The General Assembly’s marathon five-day week continued today with pro forma convenings of the House and Senate followed by an afternoon of assorted committee meetings. With a number of these meetings focused on informational and organizational matters and others involving action on relatively simple bills left over from last year, progress under the Gold Dome remains slow as we near the quarter mark of the 2020 Legislative Session. Given the political and budgetary landscape, acceleration does not seem imminent, setting lawmakers and lobbyists up for a likely deluge of activity as we creep closer to Crossover and Sine Die. Enjoy the lull while you can, maybe by reading today’s #GoldDomeReport?
In today’s Report:
- Committee Reports
- New Legislation
Joint House and Senate Education Committee
The House and Senate Education Committees, chaired by Rep. Rick Jasperse (R-Jasper) and Sen. P.K. Martin (R-Lawrenceville), met jointly to hear a number of presentations from education partners today.
Superintendent Richard Woods and Deputy Superintendent Caitlin Dooley of the Georgia Department of Education opened testimony by speaking to the joint committee on the status of literacy in early grades. Between 2018 and 2019, there was a 5% increase of Georgia’s third graders reading on grade level to 73% according to Milestone testing. Performance varies substantially with economic disadvantage; 89% of non-economically disadvantaged third graders read on grade level versus 65% of economically disadvantaged third graders. Georgia fourth graders perform on par with the national average according to the NAEP assessment.
Georgia’s approach to improving literacy across the state involves collaborating with key partners (Get Georgia Reading, Growing Readers) and leveraging resources like the L4GA federal grant funds. The L4GA federal funds have increased from $61.5M in 2017 to $179M in 2019, and they are used for literacy supports including screeners and formative assessments, resources and interventions, professional learning and training, and development of community partnerships. The grant has produced between 4-6.7% increases in literacy in third and fifth grades between 2017 and 2019. Applications from local districts for funding from the 2019 grant are being accepted through February 10, 2020, and funds will be awarded later this spring.
Stephen Dolinger and Dana Rickman of the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education presented to the joint committee on their annual list of Top Ten Issues to Watch. This year, the issues are focused on the coming skills gap for Georgia. According to Dr. Rickman, if nothing changes, by 2030, 1.5 million Georgians will lack the skills to be employable.
Matt Arthur, Executive Secretary of the Professional Standards Commission (“PSC”), and his team provided the joint committee with an overview of Preparation Program Effectiveness Measures (“PPEM”) developed by PSC to provide information to the public on the quality of teacher education programs. Georgia has 71 educator preparation providers, consisting of 41 institutions of higher education (21 public and 20 private) and 30 non-traditional providers. PPEMs are aimed at helping these providers improve and allowing for transparency and accountability. The PPEMs for teacher education include in-program and outcome measures, including GACE content assessment scores (20%), edTPA classroom performance assessment scores (30%), TAPS classroom observation scores from first teaching year (30%), and surveys of inductee teachers and their employers from first teaching year (10% each). Programs are rated on a 4-level scale: Exemplary, Effective, At Risk of Low Performance, and Low Performance. The public dashboards for the teacher education PPEMs may be accessed here.
Senator Freddie Powell Sims (D-Dawson) inquired what could be done to help improve teacher mental health. Chairman Jasperse asked about the teacher training providers with low ratings, to which PSC representatives noted that such providers are subject to improvement plans and monitoring by the PSC.
Monica Henson, Deputy Superintendent of Schools for the Department of Juvenile Justice, offered an overview of the public-school system operated by the Department. The school system has 29 campuses around the state located in Regional Youth Detention Centers, Youth Development Campuses, and Education Transition Centers. It is accredited by AdvancED, and middle and high school education is provided through an entity called Georgia Preparatory Academy. The system also offers a GED program called Pathways to Success. More than 5,623 students were served by the system in FY2019, and 37 earned high school diplomas, 70 earned GED credentials, and 68 earned Technical Certificates of Completion.
Dr. Henson highlighted her school system’s strategic plan, which is focused on high-tech, high-touch, and high-impact improvements. She is promoting technological improvements in her schools and implementation of the Trauma-Skilled Schools model and PBIS agency-wide. The system is also looking to move toward a college and career academy model for high school students with prospective partnerships with Home Depot, Utility Contractors of Georgia, and the Georgia Film Academy.
Rep. Wayne Howard (D-Augusta) inquired about the connection between alternative schools and the Department’s schools, to which Dr. Henson noted that it is a “revolving door” between alternative and Department schools but collaboration and communication is informal. She hopes to improve that. Rep. Mike Cheokas (R-Americus) asked about how the Department schools are addressing the language and literacy deficiency, to which Dr. Henson highlighted a partnership with Georgia State University to intensely address the issue. Rep. Bee Nguyen (D-Atlanta) asked about recidivism rates, to which the Department agreed to provide data. Sen. Donzella James (D-Atlanta) asked about mental health issues among the Department’s students, to which Dr. Henson noted that they have a full complement of mental health and student support services.
House Juvenile Justice Committee
The House Juvenile Justice Committee, chaired by Rep. Mandi Ballinger (R-Canton), met to consider one bill today. HB 555, authored by Rep. Kasey Carpenter (R-Dalton), amends Title 17 to require that any warrant for the arrest of a public child welfare case manager for an offense alleged to have been committed while in the performance of their duties be issued only by a judge of a superior, state, or probate judge. The Committee recommended the bill DO PASS and be sent to the Rules Committee.
Senate Finance Committee
Chairman Chuck Hufstetler (R-Rome) began today’s meeting by announcing that the Governor signed the marketplace facilitator bill, HB 276, earlier today, adding that this meant the day was already off to a great start. He then called on Sen. Jeff Mullis (R-Chickamauga) to present SB 307. Sen. Mullis explained that his bill removes the requirement for mobile homes to display ad valorem decals. He explained that this is an outdated Code Section because it is now possible to look up the registrations online. Sen. John Albers (R-Roswell) agreed that these decals are outdated and removing investigation requirements can save taxpayer money. Sen. Nan Orrock (D-Atlanta) asked if this bill completely removes the requirement to issue decals or just the investigation aspect. Sen. Mullis clarified that the bill simply gives counties the ability to cease issuing the physical decals. The committee recommended the bill DO PASS and be sent to the Rules Committee.
Senate Regulated Industries Committee
Chairman Bill Cowsert (R-Athens) began the meeting by calling on Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford) to update the committee on the status of her bill: SB 298 which makes changes to Georgia’s vaping laws. Sen. Unterman explained that while she thought she would have a substitute ready by today’s meeting, she will have to work over the weekend to have a new version completed. The committee then heard testimony from a variety of individuals.
Sheila Humberstone, speaking on behalf of Georgia Association of Convenience Stores, stated that the Association supports raising the age of purchasing vape products to 21. She provided the committee with a few small suggestions including updating the crime of selling products to a minor by adding “knowingly” to the crime.
Jamila Pope from Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta testified that CHOA is in support of the bill. June Dean from the American Lung Association commended Sen. Unterman for her work on the issue. Michael Cortez from the American Heart Association noted his general support for the bill but held off on specific comments until he is able to see the new substitute. He believes that some of the penalties for sales to minors should be shared between vendors and clerks.
Emily Yona, Director of Health Policy for the Georgia Dental Association, expressed her support for the bill and Sen. Unterman’s efforts. She noted that while the oral-related effects of vaping are unknown but she expects that some consequences could come to light in long term research.
Jill Travis from the Georgia Association of Criminal Defense Attorney spoke to the criminal aspects of the bill. She explained that the penalties in the current version of the bill are extreme. Ms. Travis also noted that most of the foreseeable issues related to vaping sales are similar to alcohol sales. As a result, Ms. Travis suggested this bill mirrors the alcohol sales statutes. Ms. Travis also raised concerns with language that delegated the law to the federal government in regards to the specific types of products that are regulated. She explained that any change in federal law or policy would necessitate a change in state law.
Before adjourning, Chairman Cowset said that the Committee will meet on Tuesday and if they receive a substitute by Monday afternoon, they will be ready to take action on the bill.
Senate Retirement Committee
The Senate Retirement Committee, chaired by Senator Ellis Black (R-Valdosta), met late Wednesday afternoon to hear six bills.
- SB 26, authored by Sen. William Ligon (R-Brunswick), allows for individuals that were members of the Georgia Defined Contribution Plan immediately prior to becoming members of ERS to transfer credible service. Sen. Ligon explained that this bill was passed by the committee last session but did not make it out of the House Rules Committee. The committee recommended the bill DO PASS
- SB 47, authored by Sen. Ellis Black (R-Valdosta), provides for credible service for certain military service in state retirement plans. Sen. Black explained that this bill would not have any cost to the state. The committee recommended the bill DO PASS.
- SB 262, authored by Sen. Ed Harbison (D-Columbus), allows a beneficiary of an ERS member that had chosen option two upon retirement that is predeceased by the original member to make a new election or designate a new beneficiary for benefits. Chairman Black stated that this bill was a positive change and the committee recommended the bill DO PASS.
- SB 248, authored by Sen. John Albers (R-Roswell), increases the monthly amount paid by members of the Georgia Firefighters’ Pension Fund from $25 to $50. The bill also doubles the amount paid to the fund by taxes on insurance policies related to fire insurance. Chairman Black noted that the committee will not take action on the bill at today’s meeting and will consider action at the next meeting.
- SB 249, authored by Sen. John Albers (R-Roswell), increases the monthly dues paid by members of the Peace Officers Annuity Fund from $20 to $25. The bill also increases the allocation of fees distributed to the fund using monies collected from fines in criminal judgements. The bill also allows for jail officers to join the Peace Officer Annuity and Benefit Fund. Sen. Randy Robertson (R-Cataula) expressed his support of the bill, particularly the jail officer aspect. The committee recommended the bill DO PASS.
- SB 294, authored by Sen. Ellis Black (R-Valdosta), allows for the Teachers Retirement System to make alternative investments by deleting language in O.C.G.A. 47-20-87. Buster Evans, Director of TRS, walked the committee through the bill. He explained that ERS has been able to make these investments and has shown that these can result in higher returns for the fund. The bill does not make any changes to the 5% cap in ERS which would also apply to TRS. Sen. Nikema Williams (D-Atlanta) asked why TRS was excluded initially. Mr. Evans explained that there was opposition from retired teachers during the initial passage but this opposition has faded over time. The committee did not take action on this bill.
The following legislation of interest was introduced in the House today:
- HB 839 authored by Rep. Todd Jones (R-South Forsyth), seeks to amend Chapter 8 of Title 34 to change the definition of employment to include services performed by an individual for wages unless the Department of Labor makes a contrary determination based upon evidence that such individual has been, and will continue to be, free from control or direction over the performance of such services. The legislation outlines the evidence the Department is to consider which includes the Department is to consider such things as whether the individual is not prohibited from working for other companies or holding other employment contemporaneously, etc. This bill was referred to the House Industry and Labor Committee.
- HB 840, authored by Rep. Marcus Wideower (R-Watkinsville), seeks to provide for biennial review of institutions rather than programs relating to nonpublic postsecondary educational institutions in Chapter 3 of Title 20. The legislation also proposes for alternative review of renewal applications by institutions in good standing with recognized accrediting agencies. This bill was referred to the House Higher Education Committee.
- HB 842, authored by Rep. Rick Williams (R-Milledgeville), seeks to create Gracie’s Law so as to prohibit providers from discriminating against potential organ transplant recipients due solely to the physical or mental disability of the potential recipient in O,C,G,A 31-1-24. Further it proposes to add a new Code section in insurance at O.C.G.A. 33-24-59.27 to prohibit a health insurer which provides for anatomical gifts, organ transplants or related treatment and services from denying coverage to a covered person solely on the basis of the person’s disability. This bill was referred to the House Insurance Committee.
- HB 843, authored by Rep. Demetrius Douglas (D-Stockbridge), seeks to amend the Quality Basic Education, revising O.C.G.A. 20-2-323 to provide for access for students in kindergarten and grades one through five. This bill encourages each elementary school to include an average of 30 minutes per day of supervised unstructured activity time, preferably outdoors. Local boards of education will be required to establish written policies to ensure that the recess is a safe experience for students, that it provides a break during academic learning and that it is not withheld for disciplinary or academic reasons. This bill was referred to the House Education Committee.
- HB 844, authored by Rep. Joseph Gullet (R-Dallas), seeks to provide that property tax bills are to include amounts of assessments levied for each of the three immediately preceding tax years – this also includes each credit in a new Code section at O.C.G.A. 48-5-33. This bill was referred to the House Ways and Means Committee.
- HB 845, authored by Rep. Mike Glanton (D-Jonesboro), seeks to provide for additional compensation for teachers with special education certification from the Professional Standards Commission in O.C.G.A. 20-2-212.5. This additional compensation would remain in place until there is no longer an “insufficient supply of teachers.” This compensation for teachers proposes that they be moved to the salary step on the state salary schedule that is applicable to six years of creditable service, unless he or she is already on or above such salary step. From each salary step, the teacher is to be attributed one additional year of creditable service on the salary schedule each year for five years. This bill was referred to the House Education Committee.
- HB 846, authored by Rep. John Corbett (R-Lake Park), seeks to address Georgia’s tax code in Title 48 to provide that interest paid on refunds of overpayments of taxes and past due taxes are to equal the bank prime loan rate – now that rate is the bank prime loan rate as posted by the Federal Reserve plus three (3) percent. The legislation also addresses payments of a refund may be made. It further adds in a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. 48-8-49.1 for a “direct payment permit” which means a license that permits a taxpayer to accrue and pay directly to the Department of Revenue certain state and local sales and use taxes imposed. It also requires that the Department of Revenue establish and maintain a direct pay reporting program. This bill was referred to the House Ways and Means Committee.
- HB 847, authored by Rep. John Corbett (R-Lake Park), seeks to amend Chapter 23 of Title 2 to provide for criminal background checks for key participants in hemp farming within 60 days of application for licenses. This “key participant” is defined as a sole proprietor, a partner in a partnership, or a person with executive managerial control in a corporation. A person with executive managerial control in a corporation includes “persons serving as a chief executive officer, chief operating officer, or chief financial officer – it does not include non-executive managers such as farm, field or shift managers. This bill was referred to the House Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee.
- HB 848, authored by Rep. Shaw Blackmon (R-Bonaire), seeks to change definitions to provide the Department of Administrative Services additional options when disposing of surplus property in the best interest of the state in Chapter 5 of Title 50. This bill was referred to the House Governmental Affairs Committee.
- HB 849, authored by Rep. Demetrius Douglas (D-Stockbridge), seeks to provide for authorized electronic monitoring in long-term care facilities in a new Article 5B in Chapter 8 of Title 31. If enacted, it would be known as the “Authorized Electronic Monitoring in Long-Term Care Facilities Act.” This seeks to allow electronic devices, by residents, including a fixed position video camera or an audio recording device (or combination) in rooms that broadcasts or records activities or sounds. Written consent is required prior to the use of electronic monitoring (this applies to the resident’s roommate as well). This bill was referred to the House Health and Human Services Committee.
- HB 850, authored by Rep. Jason Ridley (R-Chatsworth), seeks to provide for a uniform November referenda and elections for local option sales taxes in Chapter 8 of Title 48. This bill was referred to the House Ways and Means Committee.
- HR 996, by Rep. Matthew Gambill (R-Cartersville), recognizes the week of February 3-7, 2020 as National School Counseling Week. This Resolution was read and adopted by the House.
The following legislation of interest was introduced in the Senate today:
- SB 331, authored by Sen. Randy Robertson, makes it a criminal offense for any person to knowingly possess to control or produce any material or medium which contains images that depict a naked or nearly naked, suggestively posed and inappropriately sexualized child or children with the intent to arouse or satisfy the sexual desire of such person or the person viewing such images in O.C.G.A. 16-12-100(b)(9).
- SB 332, authored by Sen. Lester Jackson (D-Savannah), amends Title 16 at O.C.G.A. 16-12-84 to make it illegal to be in possession of a childlike sex doll. The first offense results shall be a high and aggravated misdemeanor and subsequent offenses shall be a felony. This bill was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
- SB 333, authored by Sen. Lester Jackson (D-Savannah), amends Title 49 by adding a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. 49-5-157 to require DHS to create a prevention program to improve outcomes for children by creating better fathers. The bill calls for the program to bring together community, government, and local agencies including DFCS. This bill was referred to the Senate Urban Affairs Committee.
- SB 334, authored by Sen. Lester Jackson (D-Savannah), creates a new chapter in Title 43 to create the Certified Community Midwife Act at Chapter 24B. The bill creates a Certified Community Midwife Board that is responsible for the issuance of licenses for certified community midwives. The bill also sets forth requirements for licensees including completion of a background check and documentation of completion of a minimum of three years of apprenticeship. The bill stipulates that midwifery shall be limited to normal pregnancy, labor, delivery, postpartum, newborn, and interconceptual care. If a client is informed that she has or may have any condition that would require medical collaboration and chooses not to seek this care, the midwife must cease care by rule established by the Board or have the patient sign a waiver acknowledging their refusal for transfer of care. Certified midwives are proscribed from prescribing medication in violation of the chapter, effect any type of surgical delivery. This bill was referred to the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.