My colleagues and I returned to the Gold Dome for the eighth week of the 2020 Legislative Session on Monday, March 2nd. My colleagues and I were in session for four days this week, and we passed more than 40 bills and resolutions on the House floor. With “Cross Over Day” on the horizon, we spent our time this week preparing for this important deadline by voting on more legislation on the House floor as well as in our committees. Here is a short recap of what my fellow House members and I accomplished this week: 

Fight Against Human Trafficking 

House Bill 823 — 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 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. This includes both for labor and sexual servitude. HB 823 is one of the three legislative measures announced by Gov. Brian Kemp and First Lady Marty Kemp this session that is seeking to end human trafficking in Georgia. 

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. Our state and federal leaders are committed to bringing this terrible industry to an end, and HB 823 would prevent commercial trucking from being used as a gateway for perpetrators to commit this horrific crime. 

 

Healthcare

House Bill 888 — One of the leading causes of bankruptcy is surprise medical bills, which is a medical bill that results when an insured patient receives treatment from an out-of-network provider at an in-network facility. To address this we passed 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 both emergency and non-emergency care, the medical provider would only bill a patient based on their deductible, co-insurance, co-payment or other cost-sharing amount. Furthermore, health care plans would not be able to deny or restrict covered benefits from a participating provider to a covered patient solely because the patient obtains treatment from a non-participating provider leading to a balance bill. Finally, HB 888 would establish a process for dealing with disputed bills by allowing for arbitration between the insurer and the provider and would set various rules for arbitration proceedings.

House Bill 789 — My colleagues and I also passed the “Surprise Bill Transparency Act” to increase awareness and provide a resource regarding insurance coverage for hospital-based specialty groups. This bill 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. This bill would also require insurers to make this information available for patients to view online for each network plan.

House Bill 946 — My colleagues and I passed House Bill 946 to create transparency for prescription drug prices and allow the state to better oversee pharmacy benefits managers, which 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. This bill would safeguard citizens by ensuring that Georgia physicians are utilized in the development and management of the formularies that PBMs come up with. This bill would also require PBMs to report whether drug prices are above or below public pricing benchmarks, which indicate the true cost of drugs.

Under HB 946, if a patient uses any discount or coupon, PBMs would be required to apply that toward an insured person’s deductible, cost-share or co-payment responsibility or out-of-pocket maximum. Further, PBMs would not be able to withhold coverage for lower cost generic drugs or drop certain medications in order to force patients to find a different health plan. HB 946 would also prohibit spread pricing, require that 100 percent of all rebates received from pharmaceutical manufacturers be passed back to health plans and strengthen anti-steering laws by imposing a surcharge on PBMs when they steer patients to affiliated pharmacies.

House Bill 918 — This bill was passed 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. This bill would also strengthen our steering laws by prohibiting PBMs from steering via monetary penalties.

House Bill 947 — This bill would 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.

My colleagues and I have been carefully crafting legislation over the last several years to ensure that Georgians are protected from surprise billing, and with these bills, our citizens would be able to receive the medical treatment they need without the unexpected burden of surprise billing and so that the state can ensure that Georgians are receiving their prescriptions at fair and competitive prices, as well as having the freedom to choose where they get their prescriptions.

 

Military Families

House Bill 914 — 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. Military families are 10 times more likely to move than other families, and when these families move to Georgia, spouses who work in fields that require state licensing have to start from the beginning to become licensed. Likewise, transitioning service members may have to wait extended periods of time before they can earn a living in their field of expertise. 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.

 

Foster Care System 

House Bill 855 — On Thursday, the House also took up legislation to protect some of our most vulnerable citizens who are in our state’s foster system. HBl 855 would require the Department of Education 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. These assessments would determine whether these children meet the criteria to receive special education and other services, such as individual education plans. Foster care students are particularly vulnerable to traumatic situations, and the exposure to such trauma can be exacerbated by changing schools. These events can negatively impact a student both academically and behaviorally, and my colleagues and I want to ensure that Georgia’s foster children have the proper educational resources that they need to succeed.

 

Georgia’s Hemp Program 

House Bill 847 — Before we finished week eight, we passed legislation to expand and improve Georgia’s hemp farming laws. This bill 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. The bill would require that any hemp or hemp products that are shipped, transported or delivered to have proper documentation to indicate that the product meets federal hemp guidelines, including that it does not exceed the federally-defined THC level for hemp. Finally, 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 legislation would build upon the Georgia Hemp Farming Act, which was enacted in 2019 and first established a hemp farming industry in our state, and this follow-up measure would allow this new industry to thrive in Georgia.

 

Miscellaneous Bills 

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 578, which would allow the Department of Human Services (DHS) to review certain law enforcement conviction data for individuals that DHS considers to hire as a volunteer, intern or student;

 

House Bill 755, which would require local boards of education to provide itemized allotment sheets to local charter schools;

 

House Bill 815, which would add an exemption from sales and use taxes for authorities which provide public water or sewer service;

 

House Bill 816, which would allow chiropractors and physicians to organize and jointly own a professional corporation within their scope of practice;

 

House Bill 829, which would allow tangible homestead property owned by individuals 65 years of age or older to be assessed at 20 percent of the fair market value to levy local school district ad valorem taxes. This is companion legislation to HR 962;

 

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

 

House Bill 859, which would set a maximum penalty of $50 for the first violation and $75 for the second violation, without the addition of surcharges, to the misdemeanor violation of the window tint law; 

 

House Bill 861, which would revise the definition of a commercial motor vehicle to include vehicles that are used only in intrastate or only in interstate commerce;

 

House Bill 882, which would remove the sunset on the exemption for sales of food and food ingredients to a qualified food bank; 

 

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 897, which would require the State Forestry Commission to create a website for individuals or firms that harvest standing timber to serve as a uniform system of notification for harvesters to notify their local governing authorities of their practices; 

 

House Bill 900, which would update the design for the existing breast cancer special license plate;

 

House Bill 932, which would allow podiatrists practicing within the scope of their practice to jointly own a professional corporation with any doctors of medicine or osteopathy, as well as add a criminal background check to the list of license requirements for podiatric medicine;

 

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 966, which would provide regulations for the growing, selling and buying of palmetto berries in Georgia;

 

House Bill 968, which would clarify that the statute of repose for actions to recover damages for deficiencies connected with improvements to realty does not apply to actions for breach of contract, including, but not limited to, actions for breach of express contractual warranties;

 

House Bill 969, which would update Georgia’s laws regarding fair housing to meet the “substantially equivalent” threshold, which is required for all state housing laws in order to be certified by the Fair Housing Assistance Program;

 

House Bill 972, which would provide penalties for violations of pipeline safety standards and regulations in Georgia that are enforced by the Public Service Commission;

 

House Bill 1003, which would allow for an additional superior court judge in the Ogeechee Judicial Circuit;

 

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;

 

House Resolution 1167, which would serve as a conveyance resolution for properties located in six counties, conveying property owned by the state of Georgia or amending those conveyances.

 

We will return to the Capitol on Monday, March 9 for the ninth week of the 2020 legislative session. The critical “Cross Over” deadline is next week, and I encourage you to contact my office with questions or concerns regarding any issues or legislation that may interest you as we reach this significant milestone of the session. My Capitol office number is 404-656-0298, and my email address is karen.mathiak@house.ga.gov. Please contact me anytime and as always thank you for allowing me to be your representative! 

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