Gold Dome Report - March 30, 2017
WHEW! Yes, lawmakers gaveled the 2017 Legislative Session to a close late last evening, and actually on March 31, 2017, as they officially concluded their work around 1:00 o'clock a.m.
Tempers flared all day within the four corners of the building as the House, Senate and Governor's office sought to finalize their respective agendas. There were, of course, winners and losers in the hundreds of bills which were considered during the process for Day 40.
In the Senate last night, one of the most hotly contested pieces of legislation, the update to Georgia's adoption laws in Title 19, hit the skids after it was finally called up for debate by the Lt. Governor shortly before 1:00 o'clock a.m. SB 130, the legislation by Sen. Blake Tillery (R-Vidalia), had been used as a "vehicle" by the House for the adoption law language. SB 130 provided that adoption proceedings be stayed while an appeal of an order to terminate parental rights is pending. The initial adoption bill, by Rep. Bert Reeves (R-Marietta), had stalled out in the Senate – that was HB 159 which initially cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee where Sen. William Ligon, Jr. (R-Brunswick) had added a "poison pill" with religious freedom language attached. The Senate Rules Committee sent back HB 159 to the Judiciary Committee which declined to bring the legislation back up to address the concerns raised by the Governor's office, the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, many child welfare entities and a host of other businesses and individuals about the amendment. In the House, SB 130, which also dealt with Title 19 and juveniles, was seen as the perfect "ride" so the House attached the 100-page adoption law update onto SB 130. That move angered many in the Senate and for hours the Senate refused to even bring up SB 130 for discussion and debate. When the legislation was finally called, Sen. Tillery offered an explanation and asked his colleagues to join him and to support the measure. They began to debate some amendments offered by Sen. Tillery which were to address a small change of a date referenced in the legislation. Due to Senate Rules, bills in the posture of getting agreements are only permitted to be amended once – thus, the amendments which were in the queue by other Senators, likely including more religious freedom ideas, were held at bay with this maneuver. This led to a motion to "table" the proposal – however, that motion failed. After further discussion regarding Sen. Tillery's amendments, one was eventually ruled non-germane. At that point, a new motion was made to recommit the legislation to Committee. That motion carried; thus, killing SB 130 and the adoption law proposal and religious freedom language for the Session. As soon as that occurred, the Majority Leader Sen. Bill Cowsert (R-Athens) made the motion to adjourn Sine Die which ended all action.
We will provide a final report once the Governor has concluded his review of bills. He has 40 days in order to do so.
Below are some of the highlights from the day's discussions on bills which were addressed.
- SB 3, another bill from the Senate Leadership, failed to make it across. This legislation proposed to create the "Granting Opportunities Needed Now to Expand Credentialed Training," and received an amendment in the House (the Senate had argued about the germaneness to the actual amendment addressing school safety zones). However, Conference Committees were appointed by both chambers, but the Conference Committee Report was not agreed to by both.
- SB 4, the legislation which would create a Mental Health Task Force and Advisory Council, was disagreed to by the House on a motion made by Rep. Katie Dempsey (R-Rome). Her motion was to disagree to the Senate Amendment to the House Substitute. The latest version of the bill had sought to decrease the overall numbers of the Council from 21 to 20 members, lower the number of psychiatrists on the Council by eliminating the psychiatrist in private practice, and tightening the types of law enforcement officers to require that the individuals to serve on the Council have training or experience with transporting mentally ill patients. Thus, SB 4 died with the lack of further action by the Senate to either recede or insist on its position.
- SB 16, the legislation addressing medical marijuana, was agreed to by the Senate. Sen. Ben Watson (R-Savannah) had moved that the Senate agree to the House Substitute and his motion carried. The legislation still contains the 5 percent THC oil limitation and it adds new specific diseases to the list of those permitted to have access to this medication. Sen. Watson took the Well and said that the federal government needed to react and could no longer ignore the needs of folks for this treatment option. The legislation moves to the Governor's desk.
- SB 41, the legislation which will require that durable medical equipment suppliers be licensed in Chapter 4 of Title 26, was agreed to by the Senate.
- SB 71, the legislation originally proposed was used as a vehicle by Rep. Earl Ehrhart (R-Powder Springs). He added his "safe campus" legislation, HB 51 to the legislation which would have provided in Title 20 for the manner of reporting and investigation of certain crimes by officials and employees of postsecondary institutions in this State. HB 51 had reached its demise in the Senate Judiciary Committee; thus, Rep. Ehrhart proposed to use SB 71. The original form of SB 71 sought to add assets in health savings accounts and medical savings accounts to the list of property that is exempt from bankruptcy. The Senate had insisted on its position on SB 71 in its original form; the House likewise moved to adhere to its position and to appoint a Conference Committee – that Conference Committee was appointed but the Senate never took further action to appoint its Conferees. Thus, the legislation failed.
- SB 88, addressing the regulation of Narcotic Treatment Programs in Title 26, was agreed to by the House after the Senate made a minor amendment addressing pregnant women who are already covered by federal law when seeking assistance with drug treatment and covered by Medicaid. This bill moves to the Governor's desk.
- SB 121, creating the Jeffrey Dallas Gay, Jr. Act, reached final agreement. SB 121 is in part the codification of Governor Deal's executive order for a standing order for Naloxone so that it may be obtained via over-the-counter means to address individuals who have a drug overdose. The legislation heads to the Governor's desk.
- SB 133, the legislation which originally proposed to address corporate net worth tax and which was later amended in the House to add the language to add the Title 33 law to create the Georgia Agribusiness and Rural Jobs Act, received agreement in the Senate after it originally failed to receive such. It will establish incentives for investors and address the lack of capital in rural areas. It sets up a $100 million revolving loan fund. Legislators noted that the Pew Foundation had found this a "scheme" per Sen. Chuck Hufstetler (R-Rome). Despite his caution, the Senate agreed with Sen. Larry Walker's IV (R-Rome) bill which he passionately claimed would benefit rural Georgia. The bill moves to the Governor's desk.
- SB 153, the proposal originally to permit on-line sales of over-the-counter hearing aids and which ended up being stripped of that language and became the optometrists' scope of practice legislation allowing doctors of optometry to administer pharmaceutical agents by injection with proper education, passed after receiving an agreement by the Senate to the House Substitute of the proposal. Thus, this initiative moves to the Governor's desk in its new form without any reference to hearing aid sales and duties of hearing aid dealers and dispensers.
- SB 160, the "Back the Badge Act of 2017," was agreed to by the Senate. In this new version created by the House, it incorporates SB 154, HB 258, and HB 116. The legislation moves to the Governor's desk.
- SB 174, part of the Governor's package on Criminal Justice Reform, received an agreement by the Senate to the House Substitute. In part, this legislation requires veterans' court divisions to adhere to the same policies, procedures, and standards as other accountability courts and provides for the Board of Community Supervision to issue Program and Treatment Completion Certificates. This initiative now moves to the Governor's desk.
- SB 176, another piece of the Governor's Criminal Justice Reform package, also received an agreement from the Senate to the House Substitute. It enacts reforms relating to driving privileges and provides for a procedure for the issuance of bench warrants for individuals who are charged with certain traffic, motorist, and road violations. It also moves to the Governor's desk.
- SB 180, a bill to help Georgia's rural hospitals, was stripped of the language in the Senate permitting tax credits to nurse, physician assistants and physicians who are in nonpaid preceptorship positions to train other such professionals. The legislation moves the expenditure rate amount to be considered for the credit from 70 percent to 90 percent of the expenditure and increases the amount of the credit to $5,000 for individuals and to $10,000 for married couples and businesses. It also sets the aggregate amount of these credits for years 2017, 2018 and 2019 at $60 million. The House agreed to this change and thus moves the legislation to the Governor's desk.
- SB 200, the initiative allowing for health insurance entities to synchronize patients' chronic medications, received final approval in the Senate as it agreed to the House Substitute. It moves to the Governor's desk.
- SB 201, the bill allowing employees to take sick leave to help provide care for their family members, received debate. Sen. Bill Cowsert (R-Athens) took the Well and claimed that it was a measure against free market and businesses should be allowed to determine what benefits they want to offer their employees. In what some might have viewed as a moment of humor, during the severe thunderstorm, Sen. Butch Miller (R-Gainesville) who was in the Well passionately pleading for the legislation's passage, heard a large clap of thunder – and Sen. Miller indicated that God was speaking and essentially his colleagues should listen. The Senate finally agreed with the House Substitute. The legislation moves to the Governor's desk.
- SB 206, the legislation requiring health insurance coverage for children's (ages 18 and under) hearing aids to be provided for by those businesses which provide health insurance coverage to employees. It will not apply to those businesses which have ten or fewer employees and also will not impact those plans governed by ERISA.
- SB 211, the initiative amending O.C.G.A. § 20-2-281 relating to student assessments, also received an agreement by the Senate to the House Amendment. It provides for consideration of local reading programs when establishing a research based formative assessment with a summative component for grades one and two; pursues maximum flexibility under federal law for State and local assessments; and provides for a comparability study to determine and establish the concordance of nationally recognized academic assessments with content standards and assessments in grades nine through 12. It moves to Governor Deal's desk.
- HB 5, the legislation addressing the circuit grants for juvenile court judges' salaries, raising the amount from $85,000 to $100,000, also finally reached an agreement with the Senate agreeing to the House Amendment – that amendment had increased the per diem days allowed for appellate judges to receive a per diem allowance and also addressed the miles' threshold before a judge can access a mileage allowance (currently, that mileage is 50 miles from Atlanta and the Senate proposed to lower that to 45 miles). The initiative now heads to Governor Deal's desk.
- HB 15, the bill which would require the electronic filing of civil pleadings with the courts, reached an impasse. Conferees were appointed by the House and Senate but no Conference Committee Report was voted on. Thus, the bill died.
- HB 37, prohibiting private postsecondary institutions from adopting sanctuary policies in Title 20, passed. It moves to the Governor's desk.
- HB 87, the initiative which permits multi-year corporate registrations with the Secretary of State (up to three years), finally received an agreement by the House to the Senate Amendment. It moves to the Governor's desk.
- HB 125, which permits a sales and use tax exemption from payment of sales tax for sales in excess of $35,000.00 for certain tangible personal property sold or used to maintain, refit, or repair a boat during a single event, passed with the Senate agreeing to the House Amendment (after it had to reconsider its actions). This exemption moves to the Governor's desk.
- HB 126, the update to the Judicial Qualifications Commission and its membership including the investigation panel and hearing panel, received an agreement from the House to the Senate Substitute. It moves to Governor Deal's desk.
- HB 139, which provides in Chapter 14 of Title 20 for transparency of financial information of local school systems and schools to the greatest extent practicable, received an agreement from the House to the Senate Amendment. It moves to the Governor's desk.
- HB 155, the Musical Investment Act creating an income tax credit for certain expenditures by a production company related to State certified musical or theatrical productions or recorded musical performances, was agreed to by the Senate after an amendment was made by the House to the Senate Substitute. It moves now to Governor Deal's desk.
- HB 196, which proposed an income tax exemption on royalties paid to musicians, was gutted in the Senate and in its place legislation was added addressing the rural hospital organization's tax credits that had been authored by Sen. Dean Burke, MD (R-Bainbridge). Both the House and Senate insisted on their positions and Conference Committees were appointed – the end result of the legislation was a bill addressing ad valorem taxes. It revises the criteria used by tax assessors to determine the fair market value of real property; allows certain business corporations to participate in the indirect ownership of a home for the mentally disabled for financing purposes; and provides that certain disabled veterans shall be issued refunds of certain ad valorem taxes paid during certain periods of time when such disabled veterans receive final determinations of disability containing retroactive periods of eligibility. This Conference Committee version now heads to the Governor's desk.
- HB 208, the Governor's legislation updating Georgia's hunting and fishing licenses so as to be the average fee of other southeastern states and adding boat licensure fees, was adopted by the House after the Senate passed a Substitute proposal. It moves to the Governor's desk.
- HB 217, the income tax credits for student scholarship organizations, had varied on the total amount of credits to be permitted (the House had $100 million and the Senate $65 million). No agreement was reached on the proposal and it died.
- HB 249 is the legislation contains a number of provisions including that it transfers Georgia's prescription drug monitoring program from the Georgia Drugs and Narcotics Agency to the Department of Public Health; codifies the Executive Order allowing Naloxone to be purchased over the counter; changes the frequency of reporting certain prescriptions in the electronic data base of prescription information and allows up to two individuals who are members per shift or rotation of a prescriber's or dispenser's staff or employed at the health care facility in which the prescriber is practicing the ability to check the PDMP database; provides for information to patients by prescribers when prescribing opioids; provides for immunity for the State health officer under certain circumstances; provides for a coroner's inquest when an individual dies of a suspected drug overdose; and adds neonatal abstinence syndrome reporting requirements so that the State can track those cases. The House made an amendment to address the manufacture's dosage of Naloxone; the Senate agreed to that change. The legislation moves to the Governor's desk.
- HB 250, which provides in O.C.G.A. § 49-5-115 that a satisfactory fingerprint records check determination within the previous 12 months by the Department of Early Care and Learning may be used in lieu of background screening or fingerprint checks required for purposes of providing care to children in the custody of the Department of Human Services (for a short-term care for the child). The House agreed to the Senate Committee Substitute and the legislation moves to the Governor's desk.
- HB 280, the "campus carry proposal," passed by Conference Committee Report which was adopted by both chambers. It amends Title 16 authorizing the carrying and possession of handguns in certain manners by weapons carry license holders in certain buildings or on real property owned by or leased to public institutions of postsecondary education. The legislation moves to the Governor's desk.
- HB 329, the overhaul to Georgia's income tax laws and rates imposed on individuals, would have in part established the tax rate at 5.65 percent rather than 6 percent. The legislation failed to have action by the Conference Committee members appointed by both chambers. Thus, this legislation failed.
- HB 413, the legislation originally addressing rural phone cooperatives and which was later stripped and became the pipeline and eminent domain bill (language from SB 191), reached a final agreement with the House agreeing to the Senate's final changes. It moves to the Governor's desk.
- HB 430, the legislation addressing the Georgia Education Reform Commission's recommendations on charter schools, cleared after the Senate agreed to the House Amendment. It moves to Governor Deal's desk.
- HB 434, the legislation addressing 'blighted properties' and which establishes a two step process for Superior Courts to determine if a property meets the legal definition of blighted property and allows for a condemnation proceeding whereby the local government can obtain control over the property, was agreed to by the Senate after the House added a Floor Amendment (which took out the Senate's language on a moratorium for the pipelines). The bill moves to Governor Deal's desk.
Of course, there were more "losers" in addition to these above – some of those included:
- SB 8 and HB 71, the measures addressing "surprise" billing for services rendered by healthcare providers and not covered by insurance
- HB 118, the legislation to create the Fantasy Contests Act which was tabled in the Senate
- HB 158 and SB 79, the casino gambling bills/destination resort act
- HB 61, the e-retail sales and use tax proposal to capture sales taxes on electronic retail sales
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.