Legislative Updates

Provided throughout the legislative session for the Atlanta Jewish Community
By Rusty Paul, Legislative Counsel, Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta

Legislative Update
Week Ending April 2, 2019

No major social services legislation was enacted, though the legislature has significantly tightened laws to fight child abuses, sex trafficking and similar issues in recent sessions.   The focus this year was early identification and intervention of challenges like dyslexia in young children.

Here is the final disposition of bills we were working on this session (reminder, even those that failed to pass this year remain viable with the General Assembly convenes in 2020):

Non-Profit Clinic Tax Exemption – HB 168 passed both chambers unamended.  It extends for five years a sales tax exemption for non-profit health clinics like the Ben Massell Dental Clinic. It is awaiting the governor’s signature.

Hate Crimes Legislation – HB 426 which creates additional penalties for perpetrators who target an individual based on race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, etc. will not be taken up by the Senate in 2019.  It can be taken up in 2020.

HB 68 – prohibits school accreditation agencies from operating private school student scholarship organizations like ALEF.   This bill would eliminate potential conflicts of interest by blocking organizations that certify school quality from also providing scholarships for those schools.  Approved by the House, the Senate Committee added language from that sets up tax-favored student accounts for private school tuition payments that had failed to receive approval before Crossover Day, a measure critics called a voucher program.  The voucher language was stripped from the bill, then overwhelming approved by both chambers.  It now sits on Gov. Kemp’s desk.

HB 160 – reinstates a Department of Community Health bariatric surgery pilot program to combat obesity among state employees and retirees.  Did not pass, but a pilot program bill did pass – see next.

HB 187 – creates a pilot obesity reduction program within the Department of Community Health.   It focuses on weight-reduction for morbidly obese individuals and others whose weight contributes to diabetes and other ailments.   In addition, another bill restores authority to offer bariatic surgery for Medicaid patients with significant weight issues that contribute to their health problems and the related high-cost Medicaid treatment expenses.  Passed the House and the Senate; awaiting the Governor’s signature.

HB 234 – strengthens the state’s child anti-sex trafficking laws.  Failed to pass.

HB 478 – strengthens the child abuse registry requirements – Passed and is on Governor Kemp’s desk for his signature.

HB 514 – creates the Georgia Mental Health Reform & Innovation Commission – Passed House, and the Senate, but with amendments.  Passed and is on Governor Kemp’s desk for his signature.

SB 48 – requires local school systems to perform pre-kindergarten tests for dyslexia and adopt support programs for dyslexic students.  Passed by Senate and House.  The Senate accepted the House amendments, so it goes to the Governor for his signature.

SB 158 – strengthens the Department of Family & Children Services ability to care for victims of human trafficking and adds additional penalties for individual convicted of human trafficking.   Passed the Senate and House, with the Senate accepting the House amendments.  It goes to the Governor for his signature.

Legislative Update
Week Ending March 29, 2019

One day left to go. The General Assembly wrapped up a long Day 39 (of 40) on Friday with a cavalcade of bills moving through both chambers.

Casual observers often are shocked by the rapidity that bills are voted on in the session’ waning days, garnering almost no debate or discussion before a vote. In fact, a bill can be called, presented and approved within a couple of minutes.

Two factors are at work in this process. One, most bills are non-controversial – usually technical adjustments to the statutes. Second, even the controversial issues have been introduced, lobbied (on all sides of an issue), reviewed in subcommittee and full committee hearings, all the while slowly moving through the process for weeks. So, by the time the session’s closing days arrive, these bills have been thoroughly vetted and long discussions on the floor rarely change anyone’s mind.

The final, long day occurs Tuesday, with most of the last day used to work out differences between the House and Senate versions of each bill that passed both chambers. If one chamber doesn’t amend the other chamber’s legislation, the bill becomes law with the Governor’s signature.

However, both chambers typically amend the other’s bills, so they must agree on a final version or the proposed statute dies. This reconciliation occurs when: 1) one chamber accepts the changes made by the other, 2) the chamber that amended the original bill “recedes” from its position or abandons its amendments, or 3) neither chamber agrees to accept the other body’s position and a conference committee generally consisting of three members from both the House and Senate is appointed to work out their differences.

Conference committee meetings are typically informal affairs, often occurring on the floor or in a quiet Capitol corridor. The conference committee has no restraints on what it can do to reach agreement.

Occasionally, entire bills have been stripped of their language and a totally difference legislative issue is inserted. Also, a simple phrase or line may be added in a conference report that effects a major legislative change that few people anticipated or even know about for weeks after the session concludes.

Here is the status of key bills we have been following:

Non-Profit Clinic Tax Exemption – HB 168 passed both chambers unamended. It extends for five years a sales tax exemption for non-profit health clinics like the Ben Massell Dental Clinic. It is awaiting the governor’s signature.

Hate Crimes Legislation – HB 426 which creates additional penalties for perpetrators who target an individual based on race, religion, sexual orientation, etc. will not be taken up by the Senate in 2019.

HB 68 – prohibits school accreditation agencies from operating private school student scholarship organizations like ALEF. This bill would eliminate potential conflicts of interest by blocking organizations that certify school quality from also providing scholarships for those schools. Approved by the House, the Senate Committee added language from that sets up tax-favored student accounts for private school tuition payments that had failed to receive approval before Crossover Day. When it came up for a Senate floor vote on Friday, it was tabled. It could come back on Day 40.

HB 160 – reinstates a Department of Community Health bariatric surgery pilot program to combat obesity among state employees and retirees. Passed the House, but the Senate has taken no action.

HB 187 – creates a pilot obesity reduction program within the Department of Community Health. It focuses on weight-reduction for morbidly obese individuals and others whose weight contributes to diabetes and other ailments. In addition, another bill restores authority to offer bariatic surgery for Medicaid patients with significant weight issues that contribute to their health problems and the related high-cost Medicaid treatment expenses. Passed the House and the Senate; awaiting the Governor’s signature.

HB 234 – strengthens the state’s child anti-sex trafficking laws. Passed House, the Senate has taken no action.

HB 478 – strengthens the child abuse registry requirements – Passed House and Senate, though it was amended by the upper chamber. Reconciliation is necessary.

HB 514 – creates the Georgia Mental Health Reform & Innovation Commission – Passed House, and the Senate, but with amendments. On Friday, the House agreed with the Senate’s changes. It goes to the Governor for his signature.

SB 48 – requires local school systems to perform pre-kindergarten tests for dyslexia and adopt support programs for dyslexic students. Passed by Senate and House. The Senate accepted the House amendments, so it goes to the Governor for his signature.

SB 158 – strengthens the Department of Family & Children Services ability to care for victims of human trafficking and adds additional penalties for individual convicted of human trafficking. Passed the Senate and House, with the Senate accepting the House amendments. It goes to the Governor for his signature.

Legislative Update
Week Ending March 22, 2019

The legislature heads into its final full week with some key decisions remaining.  The Georgia General Assembly completed Legislative Day 35 of 40 on Friday and returns Monday, March 25th, for Legislative Day 36 and will burn through four days this week with Wednesday dedicated to committee work.  They will return Tuesday, April 2 for the sine die adjournment.

One major decision left is the budget.   The House has completed its version and the Senate unveils its recommendations on Monday when the upper chamber takes up the spending plan. Each body will then have little time to reconcile any differences.   The budget is the only legislation the General Assembly must enact annually under the state constitution.   The other thousand or so bills introduced each session, thus, are optional.

Among those optional bills we’re following are:

Non-Profit Clinic Tax Exemption –The Senate approved HB 168 Monday, extending for five years a sales tax exemption for non-profit health clinics like the Ben Massell Dental Clinic. Three years ago, we worked with similar groups to reinstate the exemption that had not been renewed during the Great Recession.   Three years ago, we worked with the coalition to revive the exemption, but it was limited to three years.  Thus, without an extension, that exemption would have ended this July.  It now goes to Gov. Kemp for his signature.  If he initials the bill, this provision will save the clinic a significant amount of money over the next five years.

Hate Crimes Legislation – HB 426 – It appears the hate crimes bill is dead for this session.   It passed the House, but remain ensconced in the Senate Judiciary Committee.   The chair of the committee Sen. Jesse Stone has informed the author Rep. Chuck Efstration that he does not plan to hold a hearing on the bill.

The legislation creates a category of hate crimes when individuals are targeted by an assailant motivated by belief or perception of an individual’s race, color, religion, sexual orientation, gender, mental disability or physical disability.  If convicted under the proposed statute, an individual would face a minimum sentence of not less than three or more than 12 months and a fine not to exceed $5000.

Sentiment within the General Assembly is split on this type of legislation.  Many believe that motivation should be a factor in determining culpability and punishment, while another segment believes the act should be punished, not the reasoning behind the act, and similar acts should be treated equally under the law. This has been the legislative divide for several years on hate crimes and similar bills.

Meanwhile, HB 426 is one of several bills with societal implications approved by the House, but currently stuck in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

 

Here are some of the other key bills now pending before the General Assembly that survived Crossover Day:

HB 68 – prohibits school accreditation agencies from operating private school student scholarship organizations like ALEF.   This bill would eliminate potential conflicts of interest by blocking organizations that certify school quality from also providing scholarships for those schools.  Approved by the House and approved by the Senate Education & Youth Committee, it is in the Senate Rules Committee awaiting floor action.  It was amended by the Senate, so it must return to the House which will either agree to the changes or request a conference committee to reconcile the two versions.   The Senate Committee added language from that sets up tax-favored student accounts for private school tuition payments that had failed to receive approval before Crossover Day.

HB 160 – reinstates a Department of Community Health bariatric surgery pilot program to combat obesity among state employees and retirees.  Passed the House, awaiting Senate action.

HB 187 – creates a pilot obesity reduction program within the Department of Community Health.   It focuses on weight-reduction for morbidly obese individuals and others whose weight contributes to diabetes and other ailments.   In addition, another bill restores authority to offer bariatic surgery for Medicaid patients with significant weight issues that contribute to their health problems and the related high-cost Medicaid treatment expenses.  Passed the House, awaiting Senate action.

HB 234 – strengthens the state’s child anti-sex trafficking laws. Passed House, it is still pending in Senate Judiciary Committee.

HB 478 – strengthens the child abuse registry requirements – Passed House, pending in Senate Judiciary Committee.

HB 514 – creates the Georgia Mental Health Reform & Innovation Commission – Passed House, and the Senate, but with amendments.  Thus, it will go back to the House to either agree with the changes or request a conference committee to reconcile the differences.

SB 48 – requires local school systems to perform pre-kindergarten tests for dyslexia and adopt support programs for dyslexic students.  Passed by Senate and the House Education Committee; it is pending in the House Rules Committee awaiting floor action.

SB 158 – strengthens the Department of Family & Children Services ability to care for victims of human trafficking and adds additional penalties for individual convicted of human trafficking.   Passed the Senate and the House Juvenile Justice Committee.   It is pending in the House Rules Committee awaiting floor action.

Legislative Update
Week Ending March 15, 2019

Non-Profit Clinic Tax Exemption –The Senate is scheduled to vote on HB 168 Monday.   It extends a sales tax exemption for non-profit health clinics like the Ben Massell Dental Clinic. Without an extension, that exemption ends later this year.  This provision will save the clinic a significant amount of money over the next five years.

Here are some of the key bills now pending before the General Assembly that survived Crossover Day:

HB 68 – prohibits school accreditation agencies from operating private school student scholarship organizations like ALEF.   This bill would eliminate potential conflicts of interest by blocking organizations that certify school quality from also providing scholarships for those schools.  Approved by the House and will be voted on by the Senate Education & Youth Committee on Monday HB 160 – reinstates a Department of Community Health bariatric surgery pilot program to combat obesity among state employees and retirees.  Passed the House, awaiting Senate action.

HB 187 – creates a pilot obesity reduction program within the Department of Community Health.   It focuses on weight-reduction for morbidly obese individuals and others whose weight contributes to diabetes and other ailments.   In addition, another bill restores authority to offer bariatic surgery for Medicaid patients with significant weight issues that contribute to their health problems and the related high-cost Medicaid treatment expenses.  Passed the House, awaiting Senate action.

HB 234 – strengthens the state’s child anti-sex trafficking laws. Passed House, pending in Senate Judiciary Committee.

HB 426 – It creates a category of hate crimes when individuals are targeted by the assailant is motivated by belief or perception of an individual’s race, color, religion, sexual orientation, gender, mental disability or physical disability.  When convicted under this statute, an individual would face a minimum sentence of not less than three or more than 12 months and a fine not to exceed $5000. Passed House, pending in Senate Judiciary Committee.

HB 478 – strengthens the child abuse registry requirements – Passed House, pending in Senate Judiciary Committee.

HB 514 – creates the Georgia Mental Health Reform & Innovation Commission – Passed House, Passed Senate Health & Human Services Committee, awaiting Senate floor action.

SB 48 – requires local school systems to perform pre-kindergarten tests for dyslexia and adopt support programs for dyslexic students.  Passed by Senate; scheduled for House Education subcommittee hearing on Monday.

SB 158 – strengthens the Department of Family & Children Services ability to care for victims of human trafficking and adds additional penalties for individual convicted of human trafficking.  Passed the Senate, awaiting House action.

Legislative Update
Week Ending March 8, 2019

The legislature wrapped up Crossover Day on Thursday, March 7, and convened for less than an hour on Friday – just long enough to assign all the Crossover Day bills to the appropriate committees – before breaking for the weekend.   Upon their return Monday, they head down the home stretch with just ten days left to complete its 2019 work and those ten days will be the session’s most intense as each chamber takes in-depth looks at what the other body did over the previous 30 days.

Meanwhile, any bill that did not survive Crossover Day 2019 technically may be taken up in the 2020 legislative session.

Here are the key items that survived with a chance to become law this year:

Non-Profit Clinic Tax Exemption –The House approved HB 168 around mid-afternoon on Crossover Day and now moves to the Senate where it was assigned to the Senate Finance Committee. It extends a crucial sales tax exemption needed for non-profit health clinics like the Ben Massell Dental Clinic. Without an extension, that exemption ends later this year.

Other Key Bills:

HB 68 – prohibits school accreditation agencies from operating private school student scholarship organizations like ALEF.   This bill would eliminate potential conflicts of interest by blocking organizations that certify school quality from also providing scholarships for those schools.  Approved by House, Assigned to Senate Education & Youth Committee.

HB 102 – current law says a charitable nonprofit facility must be used “exclusively” for the nonprofit’s activities to qualify for tax exemptions.  This bill changes the law so that these facilities may be used “primarily or incidentally” for revenue generation so long as the revenue goes toward the organization’s charitable operations.  Failed in the House.

HB 160 – reinstates a Department of Community Health bariatric surgery pilot program to combat obesity among state employees and retirees.  Passed the House, Assigned to Senate Health & Human Services Committee.

HB 187 – creates a pilot obesity reduction program within the Department of Community Health.   It focuses on weight-reduction for morbidly obese individuals and others whose weight contributes to diabetes and other ailments.   In addition, another bill restores authority to offer bariatic surgery for Medicaid patients with significant weight issues that contribute to their health problems and the related high-cost Medicaid treatment expenses.  Passed the House, Assigned to Senate Health & Human Services Committee.

HB 234 – strengthens the state’s child anti-sex trafficking laws. Approved by House, Assigned to Senate Judiciary Committee.

HB 402 – requires financial institutions to report suspected instances of abuse, neglect or exploitation targeting elderly or handicapped individuals.  Failed to reach House floor.

HB 421 – states that the public school year cannot begin before the second full week of August.  Failed to reach House floor.

HB 426 – It creates a category of hate crimes when individuals are targeted by the assailant is motivated by belief or perception of an individual’s race, color, religion, sexual orientation, gender, mental disability or physical disability.  When convicted under this statute, an individual would face a minimum sentence of not less than three or more than 12 months and a fine not to exceed $5000. Approved by House, Assigned to Senate Judiciary Committee.

HB 478 – strengthens the child abuse registry requirements – Approved by House, Assigned to Senate Judiciary Committee.

HB 514 – creates the Georgia Mental Health Reform & Innovation Commission – Approved by House, Assigned to Senate Health & Human Services Committee.

HB 524 – creates a foundation to raise funds for mental health through the APEX Prorgram – Failed to reach House floor.

HB 544 – provides for involuntary treatment of mental health patients in certain circumstances –Failed to reach House floor.

SB 48 – requires local school systems to perform pre-kindergarten tests for dyslexia and adopt support programs for dyslexic students.  Passed by Senate; Assigned to House Education Committee.

SB 134 – returns the administration of the Georgia Holocaust Commission from the Department of Community Affairs to the Secretary of State.  Failed to reach Senate floor.

SB 158 – strengthens the Department of Family & Children Services ability to care for victims of human trafficking and adds additional penalties for individual convicted of human trafficking.   Passed the Senate, Assigned to House Juvenile Justice Committee.

SB 166 – It creates a category of hate crimes for assaults targeting an individual because of race, color, religion, gender, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, national origin or ethnicity.  Failed to reach Senate floor.

SB 228 – a bipartisan bill that reopens the statute of limitations for two years for any situation in which a child may have been abused, but not reported during the original statute of limitations.  Failed to reach Senate floor.

Legislative Update
Week Ending March 1, 2019

It’s crunch time under the Gold Dome as the General Assembly confronts the 2019 session’s first critical deadline.  Thursday is Crossover Day – the theoretical point at which a bill must pass at least one chamber to become law this year.   It’s theoretical since legislators can rely on several legislative maneuvers to breathe new life into once dead ideas after Thursday, though, without question, their passage becomes more problematic.

Another key deadline passed Monday since Senate rules require a bill to be voted out of committee at least a full day before becoming eligible for a floor vote.  Thus begins the second most frenzied week of the session – the most frenzied, of course, being the last few days of the session.

 

Non-Profit Clinic Tax Exemption –The House Ways & Means Committee approved HB 168 last week and it is expected on the House floor before Crossover Day.  It extends a sales tax exemption for non-profit health clinics like the Ben Massell Dental Clinic. Without an extension, that exemption ends later this year.

 

State Budget Allocations – when the House passed its version of the budget last week, it contained some increases for nursing homes that will benefit nursing homes such as the Bremen Home.  We met with Health Appropriations Committee Chair Butch Parrish to advocate for increases in these funds as well as for Medicaid home care services that help seniors to age in place at home rather than in institutional care.

While the home care funds were not increased, the request for more dollars for nursing homes was granted, including approximately $750,000 for additional background checks on nursing home employees to ferret out potential abusers, $350,000 more for acute care facilities with in-patient child and adolescence units, a three percent increase in funds for nursing home ventilator patients and almost $22 million in additional Medicaid funds over the governor’s budget to care for seniors in nursing homes.

 

Here are some of the key bills now pending before the General Assembly:

HB 68 – prohibits school accreditation agencies from operating private school student scholarship organizations like ALEF.   This bill would eliminate potential conflicts of interest by blocking organizations that certify school quality from also providing scholarships for those schools.  Approved by committee; awaiting floor action.

HB 102 – current law says a charitable nonprofit facility must be used “exclusively” for the nonprofit’s activities to qualify for tax exemptions.  This bill changes the law so that these facilities may be used “primarily or incidentally” for revenue generation so long as the revenue goes toward the organization’s charitable operations.  Awaiting committee hearing.

HB 160 – reinstates a Department of Community Health bariatric surgery pilot program to combat obesity among state employees and retirees.  Passed the House, awaiting Senate action.

HB 187 – creates a pilot obesity reduction program within the Department of Community Health.   It focuses on weight-reduction for morbidly obese individuals and others whose weight contributes to diabetes and other ailments.   In addition, another bill restores authority to offer bariatic surgery for Medicaid patients with significant weight issues that contribute to their health problems and the related high-cost Medicaid treatment expenses.  Passed the House, awaiting Senate action.

HB 234 – strengthens the state’s child anti-sex trafficking laws. Approved by committee; awaiting floor action.

HB 402 – requires financial institutions to report suspected instances of abuse, neglect or exploitation targeting elderly or handicapped individuals.  Awaiting committee hearing.

HB 421 – states that the public school year cannot begin before the second full week of August.  Awaiting committee hearing.

HB 426 – It creates a category of hate crimes when individuals are targeted by the assailant is motivated by belief or perception of an individual’s race, color, religion, sexual orientation, gender, mental disability or physical disability.  When convicted under this statute, an individual would face a minimum sentence of not less than three or more than 12 months and a fine not to exceed $5000. Approved by Committee, awaiting floor vote.

HB 478 – strengthens the child abuse registry requirements – Approved by committee, awaiting floor action.

HB 514 – creates the Georgia Mental Health Reform & Innovation Commission – awaiting committee hearing.

HB 524 – creates a foundation to raise funds for mental health through the APEX Program – awaiting committee hearing.

HB 544 – provides for involuntary treatment of mental health patients in certain circumstances – awaiting committee hearing.

SB 48 – requires local school systems to perform pre-kindergarten tests for dyslexia and adopt support programs for dyslexic students.  Passed by Senate; awaiting committee action in Houses.

SB 134 – returns the administration of the Georgia Holocaust Commission from the Department of Community Affairs to the Secretary of State.  Awaiting committee hearing.

SB 158 – strengthens the Department of Family & Children Services ability to care for victims of human trafficking and adds additional penalties for individual convicted of human trafficking.   Passed the Senate, awaiting House action.

SB 166 – It creates a category of hate crimes for assaults targeting an individual because of race, color, religion, gender, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, national origin or ethnicity.  Awaiting committee hearing.

SB 228 – a bipartisan bill that reopens the statute of limitations for two years for any situation in which a child may have been abused, but not reported during the original statute of limitations.   Awaiting committee hearing.

Legislative Update
Week Ending February 22, 2019

The Georgia General Assembly passed the midway point of the 2019 legislative session on Friday and whatever will be accomplished this year will primarily occur in the final 20 days of the 40-day session.

Non-Profit Clinic Tax Exemption – A subcommittee of the House Ways & Means Committee held a hearing on HB 168 this week, the first step toward full committee approval to extend a sales tax exemption for non-profit health clinics like the Ben Massell Dental Clinic. Without an extension, that exemption ends later this year. Under committee rules, HB 168 must have a second subcommittee review before going to the full committee. The second required subcommittee hearing is set for Monday afternoon.

Here are some of the key bills now pending before the General Assembly:

HB 68 – prohibits school accreditation agencies from operating private school student scholarship organizations like ALEF. This bill would eliminate potential conflicts of interest by blocking organizations that certify school quality from also providing scholarships for those schools. Approved by committee; awaiting floor action.

HB 102 – current law says a charitable nonprofit facility must be used “exclusively” for the nonprofit’s activities to qualify for tax exemptions. This bill changes the law so that these facilities may be used “primarily or incidentally” for revenue generation so long as the revenue goes toward the organization’s charitable operations.

HB 160 – reinstates a Department of Community Health bariatric surgery pilot program to combat obesity among state employees and retirees.

HB 187 – creates a pilot obesity reduction program within the Department of Community Health. It focuses on weight-reduction for morbidly obese individuals and others whose weight contributes to diabetes and other ailments. In addition, another bill restores authority to offer bariatic surgery for Medicaid patients with significant weight issues that contribute to their health problems and the related high-cost Medicaid treatment expenses. Approved by committee; awaiting floor action.

HB 234 – strengthens the state’s child anti-sex trafficking laws. Approved by committee; awaiting floor action.

HB 402 – requires financial institutions to report suspected instances of abuse, neglect or exploitation targeting elderly or handicapped individuals.

HB 421 – states that the public school year cannot begin before the second full week of August.

HB 426 – Introduced Friday, it creates a category of hate crimes when individuals are targeted by the assailant is motivated by belief or perception of an individual’s race, color, religion, sexual orientation, gender, mental disability or physical disability. When convicted under this statute, an individual would

face a minimum sentence of not less than three or more than 12 months and a fine not to exceed $5000.

SB 48 – requires local school systems to perform pre-kindergarten tests for dyslexia and adopt support programs for dyslexic students. Passed by Senate; awaiting committee action in Houses.

SB 158 – strengthens the Department of Family & Children Services ability to care for victims of human trafficking and adds additional penalties for individual convicted of human trafficking.

SB 166 – Introduced Friday, it creates a category of hate crimes for assaults targeting an individual because of race, color, religion, gender, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, national origin or ethnicity.

Legislative Update
Week Ending February 15, 2019

The General Assembly is nearing its halfway point. The highlight of the week was the House Appropriations Committee beginning to sort through Gov. Kemp’s initial budget.  The new governor clearly has a few priorities that differ from his predecessor.  State revenue collections began dropping in the final few months of 2018 and have continued to slide into 2019.

Appropriators are telling department heads not to make major expenditures until they have had a chance to sort through the state’s financial condition.  In addition, the surpluses that they thought had been banked in prior years, may not be as substantial they anticipated.

The Health Appropriations Subcommittee held hearings for the FY 2020 budget on Tuesday and Wednesday, with the second set of hearings focusing on hearing from approximately 15 various Medicaid and other health providers, all asking for more funds than provided for in the Governor’s budget.   Almost unanimously, they talked about rising costs, declining revenues and the absence of any Medicaid rate adjustment, some having no increase in the past five years.

Each appropriations subcommittee allocates funds based on the amount dedicated for its program categories in the Governor’s budget.

These committees are limited to moving funds around within that fixed number, so increasing funding for one program requires cuts in another. The health subcommittee heard a parade of providers tell them that Medicaid expenditures do not even cover the cost of providing services in most cases.

The committee, headed by Rep. Butch Parrish, a veteran appropriator, must decide whether any of these requests can be funded and, if so, where they take the funds.

Non-Profit Clinic Tax Exemption – A subcommittee of the House Ways & Means Committee held a hearing on HB 168 this week, the first step toward full committee approval to extend a sales tax exemption for non-profit health clinics like the Ben Massell Dental Clinic. Without an extension, that exemption ends later this year.  Under committee rules, HB 168 must have a second subcommittee review before going to the full committee.  That second hearing likely will occur this week.

Here are some of the key bills now pending before the General Assembly:

HB 68 – prohibits school accreditation agencies from operating private school student scholarship organizations like ALEF.   This bill would eliminate potential conflicts of interest by blocking organizations that certify school quality from also providing scholarships for those schools.

HB 102 – current law says a charitable nonprofit facility must be used “exclusively” for the nonprofit’s activities to qualify for tax exemptions.  This bill changes the law so that these facilities may be used “primarily or incidentally” for revenue generation so long as the revenue goes toward the organization’s charitable operations.

HB 187 – creates a pilot obesity reduction program within the Department of Community Health.   It focuses on weight-reduction for morbidly obese individuals and others whose weight contributes to diabetes and other ailments.   In addition, another bill restores authority to offer bariatic surgery for Medicaid patients with significant weight issues that contribute to their health problems and the related high-cost Medicaid treatment expenses.

HB 234 – strengthens the state’s child anti-sex trafficking laws.

SB 48 – requires local school systems to perform pre-kindergarten tests for dyslexia and adopt support programs for dyslexic students.

Legislative Update
Week Ending February 8, 2019

The legislative session surpassed the 25 percent mark this week while moving forward one of the few constitutionally-mandated tasks if must complete – setting a budget.   It was a modest step as the budget that cleared the House Friday was this fiscal year’s supplemental or “little budget,” which adjusts current spending based on changes or unforeseen circumstances and additional revenues occurring since they originally passed the budget last March.

The Senate now takes up that version while the House begins holding serious hearings on the “big budget,” or the spending plan for FY 2020 that begins July 1 of this year.

The pace of legislation also picked up with the first hearings on bills introduced so far and a significant number of new bills initiated as well.

Non-Profit Clinic Tax Exemption – One of those new bills deals with non-profit health clinics.  Non-profit health clinics traditionally were exempt from paying sales taxes on supplies and other materials purchased for providing free or deeply discounted medical and health services for low-income families and individuals.

Then, the Great Recession hit.  To stem the fiscal hemorrhaging affecting state revenues, most tax benefits were eliminated – even those that demonstrably reduced state Medicaid outlays, including non-profit health clinics like the Ben Massell Dental Clinic that services low-income patients.

Three years ago, we worked with other providers and Gov. Deal’s office to restore the sales tax exemption benefiting those clinics, but it had a three year sunset.   Without an extension, that exemption ends later this year, so we have joined forces with other healthcare clinics to support HB 168 which adds five years to the tax exclusion.

We expect the House Ways & Means Committee to hold its first subcommittee hearing on HB 168 this week, which is step one in extending this critical cost savings tool for the clinic.

 

Medicaid Changes – Gov. Brian Kemp will ask the Georgia Legislature and the federal government for flexibility to expand access to government-funded health insurance for Georgia’s low and moderate income families. He wants two federal “waivers” for Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act to craft new programs specific to Georgia.

One waiver targets the rapid increase in Obamacare premiums on federal health insurance exchanges. The second creates an option to extend Medicaid to a new category of patients. The goal is to offer healthcare coverage for between 300,000 and 600,000 Georgians whose incomes don’t qualify for Obamacare subsidies but are too high for Medicaid.

Caught in this regulatory trap, they lack any coverage, but often arrive at emergency rooms for treatment – the highest cost healthcare service.  Hospitals usually must absorb these costs since, by law, they must provide treatment.   Former Georgia Congressman and HHS Secretary Tom Price is advising the Governor on the best approaches to obtain federal flexibility to make these adjustments.

 

Here are some of the key bills now pending before the General Assembly:

HB 68 – prohibits school accreditation agencies from operating private school student scholarship organizations like ALEF.   This bill would eliminate potential conflicts of interest by blocking organizations that certify school quality from also providing scholarships for those schools.

HB 102 – current law says a charitable nonprofit facility must be used “exclusively” for the nonprofit’s activities to qualify for tax exemptions.  This bill changes the law so that these facilities may be used “primarily or incidentally” for revenue generation so long as the revenue goes toward the organization’s charitable operations.

HB 187 – creates a pilot obesity reduction program within the Department of Community Health.   It focuses on weight-reduction for morbidly obese individuals and others whose weight contributes to diabetes and other ailments.   In addition, another bill restores authority to offer bariatric surgery for Medicaid patients with significant weight issues that contribute to their health problems and the related high-cost Medicaid treatment expenses.

SB 48 – requires local school systems to perform pre-kindergarten tests for dyslexia and adopt support programs for dyslexic students.

Legislative Update
Week Ending February 1, 2019

Between a lack of hotel rooms to house out-of-town legislators due to the Super Bowl and cancellations around the Tuesday’s anticipated snow event, the legislature had a truncated week at the Capitol.

The 2018 elections that saw Democrats make sweeping gains in suburban Atlanta have altered the chemistry between the parties.  Last week, Democratic women joined Republican Sen. Renee Unterman in protesting the absence of women legislators in key leadership positions. So, while nothing of legislative consequence occurred last week, a tectonic shift is being felt beneath the Gold Dome.

Lt. Governor & SSOs – the ALEF Fund is a great tool for building financial support for the area’s Jewish Day Schools.   Last year, we worked with a coalition of other student scholarship organizations (SSOs) to raise the tax credit cap from $58 million to $100 million, creating an additional $42 million in potential financial aid to ALEF and similar groups.

The challenge in the past was overcoming resistance to these programs in the Senate, particularly with Lt. Gov. Cagle.   Geoff Duncan, the new Lt. Governor, this week signaled a different attitude from the state’s second top official.

In one of his first actions after being sworn in, he visited a local private school and praised the SSO program as a great mechanism for bringing additional resources to education Georgia’s children, indicating he supports an even higher tax credit cap than $100 million.  After leading a two-year effort to raise the current limits, the House has little appetite for boosting the cap this session.

However, having the new Lt. Governor championing the program marks a radical change in the upper chamber’s attitude toward ALEF and its companion programs.

Key Bills

HB 68 – prohibits school accreditation agencies from operating private school student scholarship organizations like ALEF.   This bill intends to prevent potential conflicts of interest by blocking organizations that certify school quality from also providing scholarships for those schools.

HB 102 – current law says a charitable nonprofit facility must be used “exclusively” for the nonprofit’s activities to qualify for tax exemptions.  This bill changes the law so that these facilities may be used “primarily or incidentally” for revenue generation so long as the revenue goes toward the organization’s charitable operations.

Legislative Update
Week Ending January 25, 2019

The 2019 legislative session kicked off with as large a class of new comers as veteran observers have seen in a while.  The General Assembly welcomed 45 new members to its two chambers due to an unprecedented number of voluntary and involuntary retirements.

The normally placid opening week was interrupted with some unusual fireworks as long-time Senate Health & Human Services Chair Renee Unterman took to the well protesting her unseating from this crucial committee, followed by a bipartisan remonstration against the lack of female chairs of key committees.

Two factors drove the decision to replace Sen. Unterman. First, she was a prominent, vocal member of former Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle’s campaign for governor, she sparred openly with the newly inducted Gov. Brian Kemp during the primary election.  Secondly, Sen. Unterman was considered a less than enthusiastic supporter of the joint House/Senate Rural Development Committee’s effort to revitalize rural health care by eliminating or significant revising the State’s Certificate of Need (CON) law.

CON requires state approval to construct any new healthcare facilities, which critics say existing hospitals often use to protect themselves from competition.  Meanwhile, rural legislators see CON as an entry barrier to new providers moving into underserved communities.

Other than the uncommon contretemps, highlights of opening week included the Governor’s State of the State address and release of Gov. Kemp’s first budget, which included a $3,000 pay increase for teachers, $69 million in school security grants divided among the state’s 2,000-plus public schools, and $1 million for additional Federal Medicaid waivers. The $27.5 billion budget – an increase of $1.3 billion over Governor Deal’s last financial plan – the Governor’s proposals contained a few other surprises.

It eliminates funding for the Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning Commission and ignored a $250,000 request by the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority for regional transit support.  Also, his budget removed $10 million from the State Roads & Tollway Authority to operate toll lanes along the Northwest Corridor and I-75 South. The newly created ATL Authority got $2.5 million for start-up expenses.

BUDGET HEARINGS:  After taking off for the MLK Day holiday, most of the legislature took off the rest of the week as well.  However, the appropriations committees productively used that time to start digging into the Governor’s budget recommendations.  Tuesday and Wednesday, a parade of state department heads walked before a joint session of the House/Senate budget writers to explain precisely what they were asking for and why when it comes to the budget.

The House appropriations subcommittees will take that information and begin public hearings this week on the supplemental budget – the so-called midterm correction in the current fiscal year.   That work should wrap up quickly and they then move to the harder task of crafting a budget for the fiscal period beginning in July.

LEGISLATIVE SCHEDULE:  The chambers unveiled their plans for the first 12 days of the 40 day legislative session.  In addition to the traditional MLK week recess, the legislature will also take off some additional days leading up to next Sunday’s Super Bowl.  It’s more than football fever that’s driving that decision.

With more than 100,000 people expected in the metro area for the big game, the legislature will be in session two days this week and return the Tuesday after the Super Bowl champ is crowned.

Significant Bills:

HB 12 – requires public schools to post the toll-free telephone number to a child abuse hotline operated by the Department of Human Services.

HB 15 – requires local housing organizations to provide priorities to homeless veterans.

HB 26- authorizes the Secretary of State’s office to enter into an interstate compact where Georgia recognizes the licensure of psychologists from other member states within the compact.

HB 40 – requires local schools to perform dyslexia screenings.

SB 15 – sets us a mechanism where state law enforcement agencies must share threats, warnings or other information involving public or private schools.

SB 18 – clarifies that primary medical care agreements are not medical insurance and exempts them from state insurance laws and regulations.

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