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February 18, 2021

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Gold Dome

Feb. 18, 2021

Gold Dome Report — Legislative Day 19

Legislative Day 19 felt particularly cold, wet, and sleepy as legislators wrapped up a short week that was filled to the brim with committee meetings and actions. But before most members headed for the exits, the chambers did vote to send a handful of measures across the hall. The Senate, appearing more than ready to head into a long weekend, quickly passed the one bill on its calendar, SB 46, Senator Dean Burke’s (R-Bainbridge) proposal to allow EMTs and certified cardiac technicians to administer vaccines during public health emergencies. The House, on the other hand, signed off on six times more legislation, including provisions revising the parental consent requirement for minor do not resuscitate orders (HB 212) and allowing the use of windshield mounts for electronic devices (HB 165), which is (somewhat surprisingly) currently illegal. While many legislators appeared happy to call it a day at that, others stuck around for a handful of committee meetings that are covered in today’s #GoldDomeReport.

Legislators and lobbyists will need the rest of a three-day weekend. The General Assembly reconvenes on Monday for Legislative Day 20 and the beginning of a rare five-day legislative work week.

In today’s Report:

  • Committee Reports
  • New Legislation
  • Rules Calendars for Legislative Day 20

Committee Reports

House Education Committee
The House Education Committee, chaired by Representative Matt Dubnik (R-Gainesville), convened this morning to consider one bill:

  • HB 455, authored by Representative Timothy Barr (R-Lawrenceville), amends Title 20 to allow local boards of education to provide student transportation with vehicles with a capacity of eight persons 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.

    Representative Barr presented his bill to the Committee, noting that the legislation is permissive and provides local districts who want to use alternatives to school buses for transportation the flexibility to do so. In response to questions, he reiterated that the bill sets minimum standards and empowers the State Board of Education and local districts with the ability to set stricter standards as to maintenance, repair, inspection, and use of such vehicles. In an earlier subcommittee meeting, a representative of Atlanta Public Schools spoke in favor of the bill and it was noted that a letter of support was received from Gwinnett County Public Schools. The Committee recommended the bill DO PASS and be sent to the Rules Committee.

House Appropriations Committee — Education Subcommittee
The Education Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, chaired by Representative Todd Jones (R-South Forsyth), met late Wednesday afternoon to hear presentations and public testimony on the FY22 State Budget.

Dr. Keith Osburn, Chief Information Officer for the Department of Education, opened testimony with a virtual learning report. Dr. Osburn highlighted how local schools pivoted to online learning due to the pandemic and discussed the Georgia Virtual School’s response. He specifically noted how GVS provided Advanced Placement instruction for students and professional learning for teachers who shifted to virtual instruction. Dr. Osburn closed by discussing the Department’s partnership with Georgia Public Broadcasting to deploy the Georgia Home Classroom. Chairman Jones asked about the ownership of GVS course content and split of AP course delivery between rural and urban areas. He also asked about which districts have their own virtual platforms/schools, noting that he is interested in “trying to avoid” 180 different virtual schools.

Jim Potvin of the Employees Retirement System of Georgia spoke to the Subcommittee about programs his agency administers relating to education. Chairman Jones expressed interest in the high participation rate in ERS programs, to which Mr. Potvin noted that employees are opted-in by default.

Matt Arthur, Executive Secretary of the Professional Standard Commission, presented to the Subcommittee on the status of his agency, which currently certificates over 300,000 Georgians. Mr. Arthur discussed the streamlining of processes, including endorsements, and automation at the PSC, as well as other enhancements of customer service. He also highlighted a request for $200,000 to help fund a program to get more military veterans in the classroom that will be sought in the FY22 budget. Chairman Jones asked who is responsible for the teacher training curriculum for the state, to which Mr. Arthur said that the PSC works with Georgia colleges and universities, the Governor’s Office, and others to develop and assess how students are trained to become teachers. Representative Robert Dickey (R-Musella) asked about the streamlining of endorsements, to which Mr. Arthur said they took the process of approval from six months to two days.

Joy Hawkins, Executive Director of the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement, opened by noting that GOSA’s school leadership academy is building on the work of Georgia colleges and universities and the PSC to continue to give teachers tools after graduation. Ms. Hawkins expressed appreciation for the General Assembly’s support of GOSA in the Amended FY21 Budget and noted the only change proposed in the FY22 Budget proposal is the TRS rate increase required across the State Budget.

The Subcommittee then took public comment on the FY22 Budget. A representative of Georgia STOMP requested an increase to the feminine hygiene grant in the FY22 Budget. A representative of Teach for America also spoke to the budget.

House Ways and Means Committee
Chairman Shaw Blackmon (R-Bonaire) and the Ways and Means Committee took up these bill this morning:

  • HB 374, authored by Representative Houston Gaines (R-Athens), addresses O.C.G.A. 48-8-3(1) to exempt from taxation local authorities providing water or service services. This legislation received a DO PASS recommendation to LC 43 1855.
  • HB 292, authored by Representative Noel Williams (R-Cordele), seeks to amend O.C.G.A. 48-5-311(b)(2)(B) to remove continuing education training requirements for boards of equalization following their initial training. Initial training is 40 hours. It eliminates the requirement for 20 hours in appraisal and appeals to be met prior to hearing an appeal. This legislation also received a DO PASS recommendation.
  • HB 149, authored by Representative Bruce Williamson (R-Monroe), seeks to address taxation for Subchapter S corporations to be treated equally like c-corps. The bill received a DO PASS on a committee substitute LC 43 1908. The legislation amends O.C.G.A. 48-7-21. The changes will assist entities with their federal tax liability.
  • HB 114, authored by Representative Bert Reeves (R-Marietta), addresses O.C.G.A. 48-7-29.15 and the current tax credit in law permitted to individuals who adopt foster care children. The legislation seeks to increase the credit from $2,000 to $6,000 for the first five years and then reverts to $2,000 for each year thereafter until the child is 18 years of age. The fiscal note is small, per Representative Reeves. There has been research to raise this beyond these amounts in an effort to encourage more adoptions. There are few families, though, with state tax burdens of $6,000. The average tax credit provided is $1,945. Another idea explored is permitting employer tax credits. The Committee gave a DO PASS recommendation on the substitute LC 33 8512 EC.
  • HB 63, authored by Chairman Shaw Blackmon (R-Bonaire), seeks to provide a fairness for ad valorem taxation on leases. It provides a fair market valuation for leases and excludes certain interest and financing charges. There was no revised fiscal note for the Committee but one has been prepared which is reduced from the original fiscal note. Chairman Ron Stephens (R-Savannah) stated that he supported the proposal and it is a consumer friendly proposal. The proposal received a DO PASS recommendation on the Committee Substitute LC 43 1876S.

House Juvenile Justice Committee
Chairman Mandi Ballinger (R-Canton) and the Juvenile Justice Committee took up the following legislation:

  • HB 442, authored by Representative J Collins (R-Villa Rica), seeks to address the parenting plans involved in child custody proceedings. Currently, these plans include plans for a child’s education, healthcare, religious training, and extracurricular activities. The plans do not presently contemplate social media management (e.g. use of Facebook, Instagram, etc.). This legislation will include such social media management in these parenting plans in O.C.G.A. 19-9-1(b). Chairman Mary Margaret Oliver (D-Decatur) indicated that she was supportive of this inclusion and found it a very helpful bill. The Committee gave this legislation a DO PASS recommendation.
  • HB 274, authored by Chairman Ballinger, addresses judicial salaries and adds at O.C.G.A. 15-11-52.1 that If a circuit has implemented a drug court division, mental health court division, family treatment court, veterans court, or other alternative accountability court division, then on and after January 1, 2022, the state shall pay each juvenile court judge in such circuit annual accountability court salary supplement of $6,000 to be paid from state funds by the Council of Juvenile Court Judges of Georgia in equal monthly installments as regular compensation. And adds at (b) that If a local law provides for a salary to be paid based on a percentage of, total compensation for, or similar mathematical relationship to a juvenile court judge's salary, the accountability court salary supplement paid pursuant to this Code section shall not be included in the calculation of compensation to be paid by a county, municipality, or consolidated government. The legislation received a DO PASS recommendation and it passed along with an Amendment was offered in Committee to make this legislation effective on July 1, 2022.
  • HB 272, authored by Chairman Ballinger, addresses raising the age of jurisdiction for juvenile courts from 17 to 18 years of age. Much testimony and research has gone into the legislation, including hearing from experts and other states’ experiences. The bill amends Titles 15, 35 and 42. Debra Nesbit, with the ACCG, spoke of her association’s concern regarding resources and the additional accountability courts. She noted the backlog of cases now and lack of resources for programs. Philosophically, ACCG does not oppose raising the age. Terry Norris, with the Georgia Sheriffs’ Association, stated that the sheriffs’ position has not changed. A lot of crime is committed by the youthful offenders - he noted 5,000 in 2020 that were ages 17-18 and of those half had committed felony crimes. Further, 200 of those were the “seven deadly” crimes. He further stated that sheriffs were concerned about accommodation of resources and the accountability courts, noting that these will be local burdens. Chairman Oliver inquired about a recent legal case involving the DeKalb County jail and its lack of provision of special education services; children are entitled to such services up to the age of 21. She asked if other jails were providing and also stated that if these youth were transferred to DJJ that they could receive such services through their certified school, eliminating the cost at the local level. There were entities supporting the proposal including GACTL, Southern Center for Human Rights, and VOICES for Georgia’s Children. The legislation received a DO PASS recommendation and passed with an Amendment to implement this legislation on January 1, 2022 due to the inclusion of an “implementation committee” which is to work on the legislation for six months.

Human Relations and Aging Committee
Chairman Jesse Petrea (R-Savannah) and the Human Relations and Aging Committee held a hearing this afternoon on HB 290 authored by Representative Ed Setzler (R-Acworth). This legislation is to be known as the “Right to Visit Act” in Chapter 7 of Title 31 and would apply to hospitals as well as long-term care facilities (skilled nursing home, intermediate care home, personal care home, assisted living community, community living arrangement and inpatient hospice facility). It defines two important terms, “representative” and “essential caregiver.” The representative is someone over 21 who is designated by the patient or resident who assist that individual in their rights to make informed decisions regarding care and to be involved in the care planning and treatment, request or refusal to treatment, access to medical or personal information, management of financial matters or act on the patient or resident’s behalf. An essential caregiver is someone who is 18 or older who is a family member or was immediately prior to the resident’s entry into a long-term care facility engaged with the resident to provide companionship to that resident or assist with the resident’s activities and support the individual’s health, healthcare, long-term care and overall wellbeing. It prohibits a hospital or long-term care facility, as a condition to obtaining or maintaining a permit, from instituting any policy that limits any patient or resident’s ability to have access to in-person physical contact with the designated representative of such patient or resident for less than one hour per day during any period of hospitalization, treatment, or residence that lasts for a period exceeding 12 hours. Representative Setzler indicated that the legislation had been improved in the new substitute and was not going to please everyone. He further indicated he had received important feedback from legal counsel, hospitals and the long-term care community. The substitute includes references used by 42 CFR 482.13 and 42 CFR 483.10. No public testimony was given at this hearing; however, the Committee members were permitted to make inquiries to the author which included questions around CMS requirements; whether the legislation addresses the medical malpractice statute; and provisions for individuals who are in custody of law enforcement. There were also members of the Committee who were adamantly in favor of the legislation and addressing their constituents’ concerns of not being allowed to visit a hospital or long-term care facility due to COVID-19 restrictions. There were others who indicated that the General Assembly should remember that hospitals are to “do no harm.” Chairman Petrea indicated that the bill will receive a vote next Wednesday.

Senate Judiciary Committee
Chairman of Senate Judiciary Brian Strickland (R-McDonough) and his Committee undertook late Wednesday the following bills and each received a DO PASS recommendation, moving them to the Senate Rules Committee:

  • SB 28, authored by Senator Bo Hatchett (R-Demorest), seeks amendments in Titles 15 and 19 in an effort to require annual training for juvenile court intake officers (8 hours initial training and 2 hours annually thereafter); allows for consideration of hearsay evidence in preliminary juvenile court and permanency plan hearings; and seeks to revise provisions of reporting of child abuse to include emotional abuse (as defined in the measure). Director Tom Rawlings spoke in favor of the measure. Senator Bill Cowsert (R-Athens) asked a number of questions regarding use of cross examination of witnesses and the definition of child abuse to include “emotional abuse” and how that might be subjective to an individual making a report. There were no amendments.
  • SB 75, authored by Senator Kimberly Jackson (D-Stone Mountain), seeks to amend O.C.G.A. 44-7-23 regarding including that if a victim of stalking receives a temporary protective order then that individual may be released from his or her lease with 30 days notice. This change mirrors the permission from release of an individual from the terms of a lease that an individual receives who has a “TPO” and is a domestic violence victim. Committee members looked closely at the definition of “stalking” in the Code as they considered this initiative. Stalking does require a pattern of behavior, harassing actions, and places the victim in reasonable fear. Representatives from the Georgia Commission on Family Violence and Mosaic Georgia spoke in favor of the legislation. Senator Kay Kirkpatrick (R-Marietta) moved that the legislation move forward and her motion carried.
  • SB 105, authored by Chairman Brian Strickland (R-McDonough), addresses probation reforms in Titles 17 and 42, which were initially passed in 2017. The legislation streamlines and standardizes the ways individuals can access early termination of probation in Georgia. Further, the bill establishes uniform eligibility criteria, a uniform court process, and a uniform court standard to improve access to early termination for reformed Georgians while simplifying the system for the Department of Community Supervision, prosecutors, and the courts. Lisa McGahan, with the Georgia Justice Project, testified in support of the legislation noting that it will allow individuals access to economic opportunity and employment. Georgia has more individuals under community supervision - three times the national average. Georgia’s probation lengths of time are longer than other states and there is no cap for a judge to place an individual on probation. 36 states have caps of between two and five years. There was discussion about how long probation terms do not increase public safety, and in fact, may even create criminal activity. The Reform Alliance and Faith and Freedom Coalition spoke in support of the legislation as well.
  • SB 114, authored by Senator Randy Robertson (R-Cataula), seeks to amend O.C.G.A. 43-1-19(q) to address the grounds for refusing to grant to deny or revoke a license so as to include “being under supervision by a community supervision officer, as such term is defined in Code Section 42-3-1, for a conviction of any felony or any crime involving moral turpitude, whether it occurred in the courts of this state or any other state, territory, or country or in the courts of the United States, so long as such individual was not convicted of a felony violation of Chapter 5 of Title 16 nor convicted of a crime requiring registration on the state sexual offender registry.”

Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities Committee
The Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities Committee, chaired by Senator Bill Cowsert (R-Athens) met today to consider one bill.

  • SB 142, authored by Senator Jeff Mullis (R-Chickamauga), amends Title 48 to authorize the Georgia Lottery Corporation to issue no fewer than six licenses for mobile sports betting in the state. The bill requires all licensees to pay an annual $900,000 fee to the corporation and taxes all adjusted gross income of the operators at a 10% rate. All taxes collected must be deposited to the HOPE Scholarship fund. The bill allows for citizens 21 and older to place wagers on sports using mobile betting platforms. The bill prohibits betting on any event involving a public or private college or university located in the state.

    Chairman Cowsert began the meeting by explaining the committee would not take action on the bill today but expects to hold a vote next week. He then called on Sen. Jeff Mullis to present the bill.

    Josh Mackey spoke on behalf of Draft Kings, Fan Duel, and BetMGM and answered questions from the committee. Mr. Mackey stated his belief that the current version of the bill represents the interests of both the teams and operators.

    Sen. Matt Brass (R-Newnan) asked if the bill allows credit for bet payments which Mr. Mackey answered in the affirmative. Sen. Brass also clarified if betting on horse racing would be legal. Mr. Mackey explained that the state Constitution’s prohibition on horse racing would extend to this bill thus making horse racing illegal even if the bill passes.

    Sen. John Albers (R-Roswell) asked about the legality of the bill, generally. Mr. Mackey acknowledged that the law is not clear but passing this bill would provide clarity. Sen. Albers followed up that he believes the ambiguity currently allows Georgians to bet and the bill would simply add more consumer protections.

    Chairman Cowsert stated his belief that sports betting might constitute a game of skill which is not permitted under the constitutional authorization for the lottery corporation.

    Sen. Lindsey Tippins (R-Marietta) asked about the definition of adjusted gross income and how much the lottery would actually receive from money bet. He also raised concerns that money would be diverted from regular lottery spending and subsequently taxed at a lower rate. He also asked for Mr. Mackey to provide data on the total amount of bets placed and amount received by the states in taxes for the six closest states to Georgia.

    Sen. Doc Rhett (D-Marietta) asked how the mobile betting operators verify the age of bettors. Mr. Mackey explained that each platform has rigorous age verification technology for all persons using their services.

    Virginia Galloway of the Faith and Freedom Coalition spoke in opposition to the bill. She stated that the bill does not make sense for the state from a financial or moral perspective.

    Joshua Johnson, a pastor in Gwinnett County, also spoke in opposition of the bill. He specifically discussed problem gambling and its potential negative economic cost.

    Robert Highsmith spoke in favor of the bill on behalf of the Atlanta Hawks. He discussed the constitutionality of the bill. He noted that legalizing sports betting through a constitutional amendment would be a cleaner process but this bill still provides a solution to permit sports betting. The constitution only outlaws casino gambling and the lack of a definition does not expressly prohibit sports betting. Mr. Highsmith believes that the Supreme Court of Georgia would hold sports betting as legal under the constitution.

New Legislation

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

  • HB 485, authored by Representative Beth Moore (D-Peachtree Corners), amends multiple Titles to repeal the death penalty for all situations in the state. This bill was referred to the House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee.
  • HB 489, authored by Representative Beth Moore (D-Peachtree Corners), amends Title 16 to allow victims of sexual assault to petition the court to issue a protective order against the perpetrator of the assault. This bill was referred to the House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee.
  • HB 495, authored by Representative Clint Crowe (R-Jackson), amends Titles 35 and 42 to require the GBI to provide criminal record information to the Georgia Sexual Offender Registration Review Board to be used in risk assessments. This bill was referred to the House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee.
  • HB 499, authored by Representative Stacey Evans (D-Atlanta), amends Title 34 to remove language that prohibits local governments from enacting minimum wage mandates that are higher than state or federal law. This bill was referred to the House Industry and Labor Committee.
  • HB 502, authored by Representative Tyler Paul Smith (R-Bremen), amends Titles 17 and 42 to clarify that individuals serving a probation term for a felony offense, but with no previous felony conviction, are eligible for an early termination of their probation term if they abide by the behavioral incentive included as a term of their probation. The bill also requires courts to hold hearings on early termination requests no more than 90 days from the receipt of the request. The bill also stipulates that its provisions are to be applied retroactively to any individual whose probation terms meet the metrics outlined in the bill. This bill was referred to the House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee.
  • HB 505, authored by Representative Bee Nguyen (D-Atlanta), amends multiple Titles to revise the justification for the use of force. The bill clarifies that any duty to retreat supersedes an individual's justification for the use of force and requires a death investigation for all deaths arising from a use of force in which a claim of lawful use of force is made. The bill also requires the GBI to make public reports on the number of use of force cases. The bill further delineates acceptable use of deadly force and expressly prohibits the inciting of violence used to justify deadly use of force in response. This bill was referred to the House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee.
  • HB 509, authored by Representative Houston Gaines (R-Athens), amends Title 33 to require all insurers that offer comprehensive individual major medical insurance to make available at least one reasonably priced plan available to any person in their approved service area. This bill was referred to the House Insurance Committee.
  • HB 514, authored by Representative Shelly Hutchinson (D-Snellville), amends Title 33 to update references to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. This bill was referred to the House Insurance Committee.
  • HB 516, authored by Representative Karen Mathiak (R-Griffin), amends Title 16 to remove schools from the library exception to the crime of distributing harmful materials to minors. This bill was referred to the House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee.
  • HB 517, authored by Representative John Carson (R-Marietta), amends Title 20 to include interest earned on deposits and investments in the calculation of minimum revenue obligations for scholarships and tuition grants. This bill was referred to the House Education Committee.
  • HB 518, authored by Representative Rebecca Mitchell (D-Snellville), amends Title 20 to remove a requirement that school systems requesting waivers or rule variances choose from a proscribed list of options. The bill also adds more waiver options including physical education requirements, expenditure controls, class size requirements, categorical allotment requirements, certification requirements, salary schedule requirements, and duty-free lunch requirements. This bill was referred to the House Education Committee.
  • HB 519, authored by Representative Rebecca Mitchell (D-Snellville), amends Title 20 to remove the option of turning over operation of non-performing schools to a for-profit entity. This bill was referred to the House Education Committee.
  • HB 523, authored by Representative Marvin Lim (D-Norcross), amends Titles 31 and 33 to require health care providers to provide patients with good faith estimates of the of the allowable payment the provider has agreed to accept from an insurer upon request from the consumer or the consumer's employer. The bill also prohibits any contract between health insurers and providers from disallowing the disclosure of pricing information. This bill was referred to the House Special Committee on Access to Quality Healthcare.
  • HB 526, authored by Representative Yasmin Neal (D-Jonesboro), amends Title 17 to revise the state's citizen arrest laws to prohibit private persons from using lethal force while attempting to arrest an individual for any property time and unless the force is to prevent the commission of a forcible felony. This bill was referred to the House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee.
  • HR 172, authored by Representative Vance Smith (R-Pine Mountain), creates the House Study Committee on Georgia Utility Facility Safety Improvements. This resolution was referred to the House Energy, Utilities, and Telecommunications Committee.
  • HR 174, authored by Representative Josh McLaurin (D-Sandy Springs), recognizes and commends Hemophilia of Georgia. This resolution was read and adopted.

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

  • SB 200, authored by Senator Jason Anavitarte (R-Dallas), amends Title 38 to allow businesses and religious institutions to continue operations during a public health emergency if they conform with applicable safety guidelines contained in any order related to the public health emergency. This bill was referred to the Senate Government Oversight Committee.
  • SR 127, authored by Senator Michelle Au (D-Duluth), recognizes and commends workers of the Department of Public Health. This resolution was read and adopted.

Rules Calendars for Legislative Day 20

The House is expected to consider the following measures on Monday for Legislative Day 20:

  • HB 98 - State government; conditions for meetings and public hearings to be held by teleconference in emergency conditions; provide
  • HB 150 - Public utilities and public transportation; prohibit governmental entities from adopting any policy that prohibits the connection or reconnection of any utility service based upon the type or source of energy or fuel
  • HB 156 - Military; sharing of information and reporting of cyber attacks; facilitate
  • HB 210 - Motor vehicles; recording of odometer readings upon certificates of title; exempt certain vehicles
  • HB 234 - Self-funded Healthcare Plan Opt-in to the Surprise Billing Consumer Protection Act; enact
  • HB 245 - Professions and businesses; podiatry; amend a provision relating to fingerprint and criminal background checks
  • HB 268 - The Occupational Therapy Licensure Compact Act; enact
  • HB 273 - Distilled spirits; initiate a referendum election for the authorization of the issuance of licenses; provide additional method
  • HB 307 - Georgia Telehealth Act; revise
  • HB 342 - Professions and businesses; certain advertisements related to plumbing; prohibit
  • HB 354 - State Board of Cemeterians and Funeral Service; report suspected unlawful activity to the sheriff's office and the Attorney General; require
  • HB 362 - Environmental Protection Division; effective date for standards, rules, and regulations; revise

The Senate is expected to consider the following measures on Monday for Legislative Day 20:

  • SR 28 - United States Congress; call a convention; limit on the number of terms that a person may be elected; United States House of Representatives; request
  • SR 29 - Article V of the United States Constitution; a convention of the states; apply to Congress for balanced budget amendment