the requirement for the Department of Public Health to develop brochures or other documents relating to HIV tests. This bill passed by a vote of 169-0.
HB 285, by Rep. Ron Stephens (R-Savannah) is known as the 'Georgia Small Entertainment Industry Investment Act.' It amends O.C.G.A. § 48-7-40.26 to provide an income tax credit for pre-production, production, and post-production expenditures in Georgia by qualified entertainment production companies. Qualified production companies must have a base investment in pre-production, production, or post-production of $500,000 or less. This income tax credit applies to small entertainment companies that do not qualify for current film tax credits.
Qualified production companies must obtain pre-approval from the Department of Economic Development, which shall promulgate rules and regulations governing the program before receiving the credit. The pre-approval process will be regulated by the department, and will ensure that the qualified production company meets the minimum requirements to obtain credits, including but not limited to the employment of Georgia citizens, production in whole or in part within the state at a sufficient level to justify the awarding of a credit, and the placement of a Georgia promotional logo in the final work product.
The maximum credit for any one qualified production company and its affiliates is $150,000 per taxable year, and the credits are capped at $6 million annually. The credits are able to be transferred and sold subject to written notification to both the Department of Economic Development and the Department of Revenue. Failure to comply with the rules and regulations governing the transfer and sale of tax credits will result in the disallowance of the tax credit pending full compliance. The legislation applies to taxable years beginning on or after January 1, 2016. HB 285 passed by a vote of 157-4.
HB 862, by Rep. David Knight (R-Griffin) allows individuals who operate one or more funeral establishments, but only one crematory, to advertise crematory services on all forms of advertisements so long as such establishments are operated under the same name and are located within 40 miles from the crematory. It passed by a vote of 149-13.
HB 922, by Rep. Bruce Williamson (R-Monroe) would amend O.C.G.A. § 48-7-40.17 to provide that a taxpayer may elect to include disregarded entities, as defined by the Internal Revenue Code, as part of the taxpayer for purposes of calculating the number of new quality jobs created under a jobs tax credit. It passed by a vote of 171-1.
HB 924, by Rep. Bubber Epps (R-Dry Branch), would amend O.C.G.A. § 48-8-3 to provide a sales and use tax exemption for job training organizations. A qualified organization must be located within the state; exempt from income taxation under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code; specialize in the retail sale of donated items; provide job training and employment services to individuals with workplace disadvantages or disabilities including reentry citizens and veterans; and use a majority of its revenues for job training and placement programs. The bill contains metrics to evaluate the benefit rendered to the state by the exemption. This bill passed 159-13.
HB 960, by Rep. Trey Kelley (R-Cedartown) provides for a mechanism by which political subdivisions, such as local governments and school boards, can satisfy refunds owed to taxpayers as a result of sales and use tax overpayments.
It changes the 12 percent annual interest rate to the prime rate plus three percent. It provides for an automatic notification with the limited provision of relevant information to affected political subdivisions if a refund has been requested equal to 10 percent of the aggregate sales and use tax collections based on an average of the three previous calendar years, and for confidentiality of any such information furnished. It requires that the taxpayer electronically submit refund information to the Department of Revenue at the time of the filing of the refund. HB 960 provides for an examination of the methodology used by the Department of Revenue in any audit by the Department of Audits and Accounts to ensure that the refund audit was satisfactory. It changes penalties for failing to repay from 10 percent to an initial five percent, with an additional five percent penalty assessed every six months thereafter and a cap of 20 percent on aggregate. It provides for the automatic transfer of any refund to the Georgia Tax Tribunal if the refund has been pending with the Department of Revenue for over a year for a show cause order to determine if the taxpayer, the department, or no party was at fault for the delay. If one of the parties is found to be at fault, that party is required to pay the interest accrued, and in all cases the matter would be remanded back to the department for completion.
This legislation also adds to the confidentiality language in O.C.G.A. § 48-2-15, relating to the disclosure of confidential information, to allow the House Ways and Means and Senate Finance Committees to access non-taxpayer identifying information. HB 960 passed by a vote of 164-0.
HB 982, by Rep. Ron Stephens (R-Savannah) changes definitions relating to the ad valorem taxation of property by requiring that the income approach be used in determining the fair market value of a property if supplied by the property owner. It passed by a vote of 164-2.
HR 1052, by Rep. Mike Cheokas (R-Americus) is the annual House road and bridge dedication package, which passed 162-0.
The Senate had a couple of changes in their debates on bills. Sen. Bill Cowsert (R-Athens) initially tried to reorder the Calendar so as to take up three Constitutional Amendments before some bills; that motion was lost. Sen. Cowsert then placed on the table SB 346, SB 385, SB 389, SB 355, SB 77, SB 328 and SB 304. The Senate then took up the Constitutional Amendments, SR 756, SR 388 and SR 675. They also brought up SB 420 and then resumed with the previously tabled bills.
SB 402, by Sen. Jeff Mullis (R-Chickamauga), is an attempt to curb the proliferation of "meth clinics" in north Georgia. This legislation proposes to create a new Code Section in O.C.G.A. § 26-5-21, regarding drug abuse treatment and education programs, and to impose a temporary moratorium on new applications for licensure of narcotic treatment programs from the effective date of the legislation if passed through June 30, 2017. It also proposes a study of any changes to the licensure requirements for operating these clinics/programs. It also creates the "State Commission on Narcotic Treatment Programs" which will perform a study before December 31, 2016. The Senate considered the Committee Substitute from the Senate Committee on Regulated Industries and Utilities. Sen. Mullis explained that there were 62 such clinics statewide and seven were around the Chickamauga area. He noted in his presentation that other states have much more stringent restrictions on these clinics. Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford) inquired if these clinics were essentially replacing the pain clinics which have been closed; Sen. Mullis indicated that was the case. The legislation passed 54-0.
SB 404, by Sen. Tyler Harper (R-Ocilla), revises the off-duty use of motor vehicles by members of the uniform division, within the Department of Public Safety in O.C.G.A. § 35-2-56; O.C.G.A. § 35-2-101(e); and O.C.G.A. § 35-2-123. It permits the Commissioner of the Department to provide such permission under certain conditions. A similar bill passed the House on February 26, 2016, by Rep. Bill Hitchens (R-Rincon), HB 1064. Sen. Harper presented the legislation which raised a number of questions from the Floor – especially as it relates to liability. Sen. Harper told his colleagues that there were strict policies on off-duty work by officers. There were two Floor Amendments: the first by Sen. Harper and the second by Sen. Charlie Bethel (R-Dalton). Both were adopted. The amendment by Harper essentially mirrors the changes made for officers referenced in other sections of the bill; Sen. Bethel's change adds a clarification about compensation, "provided, such compensation shall not be characterized as direct employment compensation, but shall be paid as services under contract." The legislation passed as amended with a vote of 47-9.
SB 416, by Sen. Bill Cowsert (R-Athens), establishes a new Article 9 in Chapter 3 of Title 35 concerning the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. In part it establishes the Georgia Information Sharing and Analysis Center which will be "fusion center" maintaining a terrorism analytical component. The Center is to work with GBI, FBI, Joint Terrorism Task Force, United States Department of Homeland Security and other law enforcement and intelligence entities for the purposes of carrying out its duties and responsibilities. There were also Floor Amendments on this legislation by Sen. Cowsert and those were adopted – in part they clarified the duties of the Director of the Georgia Emergency Management Agency who will be responsible for reporting to the Governor on matters relating to homeland security and also requires that the Director of Emergency Management maintain Georgia Emergency Management Agency analysts in the center as needed. SB 416 passed with a vote of 53-0.
SB 417, by Sen. Jeff Mullis (R-Chickamauga), proposes creation in a new Article 9 of Chapter 7 of Title 50 the "Georgia Film and Television Trail Act." This "Trail" would be overseen by the Department of Economic Development – it would in part help locate various film and television locations for productions and work with local governments on this Trail. The Department of Transportation would be authorized and directed to place signs in the State at film and television production sites. A Floor Amendment, also by Sen. Mullis, was adopted and adds that the Department has one additional policy to follow in creating and administering the Georgia Film and Television Trail and that is to get written approval from the property owner prior to any signage or materials being printed about the property being a part of the Trail. SB 417 passed as Amended 55-0.
SB 375, by Sen. Steve Gooch (R-Dahlonega), addresses the incorporation of municipal corporations and adds a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. §36-31-13. It requires that on and after January 1, 2017, any legislation to incorporate a new municipal corporation in any county and any legislation for reorganization of local government, as authored by Paragraph II, of Section III, of Article IX of the Constitution, or by any general law adopted pursuant to Paragraph II, may be introduced in the General Assembly during the first year of the term of office. During the first and second year of the session, a financial viability, fiscal impact and service delivery study is to be prepared by a public academic research institution regarding the incorporation of the proposed municipal corporation. Sen. Gooch presented the Senate Committee on State and Local Governmental Operations Substitute, explaining the legislation came as a result of a Study Committee on city creation. Sen. Fran Millar (R-Atlanta) objected to the legislation regarding any potential ongoing pension obligations. The legislation passed with a vote of 55-1 (Millar's dissent).
SR 604 revises the State's Constitution by adding an amendment at Article VII, Section I, Paragraph II at subparagraph (a) so that on or after January 1, 2017, the State would be prohibited, if passed by a referendum, from imposing an annual levy of State ad valorem taxes. The actual statute has already been changed on ad valorem assessments. The prohibition proposed is not to affect the State assessment and collection of ad valorem taxes on public utilities, railroad companies and airlines on behalf of local governments; or administrative functions with respect to local ad valorem taxation pursuant to any general law. This proposal was on the Senate Floor on February 25, 2016, but failed 35-11, having not receiving the required two-thirds majority for passage; it then had a notice of reconsideration filed. Sen. Bill Heath (R-Bremen) authored this Resolution and explained that it removes the quarter mill State ad valorem tax provision from the State's Constitution. Sen. Steve Henson (D-Tucker) spoke against the initiative noting that it was eliminating a "tool" in the Legislature's tool box to raise revenue despite the fact that the statute had not been carried out since January. Sen. Henson indicated that bonding agencies might see this, if passed, as a limitation on the State's ability to raise revenue if needed. The Resolution passed with a vote along party lines 38-17. If passed by the House, it will need to be ratified by voters.
SB 310 proposes creation of the "Transparency in Education Act" in O.C.G.A. § 20-1-11. The legislation, brought to the Floor by Sen. William Ligon, Jr. (R-Brunswick), requires that the Department of Education, agency or official of the State applying for a competitive grant (of $20 million or more) which will impact pre-K or grades k-12, which will result in the establishment or alteration of education policy for public education, is to provide 30 days' written notice prior to submitting the grant application and provide an analysis of the grant to both the Senate Education and Youth Committee and House Education Committee (looking at long-term projections of unfunded costs from implementing the grant both for the State and local boards of education; impact on education policy; impact on interrelationships with existing education program and/or policy; compliance with mandates and policy directives; and any laws which must be passed or rescinded for compliance with the terms of the grant – including budgetary issues). Sen. Ligon presented the Committee Substitute which came from the Senate Education and Youth Committee (which in part had inserted that such grant have the analysis presented to the General Assembly's Education Committees and stripped the original requirement that all such grants have legislative approval prior to submission). Sen. Ligon stressed that it only required "notice" be provided to the Legislature; it did not require its ratification. Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta) also spoke to the legislation inquiring if passing this might cause a "chilling effect" on competitiveness. Sen. Steve Henson (D-Tucker) also inquired if this was a rebuke to the Department of Education. In the end, the legislation passed with a vote of 36-18.
SB 409, by Sen. JaNice Van Ness (R-Conyers), establishes a new Code Section in Georgia's "Quality Basic Education Act" at O.C.G.A. § 20-2-324.2 to require that every public school post a sign containing the toll free telephone number operated by the Division of Family and Children Services within the Department of Human Services to receive reports of child abuse or neglect. This legislation was presented as a Committee Substitute which now has an immunity from any liability inserted in (c) caused by any act or omission resulting from posting, or the lack of posting, such sign. This was the first legislation for Sen. Van Ness so she took a bit of ribbing from her colleagues as a rite of passage. Originally, these signs were to be posted in both English and Spanish; the Senate struck the reference to Spanish and inserted that such signs for this toll free number be printed in English and "other such languages as may be determined by the local board of education." SB 409 passed 54-1.
SB 352, by Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford), came to the Senate Floor in the form of a Committee Substitute. This legislation is to create a new Article 35 in Chapter 1 of Title 10 to provide consumer protection requirements for "fantasy contest operators." It defines "fantasy contest" as a "simulated game or challenge that is public or private or offered for profit or not for profit in which: A) the value of all prizes and awards offered is established and made known in advance of the game or challenge; B) all winning outcomes reflect the relative knowledge and skill of those who enter such game or challenge and are determined predominantly by accumulated statistical results of the performance of individuals in sporting event or other competitions; and C) winning outcomes are not based on the score, point spread, or any performance of any single actual team or combination of such teams in a sporting event or other competition or solely on any single performance of an individual in any single actual sporting event or other competition." "Fantasy contest operator" is a "person, other than a nonprofit organization exempt from taxation under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, as amended, that conducts any fantasy contest with an entry fee and which has more than 2,000 registered users in this State." A fantasy operator's employees are prohibited from entering such contest; the operator has to verify that a fantasy contest player is at least 18 years of age or older; the operator is also prevented from sharing confidential information which would affect contest play before the information is made available to the public; the operator is to ensure that individuals who participate/compete/officiate in a sporting event or other competition that is the subject of a fantasy contest are restricted from entering any such contest; etc. It also amends O.C.G.A. § 16-12-20 and the definition of the term, "bet" so as to exclude a fantasy contest from such term. It also excludes in O.C.G.A. § 16-12-21(c) (gambling) and O.C.G. A. § 16-12-22(c) (commercial gambling) so that those provisions do not apply to a fantasy contest. This legislation was moved to the foot of the Calendar by Sen. Unterman and then never brought up for a vote on the Senate floor – thus, SB 352 has died.
SB 6, by Sen. Joshua McKoon (R-Columbus), addresses driver's licenses to provide that individuals who possess a lawful alien status are the only category of noncitizens who may obtain certain driver's licenses, permits or cards in Chapter 5 of Title 40. This legislation came to the Senate Floor as a Committee Substitute from the Senate Committee on Public Safety. Essentially, it would add a new "safety card" or class of documentation. Several Senators spoke out against this initiative. Sen. Elena Parent (D-Atlanta) argued that it was unnecessary and she opposed the idea. Sen. McKoon indicated that the state of New Mexico had passed a bill recently on this issue. Many opined that driving was a privilege. They also spoke to the fact that passing such would stigmatize individuals. Sen. Tommie Williams (R-Lyons) opposed the legislation. Sen. Curt Thompson (D-Tucker) stated that the initiative was seeking a solution to a problem which does not exist. In the end, three Floor Amendments were offered. The first was withdrawn and Amendments 2 and 3 were adopted. The legislation passed by Substitute with the Amendments by a vote of 37-17, including the lone Republican, Sen. Tommie Williams (R-Lyons). In the as-passed version, it requires the individuals who have lawful status to be present to be permitted a "driving safety card" and the individual will be required to have passed driving skills, knowledge and vision tests as required by State law. These cards are not for identification purposes and gives the person no lawful status and are not accepted for any official purpose.
SB 336, by Sen. Ellis Black (R-Valdosta), addresses retirement plans of the Georgia Municipal Employees Benefit System in Chapter 5 of Title 47. It adds in O.C.G.A. § 47-5-40 that a governing body of a municipal corporation may enact plans to join a master plan by resolution in addition to ordinance. It also amends current law in O.C.G.A. § 47-5-41, regarding establishment and use of master plans. It also adds in subparagraph (d), that "each employer is authorized to appropriate funds to provide the benefits under such plan and to pay its respective portion of the administrative costs of the board of trustees in administering the system. Except with respect to employee contributions to purchase additional service credit, an employee's contribution under a defined benefit plan shall not exceed 50 percent of the value of such employee's benefit payable from the plan upon commencement of benefits. The valuation of benefits under a defined benefit plan shall be made in accordance with the actuarial assumptions used to determine employer contributions in effect at the time of the determination." Georgia Municipal Association asked for this legislation which passed 53-1.
SB 357, by Sen. Michael Williams (R-Cumming), addresses elementary and secondary education and proposes revisions to the standards for local board of education members at O.C.G.A. § 20-2-49 – it requires that the local board of education create a code of conduct and conflict of interest policy "by which each member should abide, provided that no such code of conduct or conflict of interest policy may interfere with a member's free speech under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article I, Section I, Paragraph V of the Georgia Constitution." The legislation came to the Senate Floor in the form of a Committee Substitute from the Senate Committee on Education and Youth; the earlier version was not a mandate to the local board of education. A Floor Amendment was adopted and the legislation passed 50-0.
SB 206, by Sen. William Ligon, Jr. (R-Brunswick), is legislation applicable to counties and municipal corporations and specifically amends O.C.G.A. § 36-60-17 regarding provisions relating to the prohibition of a water supplier's cut off of water to premises because of indebtedness of the prior owner, occupant or lessee and institutes a procedure for a real property owner, a person who has executed a contract for the purchase or occupancy of real property, an attorney closing a real estate transaction for the purchase of the real property or a lender considering the loan of funds to be secured by the real property to obtain a statement from the water supplier explaining the charges and any past due amounts and late charges/interest – the request has to be written; it must state the address of the property where the water was supplied; it must be delivered to the billing address of the water supplier by first-class mail, certified mail, return receipt requested, courier service or electronic means if electronic communication is supported by such supplier; and provide a return address or e-mail address to which the statement reflecting moneys owed is to be directed. Sen. Ligon indicated that this is a policy change for commercial tenants who may get their water supply cut off sooner. SB 206 passed 49-5.
SB 346, by Sen. Brandon Beach (R-Alpharetta), amends O.C.G.A. § 12-16-3, concerning the "Environmental Policy Act" to exempt projects of a department, a municipality, a county, or an authority to construct or improve a public road or airport, provided that such project cost does not exceed $100 million and such project obtains no contribution from federal funds. The first Floor Amendment was lost; a second Floor Amendment was adopted clarifying whether historic sites were affected. SB 346 passed 36-15.
SB 385, by Sen. Judson Hill (R-Marietta), adds a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. § 43-34-22.1 to address board certification requirements for physicians in any advertisement or publication which represents their specialties or subspecialties. This legislation has been an issue which the Medical Association of Georgia has worked on in the last few years. There was no discussion and the legislation passed 48-0.
SB 389 came to the Senate Floor as a Senate Health and Human Services Committee Substitute and was explained by Sen. Hunter Hill (R-Atlanta). This legislation addresses Title 49 and participants in the TANF and SNAP programs overseen by the Department of Human Services. It establishes in O.C.G.A. § 49-4-12.1 that a "program participant is subject to sanction for failing to comply with the State plan if the program participant: 1) violates any personal responsibility or work participation requirement; provided, however, that a single custodial parent with a child under 12 months of age may be exempt from any work participation requirement until adequate child care is available; 2) except for violations of this chapter which result in the program participant no longer being eligible for assistance, violates any other term or condition specified in the federal Social Security Act, as amended, the State plan, or the rules and regulations of the board; or 3) fails to pay child support as required by Chapter 6 of Title 19 or by any similar law of any other state." It further addresses lifetime maximum amounts for TANF and permits the Department to grant an exemption for those on hardship or if the family includes an individual who has been battered or subjected to extreme cruelty. It encourages the formation and maintenance of two parent-families so that when a TANF recipient marries, the new spouse's income and assets are to be disregarded for six consecutive months – this is a once-in-a-lifetime benefit for the recipient. It also adds a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. § 49-4-184.1 to implement a "cash diversion program" which will grant eligible TANF recipients lump sum cash grants for short-term needs as well as job referrals or referrals to career centers in lieu of signing up for the long-term monthly cash assistance program upon a showing of good cause as determined by the Department. This lump sum will be available for use once in a 12-month period and only five times in a lifetime. Further, it adds a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. § 49-4-185.1 regarding sanctions for noncompliance by the recipient – it will require a face-to-face meeting with the Department to explain the potential sanction and ways to cure the sanction. Sen. Hill explained that this legislation codifies the processes which the Department now utilizes for benefits four Floor Amendments (one addressing the maximum limit of not more than 12 times the family size allowance and for use once in a 12-month period and only five times in a lifetime; once prohibiting use of funds on electronic benefit transfer cards for purchase of alcohol, liquor, cigarettes, tobacco products, bail, gambling activities, lottery tickets, tattoos, travel services provided by a travel agent, money transmission to locations abroad, sexually oriented adult materials, concert tickets, professional or collegiate sporting event tickets, or tickets for other entertainment events intended for the general public; clarification on replacements of electronic benefit cards; and a clarification on the work participation requirement exemption until adequate child care is available) were adopted and the legislation passed 38-14.
SB 355, by Sen. William Ligon, Jr. (R-Brunswick), proposes creation of the "Student Protection Act" and addresses student testing and assessments. It amends O.C.G.A. § 20-2-281 to address student assessments, permitting the State Board of Education or local school system the ability to administer the assessment in a paper and pencil format to any student whose parent or guardian requests such and to any student 18 years of age or older – however, this would not apply to make-up assessments. It also requires that the State School Superintendent develop guidelines, to be approved by the State Board of Education, by September 1, 2016, which identify a range of appropriate policies which may be adopted by a school system when considering how students not participating in a statewide assessment will be supervised and what if any assessment alternative might be allowed. It also adds a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. § 20-2-281.2 so that state mandated tests, per O.C.G.A. § 20-2-281, are to be mandatory for school systems to administer but optional for students (under certain conditions). The Committee Substitute to this proposal was considered by the Senate. There were no questions raised and this legislation passed 39-9.
SR 756 is a Constitutional Amendment proposal by Sen. Judson Hill (R-Marietta). This initiative proposes an amendment to Article III, Section IX and adds a new Paragraph V-A to provide for procedures, conditions, and limitations for mandatory appropriations Act requirements. If passed, this Amendment needs to be ratified by the voters. Sen. Hill explained that if the State's revenues were to exceed $23.6 billion (on or after January 1, 2018) and the general reserves fund holds at least eight (8) percent of that amount of revenue, then the individual State income tax on all taxpayers subject to such tax is to decrease by .1 percent. Additionally, then on or after January 1, 2020, if the net amount of revenues deposited into the State's general fund exceed $24.2 billion and the general reserves fund has at least eight (8) percent, the individual income tax on all taxpayers subject to the tax is to decrease an additional .1 percent. Georgia's current income tax rate is six (6) percent; this lowers that tax rate and it has not been lowered in 79 years per Sen. Hill. Sen. David Lucas (D-Macon) spoke against the Resolution, noting that it would potentially impact Georgia's bond rating and also argued that it was an "appropriations" bill which is to start in the House and therefore unconstitutional. Sen. Steve Henson (D-Tucker) took the Well and also argued that his colleagues appeared to be afraid to govern. He noted it was bad public policy as it is impossible to predict the demands of the State at a time in the future. Sen. Elena Parent (D-Atlanta) also opposed the proposal, noting in particular the situation which Kansas encountered when it passed something similar. Sen. Lucas asked a ruling from the Chair on whether the Resolution was constitutional; Sen. and President Pro Tem David Shafer (R-Duluth), who was presiding, ruled it was. Needing a two thirds vote to pass, the Resolution passed with a vote of 39-17 (it required 38 votes).
SR 675, by Sen. Josh McKoon (R-Columbus), amends the Constitution at Article I, Section II with a new Paragraph X to provide that official State actions be in English and prohibit any requirement that any language other than English be used in any documents, regulations, orders, transactions, proceedings, meetings, programs or publications. A Minority Report was filed on this initiative; Sen. Steve Henson (D-Tucker) argued that it cuts into local control and is restrictive. The Resolution passed 39-14.
SR 388, by Sen. Bill Heath (R-Bremen), amends Article I, Section II, at Paragraph VII and the Constitution's reference to separation of church and state. Sen. Heath stated his intent was to prevent discrimination in the public funding of social services by allowing religious or faith-based organizations to receive public aid, directly or indirectly. Sen. Heath stated he had heard from a number of teachers; this Resolution is not about school vouchers so he offered a Floor Amendment for that purpose, clarifying that it was not intended for school vouchers. Sen. Heath stated SR 388 was to align Georgia with the United States Constitution. Sen. Elena Parent (D-Atlanta) opposed the Resolution, citing what funds were available for non-sectarian purposes. Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta) also opposed the initiative stating it was unnecessary. The Resolution and Amendment were adopted by a vote of 39-17.
SB 420, by Sen. Lindsey Tippins (R-Marietta), requires a referendum approval prior to the expenditure of public funds for the establishment of a "fixed guideway transit" in O.C.G.A. § 36-1-27. This "fixed guideway transit" is defined as a public transportation system using and occupying a permanent, separate right of way for the exclusive use of public transportation, including, but not limited to, rails for use by trains or a bus rapid transit system. Sen. Tippins offered a Floor Amendment, which was adopted. In that Amendment, it clarified that this Code Section is not to apply to a "municipal corporation with a fixed guideway transit project through an intergovernmental agreement with the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority in a county which has authorized a sales and use tax pursuant to an Act approved March 10, 1965 (Ga. L. 1965, p. 2243) as amended." Sen. Fran Millar (R-Atlanta) asked if it applied to MARTA. He further asked what Sen. Tippins was addressing; it is anything with a separate dedicated right of way (and could be light rail from Cumberland to Doraville). Sen. Brandon Beach (R-Alpharetta) opposed the initiative; his concerns were with the community improvement districts and the potential impact to those and impact on local control. In the end, the legislation was adopted by Substitute with the Floor Amendment by a vote of 34-16.
SB 77, by Sen. John Albers (R-Roswell), came to the Senate Floor in the form of a Committee Substitute from the Senate Committee on Judiciary Non-Civil. It amends O.C.G.A. § 17-6-1 and Article 6A of Chapter 3 of Title 35, addressing bailable offenses, procedures, schedule of bails and appeal bonds and DNA sampling, collection and analysis to provide for the analysis and collection of DNA for individuals who are indicted for a serious offense (as defined in O.C.G.A. § 35-3-160(4)). It permits the court to add as a condition of bail or pretrial release from custody that the accused provide his or her DNA to the law enforcement agency that arrested the accused within 10 days of the date set for his or her arraignment. It also requires in O.C.G.A. § 35-3-161(a)(1) that a DNA sample be obtained from an individual who has been convicted of a felony and currently is incarcerated in a detention facility, serving a probation sentence, or serving under the jurisdiction of the State Board of Pardons and Paroles for such felony offense; and any individual indicted for a serious offense. This Section also outlines how such DNA samples are to be obtained and stored. At O.C.G.A. § 35-3-165, it outlines how an individual's DNA profile which has been included in the data bank can be expunged under certain conditions (e.g., acquitted of the felony charges; the felony charges were reduced to misdemeanor charges; the conviction was reversed and the case dismissed; felony charges were placed on the dead docket for more than 12 months unless the court has issued a bench warrant for the defendant or co-defendant's failure to appear; or the prosecuting attorney has otherwise dismissed the charges). An Amendment was adopted, shifting the responsibility of the records from the prosecuting attorney to the clerk of the court. The legislation passed by Substitute with the Floor Amendment by a vote of 42-4.
SB 328, by Sen. Emanuel Jones (D-Decatur), amends Chapter 2 of Title 20 regarding elementary and secondary education to provide that students who are subject to compulsory attendance are not to be assigned to an alternative education program for more than two semesters (except as provided in O.C.G.A. § 20-2-751.1 and except for serious offenses). Serious offenses are assault or battery of school personnel or other students, bullying, and unlawful use or possession of illegal drugs or alcohol. Similar provisions are made in current law regarding adoption of policies by local boards to improve student learning environment at O.C.G.A. § 20-2-735(f) and student codes of conduct requirements at O.C.G.A. § 20-2-751.5(d). A Committee Substitute was considered on the Senate Floor. A Floor Amendment was offered by Sen. Lindsey Tippins (R-Marietta) and adopted – it clarifies that a student is not to be returned to a regular classroom until he or she exhibits acceptable behavior. The legislation passed by Committee Substitute with the Floor Amendment by a vote of 43-5.
SB 304 also came to the Senate Floor in the form of a Committee Substitute from the Senate Committee on Public Safety. This is Sen. Elena Parent's (D-Atlanta) bill. It amends O.C.G.A. §35-3-34 addressing the disclosure and dissemination of criminal records to private persons and businesses, resulting responsibility and liability of issuing center, and provision of information to the FBI in conjunction with the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. It allows for the preservation of a person's involuntary hospitalization information received by the Georgia Crime Information Center. This legislation passed by Substitute with a vote of 48-5.
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.