Session Update: Week Seven

Dale Rutledge 2019 session week 7

On Monday, February 24, 2020, the General Assembly began Week Seven of the 2020 Legislative Session. Every year, my colleagues and I meet for 40 days to work for the betterment of Georgia. This week we convened with the Senate for a joint session to hear Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold D. Melton deliver the annual State of the Judiciary address, and we conducted the people’s business in various meetings.

At the beginning of the week, the House passed a bipartisan bill further to improve the quality of Georgia’s freight rail infrastructure. House Bill 820 would establish the Georgia Freight Railroad Program within the Department of Transportation (DOT). This innovative program would enhance the State’s investment in our freight rail system by delegating projects to three subprograms that specialize in different aspects of improving freight rail across the State: rail enhancement, rail preservation, and rail industries. This legislation would allow our State to take the necessary steps to move goods more safely and efficiently.

The House also passed House Bill 987 to reform senior care in Georgia protecting elderly individuals living in personal care homes and assisted living facilities in our State. It would update Georgia’s laws to enhance senior care in personal care homes with 25 beds or more and in assisted living facilities. Direct care staff would be required to have initial and annual training, and facilities would have to maintain one direct care staff person for every 15 residents during waking hours and one for every 20 residents during non-waking hours. Additionally, assisted living facilities would need to maintain at least two direct care staff at all times and a registered nurse (RN) or licensed practical nurse (LPN) between eight and 40 hours each week. HB 987 would also require these facilities to provide timely notice to the Department of Community Health (DCH) and residents if bankruptcy impacts patient care, property eviction, or change in ownership.

Moreover, owners of these facilities would have to provide documentation to the DCH upon submission of application for licensure to prove that they can operate responsibly for at least two years. Furthermore, HB 987 would require memory care units to provide the following staff: one dementia trained staff person for every 12 residents; one licensed social worker or professional counselor for eight hours per month; one RN, LPN or certified medication aide at all times; at least two direct care staff at all times; at least one RN or LPN between eight and 40 hours on-site; and initial and annual dementia-specific training. Finally, HB 987 would impose and increase mandatory fines for any violation that causes the death or serious physical injury of a resident. This legislation would make necessary updates to our laws to make sure that there is better oversight of these facilities to protect some of our most vulnerable citizens.

We also passed House Bill 842, or Gracie’s law, which prohibits discrimination of individuals with physical and mental disabilities from receiving an organ transplant. Through this legislation, individuals who are candidates for an organ transplant would not be deemed ineligible or denied insurance coverage solely based on the individual’s physical or mental disability. HB 842 would also prohibit this type of discrimination for the following care regarding transplants: diagnostic or referral services, evaluation, surgery, counseling, and postoperative treatment and services. Federal law currently prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities, but many Georgians still experience discrimination when they need a life-saving transplant. 

The House also unanimously passed legislation this week to increase access to dental care in our State. House Bill 521 would allow non-Georgia licensed dentists and dental hygienists who are licensed and are in good standing in other states to provide dental treatment and services to low-income Georgians on a volunteer basis. This bill would authorize temporary, limited licenses to dentists and dental hygienists to practice dentistry in Georgia under the direct supervision of a Georgia-licensed dentist, and the temporary license would be valid for five days every six months. 

My colleagues and I unanimously passed another bipartisan measure this week in honor of Georgia’s veterans. Under House Bill 819, Georgia residents who are U.S. citizens and veterans of the armed forces for countries that are allies of the U.S. during a time of war or conflict would qualify for a Georgia veteran’s license. Additionally, unmarried, surviving spouses of these veterans would qualify for an honorary veteran’s license. 

Also this week, Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Herold D. Melton delivered his second annual State of the Judiciary address on Wednesday. During his address, Chief Justice Melton implored the General Assembly to continue to ensure that all Georgians, rich and poor, have access to justice. Our courts have seen a growing number of self-represented Georgians in court, and today, more than 1 million citizens in our State have represented themselves. To aid in this matter, Chief Justice Melton spoke about several initiatives around the State that offer new services and resources at our law libraries, such as self-help videos on specific legal matters that help litigants better navigate the complex legal process.

Chief Justice Melton has also formed an ad hoc committee to explore and promote best practices for transforming law libraries across the State to assist self-represented litigants. In addition to this ad hoc committee, our chief justice also established a cybersecurity committee to identify and mitigate against ransomware attacks on the State’s judicial networks. This committee is working to produce tools and solutions safeguarding the vital information entrusted to the judicial branch of government, and the committee will make specific recommendations shortly to protect our judicial branch.

He applauded Governor Brian Kemp and the General Assembly for creating the Behavioral Health Innovation and Reform Commission, which is working to identify the ways that behavioral health problems lead to entanglement with the criminal justice system. Chief Justice Melton also shared about the success of our State’s mental health courts that reduce recidivism rates, save taxpayer dollars, and provide alternative solutions for citizens struggling with mental illnesses. 

Chief Justice Melton also shared an innovative program that is helping to identify and curb gang activity by offering new pathways for juvenile offenders. Through Fulton County’s Level Up program, district attorneys and public defenders are working together with the juvenile court to identify 13 to 16-year-olds who have already committed three non-violent offenses, and the program seeks to intervene in their lives before they enter into the adult criminal justice system. The Level Up program strives to make a difference in our communities, keep vulnerable children out of gangs, and put them on a better path.

Finally, my colleagues and I honored the Turner family of Covington on the passing of Almond Turner with House Resolution 915. Turner was a police officer of the Covington Police Department. We continue to send our condolences to the family and Covington Community. 

The House also passed the following legislation during the seventh week of session:

House Bill 417, which would provide regulations for trauma scene cleanup services and would require those who offer professional trauma scene cleanup services to register with the Georgia Secretary of State;

House Bill 463, which would change the description of the type of three-wheeled motor vehicle that a driver with a Class C driver’s license is permitted to drive;

House Bill 555, which would add Division of Family and Children Services case managers to a list of officials for whom an evidentiary hearing is required before issuing an arrest warrant for offenses alleged to have been committed while in performance of their duties;

House Bill 583, which would create additional regulations for the travel insurance industry to establish uniform meanings of key terms and clarify sales practices and application of Georgia’s unfair trade practice laws;

House Bill 664, which would allow full-time employees of the Georgia General Assembly’s Office of Legislative Counsel, who are in good standing with the State Bar of Georgia, to become members of the Judicial Retirement System of Georgia (JRS); 

House Bill 752, which would require psychologists, physical therapists and physical therapist assistants to submit a fingerprint record check report conducted by the Georgia Crime Information Center and the Federal Bureau of Investigation in order to receive a Georgia license;

House Bill 779, which would modify the distribution of proceeds for ad valorem taxes on motor vehicles to counties, municipalities and school districts;

House Bill 799, which would bring driving under the influence (DUI) of controlled substances and marijuana in line with alcohol DUIs by giving Georgia’s trial judges the discretion to reinstate a driving license early or allow for a limited driving permit;

House Bill 808, which would allow vehicles owned by a dealer to remain exempt from the Title Ad Valorem Tax for up to 45 days when the vehicle is used as a loaner vehicle;

House Bill 838, which would change the name of the Department of Public Safety’s Office of Public Safety Officer Support to the Office of Public Safety Support;

House Bill 846, which would create the direct pay reporting program to allow qualified taxpayers to accrue and pay sales and use taxes owed directly to the Department of Revenue;

House Bill 893, which would reduce the frequency of Special Insurance Fraud Fund assessments from quarterly to annually.

Each week, you can return to my blog to read updates on what the General Assembly is working on for the State of Georgia. You are always welcome to visit me at my capitol office located at 601-C Coverdell Legislative Office Bldg. Atlanta, GA 30334. You can view my committee assignments for the legislative term here. Please feel free to contact me by phone at 404.656.0254, or by email at dale.rutledge@house.ga.gov. Don’t hesitate to reach out throughout the legislative session with any opinions or questions you may have.

I look forward to hearing from you!

Below, I’ve listed out leaders from both chambers. You can click through each of their names to find more information about them.

House:

Speaker of the House: David Ralston

Speaker Pro Tempore: Jan Jones

Majority Leader: Jon Burns

Majority Whip: Trey Kelley

Majority Caucus Chair: Matt Hatchett

Majority Caucus Vice-Chair: Micah Gravley

Minority Leader: Robert Trammell

Minority Whip: William Boddie

Minority Caucus Chair: James Beverly

Minority Caucus Vice-Chair: Erica Thomas

Senate:

President Pro Tempore: Butch Miller

Majority Leader: Mike Dugan

Majority Whip: Steve Gooch

Majority Caucus Chair: John Kennedy

Majority Caucus Vice-Chair: Larry Walker

Minority Leader: Steve Henson

Minority Whip: Harold Jones

Minority Caucus Chair: Gloria Butler

Minority Caucus Vice-Chair: Emanuel Jones