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Archive for the ‘Government Relations’ Category

2018 GA Legislative Session Adjournment Report

Posted on: May 4th, 2018

By: Allan J. Hayes

The Georgia General Assembly adjourned sine die the 2018 legislative session late night on March 29. What follows is a list and summary of all bills tracked by FMG this session. Governor Nathan Deal must sign or veto legislation within 40 days after sine die adjournment, or it becomes law without his signature.

The legislative session has been over for a month now and the Governor will begin signing bills (and rejecting some) on Wednesday, May 2. After the Governor takes final action on all this legislation, we will give you an update on the fate of the following bills:

 

Health

SB 118 amends the age limit on the current autism coverage statute (O.C.G.A. § 33-24-59.10). As finally passed, the bill requires coverage for an individual covered under a policy or contract who is 20 years of age (previously 6) or under. Also, as amended the bill removes the requirement that coverage for prescription drugs for the treatment of autism spectrum disorders shall be in the same manner as coverage for prescription drugs for the treatment of any other illness under the policy, and increases the annual limit on ABA to $35,000

HB 818 provides that contracts between a health insurer or its contracted vendor or a care management organization and a health care provider shall not contain restrictions on methods of payment to the provider in which the only acceptable payment method is a credit card payment. Prior to initiating or changing payments to a health care provider using electronic funds transfer payments, including virtual credit card payments, a plan shall notify the provider of all fees associated with a payment method, and provide clear instructions as to how to select an alternative payment method.

HB 783 provides for modernization and updates of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated for purposes of conformity. Also provides that any assets of the Commission on the Georgia Health Insurance Risk Pool existing as of June 30, 2018, shall devolve by operation of law and without further action on July 1, 2018. Any liabilities and obligations of Commission 2018, shall be transferred to and assumed by the State of Georgia, by such instruments as may be required to maintain the same.

HB 769 amends statutes regarding institutional and hospital pharmacies regarding remote order entries.  Provides that remote orders must be made by a pharmacist licensed in the state but does not have to be in the state. Authorizes remote orders when the licensed pharmacist will be physically present in the hospital pharmacy within 48 hours (previously 24) and removes the requirement that at least one licensed pharmacist be physically present in the hospital pharmacy.  Also provides for the establishment of the Rural Center for Health Care Innovation and Sustainability, revises provisions relative to certificate of need, establishes micro-hospital definitions, and provides a grant program for insurance premium assistance for physicians practicing in medically underserved rural areas of the state.

HB 64 requires any carrier that issues a health benefit plan in this state through an agent to pay a commission to such agent and shall not structure such commission in a way that directly or indirectly discriminates in the amount of compensation paid to such agent for the sale of a group health benefit plan or for the sale of an individual health benefit plan. Such commission shall be structured to compensate the agent for the first term and for each renewal term thereafter, so long as such agent reviews coverage and provides ongoing customer service for such plan; provided, however, that no such compensation shall be required for any individual health benefit plan sold during a special enrollment period. This shall not apply to renewals of any individual health benefit plan sold during a special enrollment period that renews during the open enrollment period. Nothing shall be construed to require a carrier to pay a commission to an agent who is employed by such carrier.

HB 782 authorizes the Georgia Drugs and Narcotics Agency to request prescription information to a prescription drug monitoring program operated by a government entity in another state or an electronic medical records system operated by a prescriber or health care facility, provided the program or system, as determined by the department, contains legal, administrative, technical, and physical safeguards that meet or exceed the security measures of the department for the operation of the PDMP.

HB 513 allows the Department of Community Health to promulgate rules for a sign to be developed and posted at any medical facility, fire station, or police station to inform the public that the facility is an authorized safe place to leave a newborn child. This is to prevent injuries and deaths of newborn children who are abandoned.

HB 701 amends definitions for drug testing for state employment to allow testing for all forms of opioids. It shall not be defined as an “illegal drug” pursuant to a valid prescription or when used as otherwise authorized by state or federal law.

HB 769 implements recommendations from the House Rural Development Council relating to health care issues. The bill revises provisions relative to pharmacy practices, as well as provisions relative to credentialing and billing. This legislation provides for the establishment of the Rural Health System Innovation Center and the establishment of micro-hospitals. Also, HB 769 provides for a grant program for insurance premium assistance for physicians practicing in medically underserved rural areas of the state. The bill also increases the value of the tax credit to 100 percent related to contributions to rural hospital organizations.

SB 357 establishes the Health Coordination and Innovation Council of the State of Georgia. The council will create a forum for innovative ideas, evaluation, maximization of resources, and an organized health care approach.

SB 364 authorizes a higher supervisory ratio for physician assistants who have completed a board-approved anesthesiologist assistant program. No primary supervising physician shall have more than eight physician assistants who have completed a board-approved anesthesiologist assistant program licensed to him or her at a time.

Local Government

HB 257 streamlines the reporting process for local government authorities to file their statutorily-required reports to the Department of Community Affairs. It also narrows the dates of reporting from two dates to one.

HB 489 requires the use of the Georgia Procurement Registry for advertisement of bid opportunities for goods and services and public works construction contracts by a county, city, or local board of education. The registry will be free to use by the local government.

HB 618 is a bill to incorporate the city of Skidaway Island.

HB 626 is a bill to create the city of Sharon Springs.

HB 899 removes the disqualification of bidders without experience with the “construction delivery method” when awarding contracts for public works projects through sealed competitive bids.

HB 995 provides a process for a consultant to disclose any conflicts of interest when contracting for services with a local governing authority.

SB 263 authorizes a local referendum for the creation of the city of Eagles Landing.

SB 397 allows counties and cities to contract with real estate agents or brokers to market county or city-owned property.

SB 404 prohibits local governing authorities from charging a separate fee for standby water service for fire sprinkler systems.

HB 381 creates the ‘Abandoned Mobile Home Act’ to provide counties and municipalities with the authority to appoint an agent to determine the condition of a mobile home and how to dispose of the property. The bill also establishes procedures for a landowner to follow if the landowner wishes to remove an abandoned mobile home from his or her property.

Insurance

HB 64 requires insurance carriers that sell health insurance through an insurance agent to provide the agent with a commission that is consistent with the amount proposed in the rates filed with the Department of Insurance.

HB 592 repeals the sunset on the compliance self-evaluative privilege for insurance companies. This privilege allows insurance companies to fix issues arising from an internal audit without suffering reprisal by regulators for the original mistake.

HB 754 allows a Georgia domestic insurer to divide into two or more insurers and allocate assets and obligations, including insurance or reinsurance policies, to the new company. It does so by creating a process that is distinct from a merger, consolidation, dissolution, or formation.

HB 760 allows property and causality insurers, at the time of policy renewal, to simply notify the insured of reduction of coverage in the policy without having to cancel the existing policy and offer a new one.

HB 878 allows insurers and/or insurance agencies to let their insureds cancel their policy over the telephone.

HB 938 provides for a limited credit insurance agency license for the specific purpose of selling credit insurance.

SB 350 updates Georgia law regarding the notice requirements for an insurance company or agent to their policyholders in the case of policy renewal to comport with federal law.

SB 381 provides that a non-admitted insurer domiciled in this state is deemed a domestic surplus lines insurer, if all qualifications are met, and can sell surplus line products in Georgia.

Criminal Justice

SB 369 authorizes the clerk of court to collect a $5.00 fee when an individual enrolls in a pretrial diversion program, and to submit those monies to the secretary-treasurer of the Peace Officer’s Annuity and Benefit Fund.

SB 407 constitutes the reforms and recommendations offered by the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council. The bill allows the Criminal Case Data Exchange Board to create rules concerning e filing in superior and state court criminal cases after January 1, 2019. In addition, all civil complaints in superior and state court are to be filed electronically after July 1, 2019.

HB 978 amends the Code relating to school buses to make it lawful for drivers who meet or pass school buses on a highway with separate roadways or a divided highway, including but not limited to, a highway divided by a turn lane. The bill also allows for the use cameras on school buses to be operated, maintained, or leased to a law enforcement agency and for the recorded images to be reviewed by the agent who provides this service to law enforcement. The bill further allows for placement of an automatic traffic enforcement device within a school zone after the school has applied for a permit from the Department of Transportation for the use of such device.

HB 419 expands the ability for local governments to regulate the ignition of fireworks through local noise ordinances. The bill adds Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day as holidays when local ordinance cannot prevent fireworks from being ignited; however, when areas of the state come under drought conditions, the governor can restrict the use of fireworks. Also, all dealers of fireworks must post the license authorizing the dealer to sell fireworks.

SB 17 allows for a local referendum to lower the initial time to allow for Sunday sales of alcohol from 12:30 p.m. to 11:00 a.m. for any licensed establishment that derives at least 50 percent of annual gross sales from the sale of food or a licensed establishment that derives 50 percent of annual gross income from the rental of rooms for overnight lodging.

Transportation

HB 930 creates the Atlanta-region Transit Link “ATL” Authority. This authority is attached to the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority (GRTA) for administrative purposes and will serve as the transit planning organization for the 13-county metro Atlanta region. The region is comprised of the counties currently under the jurisdiction of GRTA: Cherokee, Clayton, Coweta, Cobb, DeKalb, Douglas, Fayette, Forsyth, Fulton, Gwinnett, Henry, Paulding, and Rockdale Counties. The bill establishes the governance structure of the ATL, as well as funding mechanisms. The ATL oversees all transit planning, funding, and operations within the region.

Taxes

HB 658 extends the sunset date to December 31, 2053 for the eight percent hotel/motel tax allowed in a county where a coliseum and exhibit hall authority were created on January 1,1991.

HB 820 amends Article 2 of Chapter 5 of Title 48, relating to property tax exemptions and deferral, by adding a new section which allows a homestead exemption from the ad valorem taxes for municipal purposes in an amount equal to the amount by which the current year assessed value exceeds the adjusted base year value of the homestead.

HB 918 is the “Largest Tax Cut in Georgia History.” It includes the following changes:

  • 7.5 percent of adjusted gross income floor for medical expense deduction is extended through 2018 and applied to all taxpayers;
  • Net operating losses may be carried forward indefinitely, but may not be carried back to apply against prior year’s tax liabilities;
  • Entertainment expenses are no longer allowed as business deductions; House of Representatives End of Session Report
  • Transportation fringes and other transportation benefits are no longer qualified deductions for employers providing the benefits;
  • Eligibility of building improvements for a 15-year recover period is expanded;
  • Like-kind exchanges are limited to exchanges of real estate;
  • The definition of capital asset is revised by removing patents, inventions, certain models or designs, and secret formulas or processes;
  • Gains from investment in a Qualified Opportunity Fund can be temporarily deferred and permanently excluded if the investment is held 10 years; and,
  • Disaster tax relief provisions, that: allow write-off of hurricane losses; suspend limitations on deductions for charitable contributions made for hurricane relief; give victims penalty-free access to retirement funds; and, eliminate the requirement that personal losses must exceed 10 percent of adjusted gross income to qualify for deduction.

The bill also doubles the state income tax standard deduction to $4,600 for single filers, $3,000 for married filing separately, and $6,000 for married filing jointly. The top personal income tax bracket rate and the corporate income tax rate are reduced to 5.75 percent in tax year 2019 and 5.50 percent in tax year 2020. The rate reduction for 2020 is dependent upon the General Assembly passing a joint resolution affirming the change and the resolution being signed by the governor. The changes in this bill expire on December 31, 2025. The bill also states that there shall be no liability for title ad valorem tax fees when obtaining a replacement title on a vehicle that is not less than 15-years old when the commissioner of the Department of Revenue is provided proof that the title no longer exists.

Budget

HB 684 is the $26.2 billion Fiscal Year 2019 budget. Highlights include:

  • More than $160 million toward boosting K-12 education, graduation rates, college accessibility, and career training programs, including a $35.6 million increase to the Zell Miller College Scholarship fund, and $12 million to expand Georgia’s College and Career Academy network;
  • More than $16 million toward children’s mental health programs, including $10.3 million for psychiatric crisis centers, $2.4 million for mental health care for foster children, and $1 million for suicide prevention programs;
  • $3.875 million toward an improved statewide health care system, including $1.5 million toward Georgia’s Health Coordination and Innovation Council, $375,000 for the Rural Health System Innovation Center, and more than $2 million toward the creation of more than 100 new residencies and preceptorships for doctors and nurses;
  • $7.5 million toward combating the statewide opioid and addiction epidemic, including $3.5 million toward a statewide drug task force and $4 million toward local community grants for substance abuse and recovery centers;
  • $6 million toward autism treatment and care programs;
  • $10 million to improve school safety through local community grants, in addition to $1.6 million for student metal health awareness training;
  • More than $1.2 million toward targeted rural Georgia funding, including $737,000 toward rural economic development and $858,000 toward the Center for Rural Prosperity and Innovation.
  • The bond package includes $489.8 million for higher education projects including those at the Board of Regents, the Technical College System of Georgia, and Georgia Military College. The budget provides state colleges and universities with $351.5 million for 32 projects including MRR; $5.9 million for Georgia Military College to complete renovation and equip Jenkins Hall; and $5 million for Georgia Research Alliance (GRA) equipment and infrastructure. Finally, the bond package includes $114 million for 12 projects within the Technical College System of Georgia, including $25 million for facility major repairs and renovations and $12 million for college and career academies.
  • $250 million, or 21% of the bond package, is dedicated to transportation and infrastructure funding, including: $100 million for the fourth year of funding for the repair, replacement, and renovation of bridges; $12.5 million for rehabilitation and improvements on state-owned rail; $100 million to the State Road and Tollway Authority to fund transit needs across the state; and $35 million to match federal funds and continue the Savannah Harbor deepening project.
  • The budget recognizes $1.83 billion in motor fuel funds in the Department of Transportation to continue capital construction projects, as well as local maintenance and improvements.
  • Finally, HB 684 includes $20.2 million for the second phase of a two-year plan to increase foster care per diem rates for relative and child placement agency (CPA) foster care providers, which brings the rate to the USDA’s southeastern average. The budget also includes $3.6 million to provide a 2.5% increase in the per diem rate for child caring institutions (CCI) and child placement agency(CPA) administrative costs.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Allan Hayes at [email protected].

Who Can Lobby?

Posted on: January 8th, 2018

By: Allan J. Hayes

Most businesses are subject to federal, state and local laws and regulations. The business value at stake from legislative and government regulatory intervention is huge: about 30 percent of earnings for companies in most industries, according to a 2010 study by McKinsey & Company, and higher still in the banking sector, where the figure tops 50 percent. Participation in the political and public policy processes is vital to most businesses. This participation is generally referred to as lobbying.

Can anyone lobby? Well, yes. The Encyclopedia Britannica defines lobbying as “any attempt by individuals or private interest groups to influence the decisions of government.” The United States Constitution provides for lobbying in the First Amendment by protecting the right of individuals “to petition the government for the redress of grievances.”

If anyone can do it, why does FMG have professional registered lobbyists? Lobbying involves more than persuading legislators. Professional lobbyists research and analyze legislation or regulatory proposals, attend legislative hearings, and educate government officials and corporate officers on important issues. It is a full-time job that requires a specialist to properly execute. Our experienced professionals represent our client’s interests before government so our clients can concentrate on effectively running their business.

Also, the federal government and most states regulate lobbying. Lobbyists working to influence the federal government are regulated by the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995, as amended. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, there are more than 50 versions of lobbying laws in states and territories. In Georgia for instance, Georgia Code §21-5-70 and §21-5-71 defines a lobbyist as one who receives more than $250.00 per year to “promote or oppose the passage of any legislation by the General Assembly, or any committee of either chamber or a joint committee thereof, or the approval or veto of legislation by the Governor.” The statutes further regulate expenditures by lobbyists for entertainment, meals and gifts as well as disclosure of and the amounts spent on such activities. These regulatory burdens can be significant for the part-time or occasional lobbyist.

When I did research on lobbying in Georgia in the early 1990s for the book Politics in Georgia by Dr. Arnold Fleischman and Dr. Carol Pierannunzi, of UGA and KSU respectively, there were 1059 lobbyists registered.  In 2016 there were 1085 registered lobbyists, even though the ethics laws had been strengthened three times, the number has not fluctuated much in 25 years. For good reason, businesses and associations have continued to trust professional lobbyists to represent their interests at the Capitol.

For more information, please contact Allan Hayes at [email protected].

 

A Look Ahead to 2018 Legislative Session

Posted on: December 20th, 2017

By: Allan J. Hayes

The Georgia General Assembly will convene on January 8, 2018 and adjourn after 40 legislative days (usually the end of March). With 2018 being an election year, there is likely to be as much politicking, positioning and posturing as there is legislating during the second half of the 2017-2018 cycle. All statewide elected officials and all seats in the state House and State Senate are up for election in 2018. This generally means that no sweeping new policies will be passed this year.

Governor Deal (R) is term-limited, so the race for the office is open. Lt. Governor Cagle (R) is running for governor, so that office will be open as well. Many current and former legislators are campaigning to replace the Governor and the Lt. Governor, so both chambers are expected to adjourn early so everyone can campaign for their respective office.

But, as Speaker Ralston recently told a group of us, “regardless of elections, the people’s work must get done. And we will stay until it is finished.” This governor and legislature have worked well together in the past, and will likely work together on legislation that include the following (not in order of importance).

Every session, the most scrutinized piece of legislation is the state budget. According to the Georgia Constitution, it is the only issue the General Assembly must address each year. An increase in state revenue means lawmakers will have additional money to use in the 2018 fiscal year. At least some of that new money will go into education, which represents about half of the state budget. The health program for state employees and Medicaid are also likely to receive additional funds. And Lieutenant Governor Cagle wants the state to invest $100 million into venture capital for tech companies, a program he calls “Invest Georgia.” The state will also do what is necessary to continue funding of the Savannah Harbor Deepening Project.

The legislature will also consider spending for new rural development ideas like relocation tax incentives, rural broadband and healthcare funds to fight the opioid epidemic. Other healthcare related priorities include addressing rising health insurance premiums, including exploring association health plans and promoting the selling of insurance across state lines. Out-of-Network “Surprise Billing” or Balance Billing prohibitions is another major issue that will be tackled this session. The department of insurance may pursue ACA 1332 State Innovation Waivers to cover more Georgians and health insurance issues like air ambulance payments, cost-sharing Limits for prescription drugs, health insurance network adequacy standards, and medical marijuana will also be discussed.

The very contentious Religious Freedom Restoration Act has come up in each of the last two sessions of the legislature. Even with legislative leaders declaring it a “non-starter,” it will likely receive attention in the halls, if not on the floor. Last year a bill to modernize Georgia’s adoption laws which included the religious liberty provision was stalled. Legislative leaders have vowed to pass a “clean” adoption bill this year and the Governor has said he will sign it.  Additionally, there will be a bill introduced that would restrict local governments ability to ban short term residential rentals like Airbnb.

Another holdover from the 2017 session is Marsy’s Law, a proposed Constitutional Amendment securing permanent, enforceable rights for victims of crime. It passed the Senate and will be addressed in the House in 2018. Georgia’s certificate of need law for healthcare provider facilities is also a likely topic for debate. The Cancer Treatment Center of America is limited to 50 beds and a cap on in-state patients of 35 percent at their Georgia hospital and they support legislation to raise the 35 percent cap.

Finally, lawmakers are expected to debate two separate proposals that would boost pay for police and legislators. The Georgia Sheriffs’ Association is backing a one-cent sales tax to help fund a new mandatory minimum salary for deputy sheriffs and jailers, and legislators would see a 72 percent increase to their salaries under a proposal by a committee created earlier this year to review compensation for elected officials.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Allan J. Hayes at [email protected].

Private Passenger Auto Rates

Posted on: December 15th, 2017

By: Allan J. Hayes

A lobbyists job in never done. Like the tides of the ocean, politics has an ebb and flow. Issues go through a cycle effected not by the moon’s gravitational pull but by the nature of America’s form of governance. Government is influenced by public opinion, economic conditions, media scrutiny, bureaucrats, politicians and yes, by lobbyists. All of these influences change and evolve over time.

A good example of this cycle is rates for private passenger auto insurance in Georgia. After rates skyrocketed in the late 1980s, the Georgia legislature changed state law so that the Insurance Commissioner had to approve increases proposed by insurance companies. This system is referred to as “prior authorization.” The auto insurance industry instructed its lobbyists at the Capitol to try and change the law back to a “file and use” system.

In 2008 insurance company lobbyists managed to pass SB 276 which returned Georgia to a file and use rate system. Section 3 of the bill stated that “No rate shall be held to be excessive unless such rate is unreasonably high for the insurance provided and a reasonable degree of competition does not exist in the area with respect to the classification to which such rate is applicable; provided, however, with respect to rate filings involving an increase in rates, no rate for personal private passenger motor vehicle insurance shall be held to be excessive unless such rate is unreasonably high for the insurance provided and a reasonable degree of competition does not exist.” This language allows companies to implement new rates without prior review and the insurance commissioner cannot hold the rates excessive as long as there is competition. The industries argument was that if you let free-market principles take effect, competition will drive auto insurance rates down. At that time, in that political and economic environment, it was a winning argument.

But wait. When the Georgia House Insurance Committee held an early session hearing on January 11, 2017 regarding premiums of private passenger auto insurance it brought unwelcome scrutiny for the property and casualty industry. Dr. Robert P. Hartwig, Special Consultant to the Insurance Information Institute was brought in by industry lobbyists to speak to the committee regarding the rising frequency and severity of auto accident claims. It seems that competition was not able to keep auto insurance rates from rising due to these “environmental factors.”

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has posted five stories on the issue since July. According to the AJC, Georgia has ranked either first or second nationally for auto insurance rate increases in the last four years. All while having over 200 insurance companies competing in Georgia. Steve Manders, Director of Insurance Product Review for the DOI, addressed the committee in January to highlight some issues the department wants to address with this current file and use system. The department would like to see the auto rate filing system conform to a 45 day waiting period on new rate implementation so the DOI can review the rates for compliance. It also would like to define the term “excessive” to give the department the authority to roll back rates. The hearing room was full of lobbyists representing the individual P&C insurance companies, insurance agents’ groups, the insurance companies’ associations, consumer groups, and the insurance department. Like I said, a lobbyists job is never done.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Allan Hayes at [email protected].

Owen Rooney For Government Practice Group

Posted on: September 5th, 2017

By: Owen T. Rooney

In Ponte v. County of Calaveras, 2017 Cal. App. Lexis 710 the Court of Appeal held the plaintiff’s complaint for breach of a verbal contract was not brought in subjective and objective good faith under CCP sect. 1038.  After a land failure, plaintiff (an unlicensed contractor) alleged “it was agreed” with a County engineer that he could undertake the repairs since his equipment was already on site.  The trial court granted the County’s summary judgment and then awarded the County $65,000 in attorney’s fees under CCP sect. 1038.

First, the Court noted that the public bidding statutes are to eliminate oral contracts and are for the benefit of the public and not to enrich bidders.  Plaintiff tried to argue there was an “emergency” for him to undertake his work, but ultimately conceded that he could not cite a statute or ordinance covering emergency repair work.  Thus, the Court rejected plaintiff’s promissory estoppel argument.

CCP sect. 1038 allows the recovery of attorney’s fees if an action against a public entity is not brought “with reasonable care and in the good faith belief that there was a justifiable controversy.”  Thus, this section is akin to a statutory remedy for malicious prosecution.  Case law has extended the application of sect. 1038 to actions not only filed, but also maintained in bad faith.   Here, plaintiff simply argued that he wanted to “get paid.”  Such a subjective desire did not meet the objective standard of reasonableness. The alleged contract did not contain any fixed terms nor was it submitted for County approval.  Plaintiff could not cite any legal authority to support his claim of an emergency or that a member of the public can declare an emergency, which he argued would constitute an exception to the statutory bidding rules.   Thus, “no reasonable attorney would believe there was a tenable basis for this lawsuit.”  The Court affirmed and then awarded, as icing on the cake, the County’s fees on appeal.

For more information, please contact Owen Rooney at [email protected].