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Posts Tagged ‘#Transportation’

Holiday Office Parties: Serving Up Both Cheer … and Fear!

Posted on: December 3rd, 2019

By: Melissa Whitehead

There is no doubt that the Holiday Season is in full swing – and that means workplace holiday parties! While these festive events are great for increasing workplace camaraderie and celebrating achievements of the year, they are more well known for the high risk of inappropriate behavior. Somehow, companies that spend all year working to create a positive, healthy and respectful workplace find themselves on a Monday morning in December, calling counsel to ask for guidance in addressing some incident that happened at the office holiday party over the weekend. Here are some tips and things to think about, in hopes that your company can avoid making that dreaded call to counsel that begins with, “So, we had our office holiday party on Friday and…”

To Serve Alcohol or Not to Serve? Alcohol consumption at office parties creates a number of risks for the employer. First, if an employee consumes too much alcohol at the party and makes the poor choice to drive home and gets in an accident, the employer in many states (including California) can be found liable for any damage caused by that employee (including injury to others). Further, and more common, alcohol lowers inhibitions and can make employees feel more comfortable saying and doing things that they would otherwise never do or say in the workplace. This is why holiday parties are a common ground for #MeToo moments and similar issues.

That said, the reality is that most workplaces will serve alcohol at their office parties. Some tips for reducing the risks that come with serving alcohol include: (1) have a bartender or server serving drinks (as opposed to an open bar); (2)  enforce a 2-drink limit per attendee (e.g., drink tickets); (3) pay for transportation home from the party or overnight accommodations; and (4) designate an executive or HR professional to “cut off” attendees that appear over-served. It is also a good idea to send a notice to employees in advance of the party, reminding them that the company’s anti-discrimination, anti-harassment, and rules against hostile work environment are all still in full force and effect during the office party.

To Pay or Not to Pay? Another common question is whether employees must be paid for their time at the holiday party. This generally boils down to whether attendance is mandatory. If an employee is required to attend the party, in most states it will likely be considered “time worked” and subject to minimum wage and overtime rules. This issue can be addressed by holding the party during normal working hours and paying employees for their time as with any other workday. Alternatively, employers should make clear that attendance is optional.

Of course, this blog does not raise or address all risks that come with the workplace holiday party, but following these helpful tips will help you avoid becoming the next viral sensation of the holiday season! Happy holidays!

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

The Supreme Court Weighs in on Arbitrability, But Questions Remain

Posted on: January 31st, 2019

By: Ted Peters

As reflected in a prior article, the United States Supreme Court recently agreed to take another look at the issue of arbitrability. In the case of Henry Schein, Inc. v. Archer & White Sales, Inc., the Fifth Circuit concluded that the court, and not an arbitrator, had the power to decide the threshold issue of arbitrability. In its ruling, the circuit court embraced the “wholly groundless” argument, concluding that submission of the dispute to the arbitrator was unnecessary because the assertion of arbitrability was “wholly groundless.” This decision underscored the ongoing split of authority among the lower courts wherein some courts, but not all, recognize the “wholly groundless” exception. On appeal, the appellants sought to have the Supreme Court reject the exception as inconsistent with the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”), the purpose of which is “to ensure that private agreements to arbitrate are enforced according to their terms.”

On January 8, 2019, newly appointed Justice Kavanaugh delivered the opinion of the court vacating and remanding the Firth Circuit’s decision. Writing for a unanimous court, Kavanaugh determined that the “wholly groundless” exception to the general rule that courts must enforce contracts that delegate arbitrability questions to an arbitrator is inconsistent with the FAA and Supreme Court precedent. Not surprisingly, the opinion revisited a number of prior cases in which the Court repeatedly held that the “agreement to arbitrate a gateway issue is simply an additional… agreement the party seeking arbitration asks the federal court to enforce, and the [FAA] operates on this additional arbitration agreement just as it does on any other.” (Opinion at p. 4, quoting Rent-A-Center, 561 U.S. 63, 70 (2010)). Kavanaugh noted that the Court had frequently rejected the argument that a claim of frivolity can derail the parties’ agreement to vest questions of arbitrability with an arbitrator and not a court. Citing Steelworkers v. American Mfg. Co., 363 U.S. 564, 568 (1960), Kavanaugh stated: “A court has ‘no business weighing the merits of the grievance’ because the ‘agreement is to submit all grievances to arbitration, not merely those which the court will deem meritorious.’”

On January 15, 2019, the Court issued a ruling in yet another case involving arbitration, New Prime Inc. v. Oliveira. Justice Gorsuch delivered the opinion of the court. In an 8-0 decision (Kavanaugh took no part in the consideration or decision of the case), the high court affirmed the First Circuit’s determination that a court should determine whether the Federal Arbitration Act’s Section 1 exclusion for disputes involving the “contracts of employment” of certain transportation workers applies before ordering arbitration. Unlike Henry Schein, which addressed the delegation of “gateway” questions of arbitrability, New Prime Inc. involved the judicial assessment of a statutorily based objection to arbitration.

But wait… there’s (one) more: Lamps Plus Inc. v. Varela, Dkt. No. 17-988. That case, argued on October 29, 2018, addresses whether the FAA forecloses a state-law interpretation of an arbitration agreement that would authorize class arbitration based solely on general language commonly used in arbitration agreements. An opinion is expected at any time.

Coming full circle, it is fairly clear that the high court seems to remain firm in its embrace of arbitration agreements without permitting judicial meddling, provided there is “clear and unmistakable evidence” that the parties affirmatively agree to delegate the decision of arbitrability to the arbitrator. (Henry Schein at p. 6, citing First Options of Chicago, Inc. v. Kaplan, 514 U.S. 938, 944). Yet, at the same time, the Justices appear receptive to judicial involvement as long as there is a reasonable statutory basis for it.

The takeaway? Parties to arbitration agreements should rest confident in their ability to affirmatively delegate disputes to arbitration provided that the statutory framework upon which arbitration is based leaves no basis for judicial tinkering. This may provide solace for some, but for many it leaves unanswered questions along with the risks and costs associated with uncertainty.

If you have questions or would like more information, please contact Ted Peters at [email protected].

Little Miller, Big Implications

Posted on: June 20th, 2018

By: Samantha Skolnick

In Georgia, when an individual performs work on a state construction project, they can file a lien for non-payment.  The lien is against the project through Georgia’s Little Miller Act. The claim itself is not against the state or county’s actual property. The claim is against a posted bond, and is a “Bond Claim” or “Little Miller Act Claim.”

In a recent decision by the Eleventh Circuit, the Court affirmed summary judgment for the surety based on Georgia’s one-year statute of limitations for little miller act claims. Strickland v. Arch Ins. Co., No. 17-106102018 WL 327443 (11th Cir. Jan. 9, 2018) (rehearing denied Apr. 4, 2018).

Strickland was tasked with providing sand to a paving company (“Douglas”) for the Georgia Department of Transportation (“GDOT”) as they worked on a road improvement project (the “Project”).  Arch Insurance Company (“Arch”) was the surety who issued payment and performance bonds for Douglas.  In 2007, GDOT declared Douglas in default and they were removed from the Project.  The surety brought in another company to complete the work on the Project. Strickland did not supply any sand after Douglas was removed from the Project.

GDOT determined that the Project was substantially complete in August of 2010 and in September 2010 made its punch list. The new contractor brought on by the surety finished the punch list in September 2011.  In March 2012, GDOT accepted Project maintenance responsibilities and made semi-final payment to Arch in July 2012.

In September 2012, Strickland directed a demand for payment on Arch’s payment bond.  Arch acknowledged the claim but requested additional documentation, which was not provided by Strickland.  In 2014, Strickland filed a lawsuit against Arch. The trial court concluded that there was no dispute that the project was completed and accepted in September 2011.  With that ruling, Georgia’s one-year statute of limitations on payment bond claims barred Strickland’s action and consequently Strickland appealed.

The Appellate Court rejected Strickland’s arguments, holding that “completion” and “acceptance” used in the statute relate to the actual work on the project and are not dependent on the ending of future contractual duties or on the public owner’s internal policies and procedures.

The main takeaway: under Georgia law, the date a public owner states that the project is “completed” or “accepted” does not dictate whether the statute of limitation is running.  Georgia’s one-year statute of limitations under Georgia’s Little Miller Act begins when the actual work is substantially completed. Punch list items do not need to be finished.

If you have any questions, please contact Samantha Skolnick at [email protected].

 

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].

U.S. DOT Issues Guidelines for Self-Driving Vehicles

Posted on: September 27th, 2016

By: Wes Jackson

On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Transportation ushered in the long-anticipated future of transportation with guidelines for “autonomous vehicles,” or self-driving cars (available here). The policy guidance focuses primarily on “highly automated vehicles,” (“HAVs”) or those that have automated systems that actually monitor the driving environment as opposed to merely conducting some part of the driving task (such as a cruise control function). The DOT’s executive summary of the policy states that the policy “sets out an ambitious approach to accelerate the HAV revolution.”

One of the main takeaways from the guidelines is the “15 Point Safety Assessment” for manufacturers, which covers traditional automobile safety considerations like “Crashworthiness” along with new considerations unique to driverless or highly automated vehicles, such as “Object and Event Detection and Response” and “Post-Crash Behavior.” The Safety Assessment also includes an “Ethical Considerations” assessment, which will address the ethical implications that arise from programming a vehicle to make choices, for example, between the safety of its occupants or another car’s occupants. Aside from these safety guidelines, the policy also introduces a Model State Policy which, if widely adopted by the states, will lead to uniform nation-wide regulations of HAVs and avoid state-level regulatory inconsistencies that could delay widespread utilization of new automated vehicle technology.

It may go without saying, but the promise of driverless vehicles will be the biggest change in personal transportation since the invention of the motor carriage itself. But the new technology will not only change how (or if) we drive—it will also transform the existing legal framework for assigning liability when accidents occur. While it may be years before driverless cars hit the road, auto insurers, commercial carriers, and other industry participants should begin assessing how HAVs will impact the industry and steer their businesses accordingly.