Gold Dome Report - March 9, 2017
Lawmakers convened today for Day 30. Now that Crossover Day has passed, each respective chamber considers the legislation passed by the other chamber. Note that there is always the possibility that bills will be 'gutted' completely and replaced with new language, changing the original intent of the legislation. Once passed by the opposite chamber, legislation needs to be approved in the original chamber, if changes are made in the second chamber, before the legislation may be sent to the Governor.
In Budget news, FY 2018 Budget (HB 44), which has been considered by the Senate for the last couple of weeks, is on the agenda of the full Senate Appropriations Committee on Monday, March 13, 2017 at 8:00 a.m. At that point, it will be clear what the Senate's intentions are on next fiscal year's budget.
There were also many advocates under the Gold Dome today trying to raise awareness about Lupus. This disease is an acute and chronic autoimmune disease affecting more than 55,000 Georgians.
Governor Deal announced today more jobs coming to the State. The poultry industry will see an investment of $18 million as Aviagen will bring more jobs in Brooks County. See:
The House considered only a few measures today.
HR 170, by Rep. Sharon Cooper (R-Marietta), urges state agencies, medical service providers, health care agencies, research facilities, medical schools, and other interested parties to increase their research and medical education for myalgic encephalomyelitis. The resolution was adopted by a vote of 165-0.
HR 361, by Rep. Don Parsons (R-Marietta), was adopted by a vote of 118-44. It encourages the U.S. Congress to amend the U.S. Constitution by adding a 'Regulation Freedom Amendment" which provides that when one quarter of the membership in either the House or Senate sends a letter of opposition to the President of the United States, it shall require a majority vote of the House and Senate in order to be enacted.
HR 281, by Rep. Spencer Frye (D-Athens), recognizes the proliferation and use of water trails in Georgia. It was adopted by a vote of 168-0.
SB 69, by Sen. John Wilkinson (R-Toccoa), is being carried in the House by Rep. Chuck Williams (R-Watkinsville). It eliminates a number of registration requirements relating to the packaging and labeling of organic products. It passed by a vote of 167-2.
SB 78, by Sen. Lee Anderson (R-Grovetown), is being carried by Rep. Dominic LaRiccia (R-Douglas) in the House. The bill allows the Commissioner of Agriculture to issue waivers to a rule when the person subject to such rule demonstrates that they can achieve the purpose of the underlying statute by other means. A waiver can also be issued if application of the rule would create a substantial hardship on the person requesting the waiver. It passed by a vote of 166-3.
The Senate had only a few things on their rules calendar this morning. Chairman Renee Unterman (R-Buford) offered a resolution recognizing Children's Healthcare of Atlanta for their 'Canines for Kids' program. Senators were able to visit with a number of therapy dogs that were brought by CHOA to be recognized. Chairman Lindsey Tippins (R-Marietta) offered a resolution that establishes the week of October 2-6 as Georgia Pre-K Week. The Senate moved into the Rules calendar, considering three pieces of legislation that crossed over from the House. Majority Leader Bill Cowsert (R-Athens) made a motion to engross HB 283, which was approved.
The first bill to be considered was HB 146, by Rep. Micah Gravley (R-Douglasville), and carried in the Senate by Sen. John Albers (R-Alpharetta). This bill requires fire departments to insure firefighters so they are covered for cancer that resulted from their work in the field. It also requires further disability coverage to be provided. An amendment, by Sen. John Albers (R-Roswell), was proposed and adopted that inserts the word "and" between "tissue" and "that" on line 39. After the amendment was adopted, HB 146 passed 52-0. With this change added, it will require that the House either accept or reject this amendment.
HB 283, by Rep. David Knight (R-Griffin) was carried by Sen. Michael Williams (R-Cumming) in the Senate. This is the annual update to the Georgia Income Tax Code in Title 48. It passed by a vote of 50-0.
SR 195, by Sen. Chuck Hufstetler (R-Rome) requests that the U.S. Congress propose a constitutional amendment setting term limits for all members of congress. There was some disagreement over the benefits of term limits before the resolution was adopted by a vote of 31-19.
House Judiciary Committee
The House Judiciary Committee, chaired by Rep. Wendell Willard (R-Sandy Springs), considered four bills today:
- SB 46, authored by Sen. 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 Committee recommended the bill do pass and be sent to the Rules 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 Committee recommended the bill do pass and be sent to the Rules Committee.
- SB 87, also authored by Sen. Stone, 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 Committee recommended that the bill do pass and be sent to the Rules 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 Committee recommended that the bill do pass and be sent to the Rules Committee.
House Insurance Committee – Life and Health Subcommittee
Chairwoman Darlene Taylor (R-Thomasville) held a meeting this afternoon with three bills on her Subcommittee's agenda:
- SB 200, by Sen. Chuck Hufstetler (R- Rome), permits the synchronization of a patient's prescriptions by the pharmacist so that the scrip refills fall on the same day and schedule. This minimizes patient visits to the pharmacy when the patient is taking multiple medications. The Senate version was limited to "chronic" meds, and the subcommittee deleted "chronic" to permit more flexibility for synchronizing scrip refills. Rep. Lee Hawkins (R-Gainesville) also proposed some technical amendments that clarified that the provision applies to the pharmacy benefit or Pharmacy Benefit Management contract rather than referring to health benefit plans that include other services.
- SB 50, by Sen. Hunter Hill (R-Atlanta). SB 50 provides that private physician concierge agreements between physicians and their patients do not constitute insurance. In these arrangements, a patient pays a lump sum fee to a primary care physician for access during the year, in addition to fee for service payments for each visit. The arrangements sometimes include physicals as well.
- SB 164, by Sen. Fran Millar (R-Atlanta), provides that a health benefit plan may not charge a copayment for visits to chiropractors, occupational therapists or speech therapists that is different from the copayment for a primary care physician. The Committee took testimony from all three of these professional groups and from individual providers. Sen. Millar argue that the differential copays served no purpose other than increasing out of pocket costs to consumers and discouraged access to the providers for no reason, since direct access to chiropractors and physical therapists at least already exists. The Georgia Association of Health Plans opposed the bill, arguing that it risked raising copays for primary care and that the differential copays served premium lowering purposes. There was vigorous questioning from subcommittee members, pro and con. Chair Taylor announced the bill was for hearing only and would not be voted on today and could come back up in subcommittee next week.
Senate Insurance and Labor Committee
Chairman Burt Jones (R-Jackson) and his Committee met this afternoon and considered several proposals on its agenda:
- HB 74, by Rep. Darlene Taylor (R-Thomasville), is one of the pieces of legislation from the Department of Insurance and amends the current requirements for risk-based trend test for adequate capitalization for life insurance at O.C.G.A. § 33-56-3 in order to keep Georgia in compliance with the NAIC standards. The minimum capitalization was raised to $3.0mm. The legislation received a do pass recommendation and now moves to the Senate Rules Committee.
- HB 174, by Rep. Eddie Lumsden (R-Armuchee), amends O.C.G.A. § 33-24-43 and expands an insurer's method of payment of claims. Currently, the law states that insurers are to pay with cash to their insured – this measure adds that insurers may use general use gift cards, cashier's check, wire transfer, and electronic fund transfers. This bill also passed and now moves to the Senate Rules Committee.
- HB 276, by Rep. David Knight (R-Griffin), creates the Pharmacy Patient Fair Practices Act. This measure passed swiftly and now moves to the Senate Rules Committee. It amends O.C.G.A. § 33-64-10 and prohibits a pharmacy benefits manager from requiring an insured to use a mail order pharmacy. There are some exceptions which include: a care management organization; the Department of Community Health (and its Medicaid program); State Health Benefit Plan; and a licensed group model health maintenance organization with an exclusive medical group contract and which owns its own pharmacies.
- HB 262, also by Rep. Eddie Lumsden (R-Armuchee), addresses legislation passed in 2016 regarding printed and on-line provider medical directories at O.C.G.A. § 33-20C-5, exempting standalone dental plans from the printed directories required. The standalone dental plans must have the same directories as medical ones.
- HB 243, by Rep. Bill Werkheiser (R-Glennville), also was addressed. It amends current law regarding Title 34 that preempts local governments from requiring additional pay to employees based on predictive scheduling changes. There was support from NFIB, restaurants and retail groups for this measure. It also received a do pass recommendation and now moves to the Senate Rules Committee.
Senate Judiciary Committee
The Committee heard five bills today, each originating in the House. Chairman Jesse Stone (R-Waynesboro) recognized Rep. Wendell Willard (R-Sandy Springs) to present HB 75. It seeks to ensure that any record of an ongoing investigation by law enforcement relating to a child in protective custody which has made it into such child's DFCS file will still be protected. Chairman Willard indicated that this bill only addresses instances during a pending investigation. The bill received a do pass recommendation from the committee. Chairman Stone will carry the bill in the Senate.
HB 213, by Rep. Rich Golick (R-Smyrna), was heard. It adds fentanyl to the current drug trafficking statute. Rep. Golick made the case that this will play a role in combating the opiate crisis throughout the State. Fentanyl is being cut with heroin that is sold on the street; however, it is hundreds of times more potent than heroin, posing significant risks to both users and the officers who come into physical contact with the substance. Sen. Kirk asked why, on line 57, there are so many other drugs that would be added to the trafficking statute. Rep. Golick said those are analogs, derivatives and/or hybrids of fentanyl. He also said the list was defined by the State Narcotics Agency. HB 213 received a do pass by the Committee.
HB 14 was presented by Rep. Jeff Jones (R-Brunswick), which requires that all fees collected by sheriffs must be remitted to the County Sheriff's office within 30 days. It received a do pass and it was indicated that Sen. William Ligon, Jr. (R-Brunswick) will carry it in the Senate.
HB 86, by Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver (D-Decatur), seeks to require the Department of Family and Children Services to investigate allegations by victims of sex trafficking and to keep such data in a separate, secure file. It received a do pass. Sen. Unterman will be carrying this bill in the Senate.
HB 231, by Rep. Bruce Broadrick (R-Dalton), was called next; however, Rep. Broadrick was not in attendance to present the bill. Instead, Rick Allen, the Director of the Georgia Drug and Narcotics Agency presented the bill to the Committee. This is the annual update to the State's dangerous drug list and it adds fentanyl and various hybrids. Sen. Ligon asked why this bill is so similar to HB 213, which was presented earlier in the meeting. Mr. Allen said that HB 213 adds fentanyl to the drug trafficking list, whereas this bill focuses specifically on schedule changes. Chairman Stone thanked Mr. Allen for presenting the bill; however, there was no vote because Committee rules state that the bill's author must present it for a vote. HB 231 will come back up at the next meeting.
HB 88, by Rep. Barry Fleming (R-Harlem), was the final bill of the day. It makes clear that candidates for superior court judge must be qualified and in good standing with the State Bar. The bill seeks to address a situation in which a candidate for superior court judge was up for disbarment. It received a do pass and will be carried by Chairman Stone in the Senate.
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.