Gold Dome Report - March 15, 2017
Today marked Day 34 of the legislative session. It was a good day in Georgia for economic development – more new jobs are headed to Henry County as Luxottica has announced it will expand its distribution facility. Luxottica is a manufacturer and distributor of eyewear. http://gov.georgia.gov/press-releases/2017-03-14/deal-luxottica-group-create-1000-jobs-henry-county. Also, Governor Deal and the Georgia Department of Economic Development announced the GLOBE awards (Georgia Launching Opportunities By Exporting). http://gov.georgia.gov/press-releases/2017-03-15/deal-recognizes-international-trade-leaders%E2%80%99-statewide-economic-impact.
The House considered only one piece of legislation this morning. SB 47, by Sen. Chuck Hufstetler (R-Rome,) was presented on the floor by Rep. Sharon Cooper (R-Marietta). The bill provides for an exemption for out-of-state physicians who travel with and provide services to visiting professional sports teams. Currently, such physicians are limited in what services they can legally provide in Georgia. The bill allows the Georgia Board of Athletic Trainers to make agreements with comparable licensing boards in other states to accommodate these athletic trainers. SB 47 passed by a vote of 169-0.
This was the only bill scheduled for today, so the House quickly adjourned.
The Senate considered five pieces of legislation today. Note that HB 213, by Rep. Rich Golick (R-Smyrna), was tabled, so it was not brought up for a vote. HB 213 is the legislation addressing, in part, the definition of the "fentanyl analog structural class" of drugs. Sen. Hunter Hill (R-Atlanta) carried this bill and he also called for it to be tabled. Senators were greeted this morning by Georgia Congressman Buddy Carter, who gave some brief remarks.
The first bill to be considered was HB 39, by Rep. Alan Powell (R-Hartwell). It was presented by Sen. Butch Miller (R-Gainesville) and seeks to make changes to the disciplinary process utilized by the Georgia Real Estate Commission Board regarding real estate appraisers, brokers, and agents who are guilty of committing a crime. There were no amendments and HB 39 was passed by a vote of 48-1.
Sen. Jack Hill (R-Reidsville) presented HB 44, which is the State's Fiscal Year 2018 Budget, which had been debated in appropriations committees up until now. The Budget for FY 2018 passed 55-0 and was immediately transmitted to the House for its consideration of the changes made.
HB 83, by Rep. Howard Maxwell (R-Dallas), was carried by Sen. Hunter Hill (R-Atlanta). It allows the Georgia Firefighters Pension Fund to invest up to 10% of the fund's assets in real estate and another 10% in alternative investments. The bill passed unanimously with no amendments by a vote of 51-0.
HB 359, by Rep. Barry Fleming (R-Harlem), was carried in the Senate by Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford). The bill repeals the 'Care of a Minor Child Act' and replaces it with new language that allows parents to temporarily delegate power of attorney for providing childcare. An amendment was proposed that would have significantly restructured the bill. Sen. Unterman said she was opposed to the amendment, which ended up failing. HB 359 was then passed 40-11, without any amendments.
HB 592, by Rep. Eddie Lumsden (R-Armuchee), would amend O.C.G.A. § 33-2-34 by repealing the applicability and sunset provisions relating to insurance compliance self-evaluative privilege.
HB 593, by Rep. Ron Stephens (R-Savannah), would amend O.C.G.A. § 48-8-142 by requiring that any referendum on the implementation or continuation of the levy of a sales tax for educational purposes include language that informs voters of the annual starting date for schools that would benefit from the proceeds of such tax.
HR 627, by Rep. Paulette Rakestraw (R-Powder Springs), would create the House Study Committee on Mental Health and Addiction Treatment Funding Mechanisms. It would address the unmet need in Georgia for programs that provide temporary long-term residential mental health treatment, mental health counseling, and treatment alternatives. A study would be undertaken with a focus on possible methods of financing such services.
HR 629, by Rep. Matt Hatchett (R-Dublin), would create the House Study Committee on the Utilization and Modernization of the State Capitol and other buildings on and around the Capitol grounds.
HR 630, by Rep. Barry Fleming (R-Harlem), would create the House Study Committee on Sentencing Alternatives for Misdemeanors which will look at the various options of alternative sentencing available to courts for addressing misdemeanors.
SB 287, by Sen. Jack Hill (R-Reidsville), would amend O.C.G.A. § 20-3-411 by providing that Georgia Military College is now eligible for tuition equalization grants, HOPE scholarship and grants, and the Georgia HERO scholarship.
Senate Education Committee
The Committee was called to order by Chairman Lindsey Tippins (R-Marietta). The chairman announced that no action would be taken today on HB 338, by Rep. Kevin Tanner (R-Dawsonville). Instead, he called Rep. Robert Dickey (R-Musella) to present HB 114 to the Committee. It would give local systems flexibility to set different criteria and different methods of grading for considering whether to give valedictorian or salutatorian status to 'move on when ready' students. Local systems can exclude such students from consideration, but they will lose State funding. It received a do-pass recommendation from the Committee.
HB 246, by Rep. Wes Cantrell (R-Woodstock), was discussed next. Chairman Tippins indicated that he told Rep. Cantrell not to worry about presenting the bill, since it had been thoroughly vetted by the Committee. It received a do-pass.
HB 224 was presented by Rep. Dave Belton (R-Buckhead) which allows children of military families to attend their choice of school within their current district, so long as such school is not full. He said that Georgia has the 5th largest military population in the nation and the military contributes $20 billion to the State's economy annually. The military is concerned about education specifically in Georgia and this would address some of those concerns. The bill received a do-pass and will be carried by Sen. Hunter Hill (R-Atlanta).
Rep. Katie Dempsey (R-Rome) presented HB 463, which authorizes the Department of Early Care and Learning (DECAL) to establish a non profit corporation to qualify as a public foundation. Currently, their funds lapse each year. Sen. Fran Millar (R-Atlanta) commended DECAL Commissioner Amy Jacobs for her hard work and for raising around $10 million for the department. This bill was passed by the Committee and will be carried by Sen. John Wilkinson (R-Toccoa).
Rep. Buzz Brockway (R-Lawrenceville) presented HB 430, which addresses some of the recommendations provided by the Governor's Education Reform Commission, which had met prior to the session. The bill passed through the House with bipartisan support. He indicated that Sections 1 and 2 set the standards that State and Charter schools should live up to. In Section 4, it sets up a grant system for public charters to apply for a grant up to $100,000 to cover day-to-day operations and for maintaining facilities. Rep. Brockway said he had received some concerns from Angela Palm with the Georgia School Board Association. He indicated that he has addressed those concerns in the bill. He will also consider other proposed language to add to his bill. Sen. Millar asked if the Charter School Association is okay with these recommendations by the ERC. Rep. Brockway indicated that they are supportive. There were close to 15 people who testified on HB 430. No action was taken before the Committee adjourned.
House Higher Education Committee
This Committee is chaired by Rep. Rick Jasperse (R-Jasper) and today they only considered SB 186, by Sen. Lindsey Tippins (R-Marietta). He indicated that this bill arose from the need to address how HOPE eligibility aligns with associate's degree courses. It allows students who obtain their high school diploma through dual coursework to now be eligible for HOPE grants. The language was drafted by the Governor’s Office in coordination with the Technical College System of Georgia (TCSG). It would allow for HOPE grants to cover up to 30 hours of gap courses between the hour requirements for a diploma and the requirements for an associate’s degree. He said this bill untangles unintended consequences which have emerged after the passage of SB 2 last session.
Chairman Rick Jasperse (R-Jasper) asked how many students this issue is affecting right now. Chairman Tippins did not have the exact number, but they can be provided by TCSG. Rep. Pat Gardner (D-Atlanta) asked if he got an estimate or fiscal note to show how much this will cost; however there is no fiscal note. Rep. Amy Carter (R-Valdosta) said she is confused about the need for this bill, since students who want to be eligible for HOPE grants may have already fulfilled the requirements for an associate's degree. It was explained to her that HOPE grants are not currently eligible for students who take associate's degree courses. There is a different curriculum for certificate programs as opposed to other programs, such as associate's degree courses. Rep. Trey Kelley (R-Cedartown) motioned that SB 186 do-pass, which was seconded and approved. The Committee was adjourned.
Senate Judiciary Committee – Subcommittee B
This Subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee is chaired by Sen. Josh McKoon (R-Columbus). The Subcommittee took up the following measures:
- Rep. Betty Price (R-Roswell) presented HB 162 which is a clean up of the 2014 law regarding administrative setoffs. It specifically amends O.C.G.A. § 48-7-164 and allows that the Administrative Office of the Courts may, in its discretion, transfer any amount to the court to which the debt is owed, excluding the administrative collection assistance fee. The bill passed and now moves to the full Committee. No changes were made.
- Rep. Wendell Willard (R-Sandy Springs) brought HB 434 which addresses a 2006 Supreme Court decision relating to eminent domain and the taking of private property and then transferring that property for the purpose of economic development. Rep. Willard explained the intent of this bill was to address dilapidated property (blighted property). Georgia Realtors and local governments, including GMA and ACCG, asked for this legislation so that there could be disposal for blighted property. This process is outlined at O.C.G.A. § 22-1-15. It allows for properties to be identified and then a superior court, in the county where the property is located, conducts a review and makes a determination if the property is blighted or not. There is no jury involvement in this process. If the judge declares it blighted, then there is a process to condemn the property and it can then be sold for the purposes of economic development – but if it was residential property, it will remain residential property and if it was commercial property, then it is to remain commercial property. Zoning remains the same. Sen. Greg Kirk (R-Americus), a member of the Subcommittee, commented that it was a great bill. Keith Hatcher spoke on behalf of the Georgia Realtors and Rashi Patel spoke on behalf of GMA in favor of the legislation. The legislation passed out of the Subcommittee without changes and now moves to the full Senate Judiciary Committee.
- Rep. Alan Powell (R-Hartwell) presented his gun reciprocity legislation, HB 406. This bill amends O.C.G.A. § 16-11-126. Georgia has reciprocity with 32 other states regarding its weapons' carry provisions. However, Virginia's did not honor the 18-21 year olds gun carry permission. This corrects that issue. The Attorney General is also to post on its website the states with reciprocity. There were no questions. Thomas Weaver testified in favor of the initiative. The legislation passed without amendments and now moves to the full Committee.
- HB 185, by Rep. Christian Coomer (R-Cartersville), was next on the agenda. It clarifies at O.C.G.A. § 15-9-2.1 that an associate judge of the probate court may also work as a JAG or other court in the military at the same time. There were no questions raised and the legislation received a do pass recommendation. It will be heard in full Committee.
- HB 261, by Rep. Bill Werkheiser (R-Glennville), addresses Georgia's first offender statutes. He presented the initiative amending O.C.G.A. §42-8-66 to allow offenders who were sentenced to a term of incarceration between March 18, 1968 and October 31, 1982 to petition the court for a retroactive grant of first offender status. This requires the consent of the prosecuting attorney before petition to the superior court in the county in which he or she was convicted for exoneration of guilt and discharge. Prosecuting Attorneys' Council of Georgia Director Chuck Spahos spoke to the bill as did Cory Isaacson with the Georgia Justice Project. Sen. Jesse Stone (R-Waynesboro) asked some clarifying questions as to why there had been a gap in the original law. In 1968 when the law was first written, it addressed only straight probation and in 1982 it addressed split sentences. HB 261 received a do pass recommendation without further changes. The legislation moves to the full Committee.
- Rep. Bert Reeves (R-Marietta) presented HB 159, the comprehensive rewrite to Georgia's adoption laws in Chapter 8 of Title 19. The Subcommittee considered a new Committee Substitute which includes revisions to all forms used in Georgia's adoption processes. The last comprehensive revisions to the laws on adoption were made in 1990. There are changes to out-of-state adoptions; changes to the age of the petition; permissions for married individuals to adopt at any age; international adoptions and recognition of the foreign decree (for adoption and guardianship); and the option to waive the 10-day period for birth mothers' surrender before finality of the process (however, it does require for such birth mothers to be over the age of 18 and consult counsel before they may execute such waiver before a witness and a notary). There were numerous questions concerning this waiver. It was discussed that other states with revocation do have shorter revocation periods; however, over half of the states have no revocation. Two birth mothers opposed the waiver change. The Subcommittee also inquired about the "independent attorney" and how those individuals were retained – the attorneys noted that the State Bar of Georgia has Rules of Conduct on such provisions. Finally, the legislation received a do pass recommendation and the new Substitute moves to the full Committee for its consideration.
- HB 67 was the next proposal for discussion. Its author, Rep. William Boddie (D-East Point), presented the measure which creates a new offense of car jacking (hijacking a motor vehicle) in the second degree at O.C.G.A. § 16-5-44.1 (b)(2) and eliminates the offense of burglary in the second degree with a vehicle at O.C.G.A. § 16-7-1(c). This legislation caused a few questions and Thomas Weaver opposed the changes to the burglary statute. However, the legislation passed out of the Subcommittee, moving now to the full Committee.
- Rep. Rick Jasperse (R-Jasper) presented HB 292 to the Subcommittee which is mostly a rewrite of HB 1060 from 2016 (which was vetoed by Governor Deal). It excludes the references to carrying weapons in churches. It does, though, address mental health components, permitting GBI agents to carry weapons; the reciprocity language (see Rep. Powell's bill above); and nondiscrimination components which have all previously passed the Senate. There are no campus carry provisions in the legislation. Two individuals spoke to the proposal: Thomas Weaver asked that sheriffs be required to have receptacles for gun storage at court houses; and Elizabeth Appley with the Presbyterians for a Better Georgia spoke to issues such as narrowed judicial discretion and changes in the way "knife" is defined. There were amendments made to this legislation at the Subcommittee hearing (one addresses conservation officers (rather than rangers); another mirrors language at line 95 at line 107 (concerning "carry a weapon"); and others address protections for credit unions and financial institutions). The legislation passed with the amendments and now moves to the full Committee for its consideration.
House State and Local Government Committee
The Committee conducted an extensive hearing on SB 2 by Sen. Mike Dugan (R-Carrollton). The bill is directed against regulatory delays by governments and proposes a series of changes to the procedures for local governments and state agencies to regulate entities and pass regulations to do so. It also proposes that fees for licensure or permitting by a local government, professional licensing board or any state agency may be paid by an applicant 50% at the time of filing an application and 50% upon its grant. Time deadlines are set for the evaluation of a completed application and if the governmental agency in question is more than 10 days late in deciding an application, the payment of the second 50% of the fee may be reduced 10% for each delay of 10 days, including refund of part of the original 50% of the fee for extended delays. The bill also requires economic impact and public benefit statements for any state agency regulation and makes it easier for a legislative override of a state agency regulation by 50% vote of the legislative authorizing committee. There was extensive testimony about multiple aspects of the bill. The Secretary of State's office and others questioned whether the fee collection systems for the professional licensing boards under the Secretary of State can accept partial payments and whether the refund portion is workable. GMA and ACCG raised extensive questions about the penalties on state and local governments for the granting of construction permits. Several contractors' associations supported the bill as an improvement of the speed of approving building permits. There was not a vote on the bill, but the Committee has under development several amendments to respond to the split billing and penalty procedures. It appears that the bill will pass Committee and get to the House floor with a committee substitute.
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
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