February 4, 2020
As we officially enter the second quarter of the legislative session, the Senate floor saw bipartisan action with the unanimous passage of SB 159. This legislation allows local authorities the ability to regulate the operation of electric scooters on highways in their jurisdiction. Meanwhile, the House moved through its official business quickly before adjourning for the day. Both legislative bodies had a packed afternoon with a plentiful list of committee hearings taking place sending lawmakers, lobbyists and members of the public scurrying.
Meanwhile in the atrium, a moving tribute consisting of empty shoes covered the south steps to memorialize Georgians who lost their lives to fire. This year marks the 48th year for an annual commendation to firefighters at the State Capitol.
Scheduling rumors for the next phase of session continued to percolate through the halls today as lawmakers are supposedly proposing to stand in recess from February 6 through February 17. However, until an official adjournment resolution passes both chambers, these rumors remain only rumors.
Governor Kemp, along with Superintendent Wood and others, held a press conference this afternoon to announce that legislation would be offered to reduce “high stakes” testing of students. The bill for this effort is SB 367.
In today’s Report:
House Retirement Committee
The House Retirement Committee, chaired by Rep. Tommy Benton (R-Jefferson), met today to consider, among other things, a substitute to Chairman Benton’s HB 109. The bill, first proposed last year, makes a number of changes to the Teachers Retirement System. These changes include adjustments to how final average earnings are calculated for purposes of benefit determination, eligible retirement age, the employee contribution floor and ceiling, and cost of living adjustments. Most changes would affect only new members of TRS, but the COLA-related changes could affect members who have not yet retired. Chairman Benton had brought a substitute bill to the Committee but had met Monday with PAGE and the Georgia Retired Educators Association. All House members had received numerous emails from teachers opposed to the bill in Committee. The Committee heard substantial testimony on the bill, but it was held pending further discussions, after approving two amendments to the substitute that would delete several of the key changes in the original bill and primarily reduce the changes to disqualifying credits for unused sick days for new retirees and limiting the COLA to once a year.
The Committee passed HB 821, 664 and 336. It withdrew consideration of HB 733.
Public Finance and Policy Subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee
In a packed conference room on the first floor of the capitol, the Public Finance and Policy Subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee, chaired by Rep. Ron Stephens (R-Savannah), met to consider multiple items.
Rep. Bruce Williamson (R-Monroe) presented HB 378 as a committee substitute. He explained that the sub clarifies the definition of a motor vehicle marketplace facilitator. The subcommittee approved the bill unanimously.
Rep. Shaw Blackmon (R-Bonaire) presented HB 779. He explained that this bill alters the split from the TAVT. Specifically, he explained that this is a revisiting of the local split which he characterized as not being fair to all parties in the past. He noted that the new substitute is the product of a compromise between schools and localities. Joel Wiggins from GMA explained that this bill results from a good faith effort between GMA, ACCG, and the school boards. Larry Ramsey from ACCG added that his organization’s policy committee voted to support the bill. He stated that although the bill might result in less revenue for counties, he understands the intention of the legislation to improve revenue for municipalities. Erica Long from Atlanta Public Schools testified that she hopes to see stability in collections to allow local school districts to better estimate their revenue streams. The subcommittee approved the bill unanimously.
House Health and Human Services Committee
Chairman Sharon Cooper (R-Marietta) and her Committee met this afternoon taking up HB 586 by Rep. Chuck Efstration (R-Dacula). This bill, presented as introduced, seeks to address the opioid epidemic which is a serious problem in all Georgia communities. A constituent suffered from addiction and their spouse was in the final stages of cancer with strong medications left in the home, leaving medication to be abused. Rep. Efstration also expressed that he had his own personal experience with strong medication left after a family member died in hospice. In this proposal, a Hospice may take back medications; there is no requirement that the house where the hospice patient has died be searched for drugs. It merely allows this action to be taken by the hospice and that hospice must follow rules promulgated by the Department of Community Health (“DCH” or “Department”). Rep. Efstration acknowledged that the FDA has guidelines for the disposal of medications; there are repositories in communities and includes the Drug Take Back program. The legislation he brings fills an existing gap in regulations within DCHT. This statute allows clear recognition that hospice workers may take back the drugs by rules set by the Department. The Department would address situations around abuse if such were to occur. HB 897, which passed in 2016, established a statewide drug repository (including recycling of medications). HB 586 will work in concert with the language contained in HB 897. Rep. Shelly Hutchinson (D-Snellville) raised a red flag with the bill: healthcare professionals are being placed at risk for abuse (she noted her own experience as she worked in hospice for two years). Rep. Efstration believes that the Department is uniquely positioned to address these issues. He further stated that the bill is a measured, reasonable effort to fix this specific problem. Rep. Hutchinson acknowledged that she had a criminal background check conducted while she was working in hospice and she clarified that it did not include a drug screen. She noted that a doctor or nurse from the hospice is required to confirm the time of death of the patient. Chairman Cooper expressed that she would like the bill’s language to require the Department rather than have the permissive “may” language (which the Department felt allows for implementation if everything else is worked out). Brandy Sylvan, with the Department of Community Health, met with Rep. Efstration and has no concerns with the bill as written. Ms. Sylvan indicated that she would prefer to meet with her subject matter experts before the wording of “may” is changed to “shall.” Rep. Mark Newton, MD (R-Augusta) indicated that there are new products being developed; he appreciates the Department having the ability to develop rules and regulations as described in the legislation. Rep. Dexter Sharper (D-Valdosta) proposed a few suggestions which included that companies have standard operating guidelines, and they can have confirmation processes for destruction of the take backs which could be used in the checklist for the individual who confirms the death. Rep. Michele Henson (D-Stone Mountain) indicated the FDA has responsibility for drugs and she understood that DEA has requirements for drug destruction. Her questions were more around why DCH should be involved. Rep. Efstration indicated that DCH has the state responsibility for these services. There are kits available to use water to neutralize a drug’s effectiveness. Rep. Jimmy Pruett (R-Eastman) indicated he thought it was a great piece of legislation but made some recommended changes (in part the addition of a witness for the taking of the medications). Rep. Kim Schofield (D-Atlanta) asked why include only “hospice,” and that it is because the patient is no longer living and no longer there to take the medication. Rep. Efstration acknowledged that he was not wishing to look more at in-home healthcare. Rep. John LaHood (R-Valdosta) indicated he thought the legislation was a good bill; it could help keep the drugs out of the wrong hands. He was in favor of the language remaining as “may.” Shelia Humberstone, a lobbyist, spoke in favor of the bill; she discussed to a personal situation with a friend’s death where medications were left and there were questions around the drugs’ disposal. Ms. Humberstone supported the proposal. Tom Bauer, another lobbyist, also shared a personal story with a family member who died in hospice, noting this legislation helps address what to do with medications which are left. The Chairman asked that Rep. Efstration work on the bill and focus on opioids, and speak further to the Department and Rep. LaHood. Thus, NO ACTION was taken today on this legislation.
The Committee also heard two presentations:
Kate Blackmon, director of health programs at NCSL and liaison to Georgia from NCSL, presented information on how NCSL helps legislators. She also discussed the public health “winnable battles” and areas in which the CDC believes that progress may be made. These include adverse childhood experiences, HIV, opioid epidemic, etc. Three priority areas were identified by the Georgia legislators attending the NCSL event: raising awareness of ACEs (adverse childhood experiences) among state legislators; increasing HIV testing to identify areas with special populations and link to care in Georgia; and increasing utilization of federally qualified health centers to improve affordable access to care.
Lisa Dawson, with the Department of Public Health, spoke on adverse childhood experiences. There are three buckets - abuse, neglect and household dysfunction. Ms. Dawson noted that one in six adults experience four or more types of ACEs. A study in 1998 (conducted by the CDC and Kaiser Permanente in California which looked at root causes of chronic diseases) found the issue of these ACEs. ACEs can also change the brain development of children. A “fourth” bucket is the community - homelessness, gangs, etc. ACEs creates toxic responses and impacts brain development. ACEs are associated with many diseases such as severe obesity, diabetes, depression, suicide attempts, STDs, heart disease, cancer, stroke, COPD, and broken bones. There is also a behavioral risk factor surveillance survey - many states have participated in this survey between 2009-2019. There is also proxy data for ACEs, including the National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence and National Survey of Children’s Health. Georgia ranks lowest in numbers of ACEs. Most children can recover from ACEs with the right support. Examples of existing efforts in Georgia include: Georgia Essentials for Childhood, Georgia ACEs Connection, VOICES for Georgia’s Children, Prevent Child Abuse Georgia, Resilient Georgia, Clinical interventions, DFCS, and counseling and education services. Policy solutions include early head start and high-quality preschool education.
Rep. Pruett asked whether there was an age determination for the best time for intervention; however, by the age of 13 children only listen to their peers so earlier is better. The brain of a child remains elastic until around the age of 18. There are different interventions as the child ages. Rep. Hutchinson (D-Snellville) asked about children who are most challenged and that have all the “checks” as Georgia has little to offer those children with all the ACEs or otherwise meeting all the blocks (she noted that Georgia typically sends the most severe children to South Carolina).
Senate Natural Resources and Environment Committee
The Senate Natural Resources and Environment Committee, chaired by Sen. Tyler Harper (R-Ocilla) met this afternoon to consider two bills.
Sen. William Ligon (R-Brunswick) presented a substitute to SB 123. He noted that the bill had a lot of discussion in the previous session. This proposal relates to the pricing of coal ash in the state. The substitute version of the bill received a recommendation DO PASS and moves to the Senate Rules Committee.
Next, Sen. Frank Ginn (R-Danielsville) presented SB 319. The bill would allow for an engineer of record to be retained for a breach analysis for the construction of a category II dam. Additionally, the bill stipulates that no inhabitable structure be built in an inundation zone of a category II dam unless an engineer of record submits a report that the structure can withstand a breach. Sen. Zahra Karinshak (D-Duluth) asked if this bill causes a shift in any liability. Sen. Ginn explained that this bill only notifies property owners that if they build in a breach zone, they need to build up to code. The bill received a recommendation DO PASS and moves forward to the Senate Rules Committee.
The following legislation of interest was introduced in the House today:
The following legislation of interest was introduced in the Senate today:
Rules Calendar for Legislative Day 11
The House is expected to consider the following measures on Wednesday for Legislative Day 12:
The Senate is expected to consider the following measures on Wednesday for Legislative Day 12:
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