2017 Georgia Legislative Session

Katie Base RobertsReview of Legislative Days 5-8

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

Legislators Return

After taking a break for budget hearings, legislators returned to Atlanta on Jan. 23 and introduced a number of bills that will drive their work for the remainder of the 2017 session.  Legislation related to taxation, casinos and government accountability commanded the time and attention of everyone in the Capitol, signaling the beginning of real action.

On Thursday, the House adopted a supplemental budget that shores up state spending for the balance of FY2017, which runs through June 30.  The Senate will now consider and amend that bill, while the House shifts their focus to the larger FY2018 budget.  Passing a balanced budget is one of the few constitutionally mandated items the General Assembly must address.

Lawmakers will meet Monday through Thursday this week, Jan 30-Feb. 2.

Healthcare and Workers’ Compensation Legislation

Last year, the legislature adopted legislation that expands the eligibility for workers’ compensation benefits to firefighters diagnosed with cancer.  The Governor subsequently vetoed the legislation over concerns about codifying an exception for a specific occupation and citing the potential for exhaustive litigation.  Bill sponsor Micah Gravley (R-Douglasville) and Speaker of the House David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) vowed to revisit the issue; the following two bills were introduced this week:

HB 152: Coverage for Cancer in Fire Fighters
Rep. Micah Gravley, R-Douglasville
Assigned to the House Industry and Labor Committee on 1/26

HB 152 permits firefighters to receive workers' compensation benefits for cancer diseases if it is shown by a preponderance of the competent and credible evidence, which includes medical evidence, to have been attributable to the firefighter's performance of their duties as a firefighter.

HB 146: Insurance Coverage for Fire Departments
Rep. Micah Gravley, R-Douglasville
Assigned to the House Insurance Committee on 1/26

In an attempted compromise, HB 146 requires legally organized fire departments to purchase and maintain insurance coverage to pay claims for cancer diagnoses in all members of the fire department who have served at least 12 consecutive months if the diagnosis renders the fire fighter unable to perform their duties.  The inability to perform is deemed a permanent physical disability and is conclusively presumed to have been incurred in the line of duty.

The insurance benefit must include, at minimum, the following:

  • A lump sum benefit of $25,000 payable to the member upon submission of proof of diagnosis.
  • A monthly benefit equal to 60% of the member’s monthly salary at the time of diagnosis or a monthly benefit of $5,000, whichever is less, to begin 6 months after proof of diagnosis and lasting a total of 42 consecutive months.  If the member is a volunteer fire fighter, the monthly benefit is $1,500 over the same term.

The monthly benefits stop if the member’s condition is reevaluated and it is determined they are able to perform their duties again or the member dies. Further, the authority governing the legally organized fire department is permitted to use proceeds from certain county and municipal taxes to purchase this insurance.  The Georgia Firefighter Standards and Training Council may also provide financial assistance.

SB 25: Healthcare Transparency Initiative
Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus
Assigned to the Senate Insurance and Labor Committee on 1/23

SB 25 creates an all-payer claims database administered by the Georgia Health Care Transparency Initiative Board (within the Department of Insurance).  Entities that provide healthcare services, including accident and sickness insurers, HMOs, PPOs, workers’ comp, and PBMs, are required to submit claim information.

Tax Legislation

HB 56: Equipment Rental Agreements
Rep. Ron Stephens, R-Savannah
Heard in a House Ways and Means Subcommittee on 1/24

HB 56 levies a “property tax recovery fee” on certain rental agreements with rental equipment companies engaged in construction, mining or forestry and general rental centers.  The fee is 1.5% on the total charge for a rental agreement, exclusive of taxes, fees and separately stated charges.  The equipment rental company must then retain the fee in escrow until ad valorem tax is assessed.  If the total amount of property tax recovery fees collected by the company exceeds the company's assessed ad valorem tax liability for rental equipment for that calendar year, the company shall remit such fees, along with any accrued interest, to the general fund of the state treasury.

HB 61: Tax Online Sales
Rep. Jay Powell, R-Camilla
Heard in a House Ways and Means Subcommittee on 1/24

HB 61 requires large delivery retailers (like Amazon) to collect and remit sales taxes OR maintain sales tax data for each purchaser and remit that information to the purchaser and the Department of Revenue so the purchaser may pay owed taxes on their tax return.

Omnibus Tax Reform.  Leading tax committee members are in the final stages of drafting legislation that will impact businesses across the state.  By recapturing taxes lost to digital downloads, Uber, AirBnB and other disruptive technologies, the sponsors hope to derive sufficient revenue to lower the state’s income tax rate and possibly provide limited property tax relief.  Details are gradually surfacing and the bill is expected soon; however, the enthusiasm to undertake this level of reform during the current session has lessened in recent weeks.

Building and Construction Industry Legislation

SB 2: The FAST Act
Sen. Mike Dugan, R-Carrollton
Pending in the Senate Economic Development and Tourism Committee

SB 2 removes costly hassles placed on Georgia’s small businesses by creating a more efficient and transparent permitting process.  Specifically, the legislation requires state and local government agencies that issue licenses or permits to establish a fee schedule that will include turnaround times.  If the agency fails to meet that schedule, the fee will be reduced by 10% for every ten days past that deadline.  In addition, agencies will be required to offer expedited processing for a rush service charge, which can be no more than twice the original fee.

Lien Registry.  The Department of Revenue is expected to introduce legislation that would establish a statewide lien registry for personal property.

General Business Legislation

HB 72: Tax Credit for Hiring Veterans
Rep. Jesse Petrea, R-Savannah
Assigned to the House Ways & Means Committee on 1/24

This bill creates an income tax credit for employers who hire certain veterans for full-time jobs.  Specifically, an employer that employs a veteran in a full-time job for at least 40 weeks during a 12-month period is eligible for an income tax credit of $2,000.  Veterans employed before January 1, 2018 do not qualify and a single employer can receive up to $50,000 in this specific credit per year.

HB 82: Notice of Security Breach
Rep. Sheri Gilligan, R-Cumming
Heard in a House Judiciary Subcommittee on 1/26

HB 82 requires information brokers and data collectors to provide notice when an individual’s personal information is released to unauthorized persons, whether such release is intentional, inadvertent, or accidental.

HB 87: Multi-Year Registrations
Rep. Brad Raffensperger, R-Johns Creek
Assigned to the House Small Business Development Committee on 1/24

HB 87 allows for three-year registrations for most types of business organizations, including non-profits, partnerships, and limited liability companies.

HB 120: Revised Notarial Acts of 2018
Rep. Andy Welch, R-McDonough
Assigned to the House Judiciary Committee on 1/25

Similar to legislation the author pursued last year, HB 120 makes significant changes to laws governing notarial acts and notary publics.