Returning to the House and Senate chambers for the first time since January 16, legislators got back to business today following last week’s budget hearings. With presentations on Governor Kemp’s proposed Amended FY20 and FY21 spending plans to the Joint House and Senate Appropriations Committee complete, House Appropriations Subcommittees began their own meetings to conduct deep dives into the propositions. These meetings are expected to continue throughout the week and may reveal hints on which of Governor Kemp’s budget cuts and additions are accepted or rejected by legislators. We will be here listening closely; follow along with the #GoldDomeReport.
In today’s Report:
- Legislators Updated on Georgia’s “Gang Crisis”
- New Legislation
- Rules Calendar for Legislative Day 6
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!
Legislators Updated on Georgia’s “Gang Crisis”
The House and Senate Public Safety Committees held a joint hearing this afternoon to hear presentations from multiple state law enforcement entities. Chairmen John Albers (R-Roswell) and Bill Hitchens (R-Rincon) began the meeting by noting that gangs are an extreme threat to all areas of the state.
First to speak was GBI Director Vic Reynolds. Reynolds began by recounting a story of his time as Cobb County District Attorney prosecuting a gang-related case. He explained that this case enlightened his anti-gang work in the county. Reynolds discussed the impetus for Governor Kemp’s anti-gang priorities. According to Reynolds, gangs no longer operate only in limited “turfs” but instead act across jurisdictional boundaries; this necessitates statewide coordination. Director Reynolds cited numerous studies that estimated nationwide gang membership to be over 70,000 individuals in Georgia. In 2019, law enforcement agencies across the state cited criminal street games as the number one issue facing their communities. Reynolds also touted a few examples of the GBI Gang Taskforce’s work to prosecute gang cases across jurisdictional lines. The GBI has trained over 3,000 state, local, and federal law enforcement officers on gang investigation techniques. Reynolds concluded his remarks by stating that it is not possible to simply “arrest your way out of a problem.” He encouraged community-based work to provide youth with alternatives to gang membership.
The committee briefly heard from Ray Ham, Executive Director of the Georgia Gang Investigators Association, who defended GGIA’s active gang member estimate. He also characterized Georgia’s juvenile detention as “breeding grounds” for gang membership.
Sen. Valencia Seay (D-Riverdale) commented that any anti-gang taskforce should partner with school districts to help work with youth.
The committee then heard from a panel of police chiefs including Morrow Chief James Callaway, Baldwin County Sheriff Bill Massey, and Forsyth County Sheriff Ron Freeman. Sheriff Massey began by discussing the gang problem in Baldwin County and the county’s efforts to curtail violent crime through improved information sharing practices. Sheriff Massey also characterized local law enforcement as the first responders for the gang crisis and the most important step to combat gang violence on the street level.
Chief Callaway discussed his work with the Georgia Gang Investigators Association. He has a history as a school resource officer and noted that he is extremely familiar with anti-gang educational programs. He is pleased to see the direction the Governor has taken in his focus on gang enforcement. Sheriff Freeman explained that although Forsyth County is the most affluent county in the state, its proximity to the Atlanta area leads to gang members entering the county to commit crimes. Sen. Randy Robertson (R-Catuala) echoed the remarks that 90% of the work is done on the ground level by local law enforcement agencies.
Attorney General Chris Carr’s presentation focused on how Governor Kemp has targeted violent crimes as an area of emphasis. He noted that the state is fully committed to standing up for vulnerable Georgians. He explained that some of the main areas of focus for the Georgia Anti-Gang Network are limiting recruitment and expanding the use of technology and innovation in fighting gang organizations. Carr also discussed the newly minted human trafficking prevention unit. He noted that this unit has seen gang affiliation as a common thread in human trafficking cases. Carr also touched on organized retail crime. Atlanta is currently ranked sixth on the list of organized retail crimes.
The final speaker, US Attorney Bobby Christine, spoke about his office’s past efforts to prosecute gang related activities. He tied the expansion of criminal street gangs to increases in violent crimes and large scale drug operations.
Chairman Albers concluded the meeting by stating that the legislature will work to defeat any and all gang members and networks in the state.
The following legislation of interest was introduced in the House today:
- HB 743, authored by Rep. Billy Mitchell (D-Stone Mountain), amends Title 20 to provide that student athletes participating in intercollegiate athletics at postsecondary educational institutions may receive compensation for the use of the student athlete's name, image, or likeness. The bill does not require or allow any postsecondary educational institution to compensate a student athlete for use of his or her name, image, or likeness, but it does preclude such institutions and athletic associations from penalizing a student athlete who receives compensation for use of his or her name, image, or likeness. The bill also allows such student athletes to secure representation. The bill was assigned to the House Higher Education Committee.
- HB 787, by Rep. Mandi Ballinger (R-Canton), seeks to amend O.C.G.A. § 16-11-126, relating to Georgia’s gun laws, so as to provide that persons who are not residents of this state are authorized to carry a weapon in Georgia if licensed to carry in any other state. It further seeks to provide that the Attorney General is to enter into an agreement with any state that requires an agreement to recognize and give effect to weapons carry licenses for reciprocity. The bill was assigned to the House Public Safety & Homeland Security Committee.
- HB 789, by Rep. Mark Newton, MD (R-Evans), seeks to create a “surprise bill rating system” which is based upon the number of certain physician specialty groups contracted with a hospital within a health insurer’s network and that insurers would be required to include a hospital’s surprise bill ratings online and in print in provider directories in Chapter 20C of Title 33. It specifically proposes the definition of the “hospital surprise bill rating” as “the number of stars between zero and four that an in-network hospital has earned based upon the number of qualified hospital-based specialty group types with which such hospital is contracted for the provision of health care services.” These qualified hospital-based specialty groups are the in-network medical group of anesthesiologists, pathologists, radiologists, or emergency medicine physicians. The bill was assigned to the House Special Committee on Access to Quality Health Care.
- HB 790, by Rep. Vance Smith (R-Pine Mountain), seeks to amend Title 43, relating to professions and businesses, so as to eliminate in the definition of “amateur” International Sport Kick Boxing/Karate Association; World Kick Boxing Association, International Sport Combat Federation, and International Kick Boxing Federation. It would also eliminate the provisions of Chapter 4B of Title 43 from applying to these eliminated entities. The legislation further defines “professional structural engineer” and “structural engineering” in Chapter 15 of Title 43 and seeks to provide for the registration of these professionals. The bill was referred to the House Regulated Industries Committee.
- HB 791, by Rep. Ron Stephens (R-Savannah), seeks to amend O.C.G.A. §26-4-80 and add authorization so that a pharmacist may dispense (exercising his/her professional judgment and in consultation with the patient) up to a 90 day supply of a maintenance medication (unless the prescriber has specified on the prescription that dispensing a maintenance medication in an initial amount followed by periodic refills is medically necessary – this authorization does not apply to Schedules II, III, IV or V controlled substances). The bill was assigned to the House Health and Human Services Committee.
- HB 799, authored by Rep. Shaw Blackmon (R-Bonaire), amends Title 40 to allow for individuals whose licenses have been suspended for being in control of a moving vehicle under the influence of a controlled substance or marijuana to be eligible for early reinstatement of their license or a limited driving permit as provided in O.C.G.A. § 40-5-75. The bill was assigned to the House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee.
- HB 800, by Rep. Sandra Scott (D-Rex), proposes in O.C.G.A. § 49-4-159 that healthcare services provided by healthcare providers providing OB/GYN services within 50 miles of a state bordering Georgia “shall” be considered as in-state Medicaid providers providing that the provider is licensed in good standing in the bordering state (it does not require that the provider be a Medicaid provider in his/her home state). It further proposes to require that the healthcare provider receive the same rate as is provided on behalf of Georgia Medicaid recipients to providers located in Georgia pursuant to an agreement or compact entered into between the Department of Community Health and the bordering state. The bill was assigned to the House Health and Human Services Committee.
- HB 801, Rep. Sandra Scott (D-Rex), seeks to create the “Safe Patient Limits Act” in Chapter 7 of Title 31. It proposes to limit the number of patients who may be assigned to a registered professional nurse in specified situations in hospitals (e.g. pediatric, maternal-child, surgical, EDs, etc.). It also proposes a fine for when hospitals fail to adhere to the ratios. The bill was assigned to the House Health and Human Services Committee.
- HR 910, by Rep. Josh McLaurin (D-Sandy Springs), seeks to amend the state’s constitution at Article III, Section IX, Paragraph VI in subparagraph (b) so as to provide that taxes on motor fuels shall be appropriated for any or all public transportation purposes (not just roads and bridges). This proposes that the funding be used for rails, airports, buses, seaports, all accompanying infrastructure and services to provide access to public transportation facilities and roads and bridges. The resolution was assigned to the House Transportation Committee.
- HR 922, by Rep. Lee Hawkins (R-Gainesville), commends the Georgia Academy of Audiology and recognizes January 28, 2020 as the organization’s day at the Capitol.
The following legislation of interest was introduced in the Senate today:
- SB 282, by Sen. Brandon Beach (R-Alpharetta), seeks to require that designated research universities offer at least 90 percent of early action admissions to Georgia resident students in a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. § 20-3-66.1. The bill was assigned to the Senate Higher Education Committee.
- SB 286, by Sen. Tonya Anderson (D-Lithonia), seeks to prohibit discrimination based on natural hairstyles historically associated with race. Such would apply to fair housing in O.C.G.A. § 8-3-201; education in O.C.G.A. § 20-1-11; and labor and industrial relations in O.C.G.A. § 34-1-11. Protective hairstyles include braids, locks, and twists. The bill was assigned to the Senate Education and Youth Committee.
- SB 287, by Sen. Harold Jones, II (D-Augusta), seeks to revise the statute of limitations on the offenses of rape, aggravated sodomy, and aggravated sexual battery in O.C.G.A. § 17-3-1. Presently, only the prosecution of a murder may take place at any time; this proposes to include these crimes to be prosecuted at any time. The bill was assigned to the Senate Insurance and Labor Committee.
- SB 302, by Sen. John Albers (R-Roswell), seeks to provide, in a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. § 28-5-41.1, for independent economic analyses to be procured by the Office of Planning and Budget for certain tax benefits upon request by the chairs of the House Committee on Ways and Means and the Senate Finance Committee. This provision allows the chairs of these committees to seek up to five economic analyses on or before May 1 of each year and transmit such to the Office of Planning and Budget which is to complete such analyses on or before December 1 of the year in which the analysis was requested. The bill was assigned to the Senate Finance Committee.
- SB 303, by Sen. Ben Watson, MD (R-Savannah), seeks to add a new Code section at O.C.G.A. § 33-24-59.27 to provide greater transparency of prices for non-emergency health care services and require that insurers make available on their publicly accessible websites an interactive mechanism and a toll free number so that the public may access (and compare the payment amounts accepted by in-network providers from such insurer for the provision of a particular health care service within the previous year; obtain an estimate of the average amount accepted by in-network providers from such insurer for the provision of a particular health care service within the previous year; obtain an estimate of the out-of-pocket costs that such covered person would owe his or her provider following the provision of a particular health care service; compare quality metrics applicable to in-network providers for major diagnostic categories with adjustments by risk and severity based upon the Hierarchical Condition Category Methodology. (Metrics shall be based on reasonably universal and uniform data bases with sufficient claim volume. If applicable to the provider quality metrics shall include, but not be limited to: A) risk adjusted and absolute hospital readmission rates; B) risk adjusted and absolute hospitalization rates; C) admission volume; D) utilization volume; E) risk adjusted rates of adverse events; and F) risk adjusted and absolute relative total cost of care); and access any all-payer health claims data base which may be maintained by the department (of insurance)). Insurers are also required to post on their website a notice that the actual amount that a covered person will be responsible to pay following receipt of a particular health care service may vary due to unforeseen costs and it prohibits the insurer from charging a covered person cost sharing beyond that included in the estimate (if the additional cost resulted from the unforeseen provision of additional health services and the cost-sharing requirements of such unforeseen health care services were disclosed in the covered person’s policy or certificate of insurance). The bill was assigned to the Senate Insurance and Labor Committee.
- SB 306, by Sen. Valencia Seay (D-Riverdale), seeks to amend Chapter 44 of Title 43 to adopt the “Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology Compact.” Presently, the bill lacks some language around criminal records checks so there will either be an amendment or substitute offered in committee to address that. This compact requires 10 states to adopt it before the Commission and Compact becomes viable; no state has adopted it yet. The bill was assigned to the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.
- SR 553, by Sen. Butch Miller (R-Gainesville), commending Together Georgia and recognizing January 29, 2020, as the organization’s day at the Capitol.
- SR 562, by Sen. Elena Parent (D-Atlanta), recognizes and commends the Georgia Science Teachers Association which is composed of more than 1,300 science educators in Georgia’s elementary, middle and high schools, colleges and universities.
Rules Calendar for Legislative Day 6
The Senate is expected to consider the following measure on Tuesday for Legislative Day 6:
- HB 444 - Dual Enrollment Act; enact