Gold Dome Report - February 23, 2016
Greetings – today is the twenty-sixth legislative day of the 2016 Session.
Ohio Governor and Republican presidential primary candidate hopeful John Kasich was in attendance this morning. He addressed the House and the Senate, thanking legislators for their service. Georgia is attempting to gain more influence in the republican primary race through the newly-organized 'SEC Primary.'
Also addressing the General Assembly this morning was Coach Kirby Smart. He was recently hired as head coach of the University of Georgia's football team as a replacement for long-time coach Mark Richt, who was the face of the Dawg's program for 13 seasons. While Coach Smart faces a lot of pressure going into his first season, he was greeted warmly by both the House and Senate.
The House had a rather generous calendar this morning and adjourned around mid day to come back later in the afternoon. The following bills were on the Rules Calendar:
HB 93, by Rep. John Pezold (R-Fortson), addresses law enforcement agencies and officers and prohibits law enforcement from retaining license plate data obtained from automated license plate recognition systems beyond 90 days unless the data are the subject matter of a toll violation or for law enforcement purposes. The bill was before the House in the form of a Committee Substitute from the House Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security. This legislation passed 152-2.
HB 768, by Rep. Lee Hawkins (R-Gainesville), came to the House Floor in the form of a Committee Substitute from the House Committee on Ways and Means. This legislation provides for the establishment of a qualified ABLE program in Georgia to enable the contribution of funds to tax exempt accounts to pay for the qualified expenses of eligible individuals with disabilities. Only one such account is permitted for any eligible individual. A participation agreement is required and must meet requirements of Section 529A of the Internal Revenue Code or other federal laws which apply. Funds paid into an ABLE account are not subject to income tax. An annual contribution of up to $14,000 is permitted. It further permits that upon the death of a designated beneficiary of a Georgia ABLE Trust Fund account that the Department of Community Health and Medicaid program for another state may file a claim with the Georgia ABLE Program for the total amount of medical assistance which has been provided for the beneficiary under the Medicaid program after the date of the individual's establishment of the ABLE account – less any premiums paid by or on behalf of the designated beneficiary to a Medicaid buy-in program. The Committee Substitute passed 161-0.
HB 792, by Rep. Buzz Brockway (R-Lawrenceville), seeks to change the current law concerning the carrying and possession of firearms to permit the carrying, possession and use of electroshock weapons while in or on any building or real property owned or leased to a public institution of postsecondary education in O.C.G.A. § 16-11-127.1(c). This would include a stun gun or taser. This legislation came to the Floor as a Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee Substitute and passed 117-46.
HB 804, by Rep. Ronnie Mabra (D-Fayetteville), also came to the Floor as a Committee Substitute – this was the work of the House Judiciary Committee. It addresses the Clayton Judicial Circuit and adds an additional superior court judge, raising the number of judges in that Circuit from four to five. Rep. Ronnie Mabra (D-Fayetteville); the last time a judge was added was in 1984 and the population has increased greatly since then (population is now over 100,000). The position has already been funded along with the staff. The initiative passed 161-0.
HB 827 is the bill by Rep. Scott Holcomb (D-Atlanta) which will be known as "Pursuing Justice for Rape Victims Act" in O.C.G.A. § 35-1-2. It seeks to provide requirements for the submission of evidence collected from a forensic medical examination to the Georgia Bureau of Investigations. This bill passed by Committee Substitute 160-0.
HB 851, by Rep. Alex Atwood (R-St. Simons), proposes 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 the Boards of Trustees of the county law library. Each county in Georgia has such a library. This legislation came from the House Committee on Budget & Fiscal Affairs Oversight in a Substitute to the House Floor and passed 161-0.
HB 900, by Rep. Sharon Cooper (R-Marietta), addresses and authorizes the retention of database information for two years regarding prescription information housed in the electronic database (currently, such information is to be kept for one year). The bill also addresses release of such information, non-patient specific, in order for the agency to gain information for instructional, drug abuse prevention and research purposes. The changes are made in Chapter 13 of Title 16. This Committee Substitute on this proposal cleared with a vote of 151-12.
HB 923, by Rep. Regina Quick (R-Athens), seeks to amend O.C.G.A. § 48-8-3, regarding sales and use tax exemptions, to provide an exemption for fire districts which have elected governing bodies and are supported by ad valorem taxes. This legislation passed 159-0.
HB 941 addresses juries, pretrial proceedings and miscellaneous offenses concerning public officers and employees. This legislation was a House Judiciary Non-Civil Substitute. Rep. Rich Golick (R-Smyrna) presented the proposal to the House and addresses how a police officer is treated in a grand jury process and when he or she may be in the jury room and what testimony he or she can listen to. Under current law, Georgia's system is the only state to permit a manipulation of testimony. Law enforcement will be permitted to testify. Many law enforcement agencies supported the proposal. Rep. Alex Atwood (R-St. Simons) spoke to the proposal – he said that Rep. Golick had taken a "reasonable approach to the legislation." The Committee Substitute passed 161-0.
HB 944, by Rep. Sheri Gilligan (R-Cumming), concerns the pronouncement of deaths of patients in nursing homes and hospices when they are organ donors in Title 31. This legislation was the first bill by Rep. Gilligan and it passed 153-1.
HB 970, by Rep. Eddie Lumsden (R-Armuchee), relates to fire protection and safety and revises requirements for the issuance of certificates of compliance. The Bill was needed due to federal law changes. After no substantive questions, the Bill passed by a vote of 162-0.
HB 1030, by Rep. Sam Watson (R-Moultrie), amends the law at O.C.G.A. § 2-4-3 concerning the "Georgia Seed Development Commission" and its membership. It adds also a new definition for the term, "licensee" which is the "holder of a license authorizing the propagation and marketing of seed, turfgrass, or horticultural plants developed by the College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences of the University of Georgia or his or her representative." This legislation passed 163-0.
HR 1312 is by Rep. Barbara Sims (R-Augusta) and authorizes the change of use of certain property located in Houston County currently dedicated as a heritage preserve. This Resolution passed with a vote of 163-0.
HR 1363 is a Resolution offered by Rep. Wendell Willard (R-Sandy Springs) to create the House Special Study Committee on Judicial Qualifications Commission Reform. This Study would be abolished on December 1, 2016. The House postponed action on this Resolution.
SB 323, by Sen. Mike Dugan (R-Carrollton), seeks to address State printing and documents in O.C.G.A. § 50-18-72(a)(46) to provide for public disclosure not to be required for documents relating to an economic development project by any agency (as defined in O.C.G.A. § 50-14-1(a)(1)(A)). This legislation passed out of the Senate with a vote of 47-4.
SB 356, by Sen. Michael Williams (R-Cumming), addresses animal control and the care of impounded animals. Changes are included:
- O.C.G.A. § 4-11-2(5.1) is to amend the definition of "owner" so that it means "a person who intentionally exercises custody, control, possession or ownership of an animal."
- O.C.G.A. § 4-11-9.3(c) is changed so that a person who impounds an animal under this article is authorized to return such animal to its owner, upon payment by the owner of all costs of impoundment and care and upon the entry of a consent order, unless that owner has been convicted of, pled guilty to, or pled nolo contendere to animal cruelty or dog fighting under "any local, state or federal law, regulation, or ordinance."
- It permits in O.C.G.A. § 4-11-9.6(a) that a government agency which has custody of an animal impounded or when the ownership of the animal is relinquished by the owner may dispose of such animal through sale by any commercially feasible means, at public auction or by sealed bids, adoption, or if, in the opinion of a licensed, accredited veterinarian or a veterinarian employed by a state or federal government and approved by the Commissioner, such animal has a temperament or condition such that euthanasia is the only reasonable course of action by humanely disposing of the animal.
- It adds a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. § 4-11-9.8 which in part requires that an agency which impounds an animal may file a civil case with the court to require the owner of any animal(s) to pay into the registry of that court funds the amount which will be sufficient to care for the impounded animal(s).
SB 356 passed with a Floor Amendment with a vote of 50-3.
SR 954, by Sen. Rick Jeffares (R-McDonough), authorizes the granting of non-exclusive easements for the construction, operation, and maintenance of facilities, utilities, roads, and ingress and egress in, on, over, under, upon, across, or through various properties owned by the State. This resolution passed with a vote of 53-0.
SR 955, by Sen. Rick Jeffares (R-McDonough), is a property conveyance Resolution impacting eight counties. This legislation passed 52-0.
HB 940, by Rep. Sheri Gilligan (R-Cumming), seeks to address local issues in Forsyth County and it also sailed easily from the Senate with a vote of 53-0.
SB 358, by Sen. Emanuel Jones (D-Decatur), another local piece of legislation but addressing the City of Stockbridge, also cleared the Senate with a vote of 53-0. Other City of Stockbridge matters also passed: SB 359 with a vote of 53-0; SB 360 with a vote of 53-0; SB 361 with a vote of 53-0; SB 362 with vote of 53-0; and SB 390 passed with a vote of 53-0.
SB 377, by Sen. Rick Jeffares (R-McDonough), addressing the Newton County Improvement District, cleared the Senate with a vote of 53-0.
HB 1072, by Rep. Christian Coomer (R-Cartersville), amends O.C.G.A. § 20-3-374 by removing the ineligibility for service cancelable educational loans for members of the Georgia National Guard also receiving the HOPE scholarship or HOPE grant funds.
HB 1073, by Rep. Brian Strickland (R-McDonough), amends O.C.G.A. § 15-11-35 to provide that an appeal of an order granting a petition to terminate parental rights shall stay an adoption proceeding related to the child who is the subject of such order until it becomes final or the expiration of the time for seeking such review. It further requires that waiving the right to an attorney must be made knowingly, voluntarily, and on the record.
HB 1077, by Rep. Alan Peake (R-Macon), seeks a nonbinding state-wide referendum to determine whether the State should establish a strict regulatory structure that would allow for the limited licensure for growing, processing, and dispensing medical cannabis oil in Georgia for citizens with severe illnesses and that are properly registered with the State.
HB 1078, by Rep. Margaret Kaiser (D-Atlanta), amends O.C.G.A. § 20-4-15 to raise the age of mandatory education from 16 to 17.
HB 1085, by Rep. Katie Dempsey (R-Rome), seeks to transfer the oversight of the Division of Aging to the Department of Community Health. It also seeks to create within the Department of Community Health a new unit within the Division of Medicaid which would be known as the Community Care Unit. All of these changes are made in Article 5 of Chapter 6 of Title 49.
HB 1087, by Rep. Greg Morris (R-Vidalia), addresses Georgia's public assistance programs and requires legislative notification prior to any request for a State plan amendment for an increase in eligibility or benefits above the minimum requirements for temporary assistance for needy families (TANF) or the supplemental nutrition assistance programs (SNAP) in O.C.G.A. § 49-4-22 It requires in (b) that if, as of June 30, 2016, any eligibility or benefits provided in Georgia per the TANF or SNAP exceed the federally required minimum levels of participation, unless specifically authorized or required by State law in effect on that date, then the appropriate State agency is to submit a State plan amendment no later than July 31, 2016 to the appropriate federal agency to reduce such eligibility or benefits levels to the federally required minimum levels of participation.
HB 1088, by Rep. David Clark (R-Buford), amends O.C.G.A. § 31-2A-18 to include 'post-traumatic stress disorder' to the conditions authorized for the use of low THC oil.
HB 1090, by Rep. Dee Dawkins-Haigler (D-Lithonia), amends O.C.G.A. § 20-2-314 to provide that the State Board of Education shall incorporate the 'Love Is Not Abuse Curriculum' into current rape prevention and personal safety education programs. Specifically, this curriculum relates to preventing teen dating violence.
HB 1091, by Rep. Tom Weldon (R-Ringgold), proposes creation of the State Commission on Narcotic Treatment Programs and seeks to have a moratorium on the issuance of new licenses to narcotic treatment programs in a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. § 26-5-21. The moratorium would be through June 30, 2017. The Commission would be composed of 11 members - three would be members of the House; three would be members of the Senate; and five would be appointed by the Governor including the Commissioners from the Department of Community Health and Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities and three additional members representing a cross section of interests of narcotic treatment program owners, pharmacists, and law enforcement. This legislation is similar in nature to that which was proposed by Sen. Jeff Mullis (R-Chickamauga), SB 402.
HR 1465, by Rep. Matt Dollar (R-Marietta), recognizes the week of February 21-27 as "Eating Disorders Awareness Week" at the capitol.
HR 1471, by Rep. Brooks Coleman (R-Duluth), recognizes the week of October 3-7, 2016 as "Georgia Pre-K Week" at the capitol, hosted by Voices for Georgia's Children.
SB 415, by Sen. Gail Davenport (D-Jonesboro), amends O.C.G.A. § 40-6-254 and would increase the criminal penalty for operating a vehicle without adequately securing a load from a misdemeanor, to a misdemeanor of a high and aggravated nature.
SB 418, by Sen. Bruce Thompson (R-White), amends O.C.G.A. § 26-4-80.1 to provide that a pharmacist shall not fill a prescription drug order for a Schedule II controlled substance unless the individual providing such prescription provides the pharmacist with his or her government issued ID containing the individual's name, address, and photograph. The pharmacist would be required to photocopy such identification and retain such photocopy for a minimum of three years.
SB 420, by Sen. Lindsey Tippins (R-Marietta), addresses laws governing counties and requires referendum approval prior to the expenditure of public funds for the establishment of a fixed guideway transit (a public transportation system using and occupying a permanent, separate right of way for the exclusive use of public transportation, including, but not limited to, rails for use by trains or a bus rapid transit system) in O.C.G.A. § 36-1-27.
SB 421, by Sen. Gloria Butler (D-Stone Mountain), proposes the creation of the DeKalb County Charter Review Commission.
SR 1043, by Sen. Jeff Mullis (R-Chickamauga), proposes to create the Senate Study Committee on the Expansion of Autism Insurance Mandate to ERISA Plans. It states in the Resolution that "federal courts have held that the state cannot regulate all activities of insurers, but are not in agreement on which activities the states can regulate." It goes on to state that there is "argument that mental health parity acts require insurance companies to cover Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) treatment for autism spectrum disorder and that ERISA insurers are required to follow the state's laws for mandated coverage." This Study Committee is to be composed of six members from the Senate and it will be in existence until December 1, 2016 if adopted.
SR 1044, by Sen. P.K. Martin (R-Lawrenceville), seeks to create the Joint Craft Brewery and Distillery Study Committee. In part this is driven because Georgia failed to secure several new brew factories which instead went to North Carolina and are proposed to be a boost to that state's economy of approximately $1.25 billion annually. This Study Committee is to be conducted by four members from the Senate and four members from the House.
SR 1055, also by Sen. Mullis (R-Chickamauga) and addressing autism, proposes the creation of a Joint Study Committee on the Expansion of Autism Insurance Mandate to ERISA Plans. This Study Committee will look at the same issues as outlined in SR 1043 above but be composed of ten legislators – five from the Senate and five from the House - and again it will be in existence until December 1, 2016 if adopted.
Senate Appropriations Committee
Various Senate Appropriations Committee Subcommittees met throughout the afternoon. Departments and agencies discussed with the Subcommittees the differences, if any, in the Governor's original proposal for the FY 2017 Budget, HB 751, and the proposal as passed by the House. It was clear that the Senate did not wish to hear from the public on these budget items and made no time for such in their meetings. Sen. Dean Burke (R-Bainbridge) announced that if anyone wished to have information considered, such could be sent to the Budget staff (Sen. Burke oversees the Community Health portion of the Budget). Further, Sen. Burke indicated that he and his Subcommittee would have their recommendations completed by next Wednesday.
Senate Retirement Committee
This Committee briefly considered three proposals after Chairman Chuck Hufstetler (R-Rome) called the meeting to order. Vice Chairman Ellis Black (R-Valdosta) presented SB 335. It provides that commingled funds and collective investment funds maintained by state chartered banks or trust companies or regulated by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency of the United States Department of Treasury, shall adopt the terms of the instruments establishing any group trust in accordance with applicable United States Internal Revenue Service Revenue Rulings. Without discussion, SB 335 received a do-pass recommendation.
HB 690 was authored by Rep. Amy Carter (R-Valdosta); however she was sick and not in attendance. Sen. Harper presented the bill instead. It would allow members of state law enforcement to buy up to five years of credible service in the Employees Retirement System (ERS). They must have been in ERS for at least 10 years and must have held a position where they had post-certified powers and were not eligible for a defined contribution plan during such time. The fiscal note indicated this would be of no cost to the State. It received a do-pass from the committee.
HB 844, by Rep. Maxwell (R-Dallas), codifies a practice used over the years that determines which insurance premiums are subject to taxation related to the Georgia Firefighters Pension Fund. He also received a do-pass for this legislation. Chairman Hufstetler adjourned the meeting.
Senate Judiciary Non-Civil Committee
Chairman Jesse Stone (R-Waynesboro) called the meeting to order. The Committee considered two bills today. SB 77 was presented by Sen. John Albers (R-Roswell). It incorporates changes to allow a single notice to defendants about submitted DNA sampling, instead of multiple notices. An Amendment was offered (AM 29 2905) which makes the process simpler for an individual to have his or her DNA profile expunged. It further sets out procedures for such notification. The bill received a 'do-pass' and the amendment also was adopted.
SB 332, by Sen. John Kennedy (R-Macon), provides for a photo ID for judges which would identify them as judges. Currently they do not have any sort of ID and this would allow them to bypass security lines when traveling outside their jurisdiction. There was some concern about how this proposal would align with current federal law which allows judges to carry firearms once they are retired. The bill was amended so that it would align with such federal law and then was passed out as a Committee Substitute.
House Regulated Industries Committee
The Committee first considered HB 498, by Rep. Lee Hawkins (R-Gainesville), that adds a power to "diagnose" mental health problems and conditions to O.C.G.A §43-10A-3(10) in the scope of practice for licensed professional counselors. Professions Subcommittee Chairman Tom Dickson (R-Cohutta) joined Rep. Hawkins and brought a Substitute to the Committee that defines psychological testing in the scope of practice chapter O.C.G.A. § 43-39 for licensed psychologists and ties it to the prohibition against masters' level licensees performing psychological testing. Rep. Dickson also brought amendments to the Substitute from a negotiation session between representatives of the psychologists and licensed professional counselors that preceded the meeting. Members of the Committee reported how many emails they have received on the diagnosis and testing issues. After a few questions, the Committee adopted the Substitute and the new amendments to it. The Substitute contains provisions defining psychological testing and exceptions to it as well as authorizing the licensed professional counselors to perform diagnoses in their scope of practice.
Rep. Paul Battles (R-Cartersville) also presented a Substitute to HB 727 relating to the taxes local governments may impose on the sale of fireworks. It cleans up provisions from the 2015 fireworks bills to make sure the local share of the new taxes were realized by the city and county governments and were paid in instances where not all local sites of national vendors were locally licensed. This bill also passed.
House Health and Human Services Committee
Rep. Sharon Cooper (R-Marietta) moved her Committee through a long agenda. Two bills described below were tabled for further work prior to cross over day on Monday, February 29. It is currently expected that the Committee will meet again on Thursday, February 25 to consider the two bills further and perhaps others that may become ready for committee action.
The following bills were approved without significant questioning:
HB 1037, by Rep. Valerie Clark (R-Lawrenceville), adds nurse aides performing private home duty services to the nurse registry maintained by the Department of Community Health and improves access to its website for such information.
HB 954, by Rep. Chuck Efstration (R-Dacula), adopts the Uniform Adult Guardianship Act.
HB 1054, by Rep. Betty Price (R-Roswell), relates to administration of HIV/AIDS tests to pregnant women and changes the consent rights and privacy issues for patients and minors receiving such tests. It affords greater protections to hospital workers administering such tests.
HB 1043, by Rep. Trey Kelley (R-Cedartown), excepts hospital pharmacies from certain maintaining vaccine protocol agreements for certain influenza vaccines in certain circumstances.
The Committee tabled HB 569, by Rep. Jesse Petrea (R-Savannah), relating to a new Board of Pharmacy licensure of certain "DME" (durable medical equipment) suppliers for further action after Committee members asked several questions about the exclusions from the new license and clarification of what DME can be sold without a prescription.
The Committee also tabled consideration of HB 915, by Rep. Andy Welch (R-McDonough), relating to the posting of a scorecard on child welfare agency providers by the various agencies who contract with them and a coordinated annual inspection of the agencies by the several departments. The bill flowed from a 2015 Study Committee on child welfare regulation and contained a few of the recommendations from the Committee that had not yet been implemented by a DHS led work group on the Committee's recommendations. A mechanism for a single criminal background check for new employees had been deleted from the bill. Rep. Welch and DHS had not reached agreement on whether an agency can appeal the conclusions from the annual inspection reports that are part of the scorecard to the State Office of Hearings and Appeals or only to DHS itself. After extensive discussion by Rep. Welch and DHS leadership at the hearing, the bill was tabled with a request that the parties keep discussing the appeals issue.
Our 2016 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.