August 12, 2019Donald Pocock Appointed Chair of ABA Consumer Litigation Committee
February 19, 2019
After a long President’s Day Weekend, legislators returned to the State Capitol today and got right to work. After the Senate Appropriations Committee started the day by adopting their own version of the Amended FY 2019 Budget, the House and Senate met jointly to hear about the State of the Judiciary from Chief Justice Harold Melton. The fun didn’t stop there, as what seemed like every legislative committee met at 2:00PM to keep bills and resolutions moving through the legislative process. There was a lot to keep track of on this Legislative Day 17, but we did our best. Check out our work in today’s #GoldDomeReport.
In this Report:
Senate Appropriations Committee Proposes Changes to Amended FY 2019 Budget
In an early meeting this morning, the Senate Appropriations Committee, chaired by Sen. Jack Hill (R-Reidsville), unveiled its draft of the Amended FY 2019 Budget. Chairman Hill outlined more about the proposal which he explained did not contain a lot of new items included as the budget before the Committee was intended to be a “true up” of current funding initiatives. In total the Budget will be $26.9 billion and this is a 3.3 percent in revenue fund growth over 2018. It also includes more than $1.2 billion in lottery proceeds and $1.89 billion in motor fuel taxes. Chairman Hill stressed that this amount of motor fuel taxes has allowed a doubling of the State’s DOT investment over a few years ago. Chairman Hill then noted the “headline” items in the supplemental budget that were retained as proposed by Governor Kemp, including funding for school security grants ($30,000 for each school) and $8.4 million in funds for the expansion of the APEX program in high schools. He also identified several additions made by the Senate Appropriations subcommittees, including:
Reductions from the House version include:
The Committee recommended the budget bill DO PASS and be sent to the Rules Committee.
The Committee also considered an additional bill this morning. SB 67, authored by Sen. Dean Burke (R-Bainbridge), provides avenues for providing funding to school districts with fire or natural disaster damage or consolidating schools. Specifically, the bill allows schools damaged by fire or natural disaster to immediately qualify for regular state capital outlay funds and regular advance funding, as well as low-wealth capital outlay grants. It also allows school districts consolidating schools to access low-wealth capital outlay grants. Sen. Frank Ginn (R-Danielsville) inquired as to whether a system consolidating schools could use funds to build a new facility for the consolidated school, to which Sen. Burke responded affirmatively. Sen. Ginn had a follow up asking what about the existing schools and their potential sale or destruction; Sen. Burke indicated that would be up to the district to make such a decision. Before this low-wealth funding could be used, facilities would have to be at least 20 years old per Chairman Hill. The Committee recommended the bill DO PASS and be sent to the Rules Committee.
House Subcommittee Hears Testimony on School Voucher Bill
Before a packed room of interested parties, the Public Finance and Policy Subcommittee of the House Ways & Means Committee, chaired by Rep. Ron Stephens (R-Savannah), met to hear the first set of testimony on this year’s school voucher bill. HB 301, authored by Rep. Wes Cantrell (R-Woodstock), amends Title 20 to establish educational scholarship accounts for children whose family income is less than 200% of the federal poverty level, who have been adopted from foster care, who have an active duty military parent, who have individualized education programs, who have documented cases of having been bullied, or have simply been enrolled in a Georgia public school for the past year. The bill would allow parents of such children to take the public funds allocated for their children's public education and place those funds in an account that could be used to pay for tuition, fees, and textbooks at private schools, as well as tutoring services, online education programs, and therapy services.
In his presentation of the legislation, Rep. Cantrell noted that the proposition is “a complicated bill”, but it is ultimately pro-public education bill. He stated that the cost to implement ESAs in Georgia “will be minimal”, and administration cost would be covered by a 3% levy on the funds diverted to an ESA. There is not yet a fiscal note on the bill. Rep. Cantrell stated that 78% of individuals polled nationwide support ESAs, including 70% of Democrat. The bill caps initial eligibility for ESAs to 0.5% of the public school population starting in Fall 2020, and increasing by 0.5% each year to a cap of 5%; Rep. Spencer Frye (D-Athens) asked about the author’s amenability to a sunset provision, to which Cantrell indicated he is open. Rep. Shaw Blackmon (R-Bonaire) asked for highlights of differences from last year’s HB 482, to which Rep. Cantrell noted that this bill provides for a higher yearly percentage of students eligible for an EASE (up to 0.5% per year from .25%) and institutes a pre-enrollment requirement for low income families (requiring enrollment in a public school before eligibility).
A number of groups spoke for and against the legislation. Speaking in opposition were the Georgia PTA (which noted that last year’s fiscal note pegged the cost of the bill at $35M, which is about the amount lawmakers are looking for to extend educator raises to school counselors, social workers, and psychologists), the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, the Georgia Education Coalition, Georgia School Superintendents Association, Georgia School Board Association, Cherokee County Schools, and Public Education Matters Georgia. Speaking in favor of the bill were two parents, GeorgiaCAN, Excellence in Education in Action, and the Georgia Center for Opportunity.
The Subcommittee did not take action on the bill since this was the first hearing, which is their custom. However, Ways & Means Committee Chair Brett Harrell (R-Snellville) invited written public comment that may be sent to the Ways & Means Committee the Committee’s analyst, Brian Groome (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Chief Justice Delivers State of Judiciary Address
Today, Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold D. Melton presented his State of the Judiciary Address to a joint session of the General Assembly. He began his remarks, and ended them, with a tribute to the late Chief Justice Harris Hines, who died unexpectedly in November of 2018 only two months after retiring from the bench. Chief Justice Hines was loved by many and believed that one needed to help his or her fellow man. Chief Justice Melton remarked on a number of changes in 2019 - a new Governor, Lt. Governor, constitutional officers, 49 new lawmakers and 100 new judges across the State. Likewise, there are new judges on the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals. Chief Justice Melton described Georgia’s judiciary as “sturdy, strong and stable.” He noted that it was poised to meet the challenges of the State ahead. Melton remarked that Georgia has become a national model with its criminal justice reforms and those reforms are now being modeled by the federal system. He thanked Justice Mike Boggs for his work on criminal justice reform efforts. Chief Justice Melton also accented the approval and funding of the new judicial building only steps away from the State’s capitol, which will be ready for move in November-December 2019. In his remarks, he also gave a brief history lesson on our nation’s leaders: Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. He pointed to the illegal duel which resulted in the death of Hamilton. Burr, however, never faced the actual charges brought against him and completed his Vice Presidency - Melton pointed out this story in part to show that the judiciary is not perfect and that our country is a nation of laws and not of men.
Chief Justice Melton pointed out other successes over the past year in addition to criminal justice reform efforts:
Chief Justice Melton stated the judiciary was only at the cusp of technological changes. He reminded the General Assembly that social ills lie in communities and looking at problems in your backyards and starting relationships and conversations will go to the core of finding solutions.
House Floor Action
There were two measures on the House Rules Calendar addressed today:
House Health and Human Services Committee
Chairman Sharon Cooper (R-Marietta) and her Committee held a rather lengthy meeting that included a report by Dr. Ashley from the Georgia Trauma Commission. He noted that trauma care in the state was making a difference since the passage in 2007 of SB 60. The nine-member commission oversees the funding efforts for trauma in the state. Dr. Ashley also reported that Phoebe Putney Hospital in Albany had voted on February 6 to apply for a trauma center designation - this move will help improve care especially in the southwestern part of the state. Chairman Cooper stated that it was about time for Phoebe to make this move. Dr. Ashley also reported on the “Stop the Bleed Campaign” which has received $1 million for the supply of the bleeding control kits. So far, the Commission has undertaken to provide education on this campaign and training on how to use the kits. There have been no such trainings in Lincoln and Taylor County schools; the Committee indicated it would work on that issue. There is another goal to supply the kits on all school buses in the state and to train bus drivers. NBC Nightly News accented Georgia’s Stop the Bleed Campaign in a segment aired during the last year. There have also been efforts to work with EMS providers across the State on airway bleeding control. Rep. Timothy Barr (R-Lawrenceville) inquired about an explanation on the various levels of trauma centers. Dr. Ashley explained that a Level 1 is the most intensive although a Level 2 has the same services. Level 1, however, is “cutting edge” and has research being conducted as it tied to and educational institution.
The Committee also heard from a former New York Times Journalist and his book, “Tell Your Children.” Alex Berenson talked about the dangers of marijuana use and abuse. He told the Committee that cannabis was more psychiatrically destructive, causing psychosis. He also noted that research indicated that use caused paranoia and that it could produce schizophrenia according to epidemiology studies (and there is link between adolescent use, depending the age of the child and amount used). This increase of schizophrenia with these children were from two to six times more than average youth’s risk. He noted that evidence with cannabis and THC in medicine is weaker than evidence. It will work, though, for chemotherapy patients on nausea and sometimes as a pain reliever (but there has been no comparison made with some of the over-the-counter products) and he cautioned it was not a solution to the opioid crisis. The Committee raised a number of questions. Rep. Deborah Silcox (R-Sandy Springs) inquired about the 5 percent oil and whether the ingestion was linked to the brain stem. Mr. Berenson indicated that the oil in oral form is processed through the liver and have more effect than smoking; thus, can cause greater psychiatric issues. Rep. Karla Drenner (D-Avondale Estates) noted that she would prefer to hear from real researchers with empirical data but she did state she would read the book. Berenson noted his wife was a Harvard and Columbia trained forensic psychiatrist and it was her discussions that led him to write the book. He indicated the book is based on research; there is just no bibliography.
The Committee also took up two bills
House Juvenile Justice
The Committee held Rep. Chuck Efstration’s (R-Dacula) bill on Anti-Human Trafficking Protective Response, HB 234. They passed out HB 70 by Committee Substitute. HB 70 is also by Rep. Efstration and addresses Georgia’s guardian and ward laws in Title 29; this bill addresses temporary guardianship and required parental consent. They also passed out HB 228 by Rep. Andy Welch (R-McDonough) which proposes to change the minimum age of marriage from 16 to 17 years of age in Title 19.
Senate Health and Human Services
Chairman Ben Watson, MD (R-Savannah) and his Committee took up SB 106, a bill by Sen. Blake Tillery (R-Vidalia) proposed by Governor Kemp. SB 106 addresses Medicaid expansion in Georgia by providing the Governor the authority to apply for an 1115 Medicaid waiver and a waiver of 1332 under the Affordable Care Act. This bill would allow Governor Kemp to tailor healthcare solutions to Georgia’s needs according to Sen. Tillery. There were several individuals who spoke to SB 106:
There were some questions posed to Sen. Tillery. Sen. Chuck Hufstetler (R-Rome) indicated that he had previously pursued an Indiana-type waiver for Georgia and inquired if by using the 1332 waiver that would help Georgia to achieve the requisite assistance to get the 90 percent match on the 1115 waiver. Sen. Tillery said yes. Sen. Lester Jackson (D-Savannah) asked about what impact the bill would have on Georgia’s 25,000 uninsured veterans; Tillery responded it should be helpful and provide them options. Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford) reminded attendees that when she chaired the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, her Committee had promoted waivers. She did thank the Governor for his leadership on this issue but it was not exactly what the Committee had previously discussed (in particular, she noted the needs of those with mental illness). Sen. Steve Henson (D-Tucker) inquired about why not moving to 138 percent. Blake Fulenwider, with the Department of Community Health, spoke that there is a new adult group covered up to 133 percent of FPL and the Department is instructed to utilize a five percent income disregard to determine eligibility. Sen. Henson also asked why some basic principles were not included in this legislation; the response was that waivers are good for five years (there are three one-year extensions and waivers are subject to appropriations). Many in the Republican party, per Henson, do not wish to see any sort of expansion. Mr. Fulenwider outlined a number of “guardrails” the federal government has outlined on waivers:
Sen. Nan Orrock (D-Atlanta) indicated the legislation was big step and felt like the conversation was rushed in the hour-long meeting. She also inquired about the match of 90 percent versus that of 67 percent with federal funding. Her concern was the State would be spending more to cover fewer individuals. She also asked why a Subcommittee had not looked at SB 106. Sen. Henson also asked about the $1 million appropriation for a Medicaid waiver consultant which is in the budget.
Sen. Dean Burke, MD (R-Bainbridge) moved do pass on the legislation. Sen. Henson asked to propose an amendment to move to 138 percent of FPL. Amendments are required to be received by the Chair 24 hours in advance of the meeting. He was not permitted to do so. Sen. Henson stated that he also wanted a hearing on his bill, SB 36, which would allow for a full Medicaid expansion rather than a waiver idea. The bill then received a DO PASS recommendation but with votes essentially splitting along party lines.
Senate Regulated Industries Committee
The Senate Regulated Industries Committee, chaired by Sen. Bill Cowsert (R-Athens), met today to consider three pieces of legislation. Because of time constraints, the committee only voted on one, SB 2, and held a hearing only on SB 61.
SB 2, authored by Senator Steve Gooch (R-Dahlonega), amends Title 46 to permit electric membership corporations (EMCs) and their affiliates to deliver broadband services. The bill underwent an extensive amendment process as upwards of 5 senators proposed multiple amendments. Sen. John F. Kennedy’s (R-Macon) amendment would ensure there is a distinction between leasing facilities and leasing services. Sen. Ed Harbison’s (D-Columbus) amendment would make sure that EMCs could not share protected information with other EMCs. Sen. Jeff Mullis’ (R-Chickamauga) amendment passes dispute adjudication from the judicial branch to the Public Service Commission. After the amendment process, SB 2 received a recommendation DO PASS.
SB 61, authored by Sen. John Albers (R-Roswell), amends Title 31 to exempt integrated surgery centers from certificate of need requirements. More specifically this bill applies to ambulatory surgery centers built and operated in connection with an integrated athletic training and educational facility for youth, amateur, and professional athletes, medical research activities, and physician training and education for sports medicine. Sen. Albers noted that the Legacy Sports ASC has twice applied and been approved for a CON but met challenges that resulted in the Supreme Court refusing to hear the case. He also explained that the bill has very specific language so as to only apply to this ASC which would have an estimated economic impact of $1 billion over five years.
Gina Lee, representing Legacy Sports and Dr. James Andrews, further explained the process by which the facility had difficulty obtaining a CON. She also read letters of support from various professional athletes.
Kathy Palvino, representing the Georgia Alliance of Community Hospitals, spoke against the bill. She stated that this bill is not narrow in focus and would create a wide loophole for CON exemptions. She further explained that this bill would allow for an ASC to be built so long as it met a few small markers designated in the bill including having one sport medicine physician who engages in clinical trials and educational services. Additionally she explained that the center’s CON proposals were challenged in the past by other medical providers.
Ethan James, representing the Georgia Hospital Association, spoke in opposition to the bill. He also highlighted concerns with the broad definition of the bill and its potential to create CON loopholes statewide. He also stated it was disingenuous for Legacy Sports to say the bill limits their scope of practice because of the different language in the House and Senate versions and the versions from the previous legislative session. The Keri Conley of GHA further stated the Association’s position that regardless of how narrow the scope of the legislation, the legislature should not make healthcare policy based on the request of single providers.
Mitch Harris, a former professional baseball player representing himself, spoke in favor of the bill, telling the committee of his experience with Dr. Andrews.
Chairman Cowsert indicated that in the interest of time, the committee would not take action on SB 61 and will wait until their next meeting on Thursday to vote.
Senate Judiciary Subcommittee A
Subcommittee A of the Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Sen. Bill Cowsert (R-Athens) met today to consider two pieces of legislation.
First, Sen. Jeff Mullis (R-Chickamauga) presented SB 59 which amends Title 16 relating to wiretapping, eavesdropping, and surveillance. Under current Georgia law, only one person involved in the communication must give prior consent to allow for said communication to be intercepted. This bill would require all parties to give consent. Sen. Mullis explained that the bill protects individuals from being subverted by others with malicious intent. He stated that the initial statue this bill addresses originally stated that both parties must know they are being recorded but this was overturned by judicial action. He expressed his willingness to work with the committee to perfect the legislation.
Sen. Elena Parent (D-Atlanta) explained that she thinks there have been many examples where single party recording has been helpful, including undercover investigations and sexual harassment in the workplace. She asked if Sen. Mullis thinks it is always better to require two party consent, to which he stated he is open minded in carving out exemptions in the legislation. He also expressed that he is open to a slow process on the bill. Sen. Brian Strickland (R-McDonough) expressed concerns with the bill in regards to his experience with his private practice clients.
Ellen Reynolds, executive director of the Georgia Childcare Association, expressed concerns with the bill. She wanted to bring to the committees attention that this bill could apply to video recording. Many childcare facilities use live video feeds to allow parents to monitor their children. These centers often employ maintenance workers and outside individuals who may not consent to their video recording. She also expressed that her organization is working with DFCS to figure out if foster children would need consent from case workers on an individual basis, which she believes would be an arduous process.
The committee took no action on SB 59.
Sen. William Ligon (R-Brunswick) presented SB 64 which amends Title 15 to include acts of terroristic threats directed towards individuals at, or generally against, an educational facility or school as a Class B designated felony act. He explained that law enforcement felt they did not have the tools to fully conduct oversight on those that make terroristic threats. He noted that the reason he chose the juvenile code was to ensure the charge could be removed from the individual’s record once they have reached adulthood.
Sen. Jesse Stone (R-Waynesboro) asked how to differentiate between threats and pranks. Sen. Ligon explained that it would be up to a judge to make that determination.
Sen. Brian Strickland (R-McDonough) asked if an adult commits the same act, would they be charged at a lesser degree than a child. The Georgia Prosecuting Attorneys Council indicated that is correct.
Sen. Elena Parent (D-Atlanta), followed up on Sen. Stone’s question about pranks, stating that it is possible children with mental illness could be more likely to act impulsively. She expressed concerns that by addressing the issue in the justice system rather than through behavioral health and wanted to consider a mechanism encourage counseling outside of the justice system.
The committee took no action on this bill and adjourned.
The following legislation of interest was introduced in the House today:
The following legislation of interest was introduced in the Senate today:
The legislation was referred to the Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities Committee.
Rules Calendars for Legislative Day 18
The House is expected to consider the following measures tomorrow for Legislative Day 18:
The Senate is expected to consider the following measures tomorrow for Legislative Day 19:
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