Gold Dome Report - March 2, 2016
The General Assembly convened this morning for Legislative Day 31. Both the House and the Senate had short Rules Calendars set for this morning and moved through them quickly. Legislators will take Thursday and Friday off and will reconvene on Monday, March 7.
Today was also Georgia Music Day at the Capitol. Several musicians from across Georgia were under the Gold Dome to play music and be recognized for their works and economic contributions to the State.
Super Tuesday took place yesterday as Georgians went out to vote for their "favorite" Republican and Democratic presidential nominees. Results indicate that Donald Trump won the Republican contest with 40% of the vote and Hillary Clinton won around 70% of the Democratic vote.
Rep. Carl Rogers (R-Gainesville) announced today that he will not seek reelection for another term. Rep. Rogers represents House District 29 and currently serves as Chairman of the House Higher Education Committee.
The House had a light agenda today. It considered only a few resolutions creating Study Committees, which were all adopted.
HR 979 was offered by Rep. Penny Houston (R-Nashville). It creates the House Study Committee on Programs That Provide Services to the Blind and the Visually Impaired. Membership is to include four members of the House of Representatives, including the Chairperson of the Economic Development Subcommittee of House Appropriations; the Executive Director of the Public Service Commission; the Director of the Public Library Service of the Board of Regents; and a Representative of the Center for the Visually Impaired. It was adopted by a vote of 157-0.
HR 978, by Rep. Debbie Buckner (D-Junction City), creates the House Study Committee on Historic Site Preservation, which will look at the identification and preservation of sites with historical and cultural significance. This Study Committee would be composed of five members of the House. The resolution was adopted by a vote of 159-0.
HR 1135, by Rep. Dave Belton (R-Buckhead), creates the House Study Committee on Base Realignment and Closure, which will address federal base realignment that is set to take place as early as fiscal year 2017. It will be composed of 15 members of the House, appointed by the Speaker. This resolution was adopted by a vote of 157-0.
HR 1341, by Rep. Richard Smith (R-Columbus), creates the House Study Committee on Professional Employer Organizations. This study committee will consider the role of professional employer organizations in the provision of insurance benefits. It will examine the need for licensing and regulation of representatives of such organizations in the provision of insurance plans. The resolution was adopted by a vote of 158-0.
Sen. Bill Jackson (R-Appling) announced his decision to not run for reelection for another term. He thanked Senators and wished everyone well. Sen. Jackson represents Senate District 24. Sen. Tommy Williams (R-Lyons) also announced today that he will not seek reelection. He represents Senate District 19. Both were recognized by Lieutenant Governor Cagle for their service and contributions to the State.
The Senate had a very light agenda today, with HB 172, by Rep. Eddie Lumsden (R-Armuchee) and HB 370, by Rep. Barry Fleming (R-Augusta), as the only bills on the calendar. Majority Leader Bill Cowsert (R-Athens) made a motion to engross HB 370, which passed by a vote of 34-17. Unfortunately, the Majority Leader was not happy that the House did not take up any Senate Bills today; thus, the Senate tabled both House bills. The Senate then adjourned until Monday, March 7.
HR 1564, by Rep. Heath Clark (R-Warner Robins), encourages each local board of education, governing body of nonpublic school, and governing body of a charter school to adopt and implement a sudden cardiac arrest and return to play policy. The resolution also encourages the Department of Public Health to endorse one or more sudden cardiac arrest prevention education courses.
HR 1565, by Rep. Matt Dollar (R-Marietta), proposes to create the House Study Committee on Music Festival Tax Credits. Some music festivals have been estimated to have at least a $90 million impact on the state and local economies, although such festivals struggle to maintain solvency.
HR 1575, by Rep. Pat Gardner (D-Atlanta), recognizes the importance of water to the State of Georgia and urges support for future investments in water and wastewater systems.
HR 1576, by Rep. Lee Hawkins (R-Gainesville), seeks to create the House Study Committee on the Pricing of Prescription Drugs. It would address the rising cost of prescription drugs.
HR 1577, by Rep. "Able" Mable Thomas (D-Atlanta), proposes to create the House Study Committee on Georgia Minority Participation in the Film and Television Production Industry. It would seek ways to encourage the inclusion of minorities in the film industry.
SR 1056, by Sen. Michael Rhett (D-Marietta), seeks to create a Senate Study Committee on the Premium Assistance Program. This program is an alternative to the expansion of Medicaid by allowing individuals to purchase coverage through private group health plans. This Study Committee, if the Resolution is adopted, would be conducted by six members of the Senate.
SR 1091, by Sen. Charlie Bethel (R-Dalton), proposes to create the Senate Study Committee on Hearing Aids for Children. It will engage in a study of health insurance coverage for hearing aids for children.
SR 1098, by Sen. JaNice VanNess (R-Conyers), seeks to create the Senate Crime Study Committee, which would look at the development and implementation of crime control policies and strategies for the benefit of communities.
SR 1110, by Sen. Lester Jackson (D-Savannah), honors the life and memory of Representative "Bob" Bryant, who passed away on February 25, 2016.
House Education Committee
Chairman Brooks Coleman (R-Duluth) called the meeting to order. The purpose of today's meeting was take action on SB 309 and to hold a workgroups session on SB 364. Chairman Coleman reminded the audience that no public comment would be taken.
Marcus Blackwell made brief remarks to the Committee, at the invitation of Rep. Margaret Kaiser (D-Atlanta). He is the founder of the 'Make Music Count' program, which incorporates elements of music into the study of mathematics. He described it as an innovative program that encourages greater participation in math studies. Mr. Blackwell said they have seen a 28% increase in test scores for students participating (data is gathered pre-test and post-test). Rep. Dave Belton (R-Buckhead) thanked him for coming and said he believes this is a brilliant way of teaching. Chairman Coleman said he might be interested in touring a school that utilizes this program, including Cleveland Academy, Utopian Academy, South Cobb and South Gwinnett.
Chairman Coleman next assigned bills to subcommittees, since they must now consider Senate Bills. Assignments are as follows:
- Academic Achievement Subcommittee – HB 1078, HB 1091, SB 310, SB 326
- Academic Support Subcommittee – SB 328, SB 358, SB 209
After assignments, the Committee considered SB 309, presented by Rep. Brian Strickland (R-McDonough). This is the same bill as his bill, HB 870, so the committee had already heard it a few times before. The bill provides that two schools are able to play each other in sports even if they are part of different associations. It also deals with religious suppression. Chairman Coleman said that the Georgia High School Association has complied with this measure. Rep. Strickland said that, as written, the rules of the athletic association must still be followed, even if that means removing a headband that contains a religious symbol on it. He said there was one change on Line 22, where it added "personal and voluntary" in front of "religious expression." Rep. Tanner then made a motion and the bill was passed out of Committee.
Chairman of the Senate Education & Youth Committee, Sen. Lindsey Tippins (R-Marietta), came to the front to present SB 364. He was accompanied by State School Superintendent Richard Woods. No action was to be taken today, as Chairman Coleman called it a workgroup session. Chairman Tippins stated that his intention with SB 364 is to craft a model that grants flexibility to each district in the State and brings about a reduction in testing requirements. He spoke at length about the need for local districts to have flexibility, while also meeting State requirements that students be proficient in reading and math by the 3rd grade. Additionally, the bill touches on teacher evaluations, cutting the student assessment portion down from 50% to 30% (and allowing local districts to lower it even more if they see fit). The bill would require testing at the end of the 2nd grade to make sure students are on track to meet state benchmarks.
Once Chairman Tippins finished his remarks, Chairman Coleman recognized members of the Committee for questions.
Rep. Amy Carter (R-Valdosta) asked what tests are currently mandated by the State. Superintendent Woods said that for grades 3-8, the State requires tests in social studies, science, math, English and reading comprehension. High School students are required to take eight end-of-course tests. Additionally, the State requires one Student Learning Objective (SLO) assessment and that number will be increasing to 2. Superintendent Woods also indicated that the State has more requirements that the federal government does. This concerned Rep. Carter and she asked why the State has more requirements. Chairman Tippins said one reason is because local districts require additional tests, on top of State requirements. Rep. Carter also stated her concern about the testing window. She worries that high school seniors will be graduating and will receive the scores very late. She also said that, currently, schools only have to give one SLO test each semester, but this legislation would now require assessments in all of the subjects. She then asked what happens when a student does not do well on the reading and math test required in the 2nd grade, under this legislation. Chairman Coleman also said he was concerned about that and said the State needs to do something to address the students who don't do well. Chairman Tippins said this assessment is meant to provide teachers with information on the students' progress before the 3rd grade, so they can have time to help those students improve. Some of the members of the Committee felt that one test is not necessarily a good indicator of a student's progress.
Chairman Coleman asked Superintendent Woods if teachers will be allowed to move children under this legislation and how they would be able to get around the Teacher of Record. He indicated that he wants to include language that addresses teacher of record. Superintendent Woods said currently moving children between teachers does not pose a problem for the department.
Chairman Tom Dickson (R-Cohutta) stated his concerns with SB 364 as well. He believes the State needs to spend more time making sure leadership and test administrators are properly trained to administer evaluations. He also pointed to Line 25 regarding the evaluation of schools that are not under a flexibility contract, which also concerns him.
Rep. Randy Nix (R-LaGrange) was asked by Chairman Coleman to summarize the opinion of the Committee. He said that the bill needs to be tweaked and that it seems to be too 'prescriptive' to local districts. Additionally, he and Chairman Coleman discussed adding language addressing some sort of appeal for teachers who receive a less-than-stellar evaluation. He said sometimes observations made during the observation period are not even considered.
Chairman Coleman thanked Chairman Tippins for bringing the bill and said that SB 364 will be presented to the full committee on Wednesday, March 9 at 2:00 p.m. This meeting was then adjourned.
Senate Health and Human Services Committee
Chairwoman Renee Unterman (R-Buford) and her Committee had a rather aggressive agenda for the afternoon.
They began work with an overview by Lesley Miller, MD on Hepatitis C. Dr. Miller is with the Emory School of Medicine but also with the Grady Liver Clinic. Dr. Miller explained that Hepatitis C is an "epidemic" and a disease which affects the kidneys and liver. Further, it may also cause diabetes in patients. Hepatitis C is the most common blood-borne infection and 75 percent of the cases the Grady Liver Clinic sees are "baby boomers." Hepatitis C is common, deadly and curable. Overall, one percent of the United States population is affected by this disease (approximately one in 1,500). There is a higher percentage of those with the disease who are African American. Side effects include liver scarring and cirrhosis of the liver. Hepatitis C is also one of the leading reasons for liver transplants. With newer drugs, the disease is 90-100 percent curable. Following screening recommendations will help identify individuals with this disease. The new medications generally require a 12-week therapy. Dr. Miller indicated that if there is a universal screening done for the disease it could become a rare disease by 2025. The Grady Liver Clinic sees approximately 1,000 patients annually and about 100 patients are currently in treatment at Grady. 50 percent of those are Medicaid and the other 50 percent are uninsured. Makers of the medications, now available, provide the medications through a drug program to those who cannot afford the drugs.
The Georgia Trauma Care Network Commission, through Dr. Dennis Ashely, gave a brief report on Georgia's trauma system which has seen improvement to the system since 2007. This includes more Level I and more Level II centers. The Burn Centers (there are two) remain in place as well. The highest budgeted amount this Commission has received was around $23 million. Generally, its budget has remained frozen around $16.3 million. Funding for the Commission is from the "Super Speeder" fines. Overall access to the trauma centers has improved as well as improvements in survival rates. A member of the Committee asked if Phoebe Putney (Albany) was a trauma center; it is not. The Committee also learned that the Georgia Research Institute for Trauma, a volunteer effort, has formed which is assisting rural and other hospitals with transfer guidelines. A Foundation has also been formed.
Rep. Jan Jones (R-Milton) presented HB 885 to the Committee. Her legislation was a Committee Substitute and repeals the population-based provisions in O.C.G.A. § 31-3-2.1 for creation of a county board of health and wellness by ordinance. This legislation originally was for Fulton County but now with population growth in the metro areas would also affect Gwinnett and soon Cobb and DeKalb Counties. Of the 159 county health departments in the state, Fulton's is the only one that basically operates independently. This change will allow better coordination of public health resources – and also help address public health statewide ramifications (such as with TB, Zika virus and other health emergencies). The Georgia Department of Public Health asked for this legislation and the Fulton County Commission, per Rep. Jones, is in favor of it. The new Committee Substitute delays the effective date, moving it to June 30, 2017 so that there is a transition period. Chairwoman Unterman asked Rep. Jones about her support for public health nurses (one of Sen. Unterman's passions for this Session) and asked for Rep. Jones to support the pay increases for those nurses. The legislation passed.
Rep. Chuck Efstration (R-Dacula) presented HB 770 to the Committee (originally, this legislation was assigned to the Senate Judiciary Non-Civil Committee). It addresses child sex and human trafficking in O.C.G.A. § 16-4-46, another one of Chairwoman Unterman's targeted issues. The legislation permits undercover investigation of cases and permits "sting" operations when trafficking for labor or sexual servitude is being investigated (it permits the entrapment defense to remain) and it also addresses victims who have developmental disabilities, allowing for enhanced sentencing of those individuals who prey on this vulnerable population. The sentencing for individuals who traffic individuals with developmental disabilities will have the same sentences as those individuals who traffic children. GBI Director Vernon Keenan spoke to the legislation and explained that the State's Child Sex Trafficking Unit brought the issues to his attention and asked for clarity in the law. This legislation also received a do pass recommendation from the Committee.
Rep. Sharon Cooper (R-Marietta) presented HB 649 in the form of a Committee Substitute. This legislation is the regulation of lactation consultants as requested by Healthy Mothers Healthy Babies and others. Rep. Cooper reminded Senators that Georgia does not have a good record on maternal healthcare or with babies' mortality rates. She noted in particular concerns with SIDS. The legislation will add a new Article 9A in Chapter 34 of Title 43. It defines "lactation care and services" as the "clinical application of scientific principles and a multidisciplinary body of evidence for evaluation, problem identification, treatment, education, and consultation to childbearing families regarding lactation care and services." Lactation care and services includes, but are not limited to: "A) lactation assessment through the systematic collection of subjective and objective data; B) analysis of data and creation of a lactation care plan; C) implementation of a lactation care plan with demonstration and instruction to parents and communication to the primary health care provider; D) evaluation of outcomes; E) provision of lactation education to parents and health care providers; and F) recommendation and use of assistive devices." The oversight of this profession is assigned to the Secretary of State in the new Committee Substitute. A new advisory committee will have the power and responsibility to license duly qualified applicants and to enforce the qualifications for licensure. An applicant for licensure is required to meet the international education and clinical standards established for International Board Certified Lactation Consultants which are established by the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners or other national testing service as approved by the board and to provide proof of successful completion of the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners' examination or other examination as approved by the board. The Committee with Rep. Cooper discussed how breast-fed babies have fewer health issues and save taxpayers' dollars, including in the WIC and Medicaid programs. Rep. Cooper indicated that the Georgia Hospital Association and others supported her bill. The Committee passed without opposition the Committee Substitute on HB 649.
Next up was Rep. Cooper's legislation addressing mail order pharmacy provisions, HB 886. This legislation permits the mailing of pharmaceuticals using the federal guidelines. Rep. Cooper explained that the Georgia Board of Pharmacy, made up of community pharmacists primarily, had passed stricter rules on mailing medications and this legislation would permit pharmacies which mail medications to do so using the federal requirements. Rep. Cooper told members that her House Committee, which includes two community pharmacists, passed the legislation. There were no questions raised about the legislation which amends O.C.G.A. § 36-4-60. The Committee gave HB 886 a do pass recommendation.
HB 775 was presented by Rep. John Meadows (R-Calhoun) and the second signer on the legislation was Rep. Earl Ehrhart (R-Powder Springs) who was not available. HB 775 clarifies in O.C.G.A. § 31-12-12 the law on prescriptions for contact lenses and spectacles and requires a "comprehensive examination" with a valid prescription. The purpose of this legislation is to prevent having contacts sold via kiosk without a real eye exam. It is not a negative impact on telemedicine and the language was clarified in the legislation at the request of the Georgia Hospital Association. This legislation also passed out of the Committee.
The last bill before the Committee was HB 588 by Rep. Valerie Clark (R-Lawrenceville). HB 588 addresses sales of pseudoephedrine products. A Substitute was before the Committee. Sales of these products, which will be kept behind the pharmacy counter, will require the sales to be logged into an electronic system. It amends O.C.G.A. § 16-13-30.3 and will provide "real-time" tracking of sales of these products containing ephedrine or pseudoephedrine. Manufacturers will provide the necessary equipment for this tracking. Some of the larger retail drug stores already use an electronic system. This method of tracking sales should help eliminate some of the meth manufacturing which is done using these drugs. Sen. Chuck Hufstetler (R-Rome) inquired about the amounts of the medications which could be sold. Rep. Clark indicated that individuals could purchase nine grams monthly; physicians can write prescriptions for larger amounts for patients. This legislation is supported by the Georgia Sheriffs Association, Medical Association of Georgia and others. A motion was made to do pass the legislation. The initiative passed without opposition.
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.