February 17, 2017

We are halfway through this legislative session having completed 20 days as of today.  The legislature will be in recess on Monday, February 20, for Presidents’ Day, and then they will reconvene Tuesday through Friday next week.

The major action in the House this week was passage of the $25B budget for fiscal year 2018 earlier today.  Other House action this week included House passage of HB 61 which calls for consumers to pay sales tax on internet purchases and the Education committee’s first hearing of governor-supported HB 338 which aims to turn around failing schools. The House Regulated Industries committee unanimously passed SB 85, the craft brewery bill, after amending it to include distilleries.

Action in the Senate this week included Senate passage of SB 16 that amends the state’s medical marijuana law to lower the allowable level of THC from 5% to 3% and expands the diagnoses for this treatment to include autism. The Senate Insurance & Labor committee passed SB 118 which increases the age for mandatory insurance coverage of autism from 6 to 21 years.

The House and Senate agreed to the final version of the supplemental budget which Governor Deal then signed on Wednesday. Changes to the original FY 2017 budget, which goes through 6/30/17, include a 20% pay raise for state law enforcement officers and $50M for a cybersecurity center in Augusta.

On Monday, Governor Deal signed a three-year extension of the Medicaid provider fee (SB 70), also known as the hospital bed tax.  This fee will generate $311M and qualify the state for an additional $600M in federal funds for the Medicaid program.

Since Congressman Tom Price was recently confirmed as Secretary of U.S. Health and Human Services, Governor Deal called for an April 18 election to fill that congressional seat. Instead of having primary races amongst Republican and Democratic candidates to determine the top vote getters from each party who then run against each other, for this election all candidates will be listed on one ballot. If no candidate receives more than 50% of the vote, there will be a run-off between the top two finishers on June 20.  Qualifying for this race started on Monday, Feb. 13, and ended on Wednesday.  Eighteen candidates qualified to run: 11 Republicans, 5 Democrats, and 2 Independents. Some well-known names include former Secretary of State Karen Handel (R) and former state senators Dan Moody (R) and Ron Slotin (D).  Also, state Senator Judson Hill (R) announced his senate resignation February 13 to run for this seat.

As always, please do not hesitate to contact any of us if you have questions or need information on any legislative issue. All bills can be found on the state’s legislative web site, and live action can be watched in the House and Senate chambers when they are in session.

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