Gold Dome Report - January 26, 2016
Greetings from the Gold Dome! The House Appropriations Committees' Subcommittees voted out their recommendations this morning for the FY 2016 Amended Budget. There were very few changes made to the Governor's proposal. The full Committee will review their recommendations on January 27, 2016 and will likely move the proposals forward for the full House to consider later this week.
Today was the annual Tourism, Hospitality and Arts Day at the Capitol. Governor Nathan Deal and Department of Economic Development Commissioner Chris Carr were on hand to help celebrate Georgia's tourism, hospitality and arts industries, highlighting that these businesses were a $57.1 billion impact on Georgia's economy. Georgians, working in the tourism industry, comprise more than ten percent of the State's total workforce. Also at the morning event, Governor Deal unveiled the State's 2016 travel guide which helps Georgia celebrate the "Year of Georgia Music." Georgia has been home to a number of famous musicians and musical groups over the years.
In other news, Centene Corp., the parent entity of one of the State's Medicaid CMOs, Peach State Health Plan, announced that it has been searching for six hard drives containing sensitive personal information for 950,000 individuals. It is not know if any of those 950,000 may be Georgians as Centene operates in 23 states.
On February 3, 2016, the Caucus is to have a special election for the purpose of electing members of the State Transportation Board from the 4th and 11th Congressional Districts. This election is held pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 32-2-20.
HB 829, by Rep. Dexter Sharper (D-Valdosta), amends O.C.G.A. § 20-2-702(a) relating to school attendance to require that a teacher take attendance at the start of each class in a school which changes classes and report to the principal who is not present and that the principal shall investigate whether the student has previously been in attendance that date and then seek to find each student.
HB 831, by Rep. Calvin Smyre (D-Columbus), amends O.C.G.A. §38-3-280(d) relating to re employment by employers of members of the Georgia National Guard to provides that the requirement to re employ members of the Guard called to duty upon discharge shall also apply to members of other reserve groups of the United States military.
HB 832, by Rep. Scot Turner (R-Holly Springs), relating to the stay of civil forfeiture proceedings during the pendency of criminal proceedings makes that stay mandatory rather than at the discretion of the judge and prohibits civil forfeiture proceedings if there is an acquittal or dismissal of the criminal proceedings.
HB 833, by Rep. Billy Mitchell (D-Stone Mountain), relating to the permissive tax amnesty program under O.C.G.A. § 48-16-14.1 and the non-assessment of tax penalties for taxpayers who pay past due tax amounts proposes to create a new tax amnesty period for taxes owed for periods from December 31, 1992 until December 31, 2015 that may be paid without penalty during 2016.
HB 834, by Rep. Lee Hawkins (R-Gainesville), creates a new income tax credit program in O.C.G.A. § 48-7-29.20. The credit will be permitted for donations to 501(c)(3) “charitable health care organizations” that operate ten or more clinics for indigent persons. The credits are capped at a total of $2.0mm and may not exceed $1,000 for an individual, $2,500 for a married couple, or 75% of the contribution by a corporation up to the limits of its tax liability. It is a three-year program commencing January 1, 2013 and the credits may be spread over tax years until December 31, 2022.
HB 835, by Rep. Carl Rogers (R-Gainesville), permits an individual income tax payer to contribute all or part of any tax refund he or she is due to a Georgia Higher Education Savings Plan the taxpayer has established. This permission would be added to the income tax form for check off for tax years beginning on or after January 1, 2015.
HB 836, by Rep. Terry Rogers (R-Clarkesville), amends O.C.G.A. 48-8-3 relating to sales and use tax exemptions to create an exemption for sales of tangible personal property used in the construction, renovation or rehabilitation of affordable housing by a 501(c)(3) entity.
HB 837, by Rep. Ed Setzler (R-Acworth), establishes in O.C.G.A. 50-15A-1 The Freedom of Religion Restoration Act to permit any person aggrieved by a violation of the state or federal free exercise of religion provisions of the State and federal constitutions to bring an action for injunction or declaratory judgment and to waive the defense of sovereign immunity as to such action. Attorneys’ fees are permitted to the prevailing party other than the government. Actions relating to penal institutions are not permitted.
HB 838, by Rep. Shaw Blackmon (R-Bonaire), seeks to add a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. § 33-24-59.20 which requires that any insurance carrier which issues a health benefit plan through an insurance agent in Georgia to fairly compensate that agent for his or her ongoing services. "Each carrier that issues, enrolls, or delivers health benefit plans through an agent in this State who reviews coverage and provides ongoing customer service shall compensate such agent a minimum of 5 percent of collected premiums. This compensation shall be a minimum of 5 percent of the carrier's collection of premiums for the life of each policy which shall include the first year and each renewal contract year thereafter." The provisions will not apply to health benefit plans sold through agents to "large employers" ("any person, firm, corporation, partnership association, political subdivision, or sole proprietor that is actively engaged in a business that, at the time of a health benefit plan application, employed more than 50 eligible employees on at least 50 percent of its working days during the preceding calendar quarter and for which exists a bona fide employer-employee relationship"). Large employer qualifiers are included as well – companies which are affiliated companies or companies eligible to file combined tax returns for State taxation are to be considered as one employer and the size of the employer is to be determined annually prior to the issuance of the health benefit plan.
HB 841, by Rep. Dexter Sharper (D-Valdosta) amends Chapter 11 of Title 16 concerning offenses against public order and safety. It makes these changes:
- Adds a new subsection (a.1) at O.C.G.A. § 16-11-129 regarding weapons carry licenses so that "upon receipt of an application for a weapons carry license or renewal license, the judge of the probate court shall provide to such applicant printed information which shall direct such applicant to the website provided for under Code Section 16-11-175 for information on firearm safety."
- Amends O.C.G.A. § 16-11-171 by adding new definitions for terms "gun show" and "gun show vendor."
- Adds a new Code Section to Georgia's Brady Law at O.C.G.A. § 16-11-174 so that "all transfers or purchases of firearms from a gun show vendor or licensed dealer to a buyer shall include to the buyer printed information which shall direct such buyer to the website provided for under Code Section 16-11-175 for information on firearm safety."
- Adds a new O.C.G.A. § 16-11-175 to require that the Commissioner of the Department of Public Safety maintain a website on the safe and proper use and storage of firearms and a directory of persons or entities who render instruction on firearm safety and shooting.
HB 842, by Rep. Tom Taylor (R-Dunwoody), addresses sales of fireworks in Chapter 10 of Title 25 and Chapter 60 of Title 36 – his focus is looking at local government provisions applicable to counties and municipalities. It is to distinguish between "consumer fireworks retail sales facilities and consumer fireworks retail sales stands." A new definition for a "consumer fireworks retail sales facility" is included at O.C.G.A. § 25-10-1(a)(2) to now read:
Consumer fireworks retail sales facility shall have the same meaning as provided for by NFPA 1124; provided, however, that such term shall not include consumer fireworks retail sales stands, and provided, further, that such term in reference to a temporary building or structure shall include a tent, canopy, or membrane structure.
It outlines at O.C.G.A. § 25-10-2(b)(6)(C) that it is lawful to sell consumer fireworks from a temporary consumer fireworks retail sales facility under certain conditions (e.g. within 1,000 feet of a fire hydrant; in compliance with requirements for such facilities selling consumer fireworks as provided for in NFPA 1124, etc.). It also adds a new subsection to current law regarding the issuance of a license to distribute consumer fireworks in O.C.G.A. § 25-10-5.1(e) – a license fee for a distributor selling consumer fireworks from a temporary consumer fireworks retail sales facility is $500.00 per location payable to the governing authority of the county, municipality, or other political subdivision in whose boundaries that the facility is located. It also requires that licenses are valid only for certain dates: June 18 through July 6 of each year and December 20 through January 1 of the following year (and not longer than 90 days prior to each period). It requires that a fire department to determine if the applicant has met requirements for the issuance of a license.
HB 843, by Rep. Pat Gardner (D-Atlanta), amends Georgia's Brady Law Regulations. She also inserts definitions for "gun show" and "gun show vendor" at O.C.G.A. § 16-11-171. At O.C.G.A. § 16-11-172(a), her legislation addresses transfers or purchases of firearms subject to NICS, information concerning persons who have been involuntarily hospitalized to be forwarded to the FBI, penalties for breach of confidentiality and exceptions so that all transfers or purchases of firearms conducted by a licensed importer, licensed manufacturer, gun show vendor or licensed dealer shall be subject to the NICS. To the extent possible, the center shall provide to the NICS all necessary criminal history information and wanted person records in order to complete an NICS check. Additionally, the legislation adds O.C.G.A. § 16-11-174 so that "if any part of a firearm transaction takes place at a gun show, it shall be unlawful for any person who is not a dealer to offer for sale, exhibit, sell, transfer, or exchange a firearm to another person who is not so licensed."
HB 844, by Rep. Howard Maxwell (R-Dallas), addresses O.C.G.A. § 47-7-61(a) and Georgia's Firefighters' Pension Fund to update provisions in determining which insurance premiums are subject to taxation in the fund. It also clarifies the venue for any action brought in the superior court against the fund or the board is to be brought in the superior court for the board's county of domicile.
HB 845, by Rep. Ed Setzler (R-Acworth), proposes changes to Article 2 of Chapter 3 of Title 16 to provide for immunity from criminal liability for the possession of certain materials or images. It is to aid law enforcement as well as DFCS within the Department of Human Services when the health and safety of a child are adversely affected and threatened by the conduct of another. It outlines in O.C.G.A. § 16-3-22.1 that:
Any individual who in good faith has possession of materials or images that are in violation of Article 3 of Chapter 12 of this title shall be immune to the same extent as a law enforcement officer would be immune from criminal liability for such possession when such possession is for the purpose of reporting such violation: 1) to law enforcement officials or 2) as allowed and required by Code Section 19-7-5.
HB 846, by Rep. Sam Watson (R-Moultrie), revises current law regarding notification of crime victims of impending release of an offender from imprisonment. It requires notice at O.C.G.A. § 42-1-11(b) be provided to the crime victim when that individual is released into the custody of any other state or the federal government and released from a compacting state made pursuant to Article 4 of Chapter 9 in addition to those instances in current law (when released from imprisonment, including release on extended furlough; transferred to work release; released by mandatory release upon expiration of sentence; or has escaped from confinement or the offender has died). Further, the legislation amends O.C.G.A. § 42-5-9 so that at least 15 days prior to the projected release date of any inmate scheduled to be released pursuant to the authority of the department, including but not limited to, any release of an inmate into the custody of any other state or the federal government and any release of an inmate from a compacting state made pursuant to Article 4 of Chapter 9 of this title, the department is required to notify certain persons of the projected release date (district attorney and all law enforcement agencies in the State and presiding judge and victims of crimes against the person). Further, it requires that "a notification of release involving a release into the custody of any other state or the federal government shall specifically include the name of the state or federal government agency into whose custody the inmate will be released."
HB 847, by Rep. David Clark (R-Buford), seeks to address fraud in obtaining public assistance, food stamps, or Medicaid benefits. This legislation is drawn after he chaired a House Study Committee on these issues over the fall. It makes a number of proposed changes:
- Redesignates O.C.G.A. § 49-4-15 as O.C.G.A. § 16-9-63 so that individuals who knowingly or intentionally aids or abets a person in obtaining or attempting to obtain (i) any grant or payment of public assistance, food instruments, or medical assistance (Medicaid) to which he or she is not entitled; (ii) a larger amount of public assistance, food instrument allotment, or medical assistance (Medicaid) than that to which he or she is entitled; or (iii) payment of any forfeited grant of public assistance will be guilty of a misdemeanor.
- It also changes references to "food stamp coupons" and "food stamp allotments" to food stamp instruments and allotment of a food instrument. Food stamp instrument is defined as a "voucher, check, electronic benefits transfer card, coupon, or other document that is used to obtain public assistance."
HB 848, by Rep. David Clark (R-Buford), establishes the "Blue Star Family Scholarship" in this proposal for children of military service members. It is created in a new Article 35 in Chapter 2 of Title 20. This will be a new savings account which is "a consumer driven savings account established pursuant to this article composed of State funds accrued on behalf of an eligible student and which may be used for qualifying educational expenses, including future postsecondary education expenses." It outlines in O.C.G.A. § 20-2-2142 eligibility for the Blue Star savings account with a signed agreement. The Office of Student Achievement is to qualify private financial management firms to manage Blue Star savings accounts and establish reasonable fees based upon market rates.
HB 849, by Rep. Rich Golick (R-Smyrna), seeks to enact the Georgia Civil Rights in Public Accommodations Act" in a new Chapter 16 of Title 10. It establishes at O.C.G.A. § 10-16-3 that "all persons shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and accommodations of any place of public accommodation without discrimination or segregation on the ground of race, color, religion, or national origin. The administrator of the Commission on Equal Opportunity, created in Article 2 of Chapter 19 of Title 45, will have the authority and responsibility for administering this new Chapter. If an individual is aggrieved, it establishes the process by which a complaint may be brought.
HB 850, by Rep. Rahn Mayo (D-Decatur), addresses primaries and elections and provides for election day voter registration and voting at O.C.G.A. § 21-2-220(a), O.C.G.A. § 21-2-224.1 and O.C.G.A. § 21-2-419(c).
HB 851, by Rep. Alex Atwood (R-St. Simons Island), seeks to add a new Code Section at O.C.G.A § 36-15-13 to require an annual audit of the financial affairs, books and records of boards of trustees of county law libraries. These are to be done at the end of each fiscal year and the audit is to be made available to the governing authority of the county.
HB 852, by Rep. Debbie Buckner (D-Junction City), adds a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. § 49-4-153.1 which will be known as the "Bridging the Military Health Care Gap Act." The Department of Community Health is to administer the State plan in a manner which liberally construes eligibility requirements to provide that active duty service members may use their State of legal residence to register their family members – this would also include military families transitioning out of military service.
HB 853, by Rep. Lee Hawkins (R-Gainesville), addresses the "Coverdell-Murphy Act" found at O.C.G.A. § 31-11-110 et seq. to update the current system of levels of "certified stroke centers" in an effort to reflect advances in stroke treatment and therapy. The Department of Public Health is to establish additional levels in consultation with the Georgia Coverdell Acute Stroke Registry. It is estimated that 800,000 new and recurrent strokes occur each year in the United States.
HR 963, by Rep. Pat Gardner (D-Atlanta), proposes to amend Georgia's Constitution to provide for procedures and standards for legislative and congressional reapportionment at Article II, Section IV. It would create not less than 30 nor more than 56 senate districts and not less than 120 nor more than 180 house districts. The Governor would convene the General Assembly in a special reapportionment session in the second year following each federal decennial census which would not exceed 30 consecutive days and when no other business would be transacted.
HR 1136, by Rep. Chuck Efstration (R-Dacula), requests that the United States Congress call a convention under Article V of the United States Constitution to set a limit on the number of terms that a person may be elected as a member of the United States House of Representatives and to set a limit on the number of terms that a person may be elected as a member of the United States Senate.
HR 1140, by Rep. Sharon Cooper (R-Marietta), recognizes and commends Georgia State University's Legislative Health Policy Certificate Program and Advanced Health Policy Institute.
HR 1144, by Rep. Sharon Cooper (R-Marietta), recognizes February 2016 as "Self-Care Month" and the benefits which Georgia receive when its citizens practice appropriate self-care.
HR 1148, by Rep. Ed Rynders (R-Albany), commends the Georgia Rural Health Association and recognizes March 1, 2016 as Rural Health Day at the Capitol.
HR 1159, by Rep. LaDawn Jones (D-Atlanta), proposes to amend Georgia's Constitution at Article III, Section II at Paragraph V to provide that members of the House of Representatives and the State's Senate shall serve staggered, four-year terms of office. Further, it proposes to limit terms to serving three consecutive terms of office and provides that the terms of office in one house shall not apply to service in the other house. A member can also be eligible for service after at least one year out of office.
HR 1160, by Rep. Pat Gardner (D-Atlanta), is also a Constitutional amendment to Article II at Section IV and again it addresses reapportionment for the legislature, congressional seats and Public Service Commission so that it will be done by an independent, nonpartisan commission rather than the General Assembly. It also proposes to provide for the establishment of such Commission of 14 members – it outlines who may serve on this Commission as well as enumerates who cannot serve on this Commission (e.g. when an individual has served as an elected or appointed officer of a political party or body on a state or county executive committee or served as a registered, federal, state or local lobbyist, etc.)
HR 1168, by Rep. Betty Price, MD (R-Roswell), recognizes January 27, 2016 as Physician's Day at the Capitol, saluting Georgia physicians and their contributions to their communities.
SB 290, by Sen. Charlie Bethel (R-Dalton), amends O.C.G.A. § 33-23-4(h)(2)(B) relating to persons who do not need an insurance agent’s license and provides that an attorney collecting policies or advising his or clients on adjustments and a credit or character firm which reports to an insurer do not need to register as an insurance agent.
SB 291, by Sen. Judson Hill (R-Marietta), seeks to create the "Georgia Affordable Free Market Health Care Act." It adds a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. § 33-7-2.1 addressing concierge medicine and outlines what is considered a "physician agreement" which is not insurance or an insurance agreement "so long as the direct financial relationship with a patient does not exceed a fee of $6,000.00, adjusted annually by the rate of change in the Consumer Price Index as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the United States Department of Labor." Any physician offering, marketing, selling, or entering into such an agreement is not required to obtain a certificate of authority or license other than his or her current license to practice medicine in Georgia. It further outlines specifics about these agreements – such as they must be in writing, signed, can be terminated by either party upon written notice, specify the duration of the agreement such as 12 months, etc. It does permit a physician providing healthcare services to decline to accept a patient, if the physician is of the opinion that the patient's medical condition is such that the physician is unable to provide the appropriate level and type of care needed by the patient – the physician also has the ability to discontinue care for the patients under certain conditions (e.g. a patient fails to pay a fee; fails to adhere to a recommended treatment plan, etc.). There are other provisions in this legislation:
- Amends O.C.G.A. § 33-8-4(c), concerning insurance premium taxes, so that "Insurers in this State shall be exempt from otherwise applicable State premium taxes as provided for in subsection (a) of this Code Section on premiums paid by Georgia residents for health savings account eligible (current law is for high deductible health plans) as defined by Section 223 of the Internal Revenue Code sold or maintained under applicable provisions of Georgia law that do not otherwise have premium subsidies under the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act."
- Adds a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. § 33-24-9.1 to create additional duties for the Commissioner of the Department of Insurance so that he or she is to develop "flexible guidelines for coverage and approval of health savings account eligible comprehensive major medical plans." Further, the Commissioner is to authorize and encourage the promotion of health savings accounts. The Commissioner is also authorized to "conduct a national study of individual and group health savings account eligible comprehensive major medical plans, cost effective designs, and health promotion features available in other states and to determine if and how these products serve the uninsured and if they should be made available to the citizens of this State."
- It further addresses exemptions from certain unfair trade practices for certain wellness and health improvement programs and incentives at O.C.G.A. § 33-24-59.13 (in part it eliminates the insurer who issues life insurance from offering such incentives but adds condition management and disease management in the list of those types of plans which may offer incentives and plans offered through the exchange and purchased with subsidies are not permitted to offer any incentives).
- Amends O.C.G.A. § 33-30-25, concerning reasonable limits on number or classes of preferred providers, creating an "any willing provider" permission (permitting that all health providers providing healthcare services covered under any health benefit plan offered by a health insurers will have the right to become a preferred provider subject to certain conditions – satisfaction of any reasonable standards prescribed by the insurer; be appropriately licensed and in good standing; and accept the terms and conditions as imposed on preferred providers).
- Adds a new Article 3 in Chapter 30 of Title 33 to create the "Exclusive Provider Arrangements Act" – an "exclusive provider" is defined as a "health care provider or group of providers who have contracted to provide specified covered services." At O.C.G.A. § 33-30-43 it outlines what these arrangements are to do as well as what they cannot do (such as unfairly deny health benefits for medically necessary covered services; have an adverse effect on the availability or the quality of services and be a result of a negotiation with a primary care physician to become an exclusive provider unless that physician is furnished with a schedule showing common office-based fees payable for services under that arrangement). Insurers which issue health benefit plans can issue such plans to require covered persons to use the healthcare services of "exclusive providers" but those policies have to contain certain provisions (See O.C.G.A. § 30-30-44).
- Amends O.C.G.A. § 33-51-7 now includes that employers who accommodate the "collection, packaging, or submittal of funds from HRAs, sometimes referred to as list billing, for the purchase of individual policies do not constitute the establishment of a "group plan." Further, HRAs permitted in this Code Section are not available plans eligible for federal subsidies sold under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
- Adds a new Tax Code provision at O.C.G.A. § 48-7-27(a)(13.3) allowing 100 percent of premium paid by the taxpayer for HSA eligible comprehensive major medical plans to be deductible from the taxpayer's taxable income.
- Permits in O.C.G.A. § 48-7-29.13 a tax credit for qualified health insurance expenses for employers with 50 or fewer employees to obtain tax credits for three years for those employers offering health savings account eligible comprehensive major medical health plans.
SB 292, by Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta), proposes to delete O.C.G.A. § 34-4-3.1 that prohibits local governments from adopting wage or employee benefit mandates or itself and preempts local mandates. The existing Code Section also prohibited local governments from controlling or mandating wage and employment mandates for its contractors and vendors. These restrictions would no longer apply if the bill passed, and this would presumably permit minimum wage standards in local governments that are different than federal or State law.
SB 293, also by Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta), appears to be a companion bill for SB 292 and would raise the State minimum wage from $5.15 to $15.00 in O.C.G.A. § 34-4-3 and also add a cost of living inflation adjuster to the minimum wage. The bill also proposes that employers who use the tip credit for their employees may credit tips toward 50% of the minimum wage. The exemptions from the minimum wage law are also amended to delete employers of domestic employees, farm owners, share croppers and land renters, and employee whose compensation is wholly or partly from gratuities. The exemption for small businesses is also amended to raise the annual minimum sales level from $40,000 to $50,000. For employees of non profit child caring institutions or long term care facilities serving children or mentally disabled adults who reside on the premises of the institution, the employee may earn up to $15,000 in case rather than the current amount of $10,000.
SB 294, also by Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta), proposes to amend O.C.G.A. § 1-4-1(a) relating to public holidays to prohibit the declaration of any holidays to honor or recognize or celebrate the Confederacy or its history or military or political leaders.
SB 296, by Sen. Lester Jackson (D-Savannah), proposes to add O.C.G.A. § 45-20-33 to provide three days paid sick leave for State employees on the death of an immediate family member. Immediate family member is broadly defined as spouse, parent, grandparents and great grandparents, children, stepchildren, grandchildren and great grandchildren, guardians of the employee or his or her spouse.
SB 297, also by Sen. Lester Jackson (D-Savannah), proposes to amend O.C.G.A. § 48-5-7 relating to property tax valuation to provide that the assessed value of a property may not raise more than three times the percentage increase in Consumer Price Index.
SB 299, by Sen. Josh McKoon (R-Columbus), proposes to create the Georgia Health Care Transparency Initiative in a new Code Section of Georgia's insurance code at O.C.G.A. § 33-1-25. This legislation proposes to create the Georgia Health Care Transparency Initiative at O.C.G.A. § 33-1-25. It is to create a database that receives and stores data from a “submitting entity” (see definition at O.C.G.A. (a)(8) – includes SHBP, ERISA, workers’ comp, accident and sickness, TPA and PBM ) relating to medical, dental, and pharmaceutical and other insurance claims information; unique identifiers; geographic and demographic information for covered individuals; and provider profiles. It is to be governed by the Department of Insurance commissioner and advised by a Board (there are to be 11-members on this board). The Commissioner is given additional powers which include the ability to establish policies and procedures necessary for administration and oversight of the Georgia Health Care Transparency Initiative Board; identify and explore key healthcare issues, questions and problems that may be improved through more transparent information; and provide a biennial report to the General Assembly. Submitting entities are to submit health and dental claims data, unique identifiers, geographic and demographic information for covered individuals and provider files starting no later than Jan. 1, 2017.
SR 816, by Sen. Brandon Beach (R-Alpharetta), commends the Fulton County Charter School System on being named the 2015 Charter System of the Year.
SR 817, by Sen. Burt Jones (R-Jackson), commends Putnam County Charter School System on its receipt of the Charter System Innovation Award – the System received this award at the First Annual Charter System Foundation Award luncheon.
SR 819, by Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford), recognizes the Georgia Association of Black Women Attorneys (GABWA) on its 35th anniversary and January 28, 2016 as the organization's day at the Capitol.
SR 820, by Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford), recognizes the more than 70 pregnancy resource centers in the State who provide comprehensive care to women facing unplanned pregnancies. These entities offer free, confidential and compassionate services including pregnancy tests, peer counseling, childbirth and parenting classes and other services.
Senate Ethics Committee
SB 199 cleared the Senate Ethics Committee this afternoon. It addresses elections and was brought by Sen. Rick Jeffares (R-McDonough) to address an issue a voter had in Douglas County after he was instructed to remove his hat (which depicted he was a NRA instructor) before he could exercise his right to vote. This matter escalated to a lawsuit which was later settled. The legislation was brought to Sen. Jeffares' attention by the Southeastern Legal Foundation and was requested to address the protection of an individual's First Amendment rights. Attorney General Sam Olens has also issued an opinion on this issue. The legislation also clarifies "prohibited campaign material" and attempts to protect the voter as well as the poll worker and protects ballot access. It removes arbitrary discretion from the poll worker. This legislation now moves to the Senate Rules Committee. SB 275 an initiative on free speech, which was also on this agenda, was not heard today.
Senate Government Oversight Committee
Sen. Bill Heath (R-Bremen) lead a spirited discussion of his SR 388 that adopts a State Blaine amendment to permit grants of State funds to religious organizations. The Georgia Anti-Defamation League testified against the bill but supported an amendment that would require the religious organizations to seek federal 501(c)(3) tax status in order to receive such grants. Sen. Elena Parent (D-Atlanta) read an amendment to this effect from an earlier State law and indicated she wanted to propose such an amendment. She further indicated she wanted to assure that the religious organizations fulfilled the reporting and audit requirements of the nonprofit tax status. Sen. Valencia Seay (D-Riverdale) stated she also had an amendment. Sen. Heath indicated that he would not ask for a vote on the bill but would sit down with the Senators and explore any proposed amendments prior to the next meeting.
House Regulated Industries Committee
The House Regulated Industries Committee met on and passed out HB 593 by Rep. Lee Hawkins (R-Gainesville). It requires licensed electricians for low voltage installation contractors of all classes to have four hours of continuing education credits (CEUs) annually. The State Board for the Construction Industry, Division of Low Voltage will approve the CEU courses. Because other Divisions of the Board already require CEUs for other types of licensees, there was a long discussion of whether low voltage licensees, who also hold other licenses from the Board, would have these four CEUs added to the CEUs they already are required to take. The Committee added an amendment to provide exclusions from the new CEU requirements for low voltage licensees who were already taking courses.
House Motor Vehicles –Tag Subcommittee
One of the proposals in this Subcommittee which cleared addresses safety of line workers. The legislation, HB 767, was brought by Rep. Alan Powell (R-Hartwell). It adds utility workers to the "Spencer Pass Law" which requires drivers to move over a lane and slow down when passing a utility line worker. While telephone, electrical and cable workers get training on how to park in neighborhoods and on streets, they are faced with dangers of speeding drivers. This legislation is an attempt to make their jobs safer. The legislation is supported by the Georgia Chamber of Commerce and Georgia EMCs.
House Health and Human Services Committee
In keeping with somewhat usual fashion, this Committee held a very lengthy meeting this afternoon and addressed five bills. All the proposals passed out of the Committee as noted below with the exception of HB 684 (this is the legislation which came to the Committee from Rep. Chuck Martin (R-Alpharetta) and seeks to allow dental hygienists to perform duties without direct supervision of a dentist in certain practice settings) which was TABLED by Chairman Sharon Cooper (R-Marietta):
- HB 509, by Rep. Jesse Petrea (R-Savannah), seeks to establish a Palliative Care Advisory Council within the Department of Community Health and provide for information and education on palliative care to be provided to Georgians. This Advisory Council will meet twice annually. The American Cancer Society supported the proposal.
- HB 588, by Rep. Valerie Clark (R-Lawrenceville), seeks to create an electronic system to be used by all pharmacies in their sales of pseudoephedrine products (such as that found in Claritin D®). Currently, the major drug stores have the electronic process. This legislation will allow other independent pharmacies and those in supermarkets/grocery stores to have access to the electronic process of tracking the sales of these drugs to help law enforcement better control illegal use (and proliferation of Meth). NPLEX is the system used and it is used in states surrounding Georgia. This new system will be implemented for free by the manufacturers of these products. GBI will have access to the records stored as will law enforcement. Attorney General Sam Olens supports the legislation as do the Georgia Sheriffs' Association, Georgia Drugs and Narcotics Agency, grocers, independent pharmacies and Medical Association of Georgia. This legislation passed by Substitute.
- HB 780, by freshman Rep. Jodi Lott (R-Evans), received a do pass recommendation as presented after getting a little kidding from fellow Representatives. This legislation clarifies Georgia law concerning CLIA laboratories – diagnostic versus those which are non-diagnostic.
- HB 649, the legislation by Rep. Sharon Cooper (R-Marietta), addresses regulation of lactation consultants. It is an effort to address proper breast feeding techniques and educate new mothers about how to breast feed their babies. In 2012, Georgia had 130,000 births; it has only 364 lactation consultants and needs a total of 1,152 to serve 130,000 births. Six states have similar pending legislation to regulate lactation consultants. It would license International Board Certified Lactation Consultants through the Composite Medical Board.
Our 2015 Georgia Capitol team consists of Stan Jones, Chuck Clay, Helen Sloat, 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.