Gold Dome Report — Legislative Day 10

Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough LLP

Today, one needed to have his or her skates on (or the ability to click a mouse quickly) to catch all the action as House and Senate committees began hearing bills and resolutions. Gaming was in particular focus today, with both the House Regulated Industries and House Economic Development Committees discussing the topic in the afternoon. A slew of new legislation was also offered up, including many pieces relating to election reforms and healthcare. More on today’s committee meetings and new legislation in this issue of the #GoldDomeReport.

While the legislature continued work on legislation already introduced, Governor Kemp unveiled his plan for a package of teacher pipeline legislation in a press conference this afternoon. The package is expected to include a number of initiatives aimed at “recruiting, retaining, and mentoring” teachers in Georgia. Among the initiatives are reading and differentiated teaching instruction for new teachers, enhanced pathways to attract teachers from HBCUs (historically black colleges and universities) and the armed forces, and support for mentoring and coaching in the classroom. The legislative package is expected to be introduced in the General Assembly soon.

In today’s Report:

  • Committee Reports
  • New Legislation

Committee Reports

House Small Business Development Committee
Chairman Mike Cheokas (R-Americus) and his Committee and adopted its Committee Rules. This Committee will operate with four subcommittees: 1) Barriers to Regulation (chair is Representative Tim Barton (R-Calhoun)); 2) Retail Hospitality (chair is Representative Bill Yearta (R-Sylvester)); 3) Incentives and Education (chair is Representative Dale Washburn (R-Macon)); and 4) Agribusiness (chair is Representative Steven Meeks (R-Screven)).

The Committee heard presentations from NFIB, Nathan Humphrey, which indicated that the small business climate in Georgia was overall good — Georgia has AAA bonds; low tax rate; it is a “right to work” state; has a solvent unemployment trust fund; has a workers’ compensation fund; and is a diversified economy. NFIB’s Humphrey pointed out the COVID-19 response and allowing businesses to open; the passage of HB 486; passage of covid liability protection law, SB 359; and the $1.5 billion for unemployment trust fund from CARES Act (equating to $350 per employee). Concerns articulated by NFIB included mandates; legal climate; unemployment trust fund; future lockdowns; and available PPE. The group also asked that the legislature look at PPP loan deductibility and marry Georgia’s tax code to the Internal Revenue Code (expense side); extend COVID liability protections to beyond July 1, 2021; and protect rights of small businesses to remain open. NFIB also pointed out that the legal climate had a direct impact on Georgia’s trucking industry — many are seeing 300 percent increases in insurance costs - and due to school closures (as businesses depend on schools being open). Three small businesses provided some personal stories at today’s meeting. One indicated that they are challenged with access to capital and do not have a reserve or access to banking. Costs and access to healthcare also remain an issue. Another business points out liability protections remain as well as minimum wage compression should an increase in the minimum wage occur. Another business pointed out the need for tort reform.

Scott Hilton, with the Georgians First Commission, spoke about the 18-member Commission appointed by Governor Kemp to look at cutting regulation. He noted that 72 percent of all Georgia businesses are businesses with 10 or fewer employees, the backbone of Georgia’s economy. Businesses are frustrated with regulation — there is no one-stop site and there is a lack of streamlined communications. Some of the policy ideas/operational changes for the General Assembly’s consideration:

  • Change definition of small business — move to $10 million or 100 employees for multi-tier approach
  • Implement zero-based regulatory reform (such as sunset administrative code by agency according to a seven-year schedule, add back rules and regulations needed for public safety; create a Small Business regulatory Liaison or Ombudsman to take regulatory concerns)
  • Implement an Universal Business ID to create a unified customer service experience
  • Utilize entrepreneurship, financial literacy and basic business training in K-12 curriculum
  • Expand offerings at TCSG to help entrepreneurs
  • Utilize a regulatory sandbox to identify growth industry (such as FinTech)
  • Create on-line forms rather than utilize paper forms
  • Create more transparency and use a “shot-clock” approach for approval of a form within a certain timeframe to reduce the black holes

House Economic Development & Tourism Committee
Chairman Ron Stephens (R-Savannah) began the meeting by welcoming and introducing the new members of the committee.

After approving the committee’s rules, Chairman Stephens presented HB 86 to the committee. Chairman Stephens began by explaining this bill was brought by the professional sports teams of Georgia which he characterized as “economic engines.” He also explained the financial hardships incurred by the sports teams as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Chairman Stephens explained that about 2.2 million Georgians currently place offshore illegal sports bets totalling $4.8 billion per year. It is also estimated that passage of this bill could bring $43 million for the HOPE Scholarship per year. Currently 23 states have legalized sports betting or have pending legislation. Experts believe that close to 40 states will have legalized sports betting in the next three years. Sports teams believe legalized betting would result in higher fan engagement for their teams. Chairman Stephens also discussed Tennessee's sports betting legalization which generated over $130 million in the first month. The bill contains language to prevent bettors from placing bets with credit cards. The legislation directs the lottery corporation to issue a minimum of six licenses for mobile betting sports platforms. The bill, as presented to the committee, does not permit wagering on collegiate sports.

Chairman Stephens asked Chris Hopper to discuss the adjusted gross income aspect of the bill. Representative Penny Houston (R-Nashville) asked if the state is paying for the loss of the bet. Mr. Hopper explained that the bettors are spending their money with the operators and the state receives tax revenue on the total amount of money that the operators collect after paying out winning bets.

Representative Derek Mallow (D-Savannah) asked if this bill would help the lottery corporation reach its mandated 35% payout to the HOPE Scholarship. Chairman Stephens explained that because sports betting is a lower margin industry than other gaming industries, the state will be taking a small margin.

Representative Mary Robicheaux (D-Marietta) asked if the bill includes minor league teams. Chairman Stephens explained that minor league teams that are associated with major professional sports teams are eligible in this bill.

Representative Randy Nix (R-LaGrange) made a brief statement in opposition of the bill. He raised concerns that sports betting would lead to integrity concerns with sports leagues. He stated that he is opposed to the bill from a moral and economic standpoint. He believes the bill is a “slippery slope” towards casinos and other forms of gambling. Chairman Stephens offered a brief rebuttal. He explained that the motivation of the sports teams comes from a fan participation standpoint.

Representative Mallow asked a question about license transfers. He is worried that the current language would allow the recipient of the transfer to circumvent the original license requirements. Mr. Hopper explained that the Lottery Corporation will be able to formulate its own rules and regulations to ensure this does not occur.

Representative Erik Allen (D-Smyrna) asked why there is no maximum number of licenses in the bill. Chairman Stephens stated that he did not want to artificially limit the number of vendors. He also stated that he does not know the total number of potential operators.

Representative Miriam Paris (D-Macon) asked about the resources dedicated to gambling addiction. Chairman Stephens explained that the biggest stopgap measure is the inability to place bets using credit and the lottery already has resources in place for gambling addiction. Representative Paris expressed concern about the state of gambling addiction in Georgia, generally.

Representative CaMia Hopson (D-Albany) asked about safeguards to prevent children from participating along with safeguards against predatory advertising to minors. Mr. Hopper explained that the bill contains requirements for age verification which must meet reasonable common business standards. The bill also prevents targeting of minors and an operator could lose its license for violating these metrics. He also explained that the license fee is designed as a barrier to bad actors entering the market.

Representative Robert Pruitt (R-Eastman) asked how to drive consumers towards the legal platforms if they have already used illegal apps. Mr. Hopper explained that the safeguards in the bill would incentivize individuals to use a legal, regulated market.

Representative Don Hogan (R-St. Simons Island) asked if the bill allows out-of-state licensees.

Representative Becky Evans (D-Atlanta) asked about the constitutionality of the bill. Mr. Hopper explained that, based upon consultation with legislative counsel, they do not believe a constitutional amendment is required.

Representative Stan Gunter (R-Blairsville) raised concerns about the clear and convincing standard used in investigations of violators of the statute. Chairman Stephens explained that this language is in the current lottery statute.

Representative Mallow added that he would like to see explicit language about fee structure amounts for temporary license application.

Ultimately, the bill PASSED the committee by a vote of 19-6.

House Special Committee on Access to Quality Healthcare
Chairman Mark Newton (R-Augusta) and members of his Committee only took up their approval of the Committee Rules at today’s meeting. No legislation was discussed. The Committee approved the Rules for the year, a change was made from last year’s Rules by moving what was “quorum” for business. In last year, it required eight members for a quorum; this new set of Rules requires only five members present to transact business. The new set of Rules was adopted without discussion.

House Regulated Industries Committee
Chairman Alan Powell (R-Hartwell) and his Regulated Industries Committee met but took no action on legislation. The Committee did hear two presentations:

  • Georgia’s Three-Tier Structure on Alcohol — KC Honeyman and Martin Smith presented some background on the three-tier system, noting that this system is in place in all 50 states. There have been two United States Constitution amendments on alcohol: 1) 18th amendment which prohibited alcohol; and 2) the 21st amendment which ended prohibition in 1933. It was the 21st Amendment which granted states authority to regulate alcohol. The three tiers are manufacturing, distributors and off-premises/on-premises sales. This three-tiered approach is an effective tax collection system; encourages competition; has unparalleled variety; prevents monopolies; ensures consumer safety; and provides quality jobs. This system is not static as industry is involved (pointing out to the legislation passed in 2020 allowing retail delivery). Laws are in place and the Department of Revenue regulates the industry. The tax is in the form of two excise taxes and is captured at the wholesale level as it would be more difficult to capture at retail level due to numbers of retailers. As for safety and quality of the product, there are federal regulations as well as protections for custody of the product to help ensure the safety and quality.
  • Gaming — Chairman Powell played a video of clips of the three days of meetings which were held in 2019 on legalizing gambling in the state. The meetings were of discussions held by a special committee looking at legalizing gambling. A number of presenters were a part of this video including Boyd Gaming, Wind Creek Atmore, Golden Nugget, Wynn Development and MGM National Harbour. There were also opponents in the clips including Stop Predatory Gambling, Georgia Baptist Mission Board, and Faith and Freedom Coalition. There was also testimony from an Alabama Sheriff who stated that it was about “management” in a community and that they had no problems in Escambia County after gambling began; there were also no prostitution issues at the casino. There was testimony that a small number will become addicted to baking which is a serious issue. Gambling actually began in 1993 with the lottery. There are two states without gambling: Utah and Hawaii. Testimony was given that illegal sports wagering is ongoing; there are no protections in place. One individual testified that there is a $500 million gross gaming revenue annually. There are tax benefits, economic benefits and job benefits.

House Motor Vehicles Committee
The House Motor Vehicles Committee met Tuesday morning. After introducing new members and praying for their deliberations, Chair John Corbett (R-Lakeland) invited Commissioner Spencer Moore of the Department of Driver Services to address the committee. Commissioner Moore commented that DDS serves over 8.2M licensees and has actually processed licenses for 1.7M of those after the Covid crisis started. Georgia is ranking first in the nation in its efficiency rating for in person and online service for licensing. It was only closed for 10 days during 2020 while it secured enough PPE and plastic shields for its workforce. DDS has just updated its computer systems with a new DRIVES system this January from 40 year old technology and is moving to add mobile phone apps to its new online services mix. DDS is requesting legislation to increase fees for temporary permits after suspended licenses from $25 to $32, to permit longer periods for commercial driver learning permits from 180 to 365 days, and to increase renewal fees.

The Committee also heard the following bill:

  • HB 43, authored by Rep. Wes Cantrell (R-Woodstock), amends O.C.G.A. § 40-2-26 to require motor vehicle registration forms to include optional information that the individual has a physical, mental, or neurological condition which impedes their ability to communicate with law enforcement. This information will be relayed to law enforcement on any search of the vehicle registration.

The Chair refused several offered amendments, and the Committee recommended the bill DO PASS and be sent to the Rules Committee.

House Retirement Committee
The House Retirement Committee, newly chaired by Representative John Carson (R-Marietta), held its first meeting of the legislative session today. After adopting the Committee’s rules, which are substantially unchanged this year except for an increase of the quorum to 8, members heard overviews from the state’s major retirement systems.

Buster Evans, Executive Director of the Teachers Retirement System, provided an introduction to TRS. He explained that the two main purposes of TRS is recruitment and retention of teachers. TRS currently has approximately 237,000 active contributing members and 137,000 retirees (including 81 over the age of 100) receiving benefits ($5.2B per year). Mr. Evans noted that FY20 was a volatile year, with TRS’s assets falling from $85B to $62B before ending with a 5% increase in assets for the year. TRS’s current funding ratio is 76.7% (top third in the nation), and it is working to pay off its unfunded accrued liability by 2042. Mr. Evans highlighted several trends, including 18% growth so far in the current fiscal year, low but increasing retirement rates, fewer account refunds, and an increasing death rate of members since April. After several questions from legislators, Chairman Carson invited a continued conversation with TRS about opportunities to accelerate the payoff of its unfunded accrued liability.

Jim Potvin, Executive Director of the Employees’ Retirement System, spoke next to the Committee about the retirement plans that it administers, including the Legislative Retirement System. Total assets for these plans are about $19B, and their funding ratio is 75.6%.

After Mr. Potvin concluded his presentation, the Committee adjourned.

House Energy, Utilities, and Telecommunications Committee
Chairman Don Parson (R-Marietta) called the meeting to order and explained that the meeting would be short as the committee would only be voting to approve its rules. He began by calling on the new members of the committee to introduce themselves.

Chairman Parson also offered his assistance to any member of the committee as the session continues. The committee approved the rules and then adjourned.

Senate Health & Human Services Committee
Chairman Ben Watson and the Health and Human Services Committee met for a brief meeting. The Committee introduced its newest three members: Senator Michelle Au (a physician); Senator Bo Hatchett; and Senator Sonya Halpern. The Committee also adopted its Committee Rules for activity moving forward.

Senator Kay Kirkpatrick (R-Marietta) presented her legislation for the Committee’s consideration. SB 5 amends Title 43 relating to sedation in non-hospital settings. The bill directs the Georgia Composite Medical Board to establish rules regarding the use of sedation in “office based surgeries,” which are defined as “any surgery or invasive medical procedure requiring sedation, when performed in a location other than a hospital, hospital associated surgical center, or an ambulatory surgical facility, including, but not limited to, physicians' offices and medispas.” Senator Kirkpatrick explained that this legislation was previously passed by the Senate in 2020 but was caught in the last moments of the session. It is the result of some bad patient outcomes which occurred in Cobb County; one of those resulted in a $60 million verdict against the physician. Medi spas are presently licensed by the Secretary of State and not by the Composite Medical Board or Georgia Board of Dentistry. The Composite Medical Board and Board of Dentistry have proper procedures (Dental Board has a certification process and Medical Board is in the process of creating such). The rules will outline proper equipment, personnel and monitoring requirements; the legislation does not. There is no change to “scope of practice” in the legislation. Senator Chuck Hufstetler (R-Rome) inquired about how unlicensed individuals in the medi spas are obtaining access to the sedation medications; Senator Kirkpatrick said she did not know. Dr. Alex Gross, with the Composite Medical Board, testified in support of the legislation as did Scott Lofranco, general counsel with the Georgia Dental Association. Senator Au inquired if the proposal mirrored the American Society of Anesthesiologists’ office-based regulations. Jet Toney, the lobbyist for the Georgia Society of Anesthesiologists, also spoke in support of the proposal, indicating it was policy two-decades in the making. SB 5 received a DO PASS recommendation and now moves to the Senate Rules Committee.

Senate Insurance & Labor Committee
The Senate Insurance and Labor Committee, chaired by Senator Dean Burke (R-Bainbridge), met this afternoon for a brief meeting to adopt committee rules and appoint subcommittees.

General Insurance Subcommittee:

  • Chair: Senator Larry Walker III (R-Perry)
  • Member: Senator Marty Harbin (R-Tyrone)
  • Member: Senator Ed Harbison (D-Columbus)

Health and Workman’s Comp Subcommittee:

  • Chair: Senator Ben Watson (R-Savannah)
  • Member: Senator Freddie Powell Sims (D-Dawson)
  • Member: Senator Randy Robertson (R-Catuala)

The committee also heard brief introductory comments from Insurance Commissioner John King who thanked members of the committee for their work with him in his past year as commissioner. He noted the challenges for the state due to COVID-19 and expressed hope that the committee will take a consumer friendly approach as it considers legislation this session.

Senate Regulated Industries Committee
Chairman Bill Cowsert and his Regulated Industries Committee delved into the broadband issues and how Georgia can expand broadband to its citizens, particularly in rural areas of the state. At today’s hearing, lawmakers heard from the cable, telecom and satellite industries. The Committee focused on what businesses are doing presently; their forward looking plans; funding options; impediments to expansion; and possible solutions. All mentioned the Governor’s proposals in FY 2021 Amended and FY 2022 budgets to expand broadband - a total $30 million investment. Some of the funding options for expansion included addressing the sales tax exemption on large equipment; franchise fees; right-of-way fees; and pole attachment fees. The cost of deploying broadband also impacts the price to customers. The Committee did hear the concerns around the Public Service Commission’s decision on pole attachment fees; a new rate goes into effect as of July 1, 2021 of $27.71 and $1.00 for rural areas for a limited time of six years. Comcast indicated that this was especially expensive to the connections on EMC poles; they had proposed use of a FCC formula be used. The Satellite Broadcasting Association mentioned the flexibility of their technology, including the launch of two new satellites by Hughes and ViaSat, and its capacity which has increased since 2017. The Satellite Broadcasting Association proposed to do a pilot project for rural areas to show effectiveness. Kinetic Windstream also presented at today’s hearing, noting its $525 million investment in Georgia and $40 million taxes paid. They have surpassed 500,000 homes served and are committed to a $2 billion fiber investment initiative over 18 states. Kinetic Windstream noted they had worked on projects in areas such as Irwinton, Ft. Gaines, Big Canoe and other locations. Kinetic Windstream also has plans for opening a call center in Moultrie.

New Legislation

The House read and assigned the following legislation to committee today:

  • HB 212, authored by Representative Kasey Carpenter (R-Dalton), seeks to amend O.C.G.A. § 31-39-4(d) regarding parental for resuscitation of a child. It proposes to add that: When a minor child is a candidate for non resuscitation, an order not to resuscitate may be issued only with the oral or written consent of the minor’s parent, unless an exception applies pursuant to subsection (e) of this Code section.” The bill was referred to the House Judiciary Committee.
  • HB 213, authored by Representative Mary Robichaux (D-Atlanta), amends Titles 20, 26, 31, and 43 to provide full practice authority for advanced practice registered nurses ("APRN"). Specifically, the bill would allow APRNs to order any pharmacological agent, medical device, medical treatment, diagnostic study, or radiographic imaging test; receive and distribute professional samples; pronounce death; and sign any form which a physician is required to sign by law. The bill was referred to the House Health & Human Services Committee.
  • HB 214, authored by Representative Mary Robichaux (D-Atlanta), would amend Title 49 to allow individuals to buy-in to the state's Medicaid plan. The bill provides for premiums based on an affordability scale and enrollment periods that are no less extensive than those provided under the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The bill was referred to the House Health & Human Services Committee.
  • HB 215, authored by Representative Mary Robichaux (D-Atlanta), amends Title 49 to require the Department of Community Health to take efforts to extend the temporary use of telehealth options during the pandemic emergency to a permanent status. The bill also requires the Department to develop a system of certification, recertification, and training of providers of medical assistance via telehealth options. The bill was referred to the House Health & Human Services Committee.
  • HB 216, authored by Representative Chuck Efstration (R-Dacula), amends Title 19 to require that an individual seeking court declaration that he or she is a child's equitable caregiver demonstrate to the court that the child will suffer physical harm or long-term emotional harm and that continuing the relationship between such individual and the child is in the best interest of the child. The bill also provides that an equitable caregiver can have his or her custodial rights to a child removed upon the finding by a court that one or both parents are no longer a risk of causing physical harm or long-term emotional harm to the child. The bill was assigned to the House Juvenile Justice Committee.
  • HB 217, authored by Representative Mary Robichaux (D-Roswell), seeks to add two new Code sections. It proposes to add at O.C.G.A. §31-2-17 that the Department of Community Health provide an annual report on quality for quality measures on each plan or program it administers – this would apply to the State Health Benefit Plan for state employees and teachers, Medicaid, and PeachCare for Kids. It also adds at O.C.G.A. § 49-4=159.1 that the Department is to provide for comprehensive dental and vision coverage for adults in its Medicaid program and make such necessary State Plan Amendment to accomplish this. The bill was assigned to the House Health & Human Services Committee.
  • HB 219, authored by Representative Mary Robichaux (D-Atlanta), amends Title 28 to require the Office of Planning and Budget and Department of Community Health establish a pilot program to evaluate whether health notes to assess the potential health impact by proposed legislation should be required by the General Assembly. The pilot program would evaluate the value and utility of health notes, the cost to produce such health notes, the timeliness of producing health notes, and which public, private, academic, nonprofit, policy, or other organizations or entities should be consulted or identified to assist in producing health notes. The bill was referred to the House Health & Human Services Committee.
  • HB 221, authored by Representative Tommy Benton (R-Jefferson), amends Title 36 to provide for local boards of education to appoint members to local planning commissions. The bill was referred to the House Governmental Affairs Committee.
  • HB 226, authored by Representative Gregg Kennard (D-Atlanta), amends Title 48 to exempt tickets to a fine arts performance or exhibition in a facility owned by a nonprofit or museum of cultural significance if the organization's mission is to advance the arts and to provide arts, educational, and culturally significant programming and exhibits. The bill was assigned to the House Ways & Means Committee.
  • HB 231, authored by Representative Houston Gaines (R-Athens), amends Titles 16 and 19 to expand the applicability of protective orders involving victims of stalking, particularly relating to individuals involved in a "dating relationship" and persons through whom a past or present pregnancy has developed. The bill was assigned to the House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee.
  • HB 233, authored by Representative James Beverly (D-Macon), amends Title 17 to prohibit the use of no-knock search warrants. The bill was assigned to the Judiciary Non-Civil Committee.
  • HB 234, authored by Representative Lee Hawkins (R-Gainesville), amends Title 33 to provide an option for self-funded healthcare plans, exempt from state regulation under federal law, to opt in to Georgia's Surprise Billing Consumer Protection Act. The bill was assigned to the House Special Committee on Access to Quality Healthcare.
  • HB 239, authored by Representative Shelly Hutchinson (D-Snellville), seeks to add a new Code section at O.C.G.A. § 37-1-7 to require that the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities conduct or “directly coordinate all audits of behavioral health providers to prevent duplication with other agencies.” The bill was assigned to the House Health & Human Services Committee.
  • HB 240, authored by Representative Shelly Hutchinson (D-Atlanta), amends Title 1 to designate February 21 as "John Lewis Day". The bill was referred to the House Governmental Affairs Committee.

The Senate read and assigned the follow legislation to committee today:

  • SB 59, authored by Senator John Albers (R-Alpharetta), amends Title 20 relating to funding for local charter schools and charter systems. The bill changes the percentages for calculating FTE funding under Code Section 20-2-165.1, and also requires certain federal fund allocation and facility usage or stipends for local charter schools by local education agencies. The bill was assigned to the Senate Education & Youth Committee.
  • SB 65, authored by Senator Steve Gooch (R-Dahlonega), is a broadband services expansion effort. The legislation seeks to amend Title 46 to use the Universal Access Fund to deploy broadband services in underserved areas of the state. Further, it seeks to divide this Fund into two parts: 1) Local exchange portion; and 2) Broadband deployment portion. It also provides that the Commission be required to determine contributions which are to be a proportionate “amount based on the cost to administer the fund and each company's gross intrastate revenues from the provision of telecommunications services to end users and from the provision of broadband services to end users.” The bill was assigned to the Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities Committee.
  • SB 66, authored by Senator Jason Anavitarte (R-Dallas) amends Titles 20 and 48 to authorize a nonprofit corporation incorporated by the Georgia Foundation for Public Education to receive private donations to be used for grants to public schools. The bill also provides for the expiration of the Public Education Innovation Fund Foundation's authority to promote public-private partnerships and to receive private donations to be used for grants to public schools. The bill was assigned to the Senate Education & Youth Committee.
  • SR 50, authored by Senator Larry Walker III (R-Perry), recognizes Together Georgia. The resolution was read and adopted.

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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