Gold Dome Report - March 15, 2016
Today marked Legislative Day 37. Lawmakers are now scrambling to make their final "tweaks" on legislation and move them through the system and onto the Governor's Desk.
HB 951's passage was praised by Governor Deal today. See more on this bill below.
In one poignant moment, Speaker Ralston turned over the rostrum to retiring legislator, Rep. Nikki Randall (D-Macon). There was some humor involved as Rep. Randall remarked that her colleagues could call her "Your Majesty." Her fellow Macon Delegation member, Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon), took a few moments for parliamentary inquiries, noting Rep. Randall's service to their Macon constituents over the years.
The Senate heard the following pieces of legislation today:
HB 979 passed 51-2. This legislation was authored by Rep. Johnnie Caldwell, Jr. (R-Thomaston) and creates aggravated assault crimes for instances of crimes against healthcare workers in Chapter 5 of Title 16. It was explained that many of the State's healthcare workers who staff emergency departments are victims themselves in their workplaces. This establishes the penalties for such crimes with imprisonment for five to twenty years. No changes were made to the bill in the Senate; it moves to the Governor's desk.
HB 727 passed the Senate by Committee Substitute by a vote of 54-0. A Floor Amendment was offered but it was lost. This legislation was Rep. Paul Battles' (R-Cartersville) amendments on the use and regulation of fireworks and was carried in the Senate by Sen. Jeff Mullis (R-Chickamauga). This legislation will require the House to approve changes made. There were several revisions in the Senate Committee on Public Safety's version – including various definitions as found in O.C.G.A. § 25-10-1. It does add that a "consumer fireworks retail sales facility" is not including a tent, canopy or membrane structure and under the definition of "store" includes buildings with at least 4,000 square feet of retail display space under which products are sold. It also revised the times when fireworks may be ignited – permitting any day beginning at 10:00 a.m. and ending at 10:00 p.m. There are extended hours for July 3-4, New Year's Eve and New Year's day. The Senate also added prohibitions from igniting fireworks within any park, historic site, recreational area, or other property owned by or operated for, or under the custody and control of the State except pursuant to any rules and regulations of the agency or department having control of such property which may allow for such use or ignition of consumer fireworks.
HB 1036 passed with a vote of 53-1. It provides for a moratorium on the use of eminent domain by pipeline companies through June 30, 2017 in Chapter 3 of Title 22 and creates a State Commission on Pipeline Companies. The Senate made changes to this legislation in the Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities Committee so those will need to be approved by the House. In part, some of the changes made by the Senate include the creation of this new Commission.
HB 219, modifying the treatment of "public" swimming pools, passed by Substitute by a vote of 47-6. A Floor Amendment was offered but it failed to be adopted. HB 219 was presented in the Senate by Sen. William Ligon, Jr. (R-Brunswick).
HB 588, by Rep. Valerie Clark (R-Lawrenceville), was presented by Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford). This legislation seeks to tighten sales of medications containing ephedrine, pseudoephedrine and phenylpropanolamine in O.C.G.A. § 16-13-30.3 by implementing a real-time tracking of those sales of products. Currently, these medications are "over-the-counter," not requiring a prescription, but are kept behind the counter at a pharmacy. This electronic system, which will be approved by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, can track and generate a stop sale alert to notify the pharmacy that a purchase of these products by an individual which exceeds sales' limits, as set forth in the law. This electronic system will be paid for by the manufacturers of the products and be of no cost to the State or pharmacies. This effort is to help prevent the manufacturer of "meth." The legislation passed with a vote of 39-1. No changes were made to this bill; thus it moves to the Governor's desk.
HB 649 passed out of the Senate with a vote of 46-4. Sen. Dean Burke, MD (R-Bainbridge) carried the legislation for Rep. Sharon Cooper (R-Marietta), the bill's author. This legislation will regulate and license lactation consultants in Chapter 22A of Title 43. An attempt was made by Sen. Greg Kirk (R-Americus) and Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford) to add Sen. Lester Jackson's language from SB 319 – it seeks to add the word "diagnose" to the scope of practice for a licensed professional counselor. SB 319 is now in the House and assigned to the House Regulated Industries Committee where a substitute with new language is in process. Sen. Kirk, also a licensed professional counselor, saw this bill as a vehicle. SB 319's language was ruled not germane so that the amendment offered was not added to HB 649, which passed by Committee Substitute. The House must now approve the new version of this legislation.
HB 811 passed the Senate with a vote of 47-1. This legislation was brought to the Senate Floor by Sen. John Kennedy (R-Macon) but authored in the House by Rep. Bruce Williamson (R-Monroe). It is an update of Georgia's banking laws in Title 7 and also regulates "virtual currency." There was a Floor Amendment which was adopted and the Bill passed as amended. The amendment was added as a new Section 8-2: "Products authorized under O.C.G.A. § 44-12-130, et seq. that are subject to rules adopted under the authority of 12 U.S.C. 5491, et seq. may be offered for a fixed term so long as such products are fully amortized by the end of such term. Provisions of Title 7, Chapter 4 shall not be applicable if such products adhere to limits set forth in 44-12-130." The House is required to approve the change made.
HB 815, by Rep. Trey Rhodes (R-Greensboro), was carried by Sen. Burt Jones (R-Jackson). It passed quickly with a vote of 52-0. There were no changes in the Senate and moves to the Governor's desk. The legislation amends Chapter 2 of Title 26 regarding the inspection and regulation of avian meat products and facilities which process those products for human consumption. In part, it adds a new definition for "nontraditional livestock" which will also be "any avian species which are grown commercially for slaughter and preparation as human food but are not amenable to the Federal Poultry Products Inspection Act; provided, however, that such term shall not include any such avian species raised for recreational purposes which are not sold at wholesale or retail."
HB 739 passed with a vote of 38-8. Rep. Kevin Tanner (R-Dawsonville) authored this legislation which Sen. Steve Gooch (R-Dahlonega) carried on the Senate Floor. It adds in O.C.G.A. § 20-2-1012(a)(2) that if the State Board of Education elects to provide for State-approved instructional materials and content, then it is required to establish a review and recommendation process. The process is to include the opportunity for public comment and parental input prior to the adoption of any proposed instructional materials and content. The State Board of Education is to post in a "prominent location" on its website a list of proposed instructional materials and content for the public to review and also make all State-approved instructional materials and content available for review upon request (specifying hours for such review). It also adds a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. § 20-2-1017 addressing "locally approved instructional materials and content" and a process by which parents may review those materials prior to their adoption. No changes to this proposal were made in the Senate; the bill moves to the Governor's desk.
HB 951 passed after much debate with a vote of 38-14. This legislation seeks to do three things in Chapter 8 of Title 48: provide for a sales and use tax exemption for admissions to a non-reoccurring, major sporting events (such as the Super Bowl) as requested by the NFL; seeks to allow for a "school sales tax holiday" on sales of back-to-school related items for a specified period of time; and permit for a sales tax holiday on sales of certified energy efficient appliances which are less than $1,500.00. There were several amendments offered on the Floor; all failed. Sen. Butch Miller (R-Gainesville) presented the legislation on behalf of the Governor and his team (it had been carried in the House by Rep. Chad Nimmer (R-Blackshear)). Sen. Josh McKoon (R-Columbus) was very vocal about his opposition to the legislation noting that the NFL was attempting to essentially hold the State hostage and require it to give up millions in revenue so that it could be a host city for a Super Bowl. As no changes were made, the legislation moves to the Governor's desk.
HB 775 was authored by Rep. Earl Ehrhart (R-Powder Springs) and carried in the Senate by Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford). It essentially requires that before glasses (spectacles) or contact lenses may be sold in Georgia they are required to have a prescription from either an ophthalmologist or optometrist at O.C.G.A. § 31-12-12. Sen. Tommie Williams (R-Lyons) asked if he had a prescription from an optometrist and elected to order glasses from a Georgia provider on the internet, was that allowed; Sen. Unterman stated that was permitted. This bill had no changes to it in the Senate; it passed with a vote of 47-3 and moves to the Governor's desk.
HB 777 was passed with a vote of 47-0. Rep. Mike Dudgeon (R-Johns Creek) authored this legislation, hoping to move Georgia forward by permitting school bus drivers to use digital technology rather than analog technology for their communications (similar to a two-way radio). The change is made at O.C.G.A. § 40-6-165(e). Otherwise, bus drivers will not be allowed to use or operate a cellular telephone while a bus is in motion. Sen. Tyler Harper (R-Ocilla) carried this legislation in the Senate.
The below bills were tabled and not debated. They will appear on Wednesday's calendar.
HB 884, the bill by Rep. Darlene Taylor (R-Thomasville), which now incorporates the language from HB 882, was amended in the Senate Insurance and Labor Committee and comes to the Senate Floor as a Committee Substitute. The first section of the new proposal addresses requirements of additional deposits of securities by foreign and alien insurers in O.C.G.A. § 33-3-9 and the second section amends O.C.G.A. § 33-56-3(a)(1) and adds that a health organization is now included in the definition of company action level event. Both measures were requested by the Department of Insurance.
HB 54, by Rep. Keisha Waites (D-Atlanta), seeks to allow voluntary check off contributions by Georgia tax payers on their income tax returns. The contributions would be payable to the Georgia Student Finance Authority and would be used to provide assistance to children of law enforcement officers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians and prison guards who are employed by the State or other public employer and Highway Emergency Response Operators of the Department of Transportation who were either killed in the line of duty or permanently disabled. This could be all or part of a tax refund due to that taxpayer. The change is proposed in O.C.G.A. § 20-3-316.2. No changes were made in the Senate Committee on Higher Education on this legislation.
On the House side of the building, they took up a few measures. Also note that HB 1131, SR 954, SB 331, and SB 343 were postponed until the next legislative day.
SB 206, by Sen. William T. Ligon, Jr. (R-Brunswick), revises provisions relating to the prohibition of a water supplier's option to disconnect water service to premises because of the indebtedness of a prior owner, occupant, or lessee. The bill provides a procedure to obtain information regarding moneys owed for water supplied to certain real property under certain circumstances. SB 206 exempts any property from the refusal to supply water because of the indebtedness of the prior occupant. A new section is added to current law setting forth that any property owner or tenant, person executing a contract for the purchase or occupancy of property, attorney closing a real estate transaction, or lender considering the loan of funds to be secured by real property shall have the right to request a statement from the water supplier setting forth the amount of any outstanding water charges along with any late fees with interest. Rep. Alex Atwood (R-St. Simons Island) spoke in support of the bill. He indicated that ACCG, GMA, the Georgia Realtors Association, and others are in support of this legislation. There was one amendment, but it was withdrawn. SB 206 passed the House with a vote of 170-0.
SB 335, by Sen. Ellis Black (R-Valdosta), amends O.C.G.A. 47-20-83 relating to Public Retirement Systems Investment Authority law. This bill allows retirement systems to invest in commingled and collective investment funds maintained by state chartered banks or trust companies. Currently, retirement systems can only invest in commingled and collective investment funds that are regulated by the Office of Comptroller of the Currency of the United States Department of the Treasury. This bill has been certified by the Georgia Department of Audits and Accounts as a non-fiscal retirement bill. It was passed by the House with a vote of 167-1.
SB 336, by Sen. Ellis Black (R-Valdosta), allows each employer to establish a retirement plan or plans by resolution of the municipal corporation. Currently, a retirement plan or plans can only be enacted by ordinance of the governing body of a municipal corporation. This bill also adds that an employee's contribution under a defined benefit plan shall not exceed 50 percent of the value of such employee's benefit payable from the plan, except with respect to any employee contribution made to purchase additional creditable service. SB 336 also amends O.C.G.A. 47-5-41 relating to the establishment and use of master plans under the Georgia Municipal Employees Benefit System. It allows the board of trustees to establish one or more master plans for retirement plans with greater than 16 employees. Current law only allows master plans be developed for retirement plans with fewer than 16 employees. Also, this bill adds that an employee's contribution into a master plan shall not exceed 50 percent of the value of such employee's benefit payable from the plan, except with respect to any employee contribution made to purchase additional creditable service. This bill has been certified by the Georgia Department of Audits and Accounts as a non-fiscal retirement bill. SB 336 passed by a vote of 163-6.
SR 730, by Sen. William T. Ligon, Jr. (R-Brunswick), encourages the Coastal Regional Commission to create a comprehensive plan for and oversee the implementation of the Coastal Georgia Greenway and to create and file an annual report with the General Assembly detailing its progress. It passed with a vote of 149-18.
SB 193, by Sen. Charlie Bethel (R-Dalton), passed the House with a vote of 170-2. It changes provisions of the Georgia Code relating to battery in the context of family violence. When a battery is committed between household members, and the perpetrator has previously been convicted of a separate forcible felony between household members in Georgia, or any other state, he or she will be guilty of a felony and shall be punished by imprisonment of not less than one year but not more than five years.
SB 263, by Sen. Bruce Thompson (R-White), allows for the governing authority of each municipality and county in this state, as well as each board of education, which employs sworn police officer who are POST certified to adopt policies under which officers may retain their weapon or badge upon retirement or leaving employment as a result of a disability arising in the line of duty. It passed the House today with a vote of 123-46.
SB 269, by Sen. Jesse Stone (R-Waynesboro), requires local governments to submit proof of compliance and a certification pursuant to the Annual Immigration Compliance Report before funding is received from state agencies. Furthermore, it makes certification of compliance a requirement of the annual "Immigration Compliance Act". It passed with a vote of 118-52.
SB 364, by Sen. Lindsey Tippins (R-Marietta), passed by a vote of 172-0. It revises the annual performance evaluation for public school teachers and leaders. Student growth will now account for 30 percent of the evaluation, down from the original 50 percent. A professional growth component will account for 20 percent. The number of in-class observations is reduced for teachers with at least three years of teaching experience who have earned 'Proficient' or 'Exemplary' on the previous evaluation. The bill also reduces the amount of state mandated testing. Currently, there are 32 state mandated tests in grades K-12. This legislation reduces the number of state mandated test to 24 by removing social studies and science tests in grades 3, 4, 6, and 7. It also adds formative testing in grades 1 and 2 to assess reading and math development. Speaker Ralston indicated that he supports SB 364 in its current form. Senator Tippins was agreeable to this version which came out of the House Education committee, so it now goes back to the Senate for approval.
SB 402, by Sen. Jeff Mullis (R-Chickamauga), imposes a temporary moratorium on the acceptance of new applications for licensure of narcotic treatment programs in Georgia until June 30, 2017. Moreover, the bill creates the State Commission on Narcotic Treatment Programs, which is comprised of three members of the House appointed by the Speaker of the House, three members of the Senate appointed by the President of the Senate, and five members appointed by the Governor. The Commission is tasked with studying multiple aspects of current narcotic treatment programs in Georgia, and to determine if legislative changes need to be made to licensure requirements of said treatment programs, or if any other changes to the law are required to address concerns that arise out of the Commission's study. This bill passed with a vote of 169-0.
SR 558, by Sen. Jeff Mullis (R-Chickamauga), is a constitutional amendment to provide that the existing excise tax on fireworks shall be specifically dedicated to the provision of trauma care, fire services, and local public safety purposes. SB 350, the enabling legislation, allocates the revenues collected. SR 558 cleared the House with a vote of 169-2.
House Judiciary Committee – Civil
Chairman Wendell Willard (R-Sandy Springs) called the meeting to order. The Committee considered SB 255, by Sen. Jesse Stone (R-Waynesboro), which relates to garnishment proceedings. There were various changes made to this bill since last time it was heard. The first change is between Lines 588-609, where it recognizes that sovereign immunity shall not be a defense in a garnishment proceeding involving government employees. Additionally, it now provides 5 days for filing of garnishment. It received a do-pass by the committee.
The second bill considered was SB 345, by Sen. Hunter Hill (R-Atlanta), and carried by Chairman Willard in the House. This bill addresses disputes between churches and congregations. Previously, the bill stated that courts "shall" conduct a neutral examination of all factors during such disputes. It was changed by removing "shall" and replacing it with language that "urges" a neutral examination instead. SB 345 also received a do-pass. The meeting was adjourned.
Senate Judiciary Committee
The Committee considered three bills today: HB 927, HB 1025, and HB 1060. They did not consider HB 204 today and plan to take it up at the next meeting.
HB 927, by Rep. Christian Coomer (R-Cartersville), is the "Appellate Jurisdiction Reform Act of 2016" which increases the number of Supreme Court justices from seven to nine and makes various other changes to appellate courts. This bill received a do-pass from the committee.
Rep. Tom Taylor (R-Dunwoody) presented the substitute to HB 1025, which is a general bill relating to violations of county and state ordinances. It adds notice requirements for serving such violations. Rep. Taylor indicated this bill specifically looks at DeKalb County, but would apply to other states as well. Sen. Charlie Bethel (R-Dalton) offered an amendment to Line 36 stating that any local law must include a provision requiring refusal of request for waiver service prior to receiving such service. The bill received a do-pass, with Sen. Bethel's amendment.
HB 1060 was authored by Rep. Rick Jasperse (R-Jasper), who presented it to the Committee as a "housekeeping" bill dealing with Georgia weapons carry licenses. Many believed this bill would be amended to incorporate language to address the Governor's recent comments about the campus carry bill that just passed. There were no amendments regarding campus carry during this meeting. The sheriff's association expressed some concern over a provision that would reduce the time they have during the review period from 30 days to 10 days. Rep. Jasperse was okay with that change, so the bill was amended to increase that number back to 30 days. There was also some concern over the definition of "identification" regarding law enforcement officers' uniforms. They were specifically talking about lines 249-254 where it refers to a badge and uniform as being proper identification for law enforcement officers who walk into a courthouse. Line 249 was amended by striking "pursuant to" and adding "not withstanding"; Line 252 was amended by adding "in the performance of their duties" to the beginning of the line and inserting language referring to a "level three holster". With these changes adopted, HB 1060 received a do-pass and now goes on to the Rules Committee.
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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.