Session Update: Week Eleven

On Monday, June 22, 2020, the Georgia General Assembly reconvened at the State Capitol for the final week of the 2020 legislative session. My colleague and I were in session every day last week and voted on more than 100 bills and resolutions. The last day of this extraordinary session was Legislative Day 40, or “Sine Die,” which is a Latin term meaning “without assigning a day for further meeting.” We worked long hours most days last week and passed many vital bills that will now go to Governor Brian Kemp for consideration.

We fulfilled our only constitutional obligation last week when we passed House Bill 793, which sets our state’s budget for Fiscal Year 2021 (FY 2021) starting on July 1, 2020. Earlier in the week, Governor Kemp reduced his FY 2021 revenue estimate from more than $28.1 billion to approximately $25.9 billion, a reduction by $2.19 billion, or 7.8 percent. Despite the reduction that were required to balance the FY 2021 budget, the General Assembly maintained its priorities by restoring cuts and mitigating reductions to the greatest extent possible to several essential areas, including services for Georgia’s most vulnerable citizens, such as those with disabilities and mental health disorders; health care access; the criminal justice system; and public education. 

Our largest single expenditure in the budget is Georgia’s K-12 education system, which totals $9.6 billion, or 44.1 percent, of the state general funds portion of the budget. The Quality Basic Education (QBE) formula and corresponding grants are reduced by $950.2 million to reflect a temporary decline in state revenues. However, the FY 2021 budget reflects federal funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, including $457 million through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund and $144.5 million through the Child Care and Development Block Grant. The FY 2021 budget also provides the Department of Education (DOE) with $141.7 million for enrollment growth and training and experience, accounting for 1,438 new teachers and corresponding health insurance costs, and it also maintains full funding for Georgia Pre-K.

The FY 2021 budget also recognizes other vital educational needs. The Georgia Student Finance Commission would receive $54 million in additional funds in the FY 2021 budget to provide a projected 439,041 total awards across all HOPE scholarship and grant programs. HB 793 also provides $1 million in new funds to expand the REACH Scholarship Program to include 13 new school systems in the coming year. Our budget accounts for $157 million in CARES Act funding for the University System of Georgia and more than $37 million in such funds for the Technical College System of Georgia; approximately $36 million of those funds were awarded to historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and minority-serving institutions across the state. HB 793 also accounts for nearly $12 million in additional federal funds for the Workforce Innovation and Opportunities Act; those funds are currently available to the state’s Workforce Opportunities Zones to assist workers affected by the economic impact of COVID-19. We also restored $3.2 million to fully fund the Georgia Public Library System’s materials grants, which are especially vital for rural and smaller systems, to provide resources that are utilized more than 36 million times annually by Georgians.

One area of the FY 2021 budget that my colleagues and I have worked hard to preserve during this difficult time is funding for health care in Georgia. HB 793 provides $268.7 million for growth in the Medicaid programs to meet the projected need and $165.4 million in savings due to a temporary 6.2 percent increase in the Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP) rate through the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act. We also restored $13.9 million in reductions to the public health grants to counties and eliminated 12 furlough days proposed for the Department of Public Health (DPH) to minimize the impact on the county public health departments which are on the front lines fighting the spread of COVID-19. The FY 2021 budget also accounts for $261.7 million dollars in federal funds for COVID-19 testing from the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act. To further support health care in rural Georgia, we also restored the $463,000 cut to the Rural Health Systems Innovation Center at Mercer University School of Medicine. HB 793 also adds $12 million to the existing $3 million for the Rural Hospital Stabilization program to further support its work to identify solutions for the state’s rural hospitals. The final budget bill also restores $1.5 million in proposed cuts for maternal mortality prevention grants to Georgia hospitals. 

Another area of the state budget we worked to protect is funding for agencies that provide services to some of Georgia’s most vulnerable citizens. The FY 2021 budget restores $53.5 million to the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, the Department of Human Services (DHS) and the Department of Veterans Services. This funding restores over 200 positions and prevents the furlough of nearly 9,500 state employees. We restored $46 million in the state’s Out of Home Care program and $1.4 million to DHS to prevent the closure of 54 Department of Families and Children Services (DFCS) offices statewide, which would have been 33 percent of the division’s offices. This budget bill also restores $6 million for behavioral core services, $2.5 million for 95 new crisis beds to serve nearly 5,000 people across the state and $3.6 million for addiction and recovery services. Furthermore, $5.6 million in new funds were added for 100 new NOW/COMP waivers for the intellectually and developmentally disabled.

The General Assembly also passed one of the most important bipartisan bills of the legislative session, historic hate crimes legislation. House Bill 426 was first passed by the House during the 2019 legislative session, and due to recent events around our state and country, it was more vital than ever that we pass this legislation. Under the final version of House Bill 426, anyone convicted of a crime that has been determined to have been committed because of the individual’s belief or perception regarding race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender, mental disability or physical disability will be subject to increased penalties for these crimes. The sentencing for a designated misdemeanor hate crime, such as simple assault, simple battery, battery, criminal trespass and misdemeanor theft, will range from six to twelve months of jail time and a fine up to $5,000. Offenders of a felony hate crime will face a minimum of two years in prison along with a fine up to $5,000. Governor Kemp signed HB 426 on the final day of the legislative session on Friday, June 26. This momentous bill addresses a gap in Georgia law to provide vital protections for all Georgians, and this bill sends a strong message that there is no room for hate in Georgia. 

The House passed Senate Bill 313 to increase transparency and address excessive prescription drug pricing by pharmacy benefits managers (PBM), which are companies that manage prescription drug benefits on behalf of health insurers. SB 313 mirrors House Bill 946, which received final passage this week and will go to the governor for consideration. Under the amended version of these bills, physicians employed or contracted by a PBM could only provide advisement within a specialty they have worked in for the past five years. Additionally, when the Department of Community Health (DCH) enters into PBM contracts, the department would be encouraged to require the use of a licensed Georgia physician for prior authorization, step therapy appeals or determination reviews for contracts and amendments entered into with a PBM. DCH would also have authority over PBM audits that affect those enrolled in Medicaid and state benefit plans. In this version of the legislation, PBM pricing methodologies submitted to the Department of Insurance (DOI) would remain confidential. These bills would also require PBMs to pass on 100 percent of all rebates that it receives from pharmaceutical manufacturers to patient’s health insurance plan. If signed into law, our state would have one of the toughest laws in the nation that addresses PBMs and ensures that prescription drug costs remain fair and transparent for all Georgians.

Before the end of Legislative Day 38, the House passed House Bill 1114, which would extend the duration of postpartum Medicaid coverage for new mothers from two months to six months. Included in this legislation is a provision for lactation care and services for expectant and new mothers, as well as children who are nursing. Furthermore, the FY 2021 budget added $19.7 million for this postpartum Medicaid coverage and $125,000 to provide lactation care and services for new mothers. My colleagues in the House Study Committee on Maternal Mortality spent the previous year studying Georgia’s maternal mortality rates and recommended this legislative measure, and we will continue our work to develop strategies to combat this terrible crisis.

My colleagues and I passed Senate Bill 321 to increase the number of important medical workers in hospitals across the state, especially in areas like rural Georgia, which has experienced doctor shortages in recent years. SB 321 would raise the number of physician’s assistants who work under a doctor to four, as well as the same number of advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) who work underneath a doctor to four. This bill would also improve the scope of practice for APRNs by authorizing APRNs to order radiographic imaging tests in non-life threatening situations if directed to do so by a physician; this would be vital to ensuring that patients in areas with less doctors can receive their care in a timely manner. SB 321 is one more way the legislature is working to improve access to quality health care across the state.

We also passed Senate Bill 367 to reduce the number of state assessments given to Georgia students. SB 367 would eliminate the fifth grade end-of-grade social studies assessment and reduce the number of end-of-course assessments in high school from eight to four. To maximize instruction time in the classroom, this bill would require school systems to administer the state required end-of-grade test for grades three through eight within 25 school days of the last day of school. This bill would also authorize DOE to conduct an analysis of locally implemented assessments and provide guidance to eliminate redundant tests to improve student achievement. Not only would this bill allow the state to redirect critical state funding for other educational needs, but it would allow teachers to perform their jobs more effectively without having to focus their time on early testing deadlines or an excess of state assessments every year.

Here are a few bills we gave final passage to I would like to highlight:

  • Senate Bill 294: Allow the Teachers Retirement System of Georgia to invest in alternative investments
  • Senate Bill 336: Add the Meritorious Service Medal to the list of military medals that are available for special license plates and would create a special and distinctive license plate for past or present members of United States Army Ranger units or graduates of the United States Army Ranger School
  • Senate Bill 340: Establish September 1 as the annual Childhood Cancer Awareness Day in Georgia
  • Senate Bill 359: The “Georgia COVID-19 Pandemic Business Safety Act,” creates certain immunities from liability claims regarding COVID-19 for health care facilities, health care providers, entities or individuals
  • Senate Bill 375: Raise the age for purchasing and possessing tobacco and nicotine vapor products to 21 years old; this bill would also raise excise taxes for vaping products to match tobacco products and would establish further regulations for this industry
  • Senate Bill 416: Reduce the salary for the lieutenant governor by 14 percent and the members of the Georgia General Assembly by 10 percent for Fiscal Year 2021
  • Senate Bill 435: The “First Survivors Act,” protects proven victims of human trafficking from sentencing and punishment for crimes committed while being trafficked
  • House Bill 86: Allow teachers to appeal a summative personnel evaluation to an independent third party or an administrator in the system office, and local administration would develop a complaint review policy for teachers to appeal an evaluation by July 1, 2021, and submit the policy to the Department of Education
  • House Bill 823: Provide that a person who knowingly uses a commercial motor vehicle in the commission of sexual or labor trafficking crimes would be disqualified as a commercial motor vehicle driver for life
  • House Bill 991: Create the Health Care Transparency and Accountability Oversight Committee to have the authority to review the performance and conduct of all state health care plan contractors and their subcontractors
  • House Bill 1090: Require employers to provide break time to employees who need to express breast milk.
  • Senate Bill 68: Increase training requirements for local boards of education by adding financial management training, and it would require all previous annual training requirements to be completed before becoming eligible for re-election

Now that the 2020 legislative session has come to an end, Governor Kemp will begin reviewing the legislation that passed in both the House and Senate, where he can veto or sign bills into law, which you can keep up with at https://gov.georgia.gov/executive-action/legislation. Even though the legislature has adjourned, I remain dedicated to serving the families and businesses in House District 109. I hope that you will contact me with any questions or concerns you may have regarding the legislation that may become law in the next few weeks or with any legislative recommendations to better our state. Please feel free to contact me by phone at 404.656.0254, or by email at dale.rutledge@house.ga.gov. 

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

Session Update: Week Ten

On Monday, June 15, my colleagues and I in the Georgia General Assembly returned to the State Capitol to resume the 2020 legislative session. We suspended the legislation session indefinitely on March 13 due to the growing threat of the Coronavirus (COVID-19). During this unprecedented time, Speaker David Ralston appointed a bipartisan House committee to develop protocols on how to safely conduct the remaining eleven legislative days of the session. When we returned to the Gold Dome this week, things were certainly different than when we were last in session. After a more than two month hiatus, we picked up where we left off, committees got back to work, and we voted on legislation in the House chamber six days this week. 

The threat of COVID-19 reshaped how we conduct business in many ways, but it did not stop the House from working to serve Georgians across our state. The House conducted its first official virtual committee hearings while session was suspended, which allowed us to continue to discuss important issues from earlier in the session. Before we returned this week, additional safety guidelines were put in place, including measures to promote social distancing, at the State Capitol to allow us to meet in-person once again.

One of the most important topics of discussion during the remainder of the session is the Fiscal Year 2021 (FY 2021) budget, which begins July 1, 2020. Our state experienced a drop in tax revenue as a result of COVID-19, which includes a projected loss of more than $1 billion in April and $178 million in May compared to 2019. As a result, the House and Senate Appropriations committees held several virtual hearings ahead of our return to session to discuss how the additional loss of revenue will impact the FY 2021 budget. This week, the Senate passed its version of the FY 2021 budget, and a conference committee was appointed to work out the differences between the House and Senate versions of the budget.

A number of other House bills also passed in the Senate this week, some of which were sent to the Governor’s desk to be signed into law. Our Senate counterparts passed House Bill 849, which is one of three legislative measures proposed by Governor Brian Kemp to combat human trafficking in Georgia. If enacted into law, it would impose a lifetime commercial driver’s license ban in Georgia for those who have been convicted of a human trafficking crime. The Senate also gave final passage to House Bill 820, a recommendation of the Georgia Commission on Freight and Logistics, to establish the Department of Transportation’s Georgia Freight Railroad Program to enhance the state’s investment in our freight rail system. House Bill 888 was also sent to the Governor, which protects patients from unexpected medical bills if they unknowingly receive treatment by out-of-network doctors in emergency situations.

We also took time this week to honor the life and memory of the late State Senator Jack Hill, who served as the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee for a number of years. Sen. Hill was a selfless leader and was loved by many in the legislature. He exemplified his dedication to Georgians by the way he helped shepherd countless state budgets through the legislative process. My colleagues and I will continue to remember him as we work to finalize the FY 2021 budget without our dear colleague for the first time in many years.

During the tenth week of the 2020 legislative session, my colleagues and I also passed the following bills and resolutions in the House chamber:

  • House Resolution 1507: Amend the Rules for the House to allow for official virtual or electronic meetings during emergency circumstances as authorized by the speaker of the House. In these instances, public meetings would be available virtually and electronically

  • Senate Bill 38: Create a method for counties to abolish a county police department and transfer the law enforcement functions of that department to the sheriff of the county; if approved, the county police department would be abolished 180 days after a local referendum. This law would be repealed on January 1, 2022.

  • Senate Bill 303: Require each insurer, except health maintenance organizations, to provide the following information to the public through interactive mechanisms on its website: comparisons of payment amounts accepted by in-network providers for health care services; obtain an estimate of the average amount accepted by in-network providers for the health care services; obtain an estimate of the out-of-pocket costs that a person would owe his or her provider for a health care service; and compare quality metrics applicable to in-network providers for major diagnostic categories

  • Senate Bill 306: Establish the Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology Interstate Compact to allow Georgia to facilitate interstate practice of audiology and speech-language pathology

  • Senate Bill 345: Allow non-profit organizations to prepare and provide food in accordance with Department of Public Health requirements

  • Senate Bill 346: Authorize the State Board of Veterinary Medicine to operate a professional health program to provide monitoring and rehabilitation services to impaired veterinarians in the state. The bill would also add and set the terms for a seventh member, who would be a registered veterinary technician, to the board

  • Senate Bill 430: Allow home school or private school students to enroll in a college and career academy in the student’s resident school system if space is available; the State Board of Education would oversee this new rule, and the local board of education would earn FTE funds for each student who participates in one or more courses at such college and career academy

  • Senate Bill 431: Allow for an on-time graduation rate; the on-time graduation rate would be a parallel graduate rate that only includes the four-year cohort of students that attend a school continuously the previous four years

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

Session Update: Week Nine

On Monday, March 9, 2020, the General Assembly began Week Nine of the 2020 Legislative Session. Every year, my colleagues and I meet for 40 days to work for the betterment of Georgia. On Thursday, March 12, we reached Legislative Day 28, or “Cross Over Day.” Cross Over Day is a critical deadline in the General Assembly, as it is the last day a piece of legislation can pass out of its original chamber and remain eligible for consideration by the opposite legislative chamber. On Cross Over Day, my colleagues and I worked late into the night to pass several House bills, which will now be considered by the Senate.

An important announcement came during the ninth week of the session as Speaker of the House David Ralston and Lt. Governor Geoff Duncan decided to suspend the 2020 legislative session until further notice due to the growing threat of COVID-19 (coronavirus) across the state and country. The suspension is out of an abundance of caution for public safety. We suspended the legislative session indefinitely after we adjourned for Legislative Day 29 on Friday, March 13.

Before we suspended the legislative session, the House passed the most critical piece of legislation of the session, House Bill 793, which is the Fiscal Year 2021 (FY 2021) budget. The FY 2021 budget is at a revenue estimate of $28.1 billion. HB 793 demonstrates the House’s ongoing support of expanded mental health care and crisis intervention services, access to quality health care, and restoring grants for county health departments and public libraries. It also includes the reinstatement of funds to ensure a fully-functioning criminal justice system, including adequate funding for public defenders, accountability courts, and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) crime labs. 

This week, the House also passed House Bill 1114, which would allow the Department of Community Health (DCH) to pursue a Medicaid waiver to extend postpartum health care coverage for mothers for a period of up to six months following birth. Under the bill, the DCH could also submit a Medicaid waiver to provide coverage for lactation care and services for new mothers who are trying or struggling to breastfeed their babies. 

We also passed legislation this week to provide paid parental leave to all of Georgia’s state employees as their families grow. House Bill 1094 will provide approximately 246,000 state employees with three weeks, or 120 hours, of paid leave upon the birth, adoption, or foster care placement of a child. The paid parental leave benefit would apply to state employees with six months of creditable service regardless of the employee’s gender. It would be limited to once in any 12 months, and this benefit will not impact the employee’s accrued leave or rights under any family medical leave policy.         

The House also passed legislation this week to reform and lower personal income taxes for Georgians. House Bill 949 will reduce Georgia’s personal income tax to a flat rate of 5.375 percent. The corporate tax rate, already a flat tax, would remain at 5.75 percent. HB 949 will also institute a new Georgia Income Tax Credit for working families to offset the flattening of the tax brackets.         

My colleagues and I also passed legislation to strengthen the state’s adoption laws to continue to place more foster children in their forever homes. House Bill 913 would reduce the statutory age at which a person is allowed to petition for adoption from 25 to 21 years old, enabling more families to adopt children in our state.. Additionally, HB 913 would allow adoptive parents to file a civil cause of action to address adoption scams when individuals deliberately misrepresent a pregnancy or intention to place a child for adoption when the individual is not pregnant or has no intention of placing a child for adoption.           

To address recent concerns over ethylene oxide leaks in some Georgia communities, we passed a bill this week that seeks to protect Georgia citizens from the dangers of being exposed to this known carcinogen. House Bill 927 would require any permittee of operation or facility that utilizes ethylene oxide in our state to report a spill or release of any amount of this gas to the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) within 24-hours of discovery, and the EPD would be required to make this report available to the public on the division’s website.         

On Cross Over Day, we adopted a conference committee report that gave final passage to the Amended Fiscal Year 2020 budget, or House Bill 792. During the 2019 legislative session, the original Fiscal Year 2020 (FY 2020) budget was set by a revenue estimate of $27.5 billion. When Gov. Kemp first released his budget recommendations at the beginning of the 2020 legislative session, he adjusted the state revenue estimate for Amended Fiscal Year 2020 (AFY 2020) down to $27.3 billion. The Conference Committee Report on the AFY 2020 budget includes several of the House’s funding priorities including:

Add $132.8 million for the midterm enrollment adjustment for education

Restore $1.3 million for our libraries and archives

Fund $4 million for our criminal justice reform

Add $8.2 million for new access to Georgians in need of a crisis with the Department of Behavioral Health & Developmental Disabilities 

Restore $6.4 million for public health grants to counties

Increase of $100 million from the Revenue Shortfall Reserve for the Governor’s Emergency Fund for the Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Add $5 million to rural hospitals to prepare for the spread of COVID-19

From Day One to now, I presented two bills that passed in the House and are now being considered in the Senate. The following bills include:

House Bill 854, which would require counties, municipalities and consolidated governments to treat fence detection systems, in all matters, as alarm systems

House Bill 1102, which would create the “Revised Homestead Option Sales and Use Tax Act of 2020” (RHOST) to allow voters of a county, where a homestead option sales and use tax (HOST) is already in place, to file a petition with the county election superintendent to replace the current HOST with an RHOST

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

Session Update: Week Eight

On Monday, March 2, 2020, the General Assembly began Week Eight of the 2020 Legislative Session. Every year, my colleagues and I meet for 40 days to work for the betterment of Georgia.

We kicked off the week by unanimously passing legislation to aid in the fight against human trafficking in Georgia. House Bill 823 would allow the Georgia Department of Driver Services to revoke a person’s commercial driver’s license (CDL) and impose a lifetime CDL ban in Georgia for those who are convicted and knowingly used a commercial vehicle in the commission of a human trafficking crime, which includes trafficking an individual for labor servitude or sexual servitude. Over 3,600 children are sold into sex trafficking in Georgia every year, and our largest city, Atlanta, was listed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation as one of 14 U.S. cities with the most sex trafficking activity. 

My colleagues and I also passed two important pieces of legislation to protect our citizens from incurring unexpected medical costs. We passed House Bill 888, or the “Surprise Billing Consumer Act,” which would require insurance providers to pay for emergency medical services without need for any prior authorization and without any retrospective payment denial for medically necessary services, regardless of whether a health care provider giving emergency medical services is a participating provider or not. In addition to HB 888, we also passed the “Surprise Bill Transparency Act” to increase awareness and provide a resource regarding insurance coverage for hospital-based specialty groups. House Bill 789 would create a health benefit plan surprise bill rating system to determine if a patient’s benefit plan would apply to certain hospital-based specialty groups, including anesthesiologists, pathologists, radiologists and emergency medicine physicians.

We also passed House Bill 946 which creates transparency for prescription drug prices and allows the state to better oversee pharmacy benefits managers (PBMs), who are third-party prescription drug administrators that pay for, reimburse and cover the cost of drugs, devices or pharmacy care on behalf of a health plan. Similarly, we also passed House Bill 918 to amend the “The Pharmacy Audit Bill of Rights” to place limitations on the size and frequency of pharmacy audits by PBMs, which PBMs currently use as a way to recapture money from pharmacists around the state. Additionally, the House passed House Bill 947 to require the Department of Community Health (DCH) to initiate an independent, third-party actuarial study to determine the potential savings associated with carving out prescription drug benefits from Medicaid care management organizations (CMOs) and providing those benefits through the DCH’s Medicaid fee-for-service program. 

The House also unanimously passed House Bill 914 to support our military families and veterans as they make our state their home. This bill would streamline and expedite the professional licensing process for military spouses, as well as service members who are transitioning into the private sector when they move to our state. HB 914 would require professional licensing boards to issue expedited licenses to those who hold a current license for their job and are in good standing with another state. Members of the military, along with their spouses and families, make immense sacrifices as they move from state to state to serve our country, but this legislation would help them quickly secure professional opportunities and would make Georgia a more military-friendly state.

We passed House Bill 855, which would require the Department of Education (DOE) to provide guidance to local school systems in order to assess whether a newly enrolled foster care child has been exposed to trauma which adversely impacted the student’s educational performance or behavior. The Department of Education would develop a protocol for schools to immediately assess foster children who are removed from their homes and are subsequently placed in a new schooling environment. 

Before we finished week eight, we passed legislation to expand and improve Georgia’s hemp farming laws. House Bill 847 would allow any college or university in Georgia to operate a pilot hemp research program, and it would permit colleges and universities to engage third parties to assist in these research programs. The bill would also allow a licensed provider to provide or sell hemp to a Georgia college or university or to another provider who is not licensed in Georgia but is located in a state with a hemp regulation plan that is in accordance with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. HB 847 would increase the initial permit fee for a hemp processor from $25,000 to $50,000 to help keep Georgia’s hemp program sustainable and would revise background check requirements for licensees and permittees.

This week, I qualified to run for State House again. It has been an honor serving District 109, and I look forward to serving you again! 

My colleagues and I also passed the following bills and resolutions on the House floor this week:

House Bill 486, which would prohibit an individual from advertising that he or she is a journeyman plumber unless he or she has a valid license from the Division of Master Plumbers and Journeyman Plumbers

House Bill 576, which would change the distribution order of payments collected from driving under the influence and reckless driving fines by moving the Brain and Spinal Injury Trust Fund up to the fifth on the list in order to receive payments

House Bill 830, which would allow eligible large retirement systems to invest up to 10 percent of assets in alternative investments

House Bill 885, which would grant district attorneys access to all information regarding a violent or sexual offender’s record, including confidential state secrets, when the offender is found guilty of serious violent felonies or dangerous sexual offenses and is eligible for parole

House Bill 957, which would allow teachers at Georgia charter schools to be eligible for state health insurance plans

House Resolution 962, which would amend the Georgia Constitution to authorize the General Assembly to allow local boards of education to call for local referenda to authorize an assessment of residential homestead property at 20 percent of fair market value

House Bill 1054, which would authorize the Department of Public Health to promulgate rules and regulations creating a newborn screening system for the prevention of serious illness, severe physical or developmental disability and death caused by inherited metabolic and genetic disorders

House Resolution 1094, which would authorize non-exclusive easements for the construction, operation and maintenance of facilities, utilities, roads and ingress and egress in, on, over, under, upon, across or through state property in the following Georgia counties: Barrow, Calhoun, Chatham, Cherokee, Clayton, Cobb, Crisp, Dougherty, Douglas, McIntosh, Muscogee, Paulding, Polk and Richmond

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

Session Update: Week Seven

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

Session Update: Week Six

On Tuesday, February 18, 2020, the General Assembly began Week Six of the 2020 Legislative Session. Every year, my colleagues and I meet for 40 days to work for the betterment of Georgia. I will update you weekly on what is happening at the Capitol.

On Wednesday, February 19, we passed one of the most important bills of the legislative session, House Bill 792, to amend the state budget for the current fiscal year. The House Appropriations Committee and its subcommittees have worked many long hours to finalize the AFY 2020 budget bill based on Gov. Kemp’s budget proposal and fulfill our constitutional obligation to pass a balanced budget. 

In addition to passing HB 792 this week, my colleagues and I unanimously passed House Bill 487, Robert Argo Disaster Volunteer Relief Act, to provide a greater opportunity for Georgia’s state employees to volunteer after declared natural disasters occur. In recent years, Georgia has experienced many natural disasters, and selfless Georgians, including state employees, volunteered their time and energy to rebuild our impacted communities. Under HB 487, state employees who are certified volunteers of the Civil Air Patrol United States Air Force Auxiliary would be granted paid leave for up to 15 workdays per year for volunteering after certain natural disasters in specialized emergency services operations. This legislation is named in honor of former Georgia Representative Robert Argo, who was active in the Civil Air Patrol during World War II.

This week I presented HB 854 to the Governmental Affairs Committee. This measure would set minimum standards for the alarm fencing industry to allow a seamless permitting process with local government bodies across the state. Currently, most city and county permitting offices in Georgia have no governing ordinances in place, which creates a lengthy delay for business owners who decide to protect their assets with the latest technology in alarm fencing. This legislation will only apply to businesses already located in commercial and industrial zoned properties. Also, this measure would give local governing bodies the ability to issue installation permits quickly which will, in turn, allow their community business owners to safely protect their investments.

I also signed onto HB 868 with Chairman Chuck Martin which will eliminate the sales tax on for-hire ground transportation companies like taxi cabs, Uber, and Lyft. Since this is a service and not a tangible product, we feel it’s worth a conversation to eliminate the sales tax.

The House also passed several other measures during the sixth week of session, including:

House Bill 195, which would increase the death benefit for members of the Georgia Firefighters’ Pension Fund from $5,000 to $10,000

House Bill 292, which would repeal the requirement for an accrued liability to be paid to the Teachers Retirement System (TRS) of Georgia on behalf of participating Regent’s Optional Retirement Plan members and the normal contribution rate resulting from employees who cease to be members of TRS

House Bill 538, which would require courts and the Georgia Tax Tribunal to decide all questions of law regarding the proper interpretation of revenue and taxation-related statutes or regulations without deference to the Department of Revenue’s interpretation of the statute or regulation in dispute

House Bill 716, which would require any carrier that issues a health benefit plan in Georgia through an agent to pay a commission to that agent and file their proposed commission rates with the Department of Insurance

House Bill 758, which would allow motor carriers to implement, require or deploy a motor carrier safety improvement program for individuals without affecting the individual’s status as an employee or independent contractor

House Bill 759, which would authorize the annual drug update to comply with federal regulations and would capture new synthetic drugs, such as spice and bath salts

House Bill 765, which would increase the minimum salary and compensation of magistrates and clerks by providing a cost-of-living adjustment and a five percent raise

House Bill 777, which would require the Department of Community Affairs (DCA) to review the tall mass timber provisions in the 2021 International Building Code and consider whether amendments should be made to the minimum standard codes

House Bill 780, which would allow the State Properties Commission to use a written appraisal of value for the conveyance of property that solely and directly benefits the state

House Bill 781, which is the annual legislation brought by the Department of Banking that would update and modernize Georgia’s banking code

House Bill 786, which would allow for an additional superior court judge in the Flint Judicial Circuit

House Resolution 1023, which would provide for a constitutional amendment that would allow Georgia citizens and corporations domiciled in Georgia to seek declaratory relief

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

Session Update: Week Five

Week five of the 2020 session was postponed to allow us more time to scrutinize the budget cuts Governor Kemp has recommended. Every year, my colleagues and I meet for 40 days to work for the betterment of Georgia and numerous other days go toward committee meetings and constituent work. 

Governor Kemp instructed state agencies to reduce spending by four percent in AFY 2020 and six percent in FY 2021 budgets. Many of you may have read reports regarding our Speaker and Governor Kemp not agreeing on many of the issues surrounding the cuts. I agree with Speaker Ralston, and we will not be in a hurry to allocate $28 billion of your tax dollars. I also understand Governor Kemp’s position on tightening the budget. There is no better time to save money than when times are good. We are in a much better position to save now rather than waiting for bad economic times. We all know the government can always cut spending. I am confident my colleagues and I will be able to accomplish both savings and cuts when we start back on Tuesday, February 18th.

Some good news from Washington as President Trump’s proposed budget includes $93.6 million for the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project. These funds will help the project stay on track for completion by 2022. Georgia Ports Authority announced the Port of Savannah was awarded $34.6 million through the Port Infrastructure Development Grant by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

    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. Do not 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 have 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