LWVAF, Report from the Capitol, Week 10
FINALLY, it is over. The longest session in Georgia’s history has ended ‘sine die’. The return from the suspension on March 13 has been a whirlwind, meeting 6 days last week and 5 days this week. They passed a budget, much less punitive than anticipated on Day 30 when they returned. Read about it below.
The number of bills which passed was reduced simply because the efforts they put in place to protect everyone from the corona virus. Things moved just a bit more sluggishly. Every vote the House took was a 10 minute break in the action as the Clerk read the name of each member to record the choice. The Senate was somewhat more brisk, as each still voted at their desk electronically, but many were not sitting at their desks. So the tabulator was held open for longer than the minute usually allowed for them to travel from wherever they were social distancing.
All bills go to the Governor for signature, unless otherwise indicated. He has 40 days, until Aug. 6, to sign or veto.
BOLD Bill Number = final passage
CA = constitutional amendment. Requires a 2/3s vote in each chamber and a majority vote in the next general election scheduled for November 2020.
NNS = Needs No Signature
HB 426 Efstration - 104 SIGNED The Hate Crimes bill. Increases penalties for hate crimes determined by a jury, i.e. the defendant intentionally selected a victim or group of victims because of race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, sex, gender, mental or physical disability. If the offense was one of 5 misdemeanors, the sentence shall be 6-12 months imprisonment and a fine up to $5000. The five misdemeanors are simple assault, simple battery, battery, criminal trespass, and misdemeanor thief. If the offense is a felony, the imprisonment is two years or more with a fine up to $5000. The state will collect information about arrests to study types and frequency of these named crimes. Georgia is now one of 47 states with a statute to recognize these crimes someway and provide for harsher penalties.
HB 793 Ralston – 7 FY21 Budget. The FY21 budget was significantly revised as a result of the COVID-19 health crisis which shut down most economic activity in the state. This resulted in a need to cut the budget 11% from the FY20 base, or $2.607 billion. In the last week of the session, this was further reduced to 10%, resulting from somewhat better outlooks for revenue, the federal CARES receipts, and transferring $250 million from the Revenue Shortfall Reserve (rainy day) fund and $50 million from tobacco settlement proceeds. In all, there was about $1 Billion additional to add back into the budget.
No state employees will be asked to furlough. The departments of Labor and Public Health were not cut as they need all their resources to deal with the effects of COVID-19. New mothers under Medicaid will be covered until 6 months postpartum, currently 2 months. Accountability Courts, which keep people out of jail if they complete court ordered programs for addiction, remained whole. Rural hospitals got help to get over the revenue slump. And law enforcement training to deescalate events received $15 million.
The bonding package was not cut. Also protected were training and experience raises if on a state salary schedule, and the equalization, sparsity, and transportation grants for K-12 schools. Pre-K programs funded with the lottery were not cut. The Governor’s Honors Program was restored. The University system and technical colleges were each cut 10%, as were most elements of the QBE funding for K-12.
Softening the effects of the cuts, all education entities received federal grants. The federal K-12 grants were $456 million and distributed according to the Title 1 formula. Both chambers cited the local school districts having $3.5 billion in reserves that could also shield their operations. However, most of this reserve in June is to be used to pay salaries in July and August because the state does not remit any funds until September. That leaves far less for offsetting the state cuts which totaled $950 million. Both chambers suggested that there could be some savings by moving toward a virtual model in both K-12 and higher education. In all, educational entities get 53.2% of all state funds appropriated.
The budget that was passed was the fourth this session. The governor’s recommendations calculated on a 6% cut, the House version which was passed prior to the suspension of the session, the Senate version which initially was looking at a cut of 14%, which the governor lowered to 11%, and the final version which was a total cut of 10%. Lots of folks spent thousands of man hours to make these changes. Just going from 11% to 10%, done in one calendar week, resulted in over 2300 line item changes in the final budget.
SB 340 Beach – 21 Designates September 1 of each year as Childhood Cancer Awareness Day in Georgia. Childhood cancer is the #1 cause of death for those under age 19.
SB 375 Mullis – 53 Vaping is added to the code. A person under the age of 21may not be in possession of tobacco or vapor products, and it is illegal to sell these products to them. A fine of $25 per incident may be imposed on both the buyer and the seller. The person under 21 may also have community service which if not done within 12 weeks on the third conviction in a calendar year, the driver’s license can be suspended for up to 45 days. These products may be seized by law enforcement officers. A person over 21 who possesses a vapor product within a school zone is guilty of a misdemeanor and a fine of $25. An excise tax of 7% is to be levied on vapor devices and consumable vapor products. Estimated state revenues are between $10 million and $19 million.
SB 439 Bass – 29 Allows electronic notification by the Juvenile Court of hearings and dispositions, requires written reports by the court to include if and how the parties were notified in all types of hearings, and requires court to consider the testimony and evidence from foster parents, caregivers, relatives, or other persons with whom the child has live for at least 12 months.
HB 911 Setzler – 35 A foster parent engaging in sexually explicit conduct with a foster child in their custody is guilty of a felony and subject to 1 to 25 years in prison and up to a $100,000 fine. One who engages in improper sexual contact with a child in their care is guilty of a felony if the child is under age 16 is subject to 25 to 50 years in prison and up to a $100,000 fine; it is a misdemeanor of a high and aggravated nature if the child is age 16 or older. Governor’s bill.
HB 912 Reeves – 34 Allows foster parents to leave a child with a babysitter at least 18 years old for up to 72 consecutive hours (3 days) without getting approval from DFCS, currently 2 days. Juvenile court clerks shall collect data for each child placed in foster care who is in need of services, delinquent and accused of committing a Class A or B felony to be submitted to the Department of Juvenile Justice. Aggregate data can be used by DJJ and state agencies for improvement efforts for children. The Department of Human Services may partner with child-placing agencies to assist in caseworker services, and may provide training to foster parents as needed. Governor’s bill.
HB 993 Dempsey – 13 The Child Abuse Registry contains data regarding child abuse or neglect of same by parents or siblings and gathered from certificates and reports filed with vital records. It is to be abandoned because of misuse. The savings to the state will be about $975,000.
EDUCATION – PREK – 12
SB 68 Sims – 12 Local school board members must be exposed to ‘financial management’ in their required training. A candidate for reelection to the board must have completed all prior annual training requirements. The financial status of the local school system must be reviewed at each regular school board meeting. The SBOE is to create a template for such review. The Department of Audits and Accounts shall designate local school systems with 3 consecutive years of reported irregularities or budget deficits as ‘high risk’ school districts; those with irregularities or deficits for 1 or 2 consecutive years are to be labeled ‘moderate risk’. A corrective action plan is to be developed within 120 days. School districts cannot be approved for a flexibility contract if ‘high risk’ without a corrective action plan. Office of Student Achievement shall monitor each local school system’s financial stability. Oath of school superintendents to include a promise to manage the finances of the school system, and the superintendent is to report to the board during each monthly meeting the financial status. The superintendent must complete all financial management and governance trainings. Newly elected local board members are to be given guidance and training about the school system’s audit findings and risk status. Charter schools and charter systems have these same requirements. The Chief Turnaround Officer will be hired by the Governor and report to the State School Superintendent, currently directly to the State Board of Education. Changes thrust of training to school district level rather than individual schools. Teachers in turnaround schools, in a 5-year pilot program, may get a $7500 stipend, 2/3 paid by the state and the rest by the local school system, if each agrees to work 3 years in the school and to teach curricula designated by the Chief Turnaround Officer. The stipend may be converted to a permanent salary step after the three years of the Turnaround Officer and State Board of Education approval. Teachers with 3+ years experience may file a complaint regarding personnel performance evaluation ratings and any procedural deficiencies of the local board of education or charter school which does the evaluation. The local board of education must have a period for public comment at every meeting. No prior notice prior to the meeting shall be required of the speaker. The chair of the board may limit the length of time for anyone’s comments and the number of people speaking for or against a specific issue. Currently, there are 17 ‘high risk’ school districts. The Office of Chief Turnaround Officer is currently vacant and totally defunded in the FY21 budget. The teacher evaluation language also passed in HB 86. Most school boards now provide time at their meetings for public comment but the process for applying for that privilege varies considerably.
HB 86 Benton – 31 Teachers may file a complaint regarding personnel performance evaluation ratings and any procedural deficiencies of the local board of education or charter school which does the evaluation. A teacher with an ‘Unsatisfactory’ or ‘Ineffective’ rating may appeal. The local board must adopt a policy with all aspects of this appeal process.
SB 294 Black – 8 Teachers Retirement System is authorized to invest up to 5% of its assets in certain alternative investments. Currently, TRS is specifically excluded from such investment options.
SB 367 Martin – 9 Reduces the end of course assessments (tests) which must be given in high school from 8 to just 4, currently 8. The writing assessment may be given in any grade, currently grade 11. The grade 5 social studies test is also dropped. Moves the testing window for elementary schools to within 25 school days of the last day of school in a term. The high school testing window will be set by Department of Education and is typically near the end of the term. The department may, at the request of a local board, analysis local tests administered in an effort to eliminate redundant assessments. GA now requires just one more test than federally required.
SB 430 Ligon – 3 Private and home schooled students may take courses at a college and career academy run by the local school district which serves their residence and if space is available. Transportation is the responsibility of the student/parent. Local board of education earns FTEs for the time the student is in attendance. The State Board of Education is to draw up rules regarding enrollment and withdrawal, reporting academic performance, discipline procedures and any other area requiring definition. Most college and career academies admit these students now.
SB 431 Wilkinson – 50 Defines on-time graduation as a cohort of students entering high school aby Oct 1 of any year and graduating on or before Oct 1 four years hence. This calculation is in addition to any other defined by federal, state, or local laws. Excludes students who register but never show up when school starts and school personnel are no longer charged with determining what happened to them.
HB 755 Belton – 112 Local boards of education shall provide local charter school with an itemized allotment sheet within 45 days of a receipt of an allotment sheet from Department of Education by the local board and shall publicize that information on the district website. If adjustments must be made, 30 days must elapse after an amended allotment sheet is provided to the local charter school before the adjustment is effective. Parent are to be notified each year upon enrollment all relevant dates and deadlines and that information is to be posted on the school system’s website. Depending on the terms of the charter, some categories on the local board’s allotment sheet may not be on that of the local charter school, and vice versa. Such categories are general central office provided; food services, transportation, payroll, warehousing, purchasing, maintenance, insurance, etc.
HB 855 Wiedower – 119 Foster care students are to be reevaluated upon enrollment to see if there is any exposure to trauma and if they need to have changes made to special education and related services. This requirement would put foster care student ahead of the line for evaluations for special education services. While their need is great, so also is the need for the other children who might need these services.
HB 957 Jones – 47 A charter school employee is an employee of the local board of education for health insurance purposes if they work at least 30 hours per week. Local charter schools shall require proof of residency within the school system at student enrollment or application for enrollment. Terms of the State Charter Commission members shall be 4 years, currently 2 years. State charter schools which close shall transfer all records to the nonprofit entity which held the charter school contract and then are held for one year. The state audit of charter schools offering virtual instruction shall be completed and submitted to the State Board of Education and regulators by April 1 annually, currently December 1.
GOVERNMENT – GENERAL
SR 19 Beach – 21 TO BALLOT CA to allow the General Assembly to meet electronically in case of emergency including a pandemic or a natural or manmade disaster if agreed to by both chambers. If the meetings are electronic, every member shall be able to see and participate in the chamber and committees, submit bills, see wording being discussed, and vote remotely. The public will be able to observe and hear and participate by giving testimony in committee. The constitution already allows for meeting away from the Capitol in case of emergency. This adds ‘pandemic’ and ‘electronic’ to that language.
SB 358 Harper – 7 Designates the muscadine grape as the official state grape.
SB 377 Jones – 25 Elevators, escalators, manlifts, and moving walks are to be inspected once per 12 months, currently every 6 months. Contractors to help with this work may receive fees for this service directly, currently requires payment to the contractor through the Labor Department which schedules the inspections. MARTA must continue to have elevator inspections every 6 months.
GOVERNMENT – COUNTIES AND CITIES
SB 413 Martin – 9 In rezoning cases, the term ‘applicant’ is revised to include any person with a direct ownership interest in the real property subject to the rezoning or that person’s lawyer. Local zoning meetings may meet electronically during a declared emergency.
GOVERNMENT – COURTS AND CRIMES
SB 288 Anderson – 43 Restrictions to records of criminal activity shall be imposed if the individual is not convicted, or if convicted, successfully completed all terms of the court order.
SB 337 Thompson – 14 Bans electronic sharing of photo shopped photos, particularly of nudity.
SB 344 Mullis – 3 PASSED Senate FAILED House
Prisoners may appear in court by video. A judge may order a defendant to personally appear in any court hearing. Video has to be of a quality that all can see and hear and can be sent to the appellate court as part of the court record. An employee of the state crime lab or a contract lab may also appear by video. . There will be some cost savings as court appearances are frequently rescheduled because a defendant has not been transferred from the place of incarceration. Also, some court work can get done during emergencies such as the pandemic.
SB 393 Strickland – 17 The GBI is to create a Legal Division. When requested by the agency, these attorneys may serve as special assistant district attorneys, special assist solicitors general, or special assistant US attorneys in the prosecution of any civil or criminal case, and in so doing, have the same authority and powers as an attorney within those entities.
SB 394 Albers – 56 The Attorney General shall have assigned to the Law Department peace officers for Medicaid fraud, kidnapping, false imprisonment and related offenses such as trafficking of person for labor or sex servitude. The peace officers shall be fully empowered.
SB 402 Robertson – 29 The term ‘released on his/her own recognizance’ is changed to ‘unsecured judicial release’ where it appears in law.
HB 417 Powell – 32 Trauma scene cleanup shall be done by practitioners who are registered, bonded and insured and have passed a background check. Excludes property owners cleaning up such a scene on their own property and any unpaid assistance they may receive.
SB 435 Strickland – 17 Survivors of human trafficking may have their criminal record during the time of their trafficking to be redacted if they are making progress to build back their life after victimization, if a judge agrees.
GOVERNMENT – EMPLOYMENT
SB 341 Robertson – 29 Retired peace officers and correctional officers can be recalled to duty during a declared disaster. They will have the same powers and rights as before retirement. They return to retirement status after the disaster is over.
SB 408 Strickland – 17 Removes the sunset from the Sick Leave for Care of Immediate Family Members. Currently, if a person earns sick leave, they may use up to five days/year for participatory care of immediate family members. It was to sunset June 30, 2020. This situation overwhelmingly affects women. The NO votes in the Senate were exclusively men. Unemployment compensation is amended to reflect the coronavirus crisis. Benefit periods are doubled and amounts can vary depending on the % of unemployed and participation by the employer in a program to get employees some benefits while working fewer hours.
SB 416 Mullis - 53 For FY21 only, the salaries of every legislator are cut 10%; the Lt. Governor was cut 14%.
HB 487 Bonner – 72 The Civil Air Patrol Auxiliary volunteers who are employees of a state agency may be granted up to 15 days leave in a year to render service in Georgia or a contiguous state if reciprocity exists. Currently, employees who are volunteers for the American Red Cross have this benefit.
HB 914 Clark – 147 Transitioning military service members may apply for a license endorsement or temporary license if licensed in other states or they have military specialty, certification, training, or experience which meets or exceeds the state licensing requirements, and may practice in GA. Military spouses may get an endorsement or temporary license if licensed in another state with similar requirements as GA.
HB 1090 Silcox - 52 An employer has a duty to provide breaks for females who are nursing an infant for the purpose of expressing breast milk in a place that is not the restroom. Does not apply to employers with less than 50 employees or when the employee is working away from their regular office.
GOVERNMENT – ENVIRONMENT
SB 123 Ligon – 3 Local governments will impose a $2.50/ton, currently $1/ton, fee for deposit of coal ash and associated byproducts in a city solid waste disposal facility. Privately owned facilities may still impose a fee. The county will get 20% of the fee for further recycling or waste disposal expenses. A landfill can expand closer than 2 miles from a military base with a bombing range, currently it cannot. Solid waste will be charged 75 cents/ ton and old tires $1 each to go into a fund for educational, disposal, and administrative purposes. A report is to be submitted to the General Assembly showing where all the dollars are spent.
SB 308 Kirkpatrick – 32 Unattended vessels in public waters will be dealt with by the Department of Natural Resources only. The GBI is no longer responsible for any component of these actions.
HB 857 Powell – 32 Bars burning chemically treated wood products, creosote or naphthenate, for purposes of commercial energy generation by permitted industrial biomass boilers. Exempts a boiler which also provides steam or electricity to any co-located forest products processing plant.
SB 426 Strickland – 17 The unpermitted release of ethylene oxide must be reported to the Environment Protection Division of the Department of Natural Resources within 24 hours and the information is to be posted on EPD’s website as soon thereafter as possible.
HB 833 Stephens – 164 The Department of Natural Resources shall develop rules and regulation regarding long-term anchoring of watercraft as to where, how long, and how to control sanitation within the estuarine areas of the state.
SB 28 Jackson – 2 Copayments, coinsurance, or office visit charges should be reasonable relative to covered benefits and shall serve as an incentive, rather than a barrier, to access appropriate care.
SB 303 Watson – 1 GA Right to Shop Act. Pricing to be shown on the insurer’s website to aid consumers in making their choice. Items to be included on the web site are listed. Effective July 1, 2021.
SB 359 Hufstetler – 52 Businesses and health care providers will have no liability for anyone getting COVID-19 while in their care or place of business unless there is gross negligence, willful or wanton misconduct, reckless or intentional infliction of harm. Applies to causes of action for one year, until 14 July 2021. There is nothing in this bill to help those who become afflicted who work at these businesses or who trade there.
SB 391 Kirkpatrick – 32 When a state of emergency has been declared or a hurricane warning issued, the Commissioner of Public Health may waive the time restrictions on prescription refills to enable patients to refill a 30-day supply in advance, if refills remain. No Schedule II drugs, and prescriber will be notified within 48 hours of the refill.
HB 752 Belton – 112 Physical therapists, physical therapy assistants, and psychologists will be subject to a national background check through the GA Crime Information Center and the FBI. The reports will not be shared outside of the state. Applicants for a license are to provide all necessary information to run a background check including fingerprints and pay any fees.
HB 789 Newton – 123 Hospitals must add ‘Hospital Surprise Billing Rating’ to their directories. Each of four specialties, anesthesiologists, pathologists, radiologists, and emergency room doctors, is assigned a rating box. If the box contains a red X, that specialty at that hospital is out of network. A green check indicates ‘in network’, and a green N/A indicates that specialty is unavailable at that institution. Sets up a rating system for patients to use to determine which physician specialty groups in their insurance company plan serve a given hospital. Covers all plans operating in the state.
HB 791 Stephens – 164 In a declared emergency or hurricane warning period, the insurer shall waive restrictions on prescription refills and a pharmacist may provide up to a 90-day supply of a maintenance medication for a chronic condition if the patient agrees and the prescribing doctor has indicated periodic refills are medically necessary. Does not apply to scheduled drugs and controlled substances or the initial fill. Author is a licensed pharmacist.
HB 987 Cooper – 43 Strengthens requirements for elder care in long-term facilities. Doubles fees for violations when death or serious harm to a resident has occurred. Licensing may not occur if a license has been suspended within a year or ownership has changed to avoid a fine. Increases staffing to 1 to 15 residents in facilities of 25 beds or more effective 7-1-21. Each facility must provide 60 days notice of any impending bankruptcy or property evictions which might require relocation of residents, and 14 days notice to residents of change of ownership that may force discharge or relocation or other adverse impacts on safe care and oversight. Memory care centers are to staff at 1-12 residents and include various health care professionals. Training requirements are to include specifics for dementia patients. Licensing required for administrators in personal care homes and assisted living communities. Preparation plans for a pandemic required. Personal protective equipment to be on hand. Testing to be done for residents and staff. Notification of illness within the facility to be made to residents and families. Establishes or increases fines for violations.
HB 1114 Cooper – 43 Medicaid patients may receive coverage for lactation care and services. Medicaid will cover services to pregnant women for up to 6 months after giving birth, currently 60 days.
REVENUE & TAXATION
SB 104 Payne – 54 A sales tax exemption is made permanent for nonprofit health centers, organ procurement organizations, and qualified food banks for food ingredients used for low-income hunger or disaster relief. The sales tax exemption expiration if extended until 2026 for sale or use of noncommercial written materials by a charity.
SB 410 Kennedy – 18 If a Board of Assessors appeals an assessment and the determination is 85% or less of the Board’s valuation, the taxpayer can recover costs of litigation if the county governing authority approves as well as interest. At the discretion of the appeals administrator, and with the consent of all parties, the hearing can be conducted virtually. Currently, the taxpayer can recover only if the taxpayer appeals and the value is determined to be 85% or less of the previous valuation determined by the county.
HB 779 Blackmon – 146 Revises the distribution of the proceeds of the alternative ad valorem tax on motor vehicles among local governments. Counties will receive 23% (currently 28%), municipalities get 28% (currently 23%), and the remaining 49% goes to the county school district unless there is a city school district when the city gets the 34% and the independent school district getting 43%.
HB 846 Corbett – 174 Interest on refunds of state and local sales and use taxes from the date of the amended return or filling for refund claim is at the prime rate, currently prime plus 3%. Syncs the federal code with GA’s tax code, an annual process. Creates a tax credit for businesses that produce personal protective equipment, PPE, of $1250 per job created until 2025. Businesses which took a jobs creation tax credit in 2019 may take the same amount in 2020 and 2021.
TRANSPORTATION & DRIVING
HB 337 Blackmon - 16 Georgia Peer-to-Peer Car Sharing Program. This is an Airbnb type program for owned vehicles. Establishes the amount of insurance each party should carry, the liability of each party, and reporting and taxing requirements.
HB 511 Tanner – 9 The ATLTransit Authority is transferred to DOT. Creates staggered terms for board members. Requires all transit services providers within the authority to utilize the ATL logo and brand on all property used in transit by January 1, 2023. Extends until 2025 the use of the CPI index for annually adjusting the excise rate.
HB 799 Blackmon – 146 Eligibility for early reinstatement of a suspended driver’s license for DUI of a controlled substance or marijuana is now empowered. Follows the same process as for alcohol DUIs.
HB 823 Gaines – 117 A person convicted of trafficking others for labor or sexual servitude using a commercial vehicle shall be disqualified for life from driving a commercial vehicle and shall have their commercial driver’s license revoked.
LOCAL – FULTON and its CITIES
HB 1019 Bazemore – 63 The City of South Fulton has a new city charter. Text does not show the previous wording of the charter so what was changed is unknown.
SR 1048 Beach – 21 NNS Commends the Greater North Fulton Chamber of Commerce. Author is the former CEO of that chamber.
HB 1075 Holland – 54 Members of the board of education for Atlanta Public Schools shall have staggered terms. Members in Districts 1,3,5,7,and 9 elected in 2021 shall have a term of 2 years and members in Districts 2,4,6, and 8 shall be elected for 4 years. In elections thereafter, each member shall serve a term of 4 years.
HR 1163 Gambill – 15 Names several roads and bridges, one of which is for Emma Darnell, former 30-year Fulton County commissioner, specifically the interchange at I-85 and I-285 to be known as the Emma Darnell Memorial Interchange. Another is for Leroy Johnson, the first African American to serve in the Georgia Senate since Reconstruction. He represented Fulton County. State Road 70 from Camp Creek Parkway to Campbellton Road in Fulton County is designated as the Leroy Johnson Memorial Highway.
HB 1167 Cannon – 58 A homestead exemption for the City of Atlanta of $30,000 for those who lease for 99 years from a landlord which is a charitable institution.
Sally FitzGerald, Capitol Observer
sallyfitz [at] bellsouth.net
League of Women Voters – Atlanta/Fulton
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