March 22, 2019

The General Assembly convened three days this week, taking off Tuesday and Wednesday for committee work days.  Many bills were vetted, amended and passed during the two committee days. There are now five days remaining in this session.

On Tuesday, Republican attorney James Burchett won the run-off election for House District 176.  He defeated the Republican Chair of the Lanier County Board of Education, Franklin Patten. This seat was vacated by Rep. Jason Shaw after the November election when he accepted an appointment to the Ga. Public Service Commission.

The Senate Appropriations Committee released the Senate version of the FY 2020 budget on Thursday.  The Senate Rules committee met Friday evening and put the budget on the Senate calendar for Monday.

The House Special Committee on Access to Quality Health Care passed Gov. Kemp’s “Patients First Act” (SB 106). This bill gives the governor authority to request federal waivers so the state can design programs to insure Georgians up to 100% of the federal poverty level.  Some legislators have opposed the bill saying that it does not go far enough and it should cover people up to 138%.

On Wednesday, the Senate Finance Committee amended HB 186 to include a certificate of need (CON) provision allowing expansion of the Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA) hospital, but the amended bill does not permit outpatient surgery centers.  Governor Kemp has stated that he supports significant changes in CON.

The Senate Finance Committee also amended the bill that provides a 20-year exemption on jet fuel taxes (HB 447) to include a 10-cent/gallon excise tax on all aviation fuel as well as adding the bill creating a state authority to manage the Atlanta airport (SB 131).

On Thursday, the Senate Regulated Industries Committee heard testimony for about two hours on medical access to low THC oil (HB 324).  While many Georgians are now allowed to possess the oil due to their health conditions, there is currently no production in the state and transporting the oil across state lines is against federal law.  This bill would license in-state marijuana growers, manufacturers and dispensaries. Chairman Cowsert said the committee will continue hearing testimony on HB 324 on Tuesday of next week.

Last month, the Ga. Supreme Court ruled that a DUI suspect’s refusal to take a breathalyzer test can’t be used against him in court.  Because of this ruling, legislation was introduced in both House and Senate. Suspected DUI drivers can still voluntarily agree to take a breath test, but officers can no longer tell suspects that refusal of a breath test can be used against them in court. If suspects decline to take the breath test, they can be taken in for blood tests to determine their blood alcohol level.  HB 471 has passed the House and Senate and now goes to the governor.

The massive 71-page transportation bill (HB 511) was heard in the Senate Transportation Committee this week.  The bill would use taxes on rides for hire (taxis, limos, Uber, etc.) to fund transport programs for low-income residents who could not otherwise afford transportation.  It would divide the state into eight zones for transit planning purposes, and individual counties could raise sales taxes for transit construction and operation.  The bill would also consolidate all of the state’s transit services into a single agency.  GDOT has voiced opposition to the bill because of this provision.

Senate Regulated Industries and House Energy, Utilities & Telecommunications committees are continuing to meet on several House and Senate bills dealing with broadband expansion (SB 2, SB 17, HB 23, HB 499) and small cell (SB 66, HB 184) that are still alive and able to be passed this session.

The Senate ran until dinner time yesterday due to a 4½ hour debate on the “Living Infants Fairness and Equality (LIFE) Act,” HB 481.  The bill, also known as the “heartbeat” bill, passed with a vote of 34-18 along party lines.