The 2015 legislative session of the Georgia General Assembly is now complete. This year, I am pleased that the Senate and House of Representatives voted to approved the following bills that I co-sponsored:
- SB 51, which would authorize pharmacists and pharmacies to substitute interchangeable biological products.
- SB 138, which would provide for various reforms regarding the state’s child welfare system.
- SB 164, which would provide for positive behavioral interventions and supports and response to intervention initiatives.
I was also the Senate sponsor of successful legislation (HB 515) calling for a referendum on the incorporation of the City of Tucker.
Gov. Nathan Deal has until May 12 to sign any legislation passed during this year’s session into law or veto any bills.
Even though this year’s session is over, I hope you will continue to contact me with your views on the issues, or whenever I can be of service to you.
State Senator, District 41
Autism coverage requirement wins approval
The Senate and House of Representatives gave final approval to legislation requiring Georgia insurance carriers to cover the costs of treatments for young autism patients.
The Senate amended HB 429 to include provisions of SB 1, under which health insurers will provide autism spectrum disorder treatment coverage for children ages 6 and under. Benefits are limited to $30,000 per year, and the measure incorporates insurance guidelines for the diagnosis and treatment of autism in young patients.
Additionally, HB 429 prohibits health insurance plans, including Medicaid and the State Health Benefit Plan, from denying coverage for or placing restrictions on end-of-life care.
HB 429 now goes to Gov. Nathan Deal for his signature.
Transportation funding act awaits Governor’s signature
The Senate and House reached final agreement March 31 on legislation to generate an estimated $900 million in additional annual funding for maintenance and improvements to Georgia’s roads, bridges and transit systems.
As approved, HB 170 would consolidate the state’s current excise and sales taxes on motor fuel into a single excise tax of 26 cents per gallon for gasoline and 29 cents per gallon for diesel fuel. Those rates would be adjusted annually to reflect changes in fuel efficiency standards
To make up for potential losses in sales tax revenue, county governments would be able to seek voter approval for a local sales tax of up to 1 percent, in .05 percent increments, on motor fuel. The legislation would also implement a $5 per night state hotel/motel tax and eliminate Georgia’s current tax exemption on jet fuel for airline carriers.
Additional revenue would come from the elimination of a $5,000 state income tax credit on the purchase of an electric vehicle and the establishment of a new annual fee on electric vehicles of $200 for cars and $300 for commercial vehicles, whose owners use the highway system but pay no motor fuel taxes. An annual fee of $50 to $100 would also be charged on heavy trucks.
The legislation also specifically requires the Georgia Transportation Infrastructure Bank to make every effort to balance any loans or other financial assistance equally among all regions of the state and authorizes preference to eligible projects in tier 1 and tier 2 counties, as designated by economic statistics, as well as projects with local financial support.
To become law, HB 170 needs only to be signed by Gov. Nathan Deal, who has already announced he will do so.
Lawmakers approve budget for fiscal year 2016
On March 31, the Senate and House voted overwhelmingly to approve a $21.8 billion annual state budget plan for fiscal year 2016, which begins July 1.
As approved, the budget reflects an estimated revenue increase of $900 million, or 4.6 percent, over the current year. The majority of new funds will go toward K-12 education, with additional appropriations going to local school systems for eliminating furlough days, raising teacher pay and continuing health insurance coverage for bus drivers and cafeteria workers. Education accounts for 55 percent of the overall budget.
The final version of the budget legislation (HB 76) includes the following appropriations:
- $280 million to restore previous Quality Basic Education funding cuts to local school systems.
- $100 million for repairing bridges.
- $94 million to fully fund the Teachers Retirement System.
- $17 million in additional state payments to Medicaid providers.
- $3 million to improve the financial health of struggling rural hospitals.
- $2.5 million for the Georgia Film Academy to train workers for the film and video industry.
The budget also includes a $1.1 billion bond package for new construction projects, including $75 million for transportation improvements.
Senate approves New Markets Jobs Act
The Senate also gave final approval to the Georgia New Markets Jobs Act (HB 439), which is intended to assist underserved and rural areas by allowing for an investment fund to help put more capital investments for small businesses in those areas.
Through tax credits, New Markets initiatives help entrepreneurial small businesses owners create private sector jobs and expand their businesses. The success of the federal New Markets program has encouraged 14 states to enact similar legislation. Studies of the federal and state programs show they pay for themselves by creating more new revenue, which exceeds the cost of the tax credits.
The Senate amended the bill by adding the Invest Georgia Tax Credit, which establishes a venture capital fund to make investments in Georgia-based businesses to keep jobs in Georgia.
HB 439 now awaits the Governor’s signature to become law.
The Senate also approved the following House-originated legislation, sending it to Gov. Deal for his signature:
- HB 3, which would impose criminal penalties on sports agents and memorabilia dealers who knowingly entice a college student-athlete to violate rules that could cause his or her suspension.
- HB 17, the Hidden Predator Act, which would increase the statute of limitations for the filing of a civil claim by a victim of childhood sexual abuse.
- HB 70, which would designate the white-tailed deer as Georgia’s official state mammal.
- HB 162, which would allow insurance companies to conduct self-audits to ensure practices are legally compliant.
- HB 185, which would require life insurers to adopt the Principle-Based Reserving method, the new standard for calculating life insurance reserves from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.
- HB 190, which would require ride-sharing network compan ies such as Uber and Lyft to maintain commercial liability insurance coverage for their drivers.
- HB 192, which would authorize local development authorities to construct and maintain health care facilities through public and private funding.
- HB 225, which would require drivers for ride-sharing companies such as Uber and Lyft to undergo criminal background checks and require the companies to pay state sales taxes, as currently required by law, or an annual fee for each car in their networks.
- HB 232, which would create the State Board of Hearing Aid Dealers and Distributors.
- HB 233, which would revise the state’s civil forfeiture law dealing with the handling and disposition of cars, cash and other contraband seized by law enforcement officers.
- HB 279, which would increase the salaries of Georgia’s Supreme Court justices, Court of Appeals and Superior Court judges, district attorneys and public defenders, as well as add three new judges’ positions to the Court of Appeals.
- HB 310, which would revise the state’s system of probation supervision, particularly for misdemeanor offenders imposing new transparency requirements on private companies that provide those services. The bill would also combine the supervision functions of three state agencies into a new Department of Community Supervisions.
- HB 312, which would eliminate the required filing of a performance bond for tobacco manufacturers and importers.
- HB 461, which would further crack down on metal theft by imposing stricter conditions on the sale of scrap catalytic converters to secondary recyclers in Georgia.
- HB 475, which would remove restrictions on the hunting or trapping of feral hogs at night by persons with proper state permits.
The following legislation failed to achieve final passage but is still pending for the 2016 session:
- SB 129, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
- SB 184, which would have prohibited city and county governments from regulating or banning specific breeds of dogs in their jurisdictions.
- HB 194, which would have reduced the early voting period for Georgia elections.
- HB 514, which would have authorized a referendum on the incorporation of the proposed city of South Fulton.