Gold Dome Report - March 7 - March 8, 2017
Neither chamber was in session on Tuesday or Wednesday of this week. However Committees did meet and began to consider legislation that crossed over from the other chamber before the end of Crossover Day. Lawmakers convene for Day 28 on Thursday, March 9. This report contains our committee notes from March 7-8.
Committees – March 7
House Industry and Labor Committee
The Committee held a meeting today for the purpose of considering SB 201, by Sen. Butch Miller (R-Gainesville), which was the only bill on the calendar. Sen. Miller stated that the bill provides that employees can use sick leave for the purpose of providing care to an immediate family member. He said this legislation will create an impetus for employers to maintain a better work environment. He said that he had discussed the bill with the "largest company in Georgia" and they support it since it encourages employers to seek a remedy that is good for all sides. Sen. Miller indicated that one third of employees in Georgia are in industries that do not provide sick leave. On January 9, 2017, revised rules are to be available.
The bill expands the definition of immediate family member to allow for sick leave to be used for the care of such family members. There were some questions about the amount of sick leave required. Sen. Miller indicated that the standard number of sick-leave days is 5 days, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Rep. Barry Fleming asked if this would give the State an inability to regulate ESOPs since it crosses state lines. Sen. Miller said that he does not want to place a requirement on businesses and he would rather it be an 'incentive' without creating an onerous burden on such businesses.
There was some concern expressed by Rep. Tom Kirby (R-Loganville) that the bill changes the definition of immediate family member, which could have implications in other areas of the code. He motioned that SB 201 be tabled until the subcommittee has had time to review the impact of the changing definition. The motion to table failed however. SB 201 then received a DO PASS and was sent to the Full House Industry and Labor Committee.
House Judiciary – Fleming Subcommittee
The Fleming Subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Barry Fleming (R-Harlem), heard presentations on four propositions today:
HB 498, authored by Rep. Brian Strickland (R-McDonough), creates a cause of action in Title 51 against broadcasters who disseminate images of accident or trauma scenes that provide sufficient content to personally identify the victim(s). The Subcommittee heard testimony from Kim Lee, a constituent of Rep. Strickland whose daughter was killed in an accident and broadcast on Atlanta television. The Subcommittee HELD the bill and took no action.
HB 509, authored by Rep. Paulette Rakestraw (R-Powder Springs), requires that electronic devices sold or leased in the state that have access to the Internet include a digital filtering device so that the device, by default, blocks pornographic content. In essence, the bill is intended to extend existing Georgia law that requires screening of print pornography in stores and apply a similar screen to online pornography. The bill also creates the Georgia Mental Health and Addiction Treatment Trust Fund which will provide grants administered by the Department of Human Resources to treatment programs and be funded by fees collected from individuals who opt to have the filter removed from their devices. The Subcommittee HELD the bill and took no action.
HR 432, authored by Rep. Paulette Rakestraw (R-Powder Springs), is a constitutional amendment companion to HB 509 that would constitutionally require the funds collected for the Georgia Mental Health and Addiction Treatment Trust Fund be allocated only to purposes related to mental health and addiction treatment programs. The Subcommittee HELD the bill and took no action.
HB 522, authored by Rep. James Beverly (D-Macon), requires that a portion of the continuing education required of cosmetologists and barbers include training on how to recognize and assist victims of domestic violence. The bill does not create a mandatory reporting requirement but rather provides resources. The Subcommittee HELD the bill and took no action.
House Judiciary – Kelley Subcommittee
The Kelley Subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Trey Kelley (R-Cedartown), considered four bills today:
SB 46, authored by Rep. William Ligon, Jr. (R-Brunswick), is an amendment to Title 51 of the Georgia Code to add limitation of liability for space flight entities from space flight participants. The bill is similar to HB 1, authored by Rep. Jason Spencer (R-Woodbine), which passed the House earlier this year. The Subcommittee recommended the bill DO PASS and be sent to the full Judiciary Committee.
SB 71, authored by Sen. Jesse Stone (R-Waynesboro), would exempt health savings accounts in bankruptcy. The federal bankruptcy code allows states to make elections regarding exemptions, and Georgia already exempts individual retirement accounts and 401k plans. The Subcommittee recommended the bill DO PASS and be sent to the full Judiciary Committee.
SB 87, also authored by Sen. Jesse Stone (R-Waynesboro), provides for the discharge of judgments against exempt property in bankruptcy. The bill also sets forth the procedure by which a petitioner may seek such a discharge. The Subcommittee recommended that the bill DO PASS and be sent to the full Judiciary Committee.
SB 137, authored by Sen. Greg Kirk (R-Americus), amends the Child Support Recovery Act to require the obligor to pay the full fee required by the federal Deficit Reduction Act of 2005. The Subcommittee recommended that the bill DO PASS and be sent to the full Judiciary Committee.
Senate Judiciary – Subcommittee A
Subcommittee A, chaired by Sen. Jesse Stone (R-Waynesboro), considered four propositions today:
HB 14, authored by Rep. Jeff Jones (R-Brunswick), codifies the current practice that Georgia sheriffs paid by salary turn fees collected over to their respective county treasury within 30 days of collection. The Subcommittee voted to recommend the bill DO PASS and be sent to the full Judiciary Committee.
HB 75, authored by Rep. Wendell Willard (R-Sandy Springs), expands exemptions under Georgia's Open Records Act to protect records of the Department of Family and Children's Services (DFCS) that contain or memorialize records of on-going criminal investigations provided to DFCS by law enforcement. The Subcommittee voted to recommend the bill DO PASS and be sent to the full Judiciary Committee.
HB 86, authored by Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver (D-Decatur), expands the definition of child abuse for purposes of reporting child abuse to include acts involving trafficking a person for sexual servitude. This legislation was requested by the Department of Family and Children's Services. The Subcommittee voted to recommend the bill DO PASS and be sent to the full Judiciary Committee.
HB 88, authored by Rep. Barry Fleming (R-Harlem), seeks to amend the statute setting forth qualifications for Georgia's Superior Court judges to prevent a candidate facing disbarment from seeking election as a superior court judge. The Subcommittee amended the bill to cover State Court judges, as well, an amendment that the author welcomed. The Subcommittee recommended the bill DO PASS by committee substitute and be sent to the full Judiciary Committee.
Committees – March 8
House Judiciary (Non-Civil) Committee – Setzler Subcommittee
Chairman Ed Setzler (R-Acworth) held a meeting this morning where two bills received hearings – neither bill had any action taken.
SB 121, by Sen. Butch Miller (R-Gainesville), addresses the codification of the Governor's order issued in December 2016 so as to allow Naloxone to be dispensed with a statewide prescription from the State's Health Officer. The legislation is to address Georgia's growing epidemic with opioid use and overdoses. Much has been said about the "triangle" of heroin and opioid drugs being used in the north Atlanta region of the State. Since the Governor's executive order was issued and emergency pharmacy board rules were put in place, nine lives have been saved with the purchases of over-the-counter Naloxone drugs to counteract overdoses. If passed, this would enact the Jeffrey Dallas Gay Jr. Act., naming the law after a young man from Gainesville who died as a result of A drug overdose.
The Subcommittee had a Substitute before it at this meeting, changing who would be the "health officer" to issue this standing order for the drug. Chairman Setzler had several questions about the State changing its policy on who can serve as a "health officer" – even though, at the moment, the Department of Public Health's Commissioner is a physician. Chairman Setzler indicated he was supportive of allowing Naloxone to be available. However, Chairman Setzler had several questions on the immunity to be afforded the "health officer" in his or her capacity and asked if there were other instances where a professional was provided some sort of blanket immunity from liability provision. Rep. Betty Price, M.D. (R-Roswell) indicated she had concerns about the impact on pharmacies as these entities would be administering these medications (in addition to dispensing the drugs). Further, Rep. Price indicated she had an amendment to be proposed, which she had discussed with Sen. Miller, which would combat the dirty needle issue impacting drug addicts and causing other sorts of diseases (such as Hepatitis C). There are questions too about the State's paying for the consequences of dirty needles – according to Rep. Price.
SB 121 amends O.C.G.A. § 26-4-112(b), adding that the State health officer "may issue" a standing order permitting certain persons and entities, or categories of persons or entities, to obtain opioid antagonists (such as Naloxone) under the conditions which the State's health officer may impose. This order, like the current one issued by the Governor, will have a statewide effect. The pharmacy would be required to keep a record of each opioid antagonist dispensed pursuant to this standing order, including the name of the purchaser and the personal information of the purchaser (name, address). These records are to be maintained for a period of time. The pharmacist would not be required to submit the information to the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program. These drugs are also not required to be maintained in the pharmacies' biennial inventories. The legislation also amends O.C.G.A. § 16-13-29 so as to exempt Naloxone or other opioid antagonists from the Schedule V controlled substances.
Bethany Sherrar, with the Medical Association of Georgia (MAG), testified that the MAG Foundation had worked with the family of Mr. Gay in developing the "Think About It" campaign to address opioid abuse. The opioid crisis is a serious problem and a priority for the Medical Association of Georgia. However, Ms. Sherrar did indicate that she needed to speak to her Association's members about the language around the dirty needles exchange – while they did support the overall concept.
Thus, action on this legislation was suspended.
The second bill was SB 125 and a new Substitute was offered for this initiative as well. Rep. Trey Kelley will carry the proposal for Sen. Rick Jeffares (R-McDonough) who authored the legislation. This legislation addresses the delegation of prescriptive authority to physician's assistants by a physician in O.C.G.A. § 43-34-103(e.) so that the physician's assistants may write prescriptions for their patients under a physician's protocol agreement for a five-day supply of hydrocodone products (or any Schedule III, IV or V controlled substance as they are currently permitted to do so). This legislation has been tightened from earlier versions – making it the tightest prescriptive authority for physician's assistants in the country for these products. Rep. Jason Shaw (R-Lakeland) brought a new Substitute, adding that advanced practice registered nurses and nurse practitioners could be granted this prescriptive authority. Rep. Shaw noted in his presentation that rural Georgia needed these practitioners to have access to these medications for their patients so as to expand access to care. Rep. Betty Price, M.D. (R-Roswell) raised several questions about the correlation with the writing of these prescriptions and how those may have impacted the opioid abuse problem. She also questioned whether the products were safe to be used with children. Chairman Setzler had questions about whether the legislation needed to be drawn so as to limit the settings where the medications could be prescribed – for example, only in acute care settings. There were statements made by a physician's assistant on using the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program so as to eliminate any type of "pill shopping" by a patient; she stressed that the physician's assistants needed this in acute settings – it was not really about ongoing pain management. Chairman Setzler indicated that he had a close personal friend who became addicted to pain medications and that he was sensitive about any sort of expansion of permitting the medications to be more available. Bill Sexton, M.D. (an Emory neonatologist) told the Subcommittee that he felt that these medications should not be prescribed for children in all instances. Dr. Sexton gave a lot of testimony on the use of opioids and the patients he and his colleagues see that are born with neonatal abstinence syndrome and then must be treated for addiction before they can go home. Dr. Sexton did agree that some children who have surgery should have opioids but the surgeon generally would handle those needs prior to the child's release from a hospital. Rep. Bert Reeves (R-Marietta), who indicated that his wife was a pediatric physician's assistant, also experienced instances where she could help her patients if she were granted this prescriptive authority for these drugs. There were questions to Dr. Sexton concerning the five-day supply; he explained that would vary based on the age and weight of the child, noting that prescribing for children was more difficult. The proponents of this legislation explained that until the fall of 2014, they had the ability to make these drugs available to patients – however, the law was changed at that time. The Medical Association of Georgia testified that it had compromised on this issue last year, moving to five days – however, the Association was unaware that there was a new attempt to add other mid-level practitioners to this legislation (the APRNs and Nurse Practitioners). Thus, MAG asked for time so it could poll its members on the proposal.
This legislation was also held. The next meeting will be on Friday at 1:00 p.m. on these bills.
Senate Judiciary – Subcommittee B
Subcommittee B, chaired by Sen. Jesse Stone (R-Waynesboro), heard presentations on four bills today:
HB 162, authored by Rep. Betty Price (R-Roswell), makes clean-up revisions to Georgia's Tax Refund Intercept Program that allows courts to recoup unpaid fines by withholding them from tax refunds. The legislation allows the Administrative Office of the Courts to setoff certain payments to courts paid erroneously to a court under the statute. The AOC requested the legislation to reduce its administrative burden, and it passed the House during the last session. The Subcommittee took no action, but the proposition will be taken up by the full Judiciary Committee next week.
HB 213, authored by Rep. Rich Golick (R-Smyrna), adds fentanyl and its derivatives and analogs to Georgia's drug trafficking statute. Rep. Golick emphasized that the bill does not preclude the legitimate medical use of fentanyl, but rather simply attacks the illicit commercial trade of the drug. The Subcommittee recommended the bill DO PASS and be sent to the full Judiciary Committee.
HB 231, authored by Rep. Bruce Broadrick (R-Dalton), is the annual update to the Georgia Controlled Substances Act. The legislation adds fentanyl and its derivatives and analogs that are developed along the fentanyl backbone and also includes U-47700 from HB 30, authored by Rep. Kevin Tanner (R-Dawsonville). The Subcommittee recommended the bill DO PASS and be sent to the full Judiciary Committee.
HB 341, authored by Rep. Bert Reeves (R-Marietta), amends Georgia's human trafficking statute in relation to sexual servitude offenses. The bill adds a new class of defendants under the statute (individuals found guilty of patronizing or soliciting sexual services), and defines sexual servitude in the broader context of human trafficking to include paying for sexual services with a minor or paying for sexual services with a person coerced or deceived into servitude or developmentally disabled. The bill also closes what the author described as the last loophole to human trafficking for sexual servitude—making it a felony to solicit a person for sexual services with knowledge that the person is coerced, deceived, or developmentally disabled. The Subcommittee, by a split vote, recommended the bill DO PASS and be sent to the full Judiciary 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.