Gold Dome Report - March 6, 2017
Greetings from the Gold Dome! The Senate began its day around 10:00 a.m. while the House convened at 1:00 p.m. today. Various law enforcement agencies from across the State swarmed in the halls, making their presence known, as they celebrated their day on the hill. Jokes were made that if you wished to speed down Georgia's interstates, today would have been a good day to do so as the number of State Troopers and Sheriffs under the Dome were many! It was also Children's Day at the Capitol - several agencies working with our State's children set up displays in the South Wing to explain their programs to help educate, keep safe, and provide healthcare to the State's most precious resource.
There was light Floor activity and little Committee action today. However, in our Report below, we will highlight some of the work which did take place for Legislative Day 29.
Sen. Steve Henson (D-Tucker) recognized Ms. Paula Smith for her achievement of become Miss Atlanta 2017. The Senate also recognized various law enforcement officers and national guardsmen for their service.
The Senate took up three pieces of legislation this morning with each proposal passing unanimously.
- HB 127, originally authored by Rep. Richard Smith (R-Columbus), was presented by Sen. Marty Harbin (R-Tyrone). This legislation addresses Georgia's Insurance Code and deletes two chapters in current law which are now obsolete. The legislation repeals Chapters 18 and 19 of Title 33. Chapter 18 addresses nonprofit medical services corporations while Chapter 19 addresses nonprofit hospital services corporations. These were the Blue Cross and Blue Shield chapters in the law and have been inactive since the two entities merged in the 1960s. The Senate passed this measure 52-0.
- HB 176, originally authored by Rep. Tom McCall (R-Elberton), was presented by Sen. Larry Walker (R-Perry). This initiative adds a new Article 17 to Chapter 2 of Title 26 so as to authorize the Department of Agriculture to enter into agreements with the federal government to enforce the Federal Food Safety Modernization Act, 21 U.S.C. 301 et seq. This bill passed with a vote of 51-0.
- HB 303, originally authored by Rep. Mandi Ballinger (R-Canton), was presented by Sen. Elena Parent (D-Atlanta). The legislation amends O.C.G.A. § 19-13-22 concerning the State Commission on Family Violence and the membership of this Commission. It deletes the references to members from "battered women's organizations" and in its place includes three advocates for victims of family violence, taking into account recommendations from groups which have addressed the problem of family violence. Further, the legislation deletes the reference to a member from "Men Stopping Violence" and in its place adds a family violence intervention program as defined in O.C.G.A. § 19-13-10. It also changes the member representing a victim of domestic violence to a member who is a victim of family violence. In all, the membership of the Commission remains at 37 members. It also addresses the lengths of terms for members on the Commission; it clarifies the per diems for members on the Commission, including those who are legislators; and clarifies the ex officio members on such Commission. The initiative passed 51-0.
The House took up Local Calendars today but did not have a Rules Committee Calendar. A number of bills were read for the second time and the reports from the Standing Committees were addressed. Otherwise, it was relative short and quiet day in the House.
HB 540, by Rep. Bert Reeves (R-Marietta), seeks to address the salaries of the solicitors-general for Cobb County.
HB 543, by Rep. Emory Dunahoo (R- Gillsville), seeks to repeal the State's income tax and corporate net worth tax provisions and revamp Georgia's sales and use taxes in Title 48. The proposal would be known, if enacted, as the "Georgia FairTax Act." In part, the legislation proposes to impose a 6.70 percent tax on the use or consumption of taxable property or services at O.C.G.A. § 48-7-20(b).
SB 268, by Sen. Marty Harbin (R-Tyrone), seeks to amend O.C.G.A. § 20-3-519.2 regarding eligibility for HOPE scholarships for an entering freshman. It would require the student to have graduated from an "eligible high school, earning a cumulative grade point average of at least 3.0 at an eligible postsecondary institution at the end of the quarter or semester in which the student has attempted 45 quarter hours or 30 semester hours, provided that such student shall be eligible to receive a retroactive HOPE scholarship for such student's freshman year to be paid at the end of the freshman year." Further, achievement standards are: "1) accepting a dollar for dollar match for wages earned by the student during his or her freshman year as verified by his or her Internal Revenue Service Form W-2, up to the HOPE award amount for each semester or quarter, for the first two semesters or quarters of such student's freshman year, earning a cumulative grade point average of at least 3.0 at an eligible postsecondary institution at the end of the quarter or semester in which the student has attempted 45 quarter hours or 30 semester hours, provided that such student shall receive retroactive HOPE scholarship funds in the amount of such match for such student's freshman year to be paid at the end of the freshman year; 2) having receive a score of 1,100 on a single administration of the SAT or an ACT composite scale score of at least 24, earning a cumulative grade point average of at least 3.0 at an eligible postsecondary institution at the end of the quarter or semester in which the student has attempted 45 quarter hours or 30 semester hours, provided that such student shall be eligible to receive a retroactive HOPE scholarship for such student's freshman year to be paid at the end of the freshman year; or 3) accepting an interest free loan, up to the HOPE award amount for each semester or quarter, for the first two semesters or quarters of such student's freshman year, earning a cumulative grade point average of at least 3.0 at an eligible postsecondary institution at the end of the quarter or semester in which the student has attempted 45 quarter hours or 30 semester hours, provided that such student shall have his or her interest free loan retroactively forgiven at the end of the freshman year." The legislation also seeks to change O.C.G.A. § 20-2-157, regarding uniform reporting, by replacing the terms "HOPE scholarship program" and "HOPE scholarship" and replace those with the term, "Zell Miller Scholarship."
Senate Finance Committee
The Senate Finance Committee met this afternoon. Chairman Chuck Hufstetler (R-Rome) and his Committee held a hearing on Rep. Jodi Lott's (R-Evans) proposal, HB 301. No action was taken on HB 301 as the Committee, including Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford), expressed some concern about the vagueness of the language. The underlying idea in HB 301 is to add a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. § 48-7-29.1 so as to allow for physicians, Advanced Practice Registered Nurses and Physician's Assistants who provide uncompensated preceptorship training to medical students, APRN students and physician's assistants' students an income tax credit based on the number of preceptorship training rotations. The legislation proposes to allow community-based faculty physician preceptors tax credits of $500 for the first three preceptorship rotations and $1,000 for any further rotations up to ten. It also allows community-based faculty advanced practice registered nurse preceptors and physician's assistants' preceptors' tax credits of $375 for the first three preceptorship rotations and $750 for further rotations up to ten. No action was taken at today's meeting on HB 301.
The Committee also heard:
- HB 125, by Rep. Ron Stephens (R-Savannah), was passed by the Committee. It is a sales and use tax exemption proposal to be included at O.C.G.A. § 48-8-3(99) for sales of use of eligible goods to maintain, retrofit, or repair a boat during a single event when the aggregate sales of such is more than $500,000.00. This would apply to anything which is used as transportation on the water - including barges and other types of watercraft as well. Rep. Stephens has remarked that such credit would be the only type of such credit in any State on the eastern seaboard.
- HB 199, by Rep. Trey Rhodes (R-Greensboro), was pulled from today's agenda. This is the legislation regarding income tax credits for interactive entertainment companies.
- HB 237, by Rep. Brooks Coleman (R-Duluth), creates the Public Education Innovation Fund Foundation in Titles 20 and 48. This initiative was also pulled from today's meeting agenda.
Senate Education and Youth Committee
Chairman Lindsey Tippins (R-Marietta) called the meeting to order for the sole purpose of discussing HB 338, by Kevin Tanner (R-Dawsonville) which seeks to create the position of 'Chief Turnaround Officer' (CTO) and give such person the authority to address schools that need improvement throughout the State. The bill passed on the House floor by a vote of 138-37 and Rep. Tanner indicated it has bipartisan support. Minority Leader Stacey Abrams (D-Atlanta) spoke in favor of the bill on the floor as well.
Before presenting the bill to the Committee, Rep. Tanner noted that HB 338 is very much different than the Governor's proposed Opportunity School District (OSD) that failed by referendum last fall. If passed, the referendum would have amended the State Constitution to allow the State to physically take over the operation of school systems, including local tax dollars and many decisions made at the local level. HB 338, by contrast, uses the existing flexibility contract that already exists in law to encourage local school systems to improve. Currently, federal law requires State's to identify the lowest performing 5% of schools (over 200 schools in Georgia) and the State Department of Education must work with those schools. This bill would not change any of that.
Rep. Tanner indicated that the 'Chief Turnaround Officer' (CTO) would need to be a professional with extensive experience in the administration of a public school for at least 10 years, must hold an advanced degree and must have worked in public k-12 education for at least 12 years. There are more qualifications listed. An 'Education Advisory Council' is also created in this bill, which is made up of the Executive Directors of the Georgia School Superintendents Association (GSSA); the Professional Association of Georgia's Educators (PAGE); and various other education-focused groups. This council will be tasked with advising the State Board of Education on the most appropriate qualifications when considering candidates for the CTO position. In addition to the CTO, turnaround coaches will also be hired and assigned to schools by the CTO, which is indicated on Line 50. It requires that all students need to be screened within 60 instructional days, which was a request of the minority party.
Rep. Tanner discussed the importance of considering any progress that schools have made, even if such schools are identified as 'low performing'. If a school or school system uses a process that is improving that school, that process should be taken into account before spending resources to have the CTO go in and make changes. He went on to discuss the process for determining which schools need to be improved. Proximity is one factor that the CTO will take into account, since some schools in remote or rural areas need to be prioritized. Once a school is determined, the CTO will present the school's local board with an amended contract, since most have a flexibility contract with the State Board. The State Board can also recommend that a local board be turned over to a non-profit entity, rather than a for profit entity (which was the case in the OSD proposal). The bill further creates a Joint Committee to focus on establishing a State accreditation process. Rep. Tanner discussed the funding aspect of HB 338. The Governor is setting up a fund within the Governor's Office of Student Achievement (GOSA) which also sets up a monitoring program. He mentioned Chairman Brooks Coleman's (R-Buford) innovation fund tax credit bill, however it was apparently pulled from the Senate Finance Committee's calendar today for fear that it may be unconstitutional.
After hearing Rep. Tanner's presentation, Sen. Fran Millar (R-Atlanta) asked some questions concerning the State Board's authority when dealing with local school systems. He inquired what would happen if a local board chose not to act on the recommendations of the Chief Turnaround Officer within the five year period that such board is given to carry out the changes. His concern is that some local boards may ignore the CTO's recommendations and the State would need to wait five years to see any significant change happen before they can intervene. Rep. Tanner understood the issue, but stated that this provision is like a "big stick" that will encourage districts to address their lowest performing schools since they face the risk of losing accreditation. For example, DeKalb County would seek to improve a low performing school because not doing so would cause them to lose accreditation which affects every other school in DeKalb County (which is a lot).
Chairman John Wilkinson (R-Toccoa) commended Rep. Tanner on the bill, but had a question. He was a bit concerned that the appointment of turnaround coaches is being left up to the CTO, without considering recommendations provided by the State Superintendent. He believes that a chain of command is important and that people who are hired need to be able to work with the State Board and the Superintendent. Superintendent Richard Woods also spoke to this issue briefly. He agreed that it would be better for the CTO to consider candidates recommended by the Superintendent. Rep. Tanner explained that the CTO is supposed to be answerable only to the State Board. Superintendent Woods also recommended two changes to the bill. The first change would make the Chief Turnaround Officer an employee of the Department of Education. He believes that it is imperative to have the CTO fully incorporated which would allow the Department to support that individual. The second recommendation was to provide for a better recommendation process for candidates for the turnaround coach position. He will have more to share during his testimony when this Committee meets on Friday.
Chairman Tippins indicated that all public testimony that was originally set for today would be moved to the next scheduled meeting, on Friday. With no further discussion, the Committee was adjourned.
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.