Gold Dome Report - February 9, 2017
The General Assembly convened this morning, making their way through the fifteenth legislative day. Governor Deal reported today that January's tax revenues were up 7.5 percent. This is his full press release: http://gov.georgia.gov/press-releases/2017-02-09/deal-january-tax-revenues-75-percent
Lawmakers are still working hard on the FY 2018 Budget. It is anticipated that the House will have its version out of the Appropriations Committee next week.
Anna Skold, M.D., a palliative care physician with Kaiser Permanente, was physician of the day. It was also Georgia Southern Day at the Capitol.
HB 64 passed 172 to 1. Rep. Shaw Blackmon (R-Bonaire) brought this initiative to the House Floor. It revisits a proposal which failed in 2016. In the legislation, Rep. Blackmon adds a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. § 33-24-59.21 which in part requires a health benefit plan in the State to pay a commission to an agent who has sold a group health plan or an individual health plan. It requires the commission to be structured to compensate the agent for the first term and for renewals as long as the agent reviews coverage and provides ongoing customer service for that plan. It does not require compensation on an individual health plan sold during a special enrollment period or renewals of any individual health benefit sold during a special enrollment period that renews during the open enrollment period.
HB 75 passed 173 to zero. Chairman Wendell Willard (R-Sandy Springs) brought this bill to the Floor which amends O.C.G.A. § 49-5-41. It seeks to protect from disclosure certain records belonging to the Department of Human Services and DFCS that includes information provided by law enforcement or prosecution agencies in any pending investigation or prosecution of criminal activity contained within the child abuse, neglect, or dependency records.
HB 176, by Sen. Tom McCall (R-Elberton) allows the Department of Agriculture to enter into agreements with the federal government in order to enforce existing federal laws with regards to the adulteration of food. It passed by a vote of 172 to 2.
HB 126, by Rep. Wendell Willard (R-Sandy Springs) was also presented. It seeks to give immediate oversight for the Judicial Qualifications Commission and expands the membership to 20 members. Chairman Willard believes this must be done in order to provide effective oversight. Rep. Petrea indicated that the bill gives separate and distinct hearing panels for the commission. There was little discussion before the bill went on to pass by a vote of 176 to zero.
The Senate recognized today as Georgia Southern University Day and Armstrong State University Day. The Georgia Southern delegation brought their bald eagle mascot named "Freedom" to both the House and Senate chambers, which is one of the university's greatest traditions. It was also Career and Technical Education Day at the Capitol and Sen. Jack Hill (R-Reidsville) recognized Effingham County as the 2016 College and Career Academy of the year.
Senators voted to pass HB 43, which is the Amended Fiscal Year 2017 State Budget that was passed by the House earlier in the week. Sen. Jack Hill (R-Reidsville) presented the Budget and it passed by a vote of 53-1. The Senate also took up SB 48, by Sen. Bill Heath (R-Bremen) which goes on to freeze hunting license fees at the original cost of the license for individuals who wish to renew their hunting license before it expires. SB 48 passed by a vote of 53-1. The next bill was SB 52, by Sen. P.K. Martin (R-Lawrenceville), which removes a sunset provision for licensed professional counselors to perform emergency exams and certification of individuals who require involuntary treatment. This bill also passed by a vote of 51-3.
HB 299, by Rep. Wendell Willard (R-Sandy Springs), addresses a proposed elimination of the requirement that certain expenditures by a health care facility are required to obtain a certificate of need. It further proposes to eliminate the requirement for a certificate of need for medical equipment and seeks to provide an exemption for freestanding emergency departments so that such would not need to undergo certificate of need. It also proposes to eliminate exemptions for certain capital expenditures and cost overruns. These changes are made within Chapter 6 of Title 31. It further seeks to provide for the licensure freestanding emergency departments in O.C.G.A. § 31-7-1.
HB 300, by Rep. Geoff Duncan (R-Cumming), has proposed to move the State Health Benefit Plan from the oversight of the Department of Community Health to the Department of Administrative Services in Article 2 of Chapter 5 of Title 50. It would move, for instance, all employees at the Department of Community Health which have duties relating to the State Health Benefit Plan and transfer them to the Department of Administrative Services. It further proposes to require incentives for public employees to utilize federally qualified health centers and provides for the identification of up to 100 potential new sites for such centers. There are numerous revisions made in Titles 20, 31, and 45 to make these changes.
HB 301, by Rep. Jodi Lott (R-Evans), seeks to delete current law concerning the income tax on physicians serving as community-based faculty physicians. In its place she is proposing a new income tax credit for taxpayers who are licensed physicians, advanced practice registered nurses or physician assistants who provide uncompensated preceptorship training to medical students, advanced practice registered nurse students or physician assistant students for specific periods of time. This proposal is addressed in O.C.G.A. § 48-7-29.21 with the credit accrued on a per preceptorship rotation basis in the amount of $500 for the first, second and third preceptorship rotation and $1,000.00 for the fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, or tenth preceptorship rotation completed in one calendar year by a "community based faculty preceptor" (who is a physician). These tax credit amounts are less for the faculty who are advanced practice registered nurses and physician assistants, permitting them to get $375.00 for first, second, or third such preceptorship rotation and $750.00 for the fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, or tenth rotation. It does state that no individual can accrue more than ten preceptorship rotations in one calendar year.
HB 302, by Rep. Randy Nix (R-LaGrange), proposes another Tax Code change but relating to ad valorem taxes on property. His legislation proposes to change requirements relating to the advertising and notice requirements pertaining to millage rate adoption and the advertisement form to be placed in the newspaper of general circulation serving the residents of the unit of local government and on the website of the levying authority. It, in part, strips out the current references to "average home value for the previous year's digest rounded to the nearest $25,000.00" and does require that the advertisement outline the amount anticipated to be generated with the proposed millage rate. The changes are written into O.C.G.A. § 48-5-32.1.
HB 303, by Rep. Mandi Ballinger (R-Canton), relates to the State Commission on Family Violence and proposes to change provisions relating to the terms of the Commission members and their qualifications. The changes are proposed in O.C.G.A. § 19-13-32 and in (a)(4)(B), it changes the Governor's appointees from "three advocates for battered women" to "three advocates for victims of family violence, taking into account recommendations made by groups which have addressed the problem of family violence." It also strips out current reference in (a)(4)(E)(xii) to "Men Stopping Violence" and in its place adds an appointee from a "a family violence intervention program" and in (a)(4)(E)(xiii), it changes the appointee from a "a former victim of domestic violence" to a "former victim of family violence." Appointment terms are clarified that each member is appointed for a term of three years; no member may serve more than two consecutive terms unless he or she is serving in an ex officio capacity; and the letter of appointment is to set out the term for which each member is appointed. It does add that a commission member may continue to serve as long as he or she retains his or her status as the designation for which he or she was appointed. A person who fills a vacancy may serve an additional two consecutive terms. It still remains a 37 member commission. Further, this legislation requires the commission to receive the allowances provided in O.C.G.A. § 28-1-8 as well as daily expense allowance and mileage or transportation allowance as authorized for State employees. There is an exception for those members who are State officials (other than legislative members) or State employees.
HB 304, by Rep. Derrick Jackson (D-Tyrone), proposes to add a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. § 50-1-10 to provide that information pertaining to contracts with State agencies are to be open for public inspection when those contracts are valued at more than $50,000.00 (for purchase of goods or services).
HB 305, by Rep. Beth Beskin (R-Atlanta), seeks to amend O.C.G.A. § 19-7-1(b.1), regarding to whom parental power lies, how much power is lost and recover for homicide of a child. It seeks to add stepparents and former stepparents to the category of third parties who may be awarded custody of a child (in addition to a grandparent, great-grandparent, aunt, uncle, great aunt, great uncle, sibling or adoptive parent) – it still requires that an award of custody to a third party is for the best interest of the child(ren) and will best promote their welfare and happiness.
HB 307, by Rep. Sandra Scott (D-Rex), proposes to enact the "Higher Education Access and Success for Homeless and Foster Youth Act" in O.C.G.A. § 20-3-66 where it defines what a "student from a foster home situation" and "student from a homeless situation" means. It permits that these students be classified as "in-state" for tuition purposes and allows them to maintain such classification until completion of a baccalaureate degree. Further, it amends the general provisions for the Georgia Student Finance Commission and adds a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. § 20-3-330 so as to exclude State funded foster care assistance as "income" for the purposes of calculating financial aid or determining need. It also adds a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. § 20-4-21 so as to address these students who wish to attend vocational, technical and adult education.
HB 308, by Rep. Beth Beskin (R-Atlanta), proposes to address domestic relations in Title 19. It seeks to enact provisions recommended by the Georgia Child Support Commission on child support and enforcement of child support orders.
HB 315, by Rep. McClain, would amend O.C.G.A. § 34-4-3 to provide for an increase in the minimum wage from $5.15 up to $15.00 per hour. It provides that employees that meet eligibility requirements for the tip credit may credit such tips up to 50 percent of the minimum wage. This would not apply to employers with sales of $50,000 or less. It also provides that this chapter shall now apply to employers of domestic employees; farm owners, sharecroppers, or land renters; and any employee whose compensation consists of gratuities. It finally raises the compensation rate from $10,000 to $15,000 annually for those employees who reside in non-profit child-caring institutions or long-term care facilities serving children.
HB 319, by Rep. Bill Werkheiser (R-Glennville), seeks to amend O.C.G.A. § 9-14-53 by increasing the maximum dollar amount which counties may be reimbursed for habeas corpus costs from $10,000 to now $30,000 annually for each county.
SB 146, by Sen. Donzella James (D-Atlanta) would create a new Chapter 53 in Title 31 which sets requirements that electroconvulsive therapy be performed only by physicians. O.C.G.A. § 31-53-1 defines 'electroconvulsive therapy' as a procedure during which an electric stimulus is applied to the brain for the purpose of intentionally triggering a seizure. O.C.G.A. § 31-53-2 requires that such therapy be performed only by a physician and that no such therapy shall be performed or attempted on any individual who is 16 years or younger or any individual who is involuntarily or voluntarily detained or hospitalized for mental health treatment, without written consent. O.C.G.A. § 31-53-3 provides that informed written consent is required in order for a physician to perform electroconvulsive therapy, which shall indicate the significant risks of the therapy. O.C.G.A. § 31-53-4 requires that physicians who perform this therapy must report attempts at such therapy to the Department of Public Health. By June 30, the Department would issue a public report providing statistics on the use of this therapy, which shall be provided to the Governor, President of the Senate, the Speaker of the House, and the chairpersons of the House and Senate Health Committees. Any physician found in violation of this Chapter would be guilty of a misdemeanor.
SB 153, by Sen. Matt Brass (R-Newnan), is a proposed series of changes relating to the laws governing hearing aid dealers and dispensers. It seeks to exempt activities of hearing aid dealers, hearing aid dispensers, and others related to the manufacturing and sale of non-prescription hearing aids at O.C.G.A. § 43-20-19.1. It will allow a holder of a hearing aid dealer or dispenser license to sell hearing aids that are ready-made and preprogrammed and do not require a prescription.
House Juvenile Justice Committee
Chairman Mandi Ballinger (R-Canton) and her Committee moved rather swiftly through its agenda:
- HB 5 was presented by Rep. Johnnie Caldwell, Jr. (R-Thomaston) which is to address 94 juvenile court judges' salaries. Currently, the court circuits receive $85,000 for these positions. In his own circuit, he explained that the judges were the most worked, dealing with 3,700 cases. He further explained that juvenile cases have many timing requirements involved. His proposal permits a $110,000 amount for each judge. The fiscal note for the proposal, presented in the form of a Substitute, is $3.4 million. It would only fund those judges in existence. At the moment, there are county supplements to the $85,000 paid. Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver (D-Decatur) indicated that she was in favor of the legislation but did want a clear understanding on how it would impact counties such as DeKalb and Cobb. This legislation was tabled as Chairman Ballinger had not distributed the fiscal note to the Committee; she felt like they needed an opportunity to review that added information before taking a vote on the legislation. It is expected to be heard again this week.
- HB 86, by Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver (D-Decatur), was the second proposal. It is a bill requested by the Division of Family and Children's Services and addresses sex trafficking issues. It does contain a definition for "sexual servitude" in the proposal. The Division asked for this legislation due to a federal mandate. It specifically amends O.C.G.A. § 19-7-5(b).
- The final piece of legislation was Chairman Ballinger's proposal, HB 250. It is an initiative brought by Ashley Groome, who is a foster parent to two nieces. It addresses background checks so that it would allow an employee of an early care and education program, who has received a satisfactory fingerprint check within the previous 24 months, to be exempt from submitting applications for an additional background check to the Division of Family and Children's Services for the purposes of providing care to children placed in a foster care home. Ms. Groome explained that this was an attempt to allow for more options for individuals to help care for such children.
House Education Committee
Chairman Brooks Coleman (R-Duluth) and his Committee moved several proposals forward this afternoon. Among those, were:
- Rep. Dave Belton (R-Buckhead) brought forward a Substitute to HB 139, which is a rewrite of a bill from 2016 concerning school transparency. Rep. Belton explained that the Senate language previously added, and which caused the legislation to be vetoed, had been eliminated in the version of the bill before the Committee. It is an attempt to allow the public to understand where all funds are going per school. There was no opposition. Rep. Belton explained that the data currently exists and that the Every Student Succeeds Act will require this disclosure. Rep. David Casas (R-Lilburn) asked about the impact to the local systems; there is no cost according to Rep. Belton. Rep. Joyce Chandler (R-Grayson) inquired about the need for the legislation. There were several questions about "oversight" of the data. However, the State Board of Education is to develop rules and there will be work with the Office of Student Achievement. Rep. Mike Glanton (D-Jonesboro) asked if this legislation would apply to charter schools; yes, it will apply to public charter schools. Rep. Valencia Stovall (D-Forest Park) indicated that she was in favor of the proposal. Ted Beck, the Chief Financial Officer for the Department of Education, explained that he and his staff would be in charge of gathering and reporting this information and was supportive of the proposal. Michael O'Sullivan, executive director of Georgia's 50CAN supported the proposal. The legislation passed forward to the House Rules Committee.
- Rep. Katie Dempsey brought HB 198, a bill addressing the provision of education to parents and guardians about influenza. She explained that there is a current law which was passed in 2009 that requires such education on meningitis. This legislation also passed upon a do pass recommendation by Rep. Amy Carter (R-Valdosta).
- Rep. Wes Cantrell (R-Woodstock) brought HB 246, a Substitute on the legislation addressing the sunset clause in the current law for Georgia SHAPE. This is an initiative overseen by the Department of Public Health to help eliminate childhood obesity. In the current law, it is supposed to sunset this year. Thus far, there have been $57 million in funds raised (both private and federal funds). This initiative strikes the sunset clause. It was passed unanimously.
Rep. Casas announced two pieces of legislation assigned to Subcommittees. HB 223 has been assigned to the Early Care and K-12 Subcommittee and HB 224 has been assigned to the Innovation and Workforce Development Subcommittee. The Early Care and K-12 Subcommittee will meet on February 14, 2017 at 1:00 p.m. in Room 606 of the Coverdell Legislative Office Building.
Chairman Coleman urged members of the Committee to obtain a copy of HB 237 (Public Education Innovation Fund Foundation) which is a tax credit proposal that will be reviewed by the House Ways and Means Committee. He indicated that there were talking points for this legislation as the funds would be used for failing schools. Coleman is working closely with Chairman Terry England (R-Auburn) on this initiative. The legislation on failing schools by Rep. Kevin Tanner (R-Dawsonville) is expected to be dropped in the hopper soon.
House Ways and Means Committee
The House Ways and Means Committee met this afternoon with a full agenda. Chairman Jay Powell (R-Camilla) and his Committee passed out the following proposals which now move to the House Rules Committee for further review:
- HB 54 – This legislation is by Rep. Geoff Duncan (R-Cumming) and addresses the law passed in 2016 establishing a rural hospital tax program. In this proposal, it moves the 70 percent cap for the amount expended to 90 percent so as to attract more corporate donors. It also addresses the third-party fundraising concerns as well as advertising of those. It also raises the individual tax credits so that those are increased, and that such will be retroactive to January 1, 2017. It also makes the amount of the cap to be approved by the Department of Revenue at $60 million for years 2017, 2018 and 2019 rather than having varying amounts. Rep. Trey Kelley (R-Cedartown) moved the proposal forward with a do pass recommendation.
- HB 61 – This legislation came from the Chairman of the Committee so as to collect sales taxes on internet sales in the State. Currently, Georgia is not collecting either sales or use taxes on these sales. Part of the issue has been due to where the company is located and whether the entity has a physical presence in the State. This legislation expands the nexus so that if the company has enough transactions then it will be equivalent to having a physical presence. It will level the playing field for companies who are physically located in Georgia with those located outside of the State. It is not a new tax just a mechanism to collect tax already owed. It is projected to bring $274 million in State taxes and another $200 plus million in local sales taxes.
- HB 73 – Rep. Penny Houston (R-Nashville) brought this measure which is to address rural revitalization. It has three parts but the credits permitted may only be claimed if new jobs are created. It allows a job tax credit (up to $10,000 per job); permits a 25 percent investment credit if an older building is rehabilitated; and a 50 percent rehabilitation tax credit to update a building (up to $75,000).
- HB 117 – Rep. Sam Watson (R-Moultrie) brought this legislation which cleared in the form of a Substitute. It excludes from the definition of retail sales certain voluntary contributions for admission. It amends O.C.G.A. § 48-8-2(31)(C).
- HB 125 – Rep. Ron Stephenson (R-Savannah) authored this legislation which is a first of its kind for any state on the eastern seaboard. It creates a sales tax exemption for boat (yacht) repairs when they are more than $500,000. Stephenson said that this exemption will apply to anything that floats – including cargo vessels. The Substitute on this proposal sailed forward.
- HB 142 – Rep. Spencer Frye (D-Athens) authored this proposal in an effort to help the Department of Revenue fight fraudulent tax returns. It incentivizes companies to provide information, relating to wages paid and taxes withheld, to their employees in a timely manner. The Georgia Chamber of Commerce also supported this legislation amending O.C.G.A. § 48-7-105.
- HB 195 – Rep. Brett Harrell (R-Snellville) brought this legislation, addressing a property tax exemption issue for a Fulton County entity providing housing services to the mentally ill. It allows a for-profit corporation or person in the indirect ownership of a home for the mentally disabled as a member of the limited liability company or limited partner of the partnership that is the direct owner of such home for the purpose of providing financing for the construction or renovation of such home in return for a share of the tax credits and which relinquishes all ownership of such home upon the completion of its obligation under the financing agreement so that such will not disqualify this home for the mentally ill to forego its property tax exemption. The Fulton County home had to pay $40,000 property taxes.
House Judiciary Committee
The House Judiciary Committee met today and considered six measures:
- HB 137, authored by Rep. Scot Turner (R-Holly Springs), eliminates a workaround related to compensation of special assistant district attorneys and attorneys general who are retained to prosecute civil asset forfeiture proceedings. The legislation bars de facto contingency fee arrangements and requires that contracts with attorneys retained to handle forfeiture proceedings be in writing and filed with the Clerk of Court. Rep. Barry Fleming (R-Harlem) expressed concern that the legislation could hinder prosecutors in pursuing forfeitures and asked for a commitment from the author that he would resist any expansion of the bill in the Senate. The author made such a commitment, and the Committee recommended the bill DO PASS and sent to the Rules Committee.
- HB 138, authored by Rep. Lee Hawkins (R-Gainesville), adds a fifth judge to the Northeastern Judicial Circuit. This addition is in response to the Judicial Council of Georgia's determination that the Northeastern Judicial Circuit needs in excess of five judges, and the proposition is supported by local elected and judicial officials. The Committee recommended the bill DO PASS by committee substitute and be sent to the Rules Committee.
- HB 162, authored by Rep. Betty Price (R-Roswell), allows the Administrative Office of the Courts to setoff certain payments to courts paid erroneously under the statute that allows courts to collect unpaid fines from an individual's state tax refund. The AOC requested the legislation to reduce its administrative burden, and it passed the House during the last session. The Committee recommended the bill DO PASS and be sent to the Rules Committee.
- HB 185, authored by Rep. Christian Coomer (R-Cartersville), amends Georgia law to allow an attorney serving as a judge advocate general in the National Guard or Reserves to also serve as an associate probate judge. The Committee recommended the bill DO PASS and be sent to the Rules Committee.
- HB 190, authored by Rep. Meagan Hanson (R-Brookhaven), creates uniform requirements for antenuptial agreements, also known as prenuptial agreements. The bill requires that an antenuptial agreement be in writing, be signed by both parties, and be witnessed by two persons, one of which must be a notary public. The Committee recommended the bill DO PASS by committee substitute and be sent to the Rules Committee.
- HB 197, authored by Rep. Sam Teasley (R-Marietta), adds a provision to Georgia's Fair Business Practices Act to require solicitations for services to obtain copies of deeds or other property conveyance documents carry a conspicuous marking that it is a solicitation and not a government document. This bill passed the House last year. The Committee recommended the bill DO PASS and be sent to the Rules Committee.
Senate Judiciary Committee
The Senate Judiciary Committee met today and considered three measures:
- SB 15, authored by Sen. Michael Rhett (D-Marietta), allows certain retired law enforcement officers to obtain a free weapons carry license. Officers must have retired in good standing and served at least ten years to be eligible. Senator John Kennedy (R-Macon) expressed concern that the pool of eligible may be too limited if, as drafted, it requires the officer be POST-certified. The Committee amended the bill to delete references to POST and replace them with any "state or federal certifying agency." The Committee recommended the bill DO PASS by committee substitute and be sent to the Rules Committee.
- SB 45, authored by Sen. Larry Walker III (R-Perry), seeks to criminalize surreptitious filming or photography under another's clothes where the individual has a reasonable expectation of privacy. The Committee recommended the bill DO PASS by committee substitute and be sent to the Rules Committee.
- SB 71, authored by Sen. Jesse Stone (R-Waynesboro), would exempt health savings accounts in bankruptcy. The federal bankruptcy code allows states to make elections regarding exemptions, and Georgia already exempts individual retirement accounts and 401k plans. The Committee recommended the bill DO PASS and be sent to the Rules Committee.
Our 2017 Georgia Capitol team consists of Stan Jones, Helen Sloat, Chuck Clay, George Ray, 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.