Gold Dome Report - January 12, 2017
Today marked the 4th day of the 2017 legislative session. A number of House Appropriations Committee's Subcommittees held hearings today where they heard budget recommendations from State agencies.
Both the House and the Senate will stand in adjournment next week until Monday January 23, however budget hearings will still be held throughout the week.
Governor Deal announced his floor leaders today, which include the following:
House Floor Leaders
Rep. Chuck Efstration (R-Dacula)
Rep. Trey Rhodes (R-Greensboro)
Rep. Terry Rogers (R-Clarkesville)
Senate Floor Leaders
Sen. P. K. Martin IV (R-Lawrenceville)
Sen. Larry Walker III (R-Kathleen)
Sen. Butch Miller (R-Gainesville)
It was also Lt. Governor Casey Cagle's birthday – so folks extended well wishes to him! Happy Birthday Lt. Governor!
House Appropriations Committee – Subcommittee on Education
Chairman Robert Dickey called the meeting to order. During this meeting, the committee focused on the AY17 Budget and heard from various state agencies.
On behalf of the Employees Retirement System of Georgia (ERS), Jim Potvin spoke to the Subcommittee. He indicated that they are not asking for increases in ERS funding percentages. Buster Evans spoke on behalf of the Teachers Retirement System of Georgia (TRS). He said that there are no changes in TRS' budget request for the AFY 17 Budget. Additionally, the FY18 budget request is lower than it was in FY17. Christina Strode represented the Professional Standards Commission, which certifies educators. She indicated one change in the merit system adjustment.
Martha Ann Todd spoke on behalf of the Governor's Office of Student Achievement (GOSA). GOSA is attached to the Office of Planning and Budget. She first provided an overview of their mission to the Subcommittee. She indicated changes to the AFY 17 Budget. GOSA's responsibilities include doing research, providing evaluations, auditing and maintaining data. They also run the Governor's honors Program, a number of grant programs for schools, and provide professional learning services for Georgia Educators. The longitudinal data system is a research-based system. She said that the Governor's priorities are STEM and STEAM improvements, language and learning development, and teacher and leader development for high needs schools. GOSA also runs professional learning programs, with one focused on literacy. Literacy coaches work in GOSA and in the field, providing training and coping for teachers of these students. They have a contract with RESA to provide consistent professional learning statewide. They also have grants focused on STEM development. She lastly mentioned they are looking at ways to expand broadband capacity throughout the State so that rural areas can be served. It has been difficult to leverage state funds. Chairman Dickey asked about the cost and time required on the student rates report. She said that it is not expensive, only around $75,000.
Amy Jacobs spoke on behalf of the Department of Early Care and Learning (DECAL). She indicated one statewide change for the merit system assessments. DECAL is most known for administering pre-k program, serving around 80,000 4 year olds through a public private partnership. DECAL is in the middle of a longitudinal study to look at progress after the 3rd grade. She said pre-k students currently make gains above the average expected level of development for their age. They also license childcare centers annually and administer the USDA nutrition program and the CAPS program (childcare subsidy program for parents attending school).
Ted Beck spoke on behalf of the Department of Education. They have several changes in their AFY 17 budget recommendations. At 24.11 there is a recommendation for funds for study of our current financial and information technology systems. DOE's software suite is aging and they have submitted a bond request for $5 million to replace some of this software. They believe this amount would allow them to do a comprehensive review of their applications. They are asking the legislature to consider residential treatment facilities, which are either located in a school or they have a program that provides an educational component. Wellspring Living, specifically, made an effort to convert from such a program to a school, but they utilized the wrong process and didn't realize funds needed to be appropriated. They anticipated being classified as a school, but were not. So these funds would allow them to do so since they had already hired staff. Wellspring's Residential Treatment Facility focuses on sex trafficking victims.
More changes are recommended in 24.17, for QBE. The Midterm adjustment (24.17.1) generated by FTE growth indicates 10,500 new FTEs. This low number can be attributed to low numbers of births in Georgia. This should start trending up soon. At 24.17.2, the State Charter School Supplement for state authorized charter schools saw 4 new schools coming online and these funds would make them whole. At 24.16.3, charter systems were made eligible for an additional bonus grant. They have processed all the applications for such grant; the largest was Atlanta Public Schools. 24.17.4 indicates the Special Needs Scholarship program (SB 10) which has seen an enrollment growth in the program. Rules around the program were amended to allow two new entry and exit points in the program. Introducing a spring term has seen a surge in enrollment in the special needs scholarship program. 24.17.5 shows two incremental adjustments that relate to training and experience data. Chairman Howard Maxwell asked about the requested funding for updates to the Departments data systems. Mr. Beck indicated that there is a lack of support for their current data and networking systems, which is why an update is crucial. Chairman Dickey asked Mr. Beck could provide a list of DOE's current outside contracts (such as the contracts with testing providers and others) to the committee. He agreed. Chairman Dickey adjourned the meeting.
House Appropriations Committee – Human Resources Subcommittee
Chairwoman Katie Dempsey (R-Rome) and her Subcommittee delved into the FY 2017 Amended Budget this afternoon.
The following presentations were made:
Tom Rawlings, the newly named Child Advocate, asked for $613 for a merit system assessment to align the budget to expenditures. Rawlings previously served as the State's Child Advocate from 2007-2010.
Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency discussed their merit system alignments which roughly total about $3,650. Sean Casey, the newly named Executive Director of this Agency, provided the update. The Subcommittee also heard more about the Warm Springs hospital and its management by the Board of Regents and particularly Augusta University. They also learned about renovations and needs of the 60 bed facility (which now has 36 patients). Most of the facility's patients come from the Muscogee, Troup, and Harris County areas. There were some questions on the ventilator management and the lengths of stays for those patients. Another question was raised about consideration of using the facility for military personnel – however, that idea has not been developed.
The Georgia Department of Veterans Service also made its support cases for changes in its Budget for FY 2017 Amended. Again, there were merit system assessments to be aligned to the budget. They also have an increase of $67,650 to replace information technology hardware for its Veterans Benefits program and a request of $25,000 for one-time funds to purchase a motor vehicle for that same program. It was noted that in Governor Deal's State of the State speech, he has made services for veterans a priority. The Subcommittee asked several questions about staffing within this Department and the turnover issues – the State positions do not pay as much as the federal Veterans Administration positions. Thus, many staff leave after a year to jobs which pay $58,000 annually.
Commissioner Robyn Crittenden from the Department of Human Services highlighted changes in her Department's budget. In addition to several merit system adjustments, Commissioner Crittenden noted the $13.4 million under the Administrative Services program for the integrated eligibility system information technology project. In that same program, there is a transfer of $98,205 to the Elder Abuse Investigations and Prevention program for the Forensic Special Initiatives Unit and another transfer of $185,842 of one-time matching funds to the Elderly Community Living Services program for the Alzheimer's Disease Supportive Services Program grant. Commissioner Crittenden noted that one initiative underway is addressing hunger. Senior citizens are going hungry as many have food insecurity due to lack of access to food. There are 8,700 individuals on the waiting list for home-delivered meals – many of those have been waiting for a year for assistance.
Division of Family and Children's Services' Director Bobby Cagle spoke about his Division's needs. He noted that for the last two and one-half years, they have been focused on workforce needs – now, he is turning his attention to retention of staff in addition to implementing a new practice model and solution-based casework (which has a long training process with certification upon completion). Caseloads for child welfare caseworkers are around 19 (when all positions are filled). At present, Director Cagle noted that the Division is experiencing between 32-37 percent annualized turnover of staff. Eligibility caseworkers' caseloads are also high – noting that they should be more around 450 but they are running around 800 cases per caseworker (these are the individuals who help with enrollment in Medicaid, TANF, etc.). Director Cagle stated that the Governor's budget included $28.6 million for the Out-of-Home Care Program for funding growth in out-of-home care utilization – these funds will be used to retain care for those who are now in care.
Rep. Tommy Benton (R-Jefferson) asked what the cost would be to the State if the General Assembly were able to get all those individuals off the waiting list for Meals on Wheels. Commissioner Crittenden indicated that she would have to get back to him with that answer. He also raised questions about what Georgia could do for children who are being cared for by their aunts, uncles or grandparents. Director Cagle responded that those individuals receive 80 percent of the foster care per diem.
Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver (D-Decatur) inquired about the Family Rescue effort and encouraged that it be supported more. She also asked about licensure issues which had been brought to the General Assembly previously. Director Cagle indicated that the licensure matter had been a joint effort with the Departments of Human Services and Juvenile Justice. A memorandum of agreement has been signed on this issue and Commissioner Crittenden indicated that matters were going well with the licensure matters.
Rep. Benton also raised questions about the 19 percent pay raise for employees within the Division of Family and Children's Services. Director Cagle stated that not all employees would receive this raise but that would be the average – in part, so that no supervisor would be paid less. He stated that an entry level position would move from $28,000 annually to $36,000 annually for an individual with a bachelor's degree in social work.
Public comment was permitted at this hearing. Four individuals from Together Georgia discussed the requested rate increases for private providers. Ron Scroggy, also a former Division of Family and Children's Services Director, stated that the organization supported the Governor's proposed 19 percent pay increase for workers. He also asked that the Subcommittee consider the rate increase for providers, noting that providers are paid 18 percent less than costs. He asked for a rate increase to be rolled in over three years. 16,000 children are projected to be served in the Out-of-Home Care program in FY 2018. He also asked that the 57 percent adjustment for the State's foster care rates also apply to private foster care homes (but did note that many were on waivers). Rep. Benton asked why the private providers' request had not been included in the Governor's proposal and further suggested (or questioned) why the Subcommittee would not move some of the Division of Family and Children's Services funds to help with this rate for providers. John Blend, a former Wall Street financier and creator of Goshen Valley Boys Ranch, thanked the Subcommittee for the 1.5 percent rate increase for providers received in the FY 2017 Budget. He explained that the increase equated to $3.00 per day per child at Goshen Valley and reduced his operating losses by $53,000. However, he encouraged the Subcommittee to make a "bridge investment" so as to show providers in the amended budget that that they are needed and they could "feel the embrace." Mr. Blend noted that with a strong Division of Family and Children's Services there would be strong providers – there are currently 5,000 children placed with private providers. Karl Lehman, CEO of Childkind and also a member of the Child Protective Services Advisory Committee and current president of the board of Together Georgia, also spoke about possibly increasing provider rates. He noted that at his agency 92 percent of the funds went towards the children served. He asked for parity for the per diem rates for foster care parents. Zack Nikonavich-Kahn, with Families First, also testified in support of the foster care rates and asked for parity. Families First has 20 families with 45 children.
House Appropriations Committee – Subcommittee on Public Safety
Chairman Andy Welch (R-McDonough), held a lengthy hearing on the FY 2017 Amended Budget, working through various agencies and Departments' needs as outlined in the Governor's submissions. Under the Public Defenders Council, Chairman Welch and Rep. Wendell Willard (R-Sandy Springs) asked several questions about "conflict spending" and how the Governor's Emergency Fund moneys were used to address those needs. There are presently 200 attorneys under contracts for conflict cases. Rep. Willard asked for further explanation on how "conflict" cases are handled and what they state does to address these conflicts of interest in cases. Chairman Welch asked that more monitoring be done so that the State understood more about the value for the fees paid out.
Many of the agencies and Departments discussed the 20 percent pay raises for their law enforcement officers.
One area which received a good bit of discussion in the Department of Public Safety's presentation was the request for "FLIR" or forward looking infrared radar for the Department's helicopters. This technology is used to help locate individuals from the air. There was also a good bit of discussion about the Department's request of $11.8 million for new vehicles (cars are turned over once they reach approximately 130,000 miles). The Subcommittee also discussed the Department's 70-year old radio system which is now out of date. They are interested in the costs to have a single statewide radio system so that all law enforcement, fire and emergency services might have access. It could be accomplished with a capital outlay where one State agency managed it; or it could be done like South Carolina did with its Palmetto 800 System which allows subscribers to pay for access to the system.
HB 51, by Rep. Earl Ehrhart (R-Powder Springs), adds a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. § 20-3-10 to provide for the manner of reporting and investigation of crimes by officials and employees of postsecondary institutions in Georgia. If such official or employee of those institutions receives information which would lead that individual to believe that a crime is a felony and has been committed by or against a student of such postsecondary institution or it was committed on property owned, leased, or operated by the postsecondary institution, then that official or employee is to promptly report the crime to appropriate law enforcement of the jurisdiction or the district attorney for the judicial circuit where that postsecondary institution is located. Additionally, the official or employee is to provide all evidence of their knowledge of such crime. That law enforcement agency or district attorney will then determine whether to investigate and prosecute the alleged offense. This postsecondary institution will be prohibited from taking any final disciplinary action against the student who is alleged to have committed a crime unless that student is found guilty of, enters a plea of nolo contendere, or is sentenced under Article 3 of Chapter 8 of Title 42 regarding first offender probation for such crime – the postsecondary institution may suspend the student while felony charges are pending if the institution finds after a due process hearing that allowing the student to continue poses an immediate threat to the life, health, or safety of the student body.
HB 52, by Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver (D-Decatur), addresses Georgia's laws on TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families). Specifically, it allows TANF assistance for children with legal custodians. It defines in O.C.G.A. § 49-4-181(6), relating to definitions, that family means "one or more children living with a responsible parent, both parents, or other caretaker relative, legal custodian, or legal guardian." Changes are also made to effect this change in O.C.G.A. § 49-4-182(a); O.C.G.A. § 149-4-183(b)(10)(C); and O.C.G.A. § 49-4-184. [In O.C.G.A. § 19-9-22(2), it defines "legal custodian" as a person, including, but not limited to, a parent, who has been awarded permanent custody of a child by a court order. A person who has not been awarded custody of a child by court order shall not be considered as the legal custodian while exercising visitation rights. Where custody of a child is shared by two or more persons or where the time of visitation exceeds the time of custody, that person who has the majority of time of custody or visitation shall be the legal custodian."]
HB 59, by Rep. Ron Stephens (R-Savannah), amends O.C.G.A. § 48-7-29.8 relating to tax credits for the rehabilitation of historic structures by repealing the subsection that creates a ceiling on the amount of tax credits an individual can claim for the construction of an individual certified structure. Further, this bill requires the taxpayer that is filing the tax credit claim to be a named party on the purchasing agreement for the property. Finally, the bill repeals the restriction on the resale of tax credits.
HB 60, by Rep. Ron Stephens (R-Savannah), amends Title 3 of the Code relating to alcoholic beverages to allow distilleries to apply for retail package liquor store licenses to sell distilled spirits that are manufactured on its premises directly to consumers. The distillery cannot sell more than 10% of its inventory or 1,000 53-gallon barrels, whichever is greater. Additionally, the sample size of distilled spirits has increased from one-half to three-quarters of an ounce, and the number of samples allowed has increased from three to six. Finally, this bill allows a distillery to apply for a retail consumption dealer license that would allow it to house a food service establishment on its premises.
HB 61, by Rep. Jay Powell (R-Camilla), amends O.C.G.A. § 48-8-30 to require delivery retailers (defined as a retailer that has a gross revenue exceeding $250,000 for one calendar year or conducts more than 200 retail sales) to collect and remit the tax imposed by this Code section. The retailer must notify consumers that the tax collected on their purchases may be remitted to the State, and must send a statement to the Department of Revenue detailing the total amount of sales and use tax collected for each year. Failure to submit such documentation will result in a fine.
HB 62, by Rep. Jay Powell (R-Camilla), allows the Department of Revenue to bring an action against any person the department believes meets the definition of "dealer" (a retailer that has a gross revenue exceeding $250,000 for one calendar year or conducts more than 200 retail sales) in order to establish that the tax collection obligation is valid and binding on such dealer. The bill also revises O.C.G.A. § 5-6-34 to allow all judgments and orders made pursuant to such action be directly appealable to the Supreme Court.
HB 63, by Rep. Shaw Blackmon (R-Bonaire), proposes enactment of the "Protection and Guarantee of Service for Health Insurance Consumers Act." It seeks to add a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. § 33-24-59.21 so as to provide compensation of health insurance agents. In (b), it states that "any carrier that issues a health benefit plan in this state through an agent shall compensate such agent a minimum of 5 percent of the premium collected on a group health benefit plan and a minimum of 4 percent of the premium collected on an individual health benefit plan for the first term and for each renewal term thereafter, so long as such agent reviews coverage and provides ongoing customer service for such plan; provided, however, that no such compensation shall be required for: 1) any individual health benefit plan sold during a special enrollment period; provided, however, that this paragraph shall not apply to renewals of any individual health benefit plan sold during a special enrollment period that renews during the open enrollment period; or 2) the initial term or any renewal term of any health benefit plan sold to any employer, whether or not self-employed, if at the time of such initial term or renewal term such employer employs more than 50 bona fide employees on at least half of its working days,. For purposes of this paragraph, affiliated companies or companies that are eligible to file a combined tax return for purposes of state taxation shall be considered single employers." It does also state that "nothing in this Code section is intended or shall be construed to require a carrier to pay a commission to an agent who is employed by such carrier." This legislation mirrors legislation posed by Rep. Blackmon during 2016, HB 838, which was tabled on the Senate Floor. See: http://www.legis.ga.gov/Legislation/en-US/display/20152016/HB/838 .
HB 64, also by Rep. Shaw Blackmon (R-Bonaire), seeks to create the "Protection and Guarantee of Service for Health Insurance Consumers Act" in O.C.G.A. § 33-24-59.21. In this version at (b), it states:
Any carrier that issues a health benefit plan in this state through an agent shall pay a commission to such agent and shall not structure such commission in a way that directly or indirectly discriminates in the amount of compensation paid to such agent for the sale of a group health benefit plan or an individual health benefit plan. Such commission shall be structured to compensate the agent for the first term and for each renewal term thereafter, so long as such agent reviews coverage and provides ongoing customer service for such plan; provided, however, that no such compensation shall be required for any individual health benefit plan sold during a special enrollment period; and provided, further, that this subsection shall not apply to renewals of any individual health benefit plan sold during a special enrollment period that renews during the open enrollment period. Nothing in this Code section is intended or shall be construed to require a carrier to pay a commission to an agent who is employed by such carrier.
HB 65, by Allen Peake (R-Macon), amends O.C.G.A. § 31-2A-18 relating to the Low THC Oil Patient Registry. The bill expands the types of conditions that qualify a patient for the registry. Newly added conditions are: Tourette's syndrome, autism, intractable pain (defined as severe, debilitating pain that has not responded to medication or surgical measures), post-traumatic stress disorder, Alzheimer's disease, human immunodeficiency virus, and acquired immune deficiency syndrome. The bill repeals the requirement for individuals to reside in Georgia for at least one year before becoming eligible for registration. The bill also repeals the requirement for physicians to issue quarterly reports to the Georgia Composite Medical Board on the side effects on patient health due to THC oil usage.
HB 66, by Rep. Jeff Jones (R-Brunswick), addresses money transmission transactions completed by financial institutions for individuals. It adds a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. § 7-1-699 where in part it defines "money transmission" as "engaging in the business of receiving money or monetary value for transmission or transmitting money or monetary value within the United States or to locations abroad by any and all means, including, but not limited to, an order, wire, facsimile, or electronic transfer; provided however, that such term shall not include: (A): closed-loop transactions; (B) a bank, credit union, or brokerage engaging in the business of transmitting money or monetary value from an account or on behalf of a depositor; or (C) transmission or transmitting money or monetary value that is to only be received or retrieved at a physical location within this state." At (b), it requires that each financial institution collect a fee on such money transmission transaction but no fee is to be collected on money transmission transactions completed for a corporation. This fee is outlined in (c): ten dollars on each transaction not in excess of $500.00 or two percent of the transaction when the transmission is more than $500.00. These fees will be paid in the State's treasury. The individual for whom a money transmission is made is to be provided a receipt by the financial institution with the transaction showing that the fee has been assessed – the receipt is to contain a notice that the individual may be entitled to an income tax credit or reimbursement for the amount. The individual must claim such on his or her income tax. Further, the legislation adds a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. § 48-7-64 permitting this tax credit.
HR 36, by Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon), amends Article III, Section IX, Paragraph VI of the Georgia Constitution relating to appropriations by the General Assembly. The amendment would permit the General Assembly to regulate the production and sale of medical cannabis. All or a portion of the net revenue derived from production fees will be dedicated to a state department, whereas tax revenue will be dedicated to drug treatment programs.
HR 37, by Rep. Michael Caldwell (R-Woodstock), amends Article III, Section II of the Georgia Constitution, relating to the composition of the General Assembly. The amendment would create term limits for members of the House of Representatives and Senate. A member that has served four consecutive terms cannot serve in the same legislative body again until one full term has passed. However, this amendment would not prevent that member from qualifying to serve as a member in the other legislative body, i.e., a senator who has served four consecutive terms can qualify to serve as a member in the House of Representatives.
SB 17, by Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford), would amend O.C.G.A. § 3-3-7 to provide that counties and municipalities may authorize the sale of alcoholic beverages, on the premises, on Sundays from 10:30 AM until 12:00 PM Midnight. It further would amend O.C.G.A. § 3-6-21.2 to allow farm wineries to sell its wine in a tasting room on Sundays between 10:30 AM and 12:00 PM Midnight or in closed packages for consumption off-premises on Sundays between 12:30 PM and 12:00 Midnight.
SB 18, by Sen. Tyler Harper (R-Ocilla) would amend O.C.G.A. § 35-5-7 by adding a new subsection providing that any member of the security force within the Georgia Public Safety Training Center shall be entitled to retain his or her weapon and badge upon leaving employment as a result of a disability arising in the line of duty, provided that such member left the service under honorable conditions.
SR 18, by Sen. Butch Miller (R-Gainesville) recognizes January 12, 2017 as Addiction Recovery Awareness Day.
SR 20, by Sen. Michael Williams (R-Cumming) recognizes February 15 of each year as "Plastic Pollution Awareness Day" in Georgia.
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.