Gold Dome Report - June 2020 #5

Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough LLP

While families around the state prepare to celebrate Father’s Day weekend, members of the Georgia General Assembly continue to work into the evening and are slated for a rare Saturday session day tomorrow. Because the House and Senate failed to reach agreement on an adjournment resolution, the legislative clock ticks on, and both chambers plan to continue the people’s work into the weekend.

The big news today was the Senate’s passage of HB 793; the state’s budget for FY2021. This new budget plan begins on July 1, 2020, and takes into account the State’s declining revenues. Of course, many programs are receiving dramatic cuts, but the plan is not as drastic as originally feared with the 14 percent cuts previously requested of State agencies; rather, this proposal sets forth 11 percent cuts. A conference committee is expected to reconcile differences between the House and Senate versions of the budget.

It was also fitting today that the House and Senate also paid homage to the late Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Jack Hill (R-Reidsville). Hill often described himself as “just a grocer” but he was much more. His death earlier this year leaves a void but his legacy of the knowledge he imparted on his colleagues is enormous and he worked tirelessly to help the “least of these.” Chairman Hill loved Georgia and he is missed.

We’ll continue to watch as legislators work into the evening, and we will be here this weekend keeping you up to date with the #GoldDomeReport.

In this Report:

  • Notable Floor Action
  • Committee Reports
  • Rules Calendars for Legislative Day 35

Notable Floor Action

House
The House again had a lengthy floor session as the arduous voting process conflicted with the longest House Rules Calendar since the session resumed, which was supplemented with 20 more propositions late this afternoon. Frustration is running high, and the Speaker again noted that the hate crimes bill has still not passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee. The fear is also that the General Assembly may leave without using days. Speaker Ralston remarked that the Senate’s thoughts have been to use days but not actually be in Session which would allow members to draw per diems.

The following legislation stood for a vote on the floor:

  • SB 38, by Senator William Ligon, Jr. (R-Brunswick), was presented by Representative Don Hogan (R-St. Simons). The bill came before the House in the form of a Committee Substitute to O.C.G.A. 36-8-6. It is a general bill which permits Glynn County to vote on a binding and non-binding resolution to permit the Glynn County Police Department to come under the Sheriff’s Department. Representative Al Williams (D-Midway) rose in support of the proposal who acknowledged the “missteps” made. It is “time to go in another direction.” Representative Steven Sainz (R-Woodbine) also spoke to the legislation, noting it was a positive step. Representative Jeff Jones (R-St. Simons) stated that this bill policing is one of the powers and gives the Legislature to go around the county to abolish a police department; he urged that the bill be voted down. The bill goes “around the constitution” and overrides the home rule provision. Representative Jones also argued that the Glynn County Board of Commissioners opposed SB 38 and were not given an opportunity to testify to the proposal in Committee. Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee Barry Fleming (R-Harlem) noted the proposal passed unanimously from his Committee. This bill does not abolish the Glynn County Police Department; it allows the folks to vote on whether it wants the policing be done by the Sheriff’s department. The bill is not unconstitutional per Chairman Fleming. The Bill passed 152-3.
  • SB 315, by Senator Lindsey Tippins (R-Marietta), addresses mechanics and materialmen’s liens in O.C.G.A. 44-14-366. The bill was presented in the House by Representative Dale Washburn (R-Macon). It cleans up when a lawsuit may be filed by a contractor performing work and provides that a waiver and release of lien and bond rights shall only be applicable to the issues of the waiver and release and shall not affect any other rights or remedies available under the law. The Georgia Chamber of Commerce and a number of trades’ groups supported the legislation. The House Minority Leader Robert Trammell (D-Luthersville) indicated that this was a “good bill.” The bill passed by a vote of 147-0; it moves now to the Governor’s desk for review.
  • SB 391, by Senator Kay Kirkpatrick, M.D. (R-Marietta), was presented by Representative Sharon Cooper (R-Marietta), concerning insurers to cover early refills for certain medications in emergency situations. These refills would be 30 days; prescribers are required to be notified within 48 hours. It does not include Schedule II drugs. The House passed the Committee Substitute to this legislation by a vote of 148-0; it now requires the Senate to agree or disagree to the changes made.
  • SB 405, by Senator Lindsay Tippins (R-Marietta), was carried in the House by Representative Andy Welch (R-McDonough) and addresses Chapter 12 of Title 15. It proposes to change the numbers of jurors needed by courts so as to address health emergency situations to allow for social distancing of those jurors. This moves the number of jurors from 12 to 6. SB 405 passed the House by a vote of 109-41 by Committee Substitute and now moves back to the Senate for it to agree or disagree to the changes made.
  • SB 451, by Senator John Kennedy (R-Macon), seeks to address limitations on recovery for deficiencies connected with improvements to realty and resulting injuries, so as to clarify actions that may be brought pursuant to O.C.G.A. 9-3-51 regarding deficiencies in connection with improvements to realty. Representative Chuck Efstration (R-Dacula) presented this legislation in the House as it passed the Senate. SB 451 passed 138-0.

Senate
Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Senator Blake Tillery (R-Vidalia), presented the new version of the State’s spending proposal for FY 2021, HB 793. Tillery began by noting the great work done by the late Chairman of Senate Appropriations Jack Hill (R-Reidsville) who died earlier this year. Chairman Tillery also noted the “outstanding partners” that the Senate had with the House in the unusual, abnormal time. Further, he noted that Georgia’s financial situation has shifted from what it began with at the beginning of the calendar year. Revenues were predicted to be marginal to flat. Lawmakers, of course, did not foresee COVID-19 and its impact causing significant costs to the Departments of Community Health, Public Health, Defense and Public Safety. Further, he remarked that Georgia’s income tax collections had an impact on revenues as filings plummeted and were also delayed. There was a $1 billion decrease in April 2020 - a 36 percent decrease in revenues while costs were rising. Unemployment in the state also skyrocketed but he did acknowledge the work done by the Department of Labor. However, Georgia’s financial numbers looked slightly better in May (after agencies had been requested to submit 14 percent budget reductions)

The Senate voted out HB 793, the FY 2021 Budget, by Committee Substitute with a vote of 34-15. The legislation was immediately transmitted to the House.

Committee Reports

House Public Safety and Homeland Security
The House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee, chaired by Representative Bill Hitchens (R-Rincon), met to consider four bills this morning:

  • SB 301, authored by Sen. Blake Tillery (R-Vidalia), amends Title 42 to allow a sheriff to request that the Department of Corrections maintain custody of an inmate charged with a misdemeanor or felony offense where bond is denied until adjudication of the case. The Committee recommended the bill DO PASS and be sent to the Rules Committee.
  • SB 341, authored by Sen. Randy Robertson (R-Cataula), allows law enforcement agencies to employ retired law enforcement officers in times of emergency. The Committee recommended the bill DO PASS and be sent to the Rules Committee.
  • SB 342, authored by Sen. Burt Jones (R-Jackson), addresses minimum requirements for local fire departments and general provisions relative to firefighter standards and training. The Committee recommended the bill DO PASS and be sent to the Rules Committee.
  • SB 393, authored by Sen. Brian Strickland (R-McDonough), creates a Legal Division within the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to assist local district attorneys in prosecuting cases with which they have expertise, like sex trafficking. The Committee recommended the bill DO PASS and be sent to the Rules Committee.

House Juvenile Justice Committee
In the absence of Chairman Mandi Ballinger (R-Canton), Representative Matt Dubnik (R-Gainesville) filled in for his colleague at this morning’s meeting. This Committee took up the following proposals:

  • SB 477, by Senator Kay Kirkpatrick (R-Marietta), seeks to define in Code the term, “predominant aggressor.” It is an attempt to better clarify who is to be arrested in domestic violence incidents. Presently, the Code instructs that the “primary” aggressor be arrested. This change permits more police discretion in making the determination in O.C.G.A. § 17-4-20.1. Representative Bert Reeves (R-Marietta) indicated that this change was “overdue” and wholeheartedly supports this change. There were some questions around who will train officers. Stephanie Woodard (a solicitor from Hall County) and Jennifer Waindle (DeKalb County Special Victims Unit) both testified in support of the proposal. They indicated the change will save on numbers of arrests and save on the numbers of children who end up in DFCS care. Training can be done through officer roll call, GPSTIC, and at the Prosecuting Attorneys Council. Representative Reeves made the motion DO PASS; his motion carried. The bill proceeds to the House Rules Committee.
  • SB 439, by Senator Matt Brass (R-Newnan), seeks to address concerns of foster parents in Chapter 11 of Title 15. The Committee worked off of LC 41 2341. This bill requires that the court put in writing a record of whether the foster parents were notified of hearings and whether they chose to speak (dependency and adjudication as well as termination of parental rights hearings). Representative Mary Margaret Oliver (D-Decatur) raised questions around the “legal notification” which is by email; she asked if that was the first time that Georgia was including such in its laws and whether that was driven by federal law. Division of Family ad Children’s Services Director Tom Rawlings stated that these hearings were about the placement of the child and there was a statutory entitlement to notice. Use of electronic notice, is a first, but he argued that the use of electronic notice is used in other states. This legislation also requires that a form be created. The information provided by the foster parents is to be a part of the court’s consideration in their findings of fact. Representative Reeves made a motion DO PASS; his motion carried. The bill proceeds to the House Rules Committee.
  • SB 335, also by Senator Brass, received a good bit of discussion. The legislation, amending Titles 12, 15 and 49, was before the Committee in the form of a new Committee Substitute, LC 50 0087S. Representative Reeves also made a motion DO PASS on this proposal; his motion carried. The bill proceeds to the House Rules Committee. The underlying legislation seeks to:
    • Provide foster parents free admission to state parks (Department of Natural Resources will develop a system to make this operational)
    • Provide for tracking of cases of foster care children and how long each case takes (lines 85-90)
    • Address dependency hearings so as to prioritize those over non-jury trials (lines 97-100)
    • Provide DFCS the ability to contract with child placing agencies (it already has this ability but this permits DFCS more flexibility) (lines 121-123; 147-149) – in this Section, Rawlings argued this allows the creation of more efficiencies within DFCS
    • Address training requirements for foster families and what is required for respite families (lines 231-235)
    • Address bonding authority for Lake Lanier Islands Authority (this fits in the bill at Section 1 where DNR and state parks are discussed; the Chair indicated this was germane)

Senate Natural Resources Committee
The Senate Natural Resources Committee, chaired by Senator Tyler Harper (R-Ocilla) met this morning to consider three items.

  • HB 833, authored by Rep. Ron Stephens (R-Savannah), addresses long term anchoring of boats by giving DNR the ability to provide permits for long term anchoring. Sen. Lindsey Tippins (R-Marietta) explained that he has concerns about the effects of long term anchoring on the oyster industry. A DNR representative explained that the 500 feet distance was considered adequate to protect oysters. The permit is needed for individuals that anchor for more than 14 days. The bill received a recommendation DO PASS.
  • HB 93, authored by Rep. Rick Williams (R-Milledgeville), addresses requirements for notice when a coal ash pond is dewatered. Sen. Tippins asked why the notice is given after the commencement of the dewatering instead of before. Rep. Williams explained that this was a compromise with other members of the House. Sen. Frank Ginn (R-Danielsville) cautioned the committee about providing too much notice which he thinks could unnecessarily scare the public. Sen. Zahra Karinshak (D-Duluth) responded that the public should have access to information about any substance that could be a threat to the public. Sen. Tippins proposed an amendment to lower the time period for reporting from seven days to two days. The bill, as amended, received a recommendation DO PASS.
  • HB 998, authored by Rep. Trey Rhodes (R-Greensboro), is the annual DNR update bill. Chairman Harper explained that the Senate substitute also extends the sunset of the use of airguns for hunting by five years. This bill received a recommendation DO PASS.

Senate Special Judiciary Committee
Chairman Donzella James (D-Atlanta) and her Senate Special Judiciary Committee met this morning and addressed a couple of measures:

  • HB 903, was presented in the form of a new Committee Substitute. The Committee provided a DO PASS recommendation on a sports betting proposal.
  • The Committee tabled HB 859, by Representative Clay Pirkle. That legislation seeks to establish penalties for violations of tinted windshields in O.C.G.A. 40-8-73.1.

Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities Committee
The Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities Committee, chaired by Sen. Bill Cowsert (R-Athens), met this afternoon to consider multiple measures.

  • HB 857, authored by Rep. Alan Powell (R-Hartwell), alters the regulation of the burning of wood treated with certain chemicals for the purposes of energy creation. This bill received a recommendation DO PASS.
  • HB 879, authored by Rep. Brett Harrell (R-Snellville), alters legislative intent for the regulation of alcohol sales. Chairman Cowsert explained that the committee substitute contains compromise language regarding multiple alcohol related issues including the creation of a statewide system to streamline the application process for liquor sale permits, home alcohol deliveries, repeal of the prohibition of locating liquor stores within 500 feet of a university, and liquor store tasting allowances. Rep. Harrell explained that no home delivery of alcohol can take place at a time a consumer could not buy the product in person. This bill received a recommendation DO PASS.

Rules Calendars for Legislative Day 35

The Senate is expected to consider the following measures on Saturday for Legislative Day 35:

  • HB 245 - Peace Officers' Annuity Fund; require certain benefits payable to a surviving spouse to terminate if such surviving spouse remarries; remove a provision
  • HB 861 - Motor vehicles; commercial carriers; amend certain definitions
  • HB 932 - Gwinnett County; Recorder's Court; provide for senior judges
  • HB 957 - Education; certain charter school employees shall be included in the health insurance fund for public school teachers; provide
  • HB 991 - Healthcare Transparency and Accountability Act; enact
  • HB 1114 - Medical assistance; Medicaid coverage for lactation care and services and postpartum care; provide

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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