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Gold Dome

March 18, 2019

Gold Dome Report - March 18, 2019

Although adjournment Sine Die remains two weeks away, the end felt nearer under the Gold Dome today. As legislators and lobbyists shook out the cobwebs from St. Patrick’s Day weekend, end-of-session strategizing filled the halls, committee rooms, and certainly behind closed doors. It is officially the time of year where bills with momentum become vehicles, picking up often unrelated amendments from other bills that are stalled or moving more slowly. And if your legislation is not a current target to pick up a rider, there is the persistent paranoia that it is next in line. So it goes in the waning days of session, but we will be keeping our eyes peeled for vehicles, gut-jobs, and Christmas trees in the #GoldDomeReport.

In this Report:

  • House Floor Notes
  • Committee Updates
  • New Legislation
  • Rules Calendars for Legislative Day 34

House Floor Notes

The House took up several bills of interest today for Legislative Day 33, including:

  • HR 259, authored by Rep. William Boddie (D-East Point), creates the House Study Committee on Heat-Related Injuries, Cardiac Injuries and other Sports-Related Injuries.  This Study Committee will be composed of five members of the House of Representatives and the Committee will stand abolished on December 1, 2019.  It will look in part at heat-related injuries which Georgia athletes have encountered, some have even caused deaths.  HR 259 was adopted by Committee Substitute by a vote of 165-5.
  •  SB 67, authored by Sen. Dean Burke, MD (R-Bainbridge), provides for regular capital outlay funding in O.C.G.A. § 20-2-260(t) for educational facilities where the majority of the structure is destroyed by fire or natural disaster.  It was brought as a result of the recent hurricanes in South Georgia and presented on the House Floor by Rep. Bill Werkheiser (R-Glennville).  The House passed this bill 162-0.
  • SB 156, by Sen. P.K. Martin, IV (R-Lawrenceville), permits two domestic insurers in Chapter 14 of Title 33  to divide into two or more resulting domestic insurers.  This legislation was carried in the House by Rep. Darlene Taylor (R-Thomasville). A plan for this division is required to be submitted to the Department of Insurance for the Commissioner’s approval.  The new entities will be required to be financially solvent.  The House passed this legislation by 169-0.
  • SB 202, authored by Sen. William Ligon, Jr. (R-Brunswick), addresses title insurance and amends O.C.G.A. 33-7-8 so as to allow title insurance to be procured on a lender’s security interest in personal property taken as security taken by the lender as collateral on a commercial loan.  It was brought to the House Floor by Rep. Bruce Williamson (R-Monroe).  The bill passed 166-0.

Committee Updates

House Insurance Committee

The House Insurance Committee, chaired by Rep. Richard Smith (R-Columbus), met to consider several provisions this morning:

  • SB 132 and SB 133, both authored by Sen. Marty Harbin (R-Tyrone), both update and modernize the Insurance Code. Both have been requested by the Department of Insurance, and neither bill contains substantive changes to the law. The Committee recommended the bills DO PASS and be sent to the Rules Committee. Rep. Richard Smith (R-Columbus) will carry the bill in the House.
  • SB 184, authored by Sen. Greg Kirk (R-Americus), allows participants in the SHBP to use Federally Qualified Health Centers and provides that the FQHCs will be reimbursed at Medicare rates. The Committee recommended the bill DO PASS and be sent to the Rules Committee. Rep. Darlene Taylor (R-Thomasville) will carry the bill in the House.

Chairman Smith addressed a question about creating a study committee on air ambulances, and he noted that these services are regulated by the federal government and there is little that the State can do to regulate them.

House Education Committee -- Academic Achievement Subcommittee

The Academic Achievement Subcommittee of the House Education Committee, chaired by Rep. Mike Cheokas (R-Americus), met to consider several bills today:

  • SB 48, authored by Sen. P.K. Martin IV (R-Lawrenceville), authored by Chairman Martin, amends Title 20 to require that all students in kindergarten be screened for dyslexia and provide a framework to identify and address dyslexia in students between kindergarten and grade three, subject to appropriations. The bill also requires development of a handbook by the Department of Education and collaboration in creating professional development opportunities for teachers to help them identify and intervene. The bill includes a two-year pilot program to demonstrate and evaluate the effectiveness of early reading assistance programs for students with risk factors for dyslexia, which is also dependent on appropriation. A representative of the Southern Regional Education Board spoke to the bill, and Rep. Rick Jasperse (R-Jasper) thanked SREB for their research contributions. In response to an inquiry by Rep. Dave Belton (R-Buckhead), SREB noted that the idea of early screening for dyslexia is to introduce early intervention to prevent long-term placement in special education that often occurs with later identification. Chairman Cheokas asked whether the Department of Education was prepared to create the handbook on the bill’s timeline, to which Dr. Garry McGiboney noted that the Department is already working on it. The Subcommittee recommended the bill DO PASS and be sent to the full Education Committee.
  • SB 60, authored by Sen. P.K. Martin IV (R-Lawrenceville), is intended to help educate coaches and teachers about the threat of sudden cardiac arrest. The bill requires schools to post information on the warning signs of sudden cardiac arrest, hold an informational meeting for parents, and obtain informed consent before participation in sports. The bill also creates a protocol for responding to students who faint or pass out while participating in sports, and it requires medical clearance before a student who passes out or faints returns to participation. Rep. Rick Jasperse (R-Jasper) asked whether the author would be amenable to making the bill’s requirements applicable to middle schools in addition to high schools and requiring parental notification of an injury rather than simply allowing such notification. The author was amenable, and an amendment is likely to be proposed in the full Committee. Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta spoke in favor of the legislation, and the Department of Education deferred to their expertise. The Subcommittee recommended the bill DO PASS and be sent to the full Education Committee.
  • SB 83, authored by Sen. Jeff Mullis (R-Chickamauga), expands the curriculum that public schools may offer relating to the Bible and other religious texts. Georgia law currently allows courses in Old Testament and New Testament history and literature, and this bill would expand available courses to those relating to law, morals, government, art, music, culture, and custom from religious texts. Rep. Valencia Stovall (D-Forest Park) asked if there would be any training requirements for teachers who want to teach these courses, to which Sen. Mullis said qualifications would be left to local school districts. Rep. Dewayne Hill (R-Ringgold) expressed his appreciation to Sen. Mullis for bringing the bill. The Subcommittee recommended the bill DO PASS and be sent to the full Education Committee. Rep. Rick Jasperse (R-Jasper) will carry the bill in the House.

House Juvenile Justice Committee

In a brief meeting this afternoon, Chairman Mandi Ballinger (R-Canton) and her Committee swiftly moved forward two bills:

  • SB 167, authored by Sen. Matt Brass (R-Newnan), permits more judicial discretion in O.C.G.A.15-11-211 for foster care children where DFCS has had six months to locate the child’s parents or fictive kin and can permit the court to provide that the foster care placement of the child with the foster parents is the preferred placement as moving the child could be detrimental to the child’s emotional well-being and remaining in the care of the foster parents is in the best interest of the child. The Committee gave this legislation a DO PASS recommendation; it moves to the House Rules Committee.
  • SB 225, authored by Sen. Larry Walker, III (R-Perry), seeks to make necessary changes in Georgia law so as to permit the state to enact the federal law, “Family First Prevention Services Act.”  The initiative makes several revisions in Chapter 11 of Title 15, including adding a number of new definitions into the Georgia Code (e.g. what is a “qualified residential treatment program”).  It also makes changes relating to the Indian Child Welfare Act so as to keep Georgia in compliance with that Act and makes revisions to DFCS’ notification and records keeping processes for youth who leave the care of DFCS or age out of the foster care system.  The Committee also provided a DO PASS recommendation on this bill as well.

Senate Education and Youth Committee

The Senate Education and Youth Committee, chaired by Sen. P.K. Martin IV (R-Lawrenceville), met to hear testimony on several bills today:

  • HB 59, authored by Rep. Dave Belton (R-Buckhead), amends Title 20 to allow children of active duty military personnel to register in a local school district based on the parent's official military orders rather than requiring the family to establish residency. Two amendments were proposed relating to charter schools. The first, presented by Sen. Greg Dolezal (R-Cumming), would allow any parent (not just military parents) to apply for admission to a charter school even if residing outside the school’s attendance zone at time of application (the student would have to move into the zone before enrolling). The amendment was adopted by a 6-1 vote, with Sen. Freddie Powell Sims (D-Dawson) opposing. The second, offered by Sen. Matt Brass (R-Newnan) presented by Brandon Hembree, would allow statewide charter school board meetings to be conducted telephonically (the content of HB 558). Sen. Donzella James (D-Atlanta) asked for a germaneness ruling, and Chairman Martin ruled the amendment germane. The amendment was adopted by a 5-2 vote. The Committee recommended the bill DO PASS by Committee Substitute and be sent to the Rules Committee.
  • HB 68, authored by Rep. John Carson (R-Marietta), amends Title 20 to prohibit certain entities from being student scholarship organizations. Specifically, the bill bars affiliates of entities that provide accreditation of elementary or secondary schools from operating as a student scholarship organization. Sen. Greg Dolezal (R-Cumming) asked how many such organizations exist now, to which Rep. Carson noted that he knew of one. Mark Middleton of the Georgia Goal Scholarship Program spoke in favor of the bill. The bill was scheduled for Hearing Only, and the Committee held it for later action.
  • HB 83, authored by Rep. Demetrius Douglas (D-Stockbridge), amends Title 20 to require elementary schools to schedule recess for children in grades K-5 and provides definitions for acceptable forms of recess. Sen. Greg Dolezal (R-Cumming) asked Rep. Douglas to consider adding an exception for overcrowded schools. Sen. John Wilkinson (R-Toccoa) expressed support for the bill, noting that we can find time for recess in the schools. Two elementary schools spoke in favor of the bill, and Olga Jarrett expressed support of a recess bill but concerns with the bill as drafted. Polly McKinney of Voices for Georgia’s Children also spoke in favor of the bill. The bill was scheduled for Hearing Only, and the Committee held it for later action. 
  • HB 530, authored by Rep. Bill Hitchens (R-Rincon), amends Title 20 to prohibit a parent or guardian from removing their child from public school for the purpose of avoiding mandatory attendance, school discipline, parental involvement, or parental responsibilities for the care and control of a child. Rep. Hitchens noted that the bill is aimed at ensuring child safety, and it requires local schools to notify the Division of Family and Children Services to conduct an educational assessment 45 days after a student’s withdrawal if the school district has not received a declaration of intent to use a home study program. Sen. Elena Parent (D-Atlanta) asked how this bill would impact statewide charter schools. The bill was scheduled for Hearing Only, and the Committee held it for later action.

Senate Health and Human Services Committee

The Senate Health and Human Services Committee, chaired by Sen. Ben Watson (R-Savannah) met and considered the following bills today:

  • HB 483, authored by Rep. Ron Stephens (R-Savannah), updates Georgia’s Dangerous Drug List in Title 16. The legislation was presented at today’s meeting by fellow pharmacist Rep. Butch Parrish (R-Swainsboro). The Committee asked no questions and the legislation received a DO PASS recommendation, moving it to the Senate Rules Committee. 
  • HB 26, authored by Rep. Dave Belton (R-Buckhead), seeks to enact the Psychology Interjurisdictional Compact in Chapter 39 of Title 43 so as to authorize an interstate cooperative agreement that will allow  qualified, licensed psychologists to provide psychological services via electronic means (telephone, email, video, etc.) across state lines with other compact states. It also makes more uniform across the states the in person (i.e. face-to-face) temporary practice of psychology, a privilege that is already existing. As such, it increases access to care, including specialty care and care in rural areas.  It certifies that psychologists meet acceptable standards of practice and gives a higher degree of consumer protection.  It also promotes cooperation between that states in terms of licensure and regulation without compromising the state sovereignty over its duly licensed psychologists.  Psychologists will be provided an electronic passport to provide telepsychology to patients across state lines if this bill is enacted.. The bill also will allow a psychologist to come into the state for up to 30 days and practice here in Georgia. Rep. Belton indicated that the Pentagon had requested this legislation on behalf of military personnel who have post-traumatic stress disorder.  Seven states have already enacted this compact and another 11 states are considering it. Georgia is a party to a total of 35 compacts on various subjects. The legislation does address criminal records’ checks of these individuals and they must follow the scope of practice as outlined here in Georgia. If a psychologist has an infraction, that is to be reported to their home state as well as other compact states. Sen. Chuck Hufstetler (R-Rome) asked where it clarified that the psychologist must follow Georgia law and rules (which is in Article 6 of the compact per Dr Anita Brown a psychologist). Georgia’s Professional Licensing Board supports this legislation.  Prior to the vote on the legislation, Sen. Greg Kirk (R-Americus) mentioned that the legislation addresses concerns he had raised last year (regarding criminal records checks and continuing education requirements).  Sen. Kirk made the motion DO PASS on the legislation and the Committee voted unanimously to move the legislation forward. Sen. Bruce Thompson (R-White) will carry the bill in the Senate.
  • HB 39, authored by Rep. Dave Belton (R-Buckhead), proposes to enact the “Physical Therapy Licensure Act” in Chapter 33 of Title 43.This legislation is another “compact” which the Pentagon has requested that Georgia enact to help its military personnel to permit the facilitation of the practice of physical therapy and provide greater access to physical therapy services.  This legislation also contains background check language; Sen. Kay Kirkpatrick, MD (R-Marietta) asked that this legislation address the “sharing” of criminal records information and the legislation did not currently permit such.  An amendment was offered and adopted to address the criminal records’ sharing.  The legislation received a DO PASS recommendation, moving it to the Senate Rules Committee. Sen. Bruce Thompson (R-White) will carry the legislation forward.
  • HB 217, authored by Rep. Houston Gaines (R-Athens), proposes to enact the Syringe Services Program in O.C.G.A. 16-13-32 in an effort to allow individuals exchange used, dirty needles for clean needles.  This program will be overseen by the Georgia Department of Public Health and the program’s  goal is to limit HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis C and other infectious diseases which are shared through use of needles.  Georgia is one of the nation’s top three states in numbers of HIV/AIDS cases.  There was support at today’s meeting for the bill, including representatives from Grady Health System and Atlanta Harm Reduction Coalition with both supporting the proposal.  Sen. Dean Burke, MD (R-Bainbridge) made the motion DO PASS and his motion passed unanimously.  Sen. Kay Kirkpatrick, MD (R-Marietta) will carry this bill forward in the Senate.

Senate Finance Committee

The Senate Finance Committee met this afternoon to hear two bills. HB 527 would change the calculation formula weights for the QBE funding formula. Rep. Robert Dickey (R-Musella)  stated that there was no fiscal impact in terms of requiring more or less funding for QBE. Members of the committee questioned this claim because all but one weights increased, which they assumed means there must be a dollar value increase. Ted Beck from the Department of Education explained this was a procedural change that would bring the QBE formula in line with the amounts that were actually be provided per student based on DoE data. The bill received a motion DO PASS.

Senate Insurance and Labor Committee

Chairman Burt Jones (R-Jackson) and this Committee had the following bills on their agenda today:

  • HB 227, authored by Rep. Spencer Frye (D-Athens), proposes to expand what is considered unfair competition among insurers so as to prohibit sexual assault and family violence. This legislation was only heard by the Committee; no vote was taken.
  • HB 277, authored by Rep. John Carson (R-Marietta), seeks to allow good will from an insurance acquisition be treated as an asset.  HB 277 received a DO PASS recommendation.
  • HB 310, authored by Rep. Greg Morris (R-Vidalia), moves the date for the report on autism coverage required to be made annually move from January 15 to June 15 of each year. This legislation received a DO PASS recommendation.
  • HB 373, authored by Rep. Bill Werkheiser (R-Glennville), amends Title 34 and criminal record checks of applicants for employment and individuals employed by or within the Department of Labor. This bill was held for further work.

Senate Public Safety Committee

Chairman John Albers (R-Roswell) called the committee to hear HB 459 which would require driver’s license verification for school bus drivers. Rep. Ginny Ehrhart (R-Powder Springs) presented the bill and explained that currently, there is no requirement that licenses are checked after the initial hiring of the driver. This bill would require periodic checks to make sure the licenses are valid. Rep. Ehrhart also proposed an amendment that would allow non-police public safety officers to assist in traffic control operations. The bill received a motion DO PASS.

New Legislation

The following legislation was introduced in the House today. Because these items have been introduced after Crossover Day, they are not eligible for consideration by the Senate before 2020.

  • HB 620, authored by Rep. Park Cannon (D-Atlanta), amends Title 45 to require DNA testing to be covered by the State Health Benefit Plan under certain circumstances. The bill was referred to the House Insurance Committee.
  • HB 624, authored by Rep. Viola Davis (D-Stone Mountain), amends Title 33 to provide for the automatic restriction of criminal history records for convictions of certain misdemeanors and felonies ten years after the completion of the sentence. The bill was referred to the House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee.
  • HB 628, authored by Rep. Wes Cantrell (R-Woodstock), amends Title 50 to provide that Georgia shall at all times observe the standard time of the United States and exempt Georgia from the daylight savings advancement of time provisions of the United States Code. The bill was referred to the House State Planning and Community Affairs Committee.
  • HB 629, authored by Rep. Scott Holcomb (D-Atlanta), amends Title 43 to provide for the refusal, suspension, or revocation of the license of a physician who has committed a sexual assault on a patient. The bill also requires mandatory reporting by health care professionals who have reasonable cause to believe that a physician has committed a sexual assault on a patient. The bill was referred to the House Health and Human Services Committee.
  • HB 630, , authored by Rep. Wes Cantrell (R-Woodstock), amends Title 50 to provide that Georgia shall observe daylight savings time year round if allowed by Congress. The bill was referred to the House State Planning and Community Affairs Committee.

Rules Calendars for Legislative Day 34

The House Rules Committee will meet tomorrow afternoon to set the Rules Calendar for Legislative Day 34. 

The Senate will take up the following propositions on Thursday for Legislative Day 34:

  • HB 225 -- Motor vehicles; reference date to federal regulations regarding the safe operation of commercial motor vehicles and carriers; update (PUB SAF-7th) Rich-97th
  • HB 246 -- Evidence; revise manner by which depositions taken at the instance of state are paid (JUDY-18th) Silcox-52nd
  • HB 325 -- Law enforcement officers and agencies; records of investigation of an officer by the Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council shall be retained for 30 years; provide (PUB SAF-7th) Clark-147th
  • HB 387 -- Property; liens in favor of private, nonprofit, volunteer fire departments for instances of fire services that are requested by property owners; provide (JUDY-53rd) Lumsden-12th
  • HB 226 -- Courts; additional penalty for violation of traffic laws or ordinances under Joshua's Law; extend sunset (PUB SAF-17th) LaRiccia-169th
  • HB 279 -- Revenue and taxation; certain law enforcement officers may use department vehicles relative to certain approved off-duty jobs; provide (Substitute) (PUB SAF-29th) Lumsden-12th
  • HB 300 -- Health; redesignate continuing care retirement communities as life plan communities (H&HS-46th) Smith-133rd
  • HB 471 -- Motor vehicles; implied consent notices; revise (PUB SAF-29th) Sainz-180th
  • HB 514 -- Georgia Mental Health Reform and Innovation Commission; create (Substitute) (H&HS-13th) Tanner-9th