March 2, 2018

The legislature met three days this week with Wednesday, Day 28, being crossover day.  Wednesday was a long day since bills must pass the chamber where they originated by the end of crossover day to still be alive for this session.  The Senate completed its calendar around 9:15 Wednesday evening, but the House didn’t adjourn until after 1:00 a.m. Thursday morning.  It has been reported that the House and Senate passed over 100 bills on cross-over day.

After Delta Air Lines cancelled its discount promotion with NRA members, Lt. Governor Cagle and Senate leadership demanded the company reinstate the promotion or have a jet fuel tax break stripped from HB 918, the Governor’s tax reform bill. The Senate passed the bill without the tax break and the House agreed to the changes so the bill now goes to the Governor’s desk.

With bipartisan support, the House and Senate each passed major transit expansion bills that would affect the 13-county metro Atlanta area (SB 386 and HB 930).  Each of the bills would require referendums on increasing sales taxes for transit projects in these counties and the projects would have to be approved by a new regional board to coordinate projects across county lines and create a more seamless regional transit system. The House version also includes a 50-cent fee on taxi and ride sharing services and a 1% sales tax on airport concessions to help fund transit projects.

The House and Senate each passed broadband expansion bills also.  The Senate passed two bills by Sen. Steve Gooch, the FIBRE Act (SB 232) which would allow EMCs to provide broadband services and the BILD Act (SB 426).  The House passed Rep. Jay Powell’s HB 887 that would allow EMCs to provide broadband services and sets a pole attachment fee schedule. The bill had been amended in committee to remove a 4% fee for digital services and entertainment downloads.

The House passed a distracted driving bill (HB 673) that requires drivers to use hands-free technology when talking on cell phones.  Police officers had complained that it was impossible to enforce the current texting ban because they could not tell if a driver was texting or making a call while driving. The bill sets a minimum fine of $300 and substantially increases the points assessed for violations from the current 1 point to 2 points for the 1st offense and increasing to 6 points for the 4th offense.

Another driving bill passed by the House proposes speed cameras in school zones (HB 978). This bill would allow local governments to hire third-party companies to operate speed detection cameras with the $250 civil fines going to the local government.

The Senate passed SB 359 to help end “surprise billing” for patients who are hit with high bills from doctors after emergency room treatment because some doctors and medical services are not covered by their insurance even though the hospital is in-network.  The bill calls for these out-of-network doctors to be reimbursed by insurance companies at rates taken from a database.  For non-emergency services, it requires that hospitals and surgery centers provide a list of doctors that the facilities use which are not in-network, and it makes mediation available for surprise bills over $1000.

The House passed HB 764 which adds two diagnosed conditions to the list of approved illnesses that can be treated with low THC cannabis oil:  post-traumatic stress disorder and intractable pain after trying other available pain remedies for at least 6 months.  Rep. Allen Peake, who has championed the usage of medical marijuana for medical conditions that haven’t been responsive to other treatments, has announced that he will not seek reelection.  He had also authored a bill to establish a system in Georgia to cultivate and dispense medical marijuana under the state’s Department of Public Health, but the legislation did not progress this session.

In order to insure “hacker-proof” voting, the Senate passed SB 403 that directs the Secretary of State to replace Georgia’s current touch-screen digital voting system with a new paper-based voting system, and the bill calls for this new system to be implemented in time for the 2020 primary elections.  It has been reported that the cost to make this change could range from $35M to $125M depending on the system that is selected.

On Thursday, the House passed an amended supplemental budget and sent it back to the Senate.  The amended budget incorporated an additional $109M that became available due to Governor Deal’s increased revenue estimate.  Included in the additional spending was $4.5M for economic development grants, $1.2M to help state hospitals with the high number of flu cases, $1.6M for beach improvements at Jekyll Island, $43M for land conservation grants, and an additional $8.6M for the state’s new judicial complex that’s currently under construction.

There are 11 days left in this legislative session.  The General Assembly will reconvene on March 5 and is scheduled to meet Monday, Wednesday and Friday of next week.

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