Gold Dome Report - February 2019 #6

Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough LLP

With no legislation on the House or Senate floors today, Legislative Day 13 felt much more like a committee work day under the Gold Dome, and legislative committees in both chambers took advantage of the opportunity to hear and take action on a number of weighty measures. Today saw the first hearing of a major proposition to amend the Teachers Retirement System, and the House Health and Human Services Committee sent five new bills to the Rules Committee, the last stop before the House floor. Still, only the Senate has floor action scheduled for Legislative Day 14 tomorrow, where Senators will consider SB 38, Sen. William Ligon’s (R-Brunswick) clean-up bill for electronic court filing. But the House Rules Committee will meet tomorrow morning, and Chairman Jay Powell (R-Camilla) has hinted that it may set a calendar for same-day consideration of legislation. Follow #GoldDomeReport on Twitter, and we’ll keep you posted!

In this Report:

  • House Retirement Committee Considers Teachers Retirement Revamp
  • Committee Updates
  • New Legislation

House Retirement Committee Considers Teachers Retirement Revamp

Before a full audience in the Coverdell Legislative Office Building, the House Retirement Committee held its first hearing on a closely-watched bill authored by its chairman and aimed at making sweeping revisions to the Teachers Retirement System (“TRS”). HB 109, authored by Rep. Tommy Benton (R-Jefferson), makes several amendments to TRS for new members that join the pension program on or after July 1, 2019. Specifically, the bill limits earnable compensation for purposes of TRS to $200,000 per year, redefines “average final compensation” from an average of a member’s highest two years of compensation to the average of a members highest five years of compensation (and creates a limit of two raises in such calculation during that period), and amends the allowable employee contribution floor and ceiling from 5-6% to 6-10%. The bill also institutes a minimum retirement age of 60 and removes the ability to use unused sick leave for creditable service. After relinquishing the chair, Rep. Benton presented the bill in detail, noting that something has to be done to protect TRS and its pensioners, and there are bigger issues with teacher recruitment and retention than those that might be created by changes to TRS.

After presentation of the bill, several members posed questions to Rep. Benton about the legislation. Rep. David Wilkerson (D-Powder Springs) asked if there was any way to narrow the employee contribution range from 6-10%, to which Chairman Benton noted that discretion would be left to the TRS board. Rep. Wilkerson also inquired about whether the author had numbers on how many new teachers would be impacted, which Rep. Benton did not, although he reiterated that the bill would not affect current members or retirees. Later, Rep. Wilkerson suggested the the Committee delay action for a year to determine the impact and begin informing potential new members. Rep. Patty Bentley (D-Butler) asked for help in how she should respond to local school boards complaining about the proposition, to which Rep. Benton noted that complaints are likely based on fears that teachers will use excessive sick leave (since TRS currently incentivizes attendance and banking of sick leave), but local boards can craft alternative incentive programs. Rep. Dominic LaRiccia (R-Douglas) inquired about the need to add state funds to TRS in recent years, to which Rep. Benton noted that the State has had to contribute $1.4B in additional dollars over the past three years to keep up with the actuarially-demanded employer contributions. Rep. Chuck Martin (R-Alpharetta) reiterated the State’s commitment to take care of TRS members and retirees and offered to talk with the author offline about potential revisions to his bill.

Several members of the public testified on the bill, including Margaret Ciccarelli of the Professional Association of Georgia Educators. Ms. Ciccarelli thanked Rep. Benton for engaging in dialogue regarding the bill but noted that, since there is not a fiscal note attached to the bill, there is no evidence of how much the proposal would save TRS or the State. She also expressed particular concern with raising the cap on employee contributions to TRS to 10%, noting that a contribution rate of 10% could completely undo the $3,000 raise proposed by Governor Kemp for FY 2020. Ms. Ciccarelli called on the author to consider a more moderate 1-2% increase, as well as additional steps in the current 20-step teacher salary schedule given the proposed minimum retirement age that could keep some teachers in the classroom 38 years before becoming eligible to collect retirement. She expressed that she was looking forward to working with Rep. Benton moving forward to perfect the bill. Rep. Martin asked why teachers should be steered away from investing for retirement in a defined contribution plan, to which Ms. Ciccarelli invited a conversation outside the context of HB 109. Rep. LaRiccia called on Ms. Ciccarelli to remind the teachers that she represents that the legislators appreciate them, that legislative work is difficult work, and the State invests much in teachers and their retirement.

Jane Howe, a retired teacher, spoke on the bill on behalf of Teachers Rally Against Georgia Insurance Changes (“TRAGIC”). She noted that TRS is “one of the strongest tools” for teacher retention and recruitment and expressed particular issue with the two-raise limit in the five year average assessment period, as well as the increase in the employee contribution cap. Ms. Howe expressed concern that the proposed changes may not protect the TRS program. Phillip Sisk and Rosalyn McIntyre, both retired educators, also spoke to the bill and urged caution in revisions.

Gretchen Walton of Cobb County Schools also addressed the bill, noting that her district relies on benefits like TRS to recruit and retain quality educators in the traditionally under-compensated teaching profession. She noted that the legislation as presented would hurt that effort and send a mixed message about policymakers’ commitment to teachers. 

HB 109 was considered by the Committee as hearing-only today, and Rep. Benton invited continued conversations on perfecting the bill.

Committee Updates

House Health and Human Services Committee

The House Health and Human Services Committee, chaired by Rep. Sharon Cooper (R-Marietta), met today to hear five bills:

  • Rep. Deborah Silcox (R-Sandy Springs) presented HB 158, which amends Title 49 to require that Medicaid recipients have the same access to antiretroviral treatments used to treat HIV/AIDS as to those included in the formulary established for the Georgia AIDS Drug Assistance Program. The Committee recommended the bill DO PASS and be sent to the Rules Committee.
  • Rep. Silcox also presented HB 166, which amends Title 43 to authorize the licensure of genetic counselors. The Committee recommended the bill DO PASS and be sent to the Rules Committee.
  • Rep. Katie Dempsey (R-Rome) presented HB 160, which amends Title 31 to reinstate a Department of Community Health pilot program for bariatric surgical procedures for the treatment and management of obesity and related conditions under the State Health Insurance Program. The Committee recommended the bill DO PASS and be sent to the Rules Committee.
  • Rep. Dempsey also presented HB 187, which amends Title 31 to require DCH create a three-year pilot program to provide coverage for the treatment and management of obesity and related conditions under a state health insurance plan. The pilot program, which will be limited to 250 participants, will provide coverage for all FDA-approved medications for chronic weight management, as well as obesity prevention, screening, and counseling benefits. The bill also allows DCH to enter into an agreement with a postsecondary institution for pilot program management, data collection, patient engagement, and other activities related to the pilot program. The Committee recommended the bill DO PASS and be sent to the Rules Committee.
  • Rep. Chuck Efstration (R-Dacula) presented HR 135, which urges Congress to eliminate the five-month waiting period for disability insurance benefits for individuals living with ALS. The Committee recommended the bill DO PASS and be sent to the Rules Committee.

House Insurance Committee -- Admin/Licensing Subcommittee

The Admin/Licensing Subcommittee of the House Insurance Committee, chaired by Rep. Jeff Jones (R-Brunswick), met today to hear one bill. HB 99, authored by Rep. Richard Smith (R-Columbus), amends Title 33 to modernize and update language in the insurance code. Rep. Smith spoke to the bill, explaining that it only provides modernization language and contains no policy change. Upon the completion of the his brief testimony, the Subcommittee recommended the bill DO PASS and be sent to the full House Insurance Committee.

House Ways and Means Committee -- Tax Expenditure Subcommittee

The Tax Expenditure Subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee, chaired by Rep. Chuck Martin (R-Alpharetta), met today to hear four bills. Chairman Martin indicated that all bills would receive only a hearing. Additionally, he stated that the committee plans to consider tax exemptions as if they are budgetary line items. 

  • Rep. Carl Gilliard (D-Garden City) presented HB 48, which amends Title 48 to reinstate public excise tax exemptions for public mass transit vehicles. He noted that the benefit of this exemption would translate to over $2,000,000. He explained that passage of this bill would allow municipalities to expand their local transit. Rep. Don Parsons (R-Marietta) asked about the sunset provision in the bill. Kathleen Bowman, from ACCG, added that if local boards of transportation receive this exemption, local governments should be included. A representative of MARTA spoke in favor of the bill. Chairman Martin suggested that Rep. Gilliard add back the sunset provision from previous iterations of the bill.
  • Rep. Heath Clark (R-Warner Robins) presented HB 114, which amends Title 48 to eliminate a sunset provision in a sales and use tax exemption for sales of tangible personal property and services to a qualified job training organization when such organization obtains an exemption determination letter from the commissioner.
  • Rep. Darlene Taylor (R-Thomasville) presented HB 168, which amends Title 48 to extend a tax exemption regarding the sale or use of tangible personal property to certain non-profit health centers for an additional 5 years. She gave a brief overview of the function of community health centers. Rep. David Knight (R-Griffin) asked why it is cheaper for the state to pay for medicaid patients to attend community health centers. Rep. Jay Powell (R-Camilla) noted that the previous session saw a one year extension to make sure their reporting matched what the department had presented to the General Assembly and asked if that matching process had occurred.
  • Rep. Taylor also presented HB 170, which amends Title 48 to raise the aggregate amount of education donation tax credits from $5 million to $15 million. Right now private schools can take advantage of the $15 million donation cap and this bill would elevate public schools to the same level.

House Insurance Life and Health Subcommittee

The House Insurance Life and Health Subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Darlene Taylor (R-Thomasville), met today to consider one bill. Rep. Deborah Silcox (R-Sandy Springs) presented HB 128, which amends Title 33 to delete the requirement for insurers to notify the Georgia Composite Medical Board of agreements to settle claims of medical malpractice when the settlement results in a low payment under a high/low agreement. Rep. Silcox explained that the legislation was a negotiated compromise between the Georgia Trial Lawyers Association and the Medical Association of Georgia. Such non-reports to the composite medical board are only instances where the licensee was found non-negligent.  MAG Mutual spoke in favor of the bill, which then received a motion DO PASS.

New Legislation

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

  • HB 236, authored by Rep. Roger Bruce (D-Atlanta), amends Title 31 to allow any first responder to engage in the emergency medical transportation of patients. This bill was referred to the House Public Safety Committee.
  • HB 237, authored by Rep. Carolyn Hugley (D-Columbus), amends Title 40 to establish a special license plate benefiting the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority. This bill was referred to the House Motor Vehicles Committee.
  • HB 239, authored by Rep. Chuck Efstration (R-Dacula), amends Title 15 to establish the Georgia Business Court pursuant to the Georgia Constitution. This bill was referred to the House Judiciary Committee.
  • HB 242, authored by Rep. Lee Hawkins (R-Gainesville), amends Title 43 to provide for the regulation of massage therapy education programs, applying to the programs both inside and outside of the state. It also defines what is a “massage therapy business.”  There are also requirements for the State Board overseeing this profession such as: it requires it to periodically evaluate board recognized educational programs and develop and enforce standards for continuing education courses required of licensed massage therapists. It further requires licensed massage therapists to maintain liability insurance.  This bill was referred to the House Regulated Industries Committee.
  • HB 246, authored by Rep. Deborah Silcox (R-Sandy Springs), amends Title 24 to revise the way that depositions taken at the instance of the state are paid. This bill was referred to the House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee.
  • HB 252, authored by Rep. Kimberly Alexander (D-Hiram), amends Title 21 to provide for same day voter registration and voting. This bill was referred to the House Government Affairs Committee.
  • HB 253, authored by Rep. Lee Hawkins (R-Gainesville), amends Title 43 to update and revise provisions in the Occupational Therapy Licensing Act. Specifically, the bill modernizes the Act and provides for the use of telehealth in occupational therapy. This bill was referred to the House Regulated Industries Committee. 

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

  • SB 85, authored by Sen. Steve Henson (D-Stone Mountain), amends Title 20 to establish an early child care scholarship program. The bill outlines that the scholarship should be in the amount of monthly payments that exceed seven percent of the family’s income. The bill gives authority to the Department of Early Care and Learning to establish the maximum amount for eligible monthly payments. This bill was referred to the Senate Education and Youth Committee.
  • SB 86, authored by Sen. Jeff Mullis (R-Chickamauga), amends title 20 to prohibit high schools that receive public funds from participating in interscholastic sports conducted under any athletic association that does not have separate regions and playoffs for public and private schools. This bill was referred to the Senate Education and Youth Committee.
  • SB 90, authored by Sen. Zahra Karinshak (D-Dunwoody), amends Title 33 to require insurers to cover emergency medical care services that are provided for a medical condition of a recent onset and severity, including, but not limited to, severe pain that would lead a prudent layperson, possessing an average knowledge of medicine and health, to believe that his or her condition, sickness or injury is of such a nature that a failure to obtain immediate medical care would result in: A) placing the patient’s health in serious jeopardy; B) serious impairment to bodily functions; or C) serious dysfunction of any bodily organ part. This bill was referred to the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.
  • SR 139, authored by Sen. Ben Watson (R-Savannah), recognizes February 20, 2019 as Physicians Day at the state capitol.


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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