Gold Dome Report - March 8, 2016
Today marked Legislative Day 33 under the Gold Dome. Neither the House nor the Senate considered much in the way of legislation today. Committees, however, are working in earnest to get bills completed so that they may be considered on the floors of the respective chambers before the 40th day.
Lawmakers return for legislative Day 34 on Thursday, March 10 (taking Wednesday as a "committee day").
The House did not consider any bills for passage today. The only action they took was to remove SB 343, by Sen. Elena Parent (D-Atlanta) from the local consent calendar by a vote of 95-56.
The Senate passed only two bills today:
HB 697, by Rep. Tom Kirby (R-Loganville), is sponsored in the Senate by Senator JaNice VanNess. It requires solicitors to receive affirmative assent from consumers for the continuation of the provision of certain merchandise relating to free trial periods, prior to charging for the merchandise. This bill passed by committee substitute, 50-0.
HB 840, by Sen. Ron Stephens (R-Savannah), requires the procurement of a permit in order to hold wildlife in captivity. It was presented in the Senate by Sen. Frank Ginn (R-Danielsville). Specifically, it addresses the captivity of animals for film production purposes and requires film companies to apply for a "film production wildlife permit." This bill passed by a vote of 42-11.
Fleming Subcommittee One of House Judiciary (Civil)
Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford) presented SB 3 which permits the private and temporary designation of a legal custodian/power of attorney for children outside of the foster care system regulations. Ms. Irene Munn, General Counsel to Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle, joined Sen. Unterman and adoption attorney Linda Matson, who is director of a child advocacy center, and testified for the bill. The power of attorney is time limited to one year and the appointees can be relatives or fictive kin. There were questions relating to how the bill's provisions interrelated to any such appointments under the military regulations when a parent is absent on active duty. The bill is being held a few more days for another substitute draft that will define fictive care and research the coordination with the similar military system. The House Committee concerns with the bill of a year ago appeared to be resolved and it should pass to full Committee and out of the House before the end of the Session.
SB 370 by Sen. P.K. Martin (R-Lawrenceville), which changes training requirements for the Superior Court personnel, also passed.
Other bills were also heard, but are not reported today: SB 206, 333 and 356. SB 206 relating to water liens for rental properties and when water may be turned off by municipal systems generated extensive discussion.
Caldwell Subcommittee Two of House Judiciary (Civil)
Sen. Bill Heath (R-Bremen) presented his constitutional amendment SR 388 that would modify the Georgia Blaine Amendment prohibiting use of state funds for any religious or sectarian purpose. The provisions would provide essentially that the federal constitution could permit use of funds to such faith-based entities, except that funds could not be used to establish a state school voucher program. The Committee meeting was for a hearing only. Reps. Roger Bruce (D-Atlanta), Tom Weldon (R-Chickamauga) and Wendell Willard (R-Sandy Springs) all asked why the bill is currently necessary and expressed some reservation that it may not be fully vetted since there are social service grants now to faith-based affiliated organizations. Rep. Barry Fleming (R-Harlem) explained why the state Blaine amendment could prohibit such grants. The bill was heard for hearing only and no action was taken.
Sen. John Wilkinson (R-Toccoa) presented SB 183 that would add pigs, goats, cows and sheep in agribusinesses to the existing liability shield available for farmers of llamas and horses. The bill was held for further review.
House Public Safety and Homeland Security
The Committee dealt with several bills Tuesday afternoon. Sen. Bill Cowsert (R-Athens) presented SB 416 placing into statute the federal/state "fusion center" for the coordination of law enforcement acts relating to terrorism acts between the Department of Homeland Security, the GBI and the Georgia Emergency Management Agency. The bill would formally create the Georgia Information Sharing and Analysis Center under the command of Adjutant General James Butterworth. The effort is primarily funded by the federal Department of Homeland Security and coordinates state and federal law enforcement efforts when information is received as to potential terrorist threats. Rep. Scott Holcomb (D-Doraville), a former member of the federal JAG with intelligence responsibilities, asked questions whether the correct secret security designations available for the Georgia Officials are preserved through the legislation and whether search warrants are appropriately required to protect privacy issues. Chair Alan Powell (R- Hartwell) insisted the state responsibilities be managed by the GBI. The Chair appointed an informal subcommittee to finalize vetting of the legislation before final committee action later this week.
Sen. Tyler Harper (R-Ocilla) led the discussion of SB 279 which would appoint the Commissioners of Juvenile Justice and Natural Resources to The Georgia Peace Officers Standards and Training Council.
Sen. Emmanuel Jones (D-Decatur) presented SB 141 that seeks to change the classification of minor possession of firearms at school from a Class B designated felony so that kids are not suspended and stigmatized for minor infringements. This bill was also held for a few days while another informal study committee reviews its provisions.
SB 263 by Sen. Bruce Thomson (R-White) was passed unanimously. It allows peace officers employed by city or county local governments and school systems to carry a concealed weapon if they are on job-related disability status throughout their retirement.
Sen. P.K. Martin (R-Lawrenceville) presented SB 270 to permit retired law enforcement officers an exemption from gun registering and permitting for carrying a weapon. The provisions of the bill are already contained in HB 730 and the hold of the bill allows for fuller consideration whether it may be necessary as a vehicle for other law enforcement or gun legislation.
House Health and Human Services Committee
Chair Sharon Cooper (R-Marietta) and her Committee undertook several Senate bills:
- SB 273, by Sen. Dean Burke (R-Bainbridge), was presented. This legislation addresses at O.C.G.A. § 31-22-1 the regulation requirements for non-diagnostic laboratories, exempting those from State licensure. The facilities will be regulated by federal laws, Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments. A House bill on this same issue was previously passed by this Committee. That House legislation was by Rep. Jodi Lott (R-Conyers). SB 273 was passed without fanfare.
- SB 305, by Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford), addresses Georgia's POLST forms and is an update from the legislation passed in 2015, SB 109. It requires a 60-day notification of proposed changes to be made to these forms to be sent to the members of the House and Senate Health Committees. A representative from the Georgia Right to Life spoke in favor of the change which was a part of the agreement made last Session. The Legislature will retain oversight of these forms. SB 305 passed.
- SB 308, also by Sen. Unterman, addresses her proposal for positive alternatives for pregnancy which would be created in O.C.G.A. § 31-2A-30 et seq. It is to promote a grant program for these centers to allow pregnant women who access the centers to be informed about information and services available to them – it discourages women from abortion procedures – provides medical services (such as pregnancy tests, ultrasounds) and counseling. It is to encourage women to carry babies to term and either keep their babies or place them for adoption. There are around 40 of these centers in Georgia. Sen. Unterman stated that there are approximately 27,000 abortions performed annually in Georgia. This will be an "opt in" program. Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon) spoke in favor of the proposal as his daughter is adopted. Rep. Nikki Randall (D-Macon) took issue with several aspects of the proposal, including who performs the medical services and whether those services were provided by licensed professionals. She also was concerned about the individuals offering counseling as Sen. Unterman explained many of the centers are staffed with volunteers. Rep. Randall's concerns were that these individuals may have no clinical counseling background but rather only faith-based counseling. Rep. Randall argued that women should be provided information on all alternatives – not some. She further argued that abortion is still a legal option for women. Sen. Unterman stated that information was included in the Women's Right To Know Act; Rep. Randall countered that there were no real resources in that booklet outlining options. Rep. Michele Henson (D-Stone Mountain) also took issue with Sen. Unterman's bill, asking if an underage woman could go to a clinic without parents and the impact on Planned Parenthood. Sen. Unterman stated that there were no State funds going to Planned Parenthood; only federal funding was provided to that entity. Rep. Bruce Broadrick (R-Dalton) expressed his thought that Sen. Unterman's bill was a positive solution but questioned whether there would be a check to determine if the woman had presumptive eligibility (for Medicaid). Rep. John Pezold (R-Columbus) questioned whether this legislation was the proper role for government and use of tax funds; his concern was a picking of winners and losers for funds. Sen. Unterman countered Rep. Pezold's remarks by stating that this was necessary especially in light of the collapse of rural hospitals and it is where government intervention should occur. Rep. B.J. Pak (R-Lilburn) inquired about the ensuring that counseling was not about abortion. Rep. Margaret Kaiser (D-Atlanta) also inquired more about the providers providing medical services. Rep. Katie Dempsey (R-Rome) stated that this legislation was "another choice" being provided to women and it allows "another conversation." There was testimony by several women who were against the legislation; some shared their own personal experiences with these centers and the treatment by volunteer staff. Some testified that this proposal is using State funds but it is not allowing all legal alternatives to be provided to a woman. Some also noted that these centers had misleading advertising. An Emory University medical student also spoke to her concern that medical information should be provided by medical professionals and medical services should be provided by licensed medical professionals. In the end, Rep. Peake made the motion to do pass the legislation; his motion carried despite ten members of the Committee voting in opposition to the motion. The legislation moves to House Rules.
- SB 389, by Sen. Hunter Hill (R-Atlanta), was presented. There are several Title 49 changes included in this legislation. It codifies sanctions for violations in compliance with the TANF requirements at O.C.G.A. § 49-4-12.1. It adds prohibitions on how funds on electronic transfer benefit cards may be used at O.C.G.A. § 49-4-12.2 and it also addresses a process that the Department of Human Services is to follow when a recipient loses his or her benefit transfer card three times within a 12-month period. The Committee asked numerous questions, including why the legislation now capped TANF benefits at 36 months rather than 48 months – the federal law permits up to 60 months. Some members of the Committee expressed that Georgia might actually leave federal funds "on the table" with this change in the number of months. Sen. Hill stated his desire was to see more individuals become self-sufficient as soon as possible and that our data reflected that Georgia individuals typically stay on TANF for 12 months. However, these are lifetime caps as some argued and hard times could befall individuals multiple times. They also raised issues particularly since the Committee had just moved forward SB 308, encouraging women to have babies. Rep. David Clark (R-Buford), who also chaired a House Study Committee on TANF/SNAP over last summer, spoke about the proposal and noted that the language for the cash diversion included in the legislation helps the truly needy – that language is to be inserted at O.C.G.A. § 49-4-184.1. A representative from the Foundation for Government Accountability, Josh Archambault, spoke in favor of the legislation stating it would protect resources; lead to better outcomes; save taxpayers' funds; and frees State funds for other uses. Mr. Archambault also addressed the State's eligibility determination system – noting that Illinois had made changes for real-time eligibility. He noted that integrated systems typically were late and over budget. As for the work requirement, it is a requirement for able bodied individuals without children. He noted that since 2001, Georgia had seen a 1181 percent increase in numbers of individuals receiving food stamps; a Georgian receiving food stamps stays on the program, on average, eight years. When Kansas changed its work requirement, 41,000 individuals came off the program and incomes increased. Further, Archambault noted that Georgia's TANF sanctions are one of the weakest in the country. An amendment was offered by Rep. David Clark in Committee, which is actually language from HB 847, providing additional penalties for welfare fraud in Title 16. Sen. Hill noted that they were delaying time for the effectiveness of changes so that it would give the Department of Human Services time to make these changes if the legislation is passed.
Senate Judiciary Non-Civil Committee
Sen. Jesse Stone (R-Waynesboro) and his Committee held a three plus hour meeting. They held a hearing on HB 205 by Rep. Tom Rice (R-Norcross). This legislation seeks to utilize ignition interlock devices for first time driving under the influence offenses in Chapter 5 of Title 40. Rep. Rice indicated that states around Georgia have adopted similar laws permitting these devices' use and there have been three study committees on this issue. The problem which emerged in the Committee was Georgia's "administrative license suspension" and that process (which apparently does not work at the present). There are 45,000 annual Georgia DUI arrests and many individuals refuse to take the field sobriety test (blow test) on the side of the road. Individuals end up continuing to drive, even after they are arrested, for months before any resolution is made on their case. Rep. Rice argued that using the ignition interlock devices would lessen numbers of individuals who drive subsequent times while under the influence. There were a number of representatives from Mothers Against Drunk Driving in favor of the legislation. Georgia solicitors opposed the legislation noting that there were a number of flaws in the current proposal – in part because the current administrative license suspension process does not work but also about the reporting requirements for the ignition interlock devices as well as costs associated with the devices (which would be optional) and would create a separate class of citizens, leading to a court challenge. Questions were also raised about implied consent and how this legislation might throw out current case law. Several of the State's judges (including Judge Al Wong and Judge Russ McClelland) were also at this hearing and they too opposed HB 205. Chairman Stone appointed a Subcommittee of Sens. Bethel (R-Dalton), Jones (D-Augusta) and Ligon (R-Brunswick) to work with Rep. Rice further on this legislation.
HB 948, by Rep. Alan Powell (R-Hartwell), was passed amending O.C.G.A. § 42-9-90(b). It is the Interstate Compact for Offender Supervision which requires an applicant to pay a fee of $25.00 when moving to supervision; this legislation increases that fee to $100 (unless the person is indigent and in those instances there will be no fee imposed). This fee is paid to either the Department of Community Supervision or the State Board of Pardons and Paroles.
HB 874, by Rep. Bert Reeves (R-Marietta), also was heard but held so that more work could be done to the legislation. Sen. Charlie Bethel (R-Dalton) raised concerns about imposing mandatory minimums when the Governor's Criminal Justice Reform Commission and legislation had moved away from such. The underlying issue being addressed is how to strengthen Georgia's laws on gang prosecutions as gang-related crimes have increased in the State and especially so with the increase of technology (both in and out of jails and prisons). Sandra Michaels, with the Georgia Criminal Defense Lawyers, spoke opposing mandatory minimums and urged discretion be allowed for judges.
HB 905, by Rep. Mandi Ballinger (R-Canton), also was heard but held for additional work. This legislation is an attempt to enhance protections for children and in part provides for a safe harbor for reporting of child pornography within 72 hours from the time there is "reasonable cause to believe such person is in possession of such materials or images." This change is provided in O.C.G.A. § 16-3-22.1. There are also revisions to Georgia's mandated reporting of child abuse and adds a definition of "endangering a child." It further defines sexual abuse which will include consensual sex acts when the sex acts are between minors if any individual is less than 14 years of age; provided, however, that it shall not include consensual sex acts when the sex acts are between a minor and an adult who is not more than four years older than the minor. A definition for "child advocacy center" is also included (a center operated for the purposes of investigating known or suspected child abuse and treating a child or a family which is the subject of a child abuse report). The legislation in O.C.G.A. § 19-15-2 allows the judicial circuits to make a determination on their child abuse protocol committee. It also proposes that a court appointed special advocate may have access to the Child Abuse Registry so that they may screen their employees and volunteers at O.C.G.A. § 49-5-180 et seq., and it also permits the Division of Family and Children's Services to remove a minor child from the Child Abuse Registry when the child is alleged to have committed abuse under certain conditions. A late arriving amendment was also offered by Sen. Elena Parent (D-Atlanta) to prohibit retaliation for being a whistleblower.
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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.