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Gold Dome Report – Legislative Day 13 (2024)
Wednesday, January 31, 2024

This year’s edition of tort reform arrived under the Georgia Gold Dome on Wednesday, bringing plaintiffs’ lawyers and civil defense attorneys to the battle lines while onlookers quietly asked Siri, “what is tort reform?” The answer can be found in a handful of measures introduced by Senate Appropriations Chairman — and trial lawyer — Blake Tillery (R-Vidalia), proposing changes to the civil justice system. From restricting when a plaintiff can directly sue an insurance provider in a trucking injury case (SB 426) to capping damages recoverable from foster parents in certain motor vehicle injury cases involving a foster child (SB 428), to repealing the apex doctrine adopted just last year (SB 431) with a little limitation on lawyer and drug advertising thrown in for good measure (SB 427). The Senate budget chief offered legislators an entire CLE series of legal practice proposals. More on these and the other measures introduced are in this #GoldDomeReport.

In this Report:

  • Floor Notes
  • Committee Reports
  • New Legislation
  • What’s Next

Floor Notes

The House took up the following measures on Legislative Day 13:

  • HB 878 - Uniform rules of the road; proper procedure for passing a postal service vehicle; provide — PASSED 165-1
  • HB 905 - Zoning procedures; provisions authorizing administrative officers to exercise zoning powers; repeal — POSTPONED
  • HB 976 - Elections; ballots used in optical scan voting systems shall use paper with a visible watermark security feature; provide — PASSED 167-1
  • HB 985 - Georgia Higher Education Assistance Corporation; abolish — POSTPONED

The Senate took up the following measures on Legislative Day 13:

  • SB 335 - "Safeguarding Adopted Children from Sexual Violence Act"; enact — PASSED 49-0
  • SB 105 - Public School Employees Retirement System; the minimum and maximum allowable benefit multiplier for current and future retirees; revise — PASSED 49-1
  • SB 328 - Peace Officers' Annuity and Benefit Fund; provisions; revise — PASSED 51-0
  • SB 369 - Motor Vehicles; issuance of license plates commemorating the United States of America's Semiquincentennial; provide — PASSED 44-3
  • SR 352 - Atlanta Public Schools; commend — DROPPED to the General Calendar

Committee Reports

House Insurance Committee

Chairman Eddie Lumsden (R-Armuchee) and the House Insurance Committee started the day early with a meeting to take up the following measures:

  • HB 945, authored by Representative Lee Hawkins (R-Gainesville), adds a new code section O.C.G.A. 45-18-6.2 to address instances where in-network hospitals under the State Health Benefit Plan and/or Board of Regents Health Plan were dropped from the network of those plans. The legislation clarifies that individuals who were covered under those plans would continue to have in-network coverage rates for the duration of the plan year. This bill received a DO PASS recommendation.
  • HB 984, authored by Chairman Lumsden, is the Department of Insurance’s bill, which amends Titles 25 and 33. The legislation has essentially three provisions: 1) it allows off-duty post-certified officers with the department to use motor vehicles — it was noted that allowing this will permit more officers to respond to 911 emergencies (the vehicles will not be for personal use and will require the department to sign off on their off-duty work; they would still have liability coverage according to the department); 2) it adds language to keep DOI in compliance with the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) model language (repeals life insurance reserve requirements for certain small companies); and 3) allows parents/guardians of individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities to continue to obtain insurance coverage for those individuals after the age of attainment of a specified age if those individuals have proof of developmental and intellectual disabilities. This bill received a DO PASS recommendation.

House Higher Education Committee

The House Higher Education Committee, chaired by Representative Chuck Martin (R-Alpharetta), met on Wednesday to hear the following measures:

  • HB 970, authored by Representative Robert Dickey (R-Musella), amends Title 20 to provide that victims of human trafficking are eligible for the Realizing Educational Achievement Can Happen (REACH) Scholarship. The bill also adjusts the funding model for the REACH Scholarship to provide $9,000 and require a $1,000 match for local schools.

Representative Dickey presented the bill to the committee for a second time, noting that applications are taken on the local level and kept “very confidential.” Representative Rhonda Burnough (D-Riverdale) expressed continued concern about information about an individual’s human trafficking status being accessible to non-school personnel (e.g. community leaders who participate in application screening). The committee recommended the bill DO PASS and be sent to the Rules Committee.

  • HB 982, authored by Representative Matthew Gambill (R-Cartersville), amends Title 34 to require the State Workforce Development Board to develop, approve, and annually publish a high-demand career list identifying those careers most critical to the state's current and future workforce needs. The bill also requires the Office of Student Achievement to work in consultation with the State Workforce Development Board to audit and report on the effectiveness of employment, wage attainment, and retention of students in programs that align with the high-demand career list.

Representative Gambill presented the bill to the committee for a second time, reiterating the importance of the legislation. D.A. King of the Dustin Inman Society expressed concern that the bill does not exclude illegal aliens from workforce development programs in the state. Miranda Williams of ExcelinEd and Cosby Johnson of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce expressed support for the legislation. The committee recommended the bill DO PASS and be sent to the Rules Committee.

The committee also heard a presentation from the State Workforce Development Board about its purpose and work as a preface to HB 982. The board is made up of business representatives (a majority of members), elected officials, workforce representatives, and other partners. The board is made up of representatives of businesses of various sizes and geographic areas of the state.

House Juvenile Justice Committee

The committee considered three bills this afternoon. First, it adopted, by a 5 to 4 vote, HB 873 putting juvenile treatment courts under the purview of the Council of Accountability Court Judges of Georgia for the purpose of establishing and encouraging juvenile treatment court divisions under a juvenile court. The bill was brought by Representative Stan Gunter (R-Cornelia) and was developed by a study group of the accountability courts group as an effort to improve the performance of the juvenile treatment programs by the juvenile courts and to encourage their development in judicial circuits that did not have one. The council has standards for the performance of accountability courts under its management. The legislation is addressed to treatment programs for kids in delinquency and child in need of services (CHINS) cases. The committee took two amendments from the Georgia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, to provide that a juvenile may consent to his or her assignment to the juvenile treatment program and that time served in any treatment program is credited towards other, subsequent dispositions of a case. Two other amendments were rejected by the Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. There was some discussion about whether to make additional changes to the CHINS legislation, but this did not evolve. Representative Mary Margaret Oliver (D-Decatur) made the motion DO PASS.

The committee next heard HB 993, brought by Representative Alan Powell (R-Hartwell), creating a new crime of “grooming “minors for sexual favors. Committee members asked him questions about whether the crime depended on the Commission of a Sexual Act after the young person came of age and other suggestions for the perfection of the bill. The bill will be amended and brought back to the committee by substitute after discussion among several members with the Chairman and the bill’s author.

Finally, the committee considered and passed HB 1022, brought by Representative Steve Sainz (R-St. Marys), to establish the penalty for cruelty to disabled minors at 15 to 30 years for offenses in the first degree and a minimum of 30 years for offenses in the second degree.

House Industry and Labor Committee

The House Industry and Labor Committee, chaired by Representative Devan Seabaugh (R-Marietta), met on Wednesday to consider one measure:

  • HB 282, authored by Representative Mesha Mainor (D-Atlanta), adds a new code section at O.C.G.A. 20-2-145.1 to provide for a minimum course of study in career readiness education for students in grades six through 12, to include instruction and training experiences focused on employability and career readiness skills, and it further provides direction to the Department of Education to develop, assemble, and make available instructional resources and materials concerning employability and career readiness skills, career exploration, and career-oriented learning experiences.

Representative Mainor presented the bill to the committee, noting that it passed out of committee last year. The bill was presented as a substitute that changed the implementation date from 2023 to 2024. The Georgia Chamber of Commerce appeared in support of the bill. The committee recommended the bill DO PASS and be sent to the Rules Committee.

House Appropriations Committee - Health Subcommittee

Chairman Darlene Taylor (R-Thomasville) and the Health Subcommittee took up the extension of the state’s provider tax legislation, HB 991. The legislation, authored by Representative Shaw Blackmon (R-Bonaire), unanimously passed with a DO PASS recommendation, allowing the continuation of the Hospital Medicaid Financing Program to move forward to the full committee. The bill extends the sunset for this tool for the state to draw down federal Medicaid funding from June 30, 2025 to June 30, 2030 in O.C.G.A. 31-8-179.6.

Wendi Clifton, a lobbyist for United Ways in rural Georgia, told the subcommittee to watch for The ALICE Report, which outlines statistics on financial hardship in rural parts of the state. The report should be helpful to lawmakers in making informed decisions on what is necessary to help those working poor with needed services. 

Senate Public Safety Committee

Chairman John Albers (R-Roswell) called the Senate Committee to order Wednesday afternoon to discuss two measures:

  • SB 406, authored by Senator Clint Dixon (R-Gwinnett), amends Title 38 regarding first responders. The measure seeks to address the digitization of school floor plans. The plans would be updated annually. The measure is not a mandate to schools. The estimated cost of this would be $3,500 per school if they elected to do this.

Alex Carnie with CRG Solutions provided testimony as a potential vendor. Senator Russ Goodman (R-Cogdell) asked if their company had mapped schools in Georgia. They had in several parts of the state. Senator Randy Robertson (R-Cataula) inquired about software and hardware options. There are many agencies that use different software. The goal is to ensure their map can be in all first responder software systems.

The measure received a DO PASS recommendation.

  • SB 402 was held due to the author being unavailable.

Senate Insurance & Labor Committee

Chairman Larry Walker (R-Perry) called the Senate Committee to order Wednesday afternoon to discuss the following:

  • SB 389, authored by Senator Chuck Payne (R-Dalton), amends Title 38 regarding the National Guard. The measure seeks to provide state-sponsored life insurance to Georgia National Guard members. Department of Insurance Commissioner John King came to speak in favor of the measure. He explained his experience with his own policy.

The measure passed unanimously.

  • SB 307, authored by Senator Kay Kirkpatrick (R-Marietta), amends Title 33 regarding prior authorizations. The measure is also known as the “gold card bill.” The measure requires insurers operating in the state to create and register a prior authorization program with the Department of Insurance. It would allow providers a more streamlined way for approval. This has been passed in other states and does not change the quality of care a patient should receive.

An amendment to update the dates in the legislation was offered and accepted. The measure passed unanimously.

  • SB 362, authored by Senator Mike Hodges (R-St. Simons) on behalf of Governor Brian Kemp, amends Title 50 relating to economic incentives. The bill only targets voluntary actions by a company and does not prevent a company from unionizing, nor does it prohibit employees, according to the author. It alters eligibility requirements for economic development incentives. The measure is prospective as of Jan. 1, 2025.

Senator Nikki Merritt (D-Grayson) asked about federal preemption. The measure says that if a company wants to move to Georgia and have an incentive, they have to vote using a secret ballot if their union allows that. Lines 34 and 36 discuss voluntary recognition. According to Senator Merritt, the state cannot ban it, but here it is banned. Senator Hodges said that it is not a ban, but they have to use it if they can legally have a secret ballot. Senator Robertson highlighted Line 31, where the measure says “shall not.”

Nicolas Stanojevich, Esq., from Quinn Connor Weaver Davies and Rouco LLP, expressed this measure is preempted by federal law. The National Labor Act federally protects some of the list of activities in the measure. Brett Hulme with Southeastern Carpenters expressed concern over the state being involved in an employer's decision, specifically subcontractors.

Senator Ed Harbison (D-Columbus) needed clarification on how the bill does not preempt federal law. It is the governor’s position that the bill does not preempt federal law because you are talking about a business agreement between our state where they get taxpayer money. Merritt expressed concern over the measure. Senator Bill Cowsert (R-Athens) voiced that the bill prevents employers from bullying employees and vice versa.

The measure passed 4-3 and now moves to the Senate Rules Committee.

  • SB 334, authored by Senator John Albers (R-Roswell), amends O.C.G.A. 25-3-23 regarding firefighters. It is also known as the “Helping Firefighters Beat Cancer Act.” The measure is a technical cleanup. It allows portability in coverage when a firefighter moves departments.

Senator Randy Robertson (R-Catuala) asked about coverage for volunteer versus non-volunteer firefighters. This measure just says that you will be covered if you have been a certified firefighter.

The measure passed unanimously.

Senate Finance Committee

Chairman Chuck Hufstetler (R-Rome) called the Senate Finance Committee to order to discuss one measure:

  • SB 383, authored by Senator Shelly Echols (R-Gainesville), amends Title 48 regarding TSPLOST and intergovernmental agreements. In Hall County, a municipality negotiated for a TSPLOST with a verbal agreement. When it came to the intergovernmental agreement, one city began making new demands and killed the ability of voters to make a decision. With less than 2% of the population, 100% were unable to voice their opinions on a referendum. The measure seeks to change the single county TSPLOST law so one city or more than one, which makes up more than 50% of the population, can continue with an intergovernmental agreement without all of the municipalities. However, if there are cities that do not participate, they can receive part of the proceeds based on their percentage population. If a county receives all 100% of a county's municipalities, the SPLOST can be levied for six years instead of five.

ACCG and GMA expressed support of the measure. Senator Bill Cowsert (R-Athens) asked if a municipality has not agreed to this, they have a tax imposed on them. Ryan Bowersox explained that it would be a referendum on the next ballot before a tax imposition. The non-participating municipality still receives benefits through an alternative formula. Senator John Albers (R-Roswell) asked about counties like Fulton County

The committee chose to have a hearing only on the measure, LC 39 4080.

Senate Health and Human Services Committee

Chairman Ben Watson (R-Watson) and his committee took up only one bill this afternoon, SB 198, authored by Senator Sally Harrell (D-Atlanta). This legislation sets up a new Article 8 in Chapter 1 of Title 37 to create the “Georgians with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Innovation Commission.” The legislation is to create a commission to help address the gaps in services for individuals who have intellectual and developmental disabilities and is a recommendation from a Senate Study Committee on these issues, which was co-chaired by Senator Harrell and Senator John Albers (R-Roswell) in 2022. SPADD spoke in favor of the legislation as did several parents and grandparents of individuals with these disabilities. There was one amendment made to the proposal as the legislation was originally proposed in 2023 with the commission being abolished initially on June 30, 2028; the amendment pushes the date out to June 30, 2029. The legislation, with the amendment, received a DO PASS recommendation and now moves to the Senate Rules Committee.

New Legislation

The following new legislation of interest has been introduced in the House:

H.B.1078 Community Health, Department of; Georgia Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE); establish and implement Rep. Jesse Petrea (R-166) https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/66510
H.B.1081 Health; provide mandatory preeclampsia biomarker testing for pregnant women during their first prenatal visit Rep. Darlene Taylor (R-173) https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/66513
H.B.1082 Education; public schools to permit students to engage in privately initiated religious speech and activities; repeal and reenact provisions Rep. Mesha Mainor (R-056) https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/66514
H.B.1083 Community Health, Department of; adult residential mental health services licensing; extend grace periods Rep. Bruce Williamson (R-112) https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/66515
H.B.1090 Income tax; contributions to foster child support organizations; expand tax credit Rep. Mark Newton (R-127) https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/66523
H.R.943 Georgia Academy of Audiology; commend Rep. Teri Anulewicz (D-042) https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/66537
H.R.946 National School Counseling Week; February 5-9, 2024; recognize Rep. Matt Dubnik (R-029) https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/66540

The following new legislation of interest has been introduced in the Senate:

S.B.426 Motor Vehicles and Traffic; requirements for joining of a motor carrier and motor carrier's insurer to a cause of action; revise Sen. Blake Tillery (R-019) https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/66498
S.B.427 Commerce and Trade; disclosure requirements for advertisements for legal services and for drugs; provide Sen. Blake Tillery (R-019) https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/66502
S.B.428 Torts; a cap on damages recoverable against foster parents in personal injury actions involving the use of a motor vehicle by a child; provide Sen. Blake Tillery (R-019) https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/66501
S.B.429 "Small Business Protection Act of 2024"; enact Sen. Greg Dolezal (R-027) https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/66503
S.B.430 COVID-19 Pandemic Business Safety; provisions for rebuttable presumptions of risk by claimants in certain COVID-19 liability claims; revise Sen. Greg Dolezal (R-027) https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/66506
S.B.431 Civil Practice Act; certain factors from consideration in discovery determinations; remove Sen. Blake Tillery (R-019) https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/66504
S.B.432 "Quality Basic Education Act"; provisions; recess for students in kindergarten and grades one through eight; require Sen. Sally Harrell (D-040) https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/66509
S.B.433 Nonprofit Corporations; enact "Donor Intent Protection Act"; provide definitions; charitable organizations from violating the terms of charitable contributions; prohibit Sen. Bill Cowsert (R-046) https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/66542
S.B.435 'Infrastructure and Community Development Act' Sen. Frank Ginn (R-047) https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/66546
S.R.527 Senate Study Committee on Veterans' Mental Health and Housing; create Sen. Chuck Payne (R-054) https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/66531
S.R.533 Community Development Districts; provide general law for the creation and comprehensive regulation; authorize General Assembly -CA Sen. Frank Ginn (R-047) https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/66545

What’s Next

The General Assembly will reconvene for Legislative Day 14 on Thursday, Feb. 1 at 9 a.m.

The Senate is expected to take up the following measures on Legislative Day 14:

  • SB 333 - City of Mulberry; incorporate
  • SB 377 - Courts and Social Services; licensing of qualified residential treatment programs; provide
  • SB 386 - State Government; regulation and taxation of sports betting in this state; authorize and provide

See our coverage of Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5, Day 6, Day 7, Day 8, Day 9, Day 10, Day 11, and Day 12

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