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Gold Dome

March 14, 2023

Gold Dome Report – Legislative Day 33

Tuesday was Pi Day, and Georgia taxpayers moved one step closer to getting a slice of the state’s budget pie under the Gold Dome on Tuesday. HB 162, a $1 billion income tax relief measure promoted by Governor Kemp, achieved final passage in the State Senate and will be headed to the governor’s desk for signature. The bill, which passed by a 46-7 vote, will provide income tax refunds ranging from $250 to $500 dollars to Georgia taxpayers depending on filing type, and joins property tax relief approved in the Amended FY23 Budget that was signed yesterday. Anyone following the #GoldDomeReport knows it is turning out to be a pretty good year for Georgia taxpayers.

The mood was somber as the House convened on Tuesday and memorialized the late speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge). Ralston, who would have celebrated his 69th birthday on Tuesday, was remembered fondly by Speaker Jon Burns (R-Newington); Ralston’s widow, Mrs. Sheree Ralston; and Representative Mack Jackson (D-Sandersville), who served as Chaplain of the Day.

In this Report:

  • Floor Action
  • Committee Reports
  • New Legislation
  • What’s Next

Floor Action

The House took up the following measures on the floor on Legislative Day 33:

  • SB 3 - "Reducing Barriers to State Employment Act of 2023"; enact (GAff-Hilton-48th) Albers-56th. The bill passed by a vote of 168-0.
  • SB 27 - Unfair Trade Practices; health care insurer from requiring an ophthalmologist or optometrist to extend any discounts on services that are not covered eye care services; prohibit (Ins-Gambill-15th) Brass-28th. The bill passed by a vote of 167-0.
  • SB 116 - Disposition of Municipal Property; the maximum term of certain leases or contracts for the use of property owned by a municipality (GAff-LaHood-175th) Watson-1st. The bill passed by a vote of 170-0.

The Senate took up the following measures on the floor on Legislative Day 33:

  • HB 85 - Insurance; require health benefit policy coverage for biomarker testing if supported by medical and scientific evidence (H&HS-32nd) Cooper-45th. The bill passed by a vote of 47-5.
  • HB 162 - Income tax; one-time tax credit for taxpayers who filed returns for both 2021 and 2022 taxable years; provide (FIN-3rd) McDonald-26th. The bill passed by a vote of 46-7.
  • HB 311 - Ad valorem tax; optional temporary tax relief to certain properties located in nationally declared federal disaster areas; provide (FIN-28th) Smith-70th. The bill passed by a vote of 53-0.
  • HB 402 - Education; water safety education information to parents of students under 18 years of age and to students 18 years of age and older; provide (ED&Y-48th) Hilton-48th. The bill passed by a vote of 49-6.
  • HB 440 - Education; authorize public and private schools to stock a supply of undesignated ready-to-use glucagon (H&HS-28th) Stoner-40th. The bill passed by a vote of 56-0.
  • HB 482 - Income tax; tax credits for establishing or relocating quality jobs; provide clarification (FIN-56th) Sainz-180th. The bill passed by a vote of 52-0.
  • HR 66 - General Assembly; motor fuel and diesel fuel taxes; ratify Governor Brian P. Kemp's Executive Orders (FIN-3rd) Gambill-15th. The bill passed by a vote of 53-0.

Committee Reports

House Public Health Committee

Chairman Sharon Cooper (R-Marietta) and the Public Health Committee welcomed throngs of individuals to her meeting today.  Numerous advocates flooded the halls of the Coverdell Legislative Office Building to hear SB 140, authored by Senator Carden Summers (R-Cordele).  Before the Committee heard SB 140, the Georgia Trauma Commission presented on trauma services in Georgia. Dr. Ashley with the Trauma Commission outlined MARCH PAWS. It is an effort to help rural hospitals in the state to deal with trauma care, addressing trauma transfer times and needed equipment intending to improve patient outcomes. There was also discussion about recruiting physicians for the entire state who can help with our state’s trauma system. Over the last two years, much has been done to improve the trauma system.

Summers was to explain his legislation (SB 140) written into parts of Titles 31 and 43 to prohibit certain surgical procedures for the treatment of gender dysphoria in minors from being performed in hospitals and other licensed healthcare facilities, to provide for exceptions and to provide for violations for such. Advocates from across the state were on hand to listen and protest the bill’s passage. A motion was made to adjourn as Senator Ben Watson (R-Savannah) was not present; however, that motion was not recognized.

Summers worked from LC 33 939412S (SCS) which he described as designed to make a “pause” and create the “Protection for Children’s Act.” They can decide for surgery after they turn 18 years of age. He asked for a study on “puberty blockers” and their effects of those. There is no hormone replacement permitted in the proposed law. Physicians who violate this could lose their license with some special exceptions for gender dysphoria of a child at birth.  Once a child has surgery there is no going back. Representative Michelle Au, MD (D-Johns Creek) led the questioning of the author, looking at the American Academy of Pediatrics on the best practices of care for children who are transgender.  She claimed that setting a date is an “outdated approach” and not in line with the current science. She asked why the General Assembly should be making such decisions. Summers told the Committee that someone was flying in to speak to the Senate Republican Caucus about her experience with the surgery and what she had found was the worst decision.  Representative Au asked if it was the General Assembly’s responsibility to determine disease treatment protocols.

Representative Teri Anulewicz (D-Smyrna) asked Summers what the number one cause of death of children was in the United States. Summers did not know, but Anulewicz was quick to point out it is firearms. Her concern was hitting the “pause” button. 

Representative Mary Margaret Oliver (D-Decatur) asked about the Board of Medical Examiners’ being directed to issue rules and regulations on procedures and whether that Board has been directed to issue rules and regulations on any other medical condition in writing such. Senator Watson came to assist Summers with his legislation. Watson pointed to studies done in the Netherlands and Sweden and their thinking about standards of care for children. Watson indicated he had looked at the science as best they could. Oliver questioned the surveys done or how the data was collected to determine that the numbers showed a rising number of individuals who regretted having this surgery.

Representative Shelly Hutchinson (D-Snellville) took on Summers regarding parental involvement and who decides to determine the right medical treatment for a child, basing her argument on the mask discussion, which was previously debated and passed. 

Representative Spencer Frye (D-Athens) asked how many children are being protected and the number of total surgeries done in Georgia (who were being treated for dysphoria - 3,000). No “sky has fallen,” according to Frye. He also pointed to the exceptions outlined in the legislation.

Representative Karla Drenner (D-Avondale Estates) expressed that this committee is an “evidence-based committee” and asked where the findings in the legislation were derived from. Summers noted it was from doctors, professionals, and parents. Thus, Drenner argued that there was no peer-reviewed information but anecdotal information about gender dysphoria. Her concern is that the findings section is wrong; thus, the bill is wrong. Watson looked at several peer-reviewed articles and the British Medical Journal. There were parents' pro and con.

Representative Mike Cheokas (R-Americus) sets the voting age at 18 and also makes it illegal to get a tattoo unless 18 years or older.

Representative Jodi Lott (R-Evans) noted the passage of Raising the Age to 18 addressing the jurisdiction of the juvenile court. She pointed out that youth at 17 are not developed enough to make proper decisions. Her question was about allowing the “puberty blockers” and prohibiting the surgeries and hormone replacement therapies.

Representative Katie Dempsey (R-Rome) pointed out that brains are not fully developed until age 25. The legislation is to help with the fairness of brain development. Watson and Summers rejected using the age 21.

Samples of public comment offered included (more than 60 had signed up to speak):

  • Jacob Hayes - As a Georgian, he cares about the policies.  The legislation impacts children’s mental health - only 32 folks will likely regret receiving treatment. Gender identity is generally created by age 4, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Psycho-sexual development is different from “not doing dumb stuff.” Irreparable harm is suicide - 569. Puberty blockers, he acknowledged, were a great tool but not an answer.
  • Elizabeth Downey - Opposed the legislation and also an RN at Northside.  She’s also a mother of a transgender daughter.  Her daughter transitioned and is now 11 years old and takes puberty blockers.  The guardians and physicians should decide on treatment.
  • Toni Kim, MD - She is an Atlanta pediatric endocrinologist and has practiced in Georgia since 2018. She described her opinion as a medical professional and someone who would prescribe puberty blockers and hormone therapies. Taking certain steps will not allow individuals to go back if they might change their minds. Chairman Cooper inquired about how long a child can take puberty blockers.  Some autistic children stay on puberty blockers until age 16 but generally are provided to children who may move to puberty at an early age and the blockers are used to allow those children’s progression to a more normal age.  She has referred children previously in other states to “teams” of care who would work with them.
  • Paul Smith - Mr. Smith was at the meeting on behalf of Citizen Impact and supported the legislation's intent.  He indicated he would support the amendment to the legislation, but it needs more work.
  • Roland Behm - He testified to strongly oppose the legislation. The actions contemplated will harm children and not reflect well-researched science and practice. Access to gender-affirming care will reduce incidents and suicidal ideations.

If amended, the bill will go back to the Senate if passed by the House. Lott asked to be recognized for a motion. She expressed concerns about the penalties outlined.  The amendment would make providers to be civilly and criminally libel so that children have the ability to look back. The amendment passed along party lines 12-10.  A motion to table was made, but that motion failed, again on party lines.  It passed as amended 12-10.

House Juvenile Justice Committee

Chairman Mandi Ballinger opened the meeting and explained that Senator Blake Tillery’s (R-Vidalia) legislation, SB 131, dealing with permanent guardianship, was held for a later hearing.

LC 48-0929S was the substitute the Committee worked from today. SB 133 is trying to accomplish, for DFCS, to address three areas of the law where custody is given to DFCS (dependency actions). The law does not change the dependency process. O.C.G.A. 15-11-12 outlines the CHINS actions as well as delinquency cases. The judge can also find a child is dependent on CHINS and delinquency actions. This bill attempts to address what happens after that. A question is whether parents or DFCS get a “say.” It is not an attack on juvenile court judges. DFCS sees different results around the state of these actions.  It is hoped that this may impact the “hoteling” of children. Section 1 changes from the Senate version and adds that O.C.G.A. 15-11-5 is being adhered to. Section 3 is also changed from the Senate version. Section 4 addresses delinquency cases. It still allows the court to do things in an emergency involving a child. DFCS is not a party in a CHINS or delinquency case but sometimes the state comes in and gives custody of the child; thus, there is no plan in place for the child. It is trying to address the protections provided in dependency actions here.

Candace Broce spoke about the legislation and statistics on children entering in DFCS from CHINS and delinquency actions.  DFCS is not tasked with compiling those statistics. Some of the juvenile courts’ own statistics are incomplete in trying to keep the families intact. SAGs in Fulton reported 6-8 spontaneous removals from the bench monthly. If a DFCS liaison is in the hearing there are sometimes not serious considerations to keep the child in the home. Judges enjoy discretion, but DFCS wants to see the law like in dependency actions.

There were questions that the Council on Juvenile Court Judges were not on the same page as DFCS. Margaret Oliver asked how often this happens; it is about collecting data and whether it is an urban or rural problem.  All SAGs were surveyed over the last week. Some circuits do not have judges remove children.  Some work with DFCS to determine if a dependency action needs to be done.  Some jurisdictions believe they cannot remove it. Some have rare instances like in Madison County where there were three removals in 2022.

Polly McKinney, with VOICES for Georgia’s Children, urged that whatever policy is made to think about the time that the child is left waiting to determine where he or she will be. Also, think about the child ending up in detention or in a hotel and what can be the least restrictive custody as possible.

Judge Render Heard spoke on behalf of the Council of Juvenile Court Judges.  He agreed with DFCS and Strickland that there is a need to “do something.” He makes removals of children in CHINS actions.  In a delinquency case, they are required to make a finding of dependency before placing the child in DFCS care. The judges asked those who heard the case to initiate a dependency case - not wait to file a complaint or petition. CHINS are more difficult — a disposition option is to place in DFCS custody without dependency finding.  The judges respect the need for DFCS needing time to get more information, but the judges are concerned about what to do with the children for 24 hours. If DFCS or others are not a party to the case, it is problematic for allowing those individuals to be heard.

No action was taken today on SB 133.  The Committee will review further the judges’ concerns.

House Judiciary Committee

Chairman Stan Gunter (R-Blairsville) convened the full committee to order to discuss the following measures:

  • SB 66, authored by Senator Billy Hickman (R-Statesboro), amends Code Section 15-6-2 of the O.C.G.A. to increase the number of judges in the Atlanta Judicial Circuit. There has not been a change to the number of judges in 28 years. The measure received a DO PASS recommendation. Representative Bill Werkheiser (R-Glennville) will carry this measure forward in the House.
  • SB 59, authored by Senator Bo Hatchett (R-Cornelia), seeks to amend Chapter 12 of Title 45 of the O.C.G.A. to establish the Office of Inspector General in the Georgia code. The measure came to Judiciary last year for discussion. Mr. Thomas Weaver, a private citizen, came forward to express support for the measure with some reservations. The measure received a DO PASS recommendation. Representative Soo Hong (R-Lawrenceville) will carry this measure forward in the House.
  • SB 19, authored by Senator Kay Kirkpatrick (R-Marietta), amends Title 15 of the O.C.G.A. to address passport fees. About 78 Clerks of Court and 8 Probate Court Judges process passports. Some keep these fees by splitting the fees amongst the offices while others go straight to people's bank accounts. This bill requires disclosure of the fees and a 50/50 split of the fees to the county and the Clerk of Court. It authorizes that the first $10,000 can be kept by the Clerk or the Probate Judges with disclosure. Representative Trey Kelley (R-Cedartown) asked if individuals are Constitutionally required to complete this service and if putting in dollar amounts would disincentivize the service. Senator Kirkpatrick said this is an added service and that the amounts are not in her opinion. Representative Kelley expressed concern over negatively impacting citizens from getting their passports. Representative Stacey Evans (D-Atlanta) asked if other county officers could provide this service. Senator Kirkpatrick was unsure about the federal rules on this but thought someone else possibly could. Todd Edwards from ACCG spoke in support of the measure with some reservations. Angela Langard, an Associate Probate Court Judge from Jackson, Georgia, Tiana Garner from the Clerk of Court in Gwinnett County, Debra Deberry from the Clerk of Superior Court in DeKalb County, and Dana Chastain from Fannin County expressed concern over the measure. Chairman Gunter took no action on this measure.
  • SB 148, authored by Senator John Kennedy (R-Macon), seeks to amend Title 14 of the O.C.G.A. relating to nonprofits. The Nonprofit Section of the Georgia Bar reviewed every line of related law to review this and modernize it. The group met over 80 times for four years. In Georgia, there are over 32,500 nonprofits contributing $77.5 billion in revenue and employ roughly 500 million people. The code is based on the Georgia business code. Most lawyers who advise nonprofits are business lawyers. This standardizes the code for the impacted government agencies. Most of the changes are clean up related such as grammatical and clean up language to ensure readability and clarity. The second big change is structuring it like the business code. One example was removing redundancy in the mergers section. The measure received a DO PASS recommendation. Representative Rob Leverett (R-Elberton) will carry this measure forward in the House.
  • SB 64, authored by Senator Randy Robertson (R-Catuala), amends Code Section 31-10-14 of the O.C.G.A. relating to birth certificates of adopted children. LC 33 9460S (SCS) requires that when a child is adopted when they turn 18, they can go to the vital records office and get a copy of their original birth certificate. Representative Trey Kelley (R-Cedartown) asked about the history of the current process, specifically regarding sealed adoption. Senator Robertson felt that many people hid adoptions because of shame. Representative Kelley’s concern arose out of privacy for the parents. Representative Omari Crawford (D-Decatur) asked about who can receive the certificate when the adopted child dies. The measure received a DO PASS recommendation. Representative Beth Camp (R-Concord) will carry this measure forward in the House.

Senate Education & Youth Committee

The Senate Education & Youth Committee, chaired by Senator Clint Dixon (R-Gwinnett), met on Tuesday to consider the following measures:

  • HB 87, authored by Representative Chris Erwin (R-Homer), is the Nontraditional Special Schools Act. The bill revises and repeals certain provisions for alternative charter schools and provides for the continued operation of credit recovery charter schools like Mountain Ed, Coastal Plains, and Foothills. The bill establishes regions for these schools to operate as well as other parameters for their continuance.

Erwin presented the bill to the Committee, explaining that the bill will help credit recovery high schools continue to operate and allow for other districts across the state to take advantage of these types of programs. Kerry Pritchard of the Department of Education appeared before the Committee, thanking Erwin for his work on the bill and expressing support. Pritchard did suggest that the Department be provided more funding for administering the program. Erwin did note that the House included $60,000 in the FY24 State Budget to fund a coordinator at the Department. Representatives of Foothills, Mountain Ed, and Coastal Plans testified on the measure.

Erwin presented the bill as a Substitute, and the Committee deferred action on the bill due to the late arrival of the Substitute and questions from Committee members.

  • HB 340, authored by Representative John Corbett (R-Lake Park), amends Title 20 to provide for daily duty-free planning periods for teachers in grades six through 12.

Erwin presented the bill to the Committee on behalf of Corbett, explaining that providing a duty-free planning period is important for teacher recruitment and retention. Margaret Ciccarelli of the Professional Association of Georgia Educators spoke in favor of the legislation, explaining that it will send a message to districts that duty-free planning periods are important. Buddy Costley of the Georgia Association of Educational Leaders also appeared in support of the legislation. The committee recommended the bill DO PASS and be sent to the Rules Committee.

The Committee was scheduled to hear HB 538, but consideration was postponed due to time constraints.

New Legislation

The following legislation of interest has been introduced. Since the General Assembly is beyond Crossover Day, new legislation requiring action in both chambers is not eligible to achieve final passage by both chambers during this legislative session, but it will be available for consideration during the 2024 Legislative Session.


Senate Study Committee on Excessive Vehicle Noise and Related Crimes; create

Sen. Sonya Halpern (D-039)


Public Service Commission; pursue actions to protect 2,700,000 electricity customers from unjustly paying; urge

Sen. Josh McLaurin (D-014)


RSV Immunization Technologies; vaccines and monoclonal antibodies within the federal VFC program; support the inclusion

Sen. Ben Watson (R-001)


Senate Study Committee on Recycling Efficiency and Economic Development; create

Sen. Lee Anderson (R-024)


Nurses Day; recognize March 16, 2023

Sen. Matt Brass (R-028)

What’s Next

The General Assembly will reconvene for Legislative Day 34 on Wednesday, March 15, at 10:00 a.m.

The House is expected to consider the following measures on Legislative Day 34:

  • SB 3 - "Reducing Barriers to State Employment Act of 2023"; enact (Substitute)(GovO-56th) Hilton-48th
  • SB 27 - Unfair Trade Practices; health care insurer from requiring an ophthalmologist or optometrist to extend any discounts on services that are not covered eye care services; prohibit (Substitute)(I&L-28th) Gambill-15th
  • SB 116 - Disposition of Municipal Property; the maximum term of certain leases or contracts for the use of property owned by a municipality for recreational facilities; provisions (Substitute)(SLO(G)O-1st) LaHood-175th

The Senate is expected to consider the following measures on Legislative Day 34:

  • HB 77 - Dougherty Judicial Circuit; superior court; provide for a fourth judge (Substitute)(Judy-15th) Sims-12th
  • HB 142 - Education; establishment of unified campus police forces through agreements by colleges and universities; provide (PS&HS-56th) Payne-54th
  • HB 203 - Health; restrictions on sale and dispensing of contact lenses with respect to physicians; revise provisions (Hth-127th) Brass-28th
  • HB 242 - Georgia Driver's Education Commission; violation of traffic laws or ordinances under Joshua's Law; provide additional penalty (MotV-161st) Albers-56th
  • HB 268 - Criminal Justice Coordinating Council; motor vehicle related crime prevention initiatives; establish grant program (Substitute)(PS&HS-174th) Albers-56th