What the legislature did

Marty Harbin

On April 2, just before midnight, the Georgia General Assembly adjourned sine die. This concluded the first part of our 2019-2020 biennial session. Over the course of the past few months, the Senate has considered hundreds of pieces of legislation, with a few of those receiving hours-long debate. I want to highlight some of these bills.

• House Bill 186 would alter certain provisions regarding the Certificates of Need (CON) program. This includes raising the capital expenditure requirement threshold from $2.5 million to $10 million and allowing ‘destination cancer hospitals’ to apply to be a “general cancer hospital,” which would change the requirements for in-state and out-of-state patient numbers.

Additionally, HB 186 would update provisions in the Rural Hospital Organization Tax Credit regarding annual reporting and ranking hospitals in order of financial need.

Lastly, HB 186 would establish the Office of Health Strategy and Coordination which would allow for state officials and experts to share information and develop approaches to accessible care.

• House Bill 311 would allow for a limited waiver of sovereign immunity in cases where an individual seeks injunctive or declaratory relief against the state, counties or other government entities due to claims of unconstitutional actions.

• House Bill 446 would provide an additional avenue for claiming the income tax credit on timberland damaged by Hurricane Michael. The bill would allow an individual to claim the credit upon “restoration” or cleaning up the land damaged by the hurricane, instead of claiming the credit after replanting trees.

• House Bill 239 would add provisions for Georgia’s state-wide business court including the location of the court, the appointment of the judge, the court’s jurisdiction and the compensation of the judge.

• House Bill 324, also known as “Georgia’s Hope Act,” would allow for the growth, production, manufacture and dispensing of low THC oil for medical purposes.

This bill was the result of a study committee that met during the interim last year. After drafting legislation, several hours of public testimony and debate were allocated to hearing both sides of the argument on this bill’s passage. When the bill came to the Senate floor, the language was very restrictive to help ensure that we weren’t opening a gateway that could lead to recreational marijuana use.

A conference committee was later appointed to work on changes from the House’s original version of the bill. This version received final passage in the General Assembly shortly before the session adjourned. It would create a five-member Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission to oversee the sale of the oil, issuing Class 1 and Class 2 licenses and would give the state Board of Pharmacy the ability to license pharmacies interested in selling the oil to registered patients.

While the argument could be made that this is a restrictive process, we are still opening a door to an industry that causes concern for many.

• House Bill 481, or the Heartbeat Bill, as I have previously mentioned, protects the lives of unborn children as soon as a heartbeat is detected. I am grateful that this legislation received final passage in the General Assembly. This bill is now in the hands of the governor, and I look forward to seeing him sign it soon.

• House Bill 264 addresses the Emergency Medical Systems Communications (EMSC) Program. The House and Senate each insisted on their own versions of the bill which led to the creation of a conference committee. No action was further taken on the bill, so I anticipate seeing the legislation reappear in the next session.

In short, the bill would have provided certain restrictions for emergency medical services’ disclosing of information. Specifically, the bill would have required individuals to follow transparency and lobbyist disclosure laws to ensure that there is no conflict of interest when determining which provider is necessary in case of an emergency. The safety and health of the individual in an emergency situation should be the number one priority, not the agency that will benefit from responding to the matter.

The General Assembly also considered a few pieces of legislation that would require a constitutional amendment or referendum, and therefore would have to be approved by Georgia voters, including:

• House Resolution 164 which would propose a Constitutional Amendment to provide that revenues from hazardous waste and solid waste disposal fees and taxes paid by the taxpayer are used for their intended purpose.

• House Bill 344 would provide for a constitutional referendum for voters to decide if the state should create a property tax exemption on charity-owned property for the purpose of building or repairing single-family homes.

We also addressed legislation that would provide transparency, including:

• House Bill 315 which would require the submission of certain documents from consultants who enter into contracts with counties, municipalities and other local entities. HB 315 would outline requirements for bids and requests for proposals and procurement.

• House Bill 353 would clarify that any individual who intentionally causes a motor vehicle crash that results in serious bodily injury would be guilty of the new crime of “aggravated staging of a collision,” punishable by two to 10 years imprisonment. The bill would also criminalize the act of filing for insurance benefits or monetary damages that resulted from a staged collision, punishable by one to five years imprisonment.

Also during this year’s session, we completed our constitutional requirement of passing a balanced budget. I want to point out two important allocations in the Fiscal Year 2020 General Budget: pay raises to both our Georgia teachers and judges. This is one small way to thank the people who do the jobs of educating our youth and bringing justice to all Georgians. Both of these allocations have a positive impact on all Georgians.

While sine die is always a celebration, keep in mind that our work as legislators is not done. It will take some time to review everything that was passed, what didn’t make it, and what is to come during the interim. I am committed to being a responsible steward of your taxpayer dollars and will continue to diligently study the many issues that remain before the General Assembly. There is still work to do that will bring Georgians more freedom in their everyday lives as we continue to make Georgia a safe and secure place in which to live, work and raise families.

Please do not hesitate to reach out if you have any questions, concerns, or feedback. I consider it an honor to serve the 16th District and look forward to hearing from you.

[Sen. Marty Harbin represents the 16th Senate District which includes Lamar, Spalding and Pike counties and a portion of Fayette County. He may be reached at 404.656.0078 or by email at marty.harbin@senate.ga.gov.]