March 1, 2019

The legislature met all five days this week and we have now completed 25 legislative days. Cross-over day is next Thursday.  This is the day that all bills must have passed the house where they originated in order to still be available for passage this session.  Several big issues passed this week that have had a lot of press coverage.

The House Appropriations Committee passed the $27.5 billion FY ’20 budget Wednesday morning; the budget was then passed by the full House yesterday.  The budget includes a 2-percent salary increase for state and University System employees, a $2,775 raise for teachers, and $150M for new voting machines.

After much debate, the House voted 101-72 to pass Rep. Fleming’s elections bill (HB 316) which would authorize a new voting system.  This new system would move the state from the current direct-recording electronic machines to ballot-marking machines that would print a paper ballot for the voter to confirm their vote.

The Senate passed Governor Kemp’s “Patients First Act” (SB 106) along party lines with a vote of 32-20.  This bill would allow the Governor to request federal waivers for Medicaid expansion, but it does not expand it to the degree required under the Affordable Care Act. The bill would also allow the state to design a health insurance support program for the ACA exchange market.  Democrats opposed the bill saying that it doesn’t cover enough persons and that it would give too much power to the Governor.

The Senate Transportation Committee passed the “Georgia Major Airport Authority Act” (SB 131) after amending the bill to include language that the state would not take over if the state and city agreed to a “joint governance plan” for the airport before the amended effective date of July 1, 2020.  The bill now goes onto the general calendar in the Senate Rules Committee.

Rep. Tanner introduced a major transportation funding bill (HB 511) on Wednesday that would replace the current state sales tax on transportation services with a 50-cent fee to be charged for all taxi, limo and ride-hailing trips and a 25-cent fee on shared rides.  It is estimated that this would produce $30M to $60M annually.  The bill also reorganizes current transportation agencies by eliminating the Ga. Regional Transit Authority and placing the State Road and Tollway Authority and Atlanta-Region Transit Link Authority under a new entity to be called the Ga. Department of Mobility and Innovation.  Two other provisions in the bill would create a voucher program for unemployed residents who need transportation to work or school, and tax credits for employers who provide transportation such as van pools for their employees to get to work.

The certificate of need (CON) issue continues to be debated.  The House Access to Quality Healthcare Special Committee had previously passed Rep. Hatchett’s CON bill (HB 198), but it was returned to committee for further revision. A substitute bill was amended and passed by the Committee this morning. The most significant change in this bill was the restoration of CON to allow existing medical parties within a 35-mile radius of a proposed medical facility to object. The bill was also amended to return the pool of available tax credits to $60M for taxpayers making contributions to rural hospitals.