Georgia Gold Dome Report Legislative Day 23 – The National Law Review

The Georgia House put in a full day on Thursday, taking up twelve propositions across two Rules Calendars before adjourning near 4PM. Representatives unanimously approved a bill strengthening Georgia’s Childhood Lead Exposure Act (HB 1355) and passed legislation expanding the Georgia Smoke-Free Air Act to prohibit vaping in the same settings in which smoking is already banned (HB 1348). But mooove over, Louis Pasteur–the House also signed off on legislation allowing raw milk to be sold in the state (HB 1175). Risk of foodborne illness aside, it was a good day for the Farm Bureau under the Gold Dome, where legislators also approved the Freedom to Farm Act (HB 1150) by a substantial margin.

Meanwhile, the State Senate took up their version of the Amended FY22 budget (HB 910), setting up discussions between the House and Senate to agree on a compromise spending plan that will take the State through the rest of the current fiscal year. Highlights from the Senate’s budget proposal, committee meetings from Wednesday and Thursday, and much more in this #GoldDomeReport.

In this Report:

  • Senate Adopts Amended FY22 Budget

  • Floor Action

  • Committee Reports

  • New Legislation

  • What’s Next

Senate Adopts Amended FY22 Budget

After revealing its take on the Amended FY22 Budget earlier this week, the State Senate unanimously approved the spending measure (HB 910) on Thursday. The proposal now goes back to the House for agreement or the beginning of the process of appointing a conference committee to work out differences between the House and Senate versions. Budget allocations for select agencies are included below:


Floor Action

The House of Representatives took up the following measures on Thursday:

  • HB 508 – Commerce and trade; commercial recordings, musical performances, and audiovisual works; provide protections – PASSED (164-1)

  • HB 916 – Superior and State Court Appellate Practice Act; enact – PASSED (167-0)

  • HB 997 – Ad valorem tax; timber equipment and timber products held by timber producers; provide exemption – RECOMMITTED

  • HB 1058 – Income tax; affiliated corporations file separate or consolidated returns; provisions – PASSED (163-0)

  • HB 1150 – Freedom to Farm Act; enact – PASSED (102-62)

  • HB 1216 – Traffic offenses; enhanced penalties for violations of fleeing or attempting to elude a police officer; provide – PASSED (95-62)

  • HB 1324 – Health and insurance; clarify that the prudent layperson standard is not affected by the diagnoses given – PASSED (165-0)

  • HB 1348 – Georgia Smoke-free Air Act; revise – PASSED (149-12)

  • HB 1349 – Natural Resources, Dept. of; attempt to prevent net loss of land acreage available for hunting on state owned lands; extend date – PASSED (162-0)

  • HB 1355 – Childhood Lead Exposure Control Act; revise – PASSED (163-0)

  • HB 960 – Office of the Inspector General; establish – PASSED (163-0)

  • HB 1175 – Georgia Raw Dairy Act; enact – PASSED (100-62)

  • HR 594 – County and municipal governing authorities; grant temporary tax relief to properties severely damaged or destroyed as a result of a disaster and located within a nationally declared disaster area; provide – CA – FAILED (30-112)

The Senate took up the following measures on Thursday:

  • HB 910 – Supplemental appropriations; State Fiscal Year July 1, 2021 – June 30, 2022 – PASSED (52-0)

  • SB 403 – “Georgia Behavioral Health and Peace Officer Co-Responder Act”; enact – PASSED (53-0)

  • SR 504 – Native American Tribes; recognize – PASSED (50-0)

Committee Reports

Senate Regulated Industries & Utilities Committee

The Senate Regulated Industries & Utilities Committee, chaired by Senator Bill Cowsert (R-Athens), met on Wednesday to consider the following legislation:

  • HB 1049 by Representative John LaHood (R-Valdosta) adds two positions to the state’s term care administrator board. To move it from 9 to 11 for assisted living professionals and other professionals on the board. Currently, there are three board members from small facilities. This would add one assisted living nurse from a large facility and one nursing home administrator.

    Representative LaHood presented the bill to the Committee, which recommended the bill DO PASS and be sent to the Rules Committee. Senator Billy Hickman (R-Statesboro) will carry the bill in the Senate.

  • SB 212, authored by Senator Jeff Mullis (R-Chickamauga), amends Title 50 to provide for pari-mutuel horse racing and create a licensing framework for the issuance of licenses to equestrian centers. The bill also creates the Georgia Horse Racing Commission to administrate all aspects of horse racing in the state and enters the state into the Interstate Compact on Licensure of Participants in Live Racing with Pari-mutuel Wagering.

    The bill was presented by Senator Brandon Beach (R-Alpharetta) as a Substitute (LC 36 5235S), which incorporates changes including raising the maximum number of potential licensees from three to five, removing geographic restrictions on licensees, and removing “slot machine-type” machines at racetracks. Senator Beach indicated that this bill would have a $1.2 billion economic impact on Georgia, in addition to the construction investment. There will be no off-track betting or table games allowed under the bill. The bill will also establish a Georgia Horse Breeders Fund to incentivize horse breeding in the state. According to Senator Beach, the Breeders Cup has agreed to bring an event in Georgia if legislation is successful and a track is built. Senator Beach asked that the Committee disregard his propositions on this topic (SB 30 and SR 53) and support the Committee Substitute to SB 212.

    Senators Jeff Mullis (R-Chickamauga) and Ed Harbison (D-Columbus) expressed appreciation for Senator Beach’s work on this issue. Chairman Cowsert asked Senator Beach to explain the distribution of State revenues to be generated by horse racing. Senator Beach explained that 5% of purses would be collected, with 3.5% to fund education and rural development issues and the remainder being divided between the Georgia Horse Breeders Fund, expansion of veterinary programs at UGA, and horse retirement.

    Senator Billy Hickman (R-Statesboro) spoke in support of the legislation, noting the economic impact of the horse racing industry. Mike Griffin of the Georgia Baptist Mission Board spoke in opposition to the legislation.

    Chairman Cowsert stated that there is still some “perfecting” to do on the legislation, which he expects to be done overnight before a vote in Committee on Thursday at 3PM.

  • SR 131, authored by Senator Jeff Mullis (R-Chickamauga), calls for a constitutional amendment to legalize pari-mutuel betting on horse racing.

    Senator Mullins presented the resolution to the Committee as a Substitute (LC 36 5236S). The Substitute allows for fixed-odd betting as well as pari-mutuel betting and clarifies that no gambling is permitted at these racetracks other than live pari-mutuel and live fixed-odd betting. In response to questions, Chairman Cowsert noted that Senate leadership “has been very clear” that the Senate will not pass a constitutional amendment allowing gambling broader than this unless accompanied by enabling legislation.

    The Committee recommended the resolution DO PASS by Committee Substitute with an 8-1 vote and be sent to the Rules Committee.

Senate Insurance and Labor Committee – Health and Workman’s Comp Subcommittee

The Health and Workman’s Comp Subcommittee of the Senate Insurance and Labor Committee, chaired by Senator Ben Watson (R-Savannah), met on Wednesday to hold a hearing only on the following legislation:

  • SB 487, authored by Senator Sheila McNeill (R-Brunswick), amends Title 33 to provide that diagnostic breast examinations shall not be treated less favorably than screening mammography for breast cancer with respect to insurance cost-sharing requirements.

    Senator McNeill presented the legislation alongside Senator Michael Rhett (D-Marietta) as a substitute (LC 52 0108S), noting that about 12% of patients are called back for diagnostic imaging after initial mammography, which can be costly. The Substitute moves the effective date until 2023. Senator Freddie Powell Sims (D-Dawson) asked whether a biopsy can be indicated by a screening mammogram alone, to which Chairman Watson said sometimes, but not always. Senator Randy Robertson (R-Cataula) inquired why death rates are higher for women who get mammograms and issues around access and disadvantaged populations.

    The bill is being promoted by the Susan G. Komen Foundation, and Leah Barber of Komen spoke in support of the legislation. Delphene Taylor, a volunteer for Komen from Georgia, appeared in support of the bill and discussed her experience being diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer, as well as another Komen representative. Lynn Durham of the Georgia Center for Oncology Research and Education spoke in support of the bill, as did Natalie Crawford of Georgia First. Jesse Weathington of the Georgia Association of Health Plans spoke in opposition to the legislation, noting that this concept is being discussed at the federal level and could eventually moot the legislation. He also asked that, if the bill advances, language be added to clarify that patients may be required to have a mammogram before proceeding to diagnostics. Chairman Watson clarified with Mr. Weathington that increased costs related to this legislation would be passed on to the patients and governments paying insurance premiums. Ashley Haltom of Georgia Bio closed testimony with a statement of support for the bill. Senator Robertson suggested that if patient advocates, providers, and insurers got together, this issue might be resolved without legislation.

    The Subcommittee took no action on the bill on Wednesday.

Senate Economic Development and Tourism Committee

Chairman Bruce Thompson (R-White) called a meeting to order on Wednesday to discuss one bill and hear a presentation.

  • SB 379, by Senator Brian Strickland (R-McDonough), presented by substitute, LC 432317S, amends Chapter 4 of Title 20 of the O.C.G.A. This provides for the State Board of the Technical College System of Georgia to establish a program to promote the creation and expansion of registered apprenticeship programs in the state. Specifically, the bill creates the High-demand Career Initiatives Program within the Office of Workforce Development to incentivize apprenticeship sponsors to establish new or additional registered apprenticeship programs. The Program will be established subject to appropriations and allow employers to sponsor up to five apprenticeships per year and receive a contract completion award of up to $10,000 per apprentice.

    The substitute includes five major changes. In the preamble, “the board” replaces “Office of Workforce Development”. In line 45, the Department of Education is added to the list to better coordinate programs with TCSG. Senator Strickland replaced “incentivize small- and medium- sized” with “establish new or grow existing registered” in line 48 and removed graduated from line 56 because students do not graduate from these programs.

    After many positive remarks from Committee members, the bill unanimously passed.

  • The Committee then heard a presentation on cyber security from Palo Alto Networks, Thomas McClellan. He announced the $10,000 in scholarships for students at Historically Black College and Universities. After detailing their community service and outreach, Mr. McClellan described the four primary threats to our cyber security systems, which are attacks on the supply chain, ransomware, industrial control system attacks, and vulnerability exploitation. The discussion concluded with suggestions on how legislators could help.

Senate Health and Human Services Committee

Chairman Ben Watson (R-Savannah) and members of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee met on Wednesday and addressed only one bill, HB 1086, authored by Representative Katie Dempsey (R-Rome). HB 1086 seeks to amend current law regarding the offering of influenza vaccines to patients being discharged from hospitals.  Currently, hospitals offer such to patients who are ages 65 and older, and this proposal seeks to make the offering to individuals who are 50 years and older.  This change is a recommendation of the CDC, and the vaccine is covered by insurers as well as Medicare. The Committee gave the legislation a DO PASS recommendation. Chairman Watson will carry the bill in the Senate.

House Health and Human Services Committee

On Wednesday, Chairwoman Sharon Cooper (R-Marietta) called a House Health and Human Services Committee meeting to order to hear two bills.

  • HB 1013, authored by Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) and presented by Representative Todd Jones (R-South Forsyth) and Representative Mary Margaret Oliver (D-Decatur), amends Titles 15, 20, 31, 33, 37, 45, and 49 of the O.C.G.A. This extensive bill includes state mental health parity monitoring for private insurers, Medicaid managed care plans, and the State Health Benefit Plan, a requirement to offer mental health services by state-regulated insurance carriers. It also permits law enforcement to take a person directly to services without charging him or her with a crime. It provides for pilot projects for outpatient treatment ordered by the probate courts and mental health workforce development efforts by training more professionals and studying rates of payment by Medicaid. The legislation includes law enforcement co-responder programs where a mental health professional and mental health consumer accompany law enforcement as well as several provisions to reorganize the oversight of child and adolescent mental health services. The concepts involve improving services in several state systems where Georgians with mental illness are served, be they DBHDD, prisons, jails, or in the private sector. The proposed legislation will be accompanied by budget enhancements to increase core and crisis services in the community service boards, build capacity on the state hospitals, and increase available housing.

    The first substitute for HB 1013 reflected amendments that the bill’s sponsors and Chair Cooper had accepted to date. The adolescent frequent patient registry, for example, was removed from the bill while the authors think through how to better coordinate care for adolescents who frequently visit ERs for their mental health conditions. The required medical loss ratio to be achieved by the Medicaid care management organizations was amended to allow some credits to the medical spend for programs funded by the organizations to improve health conditions. Members asked questions about the medical loss ratio language, how to improve adolescent mental health care, sheriffs’ issues with transporting patients from emergency evaluation centers, and how to minimize administrative costs to providers from multiple regulatory agencies. The mental health parity provisions have not been significantly adjusted in this substitute.

    Speaker Ralston came to speak on the measure noting that it is his top priority. Wednesday’s iteration had a few more changes. Several were specific to transports, including allowing grants by the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council. Authors added in Chairwoman Cooper’s psychiatric advanced directive, among other changes.

    The bill received a DO PASS recommendation and is headed to the House Rules Committee.

  • SB 256 is authored by Senator Dean Burke (R-Bainbridge) and carried by Representative Sharon Cooper in the House. Initially, LC 33 8737 SCS, the measure specified the appointed district health director in a county to be the chief executive officer for the county board of health.

    Chairman Cooper’s, LC 33 9047S, new language prevents a minor from purchasing, in-person or online, dextromethorphan or a finished drug product containing dextromethorphan. To purchase this product, one must provide proper identification. Anyone who violates this law can face a misdemeanor charge. The substitute received a DO PASS recommendation and is waiting to be heard in the Rules Committee.

House Special Committee on Access to Quality Health Care

The House Special Committee on Access to Quality Health Care, chaired by Representative Mark Newton (R-Augusta), met to consider the following propositions late Thursday:

  • HB 1371, authored by Representative Rick Jasperse (R-Jasper), creates the Rural Health Advancement Commission. The Commission will be charged with developing private-sector solutions to address short-term and long-term health care and long-term care workforce shortages, emphasizing rural areas.

    Representative Jasperse presented the bill to the Committee, noting that it is a product of the House Rural Development Council. Tim Kibler of the Georgia Alliance of Community Hospitals spoke in favor of the bill. The Committee recommended the bill DO PASS by Substitute and be sent to the Rules Committee.

  • HR 768, authored by Representative Lee Hawkins (R-Gainesville), creates the House Study Committee on Expanding Long-Term Care Options. The Committee recommended the resolution DO PASS and be sent to the Rules Committee.

House Higher Education Committee

Chairman Chuck Martin (R-Alpharetta) called a meeting of the full Higher Education Committee to order on Wednesday to discuss three measures.

  • HB 1043, by Representative Rick Jasperse (R-Jasper), amends Chapter 12 of Title 50 to create the Georgia Endowment for Teaching Professionals. The governing board will be comprised of 11 members, five appointed by the Governor, including the Commissioner of TCSG and Economic Development, three members appointed by the President of the Senate, and three by the Speaker of the House. The board will appoint a 30-person advisory committee to aid in the review of grant applications. These applications will work towards hiring teaching professionals in high-demand fields at competitive salaries. This bill received a DO PASS recommendation.

  • HB 1319, authored by Representative Bill Werkheiser (R-Glennville), amends Part 3 of Article 7 of Chapter 3 of Title 20. This measure establishes the Georgia Law Enforcement Officer (LEO) service cancelable loan, which cancels debt for students, medical examiners who meet certain requirements. The student’s alma mater must be a TCSG or a USG institution. They must be a full-time or part-time student pursuing an associate or bachelor’s degree in criminal justice or another relevant social science field. Eligible students are approved for a loan award a maximum of four years for $2,000 per year. The substitute of this bill allows for full-time licensed medical examiners to apply for loan repayment up to $80,000. An approved applicant can receive up to $20,000 for every 12-months of service.

    Representative Jasperse asked what the average debt of a medical examiner was. After some research, the author was able to explain that it is typically between $300,000-$400,000. After committee members discussed this back and forth, a motion was made to increase the maximum to $120,0000. The motion passed and then received a DO PASS recommendation.

  • HB 1435, by Chairman Chuck Martin, amends Subpart 2A of Part 3 of Article 7 of Chapter 3 of Title 20 of the O.C.G.A. This measure allows students who have completed 80% of credit requirements toward the completion of their program to apply for up to $2,500 for the financial aid gap. This gap is defined as the amount remaining after other funding for the cost of attending a technical college or university. These funds will be disbursed by the Georgia Student Finance Commission. Representatives from the Georgia Independent College Association, Coalition of Educators, Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, and Agnes Scott expressed support for the measure. No committee action was taken on this bill.

Senate Veterans, Military, and Homeland Security

Chairman Kay Kirkpatrick (R-Marietta) presented her legislation, SB 339, to the Committee, which sailed quickly out as a Committee Substitute with a DO PASS recommendation. SB 339 adds a statewide alert in O.C.G. A. 35-3-171 for active military service and veterans with unknown medical conditions when they are missing. The legislation moves to the Senate Rules Committee for review.  The original legislation proposed a “Green Call” in O.C.G.A. 35-3-220.

House Judiciary Non-Civil

Chairman James Burchett (R-Waycross) and his Non-Civil Judiciary Committee met on Wednesday to discuss the following measure:

  • HB 906, authored by Representative Randy Nix (R-LaGrange), seeks to fix a local problem with the use of four-wheel and off-road vehicles being used in dangerous ways.  It is seeking to add more stringent penalties by authorizing civil forfeiture penalties for individuals who are arrested for recklessly operating such vehicles or fleeing police.  The legislation was vetted in the Subcommittee as Chief of Police Dekmar had requested the legislation.  The Committee also mentioned that this legislation would also add a tool to the toolbox in helping combat drug crimes.  The legislation received a DO PASS recommendation to the Substitute and now moves to the House Rules Committee.

House Industry and Labor Committee

Chairman Bill Werkheiser (R-Glennville) and the Industry and Labor Committee reviewed several proposals on Wednesday:

  • HB 1409, authored by Representative Bill Werkheiser (R-Glennville), addresses Georgia’s workers’ compensation laws in Chapter 9 of Title 34.  The legislation seeks to raise the weekly maximum wage by $50 and was a recommendation put forth by the State Workers’ Compensation Board Advisory Panel.  The Committee had a number of questions regarding whether the $50 was enough and whether a better idea would be to raise the wage by $100, providing $50 now and $50 within 12 months.  The discussion was whether this General Assembly should bind the hands of a future General Assembly with this raise. Bobby Potter, the Chair of the Advisory Council, spoke to the proposal, noting it would likely be best to move forward with the $50. The Committee moved forward with the Chairman’s legislation with a DO PASS recommendation.

  • SB 331, authored by Senator John Albers (R-Roswell), seeks to establish the “Protecting Georgia Businesses and Workers Act” in Chapter 4 of Title 34 by adding a new subsection (d)

    •  (d)(1) No local government entity may adopt, maintain, or enforce by charter, ordinance, regulation, rule, or resolution the hours or scheduling that an employer is required to provide employees or otherwise regulate employee output during work hours.

    • (2) Any local government entity may set and regulate such hours, scheduling, and output for its own employees and for the provision of services, including, but not limited to, those related to the supplementary powers given to local governments in Article IX, Section II, Paragraph III of the Constitution of this state.

    • (3) Nothing in this subsection shall prohibit a local government entity from regulating or limiting the hours a business may operate.

The Committee heard that the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, Metro Atlanta Chamber, NFIB, Georgia Restaurant Association, and Georgia Hotel and Lodging Association support the proposal.  The Committee gave this legislation a DO PASS recommendation.

  • HB 1331, authored by Representative Steven Meeks (R-Screven), relates to the State Employees Service and Employment Security Administration Fund in Chapter 8 of Title 34. This is Governor Kemp’s legislation and aligns funding oversight for federal funds (Wagner-Peyser Act) received by the state, moving the oversight of the funds to TCSG rather than the Department of Labor. The legislation received a DO PASS recommendation.

  • HB 1375, authored by Representative Beth Moore (D-Peachtree Corners), seeks to amend O.C.G.A. 34-9-13 so as to eliminate cohabitation as a basis upon which to terminate the dependency of a spouse and cease workers’ compensation payments.  The legislation only received a hearing; no action was taken.

On Thursday, House Appropriations Committee – Compensation Subcommittee

Chairman Clay Pirkle (R-Ashburn) and members of the Compensation Subcommittee, on Thursday, moved through three resolutions compensating individuals for their wrongful incarcerations.  The Subcommittee proposed to compensate the individuals at $60,000 per year.  The Resolutions now move forward to the full Appropriations Committee for further review.  These resolutions are HR 593, authored by Representative Don Hogan (R-St. Simons Island) for Dennis Perry; HR 626, authored by Representative Scott Holcomb (D-Atlanta) for Kerry Robinson; and HR 665, authored by Representative Carolyn Hugley (D-Columbus) for Ashley Jordan (Debelbot).  Each of these individuals has been exonerated of their crimes and have been supported by the Georgia Innocence Project.

New Legislation

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

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

What’s Next

The General Assembly will reconvene for Legislative Day 24 on Friday, March 4 at 10AM.

The House is expected to consider the following propositions on Legislative Day 24:

  • HB 1 – Forming Open and Robust University Minds (FORUM) Act; enact

  • HB 1084 – Education; curricula or training programs which encourage certain concepts; prevent use of

  • HB 1178 – Parents’ Bill of Rights; enact

  • HB 1183 – Criminal procedure; increase time allotted to try a criminal case in judicial emergencies; provide

  • HB 1351 – Community Health, Department of; pharmacy benefits management for Medicaid program; provide

  • HB 1352 – Property; provide for handling of certain wills

  • HB 1377 – Income tax; equitable relief regarding failure of employers to comply with revenue provisions regarding employees; authorize private causes of action

The Senate is expected to consider the following propositions on Legislative Day 24:

  • SB 345 – State Government; state and local governments from mandating vaccine passports; prohibit

  • SB 382 – Child Molestation; misdemeanor convictions for the offense of aggravated child molestation by raising the minimum age of victims from 13 to 14; revise provisions

  • SB 474 – Property Tax Exemptions; state-wide exemption; ad valorem taxes for aircraft used for the aerial application of fertilizers or other agricultural products; provide

  • SB 486 – Agricultural Commodity Commission for Propane; full or partial remote communication with regard to public hearings; provide

  • SB 493 – Time-Share Projects and Programs; nonjudicial foreclosure of time-share estates; authorize

  • SB 529 – Cable and Video Services; definition of video service relative to the “Consumer Choice for Television Act”; change

  • SR 319 – Electoral College; recognize

  • SR 479 – Taiwan; relations with the United States and the State of Georgia;

Copyright ©2022 Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough LLPNational Law Review, Volume XII, Number 62