Report for February 8, 2012
Sportsmen from all over Georgia gather to celebrate their day at the Capitol.
Sportsmen from around Georgia gathered at the Capitol today to make lawmakers aware of their interests. They even provided some South Georgia hospitality by hosting a meal of shrimp and grits under the Gold Dome.
It was also Emergency Medical Services Day and EMTs from around the State were in both House and Senate galleries to be recognized. The House session lasted until 2:30 p.m. today as representatives argued over HR 1162 which would amend the Constitution by allowing the State to authorize charter schools.
The House stayed in session much longer than most people anticipated at the beginning of the day. In the morning, Reps. Andrew Welch (R-McDonough) and Steve Davis (R-McDonough) acknowledged Henry County Day at the Capitol.
Rep. Ann Purcell (R-Rincon) made sure that EMTs in the gallery received attention for their service to the citizens of the State.
Reps. Jon Burns (R-Newington) and David Knight (R-Griffin) were instrumental in recognizing all of the Sportsmen at the Capitol today.
The House local consent calendar passed unanimously 155 to zero.
HB 342 was presented by Rep. Doug McKillip (R-Athens) and would provide a definition for “family violence order” in cases involving a stalking charge. After no questions were asked, HB 342 passed 167 to zero.
It was at this point that the House recessed so the House Rules Committee could meet. Eventually, a supplemental calendar was produced which contained HR 1162. This controversial Resolution proposes an amendment to the Constitution of Georgia so as to clarify the authority of the State to establish state-wide education policy. It restates the authority of the General Assembly to create special schools and delineates types of schools that the General Assembly may authorize and clarify funding authority. Rep. Jan Jones (R-Milton) presented the Resolution and argued that HR 1162 was necessary to fix problems that had resulted from the Georgia Supreme Court ruling this past summer that deemed aspects of charter school legislation unconstitutional. She explained that the Resolution had bipartisan support. However, Reps. Roger Bruce (D-Atlanta), Kathy Ashe (D-Atlanta), Scott Holcomb (D-Atlanta), David Wilkerson (D-Austell), Coach Williams (D-Avondale Estates), Al Williams (D-Midway), Calvin Heard (D-Athens), and Brian Thomas (D-Lilburn) all spoke in the Well against the Resolution. The general consensus from these representatives was that HR 1162 would take away local control and funding from public schools. Reps. Mike Dudgeon (R-Suwanee), Rahn Mayo (D-Decatur), Alisha Morgan (D-Austell), Margaret Kaiser (D-Atlanta), Brooks Coleman (R-Duluth), and Edward Lindsey (R-Atlanta) spoke in favor of the Resolution. They believed that it would give Georgia children more school choice. Minority Leader Stacey Abrams (D-Atlanta) claimed that HR 1162 was a “trojan horse” designed to change the way education is funded in Georgia. She called the Resolution a dangerous threat to local control. Rep. Jones had the final word and urged her colleagues to support the Resolution in order to help all children in this State receive the education they deserve. In the end, a vote was taken and the final tally was 110 to 62 against. HR 1162 failed because it did not receive the constitutional majority needed for passage. Rep. Lindsey served notice that a motion to reconsider would be brought before the House tomorrow.
The Senate session began just after 10:00 a.m. after a roll call signified the presence of 50 Senators. Sen. Donzella James (D-College Park) had the honor of presenting the Doctor of the Day, Dr. Jada Moore-Ruffin.
The local consent calendar was passed 50 to zero.
Sen. Jeff Mullis (R-Chickamauga) noted the fact that it was Emergency Medical Services Day at the Capitol.
Three Bills were on the Senate Calendar:
- SB 343 was presented by Sen. Bill Heath (R-Bremen). It seeks to designate the state accounting officer as the Comptroller General and transfer the office, functions, duties, and responsibilities of the Comptroller General from the Commissioner of Insurance to the State Accounting Office. Sen. Steve Thompson (D-Marietta) wanted to know how the change would affect the five members of the State Depository Board. Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta) was concerned that a conflict of interest could arise between the Comptroller General and individuals in the State Accounting Office. SB 343 passed 47 to four.
- SB 351 was authored by Sen. John Crosby (R-Tifton) and would require the same training for all judges of courts exercising municipal court jurisdiction. Sen. Crosby emphasized the fact that a compromise had been made in order to get the Bill where it is today. Without discussion, SB 351 passed unanimously 48 to zero.
- SB 352 was also presented by Sen. Crosby. The Bill would authorize Municipal courts and courts exercising municipal court jurisdiction to employ full-time or part-time prosecuting attorneys to represent the jurisdiction in criminal proceedings in such court. No questions were asked and SB 352 passed 50 to zero.
During points of personal privilege, Sen. Valencia Seay (D-Riverdale) asked the other Senators to join her in congratulating Monica Pearson on a fantastic career as the anchor with Channel 2 Action News. She will retire soon after 37 years on the air.
Majority Leader Chip Rogers (R-Woodstock) stated that the Senate would be back in session tomorrow at 9:00 a.m.
HR 1341 – Rep. David Casas (R-Lilburn) authored this Resolution to recognize February 8, 2012 as Advanced Placement Day at the Capitol. www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/en-US/Display/20112012/HR/1341
HR 1350 – Rep. Ed Setzler (R-Acworth) proposed this initiative to propose an amendment to the Constitution so as to create special transportation districts for taxation purposes for the funding of regional transportation projects. www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/en-US/Display/20112012/HR/1350
SR 814 – Sen. Bill Heath (R-Bremen) submitted this piece of legislation to recognize February 8, 2012 as Sportsmen’s and Coastal Day at the Capitol. www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/en-US/Display/20112012/SR/814
SR 819 – Sen. Hardie Davis (D-Gracewood) introduced this Resolution to create the Senate Alternative Sustainable Transportation Study Committee. www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/en-US/Display/20112012/SR/819
House Science and Technology Committee
Chaired by Rep. Amos Amerson (R-Dahlonega), the House Science and Technology Committee met early today. Danielle Ayan, Senior Research Scientist and GIS Professional (GISP) at the Georgia Tech Research Institute presented the framework necessary for the State of Georgia to harness and benefit from technology-enabled services. According to her, powerful new location-oriented technologies emerge daily. Many States are quickly adopting geospatial literacy as related to academic pathways and the geospatial approach as related to more efficient and effective government. Ms. Ayan gave several examples illustrating how geographic information systems could specifically be used in Georgia. She spoke about the ability to efficiently design property maps for county evaluations and real estate companies. She also said that geospatial technology could help prepare for floods and other natural disasters. Rep. Paul Battles (R-Cartersville) asked Ms. Ayan a question about whether the technology took topography into account. She explained in an in-depth manner that it did. Rep. Barbara Massey Reece (D-Menlo) asked a question about the cost of instituting these programs. Ms. Ayan felt that the benefits greatly outweighed the costs.
House Insurance Committee
Chairman Richard Smith (R-Columbus) heard three Bills this morning:
- HB 785 by Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon) would require that licensure of physicians and dentists be based solely on skill and competence and not on third party insurance participation. The Bill passed without discussion or amendments.
- HB 640 by Rep. Carl Rogers (R-Gainesville) was the second Bill to be discussed. It seeks to clear up a Code error made by legislative counsel that must be fixed by passing a new Bill. HB 640 passed easily.
- The final item on the agenda was HB 786 by Rep. Bill Hembree (R-Winston). It would eliminate an insurer’s requirement of filing documents with the Office of Insurance Consumer Advocate in addition with the Department and Commissioner. The Bill passed easily without changes.
Even though HB 718 by Rep. Allen Peake was originally on the agenda, it was not considered by the Committee. HB 718 would create the Georgia Capital Acceleration Authority but there is a constitutional problem supposedly with the current proposal. HB 463, the initiative by Rep. Matt Dollar (R-Marietta), also was not heard by the Committee because the author was not present.
House Health and Human Services
Chaired by Rep. Sharon Cooper (R-Marietta), the House Health and Human Services Committee focused discussions on two Bills. The first was presented by Rep. Andrew Welch (R-McDonough) and would require the Department of Public Health to study whether pulse oximetry screening should be a standard test for all newborns for the detection of congenital heart defects. The Committee heard from several doctors in the field of study as well as mothers who have children affected by heart defects. Rep. Gene Maddox (R-Cairo) wanted to know why this had not already been implemented. Rep. B.J. Pak (R-Lilburn) submitted an amendment which inserted a period into line 47. After being put to a vote, HB 745 passed unanimously as amended.
HB 673, by Rep. Billy Mitchell (D-Stone Mountain), was the other piece of legislation to receive attention from the Committee. The Bill would establish a return to play policy for student athletes suffering from concussions. A representative from the NFL spoke in support of the Bill as well as four Atlanta Falcons players. Reps. Ed Rynders (R-Albany) and B.J. Pak (R-Lilburn) had several technical issues with the Bill. As a result, HB 673 was held in Committee so that some additional work on it can be done.
Senate Judiciary Committee
Chairman Hamrick presided over the afternoon hearing involving three pieces of legislation. Sen. Don Balfour (R-Snellville) presented SB 350 which relates to the disposition of firearms and proposes to require that firearms used in the commission of a crime be returned to their innocent owners and also outlines procedures for forfeited and abandoned firearms by law enforcement agencies and the State. If the firearm is another individual’s property, then it must be returned to its rightful owner after it is no longer needed for evidentiary purposes. The Bill defines “innocent owner” (for instance the person who legally owns the gun and is authorized to possess the gun). That owner must actually bear the costs of retrieving the firearm but the costs will be limited to the actual costs of shipping and the costs for the transfer and background checks performed. If six months after the law enforcement agency has notified the innocent owner and said innocent owner fails to pay for the weapon’s return or fails to respond, then the political subdivision or State who is in custody of that weapon may then follow disposal rules:
- A municipal corporation must dispose of the firearm as provided for in O.C.G.A. § 36-37-6. In such a sale, the municipal corporation may not reject any bid or cancel the proposed sale of such a firearm, and all sales must be to licensed firearms collectors, dealers, importers, or manufacturers who are authorized to receive firearms. The proceeds from these sales may cover the necessary costs of administering the sale, with any surplus proceeds to be transferred to the political subdivision’s general fund.
- A state custodial agency or political subdivision that is not a municipal corporation must place the firearms for sale in a public auction for licensed firearm collectors, dealers, importers, or manufacturers who are authorized to receive firearms. The proceeds from these auctions may cover the necessary costs of administering the auction, with any surplus proceeds to be transferred to the state’s general fund. If the state custodial agency previously used any firearms sold in the auction, it may be reimbursed for those firearms.
If the government entity does not receive any bid within six months, or if the firearm is certified as unsafe for use, or if law prohibits the sale of such a firearm, the firearm does not have to be sold in the above manner. Instead, the firearms will be given to the Division of Forensic Sciences of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation for training and experimental purposes, given to a municipal or county law enforcement forensic laboratory for training or experimental purposes, or be destroyed. Such transfer would occur at the discretion of the sheriff, chief of police, agency director, or designee of such an official. The Bill requires that the agency must keep records of the firearms acquired, firearms disposed, the proceeds of sale, and disbursement of proceed.
If personal property is involved in a crime, abandoned, or seized, and it is used as evidence in a trial, then it must be returned to the rightful owner within 30 days following a final judgment of guilt. If such judgment is appealed or the defendant moves for a new trial, and if other identification or analysis of the property is not sufficient evidence for appeal or a new trial, then the property must be returned within 30 days of the conclusion of the appeal or new trial, whichever occurs last.
SB 350 mandates municipal, county and state police authorities return all seized firearms not currently being held for evidentiary purposes to the lawful owner. If the lawful owner is not found or unable to take possession of the firearm, then these agencies would sell these firearms at a public auction to a licensed firearms dealer with the appropriate license for reception of these guns. SB 350 would not end the disposal of seized firearms by law enforcement agencies; it provides that weapons may be disposed of by means other than immediate destruction, leaving destruction as a last resort. SB 350 would prevent the wasteful and expensive practice of destroying firearms that could be re-circulated through licensed dealers to the retail market. Localities would be able reap the benefits of the sale proceeds and consumers would have access to affordable firearms through licensed dealers, with all of the usual safeguards that pertain to dealer sales to the public.
Chairman Hamrick noted that there had been concerns raised by the Sheriffs Association but those had been addressed in the Committee Substitute as presented. The Bill passed unanimously 6 to 0.
Sen. Charlie Bethel (R-Dalton) presented SB 316 extending the statute of limitations for sexual crimes against children. It would address the statute of limitations for the criminal prosecution of any crime listed below against a victim less than 16 years of age on the date of the crime, is tolled until the victim reaches the age of 18 and will run for ten years after the victim’s eighteenth birthday:
- trafficking a person for sexual servitude,
- cruelty to a child in the first degree,
- aggravated sodomy,
- statutory rape,
- child molestation,
- aggravated child molestation,
- enticing a child for indecent purposes, or
For the crime of forcible rape, the statute of limitations is tolled until the victim reaches the age of 18 and will run for 15 years after the victim’s eighteenth birthday. No one testified about this proposal. The substitute to SB 316, as presented, passed unanimously.
Sen. Hamrick then explained his legislation, SB 383, which addresses the “Georgia International Commercial Arbitration Code.” It would amend Georgia’s current law dealing with international arbitration and enhance the State’s ability to be considered as a neutral location for commercial contract resolution. It is modeled on the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL, or “Model Law”), which is being supported by the State’s business community, local chambers of commerce, and the State Bar of Georgia. The Bill provides for procedural rules for international commercial arbitrations in Georgia and this law will apply to international commercial arbitration only if the place of arbitration is in Georgia. An arbitration is international if:
- The parties have their places of business in different countries at the conclusion of the arbitration agreement;
- Either the place of arbitration or the place where a substantial part of the commercial relationship is to be performed is situated outside the country in which the parties have their places of business; or
- The parties expressly agreed that the subject matter of the agreement relates to more than one country.
Domestic arbitration would not be affected by the proposed changes.
This legislation includes new definitions for the terms, “arbitration,” “arbitration agreement,” “arbitration award,” and “arbitration tribunal.”
An agreement will be deemed to be in writing if it is in an exchange of statements of claim and defense where the existence of an agreement is alleged by one party and not denied by the other. Additionally, reference in a contract to an arbitration clause in a document will constitute an agreement in writing.
Unless otherwise agreed by the parties, a person may not be precluded from being an arbitrator because of his nationality. Parties may agree on appointment procedures for arbitrators; if they cannot, then the proposal includes a procedure for such arbitrators.
The Bill, if passed, becomes effective on July 1, 2012, and would apply only to agreements entered into on and after that date.
There were several on hand to provide testimony with all speaking favorably to the proposal: Hal Gray, State Bar; Doug Yarn, Georgia State University; Bruce Jackson, JAS Worldwide;
David Raynor, Georgia Chamber of Commerce; and Chuck Meadows, with the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce. SB 383 passed unanimously.
House Appropriations Committee – Health Subcommittee
For the second day in a row, this Subcommittee convened to talk about the FY 2013 Budget. Chairman Parrish and his Subcommittee members heard presentations from the Department of Public Health, Brain and Spinal Injury Trust Fund Commission, Georgia Trauma Commission and the Primary Care Summit. The members asked few questions in these presentations. Rep. Pat Gardner (D-Atlanta) thanked Commissioner Fitzgerald regarding the work done to address funding for HIV program problems. Rep. Gardner expressed some concerns about the proposed closures of some teen centers in the Department of Public Health’s Budget. Rep. Ron Stephens (R-Savannah) also raised questions about the HIV funding, noting that there was a need for a program to help people to continue to take their medications. Dr. Fitzgerald noted that prevention was the best treatment and it was critical for individuals to take their HIV drugs. Chairman Parrish inquired about lost TANF funding and how that impacted several programs within the Department of Public Health. He also asked Dr. Fitzgerald to speak about the work conducted at the State’s Laboratory which is overseen by this Department. Dr. Fitzgerald noted that this laboratory addressed bioterrorism matters for the State, conducted newborn screenings, and did all rabies screenings.
When the Georgia Trauma Commission presented, they noted that the “super speeders” law had neither generated the money anticipated from the fines nor had the money been generated from the fees for the reinstatement of licenses. Originally, it had been projected that $23 million from the super speeder law would be made to help fund the Trauma Commission. For the FY 2013, its budget is at $15.9 million based on these collections.
Several folks were on hand to give public comment. Some of those comments included support for the Independent Care Waiver Program funding for individuals to remain in their homes rather than be institutionalized.
A pediatrician from South Georgia spoke about the increase to the rates for Medicaid providers, noting that it was much appreciated. She talked too about increasing the rates further, moving closer to Medicare funding levels. Rep. Gardner asked about problems that the physician’s patients have with eligibility for Medicaid and PeachCare; the doctor explained that sometimes patients roll off after their first birthday and then must reapply. Also, she explained that the eligibility determinations are made every six months and sometimes that communication is sent to the parents’ last known address. The individuals move frequently so that communication is not always received.
The dean from Morehouse School of Medicine spoke about the funding to their operating grant and the need to get more trained physicians in the State. She also explained that the reduction in the operating grant of $1.4 million actually translated to a reduction of $4.6 million with federal money tied to the State portion.
Shelia Ryan, the State Director for March of Dimes, asked the Subcommittee to consider restoring money for Children’s 1st, noting the various programs to which these children are referred that help address the birth to age five screenings which help identify problems and address those medical issues early so that children may live more productive lives.
Jon Howell, with the Georgia Health Care Association, talked briefly about moving the FY 2013 Budget to funding nursing homes using the 2010 Cost Report rather than the 2009 Cost Report. The nursing homes are willing to make the necessary adjustment in their provider fee, paying an additional $3.71 per patient per day for a total of $17.10 which would generate an additional $38 million. This change would require an investment by the State of $4 million. He mentioned too the change to Fair Rental Property Value funding, and SOURCE (moving towards a quality incentive program).
Mary Frances Williams with Healthy Mothers Healthy Babies also talked about the need to restore Children’s 1st funding which helps identify children’s problems as early as possible and coordinate needed services.
Linda Lowe with Families First talked also about the Medicaid eligibility process; the need to continue Medicaid eligibility for 12 months rather than six months (like states of Alabama, Mississippi, North Carolina and South Carolina); and more funding for Children’s 1st.
A citizen from Sandy Springs talked about the need for Independent Care Waiver Program slots and helping with Unlock the Waiting List.
Dr. Titus Duncan, a bariatric surgeon, asked that the Subcommittee reconsider the Department of Community Health’s action on the State Health Benefit Plan in its elimination of coverage for bariatric surgery.
If you have any questions concerning this Report, please contact Stanley S. Jones, Jr., Helen Sloat or Taylor Janney.
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.