Gold Dome Report - February 2019 #17

Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough LLP

Another rainy day in Georgia did not stop members of the General Assembly from an early start. Early morning committee hearings in both chambers led into action on the floor where the Senate considered a number of measures. The House had a two-part day today, breaking for lunch after passing a slate of bills before taking up their version of the FY 2020 budget. The lengthy budget discussions led to a flurry of late afternoon committee hearings some of which were still conducting business at our deadline. Check out today’s issue of the #GoldDomeReport for highlights of all the action and a preview of bills up for consideration tomorrow.

In this Report:

  • House Adopts FY 2020 Budget
  • Senate Floor Action
  • Committee Updates
  • Rules Calendars for Legislative Day 25

House Adopts FY 2020 Budget

The House today voted on HB 31 which provides for the allocation of state funds for FY2020. After Appropriations Committee Chairman Terry England (R-Auburn) walked the members through the budget highlights, he entertained questions from members about budget specifics. Minority Leader Bob Trammell (D-Luthersville) began a back and forth regarding Medicaid expansion, asking how much money is set aside for the waiver process as written in SB 106. Chairman England answered that because the waiver process has not begun there is no estimate. Rep. Trammell then inquired if those covered under the new waivers would not be covered until July 1, 2020 because of the lack of allocation in this budget to which Chairman England replied in the affirmative. A few members, notably Rep. Matt Gurtler (R-Tiger) asked why we are not allocating any money to the repayment of the state’s debt, especially bonds. Chairman England explained that the state does pay back its bonds at a rate lower than inflation but many of the longer term bonds prevent early repayment altogether. 

Rep. David Dreyer (D-Atlanta) spoke in opposition to the bill, calling it “a fundamentally flawed policy decision” to not seek full expansion of Medicaid up to 138% of the federal poverty level. Instead he said the state will apply for waivers with no certainty the federal government will provide matching funds at the same level as a full expansion, which he said could cost the state more money in the long run.

In the end, the budget passed the House 155-13.

The House also considered a number of other measures. The most discussion was centered around HB 321 authored by Rep. Jodi Lott (R-Evans). The bill would extend the sunset provision for the hospital Medicaid financing program until 2025. Rep. Scot Turner (R-Holly Springs) explained that while the program is necessary to both help hospitals remain solvent and provide care for the state’s most vulnerable population, this bill would extend it for six years. He urged his House colleagues to oppose the bill and instead pass an extension for a shorter period of time, allowing the House to review the program more often. A variety of other members spoke in favor of the bill which eventually passed by a vote of 147-19.

Rep. Katie Dempsey (R-Rome) presented HB 197 which would integrate all state agency data into a singular streamlined database. She noted the merits of the bill include making it easier for state researchers to access agency data from a single place, along with promoting inter-agency communication across state agencies. Rep. Scott Holcomb (D-Atlanta) noted that the bill will also make it easier for the legislature to evaluate the effects of programs with access to aggregate data. After discussion the bill passed the House 140-28.

Senate Floor Action

The Senate took up a few bills of interest today. SB 156 by Sen. P.K. Martin (R-Lawrenceville) would provide procedures that domestic insurers and the Insurance Commissioner must follow when a domestic insurer plans to divide into two or more entities. The bill received a floor amendment which clarified that the words “NOTICE OF REDUCTION IN COVERAGE” be written in at least 12 point font and all capital letters when a written notice of reduction in coverage is given. The bill then PASSED AS AMENDED 53-1.

HB 183 which was carried by Sen. Chuck Hufstetler (R-Rome) was engrossed and thus did not undergo any alteration via amendment. This bill would exempt licensed orthodontic schools from the Nonpublic Postsecondary Education Commission if they are accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation and national agency recognized by the Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services. The bill was PASSED by a vote of 55-0. 

Committee Updates

Senate Health and Human Services Committee

In an early morning meeting, the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, chaired by Sen. Ben Watson (R-Savannah), began by hearing from Sen. Chuck Hufstetler (R-Rome) on SB 195, which provides for consumer protections and freedom of information for prescription drug benefits. MAG finds prior authorization to be an impediment to care spending 15-20 hours weekly. Each insurer has its own standards and each has different Pas for different drugs. AMA did a survey – 91 percent showed delays in care – some have found 1-3 business delays often leading to bad, adverse events for patients – some even death. MAG wants streamlining of prior authorization and when/how it needs to happen. MAG does support the bill.

Sen. Kirkpatrick moved DO PASS; Sen. Unterman seconded motion to do pass SB 195. There was a question by Skin Edge as it relates to fines to be imposed and when those would commence. They were looking at line 169. Move the fine from $25,000 change to $1000 and change implementation date to January 1, 2020 (rather than October 1, 2019). They withdrew first motion to DO PASS.  The Amendment was proposed to address the fine and implementation date to LC 33 7751 and that Amendment was adopted unanimously.  Sen. Kirkpatrick moved DO PASS as amended and that motion carried. This bill moves to Senate Rules.

SB 207 was presented by Sen. Dean Burke, MD (R-Bainbridge).The bill would change the name of the Georgia Board of Physician Workforce to Georgia Board of Healthcare Workforce. They also asked for non-physicians to be placed on the Board; presently all 15 are physicians. Sen. Unterman asked about the Board composition which would be made by appointment by the Governor. The Governor could decide who to add. Sen. Unterman asked if the Committee should be naming who and Sen. Burke indicated he thought they might leave someone out in the process. The legislation now states that eight will be physicians and the remaining seven will be either physicians or other healthcare providers. Sen. Burke noted that Board’s budget now is mostly about GME funding. Sen. Kirkpatrick inquired if it should be “licensed healthcare providers.” Sen. Unterman it could be clarified that it would be “Georgia licensed healthcare providers.” Sen. Burke asked to leave as is.   A motion was made to DO PASS; the initiative passed unanimously.

SB 113, by Sen. Lindsey Tippins (R-Marietta), was presented by Substitute which originally dealt with backup generators for certain health facilities. This bill was previously vetted in Subcommittee.  Originally, the legislation was introduced in 2018.  This legislation is a public safety bill but deals with personal care homes, assisted living facilities and nursing homes.  The legislation is the result of an event which took place in his district – no power, phones, lighting, or heat – but worse they had electromagnetic locks. The locks prevented first responders from accessing the individuals in the facility.  It is about an emergency power source for six specified reasons. Presently, assisted living facilities and personal care homes are not covered by federal law.  He pointed to the Florida situation where eight patients died due to inappropriate power during an emergency and that state has addressed back up power requirements. Department of Community Health is tasked with creating rules and regulations by December 31, 2019 – assessments by facilities are to be conducted within 18 months to address security and safety issues. Russel Carlson, with the Georgia Health Care Association, spoke but noted he had not seen the Substitute.  Georgia has a number of case studies on how skilled nursing facilities perform in emergencies – such as hurricanes (e.g. Irma and Michael).  36 nursing homes lost power in Michael; facilities are surveyed for alternative power means and those facilities sheltered in place.  He pointed that Georgia often takes residents from South Carolina and Florida in times of emergency.  The facilities follow an abundance of federal regulations and plan accordingly.  Stephen Bush, with Community Health Services, and noted that emergency preparedness is key to his organization.  Power is only one element of emergency preparedness and Community Health Services works with a number of agencies on planning for emergencies. Stephen Neff, with the Assisted Living Facility and Association of Community Care Providers, opposed the bill based upon cost and they do have systems to address emergency situations. Mr. Neff assured the Committee that health and safety is critical to his members. Skin Edge, Georgia Senior Living Association, spoke to the mandate on emergency plans they are required to have.Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford) also has a Substitute; Mr. Edge believes that Substitute would work well and address many of the concerns. Sen. Tippins asked for the Committee to pass LC 33 7847 S. Chairman Watson indicated that Florida has experienced problems implementing its legislation addressing power systems. Sen. Larry Walker, III (R-Perry) believes it a good thing to explore but needs more work and could not support the legislation. Sen. Unterman noted that these are complex issues, just like school safety zones. Sen. Chuck Hufstetler (R-Rome) believes that this legislation move forward and can be perfected.  Federal regulations require assisted living facilities to have “alternative power sources.” Motion to DO PASS was made; Sen. Walker moved to TABLE. The motion to TABLE carried with a vote of 6-4.

Senate Finance Committee

The Committee passed SB 183 out quickly today. The legislation addresses 1099K forms. The legislation was requested by the Department of Revenue and would require that those forms be also submitted to the Department of Revenue in addition to the IRS.

Sen. P.K. Martin (R-Lawrenceville) presented his legislation, SB 138, addressing TAVT which addresses the exemption from the payment of fees for those individuals who are disabled first responders and also should not be taxed on their disability income. Sen. Steve Gooch (R-Dahlonega) indicated he had some concerns about how this could perhaps open door for others asking for an exemption.  Sen. Ellis Black (R-Valdosta) also indicated he had similar concerns as Sen. Gooch. A limitation could would make Sen. Black more comfortable. Sen. Bill Heath (R-Bremen) inquired about former law enforcement who collect disability – many for hearing loss – and that would be for permanent partial disability. TAVT replaced sales tax on motor vehicles; this is an exemption on sales tax on vehicles so why only for vehicles and not include other items in the exemption. Sen. Butch Miller (R-Gainesville) asked for some additional information and work on the issue before crossover date. Sen. Heath indicated he wanted to know fiscal impact and for the Committee to move cautiously and asked that it be tabled for today. Sen. Albers wanted to move the bill forward but with caveat that the author work on the concerns – go the extra mile to help of our first responders. Further, he said that the legislation could be addressed in Rules.  A motion was made to draft an amendment to address the amount of the aggregate total  of the vehicle be no more than $50,000 over a three year period. The amendment was approved. The substitute, as amended, received a DO PASS but the legislation does not address the numbers of individuals who have permanent partial disability.

SB 173, by Sen. Greg Dolezal (R-South Forsyth) , was presented by Committee Substitute (LC 33 7860S). Foundation for Excellence in Education was present. The legislation establishes educational savings or scholarship accounts to use State funds for a variety of purposes by parents. Parents can use and direct ESA funds for tutoring, educational therapies, online courses, private schools, etc.  Governor Office of Student Achievement would oversee the program and also look at fiscal impact of the program. Students would avail themselves to norm-referenced tests. Who is eligible? One half of one percent of enrolled students. Other states have not seen 100 percent enrollment in the first year. Families with incomes under 200 percent of FPL, children of active military parents, children who are foster care, children who have been bullied are among those who could participate. Sen. Lester Jackson (D-Savannah) asked if there is a fiscal note? The response was no. How much money will local school districts will be lost in the first year?  Sen. Hufstetler is still looking at the issue and had no answer on the amount of lost funding. The speakers noted that school districts are already seeing variances of between .5-1 percent per year. A Subcommittee heard the bill and eight folks spoke in favor of the legislation; five opposed it. Sen. Heath asked about which dollars would remain in the local districts. Sen. Black indicated that the schools will receive money but less students. The schools will still have the financial requirements of the buildings in the district. Sen. Jackson indicated he was more confused the more he listened. Sen. Jackson asked whether the local five mill share was taken into account and whether we will have to fire public school teachers? The author said it is possible but the intent is not to harm our public schools. According to the author, fewer participate in other states than are eligible (noting Arizona and Florida). Sen. Orrock asked if the bill was a radical departure on how the state is funding education. Two Senators were in the Subcommittee meeting this morning which heard this bill; to pass with such legislation with such little review is quite “rash.”  Sen. Orrock said she had concerns about the legislation and many deserve to be heard from. Sen. Rhett stated that there is a process to address needs of a child with an IEP.  Motion to DO PASS; Sen. Jackson moved to table the legislation. Table motion failed. The Committee recommended the bill DO PASS by a 9-3 party line vote.

SB 216, by Sen. Jeff Mullis (R-Chickamauga), was held as author was not present.

Senate Regulated Industries Committee

The Committee met this afternoon with a delayed start as Senators raced from meeting to meeting. Chairman Bill Cowsert (R-Athens) and his Committee addressed:

SB 95, by Sen. Randy Robertson (R-Columbus), spoke about contracts with electric cities and the RFPs which require a 10-year contract that large companies will not sign. The legislation addresses solar energy primarily but written more broadly. Sen. Robertson asked if perhaps rather than limiting to solar but limit to renewable would be considered.  Chairman Cowsert was concerned about binding local communities. Patrick Bowie, with City of LaGrange, spoke in favor the bill.  Ally Kelly spoke in support of the legislation.  A motion DO PASS was made but Sen. John Albers (R-Roswell) heard issue of landfill gas raised. His amendment addresses that issue. 20 years only for solar or wind is to be inserted. The Albers amendment was adopted with one dissent. LC 450206 as amended received a DO PASS. 

SB 112, by Sen. Lindsey Tippins(R-Marietta), addresses surcharges on prepaid interest on electric charges - they began being collected in 2011. Charter and public schools are presently exempted. It’s no permanent waiving of fees- just until units come on line. Josh Stevens with PAGE supported bill. Liz Coil with Georgia Watch spoke in favor of SB 112. Jamie Hawkins spoke for Georgia Power opposing the bill. It adds more cost and shifts cost from schools to other rate payers. They have specific low costs for schools. Pay millions annually in property taxes which support public schools.  No action was taken on bill.

Sen. John Kennedy (R-Macon) presented SB 122 a bill addressing contracting and incentive programs dealers have with manufacturers.  It would be known as the Motor Vehicle Franchise Practices Act.  New language is needed.  The legislation received a DO PASS by Substitute. That carried. The language will change.

SB 144 was presented by Sen. Lee Anderson (R-Grovetown) LC 363935S.  Commissioner of Department of Revenue worked with author on permit requirements on cigar tobacco. The bill moved DO PASS and now goes to Rules.

SB 74, by Sen. Matt Brass (R-Newnan), is in negotiations.  Three ASCs would be allowed to operate if such were in business for five years with 50 physicians. The state could do a pilot over five years and could change the law if it is found to be working against facilities. Chairman Cowsert does not think there are enough votes to pass SB 74 and SB 114. The House version may be the one to move. This Committee will meet again on Friday. He indicated he was cautiously optimistic on this bill’s fate.

Rules Calendars for Legislative Day 25

The House is expected to consider the following measures on Friday for Legislative Day 25:

  • HB 39 -- Physical Therapy Licensure Compact Act; enter into an interstate compact (IntC-Belton-112th)
  • HB 279 -- Revenue and taxation; certain law enforcement officers may use department
    vehicles relative to certain approved off-duty jobs; provide
  • HB 396 -- Crimes and offenses; unlawful for a person with intent to defraud a creditor's rights to deed or otherwise transfer title to real property to another person without the knowledge or consent of such other person; provide (Substitute)(Judy-Washburn-141st)
  • HB 193 -- Banking and finance; banks and credit unions to offer savings promotion raffle accounts in which deposits to a savings account enter a depositor in a raffle; allow (Substitute)(B&B-Dunahoo-30th)
  • HB 281 -- Crimes and offenses; pimping and pandering; increase penalty provisions (Substitute)(JudyNC-Anulewicz-42nd)
  • HB 290 -- Health; pilot program to provide preexposure assistance to persons at risk
    of HIV infection; establish (Substitute)(H&HS-Cooper-43rd)

The Senate is expected to consider the following measures on Friday for Legislative Day 25:

  • SB 37 -- Statute of Frauds; clarify that a mutual agreement to modify an existing promise, agreement, contract; shall be in writing and subject to statute of frauds (Substitute) (B&FI-3rd)
  • SB 97 -- Self-Service Storage Facilities; limit fees charged and collected by selfservice storage facilities for the late payment of rent; provide (AG&CA-23rd)
  • SB 120 -- "Georgia Tax Credit Business Case Act" (Substitute) (FIN-56th)
  • SB 133 -- Insurance; modernization and updates; provide (I&L-16th)
  • SB 154 -- Georgia Coroner's Training Council; hearing complaints from outside parties regarding coroners; provide (JUDY-51st)
  • SB 158 -- "Anti-Human Trafficking Protective Response Act" (JUDY-17th)
  • SB 182 -- Seafood; mariculture development; legislative findings; definitions; unlawful acts; permitting; provide (Substitute) (NR&E-3rd)


DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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