Gold Dome Report - June 2020 #11

Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough LLP

Legislative Day 40 (Sine Die)

After weeks of rumors of an abbreviated conclusion to the 2020 Legislative Session and a final several days with rumblings that adjournment sine die was imminent, the General Assembly defaulted to its usual routine--continuing work late into the day on LD 40. Indeed, as we publish this Sine Die edition of the Report, legislators remain at work concluding the people’s business for the year. Two key issues await resolution--House agreement to the FY 2021 Budget, and consideration of a much-debated measure to limit civil liability for individuals, businesses, and other entities in light of COVID-19. The former of these must constitutionally be completed before adjournment, while the status of the other appears more precarious by the moment. 

In a day filled with agrees, disagrees, and final passage of bills and resolutions, the State Capitol took a pause this afternoon for Governor Brian Kemp to sign HB 426, the hate crimes law that is arguably the focal point of the past eleven legislative days. Surrounded by the Lieutenant Governor, Speaker, authors, and a marble stairway full of legislators, Governor Kemp approved the bipartisan measure to accolades and applause. The law goes into effect on July 1. 

Although our Day 40 Report is done, our coverage is not. We will provide a comprehensive Report once bills are signed and/or vetoed.

In this Report:

  • Notable Floor Action
  • Committee Report 

Notable Floor Action

Senate

Special Action

The Senate agreed to the House’s changes to SB 336, authored by Sen. Steve Gooch (R-Dahlonega), which increases eligibility for special license plates for members of the military. 

The Senate agreed to the House’s changes to SB 375, authored by Sen. Jeff Mullis (R-Chickamauga) which provides new regulations related to vaping including raising the purchasing age to 21. 

The Senate agreed to the House’s changes to SB 393, authored by Sen. Brian Strickland (R-McDonough), which allows for certain state entities to designated peace officers for investigations. 

The Senate moved to amend the House substitute to SB 413. The bill, as originally passed by the Senate clarified provisions related to zoning disputes. The House removed this language and added codification of virtual meetings for state Boards. The Senate’s amendment to this substitute added the original language on top of the House’s addition. 

Rules Calendar

HB 292, sponsored by Sen. Larry Walker (R-Perry), eliminates a requirement for certain remittances to be paid by the University System of Georgia to the Teachers Retirement System of Georgia. Sen. Lindsey Tippins (R-Marietta) expressed concerns with the bill and moved to table the bill. The motion to table failed and the bill subsequently passed by a vote of 32-19. 

HB 664, sponsored by Sen. William Ligon (R-Brunswick), allows full-time employees of the state Office of Legislative Counsel to become members in the Judicial Retirement System. This bill passed by a vote of 48-0.

HB 1020, sponsored by Sen. John Albers (R-Roswell), makes changes to rules about drivers licenses including allowing third party driving schools to give driving tests and a reduction of the number of hours required to complete the intervention component of the DDS DUI risk reduction program. This bill passed by a vote of 47-4.

House

Late on Thursday, a couple of bills addressed by the House of import were the following:

  • SB 71, by Senator Ben Watson, MD (R-Savannah), addresses hospital authorities and how they can invest certain funds in Chapter 7 of Title 31. This year, the House placed this legislation in the Special Committee on Access to Quality Healthcare, and that Committee revised the legislation. That Committee proposed changes in Chapter 8 of Title 31 so as to provide for the establishment of a pilot program to conduct a simulated exchange for health care facilities to purchase and sell charity care credits to meet their charity care requirements. Representative Todd Jones (R-Cumming) presented this new version, which incorporated his ideas in HB 542, for the House to consider who explained that this legislation was the “genesis of why all of [his colleagues] came down here” as he argued that this legislation would create a period in 2021 so as to conduct a computer simulation which would include: “(1) the computation of each health care facility's charity care floor based on its pro rata amount of total state charitable care, to be calculated no later than February 28, 2021; (2) the computation of the value of charity care credits, which may vary based on services provided, groups of services provided, type of health care facility, or other factors as determined by the department; provided, however, that charity care value shall not include bad debt; and (3) A system of tradeable credits to enable healthcare facilities that have exceeded their charity care floor to sell charity care credits through the simulated exchange in return for funding and to enable health care facilities that do not meet their charity care floor to purchase such credits in order to meet their charity care floor. Many of the members did not really understand his ideas or agree that it needed to be placed into law. The House, thus, failed to provide passage to the bill with a vote of 83-71.
  • SB 375, by Senator Jeff Mullis (R-Chickamauga), encompasses a number of revisions in Title 16 and 48 to address tobacco sales. Representative Bonnie Rich (R-Sugar Hill) presented the House version of this initiative which she explained would “better protect our youth” as it raises the age of the purchase of tobacco products to 21 and adds vape products to be taxed and also license vape retailers. This legislation is not an increase on cigarette taxes as many had hoped to garner new revenue. Rather, this addition of vape products to be taxed will add somewhere between $11-$19 million more annually. SB 375 passed by Committee Substitute with a vote of 123-33, moving the legislation back to the Senate for agreement to the changes imposed. 

The House took up several measures during the day, along with special actions. In addition to taking up bills, there were some “swan songs” sung. One such farewell message was given by the long-time Chairman of the House Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee Tom McCall (R-Elberton). Chairman McCall reminded his colleagues about the friendships that the House affords; he will now take on a position with the Farm Bureau. 

Below is a snapshot of those:

Senate bills before the House which were addressed:

  • SB 289, by Senator Jeff Mullis (R-Chickamauga), was presented to the House by Representative Barry Fleming (R-Harlem) who remarked that this legislation looks nothing like it did when it left the Senate. Senator Mullis’ original proposal was a Title 48 measure to remove the requirement that mobile homes procure permits and display decals. The House stripped out that language and inserted in its place language to require that all questions of law decided by a court or the Georgia Tax Tribunal on matters arising from the state board of equalization or arising from refunds and appeals of state administration of Title 48 be decided with due deference to any rule which has been properly promulgated pursuant to O.C.G.A. 50-13-1 and without deference to any determination or interpretation, whether written or unwritten, that may have been made on the matter by the Department of Revenue. The House raised no questions with this action and handily adopted the Committee Substitute and passed the legislation by a vote of 162-0, moving the bill back to the Senate to agree or disagree with the House language.
  • SB 308, by Senator Kay Kirkpatrick, MD (R-Marietta), removes redundant processes regarding unattended vessels in public waters so as to not require that both the DNR and GBI be required to investigate abandoned vessels. This legislation strips out the requirement that GBI be required to investigate in Chapter 7 of Title 52. The House passed this legislation quickly 165-0, moving this legislation to the Governor’s desk.
  • SB 402, by Senator Randy Robertson (R-Cataula), addresses signature bonds. Representative Barry Fleming (R-Harlem) brought the Bill to the House Floor. This measure addresses some issues which are occurring now in Fulton and Clarke Counties where judges are permitting signature bonds and then the individuals do not show up for court and the individuals only repeat crimes and come back into the system. This legislation is an attempt to solve this issue by renaming these bonds, “unsecured judicial release,” so that there is transparency and “light” on the problem. The legislation does not take away a judge’s discretion to provide for bond options (such as property and cash). While many in the House opposed the measure, the bill passed with a vote of 99-68, moving the legislation to the Governor’s desk.
  • SB 340, by Senator Brandon Beach (R-Alpharetta), recognizes, and creates, Childhood Cancer Awareness Day in Georgia on September 1 at O.C.G.A. 1-4-23. The initiative was presented by Representative Deborah Silcox (R-Sandy Springs) who is a survivor of childhood cancer. The House passed this proposal with a vote of 159-0, moving this legislation to the Governor’s desk..

In special actions, these bills were brought forward:

  • HB 912, by Representative Bert Reeves (R-Marietta), seeks to address several issues around Georgia’s foster care system and the Division of Family and Children’s Services in Titles 15 and 49. It does capture language from SB 335 in the bill. It creates efficiencies for DFCS; codifies training for foster care parents and those providing respite services; addresses attorney conflicts in termination cases so that those take priorities; and permits “babysitting” services to be procured by foster care parents by individuals who are ages 18 and older for up to 72 hours. HB 912 was agreed to by the House with a vote of 134-31, moving the legislation forward to the Governor’s desk.
  • HB 914, by Representative Heath Clark (R-Warner Robins), seeks now to address professional licensing of military spouses by endorsement in Title 43. However, the Senate added an amendment, which Representative Clark argued that was not germane, relating to crematory practices. The House disagreed with the Senate Amendment to HB 914, forcing the bill back to the Senate for further action. 
  • HB 780, by Representative Clay Pirkle (R-Ashburn), seeks to limit when outside survey requirements of easements for utilities are required when they solely benefit the state in Chapter 16 of Title 50. Representative Pirkle asked that the House agree to the Senate Amendment; the House agreed with a vote of 162-0, moving the legislation to the Governor’s desk. 
  • HB 846, by Representative Bert Reeves (R-Marietta), moved that the House agree to Senate Substitute regarding tax refunds in Title 48. It combines the Internal Revenue Code update, HB 949, and now includes the CARES Act to bring Georgia in compliance with federal law. $154 million fiscal impact if not passed. HB 846 addresses also direct pay permits, and moves from rules and regs to Code. The legislation creates a PPE tax credit (for businesses which produce those items) $1250 per job which is directly in manufacturing of PPE. The Job Tax Credit and Quality Job Tax Credits (tiers - with more rural and economically challenged then the more benefit) and looks at 2019 numbers with a tax credit and allows those businesses to get that in 2020 and 2021 to help businesses rebound from COVID-19. This version does not include a tax credit for adoptions. The House agreed to the Senate Substitute with a vote of 110-58, moving the legislation to the Governor’s desk. 
  • HB 1020, by Representative Micah Gravley (R-Douglasville), seeks to address Chapter 5 of Title 40, driver’s license law changes. Originally it was a risk-reduction program with a limited driving permit. Representative Gravley moved that the House disagree to the Senate Substitute - it removed the risk reduction component. 
  • HB 901, by Representative Mike Cheokas (R-Americus), addresses Title 50, to grant loan making authority to the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority to local governments and non-government agencies for projects which protect permanently land and water. Representative Cheokas moved that the House agree to the Senate Substitute which codifies the Governor’s Executive Order which allows the State Treasurer to invest in money market funds for a higher return. The House agreed to the Senate Substitute with a vote of 168-1, moving the legislation to the Governor’s desk.
  • HR 1167, by Representative Gerald Greene (R-Cuthbert), is a Resolution which authorizes the annual conveyances of state-owned properties. Representative Greene asked that the House agree to the Senate Substitute; the House agreed with a vote of 167-0, moving the Resolution to the Governor’s desk.
  • HB 1037, by Representative Matt Dollar (R-Marietta), amends the Georgia Investment Industry Tax in Title 48, the film tax credit update bill. Representative Dollar moved that the House agree to the Senate Substitute; the House agreed to the changes with a vote of 154-10, moving the legislation to the Governor’s desk. 

Committee Report

Special Committee on Access to the Civil Justice System

In a marathon meeting, which began late in the evening on June 25, Chairman Trey Kelley (R-Cedartown) and his fellow members met to hammer out changes on SB 359, a version of limitation on liability for COVID-19. There were arguments on not just scrivener errors in the bill but also about prepositions and adverbs used. Sometimes, lawmakers seemed to wish to put their pens and laptops aside. Nonetheless, they managed to move a version forward on SB 359 which is now in the bosom of the House Rules Committee. In the more recent version of Chairman Kelley’s legislation, which looks nothing like the original bill addressing balanced billing by Senator Chuck Hufstetler(R-Rome), it seeks to: 

  • Address sports venues so that that term is expanded to capture all premises
  • Require a standard of care to be proven in COVID 19 claims (gross negligence)
  • Provide a rebuttable presumption in O.C.G.A. 51-16-3
  • Insert “warning language” for premises and signage requirements and when there is no such sign that fact is not admissible in court
  • Clarify that it does not address workers compensation/unemployment
  • Address a time for claims to be brought

A number of groups testified in the late evening - the Medical Association of Georgia took issues with the language of “reasonably interfere” and asked that it be changed to “reasonably impact.” The business community had several folks who spoke to the proposal, including the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce. The Georgia Trial Lawyers Association also raised its concerns with the legislation which in part dealt with the standard of care. Meanwhile, there were yet others such as representatives from the Hawks and Braves who were in favor of the proposal.

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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