Gold Dome Report - February 9, 2016
Today was Legislative Day 18 of the Session. Speech-language pathologists from around Georgia were among the many visitors in the halls of the Capitol and representatives from Georgia Speech-Language-Hearing Association and GOSSLP were on hand to help legislators learn more about services they provide in health and educational settings. It was also University of Georgia Day at the Capitol and "Dawgs" were everywhere and wearing their red and black.
Governor Deal announced that in President Obama's Budget proposal for FY 2017, the funding for the Savannah Harbor Expansion was not fully funded as Georgia had hoped. So far, Georgia has paid out roughly $266 million; however, the President only proposed an added $42.7 million which is less than half what Georgia needs to get through construction. Governor Deal announced that he intended to seek help from Georgia's Congressional Delegation to address this shortfall.
The Senate had three pieces of legislation of its agenda for Tuesday. Majority Leader Bill Cowsert (R-Athens) motioned for HB 742, a finance bill, to be engrossed. Sen. Steve Henson (D-Tucker) rose to voice his opposition to the engrossment of legislation, because it limits Democrat legislators from being able to do their jobs. He said that many Democrats have not yet had their bills heard and they have a limited ability to get bills amended on the floor.
SB 255, by Sen. Jesse Stone (R-Waynesboro), is a garnishment reform bill that is a response to a federal court's decision that Georgia's garnishment statute was unconstitutional in a number of ways. Debtors were not being given notice of eligible exemptions and it was not expedited. A task force was formed to address the statute and this bill incorporates their findings. Sen. Stone described this legislation as pro-business and pro-consumer. Senator William T. Ligon, Jr. (R-Brunswick) offered an amendment that would strike lines 377-380, relating to a bank's obligation to determine the nature of funds. Sen. Ligon believes the current language will create confusion. Sen. Stone objected to the amendment and it failed by a vote of 16-28. SB 255 was then passed by a vote of 50-0.
SB 307, by Sen. Brandon Beach (R-Alpharetta), adds a definition for 'multimedia display'. It also allows for the use of multimedia displays on State roadways, in addition to billboards. President Pro-Tem David Shafer (R-Duluth) offered a friendly amendment, with the consent of the author, which clarifies the placement of these sides. The amendment specifies that old signs don't have to conform to the placement of new signs. SB 307 passed the Senate, as amended, by a vote of 53-0.
HB 742 was authored by Rep. David Knight (R-Griffin) and sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Judson Hill (R-Marietta). It had been engrossed earlier in the morning and so there was no debate on the floor. HB 742 passed by a vote of 51-1. It was then immediately transmitted to the Governor's office for his signature.
House Members were reminded that no retirement or tax bills could be introduced after Day 20 of the Session to have any action taken on them this Session.
HB 483, by Rep. Debbie Buckner (D-Junction City), passed with a vote of 167-0. It adds at O.C.G.A. § 50-3-87 that the shoal bass is the "official Georgia state native riverine sport fish."
HB 866, the first bill ever presented by freshman Rep. Shaw Blackmon (R-Bonaire), moved quickly through after some ribbing and initiation by fellow House members. It passed with a vote of 167-0. The legislation exempts multiple employer self-insured health plans from premium taxes at O.C.G.A. § 33-50-3.
Rep. Tom Kirby (R-Loganville) passed his legislation, HB 697, by Committee Substitute with a Floor Amendment which was adopted without objection with a vote of 166-0. The legislation amends O.C.G.A. § 10-1-50 and requires that no person be required to make a payment for the continued provision of any goods, wares, or merchandise following the expiration of a trial period during which similar goods, wares, or merchandise were provided free of charge "unless the recipient of such goods, wares, or merchandise affirmatively assents to the continued receipt thereof on a paid basis."
HB 739, by Rep. Kevin Tanner (R-Dawsonville), addressing elementary and secondary education and textbook content, moved through the House by Committee Substitute with a vote of 165-3.
HB 870, by Rep. Brian Strickland (R-McDonough), was postponed and no action was taken. This legislation proposes a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. § 20-2-316.3 and would prohibit a "high school, which receives funding from the State, to participate in, sponsor, or provide coaching staff for interscholastic athletic events which are conducted under the authority of, conducted under the rules of, or scheduled by any athletic association which prohibits religious expression of student athletes other than as required to protect the safety of the participants or the conduct of the athletic event in a manner consistent with the rules of the particular athletic event."
HB 765 amends O.C.G.A. § 49-3-2 and was authored by Rep. Jay Powell (R-Camilla). The legislation addresses who may serve on the boards of local Division of Family and Children's Services. In current law, the individuals must be active in their professions – this legislation permits retired individuals to serve on these boards. It passed 165-0.
HB 946, by Rep. Spencer, amends O.C.G.A. § 21-2-132 so as to revise the qualifying time period for nonpartisan municipal elections so they commence on the third Monday in August. Currently, they commence on the last Monday in August.
HB 948, by Rep Alan Powell (R-Hartwell), amends O.C.G.A. § 42-9-90 which would increase the application fee for non-indigent adult offenders when applying to transfer his or her supervision to another State from $25 (currently) to $100.00.
HB 949, by Rep. Alan Powell (R-Hartwell), amends O.C.G.A. § 16-9-30 to revise the definition of 'Government' to also include "every locally elected constitutional officer as authorized under Article IX, Section I, Paragraph III of the Constitution." It prohibits constitutional officers from issuing government purchasing cards to themselves or their employees, beginning on July 1, 2016, until they have adopted specific policies regarding the use of such cards.
HB 950, by Rep. Karen Bennett (D-Stone Mountain), amends O.C.G.A. § 15-11-211 and relates to the notification of parents in cases of a diligent search conducted as part of a child dependency proceeding. The notice that is provided to parents shall also contain the contact information for a county or regional DFCS case worker qualified to assist a relative caregiver. Such notice shall also now include any financial assistance available through any pilot program or for kinship care arrangements.
HB 951, by Rep. Chad Nimmer (R-Blackshear), amends O.C.G.A. § 48-8-3 by adding a new sales and use tax exemption on the sale of admissions to major sporting events in the State. 'Major Sporting Events' include games of the NFL, MLS, or NBA all-star games; or any other major sporting event determined by the commissioner of economic development and the State revenue commissioner to generate revenue of at least $50 million in the host locality. Revenue projections for the purposes of this section shall include lodging, meals, vehicle rentals, and admissions.
HB 952, by Rep. Chad Nimmer (R-Blackshear), seeks to enact the "Georgia Professional Regulation Reform Act" in a new Chapter 1C of Title 43. It provides at O.C.G.A. § 43-1C-3 that the Governor has the authority and duty to actively supervise the professional licensing boards of Georgia and to ensure that their actions are consistent with "clearly articulated state policy and shall therefore have the authority and duty to: 1) review and, in writing, approve or veto any rule before it is filed in the office of the Secretary of State if such rule is required to be filed in the office of the Secretary of State by Chapter 13 of Title 50, the "Georgia Administrative Procedure Act," or before such rule becomes effective, if filing is not required; 2) review and, in writing, approve or veto any rule that is: (A) challenged via an appeal to the Governor after the denial of a petition filed pursuant to Code Section 50-13-9; or (B) submitted by a professional licensing board for review by the Governor; 3) review and, in writing, approve, remand, modify, or reverse any action by a professional licensing board that is: (A) challenged via an appeal to the Governor; or (B) submitted by a professional licensing board for review by the Governor; and 4) promulgate any regulations or executive orders necessary to effectuate the provisions of this chapter, including regulations or orders relating to the process, procedures, and timelines that will govern any appeal or submission filed in accordance with this Code Section."
HB 953, by Rep. Billy Mitchell (D-Stone Mountain), requires annual safety inspections of day-care centers, family day-care homes, and group day-care homes (during the week of July to be done on a self-inspection basis with records to be maintained and available to the Department upon request). Such things to be reviewed include: changing the batteries in all smoke and carbon dioxide detectors; inspecting all vehicle tires; practicing disaster and evacuation drills at least once during the school year; inspecting facility electrical outlets for coverings and cord exposure; etc. Records may also include any receipts/documentation from third parties that have addressed any identified deficiencies.
HB 959, by Rep. Beth Beskin (R-Atlanta), amends Title 20 by adding a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. § 20-2-63 relating to conflict of interest of local board of education members. It now would add that no local board member shall be prohibited from discussing non-confidential matters with a constituent or the media; or attending or conducting a town hall meeting. It further states in O.C.G.A. § 20-2-281 that students who earn a grade of A or B in dual credit course or in a core subject for which an end-of-course assessment is required, shall be exempt from taking the end-of-course assessment for such core course.
HB 961, by Rep. Stacey Abrams (D-Atlanta), amends Chapter 1 of Title 49 by adding a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. § 49-1-8 to provide that all subsidies (including any funds, grants, aid, support, and tax deductions provided by the State) allowed by federal law and are available to kinship caregivers or the children in their care, shall be based solely on the eligibility of such children instead of the income or age of the kinship caregiver or the kinship caregiver's family.
HB 962, by Rep. Stacey Abrams (D-Atlanta), amends Article 1 of Chapter 2 of Title 49 by creating a new code section at O.C.G.A. § 49-2-1, to provide for the creation of a 'kinship care enforcement administrator' within the Department of Human Services. This position would be appointed by the board and subject to the approval of the Governor. It shall be the responsibility of such administrator to supervise, direct, account for, monitor, facilitate, and ensure compliance with all laws which relate to any programs, pilot programs, subsidies, or benefits available to kinship caregivers or children within their care.
HB 963, by Rep. Stacey Abrams (D-Atlanta), creates a new Article 4 at O.C.G.A. § 19-9-120, to be known as 'The Kinship Educational Consent and Transparency Act'. It allows a parent who is not a foster parent to give legal consent for a child in his or her custody to receive any medical or educational services for which parental consent is usually required by executing an affidavit that shall not be valid for more than one year after the date it is executed.
HB 965, by Rep. Mike Cheokas (R-Americus), seeks to enact "The Honorable Jimmy Carter Cancer Treatment Access Act." It would amend O.C.G.A. § 33-24-59.20 to provide that no health benefit plan shall require an insured to fail to successfully respond to a drug for stage four advanced, metastatic cancer prior to the approval of a drug prescribed by his or her physician. Use of such drug would need to be consistent with best practices for the treatment of stage four, metastatic cancer and be supported by peer reviewed medical literature.
HR 1304, by Rep. Mandi Ballinger (R-Canton), commends Georgia's Court Appointed Special Advocates.
HR 1306, by Rep. Katie Dempsey (R-Rome), recognizes Georgia's pregnancy resource centers. There are 70 such centers in the State providing care to women and men facing unplanned pregnancies, including resources to meet their physical, psychological, emotional, and spiritual needs.
HR 1313, by Rep. Mike Glanton (D-Jonesboro), urges local boards of education to avoid scheduling any high school graduation or matriculation ceremonies or commencements on the same day that the general primary election is to be held.
SB 353, by Sen. Ben Watson (R-Savannah), amends the "Charter Schools Act of 1998" at O.C.G.A. § 20-2-2072 by requiring that the training for boards of newly approved charter schools shall not exceed six hours per year.
House Insurance Committee – Administration and Licensing Subcommittee
Chairman Jason Shaw (R-Lakeland) and members of his Subcommittee heard two proposals this afternoon. Rep. John Carson (R-Marietta) presented HB 784 which addresses what is to be considered as an "unfair trade practice" in the insurance business when insurers provide promotional items (such as gift cards and the like) to existing clients as currently such practice is against the law. These "gifts" are to be limited to $100 or less. There were questions to Rep. Carson on whether such action was considered to be a reduction in premium; no, these gifts are not. Another question addressed whether these were to be provided to all clients/customers or who? Rep. Carson stated that that language could be cleaned up some. Rep. Bruce Williamson (R-Monroe) inquired if this was considered an "enticement" or "rebate." Rep. Carson stated the intention was to protect agents. Emily Bagwell, an attorney representing Allstate, stated that Georgia law does not allow these gifts to be given by insurers to customers but there is an exception for food and drink. Most states (actually 32) have a de minimis exception and other professions are not precluded from handing out small gifts. A substitute is being crafted by the author and will come back to the Subcommittee.
The other bill before this Subcommittee, HB 555, was by Rep. Joyce Chandler (R-Grayson) which is to require that juvenile courts report information on abortions without parental permission. Rep. Chandler stated that this was a "numbers" bill and no names would be reported by the court. It is to determine how many abortions are allowed, how many are denied, how many are appealed, how many are granted on appeal and how many are denied upon appeal. The total numbers will be shared with the Department of Public Health and records would be destroyed after six months. Rep. Chandler stated that there was no current understanding on the numbers of adolescent abortions being done without parental permission. Current law permits a juvenile to petition the judge and that judge has five days within which to hold a hearing and then render a decision in 48 hours once the hearing is held; that information is not subject to open records laws. Rep. Sam Teasley (R-Marietta) stated that he liked her original legislation rather than the Substitute as it addressed loopholes in the Right to Know Act. The legislation passed by Substitute after the author's brief presentation and some questions.
House Higher Education Committee
The Committee had three bills on the agenda for this meeting. HB 6, by Rep. Dar'shun Kendrick (D-Lithonia), would allow students who achieve A's in Advanced Placement STEM courses to receive additional weight for those courses. Currently, students who receive A's do not receive any additional weights while students who receive B's and C's do receive additional weight. Originally, the bill would have applied additional weight for a grade of A to all courses, but it was determined to be too costly last session. By limiting it to STEM courses, the fiscal impact is much lower. Tricia Chastain, President of the Georgia Student Finance Commission, indicated that she does not have a position on the bill. She said the majority of students who would be affected by this are those who are very close to transitioning from the HOPE Scholarship to the Zell Miller Scholarship. HB 6 was then passed on to the full committee.
HB 54 was presented as a substitute by Chairman Alan Powell (R-Hartwell), who was speaking on behalf of Rep. Keisha Waites (D-Atlanta). She was unable to attend. The bill intended to allow for full tuition grants for children of law enforcement officers who are killed in the line of duty. It provides for a voluntary donation program, in which Georgia residents donate one dollar to be checked off on a driver's license or an income tax form. The grant is currently operated by the Georgia Student Finance Commission. Mike Mitchell, with the Department of Drivers Services, suggested amending the bill so that donations must be in a full dollar amount. The Department of Revenue suggested removing the $1 limit altogether, because it would be easier to let people determine how much they want to donate. The bill was amended to reflect these changes and was then passed out of committee.
HB 542 would allow for the establishment of a savings account. It was authored and presented by Rep. David Wilkerson (D-Powder Springs), who did a lot of the research and analysis himself. He said that Georgia participates in 529 Plans, which allow parents and children to save for college by creating savings account. These are mostly used by people in higher income families. Under this bill, the State would do a 2-1 match for college tuition, so long as the person makes less that $30,000 a year. If the person does not end up going to college, those funds would go back to the State. The account would be capped at $500,000. Tricia Chastain indicated that GSFC does not have a position on this bill. She recognized that other States have tried similar initiatives and there has been varied success. HB 542 was then passed and the Committee was adjourned.
House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee
The House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee convened for its first meeting of the session. Chairman Alan Powell (R-Hartwell) went over the agenda and requested that each speaker be brief when addressing the committee. The first bill under consideration was HB 166, by Chairman John Yates (R-Griffin). It seeks to address a problem that motorcyclists have encountered regarding the height of handlebars. Currently there is a 15-inch limitation imposed on the accepted height of a handlebar, partly because the code hasn’t been updated in years. Nevertheless, there are over 44 different models of motorcycle handle bar being use in Georgia, which are currently considered illegal. This bill received a do-pass recommendation from the Committee.
Rep. Mike Dudgeon (R-Johns Creek) presented HB 777, which would allow school bus drivers to use cell phone devices as a two-way radio, through the use of communications software. Rep. Dudgeon believes that technology has changed and it is much more convenient and less costly to use a cell phone as a radio, rather than an actual 2-way radio device. While presenting, he clarified that bus drivers would still be prohibited from using their own personal cell phone. The software would actually lock down the phone, so that it may only be used for the purpose of communicating with other buses or with the school. The State Association of School Bus Drivers suggested amending the bill to specify that the use of such devices may only be used when the bus is "set," instead of while it is "in motion." School bus drivers are not supposed to use any devices when the bus is stopped, because their attention should be fully focused on the children who are getting in and out of the bus. This language seeks to clarify that. HB 777 was then passed by the Committee.
House Health and Human Services Committee
HB 783 by Rep. Bruce Broaderick (R-Dalton) passed as the annual update to the controlled substances provisions. It passed by substitute and had removed certain polymers and salts from the list that Rep. Margaret Kiser (D-Atlanta) had requested.
HB 826 by Rep. Regina Price (R-Roswell) relating to advertising of board certified status by physician was up first. Dr. Alex Gross of the Composite Board of Medical Examiners testified for the bill and indicated that the Board regularly dealt with issues advertising their board certification status when they had not qualified by examination before the appropriate entity. The new bill requires that the certification be in one of the specialties examined by the American Board of Medical Specialties or the American Osteopathic Association. It passed unanimously.
HB 588 was presented by its author Rep. Valerie Clark (R-Lawrenceville). The Committee passed this legislation by Committee Substitute but not until Chairman Sharon Cooper (R-Marietta) reminded folks in the audience that the legislation had been introduced in 2015 and that lobbyists needed to bring their amendments to this Committee and not wait until the legislation made it to the House Rules Committee, as HB 588 had already passed out of the House Health and Human Services Committee and had been recommitted. The legislation addresses the sale of pseudoephedrine products and the real-time tracking of sales of medications containing such drug.
HB 902, by Rep. Katie Dempsey (R-Rome), moved swiftly after some questions from the Committee. Her legislation requires in O.C.G.A. § 31-7-21 that assisted living entities provide residents educational information on the influenza disease. It does not require assisted living facilities to provide the vaccine to its residents. There were some questions by Rep. Ed Rynders (R-Albany) on how the requirements for this education would occur. He was interested in annual inspections of these facilities and whether this would be a gradable offense and a facility could be penalized. Rep. Jesse Petrea (R-Savannah) jumped into the discussion and indicated that the Health Facility Regulation Division within the Department of Community Health will require the facilities to "check a box" and it will require a patient to sign off on a form and that form will be placed into the patient's records. When the Health Facility Regulation Division makes an annual inspection, those records will be reviewed. After these questions, the legislation passed with a do pass recommendation.
Next up, the Committee heard HB 886 by Substitute. Rep. Sharon Cooper (R-Marietta) authored this legislation to address State Board of Pharmacy Rules which were "extra" and not also required of drug manufacturers and wholesalers for mailing medications. Al Carter with CVS was on hand to help answer questions from the Committee. There were remarks and inquiries around the use of temperature strips for medications. Mr. Carter indicated that it was the intent to use USP Standards. Rep. Rusty Kidd (I-Milledgeville) inquired if the legislation would impact how hemophilia drug products are currently mailed and/or how Kaiser Permanente mails its maintenance medications to its enrollees. Mr. Carter and Chairman Cooper both said no. Rep. Buddy Harden (R-Cordele) asked about stolen products and how those were handled; his line of questioning followed some inquires by fellow pharmacist and Committee member, Rep. Bruce Broaderick (R-Dalton). There are very few drugs ever stolen; signature is required for receipt of these mailed products. Rep. Matt Hatchett (R-Dublin) moved do pass on the Substitute; his motion carried and the bill moves to the House Rules Committee.
The dental hygienist's scope of practice legislation, HB 684, by Rep. Chuck Martin (R-Alpharetta) also was on the agenda and was discussed by the Committee for about an hour – this was the second such hearing on this legislation. It involves the services which a dentist may delegate to a dental hygienist in safety net settings. The legislation proposed the types of services to be performed and what would be performed by direct versus general supervision and also had a 100-mile requirement included so that the dentist must not be outside of that area. Additionally, it limited the number of dental hygienists who could be supervised by one dentist to four. There had been concern about "dental mills" and this limitation was to address those issues. The Georgia Dental Association had worked with the dental hygienists and Chairman Cooper on a Substitute and the dentists had reservations still about one part of the bill. Committee members indicated in part that they had received calls from their local dentists about concerns over the legislation. Dentists from Macon and Wrightsville spoke to the legislation as well in addition to the executive director from the Georgia Dental Association. In the end, it was Rep. Rynders who made a motion for the bill to be tabled. His motion carried and the legislation was tabled.
Senate Retirement Committee
SR 736 passed out of the Committee. This Resolution is by Sen. Charlie Bethel (R-Dalton) and creates the Senate Work and Save Study. Nine states have passed legislation to examine or create a "Work and Save" plan which allows employed citizens to save for retirement via payroll deduction at work much like a 529 college savings plan. SB 149 also passed. SB 149 is by Sen. Josh McKoon (R-Columbus) and revises O.C.G.A. § 47-2-95 and permits any member with at least two years of membership service the ability to apply for service credit to be awarded year for year active military service in the armed forces of the United States performed on or after January 1, 1990. SR 725 failed to receive a second on the do pass motion; the bill was withdrawn. SR 725, by Sen. Judson Hill (R-Marietta), is a Constitutional Amendment proposal to allow that public funds associated with any retirement or pension system, wholly or partially supported from public funds, be prohibited from investing in a foreign state that sponsors terrorism or entities engaged in certain for-profit activities with such foreign state.
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.