Gold Dome Report - March 16, 2016
Today marked Legislative Day 38! Yes, efforts to wind down the 2016 Session are underway. Lawmakers will take off Thursday, Friday, and next Monday to allow for Conference Committees to hammer out final details on various pieces of legislation and to celebrate the St. Patrick's Day holiday.
The Senate Rules Committee will meet Monday, March 21, 2016, at 1:00 p.m. to set the calendar for Tuesday.
The House's Rules Calendar for the day originally included the following pieces of legislation:
HR 1253, by Rep. Dexter Sharper (D-Valdosta), encourages local athletic entities to provide information on dugout safety to youth athletes participating in baseball competitions and to construct protective dugout coverings. It passed 145-19.
HR 1342, by Rep. Demetrius Douglas (D-Stockbridge), requests local schools systems provide more recess time for school children. It passed 171-3.
HR 1382, by Rep. Debbie Buckner (D-Junction City), encourages the Department of Community Health to create a State Health Benefit Plan Customer Advisory Council. It passed by a vote of 155-14.
SB 243, by Sen. Jack Hill (R-Reidsville), amends O.C.G.A. § 47-23-43, § 47-23-43.1, and § 47-23-100 to allow any full-time employee serving as legislative counsel, with admission into the State Bar of Georgia, to become a member of the Judicial Retirement System (JRS). Eligible individuals wishing to become a member must notify the board no later than December 31, 2016 or within 90 days of employment, whichever date is later. The Employee's Retirement System (ERS) would then be required to transfer all employee and employer contributions, plus interest, to JRS. Also, members would receive creditable service for actual years of service as a member of ERS. This bill has been certified by the Georgia Department of Audits and Accounts as a fiscal retirement bill. SB 243 passed by a vote of 96-65.
SR 1027, by Sen. Jeff Mullis (R-Chickamauga), creates the Joint Music Economic Development Study Committee, which will examine issues relating to the music industry and possible ways to develop it further in the State. It was adopted by a vote of 166-5.
SR 1038, by Sen. Jeff Mullis (R-Chickamauga), creates the Joint Alternative Fuels Infrastructure Study Committee, which will examine ways that infrastructure can be increased to support alternative fuel vehicles. It was also adopted by a vote of 164-0.
HR 1343, by Rep. Tom McCall (R-Elberton), encourages the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to withdraw the proposed 'Waters of the United States Clean Water Plan' rule and to support the comments on the Clean Water Plan rule submitted to the Environmental Protection Agency by the State of Georgia. It also urges Congress and the President to enact legislation to prohibit the Clean Water Plan rule from taking effect unless and until any and all legal challenges to the Clean Water Plan rule have been fully resolved and no appeals remain, and support the Joint Resolution resolved by Congress on January 4, 2016. HR 1343 passed on the floor by a vote of 149-21.
SB 208, by former Sen. Ronald Ramsey (D-Lithonia), provides for a referendum to create the City of Stonecrest in DeKalb County. This bill, carried in the House by Rep. Dee Dawkins-Haigler (D-Lithonia), passed, 144-17.
The House Rules Committee set a supplemental calendar which included the following:
SB 85, by Sen. Brandon Beach (R-Alpharetta), provides that any individual appointed to state and local authorities, boards, councils, and commissions shall be a United States citizen, or a natural or lawful permanent resident. Opponents argued that this sends a message to foreign companies that they are not welcome to make decisions in Georgia. However, the bill received a do-pass from the Governmental Affairs Committee and was passed by a vote of 94-62.
SB 307, by Sen. John Kennedy (R-Macon), allows for multimedia messages at bus shelters as long as they comply with existing operational standards for multiple message signs. These messages will not be required to comply with spacing standards set in the same Code section. The bill also provides for an annual permit which allows towing service providers to operate on the interstate systems in Georgia. Permits are to be issued by the Department of Public Safety after the applicant has completed an operator safety course that meets or exceeds minimum standards recognized and adopted by the Towing and Recovery Incentive Program and has submitted the annual $85 permit fee. Those found violating this Code section are guilty of a misdemeanor. This statute relating to tow permits has a sunset date of January 1, 2021. SB 307 was passed by a vote of 143-17.
SB 331, by Sen. Bruce Thompson (R-White), was carried by Rep. Brian Strickland (R-McDonough) in the House. It allows the termination of a father's parental rights when, by clear and convincing evidence, the father caused his child to be conceived as a result of non-consensual sexual contact. There shall be a presumption against legitimation where the court finds that the father caused his child to be conceived in such a manner. Such fathers shall also be barred from inheriting from a child so conceived; however, a child conceived as a result of non-consensual sex may still inherit from the father. There was a floor amendment (AM 29 2541) to SB 331, offered by Chairman Wendell Willard (R-Sandy Springs) relating to the sworn statement by a father in order to inherit from his child. It changed Lines 91-92 to provide that such sworn statement shall be insufficient in cases where a court has determined by clear and convincing evidence that such father caused his child to be conceived as a result of nonconsensual sexual intercourse with the mother of his child or when the mother is less than ten years old. This amendment was adopted and SB 331 then passed 169-1.
SB 367, by Sen. John Kennedy (R-Macon), seeks to expand accountability courts by authorizing "operating under the influence" court divisions. Any court with jurisdiction over DUI or boating under the influence cases may establish a division designated to handle those cases and provide an alternative to the traditional justice system with the goal of reducing recidivism. Each court must establish a planning group, comprised of judges, prosecuting attorneys, public defenders, and other court officials, to establish a plan that will govern the operations of the division based on State standards. This bill passed 166-1.
SB 369, by Sen. Jeff Mullis (R-Chickamauga), makes changes to the 'Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority Act of 1965' by granting the City of Atlanta the authority to levy a retail sales tax of up to .50 percent, in .05 percent intervals, in addition to any tax which is currently authorized. This tax shall not count toward any local sales tax limitation. It also must be approved by public referendum. Rep. Jan Jones (R-Milton) offered an amendment that would add language to Line 561 to provide that governing authorities of counties can vote against local resolutions authorizing the sales tax by a majority plus one vote. This amendment was adopted. SB 369 was then passed, as amended by a vote of 159-4.
The House also agreed with the Senate on the following four bills:
HB 52, by Rep. Regina Quick (R-Athens), gives courts the ability to waive the requirement for a parenting plan in the court's final decree in legal action involving the custody of a child. The Senate deleted lines 18-31 which cleans up the language in the bill.
HB 509, by Rep. Jesse Petrea (R-Savannah), creates the Georgia Palliative Care and Quality of Life Advisory Council within the Department of Community Health. The Senate made changes to the way in which council members are appointed. In this version, members of the council are to include the chairpersons of the House and Senate Health Committees; two members appointed by the Speaker; two members appointed by the President of the Senate; and three members appointed by the Governor. The purpose of this change is to provide for greater legislative oversight. The House agreed to the Senate's changes.
HB 757, by Rep. Kevin Tanner (R-Dawsonville), now known as the 'Free Exercise Protection Act,' as revised by the House and Senate, provides ministerial and individual protections against infringement on religious exercise balanced with protecting individuals from invidious discrimination (which is discrimination that is offensive or objectionable, especially because it involves prejudice or stereotyping or otherwise treats a class of persons unequally in a manner that is irrational, malicious, hostile, or damaging). This Act adds O.C.G.A. § 19-3-11, relating to marriage generally, by providing certain ministerial protections. Specifically, clergy ordained or authorized to solemnize marriages, according to the usages of his or her denomination and acting in an official religious capacity, shall not be required to solemnize any marriage in violation of his or her right to free exercise of religion under the United States or Georgia Constitutions. A refusal by such clergy shall not give rise to a cause of action, alter in any way state tax treatment, cause any tax or penalty or payment to be assessed against such faith-based organization, or otherwise disallow charitable deductions for state tax purposes.
The Act amends O.C.G.A. § 10-1-573, relating to day of rest for employees of business and industry, to prohibit any business or industry from being compelled to work on either of the two rest days (Saturday or Sunday) by ordinance or resolution of any county, municipality, or consolidated government. Additionally, Title 10, relating to commerce and trade, is amended to provide certain protections for faith-based or religious organizations (which includes religious clergy, religious schools, or non-profit corporations). Under this Act, faith-based organizations will not be required to rent, lease, or otherwise grant permission for property to be used by another person for purposes which are objectionable to such religious organization; nor shall such faith-based organizations be required to provide social, educational, or charitable services that violate that faith based organization's sincerely held religious beliefs as demonstrated by practice, expression or clearly articulated tenet of faith. Further changes were made in Title 34, relating to labor and industrial relations generally, faith-based organizations will not be required to hire persons whose religious belief or practices or lack of either are not in accord with the faith-based organization's sincerely held religious beliefs as demonstrated by practice, expression or clearly articulated tenet of faith. The Act further provides that a refusal by such faith-based organizations under Title 10 or Title 34, as discussed above, shall not give rise to a cause of action, alter in any way state tax treatment, cause any tax or penalty or payment to be assessed against such faith-based organization, or otherwise disallow charitable deductions for state tax purposes. The above code sections will also provide faith-based organizations grounds for a claim or defense in any judicial, agency or other proceeding to obtain a declaratory judgment or injunctive relief as well as in some instances reasonable court costs and attorney's fees. A 30 day ante litem notice is required to be given to the government when bringing such suits against the government. Final changes are in Title 50 relating to State Government, the Act provides guidelines on when the government may regulate religious exercise. The government may burden a person's exercise of religion only by a generally applicable law, rule, regulation, ordinance, or resolution, where the government demonstrates that application of the burden to the person is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest and is the least restrictive means of achieving that interest. Nothing in this provision prevents local ordinances with antidiscrimination provisions from existing so long as those ordinances meet the above test. The Act allows a person aggrieved by a violation of the above provision to seek a declaratory judgment action or injunctive relief against the government, as well as in some instances reasonable court costs and attorney's fees. A 30-day ante litem notice is required to be given to the government when bringing such suits against the government. Additionally, O.C.G.A. § 50-15A-5 is added, which provides that persons may act in accordance with their religious beliefs, as allowed under the Georgia Constitution and consistent with decisions of the Georgia Supreme Court. However, a person's right to exercise religious freedom, which may be manifested in acts, ceases where such actions would constitute invidious discrimination (i.e., discrimination that is offensive or objectionable, especially because it involves prejudice or stereotyping or otherwise treats a class of persons unequally in a manner that is irrational, malicious, hostile, or damaging). These protections are not to be construed as applying to penological rules, regulation, conditions, or policies established by penal institutions that are reasonably related to the safety and security of incarcerated persons, staff, visitors, or otherwise for the maintenance of good order at the penal institution or parole or probation program. Nor is this chapter to be construed as either giving rights to an employee against an employer that is not a government, or to provide any relief or protection to a public officer who fails or refuses to perform his or her official duties. Accordingly, O.C.G.A. § 50-21-38 is added whereby the state expressly waives sovereign immunity as to any claim, counterclaim, cross claim, or third-party claim brought in the courts of this state by an aggrieved individual or faith-based organization seeking a declaratory judgment, injunctive relief, or reasonable attorney's fees and court costs against the state. The Senate substitute to HB 757 was agreed to by the House, as amended, despite much opposition from the left and other Republicans.
HB 1101, by Rep. Butch Parrish (R-Swainsboro), authorizes the Board of Commissioners in Jenkins County to levy an excise tax pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 48-13-51(b). This legislation is now finalized.
The House disagreed to the Senate's changes to HB 768, which establishes an ABLE program for families with disabled children so that they are permitted to make annual contributions up to $14,000 to such accounts. Rep. Lee Hawkins (R-Gainesville) made the motion after the Senate amended the House version by including the Board of Regents into the definition of "agency" in the legislation at O.C.G.A. § 50-13-2.
The Senate, meanwhile, had an aggressive Senate Rules Calendar for the day with 40 bills:
HB 884, the legislation by Rep. Darlene Taylor (R-Thomasville), was amended in the Senate Insurance and Labor Committee where it added another one of her bills, HB 882. The bill repeals deposit requirements for foreign insurers and adds health organization into the definition for a company action level event. The bill passed 49-0 by Committee Substitute and will now require the House to approve the changes made in the Senate.
HB 65 passed easily 51-0. It requires at least two public meetings to be held on schools' operating budgets and also requires a summary report on the budget. Sen. Bruce Thompson (R-White) carried the bill on the Senate Floor which was a Committee Substitute from the Senate Education and Youth Committee, which inserts a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. 20-2-167.1. The House must now approve the Senate's changes.
HB 736, by Rep. Alex Atwood (R-St. Simons Island), cleared the Senate with two Floor Amendments (both adopted and added to the Senate Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee's Substitute). Sen. Ben Watson, MD (R-Savannah) carried the legislation which passed 50-2. The House will have to agree to the changes made to its annual specialty license plate bill in Title 40.
HR 1312 regards property in Houston County to be dedicated as a heritage preserve. Rep. Barbara Sims (R-Augusta) authored this proposal, and it passed the Senate with a vote of 51-1.
HB 1037 expands the nurse aide registry which is overseen by the Department of Community Health in Title 31. The legislation was authored by Rep. Valerie Clark (R-Lawrenceville), and it passed out of the Senate with a 51-0 vote without further changes.
HB 229, by Rep. Brian Strickland (R-McDonough), addresses grandparents' visitation rights. When it came to the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford) added language from SB 3. Her language is the Supporting and Strengthening Families Act, allowing an individual to use a power of attorney form to place their child with a relative or fictive kin. The language in HB 229 on this issue is not the same language as SB 3 which was passed out of the House Judiciary Committee. HB 229 passed the Senate in the new Substitute form by a vote of 54-0 and will now require action to be taken by the House to either approve or reject the changes.
HB 100 addresses expenditure controls for virtual instruction when a child is enrolled in one school system and resides in another in O.C.G.A. § 20-2-167. HB 100 was presented to the Senate Floor as a Substitute from the Senate Education and Youth Committee by Sen. Lindsey Tippins (R-Marietta). The underlying proposal was authored by Rep. Tom Dickson (R-Cohutta). HB 100 passed handily with a vote of 53-0.
HB 73 was authored by Rep. Scot Turner (R-Holly Springs) which amends O.C.G.A. § 45-2-1, authorizing counties and cities to provide by local law district durational residency requirements. This legislation passed out of the Senate by a vote of 52-1. The Senate made no changes and the legislation moves to the Governor's desk.
HB 737 is the annual Code Revision bill which was authored by former judge Rep. Johnnie Caldwell, Jr. (R-Thomaston). HB 737 passed without further Senate changes by a vote of 52-0 as presented by Sen. Josh McKoon (R-Columbus).
HB 920 was the first bill of the day in the Senate which caused debate and questions. Sen. Charlie Bethel (R-Dalton) presented the legislation for Rep. Trey Kelley (R-Cedartown). It seeks to provide a protection for passive investors in nursing homes and intermediate care homes so that they will not be party to lawsuits involving instances where a suit is brought. There were changes made to the legislation in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee so a Committee Substitute was considered on the Senate Floor. Sen. Nan Orrock (D-Atlanta) asked a number of questions, including whether a separate protection or insulation was provided to one particular industry. Sen. Bethel spoke about the piercing of the corporate veil and limits in place now with investors in businesses. In the end, the legislation passed the Senate with a vote of 45-9. (Sen. Fran Millar (R-Atlanta) recused himself from this vote.)
HB 991 passed quickly with a vote of 53-0. The legislation addresses ad valorem tax changes and was authored in the House by Rep. Bill Hitchens (R-Rincon).
HB 1028 addresses the Department of Natural Resources and notices which are to be provided to affected localities when certain events take place involving solid or hazardous waste facilities. Sen. Steve Henson (D-Tucker) offered a Floor Amendment but it was withdrawn. Sen. Tommie Williams (R-Lyons) presented the legislation on the Senate Floor which was in the form of a Committee Substitute from the Senate Natural Resources and Environment Committee. The bill passed 55-0.
HB 513 was presented to the Senate by Sen. Charlie Bethel (R-Dalton). The legislation came to the Floor as a Committee Substitute from the Senate Economic Development and Tourism Committee and was authored in the House by Rep. Ron Stephens (R-Savannah). The initiative passed the Senate with a vote of 50-2. The legislation adds changes to O.C.G.A. § 9-11-11.1 concerning the exercise of rights of freedom of speech and to petition the government for redress of grievances. It adds in (b)(1) that a "claim for relief against a person or entity arising from any act of such person or entity which could reasonably be construed as an act in furtherance of the person's or entity's right of petition or free speech under the Constitution of the United States or the Constitution of the State of Georgia in connection with an issue of public interest or concern shall be subject to a motion to strike unless the court determines that the non-moving party has established that there is a probability that the non-moving party will prevail on the claim." Further, at (2) of this subsection, it adds that in making the determination, the court is required to consider the pleadings and supporting and opposing affidavits stating the facts upon which the liability or defense is based – except when there exists a claim by a non-moving party who is a public figure plaintiff, then the non-moving party is entitled to discovery on the sole issue of actual malice when malice is relevant in the court's determination. At (3), it states that if the court makes the determination that the non-moving party has established a probability that he/she would prevail on the claim, neither that determination nor the fact of such determination is admissible in evidence at any later state of the case or in a subsequent action and no burden or proof or degree of proof otherwise applicable is affected by that determination in any later stage of the case or subsequent proceeding. It permits in (b.1) that prevailing parties on a motion to strike are to be granted recovery of attorney's fees and expenses to be determined by the court. If found frivolous or found to be a delay tactic, then the court is to award attorney's fees and expenses of litigation to the non-moving party prevailing on the motion for the attorney's fees and expenses of litigation associated with the motion in an amount to be determined by the court. It adds in (g) that this code section will not apply to any action brought by the Attorney General or a prosecuting attorney, or a city attorney who is acting as a prosecutor to enforce laws aimed at public protection. The legislation also amends O.C.G.A. § 51-5-7(4), concerning torts and libel and slander, so that statements made in good faith as a part of an act in furtherance of the person's or entity's right of petition or free speech under the Constitution of the United States or the Constitution of the State of Georgia in connection with an issue of public interest or concern, as defined in subsection (c) of Code Section 9-11-11.1, are deemed privileged communications. It also adds at O.C.G.A. § 5-6-34(a)(13) that judgments under O.C.G.A. § 9-11-11.1 are appealable to the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals. The House must agree to the Senate Substitute to this legislation.
HB 579 addresses vehicles which may be operated on highways when they are farm-use vehicles used for agricultural or silvicultural purposes and operated by an individual who is 16 years of age and older in O.C.G.A. § 40-6-305. There was a Floor Amendment made to add that not only a municipality may prohibit the operation of such vehicles on roads and highways within their jurisdictions but also the same may be prohibited by counties. Sen. John Wilkinson (R-Toccoa) handled this legislation on the Senate Floor which passed as amended by a vote of 55-1. The legislation now requires the House to agree to the changes made
HB 691 was another piece of legislation carried by Sen. Charlie Bethel (R-Dalton). It addresses the removal of municipal court judges and came to the Senate Floor as a Committee Substitute from the Senate's SLOGO Committee. The legislation was originally authored by Rep. Kevin Tanner (R-Dawsonville). HB 691 passed 50-3. It adds in O.C.G.A. § 36-32-2(a) that an individual who is appointed as a judge by the governing authority of a municipal corporation shall serve for a minimum of one year and until a successor is appointed or if the judge is removed from office (as provided in O.C.G.A. § 36-32-2.2). The term is to be memorialized in a written agreement between the individual and the governing authority or in an ordinance or charter. If the judge is serving as a municipal court judge in a consolidated government, the local Act is to determine the term of the judge. Changes require the House agreement before the legislation may move to the Governor's desk.
HB 726 passed quickly by a vote of 49-3, without questions, after presented by Sen. Bill Heath (R-Bremen). HB 726, also by Rep. Kevin Tanner (R-Dawsonville), had no changes made to it in the Senate. It amends the excise tax provisions on tobacco products in O.C.G.A. § 48-11-2(f) so that if the dealer or distributor separately states the amount of any federal excise tax or shipping charges on the sales invoice for the tobacco product, such amount is not to be taxed pursuant to Chapter 11 of Title 48. The legislation moves to the Governor's desk.
HB 765 was presented by Sen. Dean Burke, MD (R-Bainbridge) and allows in O.C.G.A. § 49-3-2 that retired professionals (such as pediatric health professionals and teachers – current law is not clear whether retired individuals are permitted to serve in such capacity) may serve on a local Division of Family and Children Services Boards. Rep. Jay Powell (R-Camilla) authored this legislation originally and it was not changed in the Senate. It passed quickly without questions by a vote of 52-0; it now moves to the Governor's desk.
HB 770, by Rep. Chuck Efstration (R-Dacula), passed quickly with a vote of 54-0. No changes to this legislation were made in the Senate; it moves to the Governor's desk. HB 770 revises O.C.G.A. § 16-5-46, regarding crimes of trafficking of persons for labor or sexual servitude, and adds penalties for individuals convicted of trafficking individuals with developmental disabilities. It also adds language permitting undercover operatives or law enforcement officers to be involved in sting operations without such activities constituting such crime.
HB 779 is one of the bills relating to use of drones in O.C.G.A. § 16-11-210, et seq. (this is the regulation of unmanned aircraft systems and images). It was presented by Sen. Judson Hill (R-Marietta) and passed by Committee Substitute from the Senate Committee on Science and Technology by a vote of 51-3. It now requires the House to agree with the changes made. There was a question raised on the Floor as to use of drones to take photographic images of an individual on private property; that is prohibited. The legislation also prohibits drones from being used when equipped with weapons, except under certain conditions (e.g., used by the federal government or United States Military operations). The legislation also creates at O.C.G.A. § 6-2-13 the Georgia Unmanned Vehicle Systems Commission.
HB 952 proposes enactment of the "Georgia Professional Regulation Reform Act" and is a response to the United States Supreme Court opinion N.C. State Board of Dental Examiners v. FTC, 135 S. Ct. 1101 (2015). It requires that the State have direct active supervision of professional boards before board members may be afforded immunity for federal antitrust violations. In this legislation, it gives such authority for active supervision of the boards to the Governor in O.C.G.A. § 43-1C-1, et seq. (the House version, by Rep. Chad Nimmer (R-Blackshear) and a Floor Leader to Governor Deal), had provided the supervision powers to the Secretary of State). The Senate passed this legislation by Substitute, from the Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities Committee, by a vote of 56-0. The legislation moves back to the House for agreement to the Senate's version.
HB 784, by Rep. John Carson (R-Marietta), amends O.C.G.A. § 33-6-4 so as to permit that insurers and insurance agents may advertise or conduct promotional programs and give items of value to their customers as long as those items do not exceed $100.00 in value per customer (e.g., prizes, goods, wares, store gift cards, sporting event tickets, or merchandise) and such will not be considered as an unlawful inducement or unfair trade practice. The House version of this legislation permitted these gifts up to $50.00 per customer. Thus, the legislation moves back to the House for its agreement on the Senate's changes. The Substitute from the Senate Insurance and Labor Committee passed with a vote of 50-2.
HB 800, by Rep. Rick Jasperse (R-Jasper), passed quickly from the Senate with a vote of 51-0. It amends O.C.G.A. § 43-50-3, the scope of practice for veterinarians, and clarifies the scope of the veterinarian-client-patient relationship. It requires sufficient knowledge of the animal by the licensed veterinarian to initiate at least a general or preliminary diagnosis of the medical condition of the animal – which also requires that the veterinarian is permitted such if there have been medically appropriate and timely visits by the licensed veterinarian to premises within an operation or production system where the animal or groups of animals are kept. No changes were made in the Senate; the legislation moves to the Governor's desk.
HB 804, by Rep. Ronnie Mabra (D-Fayetteville), permits a fifth judge of the Clayton Judicial Circuit in O.C.G.A. § 15-6-2(10). The legislation came from the Senate Special Judiciary Committee in the form of a Committee Substitute which the Senate passed 53-1. In the House version, it would have permitted the new judgeship to commence on July 1, 2016; the Senate version would start the new judgeship on January 1, 2017. The House will need to agree to the revisions made by the Senate.
HB 831 was presented by Sen. Ed Harbinson (D-Columbus). The legislation was authored in the House by Rep. Calvin Smyre (D-Columbus) and it seeks to enact the "Protecting Guardsmen's Employment Act" in O.C.G.A. § 38-2-280(d) so that those guardsmen who get deployed to not only other countries but also other states may get the same benefits relating to re-employment in the private sector. This legislation passed 53-0.
HB 851 was presented by Sen. William Ligon, Jr. (R-Brunswick) for his House colleague, Rep. Alex Atwood (R-St. Simons Island). Sen. Tommie Williams (R-Lyons) brought an Amendment forward which was adopted; that change relates to permitting a one percent MOST tax for sewer upgrades. Sen. Josh McKoon (R-Columbus) asked for a ruling on germaneness on the Amendment; he later withdrew the request. The underlying proposal adds a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. § 36-15-13 so that a county law library board is required to have an annual audit at the end of each fiscal year performed by the county accountant, the internal auditor employed by the governing authority of the county if that individual is a CPA, or a certified public accountant. HB 851 passed 42-9. The House will be required to approve the change.
HB 876 passed with a vote of 34-18. Sen. Tyler Harper (R-Ocilla) presented this legislation which he described as an agreement between the Department of Agriculture and livestock dealers and operators. The legislation makes a number of revisions in Title 4, including updating licensing and surety requirements, and had been originally brought by Rep. Clay Pirkle (R-Ashburn). It passed the Senate as a Committee Substitute from the Senate Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee which now requires the House to approve the changes.
HB 899 was originally authored in the House by Rep. Jay Powell (R-Camilla) and amends Title 48. It passed with a Senate Substitute from the Senate Finance Committee by a vote of 51-0. The House has to agree to the changes. HB 899 was presented by Sen. William Ligon, Jr. (R-Brunswick). This relates to the Master Tobacco Settlement Agreement which tobacco companies entered into in 1998 and the non-settling companies which now pay into an escrow account. The legislation provides oversight of the payments to the escrow account so as not to jeopardize the Master Tobacco Settlement payments to the State (which are approximately $130 million annually). No questions were raised and the Committee Substitute moved forward.
HB 902, by Rep. Katie Dempsey (R-Rome), was presented to the Senate by Sen. JaNice VanNess (R-Conyers). It adds a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. § 31-7-21 to require that each assisted living facility community must annually provide to each of its residents, no later than September 1 of each year, education information about influenza disease (including risks, availability, effectiveness and known contraindications of the immunization). It does not require that the assisted living community provide or pay for any vaccination against influenza for its residents. The legislation passed 48-4; no changes were in the Senate. The bill moves to the Governor's desk.
HB 238 was presented by Sen. Judson Hill (R-Marietta). There was debate on this measure as the Democrats took issue with the overhaul of Georgia's tax system in Title 48 in the legislation which was initiated in the Senate. Democrats argued that the State's Constitution requires tax legislation to initiate in the House. The original legislation began as a sales and use tax exemption for materials used in the expansion and renovation of an aquarium. The legislation was substantially changed in the Senate Finance Committee and it was that version which made it to the Senate Floor. Sen. Steve Henson (D-Tucker) argued that this legislation could be a $400 million reduction in State revenues. Further, he argued that it proposed tax cuts to the richest Georgians while placing more burden on the low and middle income residents. He asked the Senate to vote down this legislation. Sen. David Lucas (D-Macon) made inquiries regarding the change to mortgage interest deductions, noting that he, like many others, placed their money in real estate investments rather than the stock market. Lucas was concerned about a potential chilling effect on the State's real estate market. While the Democrats argued against its passage, the legislation passed with a vote of 35-17. The legislation contains in part:
- Eliminations of itemized deductions except for limited mortgage deductions (up to $25,000), charitable contributions, and medical expenses
- Increases personal exemptions from State income tax
- Repeals the corporate net worth tax
If the changes are approved by the House, the legislation will then go to the Governor. If the Governor approves the legislation, the provisions contained in HB 238 would take effect on his approval and apply to tax years beginning on or after January 1, 2017.
HB 1058 passed by Committee Substitute from the Senate Health and Human Services Committee with a vote of 46-7. The House will need to approve these revisions. The initiative was authored by Rep. Betty Price, MD (R-Roswell). Attempts were made to amend the legislation by Sen. Jesse Stone (R-Waynesboro) but in the end either the Amendments were lost or withdrawn. Sen. Charlie Bethel (R-Dalton) spoke to the legislation, noting that good parents would be involved with their children and that it was the bad parents that were the problem and the legislation would help provide a balance and give those children protections. Sen. Dean Burke, MD (R-Bainbridge) also took the Well and asked his colleagues to accept the legislation as written. In part, the legislation addresses control of venereal disease in O.C.G.A. § 31-17-4.2(d) as it relates to HIV pregnancy screening and requires that a woman be notified of the test to be conducted and allows that she has the opportunity to refuse such test. The pregnant woman is to submit to an HIV test and a syphilis test unless she specifically refuses. Further, it addresses consent of a minor to medical or surgical care or services in O.C.G.A. § 31-17-7(a) which states that: "The consent to the provision of medical or surgical care or services by a hospital or public clinic or to the performance of medical or surgical care or services by a physician licensed to practice medicine and surgery, when such consent is given by a minor who is or professes to be afflicted with a venereal disease or at risk for HIV shall be as valid and binding as if the minor had achieved his or majority, provided that any such treatment shall involve procedures and therapy related to conditions or illnesses arising out of the venereal disease or HIV diagnosis which gave rise to the consent authorized under this Code section." The provision causing additional questions related to O.C.G.A. § 24-12-21(c) addressing disclosure of AIDS confidential information. It would now read that "AIDS confidential information shall be disclosed to the person identified by that information or, if that person is an incompetent person, to that person's legal guardian. AIDS confidential information may be disclosed to such person's parent or legal guardian if that person is a minor."
HB 910, by Rep. Spencer Frye (D-Athens), passed out of the Senate with an amendment by Sen. Bill Cowsert (R-Athens) by a vote of 47-4. It now moves back to the House for its review and approval. The legislation revises Chapter 33 of Title 31 regarding the costs of copying and mailing of patients records and requires that such also apply to psychiatric, psychological and other mental health records. Sen. Cowsert's amendment permits those records to be released electronically if requested.
HB 757, by Rep. Kevin Tanner (R-Dawsonville), was presented to the Senate, asking that body to agree to the House Amendment to the Senate Substitute. Sen. Greg Kirk (R-Americus) spoke to the version on the Floor which he described as an "agreement." The vote was essentially along party lines, passing the Senate with a vote of 37-18. HB 757 is the religious freedom proposal and in the current version would be known as the "Free Exercise Protection Act" in Titles 19, 10, 34 and 50. It provides in part that religious officials are not required to perform marriage ceremonies, rites, or administer sacraments which may violate their legal right to free exercise of religion. It also adds in O.C.G.A. § 10-1-573(b) that "no business or industry is required by ordinance or resolution of any county, municipality, or consolidated government to operate on either of the two rest days (Saturday or Sunday)." Sen. Elena Parent (D-Atlanta) took the Well speaking against the legislation and asking for amendments. However, the legislation had been engrossed, permitting no such changes. Sen. Emanuel Jones (D-Stone Mountain) also raised serious concerns about the definition of faith-based organization and the inclusion of a school – noting that there could be major consequences with some of the State's large, higher education institutions and their being able to obtain federal funds. The legislation now moves to the Governor for his review.
HB 801 was passed out of the Senate by a Committee Substitute from the Senate Higher Education Committee with a vote of 54-0. Sen. Butch Miller (R-Gainesville) presented the legislation which revises the provision concerning the HOPE scholarship and allows beginning with students graduating from high school on or after May 1, 2017, in order to be eligible for a HOPE scholarship, that student is to receive credit in at least four courses prior to graduating from high school – it now includes computer science in the advanced science category in O.C.G.A. § 20-2-157(f). Further revisions are added in O.C.G.A. § 20-3-519.2(b), concerning eligibility for a HOPE scholarship, so that beginning in academic year 2017-2018, the cumulative grade point average calculated is required to include weighted grades for specific science, technology, engineering, and mathematics college courses.
HB 54 passed with a vote of 51-0. Rep. Keisha Waites (D-Atlanta) authored the original legislation adding a new code section at O.C.G.A. § 20-3-316.2, which permits a voluntary check off on income tax returns and drivers' licenses for contributions to the Georgia Student Finance Authority to assist children with post-secondary educational costs when their parent was a law enforcement officer, firefighter, EMT, prison guard or paramedic who was killed or disabled while on duty. The bill cleared the Senate with a Floor Amendment, adding paramedics. The House will be required to approve the changes.
HB 962, by Rep. Stacey Abrams (D-Atlanta), passed with a vote of 54-0. The legislation adds a new Article 5 in Chapter 9 of Title 19, adding SB 3 language, "Supporting and Strengthening Families Act" and the legislation's original language which would require that the Department of Human Services in O.C.G.A. § 49-2-1 have a kinship care enforcement administrator. The bill passed out of the Senate as a Committee Substitute from the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. The House must now agree to the changes.
HB 825 proposes to enact the "Protecting Military Children Act." It came to the Senate Floor in the form of a Committee Substitute from the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. It passed 49-0. The House will need to approve the Senate's version. It adds language in O.C.G.A. § 19-7-5 so as to change reporting of child abuse when the child has a military parent or guardian. It requires the child welfare agency to notify military law enforcement and if the parent or guardian maintains active duty status within the military, the agency is to notify the applicable military installation family advocacy program that there is an allegation of abuse or neglect which relates to that child.
Lawmakers will return to the Capitol on Tuesday of next week, March 22, 2016, for Day 39.
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.