Gold Dome Report - February 3, 2016
Greetings! Today, Lawmakers convened for Legislative Day 15. It was truly a day to celebrate! It was 4-H Day at the Capitol so 4-H clubs from around the State had representatives on hand to promote their work and service. It was also Albany-Dougherty County Day at the Capitol. Alzheimer's Day was observed with a "sea" of purple as many individuals were present in purple shirts to help bring awareness to the disease and related dementias – Alzheimer's disease is the sixth leading cause of death and one which cannot be prevented. Georgia State University (GSU) celebrated its day at the Capitol, and, in particular, it was noted that GSU had recently merged with Georgia Perimeter College. Georgia State University is now more than one century old. State YMCA Youth Assembly was on hand and was recognized as it celebrates its 72nd anniversary in Georgia. There were additionally numerous former State employees in the halls today – it was Georgia State Retirees Association Day at the Capitol.
A total of six bills were passed on the House floor today. HB 402, by Rep. Eddie Lumsden (R-Armuchee) deals with the regulation of insurance rates and worker compensation for work-based learning programs. It offers a voluntary premium discount on a policy to encourage employers to provide work-based learning opportunities for students age 16 and older. Rep. Teasley also spoke in favor of this bill. HB 402 passed with a vote of 166-0.
HB 421, by Rep. Chad Nimmer (R-Blackshear) helps to clarify and ensure that community supervision officers at the Department of Community Supervision receive disability benefits. This does not change any benefits and has no fiscal impact. The bill passed by a vote of 165-1.
HB 801, by Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones (R-Milton), refines the HOPE scholarship program to reward Georgia's college students for taking rigorous science and math courses. It authorizes the board of regents to select bachelor level courses to receive extra weight. These courses must be considered academically rigorous. The point of this bill is to encourage students to enter the STEM fields and would add an extra .5 weight for the GPA for these courses. Rep. Dickey spoke to the bill also, reminding members that floor leaders had signed onto this bill and expressed his support. It passed with a vote of 167-0.
HB 690, by Rep. Amy Carter (R-Valdosta), allows officers from five different agencies to enter the Employee Retirement System. Those officers include officers of the Department of Public Safety; conservation rangers at the Department of Natural Resources; officers or agents of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation; district attorney investigators; and any alcohol and tobacco officer at the Department of Revenue. Those officers who enter ERS would have to pay the full actuarial cost. It would cost no additional dollars to the State. HB 690 passed with a vote of 162-1.
HB 691, by Rep. Kevin Tanner (R-Dawsonville), was dropped last session and specifies that, at a removal hearing for a judge, a governing authority would need to vote to remove the judge with a 2/3 vote of the council. Municipalities may also further define the conduct deemed necessary for the removal of a judge. HB 691 passed with a vote of 155-11.
Former Sen. Billy Ray (R-Lawrenceville) and now Court of Appeals Judge was among the visitors this morning in the Chambers and was recognized by his former colleagues.
Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford) spoke passionately about Alzheimer's disease and the work done in Georgia in the recent years to help individuals, and their families and caregivers, who suffer from this disease. She mentioned the former Sen. Ross Tolleson who resigned in 2015 due to a diagnosis of the disease.
The Senate's Rules Calendar contained two pieces of legislation:
SB 199 was authored by Sen. Rick Jeffares (R-McDonough). It amends Georgia's election laws. It specifically defines "campaign material" and prohibits certain activities in close proximity to polling places. This legislation came about as a result of an incident which took place in Douglas County when an individual appeared to vote with an NRA hat on and was turned away from the polling place. SB 199 passed 39 to 15.
SB 273, by Sen. Dean Burke, MD (R-Bainbridge), amends O.C.G.A. § 31-22-1 and how the state currently regulates clinical laboratories. In this proposal, it states that clinical laboratories do not include laboratories which are non-diagnostic only and regulated by Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA), whose sole function is to perform examination of human blood or blood components intended as source material for the manufacture of biological products. SB 273 passed 56 to zero.
SR 876, by Sen. Steve Gooch (R-Dahlonega), proposes creation of the Joint High-Speed Broadband Communications Access for All Georgians Study Committee. This Committee will include five members from the Senate and five members from the House.
SR 883, by Sen. Brandon Beach (R-Alpharetta), proposes to create a Joint Study Committee on Industry Incentives for Financial Technologies and the Payment Processing Industry. The proposed list of members on this Study Committee are three members from the Senate, three members from the House, the Commissioner or his/her delegate from the Department of Economic Development and the Department's Chief Information Officer or his/her delegate.
HB 892, by Rep. Tom Kirby (R-Loganville), addresses Chapter 12 of Title 24 regarding medical and other confidential information to repeal current law found in O.C.G.A. § 24-12-31 which addresses specifically veterinarian records. Also, it amends O.C.G.A. § 4-11-17(a) regarding veterinary reporting of animal cruelty – eliminating the cross reference to the veterinarian records section, O.C.G.A. § 24-12-31.
HB 893, by Rep. Jay Powell (R-Camilla), is a Tax Code revision at O.C.G.A. § 48-2-32(f)(2.1) which lowers the threshold for requiring payment of sales taxes, withholding taxes and motor fuel distributor taxes. Currently, the threshold is $1,000.00 and this lowers the amount to $250.00 in which the Commissioner of the Department of Revenue may require any person or business owing more than such amount (in terms of sales tax, use tax, withholding tax or motor fuel distributor tax) to be filed electronically. This threshold applies for tax periods beginning on or after January 1, 2017 and prior to January 1, 2018. The Commission may further require that any person or business owing more than $100.00 (current law is $500.00) in connection with any return, report, or other document pertaining to sales tax, use tax, withholding tax, or motor fuel distributor tax to file with the department for tax periods beginning on or after January 1, 2018.
HB 894, by Rep. Mike Dudgeon (R-Johns Creek), relates to development impact fees in O.C.G.A. § 36-71-1 and his amendment seeks to allow development impact fees for education and its process for these fees is provided for in O.C.G.A. § 31-71-20 et seq. It defines "educational development impact fees" as "development impact fees that are imposed to pay for a share of the cost of additional educational facilities to serve new growth and development in the same area in which such fees are imposed." Each local board of education which is a "high growth school system" may by public resolution adopted by the board impose, levy, and collect development impact fees within any area of its school system which has had enrollment growth of at least 15 percent over the preceding five-year period. It further requires that an "educational development impact fee advisory committee" be created – each member of the local board of education may appoint one individual and two members are to be appointed by the county board of commissioners where the school system is located (or by two members of the governing authority for the municipality if an independent school system). This committee is to recommend in a formal report provided to the local board of education how the fees will be used to offset bonded indebtedness, educational special purpose local option sales taxes, millage rates, and other tax burdens on the systems in that school system area. If accepted by the board, then it is to be sent to the local government and it has 60 days to provide written comments on the report – after that time, the local board of education may adopt a resolution outlining a plan for tax reduction/prevention.
HB 895, by Rep. Rahn Mayo (D-Decatur), addresses elementary and secondary education and seeks to require finance directors of charter schools to participate in initial and annual training in financially operating a charter school. It adds a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. § 20-2-2073 and requires the State Charter Schools Commission to provide for or approve initial training for financial directors of newly approved State charter schools and annual training thereafter in O.C.G.A. § 20-2-2083(13).
HB 896, by Rep. Emory Dunahoo (R-Gainesville), concerns underage drinking and responsibilities of a host. It amends O.C.G.A. § 3-3-23, relating to the furnishing to, purchase of, or possession by persons who are under 21 years of age of alcoholic beverages. It adds in (1)(B)(i) of this Code Section that: "No person who exercises control over property, a vehicle, or a vessel shall with criminal negligence furnish, cause to be furnished, or permit the furnishing of any alcoholic beverage, regardless of the source of such alcoholic beverage, directly, or indirectly, to any person under 21 years of age." It outlines that a person is not guilty of such if certain actions are taken – for instance the individual took reasonable action to prevent such violation (including but not limited to controlling access to alcoholic beverages, controlling the quantity of alcoholic beverages, supervising and monitoring the consumption of alcoholic beverages, and to comply with subsection (d) of this Code Section) or if the individual took immediate and effective action to stop such violation or requested assistance from law enforcement upon learning of such violation. It also amends Georgia's tort laws in O.C.G.A. § 51-1-18(a) relating to furnishing alcohol to minor children and O.C.G.A. § 51-1-40 regarding the liability for acts of intoxicated persons.
HB 897, by Rep. Betty Price (R-Roswell), adds a new Article 10 in Chapter 8 of Title 31 to provide for the establishment and operation of a drug repository program to accept and dispense unused prescription drugs - this would be done by the Department of Community Health in consultation with the Board of Public Health. This repository program could accept and dispense prescription drugs donated for the purpose of being dispensed to individuals who are Georgia residents and meet eligibility standards to be established by the Board of Community Health. The legislation outlines the types of prescription drugs to be accepted and dispensed (liquid and the vial is sealed and properly stored; individually packaged and the packaging has not been damaged; or in original, unopened, sealed, and tamper-evident unit dose packaging). Individuals, drug manufacturers, or healthcare facilities may donate prescription drugs to this program – taken to a pharmacy, hospital or nonprofit clinic which elects to participate and meets criteria for participation. It adds at O.C.G.A. § 31-8-303 that a person, pharmacy, drug manufacturer, or healthcare facility or any government entity which donates or gives drugs to the program is not subject to liability in tort or other civil action for injury, death, or loss to person or property. It also adds immunity from liability for the pharmacy, hospital, or nonprofit which accepts or dispenses the drugs and the healthcare professional who accepts or dispenses drugs under the program on behalf of a pharmacy, hospital, or nonprofit clinic and the pharmacy, hospital, or nonprofit clinic employs or otherwise uses the services of such healthcare professional. It adds immunity for the Boards of Community Health and Public Health.
HB 898, by Rep. Matt Ramsey (R-Peachtree City), is another tax proposal. This addresses aviation jet fuel and the rate and use of such taxes collected on that fuel in O.C.G.A. § 48-8-3(33) and (33.1). It adds that beginning July 1, 2016, the sale or use of aviation fuel shall be exempt from any State or local sales and use tax, including an increase in any State or local sales or use tax rate, which tax or increase was not in effect on December 30, 1987. It further adds a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. § 48-8-3(33.1) – it defines "qualifying airline" and "qualifying airport" (has more than 750,000 takeoffs and landings during a calendar year). It states that "aviation jet fuel purchased and delivered within this State or stored within this State for use in an aircraft operated by, or exclusively for, a qualifying airline at a qualifying airport shall be subject to the tax under this article only to the extent such fuel is consumed in this State in the operation of aircraft." Twenty percent of fuel loaded into an aircraft at a qualifying airport, which aircraft's first destination is a location outside of Georgia, shall be deemed to be consumed in this State. All fuel loaded into an aircraft at a qualifying airport, which aircraft's first destination is a location within Georgia, is deemed to be consumed in this State.
HB 900, by Rep. Sharon Cooper (R-Marietta), relates to the electronic database of prescription information. It authorizes the retention of this information for two years – currently, it permits the agency to retain aggregated prescription information for a period of one year from the date the information is received in O.C.G.A. § 16-13-59(e). It also amends O.C.G.A. § 16-13-60 concerning confidentiality, use of data and security and does permit that there is nothing to prohibit the agency from accessing prescription information as a part of an investigation in suspected or reported abuses or regarding illegal access of the data. It also amends who the agency is permitted to provide information to on prescription information and includes delegates authorized to prescribe or dispense controlled substances. It also adds that it is permitted to provide information to federal law enforcement or prosecutorial officials pursuant to the issuance of a search warrant pursuant to 21 U.S.C. or a grand jury subpoena pursuant to 18 U.S.C. and also extends further to State regulatory governing prescribers or dispensers and Department of Community Health (for purposes of the Medicaid program).
HB 901, by Rep. Sam Teasley (R-Marietta), amends O.C.G.A. § 40-2-85.1 and adds a new subsection (e.1) to provide for the issuance of special and distinctive license plate to the spouse of an eligible veteran when no motor vehicle is registered in the name of such veteran.
HB 902, by Rep. Katie Dempsey (R-Rome), adds a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. § 31-7-21, concerning regulation of hospitals and related institutions. Her proposal is that each assisted living community is to annually provide to each of its residents (no later than September 1 of each year) educational materials on influenza – it is not a requirement that the assisted living facility provide or pay for any vaccination.
HB 903, by Rep. Brian Strickland (R-McDonough), addresses Georgia's labor laws in Chapter 8 of Title 34. This adds a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. § 34-8-130 to prevent fraud and abuse of the Unemployment Trust Fund by authorizing the Commissioner for the Department of Labor to submit and receive from the State Commissioner of the Department of Revenue names and social security numbers of individuals who are required to report earnings to the Department along with the amount of earnings such individuals have reported during specified time frames. The Department of Revenue is then to make a comparison on the submitted earnings with those which have been reported. The information is to be verified. It does contemplate a "data sharing agreement" which is to be executed by the two departments.
HB 904, by Rep. Brian Strickland (R-McDonough), also contains labor law changes. In part, this legislation:
- Amends O.C.G.A. § 34-8-151 and adds a new subsection (d) so that "for periods on or after January 1, 2017 but on or before December 31, 2022, each new or newly covered employer shall pay contributions at a rate of 2.64 percent of wages paid by such employer with respect to employment during each calendar year until the employer is eligible for a rate calculation based on experience as defined in this chapter, except as provided in Code Sections 34-8-158 and 34-8-162."
- Eliminates the current subsection (a) in O.C.G.A. § 34-8-180 regarding "administrative assessments" upon all wages and assessments due quarterly and inserts a new (a) and (b) – in (b), it sets an administrative assessment of .06 percent to be assessed on all wages as defined in O.C.G.A. § 34-8-49 for the periods on or after January 1, 2017 but on or before December 31, 2022 (with certain exceptions).
- Strikes current O.C.G.A. § 34-8-181(a) and adds a new (a) regarding "additional assessments for new or newly covered employers" and adds a new (b) so that on or "after January 1, 2017 but on or before December 31, 2022, in addition to the rate paid in Code Section 34-8-151, each new or newly covered employer shall pay an administrative assessment of .06 percent of wages payable by it with respect to employment during each calendar year until it is eligible for a rate calculation based on experience as defined in this Chapter" except as provided in O.C.G.A. § 34-8-158.
HB 905, by Rep. Mandi Ballinger (R-Canton), contains a number of changes in Titles 15, 19 and 49 regarding the protection of children and youth and child abuse.
- Revises definition of "child abuse" in O.C.G.A. § 19-7-5(b), adding "endangering a child" to current definition (which does contain physical injury or death; neglect or exploitation; sexual abuse and sexual exploitation). Further, it defines "endangering a child" as "(A) a violation of subsection (d) of Code Section 16-5-70; (B) a violation of Code Section 16-5-73; (C) a violation of subsection (1) of Code Section 40-6-391; or (D) prenatal abuse, as such term is defined in Code Section 15-11-2."
- Defines in O.C.G.A. § 19-15-1, "child advocacy center."
- Amends O.C.G.A. § 19-15-2 and the protocol committee on child abuse provisions and in part addresses the make up of this protocol committee when a judicial circuit is composed of more than one county and specifies the individuals, agencies and entities who are to designate a representative to serve on this protocol committee.
- Revises current law on the "child abuse registry" in O.C.G.A. § 49-5-180 et seq. and addresses certain reporting requirements to this registry.
HB 906, by Rep. Tom Kirby (R-Loganville), addresses alternative fueled vehicles' annual license fees. It amends O.C.G.A. § 40-2-151(a)(19)(B)(i) to also exclude "low-speed vehicles" as defined in O.C.G.A. § 40-1-1(25.1) from the payment of the fees.
HB 907, by Rep. Paulette Rakestraw (R-Powder Springs), amends Titles 16 and 26 regarding the sale or distribution to, or possession by, minors of cigarettes and tobacco related objects and food, drugs, and cosmetics. The purpose is to safeguard public health, safety, and welfare by controlling and regulating the manufacture, production, distribution and sale of e-liquids and vapor pens. It amends O.C.G.A. § 16-12-170 and incorporates added definitions for "electronic cigarette," "e-liquid," and "vapor pens." It adds a new Chapter 3A in Title 26 with added powers and duties for the Commissioner of Agriculture – which will include the audit of random samples maintained by manufacturing facilities of e-liquids as well as to license the manufacturing of these products. At O.C.G.A. § 26-3A-5, it outlines prohibited acts in the manufacturing, delivery for sale, holding, storage, or offering for sale of e-liquids which are adulterated or misbranded, etc. At O.C.G.A. § 26-3A-6, it requires the manufacturing license which once issued is good for two years and what is also required in the application for such license. O.C.G.A. § 26-3A-7 outlines license renewal requirements. O.C.G.A. § 26-3A-13 outlines what these manufacturing facilities are to comply with and O.C.G.A. § 26-3A-14 lists what the e-liquids may be composed of (in terms of ingredients such as vegetable glycerol or vegetable glycerin, nicotine, etc.). The Commissioner of the Department of Agriculture is to promulgate rules and regulations in O.C.G.A. § 26-3A-16. There are provisions for crimes such as knowingly introducing e-liquids which have been manufactured that would cause the e-liquids to be "adulterated" (which is outlined in O.C.G.A. § 26-3A-17). Civil and criminal penalties are also enumerated in this proposal for such actions including misbranding products. Advertising of these products is outlined in O.C.G.A. § 26-3A-19.
HR 1269, by Rep. Dee Dawkins-Haigler (D-Lithonia), is an amendment to SR 287 from 2015 which is to be placed on the November ballot regarding "Opportunity School Districts." This resolution proposes to change the question to be posed to voters.
In SR 287, the question reads:
Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow the State to intervene in chronically failing public schools in order to improve student performance?
In HR 1269, the question is proposed to read:
Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow an appointee of the Governor to take over local school operation, buildings, and control of all federal, state, and local funding if a school has low scores on standardized tests or for any other reason a future legislature may allow?
This Resolution on this Constitutional Amendment issue is also different from the one proposed by Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta), SR 828.
HR 1253, by Rep. Dexter Sharper (D-Valdosta), encourages local boards of education, nonpublic elementary and secondary schools, governing bodies of charter schools and public recreation facilities to render instruction on dugout safety to youth athletes participating in baseball and to construct protective dugout coverings.
HR 1254, by Rep. Mickey Stephens (D-Savannah), encourages Medicaid care management organizations operating in Georgia to cover certain attention deficit hyperactivity disorder medications. This Resolution is seeking to have WellCare, in particular, cover Vyvanse, as more than 7,000 children were impacted when WellCare removed the medication from its Preferred Drug Listing for Medicaid patients in the State.
SB 323, by Sen. Mike Dugan (R-Carrollton), addresses Title 50 relating to State printing and documents and when public disclosures are not required. It amends O.C.G.A. § 50-18-72(a)(46) and provides for public disclosure not to be required for any documents pertaining to an economic development project by any agency (as the term is defined in O.C.G.A. § 50-14-1(a)(1)(A)).
SB 324, by Sen. Elena Parent (D-Atlanta), amends O.C.G.A. § 40-2-151(a)(19)(A)(i) and decreases the annual license fees for operating and registering an alternative fueled vehicle not operated for commercial purposes from $200.00 to $75.00.
SB 325, by Sen. Judson Hill (R-Marietta), is a new Article 2 in Chapter 2 of Title 6 regarding the regulation of aeronautics, aircraft and airports. It provides for preemption of prohibitions, restrictions, and regulation of the testing or operation of unmanned aircraft systems in Georgia and also would establish a 15-member Georgia Unmanned Aircraft Systems Commission and outline its duties.
SB 327, by Sen. Judson Hill (R-Marietta), adds a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. § 50-5-85 to prohibit the State, including all of its subdivisions and instrumentalities, from entering into certain contracts with an individual or company unless such contracts contain a certification that such individual or company does not presently conduct a boycott of Israel and will not conduct such a boycott for the duration of such contract. This does not apply to contracts with a total value of less than $1,000.00.
SB 328, by Sen. Emanuel Jones (D-Decatur), addresses compulsory education attendance. His legislation amends current law in O.C.G.A. § 20-2-154.1 so as to provide that students who are subject to compulsory attendance shall not be assigned to an alternative education program for more than two semesters. It does have an exception for students who have serious offenses (physical assault or battery of school personnel or other students, bullying, and unlawful use or possession of illegal drugs or alcohol), the duration of any assignment of a disruptive student to an alternative education program shall not exceed the remainder of the semester in which the student is suspended or expelled and the following semester. The proposal also seeks to amend O.C.G.A. § 20-2-737(f) regarding adoption of policies by local boards to improve student learning environment so as to make it the policy of Georgia that disruptive students who are subject to mandatory attendance pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 20-2-690.1 are not to be suspended or expelled without assignment to alternative educational settings. Similar amendments are made to O.C.G.A. § 20-2-751.5(d), relating to student codes of conduct and to O.C.G.A. § 20-2-768 regarding expulsion or suspension of students for felonies.
SB 329, by Sen. Lindsey Tippins (R-Marietta), is another education bill and this deals with dual enrollment. It contains amendments as follows:
- Amends O.C.G.A. § 20-2-149.2, regarding the awarding of high school diplomas for completion of postsecondary programs to include that a student has at least two technical college certificate of credit programs in one specific career pathway and all postsecondary academic education and technical education and training prerequisites for any State, national, or industry occupational certifications or licenses required to work in the field as determined by the Technical College System of Georgia or for any industry and job related skills requisite for a work force need identified by the State Board of the Technical College System of Georgia pursuant to paragraph (2) of subsection (b) of this Code Section. It also requires the State Board of the Technical College System of Georgia to consult with Georgia industry associations, the Georgia Department of Labor and other state recognized strategic work force industries and initiatives to determine the technical college certificate of credit programs that meet the requirements.
- Amends O.C.G.A. § 20-2-157 and adds a subsection (h), regarding uniform reporting system to determine eligibility requirements to receive HOPE scholarship so as to include a student who receives a diploma pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 20-2-149.2 (the student will have met all rigor requirements).
- Amends O.C.G.A. § 20-2-161.3(f) concerning "Move on When Ready Act" and the award of a high school diploma so as to include a student's obtaining industry and job related skills requisite for a work force need identified by the State Board of the Technical College System of Georgia pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 20-2-149.2(b)(2).
House Insurance Committee
Chairman Richard Smith (R-Columbus) convened the full Committee at 8:00 a.m. He announced that he expected three more Committee meetings before Crossover Day 30 on February 29 and invited members to discuss any bills with him if they expected action during the Session. Rep. Smith had also announced Tuesday evening that he expected to introduce a balance billing bill, but that it would be sent to Study Committee this summer. He also announced that HB 838 by Rep. Shaw Blackmon (R-Bonaire) and Rep. John Meadows (R-Cartersville), relating to minimum agent commissions, would not be heard until the week of February 8, likely at the full Committee meeting on Wednesday, February 10. He assigned the tiered drug pricing bill, HB 875 by Rep. Lee Hawkins (R-Gainesville), to the Administration and Licensing Subcommittee, as well as HB 555 by Rep. Joyce Chandler (R-Grayson) relating to data collection on juvenile abortions. HB 784, by Rep. John Carson (R-Kennesaw) relating to insurance promotional items and what is deemed to be an unfair trade practice, was assigned to the Life Subcommittee. He had also announced that he expected the stage 4 cancer treatment bill coverage proposal, by Rep. Mike Cheokas (R-Americus), to also be assigned to the Administration and Licensing Subcommittee. The Committee then passed by Committee Substitute HB 193 by Rep. Carl Rogers (R-Gainesville) known as the Life Insurance Consumer Disclosure Act that requires disclosure to policy holders by companies and agents of alternatives to surrender or termination of life policy at age 60 or upon request for surrender of a policy. It then hastily tested and passed HB 866 by Rep. Shaw Blackman (R-Bonaire) that excused multiple employer insurance associations from the premium tax. This bill was Rep. Shaw Blackman’s (R-Bonaire) first bill and he was duly hazed by irrelevant questions, but the bill passed unanimously.
House Government Affairs Committee
Chairman Ed Rynders (R-Albany) convened the full Committee at 2:00 p.m. and it took up four bills. Rep. Johnnie Caldwell (R-Thomaston) presented a substitute to HB 738 that disposes of surplus proceeds in court law library fees either to a charitable organization, as under current law, or also under this legislation to purchase computer and other equipment for solicitors and public defenders, provided notice is given to the County Commissioners. Reps. Jay Powell (R-Camilla), Barry Fleming (R-Harlem) and Mary Margaret Oliver (D-Atlanta) offered clarifying comments and amendments. The bill passed unanimously. Rep. Brad Raffensperger (R-John’s Creek) presented a substitute to his HB 781, relating to State and governing bodies and requiring members of such offices be United States citizens and to have certain periods of residency requirements in Georgia before being appointed to any local board or authority, one year for local governing bodies or councils and four years for State authorities or commissions. He was reacting to service on some taxing or policy authorities to immigrants holding green cards prior to attaining naturalized citizen status. There was a lively discussion and Rep. Barry Fleming (R-Harlem) and Rep. Jay Powell (R-Camilla) inquired whether the intention was to include advisory committees or whether there may be interest in permitting green card holders to serve in ex party non-voting roles. Neither Chairman Rynders nor author Rep. Raffensberger was willing to accept any such amendments. The Chairman called for a voice vote on the bill, and there were several nays but the bill was declared passed. The Committee also passed HB 765, by Rep. Jay Powell (R-Camilla), permitting retired individuals to serve on county department of children and youth boards (local DFCS boards) among the categories required by existing law and HB 497 by Rep. Valencia Stovall (D-Lake City) to permit the State and counties to sell or donate surplus property with a value less that $2,000.00 to charitable organizations. She accepted friendly amendments to her bill. Finally, Rep. Dee Dawkins- Haigler (D-Lithonia) presented SB 208, relating to the city of Stonecrest, which changes the dates for the vote to create the City. She received several questions as to why she supported the city of Stonecrest when she had voted against other city bills, such as Lavista Hills. The bill did, however, pass.
House Education – Academic Innovations Subcommittee
The purpose of this hearing was to consider two pieces of legislation. HB 870, sponsored by Rep. Brian Strickland (R-McDonough), which would allow student athletes at private schools to play scrimmage matches with student athletes at public schools. The bill would also codify a rule that a high school athletic association adhere to a policy that allows religious expression of student athletes, as long as the student athlete is not in violation of the rules of the game. Furthermore, schools would be required to adopt this policy or they would lose their QBE funding.
Rep. Strickland said that a private school within his district contacted him about the smaller schools in that district not being allowed to play in scrimmage matches, track events, and other events with public schools. They could not do cross play with other schools, even though they shared the same track. This leads to parents and students being forced to choose between athletics or education, which is unfair to students.
Chairman Brooks Coleman (R-Duluth) threw his support behind the bill. He said that the legislature does not want to get into the business of running high school athletics; however, this bill does not deal with regional competitions. He clarified that this bill only deals with scrimmages, or practice games. Chairman Mike Dudgeon (R-Johns Creek) and Rep. Sam Teasley (R-Marietta) also support the bill.
Rep. Strickland said that he had been in conversations with the GHSA and expressed doubts that the association would implement a rule like this without it first being codified. GHSA Commissioner Phillips testified and provided an explanation as to why the private school in question was not allowed to participate in scrimmage matches with other schools. He indicated that the decision to not create a partnership between this school and the local school system was made by a committee within GHSA. Under pressure from this legislation, the GHSA board of trustees actually approved the creation of a partnership this morning. They went even further and will allow magnet school participation in high school athletics. This addresses HB 16, introduced last year by Rep. Brian Prince (D-Augusta)
Chairman Coleman asked Commissioner Phillips to discuss the religious expression part, which was meant to address a student who was disqualified from a track meet for wearing a headband containing a bible verse. What really happened, according to Mr. Phillips, is that the student was repeatedly told to remove the headband because it was a violation of the athletic association's rules on adornments. HB 870 received a do-pass recommendation and moved on to the full committee.
HB 614, by Rep. Valencia Stovall (D-Lake City), would allow for a pilot program allowing for video monitoring cameras in classrooms for special needs students. This would provide instructional support for teachers and school administrators and would add additional support equipment for assessing additional needs of special needs students. Implementing this would not require any additional funds and it is becoming common in many states around the country. This bill received a due-pass recommendation and moved onto the full committee. This subcommittee was then adjourned.
House Education Committee
The full House Education Committee convened this afternoon. Chairman Brooks Coleman (R-Duluth) assigned a number of bills to subcommittees:
- HB 829 – Academic Support
- HB 864 – Academic Innovations
- HB 873 – Academic Support
- HB 848 – Academic Support
Representative Brian Strickland (R-McDonough) presented HB 870, which passed out of the House Education's Subcommittee on Academic Innovations earlier today. This is the bill that would allow student athletes at private schools to play scrimmage matches with student athletes at public schools. The bill would also codify a rule that a high school athletic association adhere to a policy that allows religious expression of student athletes, as long as the student athlete is not in violation of the rules of the game. Furthermore, schools would be required adopt this policy or they would lose their QBE funding. HB 870 received a due-pass recommendation and moved onto House Rules Committee.
Rep. Kevin Tanner (R-Dawsonville) presented HB 739, which provides transparency in adopting locally approved textbooks and materials. The State is currently setting a standard to allow local school boards to adopt their own curriculum, allowing for more flexibility. Each local system will adopt its own policy. This bill essentially requires that local systems provide a way for parents to view the materials through the approval process. This substitute includes an amendment by Rep. Margaret Kaiser (D-Atlanta) requiring notification to parents when the approval process begins. The substitute also clarifies that supplemental and ancillary materials are required to be available only upon request. Rep. Tanner indicated that he would like to amend the bill further by limiting the right to view such materials to parents of children only in the school at which the materials were used. This was included as an amendment on Line 80. Once amended, this bill received a due-pass recommendation and moved on to the House Rules Committee. The meeting was adjourned.
Senate Education and Youth Committee
SB 309, by Sen. Burt Jones (R-Jackson), had a hearing and no action was taken. This legislation provides that that high schools that receive State funding cannot participate in an athletic association which prohibits religious expression on the clothing of student athletes and that high schools that receive State funding cannot participate in an athletic association which prohibits member schools from organizing and playing scrimmage matches, games or other competitions with non-member schools. Sen. Jones explained that when he played ball that he often wrote some biblical verse on his jersey – the legislation does address "safety" issues for those who are participating in these events. Jimmy Stokes, the lobbyist for GAEL, spoke out against the proposal – for him he offered his numerous years of coaching and his service as a high school principal, and he was concerned that the legislation might diminish what a "team" is as well as national policies on scholastic athletics.
Sen. William Ligon, Jr. (R-Brunswick) presented his legislation SB 310 addressing competitive grants and requiring the General Assembly to authorize the State's participation in such grants over $20 million. His issue was the numerous policies and financial impacts relating to Georgia's participation in the Race to the Top grant funding.
House Appropriations Committee – Health Subcommittee
In a lengthy hearing late in the afternoon, Rep. Butch Parrish (R-Swainsboro) and his Subcommittee heard from the public on the proposed funding in the 2017 Budget for the Departments of Community Health and Public Health. There were some themes from testimony which emerged. Grady Hospital had several requests for funds for their Sickle Cell, Poison Control Center and Stroke Center programs.
There were numerous requests for added funding for the Independent Care Waiver Program so that providers of those services could receive rate increases (currently, they receive $11.76 per hour and the request was to move those rates for Level I to $17.96 per hour and for Level II to $20.20 per hour – the rates paid in the Community Care Services Program and SOURCE Program). In total, the request for ICWP rate enhancements is $3.7 million.
Georgia Association of Emergency Medical Services asked for fee increases – they recited that the average transport cost is $415.00 per transport. Costs paid for reimbursements are generally around half.
The Georgia Health Care Association asked for improvements on the nursing home rates. They recited that a one percent rate increase would be approximately $4.3 million. Currently, nursing homes are paid based on 2012 Medicaid Cost Reports. They asked to move to the 2014 Cost Report with a three percent increase.
Georgia hospitals spoke about added funding for rehabilitation and long-term care hospitals. They also focused on trauma care funding, requesting that there be a redirect of funds from the Super Speeder fines paid to the General Treasury to the Commission on Trauma in the amount of $4.6 million. The State's Trauma Commission is funded with approximately $16 million and hospitals see the need for more funding to better strengthen the State's network of trauma care.
Provider rate enhancements for primary care physicians, pediatricians and OB/GYNs were also requested. Last year, the Budget included $23 million for these providers for certain codes. This year, the group asked again, under the leadership of Pat Cota, for $26.5 million more in funding for Medicaid patients seen. The goal is to bring these providers' rates in line with those paid to Medicare physicians.
There were requests for autism spectrum disorders' funding and a pilot program in addition to requesting that Georgia cover medically necessary ABA therapy under EPSDT services.
Georgia CORE requested a $250,000 increase for its services provided to cancer patients and practitioners across the State.
The Georgia Council on Substance Abuse asked that the State look closely at "SBIRT" but did not ask for specific funding. This initiative helps with prevention efforts and two pilot studies have already been conducted in Georgia.
The Georgia Dental Association asked for $200,000 to restore funding for the rural dental training program.
Champions for Children, a program managed by Easter Seals, requested $250,000 for covering services provided to medically fragile children.
Adult day centers asked for a five percent rate boost. They have not received a rate enhancement since 1999.
NEBA Health, an entity in Augusta, requested that the Subcommittee fund a pilot of 500 patients and use its FDA-cleared device in determining diagnoses of children in the State's Medicaid and PeachCare programs with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. This pilot would cost $1,100.00 per patient or a total of $550,000. They explained that the State could determine the numbers of diagnoses which were inaccurate and potentially save money.
The Subcommittee did not ask a great number of questions throughout the afternoon's presentations. Chairman Parrish did remark that at some point the State is going to have to pay providers a reasonable fee but it cannot be solved until another day.
Our 2015 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.