With the session adjourning last week, your Atlanta firm wanted to share a quick update on where some of the major issues for the year finished. As always, if we can provide further information, just contact us.
Creating a new planning and funding structure for transit service in metro Atlanta was one of the top priority issues for the Georgia House. Chairmen Kevin Tanner and Brandon Beach did a remarkable job of finding consensus and enacted legislation that will create a regional planning structure and a path for major suburban counties to fund and provide transit services. Many expected this effort to fail, and the win was positive news for transit advocates and the business community. Additionally, Gov. Deal provided a large amount of bond funding to jumpstart the effort in the budget.
This was one of the big-ticket items the legislature attempted to address. A hotly fought bill over stopping local governments from blocking small cell infrastructure failed when it missed a final procedural vote in the House. A top Senate priority on rural broadband did pass and advances a variety of measures on this front, including mapping and allowing EMCs to move into the provision of broadband services.
This was another top priority item before the legislature. Gov. Deal shaped an early compromise that made Georgia one of the first states to align — in a very business-friendly way — its tax code with the new federal requirements. It also included the first cut in Georgia history in individual income tax rates. Getting to this result required a great deal of fast and accurate analysis, drafting and negotiation. Legislation to eliminate taxes on jet fuel did not pass.
Legislation increasing tipping fees for some landfills also passed. It included several amendments to limit the amount and application of the fees. This will continue to be an area of activity as landowners, local governments and management companies debate appropriate fees and siting issues.
Gov. Deal won his final push to reform criminal justice laws in Georgia with a successful effort on cash bail and non-violent sentencing reform.
Both chambers approved legislation to begin taxing more Internet sales. This move will likely position the state for litigation over how far states can push on working around federal laws on Internet retail taxation.
The legislature expanded medical marijuana to cover some new conditions and put future expansions in the hands of medical experts at the state Department of Public Health. Both chambers have also expressed support for summer study of in-state cultivation under state supervision so patients can legally obtain CBD oil.
This issue, one of the more vexing ones for legislators, involves consumers who are billed without their knowledge by out-of-network providers. It has settled to a posture of general agreement that we should enact policies to create more consumer transparency, rather than setting rates for services. However, that agreement did not reach a level that allowed the bill to pass. This issue will definitely be back before the legislature in 2019.
Certificate of Need
This was the most active session in over a decade on CON issues. Multiple bills were filed, and one late arrival came very close to passage in the House Health Committee. It ended with the creation of a public-private study committee passing the Senate on CON. We expect this study committee to be very active and believe, for the first time in years, that the odds of CON legislation making progress in 2019 are actually fairly high.
Virtually everyone got a win on this issue this year. The QBE formula for public schools was fully funded for the first time in years. Public charter schools won passage of a significant funding increase that brings them closer to parity with their traditional counterparts, and the state’s tax credit scholarship program for private schools also got a major boost.
Legislation proposed by the attorney general to make network tampering a crime was passed after the inclusion of significant input from telecommunications and Internet companies (especially Georgia’s cyber security industry) who feared unintended consequences.
Transportation Network Companies
The ongoing debate on taxing TNCs concluded this year with language that would have taxed them being dropped from the transit committee conference report. This issue will certainly be back next year.
A sweeping package of reforms designed to deter opioid abuse did not achieve final passage. It aimed to address such issues as interagency coordination, prescription monitoring, lab test fraud and patient brokering. It is certain this issue will be back before the legislature in 2019.
Crime Victims’ Rights
Victims’ advocates and judicial officials reached an agreement on this heavily debated issue and the legislature passed it. It will go before the voters in November.
The legislature also passed a landmark outdoor stewardship amendment that will go on the ballot this fall. If passed, it will devote significant funds toward outdoor land conservation in Georgia.
Newly passed compromise legislation will create new penalties for using devices while driving.
Due to election-year politics, destination casino gaming did not receive serious consideration this year. A measure to allow fantasy sports contests died without a final vote in the state Senate.
A bill to allow adoption agencies to refuse service on the basis of religious views passed the Senate but did not get a floor vote in the House. Multiple attempts were made to add religious freedom language to Senate bills, but those amendments were ruled non-germane. We expect this debate to continue in the future, as several members of the Senate are very interested in the topic.
The legislature, at the last minute, passed a constitutional amendment to create a specialized court for business disputes. This will also go before the voters.
The House and Senate failed to reach consensus on a challenging issue involving the liability of organizations that cover up allegations of child abuse.