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 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.

SUBSCRIBE

Get the latest news and involvement opportunities delivered straight to your inbox.

STAY IN THE LOOP