April 17, 2019

The 2019 Session is Over – Here’s an Update

An Update from the Capitol

On April 2, after 40 days, the 2019 Legislative session ended around midnight. I cannot begin to tell you how much of an honor it is for me to continue service to the good people of Gainesville, Hall County and all of Georgia. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to serve you!

Working hand in hand with my fellow House members, we were able to pass key legislation addressing some of the immediate needs our state is facing, as well as ensuring that we continue to evolve as a leading state in the 21st century.

The summary below, in numerical order of the bill's number, will outline a few of the highlights from this year's Legislative session.

HB 23 (Rep. Houston) – Language from HB 23 was identical to SB 2, which passed both chambers and is awaiting the Governor's signature.
Georgia's electric membership cooperatives (EMCs) are member-owned, not-for-profit utilities that serve approximately 4.4 million of Georgia's 10.5 million residents and 73% of the state's land area. This bill will allow EMCs to provide broadband services, while prohibiting the cross subsidization of the EMCs broadband services and its natural gas or electricity services. This bill also provides an auditing measure to ensure cross subsidization compliance. HB 23 also prohibits EMCs from discontinuing service of gas / electricity for one of their members for the member's failure to pay for the broadband service, and vice versa.

HB 62 (Rep. Cooper) – To become law July 1, 2019
This bill, also known as Margie's Law, would require a healthcare facility conducting mammograms to tell a patient if dense breast tissue was detected, and therefore, that a recent mammogram may not be the “entire” indication of health status.

HB 186 (Rep. Stephens) – Signed by the Governor
HB186 revises current Certificate of Need (CON) requirements, extends the Rural Hospital Tax Credit, and creates the Office of Health Strategy and Coordination. This bill increases to $10 million the capital threshold for new / expanded / relocated facilities; removes the need for approval of CON for upgrades / renovations for non-clinical facilities; modernizes the definition of certain healthcare facility descriptors; gives Cancer Treatment Centers of America the ability to become a “general cancer hospital”; modernizes the CON application process; and adds reporting requirements for the purpose of increased transparency.

HB 213 (Rep. Corbett) – Became law May 10, 2019
This bill further supports Georgia's number one industry, agriculture, by allowing for the cultivation and processing of industrial hemp and hemp products in Georgia. Industrial hemp is cultivated for use in the production of a wide range of products, including foods and beverages, personal care products, nutritional supplements, fabrics and textiles, paper, construction materials, and other manufactured goods. The bill also enables the University System of Georgia to conduct research on hemp, including the development of new hemp varieties, seed development, and consumer uses. Commissioner Gary Black and the Department of Agriculture will provide oversight of all compliance and regulation. This bill provides our State's farmers another crop that they can grow, as the demand for industrial hemp is through the roof.

HB 239 (Rep. Efstration) – Became law May 7, 2019
This bill creates a statewide business court, like the business courts already in existence in Metro Atlanta. This is a specialized program aimed at giving Georgians access to resolve specific business disputes before a court that truly understands the problems.

HB 287 (Rep. Dubnik) – Signed by the Governor
Georgia faces a critical shortage of health care professionals, particularly in primary care. Physicians, advanced practice registered nurses (known as APRNs) and physician assistants (known as PAs) are the core disciplines in primary care. To combat this shortage, the state has invested significant resources in expanding medical school class sizes, and the number and sizes of programs in advanced practice registered nursing and physician assistant education. This bill supports those public investments in educational programs seeking to provide our next, and expanded, generations of primary care providers. This bill seeks to support Georgia community-based practicing medical providers (referred to as preceptors) who agree to train Georgia MD, DO, APRN and PA students through "on the job training" in a clinical (not academic) environment. This bill will convert an existing tax deduction to a tax credit for Georgia-based preceptors who train Georgia students.

HB 316 (Rep. Fleming) – Signed by the Governor
This bill changes our voting method by introducing a ballot-marking device with a paper ballot that can be audited. The touchscreen-marked paper ballot system outlined in the bill is the only system that brings Georgia's voters safe and accurate elections while also offering ease of use and the option to conduct post-election audits. This is a measure overwhelmingly supported by local officials (94% of Election Board Supervisors in Georgia) as well as the general public (79% of likely Georgia voters in a recent poll). Thanks to adjustable text size and large buttons, touchscreen ballot-markers are best situated to meet the needs of the handicapped and elderly, who comprise 12% of Georgia's population and who may have trouble holding a pencil / pen or filling in small bubbles on paper. Moreover, retaining the touchscreen element that Georgia's voters have used for close to two decades will significantly reduce confusion and promote continuity when the new system is implemented. This bill also extends the notice period required for the closing or moving of an existing voting precinct, implements extensive corrective measures for absentee ballots, and extends the amount of time a voter can be inactive prior to being removed from Georgia voter rolls.

HB 321 (Rep. Lott) – Signed by the Governor
This bill serves to further modernize the CON process. The changes in this bill will help to lower healthcare costs and increase consumer opportunities. This bill will renew the hospital provider fee that fills a nearly $1 billion hole in the state Medicaid budget. Further transparency reform measures are in this bill, which will require nonprofit hospitals to publicly report a range of financial data.

HB 324 (Rep. Gravley) – Signed by the Governor
Known as “Georgia's Hope Act”, this bill allows patients are who are currently registered on the State's low-THC cannabis oil registry access to this medicine. This measure will enable in-state production of the oil. This will allow patients, in conjunction with their medical providers, to gain access to a safe, consistent, lab-tested medical product. The problem has been that they can legally possess the oil (based on previous legislation passed in Georgia), but that they can't transport it across state lines (from other states who allow in-state cultivation) nor can it be produced in Georgia; this bill addresses the issue through in-state cultivation. In addition, the bill provides tracking, authorization, and security protocols that ensure this medicine will only be sold to those patients in the state registry.

HB 424 (Rep. Silcox) – Signed by the Governor
This bill adds the offenses of trafficking persons for labor or sexual servitude, keeping a place of prostitution, pimping, and pandering to the list of offenses defined as criminal gang activity.

HB 481 (Rep. Setzler) – Signed by the Governor
In passing the Living Infants Fairness and Equality (LIFE) Act, Georgia balances the individual liberty of pregnant mothers with the right to life of the distinct human being living inside of them. Science tells us that a child with a beating heart has crossed the definitive scientific threshold in which they have a greater than 90 percent chance of being carried to term and the definitive medical threshold that for centuries has established the presence of human life: the heartbeat. In addition to the generous prenatal care benefits that Georgia already provides, at the point of a detectable heartbeat, the LIFE Act extends important new benefits to expecting mothers such as access to child support from the baby’s father and a full dependent income tax deduction. This bill allows for abortion in cases of rape, incest, risks to the life of the mother, medically futile pregnancies, and for any reason through six weeks of pregnancy.

HB 501 (Rep. Petrea) – Signed by the Governor
This legislation provides a framework for Georgia's Department of Natural Resources to establish rules and regulations to develop “oyster-farming” as a new industry in Georgia.

SB 25 (Rep. Ehrhart) – Signed by the Governor
Senate Bill 25 fixes an error in the code pertaining to school bus passing. Unless a driver of a vehicle is driving on a divided highway separated by a grass median, unpaved area, or physical barrier, the driver must stop when a school bus is stopped on the opposite side of the highway.

SB 65 (Rep. Blackmon) – Signed by the Governor
The result of a multi-year effort to standardize the taxes that Georgians pay when purchasing a new or used vehicle, Senate Bill 65 lowers the title ad valorem tax (TAVT) rate on the fair market value of a motor vehicle from 7% to 6.6%. The bill also modifies the formula used to calculate the fair market value. If you purchase a new or used vehicle from a dealer, TAVT will be calculated using the retail sales price. If you purchase a used vehicle from an individual, TAVT will be calculated using the average of the current fair market value and current wholesale value of the vehicle. This bill also provides that individuals who transfer titles between legal entities (in which they have a 50% ownership interest) are exempt from title ad valorem taxes (this part's particularly helpful to business owners).

SB 106 (Rep. Lott) – Signed by the Governor
Also known as the "Patients First Act", this bill would authorize Governor Kemp to pursue waivers from the Federal Government that would improve access to care for uninsured Georgians who make up to 100% of the federal poverty level. This would lower insurance premiums for all Georgians covered by private health care plans. By allowing Governor Kemp to seek healthcare waivers for those making up to 100% of the poverty line, Georgia's commitment to improving healthcare outcomes for the hundreds of thousands of Georgians is front and center.

SB 158 (Rep. Reeves) – Signed by the Governor
This bill authorizes Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS) to provide emergency care and supervision for a child human trafficking victim, for labor and sexual servitude, without a court order or the consent of the parents of legal guardian. Further, this bill directs DFCS to take the child to a certified victim services organization to provide trauma-informed services. Finally, this bill limits the prosecution of individuals for prostitution to those individuals over the age of 18, while also adding a claim of nuisance for premises where an owner or operator has charged for sexually related services on or inside the premises.

Local Legislation

I sponsored three pieces of local legislation this session that will have a direct positive impact on Gainesville / Hall County. I was honored to join Governor Kemp in his office on May 6 as he signed all three pieces of legislation.

HB 649 – Signed by the Governor
At the request of the City of Gainesville, through a resolution they passed with support of all Council Members, this enabling legislation would authorize the City of Gainesville to collect a hotel-motel tax of 8% (the rate is currently 6%) that shall be utilized for the promotion of tourism, conventions, and trade shows, as well as tourism product development, including but not limited to the promotion and development of Lake Lanier Olympic Park. These funds will allow for the development and implementation of the Corps of Engineers approved Lake Lanier Olympic Park master plan, including boathouse renovations, picnic pavilions, public restrooms, venue management buildings and race control docks. This legislation was also supported by Gainesville Convention and Visitors Bureau Authority.

HB 650 – Signed by the Governor
At the request of the City of Gainesville, through a resolution they passed with support of all Council Members, this enabling legislation would authorize the City of Gainesville to annex Clarks Bridge Park into the City limits of Gainesville. The City of Gainesville would then take over complete responsibility of the 33.5+ acre park, along with Lake Lanier Olympic Park. This legislation was supported by Hall County Board of Commissioners as well as by Gainesville-Hall '96 (the nonprofit entity that has continued the legacy of the 1996 games by operating and maintaining both the competition related activities as well as Lake Lanier Olympic Park itself). With the recent decision by Hall County to focus on other priorities, it would have put the Park's success in question. This will allow the Park, and its $10+ million annual economic impact on our community to thrive.

HB 651 – Signed by the Governor
At the request of the City of Gainesville, through a resolution they passed with support of all Council Members, this enabling legislation would allow a member of the Gainesville Redevelopment Authority to serve two four-year terms (instead of the current one-year term). These members receive no compensation for their service on this board. The reason for the change is to allow for more continuity in decision making, as the board doesn't meet very often, and when its members are subject to regular / constant turnover, it can further slow and delay action.