Gold Dome Report - February 2020 #8

Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough LLP

Spring cleaning came early under the Gold Dome today with House members approving a new regulatory regime for trauma scene cleanup practitioners (HB 417) while concerned citizens of Juliette, Georgia, flooded the halls with jugs of tinted water, calling for more stringent regulation in the disposal of power plant coal ash that can seep into underground water supplies. But all the cleaning is not a signal that the legislative session is done getting messy. Surprise billing legislation (SB 359) passed out of the Senate today and is sure to see changes in the House, and Sen. John Albers’s (R-Alpharetta) “Tax Credit Return on Investment Act of 2020” (SB 302) is likely to come back to the Senate with markup, if it makes it back over at all. Committees on the Senate side were also active this afternoon, passing Governor Kemp and Sen. P.K. Martin’s (R-Lawrenceville) bill reducing mandated state testing in K-12 schools (SB 367) and hearing testimony on the Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology Interstate Compact (SB 306). It was a busy start to a long week ahead; keep track of the madness with the #GoldDomeReport.

In today’s Report:

  • Committee Reports
  • New Legislation
  • Rules Calendars for Legislative Day 18

Committee Reports

House Special Committee on Access to Quality Healthcare

The House Special Committee on Access to Quality Healthcare, chaired by Rep. Mark Newton (R-Augusta), met today to consider one piece of legislation. HB 888, authored by Rep. Lee Hawkins (R-Gainesville), creates new provisions to prevent surprise medical billing in Georgia. Rep. Hawkins began by explaining that the bill’s focus is Georgia consumers, not to flesh out conflicts between hospitals and insurers. He then walked members through changes to the bill which include the readdition of the term “facility” at various lines to increase the number of entities that are proscribed from issuing balanced bills. Rep. Hawkins also noted that there will not be action on the bill in this meeting.

Rep. Penny Houston (R-Nashville) asked why language for a 48-hour period after notification of out-of-network costs was removed. She further asked why hospitals were not included in this requirement. Rep. Hawkins explained that this provision was removed in the previous version of the bill which the committee had voted on. He reiterated that the only change in this new version is the addition of the term “facility.” Chairman Newton noted that patients must still provide their written and oral consent before an out-of-network service can be provided.

Rep. David Knight (R-Griffin) asked what happens if a patient goes to a facility for a scheduled procedure and some doctors are out-of-network. Rep. Hawkins explained that these balanced bills will be resolved in arbitration between the insurers and providers. Rep. Sharon Cooper (R-Marietta) asked if the term “facility” covers hospitals in all instances. Rep. Hawkins answered in the affirmative.

Chairman Newton explained that the committee will vote on the bill in the next committee meeting, which is expected on Wednesday.

Senate Insurance and Labor Committee

The Senate Insurance and Labor Committee met this afternoon under the leadership of Senator Burt Jones (R-Jackson). This Committee heard SB 374, by Senator John Kennedy (R-Macon). SB 374 which addresses Georgia’s Civil Practice Act at O.C.G.A. 9-11-67.1 and offers of settlement and when and how such offers of settlement are to take place. This language allows an offer of settlement to be permitted up until the time of trial. This statute was put in place originally in 2012; Senator Kennedy’s language is to make a clarification as to how a settlement offer is to be considered by an insurance company (e.g. a Holt demand). There are five material terms to be considered by the insurer – where as presently, plaintiffs often put more terms for the insurer to address when making demands causing insurers many questions and uncertainty when they really just want to pay claims up to the policy limits. The five material terms are: time period within which to accept the offer of settlement (30 days); amount of monetary payment; the party or parties or claimant or claimants who will be released if the offer is accepted; for any type of release, whether the release is in part or full and itemization of what the claimant or claimants will provide to each releasee; and the claims to be released. There was testimony both for and against the bill: 1) Farm Bureau spoke in favor of the legislation noting that under the current situation, insurers are exposed to extra contractual obligations; 2) Mike Royal, an insurance agent, spoke in favor of the proposal stating that this bill will help his customers – many of which are small businesses and individuals; 3) David Atkinson, an attorney from Swift Currie, also spoke in favor of the bill and noted that Georgia’s bad faith law will address those entities who are not settling claims in good faith and noted that the bill will help get cases settled. One individual, Bob Marshall, who owned Game Truck testified in opposition to the bill. The bill received a DO PASS recommendation from the Committee and moves forward to the Senate Rules Committee.

Chairman Jones also assigned SB 415 to a Subcommittee which will be composed of Senator Ben Watson (R-Savannah), Senator Dean Burke (R-Bainbridge), and Senator Marty Harbin (R-Tyrone). Senator Watson will chair this Subcommittee. SB 415 is another tort reform proposal.

Senate Education and Youth Committee

The Senate Education and Youth Committee, chaired by Sen. P.K. Martin (R-Lawrenceville), met to consider one bill today. SB 367, authored by Chairman Martin, reduces the number of State-mandated exams in K-12 schools. Currently, Georgia law requires seven exams above the federally-mandated minimum; this legislation eliminates five of these seven (leaving exams for eighth grade Georgia history and high school social studies). The bill also provides testing flexibility for local districts, allowing scheduling of the high school writing exam when a district sees fit and local control in determining whether exam scores are factored into final grades. The bill does establish a testing window for elementary and middle schools, limiting such exams to the final 25 days of school.

State School Superintendent Richard Woods testified in support of the legislation. The Georgia Education Coalition, Professional Association of Georgia Educators, Georgia School Boards Association, Georgia School Superintendents Association, Georgia Association of Education Leaders, and Georgia Association of Educators also expressed support for the legislation. Monica Henson, Deputy Superintendent of Schools for the Department of Juvenile Justice, spoke in support of the bill, and Alvin Wilbanks, Superintendent and CEO of Gwinnett County Public Schools, closed testimony by expressing support for the bill and calling for a deeper examination of the role and value of assessments.

The Committee recommended the bill DO PASS and be sent to the Rules Committee.

Senate Health and Human Services Committee

Senator Ben Watson (R-Savannah) and his Committee undertook a review of two measures this afternoon:

  • SB 307, the legislation proposing to enact “The Living Home Hope Act,” authored by Senator Renee Unterman (R-Buford). This bill proposes new language in O.C.G.A. § 49-5-25 so as to provide registration of supportive housing maternity residences. Senator Unterman presented her measure which is an extension of the heartbeat bill and addresses the issue of infant and maternal mortality rates. Senator Unterman visited all the pregnancy resource centers across the state; many don’t receive government funding. The facility she visited with in Cumming brought up the supported housing idea; but there are numerous regulations now and the bill permits a start-up to get through the red tape. The homes will provide intensive wrap around services for the newborn as well as the mother; it will allow them to stay in the homes up to 18 months. These are nonprofit entities. Regulations of homes for minors will remain; this bill is to lessen the requirements for individuals who are in homes over the age of 18. Beth Hathorn spoke to the Committee as director of Whispering Hope in Cumming; approximately one year ago, her agency explored what to do to start a maternity home. These women want to have their baby and parent but may face a number of difficulties (may have been exposed to abuse, no real supports at her own home, and most times have not seen medical care); most are 18 years or older. Several others spoke in favor of the legislation about the proposal so that they can take young women 18 years and older. Virginia Galloway, with the Faith and Freedom Coalition, also supported the bill as an alternative for women in crisis pregnancies. Senator Steve Henson (D-Tucker) asked about services being provided and whether childcare will be provided – that is when regulatory burdens come into play – the intent is just to provide housing per Senator Unterman. Senator Henson asked if criminal background checks were contemplated; Senator Unterman indicated those were covered. Senator Nan Orrock (D-Atlanta) asked what regulations were being sidestepped with the bill; Senator Unterman said it was 64 pages of regulations. Does Florence Crittenden Homes still exist? There are 12 homes existing now in Georgia and are presently regulated by the Department of Human Services. Senator Orrock asked if the facilities are in favor of extending Medicaid to these women. Senator Kirkpatrick moved DO PASS; Senator Ligon seconded the motion and the motion carried unanimously, moving the bill to the Senate Rules Committee.
  • SB 306, the legislation proposing the Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology Interstate Compact, authored by Senator Valencia Seay (D-Riverdale). This bill imposes criminal background checks for licensees so that such fingerprint and background checks will be conducted by the GBI and FBI in Chapter 44 of Title 43. Today’s meeting was hearing only on SB 306 due to changes being requested by the Medical Association of Georgia. Kelly Ball, a practicing speech-language pathologist and member and past president of the Georgia Speech-Language Hearing Association, spoke to the merits of the bill. Senator Kirkpatrick stated that the FBI has to sign off on the language. Senator Kirkpatrick indicated that the other compacts also had issues with criminal background issues; there are six compacts which have already been adopted in Georgia. The proposal will be brought back before the Committee on Wednesday. This compact, if passed, must be passed by nine other states before it becomes functional.

New Legislation

The following legislation of interest was introduced in the House today:

  • HB 987, authored by Rep. Sharon Cooper (R-Marietta), amends Titles 31 and 43 to provide for increased protective measures for elderly individuals in health care facilities. The bill doubles the fines for violations of any law, regulation, or rule related to long term care facilities and adds a mandatory $5,000 minimum fine for a violation that results in death or serious injury. The bill also includes the intentional aversion of fine payments to the list of reasons a facility may be denied a license. The bill also adds a new definition of “direct care staff” at O.C.G.A. 31-7-12. Further, the bill creates new staffing requirements for personal care homes with more than 25 beds which include a staffing ratio of 1:15. The bill adds “the provision of limited nursing services” to the definition of “assisted living care” in O.C.G.A. 31-7-12.2. There is a new Code section added at O.C.G.A. 31-7-12.4 to provide for specific measures related to memory care. The bill also renames the State Board of Nursing Homes to the State Board of Long-Term Care Facilities. This bill was referred to the House Health and Human Services Committee.
  • HB 989, authored by Rep. Sam Park (R-Lawrenceville), amends O.C.G.A. 49-4-169.4 to create an advisory working group to develop tools and protocols for trauma screening for children through the Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnosis, and Treatment Program. This bill was referred to the House Health and Human Services Committee. 
  •  HB 991, authored by Rep. Matt Hatchett (R-Dublin), amends Title 31 to create the Healthcare Transparency and Accountability Act. Principally, the bill seeks to create an oversight committee with the authority to review the performance and conduct of all state healthcare plan contractors, their affiliate subcontractors, and subcontractor pharmacy benefit managers. The bill requires these entities to submit annual reports to the oversight committee. The bill also requires these entities to submit documents requested by the oversight committee within 30 days of a request being made. Finally, the bill authorized the Insurance Commissioner to issue fines up to $2,000 for each violation of the new Code section. This bill was referred to the House Special Committee on Access to Quality Healthcare.
  • HB 992, authored by Rep. Sandra Scott (D-Rex), creates a new tax credit for investors in women owned businesses at O.C.G.A. 48-7-40.37. This bill was referred to the House Ways and Means Committee.
  • HB 993, authored by Rep. Katie Dempsey (R-Rome), amends Chapter 10 of Title 31 by adding a new Code section at O.C.G.A. 31-10-9.2 to require the state registrar provide copies of data provided from certificates and reports upon notification from DFCS of a report of child abuse. The bill also instructs DPH and DFCS to enter into data sharing agreements as necessary. This bill was referred to the House Juvenile Justice Committee.
  • HB 994, authored by Rep. Bert Reeves (R-Marietta), amends Titles 16, 17, and 42 to provide for enhanced enforcement of gang related crime. The bill outlines a list of gang related crimes that will cause a child between the ages of 13-17 to be tried as an adult. The bill also gives courts the ability to require individuals divest from corporations or enterprises in the state when found guilty of gang related violations. This bill was referred to the House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee.
  • HB 995, authored by Rep. Josh Bonner (R-Fayetteville), amends Title 20 to declare all open areas of public university campuses as “public forums” and to prevent the creation of ‘free speech zones’. This bill was referred to the House Higher Education Committee.
  • HB 996, authored by Rep. Sharon Cooper (R-Marietta), amends O.C.G.A. 43-34-242 to update the definition of cosmetic laser services to include energy based medical procedures. The bill also removes a line of Code which stipulated these services did not constitute a practice of medicine. This bill was referred to the House Regulated Industries Committee.

The following legislation of interest was introduced in the Senate today:

  • SB 417, by Senator Kay Kirkpatrick (R-Marietta), seeks to amend O.C.G.A. § 43-34-13 so as to address criminal background checks for those seeking a license or an expedited license (as found in O.C.G.A. § 43-34-28) from the Georgia Composite Medical Board. This bill was referred to the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.
  • SB 419, by Senator Emanuel Jones (D-Decatur), seeks to add a new Code section at O.C.G.A. § 51-1-56 to provide for a rebuttable presumption against liability for certain businesses that are open to the general public having, owning, or exercising control over the use of the premises or the business has a duty of care to prohibit third-party criminal acts on such premises. This requires a preponderance of the evidence that there is a finding that a claimant was injured by a third-party criminal act on the premises and that such criminal act was “reasonably foreseeable.” This bill was referred to the Senate Insurance and Labor Committee.
  • SB 421, by Senator Emanuel Jones (D-Decatur), seeks to provide for a certification program for sustainable whole-child model schools” in a new Article 14 of Chapter 2 of Title 20.  Such “whole child model school certification” is proposed to mean “certification by the state superintendent that a school has developed and made operational a sustainable whole child model school plan to promote and ensure effective coordination of wraparound services and supports for the school and provide for processes to actively engage community partners in meaningful ways.”  Planning grants, subject to appropriations by the General Assembly, are proposed to be awarded by the State Board of Education to establish pilot programs for the planning, implementation and improving sustainable whole child model school plans. This bill was referred to the Senate Education and Youth Committee.
  • SB 423, by Senator John Albers (R-Roswell), seeks to amend O.C.G.A. § 16-5-61 to provide for an expanded definition of “hazing” and if adopted the Act will be known as the “Max Gruver Act.” Haze or hazing means to “force or subject a minor or student to an activity, regardless of whether the minor or student is willing to participate in such activity, which endangers or is likely to endanger the physical or mental health of the minor or student or which causes or is likely to cause the minor or student to: (A) violate federal or state law; (B) consume any food, liquid, alcoholic liquid, drug, or other substance in a manner which subjects the minor or student to a substantial risk of emotional, mental, or physical harm, including but not limited to, sickness, vomiting, intoxication, or unconsciousness; (C) experience threatened or actual exposure to physical injury, including, but not limited to, injury resulting from whipping, beating, paddling, branding, dangerous physical activity, or exposure to elements, which exposure results in medically verifiable mental or physical harm; or (D) experience threatened or actual exposure to mental injury, including, but not limited to, injury resulting from activity adversely affecting the mental health or dignity of the individual, sleep deprivation, exclusion from social contact, or conduct that could result in extreme embarrassment, which exposure results in medically verifiable mental or physical harm.” Individuals who commit the offense of hazing against a minor or student who suffers serious bodily injury or death as a result of hazing is, upon conviction, guilty of a felony and is to be punished by imprisonment for not less than one nor more than ten years or a fine not to exceed $25,000.00 or both. It also establishes requirements for individuals who direct, encourage, or participate in an act of alleged hazing – which includes providing reasonable assistance to the injured person, including requesting medical attention for the injured person. It also requires that the Department of Education, Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia, the State Board of the Technical College System of Georgia and governing bodies of private schools in the state to develop respective plans for hazing awareness, prevention, and intervention in Chapter 1 of Title 20. Among the other requirements and aspects of the bill is that it provides for the establishment of a State Anti-Hazing Fund. This bill was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
  • SB 424, by Senator Brandon Beach (R-Alpharetta), seeks to amend Georgia’s certificate of need laws so as to require general cancer hospitals provide at least three (3) percent uncompensated indigent or charity care in Article 3 of Chapter 6 of Title 31. It further proposes to require the publishing of a detailed accounting of all unpaid fines and other amounts owed by a general cancer hospital and that such fines and other penalties in arrears be paid prior to the approval of any new inpatient beds and that such inpatient beds are to be located in rural counties without hospitals. This Act is to be known as the “Accessible Health Care for Rural Georgia Act.” This bill was referred to the Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities Committee.

Rules Calendars for Legislative Day 18

The House is expected to consider the following measures on Tuesday for Legislative Day 18:

  • HB 664 - Georgia Judicial Retirement System; membership for certain persons employed in certain full time positions requiring admission to the State Bar of Georgia as a condition of employment; require (Substitute) (Ret-Fleming-121st)
  • HB 715 - Revenue and taxation; gross receipts as a criterion for classifying businesses and practitioners for purposes of calculating the occupation tax levied by local governments; eliminate (W&M-Blackmon-146th)
  • HB 779 - Alternative ad valorem tax; motor vehicles; revise distribution of the proceeds of such taxes among local governments (Substitute) (W&M-Blackmon-146th)
  • HB 819 - Motor vehicles; veterans' license to any person who is a United States citizen and resident of this state who served in the military for an ally of the United States during a time of war or other conflict; authorize issuance (MotV-Hitchens-161st)
  • HB 846 - Revenue and taxation; interest paid on refunds of overpayments of taxes and past due taxes shall be equal to the bank prime loan rate; provide (Substitute)(W&M-Corbett-174th)

The Senate is expected to consider the following measures on Tuesday for Legislative Day 18:

  • SB 294 - Teachers Retirement System of Georgia; invest in alternative investments; permit (RET-8th)
  • SB 303 - 'Georgia Right to Shop Act'; greater transparency of prices for nonemergency healthcare services; provide (Substitute) (I&L-1st)
  • SB 308 - Abandoned Vessels; unattended vessels in public waters; remove certain redundant processes (PUB SAF-32nd)
  • SB 340 - Childhood Cancer Awareness Day; September 1 of each year; provide (H&HS-21st)
  • SB 342 - Local Fire Departments; procedures for organization, issuance and revocation of certificates of compliance; provide (PUB SAF-25th)
  • SB 352 - Online Provider Directories; certain coverage requirements concerning providers that become out-of-network during a plan year; provide (Substitute) (I&L-11th) 

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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