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Gold Dome

Feb. 16, 2021

Gold Dome Report — Legislative Day 17

Freezing temperatures and the threat of icy roads couldn’t keep legislators away from the Gold Dome as they kicked off yet another week of the Session. Both chambers OK’d a small slate of bills followed by a packed afternoon (and cafeteria). As the clock ticks closer toward Crossover Day, lawmakers continue to fill the hoppers with new legislation — including a revamp to the state’s citizen arrest law, announced by Governor Kemp and a bipartisan group of legislators during an afternoon press conference. All this, and more in today’s #GoldDomeReport.

In today’s Report:

  • Committee Reports
  • New Legislation
  • Rules Calendars for Legislative Day 18

Committee Reports

House Appropriations — Human Resources Subcommittee
Chairman Katie Dempsey (R-Rome) and her Human Resources Subcommittee spent a part of President’s Day hearing more specifics regarding the FY 2022 Budget needs, particularly around the areas of the Departments of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, Human Resources (including Division of Family and Children’s Services), Veterans Services, Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities and Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency. The full tracking document for HB 81, the proposed spending plan for FY 2022, is here.

The Subcommittee heard presentations from the Departments and agencies, but the real discussions were the testimonies provided by the public. A few highlights of the agencies presentations included:

  • Department of Human Services — Commissioner Robyn Crittenden outlined that her budget for FY 2022 is projected to be $803.9 million which is an increase of $7.9 million over its budget for FY 2021. She accented the combining of programs, Elder Support and Elder Community Living Services, which deliver home and community based services. Commissioner Crittenden also mentioned the Safe Harbor and Sexually Exploited Children Fund and the use of $351,000.
     
  • Division of Family and Children's Services — Director Tom Rawlings explained his agency’s changes in out-of-home care ( a reduction of $14.3 million but with added funding is a net decrease of $3.5 million) and funding increases for adoptions. He also mentioned the funding proposed for implementing the Patient’s First Act which is projected to add 50,000 individuals in the Medicaid program. He also mentioned that passage of the Medicaid Express Lane Eligibility bill would add 50,000 children. Representative Mary Margaret Oliver (D-Decatur) inquired about what would be the impact on Patient’s First Act given the action last week by the federal government on the work requirement and overall expanding Medicaid. Director Rawlings indicated they do not know all the effects yet. He was also asked about the pending lawsuit involving the Safe Harbor Commission and its funding; he indicated that expenditure of the funds would be permitted and did not pose a threat for a “clawback” of the approximate expenditure of $350,000. Chairman Dempsey asked about the adoption rate increase. Rawlings stated that there was a year-over-year increase in the numbers of children being adopted from foster care and that many of those children have special needs. Further, the median age of the child adopted is 6 years old. Rawlings closed by stated he was grateful for the assistance for the $1000 supplement for his staff; there are about 7,000 individuals who will benefit from the supplement.
     
  • Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities — Commissioner Judy Fitzgerald spoke to her agency’s budget for the upcoming fiscal year outlining the four priorities for DBHDD: 1) 100 new NOW/COMP waiver slots an addition of $1.94 million; 2) annualizing the funding for the 40-bed forensic unit at West Central Georgia Regional in the amount of $4.65 million; 3) using GHVP funds to implement housing supports; and 4) funding for four corrective action plan specialists at a cost of $355,000. Fitzgerald also mentioned the capital funding necessary for upkeep of DBHDD’s 470 buildings across its five campuses (a total of $5 million in bonds). She also mentioned these items:
    • Continued enhancement of crisis services (including the new 988 line for suicide)
    • Ongoing ADA settlement
    • Multi-year plan to address intellectual and developmental disabilities planning list
    • Investment in community behavioral health — core outpatient funds
    • Addictive diseases capacity
    • Forensic services improvement and
    • Workforce retention of direct care staff.

Rep. Oliver asked what amount was cut from FY 2021 budget which was not restored in FY 2022. CARES Act funds helped with funding needs. Fitzgerald indicated that the agency looked at areas where reductions could be taken but preserving crisis and residential services. Fitzgerald also noted that the staff augmentation by Jackson Healthcare which was paid for by the CARES Act. DBHDD’s total budget is $1.3 billion. There were some other questions around the 188 individuals who are impacted by the 1915c waiver renewals and their changes for NOW/COMP Medicaid waivers. Fitzgerald indicated that they are presently in discussions with CMS; Department of Community Health submitted the proposal on December 31. Every five years these waivers are required to be renewed. She indicated that CMS may have a decision between 90 days to 6 months. There are adjustments in settings and delivery of services to this population who would otherwise be in nursing homes. There are proposed exceptions written into the waivers; DBHDD also asked for a transition period for these 188 individuals (24 months). Once the waivers are approved, DBHDD will work with the families of the 188. Fitzgerald could offer no insight on the changes to Patients’ First based on recent federal comments.

  • Department of Veterans Services — Commission Mike Roby noted that his agency supplies services to 700,000 veterans in the state — the Department assists with benefit claims, providing nursing home care to veterans (in Milledgeville and Augusta facilities), and memorial benefits. Georgia ranked 9th in the nation in numbers of veterans in 2019; he also mentioned that the state was 5th nationally in the non-taxable VA benefit dollars (approximately $3.5 billion in 2019). Currently, there are 261 veterans in the Department’s two nursing homes. His agency’s budget for the FY 2022 year is proposed at $23 million.
     
  • Vocational Rehabilitation Agency — Director Chris Wells spoke about his budget. He began by explaining that his agency will soon be making masks available for sale. His budget is “flat.” He accented some bond funds for Georgia Hall and other properties. The agency also works with 60 vendors employing 1,600 employees. The Agency is also still serving students and is in the process of reviewing new CDC guidance and how their schools may be re-opened. As of January, the Agency has 136 counselors and 35 pre-employment specialists; they are serving 22,288 individuals. Counselors have an average caseload of 110. A new website is under development. He mentioned the three priority employment category areas and noted that 3,400 individuals are on a waiting list. His agency is focused on investing in technology (including a call center); ensuring appropriate staffing and establishing an appropriate resource allocation.
     
  • Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities — Eric Jacobson spoke to his COuncil’s needs. Among the highlights were the IPSE education programs, including one to commence at Georgia College and State University.
     
  • Public Testimony — Much of the testimony focused on the needs of the 188 individuals who are impacted by the NOW/COMP waiver changes and the impact on 24-hour nursing care and staffing.
    • Sashi Omogiate, with the Imani Within Foundation, discussed the need for using PBIS and “mindfulness” to address mental health needs of school-aged children.
    • John Zoeller spoke about his daughter’s needs for 24/7 care for the waiver, noting that his daughter was assessed for her needs. He argued that the changes to the waivers were being used to save a few dollars in order to address individuals who are the state’s planning list (approximately 7,000). He mentioned that states of Minnesota, Oregon and Hawaii have 24 hour nursing care and that South Carolina permits 23.5 hours of nursing care. Mr. Zoeller noted that he and his family purchased a home for his daughter to live in so as to plan for her care later in life. They use Georgia Options for nursing care. His daughter did not succeed previously in a group home due to her emotional and behavior issues. Representative Dunahoo inquired about costs of the care; Mr. Zoeller indicated that this care will vary by individual depending on the level of care needed. Several other parents of these 188 individuals also spoke about their concerns trying to move individuals to congregate settings when they had been assessed for services, required 24/7 care.
    • Maureen Kelly, with the Georgia Council on Aging, spoke on the need for an addition of $10 million in home and community based services, particularly due to pandemic issues. The Georgia Alzheimer’s Association also supports this request.
    • Michael Halligan spoke on behalf of Pack 4U, an in-home medication delivery and remote patient monitoring system. He indicated that it would be a cost of $313,268 for assistive technology and could be used for the NOW/COMP waiver population, benefitting 1250 individuals. The system, known as “Spencer,” is managed by pharmacists and helps with medication adherence, patient engagement, is Bluetooth capable, and has telehealth functionality.
    • Brittany Luther-Jones, with The Bradley Center in Columbus (St. Francis-Emory), spoke to the need for crisis funding in the Muscogee County area, including 30 counties in that catchment area. Her request was for $1.5 million for new crisis services beds and $750,000 in one-time funding for the capital needs. This facility operates the crisis stabilization unit for the state.
    • Diane Wilush, with SPADD, spoke to the waiver changes and in particular an increase in funding for direct support professionals (which has seen turnover of 39.1 percent annually) and is a cost of $3,500 per turnover. The average wage paid is $10.35 per hour or about $21.500 annually.
    • John McCain, with Easterseals Southern Georgia, spoke about the 40 percent reduction to the family support program within DBHDD and asked that this funding be restored to the FY 2020 level of $13.3 million. He provided compelling examples of how this funding keeps individuals at home rather than placing individuals in nursing homes (e.g. medical supplies and respite for caregivers). He also asked that the Subcommittee fund travel reimbursement costs within Vocational Rehabilitation as there is no funding now and it is a hardship for rural providers.
    • Heather Rowles, with Multi-Agency Alliance for Children, spoke to requested funding for LEADS, an educational support program for foster youth. In 2020, the program had an 80 percent graduation rate and of those 58 percent went on to further their education. Many of the foster care youth are behind educationally due to their being in the foster care system.
    • Kent Woerner, with Avita Community Partners, also spoke to the NOW/COMP changes and the need to better pay direct support professionals.
    • Jen King, with Georgia CASA, asked for an additional $100,000 in funding to bring online the remaining 3 counties (Lowndes, Echols and Henry).
    • Jeff Breedlove, with the Georgia Council on Substance Abuse, spoke about the need for funding substance abuse services — particularly now as it is an “epidemic within the pandemic.” He noted the use of Narcan which saves lives and the peer-led recovery programs.
    • Shelly Simmons, with the Statewide Independent Living Council, spoke about the cuts in funding for centers for independent living — in some instances all funding was cut. They have only funding of $286,000 left to help individuals with disabilities; she asked for a full restoration of funds. These individuals with disabilities are even more isolated now with the pandemic.
    • A number of individuals with GATES spoke about the changes to the NOW/COMP waivers as well as community services, including rehabilitation services providers who are able to work with individuals but do not get referrals from the Vocational Rehabilitation Agency. Many of these providers are CARF accredited. Included in these remarks were individuals from Easterseals East Georgia and Easterseals Middle Georgia as well as the Bobby Dodd Institute, Goodwill, Creative Enterprises and others.
    • Teresa Heard, a parent, spoke about frustrations with Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency and her son’s desire to have a job. She noted it is a “confusing and broken system.”

There were more than 40 speakers signed up to speak to the proposed budgets impacting human services provided to Georgians.

House Education Committee
The House Education Committee, chaired by Representative Matt Dubnik (R-Gainesville), met to hear testimony on one bill today:

  • HB 60, authored by Representative Wes Cantrell (R-Woodstock), is the "Georgia Educational Scholarship Act." The bill amends Title 20 to allow for certain public school students to receive public education funds to pay for private "qualified educational expenses." Specifically, the legislation allows any student whose family income is below 200% of the federal poverty level, adopted foster children, active duty military children, students with one of several disabilities and IEPs, and students who spent the previous school year enrolled in a public school which is part of a local school system not currently offering an option for students to receive 100 percent of instruction in person to seek an allocation equal to the state-wide average per student allocation of state funds for public education. Students may use this allocation to pay for expenses including tuition and fees for private and postsecondary schools, nonpublic online learning courses, therapy services, transportation, and educational technology and materials. Unused funds may also be applied to tuition at a Georgia postsecondary institution after a student graduates high school.

Representative Cantrell presented his “fourth substitute” of the bill today, which rebrands the legislation as the “Georgia Personalized Education Plan Act.” He detailed several changes in the substitute driven by “conversations” with stakeholders who largely oppose the bill. According to Representative Cantrell, the substitute:

  • Clarifies that recipients must currently be enrolled in public school;
  • Removes bullying victims from eligibility;
  • Includes a cap for number of recipients per district;
  • Includes additional cap for smaller districts;
  • Requires that a school be closed to in-person learning for at least one semester for attending students to be eligible;
  • Removes of quarterly reporting requirement on local districts;
  • Requires an audit of the program at least every five years; and
  • Adds reporting requirement identifying participating schools and the number of participating students enrolled at each school.

Representative Cantrell stated that his bill has no fiscal impact because of the requirement that recipients attend public school for a year before securing an account. He argued that most opposition is based on finances but that, notwithstanding QBE austerity cuts, public schools have received more funding this year due to federal CARES Act funding.

Representative Chris Erwin (R-Homer) asked about the accountability provisions in the legislation, to which Representative Cantrell stated the parental satisfaction provisions are the strongest accountability elements but also highlighted the other audit and reporting requirements. Representative Mesha Mainor (D-Atlanta) asked about reporting and transparency requirements. Representative Dewayne Hill (R-Ringgold) echoed concerns raised by his local superintendent about existing underfunding of local schools. Representative Bee Nguyen (D-Atlanta) asked if there is a fiscal note for the bill, to which Representative Cantrell said no. She further expressed the concern that costs for school districts have also increased, accounting for some of the CARES dollars that Representative Cantrell suggested backfilled QBE reductions. Representative Becky Evans (D-Atlanta) disagreed with Representative Cantrell’s contention that the legislation is “doing all it can” to support public education. Representative Bonnie Rich (R-Sugar Hill) asked why schools seeking accreditation are eligible to participate, to which Representative Cantrell said it was boilerplate and he was open to changing. Representative Todd Jones (R-South Forsyth) suggested that new schools seeking accreditation might be “given some grace” when seeking accreditation and asked Representative Cantrell if there was any correlation between student spending and outcomes, to which he said no. Representative Erwin asked if the bill took the local fair share into account, to which Representative Cantrell stated it is “not a huge number” but that he would be open to a discussion. Representative Erwin also asked if he would be open to annual audits, to which Representative Cantrell said yes.

Time expired for public testimony, but Chairman Dubnik invited the public to submit written comment “soon”. No action was taken on the bill today.

House Health and Human Services Committee
The House Health and Human Services Committee, chaired by Representative Sharon Cooper (R-Marietta), met to consider the following propositions today:

  • HB 245, authored by Representative John LaHood (R-Valdosta), amends Title 43 to require that individuals seeking to have their license to practice podiatry reinstated submit to a criminal background check. It removes the requirement for renewals.

Representative LaHood presented the bill to the Committee as “a simple bill” to “change one word”. He explained that there was a scrivener’s error in a bill last year that would now require podiatrists renewing their license to have a background check, which is not typical — it is usually only required on initial licensing or reinstatement.

  • HB 307, authored by Representative Sharon Cooper (R-Marietta), amends the Georgia Telehealth Act in Title 33 to authorize health care providers to provide telemedicine services from home and patients to receive telemedicine services from their home, workplace, or school. The bill also provides that no insurer may require a deductible or an in-person consultation before providing coverage for telemedicine services. Additionally, the bill institutes restrictions on utilization review and requires insurers allow open access to telehealth and telemedicine services, including the provision of prescription medications.

Representative Cooper presented the bill to the Committee, explaining that she was driven to introduce the bill to help address the increased need for mental and behavioral health exposed during the COVID pandemic. She noted that, although the door is open for telehealth under Governor Kemp during the pandemic, those provisions are temporary, and a long term solution is needed. Bethany Sherrer of the Medical Association of Georgia spoke to the details of the bill, noting that it creates parity for utilization review between in-person and telehealth encounters, allows for telemedicine without an initial in-person visit, and restricts insurers from dictating telehealth vendors that providers must use.

Jesse Weathington of the Georgia Association of Health Plans thanked the author for working with the Association on concerns with the Bill and expressed support. Tim Clement of the American Psychiatric Association also spoke in favor of the Bill, specifically highlighting the allowance of audio-only delivery of care. The Committee recommended the bill DO PASS and be sent to the Rules Committee.

  • HR 52, authored by Representative Katie Dempsey (R-Rome), creates the Joint Study Committee on Childhood Lead Exposure.

Representative Dempsey presented the resolution, which she explained originates from the Department of Public Health. The study committee is supported by Voices for Georgia’s Children, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, and the Georgia Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Elizabeth Appley spoke in favor of the legislation on behalf of Presbyterians for a Better Georgia. The Committee recommended the resolution DO PASS and be sent to the Rules Committee.

  • SB 5, authored by Senator Kay Kirkpatrick (R-Marietta), amends Title 43 relating to sedation in non-hospital settings. The bill directs the Georgia Composite Medical Board to establish rules regarding the use of sedation in “office based surgeries,” which are defined as “any surgery or invasive medical procedure requiring sedation, when performed in a location other than a hospital, hospital associated surgical center, or an ambulatory surgical facility, including, but not limited to, physicians' offices and medispas.”

Senator Kirkpatrick presented the bill to the Committee, which was precipitated by instances of botched anesthesia in medispas. The bill requires the Composite Medical Board to promulgate rules to govern anesthesia use outside of hospital and ambulatory surgery center settings. Representative John LaHood (R-Valdosta) asked what kind of procedures are causing concern behind this bill, to which Senator Kirkpatrick noted her biggest concern is major cosmetic procedures like liposuction.

Jet Toney of the Georgia Society of Anesthesiology spoke in favor of the bill, noting that it is 20 years in the making. Jeremy Betts of the American Academy of Anesthesiologists Assistants spoke in favor of the bill and an inclusion in the proposed committee substitute to cover anesthesiologists assistants (licensed as physicians assistants in Georgia) in addition to anesthesiologists and CRNAs in the dental setting. Scott Lofranco of the Georgia Dental Association expressed some concern with the amendment which was resolved through discussion outside the committee.

The Committee subsequently recommended the bill DO PASS by Committee Substitute and be sent to the Rules Committee.

House Motor Vehicles Committee
The House Motor Vehicles Committee, chaired by Representative John Corbett (R-Lake Park), met this morning to consider several measures:

  • HB 165, authored by Representative Tim Barr (R-Lawrenceville), amends Title 40 to allow for the use of mounts on windshields of motor vehicles for the support of wireless telecommunications devices and stand-alone electronic devices under certain circumstances. The Committee recommended the bill DO PASS and be sent to the Rules Committee.
     
  • HB 179, authored by Representative Beth Camp (R-Concord), was presented as an omnibus license plate bill combining several bills and creating new specialty license plates for county tax commissioners (HB 266), Support Our Troops (HB 108), an awareness plate for all cancer (HB 50), as well as redesign of the existing breast cancer awareness license plate (the original HB 179). The substitute bill also provides that, for specialty plates for out-of-state colleges and universities, revenues sent to such institutions be used for financial aid for Georgia students. The Committee recommended the bill DO PASS by Committee Substitute and be sent to the Rules Committee.
     
  • HB 353, authored by Representative Todd Jones (R-South Forsyth), amends Title 40 to provide for proper operation of a motor vehicle when overtaking a bicyclist. The Committee recommended the bill DO PASS and be sent to the Rules Committee.

House Governmental Affairs Committee — General Government Subcommittee
Chairman Stephen Sainz (R-Woodbine), and members of the Subcommittee undertook a review of these bills:

  • HB 161, authored by Representative Jan Tankersly (R-), removes language to eliminate the requirement for local authorities to have perpetual existence. This language change was requested by the Department of Community Affairs. Representative Tankersly noted that there are 1,319 authorities in the state and of those 231 are downtown development authorities. Of those 213, there are 39 which are inactive and cannot be dissolved because of the language in the law; this change will allow the dissolution if such are inactive. It will also eliminate the need for financial reporting when such are inactive. The bill received a DO PASS recommendation to the full committee.
     
  • HB 286, authored by Representative Houston Gaines (R-Athens), came to the Subcommittee in the form of a new Committee Substitute, LC 47 0821S and is an attempt to restrict police budget reductions by local governments to ensure that these departments are funded. There are exceptions in the proposal for allowing loss of revenues addressing when such reductions can be triggered. It also would not apply if the departments had fewer than 10 police (full time and part time officers). The Police Benevolent Society supported the proposal. Chairman Sainz indicated it was an attempt to provide a basic level of police. Tom Gehl, with GMA, spoke to concerns in the legislation and indicated that the decision making should be left up to locally elected members as they know the needs of their communities. Todd Edwards, with ACCG, also raised concerns as police power is an inherent power provided to counties and that local officials should make those decisions. The bill received a DO PASS recommendation.
     
  • HB 180, authored by Representative Marvin Lim (D-Norcross), adds at O.C.G.A. 50-1-10 to require officers and units of state and local government to maintain databases of sources of funding available to members of the public. There were a number of questions raised by Representative Rick Williams (R-Milledgeville) about who would have oversight of any database and how much of a burden is being placed on local governments. No action was taken on this legislation.

House Governmental Affairs Committee — State & Local Government Subcommittee
The State & Local Government Subcommittee of the House Governmental Affairs Committee, chaired by Representative Rick Williams (R-Milledgeville), met to consider several bills today, including:

  • HB 66, authored by Representative Mary Margaret Oliver (D-Decatur), as introduced, amends O.C.G.A. § 36-82-77 to allow local school districts to hold the same standing as a citizen to become party to a bond validation hearing. Representative Oliver presented the bill to the Subcommittee as a substitute that only requires development authorities to provide notice to other local governments and school districts of bond validation hearings; it eliminates the standing provision in the original bill. The legislation is supported by the Association County Commissioners of Georgia. The Subcommittee recommended the bill DO PASS by Substitute and be sent to the full House Governmental Affairs Committee.

House Judiciary Committee — Gunter Subcommittee
Chairman Stan Gunter (R-Blairsville) and his Subcommittee took up two proposals:

  • HB 334, authored by Representative Josephy Gullett (R-Dallas), had a hearing on the changes proposed to use of remote online notaries and notarizations. There were a number of speakers to the proposal, including various real estate closing attorneys who remain concerned with the legislation. They asked for a Georgia presence to be required and for the legislation to address the “UPL” or unauthorized practice of law provisions. The State Bar of Georgia supports the proposal. This legislation will be brought back to the Subcommittee next week.
     
  • HB 109, authored by Representative Heath Clark (R-Warner Robins), seeks to enact the Child Victim Protection Act. The legislation is not new and was debated last year to address statute of limitations on when a victim of child sexual abuse could bring a civil suit. It moves the two year requirement to four year for the “age of discovery”; it contains a number of cleanup provisions to current law; moves the statute from age of 23 to age of 38 years of age if such action took place July 1, 2015 (so age will be 52); adds a one-year window for look back on entities which knew actions happened; and adds July 1, 1988 look back to that point (when individuals became mandatory reporters). The bill also outlines the burden of proof for these statutes to be proved. A host of entities and individuals testified about the legislation. Emma Hetherington, with the Wilbanks CEASE Clinic, spoke to the legislation and Kathryn Robb, with Child USAdvocacy, also testified about the need for the legislation to address the epidemic of child sexual abuse. Frank McCulahy, with Catholic Charities, also testified about the concerns and the retroactive statute of limitations and why 1988 was used. There were some questions around use of the 1988 date. There were studies pointed to that indicate that many individuals do not say something or disclose until they are 49 years of age. The Subcommittee took no action on this legislation.

Subcommittee A of the House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee
The A Subcommittee of the House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee, chaired by Representative Gerald Greene (R-Cuthbert), met today to consider two bills.

  • HB 247, authored by Representative John Carson (R-Marietta) amends Title 40 to remove the first offender leniency from Georgia's hands free driving law. Rep. Carson explained the bill to the committee. The provision that is being removed was passed based on a model from Rhode Island. Rhode Island has now removed the provision. Rep. Carson also explained that the leniency presents problems due to communication issues across jurisdictions. The bill received a motion DO PASS and moves on to the full committee.
     
  • HB 248, authored by Representative Alan Powell (R-Hartwell), amends Title 40 to shift authority to approve school zone speed cameras from the local school affected to the local governing body for the county or municipality. Rep. Powell explained that some cities are having issues getting their local boards of education to approve the cameras. The bill received a motion DO PASS and moves on to the full committee.

Senate Higher Education Committee
Chairman Lindsey Tippins (R-Marietta) and the Higher Education Committee met this afternoon to hear SB 7, the legislation by Senator Brandon Beach (R-Alpharetta), which seeks to prioritize Georgia residents for early admission to Georgia’s higher education institutions. Chancellor Steve Wrigley and several college presidents spoke to SB 7. UGA President Morehead indicated that 90 percent have early action now and Georgia is committed to serving the people of Georgia and its students. President Morehead noted that the legislation was unnecessary as UGA already enrolls a high percentage of Georgia students; there may be unintended effects to enroll across all geographic areas; a much smaller percentage of out-of-state students add value to the demographics; and introduction would have a negative financial impact. 88 percent of Georgia residents are enrolled as undergraduates — more than other schools around Georgia (enrollment of in-state students: University of Mississippi has 55 percent; University of Alabama has 41 percent; Auburn has 61 percent; and University of Kentucky has 69 percent). There are 85 percent of Georgia’s current freshman 2020 class who are in-state students. President Morehead reminded the Committee that the institution does not control where applications come from and he also reminded the Committee that Georgia is ranked nationally in the top 20 as a research institution. Finally, he noted the reduction in tuition revenues of $5.1 million in the first year; a cumulative effect of $40 million after the first four years. Dr. Angel Cabrera spoke in opposition to SB 7 for Georgia Tech, expressing that his institution prioritizes Georgia students and also has a robust transfer program (1,100 transferred last year into unique pathways). No action was taken today on the bill. Augusta University President Brooks Kiehl and GSU President Mark Becker also made brief remarks. President Becker noted there was a risk of unintended consequences if it were pursued and GSU admits all qualified Georgians; he felt like the bill would not be helpful in any positive way.

The Committee also heard, hearing only, SB 107, authored by Senator Brian Strickland (R-McDonough). This legislation permits tuition waivers for foster and adopted youth for those youth wishing to attend a school in the University System or a Technical College System of Georgia school. Lt. Governor Geoff Duncan is behind this legislation. A committee substitute will be forthcoming due to an issue around waiving tuition for students who are attending a school in the University System which is prohibited in the constitution. The new substitute will deal only with TCSG waivers. No public testimony was given today. Senator Nan Orrock (D-Atlanta) pointed out that her understanding was that only 3 percent of children in foster care get into college. Thus, she indicated that fact calls for steps to be taken to give these youth an advantage. Director Tom Rawlings indicated that there are 250-280 youth who participate in higher education who are connected to the State’s foster care system; only 20 participate in TCSG. He indicated that the costs were around $4 million annually. Rawlings also noted that there are approximately 750 youth between ages of 18-21 who are in extended foster care and 1,400 were adopted from foster care last year. There are federal vouchers also available to pay for higher education. Chairman Tippins asked for more definite numbers to be provided. Thus, no action was taken today on this legislation.

SB 109, authored by Senator Bill Cowsert (R-Athens), also came to the Committee so as to address sunset provisions in Titles 20 and 50 for the University System and TCSG’s ability to discharge of debts so that those will not continue to show on financials and money will not be returned to the General Treasury. No action was taken today on this legislation.

House Energy, Utilities, and Telecommunications
The House Energy, Utilities, and Telecommunications Committee, chaired by Representative Don Parsons (R-Marietta), met today with Representative Matt Dollar (R-Marietta) sitting in the chair to consider multiple bills.

  • HB 76, authored by Representative John Carson (R-Marietta), amends O.C.G.A. § 46-4-164 to increase the percentage limitation of EMC investments in a gas affiliate. Current law allows investments up to 15%. This bill increases that amount to 60%. Rep. Carson presented the bill and explained that it is identical to a version passed through the House last year. The bill received a motion DO PASS.
     
  • HB 150, authored by Representative Bruce Williamson (R-Monroe) amends O.C.G.A. § 46-1-6 to prohibit local governmental entities from adopting policies that prohibit the connection or reconnection of any utility service based on the source of energy or fuel. Rep. Williamson presented the bill as a committee substitute. He explained the intent of the bill is to protect consumer choice. Rep. Chuck Martin (R-Alpharetta) clarified that the bill does not preclude municipalities from making decisions about the type of energy used to power government buildings. Rep. Shelly Hutchinson (D-Snelville) asked what problem the bill aims to solve. Rep. Williamson explained that the bill was developed in response to municipalities in other states instituting policies prohibited by the bill. Rep. Gregg Kennard (D-Lawrenceville) asked if the bill would prove to limit municipalities from solving problems in their own jurisdiction. Rep. Williamson disagreed with this characterization of the bill. Rep. Phillip Singleton (R-Sharpsburg) voiced his support for the bill. Rep. David Dryer (D-Atlanta) discussed the climate change implications that this bill could create and explained this is the reason he will vote against the bill. Ultimately, the bill received a motion DO PASS.

New Legislation

The House read and referred the following legislation to committee today:

  • HB 412, authored by Representative Shaw Blackmon (R-Bonaire), amends Title 43 to provide for the licensing of the practice of applied behavior analysis. This bill was referred to the House Regulated Industries Committee.
     
  • HB 413, authored by Representative Beth Camp (R-Concord), amends Title 31 to stipulate that the state cannot require the receipt of a COVID-19 vaccine as a condition for employment, school attendance, professional licensure, educational certification or degree, admittance to any place of business or entertainment, or access to any mode of transportation. This prohibition occurs under the absence of a specific list of situations including a none emergency use authorization for the vaccine and long term health effect evaluations have been completed. The bill also allows individuals to submit in writing that receiving a vaccine conflicts with their philosophical beliefs which exempts them from any requirement if all other aspects of the bill have already been met. This bill was referred to the House Health and Human Services Committee.
     
  • HB 420, authored by Representative Shaw Blackmon (R-Bonaire), seeks to amend Chapter 11 of Title 48 regarding taxes on tobacco and vaping products. This is a place holder bill addressing taxes on these products. This bill was referred to the House Ways and Means Committee.
     
  • HB 430, authored by Representative Alan Powell (R-Hartwell), amends Title 43 to provide for the licensing of advanced practice registered nurses. This bill was referred to the House Regulated Industries Committee.
     
  • HB 437, authored by Representative Wayne Howard (D-Augusta), amends Title 36 to require that gas station attendants at self-serve gas stations must dispense gas for disabled individuals operating vehicles with special disability permits. Each gas station must also display a decal with a phone number for the disabled individual to call for assistance. This bill was referred to the House Health and Human Services Committee.
     
  • HB 439, authored by Representative Bill Hitchens (R-Rincon), amends Titles 40 and 42 to allow first time offenders of the state's DUI laws to use ignition interlock device monitoring to receive early reinstatement of their suspended license. The monitoring period for the first offense is 180 days. The monitoring period for the second offense is 12 months. The bill also allows for financial hardship reduced fee vouchers for certain individuals when using ignition interlock devices. This bill was referred to the House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee.
     
  • HB 441, authored by Representative David Clark (R-Buford), seeks a repeal of O.C.G.A. 48-7-40.26, relating to income taxation, to repeal an income tax credit for film, gaming, video or digital production. This bill was referred to the House Creative Arts and Entertainment.
     
  • HB 442, authored by Representative J. Collins (R-Villa Rica), amends Title 19 to include management of social media in the list of decision making authority for parenting plans. This bill was referred to the House Juvenile Justice Committee.
     
  • HB 443, authored by Representative Rob Leverett (R-Elberton), amends Title 51 to create the Georgia Structured Settlement Protection Act. The legislation provides consumer protections to structured settlement recipients relating to the sale or transfer of structured settlements. This bill was referred to the House Judiciary Committee.
     
  • HB 446, authored by Representative Gregg Kennard (D-Lawrenceville), amends Title 40 to require all individuals that complete a term of incarceration be provided with a personal identification card if they are lacking a driver's license or other type of identification card. The bill also requires the Department of Corrections to provide any documentation required for the issuance of a personal identification card. This bill was referred to the House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee.
     
  • HB 447, authored by Representative David Knight (R-Griffin), amends Title 45 to require that all health care contracts for the state health benefit plan include provisions requiring disclosure of all cost related data including pricing information, rebate accounting, reimbursement rates, net profits, consulting fees, claims payment information, networks, and quality information. This bill was referred to the House Special Committee on Access to Quality Healthcare.
     
  • HB 448, authored by Representative David Knight (R-Griffin), amends Title 49 to require that all contracts for Medicaid or PeachCare for Kids disclose all cost related data including pricing information, rebate accounting, reimbursement rates, net profits, consulting fees, claims payment information, networks, and quality information. This bill was referred to the House Special Committee on Access to Quality Healthcare.
     
  • HB 450, authored by Representative Mark Newton (R-Augusta), amends Title 31 to authorize the Department of Public Health to provide Low THC Oil Patient Registry data to governmental entities for statistical, research, educational, instructional, drug abuse prevention, or grant application purposes. This bill was referred to the House Health and Human Services Committee.
     
  • HB 454, authored by Representative Mark Newton (R-Augusta), amends Title 33 to stipulate that all health insurance plans must cover provider charges at in-network rates for the duration of the contract year regardless of whether the provider remains a participating provider at any point in the contract year. This bill was referred to the House Special Committee on Access to Quality Healthcare.
     
  • HB 455, authored by Representative Timothy Barr (R-Lawrenceville), amends Title 20 to require local boards of education to provide transportation with vehicles with a capacity of eight person or less. These vehicles are not allowed to be part of a ride share network. The bill also authorizes school districts to use vehicles other than school buses for student transportation. This bill was referred to the House Education Committee.
     
  • HB 457, authored by Representative Derrick Jackson (D-Tyrone), amends Title 19 to allow courts to require child support include financial assistance to a child enrolled in a postsecondary education institution so long as the child is under the age of 24. This bill was referred to the House Judiciary Committee.
     
  • HB 458, authored by Representative Sharon Cooper (R-Marietta), amends Title 43 to require sexual misconduct training for members of the Georgia Composite Medical Board. The bill also requires continuing education credits include ongoing education and training on professional boundaries and physician sexual misconduct. This bill was referred to the House Health and Human Services Committee.
     
  • HR 146, authored by Representative Sam Park (D-Lawrenceville), creates the House Study Committee on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) to Improve the Health of Women and Children. This resolution was referred to the House Health and Human Services Committee.
     
  • HR 147, authored by Representative Wayne Howard (D-Augusta), creates the House Study Committee on Abuse of Disabled Parking Permits. This resolution was referred to the House Health and Human Services Committee.

The Senate read and referred the follow legislation to committee today:

  • SB 155, authored by Senator Steve Gooch (R-Dahlonega), amends Title 40 to permit information about the failure to wear a seatbelt to be included as admissible evidence in a civil action. This bill was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
     
  • SB 156. authored by Senator Marty Harbin (R-Tyrone), amends Title 34 to provide for the appointment of a chief labor officer. The chief labor officer will have the power and duty to provide reports on unemployment claims, develop and implement strategies to improve the reliability of the Department of Labor's services, and provide timely reports to any financial audits of the Department. This bill was referred to the Senate Insurance and Labor Committee.
     
  • SB 159, authored by Senator Steve Gooch (R-Dahlonega), amends Title 20 to require local boards of education to provide transportation with vehicles with a capacity of eight person or less. These vehicles are not allowed to be part of a ride share network. The bill also authorizes school districts to use vehicles other than school buses for student transportation. This bill was referred to the Senate Education and Youth Committee.
     
  • SB 160, authored by Senator Bill Cowsert (R-Athens), amends Title 9 to stipulate that the tolling of tort actions while criminal prosecution is pending only applies to felony offenses. This bill was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
     
  • SB 161, authored by Senator Kim Jackson (D-Stone Mountain), amends Title 42 to require the Department of Corrections provide every Georgia born inmate with a certified copy of their birth certificate and a state identification card before the inmate's release. The Department is also required to assist inmates with applying for and obtaining a social security card. The Department is required to assist non Georgia born inmates with obtaining from their native state upon release. This bill was referred to the Senate Public Safety Committee.
     
  • SB 163, authored by Senator Brian Strickland (R-McDonough), amends Title 38 to allow a chief judge of a Georgia superior court judicial circuit of a chief judge of a Georgia state court to suspend or modify statutory speedy trial requirements following a judicial emergency. These actions are permissible under specific situations where speedy trial requirements are impractical due to a specific list of factors in the bill including case volume, low case clearance rate, ongoing space limitations, and limited number of judges. The Chief Justice of the Georgia Supreme Court may reinstate speedy trial requirements in any jurisdiction at his or her discretion. This bill was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
     
  • SB 164, authored by Senator Chuck Hufstetler (R-Rome), amends Titles 15, 16, and 31 to provide modernization updates to the state's laws related to HIV. This bill was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
     
  • SB 166, authored by Senator Bill Cowsert (R-Athens), amends Title 15 to stipulate that a relationship with an insurance company that may have a financial interest in the outcome of the case is grounds for disqualification of a juror. Jurors must fill out a questionnaire that identifies their current employers and insurance companies. This bill was referred to the Senate Insurance and Labor Committee.
     
  • SB 168, authored by Senator Larry Walker III (R-Perry), amends Title 14 to provide that a corporation may hold annual shareholders meetings virtually. This bill was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
     
  • SB 170, authored by Senator Lester Jackson (D-Savannah), amends Title 33 to require health insurers that provide maternity benefits to provide coverage for costs associated with home childbirth. This bill was referred to the Senate Insurance and Labor Committee.
     
  • SB 171, authored by Senator Randy Robertson (R-Cataula), amends multiple Titles to create new penalties for offenses committed during unlawful assemblies. The bill also stipulates that any governing authority that reduces the budget of a law enforcement agency by 30 percent or more over one year is subject to the withholding of state or state administered federal funding. This bill was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
     
  • SB 172, authored by Senator Gloria Butler (D-Stone Mountain), amends Title 49 to authorize the use of appropriations to obtain federal financial participation for medical assistance payments on behalf of Medicaid recipients. This bill was referred to the Senate Appropriations Committee.
     
  • SB 173, authored by Senator Gail Davenport (D-Jonesboro), amends Title 49 to require DCH to provide Medicaid coverage for mothers for one year postpartum. This bill was referred to the Senate Appropriations Committee.
     
  • SB 174, authored by Senator Steve Gooch (R-Dahlonega), amends Title 17 to allow appointed judges fulfilling a vacancy of an elected judge the ability to issue unsecured judicial release. This bill was referred to the Senate Public Safety Committee.
     
  • SB 181, authored by Senator Jen Jordan (D-Atlanta), amends Title 33 to require that no health insurer that provides coverage for prescription insulin to charge more than $50 per 30 day supply as a cost sharing amount. This bill was referred to the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.
     
  • SR 100, authored by Senator Steve Gooch (R-Dahlonega), proposes a constitutional amendment to allow for state-wide grand juries with the authority to investigate and indict for crimes involving voting, elections, and violations of election laws committed anywhere in the state. This resolution was referred to the Senate Ethics Committee.
     
  • SR 105, authored by Senator Jen Jordan (D-Atlanta), proposes a constitutional amendment to stipulate that the state is required to provide a quality public education for its citizens. Currently the constitution requires "adequate" public education. This resolution was referred to the Senate Education and Youth Committee.
     
  • SR 107, authored by Senator Jen Jordan (D-Atlanta), creates the Senate Comprehensive Approach to Family Leave Policies within the State Government Study Committee. This resolution was referred to the Senate Rules Committee.

Rules Calendars for Legislative Day 18

The House is expected to consider the following measures on Tuesday for Legislative Day 18:

  • HB 90 — Torts; certain persons, firms, or corporations who are buyers of land for conversion of timber shall be exempt from certain liabilities; provide
  • HB 130 — Local government; fence detection system; define term
  • HB 154 — Domestic relations; protection of children; strengthen, clarify, and update provisions
  • HB 282 — Ad valorem tax; qualified timberland property; add a definition
  • HB 287 — Education; tobacco and vapor products in course of instruction regarding alcohol and drugs; include

The Senate is expected to consider the following measures on Wednesday for Legislative Day 18:

  • SB 52 — Selling and Other Trade Practices; legislative findings; standards for cybersecurity programs to protect businesses from liability; provide
  • SB 81 — Office of College and Career Transitions; change name to the Office of College and Career Academies
  • SB 88 — Education; Georgia Teacher of the Year shall be invited to serve as as advisor ex officio to the State Board of Education; provide