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Gold Dome

March 21, 2019

Gold Dome Report - March 21, 2019

After the relative calm of two Committee Work Days, legislators were back in action early this morning for Legislative Day 34. Members of the Senate Appropriations Committee were the early birds, and many did get worms in the form of earmarks in the Senate version of the FY 2020 Budget that was unveiled by Chairman Jack Hill (R-Reidsville) at an 8AM meeting. Leisurely floor sessions followed before House and Senate committees made late-hour efforts to get bills and resolutions moving ahead of the quickly approaching Sine Die. But by early afternoon, all eyes turned to tomorrow, when the Senate is expected to take up HB 481, Rep. Ed Setzler’s (R-Acworth) “Living Infants Fairness and Equality (LIFE) Act”. Legislative Day 35 looks to be an eventful one; keep tabs on the action with the #GoldDomeReport.

In this Report:

  • Senate Unveils FY 2020 Budget Proposal
  • House Approves Prescription Drug Measure, Holds Action on Insurance Modernization
  • Senate Passes Bill Establishing Mental Health Reform Commission
  • Committee Updates
  • Rules Calendars for Legislative Day 35

Senate Unveils FY 2020 Budget Proposal

In an early meeting on Legislative Day 34, Appropriations Chairman Jack Hill (R-Reidsville) unveiled the Senate’s take on the FY 2020 Budget. After explaining the difference in the processes for budget building between the House and Senate (the House balances the budget proposal before subcommittees issue reports, and the Senate balances the budget proposal after subcommittees issue reports). Notable changes from the House version of the FY 2020 budget include:

Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities

  • $1,258,090 increase to raise provider rates by 3% on the following services for the developmentally disabled: Community Access Group, Community Access Individual, Prevocational Services, and Supported Employment.
  • $500,000 increase for operations of a crisis stabilization unit in Columbus starting January 1, 2020.
  • $350,000 increase for Mercy Care Health Systems to provide mental and primary health care to indigent Georgians.
  • $250,000 increase for permanent supported housing for individuals with developmental disabilities in Forsyth County.
  • $50,000 increase to expand comprehensive treatment, prevention, and recovery support services to pregnant and postpartum women living with substance use disorder.
  • $100,000 decrease in funds for Georgia Options.

Community Health

  • $575,455 increase for a $150 per diem add-on payment for hospital-based swing bed units in Prospective Payment System (PPS) hospitals located in counties with populations less than 35,000.
  • $368,932 increase to enhance the quality incentive for nursing homes who have earned an American Health Care Association (AHCA) Quality designation or Joint Commission certification.
  • $347,682 increase to provide an increase in the maximum adjustment factor to the Allowed Per Diem for Routine and Special Services from 4.5% to 5% for nursing homes that qualify for the maximum adjustment rate based upon approved assessments for resident cognitive impairment.
  • $256,500 increase to serve medically fragile children through the Champions for Children program.
  • $250,000 increase for a grant program for hospitals in counties with populations less than 35,000 for CMS required upgrades to emergency rooms for behavioral health patients (5 grants with a $25,000 match requirement).
  • $200,762 increase for the second installment of a two-year plan to increase the personal needs allowance for nursing home residents by $5 to meet the $20 per month requirement pursuant to the passage of HB 206.
  • Board of Physician Workforce
    • $300,000 increase to support additional student housing for community based rotations managed by the Georgia Statewide Area Health Education Centers (AHEC).
    • $180,000 increase for operations at the six regional Area Health Education Centers (AHEC).
    • $115,000 increase for seven slots in Pediatrics residency programs at Medical College of Georgia.
    • $90,000 increase for a start-up grant for the South Georgia Medical Center residency program.


  • Fully fund $3,000 raise beginning September 1, 2019 for all certified educators.
  • $5,262,547 increase for facilities grants for charter schools per HB 430 (2017 Session).
  • $1,000,000 increase for grants for professional development programs for teachers providing instruction in computer science courses and content per SB 108 (2019 Session).
  • $1,000,000 increase for additional high school counselors and enriching counseling programs for Title I schools.
  • $825,947 increase for RESAs by reducing austerity to the base formula.
  • $723,829 increase in Non-QBE Formula Grants for Sparsity Grants based on enrollment decline.           
  • $205,000 increase in Ag Education to fully fund Extended Day and Extended Year current and projected need.
  • $110,000 increase to for systems and schools to reach and maintain industry certification in the field of construction.
  • $100,000 increase for a two-year pilot program to demonstrate and evaluate the effectiveness of early reading assistance programs for students with risk factors for dyslexia per SB 48 (2019 Session).
  • $100,000 increase in Non-QBE Formula Grants for grants to schools for feminine hygiene products for low-income students.
  • $100,000 increase to expand the comprehensive Communities in Schools model of wraparound supports to new schools.
  • Change the name of the Audio-Video Technology and Film Grants program to the Grants for Career, Technical and Agricultural Education, and Technology program, and provide that the purpose of this appropriation is to provide funds for grants for Career, Technical and Agricultural Education (CTAE) equipment, and film and audio-video equipment to local school systems.
  • Georgia Student Finance Commission
    • $6,526,922 increase to Dual Enrollment to meet the projected need.

Human Services

  • $157,000 increase for assistive technology to assist older Georgians, so that they may continue to live in their homes and communities.
  • $102,000 increase for1,053 additional slots for non-Medicaid home and community based services.
  • $89,994 increase for the second installment of a two-year plan to increase the personal needs allowance for nursing home residents by $5 to meet the $20 per month requirement pursuant to the passage of HB206 (2017 Session).
  • $2,687,860 decrease eliminating $1.00 increase to relative caregiver daily per diem rate.

Public Health

  • $550,000 increase for ten Coverdell-Murphy Act remote stroke readiness grants.
  • $445,000 increase to maintain current funding levels for hospitals with trauma care designations.
  • $100,000 increase for three satellite perinatal support sites in Jenkins, Randolph, and Wilcox counties.
  • $40,000 increase to enhance the delivery and access to emergency trauma care in rural Georgia by adding five new Level IV trauma centers.

The complete Senate proposal is available online. The budget proposal now moves to the Rules Committee and on to the Senate floor for approval. After passing out of the Senate, House and Senate leaders will conference to reconcile differences and agree on a compromise budget.

House Approves Prescription Drug Measure, Holds Action on Insurance Modernization

The House took up a number of measures today, including SB 121. Authored by Sen. Larry Walker (R-Perry), SB 121 amends Title 16 to increase the length of time that prescription information is retained in Georgia's Prescription Drug Monitoring Program from two years to five years. The House passed the bill by a 158-6 vote, constituting final passage of the bill. It goes to the Governor’s desk for signature.

The House was also scheduled to vote on SB 132 and SB 133, Sen. Marty Harbin’s (R-Tyrone), bills amending Title 33 to provide modernization updates to the Insurance Code. The bills have been requested by the Department of Insurance, but the House delayed action on them until the next legislative day.

Senate Passes Bill Establishing Mental Health Reform Commission

The Senate signed off on HB 514, a bill authored by Rep. Kevin Tanner (R-Dawsonville) that amends Title 37 to create the Georgia Mental Health Reform and Innovation Commission. The Commission would consist of 23 members appointed by the Governor, Speaker of the House, and President of the Senate, and would aim to conduct a comprehensive review of the behavioral health system in Georgia. The review will include the behavioral health services and facilities available in this state, the identification of behavioral health issues in children, adolescents, and adults, the role the educational system has in the identification and treatment of behavioral health issues, the impact behavioral health issues have on the court system and correctional system, the legal and systemic barriers to treatment of mental illnesses, workforce shortages that impact the delivery of care, whether there is sufficient access to behavioral health services and supports and the role of payers in such access, the impact on how untreated behavioral illness can impact children into adulthood, the need for aftercare for persons exiting the criminal justice system, and the impact of behavioral illness on the state's homeless population. The Senate approved the bill by a 54-0 vote, and the bill will return to the House for an agree or disagree because it was passed as a Senate Committee Substitute.

Committee Updates

House Education Committee

The House Education Committee, chaired by Rep. Rick Jasperse (R-Jasper), met to consider several bills today:

  • HR 52, authored by Rep. John Corbett (R-Lake Park), encourages all schools, local educational agencies, and the state educational agency to recognize that dyslexia has a profound educational impact that must be addressed. The same resolution, which simply encourages action, was adopted last year. The Committee recommended the bill DO PASS and be sent to the Rules Committee.
  • 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. The Committee considered a Substitute to the bill that extends the pilot to three years and delay requirements in the bill by three years. The Committee recommended the bill DO PASS by Committee Substitute and be sent to the Rules 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. The Committee recommended the bill DO PASS by Committee Substitute and be sent to the Rules Committee.
  • SB 68, authored by Sen. Freddie Powell Sims (D-Dawson), strengthens provisions relating to the financial management of local school systems in Title 20. The bill incorporates the work of the Senate Study Committee on Continual Audit Exceptions on Local School Systems from the summer and fall of 2018. Specifically, the bill provides for training for local board of education members and local school superintendents on financial management; monthly reporting to the local board of education on the financial stability of the local school system; designation by the Department of Audits and Accounts of high-risk local school systems and moderate-risk local school systems based on annual audits; and financial management provisions in flexibility contracts and system charters.

The Committee considered a Substitute to SB 68 that incorporates HB 32, Rep. Kevin Tanner’s (R-Dawsonville) bill that amends Title 20 to clarify duties of the Chief Turnaround Officer and establish the Georgia Turnaround Collaborative, and HB 86, Rep. Tommy Benton’s (R-Jefferson) bill that allows certain teachers to appeal performance ratings under the statutory complaints policy. Reps. Doreen Carter (D-Lithonia) and Valencia Stovall (R-Forest Park) pushed back on the inclusion of HB 32, expressing concern over changing the Chief Turnaround Officer from reporting to the State Board of Education to the State School Superintendent. Rep. Dominic LaRiccia (R-Douglas) expressed Governor Kemp’s support for the content of HB 32 as one of the Governor’s Floor Leaders. The Committee recommended the bill DO PASS by Committee Substitute and be sent to the Rules 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. Tommy Benton (R-Jefferson) inquired as to whether this bill would allow for the teaching of other religious text, to which Sen. Mullis said no. Rep. Brenda Lopez-Romero (D- Norcross) asked whether other religious texts should be included. Later, she moved to amend the bill to include the Koran and teachings of Islam. Rep. Dominic LaRiccia (R-Douglas) objected to the amendment, arguing that the proposed writings “are not part of U.S. history” and that local school districts are already allowed to teach other religious texts. Rep. Dave Belton (R-Buckhead) echoed the concerns. The amendment failed by a 4-12 vote.

The Committee considered a Substitute to SB 83 that incorporates the content of HB 562, Rep. Robert Dickey’s (R-Musella) bill to statutorily establish the REACH Scholarship Program, a needs-based mentoring and scholarship program “to provide promising students the support to graduate from high school and achieve postsecondary educational success.” The program is already being implemented, and this bill would codify it. Rep. Lopez-Romero inquired as to whether the requirement that a REACH Scholarship recipient be a U.S. Citizen or “eligible noncitizen” raises constitutional equal protection concerns, to which Legislative Counsel opined that it did not. There were also questions about the need to codify an existing program, to which Rep. Dickey noted he simply wanted to ensure the future of the program. Rep. Lopez-Romero proposed a second amendment to strike lines 131-132, which would remove the requirement that REACH Scholarship recipients be U.S. citizens or eligible noncitizens. Rep. LaRiccia also objected to this amendment, as well. The amendment failed. The Committee recommended the bill DO PASS by Committee Substitute by a 17-2 vote and be sent to the Rules Committee.

The Committee also assigned HR 531 to the Academic Support Subcommittee.

Rules Calendars for Legislative Day 35

The House Rules Committee will meet Friday morning to set the calendar for Legislative Day 35.

The Senate will take up the following propositions on Friday for Legislative Day 35:

  • HB 128 -- Insurance; insurers do not have to notify the Georgia Composite Medical Board of agreements to settle medical malpractice claims against physicians when the settlement resulted in the low payment under a high/low agreement; provide (I&L-18th) Silcox-52nd
  • HB 196 -- Retirement and pensions; each public retirement system trustee to complete appropriate education applicable to his or her fiduciary duties; require (RET-52nd) Benton-31st
  • HB 197 -- Office of Planning and Budget; provide for the establishment of the Strategic Integrated Data System (S&T-45th) Dempsey-13th
  • HB 405 -- Revenue and taxation; Level 1 Freeport Exemption; modify provisions (FIN-52nd) Knight-130th
  • HB 481 -- Living Infants Fairness and Equality (LIFE) Act; enact (Substitute) (S&T-45th) Setzler-35th
  • HB 507 -- Ad valorem tax; criteria used by tax assessors to determine the fair market value of real property; revise (FIN-56th) Wilensky-79th