WEEK 9 CAPITOL UPDATE
Monday, March 8, 2021 marked Legislative Day 28, or “Crossover Day,” and the beginning of the ninth week of the 2021 legislative session. Crossover Day is a crucial deadline for the House and Senate as this is the last day for bills to pass out of the legislative chamber from which they originated in order to remain eligible to be signed into law this year. As a result, Crossover Day was one of the longest days of this session, and before the week was over, we passed more than 70 pieces of legislation, including several measures to protect Georgians from heinous crimes.
House members from across the aisle came together this week to unanimously pass House Bill 479, which would repeal Georgia’s antiquated citizen’s arrest law. In addition to repealing citizen’s arrest, HB 479 would clarify certain instances in which law enforcement officers may make arrests outside of their jurisdiction, as well as establish instances when certain private citizens may detain individuals. Law enforcement officers would only be able to make an arrest for an offense outside of their jurisdiction if the offense is committed in an officer’s presence or within his or her immediate knowledge, when the officer is in immediate pursuit of an offender for an offense first committed within the officer’s jurisdiction or while assisting another officer in his or her jurisdiction. Additionally, HB 479 would authorize retail store and food service establishment owners and employees to detain someone if they reasonably believe that the individual committed or attempted to commit shoplifting, theft or fraud. Further, state motor weight inspectors and licensed private detectives or security businesses may detain individuals when conducting their official business. However, the legislation clarifies that if these private citizens detain an individual, they must release the individual or contact law enforcement within a reasonable time. HB 479 would prohibit any use of force that is intended or likely to cause great bodily harm or death.
House Bill 255, or the “Sexual Assault Reform Act of 2021,” also passed unanimously on Crossover Day, and this measure would layout several changes to improve the state’s handling of sexual assault cases. The bill would implement a statewide sexual assault kit tracking system to give survivors the ability to track and receive updates on the status of evidence from their case. HB 255 would also require sexual assault protocol committees to submit an annual certification to ensure statewide compliance, update our laws to reflect cases where the victim does not want to immediately report the case, as well as require law enforcement to retain physical evidence for at least 12 months. Finally, the bill would direct each law enforcement agency in the state to submit information into the FBI’s Violent Criminal Apprehension Program, which is a national database that is responsible for the analysis of serial violent and sexual crimes across the country. The House has passed several bills in recent years to support survivors of sexual assault, including legislation to end the backlog of sexual assault evidence kits, and the unanimous passage of this measure exemplifies our continued support for these survivors.
We passed another bipartisan measure this week that would address sexual abuse crimes against children in the state. House Bill 109, the “Child Victim Protection Act of 2021,” would extend the amount of time that survivors of childhood sexual abuse can file civil action from two years to four years if the abuse occurred after July 1, 2015 and has proven to have caused physical or psychological harm. Starting July 1, 2021, victims between 23 and 38 years old would also be able to bring a civil action for recovery of damages because of childhood sexual abuse that occurred under an entity’s supervision, such as a non-profit or religious organization. These civil actions could be brought against an entity if the entity was aware or should have been aware that such abuse occurred under its watch and failed to take remedial action against the alleged abuser. If civil action is filed against an entity, the victim must prove by clear and convincing evidence that the entity owed a duty of care to the victim and that the entity knew of the abuse and allowed it to continue, knew that the employee or volunteer committed previous abuse against another individual and intentionally or fraudulently harbored, concealed or withheld information about the prior act which resulted in the victim’s trauma. This legislation would send a strong message that childhood sexual abuse will not be tolerated in the state of Georgia, hold organizations accountable for protecting children under their care and support victims of childhood sexual abuse.
We also passed two measures this week that would extend protections to survivors of domestic violence in Georgia. First, we passed House Bill 231 to create a new temporary protective order (TPO) specifically for dating violence which is not currently covered by a TPO for family violence. These TPOs would cover felonies, simple battery, aggravated battery, aggravated assault and stalking between two people with whom have had a pregnancy together or who are in a romantic dating relationship, but it would not require sexual involvement in order to be considered a dating relationship. Additionally, this bill would ensure that victims in abusive dating relationships have access to immediate relief and would allow judges to order the abuser to seek counseling or participate in educational programs. Within 10 days of a petition being filed, a hearing would be held where the petitioner must prove the allegations with an abundance of evidence, and the presiding judge would consider different factors shown to confirm the existence of a dating relationship. We also passed House Bill 236 to increase police monitoring after a TPO for family violence is issued. This bill would allow victims granted with a TPO to request periodic safety checks from local law enforcement officers, and these checks would include observations of the outside of the victim’s residence and an officer’s presence nearby the victim’s residence. These safety checks would last 60 days, and the frequency of the safety checks would be at the discretion of the local police agency. The victim could withdraw his or her request before the 60-day period ends, or the local police agency could determine that the victim no longer appears to require the safety checks. Both of these measures would work hand-in-hand to help vulnerable Georgians feel safe and protected from their abusers.
The House also passed House Bill 290, the “Patient and Resident Representation and Visitation Act,” in an effort to protect visitation rights for authorized legal representatives of patients or residents in hospitals and long-term care facilities, which has been an issue for families throughout the pandemic. Hospitals and long-term care facilities would be prohibited from implementing policies that deny in-person physical contact with a designated legal representative for at least one hour per day during any hospitalization, treatment or residence that lasts longer than 12 hours. If a treatment lasts longer than 24 hours, residents could have in-person visitations with at least two legal representatives or essential caregivers for at least two consecutive hours each day. This bill would allow a temporary suspension of visitation for patients in operating rooms, transplant wards or those who require physical isolation for immunocompromised conditions. However, HB 290 would allow hospitals and long-term care facilities to establish reasonable safety requirements that would also be posted on the facility’s website. Families and caregivers would be given direct contact information to submit complaints if these rights are infringed upon, and the governor’s ability to waive these provisions during a public health emergency, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, would be limited under this bill.
My colleagues and I supported legislation this week to ensure that new born babies receive the best care after they are born. House Bill 567 would authorize the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) to create a newborn screening system to help prevent serious illness, severe physical or developmental disabilities, as well as death caused by inherited metabolic and genetic disorders in newborns. Additionally, the bill would create the Newborn Screening and Genetics Advisory Committee to consider and make recommendations to the DPH commissioner regarding the inclusion of screening for any disorder added to the federal recommended uniform screening panel within one year of an addition. Currently, Georgia screens babies for about 33 diseases, and these screenings help detect these diseases in approximately 400 babies each year. Early screening for these diseases helps prevent lifelong disabilities, and even death, and with HB 567, we could ensure that more newborns have access to these important and life-saving screenings.
The Georgia House of Representatives also passed the following bills and resolutions during the ninth week of the 2021 legislative session:
· House Bill 76, which would modify the percentage limitation on the investments an electric membership corporation (EMC) could make and maintain in a gas affiliate;
· House Bill 114, which would increase the current tax credit from $2,000 to $6,000 per foster child for the first five years of adoption and return to $2,000 per year until the child reaches the age of 18, and unused credits would be non-refundable and could not be carried forward to a future year’s tax liability;
· House Bill 117, which would add ulcerative colitis to the conditions covered by the Low THC Oil Patient Registry to allow for THC oil to be used for treatment;
· House Bill 138, which would require that county and municipal law enforcement agencies post on the agency’s website a monthly summary or list of certain crimes that occurred at an apartment building or complex that consists of 10 or more rental units;
· House Bill 160, which would update Georgia code for water and sewer projects and costs tax (MOST) by adding a municipality that operates a waste-water system that interconnects with the waste-water system of a municipality that has an average waste-water flow that is at least 85 million gallons per day; the bill would also allow the governor, the speaker of the House, or the lieutenant governor to order an independent and comprehensive audit of a MOST tax through the state auditor;
· House Bill 173, which would allow eligible large retirement systems to invest up to 10 percent of assets in alternative investments, excluding the Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) of Georgia and Teachers’ Retirement System of Georgia, which can currently invest up to five percent of assets in alternative investments;
· House Bill 194, which would change the name of the Sexual Offender Registration Review Board to the Sexual Offender Risk Review Board and add additional punishments and modify probation proceedings for certain sexual offenses;
· House Bill 247, which would remove a provision of the distracted driving law that currently allows a first-time offender with a violation to provide proof to the judge that a hands-free device was purchased to comply with the law in order to be found not guilty;
· House Bill 258, which would clarify that consent of an alleged victim under the age of 16 is not a defense for crimes of sexual battery and aggravated sexual battery;
· House Bill 272, the “Raise the Age Act,” which would increase the jurisdiction of the juvenile court to include children under the age of 18 and establish an implementation committee of 10 members for conferring with appropriate agencies and interested parties regarding standards and practices;
· House Bill 291, which would expand eligibility for tuition equalization grants to include certain higher education institutions in Georgia;
· House Bill 317, which would expand the definition of “innkeeper” in Georgia law to include any dealer that is required to collect and remit sales tax as a marketplace facilitator for facilitating the sale of rooms, lodgings or accommodations in order for these marketplace facilitators to remit taxes, and it would expand the hotel/motel excise tax;
· House Bill 327, the “Organized Retail Crime Prevention Act,” which would add several requirements for the resale of gift cards by merchants, or “third-party card dealers,” who specialize in the sale of gift cards that are not authorized by the corporate issuer nor its agent, establish requirements for record keeping for third-party card dealers, create a misdemeanor for falsifying records and a felony for organized retail theft;
· House Bill 343, which would increase the fine for a second violation and third violation in a two-year period for an individual in possession of certain hunting paraphernalia that has not obtained permission to hunt on private lands;
· House Bill 346, which would authorize emergency medical service providers to administer hydrocortisone sodium intramuscularly to provide emergency care to a patient who has congenital adrenal hyperplasia and is in adrenal crisis;
· House Bill 383, which would prohibit the state from entering into a contract valued at $100,000 or more with an individual or company without written certification that the individual or company is not and will not be participating in a boycott of Israel;
· House Bill 411, which would create the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Oversight Commission to investigate alleged conduct that would constitute grounds for discipline;
· House Bill 428, which would update the North American Industry Classification System’s codes for the sales and use tax exemption for the sale of certain computer equipment when the total qualifying purchases by a high technology company exceeds $15 million;
· House Bill 435, which would provide an exemption, subject to government approval, to the “Georgia Local Government Public Works Construction Law” for public works construction contracts that are competitively procured by the state or through a cooperative purchasing organization;
· House Bill 454, which would require an insurer to reimburse a provider at the most recent in-network rates for 90 days after a provider’s contract terminates or until the last day of a person’s coverage, whichever is sooner, if the insurer’s provider directory included a provider as a participating provider during the open enrollment period;
· House Bill 464, which would clarify that a probate court can transfer proceedings involving the appointment of a temporary guardian for a minor to a juvenile court, clarify that conduct of the parties can be considered in certain proceedings and expand the definition of “abuse, neglect or exploitation” to include various crimes committed against a minor, proposed ward or ward, including trafficking of persons for labor or sexual servitude; abuse, child abuse and coercion; serious violent felonies; and sexual exploitation;
· House Bill 465, which would allow a local government to establish ordinances requiring alarm system contractors to pay fines or fees as a result of a false alarm when the false alarm is attributed to the alarm system contractor’s error;
· House Bill 469, which would extend the sunset on the tax credit for the rehabilitation of historic structures to December 31, 2022, return the provisions of the credit as they existed on January 1, 2015 and establish an income tax credit of $2,500 per zero-emission motor vehicle assembled in this state with a $5 million cap, and the tax credit would sunset on July 1, 2024;
· House Bill 495, which would require the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) to provide the analysis of criminal history record information of an offender to the Sexual Offender Registration Review Board to assist in determining a sexual offender’s risk assessment classification, allow the board to employ an investigator to analyze records, and require GBI to employ staff to ensure this information is provided to the board;
· House Bill 498, which would add dairy products and unfertilized poultry eggs to the list of qualified farm products exempt from taxation and modify the definition of “family owned farm entity” to allow an entity created by the merger or consolidation of two or more family-owned farm entities, and this bill would be placed on the November 2022 ballot as a referendum;
· House Bill 517, which would clarify that interest earned on deposits and investments from donations for scholarships or tuition grants from student scholarship organizations must be rolled back into the fund; it would also create auditing requirements for such organizations and increase the tax credit opportunities for donating to these organizations;
· House Bill 532, which would revise language in Georgia law regarding waivers of work-search requirements to reflect that these waivers cannot be made if they would conflict with federal law; revise the eligibility period for extended benefits;
· House Bill 534, which would establish a crime and penalty for promoting, organizing or participating in illegal drag racing or laying drags, as well as reckless stunt driving;
· House Bill 544, which would make several updates to Georgia law regarding the coin-operated amusement machine (COAM) industry to better regulate the COAM industry, including adding two members to the Georgia Lottery Board, increasing the maximum redemption award on a per play basis for a Class A machine to $50, creating on-site inspections of new location license holders within six months of operation and the creation of a lottery gift card by the Georgia Lottery Corporation;
· House Bill 562, which would require that an arrest warrant of a Georgia Department of Family Child Services (DFCS) case manager for an alleged offense committed while in the manager’s work capacity must be issued by a superior court judge, state court judge or probate court judge;
· House Bill 575, which would allow any consolidated government, created by the consolidation of a county and one or more municipalities, to impose an additional one percent local option sales tax if approved by a resolution of the governing authority of the consolidated government and a local referendum;
· House Bill 579, which would remove the requirement that public safety and judicial authorities must pass a referendum in order to issue bonds for new projects;
· House Bill 582, which would provide that the future elections of the Cherokee County probate judge would be non-partisan;
· House Bill 611, which would divide the state’s definition of “small business” into three tiers based on the number of employees and gross revenue;
· House Bill 617, which would allow student athletes to receive compensation for the use of the athlete’s name, image or likeness as long as such compensation is not in exchange to attend, participate or perform at a particular postsecondary education institution, as well as require the postsecondary institution to provide a financial literacy and life skills workshop at the beginning of the student’s first and third academic years;
· House Bill 619, which would allow for the removal of a heritage preserve designation from land known as “Patrick's Fishing Paradise” to allow the Georgia Department of Natural Resources to convey the property to a private entity;
· House Bill 631, which would require the Georgia Emergency Communications Authority to provide standards for operation and maintenance of an information system by a local government within an emergency 9-1-1 system that collects and shares information to indicate that an individual has a physical, mental or neurological condition which impedes their ability to communicate with a law enforcement officer or emergency responder;
· House Bill 653, which would expand the definition of “pharmacy care” in Georgia law by including the ordering and administering of tests that have been cleared or approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration, such as viral and serology COVID-19 tests;
· House Bill 676, which would create the Georgia Farmers’ Market and Produce Terminal Development Authority to oversee the state’s farmers’ markets, as well as provide facilities and activities to promote the agricultural community's products to agribusiness entities and the public;
· House Bill 681, which would require the State Board of Education to prescribe a program of study in personal financial literacy during high school starting in the 2021-2022 school year;
· House Bill 693, which would prohibit farm tractors from being driven on any state highway unless deemed necessary by the Department of Public Safety for travel in certain geographic areas of the state, and this bill would establish requirements for tractors on authorized roadways;
· House Bill 697, the “Patient Protection Through Health Information Exchange Act,” which would amend the list of information from health care providers that must be reported annually to the Georgia Department of Community Health, as well as require each hospital or hospital’s electronic health records vendor to complete a survey regarding the hospital’s ability to keep or use electronic records;
· House Bill 714, which would amend the Georgia Civil Practice Act to provide that the material terms currently required to be contained in a settlement offer for personal injury claims arising from a motor vehicle collision would be the only required terms for such settlement offer, unless the parties otherwise agree to include additional terms, as well as clarify other settlement procedures;
· House Resolution 24, which would authorize the Georgia Department of Administrative Services (DAS) to pay Dominic Brian Lucci $1,000,000 in the form of an annuity;
· House Resolution 25, which would authorize the DAS to pay Mark Jason Jones $1,000,000 in the form of an annuity;
· House Resolution 26, which would authorize the DAS to pay Kenneth Eric Gardiner $1,000,000 in the form of an annuity;
· House Resolution 29, which would authorize the DAS to pay Jakeith Bendray Robinson, Sr. $560,000 in the form of an annuity;
· House Resolution 144, which would act as the annual House road dedication legislation to dedicate several state routes and intersections after distinct Georgians;
· House Resolution 183, which would urge the U.S. Congress to pass the “Recovering America’s Wildlife Act;”
· House Resolution 204, which would dedicate the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice’s Savannah Regional Youth Detention Center in Savannah, Georgia as the Judge Willie J. Lovett, Jr. Juvenile Justice Center;
· House Resolution 248, which would establish Chatham, Bryan, Effingham, Bulloch and Liberty counties as the official technology innovation corridor in the state of Georgia;
· House Resolution 282, which would dedicate the intersection of State Route 515 and State Route 325 in Union County as the Sydnie Grace Jones Memorial Intersection;
Senate Bill 4, which would create several provisions regarding the prohibition of patient brokering in the substance use disorder treatment field, such as prohibiting any persons or treatment providers from unlawfully paying, offering, soliciting or receiving to pay any remuneration for the acceptance or referral of a patient, and this bill would add that a person commits a fraudulent insurance act if there is intent to defraud by billing for excessive, fraudulent or high-tech drug testing in the treatment of the elderly, the disabled or any individual affected by pain or substance use disorder
WEEK 8 CAPITOL UPDATE
The Georgia House of Representatives reconvened under the Gold Dome on Monday, March 1 for the eighth week of the 2021 legislative session. In preparation for “Crossover Day” coming up on March 8, the House designated two days this week as official committee workdays, and we spent three long days in session as we passed meaningful legislation, including the state budget for the next fiscal year. We recently learned that our final day of session, or “Sine Die,” will be on Wednesday, March 31, and, as such, this final month of the legislative session will be our busiest and most crucial time at the State Capitol.
Fiscal Year 2022 Budget
With our priorities set on keeping Georgians safe and healthy, we passed House Bill 81, the Fiscal Year 2022 (FY 2022) budget. This comprehensive budget covers July 1, 2021 through June 30, 2022, and is set at $27.2 billion, which is an increase of $1.34 billion or 5.2 percent over the current fiscal year budget. Nearly 90 percent of this new funding in the FY 2022 budget would go towards education and health and human services agencies. Education is the largest single expenditure in the state’s budget, totaling $10.2 billion, and we were excited to restore 60 percent, or $567 million, of the reductions made to K-12 education funding formulas in the Fiscal Year 2021 budget.
Additionally, the House’s version of the budget infused funds for expanded mental health core and crisis intervention services, rate increases for health and human service providers, access to health care and salary increases for critical positions. Specifically, HB 81 adds more than $58.5 million for the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, including $2.7 million to provide addictive disease services to an additional 2,100 people; $6.5 million to provide mental health services to an additional 5,200 people; $12.3 million for a rate increase for intellectual and developmental disability providers; $7 million for a first-in-the-nation behavioral health crisis center for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities; $2 million to expand the Georgia Apex Program in 59 additional schools as well as additional funding for suicide prevention training in schools as well as a youth suicide prevention specialist; as well as additional funding for the 988 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, suicide prevention services and one suicide epidemiologist. This budget also recognizes $39.5 million for the new Rural Innovation Fund and $10 million to establish a broadband infrastructure grant program for rural communities. Due to a new excise tax for the ride-share industry, HB 81 also recognizes $7.63 million in new revenue for transit projects across the state. After HB 81 was passed on Friday, it was immediately sent to our counterparts in the Senate, who will begin reviewing and making their own changes before the FY 2022 budget is finalized.
Tax Cuts & New Jobs for Georgians
The House passed a handful of bills this week to cut taxes and spur economic recovery for businesses and create new jobs across our state. We unanimously passed House Bill 593, or the Tax Relief Act of 2021, to cut income taxes during the tax year 2022 by increasing the standard deduction for taxpayers that are single and heads of household from $4,600 to $5,400 and increasing the standard deduction for a married couple filing jointly from $6,000 to $7,100. The standard deduction for those who are married but file individually would increase from $3,000 to $3,550. HB 593 would save Georgia taxpayers approximately $140 million in this time of need and allow taxpayers to keep more of their hard-earned money. Further, we overwhelmingly passed House Bill 586, the “Georgia Economic Recovery Act of 2021,” to extend a number of sales tax exemptions for manufacturing and other businesses. HB 586 includes the extensions of sales tax exemptions for projects of regional significance and for supplies in select manufacturing industries. It also exempts tickets for fine arts performances from sales taxes to bolster an industry that has been devastated by COVID-19. House Bill 587, or the “Georgia Economic Renewal Act of 2021,” also passed overwhelmingly in the House to attract certain businesses to our state. This bill would make multiple amendments to Georgia’s income tax laws, including a tax credit to incentivize manufacturers of medical equipment to locate and create jobs in Georgia and an additional tax credit to attract high-impact aerospace defense projects to our state. Next, we adopted House Resolution 185 to reauthorize the House Rural Development Council, which is charged with finding ways to spur economic growth and bring jobs specifically to rural Georgia, for the remainder of the 2021-2022 legislative session. To further assist rural Georgia communities, we passed House Bill 32, which would seek to recruit and retain 1,000 Georgia teachers to 100 extremely rural or low-performing schools by offering a refundable income tax credit of $3,000 for certified teachers for up to five years. HB 32 would be available to teachers who work in a high-need subject area at a rural school or at a school that performed in the lowest five percent of schools. With these legislative measures, Georgia could continue to lead the way in economic recovery efforts with policies that bolster job creation, while also lowering taxes for residents and businesses across the state.
Monitoring Devices in Nursing Homes
On Friday, we approved House Bill 605 to protect vulnerable Georgians by allowing electronic monitoring devices, such security cameras, to be installed in residential rooms of skilled nursing facilities, intermediate care homes, assisted living communities or personal care homes. If a resident in one of these facilities has a roommate, this bill would require consent from the roommate to install a monitoring device, and if the roommate refuses to consent, then the facility would be required to relocate the resident when able to a comparable room. This legislation would also allow residents to arrange for internet access through an outside service provider for these monitoring devices or obtain written approval from the facility to use its local network. These facilities would also be required to post signage at the entrance of a resident’s room to notify that the room has an electronic monitoring device in place. HB 605 would protect a resident’s privacy and rights to keep recordings confidential, and it would prohibit a facility from discriminating against residents who wish to utilize these devices. This bill would address cases of elder abuse and give family members who have loved ones in these facilities some peace of mind that their loved ones are given the best care, especially since many families have been separated due to COVID-19.
Toxic Coal Ash Ponds
The House also passed legislation to oversee the handling of toxic coal ash disposal in Georgia. House Bill 647 would require companies that manage coal combustion residual (CCR) surface impoundments, also known as toxic coal ash ponds, to conduct post-closure care at the site for at least 50 years after it is closed. Under HB 647, post-closure care would include maintaining the final cover system and ground-water monitoring system and monitoring of ground water. The Environmental Protection Division would inspect these toxic coal ash ponds annually during the closure process and at least once every five years following the closure, and any groundwater monitoring report would be required to contain a detailed executive summary that is easy for the public to understand. HB 647 would provide critical accountability to mitigate and prevent future neglect of coal ash waste disposal, which has been found to impact the health of Georgia citizens.
The House also passed the following bills and resolutions on the House floor this week:
· House Bill 44, which would allow Georgia to observe daylight savings time year-round if it is first authorized by the U.S. Congress;
· House Bill 92, which would lower the amount of time that vital records must be kept by the state registrar before they are transferred to the State Archives;
· House Bill 94, which would designate a new felony crime when a person possesses stolen mail addressed to three or more different addresses and possesses a minimum of 10 separate pieces of stolen mail; the bill would also designate a new felony crime for “porch piracy” when a person takes or removes any envelope, bag, package or other sealed item of another person from that person’s porch, steps or entranceway without that person's permission;
· House Bill 124, which would allow crematories to use aquamation by creating a new definition for “cremation device” and expand the current references to a "retort" to also include vats and containers in which cremation occurs by traditional flame, alkaline hydrolysis or other approved means;
· House Bill 244, which would add flood risk reduction to the list of services provided by counties to inhabitants of unincorporated areas;
· House Bill 248, which would allow the local governing body of the city or county whose law enforcement agency is authorized to enforce speed limits to apply for school zone speed enforcement camera permits rather than have each school apply;
· House Bill 302, which would require that the proceeds from regulatory fees be used to fund such regulatory activity, eliminating regulatory fee calculation methods specific to the construction industry, and removing taxicab and limousine operators, boxing promoters, shooting galleries and firearm ranges, and firearm dealers from the list of examples of businesses or practitioners of professions or occupations which may be subject to regulatory fees of local governments;
· House Bill 303, which would provide active-duty military service members with private motor vehicle insurance a reduction in the premium for motor vehicle liability, first-party medical and collision coverage for each named driver listed on the policy application;
· House Bill 316, which would increase the pharmacist to pharmacy technician ratio from three to four for pharmacists directly supervising technicians;
· House Bill 322, which would remove references to prostitution from the definition of “sexual exploitation” in Georgia law regarding the juvenile code, child abuse reporting requirements and child abuse records;
· House Bill 328, which would establish a one-time right-of-way permit fee, reduce the annual right-of-way fee that is paid to cities by telephone companies that do not have retail and would end user customers located within the city limits;
· House Bill 333, the “Ethics in Government Act of 2021,” which would make several changes regarding the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission’s operations and authority, as well as update requirements for utilizing campaign funds;
· House Bill 334, which would authorize remote online notaries and remote online notarizations;
· House Bill 355, which would require the director of the Georgia Forestry Commission to establish the Sustainable Building Material Technical Advisory Committee;
· House Bill 363, which would remove various subsections of Georgia’s code to escalate punishment for elder abuse crimes due to “rule of lenity” concerns with existing law; these changes would allow courts to sentence defendants more appropriately for elder abuse crimes;
· House Bill 364, which would allow Georgia law enforcement officers, who are certified by the Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council, to be exempted from certain requirements when applying for private detective and security licenses;
· House Bill 369, which would expand the eligibility as to who can issue an affidavit to authorize a motor vehicle disability parking permit by including advanced practice registered nurses and physician assistants;
· House Bill 371, which would allow judges to conduct hearings in civil cases via telephone or video conference, excluding criminal trials;
· House Bill 392, which would make new alcoholic beverage licensees for off-premises consumption subject to its local jurisdiction’s distance requirements from school and educational buildings;
· House Bill 410, which would transfer the regulation of bingo to the authority of the Secretary of State from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation;
· House Bill 443, which would create the “Georgia Structured Settlement Protection Act” to provide new requirements regarding the transfer of structured settlement payment rights;
· House Bill 450, which would authorize the Georgia Department of Public Health to release de-identified data related to the Low THC Oil Patient Registry to government entities and others for various purposes after removing any information that could be used to identify prescribers;
· House Bill 451, which would allow a taxpayer that claimed the finished goods inventory exemption for the 2020 tax year to have the option for the 2021 tax year to claim the exemption using the fair market value of finished goods as of January 1, 2020 or January 1, 2021;
· House Bill 453, which would allow current and retired firefighters to utilize a firefighter special license plate on a vehicle used for transportation purposes unrelated to their role as a firefighter;
· House Bill 459, which would prohibit certain municipalities from annexing any territory that includes a county-operated airport unless the county government adopts a resolution approving such annexation;
· House Bill 466, which would lower the required course hours from 20 to 16 for intervention programs regarding alcohol or drug use while driving and allow for the courses to be conducted in-person, online or via remote participation platforms;
· House Bill 470, which would exempt condominium units, where the boundaries of the unit are not designated by walls, floors, ceilings, or other physical structures, from the requirement of submitting plans for each individual unit as long as the boundaries of the unit are depicted on a plat of survey;
· House Bill 476, which would create the “Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors Act of 2021” to rename the State Board of Registration for Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors to the Georgia Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors Board; and the bill would update education requirements for engineers, structural engineers and land surveyors;
· House Bill 477, which would extend the sunset date from December 31, 2021, to December 31, 2026 for the qualified donation of real property;
· House Bill 480, which would establish liens for labor, services or materials performed or furnished by registered interior decorators;
· House Bill 497, which would clean-up, modernize and revise errors in the Official Code of Georgia Annotated;
· House Bill 511, which would dedicate specific fees by general law for 10 years and create the framework to segregate the collections for each fee dedicated in this manner as a unique trust fund earning interest within the Office of the Treasurer;
· House Bill 531, which would make several changes to Georgia’s voting laws, such as requiring a photo ID, driver’s license number or state ID card number to request and submit an absentee ballot; requiring that drop boxes be placed inside early voting locations and are actively monitored and only accessible during voting hours; banning mobile polling locations, out-of-precinct voting, private funding for elections, and securing precinct locations; and requiring shorter timelines for processing absentee ballots and certifying results;
· House Bill 539, which would revise Georgia law regarding institutional licenses in the “Medical Practice Act of the State of Georgia” by adding hospitals licensed by the Georgia Department of Community Health, medical schools approved by the Georgia Composite Medical Board, teaching hospitals and clinics that service predominantly Medicaid, indigent and underserved populations;
· House Bill 548, which would provide access to records of child abuse reports for the Administrative Office of the Courts for the purpose of providing more information in cases involving children who have been the subject of dependency actions and actions to terminate parental rights;
· House Bill 553, which would amend the “Georgia Administrative Procedure Act” to allow for administrative law hearings, which were previously permitted to be conducted by telephonic communication, to be conducted using broader electronic communication means;
· House Bill 554, which would require that no action involving an interest in real property shall operate as a pending legal action until the official, public notice that a property has a pending lawsuit or claim attached to it is issued by a court, and a superior court must keep a docket of all official pending legal actions filed with them;
· House Bill 574, which would create the Companion Local Government Animal Trust Fund and dedicate no more than $50,000 of collected pet dealer, kennel, stable, and animal shelter fees to the fund, provided the fund's total does not exceed $200,000;
· House Bill 577, which would be the Georgia Department of Transportation’s annual “housekeeping” bill related to capital construction or capital maintenance, airport licensing and speed limits;
· House Bill 588, which would update Georgia’s code section on projects completed as a public private partnership by defining public benefit and a P3 project, requiring GDOT staff to report potential undertakings regarding public private partnerships and dedicating the collection of sales and use tax on fuel used exclusively for the operation of locomotives to GDOT for use exclusively on freight and logistics projects;
· House Bill 591, which would authorize licensed marriage and family therapists to admit individuals for involuntary evaluation of mental or substance use disorders;
· House Bill 601, which would exempt products that are approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration from definitions in state law;
· House Bill 606, which would include the Georgia Independent School Association in the list of accepted accrediting agencies in order to establish HOPE eligibility for private high schools;
· House Bill 620, which would make changes to the maximum value regarding settlements for claims of minors;
· House Bill 635, which would allow superior, state, probate and magistrate court judges to perform any lawful, judicial act from any location, not just Georgia;
· House Bill 645, which would expand the Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission’s responsibilities and requirements for reporting, allow local jurisdictions to use their zoning powers for additional dispensaries, as well as allow certain universities and colleges to engage in THC oil research;
· House Resolution 130, which would approve the transfer of Forsyth County from the Georgia Mountains Regional Commission to the Atlanta Regional Commission.
On Monday, March 8, we will make our way back to the Capitol for Crossover Day, which is typically one of the longest days of the legislative session and the final day that a bill can pass the chamber in which it originated. After Crossover Day, we will shift our focus and consider Senate bills that have already received passage in the Senate.
WEEK 7 CAPITOL UPDATE
On Monday, February 22, we returned to the State Capitol for the seventh week of the 2021 legislative session. Monday marked the halfway point of the session, and this week was our busiest yet as we geared up for the impending “Crossover Day” deadline. From expanding access to health care to looking after some of our more vulnerable residents, the House examined a myriad of legislative initiatives this week that are important to Georgians.
At the beginning of the week, my colleagues and I passed House Bill 307 to authorize health care providers to continue to provide telehealth services from home and patients to receive telehealth services from their home, workplace or school even after the pandemic is over. This legislation would also allow for audio-only care via phone call under certain circumstances, such as a lack of broadband connection. To extend insurance coverage for telehealth services, HB 307 would prohibit insurers from requiring separate deductibles or an in-person consultation before paying for a virtual appointment and restrict insurers from requiring providers to use a specific telehealth platform or vendor. Likewise, insurers could not restrict the prescribing of medications through telehealth that are more restrictive than what is currently required under state and federal law for in-person prescribing. Further, this bill would require providers to maintain documentation of each virtual health care appointment in a manner that is as extensive and thorough as their documentation for in-person visits. Throughout the pandemic, health care providers across the country have utilized telehealth services to continue to treat patients while COVID-19 has limited in-person options, especially for mental and behavioral health treatment. Many Georgians have benefited from these safe and convenient types of appointments, and HB 307 would ensure that Georgians can continue to receive this type of care for years to come.
We honored a great Georgian this week through the unanimous adoption of House Resolution 119, which would recognize and honor retired U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, who served our state and country with distinction for 43 years. This bipartisan measure would dedicate the bridge on State Route 307 over the Georgia Ports Authority Mega Rail Site in Chatham County as the Senator Johnny Isakson Bridge. Senator Isakson’s commitment to growing our state’s economic footprint could not be more apparent than in his work to guarantee federal funding for the Port of Savannah. During his time as a leader in Washington, D.C., Isakson secured major federal funding for the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project and the Mason Mega Rail Yard, which has ensured the efficient movement of goods through the state. Renaming this bridge is an abundantly fitting way to pay tribute to this outstanding Georgian who spent his life bettering our state through economic opportunities like the Georgia Ports Authority system.
Additionally, the House passed House Bill 437 to require gas station employees to dispense gas to vehicles that have a special disability permit displayed when the disabled driver is not accompanied by someone who can provide adequate assistance at the gas pump. Gas stations would be required to have a working phone number that answered by an employee during the hours of operation in order for customers to request assistance. If a request is made when a second employee is not present, the gas station would not be required to provide assistance but would be encouraged to do so when able. A decal or sticker would be affixed to each pump across the state that clearly displays the international symbol of accessibility, a blank for the gas station to fill in the phone number to reach an attendant and wording to instruct these drivers to call for assistance. This legislation would help make these necessary trips to the gas station less burdensome and more accessible to some of our disabled drivers.
House Bill 442 was also passed by the House this week, and this legislation highlights the prevalence of social media in today’s society. Currently, Georgia’s child custody laws require one or both parents to be responsible with decision-making authority for a child’s education, health, extracurricular activities and religious upbringing. If parents agree, these matters should be decided jointly, or, if there is disagreement, they must together decide how to resolve the situation. HB 442 would require parents to also include social media management in their joint parenting plan. As technology and social media have evolved, they have become much more customary in our children’s daily lives, and this bill would allow our child custody laws to remain relevant with the ever changing technology in our world.
My colleagues and I received news from Governor Brian Kemp this week that the state is poised to expand Georgia’s COVID-19 vaccine priority list to include teachers and school staff. Starting March 8, all of Georgia’s pre-k and K-12 teachers and school staff, as well as Department of Early Care and Learning staff, will join the state’s Phase 1A+ group, which currently consists of those who are 65 and older, first responders, health care workers and staffers and residents of long-term facilities. In addition to Georgia teachers and school staff, the state will also expand vaccination access to adults with mental and developmental disabilities and their caregivers and children with complex health issues plus their caretakers. The state also recently launched four state-operated mass vaccination sites across Georgia in Bibb, Dougherty, Fulton and Habersham counties. The governor and our state’s public health leaders have taken to heart the calls to expand vaccination efforts to more Georgians and have been advocating for increased vaccine allocations from the federal government, which should also continually increase in the coming weeks. Since vaccination efforts began a little more than two months ago, roughly 1.9 million vaccines have been administered to approximately 1.2 Georgians, which means we have surpassed 50 percent of our eligible residents. Our testing positivity rate is also at its lowest in months at approximately 10 percent. These trend-lines could continue to move in the right direction with more vaccines administered each day, and I will provide further updates regarding Georgia’s vaccination plans as I receive them.
The House also passed the following bills and resolutions throughout the week:
· House Bill 34, which would enter Georgia into the Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology Interstate Compact if similar legislation is passed in 10 total U.S. states;
· House Bill 43, which would require motor vehicle registration application forms to include a section that allows the applicant to disclose a physical, mental or neurological condition that impedes the applicant’s ability to communicate;
· House Bill 63, which would revise the definition of “fair market value of the motor vehicle,” regarding leased motor vehicles, by calculating the value as the total of the depreciation plus any amortized amounts pursuant to the lease agreement and any down payments;
· House Bill 98, which would establish that when agencies hold meetings under emergency conditions via teleconference, persons or agencies who participate by teleconference must be treated as fully participating, as if they were physically attending the meeting;
· House Bill 119, which would allow chiropractors to jointly own professional corporations with physicians;
· House Bill 141, which would require that payments made by the Georgia Crime Victims Emergency Fund to medical service providers be in accordance with the list of reasonable charges published by the State Board of Workers’ Compensation, unless an investigation by the Georgia Crime Victims Compensation Board shows that there is a reasonable justification for the deviation;
· House Bill 149, which would allow Subchapter “S” corporations and partnerships to make an irrevocable decision on an annual basis to pay income taxes at the entity level instead of the individual shareholder or partner level;
· House Bill 150, which would prohibit governmental entities from adopting any policy that prohibits the connection or reconnection of any utility service based on the type of energy or fuel source;
· House Bill 152, which would allow the Nonpublic Postsecondary Education Commission to use alternative methods to review renewal applications to operate submitted by institutions that are in good standing with an accrediting agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education; such alternative methods would be deemed appropriate by the commission’s executive director;
· House Bill 156, which would require utilities and state and local governmental agencies to report cyber-attacks to the director of the Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency; these reports would not be subject to public inspection or disclosure;
· House Bill 161, which would remove a provision in Georgia law that requires downtown development authorities to exist in perpetuity;
· House Bill 179, which would update the design for an existing license plate supporting breast cancer related programs; create a specialty license plate supporting the fight against cancer; and create a specialty license plate supporting members of the armed forces;
· House Bill 210, which would clarify the types of vehicles that are exempt from the requirement of disclosing odometer mileage on title certificates;
· House Bill 218, which would allow reciprocity for any state’s weapons carry license as long as the holder carries according to Georgia’s laws, and the bill would update the governor’s emergency powers in regards to seizing or prohibiting the possession and sale of legal weapons and ammunition;
· House Bill 234, which would be known as the “Self-funded Healthcare Plan Opt-in to the Surprise Billing Consumer Protection Act” and would allow for self-funded health care plans to annually elect to participate in the Surprise Billing Consumer Protection Act; participating plans would notify the Department of Insurance (DOI) and could join at the beginning of each year or first day of the plan, and the DOI website would list these participating plans;
· House Bill 241, which would allow the deduction of benefits paid from any cancellation refund of a service contract to the customer, and it would permit contracts for the replacement of lost, stolen or inoperable key fobs to cover excess wear and use charges at the end of a lease;
· House Bill 245, which would amend state law regarding fingerprint and criminal background checks used for the practice of podiatry by requiring satisfactory results from a fingerprint records check for new license applicants and reinstatements, not license renewals;
· House Bill 271, which would authorize the Department of Community Health to assess one or more provider matching payments on a sub-class of ambulance services as defined by the Board of Community Health;
· House Bill 273, which would allow local jurisdictions to enact an ordinance that would trigger a special election for whether the local jurisdiction should allow applications for package stores that sell distilled spirits;
· House Bill 275, which would require firefighters to submit to random drug testing at least biannually for the first two years of being licensed or certified;
· House Bill 286, which would prohibit counties and municipalities from reducing their police force budgetary appropriations by more than five percent unless specified conditions exist;
· House Bill 289, which would allow for specified exemptions, such as military service, to the requisite qualifications for receiving a Class D or Class C driver’s license in Georgia;
· House Bill 292, which would remove the requirement for a member of a county board of equalization to complete 20 hours of instruction in appraisal and equalization processes and procedures during the first year following the completion of each term of office;
· House Bill 305, which would change the definition of a board-recognized massage therapy educational program to require that the program be approved by a national massage therapy certifying organization or a similar entity approved by the Georgia Board of Massage Therapy; continuing education for massage therapy would require that instructors be approved by and in good standing with a national massage therapy certifying organization;
· House Bill 306, which would allow the board of directors of a corporation to hold annual and special shareholder meetings by means of remote communication unless otherwise provided by the corporation’s by-laws or articles of incorporation;
· House Bill 336, which would make changes to hemp farming laws to ensure compliance with federal laws and regulations, including requiring prospective growers and processors to submit one set of classifiable fingerprints for the purpose of conducting a search of records;
· House Bill 338, which would clarify the qualifications for receiving a veterans’ driver’s license;
· House Bill 342, which would prohibit any person from advertising as a master plumber or journeyman plumber without first obtaining a license from the Division of Master Plumbers and Journeyman Plumbers;
· House Bill 354, which would require that any complaints received by the State Board of Cemeterians be investigated within 30 days of receipt, and if that investigation finds any potential violations of state or federal criminal law, then the board would provide notice of those potential illegalities to the attorney general’s office and the local sheriff's office within seven days;
· House Bill 362, which would allow .30 caliber and larger guns to be used during primitive hunts; allow for bag limits for the Deer Management Association program; make clear hybrid varieties of different fish species are covered by Georgia harvesting laws;
· House Bill 367, which would provide the annual narcotics and drug update for Schedules I, II, III, IV, and V controlled substances to capture new synthetic opiates and synthetic marijuana;
· House Bill 370, which would provide term limits for members of joint hospital authorities of 12 years or three consecutive terms, including any partial term, whichever is longer; this bill would only apply to the Fulton and DeKalb County hospital authorities, and it would restrict these hospital authorities from utilizing revenues to perform any power or duty delegated in a lease;
· House Bill 374, which would amend Georgia law regarding exemptions from sales and use taxes by adding an exemption for sales to an authority that provides public water or sewer service;
· House Bill 384, which would authorize law enforcement to issue a citation to a vehicle owner, rather than the driver, in specified instances and when the vehicle owner is present at the time of the citation issuance;
· House Bill 395, which would enter Georgia into the Professional Counselors Licensure Compact if required legislation is passed in 10 total U.S. states;
· House Bill 409, which would establish the Judicial Legal Defense Fund Commission to facilitate state-funded legal representation to justices of the Supreme Court and judges of the Court of Appeals, the Georgia State-wide Business Court and superior courts when such judges are sued for actions taken regarding their official duties;
· House Bill 449, which would revise the “Georgia Utility Facility Protection Act” in order to enhance the processes for location requests of underground utility facilities or infrastructure; it also would require that 9-1-1 be contacted if an excavator damages a gas or hazardous liquid pipeline;
· House Bill 455, which would allow local boards of education to use small motor vehicles that seat eight passengers or less to transport students;
· House Bill 458, which would require all newly appointed board members of the Georgia Composite Medical Board to participate in training and education to support greater understanding of sexual misconduct, sexual boundaries and impacts of trauma and implicit bias within three months of such appointment;
· House Bill 488, which would raise the minimum salary and compensation of chief magistrates and clerks of magistrate court;
· House Bill 509, which would require every insurer delivering or issuing for delivery comprehensive individual major medical health insurance policies in Georgia to make at least one reasonably priced comprehensive major medical health insurance policy available to residents in the insurer's approved services areas of Georgia;
· House Resolution 77, which would support the creation of a state cemetery for veterans in Augusta-Richmond County;
· House Resolution 142, which would create a conveyance resolution for certain state owned properties located in Hall, Baldwin and Columbia counties;
· House Resolution 143, which would authorize the granting of non-exclusive easements for the construction, operation and maintenance of facilities, utilities and roads on state properties in the following counties: Barrow, Bartow, Bibb, Camden, Chatham, Glynn, Harris, Macon, Montgomery, Murray, Paulding, Polk, Rabun, Talbot, Troup, Walton, Ware and Washington.
WEEK 6 CAPITOL UPDATE
My colleagues and I returned to the Gold Dome on Tuesday, February 16 for the sixth week of the 2021 legislative session. We spent three productive days in session this week and passed more legislation on the House floor and in our committees. By the end of the week, we finished Legislative Day 19, and the halfway point of the session and the important “Crossover Day” deadline are both right around the corner.
The House unanimously passed legislation at the beginning of the week which seeks to automatically enroll thousands of Georgia’s most vulnerable children in health insurance. House Bill 163 would require the Georgia Department of Community Health to submit an amendment to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to implement “express lane” eligibility in Medicaid and the PeachCare for Kids Program. Upon federal approval of this plan, the Georgia Department of Human Services (DHS) would automatically enroll and renew eligible children who have already qualified for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in Medicaid and PeachCare for Kids. There are approximately 120,000 children enrolled in SNAP who are also eligible for our state health insurance programs, yet some of these children miss out on this coverage because they have to complete a separate application with the DHS. By eliminating the need for families to submit the same information twice with the DHS, this legislation could close this coverage gap and help ensure that uninsured children receive the health care coverage that they deserve.
In an effort to enhance the quality of life for many Georgia families, my colleagues and I overwhelmingly passed House Bill 146 this week to extend paid parental leave to many of our valuable state employees. This legislation would provide up to 120 hours, or three weeks, of paid parental leave annually to eligible state employees and local board of education employees for qualifying life events, such as after the birth of their child and after an adoptive or foster child is first placed in their home. Under this bill, state workers who have been employed for at least six months would be able to use this parental leave regardless of whether they have paid leave benefits. This legislation was first introduced during the 2020 legislative session, but after passing in the House, the bill stalled in the Senate as the legislature shifted its focus to the pandemic last year. As the economy and job market continue to recover, providing this crucial benefit to our state employees would help Georgia retain and recruit the best and brightest workforce.
We also unanimously passed House Bill 128, which was inspired by Gracie Joy Nobles, a Georgia child with Down syndrome, to help safeguard against organ transplant discrimination for children and adults living with disabilities. If Gracie’s Law is enacted, individuals who are candidates for an anatomical gift or organ transplant would not be deemed ineligible or denied insurance coverage or a medical referral solely based on the individual’s physical or mental disability. Additionally, if an individual cannot independently meet medical requirements after a transplant operation but has an adequate support system to assist with these recovery needs, the individual would not be deemed ineligible for the transplant. Children’s Health Care of Atlanta (CHOA), which performs most of the pediatric solid organ transplants in the state, has expressed support for this legislation and also reported that there is no medical reason to warrant such discrimination. This is another piece of legislation that passed in the House last session with bipartisan support, and I hope that Gracie’s Law will cross the finish line this year after consideration from the Senate.
Earlier this session, Governor Brian Kemp unveiled a legislative package to reform adoption and foster care laws, and the House overwhelmingly passed one of these measures this week to make several changes to these laws. House Bill 154 would lower the age at which a person is allowed to petition for adoption from 25 to 21 years old. It is very rare for a young adult to try to adopt in our state, but this change in HB 154 would allow an older sibling or another close relative to petition for adoption as an avenue for the child to remain with these family members if it is deemed as the best option. Additionally, this legislation would recognize other state’s adoption processes and clarify venue alternatives for out-of-state adoption proceedings. This bill would also specify paperwork requirements for those who seek to adopt a child whose parents do not first need to surrender their rights, allow the state to effect service upon a parent even if a mail request was sent back with a return receipt, as well as allow a non-resident petitioner to appear for the final hearing via electronic means if the petition for adoption is uncontested. Furthermore, HB 154 would permit the state to begin the search of the putative father after an adoption petition has been filed, require the petitioner to request for an investigator to verify the adoption petition if the court fails to appoint one and confirm that juvenile courts would keep children’s names confidential during proceedings. Finally, it would create a civil cause of action as a tort claim to address adoption scams where individuals intentionally misrepresent a pregnancy or intention to place a child for adoption. Since the House first modernized and overhauled adoption laws in 2018, the number of adoptions in our state has grown tremendously, while the number of children in foster care continues to decrease. With these important changes in HB 154, even more Georgia children could be adopted and placed in loving homes, including homes with their own family.
We also passed the following bills during this fast-paced week:
· House Bill 90, which would clarify the damages a person holding a security in land may seek when the land is converted without their consent; this would create uniformity with the Uniform Commercial Code by specifying that a buyer in the ordinary course of business shall not have liability to such persons;
· House Bill 93, which would eliminate duplicative state licensure requirements and regulation of clinical laboratories in Georgia that are certified by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services;
· House Bill 111, which would act as the annual revision of Georgia law related to banking and finance. Superfluous language is clarified, removed and consolidated, and terminology is also updated, and outdated language is removed;
· House Bill 130, which would require counties, municipalities and consolidated governments to treat fence detection systems for non-residentially zoned properties the same as alarm systems and would prohibit these local authorities from banning the installation or use of fence detection systems that comply with Georgia law;
· House Bill 165, which would allow for the use of a mount for a telecommunications device on the front windshield of a motor vehicle;
· House Bill 168, which would create an exception to the confidentiality rules pertaining to inmate files for purposes of responding to actions by the State Board of Pardons and Paroles. This exception would be for information requested by the local district attorney when an inmate has been sentenced for a serious violent felony or a dangerous sexual offense that was committed against a minor;
· House Bill 169, which would add the completion of a commercial driver training course as a requirement to receive a commercial driver’s license to make Georgia law consistent with federal requirements, and it would change the maximum length of time that a commercial driver’s instruction permit is valid from two 180-day periods to one 365-day period;
· House Bill 200, which would change the description of the type of three-wheeled motor vehicle that a driver with a Class C driver’s license is permitted to drive from a three-wheeled vehicle that is equipped with a steering wheel to a three-wheeled vehicle that has seat belts and a frame to partially or fully enclose the driver, as well as exempt drivers of certain three-wheeled vehicles from headgear and eye-protective requirements;
· House Bill 207, which would require certain specified documents and registrations to be submitted to the Georgia Department of Revenue electronically instead of through the mail;
· House Bill 212, which would revise Georgia law regarding cardiopulmonary resuscitation to amend the term “parent” to include a person with legal authority to act on behalf of a minor or a parent of an adult without decision-making capacity, as well as clarify requirements for the issuance of an order not to resuscitate a minor to ensure no such order can be issued without consent of the minor’s parent if the parent is reasonably available or competent;
· House Bill 254, which would update Georgia’s public adjuster laws and increase consumer protections from fraud by requiring public adjusters to be licensed by the Department of Insurance (DOI), requiring these adjusters to use DOI approved contracts, among others; this bill would also outline rules for fees, commissions, advertisements and solicitations;
· House Bill 282, which would update Georgia’s ad valorem tax for qualified timberland property by allowing an applicant to declare a tract of land as contiguous even if the tract is divided by certain boundaries, roads or railways, as well as update the qualified timberland property manual and the requirements for a parcel map drawn by the county cartographer or Geographic Information System technician;
· House Bill 287, which would require that mandatory instruction regarding drug and alcohol use include tobacco and vapor products for students in every grade;
· House Bill 353, which would require drivers to make a lane change away from a bicyclist when passing them on a roadway if it is possible or reduce their speed and pass the bicyclist with at least three feet between the vehicle and bicycle; a violation of this law would be a misdemeanor.
WEEK 5 CAPITOL UPDATE
Monday, February 8 marked the start of the fifth week of the 2021 legislative session. During this busy week, the House Rules Committee began holding regular meetings each day, and as a result, my colleagues and I voted on several bills on the House floor. By the end of the week, we completed legislative day 16 and are moving closer to the halfway point of the 40-day session.
The House voted on House Bill 112 at the beginning of the week. The Georgia COVID-19 Pandemic Business Safety Act was enacted early on in the pandemic to provide certain immunities from liability claims regarding COVID-19 for health care facilities, health care providers, businesses or individuals. The legislature first passed the Georgia COVID-19 Pandemic Business Safety Act, or Senate Bill 359, when we returned to the Capitol last June after the stay-at-home order, not knowing then that the pandemic would continue through 2021. Originally set to expire this July, HB 112 would extend these protections until July 14, 2022, and the bill will now undergo consideration in the Senate.
My colleagues and I unanimously passed legislation this week to curb third-party solicitations that cause Georgia’s small businesses and individuals to lose money each year. House Bill 153 would require any person or entity who mails a solicitation for services related to corporate filings with the Secretary of State to include a disclaimer at the top of the document notating that the document is not a bill or official government document. These unfair and deceptive solicitations are known to look very similar to government documents and have misled businesses into paying more to use a third-party service. However, these filings only cost $50 if a business or individual goes directly through the Secretary of State’s Office, and HB 153 would help the business community, especially our small business owners, save money on their annual filings.
The Amended Fiscal Year 2021 (AFY 2021) budget, or House Bill 80, also received final passage this week. The final version of the supplemental budget includes revisions that were made in the Senate earlier in the week, and on Thursday, we approved HB 80 with a House amendment. The final version of the AFY 2021 budget is based on a revenue estimate of $26.56 billion, which is an increase of $654.3 million, or 2.5 percent, over the original budget. With this increase in new revenue, the General Assembly allocated funds to high priority needs like health and education. This new funding will support the Department of Public Health and boost funding for high-demand public health grants due to COVID-19. HB 80 also reflects the governor’s recommendation to restore 60 percent of funding for K-12 education. Finally, this budget recognizes and utilizes additional federal assistance, which will allow us to give Georgia teachers and other school workers a $1,000 pay raise this year, as well as provide funds to help state agencies, colleges and universities and local school systems as they respond to the pandemic. After passing in the House and Senate, HB 80 was sent to the governor’s desk to be signed into law.
Further, Governor Brian Kemp, Lt. Governor Geoff Duncan, Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) and other members of House and Senate leadership gathered this week to announce that 57,159 state employees who earn less than $80,000 will receive a one-time bonus of $1,000 during the current fiscal year. Leveraging savings from federal assistance, the AFY 2021 budget includes an additional $59.6 million for these hardworking employees, and the $80,000 cap aligns with the Teacher Salary Schedule’s maximum salary. To address a more than 90 percent turnover rate, correctional officers will also receive this bonus in addition to a 10 percent salary increase that is included in this budget. Since the pandemic began almost a year ago, our state employees have worked tirelessly to continue to provide state services that every Georgian has benefited from this last year, and this bonus is a way to thank them for their dedication to our state.
Additionally, Gov. Kemp, Lt. Gov. Duncan and Speaker Ralston announced the expansion of rural broadband service across 18 counties in Middle Georgia this week through a new Electric Membership Cooperation (EMC) partnership. They reported that Central Georgia EMC (CGEMC) and Southern Rivers Energy (SRE) will join forces with Conexon, a full-service fiber broadband provider, to provide high-speed internet to 80,000 homes and businesses that are EMC members within the next four years, beginning as early as June 2021. With more than $210 million in overall capital investment, CGEMC will invest $135 million, SRE will invest $53 million, and Conexon will contribute $21.5 million. This EMC partnership will design and build 6,890 miles of fiber network to provide broadband coverage, improve electric service and increase reliability through smart grid capabilities. The House has spearheaded initiatives and legislation in recent years to support rural economic development, including broadband expansion, and I am pleased to report that Middle Georgia will soon see the fruits of these efforts.
The House also passed the following bills on the House floor this week:
· House Bill 67, which would extend the sunset from July 1, 2021 to July 1, 2026 for state agencies and departments to write off small amounts due to the state, as well as non-lapsing revenue collected by the University System of Georgia and the Technical College System of Georgia;
· House Bill 97, which would require that any person appointed as a chief clerk of a probate court, or any clerk designated by a probate judge to exercise such judge’s jurisdiction concerning uncontested matters, to take the oath provided in the bill;
· House Bill 105, which would update Georgia’s law to specifically authorize the Department of Defense to provide compensation to Georgia’s guardsmen who are called to active duty without the governor declaring a state of emergency;
· House Bill 106, which would add the Georgia State Defense Force to the state’s indemnification fund;
· House Bill 129, which would raise the minimum salary to $83,750.51 for sheriffs serving in a county with a population of 39,000 to 49,999;
· House Bill 134, which would exclude cybersecurity contracting and planning meetings from the state’s open meeting requirements and exempts any document or plan for cybersecurity devices, programs or systems from public inspection;
· House Bill 174, which would update the effective date of the Uniform Carriers Act from January 1, 2020, to January 1, 2021, to comply with federal law;
· House Bill 205, which would create new regulations for the travel insurance industry, including establishing uniform meanings of key terms and clarifying sales practices and application of Georgia’s unfair trade practice laws;
· House Bill 208, which would designate the second Wednesday of February as “National Swearing-in Commitment Day” to celebrate the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, which allows young men and women to experience a sample of military life;
· House Bill 246, which would increase the fee for a replacement permit or license from $5 to $10, as well as increase the cost of a limited driving permit from $25 to $32 and the replacement fee for this permit from $5 to $10;
· House Bill 265, which would make several annual updates to the state’s Internal Revenue Code, such as an increase in the deductibility of medical expenses, charitable contributions and business meals, as well as clarification of the tax treatment of loan forgiveness from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.
After Presidents Day, my colleagues and I will return for another eventful week under the Gold Dome. As bills continue to make their way through the legislative process, please contact me with any questions or concerns you have regarding potential policies that may impact our district.
WEEK 4 CAPITOL UPDATE
Members of the Georgia House of Representatives returned to the Gold Dome on Monday, February 1, 2021, and kicked off the fourth week of the 2021 legislative session. We convened for four days in the House Chamber, and the pace picked up this week in our committees. As such, many House bills passed out of their respective committees and have been sent to the Rules Committee, where they are now eligible to be called for a vote on the House floor. Also this week, Governor Brian Kemp rolled out more of his legislative initiatives for this session.
One of the more notable bills that was sent to the Rules Committee this week was House Bill 86, or the “Georgia Lottery Mobile Sports Wagering Integrity Act,” which passed out of the House Economic Development & Tourism Committee and seeks to legalize and regulate sports betting in Georgia. Specifically, HB 86 would allow the Georgia Lottery Corporation to regulate sports wagering, and individuals who are 21 years of age and older would be able to place bets on specific professional and Olympic sporting events through an interactive sports wagering platform. The bill includes certain restrictions for sports betting, including prohibiting the use of credit cards, as well as prohibiting league and team insider betting. Additionally, HB 80 would provide resources for individuals with gambling problems or addictions, enhance fan engagement and strengthen partnerships with Georgia sports teams. During the committee hearing this week, it was estimated that sports betting could generate $433 million in gross revenue, and the taxable revenue could add $43 million into the HOPE Scholarship fund. Several of Georgia’s professional sports teams have expressed their desire for legalized sports betting since the industry’s revenue has plummeted due to the pandemic. As our stadiums continue to remain empty for the time being, legalized sports betting may be one way to keep the professional sports industry, and the jobs it provides, afloat during this unprecedented time.
In other news this week, Gov. Kemp unveiled his major “teacher pipeline” legislative package to recruit, prepare, mentor and retain the best teachers for our classrooms. Through legislative measures, Gov. Kemp intends to boost the educator workforce by allowing retired teachers to return to work full-time in communities with the greatest shortage of teachers. To further address teacher shortages, the governor’s legislative proposal would ease certification requirements for veterans to become teachers and give veterans first priority when enrolling for teacher preparation programs. This plan also seeks to increase the number of minority teachers in classrooms by partnering with historically black colleges and universities to recruit minority educators. Further, Gov. Kemp’s plan would ensure that future teachers are better prepared at the university level with more reading-based instruction, as well as prioritize mentorship in the classroom instead of spending too much time on reviews. Bills associated with this legislative package should be filed in the near future, and I will update you on this legislation as it makes its way through the House and Senate.
The governor also recently announced a legislative package to reform adoption and foster care in Georgia. The first bill, House Bill 114, would increase the state’s tax credit for families that adopt from foster care from $2,000 to $6,000 per year for five years. Gov. Kemp’s legislative package also includes House Bill 154 to make it easier for close relatives to adopt children out of foster care by lowering the age an individual may adopt from 25 to 21. Finally, Senate Bill 28 would increase training and resources for case workers that would allow our juvenile court system to better determine the safety needs of children, including those in foster care. SB 28 would also ensure that all reliable information is made available to the court in order to make decisions that are in a child’s best interest, such as whether placing a child in a new home is actually the best course of action. In recent years, the House has championed adoption reform legislation, and I look forward to building upon that work as we examine these bills.
On Friday, Gov. Kemp rolled out House Bill 304, or the “Georgia Made Medical Manufacturing Act.” This key initiative for the 2021 legislative session seeks to incentivize the production of medicine and medical devices within our state to limit our dependency on other states or foreign countries for critical supplies that aid in the fight against COVID-19. The Georgia Made Medical Manufacturing Act is modeled after Georgia’s Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Tax Credit, which was passed by the House during the 2020 legislative session last June. HB 304 would increase the amount of credit available under the state’s Jobs Tax Credit to incentivize job creation and investment in the medical equipment and pharmaceutical manufacturing industries. This legislation is the next step to ensuring Georgia businesses can operate safely this next year, and my colleagues and I will review this legislation once it has been assigned to a House committee when we return for week five of the session.
While we are busy at work at your State Capitol, we are also closely monitoring the state’s high demand for COVID-19 vaccines. As of this week, Georgia has shipped all of its Moderna allocations and has administered nearly 70 percent of the state’s current vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna). On Wednesday, Georgia hit a major milestone with its vaccination efforts as we surpassed the one million vaccination mark, and more than 500,000 Georgians who are 65 and older have received the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. To ensure that the state’s supply of vaccines can be administered more efficiently, Gov. Kemp recently signed an executive order to allow more medically trained professionals to safely administer the COVID-19 vaccine. Gov. Kemp also announced that Georgia’s weekly vaccine allocation from the federal government will bump up to more than 154,000 starting this month. The governor reported this week that two million Georgians are eligible for the vaccine, including health care workers, public safety officers and residents who are 65 and older and their caregivers. To learn more about the 1A+ phase of Georgia’s vaccine distribution and other important COVID-19 facts, please visit https://dph.georgia.gov/covid-vaccine.
WEEK 3 CAPITOL UPDATE
The third week of the 2021 legislative session under the Gold Dome began on Tuesday, January 26. This week was especially busy as we spent four days in session, and several House committees held their first meetings, both virtually and in-person, to begin considering legislation. During our third week of session, the House Appropriations Committee and its subcommittees passed the Amended Fiscal Year 2021 (AFY 2021) budget and sent a finalized supplemental budget to the House Rules Committee. On Thursday, January 28, my colleagues and I voted on and passed House Bill 80, the AFY 2021 budget, on the House floor.
In June 2020, the original Fiscal Year 2021 budget was set using a revenue estimate of $25.9 billion and reduced funding for all state agencies in preparation for a state revenue decline due to the pandemic. Our state’s economic outlook has improved greatly since then as businesses have safely reopened and much needed federal relief has been distributed. The House’s version of the AFY 2021 budget is based on Governor Brian Kemp’s comprehensive budget proposal for the remainder of the fiscal year, and his revenue estimate for the AFY 2021 budget is $26.56 billion, which is an increase of $654.3 million, or 2.4 percent, compared to the original budget. Directed by the governor’s proposal, HB 80 restores critical funding and reflects the House’s priorities, such as restoring 60 percent of previous reductions to K-12 education funding formulas and boosting grant funding to support our public health agency as it addresses the pandemic. This budget also recognizes $2.7 billion in federal funds that are meant to help our agencies, colleges and local school systems respond to COVID-19.
K- 12 Education
The largest expenditure in the state budget each year goes toward K-12 education, and as such, HB 80 designates a total of $9.6 billion, or 43.4 percent, of the state’s general funds to our K-12 education systems. Last year, the Quality Basic Education (QBE) formula funding was reduced by $950 million to account for a 10 percent decline in state revenue, and, at the time, it was impossible for the General Assembly to pass a constitutional, balanced budget without making reductions. However, since state revenues have increased, we were able to restore 60 percent of this reduction to the QBE formula in HB 80. The House also appropriated $41 million for a midterm adjustment to the QBE formula, holding schools harmless for the 35,264, or 2 percent, decline in student enrollment due to the pandemic. Also, as a result of the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the House’s version of the amended budget reflects $144.6 million in federal funds for the Department of Early Care and Learning for the Child Care and Development Block Grants.
The House’s supplemental budget also includes important funding for higher education in our state. In the House’s AFY 2021 budget, the University System of Georgia (USG) receives $70.1 million that was not included in the FY 2021 budget; this accounts for the USG’s 1.8 percent enrollment growth and a half percent increase in square footage for its campuses throughout the state. Just as we restored funding for K-12 education, we also restored $8.1 million, or 60 percent, to the USG B-Unit programs, such as the Agricultural Experiment Station and the Medical College of Georgia Hospital/Clinic, among others. HB 80 also adds $3.5 million in new funding for enrollment growth at the Technical College System of Georgia.
As the state continues to grapple with COVID-19, the House also prioritized funding to support our public health agency, which has been pivotal in our state’s handling of COVID-19, as well as other health-focused initiatives. To improve the state’s current response plan, HB 80 includes $18 million for the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) to replace and modernize its outdated epidemiologic surveillance system; with these funds, the DPH would also be able to implement further infrastructure improvements that would help keep track of COVID-19 cases. Likewise, HB 80 provides $285,997 for the DPH to hire three essential leaders to help navigate the agency’s COVID-19 response: a chief medical officer, a deputy commissioner of public health and a chief data officer. We also recognized more than $1 billion from federal relief packages to support the DPH, including funding for epidemiology and laboratory capacity, COVID-19 vaccine preparedness and public health crisis response. The House approved $19.3 million to increase the Medicaid growth allowance for skilled nursing centers by five percent, totaling a rate increase of 3.5 percent. Skilled nursing centers have been some of the hardest hit by the pandemic, and this allowance would assist these centers that have experienced large revenue losses and increased staffing costs associated with COVID-19. As a result of the federal “Families First Coronavirus Response” Act, HB 80 captures $372.9 million in savings for the AFY 2021 budget from a temporary 6.2 percent boost in the Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP) rate. In HB 80, we also appropriated $1.8 million in start-up costs for the Patients First Act and the state’s 1115 Medicaid waiver, which will be effective July 1, 2021. Further, our version of the AFY 2021 budget provides $15.4 million to support the increased utilization of the AIDS Drug Assistance Program during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Georgia’s human services agencies also receive important appropriations in the House’s amended budget. In the AFY 2021 budget, my colleagues and I recognized various federal investments that protect essential programs for the Georgia Department of Human Services (DHS) and the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD). HB 80 acknowledges more than $130 million in federal relief funds for human service agencies used for a variety of pandemic response-related grants, and the bill also recognizes an additional $35 million in savings from the enhanced FMAP rate, which will ensure funding for certain essential programs within the DHS and the DBHDD. Furthermore, HB 80 utilizes $1.7 million in FMAP savings for a new 10-bed behavioral health crisis center to specifically serve Georgians with a mental health diagnosis and/or an intellectual or developmental disability. We also allocated $4.7 million to the DHS to anticipate an increase in Medicaid services resulting from the Patients First Act. Finally, HB 80 supports foster care in our state by partially restoring $176,500 for the Georgia Multi-Agency Alliance for Children (MAAC) to provide educational services to more than 80 foster children, in addition to the more than 1,700 children already served through this program.
Criminal Justice & Public Safety
In HB 80, we also identified funding opportunities to help our criminal justice and public safety agencies conduct their work more efficiently. In our AFY 2021 budget, my colleagues and I allocated more than $427,000 to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) for recruitment and retention of medical examiners. Georgia’s medical examiners conduct nearly 40 percent more autopsies than the recommended amount due to staff shortages caused by low wages, and this funding would make these positions more competitive. At the governor’s recommendation, HB 80 also includes an additional $223,600 for the GBI to expand the state’s gang database with critical gang-related information provided by local law enforcement. Additionally, the amended budget accounts for $100 million from the CARES Act for public safety agencies to help other state agencies as they continue to respond to the pandemic.
Economic Development & Transportation
The House also designated funding in the AFY 2021 budget to assist Georgia’s economy as it continues to recover from the pandemic. The House reaffirmed its commitment to rural broadband expansion by allocating $20 million for the OneGeorgia Authority to launch its new broadband infrastructure grant program, which would greatly assist rural areas in leveraging resources to address broadband needs that are specific to each rural community. This funding would also provide for a grant administrator to oversee and maintain this broadband program. Furthermore, the AFY 2021 budget recognizes the following CARES Act funding that specifically supports transportation efforts in our state: $25.7 million in CARES Act payments to the Atlanta-region Transit Link Authority and $410.8 million in CARES Act funding for the Georgia Department of Transportation’s Airport Aid program.
Georgia Department of Labor
The House’s AFY 2021 budget recognizes more than $60 million in federal funding for the Georgia Department of Labor (GDOL) to address workforce issues resulting from the pandemic. This includes funding for the department’s Unemployment Insurance (UI) Program, the Short-Term Compensation Program and the Dislocated Worker Program. Many Georgians have experienced unemployment since the start of the pandemic, and the GDOL staff have certainly been overwhelmed by the continual high number of UI benefit claims submitted each week. With this federal funding, the GDOL will be able to better process and pay claims to Georgians.
These are just a few of the highlights of the House’s amended budget. The AFY 2021 budget will now go through the legislative process in the Senate, where it will undergo further review. Next, the House Appropriations Committee and its subcommittees will begin to focus on the Fiscal Year 2022 budget.
WEEK 2 CAPITOL UPDATE
The Georgia General Assembly resumed its work on Tuesday, January 19 for the second week of the 2021 legislative session, which is commonly known as “budget week.” The House and Senate Appropriations committees held a series of joint budget hearings this week, where Governor Brian Kemp delivered opening remarks and presented his formal recommendations for the amended budget and upcoming fiscal year budget. Later in the week, House Appropriations subcommittees quickly got to work to further examine the recommendations and requests for the current year’s amended budget. Whether we participated in the budget hearings in-person or virtually, it was a busy week under the Gold Dome as we worked to ensure that critical state funds are spent wisely while our state continues on the road to economic recovery.
The Georgia General Assembly is required by our state constitution to pass a balanced budget each legislative session, and as such, the appropriations process is one of the most important responsibilities we are tasked with each year. This session, my colleagues and I will first consider legislation for the Amended Fiscal Year 2021 (AFY 2021) budget, which adjusts the current fiscal year’s budget to account for changes in revenue. Then, we will turn our attention to the Fiscal Year 2022 (FY 2022) budget, which is the budget for the upcoming fiscal year that begins on July 1 and ends June 30 of the next calendar year and is set at a revenue estimate of $27.2 billion. Last June, in the midst of the pandemic, the General Assembly prepared for the worst when it passed a reduced Fiscal Year 2021 budget, bracing for the economic fallout due to COVID-19. However, I am pleased to share with you that Gov. Kemp reported optimistic revenue projections that will allow us to restore and expand funding in certain areas of the budgets to help rebuild our economy.
One of the governor’s top budgetary priorities is to restore funding and resources to our K-12 and higher education systems to provide Georgia students with high-quality educational opportunities and the essential skills needed to enter the workforce. Consequently, Gov. Kemp’s proposal includes more than $647 million in the AFY 2021 budget and $573 million in the FY 2022 budget for K-12 education. These appropriations would fully fund enrollment growth, regardless of any reductions in enrollment this fiscal year due to COVID-19. Under the governor’s proposal, our higher education systems would also see restored and additional funding to account for enrollment growth during the current and upcoming school years. Gov. Kemp also announced that Georgia’s education system is estimated to receive more than $3.5 billion from the federal Education Stabilization Fund to ensure that our teachers and school systems are equipped with the necessary resources to provide the best education possible to Georgia students throughout the pandemic.
Gov. Kemp’s budget proposal also reinforces the critical role of Georgia’s expansive transportation infrastructure, which fuels our tourism and logistics industries, as well as attracts businesses looking to bring well-paying jobs to Georgia. To properly maintain this infrastructure and plan for future economic needs, the governor recommends adding nearly $200 million in both the AFY 2021 and FY 2022 budgets to the Georgia Department of Transportation for roadways, including $38.8 million for the State Road and Tollway Authority (SRTA). Leveraging more than $500,000 in future Guaranteed Revenue Bonds, the SRTA would focus on developing our toll system and reducing traffic delays on busy interstates. Gov. Kemp’s budget also accounts for $110 million in general obligation bonds for transportation. This bond package includes $100 million to repair and replace bridges and $10 million to upgrade our more than 1,000 miles of short-line rail, both of which play an essential role in supporting Georgia’s manufacturing and agricultural industries.
The governor’s budget also seeks to promote growth and prosperity across our state, particularly in rural areas that have faced unique challenges during the pandemic. To that end, the FY 2022 budget proposal includes nearly $40 million for the OneGeorgia Authority to establish a Rural Innovation Fund, which would offer resources for public-private partnerships tailored to meet the specific needs of every rural community. Additionally, Gov. Kemp recommends an appropriation of $20 million in the AFY 2021 budget and an additional $10 million each year going forward for the OneGeorgia Authority to establish a broadband infrastructure grant program. Many of us have been able to adapt to working from home using virtual apps and programs during the pandemic, yet rural communities with limited broadband access have struggled with remote learning and work-from-home environments. This appropriation would provide rural communities with access to funding that would enable them to leverage federal, local and private resources to implement much needed broadband expansion.
In an effort to protect the health and wellbeing of Georgians, Gov. Kemp’s budget would increase access to affordable health care. Gov. Kemp recommends allocating more than $329 million in the upcoming fiscal year for Medicaid and PeachCare to cover projected needs for some of our most vulnerable citizens. His FY 2022 budget proposal also includes $76 million to implement the Patients First Act, which would allow our state to identify innovative health insurance coverage solutions and increase access to health insurance for low-income Georgians. Gov. Kemp’s proposal for health care funding could alleviate rising health care costs, as well as give employers the ability to expand their business or raise wages for employees.
The state’s fiscal economist, Dr. Jeffrey Dorfman, also joined us during budget week and provided important insight regarding Georgia’s economic forecast as we continue to battle COVID-19. Dorfman shared that Georgia’s successful recovery is partially due to the governor’s decision to reopen the economy last year, as well as the ingenuity of Georgia’s business owners who figured out how to operate amid the pandemic. He also explained that U.S. personal income is still above the March 2019 level by 2.9 percent as the federal government supplemented many incomes last year, and Dorfman stated that he believes that Georgia’s labor market has recovered as best as possible until the pandemic is over. Overall, he reported that consumer spending was strong this past year, which has been held up by various federal assistance initiatives, and this has helped our sales tax collections tremendously. Dorfman also stated that most households are in a much better financial condition than a typical recession, and Georgia’s economic recovery will get stronger as COVID-19 vaccinations continue this next year. We will monitor further economic projections like this as we craft a state budget that takes care of families and businesses here in Georgia.
After the joint hearings concluded, several House Appropriations subcommittees met this week to delve even further into Gov. Kemp’s recommendations to create the amended budget bill for AFY 2021. The Georgia constitution requires the state budget bills to begin in the House; therefore, each Appropriations subcommittee will pass portions of the state budgets, and those portions will be brought before the full House Appropriations Committee, which will review and pass balanced budgets for AFY 2021 and FY 2022. The budget bills will then go to the House Rules Committee to be scheduled for a vote on the House floor. After the budget bills makes their way through the House, the bills will be transmitted to our counterparts in the Senate, where they will begin the same process.
WEEK 1 CAPITOL UPDATE
On Monday, January 11, 2021, newly elected members of the Georgia General Assembly from across the state gathered at the State Capitol for the first day of the 156th Legislative Session. Since Monday marked the first day of the 2021-2022 term, every member of the Georgia House of Representatives took the oath of office and was formally sworn in by Superior Court Chief Judge Brenda Weaver. It was an honor to take the oath and be sworn in to represent the citizens and of our great district. Once we were sworn in, we promptly got to work to cast our first vote of the legislative session to re-elect our leaders who will guide the House through our next two years of public service. After hearing the nominations, Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) and Speaker Pro Tempore Jan Jones (R-Milton) were both re-elected to their respective positions. We also convened in the House Chamber to hear Governor Brian Kemp’s annual State of the State address during this busy and exciting week.
The way we conduct our legislative business has changed in many ways due to the threat of COVID-19, and this session is no exception. A bipartisan committee, which was previously appointed by Speaker Ralston, met last fall to further explore solutions to keep House members and staff safe at the Capitol. To that end, many of our committee meetings this session will have in-person and virtual attendance options, and the public can watch live streams of all official House meetings on our website from the safety of their homes. Additional safety procedures have also been implemented at the State Capitol to allow us to meet in-person during the next several months, including a bi-weekly, asymptomatic COVID-19 testing program for House members and staff, as well as guidelines for social distancing and wearing masks. Things certainly looked a lot different this first week of session, but we are committed to serving the citizens of Georgia while keeping the health and well-being of members and staff at the forefront of our minds.
As is customary during the first week of session, Governor Kemp came before the joint legislature and judicial branch to deliver his State of the State address on Thursday, January 14. This annual speech gives our governor an opportunity to convey his assessment of the current condition of our state and our shared goals for continued progress and success over the next year. A video of Legislative Day 4, which includes Gov. Kemp’s address, can be found here: https://bit.ly/3snKHU9.
During his address, Gov. Kemp reflected on the many storms our state has weathered since the start of the pandemic. He also reminded us of the steps that were taken this last year to combat the deadly virus in Georgia, including opening mobile hospital units, implementing a widely available COVID-19 testing infrastructure and deploying the Georgia National Guard to assist in response operations. Our state also prioritized personal protective equipment (PPE) procurement and additional health care personnel staffing. Furthermore, Georgia allocated a quarter of a million dollars in CARES Act funds to assist in the fight, and the governor plans to distribute additional federal funding through early March. Through Operation Warp Speed, the state has administered more than 283,000 COVID-19 vaccinations as of Jan. 13. The governor thanked the legislature for passing a PPE tax credit for businesses that manufacture PPE in our state, but implored us to continue to find solutions to allow businesses to operate safely. Together, we observed a moment of silence for the thousands of Georgians that succumbed to the virus and commended our health care heroes who have been on the frontlines saving lives every day. Dr. Kathleen Toomey, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Health, was in attendance for the annual address, and we applauded her for her unparalleled leadership that has guided our state’s carefully measured response to COVID-19.
To further protect lives and livelihoods against the virus in the coming months, the governor also laid out some of his top legislative priorities for this year, which include expanding the new PPE tax credit to include pharmaceutical and medical equipment manufacturers. Gov. Kemp also announced his intentions to build upon ongoing efforts to support schools by restoring funding to school systems across our state, fully funding enrollment growth and holding schools harmless for enrollment reductions. The governor went on to discuss several funding initiatives to support teachers, families with special needs children and institutions that serve minority students. The governor then revealed his plans to boost access to rural broadband grants to help improve broadband access across Georgia; this effort is especially critical for new remote learning environments. In addition, he outlined a funding proposal to implement the Georgia Pathways and Access program in order to drive down health care costs and increase access to quality health care. Finally, Gov. Kemp stated that he will push for legislation to protect human trafficking survivors who seek to change their names and allow victims to seek court action against their traffickers or those who knowingly aided in trafficking. As the session progresses, I will update you on any related legislation as it makes it through the legislative process. Before Gov. Kemp closed his address, he highlighted some of his budget recommendations for the Amended Fiscal Year 2020 and Fiscal Year 2021 budgets. The governor’s budget recommendations do not include any new budget cuts for our state agencies and departments, as well as no furloughs or layoffs for state employees, without increasing state taxes. My colleagues and I will be busy next week reviewing Gov. Kemp’s budget proposals and beginning the state budget process through a series of Joint House and Senate Appropriations Committee hearings, which is commonly referred to as “budget week.”
Now that the 2021 session is underway, I will be working diligently on behalf of our entire district while I am at the Capitol. I hope you will take the opportunity to review updates like this to stay informed on legislative matters that affect our district and state. The House recently launched its new public House website, www.legis.ga.gov/house, where you can track our progress throughout the session. It features a new intuitive layout with a number of tools for you stay up-to-date on what’s going on at the Capitol, such as archived committee meetings and an easy to use legislative search function.