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Gold Dome

January 15, 2020

Gold Dome Report - January 15, 2020

Well before dawn today, business leaders, lobbyists, and lawmakers from around the state convened in Downtown Atlanta to rub elbows and eat eggs while the State’s political leaders forecast the next few months under the Gold Dome. The Georgia Chamber of Commerce’s annual Eggs and Issues breakfast enjoyed record-breaking attendance with more than 2,600 government and community leaders from across the state. We were there as Governor Brian Kemp, Georgia’s senior United States Senator David Perdue, Lieutenant Governor Geoff Duncan, and Speaker of the House of Representatives David Ralston spoke to the assemblage about the priorities for the state and its economic successes.

Soon afterward, House and Senate members began getting down to the people’s business, filling hoppers in both bodies with newly crafted legislative measures and beginning committee meetings to vet numerous measures. Keep reading for more detail on today’s activity in this edition of the #GoldDomeReport.

In today’s Report:

  • State Leaders Serve Up Legislative Priorities at Annual Eggs and Issues Breakfast
  • Senate Higher Ed Committee Unveils Dual Enrollment Compromise
  • House Retirement Committee Reviews Teachers Retirement Proposals
  • New Legislation

Did You Know: While our team publishes this report at the end of each day, you can follow the action in real-time with us on Twitter? Follow our team (George Ray, Helen Sloat, and Sam Marticke) or search for #GoldDomeReport for up-to-the-minute updates throughout the legislative session!


State Leaders Serve Up Legislative Priorities at Annual Eggs and Issues Breakfast

Before a record-setting crowd of business leaders, lobbyists, and lawmakers this morning, four of Georgia’s key political leaders reflected on past successes and unveiled their aspirations for the 2020 Legislative Session at the Georgia Chamber of Commerce’s Eggs and Issues Breakfast. An annual gathering that fills the cavernous Tom Murphy Ballroom at the Georgia World Congress Center in Downtown Atlanta, Eggs and Issues provided a one-stop shop for the public to hear the plans of Georgia’s senior U.S. Senator, Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Speaker of the House for the weeks ahead.

Governor Brian Kemp opened with an overview of his first year in office, highlighting achievements like the $3,000 educator salary increase in the FY 2020 budget before pivoting to what appears to be his main focus for this session--strengthening anti-gang laws in the state. Governor Kemp noted that Georgia is “under siege” of dangerous street gangs, and he is committed to curbing their growth. At the same time, he reiterated his plan announced earlier in the week to focus on human trafficking, working with his GRACE Commission to introduce and pass legislation to help reduce trafficking in the state. On the education front, Governor Kemp renewed his commitment to reduce high-stakes testing and eliminate common core from Georgia’s public school curriculum while continuing to invest in education. He also promoted the State’s Medicaid and Affordable Care Act waiver applications while noting there remains “much work to be done” to improve healthcare in Georgia. Governor Kemp closed by sharing is intent to address foster care and adoptions through legislation this spring.

U.S. Senator David Perdue followed with a perspective from Washington, promoting a positivity about what has been done at the federal level in the past three years while calling for unity and compromise moving forward. Senator Perdue posited that “[w]e have a self-identity problem in America,” with the media crying foul while the country prospers. He highlighted the President and Congress’s work around regulations, taxes, and Dodd Frank that have energized the business community and economy. He emphasized the broad reaches of this work, noting that 2.5 million American have risen out of poverty in the last three years. However, he did note areas in need of continued focus, including immigration reform, infrastructure, and relations with China. He stressed the importance of bipartisan compromise to moving the needle on these topics.

Lieutenant Governor Geoff Duncan turned the audience’s focus back to the state level, calling attention to accomplishments from 2019 including the teacher pay raise, voting machine bill, implementation of statewide computer science curriculum, and advances in healthcare delivery. On healthcare, however, he noted there is “more ground to gain” and called for Georgia’s legislators to adopt a price transparency and right-to-shop model “for the country to follow.” Lieutenant Governor Duncan also expressed an interest in overhauling foster care in Georgia with a particular emphasis on delivery of health and mental health care to foster kids and addressing issues with the 700+ children who age out of the system each year. Finally, Duncan closed by announcing a Georgia Innovates Task Force, to be chaired by retired U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson and former Georgia Tech President Bud Peterson, to help advance his goal to make Georgia the Technology Capital of the East Coast.

Speaker of the House David Ralston closed the event with a brief but powerful reminder that the General Assembly is in the business of crafting good policy for the State, and that will remain its focus as it grapples with an “unsettled” budget. He emphasized to the crowd that it is “no accident” that Georgia has been named the best state in which to do business for seven years in a row, and he does not plan to rush the legislative session at the cost of making good policy decisions. He said that although the legislative calendar seems to be “the most important issue” to many, there will be no end date for the session set until Georgia’s budget situation is clarified.

Senate Higher Ed Committee Unveils Dual Enrollment Compromise

The Senate Higher Education Committee, chaired by Sen. Lindsey Tippins (R-Marietta), met this afternoon to review and consider HB 444, an overhaul of the State’s Dual Enrollment program that was tabled in the Senate at the conclusion of last session. Chairman Tippins explained that the new substitute considered today was the result of many negotiations during the offseason. Chairman Tippins continued by stating his belief that solution which was crafted will positively repair the dual enrollment structure.

Rep. Bert Reeves (R-Marietta), the bill’s sponsor in the House, was joined by Kaylee Noggle of the Georgia Student Finance Commission and Ian Caraway from the Governor’s Office. Rep. Reeves explained that the Dual Enrollment program has grown over the years to an unsustainable level. Sen. Brandon Beach (R-Alpharetta) asked Rep. Reeves to clarify these comments. Rep. Reeves explained that some students were supplementing their high school education almost completely with Dual Enrollment. These students then utilized the HOPE Scholarship to effectively take two college degrees worth of college courses, which he characterized as far from the original purpose of the program. He noted that the new language is much less complex than the previous iteration.

The bill begins by changing the name of the program from the “Move On When Ready Act” to the “Dual Enrollment Act”. Sen. Chuck Hufstetler (R-Rome) asked if the data show that the current legislative climate would be cheaper to HOPE in the long run. Rep. Reeves deferred to Ms. Noggle who stated that data show the HOPE scholarship has not seen reductions in payments correlated with higher dual enrollment utilization. Rep. Reeves also noted that the hour cap in the current bill is higher than the average number of hours utilized by students under the current law.

Rep. Reeves explained that majority of changes exist between lines 31-68 which cover definitions. First, “eligible core course” is a cross reference in Title 20 to “core courses” as defined by the HOPE Scholarship. There are over 6,000 courses in USG that currently fit this definition. Second, line 38 contains a definition for “eligible CTAE courses” which according to the bill are courses “aligned with the department’s Career Clusters and Pathways program and which are included in the eligible course list.” The definition “eligible course list” will encompass courses in both of these definitions.

Rep. Reeves also noted that drafters of this bill werevery careful to create proper grandfathering language to prevent an interruption for students that are currently enrolled in Dual Enrollment. Future students will be limited to 30 state sponsored hours. The grandfather structure has a two-pronged approach.

  1. If a currently enrolled Dual Enrollment student has 18 or fewer hours, they will be capped at 30 total hours.
  2. If a currently enrolled Dual Rnrollment student has 19 or more hours, they will allowed an additional 12 hours.

The bill also contains language on student eligibility. First, any 11th or 12th grader at an eligible high school taking an eligible course at an eligible institution is able to receive state funds. 9th and 10th grade students are no longer eligible for the program, however, there are three exceptions for 10th grade student enrollment. If a rising 10th grader meets one of these requirements, they will be able to receive state funding.

  1. 10th grade students who meet Zell Miller Scholarship ACT or SAT score eligibility criteria before the start of a Dual Enrollment term;
  2. Students enrolled in an eligible CTAE course within the TCSG; or
  3. 9th grade students that enrolled in a Dual Enrollment course in the USG track for which state payment was made prior to or on June 30, 2020 will not be subject to Zell Miller criteria and will be able to participate in the program in 10th grade.

Additionally, all students currently enrolled in SB 2 program can continue under the status quo.

Rep. Reeves noted that the bill’s estimated financial impact will be about $100 million in state funds.

Rep. Reeves also discussed new language which states that if a student withdraws from a dual credit course, they will not be able to retake that course using state funds. Additionally, if a student withdraws from two dual credit courses they will be ineligible for further Dual Enrollment funds. GSFC maintains the ability to evaluate the circumstances of withdrawal and to make determinations of eligibility in special circumstances. 

A new paragraph gives authority to GSFC to examine any eligible high school to ensure compliance with the law. The commission must create an evaluation schedule and may conduct evaluation through sampling and extrapolation techniques. In the event a school is found to have knowingly or through error incorrectly certified a student they will be subject to corrective actions from the commission, including but not limited to removing the high school’s eligibility.

Finally, the bill stipulates that students can take as many Dual Enrollment classes as they wish at their own expense.

Sen. Sally Harrell (D-Dunwoody) asked for clarification if new eligibility language applies to homeschool students. Rep. Reeves answered affirmatively. Sen. Harrell also stated that she thought taking certain courses out of the state funded eligibility, such as P.E., is not in the spirit of the dual enrollment program. She cited an example of a student that might not have time to take a five-day-a-week P.E. course at their high school while taking courses at a USG institution. Mr. Carroway explained that the purpose of the Dual Enrollment program is not to completely replace high school graduation requirements or course work. Rep. Reeves also noted that it might not be possible for a bill to address every possible scheduling scenario.

Sen. P.K. Martin (R-Lawrenceville) applauded Rep. Reeves for his comments on the purpose of the legislation. He stated that it is important to help preserve the program.

Sen. Nan Orrock (D-Atlanta) asked for data about the current cost of the program and the expected costs after this bill’s implementation. Rep. Reeves explained that 2015 cost of the program at its inception in 2015 was $23 million. The current projected cost of the program after the implementation of this bill is $100.8 million. Ms. Noggle estimated the bill would save about $15-$27 million. Sen. Orrock also noted concerns from families that spoke to the committee last session. She asked if these families have expressed support for the new version. Rep. Reeves answered by pointing to the grandfathering sections and the intent to prevent any continuity issues for current students.

Sen. Martin asked if transferral of credit issues from Dual Enrollment to universities are fixed in this bill because of the new eligible course definition. Rep. Reeves explained that this might not apply to every single institution but generally these credits should be accepted.

Sen. Tippins implored the committee to remember that no bill is perfect and this bill might not cover every possible issue relating to dual enrollment. He also noted that the Dual Enrollment is a more generous program than the HOPE Scholarship. He characterized the combination of Dual Enrollment and HOPE Scholarship one of the most generous programs in the nation.

Sen. Orrock also asked how often the program is used in TCSG. She asked if this bill reflects a broadening of understanding of the large amount of courses offered by TCSG. Ms. Noggle explained that over half of the students participating in Dual Enrollment are enrolled in a technical school. Mr. Carroway linked the program to Governor Kemp’s priority for workforce development and his commitment that any student enrolled in the program to completion will be able to obtain a technical certificate.

Sen. Beach asked about the matriculation rate of students to full-time status in the institution through which they pursued Dual Enrollment credits. Ms. Noggle explained that Georgia tracks this data and a high percentage of students stay at their Dual Enrollment institution.

Chairman Tippins concluded the meeting by reminding members the committee will meet again tomorrow where he expects to take action on the bill.

House Retirement Committee Reviews Teachers Retirement Proposal

The House Retirement Committee chaired by Rep. Tommy Benton (R-Jefferson) met on Tuesday afternoon. The committee held a hearing on Rep. Chuck Martin’s (R-Alpharetta) HB 667. Rep. Martin explained that the goal of the bill is to address the unfunded liability of the Teachers Retirement System. Rep. Martin explained that the bill will reduce the period between actuarial studies for TRS from every five years to every three years. Additionally the bill proposes a change to the amortization tables of TRS. The fiscal note on the bill calls for a $300 million line item per year addition to the state budget to fully pay off TRS’ liability in a fifteen year period. Rep. Martin concluded by stating this bill would help the legislature keep its promises to retired educators.

Rep. Debbie Buckner (D-Junction City) asked why the legislature would adopt a bill with such a significant fiscal note considering the current budget environment; characterizing the bill as “micromanagement.” Rep. Martin reiterated his point that this bill serves to help the legislature keep its promises.

Dr. Buster Evans, Executive Director of TRS, said that while it would be wonderful if the state could pay off the unfunded liability in fifteen years, TRS is currently in year seven of its thirty year repayment schedule; thus he deemed this bill unnecessary.

Chairman Benton reiterated that the committee was not taking action on the bill in this meeting and reminded members that the committee’s next meeting will be on Tuesday, January 28 from 2-4pm.

New Legislation

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

  • HB 745, by Representative “Able” Mable Thomas (D-Atlanta), proposes enactment of the “Georgia Dignity in Pregnancy and Childbirth Act” to be created in Article 4 of Chapter 2A of Title 31.  In part it seeks to require that perinatal facilities implement evidence-based implicit bias programs for their healthcare professionals and require for initial as well as refresher training. The legislation notes that implicit bias is a “key factor driving health disparities in the treatment of patients of color” and defines the term as “bias in judgment or behavior that results from subtle cognitive processes, including implicit prejudice and implicit stereotypes that often operate at a level below conscious awareness and without intentional control.” The legislation would also require that the Department of Public Health collect and track data on severe maternal morbidity, including several health conditions (obstetric hemorrhage, hypertension, preeclampsia and eclampsia, venous thromboembolism, sepsis, cerebrovascular accident and amniotic fluid embolism). This bill was referred to the House Health and Human Services Committee.
     
  • HB 746, by Representative Dar’shun (D-Lithonia), would amend the “Women’s Right to Know Act” at O.C.G.A. 31-9A-3.1 so as to authorize a female upon whom an abortion is to be performed to “decide not to receive or review informational materials regarding an unborn child, certify that she received or reviewed such informational materials, view the fetal image, or hear the fetal heartbeat as provided in Code Section 31-9A-3, prior to obtaining an abortion.”  It would require the physician performing such abortion or the physician’s qualified agent to document the female’s decision in writing and keep such documentation on file with the female’s medical record for a period of at least three years. This bill was referred to the House Health and Human Services Committee.
     
  • HB 759, by Representative Butch Parrish (R-Swainsboro), would update Georgia’s law on “dangerous drugs” (Schedule IV controlled substances) and would be the annual such update in Chapter 13 of Title 16. This bill was referred to the House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee.
     
  • HB 760, by Representative Sharon Cooper (R-Marietta), would provide for the authorization of peace officers to take an individual to a physician or emergency receiving facility for emergency examination in O.C.G.A. 37-3-4 within the same county or adjacent county, “if the peace officer (1) has probable cause for believing the person: A) presents a substantial risk of imminent harm to himself or herself or others, as manifested by either recent overt acts or recent expressed threats of violence which present a probability of physical injury to himself or herself or other persons; or B) is so unable to care for his or her own physical health and safety as to create an imminently life-endangering crisis and (2) the person has refused voluntary examination after conscientious explanation and disclosure of the purpose of the examination.” This bill was referred to the House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee.
     
  • HB 762, by Representative John Carson (R-Marietta), would amend O.C.G.A. 48-7-21(b)(18) so as to provide a deduction from the Georgia net taxable income of corporations for assessments paid by a taxpayer that were imposed on such taxpayer pursuant to the Federal Deposit Insurance Act (12.U.S.C.1817(b)). This bill was referred to the House Ways and Means Committee.
     
  • HB 763, by Representative Todd Jones (R-Forsyth), would create the “Financial Technology Sandbox Act” in Article 35 of Chapter 1 of Title 10.  This sandbox program would allow regulatory flexibility so that fintech entities could test financial products and services and would also allow the limited waivers of certain regulatory requirements. A program participant would be considered to be licensed, registered, or otherwise authorized to act in Georgia for purposes of any federal law requiring a person to be licensed, registered or otherwise authorized to act. The Attorney General would be tasked with creating the regulatory sandbox program enabling an individual to obtain limited access to the market in the state to test innovative financial products or services without obtaining a license, registration or other regulatory authorization. The person would be required to obtain approval from the Attorney General before testing an innovative financial product or service as a program participant.  Once reviewed and approved, the Attorney General would provide the applicant a registration number allowing the program participant to test the financial product or service for not longer than 24 months after the date the application is approved.  The program would commence, if passed and signed into law, on July 1, 2021 and would expire on December 31, 2030. This bill was referred to the House Banks and Banking Committee.
     
  • HB 764, by Representative Todd Jones (R-Forsyth), would amend O.C.G.A. 20-2-2068.2(h) so that the State Properties Commission may make unused facilities available to local charter schools and state charter schools.  A charter school permitted to use a state-owned facility under an agreement would be prohibited from selling or disposing of any interest in such property without express written approval by the State Properties Commission. This bill was referred to the House Education Committee.
     
  • HB 766, by Representative Sandra Scott (D-Rex), would provide in Article 13 of Chapter 3 of Title 20 that postsecondary educational institutions be required to deposit a portion of all revenue (33 percent) derived from its athletic teams involvement with intercollegiate postseason athletic contests into an escrow account to be distributed to eligible student athletes on a pro rata basis upon graduation from the postsecondary educational institution. This bill was referred to the House Higher Education Committee.
     
  • HB 767, by Representative Sandra Scott (D-Rex), would provide in new Code section at  O.C.G.A. 31-10-34 that the Department of Public Health  collect information on suicides of individuals who die within the state and who have served in the armed forces of the United States.  Information to be captured includes 1) whether the individual served in the regular, reserve, or National Guard component of the United States armed forces or the United States Coast Guard; the lengthy and location of such service, and branch of the armed forces in which the decedent served; 2) location of the decedent’s residence and death; 3) decedent’s occupation, industry, or business; 4) cause of the decedent’s death, and if by suicide the method used; and 5) the age, sex, and race or ethnicity of the decedent..  It further would require that the Department prepare an annual report on veteran suicide. This bill was referred to the House Defense and Veteran’s Affairs Committee.
     
  • HB 771, by Representative Sandra Scott (D-Rex), would add in O.C.G.A. 20-3-66(e) that members of the armed forces of the United States who are abiding in Georgia incident to active military duty and their spouses and dependents qualify for in-state tuition.  Eligibility would continue as long as the active duty member establishes residency in the state within 30 days of receipt of honorable discharge from military service and is continuously enrolled in the degree or other program in which he or she was enrolled at the time of discharge. This bill was referred to the House Higher Education Committee.
     
  • HB 772, by Representative Sandra Scott (D-Rex), would provide the creation of a “Green Call Act” in Article 10 of Chapter 3 of Title 35.  This relates to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, allowing that agency to work cooperatively with the office of the Governor, the Georgia Lottery Corporation, and other appropriate law enforcement agencies to develop and implement a statewide alert system so as to allow notification of the public when a veteran or military service member, known to have a physical or mental health condition related to his or her service or who is at imminent risk of self-harm or is missing. This bill was referred to the House Defense and Veteran’s Affairs Committee.
     
  • HB 773, by Representative Scot Turner (R-Holly Springs), would provide for reciprocal licensing of professions, occupations and trades for individuals who are licensed outside of the State of Georgia in O.C.G.A. 43-1-35 if such individual 1) is currently licensed in at least one other state, country, or province or other such subdivision thereof in the discipline applied for and for the same scope of practice as determined by the regulating entity and the license is in good standing in all states, countries, and provinces or other subdivisions thereof in which the person holds a license in such discipline; 2) has been licensed in that discipline for at least one year; 3) the outside regulating entity can verify that the individual met requirements (minimum education requirements and, if applicable, work experience and clinical supervision requirements); 4) previously passed an examination required for the license if required by the regulating entity outside of Georgia; 5) has not had a license revoked; 6) has not voluntarily surrendered a license or certificate issued by a regulating entity outside of the state while under investigation for unprofessional conduct; 7) has not had disciplinary action relating to unprofessional conduct imposed by any regulating entity (if there was disciplinary action in another jurisdiction, then the regulating entity in Georgia is to determine if the cause for the action was corrected and the matter resolved); 8) does not have a complaint, allegation or investigation pending before a regulating entity outside of Georgia that relates to unprofessional conduct (if there is a complaint, allegation, or investigation pending, then the regulating entity in Georgia is to suspend the application process and not issue or deny a license to the applicant until such is resolved); 9) does not have a disqualifying criminal history as determined by the regulating entity in Georgia; and 10) pays all applicable fees. This bill was referred to the House Regulated Industries Committee.
     
  • HB 774, by Representative Erick Allen (R-Smyrna), would amend O.C.G.A. 12-9-7 to provide for the reporting of any unpermitted release of ethylene oxide to the Environmental Protection Division within 24 hours of discovery via email. This bill was referred to the House Natural Resources and Environment Committee.
     
  • HR 893, by Representative Sandra Scott (D-Rex), seeks an amendment to Georgia’s Constitution at Article II, Section I, Paragraph II so as to provide individuals who are at least 16 years of age the ability to vote in school district elections and elections which affect school funding (including school bonds and imposition of, or removal of, sales and use taxes for educational purposes). This resolution was referred to the House Governmental Affairs Committee.
     
  • HR 894, by Representative Sandra Scott (D-Rex), proposes the creation of a Joint Study Committee on Veterans’ Suicide as rates of mental health problems and suicides for members of the United States’ armed forces remains high.  This study committee would be composed of a total of ten individuals (five members of the Georgia House of Representatives and five members of the state’s Senate). This resolution was referred to the House Defense and Veteran’s Affairs Committee.
     
  • HR 895, by Representative Erick Allen (D-Smyrna), proposes to create a Joint Ethylene Oxide Study Committee.  Ethylene oxide is a gas used to make a variety of products and to sterilize equipment, including equipment used by hospitals and surgery centers.  Georgia has eight such facilities known to utilize ethylene oxide within its boundaries. This Study Committee would be composed of a total of ten individuals with four members each from the House of Representatives and state Senate, the director of the Environmental Protection Division (or his or her designee), and the commissioner from the Department of Public Health (or his or her designee). This resolution was referred to the House Natural Resources and Environment Committee.

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

  • SB 280, authored by Sen. Donzella James (D-Atlanta), amends Title 12 by outlawing persons engaged as dealers at the sale of retail from distributing plastic carryout bags to customers. The bill also provides for a list of items that are exempt from this ban including bags used to: wrap uncooked meat, package bulk items, contain food sliced or prepared to order, contain a newspaper for delivery, collect trash, store food in a refrigerator, and garment bags. Finally, the bill stipulates that any person that distributes a bag in violation of the Code Section shall be guilty of a misdemeanor. Each violation constitutes a single offense. This bill was referred to the Senate Economic Development Committee.
     
  • SB 281, authored by Sen. Donzella James (D-Atlanta), amends Title 16 to add definitions of “automatic or semi-automatic gun” and “large capacity magazine” under O.C.G.A. § 16-11-121(1) and (3). The bill also adds these two definitions to the crime of unlawful possession of a firearm. The bill continues by requiring under O.C.G.A. § 16-11-127(a) for gun show venders to submit information about buyers to NICS. The bill also creates new requirements for gun venders to secure all firearms via a hardened steel rod or cable with a lock on the trigger guard or in a fireproof gun safe during non-business hours. This bill was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee. 
     
  • SB 291, authored by Sen. Steve Henson (D-Stone Mountain), amends Title 31 to create the “Georgia Death with Dignity Act.” The bill provides in O.C.G.A. § 31-54-2. for adult residents of Georgia to make a request to their doctor to receive a prescription for medical aid-in-dying medicine if: (1) the individual’s doctor has diagnosed them with a terminal illness with a prognosis of six months or less. (2) the individual’s doctor has determined the individual has mental capacity. And (3) the individual has voluntarily requested to receive an aid-in-dying medication prescription. The bill also requires an individual to make two seperate oral requests, separated by at least fifteen days, and a written request to their physician. At any time, an individual can rescind their request and a doctor must offer an individual such an opportunity before writing a prescription for aid-in-dying medication. If a physician determines that an individual may not be mentally capable to make such a request, they are required to refer the individual to a licensed mental health professional. For any death that has occurred under the provisions of this Chapter, the cause of death shall be listed as the underlying terminal illness. The attending physician is required to document all oral and written requests, the diagnosis, prognosis and evaluation of mental capacity. This bill was referred to the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.
     
  • SB 293, authored by Sen. Chuck Hufstetler (R-Rome), is the Balance Billing Consumer Protection Act. The bill amends Titles 10 and 33 to provide for certain consumer protections against balance billing for health care services. Specifically, with regard to emergency medical services, the bill requires an insurer to pay for such services without prior authorization or any retrospective payment denial and regardless of whether the services are provided by a provider participating in the insurer’s network. The bill also provides a process for determining payments for such services to nonparticipating providers, requiring an insurer to pay the average contracted amount paid by such insurer for the provision of the same or similar services, the average contracted amount paid by all eligible insurers for the provision of the same or similar services as determined by the Department of Insurance and maintained on the Department's all-payer health claims database; or such higher amount as the insurer may deem appropriate given the complexity and circumstances of the services provided. The bill requires that the insurer treat the insured receiving emergency services from a nonparticipating provider as it would if the provider was in-network with regard to co-pays, deductibles, and out-of-pocket maximums. It also allows for an insurer to transfer an insured to a network facility within 24 hours of notice of stabilization.

The bill also provides that an insurer must pay for nonemergency services that are unknowingly rendered to an insured by an out-of-network provider and result in a surprise bill. Such payments must be at the average contracted amount paid by such insurer for the provision of the same or similar services; the average contracted amount paid by all eligible insurers for the provision of the same or similar services as determined by the Department of Insurance and maintained on the Department's all-payer health claims database; or such higher amount as the insurer may deem appropriate given the complexity and circumstances of the services provided. The insurer is still required to treat the insured receiving such nonemergency services as it would if the provider was in-network with regard to co-pays, deductibles, and out-of-pocket maximums.

The legislation provides for a number of protections against retaliation against insureds by insurers relating to procurement of out-of-network services and allows the Department of Insurance to refer complaints to the Department of Law. The bill allows for arbitration of claims and payments disputed by providers and establishes the process for such arbitration. The bill was referred to the Senate Insurance Committee.

  • SB 294, authored by Sen. Ellis Black (R-Valdosta), amends O.C.G.A. 47-20-87(a)(2) by striking the exemption of the Teachers Retirement System from the definition of “eligible large retirement system” allowing TRS to make investments in alternative investments as defined in O.C.G.A. 47-20-87(a)(1). This bill was referred to the Senate Retirement Committee.
     
  • SR 546, authored by Sen. William Ligon (R-Brunswick), encourages local law enforcement agencies, psychiatric facilities, doctors, and therapists to purchase and freely distribute Mental Health Alert Wristbands to those suffering from mental illness. The resolution also commends Ms. Dottie Bailey for developing the Mental Health Alert Wristband. This resolution was referred to the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.
     
  • SR 547, authored by Sen. Larry Walker III (R-Perry), honors and commends the individual member organizations and their staff as members of the Service Providers Association for Developmental Disabilities (SPADD) and commemorating their day at the Capitol on January 16, 2020. This resolution was ADOPTED.