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Gold Dome

November 15, 2018

Gold Dome Report – Special Legislative Session Day 3

The General Assembly reconvened today for the third day of the Special Legislative Session, where all eyes were on the House of Representatives. The lower chamber took up and adopted all three of the key propositions for the Special Session: Governor Deal’s emergency funding proposal in the wake of Hurricane Michael, ratification of the sales tax suspension on jet fuel, and tax incentives for the timber industry impacted by the hurricane. But while the House has been working on the legislative proposals, the Senate has taken the opportunity to convene a number of its study committees, including the Senate Study Committee on Evaluating the School Year Calendar of Georgia Public Schools. The Senate will begin working on the legislation passed by the House in its Appropriations and Finance Committees tomorrow as legislators continue to target adjournment of the Special Session for Monday, November 19.

In this issue:

  • House Passes Key Special Session Legislation
  • Senate Study Committee Ponders Statewide School Calendar
  • House Committee Discusses Workers Compensation

House Passes Key Special Session Legislation

After the House Appropriations Committee gave a do pass recommendation to Governor Deal’s emergency appropriation’s proposal yesterday, HB 1EX made its way to the House floor for a vote today. The proposition, which was amended yesterday to remove capital allocations to build a Columbus campus for the Mercer University School of Medicine and an Aviation Academy for Chattahoochee Technical College in Paulding County, was met with little resistance by the full House. Indeed, legislators voted 162-1 in favor of the bill, the lone dissenting vote coming from Rep. Matt Gurtler (R-Tiger). The House immediately transmitted the bill to the Senate so that it could begin its review and consideration.

The House also took action on two tax provisions today. While HB 4EX, the proposition providing tax incentives for the timber industry affected by Hurricane Michael, passed with relative ease (by a vote of 157-2), HB 5EX, ratifying Governor Deal’s suspension of sales tax on jet fuel, generated more conversation. Rep. Trey Rhodes (R-Greensboro), the bill’s author and a Floor Leader for Governor Deal, presented the legislation, noting that Georgia presently has the fourth highest fuel tax out of 21 states that collect such tax. Under this legislation, the sales tax exemption would sunset on June 30, 2019. A number of members took the well to talk about the legislation, including Rep. Scot Turner (R-Woodstock), who explained to his colleagues that this legislation was not the Delta Jet Fuel Tax Exemption but rather a bill to level the playing field for all airlines purchasing fuel. Presently, the tax imposed on fuel is an “embedded tax” as it is being collected from the consumer buying airline tickets. By passing this legislation, he contended that the tax burden on the flying public will be lessened and that this bill is a correction of an error and “an opportunity to close a chapter on a book.” The bill passed by a vote of 141-18.

Each proposition was immediately transmitted to the Senate, which then assigned them to committee for consideration tomorrow. Under Senate rules, the committees may pass the bills out tomorrow in order to allow a full Senate vote on Monday to conclude the Special Session’s work.

Senate Study Committee Ponders Statewide School Calendar

The Senate Study Committee on Evaluating the School Year Calendar of Georgia Public Schools, under the leadership of Sen. Steve Gooch (R-Dahlonega), met yesterday afternoon. It heard a number of presentations, including an overview of After School All Stars, a summer program tied to Georgia standards. The program utilizes an 8th grade book club and provides breakfast and lunch, in addition to a snack, to its students for a cost of $500,000 at 8 sites for a 4 week period. It is data-driven and shows that GPA of students are higher who utilize the program. Data also show improved attendance and milestone scores for those students who participate. The program is funded by DFCS (70%) with other funding from foundations such as Marcus and Whitehead.

The Department of Education also returned to the Committee to respond to a number of questions that had been posed. Georgia’s school year start and end dates are not specified in the law or a State Board Rule, although they do define “instructional hours.” There was some follow up as well on milestones. For instance, data shows that by 3rd grade, approximately 30 percent of Georgia students are reading below that grade level; that stays relatively the same by the time students get to 8th grade. The data did not show that remediation efforts appeared to work. DOE did get questions about percentages of students who were re-tested after “remediation” efforts. Remediation and retesting are taken into account, upon discretion of the district, as to determining if a student will pass to the next grade. Georgia now has a six week window for re-tests – very generous versus the time used by other states. This time is a good opportunity for parents to provide input.  he Committee also talked briefly about national tests (Advanced Placement and SAT) and whether to move milestone tests to a different time based on those tests’ date requirements. Georgia has 35,700 students participating in dual enrollment. DOE and the Committee also talked about school buses (Georgia has 20,000) and costs to retrofit with AC (about $7,500 per bus). Approximately 65-70 percent of new busses have AC; all special needs buses have such equipment.

The Committee heard a brief presentation on educational agritourism provided by Southern Belle Farms in Henry County. It provided 40,000 elementary children opportunities to see and learn more about farming this year. The farm also has a “u pick” program as well as student hiring effort (125-130 were hired this year – part-time high school students). Southern Belle has a strong relationship with Henry County Schools.

The Committee is likely to meet off-site for its next meeting, which is to focus on a number of interests:

  • Look at retail association and school times impact (particularly brought up was the Savannah area)
  • More information from USDA on summer feeding programs for students
  • Review of other state laws on start/end dates – in particular North Carolina (they like the idea of keeping local control)
  • Workforce and economic impact data on school times (including how it impacts parents – particularly when students may go to schools in one county and parent works outside the county)
  • Agritourism and tax relief

House Committee Discusses Workers Compensation

The House Industry and Labor Committee, chaired by Rep. Bill Werkheiser (R-Glennville), met on Wednesday to look at Georgia’s Workers Compensation laws and rules implementation. This discussion was in response to the Governor’s veto of HB 795 from 2018.  Roy Bowen, who presently chairs the State Advisory Council on Workers Compensation, provided an overview of the 110-member Council and how it works. The Council operates with six committees making recommendations on a consensus basis. The rules generated with the passage of laws are also sent to the Chairs of the legislative committees (House Industry and Labor and Senate Insurance and Labor Committees) for review prior to implementation.  Each year the Council has a legislative package which is proposed. Among issues coming in 2019 will include addressing the 400 week cap; imposing restrictions on opioid drugs; and providing an increase to the weekly benefit. Representative Tom Kirby (R-Loganville) indicated his legislation was never intended to impact the Council; he felt that the rule making authority had been exceeded and that the legislature never received proposed rules. There were a number of other presenters at the meeting including Mark Ginn (a member of the current Council); Thomas Herman (a member of the Council’s medical committee and a strong supporter of the Council’s process); Workers Comp Judge Terry Chastain; Ralph Perales (an attorney who chairs the Georgia Injured Worker Advocates); John Poole (president of the Georgia Workers Compensation Association); and Sen. Blake Tillery (R-Vidalia), who discussed more on legislative oversight and the rule-making process, which was the most supported the idea of the Council. Mr. Perales took issue, though, with the Council, complaining it had lack of legislative oversight and the makeup of the Council. He argued though he was not trying to destroy the Council but rather reform it to be fair and balanced. Perales indicated that proposing drug formularies was not the right way to go to address opioid use and noted that Georgia is the only state not indexing workers comp benefits. Rep. Barry Fleming (R-Harlem) asked what would be Perales biggest requests to which he responded: get rid of 400 week cap (unless catastrophic case) and indexing.