Legislative scoreboard (and its counts that have not been independently verified) outside Senate Rules Committee Chairman Matt Brass’ (R-Newnan) office.
It’s the Ides of March, and there is plenty of treachery (and perhaps some debt collection) under the Gold Dome in these waning days of the 2023 Legislative Session. Bills are becoming Christmas trees, legislators are trading horses to advance their measures, and the Capitol hallways ring with saber-rattling. There’s no better example than in the Senate Rules Committee (and basically every other Senate committee meeting) where senators are quick to remind members of the House that the Upper Chamber has passed more House measures than the House has considered Senate propositions. Senate Rules Chairman Matt Brass (R-Newnan) is making no bones about his perspective, posting a scoreboard outside his office as a not-so-subtle reminder that he wants the House to pick up the pace. While our team has not fact-checked the scorekeeping, we’ll have all the bills that do pass in the #GoldDomeReport.
In this Report:
- Floor Action
- Committee Reports
- New Legislation
- What’s Next
The House took up the following measures on the floor on Legislative Day 34:
- SB 46 - Control of Sexually Transmitted Disease; physicians and healthcare providers to test all pregnant women for HIV and syphilis at the first prenatal visit, at 28–32 weeks' gestation, and at delivery; require (PH-Cooper-45th) Hufstetler-52nd. The bill passed by a vote of 169-2.
- SB 84 - "Georgia Uniform Securities Act of 2008"; financial protections for elder and disabled adults who may be victims of financial exploitation; provide (B&B-24th) Hufstetler-52nd. The bill passed by a vote of 169-0.
- SB 120 - Motor Carriers; the reference date to federal regulations regarding the safe operation of motor carriers and commercial motor vehicles; update (MotV-Daniel-117th) Echols-49th. The bill passed by a vote of 169-0.
- SB 128 - Peace Officers' Annuity and Benefit Fund; the total percentage of funds that can be invested in alternative investments; raise the limit (Substitute)(Ret-56th) Hitchens-161st. The bill passed by a vote of 166-3.
- SB 134 - Evidence; that a child witness be deemed competent to testify without taking the oath; provide (JuvJ-135th) Cowsert-46th. The bill passed by a vote of 167-0.
The Senate took up the following measures on the floor on Legislative Day 34:
- HB 77 - Dougherty Judicial Circuit; superior court; provide for a fourth judge (Substitute)(Judy-15th) Sims-12th. The Committee Substitute passed as amended by a vote of 50-0.
- HB 142 - Education; establishment of unified campus police forces through agreements by colleges and universities; provide (PS&HS-56th) Payne-54th. The bill passed as amended by a vote of 52-0.
- HB 203 - Health; restrictions on sale and dispensing of contact lenses with respect to physicians; revise provisions (Hth-127th) Brass-28th. The bill passed by a vote of 51-1.
- HB 242 - Georgia Driver's Education Commission; violation of traffic laws or ordinances under Joshua's Law; provide additional penalty (MotV-161st) Albers-56th. The bill passed by a vote of 43-8.
- HB 268 - Criminal Justice Coordinating Council; motor vehicle related crime prevention initiatives; establish grant program (Substitute)(PS&HS-174th) Albers-56th. The Committee Substitute passed by a vote of 45-5.
House Education Committee
The House Education Committee, chaired by Representative Chris Erwin (R-Homer), met Wednesday morning to consider the following measures:
- SB 32, authored by Senator Jason Anavitarte (R-Dallas), amends Title 20 to require local education agencies to implement a mobile panic alert system capable of connecting disparate emergency services technologies to ensure real-time coordination between multiple states and local first responder agencies in the event of a school security emergency. The bill requires the State to contract with a vendor(s) to provide these systems but does not require any school district to re-procure a system if they have implemented one that meets the bill’s requirements.
Anavitarte presented the bill to the Committee as a substitute that requires the State to identify multiple vendors who can provide the required system(s). The Committee recommended the bill DO PASS by Committee Substitute and be sent to the Rules Committee.
- SB 45, authored by Anavitarte, amends Title 20 to care for students being treated for epilepsy or a seizure disorder. The bill allows a parent or guardian to submit a seizure action plan to their student annually. The action plans must include specific elements and be made accessible at schools. The bill requires the Department of Education to develop a model seizure action plan and establish standards for employee seizure training by Aug. 1, 2023.
Anavitarte presented the bill to the committee, which recommended the bill DO PASS by Committee Substitute and be sent to the Rules Committee.
- SB 204, authored by Senator Greg Dolezal (R-Cumming), amends Title 20 to provide for the recognition of certain accrediting agencies as evaluators of the quality of education offered in public schools in this state.
Dolezal presented the bill to the Committee as a substitute that retained the core of his bill as passed by the Senate and added the appeals process from HB 506, authored by Representative Ginny Ehrhart (R-Marietta). The committee recommended the bill DO PASS by Committee Substitute and be sent to the Rules Committee.
- SB 211, authored by Senator Billy Hickman (R-Statesboro), amends Title 20 to establish the Georgia Council on Literacy.
Hickman presented the bill to the Committee as a Substitute that incorporated feedback and amendments proposed by the Governor’s Office. The committee recommended the bill DO PASS by Committee Substitute and be sent to the Rules Committee.
House Insurance Committee
Chairman Eddie Lumsden (R-Armuchee) and the House Insurance Committee reviewed the following bills on Wednesday:
- SB 20, authored by Senator Kay Kirkpatrick (R-Marietta), amends the "Surprise Billing Consumer Protection Act" to ensure consumer access to quality healthcare by setting adequacy standards for network plans. The committee gave a DO PASS recommendation to this legislation, moving it forward to the House Rules Committee.
- SB 110, authored by Senator Larry Walker, III (R-Perry), is the legislation (LC 52 0316S) addressing “Back the Blue.” Sheriffs are constitutional officers in each county with numerous duties, including keeping peace in the community. A compensation study done in 2021 averaged for deputies around $35,000-$36,000 and jailers was $31,000-$32,000. This means that the individuals would qualify for financial assistance. In 2021, some jailers were making $10.00 per hour. This legislation allows citizens to voluntarily donate to them. Representative Carolyn Hugley (D-Columbus) noted that a new customer would have another issue to explain. Thus, it was suggested to be on auto registration, with the hopes of adding more revenue with a donation of $3.00 annually. The funds would be collected by the local tax office and remitted to the Georgia Department of Revenue via weekly remittance. The department would then send a check annually to the Georgia Sheriffs Association for distribution equally to all 159 counties. Representative Matthew Gambill (R-Cartersville) asked about benefits as it was enumerated in the legislation or if the funding was to be expended solely on pay. Walker indicated it could be spent on paid leave etc. There is a sunset in 2028. It allows $3.00 on the checkoff, but what if an individual wishes to contribute more than that? Walker committed to looking at that issue in the future. The legislation received a DO PASS recommendation, and Representative Lee Hawkins (R-Gainesville) will carry it forward in the House.
- SB 158, authored by Senator Randy Robertson (R-Cataula), amends Title 33 to provide for an insurance premium discount or rate reduction for property owners who build a new residential or commercial property or who retrofit an existing residential or commercial property located in this state that better resists tornado, hurricane, or other catastrophic windstorm events. It also received a DO PASS recommendation this morning.
House Human Relations & Aging Committee
Chairman Jesse Petrea (R-Savannah) called the meeting to order to discuss one measure.
- HR 141, authored by Representative Lee Hawkins (R-Gainesville), seeks to create a House study committee on long-term care options. The substitute resolution broadens the scope of the committee to study residential settings. Representative Spencer Frye (D-Athens) expressed support for the measure and interest in reviewing any pay model care option. Representative Mike Cameron (R-Rossville) suggested using the phrase reimbursement model. Representative Lisa Campbell (D-Kennesaw) suggested striking Medicaid completely to include any type of financing. Legislative Counsel suggested adding “or other public or private reimbursement models” to lines 34 and 35 to broaden the type of facilities further. Additionally, in line 36, Legislative Counsel suggested replacing Medicaid with healthcare and adding after cost “to patients and public and private payers.'' The measure received a DO PASS recommendation as amended by Frye with the suggestions made by counsel based on the committee’s discussion.
House Higher Education Committee
Chair Chuck Martin (R-Marietta) and his committee met to hear a presentation from Student Finance Commission President Lynn Riley on the REACH Scholarship. The Chairman held a hearing only on the following measures:
- SB 86, authored by Senator Matt Brass (R-Newnan), amends Title 20 to allow eligible students participating in the Dual Enrollment program to access HOPE career grant funds for certain CTAE courses irrespective of whether they have reached maximum credit hour caps. Eligible CTAE courses would be those that are part of TCSG certificate and diploma programs that TCSG identifies as qualifying graduates to work in high-demand fields. Section two of the bill adds data collection on dual enrollment program. Mark Peavy with TCSG and Tim Kibbler from the Alliance of Community Hospitals expressed support for the measure. DA King expressed some concern. No action was taken on the measure.
- SB 112, authored by Senator Anavitarte, amends Chapter 4 of Title 20 of the O.C.G.A. to create the "Workforce EXCELeration Act." This measure seeks to provide hope for those who have not received their high school diploma. Roughly 1.1 million Georgians have not received their diploma. This creates excel programs for people to receive their high school diplomas. According to the authors, this would increase revenue by $340 million. Goodwill offers these programs with wrap-around services. Goodwill will provide these programs with TCSG giving the diploma. This public-private partnership will offer day and night courses and create pathways for students to go straight into TCSG courses. A funding formula will be created with TCSG to pave the best past forward. The measure was discussed in the 2022 legislative session. During the summer, the bill was improved. No action was taken on this measure.
- SB 137, authored by Senator Max Burns (R-Sylvania), seeks to amend code Section 20-3-411 of the O.C.G.A. to address the tuition equalization grant for private schools. This measure allows any accredited Georgia institution to be eligible for equalization grant resources. No action was taken on the measure.
- SB 246, authored by Senator Mike Hodges (R-Brunswick), amends Chapter 10 of Title 49 of the O.C.G.A. to address healthcare workforce loan repayment programs. Senator Hodges was joined by the Executive Director of the Board of Healthcare Workforce, Chet Bhasin. The measure is a Governor’s bill to address the shortage of nurses. The measure incentivizes nurses to continue to teach by creating a student loan repayment program for nurses who commit to teaching. It would only apply to nursing teachers who are residents of Georgia, registered, and hold a master's or doctorate degree. They must be employed as a full-time teacher for one year before eligibility. If a person qualifies, up to $100,000 over a five-year period could be paid for a teacher. This fund is currently funded in the budget and will need to be appropriated every year. Representative Jasmine Clark (D-Lilburn) asked if there was a concern about taking nurses out of the hospital. Senator Hodges noted this would only be eligible for current teachers and that while this might result in a shift, it will turn out more nurses, so there will still be a net benefit. Tim Kibbler expressed support for the measure. No committee action was taken on this measure.
House Ways & Means - Sales Tax Subcommittee
Chair Chuck Martin (R-Marietta) and the subcommittee convened early to discuss the following measures:
- SR 214, authored by Senator Frank Ginn (R-Danielsville), to create a joint study committee on local option sales tax and service delivery strategies. Ways & Means Committee Chair Shaw Blackmon (R-Bonaire) said they would take this up in full committee.
- HB 347, authored by Representative Tim Fleming (R-Covington), seeks to amend Chapter 5C of Title 48 of the O.C.G.A. to address ad valorem taxes and rental motor vehicles. The author requested to hold the measure until the next committee meeting.
House Ways & Means - Public Finance and Policy Subcommittee
Chair Ron Stephens (R-Savannah) and the subcommittee convened early to discuss the following measures:
- SB 220, authored by Senator Russ Goodman (R-Cogdell), amends Chapter 10 of Title 44 of the O.C.G.A. to create the Georgia Farmland Conservation Act. It creates a Purchase of Agriculture Conservation Easement program, the foundation and creates a council to oversee the program. This is a dollar-for-dollar match to protect real property. The farmer can sell an easement on their farmland to keep the property as agricultural use land in perpetuity. There are 29 other states that have similar programs. A substitute was presented including language already in the code and clarifying language. The measure received a DO PASS recommendation.
- SB 127, authored by Senator Hickman, seeks to amend Article 3 of Chapter 13 of Title 48 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated relating to destination marketing. This is a companion bill to Representative Stephens’ HB 223 on the tourism marketing industry. The measure prevents local governments from altering or changing their designated private-sector nonprofit organization engaged in promoting tourism, conventions, and trade shows. This only applies to local governments that have collected $500,000 or more for the last three fiscal years. The measure received a DO PASS recommendation.
- HB 639, authored by Representative Stephen Sainz (R-St. Mary’s), amends Article 1 of Chapter 5 of Title 48 of the O.C.G.A. relating to moves proprietary tax collection on private aircraft to the Department of Revenue. It allows those collections to be remitted back to the local government. Since aircrafts move so frequently it is difficult for local counties to collect. Conservatively there are roughly $10 million in taxes being missed. The committee members were curious about which counties would receive the collections and how that would be determined. It was understood to be where the plane is hangared. No action was taken on the measure.
House Juvenile Justice Committee
Chairman Mandi Ballinger (R-Canton) and the Juvenile Justice Committee members met this afternoon to look at these measures:
- SB 133 was held today as negotiations continue on the bill’s language. The bill seeks to create a uniform process in the assumption of custody in dependency, delinquency, and CHINS cases in Title 15.
- SB 131, authored by Senator Blake Tillery (R-Vidalia), proposes changes to Chapter 11 of Title 15 to address permanent guardianship proceedings. It provides for service by publication; updates permanent guardianship proceedings; to provide for an exception for parties who have terminated their parental rights; provides for a waiver of service; provides for notice and service of permanent guardianship; to provide for notice of guardianship petition; provides for objection to appointment of guardianship; and provides for a rebuttable presumption for non-entitlement to notice in guardianship proceedings. A new Substitute was presented this afternoon. It is an effort to make children’s lives better. Section 2 addresses “service” in family law matters to align those portions in the law. It explains who should give service and when that is to be given. Section 3 and Section 4 was originally a Senate bill, and Lt. Governor is supportive of this being added and so is the Senate. Representative Will Wade (R-Dawsonville) asked why “biological mother” is not included in the service. The legal mother and biological mother are generally known. It can certainly be added according to Legislative Counsel. Representative Esther Panitch (D-Sandy Springs) explained that they can be two separate individuals. If a legal mother, that would mean the rights of biological mother have been extinguished. Ballinger indicated she did not feel it was needed. The Committee discussed gay couples, but the issue was resolved with marriage of those individuals. Sections 3 and 4 stem from a horrific circumstance where the girl’s father killed her mother and her siblings and then tried to give her to family in Mexico. She was terrified about going to Mexico and being out of reach and unable to testify against her father. The changes address court discretion for the final determination of the child’s custody upon indictment rather than upon conviction. There remains a presumption of innocence until proven guilty. Generally, they are indicted quickly according to Ballinger. Panitch noted she was in favor of the bill, but Ballinger indicated that there is still judicial discretion. Representative Mary Margaret Oliver (D-Decatur) questioned the amendment of indicted versus charged and the discretion allowed the judge. The bill received a DO PASS the substitute as amended, and the bill moves forward to the House Rules Committee.
House Health Committee
Chairman Lee Hawkins (R-Gainesville) and the Health Committee met on the following:
- SB 99, authored by Senator Dolezal, presented the version as passed by the Senate. Conversations are ongoing with the Georgia Hospital Association and there may be some amendments to be taken up on the legislation. It provides an additional exemption from certificate of need laws for rural acute care hospitals in Title 31. It would impact 118 of 159 counties. There are some restrictions on which hospitals can participate in this exemption — such as 10 percent classified as indigent care, accept Medicare and Medicaid, file form 990 of a nonprofit, etc. If a hospital in a county with 50,000 and that county’s population grows then the hospital would be deemed to fall under the exemption. Representative Don Parsons (R-Marietta) asked if some hospitals have come through and been denied and how far have they gone through the process. The preeminent example is in Butts County located in Butts County. WellStar is blocking that facility’s building of a new facility. It does not touch cancer treatment centers, the Shepherd Center, imaging centers or ambulatory surgery centers. Dolezal hopes that this would encourage other development in other rural areas. How open are you to other amendments was asked to the author by Representative Dexter Sharper (D-Valdosta). Representative Chas Cannon (R-Moultire) asked about the impact on rural areas. Dolezal indicated that growth in rural areas is happening with large investments. There are going to remain challenges with investments. Representative David Knight (R-Griffin) indicated he has concerns about the bill as he’s from Spalding County and the financial viability in his own community which has grown and made improvements and investments.
- SB 199, authored by Estevez, seeks to permit the State employee benefit offerings to include health savings accounts. An amendment was offered in an effort to address the time allowed; the amendment was adopted, and the legislation passed as amended. The legislation moves now to the House Rules Committee.
Senate Health & Human Services Committee
The Senate Health and Human Services Committee, chaired by Senator Ben Watson (R-Savannah), met on Wednesday to consider the following measures:
- HB 383, authored by Representative Reeves, is the “Safer Hospital Act”. The bill amends Title 16 to provide for enhanced penalties for aggravated assault and aggravated battery committed upon emergency health workers and healthcare workers located on a hospital campus. The bill also provides hospitals the ability to employ “hospital peace officers” with the full extent of law enforcement powers.
Reeves presented the bill to the committee, explaining that the legislative effort is being spearheaded by Piedmont Healthcare. Senator Kirkpatrick asked why the bill was not extended to other health facilities. Senator Kim Jackson (D-Stone Mountain) questioned how patients who are in crisis and might lash out would be treated under the legislation.
The Georgia Alliance of Community Hospitals and the Georgia Nurses Association spoke in support of the legislation. The Georgia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers thanked Reeves for his collaboration on the legislation but expressed concern about creating a new class of victims through the bill. The committee recommended the bill DO PASS and be sent to the Rules Committee.
- HB 416, authored by Representative Deborah Silcox (R-Sandy Springs), amends Title 26 to authorize qualified pharmacy technicians to administer certain vaccines. The bill also provides for requirements for training and qualification, as well as requirements for the supervising pharmacist.
Silcox presented the bill to the committee, explaining that pharmacy technicians were able to administer vaccines during the COVID-19 public health emergency, but that authorization has expired. Senator Ed Setzler (R-Acworth) expressed concern about the training of pharmacists and facilities available in pharmacies for administering vaccines.
An individual from Cobb County appeared in opposition to the bill. The Medical Association of Georgia thanked the proponents for their collaboration on the bill and explained they are neutral on the bill. The committee recommended the bill DO PASS and be sent to the Rules Committee.
- HB 453, authored by Representative Scott Hilton (R-Peachtree Corners), amends Title 31 to repeal a requirement that every ambulance service pay an annual license fee and the requirement that ambulance service annual license fees be deposited into the Indigent Care Trust Fund.
Hilton presented the bill to the committee, explaining that the annual license fee for ambulance services was intended as a provider fee to allow for higher Medicaid reimbursement. However, according to Hilton, those higher reimbursement rates never materialized, so the license fee should be repealed. Hilton explained that removing these fees would allow ambulance services to save money that could be used to hire and retain EMTs and paramedics. Several senators expressed some concern about removing a fee that helps fund the Indigent Care Trust Fund and draw down matching federal funds.
The Georgia Association of Emergency Medical Services spoke in support of the legislation. The committee recommended the bill DO PASS and be sent to the Rules Committee.
- HB 571, authored by Silcox, amends Title 49 to provide that the Georgia Alzheimer's and Related Dementias State Plan be updated every four years. The bill also requires a progress report every two years and revises provisions relating to membership on the advisory council.
Silcox presented the bill to the committee, which recommended the bill DO PASS and be sent to the Rules Committee.
Prior to the convening of the full committee, the Mental Health Parity Subcommittee, chaired by Senator Kirkpatrick, met. Kirkpatrick explained that there is a substitute for HB 520 forthcoming, but there is a need to send the bill back to the full committee to keep it moving. A motion was made to recommend HB 520 back to the full committee, and the motion passed. Chairman Watson said that work would continue with the relevant stakeholders and the substitute would be in committee soon.
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.
The General Assembly will reconvene for Legislative Day 35 on Wednesday, March 16.
The House is expected to consider the following measures on Legislative Day 35:
- SB 55 - Counties, Municipal Corporations, and other Governmental Entities; regulation of businesses of persons under 18 years of age; prohibit (Substitute)(SBD-82nd) Parent-42nd
- SB 90 - Selling and Other Trade Practices; commercial financing disclosures; provide (Substitute)(B&B-118th) Dixon-45th
- SB 149 - "Georgia Door-to-Door Sales Act"; enact (Substitute)(A&CA-145th) Albers-56th
The Senate is expected to consider the following measures on Legislative Day 35:
- HB 176 - Courts; increase amount of court reporters' monthly contingent expense and travel allowance (Judy-8th) Hatchett-50th
- HB 460 - Courts; child's right to legal representation in legitimation cases; provide (Substitute)(JuvJ-23rd) Brass-28th