Gold Dome Report - February 1, 2016
Greetings from the Gold Dome! Legislators convened again this morning at the Capitol for Legislative Day 13. The Senate is now working on the FY 2016 Amended Budget while the House is picking up the 2017 Budget.
Go RED for Women is scheduled for Thursday; this event is sponsored by the American Heart Association and will officially be observed on February 5 but lawmakers will not be in Session and thus, it will be observed on Thursday under the Gold Dome.
Black History Month also kicked off today and lawmakers observed some of the accomplishments of notable Georgians.
Georgia Tech Day was observed today and representatives from the institution, along with 70 students were present and recognized in the Senate.
Former Rep. Georganna Sinkfield (D-Atlanta) was recognized this morning by Sen. Gloria Butler (D-Stone Mountain) and other members of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. The Sorority asked that the General Assembly fully fund Georgia's education system; restore voting rights for former felons; and implement Medicaid Expansion.
The Senate took up SB 279 this morning; this legislation is by Sen. Tyler Harper (R-Ocilla). This legislative proposal alters O.C.G.A. § 35-8-3 which is the Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council. Currently, this entity has 20 voting members and five advisory members. In Sen. Harper's proposal, it adds that the commissioners of the Department of Juvenile Justice and Natural Resources or their designees are to also serve on this body. The bill passed 49 to three and now moves to the House. The Senate adjourned at 11:05 until Tuesday, February 2, 2016.
SB 311, by Sen. Charlie Bethel (R-Dalton), seeks to enact the "Interstate Power Compact" in a new Article 8 of Chapter 10 of Title 12. The purpose of this compact is outlined which is "to protect Member States' sovereignty and the assurances granted under the Tenth Amendment. In accomplishing this, member states shall work in isolation, or with other Member States, to formulate plans for restoring the primary responsibility of States and local governments in the prevention of air pollution and the control of air pollution at its source, in accordance with 42 U.S.C. § 7401(a)(3) of the federal Clean Air Act. Member States agree that the Section 111(d) rule lacks a statutory and constitutional foundation.
SB 312, by Sen. Charlie Bethel (R-Dalton), revises Georgia's laws regarding HOPE scholarships and grants in O.C.G.A. § 20-3-519(12.2) to establish a minimum HOPE award amount. In current law, it allows that an eligible public postsecondary institution, the HOPE award amount is equal to the HOPE award rate multiplied by the number of credit hours, up to a maximum of 15, in which an eligible student is enrolled per quarter or semester. This revision would permit such, however, with the exception as is provided in O.C.G.A. § 20-3-519.10, that the amount of HOPE scholarship shall not be less than $2,000.00 per semester or less than $134.00 per credit hour. It further revises O.C.G.A. § 20-3-519.10 so that a "HOPE scholarship and a HOPE grant may be applied to any portion of a student's tuition. In no case shall a HOPE scholarship, Zell Miller Scholarship, Zell Miller Grant, or HOPE grant or any combination thereof awarded for a semester or quarter exceed a student's tuition for such semester or quarter." This impacts all schools in Georgia's Technical College System and all 14 University System institutions. It is proposed to add between $8.3 million and $10 million to the cost of HOPE scholarships in fiscal year 2017. In FY 2015, there were 21,534 students who received 38,475 HOPE scholarship awards.
SB 313, by Sen. Brandon Beach (R-Alpharetta), proposes changes to the "Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority Act of 1965" which was approved on March 10, 1965 (Ga.L. 1965, p. 2243). There are a number of revisions contained in this legislation. In part, it adds in Section 18 that property owned by the authority which is not part of the transportation system, transportation projects, or rapid transit system or projects of the Authority "shall be subject to the applicable zoning and planning powers of the local jurisdiction in which such property is located." In Section 25A, it addresses retail sales and use tax and those local governments which have authorized the levy of a one percent tax. It further allows that local jurisdictions shall be authorized to levy an "additional one-half (1/2 percent) retail sales and use tax under the provisions set forth in this Section." A local jurisdiction may elect not to levy the additional one-half percent by the adoption of a resolution or ordinance by its governing authority no later than June 30, 2016. It will require that no later than May 31 of the year a referendum is to be called that the Authority submit to each local jurisdiction a preliminary list of rapid transit projects within or serving the geographical area of such local jurisdiction which may be funded in whole or in part by the proceeds from the added one-half percent. By July 31, the Authority has to submit to each local jurisdiction, which is holding a referendum, a final list of rapid transit projects. Before the actual levy is to become valid, it is to be approved by a majority of qualified voters of the territory of the local government holding the referendum. A sample ballot question is included in this legislation.
SB 314, by Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford), addresses the practice of nursing and revises provisions to the advanced nursing practice:
- Amends O.C.G.A. § 43-26-3 and includes certified nurse practitioners and clinical nurse specialists in the list of current advanced nursing practice definition. It further eliminates the current definition for the term, "advanced practice registered nurse" and adds a new definition: "means a registered professional nurse licensed under this chapter who is recognized by the board as having met the requirements established by the board to engage in advanced nursing practice within one of the following roles: certified nurse practitioner, certified registered nurse anesthetist, certified nurse-midwife, or clinical nurse specialist and who functions in a population focus or a person who was recognized as an advanced practice registered nurse by the board on or before June 30, 2006. This paragraph shall not be construed to require a certified registered nurse anesthetist who graduated from an approved nurse anesthetist educational program prior to January 1, 1999 to hold a master's degree or other graduate degree."
- It adds a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. §43-26-7.1 outlining the requirements for new licensure as an advanced practice registered nurse (it includes submission of a written application and fee; completed accredited graduate or post-graduate level advanced practice registered nursing program in one of the four roles and at least one population focus; be currently certified by a national certifying body recognized by the board; have a satisfactory result from a fingerprint record check report conducted by the Georgia Crime Information Center and FBI; and other criteria established by the Board). It also outlines requirements for applicants who apply for reinstatement.
- Amends O.C.G.A. § 43-26-9, which in part, permits the Board to require that an applicant for renewal of an unexpired license submit additional information, satisfactory results from a fingerprint record check conducted by the Georgia Crime Information Center and FBI.
- Adds to current law in O.C.G.A. § 43-26-10 when certain actions undertaken by an advanced practice registered nurse are considered misdemeanor offenses.
- Amends O.C.G.A. § 43-26-39(g) concerning renewal of license, voluntary surrender, application for reinstatement and temporary permit and allows the Board to require the applicant for renewal of an unexpired license submit satisfactory results from a fingerprint record check conducted by the Georgia Crime Information Center and FBI.
HB 879, by Rep. Tom Taylor (R-Dunwoody), proposes a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. § 20-2-159.5 to provide for the issuance of a seal of bi-literacy for high school graduates who have achieved a high level of proficiency in speaking, reading and writing one or more language in addition to English. Criteria for this proficiency include completion of all language arts requirements with an overall GPA of 3.0 or above in those classes; and proficiency in one or more languages other than English (through passing a foreign language advanced placement exam with a score of 3 or higher or an international baccalaureate exam with a score of 4 or higher – when such advanced placement exam is unavailable, the Department of Education can provide a listing of equivalent summative examinations that a local school system can use; successful completion of a four-year high school course of study in a foreign language, attaining a GPA of 3.0 or better in the course of study; or passing the SAT II foreign language exam with a score of 600 or higher). Participation, by the local school system in this bi-literacy program, is voluntary.
HB 881, by Rep. Bert Reeves (R-Marietta), seeks to change several provisions and requirements for adopting children in Chapter 8 of Title 19. It in part addresses adoption processes for foreign-born children. It revises the age for individuals to access the Adoption Reunion Registry in O.C.G.A. § 19-8-23(f)(3)(A) so that the Department of Human Services, or a placement agency, upon written request of an adopted person who has reached 18 years of age shall release to such adopted person the name of the person's biological parent "together with a complete copy of all information the Department has concerning the adoptee's birth, foster care, placement for adoption, and finalization of his or her adoption" under certain conditions – current law requires this release when the individual is 21 years of age.
HR 1227, by Rep. Keisha Waites (D-Atlanta), recognizes February 2016 as American Heart Month in Georgia and encourages Georgians to work together to promote and improve the healthcare of its citizens and increase awareness and understanding of heart disease.
House Regulated Industries Committee
Chairman Howard Maxwell's House Regulated Industries Committee met this afternoon, taking up the following proposals:
- HB 654 , by Rep. Sandra Scott (D-Rex),
- HB 727, Rep. Paul Battles (R-Cartersville),
- HB 791, Rep. Rusty Kidd (I-Milledgeville),
- HB 842 , Rep. Tom Taylor (R-Atlanta),
Senate Health and Human Services Committee
Members of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee took up these pieces of legislation in its afternoon meeting:
Senate Finance Committee
HB 742 was brought to this Committee for its review. HB 742, by Rep. David Knight (R-Griffin), seeks to update Georgia's tax laws with the most current federal Internal Revenue Code laws.
House Judiciary Non-Civil – Pak Subcommittee
The Committee was presented with two pieces of legislation today, for hearings only. Chairman B.J. Pak (R-Lilburn) called the subcommittee to order. First to be heard was HB 796, by Rep. Tom Kirby (R-Loganville) which relates to service animals. This bill would allow the Department of Human Services to authorize a private entity to print a card that proves an animal is a registered 'service animal'. It would become a misdemeanor to lie about an animal's status as a service animal. Rep. Kirby indicated that it is common for people to claim their pets are 'service animals', even if they are not. To be considered a service animal, the animal must meet certain training requirements under the supervision of a trainer.
Rep. Kirby indicated he is looking at two changes in a substitute. On line 37, he wants to specify that the training requirements are met "under the supervision of a trainer." Additionally, he wants to add language to state that "comfort animals" are considered 'service animals', as well as animals that assist people with PTSD.
One part of the legislation states that DHS could authorize private service organizations to provide the registration cards containing the Department's seal. Chairman Pak inquired if that has been done before and wondered if it is common for DHS or any other department to allow third party companies to utilize their seal. Rep. Kirby did not know. This was a hearing only on HB 796 and it will be taken back up next meeting.
Rep. Brad Raffensberger (R-Johns Creek) testified to the committee on HB 790, along with Mayor Mike Bodker of Johns Creek and Chief Ed Densmore, Chief of the Johns Creek Police Department. HB 790 would increase criminal penalties for people performing "swatting". Swatting is when a person falsely reports a major crime (such as a murder, mass shooting, hostage situation, etc.) to law enforcement, which results in SWAT teams being called to respond. Perpetrators see swatting as a prank, however the leaders from Johns Creek indicated that this is no joking manner.
A family that lives in Johns Creek was recently targeted by swatting. An individual contacted the authorities to report a murder and hostage situation at this family's home. Mayor Bodker read a statement from a member of that family. SWAT teams and even law enforcement from the surrounding counties were called in to assist, after receiving the call. When they arrived at the home, they were armed with their weapons, expecting to encounter armed resistance. Instead, it was a woman and a number of children, who were frightened for their lives at the sight of armed men pointing guns at their home. Chief Densmore expressed his frustration that these instances occur. Responding to a major hostage situation requires notifying departments in surrounding counties and hospitals and the mobilization of detectives, command staff, SWAT teams, and EMS services. He also mentioned a different case in California where a man believed his home was being invaded, when instead it was police who were invading his home to respond to a "swatting" call. The man armed himself in self-defense; however he was killed by law enforcement because they were expecting armed resistance after entering his home. There was no criminal activity happening there.
Rep. Bert Reeves (R-Marietta) said that he likes this bill and what it tries to do, however he had some issues with the language and offered to sit with Rep. Raffensberger and the Mayor and Police Chief from Johns Creek to look at it.
House Ways and Means Committee – Ad Valorem Subcommittee
HB 766, by Rep. Beth Beskin (R-Atlanta), cleared as presented by Rep. Beskin with a do pass recommendation. It amends current definitions for "spouse" under the homestead exemption and makes the term more gender neutral. Next up, the Subcommittee heard from Rep. Lee Hawkins (R-Gainesville) on HB 769 concerning eliminating ad valorem tax on boats. There is presently an exemption in place but it has a sunset provision and this legislation will eliminate the sunset making the exemption permanent. There are boats manufactured in Georgia and will be helpful to those entities. HB 769 also received a do pass recommendation and moves to the full House Ways and Means Committee. Rep. Ron Stephens (R-Savannah) presented HB 471 which is another piece of legislation involving heavy equipment inventory and when it is taxed when there are rentals of this equipment. The Department of Revenue raised concerns with HB 471 and a Substitute will be brought to the next Subcommittee meeting so no action was taken today. HB 862, by Rep. David Knight (R-Griffin), also moved out of this Subcommittee as a Substitute with a do pass recommendation. Its change addresses homestead exemptions for disabled veterans and makes it clear that a person qualifies if he or she is 100 percent disabled by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs or if he or she is compensated at 100 percent disabled if he or she has lost one or both hands, lost one or both feet, lost one or both eyes, or permanent vision impairment in both eyes.
House Ways and Means Committee – Sales Tax Subcommittee
Rep. Christian Coomer (R-Cartersville) presented HB 822 which is a "clean up" to HB 170 from 2015. There was little said about the change and the Subcommittee swiftly moved this proposal forward with a do pass recommendation. HB 487, by Rep. Don Parsons (R-Marietta), proposes exemptions for data center operations in Georgia. There were numerous of questions posed to Rep. Parsons concerning this legislation. TAG supports the proposal and indicated that 17 states have similar initiatives, including North Carolina. However, the Subcommittee stressed it needed a fiscal note to understand the impact of this proposal and no action was taken. HB 836, by Rep. Amy Carter (R-Valdosta), seeks to exclude sales taxes on materials used in the construction of Habitat for Humanity homes. These houses generate $4.5 million in annual property taxes according to Rep. Carter and she also showed information to the Subcommittee that average rents for homes were around $654 monthly and average Habitat for Humanity house payments were approximately $383 per month – thus, these lower home payments permit the homeowner to spend money on other needs. Habitat qualifies families by looking at their need for housing, ability to pay and willingness to partner before they ever get a home. Rep. Spencer Frye (D-Athens) also worked with Rep. Carter on this legislation. Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon), a member of this Subcommittee, expressed his support. The Subcommittee held HB 836 until a fiscal note is received. Finally, Rep. Dominic LaRiccia (R-Douglas), presented his legislation concerning manufactured homes and permitting "tax parity" for those with "stick-built" homes. No action was taken on this legislation.
House Appropriations Committee – Health Subcommittee
This Subcommittee, under the leadership of Rep. Butch Parrish (R-Swainsboro), heard from the Department of Community Health this afternoon about the FY 2017 Budget. There were some questions posed by the Subcommittee members to the Department. Rep. Matt Dollar (R-Marietta) inquired about the costs for Hepatitis C drugs and costs per cycle of medication and whether individuals repeated their treatment. It costs between $60,000 and $80,000 for 8-12 weeks of therapy; however, the Department of Community Health does get drug rebates from the manufacturers which will reduce costs by 30-40 percent. Rep. Pat Gardner (D-Atlanta) asked about the ICWP waiver and fees paid for workers with this population. The Department indicated it had done a rate study on the fees. Rep. Parrish asked about the permanency of the FMAP increase – looking specifically at PeachCare which is to go to 100 percent. The Department could not provide any assurance on how long the State would continue to receive the 100 percent match. Rep. Regina Quick (R-Athens) asked about the Hospital Provider Fee – she was focused on the children who moved from PeachCare to the Low-Income Medicaid program.
House Regulated Industries Committee – Regulations Subcommittee
This Subcommittee took up several measures but among those included a proposal by Rep. Paul Battles (R-Cartersville) which would revise the law passed in 2015 concerning consumer fireworks. Rep. Battles indicated he had worked with Sen. Jeff Mullis (R-Chickamauga) on this legislation, HB 727. It alters the times when fireworks may be exploded; addresses the use of fireworks when there are "overhead structures;" outlines when fireworks may be used on land or property owned by a local government; speaks to 'density' issues; detonating fireworks "while drunk;" and imposes a new excise tax (which is taken from the State tax with one percent provided to the local government for administering these new requirements). There were comments from the public including Phantom Fireworks which supports the proposal but asked for the Subcommittee to look at closing a loophole concerning the proliferation of temporary fireworks stands. Rep. Paulette Braddock (R-Dallas) inquired about who made the determination if an individual was detonating fireworks under the influence. Rep. Andy Welch (R-McDonough) also raised questions about local law enforcement and the penalties associated with detonating fireworks while under the influence or outside identified times. Rep. Sharon Cooper (R-Marietta) indicated that the way in which HB 727 was written it actually would negate local control. In the end, the Subcommittee held the proposal and postponed action until language could be worked out.
Senate Appropriations Committee – Human Services Subcommittee
Chairwoman Renee Unterman (R-Buford) held a hearing to hear from the Departments of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, Human Services, Veterans Services, and Public Health late in the afternoon. The Departments presented their changes proposed by the Governor to the FY 2016 Amended Budget. No action was taken by the Subcommittee but members did raise some questions. Commissioner Frank Berry outlined some updated information for the Subcommittee on the work being performed by the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities which is focused on easy access to high quality care. Commissioner Berry noted the difficult discussions his Department has been undertaking with the Department of Justice; the Department is working to fulfill its mission. Commissioner Berry also mentioned the increase in deaf services which has been a focus over the past year and that the ASO is now on line and individuals are able to access their records. No questions were posed to Commissioner Berry.
Commissioner Crittenden with the Department of Human Services and Director Bobby Cagle with the Division of Family and Children's Services presented information. Sen. Unterman did ask a question concerning the $2.3 million shortfall which was being funded for the community care services program efforts overseen by the Department – her question was really why that was not addressed in 2017 instead of the Amended Budget. Sen. Unterman also inquired about the $500,000 funding for the Child Abuse Registry (created by legislation passed in 2015). She asked if the Registry will need funding for 2017; Director Cagle indicated that they were trying to stand up this Registry and staff it with existing funds and staff (using five fulltime staff and one supervisor). Sen. Unterman also asked about the DFCS office relocations; Franklin County was to be one of those relocated but it has fallen off the list (only Fulton Cherokee, Pickens and Gilmer are receiving funds from the $1.4 million to be moved).
Greg Schmieg, the Director of the Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency, presented the FY 2016 Amended Budget. He received no questions.
The Department of Veterans Services also outlined their Budget needs for FY 2016 Amended. Sen. Unterman was interested in the House addition of $127,000 for "forfeited leave" by the late Commissioner Pete Wheeler. Apparently, Commissioner Wheeler had more than 7,000 forfeited leave at the point of his death. Law requires for forfeited leave to be paid to either the individual or his or her estate. This issue was brought to the Governor's Office of Planning and Budget but was not included in the Governor's Budget. Thus, the House took moneys from the Department's existing programs to fund this matter.
Commissioner Brenda Fitzgerald, with the Department of Public Health, outlined her Department's needs in the Amended Budget. Overall, this Department is funded by more than $632 million with 33 percent of that total from State funds (and about half of those State funds go towards the county health departments) and the remaining money is federal funds (which most goes to the WIC program). Commissioner Fitzgerald received some questions from Sen. Unterman regarding telemedicine. In particular, Sen. Unterman asked if the pilot project for Hancock County was in this Budget – it is not. Telehealth in this budget relates to the telehealth provided through the public health departments and equipment used; Sen. Unterman's concern is about the "maintenance' of equipment included in this budget and how telehealth can stabilize the rural health system. Sen. Dean Burke, MD (R-Bainbridge) asked if the public and private telehealth systems' technology could communicate with one another – he wants to make sure that is addressed.
House Motor Vehicles Committee
The House Motor Vehicles Committee held a hearing on HB 797, a bill by Rep. Tom Kirby (R-Loganville) which would remove the requirement that people, over the age of 18, who ride bikes must wear protective headgear (helmets). Children under the age of 18 would still be required to wear such headgear, however. Harris Blackwood testified that the current helmet law works well and that repealing it will lead to increased fatalities. Additionally, it would be difficult to implement, because riders would still be required to wear protective headgear in neighboring States.
There was a lot of opposition to HB 797. The Georgia Alliance of Community Hospitals, the Georgia Hospital Association, and Children's Healthcare of Atlanta all spoke in opposition. The main point of their comments was that removing a protection which keeps people safe will increase the number of injuries and fatalities. This would lead to higher costs for caring for those individuals. Additionally, those individuals would not receive coverage for these types of injuries.
Rep. Kirby argued that this issue is about liberty. He believes that the government should not force people to wear a helmet if they don't want to. Chairman Tom Rice (R-Norcross) asked members of the Committee to speak with him individually about any concerns they might have with this legislation. They adjourned the meeting.
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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.