March 6, 2020

Election qualifying started Monday and ran all week, so the Capitol was crowded with numerous politicians paying fees and registering for legislative and statewide races. A list of candidates qualifying for these races can be found on the Secretary of State’s website.  The legislature was in session four days and is in recess today.  We have now completed 25 days of the 40-day session.

Healthcare issues were prominent in the House this week.  The House overwhelmingly passed two healthcare bills on Tuesday and three pharmacy bills on Wednesday, all of which aim to help consumers and lower costs.  HB 789 would require insurance companies to post online which hospitals are in their network along with the anesthesiologists, pathologists, radiologists and emergency room doctors who are covered.    HB 888, which is identical to SB 359 that passed the Senate last week, protects insured patients from getting “surprise bills” for out-of-network doctors who treated them when they went to an in-network facility or when they were treated in out-of-network facilities in emergency situations. HB 946 extensively reforms current regulations of pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs).  HB 918 puts restrictions on pharmacy audits conducted by PBMs and limits how much pharmacies would have to reimburse PBMs for errors.  HB 947 would allow the state to remove PBMs from the state Medicaid plan if the state would save over $20M by self-managing Medicaid pharmacy benefits.

The Senate passed a mid-year budget on Wednesday and it now goes to a conference committee so House and Senate conferees can work on a compromise between their two versions. The Senate passed a PBM regulation bill, SB 313, yesterday which mirrors Rep. Knight’s HB 946.  They also passed HB 105, which would allow a state income tax exemption on hurricane relief after amending it in Senate Finance to include a 50-cent per ride fee for Uber/Lyft rideshare services.  This fee would be in lieu of Uber and Lyft paying sales tax under HB 276 which passed earlier this session and has been signed by the Governor to go into effect April 1. Senate Public Safety passed a revision to the Hands-Free Georgia Act, SB 479, which would lower fines to $25 – $100 to be decided by a judge and eliminates the ability for first-time offenders to avoid a fine if they get a hands-free device; however, unlike the House version (HB 113), this bill does not prohibit drivers under 18 from using electronic devices while driving. Late yesterday, Senate Regulated Industries heard SB 411 regarding the ongoing battle between EMCs and communications service providers over the cost of pole attachments and its effect on broadband expansion.  There was a sharp division of opinions within the committee on this issue, but the bill was amended and passed.

Presentations by House Appropriations subcommittee chairs are scheduled to begin at 7:00 a.m. on Monday, then we anticipate the full Committee will pass the FY 2021 budget and it could be considered by the House as early as Tuesday.

In the special election runoff held on Tuesday to fill the vacant seat in Senate District 13, real estate broker and former Crisp County Commissioner Carden Summers (R) defeated former Leesburg Mayor Jim Quinn (R) by about 500 votes.

The legislature will be in session three days next week with crossover day scheduled for Thursday.  Crossover day is the last opportunity this session for bills to pass the chamber where they were introduced and cross to the other chamber.

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