Gold Dome Report - June 2020 #2

Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough LLP

Today, the General Assembly reconvened for its 31st Legislative Day (the second legislative day of the COVID era), and the environment remains both strange and amusing. While the people watching is supreme (and included one legislator out of the Wild West clad in cowboy hat, bandana mask, and boots today), process remains arduous with House roll call votes requiring upwards of 15 minutes each. 

The sluggishness cannot be attributed to process alone, however. The House and Senate remain at loggerheads over hate crimes legislation. Although HB 426, authored by Representative Chuck Efstration (R-Dacula), awaits action in the Senate Judiciary Committee, onlookers spent much of the day waiting on an alternative draft of the bill that Lieutenant Governor Geoff Duncan has billed as “strong” and “meaningful.” But as Tuesday concludes, it appears that the unveiling of the draft must wait one day more. Meanwhile, House Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) called for passage of HB 426 as drafted, and a coalition of Georgia’s business leaders continue to push for a bill to address bigotry and targeted violence. As a point of punctuation, House Rules Chairman Richard Smith (R-Columbus) refused to put any Senate bills on today’s Rules Calendar for the House, stating that the Senate’s failure to take up the bill “is becoming an embarrassment to the state.”

Otherwise, it was a normal day at your State Capitol. The chambers convened, committees met, and Augusta University was present onsite and performing testing for COVID-19. Members of the General Assembly and members of the public were encouraged to be tested.

As a reminder, the Senate Appropriations Committee meets early Wednesday morning to unveil its version of the State’s funding plan that will take effect on July 1. Follow the highlights as they unveiled on Twitter with #GoldDomeReport.

In this Report:

  • Notable Floor Action 
  • Committee Reports
  • Rules Calendars for Legislative Day 32

Notable Floor Action

House

The House had a relatively light day today, moving forward with a consent calendar of local measures which was handily adopted. Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) asked that HB 1161 be moved back to its committee; this bill relates to the City of Blue Ridge and staggered terms for its mayor and city council members.

The House took up SB 43, which was held until the next legislative day from Monday. SB 43 addresses Title 36 and adds a new definition for ‘undertaking” as it relates to revenue bonds for electric systems - for those entities with more than $300 million in assets will no longer be required to have a bond referendum. Representative Kasey Carpenter (R-Dalton) presented the legislation. It only impacts Dalton and will allow the city to issue revenue bonds to expand electric services. Representative Karla Drenner (D-Avondale Estates) spoke to the proposal - she opposed the legislation. The real issue she has is the bill is a moral hazard - one party has an incentive to take risks without responsibility. If the bill passes, it removes the right to vote of the citizens in the area. Representative Carpenter described that the bill offers parity - but Representative Drenner questioned what parity is missing? Originally, the law required a public referendum. A Minority Report was also offered by Representative Derrick Jackson (D-Tyrone) and Representative Beth Moore (D-Peachtree Corners) - Representative Moore indicated she was surprised to see that this bill made the priority list of bills given the situation of the state. The House rejected this initiative three times previously with local legislation. The bill was changed to a “general bill” as it did not work as a local bill. Thus, the House was now asked to take action on this issue around whether the city needed to approve a bond referendum. Representative Moore asked that the House vote no on the bill and protect individuals’ right to vote. Chairman Don Parsons (R-Marietta) yielded his time to the sponsor, Representative Carpenter. No city council spoke in opposition to the legislation according to Chairman Parsons. Representative Mary Margaret Oliver (D-Atlanta) asked if Georgia Power supports the legislation. The legislation passed 91-75. 

Representative Trey Kelley (R-Cedartown) moved that SB 410 be moved from the House Governmental Affairs Committee to the House Ways and Means Committee. The legislation proposes to provide an alternative means of recovering costs of litigation and attorney’s fees in ad valorem tax appeals under county boards of equalization. His motion was approved.

Representative Andy Welch (R-McDonough) moved that the House agree to the Senate Substitute to HR 1023, the waiver of sovereign immunity Constitutional Amendment effort. The House approved the Senate changes by a vote of 164-0.

Senate

The Senate took up two measures today:

  • HB 752 was presented by Senator Bruce Thompson (R-White). He explained that this bill was a clean up to the bill, HB 39 (and HB 26) passed in 2019, for a physical therapy licensure compact and psychology compact so as to address criminal background check requirements. An amendment was proposed from the Floor, offered by Senator Kay Kirkpatrick (R-Marietta), to add language from SB 417. That language now cleans up criminal background requirements for physical therapists, psychologists and physicians. Amendment Number 1 was adopted without objection, adding SB 417 language. The bill passed as amended 52-0. It was immediately transmitted back to the House without objection; the House will need to agree or disagree with the changes made.
  • HB 777 was presented by Senator John Wilkinson (R-Toccoa). It addresses the Department of Community Affairs’ review of the International Building Code in O.C.G.A. 8-2-23(a). With this bill, Georgia is permitted an expedited one-year review period of these standards. The legislation passed 50-0. The legislation was immediately transmitted back to the House without objection; the House will need to agree or disagree with the changes made.

Committee Reports

House Rules Committee

Chairman Richard Smith (R-Columbus) and the members of the House Rules Committee met quickly this morning. No House Rules Calendar was set for the day. Chairman Smith reminded his Committee that he thought the General Assembly was required to pass two bills - legally they were required to pass a budget and morally they were required to pass a hate crimes bill. Georgia is one of four states without a hate crimes statute. The current hate crimes bill, HB 426, passed the House in 2019 and has been in the Senate for more than 400 days without any action taken.

House Health and Human Services Committee

Chairman Sharon Cooper (R-Marietta) and her Committee took up several bills:

  • SB 306, by Senator Valencia Seay (D-Riverdale), seeks to permit Georgia, in Chapter 44 of Title 43, to enter into the Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology Interstate Compact. 10 states are required to adopt this Compact before it becomes functional. The legislation received a DO PASS recommendation. 
  • SB 482, by Senator Dean Burke, MD (R-Bainbridge), offered this legislation to create an All Payer Claims Database under the Office of Health Strategy and Coordination in Chapter 53 of Title 31. John Duke, MD, promoted the bill and spoke about his research on opioids as a researcher on health informatics at Georgia Tech. Representative Mark Newton (R-Evans) inquired about inclusion of the prescription drug monitoring program as a submitting entity as it collects information. Dr. Duke stated that they needed a comprehensive set of data, and Sen. Burke expressed that including PDMP probably would not be a problem without further amending the bill. The Georgia Pharmacy Association supported the bill noting that good data decisions will help improve access and quality. The bill received a DO PASS recommendation by Committee Substitute.
  • SB 372, by Senator Blake Tillery (R-Vidalia), is a housekeeping bill for the Department of Public Health and was presented by Chairman Cooper and Megan Andrews with the Department of Public Health. The bill eliminates administrative burden on the Department and harmonizes statute with the actual operations of the Department. The bill proposes to permit that Naloxone be made available for purchase by first responders under a federal program; remove administrative burden for clerk of court mailing orders relating to AIDS-transmitting crimes; expand the scope of the Office of Women’s Health to include reproductive health issues (maternal mortality); extend the time period for turning over vital records to the State Archives from 100 to 125 years; eliminate a statutory commission relating to chronic renal disease patients; eliminate transmission of court orders relating to healthcare facilities; and change references to the term “venereal disease” to sexually transmitted diseases throughout the Code. The bill received a DO PASS recommendation. 

House Retirement Committee

Chairman Tommy Benton (R-Jefferson) and his Committee met to discuss two bills:

  • SB 249, by Senator John Albers (R-Roswell), proposes an increase for the Peace Officer Annuity and Benefit Fund in Chapter 17 of Title 47. The increase is hopefully a way in which to help ensure more stability for these individuals’ employment. Representative Dominic LaRiccia (R-Douglas) indicated he had received more calls on this bill than any other this Session. This is funded through actual contributions and fines and would be no cost to the state. It is supported by ACCG and GMA. This change, per Representative Debbie Buckner (D-Junction City), will also cover the jailers. The Committee recommended the bill DO PASS. 
  • SB 294, authored by Senator Ellis Black (R-Valdosta), would allow the Teachers Retirement System to invest up to 5% of its investment pool in alternative investments. Senator Black noted that all other State retirement systems are allowed to invest in alternative investments, which may include private equity and real estate, and those investments have largely outperformed traditional equities. The Committee recommended the bill DO PASS. 

Senate Regulated Industries and Public Utilities

Chairman Bill Cowsert (R-Athens) and his Committee took up these proposals:

  • HB 987, by Representative Sharon Cooper (R-Marietta), presented a Committee Substitute. Representative Cooper worked closely with two colleagues, Representative John LaHood and Representative Jesse Petrea, along with providers and families to craft this legislation. This legislation is to add additional protections for the elderly in an effort to prevent elder abuse. Many of the recent problems have occurred in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Some of the staffing is limited. Assisted living designations took years to be passed; prior to that was just nursing homes. The regulations were negligible for assisted living facilities. The average age is 84 years of age in assisted living facilities. Over half of the residents will have cognitive problems and move into some stage of Alzheimer’s (very likely to occur with individuals 85 years and older). Staffing, though, remained low while these individuals needed more care. 

Joe Hood, with the Department of Community Health, outlined the changes made. Mr. Hood indicated that this bill addresses personal care homes with beds of 25 or greater, assisted living communities (already more than 25 persons and more), and nursing homes. There are exceptions in the personal care homes; they don’t have the same infrastructure standards and fire safety standards like assisted living facilities and nursing homes. No standard on “memory care” but that can be found in personal care homes, assisted living facilities and nursing homes. This bill addresses a standard of care for memory care, higher than the administrative rule in place now. More of the specifics include: Section 1 (no discrimination or retaliation for reporting abuse); Section 2 (creates a certificate program within two licensure types for memory care- base of a personal care home or assisted living facility and apply if the entity meets the added requirements for memory care); Section 3 (increases fines in two ways - daily from $1000 up to $2000 per day (max) and caps individual violation of $40,000 and provides a mandatory provision of $5000 causes a death or serious injury due to violation of rule of law); Section 5 (direct care staff training and onsite staffing 1:15 day; 1:20 at night (minimum floor staffing but requires the facility to conduct an assessment and the facility is obligated to have appropriate staffing - 1:12 for memory in day and 1:15 for memory at night) and requires facilities to show financial stability and notice of 60 days if a bankruptcy risk so folks may be moved); Section 6 (mandatory minimum for the assessments to determine level of care needed - increases staffing component); Section 8 (authorizes DCH to create this memory care certificate); bill addresses protocols for pandemic diseases and communication plan as well as education training protocols and surge capacity among many other protections; adds testing of long term care facilities is addressed for residents and staff; and Section 9 (amends licensure of nursing home administrators act and adds assisted living administrators and personal care home administrators with 25 or more beds and changes the board to include representatives from these facilities on that board). Trying to balance care with affordability pursuant to Chairman Cowsert; these added facilities are private pay (except for some nursing homes). Some of the larger nursing homes will receive added funding from the federal government due to COVID-19 expenses. The legislation requires these facilities to have seven days of PPE and that date requirement is from the federal Operation Commitment to Care effort.

Senator Matt Brass (R-Newnan) indicated he likes the certificate for memory care but inquired whether there was an added cost for that certificate. Mr. Hood indicated that there will be a cost through licensure application for the certificate.

Tony Marshall, with the Georgia Health Care Association, spoke to the measure. Marshall had concerns about some of the added provisions, particularly around combatting COVID-19 (adequate PPE, testing and reporting). Mr. Marshall is concerned about the costs for testing requirements for residents and staff; he agreed it was necessary for the asymptomatic carriers and the GHCA is working with the national folks on this testing requirement and costs. The Georgia Alzheimer’s Association supported the proposal. 

Senator Steve Gooch (R-Dahlonega) inquired about the costs for the Department to administer this; there is no budget request in the Budget for these changes.

Senator Brass moved DO PASS Substitute to HB 987 and that motion was seconded by Senator Butch Miller (R-Gainesville). The motion carried unanimously with the DO PASS recommendation. Senator Brian Strickland (R-McDonough) will carry the bill further in the Senate.

  • HB 932, by Representative Houston Gaines (R-Athens), proposes amendments to the Georgia Podiatry Practice Act. Representative Gaines presented LC 33 8290S. This bill proposes to allow physicians and doctors of podiatry to jointly form corporations. Senator David Lucas (D-Macon) inquired about insurance costs; it may have some implications on insurance according to Representative Gaines. Senator John Albers (R-Roswell) asked if this occurs in other areas of medical practice, which it does. Senator Brass (R-Newnan) asked what prevented these physicians from forming these corporations today. Scott Maxwell, the lobbyist for the Podiatric Medical Association, stated that this bill was needed in order to meld the two practices (doctor of podiatry and medical doctor/osteopathic doctor). Maxwell said this change will be helpful in rural areas. Senator Frank Ginn (R-Danielsville) moved DO PASS and his motion carried.

Environmental Quality Subcommittee of the House Natural Resources Committee

The Environmental Quality Subcommittee of the House Natural Resources, chaired by Representative John Corbett (R-Lake Park), met today to consider four measures. 

  • SB 473 by Senator Tyler Harper (R-Ocilla), seeks to move the authority for historical preservation from the Department of Natural Resources to the Department of Community Affairs. Senator Harper explained that this is the legislative component to a concurrent budget change. The bill received a DO PASS recommendation from the subcommittee and moves on to the full committee. 
  • SB 474, also by Senator Tyler Harper, seeks to move two welcome centers from the Department of Economic Development to the Department of Natural Resources. Senator Harper explained that this bill is also concurrent with a change that was made in the budget. This bill received a DO PASS recommendation from the subcommittee; the bill moves on to the full committee for action.
  • SB 445, by Senator John Kennedy (R-Macon), seeks to authorize the director of the EPD to grant permits for land disturbing activities for a water authority. Under current law only governing authorities of counties or municipalities that have received proper certification; it does not allow a water or sewer authority to be granted these permits. This bill arose after an issue with the Macon-Bibb government. Senator Kennedy explained that EPD has proposed some updated language which will need to be added via amendment. The bill received a DO PASS recommendation as amended and moves on to the full committee. 
  • SB 319, by Senator Frank Ginn (R-Danielsville), seeks to add a requirement for property located in the breach zone of a category II dam to receive certification from a structural engineer to ensure it can survive a breach. This bill received a hearing only

Resource Management Subcommittee of the House Natural Resources Committee

The Resource Management Subcommittee of the House Natural Resources Committee, chaired by Representative Timothy Barr (R-Lawrenceville) met today to consider multiple measures. 

  • SB 426, by Senator Brian Strickland (R-McDonough), provides for the reporting of unpermitted release of ethylene oxide to the EPD. This bill received a DO PASS recommendation and moves on to the full committee. 
  • SB 123, by Senator William Ligon, Jr. (R-Brunswick), raises the fee for coal ash stored in municipal solid waste facilities. The bill also adds language from SB 356 to allow for the expansion of landfills into areas two miles from a military bombing range. Representative Sheri Gilligan (R-Cumming) proposed an amendment to reduce the requirement of surcharges to be used to conduct purposes outlined in the bill from 50% to 20%. This bill received a DO PASS recommendation as amended. 
  • SB 384, also by Senator Ligon, prohibits the location of a solid waste facility within a certain distance of a blackwater river. Senator Ligon explained that this bill is designed to address an issue on the Satilla River within his district. This bill received a hearing only

Rules Calendars for Legislative Day 32

The House Rules Committee did not set an agenda for Legislative Day 32 and is not currently scheduled to meet before the House gavels in. 

The Senate, however, is expected to consider the following measures on Wednesday for Legislative Day 32:

  • HB 341 - Crimes and offenses; reproduction of recorded material; update terminology (S&T-45th) (Dollar-45th)
  • HB 808 - Alternative ad valorem tax; motor vehicles; revise a definition (FIN-7th) (Momtahan-17th)
  • HB 820 - Transportation, Department of; state investment in railways and railroad facilities and equipment; provide (TRANS-51st) (Tanner-9th)
  • HB 888 - Surprise Billing Consumer Protection Act; enact (H&HS) (Hawkins-27th)
  • HB 969 - Housing; certain provisions pertaining to unlawful practices in selling or renting dwellings and the procedures, remedies, and judicial review related thereto; change (JUDY) (Efstration-104th)

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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