Yesterday In The Georgia Legislature – 02/27/21

This is an informal rundown of the legislative happenings. These bills are from the most recent legislative days – 2/25/21, or Day 23 AND 2/26/21 or Day 24.

The House of Representatives passed the following measures, all of which now head to the Senate:

HB 34 – Rep. Dave Belton 

LINK → https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/58823 
WHAT THE BILL DOES:

  • Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology Interstate Compact
  • Contingent upon a total of 10 states to opt-in/enact similar compacts
  • All rules of this provision would be State Board of Examiners for Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology 
  • Stipulates that as long as a practitioner is active-good standing in a member state, they can practice in another member state 
    • Utilizes FBI background checks
  • Belton told Rules that this was ‘requested by the Pentagon to help military spouses’ and this also improves telehealth.

ISSUES:  Support of this bill depends on whether or not you support interstate licensure compacts.
PASSED:  165-1 (No=Matt Dollar)

HB 43 – Rep. Wes Cantrell

LINK → https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/58835 
WHAT THE BILL DOES:

  • Filed last year too
  • Allows owner of a vehicle when they register their plate to provide [optional info
    • Alternative emergency contact telephone number
    • Indicate that the driver of the vehicle may have a physical, mental or neurological condition that may impede their ability to communicate with a law enforcement officer. 

ISSUES:  None.
PASSED: 169-0

HB 63 – Rep. Shaw Blackmon

LINK → https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/58876 
WHAT THE BILL DOES:

  • Fixes an issue regarding leases under the TVT code section
  • The state has been assessing taxes based on the full rental/lease charges which includes taxes and fees.
  • This bill halts that practice.

ISSUES:  None.
PASSED:  166-0

HB 141 – Rep. Houston Gaines

LINK → https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/59012 
WHAT THE BILL DOES:

  • Amends OCGA 17-15-8 pertaining to awards/memorials etc. for victims of DUI homicide
  • Adds code section to stipulate that medical services providers are paid by the Board for medical services the same way they’re paid under OCGA 34-9-205 (State Board of Workers’ Compensation) and per the same ‘reasonable, usual, customary’ charges for medical services.
  • Provides an exception to compensation for medical services if there is a “reasonable health care justification” for the deviation and it must be a Board determination. 
  • Stipulates that payments made by the Board to the medical provider are on behalf of board, victim, and claimant and are deemed ‘paid in full.’

ISSUES:  
PASSED: 167-0

HB 152 – Rep. Marcus Wiedower

LINK→ https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/59027 
WHAT THE BILL DOES:

  • Amends code section on Nonpublic Postsecondary Education Commission 
  • Gives them the authority to use alternative methods to review renewal applications to operate submitted by institutions in good standing with an accrediting agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. 
  • The ED of the Commission has discretion to decide what ‘alternative methods’ are acceptable 
  • Alters surety bond requirements for when there is a change of ownership for the nonpublic institution. Also adds that if the school closes and the surety bond is in force, the surety must pay the full face value of the bond.
  • Also requires that the minimum bond requirement be configured by adding gross tuition together across the board
  • No school with tuition > $1,000,001 after July 1, 2021 is not required to increase the bond if they already have a bond in place by that date  

ISSUES: This is the government meddling in private business under the guise of bettering post-secondary education and adding consumer protections.
PASSED: 165-0

HB 218 – Rep. Mandi Ballinger

LINK → https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/59180 
WHAT THE BILL DOES:

  • Requires that the Attorney General enter into a formal agreement in any instance where a state that offers weapons carry reciprocity with Georgia does, in fact, require an agreement for the reciprocity to exist.
  • Clarifies code section on the temporary or permanent seizure of weapons/ammo by political subdivisions in the state to clarify that seizure is explicitly prohibited during a state of emergency and similarly prohibits the prohibition of any weapons/ammo/ammo reloading equipment during a state of emergency if it was not prohibited prior to the beginning of the state of emergency.
  • Bars the state from prohibiting the sale/transfer/etc. Of weapons/ammo/ammo reloading equipment during a state of emergency 
  • Bars the state/political subdivisions from suspending or revoking WCP during a declared state of emergency 
  • Bars the state/political subdivisions from refusing to accept/process WCP during declared states of emergency
  • Bars closure or limit on the operations of a weapon/ammo/etc business. During SOE unless those same business closure hours are imposed on every business in the jurisdiction
  • Bars closure or limits on indoor shooting range or outdoor shooting range
  • Provides for civil recourse by a person if said person is a US citizen, lawfully permitted to own weapons/ammo, and the person has suffered damages.

ISSUES:  Basically ensuring that the AG formalizes what reciprocity agreements are in place with formal written agreements in the event that other states require the agreements. (does not address the terms of reciprocity)
PASSED: 103-69

HB 271 – Rep. Bert Reeves

LINK→ https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/59280 
WHAT THE BILL DOES:

  • Adds new code section OCGA 31-11-31.2
  • Gives the Board of Community Health under the Georgia Department of Community Health the authority to establish ambulance prices for provider matching payments
  • None of the provider matching payments can exceed the federal financial participation allowable under SS Act.
  • The government giveth – and the government taketh, so any provider matching payments established can also be eliminated if the provider is not eligible for matching funds or if Medicaid supplants are reduced

ISSUES:
PASSED: 160-0

HB 275 – Rep. Lauren McDonald

LINK→ https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/59284 
WHAT THE BILL DOES:

  • Creates new code section – OCGA 25-4-11.1 – requiring that all firefighters be randomly tested for illegal drugs if they are under (a)(2) of this code section
  • Must happen at least biannually during the first 2 years of certification
  • Cost is incurred by the employer
  • If there is a positive test, the same urine must be tested with an alternative method
  • Council must outline rules for which drugs should be tested for in samples, methods to minimize privacy intrusions, methods to preserve testing specimens, which persons will have the results, and the procedure for a firefighter to disclose that the test may reveal illegal substances or legal substances 
  • Convictions 5 years prior to application do not disqualify a person from being a firefighter if they have completed the DOC training course 
  • Also creates a code section – OCGA 31-11-60.2 – that dictates that any EMS or paramedic who is convicted of a crime 5-10 years prior to their certification is subject to random drug tests for illegal substances 

ISSUES: Just because someone is convicted of a crime does not mean they are/are still a drug user. Searches of a person convicted of a crime are not okay just because the idea of ‘it’s no big deal if you don’t have anything to hide.’ If it is not a condition of their probation and the felony conviction was not for a drug-related matter, this is invasive and unnecessary.
PASSED: 132-0

HB 289 – Rep. Dave Belton

LINK→ https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/59299 
WHAT THE BILL DOES:

  • allows for specified exemptions for Class C & D driving licenses
  • Including military service

ISSUES: Not equitable under the law for all persons.
PASSED: 162-0

HB 336 – Rep. John Corbett

LINK→ https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/59402 
WHAT THE BILL DOES:

  • Amends to Georgia’s Hemp laws…again
  • Makes minor changes to be in compliance with changes made to federal law/regulations
  • Those who apply to be growers or processors must submit fingerprints to the Dept of Ag, and ultimately the FBI
  • Definition changes:
    • Background check is changed to ‘history report’ 
    • Destroy is changed to ‘dispose of’
  • The annual permit fee stays at $25,000 instead of scaling up
  • Processors and growers are no longer required to sign an affidavit 
  • The processing party’s surety bond triples to $300,000

ISSUES: Most of the revisions are to be in compliance with the federal government, however, hemp farming regulation isn’t the proper role of the federal government. It should be a state matter.
PASSED: 153-12

HB 338 – Rep. Buddy DeLoach

LINK→ https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/59404 
WHAT THE BILL DOES:

  • Clean-up bill on the language that permits someone to receive a veteran’s driver’s license
  • Clearer language on all branches, any discharge other than ‘dishonorable’
  • Requires active duty service at some point

ISSUES: None. All of this is already in place, this just clarifies the specifics.
PASSED: 161-0

HB 370 – Rep. Jan Jones

LINK→ https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/59503 
WHAT THE BILL DOES:

  • Enacts term limits for joint hospital authorities
  • Caps at 3 consecutive terms or 12 years, whichever is longer, beginning July 1, 2021.
  • Only applies to authorities created under the same code section that also operate/lease more than 900 beds

ISSUES: In the interest of consistency, it should be all hospital authorities, but it’s otherwise good.
PASSED: 105-59

HB 384 – Rep. Matt Dollar

LINK→ https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/59517 
WHAT THE BILL DOES:

  • Allows an officer to issue a citation to the owner of the vehicle if the person is present instead of the person who is driving the vehicle.
  • This would not be required and it could still be given to the driver. Officer discretion. 
  • For improperly equipped vehicles 
  • For operating an unregistered vehicle 
  • This was voted on in 2019 (131-32) but never made it out of the Senate and did not come back in 2020.

ISSUES: Arguably, these citations have to do with OPERATING the vehicle – that’s the entire premise of motor vehicle law and ‘rules of the road’ and the person present isn’t OPERATING the vehicle. If the vehicle wasn’t being operated on the road, it wouldn’t matter if it wasn’t registered or properly equipped. Therefore, simply being an owner of an unregistered car or an ill-equipped vehicle doesn’t justify anything. It’s on the operator. (Bad idea and precedent, but at least it isn’t mandatory)
PASSED: 133-27

HB 395 – Rep. Dave Belton

LINK→ https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/59550 
WHAT THE BILL DOES:

  • Creates the Professional Counselors Licensure Compact Act

ISSUES:
PASSED: 133-0

HB 409 – Rep. Stan Gunter

LINK→ https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/59571 
WHAT THE BILL DOES:

  • Creates a Judicial Legal Defense Fund Commission for judges in a new code section OCGA 45-15-71 as it pertains to counsel for public officials/agencies and the fees/costs paid by the state. 
  • Defines ‘defendant judge’ as Justice of the Supreme  Court, judge of the Court of Appeals, judge of the Georgia State-wide Business Court, or  judge of the superior court …and also the person whom action is being taken against/proceeding filed against
  • Sets that Fund is administered by Director of the Office of Planning and Budget, disbursed from Governor’s Emergency Fund/approved by the Governor
  • Creates a ‘Judicial Legal Defense Fund  Commission’ made up entirely of judges
    • One member appointed by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court;  
    • One member appointed by the Governor;  
    • One member appointed by the President of the Senate; 
    • One member appointed by the Speaker of the House;  and 
    • One member appointed by The Council of Superior Court Judges of GA
    • 2 year terms, no term limits
  • Commission would be responsible for reviewing requests from defendant judges and requires the Commission to approve the request if the AG has declined to represent the judge and the insurance from DOAS does not cover the representation SO LONG AS the claims brought forth are re: official judicial capacity
  • Requires the Commission to keep a list in addition to one maintained by the State Bar as to which attorneys have offered themselves for this representation (duplicative – if the State Bar maintains it, why must the Commission?)
    • Attorneys on the list must be approved by the Governor 
  • Requires defendant judge to notify Fund/Commission of request within 15 days of receiving notice 
  • Attorney General must notify defendant judge within 10 days if office is refusing to represent and the defendant judge must include the denial letter with application for request for representation funding to the Commission 
  • Attorney representing defendant judge must submit an estimated budget for representation fees within 3 days of selection
  • Legislation does not prevent judges from getting their own lawyers and paying their own fees
  • Dictates that nothing in the new code shall be construed as “providing insurance coverage or constituting a waiver of sovereign, qualified, or official immunity”

ISSUES: Setting a handful of judges to oversee other judges with the goal of objectivity isn’t logical, nor does it meet the standard for the optics of lacking conflicts of interest. Judges are friends and know each other well/run in the same circles. If this type of objectivity worked, there wouldn’t be an independent JQC committee to investigate judicial wrongdoing.

Additionally, having legislation ordering the Commission to authorize the request is a waste of time and removes their discretion. It would be less time consuming and more efficient to just order the Fund to administer compensation if the above criteria is met. 

On top of that, taxpayers should not foot the bill for judges to defend themselves against allegations. Most of these claims are not criminal in nature and if they are, they have the incredible public defender’s system at their disposal. 
PASSED: 134-0

HB 437 – Rep. Henry “Wayne” Howard

LINK→ https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/59618 
WHAT THE BILL DOES:

  • Adds a new code section to require that any gas station that sells gas on a self-service basis have an attendant employee service gas for someone who has a specific disability if 1)the person with the disability is the driver of the vehicle and 2)the driver is not accompanied by a person otherwise lawfully permitted to pump gas
  • Must have a phone number on the pump for the person to call and request assistance 
  • Only required if the gas station only has one person working but is still encouraged by the legislation if it is feasible. 

ISSUES: Private business meddling. 
PASSED: 142-17

HB 442 – Rep. J. Collins

LINK → https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/59637 
WHAT THE BILL DOES:

  • Amends OCGA 19-9-1 pertaining to a child custody plan between unmarried/divorced parents
  • Adds ‘management of social media’ to the code section on the details of parenting plans and what is outlined within. 

ISSUES:  None.
PASSED: Passed 154-0

HB 449 – Rep. Vance Smith 

LINK→ https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/59644 
WHAT THE BILL DOES:

  • Updates/Amends the Georgia Utility Facility Protection Act
  • Defines ‘betterments’ in GA code – to include ‘any upgrading of the utility facility being repaired solely for the benefit of and at the election of the facility owner or operator’ also does not have to do with damage
  • Defines Christmas Eve holiday when the 24th falls on a Friday or a Sunday
  • Changes ‘design locate request’ definition to strike language prohibiting design locate requests for excavation purposes
  • Further defines excavation as ‘excavating or blasting’
  • With regard to excavating, clarifies that excavating does not include farming activities like milling and routine road maintenance 
  • Defines ‘Emergency 9-1-1 call’
  • Defines Public safety answering point’ and utilizes the same meaning as in OCGA 46-5-122
  • Strikes definition of ‘service area’
  • Requires that utility markers be within 10 feet of the right of way to be considered a ‘permanent marker’ while also requiring that sewer clean outs, water meter boxes, and other “visible components of a utility facility that establish the exact location” of the utility facility must be in the right of way
  • Gives the UPC (Utility Protection Center) the full authority to declare ‘extraordinary circumstances’ on behalf of operators if they cannot transmit a locate request 
  • Requires excavators to make a 9-11 call when they have hit a gas or hazardous liquid line
  • Clarifies that blasting and excavating must be accurate within 18 inches of the planned excavation or blasting
  • Adds code section to require that if there is visible evidence of a utility but it is not marked, the excavator must exercise reasonable care
  • Violators of the code section would be liable for damages but an investigation but start by the end of the following business day. 
  • Then, any invoices for repairs or damage must be sent within 90 days. 
  • Prohibits a utility operator from seeking damages for repairs if, prior to excavation’ the utilities were not adequately and properly marked
  • Excavators are not liable if water/utility lines are less than 12 inches below road level OR within the depth of the existing pavement and sub base materials …whichever is less.
  • Enforcement action on the utility operators must be enforced by the Commission and it must begin within 3 years of the probable violation (simply beginning within 3 years could mean these would be open for even longer. That is not necessarily a good thing for the private entities which could be defunct/out of business/different financial position or the wronged party)
  • Considerable amount is code ‘clean -up’ and clarification of words tenses to make the code section more clear

ISSUES: The timeline: simply beginning within 3 years could mean these would be open for even longer. That is not necessarily a good thing for the private entities which could be defunct/out of business/different financial position or the wronged party
PASSED: 169-0

HB 458 – Rep. Sharon Cooper

LINK→ https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/59653 
WHAT THE BILL DOES:

  • Addresses sexual misconduct and members of the Georgia Composite Medical Board
  • Requires all new appointees to take training and education for a greater understanding of ‘sexual misconduct, sexual boundaries, and impacts of trauma and implicit bias’
  • Must be taken within 3 months of appointment
  • Anyone currently appointed must take by 3/30/2022.
  • Also adds the continuing education requirements for dentists to include ‘legal ethics,’ professional boundaries, unprofessional behavior related to sexual intimacy, abuse, exploitation, etc
    • Physicians will be required to do this one time beginning in 2022, same topics + how to talk to people on sensitive topics during ‘intimate’ exams 
  • Gives the GCM Board the authority to refuse a license to someone who was convicted of sexual assault against a patient and in instances where there is believed to be an immediate threat, the Board can suspend a license, pending an investigation 
  • Makes physicians mandatory reports of sorts to the Georgia Composite Medical Board if a doctor believes sexual assault occurred by another physician and if the claim is wrong/incorrect/unfounded, there are no civil penalties or liabilities 
  • Failing to report is a fine of $1,000 to $5,000
  • Gives law enforcement permission to share open investigation details with the Board (the negative consequences of doing this far outweigh the positive. Someone could have their license suspended due to an open, unfounded investigation. Consider the era of the pandemic, too, where trials and court proceedings are completely suspended and justice isn’t moving or resolving. Someone could have their license suspended for years thanks to an open investigation but never be convicted and then what?) 

ISSUES: Noted in breakdown above.
PASSED: 131-27

HB 488 – Rep. Mitchell Scoggins 

LINK→ https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/59762 
WHAT THE BILL DOES:

  • Increases compensation for Magistrate judges beginning January 1, 2022
  • Increases the hourly rate for magistrate judges (other than chief magistrate) who are on-call and work less than full-time. Increases from $22.22 to $27.07
  • Raises minimum baseline salary for magistrates who are not full-time to not less than $720.86/month (from $592.98) unless they waive it in writing 
  • Stipulates that the new scaled magistrate judge salaries are in line with COLA adjustments and going forward, the scale will be set for COLA increases based on the per population sliding scale in the code section.
  • Increases the minimum salary of clerks of court who serve as the magistrate clerk (in a part-time capacity) as well: From $$323.59 to $393.66
  • Increases the minimum salary for any probate judge who also serves as a magistrate judge (in a part-time capacity) to be set at a $14,162.10 (but they may be paid more) [beginning January 1, 2022]

ISSUES: We don’t need it, we can’t afford it.
PASSED: 154-7

HB 509 – Rep. Houston Gaines

LINK→ https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/59803 
WHAT THE BILL DOES:

  • mandates that insurers “make at least one reasonably priced comprehensive major medical health insurance policy available to residents in this state without limitation or exclusion based on preexisting conditions.” 
  • The statute, if passed, would trigger if certain provisions in the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act are repealed or invalidated by the U.S.Supreme Court. 
  • prohibits insurers from excluding, limiting, denying, or delaying coverage due to one or more preexisting medical conditions; and
  • requires that the insurers offer a ‘reasonably priced policy’ that was also actively marketed in Georgia during the year immediately preceding the operative date (which is defined as 30 days after the repeal or invalidation of the federal acts). 

ISSUES: This is a state-level ACA.
PASSED: 121-11

HR 77 – Rep. Brian Prince

LINK→ https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/59260 
WHAT THE RESOLUTION DOES:

  • Calls on the State of Georgia to establish a veterans cemetery in Augusta/Richmond County with the help and support of grants from US Dept. of Veterans Affairs

ISSUES:
PASSED: 132-0

HR 119 – Rep. David Ralston

LINK → https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/59521 
WHAT THE RESOLUTION DOES:

  • Names the bridge on State Route 307 over the Georgia Ports Authority Mega Rail Site in Chatham County the ‘Senator Johnny Isakson Bridge’

ISSUES: Depends on whether or not you believe buildings/roads/bridges should be named after/dedicated to people who are still alive.  
PASSED: 169-0


Jessica Szilagyi

Jessica Szilagyi is Publisher of TGV News She focuses primarily on state and local politics as well as issues in law enforcement and corrections. She has a background in Political Science with a focus in local government and has a Master of Public Administration from the University of Georgia.

Jessica is a "Like It Or Not" contributor for Fox5 in Atlanta and a commentator on the 'Let Me Tell You Why You're Wrong Podcast.'

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