Governor Deal concludes legislative review and a federal issue update

Governor Deal Vetoes Eleven Bills

The Governor’s 40 day legislative review period closed today, May 12. While Governor Deal has signed most every bill this year, he vetoed eleven bills along with a line-item in the bond package of the state fiscal year 2016 budget adopted by the 153rd Georgia General Assembly. Of these, five were bills of general application and two were among those followed by United Way.. An override of a governor’s veto, exceeding rare in Georgia, requires a two-third vote in each chamber.

Governor Deal signs SB 8 sponsored by Sen. Renee Unterman

Governor Deal signs SB 8 sponsored by Sen. Renee Unterman

A highlight of bill signings this year was of SB 8 addressing domestic minor youth trafficking. It drew a joyous crowd to the Capitol for the occasion. Bills not vetoed, adopted, defeated or lost due to lack of agreement in the final versions of the House and the Senate remain in play for the second session beginning January 11, 2016. Viable bills are recommitted to the last legislative committee of jurisdiction except that those “tabled” on the final day can be called back up at any time next year.

What to look for between now and next January: lawmakers will develop issues for action through interim study committees and other bodies established by the Governor. In addition, advocates will begin efforts to influence the public on two proposed constitutional amendments set for the November 2016 ballot: One to authorize an Opportunity School District for failing schools and another to dedicate new fines and fees mandated by SB 8 to serve trafficked youth.

Health

This was not a year for significant change in legislation affecting access to care or coverage by broad populations of Georgians. However, Grady Health System is leading a group of hospitals in developing a plan whereby to leverage all or some of Medicaid funds available under the federal Affordable Care Act. What lawmakers did do:

  • Authorized the use of medical cannabis oil for eight conditions by adopting HB 1.

  • Mandated coverage of autism spectrum disorder treatment for children under age 6 among some insurance plans by adopting HB 429.The bill also addresses insurance coverage of services needed by terminal patients.

  • Authorized a two year sales & use tax exemption applicable to nonprofit and charitable health clinics as well as to prepared foods donated to food banks by adopting HB 426.

  • Expanded the range of vaccines that can be administered by pharmacists and nurses under protocol agreements with physicians by adopting HB 504.

  • Required syphilis and HIV testing of new mothers upon giving birth if there is no record of any previous such test during their pregnancy, adopted by HB 436.

  • Reconfigured Regional Behavioral Health & Developmental Disability Boards as advisory rather than executive in nature and restored executive and administrative functions to the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities in adopting HB 512.

The budget for health includes: 

  • Medicaid pay rate increases for OB/GYN and Primary Care Physicians along with rate increases for providers serving people with developmental disabilities in home and community based settings.

  • $3 million for pilot projects sought by the Rural Hospital Stabilization Committee and $500,000 for expansion of charity clinics.

  • Three new mental health crisis stabilization units and eight inpatient beds in Fulton County.

  • Nonbinding language to authorize the Georgia Department of Community Health to seek a Section 1115 waiver. States have used these as a means to propose alternative strategies to Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The effort by Grady Health System will involve such a waiver.

  • Nonbinding language to authorize the creation of a task force to identify how the state will address indigent health care once federal Disproportionate Share Funds are reduced under the ACA..

 Study committees authorized to produce recommendations before January 2016: 

  • HR 641 Children’s Mental Health

  • SR 487 Preventing Youth Substance Use Disorders

  • SR 594 Rate of Diagnosis for Children With Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and Related Disorders

  • SR 560 Women’s Adequate Healthcare

  • HR 612 Fibroid Education and Awareness

  • SR 561 Consumer and Provider Protection Act (SB 158)

Education

The legislature took some bold moves in education policy with more to come in 2016 at the conclusion of the work of the Governor’s Education Reform Commission. In the 2015 session, lawmakers:

  • Sent a proposed constitutional amendment to voters in November 2016 that gives the Governor authority to take responsibility for failing schools by establishing an Opportunity School District in adopting SR 287 and its companion SB 133.

  • Significantly advanced the Move on When Ready initiative by adopting SB 132 authorizing dual enrollment opportunities for all high school students whether in public or private schools. They may apply to a post-secondary school and, if accepted, earn simultaneous course credit towards both high school graduation and a post-secondary credential.

  • Allowed students aged 16 or older to earn to earn a high school diploma at a post-secondary institution if they have completed certain specified classes along with a program leading to an associates degree, a technical college diploma or two technical college certificates in a specific career pathway by adopting SB 2.

  • Mandated suicide prevention awareness and training among certificated school personnel under HB 198.

  • Allowed Georgians who failed the High School Graduation Test but met all other requirements to petition to retroactively receive a diploma by adopting HB 91. The test is no longer required under current K-12 policy.

  • Added cyberbullying to the state’s anti-bullying policy by incorporating prohibitions against student and teacher harassment via electronic means in adopting HB 131.

  • Allowed local boards of education to require all students to pass a curriculum covering the founding philosophy and principles of the United States in HB 502, a bill that is otherwise a clean-up of the state education code.

  • In a nonbinding resolution, HR 303 urged the Georgia Board of Education to develop a curriculum to promote civics education.

  • Clarified what student information can be collected and with whom it can be shared by adopting SB 89.

  • Authorized full-time state employees the right to apply for up to eight hours paid leave per calendar year in order to promote education as a volunteer by adopting HB 313.

  • Said that possession of minor weapons under school zero tolerance policies does not constitute a felony under HB 492. The underlying bill is a clarification of previously adopted open-carry law.

  • Authorized certain charter schools to give preference to enrolling low income and other educationally disadvantaged students in adopting HB 372. The underlying bill prohibits higher facility standards than required of other public schools.

  • Authorized the Georgia Board of Education to allocate funding to high need schools for positive behavioral support interventions in lieu of other forms of disciplinary action against students in SB 164.

  • Authorized school systems to stock asthma medication and granted school employees trained in recognizing symptoms to administer it under HB 362.

  • Authorized organizations like schools to stock auto-injectable epinephrine and their employees to administer the drug when a child or adult is having a severe allergic reaction under SB 126.

  • Adopted HB 401, a proposal brought on behalf of the Georgia Department of Early Care & Learning to clarify requirements of child care providers particularly with respect to criminal record checks.

  • Authorized the Georgia Student Finance Authority to garnish wages or tax refunds and to revoke professional licenses in connection with scholarships, grants or loans for which the recipient was ineligible under HB 320, which also prohibits the sharing of student personal identifying information.

The budget for education includes:

  • A total of $490 million in new funds for K-12 Education including an austerity reduction of $280 million.

  • Continued healthcare coverage for non-certified public school employees like school bus drivers and cafeteria workers, with the additional cost to be borne by local boards of education.

  • Two more planning days for Pre-K teachers (to restore a total of 10 days) and 60 new classes in the Summer Transition Program for low-income rising Pre-Kindergarteners and Kindergarteners

  • $6.5 million for reading mentor initiatives offered through the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement.

  • A three percent increase for HOPE Grant and Scholarship awards and HOPE Grants for Strategic Industries Workforce Development, including Computer Programming, Certified Engineer Assistant, Movie Production and Set Design, and Precision Manufacturing certificate and diploma programs.

Study committees authorized to produce recommendations prior to January 2016:

  • HR 765 School counseling and the role of school counselors

  • SR 564 School construction

  • HR 827 Preservation of the HOPE Scholarship program

  • HR 71 HOPE Scholarship Program Award Amount for Critical Fields of Study

  • HR 642 Postsecondary Education and Employment Options for Individuals with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities

  • HR 640 School Based Health Centers

Income

With significant tax reform proposals (HB 435 and HB 445) pending action for 2016, lawmakers made some incremental changes in state law:

  • Formally established the Division of Workforce Development as part of the Georgia Department of Economic Development in adopting HB 348. This division has jurisdiction over the state’s deployment of funds under the new federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act.

  • Authorized tax credits for employers offering GED programs for employees who lack a diploma by adopting HB 63.

  • Allowed employers the option to pay wages through debit cards with the adoption of SB 88 which, depending upon administrative fees, could be a good deal for unbanked Georgians.

  • HB 225 requires ride-share networks like Uber and Lyft to register with the Georgia Department of Public Safety, conduct background checks of drivers and to pay sales and use taxes. The bill prohibits a medallion system for taxi drivers going forward, phasing out the City of Atlanta’s over a period of time. HB 190 requires the ride-share networks to carry liability insurance.

  • Made borrowers read more fine print by allowing lenders to charge a “convenience fee” for paying off certain loans through credit cards, debit cards and other electronic payment methods. Affected loans under HB 299 include retail installment and home solicitation sales contracts along with motor vehicle and insurance premium finance agreements.

  • Revised Georgia’s Unemployment Insurance law to clarify the identification of most recent employer and to lengthen to seven years the period in which the Labor Commissioner can recover over payments or erroneous claims. HB 117 additionally authorizes payment of UI benefits for victims of family violence who involuntary leave a job, payable by the UI insurance fund rather than the victim’s employer.

  • Clarified that employers may give preference to veterans in hiring decisions under HB 443.

  • Provided due process safeguards to assist innocent owners recover property seized by law enforcement by adopting the Georgia Uniform Civil Forfeitures Act, HB 233.

  • Provided a means of redress for putative fathers required to pay child support through the Georgia Department of Human Services. These men can request a DNA test under HB 568, the cost of which is refundable by the parent claiming support If it demonstrates that he is not the child’s biological father. In that case, the putative father is not required to pay support and may be due a refund of previous payments.

The budget for income includes: No significant new state funding

Study committees authorized to produce recommendations prior to January 2016:

  • HR 829 Welfare Fraud

  • Hearings on state tax reform are anticipated to be held by the House Ways & Means Committee. HB 170 , the transportation bill, establishes a Special Joint committee on Georgia Revenue Structure authorized to bring legislation directly to the floor of the House and Senate for an up-or-down vote.

Homelessness/Criminal Justice Reform

Lawmakers adopted multiple bills implementing the most recent round of recommendations of the Council on Criminal Justice Reform.

  • A new state department of community supervision is established by HB 310 by placing probation and parole functions applicable to adults and juveniles under one roof. The department will also incorporate jurisdiction for local private probation activities. Most local courts across Georgia outsource misdemeanor probation supervision for traffic and other minor offenses but the arrangement often has perverse consequences; turning probation payment plans into predatory loans and jails into poorhouses for those who can’t afford probation payments. The bill gives judges the authority to waive fines and fees or order community service hours if the costs are beyond what an offender can afford.

  • Criteria for parole is spelled out under HB 328 which also addresses how information pertaining to criminal records about Georgians can be disbursed via private consumer reporting agencies.

  • Juvenile Justice reforms are continued in HB 361 which clarifies when a child before a superior court can be transferred to the juvenile court and authorizes prosecutors to petition on behalf of a child who is a ward of the state and in need of services.

  • Jurisdiction for the state’s juvenile justice plan as well as for family violence programs is handed off to the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council under HB 263.

  • Opened the records and allowed victim and district attorney participation in decisions made by the State Board of Pardons and Parole in connection with offenders charged with serious crime or who have not served a minimum sentence under HB 71. This bill was introduced independently of the package submitted by the Council on Criminal Justice Reform.

The budget for homelessness/criminal justice reform includes:

  • $830,000 and existing State Criminal Alien Assistance Program funds ($5.2 million) for the Reentry Housing program and other support services to enhance the Governor’s Criminal Justice Reform Council’s efforts.

  • $840,000 for the Governor’s Office of Transition, Support and Reentry for five counselors, five community coordinators, one coordinator supervisor, and one housing coordinator.

  • $10.7 million to support health, substance abuse treatment, education and vocational training in state prisons to support reentry.

  • $4.9 million to expand accountability courts through the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council.

  • $1.5 million for Juvenile Justice Reform initiatives instead of secure detention through the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice.

 Study committees authorized to produce recommendations prior to January 2016: 

Basic needs

The protection of vulnerable elders, people with disabilities and of children and youth continued to be major concerns among lawmakers in 2015 resulting in the adoption of new legislation:

  • Safe Harbor and services for trafficked youth will be established upon enactment of SB 8 and voter adoption of SR 7 in 2016.. The latter is a constitutional amendment that will dedicate the proceeds of new fines upon traffickers and new fees to be required of adult entertainment establishments. Strip clubs may contest the new fees courts. Trafficked youth up to age 18 would not be prosecuted for sex offenses and a new Safe Harbor Commission would establish a continuum of services to rehabilitate victims with the new funds.

  • A bill to establish a separate Department of Adult and Aging Services under HB 86 has been vetoed. In explaining his action, Governor Deal stated that he is willing to revisit this issue but that attaching the new entity to the Department of Community Health for administrative purposes commingles incompatible functions.

  • HB 78 strengthens Georgia’s capacity to protect the aged and people with disabilities. The bill removes language in current law that precludes the use of evidence discovered through an inspection warrant in a criminal case of abuse, neglect or financial exploitation and requires an immediate report to law enforcement whenever protective service workers suspect a crime. Unlicensed operators of personal care homes in which maltreatment or exploitation has occurred are subject to new criminal penalties. Investment companies are made mandatory reporters when financial exploitation is suspected.

  • SB 138 implements the recommendations of the Child Welfare Reform Council by making the Director of the Division of Family and Children Services (part of the Georgia Department of Human Services) a direct report of the Governor, establishing state and regional DFCS advisory councils and reconfiguring county DFCS boards. The bill also requires a case plan with each child aged 14 and older and authorizes information sharing of children in protective service among state agencies and foster parents. A central child abuse registry of offenders is also established under this bill.

  • Mandatory reporting of suspected child abuse or neglect got a boost with HB 268 clarifying that reports submitted by employees or volunteers who work with children cannot first be altered by superiors. Reports of suspected abuse may be filed by telephone, email or facsimile provided that an oral report is followed by a written one within 24 hours. HB 177 requires that the agency to which a report of suspected abuse or neglect has been submitted by a mandatory reporter in a school setting confirm receipt within 24 hours and disclose the outcome of its investigation to a school counselor or principal within five days of completion.

  • HB 452 expands the scope of the existing protective order registry to include pretrial release orders and sentencing orders that prohibit contact in order to give law enforcement and the courts access to information that could help protect victims.

The budget for basic needs includes:

  • 250 new slots for people with developmental disabilities wishing to be served in the community and $490,000 for more supported employment opportunities.

  • 1,000 new slots for seniors wishing to receive Home and Community Based Services.

  • Eight new GBPI agents specializing in elder abuse cases along with 11 new Adult Protective Service caseworkers.

  • 278 new child protective service workers and $1 million for mobile technologies to support their work as recommended by the Child Welfare Reform Council.

  • $5.8 million to improve the recruitment and training of foster parents as recommended by the Child Welfare Reform Council.

Study committees authorized to produce recommendations prior to January 2016:

  • HR 474 Grandparents raising grandchildren and kinship care.

  • HR 618 Adult Day Services

  • HR 767 Provision of Community Based Intellectual and Developmental Disability services

Community Strengthening

Lawmakers took action on a number of issues that stand to affect the quality of life in the community and that add to or detract from Georgians’ ability to thrive:

  • HB 439 establishing $110 million in tax credits to equity investors that would be split between a state version of the New Markets federal tax credit program that promotes investment in low income communities and Invest Georgia, a venture capital fund has been vetoed. In explaining his action, the Governor stated that while both sets of tax credits have merit, taken together they would have too great of an impact upon Georgia’s general fund.

  • HB 174 gives cities, counties, housing authorities and development authorities the power to redevelop blighted or threatened areas of the community, by allowing the governing authority to waive zoning and development requirements in order to achieve desired results. The bill also encourages private investment in community redevelopment.

  • SB 122 authorizes the use of Special Purpose Local Option Sales Taxes to rebuild capital projects destroyed by disaster.

  • HB 106 authorizes counties alone or in cooperation with others to impose a transportation special purpose local option sales and use tax of up to one percent, subject to voter approval. The proceeds may be used for transit.

  • Standards for the employment of youth aged 18-21 in bars or other venues where alcohol is a key element are tightened under HB 152. The bill also prohibits powdered alcohol in Georgia.

  • Fireworks as sold in adjoining states could now be legally sold in Georgia to consumers aged 18 and older under HB 110. Permanent distributor outlets must be licensed and meet certain safety and liability insurance standards. Temporary fireworks stands may be operated by either distributors or by nonprofits if they are licensed ($500 annually) and located within 1,000 feet of a fire hydrant or permanent store. No licensee may operate more than two temporary stands. Sales are subject to a five percent excise tax and local government can further regulate sales.

  • HB 213 removes restrictions on MARTA’s use of sales tax proceeds provided that an independent audit is filed every four years. The bill also reconfigures the MARTA board and authorizes MARTA to issue citations and fine patrons who violate ridership rules.

  • HB 650 authorizes a “Public Safety Assessment” fee to be charged by the City of Atlanta to help pay for 911 services.

  • The cities of Tucker and of LaVista Hills in DeKalb County were authorized subject to voter referendum by HB 515 and HB 520. Legislation to authorize two other cities in DeKalb and one in Fulton stalled as did a proposal to annex parts of DeKalb and Fulton into the City of Atlanta.

The budget for community strengthening includes: no specific applicable line items.

Study committees authorized to produce recommendations prior to January 2016: 

  • HR 743 and SR 609 Annexation, Deannexation, and Incorporation

  • HR 810 Short term rental providers

Federal Issues Update

Spending

A House and Senate conference committee that included Georgia’s Congressman Tom Price, Chair of the House Budget Committee, and U.S. Senator David Perdue have finalized an agreement for federal fiscal year 2016 (beginning October 1). The plan has been adopted by both the House and the Senate and serves to instruct the appropriations committees in producing recommendations on discretionary spending. In addition, it will inform a reconciliation process in controlling mandatory spending. Discretionary programs are those for which spending is not prescribed in law; whereas funding for mandatory programs – from Food Stamps to Medicare – is. While reconciliation has not been used in every year, the process makes it easier for Congress to change current law by a simple majority vote in order to bring revenue, spending, and debt-limit levels to conform with the budget blueprint. Virtually everything is on the table everything except Social Security which is exempted from the reconciliation process Click here for an overview of the federal budget process:

  • For federal fiscal year 2016 both the House and Senate propose spending about $493 billion for discretionary domestic programs and $523 billion in discretionary defense spending, in line with sequestration levels mandated by the Budget Control Act of 2011.

  • The President has sought in his budget proposal to lift the sequestration caps by seven percent for both domestic and defense discretionary spending but deficit-minded Republicans are unlikely to do so without offsetting cuts elsewhere. Without raising taxes, which the GOP has pledged not to do, they may seek savings in entitlement programs to lift the discretionary caps. Strategies could include block grants, vouchers or user fees.

  • The GOP majority may seek to address the Affordable Care Act or other priorities such as tax reform in reconciliation, which could trigger a veto by the President. An override requires a two-third vote in each chamber.

  • The conference agreement calls for spending over $5 trillion less than currently projected over the next decade to close the budget deficit.

Taxes

While sweeping tax reform proposals that affect individual and joint filers appears unlikely in 2015, there is broad agreement that corporate income taxes need reform. The top corporate tax rate, 35 percent, is the highest in the developed world. To make them more competitive, congressional tax writing committees appear to favor a tax reduction paid for by eliminating various corporate tax credits and deductions. However small businesses would pay a price by being left out of corporate tax reform. The profits of sole proprietors, partnerships and S-corporations pass-through to their owners and the highest personal income tax rate, 39.6 percent, exceeds the corporate rate. Not only would lowering corporate tax rates not help small business, it could hurt: their tax rates would remain high, and they would lose business deductions that they use just like large corporations. Accommodating small business in corporate tax reform without rewriting the personal tax code is the challenge that House Ways & Means Chair Paul Ryan and Senate Finance Committee Chair Orrin Hatch are attempting to address. They have asked for input from small businesses by May 31.

  • The America Gives More Act (HR 644) would make permanent three federal tax deductions significant to 501 (c) (3) charities.: 1) An enhanced food donation tax deduction to give small businesses, including restaurants and farms, donating food to a nonprofit the same tax deduction that corporations are permitted; 2) An enhanced tax deduction for conservation easement donations to allow farmers, ranchers, and other modest-income landowners to increase voluntary land conservation, and 3) The IRA charitable rollover option to allow individual taxpayers aged 70½ and older to donate up to $100,000 from their individual retirement accounts to a charity without a tax penalty. The roll-over option is an important tool for planned giving. HR 644 has passed the House and remains pending in the Senate.

  • The federal charitable tax deduction will again become an issue once Congress initiates reform of the personal tax code, which House Ways & Means Chair Ryan has said he expects to do in 2017. Any changes to the charitable tax deduction that increase the cost of giving among donors will have consequences for nonprofits like United Way.

Health

  • HR 2, colloquially known as the “Doc Fix” bill has been signed into law. It provides for: 1) A 0.5 percent annual pay increase through 2019 for doctors serving Medicare patients;; 2) A two year extension of federal funding for the State Children’s Health Program, known as PeachCare in Georgia;; 3) $7 billion over two years for community health centers, and 4) $800 million over two years to extend the Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program.

  • In June, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule upon King v. Burwell to determine whether the Affordable Care Act authorizes tax subsidies for the purchase in insurance on federal health exchanges in addition to those established by states. Americans in Georgia and 33 other states rely on the federal exchange. Congress is said to be readying legislation, which may be taken up in reconciliation, to address contingencies if SCOTUS rules for King in this case.

  • A proposed federal rule aims to establish mental health parity for those enrolled in Medicaid and S-CHIP programs. The rule would mean that these programs could no longer have hard limits on coverage such as a certain number of mental health visits in a year. Under the proposal, if a patient were to be denied treatment for a mental health or substance use disorder, the program or care management organization would have to explain why. The rule would apply even if the state has carved out some benefits under a separate behavioral health plan.

Education

The Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) Committee has passed the Every Child Achieves Act of 2015, which reauthorizes the Elementary and Secondary Education Act currently in place as No Child Left Behind. The bill is expected to go to the Senate floor before by late May. Click here for a summary of the bill and here for the list of amendments taken up during mark-up. It:

  • Takes the feds out of the business of prescribing accountability systems or academic standards like Common Core or standards for turning around low performing schools.

  • Maintains two tests in reading and math in grades 3- 8 and once in high school along with three science tests between grades 3 -12 to provide measures of achievement. States will be responsible for these and will be required to report disaggregated student data along with graduation rates and measures of postsecondary and workforce readiness.

  • Requires community-based needs assessments to better target funding for student safety, health, well-being and academic achievement during and after school through “safe and healthy students” block grants to states. An amendment to continue separate funding for the 21st Century Community Learning Centers was incorporated into the mark-up.

  • Increases supports for homeless and unaccompanied students.

  • Strengthens supports for charter schools and creates new incentives to develop these.

  • An amendment brought by Georgia’s U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson establishes Early Learning Alignment and Improvement Grants, to be awarded to states on a competitive basis. The bill clarifies that federal funds may be used for Early Childhood Education in low income schools (Title I), for teachers and school leaders (Title II) and English learners (Title III).

Income

  • United Way Worldwide seeks $18 million in federal fiscal year 2016 to support the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program that assists low income and elderly Americans with tax filing and related issues.

  • The outlook for the refundable child tax credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit appears uncertain. While there is bipartisan support for these, they could to be trimmed in the reconciliation process. United Way Worldwide supports expansion of the refundable tax credits as a means to support low income individuals and families. Click here to learn more.

Homelessness/Criminal Justice Reform

Georgia Congressman Doug Collins is the House sponsor of bipartisan and bicameral legislation introduced April 16. The Comprehensive Justice and Mental Health Act (S. 993/ H.R. 1854) would reauthorize the Mentally Ill Offender Treatment and Crime Reduction Act and add new provisions that address the growing population of those with mental health conditions in correctional settings. This bill would provide counties with funding to expand specialty courts (e.g. drug courts and veteran’s courts) and also provide funding for crisis intervention training for law enforcement among other items. It:

  • Continues support for mental health courts and crisis intervention teams

  • Authorizes investment in veterans treatment courts

  • Supports state and local efforts to identify people with mental health conditions at each point in the criminal justice system in order to appropriately direct them to mental health services.

  • Increases focus on corrections-based programs such as transitional services and screening practices that identify inmates with mental health conditions

  • Supports the development of curricula for police academies and orientation

  • Develops programs to train federal law enforcement officers in how to appropriately respond to incidents involving a person with a mental health conditions.

Basic Needs

Food stamps and other nutrition programs now known as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) could be at risk in the budget blueprint and later reconciliation process. The House version of the budget would convert SNAP to a block grant to cut funding by 34 percent between 2021 and 2025. The House budget also instructs the Agriculture Committee to recommend at least t $1 billion in cuts over 10 years for all programs it authorizes, which includes SNAP. While the Senate plan with respect to SNAP is not detailed, it would instruct Senate committees to come up with overall levels of savings.

Community Strengthening

  • The U.S. Senate has adopted S. 178, the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015. The measure 1) amends the federal criminal code to punish “Johns” on the same basis as for traffickers and assesses an additional fine of $5,000 per conviction payable into a new Domestic Trafficking Victims’ Fund to be administered by the U.S. Attorney General, 2) funds state and local law enforcement initiatives against trafficking; 3) establishes a “Human Exploitation Rescue Operative (HERO) Child Rescue Corps” to hire and train veterans to target traffickers; 4) creates a Computer Forensics Unit and a Child Exploitation Investigations Unit within the U.S. Customs and Enforcement (ICE), and 5) creates a “Council on Human Trafficking” to advise policymakers. S. 178 now goes to the House.

  • United Way Worldwide is expected to pursue legislation to circumvent rules adopted by the Office of Personnel Management pertaining Combined Federal Campaign, seen to diminish the value of the program and community engagement with it. By creating the CFC in federal statute, Congress would have more oversight of agency rules

Quick Links

Find your legislator

Georgia House Meeting Calendar

Georgia Senate Meeting Calendar

Georgia United Way Policy Agenda

United Way Worldwide Policy Agenda 114th Congress

United Way Worldwide Advocacy Action Center

Advertisements

Georgia State Legislature adjourns Sine Die: wrap-up report

The first session of the 153rd Georgia General Assembly adjourned Sine Die at just after midnight on April 2. Bills not adopted, defeated or lost due to lack of agreement between the House and the Senate this year remain in play for the second session beginning January 11, 2016. Viable bills are recommitted to the last legislative committee of jurisdiction except that those “tabled” on the final day can be called back up at any time next year. Governor Deal has forty days (until May 12) to veto entire bills and specific line items in the budget. Note that resolutions calling for constitutional amendments or study committees are not subject to veto.

Support for transportation was a signature issue this year and HB 170 was adopted by conference committee report. Click to see a summary. The single action that the legislature is constitutionally required to perform each year is the adoption of a balanced budget and HB 76 approving $21.82 billion for state fiscal year 2016 (beginning July 1) was adopted by conference committee report. The final budget resolves the differences between the versions proposed separately by the Governor, the House and the Senate.

As many of us complete a week of spring recess with family, this blog post is longer than most. In reports key actions by Georgia lawmakers across functional area of interest to United Ways’ mission and goals for the community, including the budget, legislation and study committees authorized to work before the second session. 

Health

This was not a year for significant change in legislation affecting access to care or coverage by broad populations of Georgians. What lawmakers did do:

  • Authorized the use of medical cannabis oil for eight conditions by adopting HB 1.
  • Mandated coverage of autism spectrum disorder treatment for children under age 6 among some insurance plans by adopting HB 429. The bill also addresses insurance coverage of services needed by terminal patients.
  • Authorized a two year sales & use tax exemption applicable to nonprofit and charitable health clinics as well as to prepared foods donated to food banks by adopting HB 426.
  • Expanded the range of vaccines that can be administered by pharmacists and nurses under protocol agreements with physicians by adopting HB 504.
  • Required syphilis and HIV testing of new mothers upon giving birth if there is no record of any previous such test during their pregnancy, adopted by HB 436.
  • Reconfigured Regional Behavioral Health & Developmental Disability Boards as advisory rather than executive in nature and restored executive and administrative functions to the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities in adopting HB 512.

The budget for health includes: 

  • Medicaid pay rate increases for OB/GYNs and Primary Care Physicians along with rate increases for providers serving people with developmental disabilities in home and community based settings.
  • $3 million for pilot projects sought by the Rural Hospital Stabilization Committee and $500,000 for expansion of charity clinics.
  • Three new mental health crisis stabilization units and eight inpatient beds in Fulton County.
  • Nonbinding language to authorize the Georgia Department of Community Health to seek a Section 1115 waiver. States have most recently utilized these as a means to propose alternative strategies to Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
  • Nonbinding language to authorize the creation of a task force to identify how the state will address indigent health care once federal Disproportionate Share Funds are reduced under the ACA..

 Study committees authorized to produce recommendations before January 2016: 

  • HR 641 Children’s Mental Health
  • SR 487 Preventing Youth Substance Use Disorders
  • SR 594 Rate of Diagnosis for Children With Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and Related Disorders
  • SR 560 Women’s Adequate Healthcare
  • HR 612 Fibroid Education and Awareness
  • SR 561 Consumer and Provider Protection Act (SB 158

Education

The legislature took some bold moves in education policy with more to come in 2016 at the conclusion of the work of the Governor’s Education Reform Commission. In the 2015 session, lawmakers:

  • Sent a proposed constitutional amendment to voters in November 2016 that gives the Governor authority to take responsibility for failing schools by establishing an Opportunity School District in adopting SR 287 and its companion SB 133.
  • Significantly advanced the Move on When Ready initiative by adopting SB 132 authorizing dual enrollment opportunities for all high school students whether in public or private schools. They may apply to a post-secondary school and, if accepted, earn simultaneous course credit towards both high school graduation and a post-secondary credential.
  • Allowed students aged 16 or older to earn to earn a high school diploma at a post-secondary institution if they have completed certain specified classes along with a program leading to an associates degree, a technical college diploma or two technical college certificates in a specific career pathway by adopting SB 2.
  • Mandated suicide prevention awareness and training among certificated school personnel under HB 198.
  • Allowed Georgians who failed the High School Graduation Test but met all other requirements to petition to retroactively receive a diploma by adopting HB 91. The test is no longer required under current K-12 policy.
  • Added cyberbullying to the state’s anti-bullying policy by incorporating prohibitions against student and teacher harassment via electronic means in adopting HB 131.
  • Allowed local boards of education to require all students to pass a curriculum covering the founding philosophy and principles of the United States in HB 502, a bill that is otherwise a clean-up of the state education code.
  • In a nonbinding resolution, HR 303 urged the Georgia Board of Education to develop a curriculum to promote civics education.
  • Clarified what student information can be collected and with whom it can be shared by adopting SB 89.
  • Authorized full-time state employees the right to apply for up to eight hours paid leave per calendar year in order to promote education as a volunteer by adopting HB 313.
  • Said that possession of minor weapons under school zero tolerance policies does not constitute a felony under HB 492. The underlying bill is a clarification of previously adopted open-carry law.
  • Authorized certain charter schools to give preference to enrolling low income and other educationally disadvantaged students in adopting HB 372. The underlying bill prohibits higher facility standards than required of other public schools.
  • Authorized the Georgia Board of Education to allocate funding to high need schools for positive behavioral support interventions in lieu of other forms of disciplinary action against students in SB 164.
  • Authorized school systems to stock asthma medication and granted school employees trained in recognizing symptoms to administer it under HB 362.
  • Authorized organizations like schools to stock auto-injectable epinephrine and employees to administer the drug when a child or adult is having a severe allergic reaction under SB 126.
  • Adopted HB 401, a proposal brought on behalf of the Georgia Department of Early Care & Learning to clarify requirements of child care providers particularly with respect to criminal record checks.
  • Authorized the Georgia Student Finance Authority to garnish wages or tax refunds and to revoke professional licenses in connection with scholarships, grants or loans for which the recipient was ineligible under HB 320, which also prohibits the sharing of student personal identifying information.  

The budget for education includes:

  • A total of $490 million in new funds for K-12 Education including an austerity reduction of $280 million.
  • Continued healthcare coverage for non-certified public school employees like school bus drivers and cafeteria workers, with the additional cost to be borne by local boards of education.
  • Two more planning days for Pre-K teachers (to restore a total of 10 days) and 60 new classes in the Summer Transition Program for low-income rising Pre-Kindergarteners and Kindergarteners
  • $6.5 million for reading mentor initiatives offered through the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement.
  • A three percent increase for HOPE Grant and Scholarship awards and HOPE Grants for Strategic Industries Workforce Development, including Computer Programming, Certified Engineer Assistant, Movie Production and Set Design, and Precision Manufacturing certificate and diploma programs. 

Study committees authorized to produce recommendations prior to January 2016:

  • HR 765 School counseling and the role of school counselors
  • SR 564 School construction
  • HR 827 Preservation of the HOPE Scholarship program
  • HR 71 HOPE Scholarship Program Award Amount for Critical Fields of Study
  • HR 642 Postsecondary Education and Employment Options for Individuals with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities
  • HR 640 School Based Health Centers

Income

With significant tax reform proposals (HB 435 and HB 445) pending action for 2016, lawmakers made some incremental changes in state law: 

  • Formally established the Division of Workforce Development as part of the Georgia Department of Economic Development in adopting HB 348. This division has jurisdiction over the state’s deployment of funds under the new federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act.
  • Authorized tax credits for employers offering GED programs to their employees who lack a diploma by adopting HB 63.
  • Allowed employers the option to pay wages through debit cards with the adoption of SB 88 which, depending upon administrative fees, could be a good deal for unbanked Georgians.
  • HB 225 requires ride-share networks like Uber and Lyft to register with the Georgia Department of Public Safety, conduct background checks of drivers and to pay sales and use taxes. The bill prohibits a medallion system for taxi drivers going forward, phasing out the City of Atlanta’s over a period of time. HB 190 requires the ride-share networks to carry liability insurance.
  • Made borrowers read more fine print by allowing lenders to charge a “convenience fee” for paying off certain loans through credit cards, debit cards and other electronic payment methods. Affected loans under HB 299 include retail installment and home solicitation sales contracts along with motor vehicle and insurance premium finance agreements.
  • Revised Georgia’s Unemployment Insurance law to clarify the identification of most recent employer and to lengthen to seven years the period in which the Labor Commissioner can recover over payments or erroneous claims. HB 117 additionally authorizes payment of UI benefits for victims of family violence who involuntary leave a job, payable by the UI insurance fund rather than the victim’s employer.
  • Clarified that employers may give preference to veterans in hiring decisions under HB 443.
  • Provided due process safeguards to assist innocent owners recover property seized by law enforcement by adopting the Georgia Uniform Civil Forfeitures Act, HB 233.
  • Provided a means of redress for putative fathers required to pay child support through the Georgia Department of Human Services. These men can request a DNA test under HB 568, the cost of which is refundable by the parent claiming support If it demonstrates that he is not the child’s biological father. In that case, the putative father is not required to pay support and may be due a refund of previous payments.

The budget for income includes:  No significant new state funding

Study committees authorized to produce recommendations prior to January 2016:  

Homelessness/Criminal Justice Reform

Lawmakers adopted multiple bills implementing the most recent round of recommendations of the Council on Criminal Justice Reform.

  • A new state department of community supervision is established by HB 310 by placing probation and parole functions applicable to adults and juveniles under one roof. The department will also incorporate jurisdiction for local private probation activities. Most local courts across Georgia outsource misdemeanor probation supervision for traffic and other minor offenses but the arrangement often has perverse consequences; turning probation payment plans into predatory loans and jails into poorhouses for those who can’t afford probation payments. The bill gives judges the authority to waive fines and fees or order community service hours if the costs are beyond what an offender can afford.
  • Criteria for parole is spelled out under HB 328 which also addresses how information pertaining to criminal records about Georgians can be disbursed via private consumer reporting agencies.
  • Juvenile Justice reforms are continued in HB 361 which clarifies when a child before a superior court can be transferred to the juvenile court and authorizes prosecutors to petition on behalf of a child in need of services when that child is a ward of the state.
  • Jurisdiction for the state’s juvenile justice plan as well as for family violence programs is handed off to the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council under HB 263.
  • Opened the records and allowed victim and district attorney participation in decisions made by the State Board of Pardons and Parole in connection with offenders charged with serious crime or who have not served a minimum sentence under HB 71. This bill was introduced independently of the package submitted by the Council on Criminal Justice Reform.

The budget for homelessness/criminal justice reform includes: 

  • $830,000 and existing State Criminal Alien Assistance Program funds ($5.2 million) for the Reentry Housing program and other support services to enhance the Governor’s Criminal Justice Reform Council’s efforts.
  • $840,000 for the Governor’s Office of Transition, Support and Reentry for five counselors, five community coordinators, one coordinator supervisor, and one housing coordinator.
  • $10.7 million to support health, substance abuse treatment, education and vocational training in state prisons to support reentry.
  • $4.9 million to expand accountability courts through the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council.
  • $1.5 million for Juvenile Justice Reform initiatives instead of secure detention through the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice.

 Study committees authorized to produce recommendations prior to January 2016: 

Basic needs

The protection of vulnerable elders, people with disabilities and of children and youth continued to be major concerns among lawmakers in 2015 resulting in the adoption of new legislation:

  • Safe Harbor and services for trafficked youth will be established upon enactment of SB 8 and voter adoption of SR 7 in 2016.. The latter is a constitutional amendment that will dedicate the proceeds of new fines upon traffickers and new fees to be required of adult entertainment establishments. Trafficked youth up to age 18 would not be prosecuted for sex offenses and a new Safe Harbor Commission would establish a continuum of services to rehabilitate victims with the new funds.
  • The Division of Aging Services currently housed in the Georgia Department of Human Services will be established as a separate Department of Adult and Aging Services under HB 86 in order to increase its ability to respond to the needs of an aging population.
  • HB 78 strengthens Georgia’s capacity to protect the aged and people with disabilities. The bill removes language in current law that precludes the use of evidence discovered through an inspection warrant in a criminal case of abuse, neglect or financial exploitation and requires an immediate report to law enforcement whenever protective service workers suspect a crime. Unlicensed operators of personal care homes in which maltreatment or exploitation has occurred are subject to new criminal penalties. Investment companies are made mandatory reporters when financial exploitation is suspected.
  • SB 138 implements the recommendations of the Child Welfare Reform Council  by making the Director of the Division of Family and Children Services (part of the Georgia Department of Human Services) a direct report of the Governor, establishing state and regional DFCS advisory councils and reconfiguring county DFCS boards. The bill also requires a case plan with each child aged 14 and older and authorizes information sharing of children in protective service among state agencies and foster parents. A central child abuse registry of offenders is also established under this bill.
  • Mandatory reporting of suspected child abuse or neglect got a boost with HB 268 clarifying that reports submitted by employees or volunteers who work with children cannot first be altered by superiors. Reports of suspected abuse may be filed by telephone, email or facsimile provided that an oral report is followed by a written one within 24 hours. HB 177 requires that the agency to which a report of suspected abuse or neglect has been submitted by a mandatory reporter in a school setting confirm receipt within 24 hours and disclose the outcome of its investigation to a school counselor or principal within five days of completion.
  • HB 452 expands the scope of the existing protective order registry to include pretrial release orders and sentencing orders that prohibit contact in order to give law enforcement and the courts access to information that could help protect victims.

The budget for basic needs includes: 

  • 250 new slots for people with developmental disabilities wishing to be served in the community and $490,000 for more supported employment opportunities.
  • 1,000 new slots for seniors wishing to receive Home and Community Based Services.
  • Eight new GBPI agents specializing in elder abuse cases along with 11 new Adult Protective Service caseworkers.
  • 278 new child protective service workers and $1 million for mobile technologies to support their work as recommended by the Child Welfare Reform Council.
  • $5.8 million to improve the recruitment and training of foster parents as recommended by the Child Welfare Reform Council.

Study committees authorized to produce recommendations prior to January 2016: 

  • HR 474 Grandparents raising grandchildren and kinship care.
  • HR 618 Adult Day Services
  • HR 767 Provision of Community Based Intellectual and Developmental Disability services

Community Strengthening

Lawmakers took action on a number of issues that stand to affect the quality of life in the community and that add  to or detract from Georgians’ ability to thrive:

  • HB 439 provides $110 million in tax credits to equity investors that would be split between a state version of the New Markets federal tax credit program that promotes investment in low income communities and Invest Georgia, a venture capital fund.
  • HB 174 gives cities, counties, housing authorities and development authorities the power to redevelop blighted or threatened areas of the community, by allowing the governing authority to waive zoning and development requirements in order to achieve desired results. The bill also encourages private investment in community redevelopment.
  • SB 122 authorizes the use of Special Purpose Local Option Sales Taxes to rebuild capital projects destroyed by disaster.
  • HB 106 authorizes counties alone or in cooperation with others to impose a transportation special purpose local option sales and use tax of up to one percent, subject to voter approval. The proceeds may be used for transit.
  • Standards for the employment of youth aged 18-21 in bars or other venues where alcohol is a key element are tightened under HB 152. The bill also prohibits powdered alcohol in Georgia.
  • Fireworks as sold in adjoining states could now be legally sold in Georgia to consumers aged 18 and older under HB 110. Permanent distributor outlets must be licensed and meet certain safety and liability insurance standards. Temporary fireworks stands may be operated by either distributors or by nonprofits if they are licensed ($500 annually) and located within 1,000 feet of a fire hydrant or permanent store. No licensee may operate more than two temporary stands. Sales are subject to a five percent excise tax and local government can further regulate sales.
  • HB 213 removes restrictions on MARTA’s use of sales tax proceeds provided that an independent audit is filed every four years. The bill also reconfigures the MARTA board and authorizes MARTA to issue citations and fine patrons who violate ridership rules.
  • HB 650 authorizes a “Public Safety Assessment” fee to be charged by the City of Atlanta to help pay for 911 services.
  • The cities of Tucker and of LaVista Hills in DeKalb County were authorized subject to voter referendum by HB 515 and HB 520. Legislation to authorize two other cities in DeKalb and one in Fulton stalled as did a proposal to annex parts of DeKalb and Fulton into the City of Atlanta.

The budget for community strengthening includes: no specific applicable line items.

Study committees authorized to produce recommendations prior to January 2016: 

Quick Links:

Find your legislator

Georgia United Way Policy Agenda

United Way Worldwide Policy Agenda 114th Congress

United Way Worldwide Advocacy Action Center

Georgia Legislature to adjourn Sine Die at midnight Thursday

Last week saw the adoption of HB 1 pertaining to medical marijuana along with the Governor’s proposal to establish an Opportunity School District with the passage of SB 133 and SR 287.

Rep. Allen Peake congratulates baby Haleigh & family on adoption of HB 1

Rep. Allen Peake congratulates baby Haleigh & family on adoption of HB 1

State lawmakers will reconvene Tuesday for Day 39 of the forty day session and after a break to read measures headed to the floors, will convene for final legislative day on April 2. Between then and now a tidal wave of bills and resolutions remain in play.

Bills must be adopted in identical form in order to be sent to the Governor. When a bill emerges in a different version from that which was passed by its originating body, it is subject that body’s agreement. The original sponsor may also move to amend the last version or alternatively to disagree or insist on his or her position. Any such action sends the bill back to the opposite chamber, which may recede from its position, agree with its own amendment, disagree or insist. The latter actions typically trigger a conference committee wherein three members of each chamber hash out the final language. Conference committee reports often amount to a whole new bill which must be voted up-or-down in each chamber. It is very difficult for individual lawmakers to keep up with all of the last-minute changes.

This blog post is intended to give readers a flavor of what’s ahead this week. In mid-April, a full report will be posted of bills sent to the Governor along with a list of study committees authorized for the interim. The Governor has forty days following the session to exercise his veto of any bill crossing his desk and of line items in the budget.

Leadership do-or-die list:

HB 76, the budget bill for state fiscal year 2016, is in conference committee. Adoption of a budget is the single action that is constitutionally required of the legislature. A list of the differences between the House and Senate plans is here. Ask your legislators to retain the Senate version’s appropriation of $1 million for nonprofit volunteer health clinics and Medicaid reimbursement rate increases for OB/GYNs and primary health care providers.

With Governor Deal signaling that he’ll call a special session on transportation if agreement on HB 170 cannot be reached, this issue takes on a new urgency. It too is in conference committee. A senate substitute to HB 106, dubbed “son of T-SPLOST” would authorize the levy of up to a one cent sales tax among two or more counties for transportation purposes, including mass transit. It is pending agreement by the House.

Health issues

SB 1 mandating coverage of autism spectrum disorders among young children remains high on the Senate wish list. After intense debate, a deal was struck to merge the bill into HB 429 which addresses the insurance coverage needs of the dying. Coverage takes effect only if HR 808, a constitutional amendment to dedicate a.2 cent sales tax for autism is passed next year.

HB 426 is another to watch. A senate substitute combines sales tax exemptions for federally qualified and other nonprofit health clinics with a similar exemption for prepared foods donated to food banks. It is eligible for the Senate floor.

Education issues:

SB 132 is the Governor’s proposal to build on the ‘Move on When Ready Act’. The bill allows all high school students, whether in public or private school, to apply to a post-secondary school in order to take one or more classes; if accepted, the student can get credit for the class at both the student’s high school and the post-secondary institution. A House substitute will go to the House floor on Tuesday.

A House substitute to SB 89 also heads to the House floor on Tuesday. The bill, originally addressing digital text books now includes HB 414 which clarifies what K-12 student data can be collected and with whom it can be shared.

A Senate substitute to HB 474 is eligible to go to the Senate floor. It authorizes charter schools to give preference to enrolling educationally disadvantaged students, including students who a) are low-income, b) have disabilities, c) have limited English proficiency, d) were abused, neglected or delinquent and e) are migrant or homeless.

Income issues:

A Senate substitute to HB 63 authorizes tax credits for employers offering GED programs to employees who lack a high school diploma. It is eligible to go to the Senate floor.

A Senate substitute to HB 117 retains provisions authorizing payment of unemployment insurance benefits to workers who leave a job in order to flee domestic violence. It too is eligible to go to the Senate floor.

Issues affecting homelessness:

Bills to up the ante in Georgia’s effort to end the trafficking of youth will go to a vote on the House floor on Tuesday. SB 8 seeks to help youth, typically foster children, runaways or homeless, caught in these ugly circumstances by not treating them as prostitutes under the law until age 19 and by creating a framework through which to fund and administer services to restore their lives. SR 7 is a proposed constitutional amendment that would dedicate the assets of convicted traffickers and new fees to be required of adult entertainment establishments to pay for these services. Please ask your state representatives to support passage of these measures and your senators to agree to them when they return to Senate.

HB 361 is among the remaining pieces of the Governor’s package to implement the recommendations of the GA Council on Criminal Justice Reform that has yet to be finalized. It pertains to the juvenile justice system and is eligible to go to the Senate floor.

Issues affecting basic needs:

SB 138 remains high on the Governor’s wish list and a House substitute bill has not yet been placed on the calendar. The bill implements many of the recommendations of the Governor’s Child Welfare Reform Council.

SB 3, a high priority in the Senate, remains in a House Committee. The bill is aimed to help struggling parents avoid foster care by giving them the authority to appoint another adult with temporary custody for their child.

Quick links:

Find your legislator

Search Georgia legislation

Budget information

Georgia House Meeting Calendar

Georgia Senate Meeting Calendar

Directions to the Georgia State Capitol

Directions to the Coverdell Legislative Office Building

Action Alert: Help end domestic trafficking of youth!

Senate Bill 8 (Sen. Unterman, 45th) and Senate Resolution 7, “Rachel’s Law,” passed in the Senate by an overwhelming majority on February 12, 2015 and were favorably reported by the House Juvenile Justice Committee late Tuesday afternoon. The legislation:

  • establishes a new state fund and commission to support needed services for exploited and trafficked children, through additional fines on convicted traffickers and business fees on adult entertainment establishments.

  • requires the development of a state plan for the coordinated delivery of services to exploited children.

  • focuses on the important issue of demand by targeting buyers and sellers with increased penalties including expanding forfeiture and seizure laws and amending the State Offender Registry

  • extends the statute of limitations for the victims of domestic minor trafficking to file civil actions against their traffickers to age 25.

  • establishes a “Safe Harbor” provision that protects children under the age of 18 who have been trafficked from prosecution.

How Can You Help?

With just four more working days left to the 2015 legislative session, these bills are now eligible to go to the House floor for a vote.   Getting them there and adopted is by no means a sure thing! 

We need you to contact your state representative immediately to ask them to pass Senate Bill 8 and Senate Resolution 7. Share this alert with your networks so that others do the same. 

Here is a sample email you can also send to your representative from your personal email account:

Dear Representative ______________:

As your constituent I am extremely concerned about the issue of Child Trafficking in this state. This heinous crime against Georgia’s children must be eliminated! Moreover, the young victims need services to move forward with their lives.

Please do what you can to make sure this bill reaches the House floor and when it does, please vote for the adoption of Senate Bill 8 (Rachel’s Law) and Senate Resolution 7.

Thank you for protecting our children!  

Trafficking infographic

Light (almost) at the end of the tunnel under Georgia’s Gold Dome

State lawmakers will reconvene Monday for Day 34 of the forty day session. They are slated to work official days all week, returning the following week to adjourn Sine Die on April 2.

The past week is notable for its slow start on Wednesday but its crescendo of a finish on Friday that saw the Senate’s adoption of its version of the budget for fiscal year 2016 along with HB 170, the transportation bill. This chart highlights the differences between the House and Senate versions as that bill as it went to the Senate floor Friday. The Senate considered nine amendments and ultimately a) did away with annual fee to be charged to personal and commercial vehicles, b) rolled back the annual fees to be charged to electric vehicles and c) established a new joint legislative committee authorized to bring tax reform bills directly to the floor of each chamber for an up-or-down vote.

Absent a constitutional amendment (which has not been proposed this year) state revenues derived from motor fuel taxes cannot be spent on transit. As a result any new revenues derived under HB 170 cannot be allocated for that purpose. This prohibition does not extend to local taxes, however. HB 170 now awaits the appointment of a conference committee to resolve the differences between the two versions.

Meanwhile in Washington DC, Georgia’s Tom Price, MD, chair of the House budget committee unveiled a proposal to balance the budget in 10 years as did his Senate counterpart Mike Enzi. Both have critical implications for federal and state relationships as well as health and human services going forward. Click the links for highlights of the House plan and of the Senate plan. Their next step is to reconcile their differences to agree upon a budget resolution that sets spending limits. Also this week: United Way Worldwide published its policy agenda for the 114th Congress.

The budget:

The Senate adopted its version of HB 76 for the state fiscal year 2016 budget (effective July 1). Notable changes from the House version were made in health spending: $1 million for nonprofit volunteer health clinics and Medicaid reimbursement rate increases for OB/GYNs and primary health care providers. The latter had seen a temporary pay bump under the Affordable Care Act but otherwise have had no fee increase for over a decade, making it less attractive to serve Georgians covered by the Medicaid program. HB 76 now awaits the appointment of a conference committee to resolve differences between the two proposals. Please ask your senators and representatives to maintain these additions.

Health issues:

One of the top issues of the year, medical marijuana, appears to be on track for passage. A compromise version of HB 1 was favorably reported by the Senate Health and Human Services Committee on Thursday after a lengthy hearing that resolved very significant differences between the House and the Senate on this issue.

House Education Committee hears Governor Deal's proposal to establish an Opportunity School District.

House Education Committee hears Governor Deal’s proposal to establish an Opportunity School District.

Education issues:

Governor Deal’s proposal to establish an Opportunity School District to work more intensively with selected failing schools ran into some opposition during a lengthy hearing held by the House Education Committee. The measures to implement the proposal, SB 133 and SR 287 are intended to rescue students by upending local bureaucracies in which academic success has been demonstrated to be something less than the top priority. Some see these measures as an overreach into local affairs. A committee vote on these bills is scheduled for Monday at 3 pm.

Income issues:

The House Ways & Means Committee held a preliminary hearing on HB 445, the More Take Home Pay Act. The bill is based upon the earlier findings of the Special Council on Tax Reform & Fairness for Georgians that sought to make the state more competitive with others in the Southeast by lowering the income tax rate and applying sales taxes to more goods and services, including groceries. While the bill is not eligible for adoption this year, look for a series of hearings over the interim as the committee and the voters sort through these issues. Materials will be posted on the House Ways & Means Committee web page.

Issues affecting homelessness:

Bills to up the ante in Georgia’s effort to end the trafficking of youth will come up for a vote by the House Juvenile Justice Committee on Monday at 2 pm. SB 8 seeks to help youth, typically foster children, runaways or homeless, caught in these ugly circumstances by not treating them as prostitutes under the law until age 19 and by creating a framework through which to fund and administer services to restore their lives. SR 7 is a proposed constitutional amendment that would dedicate the assets of convicted traffickers and new fees to be required of adult entertainment establishments to pay for these services. These bills passed resoundingly in the Senate but are at risk in the House. Please ask your state senators and representatives to support passage of these measures, whether or not they sit on the committee.

Issues affecting basic needs:

HR 474 establishing a House study committee to identify the needs of grandparents raising grandchildren passed the House this week. The committee is to issue recommendations to help support such kinship arrangements by December 1.

Quick links:

Find your legislator

Search Georgia legislation

Budget information

Georgia House Meeting Calendar

Georgia Senate Meeting Calendar

Directions to the Georgia State Capitol

Directions to the Coverdell Legislative Office Building

Georgia United Way Policy Agenda

Georgia state lawmakers to reconvene Wednesday for Day 31 of 2015 session

Crossover day at the Georgia General Assembly was last Friday with the Senate concluding work at about 5 pm and the House finishing up at 8 pm. Their actions – or lack thereof – remove nearly two-thirds of the bills that touch upon United Ways’ mission and goals for the community from consideration this year. After celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, Lawmakers go back to work on Wednesday when the Senate Appropriations Committee is expected to roll out its version of the budget for state fiscal year 2016.

This first session of the 153rd Georgia General Assembly is shaping up as a year of controlled burns rather than wildfires. With only a couple of outliers, lawmakers are completing work on just a few controversial issues upon which the leadership has already indicated its preferences such as transportation and an Opportunity School District. Given the need to reach across the aisle to get these high priority measures passed, there is a greater appetite for bipartisanship, especially in the House.

Next year as Georgia readies for the 2016 General Election will likely be different. Bills that are not defeated get another bite at the apple and some big ones like tax reform and school choice remain pending. Interest in proposed constitutional amendments will also heighten since these may only be submitted to the voters at that time.

That said, “zombie” bills can also be attached to others left standing. To do so, the zombie must be of a similar subject matter or code section as the living bill and can’t exceed certain length requirements. A sponsor of a living bill can abandon his or her proposal if it is overtaken by a zombie without his or her approval.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed greets President Obama on March 10

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed greets President Obama on March 10

Meanwhile last Tuesday, President Obama unveiled his “student aid bill of rights‘ in a Georgia Tech gymnasium filled with some 10,000 students. Just prior to his visit, Obama signed a presidential memorandum that targets third parties like Navient and Sallie Mae that contract with the government to collect on loans. Those companies will be required to better inform borrowers about repayment options and notify them when they are delinquent. Obama also called for a single website where students can see all their federal loans in one place and file complaints when needed. Many students have multiple loans or outstanding debt that’s been sold from lender to lender.  

Health issues:

Medical marijuana continues to claim an outsized share of attention. Two bills are now in play; HB 1 would authorize its use for nine medical conditions while SB 185 would only authorize clinical trials for youth under age 18. A compromise is said to be in the offing as early as Thursday.

SB143 is aimed at ending the standoff between Grady Health System and Blue Cross/Blue Shield by requiring that an insurer offering coverage under the State Health Benefit Plan include Level 1 trauma centers in their networks. The bill also establishes as arbitration process by which to resolve such disputes. SB 143 awaits committee referral in the House.

HB 110 raises concern among child advocates because it seeks to legalize the sale of potentially dangerous fireworks as permitted in adjoining states. Proponents say that Georgians who want fireworks already get them by crossing state borders and believe that Georgia should reap the associated tax revenue. A House floor amendment limits licenses to sell fireworks to two per county and authorizes nonprofits to make such sales. Counties and cities may at their option regulate sales more stringently. HB 110 is now in the Senate Public Safety Committee.

HB 426 authorizes a two year sales tax exemption for federally qualified nonprofit health centers and volunteer health clinics beginning July 1.  The bill awaits referral in the Senate.  

HB 512 converts Behavioral Health & Developmental Disability regional boards to advisory bodies and moves regional administrative functions back to the state office. The Department seeks the legislation to improve its ability to deliver quality services throughout the state. HB 512 has been referred to the Senate Health & Human Services Committee.

HB 436 represents a workaround for the many pregnant women do not get prenatal care. It authorizes the health care provider who sees her in the third trimester to offer a HIV and syphilis test. If at the time of delivery there is no written record that an HIV and syphilis test has been performed, the physician must order one. The bill awaits committee referral in the Senate.

SB 130, the Smoke-free Cars for Children Act makes it a misdemeanor to do so when there are passengers under age 15. It awaits committee referral in the House.

Education issues:

SR 80 does not have the force of law but asks that the Department of Education work with the College Board to revise the advanced placement course in history to reflect a greater emphasis on the nation’s founding principles and additionally to seek alternatives to the College Board for advanced placement courses. SB 116 establishes a Celebrate Freedom Week in schools to promote student knowledge of the nation’s founding documents. Both proposals have been referred to the House Education Committee

SB 132 is among the Governor’s proposals and expands dual enrollment options, giving students new opportunities to receive associate and technical degrees and certifications in high demand industries as early as the ninth grade. The bill has been assigned to the House Education Committee.

HB 313 also brought on behalf of the Governor to authorizes state employees to volunteer in K-12 schools for eight hours per year and has been referred to the Senate Education & Youth Committee.

Two bills provide options for K-12 students with special needs: HB 296 exempts children who lawful refugees or asylees from having to be a resident of Georgia for a year to be eligible for the Special Needs Scholarship to attend a private school. It has been referred to the Senate Education & Youth Committee. Meanwhile, HB 474 authorizes start-up charter schools to give preference, in the event of a lottery for admission, to educationally disadvantaged students or students with a parent who is on active-duty military. Eligible students include those from poor or low income families or who have a disability, are migrant, have limited English proficiency, are neglected or delinquent, or are homeless. The bill awaits committee assignment in the Senate.

HB 131 adds cyberbullying to school bullying prohibitions and is applicable even when such electronic communications originate off school property. It awaits committee referral in the Senate. HB 103, known as Kelsey’s Law makes it a misdemeanor to intentionally cause a minor to be identified in an obscene depiction whether or not the image is in fact of the minor. It is pending in the Senate Judiciary Non-Civil Committee.

HB 114 in part relates to school attendance requirements for drivers’ licenses and instruction permits. Youth under age 18 must prove that he or she is enrolled in a public or private school and satisfies attendance requirements; is enrolled in a home education program and satisfies the reporting requirements; or has already received or is pursuing a high school diploma or a GED. The bill also authorizes limited driving permit to those whose license is suspended or revoked in order to get to school, work or other critical purpose. HB 114 has been referred to the Senate Public Safety Committee.

Two bills seek to tamp down the consequences of youthful indiscretion: SB 160 authorizes law enforcement to issue a citation rather than arrest minors buying or possessing alcohol. SB 141 declassifies possession by minors of all but the most serous weapons in school safety zones as felonies. Both bills are pending committee assignment in the House.

Income issues:

With tax season upon us, United Way Worldwide invites your advocacy for federal funding of the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program at $18 million in federal fiscal year 2016. VITA leverages volunteer power to ensure that millions of low-and-moderate-income working individuals and families across the country have access to free quality tax preparation, asset-building resources, and financial education. Simply click here to contact our U.S. senators and your congressman.

HB 439 creates the ‘Georgia New Market Jobs Act,’ which allows insurance companies to make investments in qualified small businesses in low-income and rural communities. It is a hybrid of the federal New Markets Tax Credit, which some states copy, and a complicated state subsidy for insurance companies called CAPCO. GBPI reports that similar initiatives in other states have not delivered measurable results and estimates that the bill could cost Georgia as much as $139 million over eight years. HB 439 has been referred to the Senate Insurance & Labor Committee

HB 568 requires DNA testing in all new child support cases in Georgia. If the genetic testing excludes the alleged father from being the biological father of a child, the state will reimburse the fee. If an alleged father is already paying child support, he can petition for a DNA test and if its results shows that he is not the biological father, he is relieved from the duty to pay child support going forward and any payments in arrears are forgiven. HB 568 is pending committee assignment in the Senate.

Issues affecting Homelessness:

HB 310 implements some of the Criminal Justice Reform Council’s recommendations by creating a Department of Community Supervision from existing state and local probation and parole functions for adults and youth and establishing a state Office of Transition, Support and Reentry in statute. The new department will add a level of consistency, fairness and accountability to these supervision programs and provides options, such as community service, as a condition of probation. HB 310 has been referred to the Senate Public Safety Committee.

HB 328 implements other recommendations of the Council on Criminal Justice Reform pertaining to consumer reporting agencies, probationary licenses for graduates of accountability courts and criteria for consideration of inmates for parole. It has been referred to the Senate Judiciary – Non Civil Committee.

HB 361 is a continuation of the Criminal Justice Reform Council’s effort at juvenile code reform. It gives superior court judges factors to consider for transferring cases to juvenile court and authorizes district attorneys and general counsels for police departments to file petitions in juvenile court for children in need of services. HB 361 moves to the Senate Judiciary – Non Civil Committee

HB 263 implements the recommendations of the Criminal Justice Reform Council to give the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council oversight of the juvenile code, family violence shelters, and social services. It too moves to the Senate Judiciary – Non Civil Committee

Issues affecting Basic Needs:

SB 138 enacts some of the Governor’s Child Welfare Reform Council’s recommendations. The Governor would appoint and have direct oversight of the director of the Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS). The bill also establishes a DFCS State Advisory Board and better defines the makeup and obligations of county and regional DFCS boards. It addresses the interagency sharing of data for the protection of children and allows a foster parent, as an agent of the DFCS, to have access to a child’s medical and educational records to ensure the proper care and education of a child entrusted to the foster parent’s care. The bill also creates a central child abuse registry. SB 138 awaits committee referral in the House.

HB 268 strengthens law pertaining to employees and volunteers who are mandatory reporters of child abuse. When suspected abuse is found in schools, hospitals and social service agencies, the person in charge may not alter the report of an employee or volunteer but may offer additional information. Reports must be filed within 24 hours from the time abuse was first suspected and can be made via telephone, email or facsimile, with oral reports followed by written ones. HB 268 awaits committee assignment in the Senate.

HB 72 expands mandatory reporters of exploitation of elderly and disabled persons by adding investment companies and their employees. In addition, the bill authorizes the state to request a warrant to inspect facilities where elderly or disabled persons are housed. The bill has been assigned to the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.

Quick links:

Find your legislator

Search Georgia legislation

Budget information

Georgia House Meeting Calendar

Georgia Senate Meeting Calendar

Directions to the Georgia State Capitol

Directions to the Coverdell Legislative Office Building

Georgia United Way Policy Agenda

Georgia Lawmakers Brace for Crossover Day

Georgia’s state capitol commanded the attention of even the most apathetic this week as high profile measures volleyed and thundered their way to the opposite chamber. More high drama is anticipated in the run up to Day 30, set for Friday March 13. Crossover Day, as it is known, is the deadline by which legislative proposals must be received by the opposite chamber in order to remain in consideration for the remainder of the 2015 legislative session. Lawmakers typically act on bills until midnight.

As for most rules, there are exceptions: the budget and local legislation are two. But bills that fail to make the cut may find their way to adoption if lawmakers attach them in whole or in part to those left standing. Finally, since 2015 is the first of two sessions that is the 153rd Georgia General Assembly, bills still on the cutting room floor have a chance in 2016 unless otherwise, as in the rare case, defeated.

First Lady Sandra Deal began the week with bipartisan support launching Read Across Georgia month at the capitol. The initiative is intended to encourage efforts to help all children read proficiently by the third grade. This year, Pre-K students will receive a copy of TJ’s Discovery, written by teachers at the Rollins Center for Language and Literacy at the Atlanta Speech School. 

First Lady Read Across Georgia Week

By week’s end controversy erupted over several bills not directly related to the work of United Way or their partners but that were surely the focus of local news in every community. Both await committee assignment in the opposite chamber:

  • The House adopted HB 170, the bill intended to buttress resources for transportation.

  • The Senate adopted SB 129, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which mirrors similar federal law to protect against government overreach in order to make these same protections applicable to state and local government.

The budget:

The Senate Appropriations Committee continues its work on HB 76 to fund the state fiscal year 2016 budget beginning July 1. A hearing on the bond package, which includes $100 million over 20 years to develop transit across the state, is scheduled for Monday afternoon.

Health issues:

  • HB 436 is pending in the House Rules Committee. The bill requires a physician or health care provider treating a pregnant woman to offer to test her for HIV and syphilis during her third trimester. If at the time of delivery there is no written evidence that an HIV or syphilis test has been performed, a test is to be ordered. Sponsors say the bill is needed because so many women do not receive prenatal care.

  • SB 114 has passed the Senate and been referred to the House Committee on Health and Human Services. If adopted it would permit more nurse practitioners to serve Georgians in mental health clinics.

  • HB 504 requires students who wish to live in a university’s on-campus housing to receive a vaccination against meningococcal disease within five years prior to admittance. Additionally, the bill authorizes pharmacists to administer vaccines under a protocol agreement with a physician provided that the pharmacist meets certain training and reporting requirements. The bill has passed the House and is pending assignment in the Senate.

  • At the congressional level, there is some movement to fund S-CHIP (Georgia’s PeachCare program) beyond September when the money runs out. Please join United Way Worldwide in asking our Senators and your congressman to reauthorize funding for this critical program.

Education Issues:

  • The Senate passed Governor Deal’s proposals to establish an Opportunity School District for failing schools after a long and heated partisan debate. SB 133 and SR 287 would allow the state to step in in cases in which a school has repeatedly failed students in much the same manner as in New Orleans and Tenneseee. Senate Democrats say the proposal gives too much power to the Governor and have called instead for community schools which provide wraparound services for low-income students and their families in SB 124

    Lt Governor Casey Cagle presides as Senate adopts Governor Deal's education measures

    Lt Governor Casey Cagle presides as Senate adopts Governor Deal’s education measures

  • SB 132 goes to the Senate floor on Monday. The bill is another of the Governor’s proposals; it expands dual credit course offerings making them available as early as the ninth grade. Course count both toward high school graduation and a post-secondary credential.

  • HB 315 changing the name of the Technical College System to the Georgia Career College System has passed the House and heads to the Senate Higher Education Committee.

  • HB 313 is another of the Governor’s education priorities. It authorizes state employees to volunteer in a K-12 school for eight hours per year. The bill is pending in the House Rules Committee.

Income issues:

  • HB 233 could help prevent more Georgians from wrongly losing assets to civil foreclosure. Known as the Georgia Uniform Civil Forfeitures Procedure Act, the bill provides for due process safeguards to assist innocent owners in recovering property seized by law enforcement. The bill has passed the House and been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee – Non Civil.

  • A bill to spur access to attorneys in rural areas is pending in the House Appropriations Committee. HB 236 represents a policy priority of Georgia Chief Justice Hugh Thompson and would authorize a grant program through the Georgia Department of Community Affairs to assist attorneys’ in repaying student loans in exchange for service in an underserved county.

  • MARTA was the focus of accolades for its new management and the House adopted HB 213 to remove the restriction against use of more than 50 percent of its sales tax proceeds for operations as long as an independent audit was performed each year. The bill is pending assignment in the Senate.

  • HB 435, another tax reform measure, would lower the income tax rate to 5.25 percent by eliminating itemized deductions except for mortgage interest up to $20,000 and charitable deductions. It along with other reform proposals is pending in the House Ways & Means Committee.

Issues affecting Homelessness:

  • HR 502, a proposed constitutional amendment to give the General Assembly the authority to dedicate by general law any fees or assessments to the purpose for which they were imposed, remains pending in the House Ways & Means Committee. Its adoption by the voters on the 2016 ballot would mean that initiatives to dedicate funds for narrow purposes – trafficking of youth, for example – could be more expeditiously accomplished. SB 8 and HB 244 – the Safe Harbor/Rachel’s Law – remain pending, respectively, in the House Juvenile Justice Committee and the House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee.

  • HB 328 implements recommendations of the Council on Criminal Justice Reform pertaining to consumer reporting agencies, probationary licenses for graduates of accountability courts and criteria for consideration of inmates for parole. Language in an earlier version of the bill that would have rolled back some earlier juvenile justice reforms was eliminated and the bill, which passed the House on Thursday, remains pending committee assignment in the Senate.

  • HB 310 establishes a new Department of Community Supervision to combine state and local probation and parole functions for both adults and juveniles and additionally establishes the Governor’s Office of Transition, Support and Reentry in statute. Discussion worthy aspects of the bill: community service of up to 500 hours as a condition of probation (but use of an offender for private gain would be a misdemeanor). Community service programs would be invited to submit an application showing the number of offenders that could be accommodated, the work to be preformed and level of supervision provided. Additionally, counties could establish diversion centers to house offenders who have failed to pay child support or alimony. HB 310 is pending in the House Rules Committee.

  • HB 263 implements the recommendations of the Council on Criminal Justice Reform regarding the juvenile code, family violence shelters, centering oversight of these within the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council. This bill is also pending in the House Rules Committee.

Issues affecting Basic Needs:

  • SR 388 is a proposed state constitutional amendment previously sought by the Perdue administration in order contract for social services with faith-based groups on the same basis as allowed under the U.S. Constitution. Currently, both the federal and state government contract with faith-based organizations to deliver services on a nonsectarian basis. The bill is pending in the Senate Rules Committee.

  • HB 268 is aimed at strengthening laws requiring reports of child abuse among employees and volunteers working with children. Individuals in charge of such settings, including schools, hospitals and social service agencies, may not alter the report of an employee or volunteer but may offer additional information. Reports must be filed within 24 hours from the time abuse was first suspected and can be made via telephone, email or facsimile. The bill is pending in the House Rules Committee

Quick links:

Find your legislator

Search Georgia legislation

Budget information

Georgia House Meeting Calendar

Georgia Senate Meeting Calendar

Directions to the Georgia State Capitol

Directions to the Coverdell Legislative Office Building

Georgia United Way Policy Agenda