facebook linked in twitter
close

Gold Dome

February 6, 2019

Gold Dome Report - February 6, 2019

As the legislative session approached the end of its first quarter today, the House took its first floor actions, adopting HR 1 to name the state’s new appellate court complex the Nathan Deal Judicial Center. Deal, who served as a prosecutor and juvenile court judge before being elected to Congress, appointed over 100 judges to the bench and led sweeping criminal justice reforms during his tenure as Georgia’s 82nd Governor. Meanwhile, the Senate Rules Committee set its chamber up to consider its first bill tomorrow, SB 25, a measure aimed at clarifying the circumstances in which a driver need not stop for a school bus. Committee action continued, as well, today--all those details in today’s #GoldDomeReport.

In this Report:

  • Committee Updates
  • New Legislation
  • Rules Calendars for Legislative Day 10

 

Committee Updates

Senate Health and Human Services Committee

The Senate Health and Human Services Committee, chaired by Sen. Ben Watson (R-Savannah), met today to consider one bill. SB 16, authored by Sen. Kay Kirkpatrick (R-Marietta), amends Title 43 to enter into an interstate compact known as the "Interstate Medical Licensure Compact Act". The bill will authorize the Georgia Composite Medical Board to grant expedited licenses to any licensee of other states. The bill is supported by the Composite Board, the Medical Association of Georgia, Stratus Healthcare, Navicent, and the Georgia Hospital Association. Sen. Steve Henson (D-Tucker) inquired as to who will cover the costs of administering the compact, to which Sen. Kirkpatrick noted that costs will be covered by fees collected from practitioners benefiting from the compact. The Committee recommended the bill DO PASS and be sent to the Rules Committee.

Senate Education and Youth Committee

The Senate Education and Youth Committee, chaired by Sen. P.K. Martin IV (R-Lawrenceville), met to hear testimony on one bill today. SB 48, authored by Chairman Martin, amends Title 20 to require that all students in kindergarten be screened for dyslexia and provide a framework to identify and address dyslexia in students between kindergarten and grade three. Samantha Durrance of the Southern Regional Education Board spoke in favor of the legislation, noting that Georgia is one of six states in the Southeast without statewide requirements for dyslexia screening. She outlined the processes used by other Southeastern states, which generally rely on teachers identifying characteristics and warning signs and referring at-risk students for further assessment. Chairman Martin noted that his proposal would include provisions for training teachers to serve in an identification (but not a diagnosing) role for students with dyslexia. Sens. Freddie Powell Sims (D-Dawson) and Donzella James (D-Atlanta) expressed concern about how teachers will be prepared to screen students and what supports would be provided to identified students. Sen. James also asked about how screening would be funded, to which Chairman Martin noted that any mandated screening would be subject to appropriation. Tina Engberg and Heather Robertson of Decoding Dyslexia Georgia also spoke in favor of the legislation, as well as Arianne Weldon with Georgia Family Connection Partnership, John Zauner with the Georgia School Superintendents Association, grandparent Florine Wood, and retired teacher Ceda Wood. Chairman Martin noted that they are working through some revisions to the bill and will take it up for action at the next Committee meeting.

House Juvenile Justice and Health and Human Services Committees Hold Joint Hearing

The House Juvenile Justice Committee, chaired by Rep. Mandi Ballinger (R-Canton), and the House Health and Human Services Committee, chaired by Rep. Sharon Cooper (R-Marietta), met this morning in a joint session to hear from Voices for Georgia’s Children to give an overview on comprehensive child policy. Chairman Ballinger began by introducing Polly McKinney, the advocacy director of Voices for Georgia’s Children. McKinney explained that the committee would hear from a variety of experts starting with Rebecca Rice, who gave a data overview of child policy. In 2017, 21.5% of children in Georgia were living in poverty, part of an overall downward trend. In contrast, Georgia has been seeing an increase in low-birthweight births reaching an all time high in 2017. These data points typically lag behind the national average.

A section on physical health was presented by Dr. Veda Johnson, a professor of pediatrics at Emory University School of Medicine. Dr. Johnson explained that health insurance is a very important factor in the physical health of children, Dr. Johnson’s recommendations included:

  • Implementing recommendations from Voices barriers to healthcare for Georgia’s children, especially keeping the Georgia Gateway Integrated Eligibility System on 24/7
  • Ensuring access to healthcare for all adults caring for or living with children
  • Prioritize school based health

Dr. Erica Fener Sitkoff, the executive director of Voices, discussed mental health, explaining that in 2016 suicide was the second leading cause of death for Georgia children 10-17.  Dr. Sitkoff noted that increases in teachers with mental health training and implementation of the Apex program has improved these outcomes. However, many children still do not receive the care they need for mental health conditions. Many times these issues arise from administrative problems, for which Voices gives three recommendations:

  • Invest in and support recommendations made by Governor Deal’s Children’s Mental Health Commission
  • Improve ability to address workforce shortages by collecting and monitoring behavioral health workforce data similar to practices for physicians with the Board of for Physician Workforce.
  • Support the development of protocols and standards for improved and expanded provision of behavioral health telemedicine

Chairman Cooper outlined her interest in expanding the placement of qualified mental health professionals in schools, accenting the need for these professionals to work with students earlier than at the high school level.

Julia Neighbors, the director of Prevent Child Abuse Georgia, who spoke about protection and safety of children.  Ms. Neighbors explained that there are about 15,000 children in Georgia’s foster care system. With the passage of the Family First Act.  Georgia can use federal funding to assist in the foster care system. Her key recs include:

  • Support investments need in DFCS and other public and private providers to maximize implementation of the Family First Prevention Services Act.
  • Increase the availability and equitable distribution of quality and affordable housing and support policies, including rent subsidies which protect families and children from unsafe housing.
  • Fund and implement child development training, child trauma and bias awareness for adults who engage or work with children

Bradley Boyd, the presiding judge of the Fulton Juvenile Court. Boyd, stressed the importance of understanding the link between education and juvenile justice, noting Georgia’s efforts to reduce juvenile detention. Fulton County has seen a 70% success rate in youth that were diverted from out-of-home placements. In the 2016-17 school year, 205,900 Georgia students (k-12) were disciplined with out-of-school suspension. Boyd explained the factors that contribute to keeping children out of school. His recommendations included:

  • Continue funding evidence based interventions for children at high or medium risk to reoffend through the Juvenile Justice Incentive Grant Program and Community Services Grant Program.
  • Improve technical assistance and develop a reliable funding mechanism for all juvenile courts’ children in need of services (CHINS) program.
  • Increase jurisdiction of juvenile courts to encompass children under 19 so they may receive services more effective for their development.

Mindy Binderman, the executive director of the Georgia Early Education Alliance for Ready Students, stressed the critical foundation of early childhood development care and learning. She highlighted 3 recommendations:

  • Increase state funding for CAPS which provides child care subsidies for high need families (currently the program only serves 11 percent of eligible families)
  • Increase funding for Babies Can’t Wait program (early detection and intervention for developmental disorders)
  • Incentivize and support child care centers in improving their nutritional and fitness offerings for children and families including increasing access to fresh and healthy Georgia Grown foods.

Chairman Cooper expressed her passion for early childhood development and asked the committee to help with public health programs to help nurses perform more programs targeted towards babies and their mothers.

Arianne Weldon, the director of Get Georgia Reading Campaign,  spoke about workforce development. She identified reading proficiency rates at the end of 3rd grade as the biggest risk to workforce development. She explained that the path to higher reading proficiency begins early in a child’s life, including their mother’s reading level and the amount of loving words they hear in early development. Oftentimes, common vision issues have a large impact in reading levels.  Ms. Weldon asked for the legislature to help improve 3rd grade reading rates.

Rep. Debra Silcox (R-) asked about evidence based studies regarding increasing broadband access to rural schools.

Katie Landes, Director of Georgia Statewide Afterschool Network, testified that 80% of children's’ time is spend outside of school and that participation in afterschool programs increase grad rates and decrease crime rates. Currently, there is no dedicated funding for afterschool programs. She encouraged the legislature to investigate funding options. Her recommendations included:

  • State funding to afterschool and summer learning programs to increase access and ensure affordability of care.
  • Increase state funding of CAPS program.
  • Encourage technical education, work-based learning, and apprenticeships to older youth to prepare for jobs of tomorrow.
  • Allocate funding to augment federal outreach in the FY20 budget
  • Ensure Georgia’s Complete Count Committee remains active
  • Support local complete count committees in your district

Senate Education and Youth Committee

The Senate Education and Youth Committee, chaired by Sen. P.K. Martin IV (R-Lawrenceville), met to hear testimony on one bill today. SB 48, authored by Chairman Martin, amends Title 20 to require that all students in kindergarten be screened for dyslexia and provide a framework to identify and address dyslexia in students between kindergarten and grade three. Samantha Durrance of the Southern Regional Education Board spoke in favor of the legislation, noting that Georgia is one of six states in the Southeast without statewide requirements for dyslexia screening. She outlined the processes used by other Southeastern states, which generally rely on teachers identifying characteristics and warning signs and referring at-risk students for further assessment. Chairman Martin noted that his proposal would include provisions for training teachers to serve in an identification (but not a diagnosing) role for students with dyslexia. Sens. Freddie Powell Sims (D-Dawson) and Donzella James (D-Atlanta) expressed concern about how teachers will be prepared to screen students and what supports would be provided to identified students. Sen. James also asked about how screening would be funded, to which Chairman Martin noted that any mandated screening would be subject to appropriation. Tina Engberg and Heather Robertson of Decoding Dyslexia Georgia also spoke in favor of the legislation, as well as Arianne Weldon with Georgia Family Connection Partnership, John Zauner with the Georgia School Superintendents Association, grandparent Florine Wood, and retired teacher Ceda Wood. Chairman Martin noted that they are working through some revisions to the bill and will take it up for action at the next Committee meeting.

Senate Regulated Industries Committee

The Senate Regulated Industries Committee, chaired by Sen. Bill Cowsert (R-Athens), to approve its rules and hear one bill. SB 17, authored by Sen. Steve Gooch (R-Dahlonega), authorizes four rural telephone cooperatives to offer broadband services and increases the population threshold for organizing a co-op from 1,500 members to 15,000 members. No action was taken on the bill, but the Committee is expected to vote on it next week.

House Higher Education Committee

The House Higher Education Committee, chaired by Rep. Chuck Martin (R-Alpharetta), met this afternoon to hear from a variety of speakers and consider HB 42, authored by Rep. Scot Turner (R-Holly Springs), which amends multiple Titles to prevent professional licensing boards from refusing to issue a license or suspending or revoking a license of a person who is in default of an educational loan issued through the Georgia Higher Education Assistance Corporation or through a federal agency. Chairman Martin began by briefly introducing new members. He then called on the University System of Georgia “USG” to speak to the committee. Chancellor Steve Wrigley gave a brief overview of the USG’s structure and operations along with statistical trends that have informed decision making at USG in recent years. The Technical College System of Georgia’s “TCSG” Commissioner Matt Arthur followed with a similar overview of the TCSG’s structure and operations. Commissioner Arthur specifically noted the unique job space filled by graduates of technical colleges, indicating the large impact the TCSG has on workforce development in Georgia. The next speaker was Gretchen Corbin, CEO of the Georgia Lottery, who provided a brief introduction of the history of the lottery and the importance of its role in funding the HOPE scholarship; including a record $1.14 billion for education in FY18.

Rep. Turner was brought forward to introduce HB 42, he was joined by an expert from the R Street Institute. Chairman Martin indicated that the committee would be only hearing the bill, not voting on its passage. After a brief explanation of the bill, Rep. Turner explained that the method of debt collection outlawed by the bill is currently a poor method of collecting debt because it cuts off the earning potential of a person in default of student loans, leading to the inability of said person to continue paying the bill. Rep. Turner further explained that the bill covers a large amount of code sections because the new language must apply to any section regarding revoking of a professional license.

Vice-Chairman Bert Reeves (R-Marietta) inquired if the licenses outlined in the bill is an exhaustive list of applicable professional licenses at risk of being revoked for a default of student debt. Rep. Turner explained that to his knowledge the list is inclusive and that there is also a catch-all clause to apply the new principle to future items. Rep. Reeves further inquired if there is another mechanism to ensure an individual in default is making every effort to pay their debt. Rep. Turner explained that the Georgia Finance Commission has begun implementing policies to create payment plans rather than putting them in default. This bill will codify this policy.

Rep. Patty Bentley (D-Butler) asked why funeral directors were not specifically included. Rep. Turner explained that because that profession was not explicitly listed in Georgia code, the new bill would still apply to them.

Rep. Sam Park (D-Lawrenceville) asked if there should be discretion to suspend licenses rather than a blanket ban. Rep. Turner explained that he thinks because of other methods of debt collection and other reasons a person might lose a license, there should not be crossover between those two things.

Rep. Rick Jasperse (R-Jasper) inquired about the total amount of student loans are defaulted per year in Georgia. Rep. Turner explained that because of the Georgia Finance Commission’s new debt collection strategies, there have not been any cases in Georgia, however there are cases of default occurring from federal loans.

Rep. David Dryer (D-Atlanta) discussed garnishment procedures, insinuating that oftentimes garnishment can be a simple legal process--in contrast to Rep. Reeves’ previous comments.

Rep. David Knight (R-Griffin) pointed out that the current statutory language does not expressly require the suspension of a license, but rather allows for it as a possible form of recourse.

Rep. Rick Williams (R-Milledgeville) discussed his experience with professional licensing boards, especially the issues those boards have in their operation. He wished to bring those experiences up to help members understand the strain licensing boards often operate under.

Sam Adolfson, a member of a good government think tank, spoke in favor of HB 42. He noted that the practice this bill seeks to eliminate acts as a form of “modern day debtors prison”. He further outline the list of states that have similar practices for their licensing boards, many of which have similar legislation as HB 42.

Tony West, grassroots director from Americans for Prosperity, spoke in favor in the bill.

The committee proceeded to adopt rules.

Lastly, the committee heard from Caylee Noggle, the Interim President of the Georgia Student Finance Commission, who gave an overview of the operations of the Commission and an update on the status of student loans and scholarship rewards in Georgia.  

New Legislation

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

  • HB 122, authored by Rep. Bob Trammell (D-Luthersville), amends Title 16 to roll back the campus carry rules passed by the General Assembly in the previous session. Those rules allow for concealed carry of firearms in most spaces on public postsecondary campuses where such campuses were previously off-limits for firearms. This bill was referred to the House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee.
  • HB 126, authored by Rep. Randy Nix (R-LaGrange), amends Title 34 to authorize the Department of Labor to create the “GeorgiaBest” program, a workforce development program to develop employer-identified skills. This bill was referred to the House Industry and Labor Committee.
  • HB 128, authored by Rep. Deborah Silcox (R-Sandy Springs), amends Title 33 to delete the requirement for insurers to notify the Georgia Composite Medical Board of agreements to settle claims of medical malpractice when the settlement results in a low payment under a high/low agreement. This bill was referred to the House Insurance and Labor Committee.
  • HB 130, authored by Rep. Randy Nix (R-LaGrange), amends Title 20 to authorize the Georgia Foundation for Public Education to create a non-profit to aid the Foundation in its operations or performing any of its goals. This bill was referred to the House Education Committee.
  • HB 132, authored by Rep. Bruce Williamson (R-Monroe), amends Title 48 to permit affiliated entities to apply certain transferable tax credits against payroll withholding. This bill was referred to the House Ways and Means Committee.
  • HB 133, authored by Rep. Jasmine Clark (D-Tucker), amends Title 20 to require that any course of study in sex education contain medically accurate information about HIV/AIDS prevention. This bill was referred to the House Health and Human Services Committee.
  • HB 135, authored by Rep. Demetrius Douglas (D-Stockbridge), is to be known as the “Authorized Electronic Monitoring in Long-term Care Facilities Act”. The bill amends Title 31 to allow residents of long-term care facilities to place recording devices in their rooms. This bill was referred to the House Human Relations and Aging Committee.
  • HR 135, authored by Rep. Chuck Efstration, urges Congress to eliminate the five-month waiting period for disability insurance benefits for individuals living with ALS. This resolution was referred to the House Health and Human Services Committee. 

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

  • SB 50, authored by Sen. Sally Harrell (D-Dunwoody), amends Title 16 to roll back the campus carry rules passed by the general assembly in the previous session. Those rules allow for concealed carry of firearms in most spaces on public postsecondary campuses where such campuses were previously off-limits for firearms. This bill was referred to the Senate Public Safety Committee
  • SB 51, authored by Sen. Elena Parent (D-Atlanta), amends Title 16 to allow local governments to relocate, remove, conceal, obscure, or otherwise alter certain monuments. This bill was referred to the Senate Government Oversight Committee.
  • SB 56, authored by Sen. Chuck Hufstetler (R-Rome), is the "Consumer Coverage and Protection for Out-of Network Medical Care Act". The bill amends Title 33 to establish standards for carriers and health care providers with regard to payment under a managed care plan in the provision of emergency medical care. The bill also provides for patient or prospective patient and insurer disclosures, as well as requirements for managed care plan contracts between carriers and covered persons. This bill was referred to the Senate Insurance and Labor Committee.
  • SB 57, authored by Sen. Sheikh Rahman (D-Lawrenceville), amends Title 20 to create the “Pay Forward, Pay Back Student Grant Act.” This bill authorizes the creation of grant assistance to any eligible student upon the execution of a contractual agreement that the student agrees to pay a percentage of their future annual adjusted gross income to the Georgia Student Finance Authority. This bill was referred to the Senate Higher Education Committee.
  • SB 59, authored by Sen. Jeff Mullis (R-Chickamauga), 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. This bill was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
  • SR 87, authored by Sen. Elena Parent (D-Atlanta), creates a Senate Study Committee on Digital Education and Screen Time in Georgia Public Schools. This resolution was referred to the Senate Rules Committee.

Rules Calendars for Legislative Day 10

The House will take up the following measures tomorrow for Legislative Day 10:

  • HB 21 -- Gwinnett Judicial Circuit; additional judge of the superior court; provide (Judy-Efstration-104th)
  • HB 28 -- Griffin Judicial Circuit; additional judge of the superior court; provide
    (Judy-Mathiak-73rd)

The Senate will take up the following measure tomorrow for Legislative Day 10:

  • SB 25 -- Rules of the Road; when driver of a vehicle need not stop upon meeting or passing a school bus; clarify