Gold Dome Report - March 20, 2017
The General Assembly convened for Legislative Day 36 this morning. A few announcements came out of the Governor’s Office today. Governor Deal appointed Christopher Nunn as Commissioner of the Department of Administrative Services to replace outgoing Commissioner Sid Johnson, who will be taking a position at the Carl Vinson Institute of Government at the University of Georgia. Mr. Nunn previously served as the Deputy Commissioner at the Department of Community Affairs. Governor Deal today also voiced his opposition to certain changes made to HB 159, which seeks to update Georgia's laws relating to adoption. The changes, made in the Senate Judiciary Committee, would allow adoption agencies to refuse to place children with same-sex couples. The bill's author, Rep. Bert Reeves (R-Marietta), also opposes the changes that were made to his legislation.
In other news, the Conferees began their work on HB 44, the FY 2018 Budget. More news on that is outlined below.
SB 200, by Sen. Chuck Hufstetler (R-Rome), was presented by Rep. Darlene Taylor (R-Thomasville). It allows pharmacists to synchronize prescriptions in order to minimize the number of pharmacy visits. It passed the senate by a vote of 53-0. Today, it passed the House, 157-0.
SB 206, by Sen. P.K. Martin, IV (R-Lawrenceville), was the next bill to be considered. Rep. Penny Houston (R-Nashville) carried this bill in the House. This is the “Hearing Aid Coverage for Children Act” which mandates that businesses with more than ten employees provide health insurance coverage for children’s hearing aids. It passed the Senate by a vote of 47-6 and today it passed, 155-5.
SB 128, by Sen. John Wilkinson (R-Toccoa), was presented by Rep. Alan Powell (R-Hartwell). It provides for the sharing of driver’s license data with the Department of Natural Resources for purposes of detecting fraud. It had passed in the Senate by a vote of 52-0. Today, it passed 162-1.
SB 147 was introduced by Rep. John Carson (R-Marietta). It was originally authored by Sen. Michael Williams (R-Cumming) and passed the Senate by a vote of 48-1. The bill includes the ‘unitrust distribution payment’ method as a type of distribution that can be made by a cemetery.
SB 242, by Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford), was considered next. It had previously passed the Senate by a vote of 52-0. Rep. Sharon Cooper (R-Marietta) presented the legislation. It provides that a physician may not enter into a nurse protocol agreement with more than 10 advanced practice registers nurses at one time or supervise more than four such nurses at any one time. It passed the House today by a vote of 163-0.
SB 18, by Sen. Tyler Harper (R-Ocilla), was passed today by a vote of 148-15. It was presented by Rep. Eddie Lumsden (R-Armuchee). It seeks to allow retired POST certified law enforcement officers with 10 years of service to carry anywhere in the State and to retain their weapon and badge upon retirement.
SB 173, by Sen. Burt Jones (R-Jackson), deals with captive insurance companies and was presented in the House by Rep. Jason Shaw (R-Lakeland). It went on to pass in the House by a vote of 164-2.
The Senate had a number of bills on their agenda; however they moved through them rather quickly. Majority Leader Bill Cowsert (R-Athens) began by motioning to engross HB 337 this morning, which was adopted by a vote of 33-12.
HB 74 was the first bill considered today. Sen. P.K Martin (R-Lawrenceville) presented this legislation, which was originally authored by Rep. Darlene Taylor (R-Thomasville). It seeks to increase the multiplier for risk-based capital systems from 2.5 to 3.0. It passed by a vote of 54-0.
HB 425, by Rep. Joyce Chandler (R-Grayson), was presented by Sen. Fran Millar (R-Atlanta). It encourages both the State Board of Education and local school systems to allow for the administration of assessments in paper and pencil format if requested by the parent. It has been shown in various studies that children retain more knowledge if they take an assessment using pencil and paper, rather than by electronic means. HB 425 passed by a vote of 44-9.
HB 337, by Rep. Bruce Williamson (R-Monroe), was presented by Sen. Michael Williams (R-Cumming) which is an update to the State's 'Tax Execution Modernization Act,' which passed by a vote of 53-0.
HB 391, by Rep. David Clark (R-Buford), adds fire departments and police stations to the list of locations where a newborn can be safely left. It also provides that mothers do not have to provide their name and address when leaving a baby at such a location. The bill had received a vote of 173-0 in the House. Today, it passed by a vote of 53-0.
HB 320, by Rep. Bill Hitchens (R-Rincon), was carried in the Senate by Sen. Bruce Thompson (R-White). It makes unlawful the sale of counterfeit or non-functioning airbags throughout the State. It passed in the House by a vote of 162-0. Today, it passed the Senate 51-0.
HB 328 was presented by Sen. Steve Gooch (R-Dahlonega) and was authored by Rep. Sam Watson (R-Moultrie). It seeks to amend Georgia Code by updating language dealing with the uniform rules of the road. It passed by a vote of 52-0.
The last piece of legislation considered by the Senate was HB 14, by Rep. Jeff Jones (R-Brunswick). Presented by Sen. William Ligon Jr. (R-Brunswick), the bill seeks to apply Code Section 15-16-21 whenever fees are charged in counties where sheriffs are paid only a salary. This bill passed 53-0.
HB 606, by Rep. Pedro Marin (D-Duluth), seeks to amend Georgia's motor vehicles statutes in Title 40 to provide for the issuance of driving cards to non-citizens who are ineligible for a driver's license, temporary permit, or identification card. It outlines in O.C.G.A. § 40-5-21.3 the requirements for the applicant to receive such card – which includes valid documentary evidence that the applicant is a resident of the State; proof of completion of an approved driver education course in a licensed private or public driver training school or immediate possession of a valid driver's license from a foreign country or another jurisdiction; and payment of the issuance fee as prescribed by the Department. This document would only be used for "driving privileges" and not for identification.
HB 607, by Rep. Pat Gardner (D-Atlanta), seeks to create the "Psychiatric Advance Directive Act" in a new Chapter 11 of Title 37. It would allow a competent adult to express his or her mental healthcare treatment preferences and desires directly through instructions written in advance and indirectly through appointing an agent to make mental healthcare decisions on behalf of that person. It would outline what this directive is to include – such as names and telephone numbers of individuals to contact in the event a declarant has a mental health crisis; situations known to have caused the declarant to experience a mental health crisis; types of assistance which may help the declarant be stabilized; etc. The legislation also includes a proposed "form" to use for such purpose.
HB 616, by Rep. Alan Powell (R-Hartwell), seeks to revise the current laws relating to operators of private detective businesses and private security businesses in Chapter 8 of Title 43. Specifically, it would allow a private detective business the ability to use an application of electronic tracking device if otherwise not contrary to law and the person subject to the determination or tracking of the electronic tracking device is not under the protection of a protective order issued pursuant to Article 1 of Chapter 13 of Title 19.
SB 293, by Sen. Ellis Black (R-Valdosta), repeals current provisions at O.C.G.A. § 47-3-127, relating to the employment of beneficiaries of the Teachers Retirement System of Georgia. It would now require employers who hire beneficiaries to pay the required employer and employee contributions. If enacted, the beneficiary would continue to receive his or her retirement allowance while employed, but would not earn any creditable service. If the employer does not make such contributions, the amount shall be deducted from any funds payable to the employer by the State.
SB 294, by Sen. Ellis Black (R-Valdosta), would create a new Code Section at 47-2-126.1 which would require employers who hire a beneficiary to pay the System the required employer and employee contributions. Such beneficiary would continue to receive allowances while employed; however no creditable service would be earned.
SR 470, by Sen. Chuck Hufstetler (R-Rome), would create the Joint Study Committee on Title Ad Valorem Tax, which will look at ensuring a fair split of TAVT revenues between state and local governments, which is paramount to appropriately targeting and collecting revenue benchmarks.
SR 474, by Sen. Valencia Seay (D-Riverdale), would create the Senate Study Committee on Adult Changing Stations in Commercial Public Facilities. The study committee would consider policies addressing the installation and maintenance of adult changing stations in an effort to make it a timely and important topic for consideration and study by the State of Georgia.
SR 475, by Sen. Curt Thompson (R-Tucker), would amend the State's Constitution by adding a new subparagraph to Article II, Section IX, Paragraph VI, to provide for the legalization and regulation of marijuana for recreational uses. It would create a new budget category titled "Marijuana Proceeds," which will fund improvements and enhancements for educational programs purposes and for capital outlay projects for transportation infrastructure purposes. The appropriated amount shall not lapse.
Conference Committee on FY 2018 Budget
Chairman Jack Hill (R-Reidsville) and Chairman Terry England (R-Auburn) along with other Conferees met this morning to discuss the FY 2018 Budget, HB 44, "differences," as passed by the House and Senate. Chairman England noted that there was little disagreement and Chairman Hill indicated that there was a lot in the Budget to "feel good about." There are no great policy differences between the two chambers. Both indicated that there were a number of issues which were timely and needed to get to the Governor's desk for signature. The Chambers both agreed on the pay raises for law enforcement officers, Division of Family and Children's Services workers, teachers and State employees. Also, the Budget contains a substantial investment in the State's retirement system. Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones noted that there was progress being made to help Georgia's most vulnerable populations and Chairman Hill concurred with the new funding for human needs. Chairman England also highlighted the new funding for individuals with Alzheimer's disease.
House Regulated Industries Committee
This afternoon, Chairman Howard Maxwell (R-Dallas) and his Committee cleared the way for a new Substitute on SB 153. The Title 43 legislation was originally authored by Sen. Matt Brass (R-Newnan) as a proposal to permit the sales of "over-the-counter" hearing aids to be sold via the internet. However, in this meeting, the bill was "stripped" of its original language by Reps. Earl Ehrhart (R-Powder Springs) and John Meadows (R-Calhoun) and became the "vehicle" for their language to permit optometrists to administer pharmaceutical injections by injection as long as that licensed optometrist has obtained a certificate showing successful completion of an injectables 30 hour training program approved by the board OR if that optometrist is enrolled in an injectables training program with a minimum of 30 hours training approved by the board and under the direct supervision of a physician licensed under Chapter 34 of Title 43 and board certified in ophthalmology. Reps. Ehrhart indicated that this language is like SB 221 which cleared the Senate and mirrors HB 36 which was stalled in the House Health and Human Services Committee. Both argued that this legislation, fought by the Medical Association of Georgia and ophthalmologists, boils down to money. There are concerns about the change in scope of practice. However, both lawmakers noted that there have been no malpractice claims and these injections are being done by trained medical professionals – 14 states allow such injections by optometrists. They also argued that dermatologists, physician's assistants, and tattoo artists perform injections around the eye.
There were questions from the Committee such as the impact on costs and the rural healthcare impact. Rep. Ehrhart noted that he had not made the arguments about costs but those would be impacted as patients may not have to drive as far to get assistance if they have certain eye issues which require the injections.
Steve Walsh, an anesthesiologist and current president of the Medical Association of Georgia, opposed the substitute to SB 153. He argued that the legislation would put Georgians at risk of blindness. These are delicate procedures that are being requested to be performed by individuals who are not trained. He further argued that scope of practice was grounded on the clinical experience and expertise gained through training and in residency - not through legislation. Dr. Walsh further argued that while APRNs and PAs may perform injections, they are also working under physicians with protocol agreements. Optometrists want to perform these injections independently. He told the Committee that this new language would be a threat to patient safety.
An ophthalmologist from Dalton and president of the Georgia Society of Ophthalmology also argued that the legislation is dangerous and that 30 hours is not enough training. He opposed the legislation and asked the Committee to vote, "no."
Paul Ajamain, an optometrist, argued that he supported this language in SB 153 and found that the physicians' statements were wrong and offensive. Optometrists have their own board and do not have physician supervision now. This is a drug delivery system and new delivery systems for medications are developed all the time. This could affect costs in a positive way. He also argued that physicians are often performing laser services – much of this is with new machines where physicians only are trained by the sellers of the equipment.
Baker Hubbard, MD, an ophthalmologist who is also a professor from Emory, spoke against the legislation.
One of the House's own members, Rep. James Beverly (D-Macon), also spoke to his colleagues. He noted that as a trained optometrist he felt this to be good legislation.
Rep. Alan Powell (R-Hartwell) made the motion to do pass the Substitute on SB 153; his motion carried (although there were four dissenting votes) and the bill now moves to the House Rules Committee. The original language on hearing aids is, thus, stricken from the legislation.
House Insurance Committee
The House Insurance Committee took up this morning the surprise billing and concierge medicine bills. Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford) first presented the House Substitute to her SB 8 which seeks to limit surprise billing to patients by out-of-network physicians. The Substitute contained many of the requirements on hospitals and other providers to describe their networks so patients may make an informed choice of facility for procedures and are aware of which physicians are in network. The House version does not contain a lot of the mediation provisions, general pricing provisions and legislative monitoring like that of the Senate bill. However, it does contain a limitation on pricing of out-of-network pricing for ER physician claims to the higher of an insurer's median area pricing for the procedures in question, its out-of-network rate or the Medicare fee scale. This is different than the wider provisions in the Senate version of the bill that set pricing in disputes at the higher of Medicare or Medicaid pricing or 80% of charged fees in an area (as determined through a Department of Insurance data collection process). There were numerous questions, but Sen. Unterman and House Insurance Chairman Richard Smith (R-Columbus) urged that the bill pass so that it can be placed in a Conference Committee to work out a compromise on the default pricing issues. The bill did pass after lengthy discussion and proceeds to the House Rules Committee.
The Committee also passed SB 50 by Sen. Hunter Hill (R-Atlanta) to establish in State law that concierge medicine, where an annual or monthly fee may be charged by a physician for access to his practice, does not constitute the practice of insurance subject to DOI licensure and regulation. It creates in Chapter 7 of Title 33 the "Direct Primary Care Act." Sen. Hill described his bill as preserving the traditional practice of medicine. It passed unanimously.
House Education Committee
The Committee took up four measures today. SB 3, by Sen. Lindsey Tippins (R-Marietta), dealing with credentialed training programs, was presented first. Some Committee members had some questions about certain sections of the bill. Rep. Tommy Benton (R-Jefferson) asked about line 94, on page 3 where it changes the age at which kids in work programs can drive from 16 to 15. He wondered if this would raise any concerns since 15 year old kids cannot get a license and would need to get a work permit. Chairman Tippins indicated that he was open to changes to this part of the bill and the section dealing with driving age was amended to the version that passed the Senate. SB 3 received a do-pass recommendation before receiving a few amendments. Amendment 1 increases the driving age back to 16, from 15. This amendment failed, however, because it was brought to the attention of the Committee by Matthew Gamble that this part was added specifically to accommodate students participating in German apprenticeship programs. The amendment failed to be adopted. Amendment 2 was offered by Rep. Amy Carter (R-Valdosta) and it changes the date of implementation from 2017 to 2018, which was agreeable to the Department of Education. Amendment 3 addressed line 180, by adding language stating that priority for grants will be given to chronically low performing schools. Both Amendment 2 and 3 were adopted. SB 3 then received a do-pass recommendation. It now moves on to the Rules Committee. Chairman Tippins also presented SB 211 which addresses formative assessments. It seeks to align the testing schedule to allow tests to be given at the end of an academic schedule to allow for more instructional days. Most of the Committee seemed to be in agreement, and it received a do-pass.
Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta) presented SB 30, which seeks to provide grants for sustainable community schools around the state. Schools would be given great flexibility as to how to use the funds. Sen. Fort gave an example that a school may use funds to provide a ‘third meal’ each day or to provide after-school programs.
Sen. Emanuel Jones (D-Decatur) presented SB 152 last, which requires that students who are subject to compulsory attendance not be assigned to an alternative school for more than two semesters
Senate Insurance and Labor Committee
Rep. Rich Golick (R-Smyrna) presented to Chairman Burt Jones (R-Jackson) and members of the Senate Insurance and Labor Committee a new Substitute to HB 214. This legislation, written in O.C.G.A. § 16-9-5, was originally placed in the Senate Judiciary Committee but was recommitted to the Senate Insurance and Labor Committee. The legislation addresses motor vehicle proof of insurance documents and the punishment of an individual who unlawfully manufactures, sells or distributes counterfeit or false proof of insurance documents. It makes it a misdemeanor if the person possesses a counterfeit or false proof of insurance document that he or she knows to be counterfeit or false. It makes the crime a felony, upon conviction, when the person knowingly manufactures, sells or distributes a counterfeit or false proof of insurance document - that would be punishable by a fine of not more than $10,000 or by imprisonment for not less than two nor more than ten years. The changes, in the Substitute which also include language that Sen. Blake Tillery (R-Vidalia) offered, will also now mirror the insurance fraud provisions in the Code at O.C.G.A. § 33-1-9 and the punishments for such crimes. Sen. Marty Harbin (R-Tyrone) inquired about certificates of insurance before the vote and those are addressed in O.C.G.A. § 33-1-9. The legislation, in the Substitute form, received a do pass recommendation and now moves to the Senate Rules Committee.
Senate Regulated Industries Committee
The Senate Regulated Industries Committee met and took action on these bills:
- HB 510, by Rep. Calvin Smyre (D-Columbus), passed without discussion. It repeals the population requirements in O.C.G.A. § 3-3-21(d) regarding sales of alcoholic beverages near churches, school building and other sites. The legislation impacts limited counties.
- HB 428, by Rep. Chuck Martin (R-Alpharetta), also passed. This measure addresses downtown development authorities' priority liens and permits the authorization of assessments in O.C.G.A. § 36-42-17.
- HB 485, by Rep. Mike Glanton (D-Jonesboro), also got a do pass recommendation and now moves to the Senate Rules Committee. It requires the referendum election to be held prior to the issuance of licenses for the manufacture or distribution of distilled spirits in Chapter 4 of Title 3. At O.C.G.A. § 3-4-40 it states that licenses for the package sale of distilled spirits shall be authorized only in those counties and municipalities in which the issuance of such licenses is approved by a referendum election (as provided for in Article 3 of Chapter 4). It does add in O.C.G.A. § 3-4-41 that referendum election to authorize the issuance of licenses for the package sale of distilled spirits may be initiated upon a written petition containing the signatures of 35 percent of the registered and qualified voters of any municipality or county being filed with the election superintendent of the county or municipality.
- HB 413, by Rep. Don Parsons (R-Marietta), cleared the Committee in the form of a new Substitute brought by Sen. John Kennedy (R-Macon). Rep. Parsons explained that the legislation addresses rural telephone cooperatives and their donation of abandoned dividends or capital credits by rural telephone cooperatives which can be donated to a nonprofit organization exempt from taxation under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code which supports education or economic development in the area if the telephone cooperative has maintained a list on its website or on a public posting a list of the names and last known addresses of all owners of property held by the telephone cooperative that have been presumed abandoned together with instructions on how to claim such property and published in the legal organ for the county where the telephone cooperative's main office is located a notice of the last date to claim property that has been presumed abandoned. This language is inserted at O.C.G.A. § 44-12-236.1. The legislation also addresses venue in proceedings against a cooperative and how it is to be determined in O.C.G.A. § 46-5-64.1; the bylaws and their adoption or repeal in O.C.G.A. § 46-5-78; and the authority of telephone cooperative board to pay revenues allocated but not previously paid to a member or former member in O.C.G.A. § 36-5-92.1. In Kennedy's Substitute, language in the bill (SB 222) addressing the 9-1-1 Authority, was added. This language addresses the assessment of telephone subscriber 9-1-1 charges. According to Sen. Kennedy, the statute on this issue is ambiguous and the language will clarify this. There has also been litigation on the issue. Sen. David Shafer (R-Duluth) questioned the germaneness of the language addressing 9-1-1 systems; Sen. Kennedy argued that the language was germane as it dealt with telephones and assessments. Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford) stated that this language would be a help but would not fix the problem now being litigated in courts over 9-1-1 charges. The bill received a do pass recommendation in the Substitute form.
- HB 118, by Rep. Trey Kelley (R-Cedartown), addresses "Fantasy Contests" and cleared the Committee in the form of a new Substitute. The legislation creates a new Article 35 in Chapter 1 of Title 10 to require the registration of fantasy contest operators. Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford) made the motion to move the legislation forward. Sen. Steve Henson (D-Tucker), however, questioned whether this effort was legalizing gambling and would require a Constitutional Amendment. The Committee in a hand vote (requested by Sen. Josh McKoon (R-Columbus), passed with a vote of 7-3.
Senate Education Committee
The Senate Education Committee considered only HB 338, by Rep. Kevin Tanner (R-Dawsonville), which seeks to create the new position of 'Chief Turnaround Officer' within the Department of Education. Concern was raised regarding local systems' means of financing the program. Some changes made to the substitute make it clear that schools without financial means will still have opportunity to meet standards.
Sen. Donzella James (D-Atlanta) asked why the bill does not require a fiscal note, since it would add new paid positions within the Department. Rep. Tanner said that the Governor's budget office has been involved throughout this process and will make appropriate changes to the Amended FY 18 State budget to account for the additional personnel. He said it will take some time to get this program up and running. Sen. James also asked if the bill currently requires an accompanying piece of legislation. It does not.
Chairman Tippins proposed an amendment that prohibits for-profit companies from having a role in the intervention process. This addresses one of the most controversial aspects of the Opportunity School District proposal last year which was that for-profit corporations would be able to become operators of 'failing schools'. The new language at the end of line 308 would read: "except that operation of the school by a for-profit entity shall be prohibited". This amendment raised concerns among two of the leading Republican members of the Committee, Sen. Jesse Stone (R-Waynesboro) and Sen. Fran Millar (R-Atlanta). They argued that excluding for-profit companies limits the potential candidates for the turnaround officer position. They believe that such a limitation should not be included in this bill. Despite their opposition, the motion to adopt the amendment carried; thus, it was adopted. The full bill was then put to a vote and it received a do-pass recommendation by the Committee. HB 338 moves on to the Rules Committee.
House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee
The House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee, chaired by Rep. Rich Golick (R-Smyrna), considered four bills today:
- SB 45, authored by Sen. Larry Walker III (R-Perry), seeks to criminalize surreptitious filming or photography under another’s clothes where the individual has a reasonable expectation of privacy. The language of SB 45 is now identical to HB 9, authored by Rep. Shaw Blackmon (R-Bonaire). The Committee recommended the bill DO PASS by committee substitute and be sent to the Rules Committee.
- SB 99, authored by Sen. Elena Parent (D-Decatur), provides a judicial procedure for a person who has previously been involuntarily hospitalized and deemed mentally disabled to petition to have his or her gun rights restored. The Committee recommended the bill DO PASS by committee substitute and be sent to the Rules Committee.
- SB 125, authored by Sen. Rick Jeffares (R-McDonough), allows physician assistants and nurse practitioners to prescribe a limited supply of hydrocodone compound products subject to certain restrictions. Reps. Sharon Cooper (R-Marietta), Betty Price (R-Roswell), and Deborah Silcox (R-Sandy Springs) spoke in opposition to the bill, expressing concerns related to over-expansion of access to hydrocodone and the bill’s impact on children. The Committee recommended the bill DO PASS and be sent to the Rules Committee.
- SB 160, authored by Rep. Tyler Harper (R-Ocilla), is the Back the Badge Act of 2017, which provides for mandatory minimum sentences for assault and battery against public safety officers. A committee substitute was proposed clarifying the legislation’s applicability to juveniles. The Committee recommended the bill DO PASS by committee substitute and be sent to the Rules Committee.
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
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.