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Gold Dome

March 20, 2018

Gold Dome Report - March 20, 2018

Although the House and Senate floors were quiet today, legislators were at work throughout the Capitol with late efforts to get legislation through committees. Desperation is becoming palpable—with only four legislative days remaining, opportunities for legislation to emerge from committee and make it to the House and Senate floors are quickly diminishing. That means no pending legislation is safe from other propositions being tagged on to hitch a ride. Today’s #GoldDomeReport, a special Committee Working Day edition, details much of the madness under the Gold Dome today. The General Assembly reconvenes tomorrow for Legislative Day 37.

In this Report:

  • House Subcommittee Hears Medicaid Expansion Pitch
  • Committee Reports
  • Rules Calendars for Legislative Day 37

House Subcommittee Hears Medicaid Expansion Pitch

Chairman Butch Parrish (R-Swainsboro) and his House Appropriations Health Subcommittee held a hearing on Tuesday so that they could learn about HB 669, Rep. Robert Trammell’s (D-Luthersville) bill on Medicaid expansion. Although this legislation cannot move this session since it failed to clear the House by Crossover, the hearing was an effort to raise more awareness about what Medicaid expansion could mean to the state. Rep. Trammell explained that his legislation would allow Georgia to leverage federal funds that Georgia taxpayers send to Washington. According to Rep. Trammell, the legislation would be an economic boost to local communities and allow more Georgians to be insured. He also noted that many entities in the state support such efforts including the Georgia Alliance of Community Hospitals, Mental Health America, the American Cancer Society, and theGeorgia Chamber of Commerce. Rep. Trammell shared that for every hospital job created there were two more jobs in the community created. According to him, the legislation could help with the closures of hospitals and would increase the numbers of paying customers. HB 669 would also decrease uncompensated care costs (noting the positive effects in the states of Arkansas and Kentucky) with the $9.00 to $1.00 federal match allowed. In all, it could bring in $3 billion annually to Georgia (much more than the Medicaid match which Georgia presently receives at $.68 per dollar). 

Rep. Carolyn Hugley (D-Columbus) noted her appreciation for Rep. Trammell’s efforts on this issue and stated that she hoped that the legislation would come to realization as it would help job loss and be an economic driver. Rep. Trammell did note the fact that Virginia took up the Medicaid expansion debate recently and availed itself of the federal funds. Rep. Pat Gardner (D-Atlanta) noted she had recently conducted a poll in her district, and the number one issue constituents noted was Medicaid expansion. She inquired about mental health funding as there is never enough State funds to go around, particularly in Fulton County. She asked if there were statistics about such offsets should the legislation move forward at some point and what any “savings” would be. Rep. Trammell did note that there are social and economic costs for folks not getting treatment. Rep. Lee Hawkins (R-Gainesville) remarked that treating adults was more expensive than children, and, as a provider, he had concerns about such. Rep. Trammell noted that 600,000 individuals could be helped with Medicaid expansion, roughly one-half of Georgia’s uninsured. Rep. Trammell also noted that Georgia has the third lowest tobacco tax rate in the country; Georgia could do something if they would raise that tax to help pay for healthcare costs (many of which are generated due to tobacco-related illnesses). Rep. Gardner stated that Georgia has a very high level of poverty and that states which had expanded their Medicaid eligibility had thrived and it was not a fair option that hospitals are to bear the foot of the medical costs for patients who cannot pay. Chairman Parrish reminded the Subcommittee and audience that there had been many efforts made by the General Assembly in the FY 2019 Budget so as to increase access to care:

  • $500,000 for federally qualified health centers
  • $1.7 million for new residency slots in primary care
  • $750,000 for new fellowships at the Medical College of Georgia
  • $2 million for Department of Public Health to address maternal mortality
  • $150,000 for sickle cell efforts
  • $75,000 for diabetes prevention in areas where it is most prevalent
  • $800,000 for Georgia CORE and regional cancer coalition
  • $50,000 for Grady Hospital’s HIV program
  • $215,000 for Hepatitis C surveillance efforts

Rep. Trammell concluded by requesting that a “study” be done so the State could learn more about costs and benefits of Medicaid expansion. 

Committee Reports

Senate Health and Human Services Committee

The Senate Health and Human Services Committee, chaired by Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford), met to consider several propositions on Tuesday:

  • HB 65, originally authored by Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon), was stripped and offered as a substitute by Sen. Unterman that includes language creating the Joint Study Committee on THC Oil Access that has twice passed the Committee. The Committee recommended the bill DO PASS and be sent to the Rules Committee.
  • HB 301, authored by Rep. Jodi Lott (R-Evans), replaces the current physician preceptor tax deduction with a tax credit available to preceptors for physicians, physician assistants, and advanced practice registered nurses. Sen. Unterman presented a substitute of the bill that included her language transferring the Board of Nursing to the Department of Community Health that is currently lingering in the House. Rep. Lott indicated that she was not supportive of the substitute, and the Committee tabled consideration of the bill.
  • HB 635, authored by Rep. Sharon Cooper (R-Marietta), is the “Disabled Adults and Elder Persons Protection Act” provides that district attorneys may establish working groups on elder abuse. It also provides for investigation processes and coordination of protection and law enforcement teams across the state. Pete Skandalakis of the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council spoke in support of the bill. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is also in support of the bill. The Committee recommended the bill DO PASS and be sent to the Rules Committee.
  • HB 647, authored by Rep. Katie Dempsey (R-Rome), provides for a pilot program to provide coverage for the treatment and management of obesity and related conditions in the state’s health insurance plans. The pilot program, as proposed in a substitute bill, will provide coverage of all FDA approved medications for chronic weight management for eligible participants in conjunction with obesity prevention, screening, and counseling benefits for up to 500 (down from 1,000) state employees. The Committee recommended the bill DO PASS and be sent to the Rules Committee.
  • HB 803, authored by Rep. Wendell Willard (R-Sandy Springs), prohibits the trafficking of a disabled adult, elder person, or resident by his or her caretakers. Representatives of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Council on Aging, Cobb County District Attorney, the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council, and Alzheimer’s Association appeared in support of the bill. Vernon Keenan, Director of the GBI, stated that there is an organized criminal effort to “warehouse” elderly individuals to steal their Social Security and disability benefits and a new crime is needed to prosecute the conduct. The Committee recommended the bill DO PASS and be sent to the Rules Committee.
  • HB 847, authored by Rep. Joyce Chandler (R-Grayson), is the Psychology Interjurisdictional Compact and will allow Georgia psychologists to practice telepsychology across state lines and allow other psychologists to do the same here. Rep. Chandler noted that this bill will allow for expansion of mental health services into underserved areas around Georgia. If Georgia is among the first seven states to adopt PSYPact, the state will be included in drafting the rules and regulations governing the Compact. Sens. Dean Burke (R-Bainbridge) and Nan Orrock (D-Atlanta) spoke favorably on the bill, noting the need for mental health services in Georgia. Janet Orwig of the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards and Anita Brown of the Georgia Psychological Association spoke in favor of the bill. Sens. Unterman and Kay Kirkpatrick (R-Marietta) inquired about the fingerprinting requirement, and Dr. Brown noted that while fingerprinting is not currently required by the state licensing board, the board supports this effort and would require fingerprinting for individuals wishing to participate in interstate practice. Sen. Greg Kirk (R-Americus) suggested that the Georgia Board of Psychology is not ready to implement PSYPact and recommended that the Committee defer action on the bill for a year to work out issues. The Committee deferred action on the bill.

House Health and Human Services Committee

The House Health and Human Services Committee, chaired by Rep. Sharon Cooper (R-Marietta) met on Monday to hear SB 352, Sen. Renee Unterman’s (R-Buford) bill prohibiting patient brokering, creating a director of Substance Abuse, Addiction, and Related Disorders, and establishing the Commission on Substance Abuse and Recovery. The bill also amends Chapter 1 of Title 33 of the O.C.G.A., to prevent excessive, high-tech, or fraudulent drug testing of certain individuals and allows for investigation by the Commissioner. The aim of the bill is to help end the opioid epidemic in Georgia.  Although it was a hearing, very little testimony was actually heard on the bill.  The majority of the discussion involved Sen. Unterman explaining the bill and Rep. Ed Rynders (R-Leesburg) requesting stronger language so that the penalties would be harsher. No action was taken.

The Committee also heard testimony from Bristol Myers Squibb’s Dr. Joseph Ritchie who spoke on “Oncology 101—current trends in cancer research and clinical trials.” He summarized the groundbreaking oncology treatment that isolates and attacks individual cancer cells so that the treatment process is less toxic and not as harsh as chemotherapy.

Senate Education and Youth Committee

Chairman Lindsey Tippins (R-Marietta) and his Education and Youth Committee held a lengthy meeting on Monday, taking up the following proposals:

  • HB 759, authored by Rep. Scot Turner (R-Holly Springs), relates to the special needs scholarship program, specifically amending O.C.G.A. § 20-2-2114(a). The substitute as presented allow a student to be placed in a non-conforming program and removes the current immediate one-year requirement for the child to be in a local school before being able to access the special needs scholarship. It also allows a student a one-time exit and return to a public school and permits a further exit after 18 months. The Committee recommended the bill DO PASS and be sent to the Rules Committee.
  • HB 763, authored by Rep. Randy Nix (R-LaGrange), expanding school protocol committees to cover issues of school climate (discipline, suspension, morale, etc.). The Lt. Governor and his counsel, Irene Munn, asked for an amendment to address school safety in local schools. The Senate has incorporated community collaboration with such efforts and have drawn upon an amendment at O.C.G.A. § 22-11-85 so that the community can be a part of the school safety plans, including input from juvenile courts, and address what are considered as best practices for such plans.  he legislation will allow a distribution of funds to be made as the FY 2019 Budget proposal which the Senate has indicated will contain such safety funds. The Committee recommended the bill DO PASS and be sent to the Rules Committee.
  • HB 853, authored by Rep. Katie Dempsey (R-Rome), amends O.C.G.A. § 20-2-133 under the Quality Basic Education Act so as to allow that children who are placed in a psychiatric residential treatment facility pursuant to a physician’s order will not pay tuition for their educational instruction. Current law allows that children placed by State agencies (Division of Family and Children’s Services and Department of Juvenile Justice) to receive QBE funds along with children who also go to these facilities upon referrals from the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities. The legislation brought forward was a Committee Substitute, incorporating comments from residential treatment facilities. Sen. Fran Millar (R-Atlanta) asked if it was just about money following the child, to which Rep. Dempsey indicated that was so. Sen. Tippins expressed concern about the counts of students and the timing of the counts.  Dr. Gary McGiboney, with the Department of Education, stated the Department would be willing to look at counts but these facilities’ youth had varying lengths of stays. Dr. McGiboney did note that the Non-QBE Formula Grant (which makes up the local funding for these facilities and is paid by the State for the State-placed youth) has a head count and it does use an average.  Sen. Tippins noted he would be interested in doing what is fair.  No action was taken on Monday, but the Committee is likely to hear this bill on Wednesday.
  • HB 787, authored by Rep. Scott Hilton (R-Peachtree Corners),  allows state charter schools to participate in RESAs, changes funding for state charter schools to the average of all public school systems (rather than bottom five), and provides for forward (advance) funding for expansion of a charter school that projects enrollment growth over 2% of the current enrollment. Sen. Tippins is opposed to the legislation because he sees that several schools in many districts are receiving less funding now than these State charter schools. He asked several times about what the “baseline” amount was needed to educate a child. He pointed further to funding received now by public schools, including equalization funding, noting that Jeff Davis County students receive $6,952 per FTE and Gwinnett receives $8,407 per FTE. Under this legislation the charter school funding would go up $401 per FTE per the Department of Audits. The average amount a charter school FTE receives is $8,415. Some argued it would be better to use any money proposed to increase the charters’ supplements to offset austerity – there remains a $167 million austerity cut in QBE funding. Also, teachers have not received any increases except “step raises” and that money could be used for that purpose.  Several charter schools spoke in favor of the legislation, including Genesis, International Academy of Smyrna, and Georgia Cyber Academy. Some noted that more funding could help them keep up with technology and help recruit and retain better educators. The Georgia Association of Educators testified that in public schools they sometimes had 35-40 students to one teacher and noted that the charters were not necessarily an “open door” and that perhaps was an issue. PAGE also spoke to the legislation, noting that the lack of funding makes it hard for schools to make ends meet. PAGE does not oppose HB 787 but feels that the timing of the legislation is not right. Finally, Chuck Clay spoke on behalf of the Georgia Education Coalition, which does not oppose HB 787 but does feel that there is an issue of fairness which needs to be addressed. No action was taken on the bill at the meeting.

House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee

The Judiciary Non-Civil Committee, chaired by Rep. Rich Golick (R-Smyrna), met on Tuesday and considered several propositions:

  • SB 39, authored by Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford), relates to pimping and pandering under Georgia law. Sen. Unterman’s bill has been largely re-written to better distinguish between individuals who are victims of sex trafficking (with an eye toward protection) versus those engaging in consensual prostitution (with an eye toward punishment). First time offense of pimping or pandering would remain a misdemeanor, but subsequent offenses could result in a felony charge and sex offender registration. The Committee recommended the bill DO PASS and be sent to the Rules Committee.
  • SB 127 and SR 146, authored by Sen. John Kennedy (R-Macon), provides for certain rights to victims of criminal offenses in the Georgia Constitution and Code. Known broadly as Marsy’s Law, the legislation was filed last year and has gone through a number of iterations based on feedback and discussion with prosecutors, criminal defense attorneys, victims’ advocates, and legislators. The twin proposals provide rights to notice and to be heard in the Constitute and, by general law, the processes by which such rights will be provided. The Committee recommended the bill and resolution each DO PASS by Committee Substitute and be sent to the Rules Committee.
  • SB 315, authored by Sen. Bruce Thompson (R-White), is intended to close a loophole in the existing computer crime law in Georgia, making it a misdemeanor to simply access a network without authority to do so. Rep. Christian Coomer (R-Cartersville), who presented the bill, noted that the bill was intended to capture individuals who access computer systems but may not immediately cause harm. He also noted that 46 other states have this or similar laws on the books, including California. There was substantial discussion among the Committee members on if and how individuals engaging in a “legitimate business activity”, like white-hat hackers, would be protected from prosecution under the law. Rep. William Boddie (D-East Point) questioned whether the bill should include language requiring a “bad act” to protect these types of individuals, to which Rep. Bert Reeves (R-Marietta) responded that it would defeat the purpose of the bill. Rep. Ed Setzler (R-Acworth), also noted that the bill already exempts cybersecurity active defense or offensive countermeasures designed to prevent and detect unauthorized computer access. Chris Risley, CEO of Georgia-based cyber threat firm Bastille, spoke in opposition to the bill, stating that this bill could chill the efforts of individuals testing others’ computer systems and reporting vulnerabilities. A student interested in studying cybersecurity also spoke in support of Rep. Boddie’s proposals to inoculate not-for-profit vulnerability testing, stating that his university’s work in testing systems is not covered by the “legitimate business activity” exemption because it is not a business. Given the public concerns about vulnerability testing, the Committee held the bill for consideration at Thursday’s meeting.
  • SB 335, authored by Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford), expands the offense of trafficking an individual for sexual servitude and provides modified penalties for trafficking an individual for sexual servitude. The Committee considered a substitute that incorporates Rep. Setzler’s HB 1006, which expands the ability to prosecute adults in and around schools for sexual assault where there is sexual contact with a student. Setzler’s bill emerged from an effort by Rep. Joyce Chandler (R-Grayson) last year and provides for different degrees of offenses based on the supervisory and disciplinary authority of the offender and the nature of the conduct. Rep. Setzler noted that consent could be considered as a mitigating factor although such is not expressly provided for in the language. The Committee recommended the bill DO PASS and be sent to the Rules Committee.

Senate Judiciary Committee

The Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Sen. Jesse Stone (R-Waynesboro), met on Monday to consider four propositions:

  • HB 410, authored by Rep. Alan Powell (R-Hartwell), limits certain fees imposed on purchasers of condominiums and lots in a property owners’ association. The bill also provides for disclosure of fees and other information through statements to purchasers. The Committee recommended the bill DO PASS by Committee Substitute and be sent to the Rules Committee.
  • HB 790, authored by Rep. Chuck Efstration (R-Dacula), implements recommendations of the Court Reform Council specifically relating to administrative law courts. The legislation provides administrative law judges with authority to issue final decisions and the power to enforce subpoenas and sanction parties. The Committee recommended the bill DO PASS and be sent to the Rules Committee.
  • HB 791, also authored by Rep. Efstration, allows for waiver of sovereign immunity for claims seeking injunctive relief or declaratory judgment against the State of Georgia. The Committee has been working on a substitute version limiting exposure for local government and school districts, and the Committee took no action pending a few additional changes.
  • HR 993, also authored by Rep. Efstration, proposes a constitutional amendment to create a statewide business court. The Committee has also been working a substitute version of this resolution, and the Committee took no action pending those changes.

House Public Safety Committee

The House Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security, chaired by Rep. Alan Powell (R-Hartwell), held a very heated meeting on Tuesday to hear the following: 

  • SB 452, authored by Sen. Jesse Stone, R-Waynesboro, amends Title 17 and Title 42 of the O.C.G.A., and allows a peace officer to take any action authorized by state and federal law, including, but not limited to, notifying and transferring all information gained from the investigation to the prosecuting attorney with jurisdiction over the alleged criminal violation, detaining the suspect, securely transporting such suspect to any authorized federal or state detention facility, or notifying the U.S. Department of Homeland Security or successor agency. This substitute has been altered to changing several “shalls” to “mays.” Rep. Jesse Petrea (R-Savannah) spoke passionately on the number of illegal aliens who are currently in prison in Georgia and how urgently this legislation is needed. After a short discussion on the bill amongst the Committee, testimony was heard. Several individuals, including representatives of the Latino Association of Georgia, the Southern Poverty Law Center, a Baptist Preacher, the Women’s Health Center, the Georgia Municipal Association, and the City of Clarkston rose to say that while they were pleased with the change in the wording in the substitute, they were concerned that this bill may cause some victims that this bill is designed to protect to not come forward for fear of either themselves or a family member being deported. Concerns were also expressed about breaking up families—especially in instances where the children are legal citizens, but the parents are not. Several others noted that this bill could increase taxes. Several members of the judicial branch noted that this would be an undue financial burden on the legal system and that it would put judges in the executive chain. They also said that they do not feel like it is in their ability to give orders to the solicitor. Several amendments were suggested. Language from an earlier version on line 90, section 3, stating that the Commissioner will report on illegal immigrants in confinement on the official website every 90 days. In addition misdemeanor was struck on line 80 to make the bill’s language consistent. The Committee recommended the bill DO PASS by Committee Substitute.
  • SB 348, authored by Sen. Tyler Harper (R-Ocilla), allows for the Technical College System of Georgia to extend their powers of arrest by campus police who are regular employees to a 1,500 foot bumper around school areas. Representatives of the TCSG rose in support.  This legislation will help them protect students who have off campus housing. The Committee recommended the bill DO PASS by Committee Substitute.
  • HR 1416, authored by Rep. Doreen Carter, (D-Lithonia), creates a Study Committee on bail bonding so that additional data of those in jail in Georgia can be analyzed.  With very little discussion, the Committee recommended the bill DO PASS.

Rules Calendars for Legislative Day 37

The House will take up the following propositions on Wednesday:

  • SB 8 -- "Surprise Billing and Consumer Protection Act"; health insurance; provide consumer protections; definitions
  • SB 139 -- Focused Programs of Study; pathway in leadership; provide
  • SB 202 -- Medical Assistance; increase in the personal needs allowance to be deducted from a nursing home resident's income; provide
  • SB 350 -- Notice of Information Practices By Institution or Agent; policy renewal to comport with federal law; update notice practices requirements

The Senate will take up the following propositions on Wednesday:

  • HB 149 -- Law enforcement; comprehensive regulation of trauma scene cleanup services; provisions
  • HB 398 -- Peace Officers' Annuity and Benefit Fund; update a cross-reference; provisions          
  • HB 419 -- Fireworks; certain counties further regulate use or ignition; enable authority
  • HB 494 -- Early care and learning; safety of children in early care and education programs; revise certain provisions
  • HB 671 -- Special license plates; Georgia Beekeepers Association; establish
  • HB 700 -- Georgia Student Finance Authority; service cancelable educational loans; include graduate degree programs
  • HB 718 -- Education; certain absences of students with parents in service of the armed forces of the United States; excuse
  • HB 739 -- Tracy Rainey Act; enact
  • HB 740 -- Education; local school system to conduct certain screenings, assessments, and reviews prior to expelling a student; require
  • HB 765 -- C.J.'s Law; enact
  • HB 779 -- Emergency management; homeland security division; provisions
  • HB 780 -- Banking and finance; changes to provisions applicable to financial institutions; provide
  • HB 843 -- Revenue and taxation; tax credits; include any census tract in a county that contains a federal military installation and industrial park
  • HB 878 -- Insurance; cancellation of an insurance policy by an insured; change certain provisions
  • HB 886 -- Sales and use tax; exemption for agricultural machinery and equipment; provisions
  • HB 898 -- Motor vehicles; fleet vehicles and fleet vehicle registration plans; revise provisions
  • HB 906 -- Public records; public disclosure of personal information of certain foster parents; exclude
  • HB 920 -- Domestic relations; department's information concerning the parties to an adoption under certain circumstances; allow for the use
  • HB 995 -- Local government; certain disclosures from consultants who enter into contracts to prepare requirements for bids; provide