Whew! The pace is becoming fever pitched as lawmakers push toward crossover day! Sports betting remains a hot topic - both on the Floor and in committee. We report more on that below. Yet, Georgia’s management of the pandemic is still front and center as Governor Kemp and Commissioner of the Department of Public Health Kathleen Toomey, MD provided an update on vaccine distribution to Georgians. As a part of that update, Governor Kemp announced that educators are included in the next eligibility group to be vaccinated according to the latest release.
Meanwhile, on the floors of both chambers, there were bills which advanced forward. On the Senate side, two bills, SB 105, authored by Senator Brian Strickland (R-McDonough), addresses updates to Georgia’s statewide probation system and SB 159 which addresses student transportation to and from Georgia schools to allow the use of other forms of transportation besides traditional school buses, passed unanimously. On the House floor, there were these pieces of legislation of note:
- HB 34, the Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology Interstate Compact (passed 165-1)
- HB 141, the legislation addressing the Georgia Crime Victims Emergency Fund (passed 167-0)
- HB 442, the legislation adding social media management to parenting plans in child custody proceedings (passed unanimously 154-0) and
- HB 86, the initiative creating the Georgia Lottery-Mobile Sports Wagering Integrity Act (postponed until the next legislative day)
More on today’s actions are included below.
In today’s Report:
- Committee Reports
- New Legislation
- Rules Calendars for Legislative Day 24
Senate Judiciary Committee
The Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Senator Brian Strickland (R-McDonough), met late on Wednesday to consider the following measures:
- SB 10, authored by Senator Emanuel Jones (D-Decatur), amends Title 16 and Title 40 to provide for the offense of illegal drag racing and laying drags. The bill also creates an offense for knowingly attending an illegal drag race or laying drag exhibition.
Senator Jones presented the bill to the Committee, which recommended the bill DO PASS and be sent to the Rules Committee.
- SB 92, authored by Senator Randy Robertson (R-Cataula), amends Title 16 to prohibit the sale to and by minors of drug products containing dextromethorphan, an ingredient in over-the-counter cough syrup.
Senator Robertson presented the bill to the Committee, which amended the bill to clarify that no local government can provide for further regulation on this issue. The Committee recommended the bill DO PASS by Committee Substitute and be sent to the Rules Committee.
- SB 117, authored by Representative Butch Miller (R-Gainesville), amends multiple Titles to provide for an offense of improper sexual conduct of a minor by a person in a position of trust.
Senator Miller presented the bill to the Committee, which would create a new felony in cases, for example, where private sports coaches improperly touch minor players. This conduct already constitutes a felony in the school setting. Senator Miller noted the bill was inspired by a case in his district, and the solicitor general for Athens provided another anecdotal example. The Committee recommended the bill DO PASS by Committee Substitute and be sent to the Rules Committee.
- SB 155, authored by Senator Steve Gooch (R-Dahlonega), amends Title 40 to permit information about the failure to wear a seatbelt to be included as admissible evidence in a civil action.
Senator Gooch presented the bill to the Committee, which was supported by a products liability defense attorney and the Motor Trucking Association and opposed by the Georgia Trial Lawyers Association. A motion that the bill do pass failed.
- SB 163, authored by Senator Brian Strickland (R-McDonough), amends Title 38 to allow a chief judge of a Georgia superior court judicial circuit of a chief judge of a Georgia state court to suspend or modify statutory speedy trial requirements following a judicial emergency. These actions are permissible under specific situations where speedy trial requirements are impractical due to a specific list of factors in the bill including case volume, low case clearance rate, ongoing space limitations, and limited number of judges. The Chief Justice of the Georgia Supreme Court may reinstate speedy trial requirements in any jurisdiction at his or her discretion.
The bill was previously heard by the Committee, and the Committee recommended the bill DO PASS and be sent to the Rules Committee.
- SB 168, authored by Senator Larry Walker III (R-Perry), amends Title 14 to provide that a corporation may hold annual shareholders meetings virtually.
Senator Walker presented the bill to the Committee, which recommended the bill DO PASS and be sent to the Rules Committee.
- SB 185, authored by Senator Bo Hatchett (R-Cornelia), amends Title 48 to provide that subregulatory guidance, interpretation, or decisions of the Department of Revenue are not afforded deference by the Georgia Tax Tribunal or a court of law.
Senator Hatchett presented the bill to the Committee, and the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce spoke in support. Both noted that this bill has been narrowed from a version considered last year and is a product of collaboration with the Department of Revenue and other stakeholders. The Committee recommended the bill DO PASS and be sent to the Rules Committee.
House Education Committee
The House Education Committee, chaired (remotely) by Representative Matt Dubnik (R-Gainesville), to consider one bill:
- HB 60, authored by Representative Wes Cantrell (R-Woodstock), is the "Georgia Educational Scholarship Act."
Representative Cantrell, appearing before the Committee for a second time on the bill, presented a substitute to the group, which has been rebranded as the “Georgia Personalized Educational Plan Act.” He described the following changes to the bill from the original version: a requirement of an annual audit of the program, an updated description of the parental review committee, a lower cap of 2.5% of the statewide student population, and recognition of the Five Mill Share in a student’s scholarship allocation. Representative Cantrell then addressed concerns brought to him about the bill, beginning with the argument that the scholarship will be used by rich white families in private schools already--he stated that those students would not be eligible, nor would home study students. He also stated that the legislature has never been more supportive financially of public schools than in the past several years.
After explaining how public schools have been using CARES Act funding during the pandemic, Representative Bee Nguyen (D-Atlanta) asked if there is a fiscal note on the bill, to which Representative Cantrell said no because there will be no new fiscal impact to the State. Representative Dominic LaRiccia (R-Douglas) asked for details on the author’s efforts to adjust the bill to meet critics’ concerns, to which Representative Cantrell recounted conversations with a number of stakeholder groups. Representative Jan Jones (R-Milton) commented that school districts have received substantial unrestricted funds during the pandemic and decreased costs and have large reserves such that public schools are not underfunded. Representative Mesha Mainor (D-Atlanta) voiced her support for the bill. Representative Ed Setzler (R-Acworth) stated that students taking a scholarship “line the pockets” of their home districts and per pupil funding increases in districts where students access the scholarship. Representative Dave Belton (R-Buckhead) pressed the author on the actual cost of the program. Representative Miriam Paris (D-Macon) expressed concern about dueling numbers around the cost of the bill and diverting funds away from a public system that is struggling.
Public testimony in support of the bill included: Cole Muzio of the Georgia Family Policy Alliance; David Casas of the Libre Initiative; Tim Abram of ExcelInEd; Michael O’Sullivan of GeorgiaCAN; Adam Pipkin of the Faith and Freedom Coalition; Paul Smith of Citizen Impact and the Georgia Association of Christian Schools; Jamie Lord representing the American Federation for Children.
Public testimony in opposition to the bill included: Stephen Owens of the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute; Lisa Morgan of the Georgia Association of Educators; Buddy Costley of the Georgia Association of Educational Leaders (also representing the John Zauner of the Georgia School Superintendents Association); a representative of the Southern Education Foundation; Mike McGowan representing Cherokee County Schools and the Georgia Education Coalition; Karen Hallacy of Georgia PTA; Gretchen Walton of Cobb County Schools; Claire Suggs of the Professional Association of Georgia Educators; Scott Bierman of the Georgia School Board Association.
The Committee recommended the bill DO PASS by a 12-10 vote.
House Juvenile Justice Committee
Chairman Mandi Ballinger (R-Canton) and the Juvenile Justice Committee had four measures on the agenda this afternoon. The Committee held HB 403, authored by Representative Marcus Wiedower(R-Watkinsville), in an effort to keep working on the legislation. HB 403 proposes to be known as the Georgia Child Advocate for the Protection of Children Act so as to require that attorneys are properly trained and vetted when they represent children in court proceedings. Representative Wiedower indicated that the bill will place some “guardrails” on attorneys practicing in this area. Other bills, which received action, were:
- HB 322, authored by Representative Marcus Wiedower (R-Watkinsville),seeks to Titles 15 and 19 to amend the definition of “sexual exploitation” and removes the reference to prostitution. HB 322 received a DO PASS recommendation and the bill moves forward to the House Rules Committee.
- HB 464, authored by Representative Mitchell Scoggins (R-Cartersville), addresses Title 29 (Chapters 2 and 9) regarding temporary guardianships of children and youth. Representative Scoggins worked with Georgia’s probate judges on this legislation. In current law, a probate judge, if a guardianship action is brought to them, is required to issue an order of guardianship - the judge has no denial right and has not ability to transfer the case to juvenile court. A juvenile court has the ability to have the Division of Family and Children’s Services to conduct an investigation; a probate court has no such ability to get a home study. A number of questions were posed around the legislation including if there was a fiscal note on the bill. Representative Shelly Hutchinson (D-Snellville) indicated she had concerns that this could create more workload for DFCS. She also reminded folks that judges are mandated reporters and could make a report if there was a suspicion of abuse in the transfer of guardianship. DFCS Director Tom Rawlings indicated he was in favor of the legislation. The bill received a DO PASS recommendation, and the bill now moves to the House Rules Committee.
- HB 548, authored by Representative Katie Dempsey (R-Rome), is a DFCS bill in O.C.G.A. 49-5-41 regarding the reasonable access to child abuse records. It follows the legislation passed in 2020, HB 993, and authorizes the Administrative Office of the Courts to facilitate sharing of information so that DFCS and the Department of Community Health may share the reporting of data to be HIPAA compliant. It will allow the SHINES and CPRS system to share this information, and if passed, it will prevent Georgia from jeopardizing receipt of federal funds. The legislation received a DO PASS recommendation, and the bill now moves to the House Rules Committee.
House Judiciary Committee
Chairman Chuck Efstration (R-Dacula) and the House Judiciary Committee had nine bills on the Committee agenda this afternoon. The following pieces of legislation were addressed:
- HB 468, authored by Representative Kasey Carpenter (R-Dalton), addresses protections for small businesses in O.C.G.A. 38-3-59 in the event of a public health emergency. It allows small businesses to continue to operate if they are able to follow all guidelines to operate. NFIB supported the legislation. The bill received a DO PASS recommendation, and the bill now moves to the House Rules Committee.
- HB 334, authored by Representative Joseph Gullett, (R-Dallas), seeks to establish permission for on-line notaries and on-line notarization of documents in Titles 15, 44, 45 and 50. The majority of states allow on-line notarization. Georgia is somewhat different as it is a closing attorney state. The legislation received a lot of debate and review prior to reaching the full committee. The bill received a DO PASS recommendation, and the bill now moves to the House Rules Committee.
- HB 470, authored by Representative Dale Washburn (R-Macon),adds at O.C.G.A. 44-3-83(f) that no plans are required when units are not designated by physical structures (in an effort to address large property developments and financing issues when no floor plans are in place). There were no questions posed. The bill received a DO PASS recommendation, and it now moves to the House Rules Committee.
- HB 480, also authored by Representative Washburn, addresses mechanics and materialmen’s liens so as to include registered interior designers in Chapter 14 of Title 44. The legislation received a DO PASS recommendation, and it now moves to the House Rules Committee.
- HB 553, authored by Representative Stan Gunter (R-Blairsville), is a bill brought by the chief judge of Administrative Law Judges which seeks changes in Chapter 13 of Title 50. It allows the judges to conduct hearings remotely and permits the use of electronic filings and service. No additional cost is required. The legislation received a DO PASS recommendation, and the bill now moves to the House Rules Committee.
- HB 554, also authored by Representative Gunter, addresses lis pendens law in Chapter 14 of Title 44 and allows more courtroom control and permits judicial discretion so that a judge may place a lis pendens on real property and also lift such. The changes also apply to domestic cases. The legislation received a DO PASS recommendation, and the bill now moves to the House Rules Committee.
- HB 635, authored by Representative Rob Leverett (R-Elberton), addresses in Titles 15 and 17 the ability of judges to execute orders remotely (in superior, state, probate and magistrate courts). It also addresses locations for holding court in a new Code section at O.C.G.A. 15-6-18 outside of the courthouse in emergency situations and the designation of alternative locations. Judge Kathy Gosselin spoke in favor of the legislation as it gives flexibility. The Council of Superior Court Judges also supports the bill. Two amendments, offered by Representative Stacey Evans (D-Atlanta), were approved. Her amendments addressed language so that court cannot be held outside of the county or adjoining county or that is not open and accessible to the public and that any governing authority approving a location for a court to be used take into account transportation to and from that location. The legislation passed as amended, and the bill now moves to the House Rules Committee.
- HB 536, authored by Representative Dominic LaRiccia (R-Douglas), seeks to add at O.C.G.A. 38-3-51(k), relating to the governor’s powers during an emergency, the prohibition of limiting the practice of religion. Representative LaRiccia argued that legislation is to prohibit executive orders from limiting church practices. The Committee had a number of questions about targeting churches and the “practice” of faith. Some expressed that the language is duplicative of the First Amendment. The legislation received a DO PASS recommendation with a vote of 6-5, and the bill now moves to the House Rules Committee.
Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities Committee
The Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities Committee, chaired by Senator Bill Cowsert (R-Athens), met today to consider multiple measures.
- SR 135, authored by Senator Jeff Mullis (R-Chickamauga), would amend the Constitution to allow for sports betting. Chairman Cowsert explained that the new substitute would specifically allocate funds generated through sports betting for needs-based college scholarships, rural health care improvements, and rural broadband expansion. He further explained that the percentages for each type of spending would not be specified so as to allow for the legislature to exercise its own discretion in the spending based on the specific needs.
Mike Griffin with the Georgia Baptist Mission and Virginia Galloway with the Faith and Freedom Coalition spoke against the measure.
Chairman Cowsert also walked the committee through the enabling legislation in the form of SB 142. The new version of the bill includes alterations to the licensing fee structure which now consist of a $10,000 application fee and $100,000 annual licensing fee.
The committee moved that both SR 135 and SB 142 DO PASS.
The committee ran up against a time limit and postponed the remaining agenda until next week.
The House read and referred the following legislation to committee today:
- HB 618, authored by Representative Bert Reeves (R-Marietta), amends Title 53 to provide elder abuse protections in wills. This bill was referred to the House Judiciary Committee.
- HB 620, authored by Representative Rob Leverett (R-Elberton), amends Title 51 to revise and clarify the procedures for the payment of settlements involving claims of minors. This bill was referred to the House Judiciary Committee.
- HB 626, authored by Representative Mike Glanton (D-Jonesboro), amends Title 20 to create a pilot program for community schools through planning and operational grants. This bill was referred to the House Education Committee.
- HB 628, authored by Representative John LaHood (R-Valdosta), amends Title 31 to provide for background checks for individuals that are independently retained to provide personal care services for elderly persons. The bill also expressly exempts any long term care facility from liability for actions conducted by the independently retained health care providers. This bill was referred to the House Human Relations and Aging Committee.
- HB 630, authored by Representative James Beverly (D-Macon), amends Title 49 to authorize the state to expand Medicaid pursuant to the Affordable Care Act. This bill was referred to the House Health and Human Services Committee.
- HB 631, authored by Representative Mike Cheokas (R-Americus), amends Title 35 to develop and maintain an information system for individuals to voluntarily provide information about difficulties to communicate accessible by first responders. This bill was referred to the House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee.
- HB 633, authored by Representative Debra Bazemore (D-Riverdale), amends Title 16 to create the Georgia Human Trafficking and Sex Crimes Directory Act and develop confidential communications procedures between victims and their advocates. This bill was referred to the House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee.
- HB 635, authored by Representative Rob Leverett (R-Elberton), amends Title 15 to allow each judge of the superior, state, probate court and each magistrate to perform any lawful judicial act regardless of their physical location when the act is performed. This bill was referred to the House Judiciary Committee.
- HB 636, authored by Representative William Boddie (D-East Point), amends Title 34 to mandate 10 minute rest breaks for every four hours worked for all eligible hourly employees in the state. This bill was referred to the House Industry and Labor Committee.
- HB 637, authored by Representative Spencer Frye (D-Athens), amends Title 31 to clarify that no person can be prosecuted for wearing a mask during or up to twelve months after a public health emergency. This bill was referred to the House Health and Human Services Committee.
- HR 228, authored by Representative Micah Gravely (R-Douglasville), recognizes February 26, 2021 as Rare Disease Day in Georgia. This resolution was adopted.
- HR 235, authored by Representative Spencer Frye (D-Athens), urges the US Congress to pass a constitutional amendment to establish voting as a right guaranteed to all eligible US citizens. This resolution was referred to the House Special Committee on Election Integrity.
The Senate read and referred the follow legislation to committee today:
- SB 243, authored by Senator Jen Jordan (D-Atlanta), amends Title 16 to include facilities and programs rendering services as a condition of a person's parole in the state's improper sexual contact by an employee laws. This bill was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
- SB 244, authored by Senator Jen Jordan (D-Atlanta), amends Titles 16 and 19 to prohibit individuals convicted of misdemeanor crimes of family violence from possessing a firearm. This bill was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
- SB 245, authored by Senator Randy Robertson (R-Cataula), amends Title 16 to prohibit public officers from enforcing any federal act that infringes on the constitutional right to bear arms. This bill was referred to the Senate Public Safety Committee.
- SB 246, authored by Senator Matt Brass (R-Newnan), amends Title 20 to expressly exempt homeschool students and their voluntary participation in learning pods from any state regulation. This bill was referred to the Senate Education and Youth Committee.
- SB 248, authored by Senator Tonya Anderson (D-Atlanta), amends Titles 17 and 42 to prohibit any court from issuing a probation sentence for longer than 60 months. This bill was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
- SB 252, authored by Senator Valencia Seay (D-Riverdale), amends Title 35 to increase the salaries of members of the General Assembly and statewide elected officials other than the Governor. This bill was referred to the Senate Rules Committee.
- SB 253, authored by Senator Nikki Merritt (D-Grayson), amends Title 21 to require posted notification of any change in polling place to be displayed at the old polling place. This bill was referred to the Senate Ethics Committee.
- SB 254, authored by Senator Tonya Anderson (D-Atlanta), amends Title 16 to reform the state's use of force laws including requirements for all deaths resulting from use of force to be investigated by a coroner. The bill only allows use of deadly force when a person believes the use of force will prevent serious bodily injury or death. This bill was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
- SB 257, authored by Senator Tonya Anderson (D-Atlanta), amends Title 35 to provide for automatic criminal record restriction for all pardoned individuals along with individuals that were charged but not convicted of a crime. This bill was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
- SR 150, authored by Senator Ed Harbison (D-Columbus), creates the Senate Crime and Youth Study Committee. This resolution was referred to the Senate Rules Committee.
- SR 151, authored by Senator Ed Harbison (D-Columbus), creates the Senate Sickle Cell Anemia Study Committee. This resolution was referred to the Senate Rules Committee.
- SR 153, authored by Senator Sally Harrell (D-Atlanta), creates the Joint PeachCare Public Option Study Committee. This resolution was referred to the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.
Rules Calendars for Legislative Day 24
The House is expected to consider the following measures on Friday for Legislative Day 24:
- HB 152 - Postsecondary education; exemption applicable to certain institutions operating on military installations or bases; revise provisions
- HB 271 - Community Health, Department of; assess one or more provider matching payments on ambulance services; authorize
- HB 275 - Fire protection and safety; random drug tests for certain firefighters, emergency medical services personnel, paramedics, and cardiac technicians; require
- HB 289 - Motor vehicles; issuance of Class C drivers' licenses; provide for requirements
- HB 336 - Agriculture; hemp farming; compliance with federal laws and regulations; provide
- HB 338 - Motor vehicles; issuance of veterans' driver's licenses; revise qualifications
- HB 370 - Health; term limits for members of joint hospital authorities; provide
- HB 384 - Motor vehicles; issuance of traffic citation to vehicle owner in lieu of individual operating motor vehicle in certain instances; provide
- HB 395 - The Professional Counselors Licensure Compact Act; enact
- HB 409 - Judicial Legal Defense Fund Commission; establish
- HB 437 - Local government; attendants at self-service motor fuel establishments to dispense motor fuel to individuals with special disabilities; require
- HB 449 - Georgia Utility Facility Protection Act; revise
- HB 458 - Georgia Composite Medical Board; require certain training relating to sexual misconduct for members
- HB 488 - Courts; increase minimum compensation for chief magistrates and others; provide
- HB 509 - Insurance; require certain insurers to make at least one reasonably priced comprehensive major medical health insurance policy available
- HR 77 - State veterans cemetery; Augusta-Richmond County; support creation
The Senate is expected to consider the following measures on Friday for Legislative Day 24:
- SB 174 - Bonds and Recognizances; appointed judges who are fulfilling a vacancy of an elected judge to issue an unsecured judicial release under certain circumstances;
- SB 198 - Department of Public Safety; subsistence and per diem allowances; receipt of badge and duty weapon upon retirement; provide
- SB 28 - Juvenile Code and Domestic Relations; provisions relating to the protection of children; strengthen, clarify and update
- SB 85 - "Max Gruver Act"; enact
- SB 201 - Revenue and Taxation; financial institutions to provide certain information related to delinquent taxpayers to the Department of Revenue under certain conditions; require
- SB 215 - Regulation of Hospitals; certified medication aides to administer certain medications to nursing home residents; authorize
- SB 221 - Ethics in Government; leadership committees; chairpersons; such committees may receive contributions and make expenditures; provide
- SB 116 - Children and Youth Services; registration of maternity supportive house residences to provide housing for pregnant women; provide
- SB 115 - Drivers' Licenses; instructional course; educating drivers and the public on best practices to implement when interacting with law enforcement officers; provide