Gold Dome Report - February 4, 2016
Today marked Legislative Day 16 for the General Assembly! It was the Georgia Nurses Association's Day at the Capitol, with over 1,000 nurses being recognized on the House and Senate floors – white coats were everywhere!
It was also announced that the Senate Appropriations Committee plans to meet at 8:15 a.m. on Monday, February 8 in order to pass out its version of the FY 2016 Amended Budget.
There were five pieces of legislation on the House Rules Calendar:
HB 593, by Rep. Lee Hawkins (R-Gainesville), was presented; this legislation addresses the required continuing education units to be obtained by low-voltage contractors. In the legislation, it proposes that no more than four hours will be required annually. An amendment was offered by Rep. David Stover (R-Newnan) which failed to be adopted by a vote of 14-147. The legislation was then voted upon and the House failed to have the requisite votes to pass the proposal – it failed with a vote of 81-83. There was notice to reconsider the proposal; that motion was not taken up before the conclusion of the day's business.
HB 730, by Rep. Alan Powell (R-Hartwell), passed with a vote of 167-0. It relates to the Georgia Peace Officers' Training and Standards Council and adds two additional members, the Commissioners of the Departments of Juvenile Justice and Natural Resources (or their designees).
HB 747, by Rep. Terry Rogers (R-Clarkesville), passed with a vote of 161-0. This bill updates the reference date to federal regulations regarding the safe operation of motor vehicles.
HB 800, by Rep. Rick Jasperse (R-Jasper), clarifies the scope of the veterinarian-client-patient relationship. It passed with a vote of 166-0.
HB 815, by Rep Trey Rhodes (R-Greensboro) passed with a vote of 158-7. This bill provides for the inspection and regulation of avian meat (poultry) products and the facilities that process such products for human consumption.
HB 228, by Rep. Jeff Jones (R-Brunswick), passed with a vote of 164-3. It provides that fees for sheriff's services in counties where the sheriff is paid by salary only are to be remitted to the county treasurer or fiscal officer of the county upon 30 days of receipt.
The Senate voted on one piece of legislation today. Sen. Chuck Hufstetler (R-Rome) presented SB 230, also known as the "Uniform Volunteer Health Practitioners Act" which would allow the State to bring in health care volunteers to assist in the event of a major disaster, including natural disasters. The 'Emergency Provider Act' was first passed in Louisiana in response to hurricane Katrina, and this bill attempts to accomplish a similar goal. The Governor has broad authority over the scope and duration of such disaster under this legislation. This bill passed the Senate by a vote of 52-0.
Before adjourning, it was announced that the Senate Hoppers will close at 3:00 p.m. on Friday. The Senate adjourned until Monday, February 8.
HB 908, by Rep. Alan Powell (R-Hartwell), amends Article 13 of Chapter 6 of Title 40 by adding a new 'Part 7', to provide that all Class-I, Class-II, and Class-III all terrain vehicles are entitled to a full lane on the roads. It also requires that drivers of these vehicles adhere to the uniform rules of the road and prohibits such vehicles from driving next to each other, within the same lane. Additionally, a county or municipality may prohibit the use of all-terrain vehicles on roads within their jurisdiction.
HB 910, by Rep. Spencer Frye (D-Athens), amends O.C.G.A. § 31-33-3 to provide that the provisions relating to the costs of copying and mailing patient records now applies to psychiatric, psychological, and other mental health records of a patient.
HB 912, by Rep. Bruce Williamson (115), would be known as the "Georgia Uniform State Tax Execution Registry Act." It proposes to provide for the creation of a State Tax Execution Registry, which is defined in O.C.G.A. § 48-3A-1 as a public database maintained by the Department of Revenue to record, file, and maintain State tax executions for tax liabilities due to the State. The Tax Execution Registry would provide a uniform state-wide system for filing notices of such tax executions. The Department is to maintain such executions as of January 1, 2017.
HB 916, by Rep. Dustin Hightower (R-Carrollton), proposes to amend O.C.G.A. § 26-4-118 by removing an exception relating to audits conducted by the Department of Community Health. A new Code section would be added at O.C.G.A. § 49-4-151.1 to provide that a clerical or record-keeping error done by a provider, regarding reimbursement for medical assistance, shall not constitute fraud or constitute a basis to recoup full payment for the provided assistance. No recoupment of the costs shall be allowed except in cases when the error resulted in overpayment, though the recoupment would be limited to the amount overpaid. A provider has 30 days of the receipt of notice of the error to complete the documentation. A new code Section would also be added at O.C.G.A. § 50-1-10 to require that no State agency that provides reimbursement to another entity shall establish any rules requiring full withholding of reimbursement for any clerical or record keeping-error. Such errors include typographical errors, scrivener's errors, or computer errors, etc. Any such error would not in and of itself constitute fraud. No withholding of reimbursement shall be allowed if the error has been resolved in accordance with subsection (b), provided that recoupment shall be allowed if the error resulted in overpayment. In this case, recoupment shall be limited to the amount overpaid. An entity would be afforded the right to a hearing in accordance with the "Georgia Administrative Procedure Act" in Chapter 13 of Title 50 to address any attempted withholding of reimbursement by such State agency relating to an error in documentation.
HB 919, by Rep. Geoff Duncan (R-Cumming), provides that the Department of Public Health would need to approve and maintain a list of rural health care organizations in the State. A "rural health care organization" is defined as an organization certified by the Department of Public Health that is in a rural county; participates in both Medicaid and Medicare programs; provides health care services to indigent patients; and receives at least 25 percent of its gross net revenue from treating indigent patients. A new Code Section O.C.G.A. § 48-7-29.20 would be created to allow for an income tax credit in support of a rural health care organization. For a single individual, this tax credit would be either 90 percent of the amount expended, or $2,500 per tax year, whichever is less. In the case of a married couple, the credit would be either 90 percent of the amount expended, or $5,000 per tax year, whichever is less. A corporation would be allowed a credit not to exceed 90 percent of the actual amount expended or 75 percent of the corporation's income tax liability, whichever is less. This tax credit, though, could not exceed the taxpayer's income liability.
HB 920, by Rep. Trey Kelley (R-Cedartown), amends Article 1 of Chapter 7 of Title 31 by adding a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. § 31-7-3.3 so as to restrict civil actions against passive investors in nursing homes and intermediate care homes. Under this legislation, a claim against either of these types of homes that alleges direct or vicarious liability for the personal injury or death of one or more residents shall not be brought or maintained against a passive investor. Instead, the claim would be brought against the licensee or management or consulting company. This bill also requires, at O.C.G.A. § 31-7-3.4 that, in order to obtain a permit to operate a nursing home or intermediate care home, such home shall carry accident, casualty, liability, and property insurance coverage or establish a self-insurance trust for claims arising out of the personal injury or death of one or more residents of such home.
HB 922, by Rep. Bruce Williamson (R-Monroe), amends O.C.G.A. § 48-7-40.17 so as to define "taxpayer" as "any person required by law to file a return or to pay taxes, except that any taxpayer may elect to include disregarded entities, as defined in the Internal Revenue Code, as part of the taxpayer for purposes of calculating the number of new quality jobs created under this Code section."
HB 924, by Rep. Regina Quick (R-Athens), amends O.C.G.A. § 48-8-3 to provide an exemption from sales and use taxes for sales to a qualified job training organization.
HB 926, by Rep. Bruce Broadrick (R-Dalton), amends Chapter 4 of Title 26 to provide for the regulation of certain pharmacy facilities. The legislation adds new definitions in O.C.G.A. § 26-4-5, regarding pharmacists and pharmacies: "authorized distributor of record;" "outsourcing facility;" "third-party logistics provider;" and "virtual drug manufacturer." At O.C.G.A. § 26-4-28(a)(13), it amends the powers, duties and authority of the Georgia State Board of Pharmacy and its ability to issue and renew licenses by adding its authority over "permits" for those persons engaged in the manufacture and distribution of drugs, "including but not limited to drug manufacturers, wholesale distributors, reverse drug distributors, third-party logistics providers, outsourcing facilities, and virtual drug manufacturers. The board shall be authorized to establish all licensing and permit requirements of such entities by rule and regulation." It also adds clarifying language relating to temporary pharmacy licenses found in O.C.G.A. § 26-4-43 and adds that a temporary license may be issued to a service member, as defined in O.C.G.A. § 26-4-44.2 for a period of six months, and it also adds that an individual, who has been accepted for a pharmacy resident position in Georgia, may be issued a temporary license if they meet the examination requirement for licensure as specified by the board. Laws governing the "compounding and distribution of drug products" are proposed to be amended in O.C.G.A. § 26-4-86. In part, at subsection (b) of this Code Section, it adds language to address the meeting of "labeling requirements:"
All drug products compounded and labeled in accordance with board rules regarding pharmaceutical compounding and which have been compounded by an outsourcing facility in accordance with applicable current good manufacturing practices established by the federal Food and Drug Administration shall be deemed to meet the labeling requirements of chapter 13 of Title 16 and Chapters 3 and 4 of this title.
At (c), it requires that sterile compounding is only to be done by an outsourcing facility as allowed by federal law and board rule for pharmaceutical compounding using USP-NF standards for sterile compounding. There is an exception for pharmacies owned or operated by institutions and pharmacists and practitioners within or employed by institutions or affiliated entities. Changes are proposed to O.C.G.A. § 26-4-113(b), concerning wholesale distributors, licensing requirements, suspension or revocation of license and reinstatement – and incorporates that unless permitted by law, it is also unlawful for a pharmacy, third-party logistics provider, outsourcing facility and virtual drug manufacturer to distribute or deliver drugs or devices to or receive drugs or devices from any person or firm in Georgia not licensed under Chapter 4 of Title 26. Currently, the law applies to a manufacturer, wholesale distributor and reverse drug distributor. The legislation also proposes amendments in O.C.G.A. § 26-4-115 regarding wholesale drug distributors, registration, fees, reports of excessive purchases, and penalty for violations so as to also include pharmacy, third-party logistics provider, outsourcing facility, and virtual drug manufacturer to current law as to who is to biennially register with the board (if they are engaged in the business of selling or distributing drugs at wholesale in Georgia; in the business of supplying drugs to manufacturers, compounders and processors: or in the business of a reverse distributor). It further requires, except for a manufacturer or authorized distributor of record, entities to comply with the requirements of 21 U.S.C. 360eee, et seq. concerning drug supply chain security. It also revises the law concerning the return of outdated drugs so as permit the board to include a list of drugs exempted from the requirements because they have been determined as "essential to healthcare treatment and having an expiration date of less than one year fro the date such drug is manufactured."
SB 331, by Sen. Bruce Thompson (R-White), seeks to add in O.C.G.A. § 15-11-2(5) a definition for the term "aggravated circumstances" so that causing a child to be conceived as a result of rape in violation to O.C.G.A. § 16-6-1 would be considered such. It also amends O.C.G.A. § 19-7-1(b), concerning when parental power will be lost, adding that it will be also lost when one causes the child to be conceived as a result of rape in violation to O.C.G.A. § 16-6-1. The legislation adds that if a parent caused the child to be conceived as a result of rape in violation to O.C.G.A. § 16-6-1 that would also be a ground for the surrender or termination of rights of the parent when the court determines such by clear and convincing evidence. Finally, the legislation addresses the petitioning to superior court to terminate parental rights in O.C.G.A. § 19-8-11(a)(3) so that parental rights may be terminated, when the court determines clear and convincing evidence, that the parent caused the child to be conceived as a result of rape in violation to O.C.G.A. § 16-6-1.
SB 333, by Sen. John F. Kennedy (R-Macon), proposes a new Article 11A in Chapter 3 of Title 14, the nonprofit corporation's laws, to allow for a nonprofit corporation organized in a foreign jurisdiction to change its jurisdiction of organization to this State. It further allows a nonprofit entity organized in Georgia to change its jurisdiction of organization to a foreign jurisdiction. It establishes the process in filing a certificate with the Secretary of State and accompanying articles of incorporation and enumerates what must be contained in this certificate as well as action to be taken by the board (when becoming a foreign corporation).
SB 335, by Sen. Ellis Black (R-Valdosta), addresses "Public Retirement Systems Investment Authority Law" at O.C.G.A. § 47-20-83(a)(24) to revise provisions related to "permissible investments in commingled funds" and collective investment funds – it would now read:
Commingled funds and collective investment funds maintained by state chartered banks or trust companies or regulated by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency of the United States Department of Treasury, including common and group trusts, and, to the extent the funds are invested in such collective investment funds, the funds shall adopt the terms of the instruments establishing any group trust in accordance with applicable United States Internal Revenue Service Revenue Rulings.
SB 337, by Sen. Larry Walker, III (R-Perry), seeks to add a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. § 49-4-158 which addresses legal residents, who are dependents of a military service member and who are absent from Georgia due to the member's military service, to be added to a data base to indicate the need for medical assistance upon return to Georgia. It requires the Department of Human Services (DHS) to provide that these dependents of a military service member maintain eligibility and priority for certain medical assistance and developmental disability services – the individual will be required to provide to DHS a copy of the military service member's DD-214 or other equivalent discharge paperwork and proof of the military service member's legal residence in Georgia (as prescribed by DHS). In determining the dependent's eligibility, DHS may include a request for waiver services provided under the home and community based services program authorized under Section 1915(c) of the Social Security Act; provide to the dependent notification of the determination of eligibility for services, which includes notification of a denial of services if applicable; provide the dependent an opportunity to contest DHS's determination through the appeals' processes established by DHS; and resume services if the dependent remains eligible. A "condition" of continued eligibility requires that the dependent to inform DHS of his or her current address and provide updates as requested by DHS.
SB 338, by Sen. Judson Hill (R-Marietta), addresses workers' compensation laws and proposes a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. § 34-9-2.4. It permits any person, firm or private corporation (including a public service corporation), which has regularly less than three employees in the same business in Georgia and has not voluntarily elected by to be bound by Chapter 9 of this Title can apply with the board for the issuance of a certificate of State law applicability. The board would create such form which the applicant would complete and swear to under penalty of perjury to the facts contained therein. The certificate of State law applicability is required to recite relevant State law and certify that the applicant has represented facts to the board, and if true, would not require the applicant to provide workers' compensation insurance coverage under Georgia laws or to comply with any other provision in Chapter 9 of Title 34. The board is to issue this certificate within 15 days of receipt of the application; there is a proposed $25.00 fee to be submitted with the application (which would be returned if the application for the certificate is denied).
House Judiciary (Civil) Committee
The House Judiciary (Civil) Committee met today to discuss three bills, and the Committee moved to pass all three pieces of legislation to the House Rules Committee. HB 804 would provide for a fifth judge of the superior courts of the Clayton Judicial Circuit. HB 856 would require that judges from the probate courts give a $100,000.00 bond rather than the original $25,000.00 amount. It has been 34 years since the bond amount increased. HB 871, amending Georgia's Lemon Law, would require that a fee of $3.00 be collected by car dealers from the consumer, and forwarded quarterly to the Department of Law for deposit into the motor vehicle arbitration account. This piece of legislation simply proposes to change the forwarding destination from the Office of Planning and Budget to the Department of Law.
House Ways and Means Committee
In a brief sequence, all bills discussed during the meeting of the House Ways and Means Committee passed. HB 726 would clarify that certain charges on tobacco products are not subject to State excise tax. HB 766 simply revises a subparagraph of Code Section 48-5-40 to provide that any spouse can claim homestead exemption. HB 769 makes permanent an exception from ad valorem taxation for certain watercraft. Prior to the bill, the exception was due to expire in 2019. HB 802 revises the deduction from income for contributions to savings trust accounts so that the sum of an individual's contributions shall not exceed $4,000.00 per beneficiary. Discussion concerning this bill centered on improving college savings to increase the odds that future students will attend college. HB 822 proposes to remove the word "state" from the term "prepaid state tax" from a subsection (a)(4) of Code Section 48-8-3.3 as it relates to energy used in agriculture. HB 862 clarifies the definition of the term "disabled veterans" to broaden the definition in the Committee Substitute, making it easier for them to qualify for a homestead exemption.
House Appropriations – Education Subcommittee
The House Appropriations Subcommittee heard some requests for the FY 2017 budget from the Department of Early Care and Learning (DECAL) and the Department of Education (DOE). Chairman Tom Dickson (R-Cohutta) called the meeting to order.
Commissioner Amy Jacobs presented DECAL's budget requests for the FY 17 budget. Regarding the Child Care Services Program, she indicated an increase of $40,000 for merit based pay adjustment for State employees.
- 22.3 = Additional $7.9 million dollars for the merit based pay adjustments of 3% for state employees. This comes as a recommendation by the Governor.
- 22.3.2 = $17,000 for statewide adjustments
- 22.3.3 = $22,000 for adjustment in teamworks building
- 22.3.4 = $26.2 million dollars for new teacher compensation model and for increased salaries. This allows for pay increases for pre-k teachers so they are paid similar to k-12 teachers. This is expected to improve retention of pre-k teachers and will allow assistant teachers' salaries to increase.
Rep. Howard Maxwell (R-Dallas) expressed some concern over the amount of funding required over the course of the next few years. Specifically, he is concerned about the availability of lottery funds and the use of grants to fund programs. Offering grants oftentimes requires the State to pick up funding for those programs once the grant expires. Chairman Dickson said this is an ongoing issue, and he indicated that the State will need to make some hard decisions as to how to prioritize funding in the coming years.
The Georgia Department of Education requested a few additions to the FY 2017 budget. The most significant request was approximately $4.3 million for the 3% merit-based pay adjustment for teachers. There is a requested increase of about $72,000 for the Merit System Assessment. This is offset by a decrease in the amount paid to the Self Insurance Program of $136,000. Also, $800,000 was requested for the Teamworks bill. Some other requests of note are:
- 24.2.1 = This is a request for the Audio/Video Film Grants Program, which outfits eligible schools with video production equipment for use in the classroom.
- 24.7.5 = Increase for the Curriculum Development Program. This was recommended by the Governor and would add one position for a computer science specialist.
- 24.9.2 = Increase for the GNETS Program. This is a standard increase to account for enrollment growth. An additional $46,000 is added for a program manager.
- 24.11.5 = $2.8 million for IT Programs for ongoing maintenance and operation costs. IT programs already utilize 'Race to the Top' funds and other grants; however, those programs are running out of moneys.
- 24.12.2 = $1.4 million is requested as a standard change based on enrollment in residential treatment facilities. There are now 700 students in seven different centers in the State. This addition of funds accounts for the growth from the last fiscal year. Chairman Dickson indicated that the committee has been working with DOE to develop a formula that would more accurately meet the cost of residential treatment facilities. There was some indication that more data is required.
- 24.14.3 = $1.4 million dollars for Preschool Disability Services Program, which has seen a 9% increase in enrollment.
- 24.15.1 = Slight increase for QBE equalization. This is an adjustment to the base of half a million dollars. There was not a significant shift in the program total overall.
- 24.17.3 = $3 million for Charter System grants
House Appropriations Committee – Human Resources Subcommittee
Chairwoman Katie Dempsey (R-Rome) and members of her Subcommittee spent approximately three hours to hear from the public on the proposed FY 2017 Budget regarding human services provided in particular through the Department of Human Services and the Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency. Some highlights from the testimony include:
- A request was made for assistance for individuals who seek COMP and NOW waivers. It was noted that COMP waiver average State dollar costs are $27,805 (total of $85,291.96) and NOW waiver average State dollar costs are $9,780 (total of $30,000). They would like additional funds to convert to Medicaid moneys to draw additional funds down.
- Several members from Together Georgia, a trade association of child welfare providers, requested assistance with provider rates. Some of those who testified included John Blend with Goshen Valley Boys Ranch and Ron Scroggy with Together Georgia. They stressed the increased costs that facilities have experienced but without any State increases to help offset their costs. They explained that there had only been one provider rate increase (three percent) in the last ten years. These are Georgia's children being placed with these providers by the Division of Family and Children's Services and Department of Juvenile Justice. Together Georgia noted that a one percent increase was equal to approximately $2.1 million – they are seeking $18 million to fill the gap (for the cost of care versus what they are paid to care for these children and youth).
- There was a request for a five percent rate increase for Adult Day Health
providers. There are two levels of care provided which is based on a medical model. The first level is paid $50.45 per day per person; the second level is paid at $63.07 per person per day.
- The Alzheimer's Association asked for $10 million in additional home and community based services to help not only individuals with Alzheimer's but their caregivers.
- Easter Seals and Goodwill Industries (along with others) asked for additional State funds for vocational rehabilitation services. Their request was for $900,000.
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.