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Gold Dome Report – Legislative Day 23 (2024)
Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Take a deep breath —this week is going to be a doozy. With Crossover Day looming just nine days away, committees shifted into high gear on Tuesday as legislators scrape and claw to get their bills and resolutions on track for a floor vote. The result was a pileup of committee meetings forecasted to continue until at least Thursday, the last day legislation can pass out of Senate committees and make it to the floor for pre-Crossover consideration. So, hang on and we’ll try to keep you up to speed with the #GoldDomeReport.

Amongst Tuesday’s major activity was the unveiling of the Senate Appropriations Committee’s version of HB 915, the State’s Amended FY24 spending plan. The budget is a $37.5 billion document and funds many large projects and infrastructure items, which are detailed in this report. Another major bit of news is the announcement that Representative Penny Houston (R-Nashville) will not be seeking reelection. In her retirement remarks, she mentioned how the House anteroom used to be a smoking room and where a lot of the work got done. Houston has served under seven speakers during her tenure in the House, and her passion and fire will certainly be missed.

In this Report:

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

Floor Notes

The House took up the following measures on Legislative Day 23:

  • HB 793 - Professional counselors; authorize applicants enrolled in a master's degree program to take the master's social work licensing exam; provisions — PASSED 167-1
  • HB 987 - Education; grants; revise definition of qualified local school system school by reducing the minimum required millage rate or equivalent millage rate from 14 mills to 10 mills — PASSED 161-12
  • HB 995 - Education; administration of a nationally recognized multiple-aptitude battery assessment that predicts success in the military to certain public school students; require — PASSED 173-2
  • HB 1020 - Income tax credit; military zones that qualify for designation as less developed areas; revise — PASSED 174-1
  • HB 946 - Special district mass transportation sales and use tax; intergovernmental agreements; revise requirements — PASSED 173-1

The Senate took up the following measures on Legislative Day 23:

  • SB 374 - the "Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors Act of 2021," so as to change provisions relating to land surveyor interns and professional land surveyors — PASSED 49-0
  • SB 449 - certification as nursing aid and employer-sponsored training and competency examination program — PASSED 49-0
  • SB 370 - posting model notice with human trafficking hotline information in business and on the internet, so as to require certain establishments to post human trafficking hotline information — PASSED 50-1
  • SB 232 - relating to courts, so as to provide for probate court fees; to provide for funding of the State Children's Trust Fund — PASSED 49-0
  • SB 360 - relating to capital outlay funds in elementary and secondary education, so as to provide that capital outlay funds may be used for educational facilities for voluntary pre-kindergarten programs provided by the school system — PASSED 50-0
  • SB 427 - relating to commerce and trade and food, drugs, and cosmetics, respectively, so as to provide for disclosure requirements for advertisements for legal services and for drugs — TABLED

Committee Reports

Senate Appropriations Committee

Chairman Blake Tillery (R-Vidalia) and the Appropriations Committee met Tuesday morning and discussed the following:

  • SB 475, by Senator Chuck Hufstetler (R-Rome), seeks to amend O.C.G.A. 34-8-92 to change certain provisions relating to the disposition of fines, penalties, and interest collected under Chapter. LC 36 5723 was reviewed. It allows the commissioner of the department to retain up to 20% of the fines, penalties, and interest collected. Presented the legislation addressing Department of Labor concerns but allowing for funding of the department. There is a two-year sunset to the proposal. This initiative received a DO PASS recommendation.
  • HB 915 is the $37.5 billion budget for Amended FY 2024 and was presented by Tillery. There are themes: true-up of formulas; unprecedented collections to allow catch-ups like cyber security, building renovations without assuming more debt, fiscal liabilities, and cost avoidance; and equipping state employees with needed resources. The $1,000 pay supplement is included for state employees, teachers, and Regents employees. Tillery stressed what is not in the $1,000 is the pay increase is an increase for elected officials. There is, however, a $1,000 pay supplement for those employees who are paid by federal dollars. Some other highlights in the Senate version include:

Judicial Council

  •  The Senate added $650,000 for tech improvements for uniform and universal technology.

Council of Juvenile Court Judges

  • The Senate agreed to the $170,000 addition for Grants to Counties for Juvenile Court Judges but added the language to” Increase funds for the Juvenile Court Judges' salary supplement. Beginning in FY2023, a $6,000 supplement has been paid to Juvenile Court Judges who certified no backlog of cases existed in their courts. There is ambiguity surrounding whether the purpose of this allocation has been followed. A new data system should answer questions concerning case backlogs. Therefore, this $6,000 supplement shall cease on December 1, 2024 for any Juvenile Court Judge who has not adopted a uniform case management system that at a minimum provides the period of time that a child has been in Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS) custody pending permanency.”

Department of Administrative Services

  • The Senate agreed with the House and Governor for these items:
    • Increase funds and utilize existing funds ($2,000,000) to pay negotiated Workers' Compensation settlements to reduce outstanding claims and associated costs in the amount of $123,000,000
    • Increase funds to reduce outstanding obligations relating to the State Liability program in the amount of $75 million
    • Increase funds to meet the cost of excess insurance and projected future claims expenses for the property risk pool in the amount of $50 million

Department of Agriculture

  • Consumer Protection
    • The Senate increased funds for equipment and vehicles to begin implementation of the Georgia Electric Vehicle Charging Program pursuant to SB146 (2023 Session) in the amount of $250,000.
  • Department Administration
    • The Senate eliminated the House’s addition of $ 2 million for the establishment of the establish the Georgia Farmland Conservation Fund.
    • The Senate also did not agree to the House addition of $500,000 for Atlanta Farmers Market capital needs; rather it included $50,000 for a study of long-term capital needs for the Market.

 Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities

  • Adult Forensic Services
    • The Senate eliminated the House funding of $664,462 for an additional 30-bed jail-based competency restoration program pilot and said to consider funding for an additional 30-bed jail-based competency restoration program pilot in the FY2025 General Budget.
  • Adult Mental Health Services
    • The Senate reduced the House's addition of $2 million in funds to $500,000 for a pilot to implement transportation alternatives for individuals experiencing a mental health crisis.
    • The Senate added $450,000 in funds to support mental health community wellness and outreach programs
  • Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services
    • The Senate increased funding to $13 million for the construction of the Gateway Child and Adolescent Crisis Stabilization Unit in Savannah.
  • Direct Care Support Services
    • The Senate decreased the governor and House’s funding agreement to $46 million to address Regional State Hospitals' urgent and significant capital needs according to the 2023 Georgia State Financing and Investment Commission (GSFIC) campus survey.

 Department of Community Affairs

  • State Community Development Programs
    • The Senate eliminated the House’s inclusion of $2.5 million for one-time community improvement grants.

Department of Community Health

  • Healthcare Access and Improvement
    • The Senate doubled the amount of funds to $296,500 to address housing needs for AHECs.
    • The Senate doubled the funding to $100,000 for Lupus research, data collection, awareness, and education.
    • The Senate eliminated the House's addition of $250,000 for funding for one federally qualified health center start-up. grant in Cobb County and instead added to consider the inclusion of one federally qualified health center start-up grant in Cobb County in the FY2025 General Budget.
    • The Senate added $2 million in funds for one-time grants up to $1,000,000 for the development of Programs of All-Inclusive Care (PACE) to provide home and community-based services.
  • Medicaid Aged, Blind, and Disabled
    • The Senate added more than $2.1 million in funds to increase reimbursement rates for speech-language pathology, audiology, physical therapy, and occupational therapy providers.
  • Low-Income Medicaid
    • The Senate added $2.19 million in funds to increase reimbursement rates for speech-language pathology, audiology, physical therapy, and occupational therapy providers.
  • Healthcare Workforce - Board Administration
    • The Senate did not agree to $200,000 with the House but instructed to utilize existing funds ($100,000) for statewide healthcare specialty assessments to evaluate gaps in healthcare services

Department of Corrections

  • Health
    • The Senate agreed to $63.2 million in funding for the physical health and pharmacy services contracts whereas Governor Brian Kemp and the House had proposed more than $65 million.
  • Offender Management
    • The Senate proposed a $3 per diem rather than a $2 per diem increase for County Correctional Institutions for a total of $1.33 million.
  • State Prisons
    • The Senate increased funding to $15.3 million to increase funds for safety, security, and technology initiatives (partly to address cell phone use inside prisons).

Department of Early Care and Learning

  • Pre-Kindergarten Program
    • The House and Senate agreed to increase funds to maintain the current number of classrooms in the Summer Transition Program without the implementation of an income eligibility requirement but the Senate proposed $7.6 million rather than the House’s funding of $8.9 million.

Department of Economic Development

  • Innovation and Technology
    • The Senate eliminated the $1 million funding proposed by Governor Kemp and the House but stated for the Department of Economic Developmentto utilize industry sponsorships to support stakeholder involvement in planning for hydrogen energy applications.
  • Tourism
    • The Senate proposed $29.25 million in an increase in funds for one-time funding for the Georgia World Congress Center Authority for public safety, security, transportation, and infrastructure expenses and implementation between governmental agencies for hosting the Federation International de Football Association (FIFA) World Cup in 2026 and College Football Playoff National Championship in 2025.
    • The Senate and House agreed to no funding for the relocation of the 1996 Olympic cauldron (the governor had proposed $1.5 million).

Department of Education

  • Curriculum
    • The Senate instructed to utilize $10 million of existing $10,994,021 ESSER funds to provide a one-to-one match for character education programming.
  • Quality Basic Education
    • The Senate funded $100.7 million for mid-term adjustment based on enrollment growth (this is lower than the House and Governor’s funding by approximately $2 million).

 Employees Retirement System

  • System Administration
    • The Senate, House, and governor agreed on $500 million to increase funds to strategically invest in increasing the funded ratio in order to improve long-term financial viability of the pension system and support state retirees.

 Department of Human Services

  • Child Welfare Services
    • The Senate added $200,000 in funds for one-time funding for start-up costs of a heavy equipment operator certification program for high-risk youth.
  • Departmental Administration
    • The Senate only funded slightly more than $750,000 and transferred funds from the Elder Abuse Investigations and Prevention program ($590,000) to the Departmental Administration (DHS) program and increased funds for Medicaid Redetermination notice mailings (the governor and House had funded this by more than $1.5 million).
  • Out-of-School Care Services
    • The Senate added $400,000 in funds for community youth tutoring and wellness
  • Residential Child Care Licensing
    • The governor, House, and Senate agreed to the funding of the Trails system and Qualified Residential Treatment program licensing fees as proposed in the amounts of $360,000 and $82,102 respectively.
  • Safe Harbour for Sexually Exploited Children Fund Commission
    • The governor, House, and Senate agreed to funding of $2,716,380.

Department of Insurance

  • Reinsurance
    • The governor, House, and Senate agreed to funding of the state reinsurance program and implementation of the state-based exchange for healthcare insurance with $134 million and $16.39 million respectively.

Department of Juvenile Justice

  • Secure Commitment
    • The Senate did not agree to the $104,000 in funding for the implementation of music studios at the Eastman, Macon, Augusta, and Muscogee Secure Commitment.

Department of Labor

  • Unemployment Insurance
    • The Senate added $2.5 million for personnel and operations.

Department of Natural Resources

  • Parks, Recreation and Historic Sites
    • The Senate added $14.1 million for one-time funding for outdoor recreation, state parks, and historic sites.
  • Wildlife Resources
    • The Senate added $650,000 for eradication of invasive species.

Department of Public Health

  • Infant and Child Health Promotion
    • The Senate added $97,000 to support development of a donor breast milk bank.

 Department of Public Safety

  • Field Offices and Services
    • The Senate added more than $4 million in funds for the added cost of full “basic” subsidized State Health Benefit Plan benefits to retired Injured in the Line of Duty (ILOD) officers.

Public Service Commission

  • Facility Protection
    • The House and Senate agreed to add $250,000 for Pipeline Safety database upgrade.

Board of Regents

  • Georgia Research Alliance
    • The Senate only proposed $6.25 million for an increase in funds for four new eminent scholars and four distinguished investigators at the Georgia Institute of Technology ($6 million) and the development of a product to monitor poultry health and welfare, a collaboration between the Georgia Institute of Technology and the University of Georgia ($250,000) (The House had proposed $9.25 million for the program and the governor had proposed $14.25 million).
  • Public Service/Funding Special Initiatives
    • The Senate proposed $100,000 to fund a feasibility study on the development and building of a veterinary school at Fort Valley State.
  • Teaching
    • The governor, House, and Senate agreed to the $66 million to be restored in the FY 2024 formula funds.

Secretary of State

  • Elections
    • The Senate did not agree to funding proposed by the House for these: third-party ballot-text auditing technology ($5 million); increased postage expenses related to precinct cards (but they have asked that it be reflected in special project elections)($1.7 million); and election security by adding watermarks to all ballot paper (also to be reflected in special project elections)($110,000).

Technical College System of Georgia

  • Technical Education
    • The Senate agreed with the House to fund $657,910 for start-up and equipment costs for 22 additional campus police officers.

Department of Transportation

  • Capital Construction Projects
    • The Senate decreased the amount to $593.3 million rather than the Governor and House’s proposals of $659 million.
  • Capital Maintenance Projects
    • The Senate lowered to $50 million rather than the House’s proposal of $100 million for resurfacing needs (the Senate also added language to increase funds for resurfacing needs and apply applicable matching federal funds).
  • Department Administration
    • The Senate eliminated the House funding of $500,000 for the installation of the Augusta Canal pedestrian bridge.
  • Local Roads Assistance Administration
    • The Senate increased by $50 million for a total of $250 million to fund in one-time funding additional support for local transportation and infrastructure projects.

Chairman Tillery indicated the budget reflects that they have held the cash close despite record high inflation — they have utilized cash to purchase items that typically the state must borrow to fund. Overall, this will be a savings of millions and a smart and prudent move per Tillery. Tillery closed some of his remarks by noting the number of state employees who make less than $40,000 annually.

HB 915 received a DO PASS recommendation.

  • HB 947, authored by Representative Rob Leverett (R-Elberton), changes pay for state-paid judges in Titles 1,15 and 47. It is not broad, according to the author. It alleviates issues to permit a stronger judiciary. It does not fund or set a salary but amends by taking out a dollar amount to be paid and includes a maximum (restricting an appropriation authority). It permits the General Assembly to appropriate what is proper. For superior courts, it takes out the uniquely odd local supplements that have caused wide pay variations. That is addressed by locality pay  up to 10%. The bill also addresses localities’ concerns about making changes. There were questions on whether there was a conversation on Juvenile Court Judges. They are not state-paid per Leverett. A joint study committee is looking at other judges, DAs, and public defenders. Senator Larry Walker, III (R-Perry) asked for clarification on maximum pay so that superior court judges do not make more than supreme court judges. Senator Greg Dolezal (R-Cumming) asked if it would be a cost of approximately $22 million. He also asked what were the negotiating points. The bill does not mandate but does restrict the counties in their supplements. Much of the negotiations were done by the Judicial Council. The legislation was sent to a subcommittee for review.

House Regulated Industries

Chairman Alan Powell (R-Hartwell) and the House Regulated Industries Committee took up the following bills on Monday afternoon:

  • HB 598, authored by Representative Brent Cox (R-Dawsonville), amends Chapter 4B of Title 43 to change certain provisions relating to certain boxing, wrestling, and martial art associations and federations and the definition of “amateur.” It eliminates these entities: International Sport KickBoxing/Karate Association; World KickBoxing Association; United States KickBoxing Association; International Sport Combat Federation; and International KickBoxing Federation. The legislation received a DO PASS recommendation.
  • HB 1050, authored by Representative Karen Mathiak (R-Griffin), is a compromise in Chapter 10A of Title 43 proposal addressing licensed professional counselors, licensed clinical social workers, and licensed marriage and family therapists. Representative Jason Ridley (R-Chatsworth), who chaired the subcommittee, indicated that there was no opposition in the subcommittee. It addresses the definition of “supervisor;” clarifies the number of quarter hours needed (80 is now 90 as a master’s degree required before a doctorate), and provides for confidentiality provisions between the licensee and client. No public comment was provided at this meeting and the substitute legislation received a DO PASS recommendation.
  • HB 1175, authored by Representative Chas Cannon (R-Moultrie), amends O.C.G.A. 43-33-18 to allow direct access to physical therapists and eliminates the current limitation of eight visits — currently, the law allows restricted direct access and requires a physician to authorize the physical therapy after eight visits. The Physical Therapy Association of Georgia asked for this legislation. Representatives Mesha Mainor (R-Atlanta) and Karen Bennett (D-Tucker) supported the legislation along with others. The legislation received a DO PASS recommendation.
  • HB 1096, authored by Representative Dale Washburn (R-Macon), adds a new Code section at O.C.G.A. 43-1-4.1 to establish, on behalf of professional licensing boards under the jurisdiction of the office of the Secretary of State, a continuing education tracking solution to monitor compliance of licensees with applicable continuing education requirements. This continuing education monitoring/tracking is already used by some of the licensure boards overseen by the Secretary of State (that entity is CE Broker). The language is “permissive” and not a mandate that the Secretary of State use this type of system. There were questions as to whether this system could help reduce the number of complaints that legislators receive about the licensure process. Gabe Sterling, with the Secretary of State, noted that the new licensing system being rolled out, GOALS, will help expedite licensing and work to provide security and verification. Sterling noted the need for more staff but stated that the physical therapy rollout is ahead of what they expected if the manual system was still being used. Representative Al Williams (D-Midway) noted that it was interesting that the Secretary of State’s office takes in three times the amount of funding, yet that agency annually has lots of complaints. Representative Shelly Hutchinson (D-Snellville) asked Sterling to whom she could refer licensure complaints — he replied that those could go to Sam Teasley, him, or the general mailbox. The various boards will continue to approve the continuing education courses — that would not be done by the vendor. This legislation received a DO PASS recommendation.
  • HB 880, by Representative Bethany Ballard (R-Warner Robins), seeks to amend O.C.G.A. 43-1-34 in an effort to provide for spouses of service members, who are stationed in Georgia, to practice their profession when that individual is licensed in good standing in the state of licensure. The legislation is meant to provide expedited licensure by endorsement and is in compliance with federal law, according to Ballard. Additionally, it meets the Department of Defense's timelines for these individuals to get to work. Representative Lee Hawkins (R-Gainesville and who is a dentist) inquired if that individual must meet the requirements of the profession in Georgia; Ballard stated that they must meet or exceed the licensure requirements. Representative Shelly Hutchinson (D-Snellville) indicated that it would immediately impact her profession (she’s a licensed mental health professional) and supported the legislation. The legislation received a DO PASS recommendation.

House Public Health Committee

The House Public Health Committee was called to order by Chairwoman Sharon Cooper (R-Marietta) on Tuesday afternoon to discuss the following measures:

  • HB 1030, authored by Representative Clint Crowe (R-Jackson), amends Title 19 regarding newborn safety devices. The measure codifies what a newborn safety device is and defines ambulance services. A parent can leave a newborn no more than 30 days old with staff at a licensed ambulance service, fire station, medical facility, police station, or in a newborn safety device. The measure allows for these devices to be installed at medical facilities, police stations, fire stations, and ambulance service locations.

Representative Michelle Au (D-Johns Creek) asked about the parental rights of those dropping off the infant and if they changed their mind. Cooper explained that the department goes to court for guardian rights, and the child goes into foster care. Crowe explained this bill does not affect parental rights. Representative Shelly Hutchinson (D-Snellville) also explained the chain of custody. Cooper asked how many other states use these. 20 states approve these devices, but only 15 have actively used them. It requires local participation. Representative Jodi Lott (R-Evans) asked about fire stations. What if there was a fire, but a child was dropped off? Most children are dropped off at fire stations because of the lack of foot traffic. There are three alarms — one being the front door is opened, the second that the baby has been placed inside, and the third that the door has been locked. These devices are tested every week. The cost associated with each box is raised through donations from the area. The lease is $15,000 with a $500 service and upgrade fee. Representative Clay Pirkle (R-Auburn) asked about anonymity. Representative Scott Hilton (R-Peachtree Corners) asked about teenagers playing a prank. Representative Devan Seabaugh (R-Marietta) asked about anonymity and identifying the child for foster care. There is no way unless the parent leaves the information.

Pam Strenzel from Safe Haven (a potential vendor), a representative from Citizen Impact, and Rashon Mitchell-Jefferson, a Pediatric Nurse at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, expressed support for the measure.

Since this was the first hearing on the measure, no action was taken.

  • HB 1187, authored by Representative Brad Thomas (R-Holly Springs), amends Title 40 relating to service and guide dogs. The measure removes the definition of an assistance dog and adds to the service dog definition to include physical or mental impairment. It also adds the activities of daily life into the code, which would allow a service dog to participate. The measure also allows owner training. It also outlines that if a person misrepresents their dog as a service dog, they would be guilty of a misdemeanor.

Nicole Whitworth explained how one of her first service dogs was attacked. The law, the way it is currently written, does not provide recourse for her to receive another service dog at the time nor criminal charges. Brandy Paul, Dream Run Dog Training, explained more about the changes in the definition and harassment of service animals. Former police officer Jenny Hill with Wounded Blue highlighted their organization. All expressed support for the changes.

Representative Clay Pirkle (R-Auburn) asked about provisions relating to service dogs becoming aggressive. This was the first hearing on the measure so no action was taken.

  • HB 844, authored by Representative Ginny Ehrhart (R-Marietta), was taken off the agenda because a late-arriving amendment was offered.

Senate Children & Families Committee

Chairman Kay Kirkpatrick (R-Marietta) and the Children & Families Committee met on Tuesday to discuss the following measures:

  • SB 324, authored by Senator Kim Jackson (D-Stone Mountain), seeks to add a new Article 8 in Chapter 18 of Title 50 to create a victim-centered confidentiality program. Jackson presented legislation substitute LC 44 2732S. Broadly, it creates a system for survivors of domestic violence, stalking, or otherwise threatened — 42 states have similar programs and those states' programs are typically overseen by the Attorney General or Secretary of State. A fiscal note was prepared so the enactment date was pushed out two years to provide for the appropriation of funds. It would have a "designated" address selected by the Secretary of State. All agencies would be supplied with a confidential address rather than the home address. It also addresses voting concerns as well. Chairman Kirkpatrick asked about training programs for victim advocates. Employees, such as those who are employed by victim services providers, would be sent to these training. Senator Derek Mallow (D-Savannah) asked if the Grace Commission could be utilized to get the information out to get the correct folks trained. Senator Max Burns (R-Sylvania) asked for clarification for voting in their designated precinct with this confidential address. The Secretary of State would forward the information to the correct address. The advocates acknowledged the gravity of what is asked of survivors in sharing their experiences — and stories were shared with the committee. Among supporters included Partnership Against Domestic Violence, which testified in regard to the legislation. Georgia Commission on Family Violence’s Executive Director April Ross testified in support of the bill, noting in particular the issues around stalking. Senator Chuck Payne (R-Dalton) asked for clarification on the effective date. The legislation received a DO PASS recommendation, moving it to the Senate Rules Committee.
  • SB 520, authored by Senator Bill Cowsert (R-Athens), amends Title 19 addressing domestic relations. Counsel from the Department of Human Services, Regina Quick, also appeared to address the collection of child support — conforming state law to federal law. An income withholding notice is now required by federal law. There is also some Code cleanup in the legislation. This is a Department of Human Services bill. The bill received a DO PASS recommendation, moving it to the Senate Rules Committee.

House Ways and Means Committee

Chairman Shaw Blackmon convened the House Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday morning to discuss the following measures:

  • HB 403, authored by Representative Rick Jasperse (R-Jasper), amends Title 48 regarding income tax. The measure creates a 25% income tax credit on residential geothermal systems maxing out at $5,000. LC 50 0762S changes the date to 2025. The measure received a DO PASS recommendation.
  • HB 1090, authored by Representative Mark Newton (R-Augusta), amends Title 48 and the Fostering Student Success Act. LC 50 0761S is directed to help children who age out of foster care. The measure cleans up the definition of aging foster children and includes justice-involved youth. The substitute opens the tax credit to business entities to support young adults, refines the definition of wraparound services, and includes mentorship services. The measure received a DO PASS recommendation.
  • HB 1116, authored by Representative Debbie Buckner (D-Junction City), amends Title 48 regarding Historic Tax Credits. LC 50 0756S is the renewal of the tax credit and sunsets in 2035. This measure allows the Department of Community Affairs the ability to recognize local historical significance instead of relying solely on the federal designation. It raises the per project cap from $5 million to $10 million on smaller projects. Projects that create 200 plus jobs are increased from $7.5 million to $15 million. The residential cap was increased from $30 million to $60 million. The proposal received a DO PASS recommendation.
  • HB 1167, authored by Representative Rick Townsend (R-Brunswick), amends Title 48 regarding the Peach Tax Credit. This bill raises the credit from $5 million to $10 million. It also increases the donation of $1,000 from single filers to $2,500 and moves donations of $2,500 for joint filer donations to $5,000. Corporate donations are increased from $10,000 to $25,000. The credit helps fund innovative programs for schools and career academies.
  • HB 808, authored by Representative Mike Cheokas (R-Americus), amends Title 48 regarding tangible personal property. The Association of County Commissioners of Georgia has offered new language on the measure but needs to review it prior to presenting it to the full committee. The legislation was held.

House Education Committee - Policy Subcommittee

The Policy Subcommittee of the House Education Committee, chaired by Representative Scott Hilton (R-Peachtree Corners), met to consider the following measures on Tuesday afternoon:

  • HB 846, authored by Representative Rob Leverett (R-Elberton), amends Title 20 to require local school systems to annually notify employees whether social security taxes will be withheld from their pay and whether they are eligible to be included in certain benefits, pension, or retirement plans.

Leverett presented the bill to the subcommittee as a substitute that requires notice upon hiring and at least every five years (rather than all employees annually). Lisa Morgan of the Georgia Association of Educators spoke in support of the measure but asked that the subcommittee consider amending it to also provide for similar notice at separation. The amendment was adopted, and the subcommittee recommended the bill DO PASS by substitute as amended and be sent to the full Education Committee.

  • HB 1122, authored by Representative Hilton, amends Title 20 relating to charter schools. Specifically, the bill provides for additional funding for charter school superintendents and principals, allows for children of part-time charter school employees to attend the charter school, and addresses a conflict of interest to allow non-executive LEA employees to serve on the state charter school governing board.

Hilton presented the bill to the subcommittee, describing its contents as “clean-ups” for charter schools. Dr. Bonnie Holliday, Chief Strategy Officer for the Georgia Charter School Association, appeared in support of the bill. An amendment was proposed to clarify that part-time employees must work at least 20 hours per week to qualify for the child attendance privileges in the bill. The amendment was adopted, and the subcommittee recommended the bill DO PASS as amended and be sent to the full Education Committee.

  • HB 1221, authored by Representative Tyler Paul Smith (R-Bremen), amends Title 20 to require the State Board of Education to provide for procedures for student transfers between local school systems. The bill also provides that only the receiving local school system shall have the authority to grant or refuse permission for such transfers and establishes caps on tuition that can be charged to a student by an enrolling local unit of administration. Under the bill, lower-performing districts (the lowest 25% in performance) would be required to contribute to the tuition of students transferring to other districts.

Smith presented the bill to the subcommittee, explaining that it creates “additional public options” for students and keeps districts from “holding students hostage” when they want to move. He explained that he was one of these out-of-district students, living in unincorporated Haralson County and attending (and paying tuition to) Bremen City Schools. Hilton clarified that the real policy change in the legislation is removing the requirement that the residence district provide permission for a student to transfer. There were several questions about under what circumstances a receiving district would be able to refuse admission of a transferring student.

Josh Stephens, with the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, spoke on the bill, calling for transparency on who is participating in transfer programs, finances, and student performance. Stephanie Tanner of the Georgia School Board Association also spoke, expressing concern about the legality of school boards paying other school boards for a student’s tuition. She called on the subcommittee to strike lines 41-45 to remove this penalty to resident school districts. Terrence Wilson of the IDRA also expressed concern about the requirement that lower-performing resident school districts contribute toward transferring student tuition. Mason Goodwin of the Georgia Youth Justice Coalition noted that the bill circumvents local control and expressed concern about the financial contribution requirement. Michael O’Sullivan of GeorgiaCAN spoke in support of the bill.

The subcommittee took no action on the bill on Tuesday. Chairman Hilton encouraged members to talk with the author about proposed changes, noting that he expects the bill to be back in the subcommittee soon.

House Education Committee - Curriculum Subcommittee

The Curriculum Subcommittee of the House Education Committee, chaired by Representative Bethany Ballard (R-Warner Robins), met on Tuesday to consider the following measures:

  • HB 822, authored by Representative Kasey Carpenter (R-Dalton), amends Title 20 to provide that the prescribed course of study in sex education and HIV prevention instruction is age-appropriate and medically accurate. It also requires that such courses include instruction on consent.

Carpenter presented the bill to the subcommittee, which recommended the bill DO PASS and be sent to the full Education Committee.

  • HB 1027, authored by Representative Ballard, amends Title 20 to provide that beginning in the 2026-2027 school year at least a half-credit computer science course shall be a high school graduation requirement. This half-credit can replace a math, science, or elective requirement–it does not add to the total number of credits required for graduation. The bill allows for virtual instruction in districts that do not have sufficient teacher resources.

Ballard presented the bill to the subcommittee as a substitute that pushed the implementation to the 2027-2028 school year. Anthony Owen of Code.org, Tim Cairl of the Metro Atlanta Chamber, and the Technology Association of Georgia spoke in favor of the legislation. Jody Reeves of the Georgia Association for Career & Technical Education also spoke in support of the Substitute presented on Tuesday.

Representative Matt Dubnik (R-Gainesville) offered an amendment to the bill to clarify that the graduation requirement only applies to students seeking a regular or accelerated career diploma. The subcommittee adopted the amendment and recommended the bill DO PASS by Substitute as amended and be sent to the full Education Committee.

House Health Committee

Chairman Lee Hawkins and the Health Committee took up the following measures Tuesday afternoon:

  • HB 441, authored by Representative Katie Dempsey (R-Rome), authorizes and regulates teledentistry in Chapter 11 of Title 43 in Georgia by licensed dentists and dental hygienists pursuant to permits issued by the Georgia Board of Dentistry in the substitute presented. It is a slimmed-down version of the legislation proposed in 2023. It no longer requires a permit for the dental hygienists — so registration is required on the dental license for those who are participating in teledentistry (no extra fee or paperwork). Representative Karen Mathiak (R-Griffin) asked about remarks made by Representative Penny Houston (R-Nashville) and the need for dental care in rural and south Georgia, explaining that this legislation would be helpful. Petrea asked about those with developmental disabilities who need care. Representative Demetrius Douglas (D-Stockbridge) asked about duties that can be performed on-site by the dental hygienists. Representative Todd Jones (R-Cumming) inquired about the referral to the dentist who practices teledentistry. Jones asked whether the professionals were being trained in teledentistry. It is an extension of what has been done since 2017, according to the representative from the Georgia Dental Association. Representative Dexter Sharper (D-Valdosta) indicated that his concerns have been addressed.

Steve Tippins, with McGuireWoods Consulting, spoke to the measure on behalf of the Georgia Dental Hygienists Association, but there are three issues expanded duty dental assistants (only required to have one four-hour course); in current law, dental hygienists have been providing preventative services in safety net settings (long term care, family violence shelters, etc.) and 42 states allow without an initial exam by a dentist but the legislation rolls that back; and the association only received the legislation but remains committed to work on the legislation. Assistants have been eliminated from the bill per Chairman Hawkins. 

The legislation received a DO PASS recommendation, moving it forward to the House Rules Committee.

  • HB 1046, authored by Representative David Clark (R-Buford), amends Titles 16, 31, and 43 authorizing advanced practice registered nurses and physician assistants to order home healthcare services (currently, only physicians may do so). This legislation was scheduled for HEARING ONLY. LC 54 0066S was presented. APRNs and PAs can also sign death certificates, but these can also be done under a delegating physician and protocol agreement. The CARES Act allowed the signing of death certificates. 18 counties do not have a family practice physician; 40 counties have no internal medicine physicians. This legislation would address delays in care. Primary care in Georgia is collapsing with patients suffering. They could sign under Governor Kemp’s executive order to order home health services and that permission was in effect for three years. Petrea expressed there are differences between in-home care and home health care. Medicare will provide for care in the home. It is not a provider of the services authorizing the services. 

Several individuals signed up to speak to the legislation. AS Turner Funeral Home spoke in favor of the legislation. There is a need to speed up death certificates. Delays impact social security, for instance. The death certificates are supposed to be signed in 72 hours, but sometimes they wait between 4-6 weeks. A surgeon, Carmen Cavalli spoke on behalf of MAG explaining the bill has good intentions but unintended consequences. There is a shortage of home healthcare workers. The overall review of the plan of care by the APRN or PA is a step back. Signing the correct cause of death is a concern to physicians for legal and insurance purposes. Representative Karen Mathiak (R-Griffin) asked if there is a time deadline for the death certificate to be signed. Dr. Cavalli did not know of a time deadline  the direct and proximate causes of death are equally important. Shelia Humberstone with Stonebridge Consulting on behalf of Georgia Association of Physicians Assistants, and these individuals are trained to do this work and support the legislation. Nancy Petra, with the Georgia Alzheimer's Association, supported the legislation, particularly the caregivers working with loved ones in rural Georgia and will extend services. Tim Davis, with the Georgia Nurses Association, supported the bill as APRNs are engaged in protocol agreements with authorizing physicians and the authority still lies with the physician. Lacey Hughes, RN, spoke on behalf of a home health agency in rural Georgia and supported the initiative. No vote was taken. The legislation will be revisited before Crossover Day.

Next on the agenda was a presentation about children receiving medications in school infirmaries or clinics. Frontline spoke to the issue. Frontline’s Taylor Hawkins spoke to the rise of school-based health centers (nationally) as safety nets particularly to provide primary care services. Frontline is concerned that the centers are using blanket consent forms or not getting consent from parents (treatment, counseling, diagnostic tests, etc. provided). Thus, he was asking for guardrails on the school-based health centers. There have been no lawsuits in Georgia. Parents should be present for informed consent. Hawkins asked for examples of informed consent used in Georgia. Petrea noted the passage of the Parental Bill of Rights, which may capture some of this. Hawkins wants increased clarity around the centers with parents and medical providers. Matt Sharp, with Alliance Defending Freedom, also spoke to the issue and his association’s representation of parents where they were denied to direct their physical and mental care of their child.

  • HB 1264, authored by Representative Ron Stephens (R-Savannah), amends Title 43 to authorize the Georgia Composite Board of Professional Counselors, Social Workers, and Marriage and Family Therapists to establish a professional health program to provide for monitoring and rehabilitation of impaired healthcare professionals and it authorizes the Georgia Board of Nursing to also establish a professional health program to provide for monitoring and rehabilitation of impaired healthcare professionals. It is an alternative discipline program. Georgia has other similar programs for physicians, dentists, and pharmacists. Georgia is only one of seven states that does not have a similar program for nurses; note that all southern states have a program. It allows treatment without nurses losing their licenses when they have issues such as mental illness. Hawkins is familiar with the dental program and explained that it works and is important. Representative Jesse Petrea (R-Savannah) expressed a needed route to help these nurses, particularly when there is a shortage. Representative Stephens indicated that there are current barriers so the individual can step up to get help. The legislation received a DO PASS recommendation, moving it forward to the House Rules Committee.
  • HR 1133, authored by Representative Billy Mitchell (D-Stone Mountain), is a resolution that seeks to urge Congress to pass the Kidney PATIENT Act. The Georgia Kidney Foundation brought the measure to Representative Mitchell. It will allow changes to Medicare Part D for end-stage renal disease payments. The federal legislation is bipartisan, and several states support the measure. The resolution received a DO PASS recommendation, moving it forward to the House Rules Committee.

Senate Education and Youth Committee

Chairman Clint Dixon (R-Gwinnett) called the Senate Education & Youth Committee to order Tuesday afternoon to discuss the following measures:

  • SB 147, authored by Senator Shawn Still (R-Norcross), amends Title 20 to create the “Boundless Opportunities for Georgia Students Act.” The measure allows for school system-to-school system transfer for only QBE dollars for students interested in taking virtual classes not offered in their system.

Buddy Costley, Georgia Association of Educational Leaders, expressed support for the measure and thanked the Senator for his changes. Mikayla Arciaga, Intercultural Development Research Association, expressed concerns over the measure. LC 49 1763S passed 5-4, with Dixon breaking the tie.

  • SB 459, authored by Dixon, amends Title 20 regarding civics education. The measure seeks to require the Department of Education to create an oral history resource named “Portraits of Patriotism” for grades K-12 by the 2025-2026 school year. Senator Elena Parent (D-Atlanta) asked about the definition of upright citizenry on lines 32 through 35. Senator Ed Setzler (R-Acworth) explained he felt the definition meant that the citizenry accepts responsibility and common understanding to support freedom and liberty everyone benefits from. Senator Parent expressed her concern over the subjectivity of these lines. An amendment was offered to delete lines 32 through 35. A committee discussion on upright citizenry ensued. The amendment failed 5-4. The measure passed 5-4.
  • SB 492, authored by Senator Rick Williams (R-Milledgeville), amends Title 20 relating to school transportation to create “Addy’s Law.” This measure requires any bus stop to be on the same side of the road the bus door is on, and the school system is in charge of ensuring this. The committee requested that this measure become a study committee to review the issue further.
  • SB 365, authored by Senator Greg Dolezal (R-Cumming), amends Title 20 relating to library materials. The measure allows parents to opt-in to an email when their child checks out material from the school library. The email will include the title, author, genre, and checked-out materials' return date.

Brook Mills, Nan Brown and Erin Baker, on behalf of the Georgian Librarian Association, Nora Vebetes, Tracey Nance, a former Teacher of the Year, and Ria Wench and Ella North students at Georgia State University expressed concern over the measure.

Mike Griffin from the Georgia Baptist Mission Board and Taylor Hawkins from Frontline Policy Council expressed support for the measure.

LC 49 1588 passed 5-4.

  • SB 154, authored by Senator Dolezal, amends Title 16 regarding harmful material for minors. The measure seeks to change what students have access to in a school library. Senator Dolezal explained that there were different rules of what is acceptable material in a school library versus a classroom and other school rooms. The measure seeks to remove this carve out.

Due to time constraints, SB 154 was assigned to the subcommittee, which began immediately after the full committee adjournment to hear testimony on the measure.

New Legislation

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

H.B.1294 Georgia Environmental Finance Authority; finance and perform certain duties for projects relating to natural gas facilities; authorize Rep. Clay Pirkle (R-169) https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/67124
H.B.1295 Motor vehicles; provide for failure to wear a safety belt or safety restraints for children as admissible evidence in civil actions Rep. Clay Pirkle (R-169) https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/67125
H.B.1296 Online internet safety; provide for social media age verification; provide for definitions; provide for parental permission Rep. Scott Hilton (R-048) https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/67127
H.B.1301 Health; newborn screening system to include Duchenne muscular dystrophy; require Rep. Karen Mathiak (R-074) https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/67136
H.B.1302 Medical assistance; mandatory maternal mental health screening for perinatal mood and anxiety disorders for Medicaid recipients; provide Rep. Karen Bennett (D-094) https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/67137
H.B.1306 Health; provide patients with information regarding risks of physical and psychological dependence from opioids; require prescribers Rep. Jasmine Clark (D-108) https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/67155
H.B.1309 Evidence; creative or artistic expression evidence is inadmissible at trial; provide Rep. Jasmine Clark (D-108) https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/67162
H.B.1311 Dating violence protective orders; provide for substitute service when respondent is avoiding service to delay a hearing Rep. Angela Moore (D-091) https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/67164

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

S.B.506 Pleadings and Motions; movants to file notices of uncontested motions in superior courts and state courts; authorize Sen. Josh McLaurin (D-014) https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/67135
S.B.515 Emergency Medical Services; two-year pilot program to provide additional ambulances to certain areas of this state; provide Sen. Bo Hatchett (R-050) https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/67140
S.B.516 Unfair or Deceptive Practices in Consumer Transactions; making of false or misleading statements regarding the limited supply of or the duration of discounted purchase prices for consumer goods; add example Sen. Josh McLaurin (D-014) https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/67138
S.B.517 Criminal Prosecutions; immunity from certain criminal prosecutions against law enforcement officers whose threat or use of force is justified or otherwise lawful; provide Sen. Randy Robertson (R-029) https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/67144
S.B.519 Hospitals; prescribing or administering certain hormone replacement therapies and puberty blocking medications for certain purposes to minors; prohibit Sen. Ben Watson (R-001) https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/67161
S.B.520 Domestic Relations; provisions relating to income withholding orders; change and clarify Sen. Bill Cowsert (R-046) https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/67166
S.B.521 Labor and Industrial Relations; protections for freelance workers; provide Sen. Josh McLaurin (D-014) https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/67170
S.B.523 Offenses Against Public Order and Safety; criminal offenses related to material support of terrorism; provide Sen. Bo Hatchett (R-050) https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/67169
S.B.524 Health; the certification of community health workers; provide Sen. Jason Anavitarte (R-031) https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/67171
S.R.632 "Classrooms First for Georgia Act"; importance of maximizing the expenditure of public funds for the direct benefit of student learning and teaching; recognize Sen. Jason Anavitarte (R-031) https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/67154
S.R.635 School Social Workers Association of Georgia; recognize Sen. Nikki Merritt (D-009) https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/67174

What’s Next

The General Assembly will reconvene for Legislative Day 24 on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024, at 10 a.m.

The House is expected to take up the following measures on Legislative Day 24:

  • HB 896 - Domestic relations; process by which individuals may change their married surname to previous surname following divorce; provide
  • HB 904 - Professions and businesses; contractors; change certain provisions
  • HB 1054 - Motor vehicles; issuance of refusal to sign citation; provide
  • HB 1072 - Health; drug repository program; revise definitions; provide for pharmacist to pharmacy technician ratios
  • HB 1077 - Georgia Board of Health Care Workforce; grant program to provide funding to eligible institutions for additional behavioral health workforce training positions; create

The Senate is expected to take up the following measures on Legislative Day 24:

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