Gold Dome Report - March 10, 2016
Governor Deal announced this morning that HD Supply Holdings, Inc. would invest $100 million and create 500 jobs in Cobb County. The Senate passed the FY 2017 Budget proposal, HB 751, with a vote of 53-2.
The House voted on four pieces of legislation today. SB 158 and SB 343 were postponed until the next legislative day.
SB 191, by Sen. Lindsey Tippins (R-Marietta), prohibits local governing authorities from enforcing ordinances or resolutions which impose fines for violating a local ordinance or resolution that establishes requirements for white lining, marking of utility facilities, re-marking of utility facilities, or otherwise locating utility facilities or sewer laterals for any locate request or large project. It passed, 140-9.
SB 290, by Sen. Charlie Bethel (R-Dalton), seeks to clarify that real estate attorneys do not have to be licensed insurance agents to carry out such duties. It passed by a vote of 140-9.
SB 305, by Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford), requires that the Department of Public Health notify the chairpersons of the House and Senate Health and Human Services Committees at least 60 days prior to implementing any changes to the Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST) form. This bill passed by a vote of 162-0.
SB 309, by Sen. Burt Jones (R-Jackson), requires that high schools which receive state funding cannot participate in an athletic association that prohibits religious expression on athletic uniforms. It was clarified that athletic associations may still enforce their rules that prohibit athletes from wearing adornments or headbands, even if they include religious text. The bill also prevents such associations from prohibiting school participation in scrimmage games with other non-member schools. This bill was passed by a vote of 123-34.
The State Senate honored the late Julian Bond, who also previously served in the Georgia Senate. Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta) led the honors for the civil rights leader.
HB 751 was presented on the Senate Floor this morning by Sen. Jack Hill (R-Reidsville), Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. The Senate considered the new Substitute on the State's FY 2017 Budget. Sen. Hill explained that 4.3 percent growth is how this budget is based (over the FY 2016 revenue estimate). $632 million in new sources of transportation revenue will be appropriated in this Budget. More than $1 billion in lottery moneys will be used. There were a number of "agrees" which the Senate has made with the House and/or the Governor. However, there are some new things added which are a part of the Senate's priorities. $424 million is included for enrollment growth and austerity cuts. There is a 3% raise for non-certified school employees. $240 million in bonds are included for education. Physical and internet security is addressed in this budget. Supporting access to healthcare, especially in rural areas, is included. It restored $500,000 for charity clinics for the uninsured (as a safety net). A conference committee will be formed.
HB 844, by Rep. Howard Maxwell (R-Dallas), was presented by Sen. Freddie Powell Sims (D-Dawson). The legislation moved out of the Chamber without questions by a vote of 52-0.
HB 1132, by Rep. Trey Kelley (R-Cedartown), would amend Code Section 43-18-73 to provide that the State Board of Funeral Service shall provide written notice to the owner or operator of a licensed funeral establishment or crematory whenever that establishment's license has expired. Such notice is to be sent by mail within 30 days of the expiration of the license.
HR 1606, by Rep. Sam Teasley (R-Marietta), creates the House Study Committee on the Affordability of Burial Services to look at decreasing the potential for monopolistic practices and increase opportunities for competition.
HR 1609, by Rep. Alan Powell (R-Hartwell), would create the House Study Committee on Biohazard Cleanup Services.
HR 1610, by Rep. Don Parsons (R-Marietta), would create the House Study Committee on Crime Victims' Rights which will look at protecting crime victims throughout the criminal justice process.
HR 1611, by Rep. Jimmy Pruett (R-Eastman), would create the House Study Committee on the Current and Future Availability of Natural Gas, Particularly in Rural Areas.
HR 1612, by Rep. Sam Teasley (R-Marietta), encourages Senator Johnny Isakson and Senator David Perdue to oppose the confirmation of any supreme court nominee who does not share the late Justice Antonin Scalia's judicial philosophy.
HR 1654, by Rep. Mike Cheokas (R-Americus), would create the House Study Committee on Coordinating Federal Funding to Empower the Georgia Workforce.
SB 428, by Sen. Jeff Mullis (R-Chickamauga), would amend Code Section 20-2-316 to provide that athletic associations that are composed of both public and private high schools would not be permitted to allow competitions between those schools. Public high schools could not compete with private high schools, even if they are in the same athletic association.
SR 1131, by Sen. Brandon Beach (R-Alpharetta), would create the Senate Affordability of Death Study Committee.
SR 1132, by Sen. Brandon Beach (R-Alpharetta), would create the Senate Study Committee on Venture Capital Investments in Georgia to identify the benefits and detriments associated with allocating more funding to the Invest Georgia Program.
Please note that we are incorporating notes from Wednesday's meetings in this report below.
Wednesday, March 9, 2016 Committee meetings:
House Education Committee
The Committee considered 7 pieces of legislation this morning and considered public testimony on Sen. Lindsey Tippins' (R-Marietta) SB 364.
The Committee first considered HR 1253, by Rep. Dexter Sharper (D-Valdosta), which received a "do pass" without discussion and was sent on to House Rules. HR 1564, by Rep. David Clark (R-Buford) was also considered. This encourages local school systems and charter schools to implement policies or courses relating to sudden cardiac arrest. It further encourages the Department of Public Health to endorse a training course to be adopted by the local systems. This resolution also received a "do pass" and heads to House Rules.
Rep. Demetrius Douglas (D-Stockbridge) presented HR 1342, which encourages school systems to provide more recess time to students. Rep. Ed Setzler (R-Acworth) spoke in support of the bill after indicating that recess was his best subject in school.
Chairman Lindsey Tippins (R-Marietta) presented four bills to the Committee today. SB 329 seeks to ensure that postsecondary coursework meets the rigorous requirements of the HOPE scholarship. Chairman Tom Dickson (R-Cohutta) indicated that he has some concerns with some of the language in the bill, but they aim to make appropriate changes and get out a substitute this week. The bill was held in committee. Next, Chairman Tippins presented SB 348, which includes charter schools within strategic waiver systems as college and career academies. This bill received a "do pass."
Chairman Tippins discussed SB 374, which is also his bill, that authorizes a pilot program for school systems to consolidate local, state, and federal funds. Rep. Amy Carter (R-Valdosta) had concerns that it would not provide flexibility as an option to local systems. She wanted to make sure this program is not a mandate. Chairman Tippins said that federal requirements have been relaxed and indicated that the pilot program will be charged with coming up with best practices.
Chairman Coleman began the discussion on SB 364 by addressing an AJC article in which the Professional Association of Georgia Educators claimed Governor Deal has an interest in killing SB 364. The Chairman denied that any members of the Committee were approached by the Governor or his staff. Rep. Mike Dudgeon (R-Johns Creek) then discussed the House Committee substitute to SB 364. The biggest change in the House version was the removal of the state mandate that students must be on track to meet grade-level expectations by the third grade. Chairman Coleman indicated that the State has not clarified what it plans to do with those students who do not reach that level in time. He also indicated that it could be put back into the legislation in some form. Rep. Setzler (R-Acworth) also stated that he wants this mandate added back in as well. Chairman Tippins believes it is important to include the mandate, because otherwise nothing will change. He believes that the State needs to set the bar. Rep. Valencia Stovall (D-Lake City) also said she would like to see the mandate put back in, but also inquired as to how special education teachers would be evaluated under this new system. State School Superintendent Richard Woods indicated that those special education teachers would be evaluated in the same way, but there are other factors that affect their evaluations.
The Committee took public comments from close to 30 groups and individuals. Much of the testimony was supportive of the bill. Attorney Chuck Clay spoke on behalf of the Georgia Education Coalition. They are in support of the bill and urged the committee to give it a "do pass." Elizabeth Rhodes, speaking on behalf of Educators First, said they are very supportive of the bill. She also would like to see the reading and math mandate portion added back in. Angela Palm, representing the Georgia School Boards Association (GSBA), spoke in support. She said the State needs to go even further and have a thorough review of the entire assessment process. GSBA is also opposed to adding an appeal process. Despite the broad support, there were a few who testified against SB 364. Michael O'Sullivan, on behalf of Students First, said that student assessments should continue to be used for up to half of a teacher's evaluation.
Once public comments were concluded, Chairman Coleman discussed the posture of the Committee. They did not take a vote today. The Committee will vote on SB 364 at 8:30 a.m. on Friday morning. He also indicated that a new substitute will be released on Thursday. Sen. Tippins said he would like to try to get the reading and math mandate added back into the bill. Chairman Coleman seemed agreeable. The Committee adjourned until Friday at 8:30 am.
House Insurance Committee
SB 137, by Sen. Marty Harbin (R-Tyrone), amends O.C.G.A. § 33-32-5, and expands the ownership restriction relating to the application for the value of residential property covered against loss by fire – permitting ownership by limited liability company. The bill was passed out of the Committee this morning.
SB 158 passed out of the Committee by Substitute this morning. SB 158 is by Sen. Dean Burke (R-Bainbridge) and is the result of a Study Committee which looked at various health insurance issues over the summer last year. It includes regulation of rental networks and their transparency in O.C.G.A. § 33-20C-1 et seq. The Department of Insurance will regulate these networks. Rep. Darlene Taylor (R-Thomasville) inquired if there was a requirement by the Department of Insurance to notify providers of these networks; that is left up to the Commissioner but will be a part of the regulatory process.
Sen. P.K. Martin (R-Lawrenceville) presented SB 302 by Substitute. The Committee passed out the legislation which requires insurers in Title 33 to update their provider directories and post those on their websites in an electronic format. The directories will also be required to be made available in written format upon request. There is a one-time clean up of directories provided to be made by January 1, 2017. Providers are also required to respond to an insurer within 30 days; if there is no response the provider is to be removed from the directory. Sen. Martin explained that updated provider directories will allow consumers to make more informed decisions when purchasing insurance.
Senate Health and Human Services Committee
Chairwoman Renee Unterman (R-Buford) held a two-hour meeting. The following bills were addressed:
HB 765, by Rep. Jay Powell (R-Camilla), addresses the composition of local Division of Family and Children Services boards in O.C.G.A. § 49-3-2. Under current law, it requires "active" professionals to serve on these boards; this change allows retired professionals to serve. The Bill passed.
HB 920 was presented as a Substitute, by Rep. Trey Kelley (R-Cedartown), addressing nursing homes and their investors. There was an Amendment proposed by Sen. Bill Cowsert (R-Athens). No action was taken on the proposal. Tony Marshal, with the Georgia Health Care Association, spoke in favor of the legislation as it offers a solution to a growing problem. Bill Clark, with Georgia Trial Lawyers Association, explained that passive investors are brought into actions. Sen. William Ligon, Jr. (R-Brunswick) indicated he had concerns about the loser pay provisions in the proposal and the arbitration process. Joann Mathis, the legislative chair for the Georgia Council on Aging, opposed the legislation and fears that it will limit a patient's right to bring a lawsuit against individuals who provide them care. Sen. Ben Watson (R-Savannah) inquired about the numbers of nursing homes in Georgia which do not have liability insurance; there are apparently some. HB 920 seeks to add language in O.C.G.A. § 31-7-3.3 so as to exclude certain parties which do perform certain duties or provide controls in certain areas (such as direct patient care, treatment and services; management, operation or administrative services for the nursing home or intermediate care facility; staffing or determining the staffing level at such facility; etc.). Sen. Fran Millar (R-Atlanta) told Sen. Unterman that he wished to be excused from the vote on this legislation when it was brought forward.
HB 910, by Rep. Spencer Frye (D-Athens), addresses a medical billing issue as mental health records were carved out. This language clearly adds that O.C.G.A. § 31-33-3(c) states that psychiatric, psychological and mental health records will apply. There was no testimony provided or questions raised. The legislation received a do pass recommendation and moves to the Senate Rules Committee.
HB 509, by Rep. Jesse Petrea (R-Savannah), creates the Georgia Palliative Care and Quality of Life Council. In the original legislation, the Department of Community Health Commissioner made the appointments to this nine-member Council; this version as presented in the Committee will allow the appointments to be made by the President of the Senate, Speaker of the House, and Governor. Language was also added to address the Council's reimbursement for attending meetings. HB 509 passed unanimously out of the Committee.
HB 1058, by Rep. Betty Price, MD (R-Roswell), addresses the growing problem of HIV/AIDS. In her original proposal, it addressed needle exchange programs but that language was eliminated. At O.C.G.A. § 31-17-4.2, it permits a pregnant woman to be notified about the HIV pregnancy test to be taken but permits her the ability to refuse such test. The consent of a minor is also addressed when the minor is at risk for HIV. The Department of Public Health and Georgia Hospital Association support this legislation which Rep. Price indicated was a "clean up" of current law. This legislation also received a do pass recommendation.
HB 212, by Rep. Tom Weldon (R-Ringgold), was presented and also received a do pass recommendation despite one individual who voted no. The legislation addresses pain management clinics and is a compromise between the CRNAs and Attorney General. Sen. JaNice VanNess (R-Conyers) expressed some concern as she believes that physicians need to be on site and if not then signage needs to be in place; however, this legislation is not a scope of practice bill and licensing legislation would address those concerns. As presented in the version which cleared the House, the language would have amended O.C.G.A. § 43-34-283(g) so that "No controlled substance shall be prescribed or dispensed in a pain management clinic unless a physician, a physician assistant authorized to prescribe controlled substances under an approved job description, or an advanced practice registered nurse authorized to prescribe controlled substances pursuant to a physician protocol is on-site at the pain management clinic. For purposes of this article, dispensing shall not include the administration of anesthesia pursuant to a physician's order."
Rep. Bruce Broadrick's (R-Dalton) bill, HB 926, was held for "technical issues." This legislation is the licensure for third-party logistics providers and changes were necessary due to changes in federal law.
HB 902, by Rep. Katie Dempsey (R-Rome), passed quickly with the support of the Georgia Senior Living Association. It requires that each assisted living community provide annually to each of its residents, not later than September 1 of every year, educational information on influenza disease. There is no requirement for the facility to pay for any vaccination against influenza in O.C.G.A. § 31-7-21.
HB 954, by Rep. Chuck Efstration (R-Dacula), was presented in the form of a Committee Substitute. It seeks to enact the "Uniform Adult Guardianship and Conservatorship Proceedings Act" in Title 29 so that there is consistent treatment of guardians across state lines. Rep. Efstration indicated he had asked the State Bar of Georgia and its Elder Law section to review the proposal and had met with several probate court judges. The Alzheimer's Association of Georgia rose in support of the legislation. In the newer version, it addresses a registration of these guardian orders and reciprocity across state lines. This legislation also passed out of Committee.
Rep. Trey Kelley (R-Cedartown) also presented a second proposal, HB 1043. This legislation seeks limited exceptions for hospital personnel who administer and dispense the flue vaccine to individuals at employee sites from the current law. It requires that a nurse obtain an appropriate case history rather than a complete case history of the patient. In O.C.G.A. § 43-34-26.1(o), it outlines what conditions the hospital or health system must do in these off-site settings when administering the flu vaccine: 1) obtain a signed and dated consent form from the recipient regarding the administration of the vaccine; 2) if a patient is within the hospital or health system, the administration of the flu vaccine is to be noted in the patient's health record, including the administering pharmacist's name or nurse's name, address, telephone number, and professional license number; the name, dose, manufacturer, and lot number of the vaccine; and the date of administration and injection site; 3) if the vaccine recipient is not a patient of a hospital or health system, a personal immunization card on card stock paper containing the vaccine recipient's name, the pharmacist's name or nurse's name and phone number, the name and dosage of the vaccine, the injection site on the vaccine recipient, the date of the administration of the vaccine in legible writing or printed type in a format made available by the Department of Public Health, and written information developed by the Department of Public Health on the importance of having and periodically seeing a primary care physician shall be provided to the vaccine recipient; and 4) if requested by the patient, the flu vaccine shall be administered in an area or location with portable screening at a minimum.
Senate Insurance and Labor Committee
Rep. Eddie Lumsden (R-Armuchee) presented HB 402, addressing work-based learning programs and workers' compensation insurance in O.C.G.A. § 33-9-40.3. Rep. Lumsden explained that he had worked with the Departments of Insurance, Education and Labor as well as the State's Workers Compensation Advisory Council on this legislation. A five (5) percent discount on insurance premiums, capped at $2500, would be granted for partners who provide work-based learning opportunities. This legislation passed.
Rep. Carl Rogers (R-Gainesville) presented HB 193 but that legislation was held. It addresses O.C.G.A. § 33-25-15 so as to prohibit an insurer from explaining to a policy owner their options about settlement or living/surviving benefits.
Rep. Rogers presented a second proposal, HB 943. This legislation was also held by the Committee. It addresses architects' and engineers' exposures on liability. The Georgia Department of Transportation had raised concerns. There is a request that surveyors also should be afforded this limitation on professional liability.
Rep. Brian Strickland (R-McDonough) presented HB 903 which is language to address fraud in the Unemployment Trust Fund in O.C.G.A. § 34-8-130 by permitting the Department of Labor and Department of Revenue to compare information. The Department of Labor will cover any costs associated with this sharing of information through a cooperative sharing agreement between the two departments.
HB 904 also received a do pass recommendation. This legislation is also by Rep. Strickland (R-McDonough) and deals with the Unemployment Trust Fund and administrative assessments and the contributions and credits in Chapter 8 of Title 34. There was no testimony on this proposal.
HB 784 was also presented for the Committee's consideration. Rep. John Carson (R-Marietta) presented the legislation which addresses what is considered to be a "gift" by an insurer to an insured. Currently such gifts are prohibited. This legislation changes the law at O.C.G.A. § 33-6-4 and O.C.G.A. § 33-9-36. In the earlier version of the legislation proposed, it permitted an insurance company to provide an insured a gift up to $100 before it would be considered as an unfair trade practice or illegal. There are 32 states which permit these gifts. The version before the Committee limited the gifts to $50 in value; however, an amendment was made by Sen. Burt Jones (R-Jackson) to move that amount back to $100 and his amendment passed. The bill then passed out of the Committee with the newly imposed limit.
Rep. Mike Cheokas (R-Americus) presented HB 965 to the Committee. This legislation permits a physician to prescribe what is best for the patient when the patient is a Stage 4 advanced metastatic cancer patient. It has received support from various groups including the Georgia Hospital Association. It will be known "The Honorable Jimmy Carter Cancer Treatment Access Act" at O.C.G.A. § 33-24-59.20.
HB 866 was presented by Rep. Shaw Blackmon (R-Perry). This legislation addresses multi-employer self-insured health plans so as to exempt them from State premium taxes in O.C.G.A. § 33-50-3. There is only one such entity like this in the State and it is a nonprofit. The Department of Insurance supported this legislation. This legislation passed with a new Substitute.
Chairman Charlie Bethel (R-Dalton) presented his study committee idea. SR 1091 passed quickly without testimony or discussion. It creates the Senate Study Committee on Hearing Aids for Children.
HB 882, by Rep. Darlene Taylor (R-Thomasville), was supposed to be presented to the Committee. That legislation addresses foreign and alien insurers' deposit requirements. Sen. Judson Hill (R-Marietta) had asked that a new Substitute be drawn, adding his concierge medicine language. The language was not ready for the Committee's consideration, so HB 882 was held.
HB 884, also by Rep. Taylor (R-Thomasville), was presented to the Committee and it now includes the language from HB 882 addressing foreign and alien insurers' deposit requirements. The original language from HB 884 remains, which adds in the definition of a company action level event to include a health organization with certain total adjusted capital levels.
Senate Public Safety Committee
HB 727 by Rep. Paul Battles (R-Cartersville) passed out of the Committee. This is the House version of the fireworks regulation changes to the law passed in 2015. It addresses in part the times when these fireworks may be exploded and where they are prohibited from being used.
HB 736 was presented by Rep. Alex Atwood (R-St. Simons Island). This legislation is the annual tag bill for special plates. It now includes plates for women veterans, spouses of veterans, Omega Psi Phi fraternity, Hampton University and the marine habitat. Rep. Andy Welch (R-McDonough) had requested a tag for medal award winners for individuals who have the "Soldier's Medal" and that was also added as an amendment in this legislation. There was also some clean up language regarding the Department of Natural Resources providing educational classes and also the use of funds for the dog and cat sterilization tag. The legislation then passed in the form of a new Committee Substitute.
Rep. John Pezold (R-Columbus) presented HB 93, addressing license plate readers and how long such information must be retained. Information is to be kept one year unless it is part of an on-going investigation. Also, the records are not subject to open records' requests. There are few tag readers in use now in the State. The Georgia Sheriffs Association requested an amendment relating to the audit/deletion of images as the Georgia Crime Information Center deals with criminal history records. There were other questions raised by the Committee about the time to keep the records. An amendment was made for the Sheriffs, striking lines 52-55. That amendment was passed and the legislation will move forward as a new Committee Substitute after receiving a do pass recommendation.
Senate Judiciary Non-Civil Committee
HB 941, by Rep. Rich Golick (R-Smyrna), had a lengthy hearing on the use of deadly force by officers and information which is presented to the grand jury and whether that officer may be present and questioned. It was clear that many felt strongly that the process as it is currently written in the law is flawed, but also felt that Rep. Golick's legislation was a move perhaps in the right direction and provided some transparency. The Criminal Defense Lawyers expressed that the legislation was good but did not go far enough – they disagreed with the officers listening to the entire grand jury process. No other citizen has such right. The Georgia Sheriffs Association, though, like the current process and argued that officers need protection as they are the ones who are authorized to use deadly force and have training on such. An interesting event occurred in the hearing on HB 941 as the woman who does video tapes of political speeches and who was removed at an event for Governor Deal a couple of years ago and later charged argued that the process is wrong – she experienced excessive use of force in her arrest and stated that Georgia's system is flawed and urged the legislators to take action on the grand jury process. No action was taken on HB 941.
Rep. Dusty Hightower (R-Carrollton) presented HB 304 (it previously passed last Session but had been recommitted as it did not clear the Senate). It addresses consecutive sentencing and probating sentences. HB 304 passed quickly.
Rep. Alan Powell (R-Hartwell) presented HB 949, addressing cities and counties and their employees' and officers' use of Purchasing Cards ("P-cards"). This legislation cleans up HB 192 from 2015. It requires that no constitutional officer of a county or city can issue a P-card to himself/herself or his or her employees until policies have been filed. Georgia Municipal Association and Association County Commissioners of Georgia requested some clarification on the legislation and the Georgia Sheriffs Association asked for the legislation to become effective upon the Governor's signature. Both amendments were adopted and the legislation passed as amended.
HB 976, by Rep. Bill Hitchens (R-Rincon), also passed. It addresses body camera images retained. It requires images to be kept 180 days from the time that they are recorded unless they are part of an ongoing criminal investigation or contain evidence for pending litigation in which case it is to be kept 30 months in O.C.G.A. § 50-18-96. Georgia Municipal Association supported the legislation.
Rep. Johnnie Caldwell, Jr. (R-Thomaston) presented HB 979 which makes incidents involving attacks on hospital personnel an aggravated assault and makes criminal penalties associated with such assaults to carry sentences from five to twenty years. This is the same punishment for crimes against police officers. The changes are made in O.C.G.A. § 16-5-21 and O.C.G.A. § 16-5-24. There were questions raised by the Committee about imposing more mandatory minimum sentences as the Governor's Criminal Justice Reforms were moving away from such. Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta) inquired why there were more attacks on these employees – Rep. Caldwell indicated that it was due to the fact that emergency departments were open 24/7 and many individuals brought to emergency rooms had numerous family members and friends who came with them. It was noted that 70 percent of all emergency personnel are attacked in some manner while employed. Georgia Hospital Association spoke in favor of the legislation as did the Georgia Alliance of Community Hospitals and EMS personnel. This legislation received a do pass recommendation.
Thursday, March 10, 2016 Committee meetings
House Ways and Means Committee
Chairman Jay Powell (R-Camilla) and members of the House Ways and Means Committee met today and passed out the Resolution and Bill by Sen. Jeff Mullis (R-Chickamauga), SR 558 and SB 350, respectively, which address the allocation of excise taxes gained from sales of fireworks. The Resolution, which is a Constitutional Amendment, seeks to allocate the excise taxes so that their proceeds will go towards funding trauma care, fire services, and local public safety. The Bill, SB 350, is the enabling legislation and identifies the percentages of funds which will go towards each of the named purposes: 55% to trauma; 45% to fire services; and 5% to local public safety. There were two amendments made in Committee and both were adopted. The first clarifies that the 45% fire safety funding would be in addition to current funding sources and will be allocated through a grant process. The second amendment addresses the moneys targeted towards local public safety funds so that those moneys will be funneled through the States Prepaid 9-1-1 funding mechanism as there is already a mechanism in place which allots funds to local governments through an existing financial formula.
House Regulated Industries Committee
This afternoon, Chairman Howard Maxwell (R-Dallas) and his Committee took up SB 402 by Sen. Jeff Mullis (R-Chickamauga) and passed that proposal out without changes. This bill imposes a moratorium on the issuance of new licenses for narcotic treatment programs. Sen. Mullis indicated that there was a proliferation of these programs or clinics in his area of the State and that Georgia's rules were apparently lax. Rep. Chuck Martin (R-Alpharetta) used this meeting as an opportunity to bring up Certificate of Need (CON) requirements, inquiring as to why these clinics are not subject to CON. Rep. Martin has been an advocate of Cancer Treatment Centers of America and noted that those entities were required to abide by CON requirements. Chairman Howard Maxwell (R-Dallas) immediately indicated that he would not allow any CON amendments to this legislation.
House Judiciary Committee - Civil
Chairman Wendell Willard (R-Sandy Springs) called the meeting to order. The first bill to be heard was SB 275, by Sen. Michael Williams (R-Cumming), which provides that members of the board of education can freely discuss ideas without fear of being gagged or restrained. The State code of ethics states that once a board position has been voted on, members cannot speak against it. DOE had spoken against the original bill because it was too broad, but it was amended in study committee to apply only to local boards of education. Chairman Willard seemed surprised that the State board had not been more involved in this conversation. The bill received a do-pass from the Committee.
Sen. Williams had another bill, SB 356, which establishes a legal process for those people who lawfully have had their animal taken from them to pay for that animal's care. 34 states already have this law. It also has the support of ACCG and other groups. It allows courts to intervene earlier in the process to determine if a person is going to pay for the animal's care and gives a court complete judicial discretion when determining the cost. Edens Davis spoke on behalf of the Georgia Realtors Association. They have concerns that the language could be construed to define a retail establishment as the owner of a dog and would then be responsible for the costs. Chairman Willard stated that it should not be a concern because a Judge would not rule in that way. The bill then received a "do-pass" from the Committee.
SB 183, by Sen. John Wilkinson (R-Toccoa), was up next. It would extend liability relief for cows, sheep, pigs and goat owners for posting a sign with the inherent risks of such animals. This bill was passed out of full committee and goes on to Rules.
The next bill was SB 203 by Sen. William Ligon, Jr. (R-Brunswick) and addresses issues with water liens on commercial property. The bill provides a mechanism by which a purchaser or lender or attorney can send a letter or email requesting a statement in the amount of an unpaid lien. The supplier would have 10 days to provide a statement on the lien amount and may charge a $10 fee. If they do not provide such information within 10 days, the property would then be freed from the lien for the unpaid water bill. Sen. Ligon indicated that this code section will not apply to condominiums. Chairman Willard indicated that the real estate section of the State Bar has had an interest in this for some time now. Rep. Andy Welch (R-McDonough) asked if a landlord should bear some responsibility for making good on payments that a tenant ignores or does not pay. Sen. Ligon responded that this is a public policy decision and believes that landlords should not bear all responsibility for a tenant's debts. The bill passed out of committee.
SB 333, by Sen. John Kennedy (R-Macon), addresses recent regulations by the IRS which allow nonprofit corporations to convert from out-of-state corporations to in-state corporations and vice versa. It creates a procedure for that to happen. Under current rules, such corporations would need to get a new exemption letter from the IRS. Under this legislation, that exemption letter would not be necessary. It also provides that a certificate of conversion would require a statement that any articles of incorporation must still comply with Georgia law. SB 333 received a do-pass.
The last bill heard was SB 269, by Sen. Jesse Stone (R-Waynesboro). This bill closes a loophole in Georgia's anti-sanctuary city law. Sen. Stone indicated that some local governments have not complied with federal immigration laws and created 'sanctuaries' for illegal immigration. This bill requires annual certification by local governments to be part of the immigration compliance report they are already required to make. This bill was done in consultation with ACCG and GMA. There was some concern from the Committee that the bill is not necessarily enforceable since there is no penalty for local governments that do not comply with federal law. The bill was passed out of committee by a vote of 7-6 and Chairman Willard then adjourned the meeting.
Senate Insurance and Labor Committee
HB 838 had a hearing this afternoon. No vote was taken on this proposal despite Rep. John Meadows (R-Calhoun) attending the hearing. HB 838 seeks to impose a floor on commissions for health plans sold to small companies with 50 or fewer employees and to individuals (except for policies sold to individuals during special enrollment periods). Rep. Shaw Blackmon (R-Perry) presented this proposal. Brad Carver spoke in favor of the proposal and indicated all states are looking at this issue.
Rep. Carl Rogers presented the new Substitute and original version of HB 193 which addresses O.C.G.A. § 33-25-15 so as to prohibit an insurer from terminating, fining, or otherwise penalizing an agent for explaining to a policy owner his alternatives to the lapse or surrender of that policy owner's life insurance policy. In the end, the Committee passed the version of the legislation as it cleared the House upon a motion made by Sen. Burt Jones (R-Jackson).
Rep. Rogers also presented his legislation addressing third party administrators for dental services provided to the State's Medicaid patients in O.C.G.A. § 49-4-158. The bill proposes to carve dental services out of the current managed care contract for Medicaid patients. HB 537 was only heard and no vote was taken by the Committee despite some testimony from dentists expressing that the current dental services system in Medicaid under the Care Management Organizations is excessive, redundant and complicated. Blake Fullenwider, with the Georgia CMO Coalition, spoke against HB 537 expressing that the CMOs worked on providing access to patients and tracking HEDIS measures for the care provided, noting that Georgia ranks seventh nationally on collected measures. There was some discussion about potential costs associated with this bill's passage. Chairman Bethel noted that he wanted to see the fiscal impact and stated that there would be a continuing conversation on this issue.
HB 943, by Carl Rogers (R-Gainesville), addresses professional indemnification of liability and passed quickly. This legislation was discussed at the March 9 meeting and in the new version addresses the Georgia Department of Transportation's concerns.
A hearing was held on SB 245 concerning opioid abuse. Sen. Rick Jeffares (R-McDonough) and a physician from Peachtree Orthopedics discussed the use of prescription drugs and the need for physicians to have options to use with patients who were at risk for addiction. It proposes to require that health insurers provide insurance coverage for abuse-deterrent opioid analgesic drug products and make them preferred drugs on their formularies in Title 33, Chapter 24. Dawn Randolph, with the Georgia Council on Substance Abuse, also spoke in favor of this legislation as did a representative from the Medical Association of Georgia.
HB 216 also received a lengthy and emotional hearing. Rep. Micah Gravley (R-Douglasville) brought the legislation so as to require that workers' compensation benefits be provided to firefighters when there was a preponderance of evidence found that their cancer was caused by on-the-job exposure. It was described that Johns Hopkins, Centers for Disease Control and others have found that lots of cancers, which firefighters are acquiring, are due to job exposure. Now, many building materials are made of synthetic products which have high carcinogens. When they burn, these carcinogens get not only in the firefighters' lungs but also are absorbed through their skin. 37 states have similar laws but have the "presumption" standard in place. Some in Georgia asked that they impose the clear and convincing evidence requirement before a firefighter could access these benefits. Several firefighters and firefighter chiefs were on hand to provide testimony – one noted that an entire battalion of firefighters had died within a span of five years from cancer. An attorney with the firm of Drew Eckl and Farnham opposed the legislation because of cost, the problem of equal protection, and that cancer is actually many conditions. Bobby Potter, who is on the States Workers Compensation Advisory Council, expressed that the Council had struggled with this issue and felt a preponderance of the evidence was a better approach and also felt that it was fair and wise to do something. Emily Bagwell, with the Georgia Association of Property and Casualty Insurance Companies, cautioned the Committee about expanding beyond firefighters and diseases. A representative from Association County Commissioners of Georgia expressed reservations about the legislation. HB 216 will be on the Monday meeting agenda.
HB 882, by Rep. Darlene Taylor (R-Thomasville), cleared out of the Committee as a new Substitute. It repeals the repository requirements but includes Sen. Judson Hill's (R-Marietta) language on creating "concierge medicine" so that such will not be considered insurance products.
Senate Judiciary Non-Civil Committee
Rep. Bruce Broadrick (R-Dalton) passed out a Substitute on HB 783 which is Georgia's annual dangerous drug update in Title 16. It also addresses THC limits and low-THC oil. GBI will continue to monitor the drug Kratom which was not included in this version of the legislation.
Our 2016 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.