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Gold Dome

March 1, 2021

Gold Dome Report — Legislative Day 25

March came in like a lion with 40 mile per hour wind gusts this morning and weighty rules calendars and committee agendas acknowledging the nearness of Crossover Day. In the House, all eyes were on the omnibus election reform bill (HB 531), which spurred vigorous debate but ultimately passed by a 97-72 vote. Meanwhile, the Senate approved several health-related propositions of interest, including the "Ensuring Transparency in Prior Authorization Act" (SB 80) and legislation providing that the prudent layperson standard is not affected by the final diagnosis given in emergency medical services (SB 82).

In addition to floor action in both chambers, several Senate committees also met today ahead of Wednesday’s deadline for legislation to be reported out and considered by Crossover Day. The House, on the other hand, canceled most of its meetings after lengthy floor debate on HB 531, saving most of its work for tomorrow’s committee workday. We’ll be here to keep you posted in the #GoldDomeReport.

In today’s Report:

  • Committee Reports
  • New Legislation
  • Rules Calendar for Legislative Day 26

Committee Reports

House Small Business Development — Incentives and Education Workforce Subcommittee
Subcommittee Chairman Dale Washburn (R-Macon) called up one bill, HB 611, authored by Representative Mike Cheokas (R-Americus). HB 611 seeks to provide a new definition in O.C.G.A. 50-5-121(3) for the term, ‘small business.’ This legislation was brought to the General Assembly by Scott Hilton with the Georgia First Commission. The new definition creates three tiers:

  • Tier 1 - 10 or fewer employees or $1 million or less in gross receipts per year;
  • Tier 2 - 100 or fewer employees or $10 million or less in gross receipts per year; and
  • Tier 3 - 300 or fewer employees or $30 million or less in gross receipts per year.

Representative Dominic LaRiccia (R-Douglas) asked what about situations where you may have a company with 11 employees and possibly $1,000,001 in gross receipts — how can an employer terminate that one employee in order to qualify. The goal is to promote more procurements by smaller businesses. The legislation received a DO PASS recommendation, and it now moves to the full committee for consideration.

House Judiciary Committee
Chairman Chuck Efstration (R-Dacula) and House Judiciary Committee took up two pieces of legislation this afternoon:

  • HB 624, authored by Representative Darlene Taylor (R-Thomasville), adds a new judge in the South Georgia Judicial Circuit. The last judge added in that circuit was in 1978. The new judgeship does not become effective, for budgeting issues, until next year. The Judicial Council supports the addition as does the Chief Judge for the circuit. There were no questions and the bill received a DO PASS recommendation. The bill now moves to the House Rules Committee.
  • HB 620, authored by Representative Rob Leverett (R-Elberton), addresses payments of certain settlements to minors by raising the amount in current law from $15,000 to $25,000 It also addresses definitions for terms of “gross settlement” and “net settlement.” It also addresses cases pending which are to receive court approval. The legislation still requires that a bond is to be posted. The Committee entertained a substitute on HB 620; an amendment was made at line 253 to change the term guardian to such “personal representative or temporary administrator.” The Fiduciary Section of the State Bar of Georgia supports the legislation; Chatham County State Court Judge Greg Sapp also spoke in support as did Adam Malone with the Georgia Trial Lawyers Association. The legislation received a DO PASS recommendation on the Substitute with the amendment by the bill’s sponsor. It now moves to the House Rules Committee.

The Committee plans to meet again on Wednesday.

Human Relations and Aging Committee
Chairman Jesse Petrea (R-Savannah) and the Human Relations and Aging Committee took up new language in HB 290, the “Patient Representation and Visitation Act.” The legislation was brought to address concerns by individuals who have been unable to visit individuals during the pandemic in nursing homes and hospitals. Representative Ed Setzler (R-Acworth) explained his latest version of the legislation. It still contains language for a “legal representative.” An essential caregiver is given access to individuals in long-term care facilities. Discretion of hospital and long-term care hospitals to set policies for visitation based on CMS standards. The hospitals and nursing homes have powers to impose reasonable safety requirements. The Department of Community Health (“DCH”) has the power to write rules and regulations based on the Article and ability to have enforcement. Another addition is that it makes clear that minimum standards are to be maintained but they are not to restrict a patient’s rights. It is also not crafted to conflict with CMS requirements. Representative Setzler stressed that he met with the director of compliance at DCH last week on the legislation.

Representative Mary Robichaux (D-Roswell) asked a question about a 48-hour hold for patients in operating rooms (or patients in a transplant unit or immunosuppressed — their issues will not be resolved in 48 hours).

Representative Rick Jasperse (R-Jasper) asked a question about “reasonable” safety standards which may be imposed and how those are crafted by hospitals. Representative Setzler said that it could be tightened to take away flexibility; he argued that reasonable was a standard that much of the law is based on.

Representative Debra Bazemore (D-Riverdale) asked if the Coronavirus was on down-turn with the vaccines. Setzler indicated that it seems to be “moving the needle.” If there was no COVID-19, would he have introduced the bill - harder to remove a law rather than to let the science work out to permit the hospitals and long-term care facilities to work out what is necessary. Setzler stated that the legislation is in response to what has happened in the last 11 months and informed by the last year of experience.

Representative Rebecca Mitchell (D-Snellville) noted the legislation states nothing about infectious diseases and this is a concern as there is no exception for addressing those issues. She inquired if the Department of Public Health has a written opinion on the legislation?

GHA spoke of the appreciation to talk about the issue as it is incredibly complicated from a number of aspects. GHA, however, is still opposed to the legislation as drafted. The inclusion of the patient representative as the key decision maker is problematic - the patient is the key decision maker and GHA wants to make sure that individual is making those decisions. It also creates a private cause of action and a lawsuit determines what is “reasonable.” Language has been offered to the Speaker’s office, Governor’s office and the author. There is an ebola outbreak in Guinea and this legislation does not address situations which may arise with such outbreak.

Representative Tom Kirby (R-Loganville) moved DO PASS by committee substitute LC 33 8732ERS.

Representative Donna McLeod (D-Lawrenceville) expressed she was not in favor of the bill as it is too vague and will impact almost 11 million people in Georgia — reasonable standard does not work for her. The state has no mandate on masks. If it is not clear, “we are going to cause chaos.”

Representative Erik Allen (D-Smyrna) stated it is a serious issue and diligent in moving forward upon. About “patient representation” and before it was about a response to COVID when individuals cannot visit their loved ones. There is more than one way to approach the issue - so that a visitor can have access. It has morphed away from that. The bill is not as concrete as members would like and not solving the problem. Why do we want to rush this? It is not solely about COVID-19. It needs a robust discussion.

Representative Charlice Byrd (R-Woodstock) asked how long we have to wait for individuals to see loved ones in a facility? It has been months.

Representative Josh Bonner (R-Fayetteville) stated it was not a complicated issue but does need to have thoughts on how it works. Lawmakers would be derelict in their duties not to move it forward.

Representative John LaHood (R-Valdosta) commended Setzler on the work on the bill and the need to get it right. His concern about lines 162-163 and the Department’s administrative action on non-compliance and he stated that language was good. A definition for “reasonable” is needed. He asked that the Committee remove lines 100-101 and 137-138.

[The debate on HB 290 was still in process as the report needed to go forward to “press.” We will update you more on HB 290 in our next Gold Dome Report.]

Senate Education & Youth Committee
The Senate Education & Youth Committee, chaired by Senator Chuck Payne (R-Dalton), met to consider the following bills this morning:

  • SB 106, authored by Senator Gail Davenport (D-Jonesboro), amends Title 20 to require that wraparound services must be provided prior to the expulsion of assigning of out-of-school suspension to any student in grades preschool through grade three. Specifically, the bill enumerates the wraparound services that should be provided under Code Section 20-2-742.

    Senator Davenport presented the bill to the Committee, and Reverend James Woodall spoke in support. Buddy Costley of the Georgia Association of Educational Leaders expressed concern about the expansiveness of the list of wraparound services and whether they can all be practically provided by schools. He highlighted lines 28-30 and 34-37, which require schools to provide “intensive” child development and family support services and “parenting skills training” and “employment services” for parents. Members of the Committee expressed similar concerns. Senator Lester Jackson (D-Savannah) proposed an amendment to strike the section including these latter services (lines 34-37), but Chairman Payne decided to hold the bill and take no action at this meeting.
  • SB 153, authored by Senator Greg Dolezal (R-Cumming), amends Title 20 to create GOAL academies which operate as special charter schools with a specialized focus on dropout recovery or high school credit recovery. The bill also authorizes the State Board of Education to approve, deny, or renew GOAL academy charter petitions.

    The bill was heard in Committee on Friday, and the Committee considered what Mike Dudgeon of the Lieutenant Governor’s Office called a substitute reflecting a “compromise” with the existing credit recovery charter schools. Mr. Dudgeon explained that the substitute adds strategic growth planning language requested by the existing schools and provides that the State funding (90% of the basic part of the charter supplement and 25% of the facilities part of the charter supplement) does not expire--the original version had it expiring after one year. He also noted that alternate education funding would be provided for the next three years.

    Senator Lindsey Tippins (R-Marietta) proposed an amendment to add the time limit back in on the charter supplement funding, but the amendment failed. The Committee recommended the bill DO PASS by Substitute and be sent to the Rules Committee.
  • SB 240, authored by Senator Sally Harrell (D-Atlanta), amends Title 20 to require all local boards of education to provide a course on the critical role elections play in the democratic way of life.

    Senator Harrell presented the bill to the Committee, and Senator Greg Dolezal (R-Cumming) expressed some concern about Section (b) and “shall” versus “may” language. The Committee took no action on the bill but is expected to take up the bill with amendments on Wednesday.
  • SB 246, authored by Senator Matt Brass (R-Newnan), is the "The Learning Pod Protection Act". The bill amends Title 20 to expressly exempt homeschool students and their voluntary participation in learning pods from any state regulation under Title 20.

    Senator Jason Anavitarte (R-Dallas) presented the bill to the Committee, noting that learning pods have been subject to regulation in other states. Kyle Wingfield of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation reviewed research supportive of learning pods but did not take an express position on the bill. Haydon Stanley expressed support for the bill on behalf of the State Policy Network. The Committee voted 4-4 on a motion DO PASS, and Chairman Payne voted in the affirmative to send the bill to the Rules Committee.

Senate Higher Education Committee
Chairman Lindsey Tippins (R-Marietta) held hearings today on three proposals - no action was taken on any of these:

  • SB 109, authored by Senator Bill Cowsert (R-Athens), seeks to address in Chapter 3 of Title 20 lapsing of fees paid to the University System and a write-off provision of certain small debts which will cost more to collect than the debt itself. The legislation would extend the sunset of the time for the lapsed moneys (capped at 3 percent) to July 1, 2026 (an extension of five years). Chairman Tippins has asked for additional information and determining more about a $500,000 balance carry forward. This bill will be heard again on Wednesday and may have a recommendation forthcoming on a percentage “carry forward” limitation.
  • SB 239, authored by Senator Sally Harrell (D-Atlanta), seeks to prorate university fees in Chapter 3 of Title 20 and Chapter 4 of Title 20 that are paid for by students enrolled in colleges and universities based upon credit hours. As a reminder, HOPE does not cover fees. There are programs in place to promote college completion such as “Finish in Four” created by the Board of Regents. There are schools, including Augusta University, Georgia College, University of Georgia, and Georgia Tech which require students who are enrolled for six hours or less to pay full tuition. [Senator Harrell noted that HOPE and Zell Miller Scholarship is also being charged for a student’s full time status and thus costing more funding from the state for tuition as it is not prorated either.] Senator Harrell indicated some students may not be able to take more classes and labs due to course offerings not being available during a particular semester. Her legislation would prorate the fees and she’s looking at providing that if a student is enrolled for 1-4 hours then he or she would be responsible for 25 percent of the fees; 5-7 hours would be 50 percent responsibility of fees; 8-10 hours would be 75 percent of fees; and 11 plus hours would be responsible for 100 percent of the fees. Senator Brandon Beach (R-Alpharetta) indicated he saw the merit in the idea and Senator Chuck Hufstetler (R-Rome) also sees a need for uniformity across the schools. Many of the fees are for items which allow for a student to have a “college experience” and many students now are attending school part time and do not live on campuses. Chairman Tippins asked that further work with the Board of Regents be done on the bill to fine tune it.
  • SR 154, authored by Senator Nan Orrock (D-Atlanta), seeks to create a Joint House and Senate Study Committee to Strengthen Georgia’s Future Work Force. Senator Orrock indicated that education is tied to success and in 2017 a law had been passed to require that the Georgia Student Finance Commission provide need-based scholarships but the program had not been funded. Senator Brandon Beach (R-Alpharetta) indicated he liked the resolution and asked that if Senator Orrock would make this a 14 member study committee rather than a 13 member one and add the Commissioner of Economic Development as that department is recruiting businesses to Georgia. Chairman Tippins indicated that no one denies that it is meaningful to address needs-based scholarships but everyone needs to have “skin in the game.” Chairman Tippins also questioned “grade inflation” to allow individuals to be eligible for HOPE and also indicated that “rigor” of study needs to be looked at. He indicated that looking at a return on investment of the expenditure the state makes is needed. He did mention the need for counseling of students at grade 9 is important. His posture is that the issue does not need study of the concept but the mechanism to implement it needs to be studied.

New Legislation

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

  • HB 653, authored by Representative Rick Jasperse (R-Jasper), amends Title 26 to add COVID-19 testing to the definition of pharmacy care. This bill was referred to the House Health and Human Services Committee.
  • HB 654, authored by Representative Matt Hatchett (R-Dublin), amends Title 20 to exclude freeport property from the equalized adjusted school property tax digest for local five mill share calculations. This exemption is phased in over the course of four years. This bill was referred to the House Appropriations Committee.
  • HB 656, authored by Representative Penny Houston (R-Nashville), amends Title 10 to allow consumers to request credit reporting agencies place a COVID-19 alert on their credit report if the consumer has been affected by COVID-19. This bill was referred to the House Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee.
  • HB 662, authored by Representative Zulma Lopez (D-Atlanta), amends Title 17 to increase the time allotted to try a criminal case in judicial emergencies. This bill was referred to the House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee.
  • HB 663, authored by Representative James Beverly (D-Macon), amends Title 50 to require that net proceeds of the Georgia Lottery Corporation equal at least 35 percent of lottery proceeds in each fiscal year. This bill was referred to the House Higher Education Committee.
  • HB 666, authored by Representative James Beverly (D-Macon), amends Title 48 to add state income tax which was deducted as income for the purposes of federal income as taxable income. This bill was referred to the House Ways and Means Committee.
  • HB 667, authored by Representative James Beverly (D-Macon), amends Title 48 to increase the state's standard deduction to equal the federal standard deduction. This bill was referred to the House Ways and Means Committee.
  • HB 668, authored by Representative James Beverly (D-Macon), amends Title 48 to create a maximum income for which the personal tax exemption is allowable. This bill was referred to the House Ways and Means Committee.
  • HB 670, authored by Representative James Beverly (D-Macon), amends Title 48 to increase the tobacco tax rate on tobacco products. This bill was referred to the House Ways and Means Committee.
  • HB 671, authored by Representative James Beverly (D-Macon), amends Title 48 to increase the state's child and dependent tax credit. This bill was referred to the House Ways and Means Committee.
  • HB 672, authored by Representative James Beverly (D-Macon), amends Title 48 to create a state earned income tax credit equal to 20 percent of the federal EITC. This bill was referred to the House Ways and Means Committee.
  • HB 673, authored by Representative James Beverly (D-Macon), amends Title 48 to require all corporate taxpayers that are part of affiliated groups to file consolidated returns. This bill was referred to the House Ways and Means Committee.
  • HB 675, authored by Representative Wes Cantrell (R-Woodstock), amends Title 45 to revise the compensation of elected officials and to tie pay increases for legislators to the rate of inflation. This bill was referred to the House Rules Committee.
  • HB 677, authored by Representative Stan Gunter (R-Blairsville), amends Title 20 to delineate the specific school functions school police officers may be employed to perform. This bill was referred to the House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee.
  • HB 678, authored by Representative David Wilkerson (D-Powder Springs), amends Title 42 to enact the "Inmate Mental Health Act." The bill outlines procedures that must be followed by the Department of Corrections upon receiving credible information that an inmate may have a mental illness along with procedures for death investigations in correctional facilities. This bill was referred to the House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee.
  • HR 294, authored by Representative Micah Gravley (R-Dallas), urges the US Congress to enact, and the state government to coordinate, laws relating to financial services and cannabis. This resolution was referred to the House Regulated Industries Committee.

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

  • SB 270, authored by Senator Gail Davenport (D-Jonesboro), amends Title 31 to create a pilot program to fund rural birthing centers. This bill was referred to the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.

Rules Calendars for Legislative Day 26

The Senate is expected to consider the following measures on Wednesday for Legislative Day 26:

  • SB 42 — Education; school climate rating does not include discipline data; provide (Substitute) (ED&Y-53rd)
  • SB 47 — Georgia Special Needs Scholarship Act; revise prior school year requirement (Substitute) (ED&Y-51st)
  • SB 59 — Education; additional QBE funding for each full-time equivalent student within a local charter school; provide (Substitute) (ED&Y-56th)
  • SB 66 — Georgia Foundation for Public Education; a nonprofit corporation created by the foundation to receive private donations to be used for grants to public schools; authorize (Substitute) (ED&Y-31st)
  • SB 95 — State Government; conditions for meetings and public hearings to be held by teleconference in emergency conditions; provide (GO-47th)
  • SB 107 — Postsecondary Education Grants; waiver of tuition and all fees, for qualifying foster and adopted students by units of the University System of Georgia and the Technical College System of Georgia; provide (Substitute) (H ED-17th)
  • SB 113 — Life Insurance; life insurers' requirement to review the National Association of Insurance Commissioners' life insurance policy locator service; provide (Substitute) (I&L-16th)
  • SB 117 — Department of Human Services; offenses of improper sexual contact by employee or agent in the first and second degrees; revise (JUDY-49th)
  • SB 168 — Meetings; corporation may hold annual shareholders' meetings and special shareholders' meetings by means of remote communication; provide (JUDY-20th)
  • SB 182 — Counties and Municipal Corporations; "fence detection system"; define the term; counties, consolidated governments, and municipalities regulate or prohibit such system; limit the ability (SLGO(G)-29th)
  • SB 183 — Office of Sheriff; qualification requirements; revise (PUB SAF-29th)
  • SB 187 — HOPE Scholarship; procedure for students with disability as defined by the American with Disabilities Act to apply for a waiver; establish (H ED-37th)
  • SB 195 — Hemp Farming; definition; revise (A&CA-53rd)
  • SB 204 — Education; State Board of the Technical College System of Georgia to award high school diplomas; provide (H ED-37th)
  • SB 222 — State Symbols; pecan as the official state nut; designate (A&CA-13th)

The House Rules Committee is expected to meet Tuesday morning to set a Rules Calendar for Legislative Day 26.