LWVAF, Report from the Capitol, Week 9
The General Assembly returned from its 3 month suspension this week. To date it has completed Day 34. If they do not adopt a schedule for the rest of the session, Saturday and Sunday will count as legislative days even if no one is in the chambers, and Monday will be Day 37. The schedule adopted by the House, but not yet agreed to by the Senate, would have them in session next week for six days, from Monday for Day 35 through Saturday, Day 40.
Each chamber has adopted procedures to keep people safe. The galleries are closed to the public. The Senate moved the press corps to the gallery, spread out some Senators who sit at their desks and other members occupy the press area in the back. Each still had to make motions from their desk and cast their votes at their desk. The House spread out their members into the gallery and into Room 341. Voting is done by voice and takes 10-15 minutes each time, slowing progress considerably. Everyone is masked, there is lots of plexiglass, and only members are allowed on the floor. There are no pages, and one may speak to a legislator only by appointment.
The legislature’s primary purpose, and its only required one, is to adopt a budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1. The House okayed its version prior to the suspension caused by the coronavirus shutdown. The Senate has had to redo it from scratch because the economic slowdown has cause state revenues to decrease precipitously. Hearings were held in the recess period in which each agency offered its suggestions to meet the 14% cuts required by the governor, which have since been reset to 11%. The Senate version is described below, HB 793.
Also during the suspension period, there was an election, a combination of the Presidential Preferential Primary and the state general primary both of which had been deferred, one from March 24 and the other from May 19. There were several debacles and the blame for them does not reside in just one corner. The virus perhaps was the biggest disrupter of that election -- poll locations were changed because venues declined to host voters, poll workers refusing to work for fear of catching the bug, the Secretary of State making a unilateral decision to take over the absentee ballot by mail solicitation function and making some serious mistakes, and the local election officials not being able to respond sufficiently to divert the nightmare that occurred for some voters. Of course, this citizen angst was reflected in their legislative representatives. This week there was a nearly 4 hours hearing from invited participants in that election – poll workers, poll managers, poll watchers, election superintendents, local board of elections members, and legal eagles. There is another scheduled next week. On this issue there may not be a magic bullet to make elections run smoother in face of the multi-faceted challenges that this one faced, but they are going to try.
The House Rules chairman announced on Tuesday that the General Assembly must pass the budget because the Constitution says so, and it must pass a hate crimes bill because it is the right thing to do. And then he adjourned the meeting, refusing to put any Senate bills on the House floor calendar until the Senate moved on the issue. The Senate has a hate crimes bill passed by the House in 2019 in the Judiciary committee. Further, the Lt. Governor announced another proposal which would make the hate crime a separate offense. What may occur is for that language to be amended or substituted for the House version. The question then is, can it be accepted in its amended form by the House which passed the original bill by just one vote.
Tomorrow is the first day of summer. Who would have thought one would be reading GA legislative news in June? Indeed, these are unusual times.
BOLD Bill Number = final passage
CA = constitutional amendment. Requires a 2/3s vote in each chamber and a majority vote in the next general election scheduled for November 2020.
DV = Differing Versions
TGFS = To Governor for Signature
FY 793 Ralston – 7 PASSED House PASSED Senate DV
FY21 Budget. The FY21 budget was significantly revised as a result of the COVID-19 health crisis which shut down most economic activity in the state. This resulted in a need to cut the budget 11% from the FY20 base, or $2.607 billion.
The House passed its version prior to the legislative suspension in mid-March. So, to the Senate fell the duty to recommend additional adjustments. They held hearings for every agency to offer their recommendations. State expenses are generally for services, thus payroll is the largest expense. Freezing of vacant positions, furlough days, and a few reductions in staff were often a large part of those recommendations. All raises were cancelled, and legislators and the governor took salary cuts along with their staffs. Furloughs were limited to 12 days, one per month average.
The bonding package was not cut. Also protected were training and experience raises if on a salary schedule, and the equalization and sparsity grants for K-12 schools. Pre-K programs funded with the lottery were not cut. University systems and technical colleges were cut 11%, as were most elements of the QBE funding for K-12.
In short, if an agency was recommended by the governor or House of Representatives for a cut, the agency got it. If the agency was recommended for an increase, the agency didn’t get it. The Senate, then, recommended additional cuts, often specifying where it was to be taken, such as in staffing, operations expenses, travel, etc.
The net total allocations were: %
Community Health 13.3
Public Safety and Judiciary 8.7
Human Services 8
All else 2
GOVERNMENT – GENERAL
SB 134 Kirkpatrick – 32 PASSED Senate PASSED House TGFS
The Georgia Commission on the Holocaust is transferred to the Board of Regents from the Department of Community Affairs.
GOVERNMENT – COURTS AND CRIMES
SB 377 Jones – 25 PASSED Senate PASSED House DV
Elevators, escalators, manlifts, and moving walks are to be inspected once per 12 months, currently every 6 months. Contractors to help with this work may receive fees for this service directly, currently requires payment to the contractor through the Labor Department which schedules the inspections. MARTA must continue to have elevator inspections every 6 months.
HR 1023 Welch – 110 TO BALLOT PASSED House PASSED Senate
CA to permit a GA citizen or corporation which suffers an injury to petition the judiciary for declaratory relief from acts of the state, any agency or any county, consolidated government, or city of the state, or any employee thereof or committed outside of their scope of authority. Plaintiffs cannot get damages or attorney’s fees unless empowered by the General Assembly by law. Schools are excluded from this, probably because of special education issues which are federally controlled.
SB 345 Kirkpatrick – 32 PASSED Senate PASSED House TGFS
Non-profit organizations preparing and providing food for consumption must adhere to the requirements for food safety. No food prepared in a private home can be served, but it can be prepared in kitchens of public buildings such as churches, schools, and arenas as long as public health procedures are followed. Must Ministries in Cobb County prepares sandwiches to feed children during the summer and school breaks. Many sandwiches were made in private homes. When inspected, they were cited. This bill establishes the standards not quite as strict as those for restaurants, but not home-prepared either.
HB 888 Hawkins – 27 PASSED House PASSED Senate TGFS
Surprise Billing Consumer Protection Act. Requires a health insurance plan to treat any service to an insured receiving emergency services by an out-of-network provider as if it was an in-network provider. The insured financial obligation for such charges will only be co-pays, co-insurance and deductibles as if the provider were in-network. If the facility is out-of-network, the insurer must transfer the patient at cost to the insurer to an in-network facility within 24 hours after notification that the patient is stable. If the transfer is not made, the insurer shall pay the out-of-network facility its full cost. For non-emergency services from an out-of-network provider, the patient shall pay the entire amount if 48 hours notice has been given as to the estimated charges. An out-of-network provider shall not report any covered person who received a surprise bill to a credit reporting agency for unpaid amounts exceeding any co-pay, co-insurance, or deductible. The insured financial responsibility for ground transportation shall not be reduced. The Commissioner of Insurance has responsibility for maintaining a data base of claims paid, any arbitration requested, and reporting to the General Assembly. Effective 1-1-21. This covers insurance providers who are overseen by the state Department of Insurance, between 13% and 20% of the providers. It does not cover insurance providers administering ERISA plans under federal law.
HB 987 Cooper – 43 PASSED House PASSED Senate DV
Strengthens the requirements for elder care in long-term facilities. Doubles fees for violations when death or serious harm to a resident has occurred. Licensing may not occur if a license has been suspended within a year or ownership has changed to avoid a fine. Increases staffing to 1 to 15 residents in facilities of 25 beds or more effective 7-1-21. Each facility must provide 60 days notice of any impending bankruptcy or property evictions which might require relocation of residents, and 14 days notice to residents of change of ownership that may force discharge or relocation or other adverse impact on safe care and oversight. Memory care centers are to staff at 1-12 residents and to include various health care professionals. Training requirements are to include specifics for dementia patients. Licensing required for administrators in personal care homes and assisted living communities. Senate adds: Preparation plans for a pandemic required. Personal protective equipment to be on hand. Testing to be done for residents and staff. Notification of illness within the facility to be made to residents and families.
REVENUE & TAXATION
HB 105 Watson – 172 PASSED House PASSED Senate TGFS
An income tax exemption for funds received for Hurricane Michael disaster relief or assistance from the U.S. Department of Agriculture in calendar years 2019 through 2023. Repeals the sales tax on ride shares and imposes a 50 cent tax plus 25 cents per additional rider and dedicates the revenues to transit projects.
SB 144 Anderson – 24 PASSED Senate PASSED House TGFS
The Revenue Commissioner may issue a license, not to exceed $10, for a licensed dealer to sell tobacco products at special events in a temporary location for a period of 1 to 10 days. The rules for such sales shall be the same as for selling at the permanent location and products shall not be sold to minors. Special events would include, for example, Augusta Masters Tournament, a NASCAR event, Cherry Blossom Festival, a Taste of (name a city).
SB 391 Kirkpatrick – 32 PASSED Senate PASSED House DV
When a state of emergency has been declared or a hurricane warning issued, the Commissioner of Public Health may waive the time restrictions on prescription refills to enable patients to refill a 30-day supply in advance, if refills remain.
House adds: 30 days of medication only, no Schedule II drugs, and prescriber will be notified within 48 hours.
TRANSPORTATION & DRIVING
HB 823 Gaines – 117 PASSED House PASSED Senate DV
A person convicted of trafficking other persons for labor or sexual servitude using a commercial vehicle shall be disqualified for life from driving a commercial vehicle and shall have their commercial driver’s license revoked.
LOCAL – FULTON and its CITIES
HB 1201 McLaurin – 52 PASSED House S.State and Local Government
Reconstitutes the Fulton County Board of Registration and Elections as of 1 August 2020. There will be two members of the Republican party and two members of the Democratic party, and the county commission may select a chair from the nominations of the local delegation for Fulton County in the General Assembly. This same bill was in effect from 2013 until 2019 and for the entire period the local delegation did not nominate a person to replace the current chair.
HB 1202 McLaurin – 52 PASSED House S.State and Local Government
Dissolves the Fulton County Board of Registration and Elections as of 31 July 2020. This is proposed to occur 11 days before a runoff and 93 days before a presidential election. It is suggested it will solve the problem of long lines at elections to have new board members who have never run an election running the store.
HB 912 Reeves – 34 PASSED House DO PASS in S.Judiciary DV
Allows foster parents to leave a child with a babysitter for up to 3 days without getting approval from DFCS, currently 2 days. Governor’s bill.
EDUCATION – PREK-12
SB 294 Black – 8 PASSED Senate DO PASS in H.Retirement
Teachers Retirement System is authorized to invest up to 5% of its assets in certain alternative investments. Currently, TRS is specifically excluded from such investment options.
SB 367 Martin – 9 PASSED Senate DO PASS in H.Education DV
Reduces the end of course assessments (tests) which must be given in high school from 8 to just 4, currently 8. The writing assessment may be given in any grade, currently grade 11. The grade 5 social studies test is dropped. Moves the testing window for elementary schools to within 25 school days of the last day of school in a term. The high school testing window will be set by Department of Education and is typically near the end of the term. The department may, at the request of a local board, analysis local tests administered in an effort to eliminate redundant assessments.
SB 430 Ligon – 3 PASSED Senate DO PASS in H.Education
Private and home schooled students may take courses at a college and career academy run by the local school district which serves their residence and if space is available. Transportation is the responsibility of the student/parent. Local board of education earns FTEs for the time the student is in attendance. The State Board of Education is to draw up rules regarding enrollment and withdrawal, reporting academic performance, discipline procedures and any other area requiring definition. Most college and career academies admit these students now.
SB 431 Wilkinson – 50 PASSED Senate DO PASS in H.Education
Defines on-time graduation as a cohort of students entering high school by Oct 1 of any year and graduating on or before Oct 1 four years hence. This calculation is in addition to any other defined by federal, state, or local laws. Excludes students who register but never show up when school starts and school personnel are no longer charged with determining what happened to them.
HB 957 Jones – 47 PASSED House DO PASS in S.Education & Youth
A charter school employee is an employee of the local board of education for health insurance purposes if they work at least 30 hours per week. Local charter schools shall require proof of residency within the school system at student enrollment or application for enrollment. Terms of the State Charter Commission members shall be 4 years, currently 2 years. State charter schools which close shall transfer all records to the nonprofit entity which held the charter school contract and then are held for one year. The state audit of charter schools offering virtual instruction shall be completed and submitted to the State Board of Education and regulators by April 1 annually, currently December 1.
EDUCATION – POSTSECONDARY
SB 318 Ligon – 3 PASSED Senate DO PASS in H.Higher Education DV
Provides a public forum at public postsecondary institutions. Each institution may restrict some areas from all forum uses, but all other areas are open to any student, organization, staff, faculty to discuss any subject matter as a right under Amendment 1 of the US Constitution and Article 1 of the GA Constitution, specifically, the right to free speech.
The author seems to be reaching for a way for religious speakers to be allowed unfettered access to all on campus.
GOVERNMENT – GENERAL
SB 358 Harper – 7 PASSED Senate DO PASS in H.Agriculture & Consumer Affairs
Designates the muscadine grape as the official state grape.
SB 344 Mullis – 3 PASSED Senate DO PASS in H.Judiciary Non-Civil
Prisoners may appear in court by video. A judge may order a defendant to personally appear in any court hearing. Video has to be of a quality that all can see and hear and can be sent to the appellate court as part of the court record. An employee of the state crime lab or a contract lab may also appear by video.
GOVERNMENT – EMPLOYMENT
SB 316 Thompson – 14 PASSED Senate DO PASS in H.Government Affairs
Military spouses licensed in another state may obtain a license by endorsement in GA if the requirements for licensing in the other state are similar to GA by a majority of the elements and it is in good standing.
SB 408 Strickland – 17 PASSED Senate DO PASS in H.Industry & Labor DV
Removes the sunset from the Sick Leave for Care of Immediate Family Members. Currently, if a person earns sick leave, they may use up to five days/year for care of immediate family members. It was to sunset June 30, 2020. This situation overwhelmingly affects women. The NO votes in the Senate were exclusively men.
HB 487 Bonner – 72 PASSED House DO PASS inS.Public Safety
The Civil Air Patrol Auxiliary volunteers who are employees of a state agency may be granted up to 15 days leave in a year to render service. Currently, employees who are volunteers for the American Red Cross have this benefit.
HB 914 Clark – 147 PASSED House DO PASS inH.Veterans, Military, & Homeland Security
Military spouses licensed in other states may practice in GA.
GOVERNMENT – ENVIRONMENT
HB 93 Jones – 167 PASSED House S.Natural Resources & Environment
Dewatering of coal combustion residual surface impoundments shall require notification to local governments at least 3 days after initiation.
SB 426 Strickland – 17 PASSED Senate DO PASS in H.Natural Resources & Environment
The unpermitted release of ethylene oxide must be reported to the Environment Protection Division of the Department of Natural Resources within 24 hours and the information is to be posted on EPD’s website as soon thereafter as possible.
SB 28 Jackson – 2 PASSED Senate DO PASS in H.Insurance
Copayments, coinsurance, or office visit charges for physical therapists, occupational therapists, or chiropractors shall not exceed that for a doctor or osteopath.
HB 789 Newton – 123 PASSED House DO PASS in S.Health & Human Services
Hospitals must add ‘Hospital Surprise Billing Rating’ to their directories. If the rating is less than 4, each insurer advertising the hospital as in-network must specify which qualified hospital based specialty group types are not contracted with the hospital. Applies to anesthesiologists, pathologists, radiologists, and emergency room doctors. Sets up a rating system for patients to use to determine which physician specialty groups in their insurance company plan serve a given hospital. A rating of 4 indicates all four groups are qualified. Covers all plans operating in the state.
HB 791 Stephens – 164 PASSED House DO PASS in S.Health & Human Services DV
A pharmacist may provide up to a 90-day supply of a maintenance medication for a chronic condition if the patient agrees and the prescribing doctor has indicated periodic refills are medically necessary. This authorization does not apply to scheduled drugs and controlled substances or the initial fill. Author is a licensed pharmacist.
HB 1114 Cooper – 43 PASSED House DO PASS in S.Health & Human Services DV
Medicaid patients may receive coverage for lactation care and services.
REVENUE & TAXATION
SB 410 Kennedy – 18 PASSED Senate DO PASS in H.Government Affairs DV
If a Board of Assessors appeals an assessment and the determination is 85% or less of the Board’s valuation, the taxpayer can recover costs of litigation if the county governing authority approves as well as interest. Currently, the taxpayer can recover only if the taxpayer appeals and the value is determined to be 85% or less of the previous valuation determined by the county.
TRANSPORTATION & DRIVING
SB 159 Gooch – 51 PASSED Senate DO PASS in H.Transportation DV
Local authorities can regulate electric scooters with a maximum speed of 20 mph on a paved surface. Excludes electric bicycles, personal assistive mobility devices, motorcycles and mopeds. Riders must have insurance.
HB 799 Blackmon – 146 PASSED House DO PASS in S.Judiciary
Eligibility for early reinstatement of a suspended driver’s license for DUI of a controlled substance or marijuana is now empowered.
Sally FitzGerald, Capitol Observer
sallyfitz [at] bellsouth.net
League of Women Voters – Atlanta/Fulton
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