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Gold Dome Report – Legislative Day 15 (2024)
Tuesday, February 6, 2024

Although advocates in the halls hoped for a calm, low-key start to the legislative work week on Tuesday, legislators in the Georgia House and Senate had other plans. After pausing on Monday to memorialize the late House Rules Committee Chairman Richard Smith, each chamber roared back into action by taking up controversial measures that drew substantial debate. The Senate took up a trio of contested bills, including legislation nixing election ballot QR codes (SB 189), setting standards for the Prosecuting Attorneys Qualifications Commission established last year (SB 332), and declaring a sales tax holiday for gun safes — and the guns themselves (SB 344). Meanwhile, the House gave final approval to the Conference Committee Report on SB 63, which will expand bail-restricted offenses in Georgia to include some additional violent offenses and non-violent offenses like bribery and identity fraud.

But Tuesday’s action wasn’t limited to the House and Senate chambers. It was apparently everyone’s “Day at the Capitol” with Girl Scouts and Gwinnettians, foresters and fire marshals, and others all crowding the marble halls. In fact, there was a group of fire marshals sworn in under the Gold Dome on Tuesday. If only they could have been sworn in earlier, they could have declared the masses a fire hazard. More on what we learned after squeezing through the crowds 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 15:

  • HB 385 - Retirement and pensions; add appropriate references to United States Space Force — PASSED 160-0
  • HB 456 - Local government; increase term for municipal court judges from one year to two years; provisions — PASSED 161-2
  • HB 876 - Banking and finance; update terminology; revise procedures; provisions — PASSED 164-0
  • HB 992 - Houston Judicial Circuit; provide for fourth judge — PASSED 161-0

The Senate took up the following measures on Legislative Day 15:

  • SB 189 - Elections; text portions of ballots shall be counted for vote tabulation and recounts purposes; provide — PASSED 31-22
  • SB 332 - Prosecuting Attorneys Qualifications Commission; promulgate standards of conduct and rules for the commission's governance; provide — PASSED 29-22
  • SB 344 - Sales and Use Taxes; firearms, ammunition, gun safes, and related accessories during an 11-day period each year; exempt — PASSED 30-22
  • SB 373 - Licensure in Marriage and Family Therapy; issuance of expedited licenses by endorsement for marriage and family therapists; provide — PASSED 52-0
  • SB 405 - "Completion Special Schools Act"; certain students to be enrolled in a completion special school; lower the age of eligibility — PASSED 45-8

Committee Reports

House Public Health Committee

The House Public Health Committee, chaired by Representative Sharon Cooper (R-Marietta), met on Tuesday to consider the following measures:

  • HB 872, authored by Representative Lee Hawkins (R-Gainesville), amends Title 31 to expand the service cancelable loan program for physicians and other healthcare providers in underserved areas to include dental students. 

Hawkins presented the bill to the committee, explaining that the bill is intended to encourage dentists to move out and serve rural areas. An amendment was offered and adopted to lower the threshold for eligible communities from those with fewer than 100,000 residents to those with fewer than 50,000 residents. The committee recommended the bill DO PASS as amended and be sent to the Rules Committee.

  • HB 1077, authored by Representative Cooper, amends Title 49 to create a grant program to provide funding to eligible institutions for additional behavioral health workforce training positions. The bill also creates a behavioral health provider loan repayment program.

Cooper presented the bill, which is a Board of Healthcare Workforce measure. It expands loan forgiveness to mental health professionals to allow them to work in rural areas. There were no questions. The committee recommended the bill DO PASS and be sent to the Rules Committee.

  • HB 1083, authored by Representative Bruce Williamson (R-Monroe), amends Title 37 to extend grace periods applicable to the Department of Community Health for creation and promulgation of rules and regulations relating to residential mental health programs. The bill also extends the grace period for adult residential mental health programs to obtain licensure.

Cooper presented the bill to the Committee, explaining that the Department of Community Health has been working with stakeholders to develop regulations and guidelines relating to residential mental health programs and need more time to do so. The committee adopted an amendment allowing the bill to be effective upon Governor Brian Kemp's signature and recommended the bill DO PASS and be sent to the Rules Committee.

  • HR 449, authored by Cooper, designates the fourth Wednesday of February as Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy Awareness Day. The committee recommended the resolution be adopted and sent to the Rules Committee.

Senate Judiciary Committee

Chairman Brian Strickland (R-McDonough) called the Senate Judiciary Committee to order Tuesday afternoon to discuss the following measures:

  • SB 426, authored by Senator Blake Tillery (R-Vidalia), amends Title 40 regarding motor vehicles. The measure seeks to ban direct action except when a trucking company enters bankruptcy or when company officials cannot be served with court papers.

Ben Harbin, Georgians for Lawsuit Reform, expressed support for the measure, explaining this would improve the state of play. Department of Insurance Commissioner John King expressed support for the measure. He explained that insurance costs create a barrier for those trying to enter the industry. Nancy Palmer of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce expressed support for the measure.

The measure received a DO PASS recommendation.

  • SB 232, authored by Senator John Kennedy (R-Macon), amends Title 15. This removes the Probate Court's ability per page recording fee, which is current practice. It was removed by request of probate judges. Repeal is a neutral cost to the petitioner. Many fees remain the same. Currently, the fees make e-filing difficult. This attempts to stay revenue neutral while eliminating complications. LC 44 2650S received a DO PASS recommendation.
  • SB 424, authored by Senator Randy Robertson (R-Catuala), amends Title 15 to create a new judicial circuit. LC 49 1716 seeks to add the West Georgia Judicial Circuit, comprising Carroll and Heard County. Some speakers consider the Coweta County Circuit too large. The new circuit would have four judges. The Prosecuting Attorneys Council has provided some amounts relating to cost. There is already an office. The measure received a DO PASS recommendation.
  • SB 182, authored by Senator Sonya Halpern (D-Atlanta), amends Title 16 relating to stalking. The measure creates a definition for doxxing, which is when a person publishes another's personal information with malicious intent. The measure also defines substantial life description. An amendment is expected to include additional definitions.

Senator Kennedy asked how public personal information would be treated, line 31. Sam Olens explained that it would not be considered doxxing since it is already in public domain.

Mazie Lynn Guertin, the Georgia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, expressed concern. TPOs are used to address disputes. Seen from the victim's side, it is onerous through law enforcement. Lines 123-130, procedural concerns linking it to the filing, do not provide a respondent notice. The goal was to match it with other TPO codes. Title 16 does not generally define an act. There are definitions within the code that capture these relationships. On lines 16-17, a significant personal or professional relationship definition is confusing to define. GADCL feels there are other definitions that could be used, but they like the intent of the measure and see its value. There is vagueness, such as mental anguish being protracted, which seems like a burden on the victim. There are remaining First Amendment problems. Lines 63-68 have a conflation between intent and reckless disregard. Senator Bo Hatchett (R-Cornelia) asked about a football player's phone number being posted online with a message saying to keep him awake. Mazie Lynn Guertin added that under this bill, it depends on mental anguish; is it protracted? Does one night of sleeplessness equal a substantial life disruption? Changing your number is defined as a significant life disruption. Charlotte Jackson, Prosecuting Attorneys Council, agrees that the crime of doxxing needs to be codified. Senator Ed Seltzer (R-Acworth) highlighted the expectation of privacy. A citizen who was doxxed came forward to present their experience.

Strickland explained that this was a first hearing and the measure would be discussed before the next meeting with changes expected.

  • SB 320, authored by Senator Michael ‘Doc’ Rhett (D-Marietta), amends Title 17. The measure seeks to require HIV/AIDS testing. Chairman Strickland held the bill for further review.

New Legislation

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

H.B.1113 Personal Privacy Protection Act; enact Rep. Matt Reeves (R-099) https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/66621
H.B.1114 Data Analysis for Tort Reform Act; enact Rep. Will Wade (R-009) https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/66622
H.B.1122 Education; provide for funding requirements to apply to local agencies; charter schools; provisions Rep. Scott Hilton (R-048) https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/66651
H.B.1123 Handicapped persons; require establishment of an Adult Abuse, Neglect, and Exploitation Multidisciplinary Team in each judicial circuit Rep. Carter Barrett (R-024) https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/66652
H.B.1124 Education; needs based financial aid program; provide for a definition Rep. Chuck Martin (R-049) https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/66653
H.B.1125 Labor and industrial relations; phase out payment of subminimum wage to persons with disabilities Rep. Sharon Cooper (R-045) https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/66654
H.B.1126 Motor vehicles; enforcement of speeding in school zones through automated traffic enforcement safety devices; repeal all law Rep. Clay Pirkle (R-169) https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/66655
H.B.1127 Agriculture, Department of; enforce certain criminal laws; authorize Rep. Clay Pirkle (R-169) https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/66656
H.B.1128 Georgia Women's Bill of Rights; enact Rep. Jodi Lott (R-131) https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/66657
H.B.1129 Crimes and offenses; criminal prosecution for offenses committed as a victim of human trafficking; provide for defense Rep. Scott Holcomb (D-081) https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/66658
H.B.1130 Crimes and offenses; criminal prosecution for offenses committed as a victim of human trafficking; provide for immunity Rep. Scott Holcomb (D-081) https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/66659
H.B.1131 Education; evidence based suicide awareness and training programs; provide Rep. Rick Townsend (R-179) https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/66660
H.R.980 Smith, Richard; condolences Speaker Jon Burns (R-159) https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/66633
H.R.983 Georgia Hearing Day at the state capitol; February 20, 2024; recognize Rep. Bill Yearta (R-152) https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/66636

 

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

S.B.445 Department of Education; provide to parents and guardians of students entering the sixth grade information regarding recommended adolescent vaccinations in print and electronic form; require Sen. Freddie Sims (D-012) https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/66611
S.B.449 Certified Nursing Aid; certain military medical personnel from an examination requirement; exempt Sen. Larry Walker (R-020) https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/66664
S.R.542 Colorectal Cancer Screenings; change of the minimum age; encourage Sen. Gloria Butler (D-055) https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/66619
S.R.546 Senate Colorectal Cancer Study Committee; create Sen. Gloria Butler (D-055) https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/66629

What’s Next

The General Assembly will reconvene for Legislative Day 16 on Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2024, at 10 a.m.

The House is expected to take up the following measures on Legislative Day 16:

  • HB 158 - Courts; change name of Stone Mountain Judicial Circuit to DeKalb Judicial Circuit
  • HB 883 - State government; county boards of health to conduct meetings via teleconference; authorize
  • HB 916 - General appropriations; State Fiscal Year July 1, 2024 - June 30, 2025
  • HB 1035 - Pharmacies; board regulates sale and supply of opioid antagonists through vending machines; authorize

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, Day 12, Day 13, and Day 14

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