Gold Dome Report – Legislative Day 29 2022

Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough LLP

After a late night, both the House and Senate had an afternoon start time. Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) announced the passage of 60 bills in the House yesterday. Meanwhile, Governor Kemp held a press conference on the signing of HB 910, the FY 2022 Amended Budget (a $30.2 billion dollar spending plan to end on June 30, 2022), which contains in part pay raises for state employees and teachers. Discussions on addressing the growing concerns around mental health continued to percolate today as the Senate held additional hearings on Speaker Ralston’s HB 1013, the Mental Health Parity Act.

More Crossover Day bill passage in this #GoldDomeReport.

In this Report:

  • Floor Action
  • Committee Reports
  • New Legislation
  • What’s Next

Floor Action

The House of Representatives took up the following measures after our deadline on Tuesday:

  • HB 424 - Income tax; change certain definitions - PASSED (166-0)
  • HB 830 - Courts; limiting sheriffs to one additional salary for serving as the sheriff of multiple courts; repeal provisions - PASSED (170-1)
  • HB 931 - Ad valorem tax; contents of certificates of title of motor vehicles; revise - PASSED (167-0)
  • HB 937 - Medicaid; coverage for annual mammograms at no cost to recipient; provide - PASSED (170-1)
  • HB 972 - Professional counselors; licensing requirements; change certain definitions - PASSED (165-1)
  • HB 1034 - Sales and use tax; exemption for sales of admissions to nonrecurring major sporting events; revise - PASSED (155-15)
  • HB 1068 - State government; service of process for state tort claims; revise provisions - PASSED (166-2)
  • HB 1184 - Education; college entrance exam to public school students in grade 11; require administration - PASSED (166-4)
  • HB 1187 - Sales and use tax; exemption for certain high-technology data center equipment; extend sunset - PASSED (153-14)
  • HB 1283 - Quality Basic Education Act; recess for students in kindergarten and grades one through five; provide - PASSED (155-12)
  • HB 1335 - Holidays and observances; provide for Public Safety Week - PASSED (152-2)
  • HB 1350 - Wills, trusts, and administration of estates; executors to send notices to beneficiaries regarding filing of petitions to probate wills; require - PASSED (169-0)
  • HB 1354 - Wrongful Conviction Compensation Act; enact - PASSED (157-11)
  • HB 1382 - Local government; require directors to do yearly continuing education - PASSED (162-4)
  • HB 1387 - Motor vehicles and traffic; suspension for failure to pay a civil penalty for a violation of overtaking a school bus or speeding in a school zone; provide - PASSED (136-29)
  • HB 1405 - The Zoning Procedures Law; revise - PASSED (160-1)
  • HB 1424 - Georgia Lottery for Education Act; administrative procedures regarding coin operated amusement machines shall be subject to Chapter 13 of Title 50; provide - PASSED (100-67)
  • HB 1425 - Medical cannabis; Governor to issue initial Class 1 and Class 2 production licenses for a limited time period; authorize - PASSED (169-5)
  • HB 1435 - Education; needs based financial aid program; include eligibility for students with a financial aid gap - PASSED (171-3)
  • HB 1464 - Georgia Bureau of Investigation; original jurisdiction to investigate election fraud and elections crimes; provide - PASSED (98-73)
  • HB 1482 - Education; eligibility criteria for project specific capital outlay grants for low-wealth schools systems; revise - PASSED (169-0)
  • HB 1515 - Education; tuition equalization grants at private colleges and universities; revise definition of approved school - PASSED (167-0)
  • HB 1516 - Georgia Music Hall of Fame Authority; provide for definitions; provisions - PASSED (169-0)
  • HB 1520 - Georgia Council on Addressing Health Care Workforce Challenges; create - PASSED (157-10)
  • HB 1533 - Professions and businesses; professional programs that address career fatigue and wellness in healthcare professionals are not obligated to report to licensing boards except in certain circumstances; provide - PASSED (167-2)
  • HB 1553 - Bishop's Law; enact - PASSED (171-0)

The Senate took up the following measures on Tuesday:

  • SR 131 - General Assembly; law for pari-mutuel betting on horse racing; provide - CA - FAILED (33-20), RECONSIDERED
  • SR 613 - Georgia Building Authority and the State of Georgia ADA Coordinator's Office; develop a plan to make the Georgia State Capitol building more accessible for individuals with disabilities; urge - PASSED (49-0)
  • SR 623 - Election and Term of Members; implementation of staggered terms of office for members of the Senate; provide -CA - PASSED (49-3)
  • SB 108 - Commission for the Blind and the Visually Impaired; create - PASSED (41-12)
  • SB 171 - "Safe Communities Act of 2021; enact - PASSED (31-21)
  • SB 212 - "Harry Geisinger Rural Georgia Jobs and Growth Act"; enact - TABLED
  • SB 227 - Eminent Domain; alternative process for a county, municipality, or consolidated government to condemn certain blighted properties; provide - PASSED (35-17)
  • SB 279 - State Flag, Seal, and Other Symbols; placement of a monument to honor the Original 33; provide - PASSED (51-0)
  • SB 468 - Georgia State Indemnification Fund; death by suicide of a public safety officer in certain instances be considered a death in the line of duty for purposes of indemnification; provide - PASSED (48-3)
  • SB 491 - Revenue and Taxation; a qualified down payment savings program to be implemented by the Department of Revenue; create - PASSED (49-2)
  • SB 498 - Education Accountability; recognition of certain accrediting agencies as reliable authorities as to the quality of education offered in secondary schools; provide - PASSED (51-0)
  • SB 504 - Bonds and Recognizances; the term "bail restricted offense"; redefine - PASSED (30-22)
  • SB 510 - Motor Vehicle; operation of motor vehicles by Class D license holders with certain passengers in the vehicle; remove a restriction - PASSED (38-13)
  • SB 512 - Gambling; dogfighting; revise provisions - PASSED (49-2)
  • SB 537 - "Georgia Food Insecurity Eradication Act"; enact - PASSED (51-0)
  • SB 539 - Wiretapping, Eavesdropping, Surveillance; use of any device to photograph or record patients in a health care facility shall be unlawful; provide - PASSED (48-3)
  • SB 543 - Wrongful Death; a parent who is determined to be responsible for the homicide of his or her child shall have no right of recovery against the value of the child's life; provide - PASSED (52-0)
  • SB 545 - Core Curriculum; schools to provide training in first aid, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, and the use of an automated external defibrillator for students in grades nine or ten; require - PASSED (52-0)
  • SB 552 - Superior Courts; eighth judge of the superior courts of the Coweta Judicial Circuit; provide - TABLED
  • SB 572 - Taxes On Tobacco And Vaping Products; Attorney General to establish a vapor product directory; provide - PASSED (32-19)
  • SB 575 - Education; local boards of education shall review the financial status of the local school system at least quarterly rather than monthly, subject to an exception; provide - PASSED (41-11)
  • SB 576 - Grandparents or Family Members Visitation Rights; provisions regarding visitation actions brought by certain grandparents of minor children; revise - PASSED (49-0)
  • SB 588 - Local Boards of Education; all meetings of local boards of education shall be open to the public except as otherwise provided by law; provide - PASSED (32-20)
  • SB 591 - Secondary Metals Recyclers; shall be illegal for certain persons to purchase, possess, obtain, or sell used, detached catalytic converters, used utility wire, or used communications copper; provide - PASSED (46-3)
  • HB 603 - Public School Property and Facilities; an outdoor learning spaces pilot program; provide - PASSED (48-2)
  • SB 610 - Department of Community Health; conduct a comprehensive review of provider reimbursement rates for home and community based services covered by the waiver programs; require - PASSED (51-0)

The House considered the following measures were left on the table Tuesday night:

  • HR 581 - General Assembly; net proceeds of one or more lottery games to support economic development; authorize - CA
  • HR 894 - General Assembly; appropriate all unanticipated federal funding allocated for a fiscal year if the sum exceeds $100 million; provide – CA
  • HB 1499 - Gwinnett County; State Court; provide additional judge
  • HB 1530 - Education; provide for HOPE small business grants

The Senate considered the following measures on Wednesday:

  • HB 891 - Banking and finance; financial institutions; provide for numerous updates - PASSED (50-0)
  • HB 963 - Controlled substances; Schedule I and IV; change certain provisions - PASSED (48-0)
  • HB 1233 - Natural Resources, Department of; earliest effective date for certain rules and regulations; delay - PASSED (42-6)
  • HB 1302 - Income tax; one-time tax credit for taxpayers who filed returns for both 2020 and 2021 taxable years; provide - PASSED (47-4)
  • HB 1320 - Revenue and taxation; Internal Revenue Code and Internal Revenue Code of 1986; define terms and incorporate certain provisions of federal law into Georgia law - passed (48-0)

Committee Reports

Senate Health and Human Services Committee

Chairman Ben Watson (R-Savannah) and his Committee took up the following bills this morning:

  • HB 1186, authored by Representative Penny Houston (R-Nashville), seeks to address hearing screening tests for children. Representative Houston presented her legislation which specifically amends O.C.G.A. 43-44-7 so as to permit children up to age 22 years of age to be screened by individuals who are not audiologists through non-diagnostic electro-physiologic screenings of the auditory system using otoacoustic emissions or auditory brainstem response technology to help identify communication disorders. Current law allows these screenings now from birth to three months. Individuals conducting these screenings are subject to compliance with the Department of Public Health’s notifiable disease reporting requirements. The legislation received a DO PAS recommendation and was noted that the Georgia Academy of Audiology supports the legislation. The legislation will be carried in the Senate by Senator Kay Kirkpatrick (R-Marietta).
  • HB 1355, authored by Representative Katie Dempsey (R-Rome), seeks to address children’s exposure to lead and create the Childhood Lead Exposure Control Act in Chapter 41 of Title 31. The legislation is the result of the study committee report. 80 percent of exposure, per Representative Dempsey, is from exposure to lead paint which is in one-third of the dwellings and was outlawed in 1978. The legislation seeks to lower the amount of lead permitted to the federal requirement of 3.5 (from 10). The Georgia builders, apartment homeowners, and realtors support the effort. There were also questions concerning the abatement and remediation process and what was required. Senator Kennedy asked about the standards for remediation which would be developed by the EPD. Others also raised inquiries about how long a family might be displaced from their home once it was determined that there was lead in the home. EPD and the Department of Public Health are both involved in this effort, and there are provisions in the legislation regarding what notice is required to be given to the owner of the property. No vote was taken today on this legislation.

Senate Health and Human Services Committee - Subcommittee on Mental Health Parity (HB 1013)

Senator Dean Burke (R-Bainbridge) was tapped to chair this Subcommittee which met this morning to take up comment on the legislation authored by Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) and carried by Representative Mary Margaret Oliver (D-Decatur) and Representative Todd Jones (R-Cumming). This morning the following testified to the legislation:

  • Tim Clement, with the American Psychiatric Association, spoke to the legislation and how it was needed as 400 individuals die daily from suicide or substance abuse issues. His comments were centered on how Georgia needed comprehensive mental health parity law and discussed the new definitions in the bill addressing medical necessity. He also spoke about SB 342, the Senate version of mental health parity, but noted his preference for the House bill.
  • Jesse Wethington, CEO of Georgia Association of Health Plans, and his Association’s attorney, David Shillcutt, talked more about the Association’s support of parity but concerns around the definitions of generally accepted standards and practices in HB 1013. He emphasized the desire of the plans to utilize the nationally accepted protocols such as Interqual and Milliman. The bill now permits the use of third-party vendors' determinations on clinical standards that underlie medical necessity determinations. They also raised some comments around the bill’s reporting requirements to the Department of Insurance and how those might be set by the Department.
  • Brenda Fitzgerald, MD, who chaired the Behavioral Health Reform and Innovation Commission, spoke about some of the comments that the Commission had received and how the system was difficult to navigate. She also pointed out that average lengths of stay in facilities were not long enough for patients to make progress. Further, a study has been conducted by CHOA on these stays for children and how they cycle back through facilities. She noted particularly the state’s psychiatric residential treatment facilities under contract with the Departments of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities and Community Health and how they saw children in 2020 with an average of three admissions to PRTFs and also two suicide attempts. Further due to payment, they found that the PRTFs had 39 percent of their beds filled by out-of-state children. Dr. Fitzgerald noted the issue of the two visits by a child in one day to a provider; however, only one could be reimbursed. Dr. Fitzgerald noted that the standards of care need to be clinical and those are more defined in HB 1013 than in the Senate’s bill. Further, she stated that the Senate bill only applied to private plans and not the State’s plans. She noted also the defined monetary benefits found in HB 1013. There were questions around the use of the NQTL and network adequacy in light of the state’s healthcare workforce problems.
  • There were other commenters:
    • MS Society spoke in support of the legislation.
    • Roland Behm, an attorney and on behalf of the Georgia Chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, also spoke in favor of the legislation. He mentioned the use of Interqual and Milliman in the third-party vendors, noting in particular Change Health Care which supports the language.

An additional hearing on HB 1013 will be held on Thursday.

Senate Insurance and Labor Committee

Chairman Dean Burke and the Insurance and Labor Committee moved swiftly through several measures:

  • HB 1021, authored by Representative Eddie Lumsden (R-Armuchee), is a bill proposing to amend O.C.G.A. 33-28-3(d), addressing future annuities when they are terminated so as to decrease the minimum nonforfeiture interest rate for individual deferred annuities from 1 percent to 0.15 percent. The language proposed for the bill on deferred annuities is from NAIC. The legislation received a DO PASS recommendation and moves forward to the Senate Rules Committee. It will be carried in the Senate by Chairman Burke.
  • HB 1195, also authored by Representative Lumsden, is a bill requested by ACCG and GMA regarding their audit requirements in Chapter 85 of Title 36 for the risk management programs which they manage. It allows these entities to use statutory accounting principles or generally accepted accounting principles. This legislation also received a DO PASS recommendation and moves forward to the Senate Rules Committee. Senator Larry Walker, III (R-Perry) will carry the legislation in the Senate.
  • HB 969, authored by Representative Tyler Paul Smith (R-Bremen), is a revision to Chapter 13 of Title 33 to Georgia’s Insurance Holdings Act and is a NAIC update to the Model Act. The legislation is required to keep NAIC accreditation. This legislation also received a DO PASS recommendation and moves forward to the Senate Rules Committee. Chairman Dean Burke will carry the bill in the Senate.
  • HB 1059, authored by Representative Matthew Gambill (R-Cartersville), provides for exclusions to unfair trade practices and unlawful inducements by allowing insurers or an insurance producer to offer or provide a value-added product or service under certain conditions in added Code section at O.C.G.A. 33-24-59.31. It is based on NAIC model law and NCOIL also has similar language. It also addresses inducements. Costs are to be reasonable based on premiums and the products are to be designed to reduce claims. 10 other states have passed similar laws. The bill received a DO PASS recommendation and moves forward to the Senate Rules Committee. Senator Larry Walker, III (R-Perry) will carry the bill in the Senate.
  • HB 1308, authored by Representative Noel Williams (R-Cordele), adds a new Code section at O.C.G.A. 33-24-14.1 so as to allow a plan sponsor of a health benefit plan to consent on behalf of an enrollee to the electronic delivery of all communications related to the plan and the health insurance identification card for such plan. These communications will be done using measures to ensure privacy. The legislation does not require an insurer to use electronic means - it is permissive. The bill received a DO PASS recommendation and now moves to the Senate Rules Committee. Senator Larry Walker, III (R-Perry) will carry the bill in the Senate.
  • HB 1324, authored by Representative Beth Camp (R-), amends Chapter 11 of Title 31 and Title 33. It seeks to clarify that the prudent layperson standard is not affected by the diagnoses given and provides for unfair claims settlement practices. It applies to physical or mental emergency conditions. It defines “emergency condition” to mean:
    • any medical physical or mental condition of a recent onset and severity, including but not limited to severe pain, regardless of the initial, interim, final, or other diagnoses that are given, that would lead to a prudent layperson, possessing an average knowledge of medicine and health, to believe that his or her condition, sickness, or injury is of such a nature that failure to obtain immediate medical care could result in: (A) Placing the patient's health in serious jeopardy; (B) Serious impairment to bodily functions; or (C) Serious dysfunction of any bodily organ or part.

The legislation received a DO PASS recommendation and moves forward to the Senate Rules Committee. Senator Kay Kirkpatrick (R-Marietta) will carry the legislation in the Senate.

  • HB 1409, authored by Representative Bill Werkheiser (R-Glennville), is a bill that seeks to amend Chapter 9 of Title 34 and which came from the Workers Comp Advisory Council. It seeks to increase maximum benefits paid for total disability and total partial disability as well as increase the benefit for surviving spouse. Chief Appellate Judge of the Workers Comp Board spoke in favor of the legislation. There were also lawyers present who testified that Georgia should raise the amounts higher as the last raise in 2019 still was inadequate and did not meet two-thirds of the average weekly wage The amount paid now is $675 per week and Georgia’s rate is the lowest in the country - even lower than Mississippi. The average wage is $1149 per week. Further, the attorneys noted that Georgia does not “index” its workers comp rate like other states (all do except Indiana). Even if Georgia moved to two-thirds the average weekly rate, it would still be among the five lowest state amounts. Representative Werkheiser noted that he had offered another bill to address indexing. No action was taken on HB 1409 to allow further discussion.

New Legislation

The following legislation of interest has been introduced in the House:

H.B.1559 Pharmacists; dispense opioid antagonists to individuals who have been prescribed opioids; authorize GA Rep. Ron Stephens (R-GA-164)
H.R.998 General Assembly; biomarker testing as a necessary part of precision medicine; recognize benefits GA Rep. Sharon Cooper (R-GA-043)

The following legislation of interest has been introduced in the Senate:

S.B.614 Controlled Substances; delta-8-THC derived from hemp is not considered marijuana; provide GA Sen. Jeff Mullis (R-GA-053)
S.R.677 Brain Awareness Week; recognizing the week of March 14-20, 2022 GA Sen. Dean Burke (R-GA-011)
S.R.679 Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month; recognizing March GA Sen. Sonya Halpern (D-GA-039)

What’s Next

The General Assembly will reconvene for Legislative Day 30 on Thursday, March 17 at 10 a.m.

The Senate is expected to consider the following propositions on Legislative Day 30:

  • SR 544 - World Taiwanese Chamber of Commerce; commend
  • HR 683 - Property; granting of nonexclusive easements; authorize
  • HB 304 - Revenue and taxation; medical equipment and supplies manufacturers and pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturers; provide tax credit
  • HB 1145 - Georgia State Indemnification Fund; death of public safety officer due to COVID-19 be a death in the line of duty; 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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