Gold Dome Report - March 20, 2014
Read the Report at http://www.nelsonmullins.com/newsletters/copy-of-gold-dome-report-march-20-2014
Gold Dome Report - January 14, 2013
Day one arrived! Today, legislators descended upon the Capitol to commence the 2013 legislative Session. Lots of family, friends, lobbyists, media and others were also on hand despite the rainy morning to commence work on the people's business.
Read the Report at http://www.nelsonmullins.com/newsletters/gdr-1-14-2013
The Georgia legislative session begins January 14. This year, GSHA is working with Representative John Carson (district 43, Marietta), to put forth a bill that would enable CFs working under a PCE license to be allowed to bill Medicaid across settings. Currently, they are able to bill in all settings but outpatient. GSHA has heard the frustration of its members and has been working for some time towards this bill. We ask that all members be on the look-out for future Eblasts as we will be asking you to contact your legislators once this bill is announced. GSHA members were extremely proactive in contacting their legislators last year regarding the music therapy bill (thank you!). We ask that you continue that trend to help GSHA and the future of our profession once more this year!
Department of Community Health Board MeetingThe following is a summary of the discussions from the November 8, 2012 Board meeting of the Department of Community Health. Read the minutes from the meeting to learn more! (click here)
Click here to view an update from GSHA Lobbyists - May 2011
Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities
Recommendations included added State funds to serve developmentally disabled youth aging out of the Division of Families and Children's Services' care. While the House added approximately $235,000 in State money to decrease the waiting list for services provided for children with developmental disabilities, the Senate zeroed that idea out.
There was some language in the Adult Developmental Disabilities Services program area altered by the Senate relating to the line item which proposes to increase funds for additional New Options Waivers/Comprehensive Supports Waivers to serve youth aging out of the Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS) care. The Senate opted to increase funding for six months but the amount of $680,411 remained the same.
Department of Community Health
The House and Senate heard loudly the concern regarding the proposed provider cuts to non-hospital and home and community based services providers. The Governor had proposed that providers, such as physicians, audiologists, speech therapists, physical therapists, and others providing services to Medicaid patients, would receive a one percent cut to their reimbursement rate. Public testimony from groups such as the ACCESS Coalition and others caused the House to reinstate one-half a percent. The Senate agreed to the one-half percent rate cut but exempted additional providers including federally qualified health centers, nursing homes, hospices, and rural health clinics from that cut.
Posted on 3/29/2011
Senate Education and Youth Committee
Rep. Rich Golick (R-Smyrna) introduced HB 181 seeking to authorize waiving the one-year evaluation period for medically fragile students to qualify for Individualized Educational Programs (IEP). Local school boards will be able to authorize a waiver of the evaluation periods as they are requested on a case-by-case basis due to medical needs. The Department of Education supports this legislation, as well as some of Rep. Golick's constituents who feel medically fragile children's lives are in peril during that one-year evaluation. The Committee recommended and gave a "do pass" on HB 181.
House Education Committee
SB 184 was presented as a Committee Substitute by Sen. Tommie Williams (R-Lyons) addressing the dismissals of school employees. It takes on the dismissing of the most recently hired to be first fired and proposes to take into account performance of the educator as well as the teacher's students' academic performance. Rep. Jan Jones (R-Alpharetta) offered language to be included in the first section of the Bill. There were some questions from the Committee and an amendment was offered by Rep. Edward Lindsey to help clarify the intent. The Bill then passed by Substitute with the amendment. Rep. Jones will carry this Bill in the House.
SB 38 was presented by Sen. Chip Rogers (R-Woodstock) as a Committee Substitute. This Bill addresses the ability of the State School Superintendent to hire and fire his or her staff and what approval is needed by the State Board of Education. It also proposed to address issues that the School Superintendent could add to State Board of Education meeting agenda but that language was eliminated. Finally, it increases the contract authority that the State School Superintendent can have, moving that amount from $50,000 to $250,000. The Bill passed by Substitute as amended. Rep. Steve Davis will now carry the Bill in the House.
HB 186 - Rep. Randy Nix (R-LaGrange) brought forth this legislation pertaining to the Quality Basic Education Act. HB 186 seeks to expand the career pathway options for Georgia's High School students. Some ways this is possible is allowing students to "clep" courses and offering them the ability to work in "career clusters" to explore technical pathways. With a vote of 164-4, the HB 186 passes.
HB 226 was authored by Rep. Donna Sheldon (R-Dacula) and presented by Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford). The Bill would allow the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities to create, operate, and regulate individual development accounts for people who need assistance with medical expenses. Without any discussion or amendments, the Bill passed unanimously 52 to zero.
HB 609 – Rep. Dee Dawkins-Haigler (D-Lithonia) proposed this Bill amending Article 1 of Chapter 24 of Title 33. The Bill would require health benefit policy coverage for telemedicine services. It would further amend Chapter 4 of Title 49 by providing coverage for telemedicine services for Medicaid recipients
A lengthy hearing was held on HB 167, the Bill by Rep. Steve Davis (R-McDonough). This Bill would be known as the Insurance Delivery Enhancement Act, including third-party administrators under Georgia's "prompt pay" law for health insurers to pay claims within certain timeframes. Today's meeting delved further into the concerns that this Bill might actually cause a court challenge because of the federal ERISA provisions. Third-party administrators ("TPAs") handle claims for those health plans offered by larger employers. An outside lawyer working for the Medical Association of Georgia argued that this proposal by Rep. Davis would withstand legal scrutiny as it really dealt with "timing" and did not address actual administration. He argued that there was recent case law from the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals applicable to this point. Josh Belinfante, a former lawyer to Governor Sonny Perdue and now in private practice, addressed the Committee on behalf of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce (which opposes the Bill). Mr. Belinfante stated that this Bill would indeed erode ERISA law and would establish a dual set of regulations. Mr. Belinfante noted a Georgia case as well as federal regulations on the subject and the courts have ruled that if something "touches" administration then it would impact ERISA – he stated that the time of payment is clearly a touch. Further, Mr. Belinfante argued that the Texas prompt pay law does not apply to self-funded plans and that is clearly stated on the Texas Department of Insurance's website. Brian Looby, an internal lawyer with the Medical Association of Georgia, and Martha Phillips, with the Georgia Dental Association, both stated that the change in the law would greatly help providers. Stacy Freeman, a lawyer representing America's Health Insurance Plans, also stated that there were problems with the Bill, reminding the Committee that self-funded plans were not insurance. Mr. Freeman also pointed out that there were remedies available now through the Department of Labor which oversees these types of plans. Ron Jackson, an attorney with the Department of Insurance which supports HB 167, noted that there is currently a Supreme Court test on the impact of ERISA – specifically noting the Kentucky case addressing any willing provider laws. The Court has created a “saving” clause test, whereby it was used to uphold the Kentucky statutes regulate insurance and therefore escape preemption. This "test" determines if a state law regulates insurance if: 1) it is specifically directed at entities engaged in insurance, and 2) it substantially affects the risk pooling arrangement between the insurer and the insured.
HR 491 – Rep. Valerie Clark (R-Lawrenceville) brought forth this Resolution which encourages the development of "performance-based" coaching programs for teachers and administrators. These programs are aligned with the Race to the Top and are just a "little bit different" from the programs currently in place through the Professional Standards Commission. HR 491 passed 149 to seven.
HR 459 – Rep. Mike Dudgeon (R-Suwanee) presented his first piece of legislation which supports the Professional Standards Commission's ("PSC") rule change on advanced degree certificate upgrade funding for teachers and administrators. The State of Georgia pays teachers more when they have received more certificates and degrees, but some of those receiving such money is for degrees from online "diploma mills" where the individual simply pays and receives a certificate. The PSC's recent rule change mandates that funding can only go towards certificates and degrees that are relevant to the teacher's instruction area and must be from either a research institute or a nationally certified program. Rep. Dudgeon was careful to point out that this does not eliminate online classes, simply ones that can be considered diploma mills. This legislation also does not seek to negate other degrees and certifications received prior to October, 2010 when the rule was passed. Rep. Dudgeon also noted that this Resolution has no statutory implications. It simply indicates that the House of Representatives supports the PSC's rule changes. HR 459 passed 159 to seven.
The Subcommittee met to hear presentations by Rep. Dee Dawkins-Haigler (D-Lithonia) and Rep. Sharon Beasley-Teague (D-Red Oak). Rep. Dawkins-Haigler spoke on HB 276, which seeks to impose harsher punishments for parents who fail to attend parent-teacher conferences when their child is failing for two or more consecutive terms. The law currently allows for these parents to be called to court for failure to attend and this legislation seeks to impose fines for their absences as well. The Bill would provide that parents cannot refuse to attend these meetings simply because "they don't want to," as has been seen in many cases before. Rep. Dawkins-Haigler noted that more often than not, a child's achievement and behavior in school is directly related to parental involvement. A representative from the Department of Education spoke against HB 276, stating that arraigning and/or fining parents is not a "workable solution" to the problem of parental involvement. She also said that this legislation would place the principal in a "parent police mode," which would be no more effective at getting these parents involved.
HR 248 - Rep. Earl Ehrhart (R-Powder Springs) brought forth this Resolution for the third time, expressing the intent by the House of Representatives to restore funding for National Board Certified Teachers at the earliest possible date that the budget permits. The State of Georgia formerly paid a stipend of 10% of 10 years salary to teachers undergoing the process of being National Board certified, yet had to reduce the funding by half in 2009 and eliminate it entirely in 2010. HR 248 passed with a vote of 163 to two.
SB 87 was authored by Sen. Chip Rogers (R-Woodstock) and would expand the number of children and teenagers that qualify for special needs scholarships. He summed up his argument by asking, “Is more choice in education better for children?” However, after his presentation, he suggested that he did not have enough votes to pass this Bill. As a result, he moved to have the Bill tabled and there were no objections.
Posted on 3/11/11
Department of Community Health
The House apparently heard loudly the concern regarding the proposed provider cuts to non-hospital and home and community based services providers. The Governor had proposed that providers, such as physicians, audiologists, speech therapists, physical therapists, and others providing services to Medicaid patients, would receive a one percent cut to their reimbursement rate. Public testimony from groups such as the ACCESS Coalition and others caused the House to reinstate one-half a percent.
Posted on 3/10/11
The House Judiciary Committee met late Thursday to examine a number of the Bills. The first Bill to receive quite a bit of discussion was HB 229 presented by Rep. Sharon Cooper (R-Marietta). The Bill would make it so that the decision of the administrative law judge would render the final administrative decision of the commissioner when it comes to administrative hearings and appeals under Medicaid. Representatives from the Department of Community Health ("DCH") were adamantly opposed to the Bill as the Department wants to have more authority in the final decision. Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver (D-Atlanta) and Rep. Mike Jacobs (R-Atlanta) agreed that concerns from DCH had been heard in the Subcommittee meeting and did not need to be heard again at length. Rep. Doug McKillip (R-Athens) proposed an amendment to the Bill which added the words "and noncompliance" after the word "compliance" on lines 47 and 50. The Bill was then voted on as amended and passed unanimously.
Current Legislative Issues affecting GSHA members. More specific details on pending legislation can be found at www.legis.ga.gov.
HB 229 - A BILL to be entitled an Act to amend Code Section 49-4-153 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated, relating to administrative hearings and appeals under Medicaid generally, so as to provide that in certain matters, the decision of the administrative law judge shall be the final administrative decision of the commissioner; to provide for related matters; to repeal conflicting laws; and for other purposes.
SB 63 – This is a proposal to impose the use of a pilot program to help combat Medicaid fraud by using "smart cards" and fingerprints to determine if Medicaid recipients were eligible for benefits. Costs for the six month pilot would be approximately $600,000. If the Department of Community Health, which oversees Medicaid, would implement the program statewide, it would cost Georgia approximately $23.3 million and that is not including various ancillary costs (such administering a competitive procurement; making changes to Georgia's Medicaid Management Information System; shipping costs of equipment to providers; training for providers to use equipment and system; and etc.). The argument has been that there may be three percent fraud in the program which would offset these expenses
HB 214 - Rep. Mickey Channell (R-Greensboro) introduced HB 214 which provides for the creation of the Department of Public Heath. Currently, public health functions are in the Division of Public Health under the Department of Community Health; however HB 214 seeks to move its operations and employees into a category and jurisdiction of its own. Rep. Channell was noted that all $192 Million in the Public Health Budget as well as all employees will be transferred into the newly created department, dollar for dollar and person for person. HB 214 passed 151-9.
Teacher Reduction in Force Policies
SB 184 – Sen. Tommie Williams (R-Lyons) offered this Bill adding a new Code Section at O.C.G.A. § 20-2-948 to provide requirements for reduction in force policies for termination, suspension, nonrenewal, demotion or reprimands of teachers and other school personnel. Local boards of education will be prohibited from adopting or implementing a policy that allows lengths of services to be the primary or determining factor when implementing a reduction in force.
SB 207 – Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta) proposed this change to O.C.G.A. § 20-2-2065(b) and charter schools to provide that certain provisions relating to termination, suspension, non-renewal, demotion, or reprimand of teachers and other school personnel may not be waived pursuant to a charter.
National Board of Certified Teachers Stipend
Persons With Disabilities Issues/Programs
SB 198 – Sen. Greg Goggans (R-Douglas) proposed changes in Chapter 2 of Title 21 to address assistance for persons with disabilities in voting. It defines in O.C.G.A. § 21-2-2(4.2) "disability" as "a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of an elector with a disability." It defines "major life activities" as "activities including, but not limited to, caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, reading, learning, concentrating, thinking, communicating, and working." Current law addresses "physical" disabilities.
HB 324, brought by Rep. Jay Neal (R-LaFayette), presented this initiative concerning language sought by the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities to make Georgia's law match the contents of the Department of Justice settlement agreement. Josh Norris, with the Georgia Advocacy Office, testified that Georgia's definition of "developmental disability" does not match the federal definition which includes intellectual disabilities and physical disabilities and problems in adaptive behavior. Mr. Norris is concerned that in carrying out the law proposed Georgia may actually cause individuals, who currently receive waiver services, to no longer be eligible for those services. This Bill was held for parties to work on language.
Health Insurance Benefits
SB 17 - Establishes the Special Advisory Commission on Mandated Health Insurance Benefits. Chairman Jack Hill (R-Reidsville) of the Appropriations Committee presented the substitution to HB 77 for the Amended FY2011 to the Senate. Chairman Hill went into great detail over the substitutions made by the committee, including providing funding for hemophiliacs through the fiscal year until they complete the transition into federal funding support, providing respite services for families with members suffering from Alzheimer's, and restoring funding to the hearing impaired.
Tax Council Recommendations - They intend to tax services as described in OCGA 48-8-2.1 ; Our understanding is that they do not intend to tax professional services such as those from a physician, attorney or CPA. They do intend on taxing hearing aids, and other hearing devices.
Budget/Provider Cuts/Teacher Retirement System
The House Appropriations Committee's Subcommittee on Health took public comments. Nearly 30 witnesses addressed issues such as the proposed provider rate cuts of one (1) percent, the cut to the Children's 1st program, and the elimination of the Medicaid optional services for dental, vision and podiatry programs. Several physician groups and other children's advocacy groups objected to the one percent provider reimbursement rate cuts (which would include fees paid to physicians and other providers). Numerous organizations also supported a restoration of the dollars cut from Children's 1st initiative which serves as a single-point of entry to services for babies and children who are risk for disease or other disabilities. Babies Born Healthy program had shown a recognized "savings" with the program's discontinuation in 2010. Entities such as Families First, the Georgia Academy of Pediatricians, Georgia OB/GYN Society and others accented that these funds supported good prenatal care which was the key to minimizing higher expenditures for children who might otherwise develop disabilities during pregnancy.
The House Appropriations Education Subcommittee met early on Friday morning to continue discussing the FY 2012 budget and hear from members of the public. Quite a few people signed up to speak when Chairman Tom Dickson (R-Cohutta) gave them the opportunity. The meeting began with the members of the Committee addressing a representative from the Teachers' Retirement System. He began by pointing out that funds would be reduced as a result of the declining population of retired teachers who qualify for the Local/Floor COLA benefit. Rep. Amos Amerson (R-Dahlonega) then asked what the average age of these retired teachers is. The speaker from the Teachers' Retirement System replied that they were almost all over 80 years old. Currently the Teachers' Retirement System has dropped below the 100% funded level and is hovering around 87%. Rep. Kathy Ashe (D-Atlanta) then asked a question about how the retirement system deals with the difference between full-time and half-time teachers paying into the system. Rep. Brooks Coleman (R-Duluth) then asked a follow–up question about what happens when a retired teacher who is receiving benefits goes back to work half-time. The answer was that he or she would no longer be accumulating retirement credits.
Rebidding for the State's contracts with the care management organizations has been discussed. The contracts, per Commissioner Cook, are now in the posture of having a "global look" and the Department of Administrative Services has been asked to extend the contract for the CMOs for one year (from June 20, 2012 until 2013).
Tuesday, March 8th
The General Assembly will be in session.
3 PM Academic Support Subcommittee of House Education will meet in 216 CAP to hear the following:
• HB 305 setting school board terms at a minimum of four years
• HB 257 requiring a local board policy on reduction in force with performance the primary factor
• HB 310, the End to Cyberbullying Act
• HB 267 requiring the Department of Education to develop a strategy regarding to dangers of explicit images in texts and local boards to implement the strategy
3:30 PM Academic Achievement Subcommittee of Senate Education and Youth will meet in 307 CLOB to hear:
• SB 43 setting the compulsory attendance age at 5-17
• SB 184 prohibiting a local board from adopting or implementing a policy that allows length of service to the the primary or determining factor when carrying out a reduction in force
Academic Support Subcommittee of Senate Education and Youth will meet in 307 CLOB to hear:
• SB 152 relating to PreK sites at churches and religious schools
• SB 183 allowing the school health nurse to consult with health professionals offsite
• HB 62 - A BILL to be entitled an Act to amend Article 33 of Chapter 2 of Title 20 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated, relating to the scholarship program for special needs students, so as to provide for additional notification of the program; to provide for application deadlines; to provide deadlines for scholarship payments to parents; to provide for related matters; to repeal conflicting laws; and for other purposes.
School Choice Subcommittee of Senate Education and Youth will meet in 310 CLOB to continue the hearing on SB 87, the voucher bill.
Also, on March 9, 2011 Governor Nathan Deal announced six new appointees to the State Board of Education today. James Bostic, Al Hodge, Jose Perez, Buzz Law, and Joey Loudermilk have completed their service. The sixth appointee was to fill the seat vacated by Brad Bryant who resigned to serve as interim State Superintendent. The Governor's press release with information on the new appointees, visit http://gov.georgia.gov/00/press/detail/0,2668,165937316_165937374_168762430,00.html.
PAGE will testify this afternoon before a Senate Education Subcommittee on SB 87, a bill sponsored by Senator Chip Rogers, R-Woodstock, which would greatly expand Georgia’s school voucher program. The bill would add children of military families, students with 504 plans, and foster children to the list of those eligible to receive public dollars to attend private schools. It would also rename Georgia’s voucher program, “The Georgia Educational Freedom Act.” Below are our comments:
PAGE COMMENTS ON VOUCHERS (SB 87)
• PAGE remains opposed to the use of public funds for private school education, which this legislation calls for. We would ask that legislators return to their efforts on improving public education, which affects more than 1.7 million students, rather than trying to continue focus scarce state funds on private school programs that at most will affect only a relatively few students.
• While this legislation may be a sincere effort to help those students who are not succeeding in public schools, we believe that the solution lies in improving the schools rather than abandoning them.
• For schools that are not succeeding there are a series of increasingly severe interventions which include changes in staffing, changes in leadership and takeover by the state. These sanctions are serious and when warranted are, in our view, a solution that addressed the root problem.
• While we support parental choice, which is different than private school choice, we prefer to look for solutions within the framework of public education. One thing we all need to agree on is that no scholarship or voucher program should result in a loss of funds to public schools.
• We are very concerned, as all taxpayers should be, that, under this legislation, schools receiving voucher funds would be under little or no obligation to show that they had properly used such funds or had succeeded with students.
• It remains our position that unless and until we are adequately funding our public schools, which after all is the primary constitutional duty of the state, there should be no funding of any other schools using increasingly scarce state funds.
Use Your Address to Find Legislators’ Contact Info:
Educators with concerns and questions about voucher expansion should contact their House and Senate members. Find all your elected officials by entering your home address: http://www.ciclt.net/sn/pol/po_districtlookup.aspx?ClientCode=page&State=ga
73% OF GEORGIA VOTERS FAVOR $1 TOBACCO TAX
INCREASE TO HELP CUT STATE’S BUDGET DEFICIT
Tobacco tax would bring in $354 million in new revenue, reduce youth smoking
ATLANTA (March 2, 2009) – As the Legislature prepares to reconvene next week, a new poll released today shows that 73 percent of Georgia voters support raising the tobacco tax by $1 per pack to cut the state’s budget deficit and help preserve Medicaid funding in the state.
This support comes from a broad-based coalition of voters, including 72 percent of Republicans, 79 percent of Democrats, and 65 percent of Independents. Even half of smokers (50 percent) support the tobacco tax increase to preserve health care funding.
“Now is the time for legislators to listen to the 73 percent of Georgia voters who want to raise the tobacco tax instead of cutting critical programs. These results show that, regardless of party, voters across Georgia understand raising the tobacco tax is a smart way to cut the deficit and protect our kids from tobacco,” said Danny McGoldrick, Vice President for Research at the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
The survey of 500 registered Georgia voters was released by a coalition of groups including the American Heart Association, American Lung Association, American Cancer Society and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
Increasing the tobacco tax also is by far the most palatable approach to addressing Georgia’s budget woes. While 71 percent of voters supported increasing the tobacco tax for this purpose, more than two-thirds opposed every other option presented, including increasing state income and sales taxes, implementing a grocery tax and a hospital bed tax, and reducing funding for education and health care programs.
"Georgia faces many tough decisions this year, but raising the tobacco tax is the only one that will protect our kids and also lower healthcare costs for years to come," said John Daniel, Vice President, Federal Georgia & Emerging Issues for the American Cancer Society.
The survey also found among Georgia voters:
• 60 percent are more likely to support candidates who favor the proposal, while just 19 percent are less likely to do so.
• 77 percent favor taxing other tobacco products such as cigars and smokeless tobacco at a rate comparable to cigarettes.
A recent report by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and other public health organizations found that a $1 increase in Georgia’s tobacco tax would raise $354.5 million in new annual revenue. Such an increase would also prevent 79,600 Georgia kids from smoking, save 38,400 state residents from premature, smoking-caused deaths and save $1.8 billion in tobacco-related health care costs (for more information, go to www.tobaccofreekids.org/winwinwin).
Georgia’s current cigarette tax is 37 cents per pack, which ranks 47th in the nation and is well below the national average of $1.34 per pack.
The survey was conducted by the polling firm Public Opinion Strategies. The statewide poll has a random sample of 500 likely Georgia voters and was conducted February 23 to February 25, 2010. The poll has a margin of error of +/- 4.38 percentage points.
ASHA Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology Advisory Council
The following GSHA members are part of this council.
Audiology Advisory Council
Albert De Chicchis (2009)
Speech -Language Pathology Advisory Council
Melanie Hudson (2008, 2009)
Paula Klingman-Palk (2008)
Opal (Jean) Norman (2008)
Gold Dome Reports
GSHA's lobbyists at the law firm of Nelson Mullins produce the Gold Dome Report, which summarizes particular developments in legislation at the state level. The Gold Dome Report is prepared on a daily basis during Georgia's Legislative Session which commences in early January of each year and runs for a period of 40 days. The session usually ends in late March due to breaks taken for Budget Conferences and Hearings. Prior to each session, you also may find an overview of expected legislation.
Click here to view Gold Dome Report archives. The articles are summaries of particular developments in the law and are not intended to be a solicitation or to render legal advice. This publication can be considered advertising under applicable laws.