Crossover Day was on Tuesday. It was a loooong day and night. The House voted on 60 bills that are now in the Senate.
We concluded the 31st day of session on Friday, which leaves only 9 more days of session! Our last official day (Sine Die) will be April 4th.
Crossover Day Information
As I’ve discussed in this newsletter before, Crossover Day is a significant day in the legislative session. This is the last day a bill must pass either the House or the Senate to stay alive for the session (with some tricky exceptions).
On Tuesday morning, look out for a special newsletter that discusses the notable bills that crossed over from the Senate. My newsletters typically focus on House bills so I wanted to give you a peek at all the Senate action heading to the House.
Then, on Tuesday evening at 7pm join Senator Sonya Halpern and me as we discuss the latest news from the Gold Dome post-crossover day and answer any of your questions. Please register here for this virtual event.
A Win for Higher Education Access!
It felt great to vote yes on House Bill 1435 on Tuesday. HB 1435 provides for “gap” funding grants for students who find themselves in need of additional funding to finish college. Higher Education changes lives and this bill makes it possible for more lives to be impacted! To watch my speech, click below.
Coin Operated Amusement Machines (COAMs)
Currently state law allows the operation of COAMs—you may have seen these machines in your local gas stations—under certain circumstances. These circumstances include the machines must have some level of “skill” involved (meaning it must not be a complete game of chance), must not pay cash to those who win (instead paying in store merchandise), and the industry must remit 10% of revenue to the Lottery for Education fund to help fund HOPE and Pre-K.
For several years, the COAM industry has asked the Legislature for certain changes in the law that will allow the industry to reap more benefits. I don’t object to some of those changes, but only if Georgia reaps more benefits as well. The current 10% contribution to HOPE and Pre-K is too low, especially given the nuisances that COAMs tend to create in our neighborhoods. So I voted against the industry request and will continue to do so until we include an increase in the HOPE/pre-K contribution. In other words, I voted no on House Bill 1424 because I do not believe it provides the adequate benefits that Georgia deserves.
To hear more on this bill, click below.
Other Votes this Week
The bill creates original jurisdiction in the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) to investigate any alleged violation of the election code.
The bill create further limits on the ability of outside groups to donate to county election administration efforts. Rather than leaving open the opportunity to donate to county commissions, the bill requires any donation, from a local in-kind donation to a large monetary grant, to go through an application process with the State Election Board (SEB).
The bill allows the SEB to appoint members of county election boards as members of a performance review board. Another such provision allows counties to allocate voting machines per 250 voters remaining who have not yet voted, as opposed to requiring one machine per active voter. A third measure clarifies mailing absentee ballot applications and the disclosure required on them and confirms that parties may make absentee ballot applications available upon request. Finally, a provision eliminates the requirements that counties send out emergency write-in ballots to voters who qualify under the federal Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA).
The bill incorporates most of the requirements of HB 1359, creating enormous administrative burdens as well as unfunded costs on counties due to “chain of custody” requirements for blank security paper as well as absentee ballots. The provisions of HB 933 also were added to this bill. These provisions would eliminate the requirement that all election records that are transferred to their local clerk of superior court be sealed, effectively making these documents open records that are subject to public inspection once they are transferred. Voted ballots are only transferred to the custody of the superior court once the election has been certified.
A few of the bill’s provisions bolster accessibility. One allows voters to take two hours off of work during the period of advanced voting to cast their ballot, in addition to election day. Another provision eliminates the requirement that counties publish the number of ballots cast on election day by 10pm that night.
The very few good items in this bill do not overcome the bad in this bill. I voted no.
Development Authority Reform
You will recall the Fulton County Development Authority being in the news in a bad way recently for excessive payments to Authority members. HB 923 aims to prevent this abuse. The bill provides that the per diem received by directors of development authorities shall not exceed the per diem allowances of members of the General Assembly. This bill also gives the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission, as well as any local ethics board, concurrent jurisdiction to enforce this law. Finally, this bill provides for the procedure when formal charges are filed against a development authority member. I voted yes.
HB 1335 adds Juneteenth as a state holiday! I’m excited for our state to recognize this holiday (already a federal holiday) that commemorates when the last enslaved people were informed they were emancipated (which was unfortunately several years after the actual Emancipation Proclamation). I voted yes.
HB 1184 seeks to make college more accessible to more students by allowing our schools to administer college entrance exams like the SAT and ACT. Currently these exams are typically off campus from our schools. Having the exams where students already are will increase access. I voted yes.
HB 1283 provides that each elementary school shall schedule recess for all students in kindergarten and grades one through five (with certain practical exceptions). Schools are also not allowed to prohibit students in kindergarten and grades one through five as a disciplinary repercussion. We are all better off with more time to MOVE! I was proud to be a co-sponsor of this bill. I voted yes.
HB 1515 allows institutions previously accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools that are now accredited by the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools to be considered an approved school for the Tuition Equalization grant. This bill only impacts Morris Brown College and Paine Colleges (both HBCUs); this would allow students at these schools to receive HOPE funding. I voted yes.
Health and Human Services
HB 1404 requires the Georgia Department of Community Health to submit a waiver request to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to authorize private institutions for mental disease to qualify for Medicaid reimbursement for treatment of individuals with mental health and substance use disorders. If the waiver is approved, the department shall take the necessary steps to provide Medicaid payment to these facilities. I voted yes.
HB 918 would create a Rare Disease Advisory Council under the auspices of the Georgia Department of Public Health to advise the General Assembly and other state agencies and departments concerning the needs of individuals with rare diseases living in Georgia. The council, whose members are appointed by the Governor, the Speaker of the House, and the Lieutenant Governor, will meet at least quarterly. The council will develop policy recommendations to improve patients’ access to quality specialists and affordable, quality healthcare coverage and treatment, and will publish resources for health care providers. The council members will also make recommendations to the Newborn Screening and Genetics Advisory Committee for rare diseases. The advisory council can solicit and accept donations, gifts, grants, property, or matching funds from both public and private sources. The council will publish annual reports to the governor and the general assembly that will include both progress and funding reports, with the first such report due no later than June 20, 2023. I voted yes.
HB 937 requires insurers providing individual accident and sickness insurance coverage for mammograms and Pap smears to provide insured females ages 40 and older with written notice of coverage for annual mammograms, as medically advised. Early detection is crucial to fighting breast cancer. I voted yes.
HB 1354 creates the Wrongful Conviction Compensation Review Panel to evaluate claims and set compensation for individuals who were wrongly convicted and incarcerated, and subsequently exonerated. This legislation will allow us to more fairly and consistently provide compensation to those wrongfully convicted. While we can never fully compensate someone who is wrongfully convicted, we should acknowledge mistakes of the State and attempt to make it right. Until this legislation, any compensation provided to those wrongfully convicted has been haphazard and rarely uniform in nature.
The panel will be made up by five members: a judge, a district attorney, a criminal defense attorney, and two professionals with expertise in wrongful convictions. The panel shall report to the Claims Advisory Board.
In order to qualify for compensation, a claimant must establish that they were convicted of a felony, they did not commit or suborn perjury or fabricate evidence, and were exonerated of the crime for which compensation is being made. The claimant must establish by a preponderance of the evidence that they have been exonerated or received a pardon based on grounds of Whip Report Legislative Day 28 March 15, 2022 2 innocence, or that they were in fact innocent. A claimant must file for compensation within three years of their eligibility or within three years of July 1, 2022, whichever is later. The panel shall collect relevant information, and then either conduct a hearing or make a provisional judgment and recommend an award to the claimant.
Awards shall be set at between $50,000 – $100,000 per year, prorated, and may also include reasonable attorneys’ fees. Dollar amounts will be adjusted annually according to the consumer price index. The panel must issue a written recommendation to the board with a statement of findings and recommended compensation. The board must adopt the recommendation and transmit it to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Georgia. If accepted, the compensation recommendation will be included in the following year’s judicial budget. I voted yes.
HB 1390 creates a legal cause of action for retaliation against a county, municipal, or consolidated government if that government takes any adverse action against the individual’s professional work relationship based on that individuals’ rejection of any sexual harassment, report of it, institution of any investigation, or testimony related to sexual harassment. This is a huge step forward for fairness in the workplace. I am a proud co-sponsor of this legislation and I voted yes.
HB 1425 attempts to provide faster relief to families awaiting access to low-THC cannabis. Legislation in 2020 created a process whereby companies could be licensed to produce low-THC cannabis in Georgia, but the process to licensure to date has been inefficient and isn’t providing the relief Georgia families need. This legislation would allow the State to begin providing product to families while rebooting the licensing procedure through a process conducted by the Department of Administrative Services under normal state purchasing laws and allow the retention of a qualified independent third party to help develop the solicitation materials and review applications. I voted yes.
HB 1421 revises the Georgia code relating to hazardous waste to allow for certain hazardous waste fees to be dedicated to the Hazardous Waste Trust Fund, until that fund reaches a total of $25 million.
The Hazardous Waste Trust Fund is supported by monies collected from hazardous waste generators, solid waste tipping fees, and various fines for violations. The Fund, which is administered by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, is used to remediate contaminated sites throughout the state. If the collection of fees were to sunset, the ability of local governments to fund the clean-up of leaking landfills, as well as abandoned and contaminated properties, would be seriously hindered. I voted yes.
HB 1041 raises the aggregate amount of tax credits allowed for contributions to rural hospital organizations from $60 million to $75 million per taxable year. Our rural hospitals need us now more than ever. I wish our State would expand Medicaid, which would provide some immediate relief for rural hospitals and those without access to health insurance. But this is at least something. I voted yes.
HB 1443 updates the definition of “food service establishment” to include mobile food service establishments (e.g., food trucks). It also mandates that once a mobile food establishment has been permitted in any county, that permit shall be recognized by all counties. This bill eases regulations on food trucks to allow Georgians to enjoy the joy of community these businesses bring.
The owner of the mobile food service establishment must submit its permit to the county board of health where it intends to operate along with the intended dates and times of operation. County public health officials must verify on the Department of Public Health’s permit inspection database that the permit is in good standing in the county of origin and in any other counties where the mobile food service establishment has been authorized to operate. The only way public health officials can refuse to accept a permit is if the permit was issued by a county outside of this state, the permit is not in good standing, or for public health and safety concerns. County boards of health may conduct inspections of mobile food service establishments operating within their counties, including unannounced. The Department of Public Health may establish an expedited permit approval and recognition process, and may develop rules and regulations regarding operations of food trucks. I voted yes.
Updated COVID-19 guidance from the CDC:
Find a vaccine
Health Department Vaccine Scheduling Resource Line
Monday – Friday 8 AM – 8 PM ET
Saturday – Sunday 8 AM – 5 PM ET
Health Department Vaccine Schedule Web Portal: https://gta-vras.powerappsportals.us/en-US/
Vaccine Finder: https://www.vaccines.gov/
Find a COVID-19 test:
DPH Testing Locations: https://dph.georgia.gov/covidtesting
Order COVID-19 at-home test:
You can request free at-home COVID-19 tests here. You can order four at-home tests per household that will be delivered by the USPS.
Find COVID-19 case and vaccine numbers
DPH Case Dashboard: https://dph.georgia.gov/covid-19-daily-status-report
DPH Vaccine Dashboard:
As always, it is an honor to represent you under the Gold Dome. Please share your thoughts on legislation and let me know if you need help with any state agency.