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Nelson Mullins is continuing to monitor developments related to COVID-19, including guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and various federal, state, and local government authorities. The firm is taking appropriate precautionary actions and has implemented plans to ensure the continuation of all firm services to clients from both in office and remote work arrangements across our 25 offices. 

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Gold Dome

February 27, 2020

Gold Dome Report - February 27, 2020

Today marks Legislative Day 20, the halfway point for the 2020 Legislative Session! Rumors are that the House and Senate are much closer on finalizing their budget plans for the remaining portion of this fiscal year and the new fiscal year commencing on July 1. Still, we do not have new information to share as it relates to the revenue collections and will not know more until early March. Remain hopeful that the coffers are filling — but know that another “budget break” may be near! Legislators are not just waiting around on the budgets, though. Controversial legislation continues to pop up in both chambers including new Certificate of Need laws in the House. Because Crossover Day is seven legislative days away, these bills must be heard quickly in order to be voted upon and moved out of their originating chamber to remain alive. We’ll help you keep track with what is dead or alive in the #GoldDomeReport.

In today’s Report:

  • Committee Reports
  • New Legislation
  • Rules Calendars for Legislative Day 21

Committee Reports
 
House Education Committee
 

The House Education Committee, chaired by Rep. Rick Jasperse (R-Jasper), met this afternoon to hear multiple measures:

  • HB 957, authored by Rep. Jan Jones (R-Milton), is a cleanup bill for charter schools in Georgia including clarification that charter school teachers can take part in the SHBP, the ownership of student records, and enrollment processes. Rep. Jones walked the committee through the bill’s different provisions. Rep. Doreen Carter (D-Lithonia) stated that she thought these proposals would have been better if offered in different bills. She also asked why the change to the SHBP is necessary if these teachers are already able to participate. Rep. Jones explained that the current law does not specifically state charter school teacher eligibility and this bill would simply codify current practice. Rep. Brenda Lopez-Romero (D-Lawrenceville) asked for the addition of provision to prevent third party record stewards from selling any student record data. Legislative Counsel clarified that federal law prevents the movement of these data without an express reason. Rep. Lopez-Romero noted additional language would make her more comfortable with the bill. The amendment was adopted and the bill received a recommendation DO PASS.
     
  • HB 855, authored by Rep. Marcus Wiedower (R-Watkinsville), directs the State Board of Education to develop rules to automatically initiate assessments for foster care children to receive special education services. Rep. Valencia Stovall (D-Forest Park) stated that while she supports the legislation, she hopes that efforts will be made for more students that are not foster children to receive these assessments. The bill received a recommendation DO PASS.
     
  • HB 755, authored by Rep. Dave Belton (R-Buckhead), requires local boards of education to provide itemized allotment sheets for each fiscal year to local charter schools. Rep. Belton explained that these data already exist and this bill simply requires the information be shared by boards of education. Rep. Stovall echoed the importance of local charter schools having access to these allotment sheets. The bill received a recommendation DO PASS.

House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee — Reeves Subcommittee

The Reeves Subcommittee of the House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee, chaired by Rep. Bert Reeves (R-Marietta), met to consider four bills today.

  • HB 885, authored by Rep. Jesse Petrea (R-Savannah), amends Title 42 relating to the confidentiality of Department of Corrections investigation reports relating to potential parolees. Specifically, the bill would allow prosecutors to access Corrections investigation reports for certain potential parolees. The District Attorneys’ Association supports the bill. The Georgia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers asked for a change at line 36 to ensure continuing confidentiality of the records after disclosure to the prosecutor. GACDL also asked that potential parolees also have access to the records. The Subcommittee adopted an amendment addressing the first of these issues and recommended the bill Do Pass and be sent to the full Committee.
     
  • HB 488, authored by Rep. Martin Momtahan (R-Dallas), amends Titles 10 and 16 relating organized retail crime. Among other things, the bill addresses gift card fraud and organized theft with new investigative tools and offenses. Rep. Josh McLaurin (D-Atlanta) expressed concerns about the minimum sentences in the bill, as well as the need for a mens rea requirement for participation in an organized theft scheme. Rep. Ed Setzler (R-Acworth) offered an amendment to create a $500 floor for gift card thefts triggering investigative tools and organized retail fraud, which was adopted. Rep. Bob Trammell (D-Luthersville) offered an amendment to effectuate the mens rea point made by Rep. McLaurin, but the amendment was lost. Rep. Trammell offered an additional amendment to change a reference to $20,000 to $24,999, which was also lost. Rep. Trammell offered a third amendment to change the mandatory minimum sentence range from 5-20 years to 2-20 years, which was also lost. The Subcommittee recommended the bill Do Pass with the Setzler amendment and be sent to the full Committee.
     
  • HB 984, authored by Rep. James Burchett (R-Waycross), amends Title 17 to address sentencing calculations and considerations. The Prosecuting Attorneys Council notes several concerns with the bill. The Subcommittee recommended the bill Do Pass and be sent to the full Committee with the caveat that GACDL and PAC work to clarify language before tomorrow’s full Committee meeting.
     
  • HB 528, authored by Rep. Mandi Ballinger (R-Canton), amends Title 35 to address restriction and sealing of criminal records. Chairman Reeves presented the bill on Rep. Ballinger’s behalf, noting that it is now focused exclusively on misdemeanor offenses. Chairman Reeves provided a broad overview of the bill and committed to continue working on the draft to ensure a bill can be voted on by the Committee before time runs out. After discussion of details on the draft with Chairman Reeves and GACDL, Rep. Setzler asked why the door should be opened for anyone to have their criminal record restricted. Several advocates spoke in support of the measure. No members of the public spoke in opposition. The Subcommittee took no action on the bill today.

Senate Higher Education Committee

The Senate Higher Education Committee, chaired by Sen. Lindsey Tippins (R-Marietta), heard two bills today:

  • SB 400, authored by Sen. Elena Parent (D-Atlanta), amends Title 20 to require the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement to establish objectives and participation targets for the dual enrollment program. The bill also requires GOSA to annually measure and evaluate the program and report certain data and analysis related to the program to the Governor and the General Assembly. The bill is going to be amended so that the Georgia Student Finance Commission collects the data instead of GOSA. The Committee will take up the bill again at a later date.
     
  • SB 416, authored by Sen. Jeff Mullis (R-Chickamauga), amends Title 20 to change the name of the Office of College and Career Transitions to the Office of College and Career Academies and provide for the appointment and duties of a director of said office. The bill also provides for collaboration between the office and certain entities to support efforts to recruit new industries and expand existing industries. There was substantial concern over the input being allowed from local boards of education who fund college and career academies. The Committee took no action on the bill today.

House Special Committee on Access to Quality Healthcare

The House Special Committee on Access to Quality Healthcare, chaired by Rep. Mark Newton (R-Augusta), met this afternoon to consider multiple measures.

Rep. Lee Hawkins (R-Gainesville) presented HB 888 which addresses balanced billing in Georgia. Rep. Hawkins walked the committee through the most recent changes to the bill. The bill specifically excludes Medicare and Medicaid rates from the average insurance payment calculation. The bill adds a new section to allow out-of-network hospitals to arbitrate payments in emergency situations. Rep. Hawkins explained that all parties agreed to these changes. Chairman Newton explained that the committee will take a vote on this bill on Friday morning.

Rep. David Knight (R-Griffin) presented HB 946, relating to pharmacy benefits managers, to the committee. He explained that PBMs represented a “corporate takeover of our healthcare system.” He further explained that PBM practices harm patients by inflating drug prices and create difficulties in obtaining important medications. Rep. Knight asserted that because insurance companies are often no longer independent of pharmacies, they are able to steer patients into their “channels” and increase costs. HB 946 works to strengthen anti-steering provisions from previous legislation. Section one of the bill prevents steering in Medicaid Managed Care Organizations which were carved out of last year’s legislation. Section two of the bill increases fines and penalties for violations by PBMs. Section three addressed prior authorizations. Section four increases the Commissioner’s authority to conduct financial and compliance audits. Rep. Knight explained that section five, pertaining to transparency, is the most important part of the bill. The bill also contains a 10% surcharge for PBMs that continue to engage in steering practices.

Rep. Knight also discussed HB 947 which directs DCH to conduct an actuarial study on carving out pharmacy benefits from Medicaid. Rep. Patty Bentley (D-Butler) asked Rep. Knight to address concerns that these bills could increase healthcare costs in rural areas. Rep. Knight responded that this bill brings transparency to the prescription process which can help reduce costs. He also added that the bill will help local pharmacists which often act as the first line of healthcare in rural areas. Rep. Bentley also stated that she thought the PBMs should have been a part of this conversation. Rep. Knight explained that there has been too much compromise with PBMs in the past which has resulted in poor outcomes for Georgians. He further stated that they had the ability to work with him but refused to offer any concessions.

Chairman Newton asked if any PBMs have been fined under the previous legislation. Rep. Knight answer that he is unaware of any fines that have been issued but that this new legislation allows the Commissioner more ability to conduct investigations to find violations.

The meeting was still in progress at our deadline hearing HB 918.
 

New Legislation

The following legislation of interest was introduced in the House today:

  • HB 1032, by Representative Matt Hatchett (R-Dublin), seeks to amend Georgia’s Certificate of Need (“CON”) Laws and specifically provide an exemption in O.C.G.A. § 31-7-3.  It seeks a new exemption for ambulatory surgery centers which perform medical procedures in non-sterile procedure rooms and not in ORs and have a letter of determination from the Department of Community Health so that such would not be subject to CON review.
     
  • HB 1034, by Representative Bill Werkheiser (R-Glennville), seeks to amend O.C.G.A. § 39-2-20 regarding the regulation of employment of minors. It provides for civil penalties (not to exceed $1,000.00 per violation) for employers who violate provisions in employing minors and permits the Commissioner of the Department of Labor the power to appoint administrative adjudicators and decide appeals of such violations.
     
  • HB 1035, by Representative Chuck Martin (R-Alpharetta), seeks to lift the current repeal of the sales and use tax exemptions, making them permanent, for sales of tangible property to nonprofit health centers; sales of tangible property and services to nonprofit volunteer health clinics; and sales of food and food ingredients to a qualified food bank in O.C.G.A. § 48-8-3 at paragraphs (7.05), (7.3) (57.1), and (57.3).
     
  • HB 1039, authored by Rep. Sam Watson (R-Moultrie), amends O.C.G.A. § 13-12-3 to require any service that engages consumers in auto-renewing contracts to obtain written or electronic affirmation that the consumer does not intend to cancel the agreement.
     
  • HB 1041, authored by Rep. Karen Mathiak (R-Griffin), amends Titles 16 and 20 to require that O.C.G.A. § 16-12-103 apply to school libraries.
     
  • HB 1044, authored by Rep. John Carson (R-Marietta), amends paragraph (101) of O.C.G.A. § 48-8-3 to extend a sunset provision of a tax exemption for noncommercial written materials or mailings for certain nonprofit organizations.
     
  • HB 1046, authored by Rep. Henry “Wayne” Howard (D-Augusta), amends O.C.G.A. § 10-1-164.2 to require that self service gas stations provide assistance to mobility impaired persons when such persons are not accompanied by individuals without mobility impairments.
     
  • HB 1047, by Representative Matt Hatchett (R-Dublin), seeks to amend Georgia’s laws regarding trusts and proposes revisions to requirements for modifying or terminating a non-charitable irrevocable trust in O.C.G.A. § 53-12-61(c).
     
  • HB 1049, by Representative Martin Momtahan (R-Dallas), seeks to facilitate the sharing of information and reporting of cyber attacks in Titles 38 and 50.
     
  • HB 1050, by Representative Eddie Lumsden (R-Armuchee), seeks to amend Georgia’s Life and Health Insurance Guaranty Association to extend association protections to certain persons receiving coverage from health maintenance organization subscriber contracts or health corporation plans in Chapter 38 of Title 33. This legislation is a bill from the Department of Insurance.

The following legislation of interest was introduced in the Senate today:

  • SB 447, by Senator P.K. Martin, IV (R-Lawrenceville), seeks to amend O.C.G.A. § 20-2-161.2 so as to provide definitions around “work-based learning.” These proposed defined terms are: cooperative education; employability skill development; internship; mentorship; school-based enterprise; service-learning experience; work-based learning; and youth apprentice.
     
  • SB 451, by Senator John Kennedy (R-Macon), seeks to amend O.C.G.A. § 9-3-51 relating to limitations on recovery for deficiencies connected with improvements to realty and resulting injuries. His proposal seeks to prohibit this Code section from actions from a breach of contract, including, but not limited to, actions for breach of express contractual warranties.
     
  • SB 452, by Senator John Kennedy (R-Macon), seeks to amend Chapter 6 of Title 5, regarding appellate practice and arraignment and pleas. It proposes to withdraw the right of appeal on judgments of conviction entered upon a guilty plea.  It further proposes to provide for a direct appeal of all judgments or orders granting or refusing motions to recuse or disqualify a judge from presiding in a particular case or proceeding in O.C.G.A. § 5-6-34(a). Finally, it proposes to add in O.C.G.A. § 17-7-93(b) that once the court has pronounced judgment on a guilty plea, the trial court will only be allowed to consider a motion to withdraw the “plea of guilty” within the same term of court or 30 days from the day the plea is entered, whichever is later.
     
  • SB 453, by Senator John Kennedy (R-Macon), seeks to provide for statutory rules and procedures for the recusal or disqualification of judges of the superior and state courts as well as selection of a new judge upon recusal or disqualification in a new Code section at O.C.G.A. § 15-1-8.1.


Rules Calendars for Legislative Day 21

The House is expected to take up the following measures on Friday for Legislative Day 21:

  • HB 463 — Motor vehicles; issuance of a Class C driver's license to operators of certain three-wheeled motor vehicles; provide
     
  • HB 555 — Criminal procedure; add public child welfare case manager to the people for whom arrest warrants may be issued only by certain judicial officers
     
  • HB 752 — Professions And businesses; national background checks by FBI through Georgia Crime Information Center for licensing to practice as a physical therapist or physical therapist assistant; provide
     
  • HB 842 — Gracie's Law; enact
     
  • HB 859 — Motor vehicles; tinting of windows or windshields; provide maximum monetary penalty
     
  • HB 987 — Health; additional measures for the protection of elderly persons; provide

The Senate is expected to take up the following measures on Friday for Legislative Day 21:

  • SB 362 — Livestock Running at Large or Straying; impounding animals and disposing of impounded animals; change the fees
     
  • SB 371 — Department of Transportation Officers; state investment in railways and railroad facilities and equipment; provide
     
  • SB 388 — General Income Tax Provisions; certain actions relating to false or fraudulent material matter on returns, affidavits, claims, or documents; penalties; increase
     
  • SR 690 — Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Trust Fund; support implementation of the Coastal Georgia Greenway; encourage