Gold Dome Report - March 22, 2016
One more day to go! Today marked Legislative Day 39 and the House and Senate both took up large Rules Calendars to try and get as much done before Sine Die. Both chambers will be in recess tomorrow while conference committees meet to work out the differences and reach consensus (or not). After long hours and negotiations, the General Assembly approved a Conference Committee Report on HB 751, the FY 2017 Budget. We have provided more on the Budget below.
Governor Deal appointed, or reappointed, 18 Georgians to various boards and commissions on Friday, March 18. The complete list may be found in this link: http://gov.georgia.gov/press-releases/2016-03-18/deal-appoints-18-boards.
It is clear that the passage of the religious freedom and gun carry on college campuses legislative measures are far from being finalized. Since each bill's passage, the news media have been filled with articles and/or reactions on both initiatives.
FY 2017 Budget
HB 751, the State's FY 2017 Budget, has now been completed and moves to the Governor's desk for his consideration. Some items in the Budget include:
The State's Budget is $23.7 billion which is just shy of a three percent increase over the State's FY 2016 Budget. The priorities include money for education, funding the State's Medicaid program, and providing salary increases for human services workers, teachers, bus drivers, nutrition workers and school nurses as well as public health nurses and law enforcement officers and other "critical positions" to address some recruitment and retention issues. There is also language to address an adjustment for retired State employees. We have highlighted some of the agreements made.
Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities
The total budget for this Department is $1.2 billion. Within the Adult Addictive Diseases Services program, the Conferees funded one-time funds for the Highland Rivers Health CSB Home Again pilot program to serve residents in region one with $715,980 (the Senate had only proposed $357,990). In the Adult Developmental Disabilities Services program, Conferees agreed to the Senate addition of $10,000 for funds for Rockdale Cares. The Conferees also agreed to the Senate language to utilize existing Projects for Assistance in Transition from Homelessness (PATH) funds to increase access to supportive housing (there are no dollars attached) in the Adult Mental Health Services program.
Department of Community Health
This Department oversees the State's Medicaid and PeachCare for Kids programs in addition to the State Health Benefit Plan which provides health insurance coverage for state employees. The total Budget for this Department, with federal funds, is more than $14.3 billion. A couple of language items were added by Conferees in the Departmental Administration and Program Support program:
- The Department of Community Health, pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 49-4-142.1, et seq. and within the parameters of O.C.G.A. § 49-4-142.2, is hereby authorized to submit a request to the United States Department of Health and Human Services Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services for a waiver pursuant to Section 1115 of the federal Social Security Act.
- The Department shall inspect each medical facility that the Department is authorized to regulate under paragraph (7) of O.C.G.A. § 31-2-1 on an annual basis, maintain records of inspections and violations, and deliver an annual report on such inspections to the General Assembly within 30 days of the end of each Fiscal Year. [These are facilities where abortion procedures are performed.]
In the Health Care Access and Improvement program, there were changes. The Conferees added language to "utilize existing funds to continue the Rural Hospital Stabilization Committee's grants with pilot sites to be selected by the Rural Hospital Stabilization Committee." No added funds were included. Also, they agreed to the Senate's position and added $42,000 for one-time funds for the purchase of three telemedicine equipped devices to support middle Georgia EMS services and $25,000 to increase funds for the Southwest Georgia Cancer Coalition to assist with access to quality cancer care and treatment in southwest Georgia. Conferees also placed $300,000 within this program to establish a Patient Centered Medical Home (PCMH) grant program for rural stabilization. $250,000 is added by Conferees to increase contract funds for services for medically fragile children who do not qualify for the "Katie Beckett" TEFRA/Deeming waiver. Conferees agreed to $500,000 in added funding for two Federally Qualified Health Center community start-up grants in Jackson and Jenkins Counties. The House had proposed to cut $500,000 in funding for charity clinics; Conferees restored this money so there will be no cut.
In the Medicaid: Aged, Blind and Disabled program, Conferees agreed with the House and Senate on the $11.3 million for the three percent inflation adjustment on the 2012 nursing home cost reports. They further agreed to place $3.7 million for an increase of funds for the Independent Care Waiver Program personal support rates to match rates of CCSP and SOURCE. They also agreed to add $399,670 for a reimbursement rate increase for Adult Day Health Centers by five (5) percent to provide parity with other home and community-based services providers. $2 million was added by Conferees to increase reimbursement rates for occupational therapy and physical therapy services providers within the Medicaid Children's Intervention Services (CIS) program. Conferees also agreed to the Senate changes on a transfer of $9.27 million for increased reimbursement rates for 32 select primary care and OB/GYN codes from the Medicaid: Low Income Medicaid program to reflect the anticipated increase attributable to each program. Conferees also agreed with the Senate on the added $95,041 to increase by three percent rates paid for ventilator reimbursement rates.
Within the Medicaid: Low-Income Medicaid program, there are a couple of changes. The Conferees agreed to the Senate idea of adding $387,407 to increase funds for a $250 add-on payment for newborn delivery in rural counties (population less than 35,000). They also reflected the transfers of funds to increase reimbursement rates for the occupational and physical therapists and primary care providers and OB/GYN providers.
Department of Education
In total, this Department will receive more than $11 billion. Within the Agricultural Education program, Conferees settled on providing $170,000 (like the Senate proposed) for increasing funds for Extended Day. Also, they agreed to provide a $35,000 increase for teachers to assist eligible students attending FCCLA camp.
In the Audio-Video Technology and Film Grants program, the Conferees agreed with the House and Governor for $2.5 million in funds for film and audio-video equipment grants to middle and high schools.
In the Non-QBE Formula Grants program, Conferees agreed to $528,121 for an increase of funds for Residential Treatment Facilities abased on attendance. Also, they included $93,411 for merit-based pay adjustments and employee recruitment and retention initiatives effective July 1, 2016.
In the Nutrition program, the Conferees have added $706,079 for a three percent salary adjustment for lunchroom workers effective July 1, 2016.
Within the QBE program, the Conferees added language to realize savings from program attrition in the Special Needs Scholarship to fund additional growth – no added funds were included as the Governor had proposed $2.6 million. Conferees also included $912,932 for school nurses (a three percent salary increase effective July 1, 2016) and more than $2.5 million for bus drivers (again a three percent increase for those effective July 1, 2016). Conferees also agreed to provide for a scheduled increase of the employer contribution rate for non-certificated school service employees from $746.20 to $846.20 effective January 1, 2017. Conferees also reduced by more than $6.5 million funding based on compliance with HB 100 (2016 session).
Within the RESA program, Conferees settled on $300,000 to increase funding for personnel for Positive Behavioral Intervention Supports (PBIS) trainers.
In the School Improvement program, Conferees added $406,330 to increase funds for training, professional development and support for corps members in Teach for America.
In the Technology and Career Education program, the Conferees added $371,499 for a three percent salary adjustment effective July 1, 2016. They did not agree to the use of $3.5 million in State funds for Career, Technical and Agricultural Education equipment grants to local school systems; rather, they asked that the amount be reflected in bonds.
Department of Human Services
This Department is to receive $1.77 billion in total funds for its work.
In the Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention program, $50,000 was added as an increase of funding for child advocacy centers. In the Child Welfare Services program, Conferees decided on $750,000 as the enhancement of funds for the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) to enhance statewide capacity for the program. The Conferees placed an added $1.2 million to provide an increase in funds for the Division of Family and Children Services Special Assistant Attorneys General for a $4 per hour increase (the Senate had proposed a $5 rate increase which would have totaled $1.5 million).
In the Elder Community Living Services program, Conferees added $1 million to increase funds to transition 167 seniors from nursing homes into community settings. Conferees also went with the Senate position on providing $500,000, in the Elder Support Services program, for additional funds for Meals on Wheels and senior center nutrition programs.
Within the Out-of-Home Care program, Conferees agreed to the 1.5 percent provider rate increase for Child Caring Institutions, Child Placing Agencies, foster parents and relatives for a total of more than $4.25 million.
In the Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency: Departmental Administration program, Conferees agreed to "encourage the Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency to create third-party cooperative arrangements with the Technical College System of Georgia to maximize financial assistance for vocational rehabilitation clients." No money was attached. Also, in the Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency: Vocational Rehabilitation program, Conferees agreed to transfer $40,000 from the Technical College System of Georgia and increase funds to match federal funds for Speech, Hearing and Rehabilitation Enterprises of Coastal Georgia, Inc. (SHARE) – this will be a total of $80,000 in State funds.
Georgia Bureau of Investigation
In the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council program, Conferees agreed to $247,000 as an increase of funds for the Juvenile Incentive Funding Grant program to provide fidelity reviews and technical monitoring for treatment providers. In total, the GBI is funded with more than $206 million.
Department of Juvenile Justice
This Department receives more than $334 million in funding. In the Community Services program, Conferees agreed to the 1.5 percent provider rate increase for Child Caring Institutions of $272,100. In the Secure Committee (YDC) program, Conferees agreed to reduce by $461,550 funding from the closure of the Milan Youth Development Center. In the Secure Detention (RYDC) program, Conferees added language, like the Senate, to require the Department to "develop a plan to address the closure of Gwinnett RYDC which includes cooperative construction of a juvenile justice facility incorporating recommendations of HB 242."
Department of Public Health
This Department is funded with more than $671 million.
The Conferees agreed to $2 million to fund the Positive Alternatives for Pregnancy and Parenting Grant Program within the Adolescent and Adult Health Promotion program. In the same program, they agreed to add $100,000 for an increase of funds for the Biomedical Prevention Clinic. Another change in this program was that Conferees restored the proposed funding cut by the Governor of $75,000 - he had proposed eliminating one-time matching funds for the Georgiacancerinfo.org website.
Within the Epidemiology program, there had been dispute on funding the Georgia Poison Center at Grady to support additional staffing needs – however, Conferees added $150,000 for this purpose and they also agreed with the Senate, though, to not provide funds for the Georgia Poison Center for a telephone-based stroke support program for pre-hospital providers.
Within the Infant and Child Essential Health Treatment Services program, Conferees added $1.72 million that was to be included to provide funding for therapies for individuals with congenital disorders pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 31-12-6. Also in this program, Conferees did not eliminate the one-time funds for the Georgia Comprehensive Sickle Cell Center (originally a proposed $50,000 cut); they also agreed to add $117,178 for the Medical College of Georgia Sickle Cell Center at Augusta University.
In the Public Health Formula Grants to Counties, Conferees added $1.38 million in funds for the sixth year phase-in of the new grant-in-aid formula to hold harmless all counties. They also agreed to add $526,875 to provide for an additional salary increase for licensed practical nurses to address recruitment and retention issues in the highest turnover job classes (the Senate had placed this added funding at $618,167).
House Agrees/Disagrees Action
The House took action on several pieces of legislation which had passed the Senate and were back for their review:
- HB 801 – The House agreed to the Senate Substitute by a vote of 169-0. This legislation addresses the HOPE Scholarship and adds extra weight for STEM classes.
- HB 767 – The House agreed to the Senate Substitute to HB 767, the "Spencer Pass Act," with a vote of 170-0. It now requires that individuals must either move over or slow down when passing a utility vehicle (the Senate had altered the flashing lights for these vehicles to include not only yellow but white flashing lights).
- HB 579 – The House agreed to the Senate Amendment with a vote of 166-0. It addresses Uniform Rules of the Road for agricultural vehicles, allowing more flexibility for these vehicles to be used on city and county roadways by drivers who are at least 16 years of age.
- HB 910 - The House agreed to the Senate Amendment as Amended by the House by a vote of 166-0. The House Amendment eliminated Sen. Cowsert's (R-Athens) language on permitting the electronic release of these medical records by hospitals (the House had included mental health and psychiatric records).
- HB 691 – The House agreed to the Senate Substitute with a vote of 156-9. This addresses municipal court judges' removal from office.
- HB 784 – The House agreed to the Senate Substitute with a vote of 164-1. The Senate's version implemented a cap of $100 for "gifts" by insurers to insureds (so that such would not be considered an unfair trade practice). The House version had capped the gifts at $50.
- HB 649 – The House agreed to the Senate Substitute with a vote of 129-36. This legislation establishes regulation of lactation consultants. Part of the Senate version moved the oversight of these professionals from the Composite Medical Board to the Secretary of State.
- HB 219 – The House agreed to the Senate Substitute with a vote of 152-14. This legislation addresses regulation of "public swimming pools" and establishes that condominium pools are not private but public pools. Additionally, the Senate strengthened pool safety by requiring an annual inspection of private pools.
- HB 804 – The House agreed to the Senate Substitute with a vote of 161-0. This legislation establishes an additional superior court judge in Clayton County, moving the total judges from four to five. The Senate change placed the effective date of the judgeship at January 1, 2017.
- HB 64 – The House disagreed to the Senate Amendment. This legislation, as passed the Senate, reinstated administrative legitimation proceedings which had been eliminated by the House.
- HB 1058 – The House agreed to the Senate Substitute with a vote of 160-4. The Senate's change, concerning the release of information on venereal diseases, eliminated the "harm reduction" by taking out the proposed needle exchange allowances.
- HB 100 – The House agreed to the Senate Substitute as Amended by the House with a vote of 150-16 (after the House adopted the Amendment). This legislation initially addressed mandatory school ages. However, it was changed and now addresses virtual school attendance. It limits out-of-district students at five percent.
- HB 779 – The House agreed to the Senate Substitute as Amended by the House with a vote of 136-27. This legislation addresses use of drones. The House Floor Amendment adopted took many of the bill's original provisions and reinserted them. It includes various definitions. Also, it states that a drone with a weapon is illegal and addresses what constitutes a search by law enforcement. It also clarifies that state law will preempt local law but does permit already adopted ordinances to be grandfathered into the law. There are also FAA restrictions and creates an "Unmanned Aircraft Commission" through 2021 to help promote the industry.
- HB 370 – The House agreed to the Senate Substitute with a vote of 141-20. It addresses Henry County issues concerning the waiver of candidates' fees and ethics' issues, resolving an electronic filing issue for local officials.
- HB 676 – The House agreed to the Senate Substitute with a vote of 160-0. It requires that business cases must be created for large technology purchases by a State agency/department and the Senate change addresses the use of a consultant in this process.
- HB 697 – The House agreed to the Senate Substitute with a vote of 159-0. This legislation will provide protections, especially to the elderly, who are contacted by entities to purchase merchandise. It now allows the Attorney General to be involved in these unsolicited sales.
- HB 65 – The House agreed to the Senate Substitute with a vote of 158-3. It provides more transparency in the local education budget process and requires two public hearings (establishing time frames for those) and also requires virtual hearings for those virtual schools.
- HB 1028 - The House agreed to the Senate Substitute on this waste management proposal by a vote of 156-0.
- HB 887 – The House agreed to the Senate Substitute as Amended by the House with a vote of 122-44. There was some objection to the House Amendment but it was adopted with a vote of 125-36. HB 887 prioritizes the placement of a child by DFCS with an adult relative of the child or fictive kin. The Senate added language from SB 3 (Supporting and Strengthening Families Act) but it was not the House Judiciary Committee's language. The House Floor Amendment proposed that language for the parent of a child to use a power of attorney to place a child with a family member or fictive kin.
The House Rules Calendar
The House initially considered 14 bills on their Rule's calendar; however two separate supplemental calendars were set throughout the day. In total, the House considered 28 pieces of legislation.
HR 1254, by Rep. Mickey Stephens (D-Savannah), encourages the Medicaid care management organizations (CMOs) operating in Georgia to cover certain attention deficit hyperactivity disorder medications. This resolution was adopted by a vote of 162-0.
HR 1564, by Rep. David Clark (R-Buford), encourages each local board of education, governing body of a nonpublic school, and governing body of a charter school to adopt and implement a sudden cardiac arrest and return to play policy and encourages the Department of Public Health to endorse one or more sudden cardiac arrest prevention education courses. This resolution passed by a vote of 162-0.
SB 18, by Sen. Ed Harbison (D-Columbus), amends O.C.G.A. § 20-4-38 to provide that the Technical College System of Georgia shall maintain policies for granting academic credit to students for college level learning acquired from military service prior to enrollment. It passed 164-0.
SB 230, by Sen. Chuck Hufstetler (R-Rome), provides for the enactment of the "Uniform Emergency Volunteer Health Practitioners Act" in Article 11 of Chapter 3 of Title 38. The legislation defines "emergency" as an event or condition that is deemed a state of emergency or disaster under Code Section 38-3-51, a public health emergency under Code Section 31-12-1.1, a local emergency under Code Section 36-69-2, or an emergency declared by a state entity or official or by a federal entity or official, if such emergency includes the State of Georgia, under any other provision of Georgia or federal law." SB 230 passed by a vote of 164-5.
SB 271, by Sen. Dean Burke, MD (R-Bainbridge), addresses notices required to be provided to individuals with mental illness and their representatives. Such notices are to be provided upon arrival at an emergency receiving facility or as "soon as thereafter as reasonably possible given a person's condition or mental state at the time of arrival." The legislation specifically amends O.C.G.A. § 37-3-44 to add this requirement for the notice. It further revises the procedures for continued involuntary hospitalization in O.C.G.A. § 37-3-83, adding a process for such individual who has mental illness when a discharge has been planned and is deemed unsafe. SB 271 passed by a vote of 161-7.
SB 417, by Sen. Jeff Mullis (R-Chickamauga), is known as the "Georgia Film and Television Trail Act". The initiative creates this Trail in Chapter 7 of Title 50. An amendment was proposed by Rep. Alan Powell (R-Hartwell) that members of boards who are elected by members of the General Assembly shall receive the same per-diem and transportation costs as received by members of the General Assembly. The amendment was adopted and the bill passed 145-19.
SB 184, by Sen. Ellis Black (R-Valdosta), provides for a "hunting dog" classification in O.C.G.A. § 4-8-1.2. It passed 125-41.
SB 275, by Sen. Michael Williams (R-Cumming), passed by a vote of 138-33. It provides that a local board of education in O.C.G.A. § 36-1-80 shall not adopt any code of ethics which prevents board members from discussing freely the policies and actions of the board while outside of a board meeting. This shall not apply to any matters discussed in executive sessions.
SB 329, by Sen. Lindsey Tippins (R-Marietta), provides in Chapter 2 of Title 20 for students to be awarded a high school diploma if they have completed post-secondary dual credit coursework and have earned certification to work in an "in-need" industry as described by the Technical College System of Georgia. It expands the availability of the HOPE scholarship to students who meet these requirements. The bill received wide support and passed 169-0.
SB 346, by Sen. Brandon Beach (R-Alpharetta), adds a new code section at O.C.G.A. § 12-16-9 relating to the "Environmental Policy Act." It provides that road or airport projects that do not exceed $100 million dollars in costs, shall not constitute a proposed governmental action which may have negative environmental impacts. An environmental evaluation shall be considered when the project will have a negative environmental impact on historical sites or buildings. It passed by a vote of 146-22.
SB 383, by Sen. Frank Ginn (R-Danielsville), originally provided for the issuance of permits for removing vegetation that is blocking billboard advertisements or other structures. There was opposition expressed by Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford), who said that the State's Garden Clubs believe it could allow for signs relating to prostitution. There was a lengthy debate before it was passed on the Senate floor. Since passing the Senate, the bill had seen significant changes. Rep. Lynn Smith (R-Newnan) offered a floor amendment, altering the bill so that it specifically addresses "Agritourism facilities". It now states that such facilities may apply for and obtain a permit allowing for a lawfully erected outdoor sign, as long as it remains on the facility's property. The original intent of the bill was to address a Mayfield Dairy billboard sign that was being blocked by vegetation. SB 383 passed as a floor substitute by a vote of 167-1.
SB 389, by Sen. Hunter Hill (R-Atlanta), relates to the TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) program and Georgia's SNAP initiative (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). This bill was recommitted to the House Rules Committee. The changes, in part, include:
- A new Code Section at O.C.G.A. § requiring that within 120 days of the end of each of the State's fiscal years, the Department is to file an annual report with the Governor, President of the Senate, and the Speaker of the House outlining the amount of funds expended on the TANF and SNAP programs, number of applicant and recipient households determined to be ineligible at the time of application or recertification and the reasons for the determination of ineligibility, the average amount of time the recipients are provided assistance, and the number of recipients who receive assistance from either or both programs.
- It limits lifetime maximums for TANF assistance in O.C.G.A. § 49-4-182 from 48 months to 36 months; the lifetime maximum will not apply to any family to which the Department has granted an exemption provided that the average monthly number of families granted an exemption for hardship other than for domestic violence in a fiscal year shall not exceed 20 percent of the average monthly number of families to which TANF is provided during the current fiscal year or the immediately preceding fiscal year. It also adds in (d) that the Department is authorized to accept a recipient's voluntary repayment of cash assistance, including any cash diversion payment.
- It amends O.C.G.A. § 49-4-183(b) which is to encourage the formation and maintenance of two-parent families, when a TANF recipient marries, the new spouse's income and assets are to be disregarded for six consecutive months – this is a once-in-a-lifetime benefit for the recipient. Further the Department's Board is to determine if procedures to determine whether a recipient has cooperated with a work activity requirement and procedures for notification of a caretaker relative, second parent, or payee receiving the financial assistance on behalf of the recipient's family unit is accomplished.
- It establishes a cash diversion program in O.C.G.A. § 49-4-184.1 and job referrals or referrals to career centers, in lieu of signing up for the long-term monthly cash assistance program upon a showing of good cause.
- It adds a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. § 49-4-185.1 to add sanctions when a recipient is not cooperating with a work activity requirement.
- It adds in O.C.G.A. § 49-4-194 that the Department is to provide verification of eligibility data.
- It creates a new Article 10 in Chapter 4 of Title 49 addressing sanctions for work requirements and/or personal responsibility for receipt of SNAP benefits. This new Article also includes requirements for electronic benefit cards and where such cards may not be used (e.g., liquor stores, gaming establishments, jewelry stores, tattoo parlors, spas, nail salons, etc.). There is also language and a process to address instances where a recipient has requested four electronic benefit replacement cards within a 12-month period.
- It adds language in O.C.G.A. § 50-27-29 that the Lottery Corporation is to notify monthly the Department of Human Services the names of individuals and other identifying information when they have winnings in excess of $2,000.00.
- It also adds Food Stamp Fraud and other public assistance fraud and those crimes' penalties and redesignates the current law moving it to O.C.G.A. § 16-9-63.
SB 420, by Sen. Lindsey Tippins (R-Marietta), requires voter approval of any public expenditure for the establishment, maintenance and operation of fixed guideway transit in O.C.G.A. § 36-1-27. The governing authority of a county must specify the type and location of the guideway transit, the date when costs will be paid in full and the full costs. An amendment was proposed by Rep. Ed Setzler (R-Acworth) to provide that the bill will not apply to any project within a county or between counties which has approved applicable sales and use tax, provided that such project is wholly within the territorial boundaries of such county(s). This amendment was adopted and then SB 420 passed by a vote of 163-3.
1st Supplemental Calendar
SB 1, by Sen. Charlie Bethel (R-Dalton), was originally a bill that would have expanded insurance coverage for autism spectrum disorders; however, that language was removed and replaced with language from HB 838, by Rep. Shaw Blackmon (R-Bonaire). The bill now requires insurance companies to compensate agents who sell health insurance plans with a minimum of 5% of the collected premium for small group policies and 4% of the collected premium for individual policies. SB 1 passed 150-11.
SB 168, by Sen. Burt Jones (R-Jackson), originally designated the Old Governor's Mansion located in Milledgeville as the official state historic house. However, it was hijacked in the House by Rep. Joe Wilkinson (R-Atlanta) and his bill, HB 561, on the State's adoptable dog was added after he stripped the underlying language, noting that Sen. Jones and his family favored the adoptable dog as the official state dog of Georgia. Rep. Rusty Kidd (I-Milledgeville) took issue with the change, noting that there were many other items named in the State as being official symbols. This bill passed 168-0.
SB 258, by Sen. Fran Millar (R-Atlanta) passed 153-5. It provides that the assessed value following an appeal of a tax assessment can be decreased, but not increased.
This legislation also allows an eligible disabled veteran to qualify for the homestead exemption by meeting one of these standards: status as a citizen and domiciliary in Georgia honorably discharged and with a service disability, or compensated at the 100 percent disability level as unemployable; or permanent loss of one or both feet, hands, or sight in one or both eyes.
This legislation also provides for tax credits for contributions to rural "health care organizations." In the case of a single individual or head of household, a rural health care organization tax credit shall be for 80 percent of the actual amount expended or $2,500 per year, whichever is less. In the case of a married couple filing a joint return, the credit shall be for 90 percent of the actual amount expended, or $5,000 per year, whichever is less. In the case of a corporation, the credit shall not exceed 90 percent of the amount expended or 75 percent of the corporation's income tax liability, whichever is less. The tax credit cannot exceed a taxpayer's income tax liability. Credits can carry forward, but cannot be applied retroactively.
SB 270, by Sen. P.K. Martin IV (R-Lawrenceville) includes several provisions which clean up the firearms Code in Title 16. The bill provides for new Georgia residents who have a carry license to have 90 days in order to get their Georgia license. The bill states that persons who have a valid hunting or fishing license are not required to have on their person a carry license when they are engaged in legal hunting, fishing, or sport shooting on recreational or wildlife management areas owned by the state.
This legislation allows a person who leaves a place of worship upon notification that firearms are prohibited to avoid being cited as violating the Code. The bill also allows probate judges receiving applications for permits to issue printed information on firearms safety courses. The bill also requires the Department of Natural Resources to provide on their principal website, information on hunter education and classes in this state that render gun safety instruction.
Another provision of the bill adds to the exemption for retired law enforcement carry privileges to include officers who are citizens of this state and have an aggregate of ten years in law enforcement with arrest powers, separated from service in good standing, and have an identification card for retired law enforcement. The bill clarifies definitions for "commercial service airport" and "major airline carrier" as it applies to those who carry a weapon into a commercial airport. Finally, the legislation provides immunity to those instructors who provide safety training from civil liability injuries caused by the failure of a person to use a firearm properly or lawfully.
An amendment offered by Rep. Alan Powell (R-Hartwell) was adopted. The amendment allows the chief of staff to the commissioner of the Department of Corrections to issue a warrant for the arrest of an offender who has escaped from the custody of the department. Another amendment proposed by Rep. Carl Rogers (R-Gainesville) was also adopted. Rep. Rogers' amendment makes it unlawful for any individual, with the intent to secure a tangible benefit for himself or herself, to make a false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation that such individual is a military veteran or the recipient of a military decoration. Moreover, it is unlawful for any individual, with the intent to deceive, to appear in court while wearing a military uniform or military decoration. The penalty for this offense is punished as a misdemeanor, but if a military decoration is involved in the violation, the punishment is a misdemeanor of a high and aggravated nature. SB 270 was then passed, as amended by a vote of 114-50.
SB 320, by Sen. Ben Watson (R-Savannah), revises the existing exemptions afforded to nonresidents possessing a valid driver's license issued by their home state or country. This bill also provides alternative options for accepting validity of a driver's license issued by a foreign country as well as exceptions. Drivers with a license issued by a foreign country would not be required to have an international driver's license to drive through Georgia and would allow law enforcement to consult the person's passport or visa to verify validity.
The legislation also amends Title 40 relating to regulation of carriers and requires taxi services operating in this state to register with the Department of Public Safety and renew a license for operation annually. They must maintain a current list of all drivers utilized by the service. Such lists would not be subject to open records request. Taxi services would be responsible for making sure each driver has proper permits or licenses required federally or by this state as well as their for-hire license endorsement. They must also employ a zero tolerance drug and alcohol policy and maintain personal injury and property damage liability insurance. SB 320 removes the requirement for the individual driver to provide proof of liability coverage in order to be eligible for a for-hire license endorsement.
The legislation also states that anyone found to have violated the gratuities prohibition relating to DUI schools or programs a second time will have his or her license revoked as provided for in existing Code.
An amendment was proposed by Rep. Alan Powell (R-Hartwell) that allows any county, municipality, or consolidated government to require proof of insurance or proof of payment of such insurance and to verify such insurance when issuing or renewing a certificate of public necessity and convenience or medallion. SB 320 passed 165-0.
SB 323, by Sen. Mike Dugan (R-Carrollton), establishes a time period for responding to open records requests of a college athletic program or association as 90 business days from the date the request is received. The bill also expands the provisions for non-disclosure on economic development projects for the Department of Economic Development to all state agencies. SB 323 passed 166-2.
SB 327, by Sen. Judson Hill (R-Marietta) prohibits any entity of the state of Georgia from entering into a contract with an individual or company without including written certification that the individual is not currently engaging in a boycott of Israel. This applies to contracts valued over $1,000. This bill passed 95-71, after many members expressed opposition of the use of boycotts to make political points.
SB 332, by Sen. John Kennedy (R-Macon) clarifies which judges are exempt from weapons carry prohibitions. It also requires judges of probate courts to issue personal identification cards for those judges with exemptions from carry prohibitions. This bill passed 164-0.
SB 348, by Sen. Lindsey Tippins (R-Marietta) allows local school systems to create a college and career academy to act as a strategic waiver system or a charter school. It also provides training requirements for the governing board of college and career academies. This bill passed 161-0.
SB 388, by Sen. David Lucas (D-Macon) was recommitted to the House Rules Committee.
The House set SB 145 and SR 604 on the 2nd supplemental calendar, however they did not get to them and postponed them until Sine Die.
SB 145, by Sen. Joshua McKoon (R-Columbus), allows for manufacturers of low THC oil to ship such oil to a person properly registered with the Department of Public Health in Georgia. It expands the list of conditions for which low THC oil can be administered by including autism, epidermolysis bullosa, HIV, peripheral neuropathy, Tourette's syndrome, terminal illness, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Moreover, SB 145 includes low THC oil into the code regarding driving under the influence. This bill was postponed until the next legislative day.
SR 604, by Sen. Bill Heath (R-Bremen) is the constitutional amendment that prohibits the levy of a quarter mill ad valorem tax. This resolution was postponed until the next legislative day.
SB 199, by Sen. Rick Jeffares (R-McDonough) defines 'campaign material' and prohibits distribution of such materials in areas of voting precincts where campaigning is already prohibited. Campaign material includes newspapers, booklets, pamphlets, cars, signs, and paraphernalia. The bill also reopens the qualifying period for municipal elections if a person fails to qualify during the normal period. Finally, it permits local governments to establish their own residency requirements for qualifying for local elections. This bill was also postponed until the next legislative day.
SB 255, by Sen. Jesse Stone (R-Waynesboro), is the revision to Title 18 for an overhaul of Georgia's garnishment statute. It provides for constitutional protections in garnishment proceedings. It addresses the process for the affidavit and summons to be issued for a garnishment proceeding as well as provides for property which is subject to garnishment (including certain exceptions). This bill was also postponed until the next legislative day.
SB 319, by Sen. Lester Jackson (D-Savannah) clarifies and allows for professional counselors to diagnose emotional and mental problems or conditions. In addition, the bill requires the board which governs professional counselors to develop curriculum of continuing education for licensed practitioners relating to diagnosing individuals with mental illness, developmental disabilities, or substance abuse, and the board shall retain its full authority to determine education, experience, and training required of its licensees. Moreover, SB 319 clarifies psychological testing, and that performing such psychological testing is only within the scope of practice of psychologists. The bill was postponed until the next legislative day.
The following Senate Study Committees were adopted:
SR 360 – Senate Data Security and Privacy Study Committee
SR 412 – Senate Cyber Challenge Study Committee
SR 467 – Senate Higher Education Access and Success for Homeless and Foster Youth Study Committee
SR 974 – Senate Surprise Billing Practices Study Committee
SR 1001 – Senate Study Committee on Higher Education Affordability
SR 1032 – Senate Sexual Offender Registry Study Committee
SR 1056 – Senate Study Committee on Premium Assistance Program
SR 1059 – Senate Study Committee on Nonembryonic and Nonfetal Cell Therapy
SR 1085 – Senate Regional Transit Solutions Study Committee
SR 1091 – Senate Study Committee on Hearing Aids for Children
SR 1098 – Senate Crime Study Committee
SR 1132 – Senate Study Committee on Venture Capital Investments
SR 1154 – Senate Emergency Cardiac Care Centers Study Committee
SR 1159 – Senate Camden County Spaceport Study Committee
SR 1165 – Senate Opioid Abuse Study Committee
SR 1166 – Senate State Sponsored Self-Insured Group Health Insurance Plan Study Committee
SR 1171 – Senate Judicial Qualifications Commission Study Committee
The Senate Rules Committee had 86 bills on its calendar for today. However, Senators worked through approximately one third of those. The following outlines actions taken on the Senate Rules Calendar:
HB 1072, a bill by Rep. Christian Coomer (R-Cartersville) relating to benefit corporations, cleared the Senate 52-0. It amends O.C.G.A. § 20-3-374. This legislation had no changes in the Senate; it moves to the Governor's desk.
HB 869, by Rep. Alan Powell (R-Hartwell), was presented by Sen. Jeff Mullis (R-Chickamauga) and addresses responsibilities of real estate brokers in O.C.G.A. § 43-40-18(c) and O.C.G.A. § 43-40-25(b). In part, it clarifies that the broker or qualifying broker is to review for compliance with this Chapter 40 of Title 43 and its rules and regulations all listing contracts, leases, sales contracts, and management agreements to buy, sell, lease, or exchange real property and any offer to buy, sell, lease, or exchange real property accepted within the time limit of said offer secured or negotiated by the firm's associates – it has to be done 30 days from the date of the offer or contract. It cleared the Senate 51-0. No changes were made to this legislation in the Senate and it heads to the Governor's desk.
HB 922, by Rep. Bruce Williamson (R-Monroe), passed with a vote of 53-0. It permits income tax credits for employers which create "quality jobs." The change in this legislation at O.C.G.A. § 48-7-40.17(a)(3) adds a definition for the term, 'taxpayer,' to mean any person "required by law to file a return or to pay taxes, except that any taxpayer may elect to consider the jobs within its disregarded entities, as defined in the Internal Revenue Code, for purposes of calculating the number of new quality jobs created by the taxpayer under this Code section." It was carried in the Senate by Sen. Bruce Thompson (R-White). The Senate engrossed this legislation and no changes were permitted on the Floor and no changes were made in the Senate Finance Committee where it had been assigned; it goes to the Governor's desk.
HB 402, by Rep. Eddie Lumsden (R-Armuchee), was presented in the Senate by Sen. Burt Jones (R-Jackson). It provides in O.C.G.A. § 33-9-40.3 a five percent discount on each workers' compensation policy, certified by the State Board of Education to the State Board of Workers' Compensation as a work-based learning employer, to employers who provide work-based learning opportunities for students ages 16 and older. It makes changes as well in Title 34 by creating a new Article 12 in Chapter 9 for this purpose. This bill passed 49-0.
HB 205, by Rep. Tom Rice (R-Norcross), originally proposed to require that automobile drivers who were stopped for DUI and refused blood alcohol concentration testing to have installed and maintained ignition interlock devices on their vehicles. This legislation was amended greatly in the Senate Judiciary Non-Civil Committee. It now prohibits a police officer from withdrawing an arrest report related to driving while under the influence of alcohol previously submitted by a law enforcement officer to the Department of Driver Services in O.C.G.A. § 40-5-67.1(f). MADD had backed this legislation when it included the requirement for the ignition interlock mechanism. It arrived on the Senate Floor in the form of a Committee Substitute and was presented by Sen. Bill Cowsert (R-Athens). It passed 38-14. It will require the House to take further action.
HB 547, by Rep. Barry Fleming (R-Harlem), passed the Senate with a vote of 48-0 after being engrossed. The legislation addresses a year's support for spouses in O.C.G.A. § 53-3-4. It clarifies that it is the "homestead" which is allowed. It adds in (b)(2) that in solvent and insolvent estates, "if the homestead is not claimed, all taxes and liens for taxes accrued for years prior to the year of the decedent's death against the real property set apart and against any equity of redemption applicable to the real property set apart shall be divested as if the entire title were included in the year's support. Additionally, as elected in the petition, property taxes accrued in the year of the decedent's death or in the year in which the petition for year's support is filed or, if the petition is filed in the year of the decedent's death, in the year following the filing of the petition shall be divested if the real property is set apart for year's support." It came to the Senate Floor in the form of a Committee Substitute from the Senate Judiciary Committee. This legislation will require further action by the House.
HB 659, by Rep. Dave Belton (R-Buckhead), had four Floor Amendments and three of those were adopted. It incorporated language which had previously been SB 310 by Sen. William Ligon, Jr. (R-Brunswick). Sen. Ligon's legislation requires in O.C.G.A. § 20-1-11 that for any competitive grant over $20 million, the department or agency applying for the grant, which will impact pre-kindergarten through grade 12 provide a 30 day notice with a written analysis of such things as the long-term projections of unfunded costs; impact on State and local education policy; purpose and effect of the grant and existing programs and policies; compliance mandates and policy directives associated with satisfaction of the terms of the grant; and any laws which must either be passed or rescinded to comply with the grant terms. His issue has been the Race to the Top grant. It came to the Senate Floor in the form of a Committee Substitute from the Senate Education and Youth Committee. Another Senate Amendment added SB 374 by Sen. Lindsey Tippins (R-Marietta), which would allow for a pilot program to consolidate federal, state and local funds to support a school-wide program as allowed in 20 U.S.C. Section 6314(a)(1). The underlying proposal seeks to provide transparency of financial information of local school systems and their schools – looking at the annual budget as well as salary and benefit expenditures for all staff, facility costs, maintenance costs, etc. This information would be required to be posted on the local school system's and each State charter school's websites. This bill passed 50-4. Now, it moves back to the House for review.
HB 959, by Rep. Beth Beskin (R-Atlanta), is the annual Title 20 clean up proposal. This legislation passed in the form of a Committee Substitute from the Senate Education and Youth Committee and must now have agreement from the House. It passed 53-0.
HB 792, by Rep. Buzz Brockway (R-Lawrenceville), is the "taser" bill and was engrossed in the Senate prior to being considered on the Senate Floor. It was a Committee Substitute from the Senate Judiciary Committee and was presented by Sen. Josh McKoon (R-Columbus). The legislation adds in O.C.G.A. § 16-11-127.1(c) at paragraph (19) the authorizing of use by "any person who is 18 years of age or older or currently enrolled in classes on the campus in question and carrying, possessing, or having under such person's control an electroshock weapon while in or on any building or real property owned by or leased to such public technical school, vocational school, college or university or other public institution of postsecondary education; provided, however, that, if such person makes use of such electroshock weapon, such use shall be in defense of self or others." It defines "electroshock weapon" as "any commercially available device that is powered by electrical charging units and designed exclusively to be capable of incapacitating a person by electrical charge, including, but not limited to, a stun gun or taser as defined in subsection (a) of Code Section 16-11-106." HB 792 passed with a vote of 43-12.
HB 1060, another gun bill by Rep. Rick Jasperse (R-Jasper), was carried in the Senate by Sen. Tyler Harper (R-Ocilla). It was presented as a Committee Substitute and was also engrossed so no changes were allowed on the Senate Floor. It will be known as the "Georgia Firearms Industry Nondiscrimination Act" and is created in a new Part 7 of Chapter 1 of Title 10. At O.C.G.A. § 10-1-439.2, it prohibits discriminatory practice by any person who refuses to provide financial services of any kind to, to refrain from continuing to provide existing financial services to, to terminate existing financial services with, or to otherwise discriminate in the provision of financial services against a person or trade association solely because such person or trade association is engaged in the lawful commerce of firearms or ammunition products and is licensed pursuant to Chapter 44 of Title 18 of the United States Code or is a trade association. The Attorney General is given powers to investigate and/or bring actions for violations. However, the provisions of this do not apply to any bank, trust company, credit union or merchant acquirer limited purpose bank that is chartered under the laws of this state or any other state to the extent that federal law precludes or preempts or has been determined to preclude or preempt the application of the provisions of this part to any federally chartered bank, trust company, credit union or merchant acquirer limited purpose bank. It also makes revisions in O.C.G.A. § 16-11-126(e) and (f) – addressing weapons carry licenses and allows individuals who are licensed in another state to carry a weapon in Georgia for 90 days after he or she becomes a resident provided that the person is to carry that weapon in compliance with Georgia laws. It also allows individuals with a valid hunting or fishing license on his or her person or any person not required by law to have a hunting or fishing license who is otherwise engaged in legal hunting, fishing or sport shooting on recreational or wildlife management areas owned by the State to have or carry on his or her person a knife without a valid weapons carry license while engaging in such hunting, fishing or sport shooting. There are other revisions included – such as the carrying of weapons in unauthorized locations in O.C.G.A. § 16-11-127(e)(2) dealing with license holders who leave a place of worship while carrying a weapon or long gun. It amends the law concerning the carrying of weapons within school safety zones, at school functions or on a bus or other transportation furnished by a school in O.C.G.A. § 16-11-127.1(c)(5), noting that the Code Section is not to apply to persons who are provided for under Code Section 16-11-130. Gun safety information is addressed, permitting the judge of the probate court to give applicants for a weapons carry license or renewal application information about gun safety. It also permits additional retired law enforcement officers who have powers of arrest under the laws of any state or the United States to be able to carry a weapon. Sen. Emanuel Jones (D-Stone Mountain) asked that the legislation be voted down; however, the legislation passed 37-18.
HB 941, by Rep. Rich Golick (R-Smyrna), addresses grand jury investigations when there are police-involved shootings resulting in bodily injuries or deaths. A Committee Substitute from the Senate Judiciary Committee was presented. While a special prosecutor had been considered, that language had been removed in the Senate Committee. In the new process, no police officer will be permitted to be in the grand jury proceedings except when he or she is to give testimony. Sen. Charlie Bethel (R-Dalton) presented this legislation on the Floor and it passed 51-3. The House now has to agree to the revisions.
HB 874, by Rep. Bert Reeves (R-Marietta), updates Georgia's laws on prosecution of street gang terrorism. Sen. Judson Hill (R-Marietta) presented the Senate Judiciary Non-Civil Committee's Substitute. An amendment was offered by Sen. Jeff Mullis (R-Chickamauga) and it was adopted. It improves the ability to prosecute street gang terrorism in O.C.G.A. §16-11-37. It addresses the use of disposition and evidence in O.C.G.A. § 15-11-703 and clarifies that "except as provided in O.C.G.A. § 24-6-609(d), the disposition of a child and evidence adduced in a hearing in the juvenile court shall not be used against such child in any proceeding in any court other than as provided in Code Section 16-15-9 or 24-4-418 or for a proceeding for delinquency or a child in need of services, whether before or after reaching 18 years of age, except in the establishment of conditions of bail, plea negotiations, and sentencing in criminal offences; and, in such excepted cases, such records of dispositions and evidence shall be available to prosecuting attorneys, superior or state court judges, and the accused and may be used in the same manner as adult records. Whenever such record of disposition is filed in a superior or state court or admitted into evidence in a superior or state court proceeding, it shall be filed under seal." It amends O.C.G.A. § 16-15-9 concerning the commission of offense admissible as evidence of existence of criminal street gang and criminal gang activity. It also adds a new Code Section concerning relevant evidence and its limits at O.C.G.A. § 24-4-418. It also makes it a felony offense for an inmate to commit or attempt to commit a violation with a prohibited item (e.g., cell phone). The legislation passed 38-15 and now requires the House to approve the changes.
HB 1014, by Rep. Jay Powell (R-Camilla), is a tax credit revision for conservation easements and the donations of private property in O.C.G.A. § 48-7-29.12(d). It requires that prior to the renewal of exemptions for donations of real property that the Department of Natural Resources is to provide a report to the Governor, President of the Senate, the Speaker of the House, and chairs of the House Ways and Means Committee and Senate Finance Committee on the activity of the program during preceding years (including the numbers of acres donated, the value of the donations, aggregate amounts of income tax credits granted, and listing of the direct and indirect benefits to the State due to the donation of the land for conservation purposes). It was presented by Sen. Tommie Williams (R-Lyons) and cleared the Senate with a vote of 53-0. No changes were made in the Senate and the legislation moves to the Governor's desk.
HB 769, by Rep. Lee Hawkins (R-Gainesville), permanently extends the ad valorem tax exemption for watercraft and all-terrain vehicles held in inventory for the purpose of sale or resale in O.C.G.A. § 48-5-504.40. Sen. Bill Heath (R-Bremen) argued against this proposal, noting that he thought it was unconstitutional. It passed the Senate by a vote of 36-17.
HB 763, by Rep. Penny Houston (R-Nashville), extends the sales and use tax exemption for food and food ingredients sold to qualified food banks and for use of food and food ingredients which are donated to a qualified nonprofit agency when that food is used for hunger relief purposes. Sen. Butch Miller (R-Gainesville) presented this bill on the floor and it passed by a vote of 53-0.
HB 949, by Rep. Alan Powell (R-Hartwell), addresses the use of government purchasing cards by local officials in O.C.G.A. § 36-80-24. It prohibits the issuance of such cards until the local constitutional officer (either the clerk of superior court, judge of probate court, sheriff, tax receiver, tax collector, or tax commission) creates a policy addressing their use and files that policy with the governing authority of the county. Sen. Charlie Bethel (R- carried the bill in the Senate and it passed 47-0.
HB 943, by Rep. Carl Rogers (R-Gainesville), was also carried by Sen. Bethel. It prohibits engineering, architectural, or land surveying contracts from requiring one party to compensate the other party against liability or claims for damages in O.C.G.A. § 13-8-2. This bill passed 52-0.
HB 926, by Rep. Bruce Broadrick (R-Dalton), was also carried by Sen. Bethel. The bill requires third-party logistics providers to be licensed by the Georgia State Board of Pharmacy in O.C.G.A. § 26-4-5. Language is also added in O.C.G.A. § 26-4-43 permitting a temporary pharmacy license to be issued to a service member, as defined in O.C.G.A. § 26-4-44.2, for a period of six months and also allows a temporary pharmacy license for individuals who have accepted a pharmacy resident position in Georgia (they may have such license if they meet the examination requirement for licensure). It also addresses requirements for compounding of drug products and their use in a practitioner's office so that they may only be compounded by outsourcing facilities which conform to federal laws. It also establishes a drug supply chain security process. Sen. John Albers (R-Roswell) proposed an amendment that would have given the Senate authority to appoint the board. There was a question of which "board." This amendment was withdrawn. The bill went on to pass 53-0.
HB 1030, by Rep. Sam Watson (R-Moultrie), was carried by Sen. Ellis Black (R-Valdosta) and changes the definitions and composition of the Georgia Seed Development Commission in O.C.G.A. § 2-4-3. This bill passed, 53-2.
HB 808, by Rep. Wendell Willard (R-Sandy Springs), was carried by Sen. Dean Burke (R-Bainbridge) in the Senate. The bill creates a new Judicial Qualifications Commission in O.C.G.A. § 15-1-19. This Commission will be composed of seven members – two will be appointed by the Supreme Court; two members will be from the State Bar of Georgia and have been active in Georgia for at least ten years and registered to vote; one citizen will be a registered voter not a member of the State Bar of Georgia who will be appointed by the Speaker of the House; and one citizen member who is a registered voter but not a member of the State Bar of Georgia, will be appointed by the President of the Senate and a final member from the State Bar of Georgia will be appointed by the Governor and that person will have to have ten years of active status with the State Bar and be a registered voter. The Commission is authorized to hold disciplinary hearings for judges and will have the authority to remove judges in certain instances. Two amendments were offered. Amendment 1 was offered by Sen. Joshua McKoon (R-Columbus) and Sen. Mike Crane (R-Newnan) to provide that the citizen member of the commission would be appointed by the Attorney General instead of the Speaker of the House. That amendment lost. Amendment 2 was offered by Sen. Charlie Bethel (R-Dalton) and Sen. Dean Burke (R-Bainbridge) that changed the effective date from January 1, 2017 to July 1, 2017. Amendment 2 was adopted. HB 808 was then passed by a vote of 37-18.
HR 1113, by Rep. Wendell Willard (R-Sandy Springs), was also carried by Sen. Burke (R-Bainbridge). This is the constitutional amendment that would abolish the previous Judicial Qualifications Commission and allow for the new commission to be established. Sen. McKoon (R-Columbus) and Sen. Crane (R-Newnan) offered Amendment 1 that would have reverted back to the current process for selecting membership on the Commission. Amendment 1 lost. Amendment 2 was offered by Sen. Bethel (R-Dalton) and Sen. Burke, which provides that appointments to the commission are to be subject to confirmation by the Senate. Amendment 2 was adopted. HR 1113 failed to receive the constitutional majority required to pass. A motion was made to reconsider; that motion carried. After a short recess, HR 1113 was reconsidered and went on to pass by a vote of 38-18.
At this point, Majority Leader Coswert (R-Athens) motioned to table all the remaining bills on the calendar. That motion carried. For the rest of the evening, bills were removed from the table prior to being presented.
HB 514, by Rep. Roger Bruce (D-Atlanta), incorporates the City of South Fulton. Sen. Donzella James (D-Atlanta) presented the bill. There was a motion to table the bill, which failed. It went on to pass by a vote of 42-10.
HB 927, by Rep. Christian Coomer (R-Cartersville), was carried by Majority Leader Bill Cowsert (R-Athens) in the Senate. This is the "Appellate Jurisdiction Reform Act of 2015" and it expands the number of Georgia Supreme Court Justices from seven to nine. A number of Republican and Democrat senators were opposed because it would allow the Governor to appoint the two additional justices. They argue that the appointment of justices would be used for partisan reasons. Sen. Mike Crane (R-Newnan) said that the courts should not be legislated by the general assembly and the entire purpose of the courts is to be a check on the legislature. A floor amendment was proposed by Sen. Joshua McKoon (R-Columbus) that would have taken the number of appointed justices down to seven, however this effort failed. Sen. Crane offered an amendment that would have allowed the additional two justices to be elected by the general public. That amendment also failed to be adopted. HB 927 went on to pass by a vote of 36-18.
HB 745, by Rep. Earl Ehrhart (R-Powder Springs), was carried by Sen. Charlie Bethel (R-Dalton) in the Senate. It extends the sunset dates for provisions relating to the writing off of small amounts that are due to the state and nonlapsing revenue of institutions in the University System of Georgia and the Technical College System of Georgia. The sunset period is extended from June 30, 2016 to June 30, 2021. It passed 50-0.
HB 822, by Rep. Christian Coomer (R-Cartersville), changes the definition of "energy used in agriculture" by removing reference to a "state" tax on line 12. It went on to pass by a vote of 50-0.
HB 879, by Rep. Tom Taylor (R-Dunwoody), was carried in the Senate by Sen. JaNice VanNess (R-Conyers). It establishes the Georgia Seal of Biliteracy, which will recognize high school graduates who become highly proficient in a language(s) other than English. The purpose of the seal is to give universities a way to provide academic credit for those graduates and for employers to be able to identify students with biliteracy skills. An amendment was proposed by Sen. William Ligon, Jr. (R-Brunswick) that adds language from a previous bill providing that state mandated tests shall be optional for students with disabilities or with serious health conditions. The student would be exempt from the assessment provided that their parent or legal guardian submits a written request and a licensed physician's order or licensed therapist's order. This amendment was adopted and then HB 879 passed by a vote of 50-0.
HB 798, by Rep. Joyce Chandler (R-Grayson), was carried by Sen. Marty Harbin (R-Tyrone) in the Senate. The bill addresses HOPE eligibility for home study students. It would allow students to be eligible for the HOPE scholarship if they receive a score in the ninety-third percentile on the ACT or the SAT. This bill passed by a vote of 52-0.
HB 59, by Rep. Wendell Willard (R-Sandy Springs), waives the defense of sovereign immunity for declaratory judgment or injunctive relief in O.C.G.A. § 50-21-50. It was carried in the Senate by Sen. Josh McKoon (R-Columbus) and it passed 53-0.
HB 193, by Rep. Carl Rogers (R-Gainesville), was also carried by Sen. Marty Harbin (R-Tyrone). It prohibits insurers from terminating or penalizing an agent for advising a policy holder about the alternatives to surrendering his or her life insurance policy. It seeks to address in O.C.G.A. § 33-25-13 unsavory practices in the insurance industry. An amendment was offered by Sen. Harbin to change the definition of 'agent;' however, he asked that members vote against the amendment because it would create many problems within the insurance industry. The amendment lost and then HB 193 went on to pass by a vote of 52-0.
HB 976, by Rep. Bill Hitchens (R-Rincon), was presented by Sen. P.K. Martin (R-Lawrenceville) in the Senate. It establishes retention periods for video recordings in Chapter 18 of Title 50 which are gathered by cameras operated by law enforcement. Such cameras include body cameras and dash cameras located in an officer's vehicle. It also provides for proper handling, copying and destruction of such recordings. It essentially sets the time to retain these recordings at 30 months (if a part of a criminal investigation or will be used as evidence in pending litigation). Sen. Bill Heath (R-Bremen) opposed the bill, claiming that it would limit the recordings which are available to the public. There were a series of amendments offered; however, one amendment was adopted addressing its application (that amendment was by Sen. Frank Ginn (R-Danielsville). Sen. Elena Parent (D-Atlanta) took issue with this legislation, stating that Atlanta would have a difficult time with this retention period but noted that cities would like this legislation to go into effect as quickly as possible because of the costs associated with retaining these records. HB 976 passed, as amended, by a vote of 48-7.
HB 1070, by Rep. Katie Dempsey (R-Rome) was presented by Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford) in two parts. The first part of the bill provides that DFCS may use information contained in the records of an adopted child when determining placement of another child in the same home or during an investigation of child abuse or neglect. The second part is the "Supporting and Strengthening Families Act" (SB 3) which provides for a power of attorney from a parent to another designated person for the care of a minor. SB 3 previously passed the Senate 43-10. A Floor Amendment was adopted and HB 1070 passed by a vote of 52-1.
HB 773, by Rep. Penny Houston (R-Nashville), increases the current outstanding bond limit for the Georgia Housing Authority from $1.3 billion to $3 billion. It passed by a vote of 44-9.
HB 897, by Rep. Betty Price (R-Roswell), establishes a drug repository program within the Department of Public Health for the purpose of accepting and dispensing unused over-the-counter and prescription drugs that are donated. It further repeals the "Utilization of Unused Prescription Drugs Act" at Article 11 of Chapter 4 of Title 26. Sen. Ben Watson, MD (R-Savannah) presented this legislation, and it passed by a vote of 55-0.
HB 1043, by Rep. Trey Kelley (R-Cedartown), was sponsored by Sen. Chuck Hufstetler (R-Rome) in the Senate. The legislation addresses how hospitals and health systems may offer influenza vaccines offsite (such as at employers' sites). It requires a pharmacist or a nurse to take "an appropriate" case history when determining the administration of a vaccine in O.C.G.A. § 43-34-26.1. Previously, nurses and pharmacists had to take "a complete" case history. The bill also creates an exemption so that hospitals and health systems can administer the flu vaccine if certain conditions are met. An Amendment was offered by Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford) and Sen. Judson Hill (R-Marietta) addressing the subspecialty advertising of physicians – this had been language from Sen. Hill's SB 385 which previously passed out of the Senate. The amendment was adopted and HB 1043 passed 55-0.
HR 1052, by Rep. Mike Cheokas (R-Americus), is the road-naming bill. It includes language from various resolutions dedicating roads and bridges to various people and was presented by Sen. Tommie Williams (R-Lyons). It passed 49-2.
HB 987, by Rep. Tom McCall (R-Elberton), adds nonprofit rodeos to the list of activities included under the Conservation Use Valuation Assessment (CUVA) program in O.C.G.A. § 48-5-7.4. Sen. Bill Heath (R-Bremen) spoke in opposition to the bill because he believes it addresses a single rodeo in one part of the State. He did not agree with changing the State's CUVA laws to accommodate one rodeo. Despite his opposition, the bill went on to pass 33-21.
HB 866, by Rep. Shaw Blackmon (R-Bonaire), was carried by Sen. Larry Walker III (R-Perry) in the Senate. It exempts all multiple employer self-insured health plans from paying premium taxes on the plan's net premium in O.C.G.A. § 33-50-3. There were questions concerning how much money would be lost by providing this exemption; this would be approximately $57,000. Sen. Walker indicated that these savings could be rolled back into the plan. The bill was passed, after midnight, by a vote of 49-3.
Majority Leader Bill Cowsert (R-Athens) motioned that the Senate agree to the House's Amendment to SB 323. The motion passed by a vote of 31-22. SB 323 addresses public disclosure of documents, in O.C.G.A. § 50-18-72(a)(46), relating to an economic development project by any agency as defined in O.C.G.A. § 50-14-1(a)(1)(A) – limiting that until the project is secured by binding commitment. This Amendment proposed by Rep. Earl Ehrhart (R-Powder Springs) also adds in O.C.G.A. § 50-18-71(d.1) that a 90-business day response is required by the University of Georgia to respond to a request for records, other than the salary information for non-clerical staff, of intercollegiate sports programs of any unit of the University System of Georgia.
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.