Note: With only four Legislative Days left, the General Assembly will convene for days 37 and 38 Thursday and Friday of this week, recess next week and then come back in for days 39 and 40 on April 12 and 14.

The only legislation that the General Assembly is constitutionally obligated to vote on each session is the following year’s budget. Wednesday, the Senate version of the FY 2012 budget passed the Senate and, as a result of differences with the House version, will be assigned to Conference Committee made up of three members from each Chamber. Once the Conference Committee agrees, the bill will return to the Chambers for a vote. The Conference Committee process will be repeated until there is agreement. Highlights of the Senate Version are:

  • $2.8 Million restored for the Children First 0-5 screening program
  • 400 additional Childcare slots
  • A loss of funding for the Ferst 0-5 Book Program
  • An agreement with the House to cut Medicaid provider reimbursements by 1/2 %
  • A restoration of funds for the Citizen Review Panels for foster child placement
  • Restoration of funding for Community Health Program grants
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This morning the AJC ran a news article related to Senate Bill 63, which is proposed legislation with the stated aim to cut down on Medicaid fraud occuring here in Georgia. If you’ve been following Voices’ weekly updates, you’ve heard about this bill before as it’s one that we’ve been watching carefully. The bill calls for a mandatory pilot project that will utilize “smart cards” and may also include the use of other biometric identification measures (like electronic fingerprinting) to verify the identity of patients enrolled in Medicaid at every point of service, including doctors visits, when picking up medication at the pharmacy, etc. 

Voices has been concerned with how passage and implementation of this bill could have a negative impact. From the standpoint of the child enrolled in Medicaid, questions remain about how to verify the identity of a child or newborn through a photograph and/or through fingerprinting, if utilized. There’s also a conern as to how implementing these measures may further restrict Medicaid enrollees’ access to providers. Medicaid providers already are feeling strapped, since other legislative efforts this session include budget proposals to cut Medicaid provider reimbursement rates and to implement co-pays to be collected at the point of service by providers from children enrolled in PeachCare. If providers additionally are required to manage and maintain equipment and practices for more more stringent verification purposes of patients walking through their door, how many may decide that it’s not worth the hassle and forgo seeing Medicaid patients altogether?

Another concern is how this will impact the state’s bottom line. A fiscal note prepared in response to the original version of the bill gave an initial price tag of about $600,000 for a pilot program and over $23 million for a statewide rollout.

No system operates without fault and this is not to say that Medicaid fraud does not happen. There is a concern, however, that the measures proposed in Senate Bill 63 are not the best way to target fraudulent activity. And now with issues raised in the AJC article, questions are posed regarding how and why this proposed legislation came to be, providing even greater cause for concern.

Joann Yoon, Assoc. Policy Director for Child Health

Voices for Georgia’s Children

HB 185: Service providers sheltering with runaway youth to report contact with children within 72 Hours.  Status:  Recommended Do Pass by the House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee, but did not come out of the Rules Committee by the end of crossover day.  This being the case, a maneuver has occurred whereby the language of this bill, with some modification, has been put into SB 94, virtually replacing the initial language of SB 94.

HB 200: Seeks to to discourage trafficking of persons for labor or sexual servitude and provide greater protections to persons subject to such crime.  Status:  Passed the House (overwhelmingly) and has been recommended Do Pass by the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.

HB 373: Would allow the Department of Juvenile Justice or a child to bring a motion to modify custody when the child has been committed to the Department following an adjudication for a designated felony.  The bill allows the court to recognize a child’s good behavior, and academic and rehabilitative progress by granting release from restrictive custody.  The motion could only be filed after the child had served a year in custody, and could not be refiled more than once a year.  Status:  Passed House.  Recommended Do Pass by Senate Judiciary Committee.

SB 17: Establishing the Special Advisory Commission on Mandated Health Insurance Benefits.  Status:  Passed the Senate.  Recommended Do Pass by the House Insurance Committee.

HB 214: Creates a Department of Public Health.  Status: Passed the House.  Given a Do Pass Recommendation by the Senate Health Care Delivery Subcommittee.  The bill now rests in the full Senate Health and Human Services Committee.

One Year Anniversary of the Federal Affordable Care Act:  Click here to check out the Op-ed piece penned by Voices’ Joann Yoon and Cindy Zeldin of Georgians for a Healthy Future.

HB 181: State board of education to waive prior year in Georgia school as requirement for special needs scholarship. The bill has been amended so that the funding formula for the voucher reflects th deduction of the five mill share and austerity cuts so a student going to a private school would not be granted a voucher at a higher rate than a child going to the public school.  Status: Passed the House on Monday (3/14).  This week the bill was given a Do Pass recommendation by the Senate School Choice Subcommittee, and now rests in the full Senate Education and Youth Committee.

HR 192: Creating the Joint Higher Education Finance Study Committee to Evaluate Higher Education Funding Formula.  The bill was amended so that 27 member committee was reduced to 20 with the loss of some legislators and business people, as well as all parents.  Status:  Passed the House and was given a Do Pass recommendation by the Senate School Choice Subcommittee, and now rests in the full Senate Education and Youth Committee.

The Vision for Public Education, a joint venture of GA School Board Association and GA School Superintendents Association, was presented to the House and Senate Education Committees this week.  The project lays out guiding principles, short and long range steps for Public Education in Georgia, covering everything from Early Education and K-12 to funding and implementation goals.

Note:  The Legislative Calendar has been set for the rest of the 2011 Session.  The General Assembly will convene Monday through Friday of next week, recess the following week and then finish up with Legislative Days 39 and 40 on Tuesday 4/12 and Thursday 4/14.  In addition to the many bills still to reach the floors of the Chambers, the 2012 Budget still needs to pass the Senate.  Once that happens, differences between the House and Senate versions of the budget will be resolved in conference committee as the Session winds down.

One of the more significant events of the week was the unveiling of the Joint Committee on Tax Reform’s plan for legislation this session.  The Committee is expected to release a bill in the House on Monday and push it through both Chambers by the end of the week.  Some of the promises of the committee listed in the meeting today are as follows (Note:  the actual bill will be dropped on Monday, and things can still change over the weekend):

  • The Committee will not consider tax credits this session.
  • There will be no taxes on the following (among others):  groceries, veterinary services, legal fees, cigarettes, childcare, prescritpion drugs, haircuts, dry cleaning, cost club memberships.
  • The personal income tax rate will be cut from 6% to approximately 4.5%.
  • The tax on energy for manufacture, agriculture, and mining will be eliminated.
  • The tax on telecommunication franchise fees will be eliminated and replaced with a 7% flat tax across all telecommunication services.
  • There will be a tax on personal vehicle sales, excluding family member to family member.
  • The tax exemption will remain for 529 College Savings Plans.
  • The tax exemption will remain for non-profit organizations.
  • There will be a tax levied on automobile repairs.

Use our Legislation Tracker to read bills in their entirety. For briefs, see below:

HB 185: Service providers sheltering with runaway youth to report contact with children within 72 Hours.  Status:  Recommended Do Pass by the House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee.

HB 200:  Seeks to to discourage trafficking of persons for labor or sexual servitude and provide greater protections to persons subject to such crime.  Status:  Passed the House (overwhelmingly) and now rests in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.

HB 265:  Creates two special bodies (the 2011 Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform for Georgians and the Special Joint Committee on Georgia Criminal Justice Reform) to study and reform Georgia’s criminal justice system.  Status:  Passed the House on Crossover Day and has been assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

HB 373:  A child adjudicated as a designated felon can not be discharged from DJJ or released from restrictive custody prior to the time provided in the court’s order.  Also provides that only the child or the child’s attorney can file a motion for early release or modification of a court order.  Status:  Passed House.  Assigned to Senate Judiciary Committee.

HB 471:  Changes to provisions related to the secure detention of children prior to a ruling in their case.  Status:  Remains in the House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee.

SB 31:  Allowing Parents of Minors Accused of Crimes to be Clients of Attorney Representing the Minor.  Status:  Passed the Senate.  Assigned to the House Judiciary Committee.

SB 105:  Children who commit designated felony acts to be granted parole.  Status:  Rests in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

SB 127:  Significantly revised and updates Georgia’s 40 year old Juvenle Code.   Status:  Currently in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

HB 162:  Registered sexual offenders prohibited from photographing minor without parent’s consent.  Status:  Passed House.  Currently in senate Judiciary Committee.

SB 112:  Amending provisions related to rights of military parents during deployment.  Status:  Passed Senate on Monday (3/14).  Assigned to House Judiciary Committee.

SB 172:  Home study recommending adoption to be completed before child adopted by third party.  Status:  Passed the Senate on Crossover Day.  Has yet to be assigned to a House committee.

SB 247:  Amends the laws on who can petition to adopt a child in Georgia by providing that a court should determine if the person petitioning for adoption is living with another adult  when deciding on the petition for adoption. This bill would require that the court may consider whether the person living with the petitioner would be a consistent presence in the child’s life, the nature of the relationship, and whether the presence of the other adult or relationship will be harmful or beneficial to the child as a factor in considering an application for adoption. Status:  Rests in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

To read these bills in full, search our Legislation Tracker online.

Use our Legislation Tracker to read bills in their entirety. For briefs, see below:

HB 47: Allowing out-of-state insurance policies to be sold in Georgia.  Status:  Passed the House.  Currently in the Senate Insurance and Labor Committee.

HB 132:  Insurers to provide coverage for physician prescribed medical foods. Status:  Remains in the House Insurance Committee.

HB 65: Allowing siblings or children of adopted people to access adoption files for medical treatment.  Status:  Remains in House Judiciary Committee.

HB 187:  Department of Community Health to select single administrator for Medicaid and PeachCare for Kids dental.  Status:  Remains in the House Health and Human Services Committee.

HB 229:  Provides that in certain matters related to administrative hearings and appeals under Medicaid, the decision of the administrative law judge shall be the final administrative decision of the commissioner.   Status:  Given a Do Pass recommendation by the House Judiciary Committee, but has not made it to the House Debate Calendar.

HB 214:  Creates a Department of Public Health.  Status: Passed the House.  Currently in Senate Health and Human Services Committee.

SB 88:  Increasing age requirement from six to eight for use of car child restraint systems.  Status:  SB 88 has passed the Senate and now rests in the House Motor Vehicles Committee.

HB 345:  Children and pregnant women who are legal aliens to be eligible for Medicaid and PeachCare programs.  Status: Currently rests in the House Judiciary Committee.

HB 432:  Employers to allow employees to use sick leave to care for immediate family members.  Status:  Rests in House Industrial Relations.

HB 461:  Creating multi-state health care compact to move authority to regulate health care to the States.  Status:  Passed the House.  Currently in the Senate Insurance and Labor Committee.

HB 476:  Creating exchanges to facilitate sale of health plans for individuals and small group employers.  Status:  This bill was actually on the House Debate Calendar on Crossover Day, but was pulled off the calendar at the last minute by the House leadership and at the request of the Governor’s office, who would like to further review the legislation and possibly wait for the outcome of the federal lawsuits opposing the Affordable Healthcare Act.

SB 17:  Establishing the Special Advisory Commission on Mandated Health Insurance Benefits.  Status:  Passed the Senate.  Currently rests in the House Insurance Committee.

SB 185:  Child care programs to be closed by Order after death of child in program.  Status:  Passed the Senate (unanimously) on Crossover Day.  Currently awaits assignment ot a House Committee.

SR 55:  Amending Constitution to ensure that people are not forced to join a health care system.  Status:  Failed.  Has not been reconsidered.

SB 63:  Calls for the use of a “smart card” to verify identification of Medicaid recipients and provides that the department may also use biometric technology to verify the identity of Medicaid enrollees.  Status:  Passed the Senate on Crossover Day after much debate on the floor.  Has been assigned to the House Health and Human Services Committee.

To read these bills in full, search our Legislation Tracker online.

Note:  Wednesday was the 30th legislative day, also known as “Crossover Day,” which is generally the last day on which a bill can pass from one chamber to another during this session.  Language from one bill can, however, be amended to others in hopes of passing legislation which did not pass by the end of crossover.  This practice is increasingly common as the session nears an end.  In honor of Crossover Day, and because there are now only ten legislative days left this session, this Update will give a quick status report on a number of child-affecting bills that Voices has been watching or working in the last few weeks.

Use our Legislation Tracker to read bills in their entirety. For briefs, see below:

SB 152:  Daycare centers run by church ministries, non-profit religious schools or religious charities to be exempt from licensing.  Status:  In Senate Education and Youth Committee. Bill held at the request of Committee Chairman for further refinement before the 2012 Session.

HB 81:  Fiscal notes required for bills with significant impact on school system revenues.  Status:  Given a Do Pass recommendation by the House Education Committee.  Currently in on the House General Calendar.

HB 181:  State board of education to waive prior year in Georgia school as requirement for special needs scholarship.  Status: Passed the House on Monday (3/14).  Currently in the Senate Education and Youth Committee.

HR 495:  Creating the Joint Higher Education Finance Study Committee to Evaluate Higher Education Funding Formula.  Status:  Given a Do Pass recommendation by the House Education Committee.  Currently in on the House General Calendar.

SB 68:  Permitting parents to petition to turn around low-achieving schools.  Status:  Currently in the Senate Education and Youth Committee.

SB 87:  Students from military families and foster care to be eligible for Special Needs Scholarships (Vouchers).  Status:  tabled in the Senate on Wednesday (3/16).

HB 326: Lays out parameters for post-secondary education funding from Georgia Lottery revenues and state sponsored loans.  There is no GA Pre-K language in that bill.  Status:  Signed into law by Governor Deal on Tuesday (3/15).

SB 185: Requires that after the death of any child at any early care program, the commissioner issue an immediate order closing the program for a period of not more than 30 days from the date of the order and also that the commissioner close an early care program when a child’s safety or welfare is in imminent danger. Status:  Passed the Senate (with a unanimous vote) Wednesday (3/16).

To read these bills in full, search our Legislation Tracker online.

Children’s Law Re-Write: The major revision to the Juvenile Code has made it out of sub-committee and now rests in the Senate Judiciary Committee.  The vast number of other bills assigned to that committee have consumed much time this week, and it remains to be seen when exactly this bill will be heard this session.  The JUSTGeorgia coalition and Voices will continue to track the bills progress.  For more information on the development of the bill’s language and other aspects of this issue, click here.

Runaway Shelter Bill: HB 185 (Rep. Tom Weldon, 3rd Dist.) was given a Do Pass recommendation out of the Setzler Subcommittee and out of the Non-Civil Judiciary Committee. it is now on the House General Calendar and supporters are hoping that it will be debated and voted on in the House Monday or Wednesday.  The Runaway Youth Safety Act would require that service providers who deal with runaway or homeless youth to contact the parents or legal custodians of a runaway child or file a report in compliance with Code Section 19-7-5 no later than 72 hours after initial contact with a child to prevent being charged with the crime of interfering with custody. This bill would also define a service provider to mean any community-based program with staff trained to provide services to children who have run away or children who are homeless or their families.

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