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Coronavirus disrupts Senate
Hill Jack
Sen. Jack Hill

The decision on March 12 by state leadership to suspend the State Legislature happened before the Senate could get into the development of the budget for FY 2021. The House had passed its version on March 10 and the Senate had scheduled Subcommittee Meetings for March 13-17. These have been cancelled and the Senate awaits further instructions on resuming the 2020 Session.

$100 million for

coronavirus in amended 

The House and the Senate completed the FY 2020 Amended Budget and passed an updated budget that went straight to the Governor for his signature.

The Amended Budget cut about $150 million and over 1000 job vacancies and was reduced to $27.483 billion. Both Lottery revenues (-1.4%) and Fuel Taxes (-0.7%) were adjusted downward. Some highlights include:

➤  $100 million to the Governor’s Emergency Fund from the Revenue Shortfall Reserve (RSR) for Coronavirus response, matching funds for federal relief and state and local relief.

➤  $5 million for the Rural Hospital Stabilization Grant program for struggling rural hospitals

➤  $400,000 for additional Advanced Placement exams for Georgia students

➤ $6.3 million cut restored to County Boards of Health

➤ $3 million for Economic Development project at Middle Georgia Regional airport.

➤ The House agreed to a number of Senate restorations in foster care, elderly issues, Developmental Disabilities Services and Mental Health Services in addition to Rural Health.

Bills passed out of Senate this week

SB 248: Amends the Georgia Firefighters’ Pension Fund by increasing the monthly dues from $25.00 to $30.00. It also increases the tax on premiums charged by fire insurance companies on certain classes of coverage and increases the monthly retirement benefits payable to $60 per month.

SB 249: This legislation allows for the Teachers Retirement System of Georgia to invest in alternative investments. Some examples of additional alternative investments include hedge funds, private equity, tangible assets, and sometimes real estate. The existing code limits total alternative investments to 5%.

SB 313: Revises the regulations placed on PBMs (Pharmacy Benefit Manager). PBMs provide services such as mail order pharmacy, processing claims, negotiation and administration of rebates, patient compliance and disease management. PBMs would now be required to use specific benchmarks to determine reimbursement rates and reporting requirements. It would increase the fees for PBMs to file, get a license, and pay penalties. It expands the role of the Insurance Commissioner and allow time to enforce these new regulations. An amendment was added to require PBMs to offer 100% of rebates it receives to a health plan and require charging the health plan only the cost of the drugs.

SB 318: This bill provides for public forums at public institutions within the University System and Technical College System of Georgia. It prevents the creation of “free speech” zones at these public institutions. This bill will also prohibit material and substantial disruption of protected expressive activity at public institutions of higher education, meaning that any free speech activities cannot interrupt academic activities. These institutions are also prohibited from discriminating against any student organizations on the basis of religion, political or ideological positions. The bill also mandates that public institutions of higher education must provide public notice of rules and expectations regarding expressive activity.

SB 344: Prison proceedings could be conducted by video conference to save on transportation and security. The bill lays out requirements for these video conferences and ensures that attorney-client privilege be preserved. Employees of state crime labs or associated laboratories may appear by video teleconference in certain proceedings.

SB 386: Expands the Georgia Special Needs Scholarship Program to children that have received preschool special education or related services and allows for adopted students and students placed in a permanent guardianship from foster care to be exempted from the requirement of spending a year prior in attendance at a Georgia public school. The list of eligible students includes any rare disease identified by the National Institute of Health’s Genetic and Rare Disease Center’s list of rare disease disorders. The DOE is required to publicize the cost for the programs and provide parents of the students the actual scholarship amounts.

SB 387: Allows the State Board of Education to regulate the distribution of surplus prepared food and regulations for the preparation of meals.

SB 391: “Early Prescription Refills during Emergencies Act” In the event of an emergency, health care insurers will waive time restrictions for prescription medication refills.

SB 430: “Quality Basic Education Act” This legislation allows home study students and private school students to take courses at college and career academies.

SB 431:Defines an “on-time graduation rate” in high school as continuously for four years.

SB 443: Places a cap on the amount subject to garnishment to 15% of the defendant’s disposable earnings for that week on non-student loan debts.