2016 Georgia Legislative Session
Legislative Days 21 – 24  February 19, 2016

By Katie Base Roberts
Director of Governmental Affairs
Fiveash Stanley, Inc.

Legislative Days Grow Longer

 For the first time this year, on Tuesday the House had too many bills on their debate calendar to consider them all before lunch and had to reconvene in the afternoon.  When this happens, committees do not meet until late in the day and Capitol Hill stays active well into the evening.  This informal tipping point is a surefire indication that leadership have one eye on the short legislative calendar and another on the immense volume of active legislation.

Next week lawmakers will meet every day as they race towards Crossover Day on February 29.  Expect session to run late and committees to run even later as legislators work to position bills for consideration before this important milestone.

Industry Issues

HB 935: Freeport Exemption
Representative Brett Harrell, R-Snellville
Heard in a House Ways & Means Subcommittee on 2/19

HB 935 adds certain fulfillment centers to properties eligible for a freeport exemption.  A fulfillment center is defined "for purposes of a level 1 freeport exemption, as a business location in Georgia which is used predominately to pack, ship, store or otherwise process tangible personal property sold by electronic, internet, telephonic, or other remote means.”

HB 836: Renovation of Affordable Housing Exemption
Representative Amy Carter, R-Valdosta
Heard in a House Ways & Means Subcommittee on 2/16

HB 836 creates a limited time sales tax exemption for tangible personal property use in direct connection with the construction, renovation, and rehabilitation of affordable housing by non-profit organizations.  The bill comes at the request of Habitat for Humanity.

HB 346: Manufactured Housing
Representative Dominic LaRiccia, R-Douglas
Heard in a House Ways & Means Subcommittee on 2/19

HB 346 ensures that sales tax is charged only on construction materials used to produce a manufactured, single-family structure and other tangible items used in the construction and installation of those structures.

HB 411: Hauling Unfinished Wood Products
Representative Sam Watson, R-Moultrie
Hearing only in the House Transportation Committee on 2/16

HB 411 states that on all non-interstate highways, the max weight for a load of unfinished wood products is 84,000 pounds.  The legislation allows a vehicle hauling unfinished wood products from a harvest location to the first point of marketing or processing a 10% variance within a 150 mile radius of the point of origin.

HB 996: Secondary Metals Recyclers
Representative Dominic LaRiccia, R-Douglas
Tabled in a House Regulated Industries Subcommittee on 2/18

HB 996 allows secondary metals recyclers to pay sellers with cash.  A total prohibition on cash payouts was seen as one of the major victories when the legislature initially addressed the rampant issue of metal theft in 2012.  Ultimately, this year’s subcommittee seems unwilling to loosen those payout restrictions.

SR 447: Joint Study Committee on School Construction
Senator Ellis Black, R-Valdosta
Pending in the Senate Education & Youth Committee

SR 447 creates a Study Committee on School Construction with members of the House and Senate.  The Committee will specifically look at construction costs and financing.

Healthcare & Workers’ Compensation Issues

HB 818: State Board Housekeeping
Representative Jason Shaw, R-Lakeland
Adopted by the House on 2/17

HB 818 is the annual State Board of Workers’ Compensation housekeeping bill, drafted in conjunction with the Advisory Council.  It makes a number of changes relating to benefits:

  • Increases the temporary total disability payout from $550 to $575 per week
  • Increases the temporary partial disability payout from $367 to $383 per week
  • Increases the death benefit to a surviving spouse from $220,000 to $230,000

The bill also makes terminology changes and clarifies policies relating to administrative law judges, self-insured employers and the self-insurer’s guaranty trust fund.

HB 216: Occupational Diseases
Representative Micah Gravley, R-Douglasville
Favorably reported from the House Industry & Labor Committee on 2/17

As originally introduced, HB 216 provided a rebuttable presumption that an expanded list of medical conditions suffered by firefighters are occupational diseases. 

The substitute version that came out of the House Industry and Labor Committee this week is more conservative.  The legislation does not provide a rebuttable presumption and only extends the list of medical conditions to include cancer, which “is shown by a preponderance of the competent and credible evidence, which shall include medical evidence, to have been attributable to the firefighter’s performance of his or her duties as a firefighter.”

As presented in committee, this new language would allow the firefighter to appear before an administrative law judge to determine if workers’ compensation benefits are payable in the event of cancer.  The Advisory Council of the State Board of Workers’ Compensation did not object to the measure during hearings.

HB 866: Employer of Self-Insured Health Plans
Representative Shaw Blackmon, R-Bonaire
Pending in the Senate Insurance Committee

HB 866 exempts multiple employer self-insured health plans from the payment of premium taxes on the plan's net premium.

SB 338: Certificate of State Law Applicability
Senator Judson Hill, R-Marietta
Pending in the Senate Insurance Committee

SB 338 allows any person, firm, or private corporation that has less than three employees in Georgia to apply with the State Board for the issues of a certificate of state law applicability.  In return, the State Board would issue a certificate of state law applicability, listing relevant state laws and certifying facts that, if true, would not require the applicant to provider workers’ compensation insurance coverage.  The State Board is required to respond to applications within 15 days of receipt and will collect a $25 processing fee with each application.

SB 29: Occupational Diseases
Senator John Albers, R-Roswell
Pending in the Senate Insurance & Labor Committee

SB 29 expands workers’ compensation liability by defining “firefighter’s occupational disease” to include hypertension, heart disease, respiratory disease, cancer, AIDS, and hepatitis.  This legislation was introduced in the first days of the 2015 session and is still pending in the Senate Insurance and Labor Committee.

General Business Issues

HB 1017: Georgia Civil Practice Act
Representative Barry Fleming, R-Harlem
Hearing only in a House Judiciary Subcommittee on 2/17

HB 1017 revises the electronic records that are discoverable in a court proceeding.  A coalition of business interests opposes the measure in its current form because it fails to follow federal standards adopted by most states and could potentially increase litigation costs.

SB 255: Wage Garnishment
Senator Jesse Stone, R-Waynesboro
Pending in the House Judiciary Committee

In 2015, a federal judge ruled that Georgia’s existing garnishment law did not provide sufficient notice about income exemptions (like income from Social Security benefits, workers’ compensation and welfare).  After the ruling, some counties stopped issuing garnishments altogether until the law could be improved.  SB 255 is the product of a working group of House and Senate members to address these constitutional issues.

SB 276: Georgia Personal Data Security Act
Senator John Albers, R-Roswell
Pending in the Senate Science & Technology Committee

Just before the Committee’s hearing this week, Senator Albers released a substitute version of SB 276 which addresses many of the concerns raised by the working group.  While the definition of “covered entity” did not change, the scope of critical personal information is now limited to a social security number, driver’s license number and/or account, credit or debit card number only in combination with the required code or password.

Further, the amended language removes the obligation of the covered entity to give notice of a breach if a third-party provides notice instead.  The legislation requires the third-party to provide necessary information to the covered entity if the covered entity will give notice. 

The working group is satisfied with this compromise language and believes it would put Georgia on par with other states if enacted.  We understand legislation dealing with data breach notice is also pending at the federal level and many in the working group would prefer to see a uniform law applied nationally.