2019 Georgia Legislative Recap

Georgia State Capital - Georgia Legislative Recap

The 2019 Georgia Legislative Session adjourned minutes before midnight Tuesday, April 2.  The Smith Gambrell & Russell (“SGR”) governmental affairs team worked tirelessly with the Georgia General Assembly from January to April to advocate for matters on behalf of SGR clients.  Please find the 2019 Legislative Recap below.

SGR led an effort to allow seat belt nonuse evidence to be used in cases involving motor vehicle accidents.  It was the most widely supported issue for industry during this legislative session with 40 organizations participating in our coalition.  Originally introduced as SB 148, sponsored by Senator Randy Robertson, our legislation was ultimately attached to HB 171 and received a full vote in the Senate on March 26.  While the legislation failed by a narrow margin, we made substantial progress by having a Senate vote, which put the entire Senate on record.  It will remain alive next year with 9 months to prepare for the next vote.

Next, HB 353, sponsored by Representative Kasey Carpenter, criminalizes staged motor vehicle collisions or filing lawsuits in connection with staged collisions.  HB 353 passed the House and Senate, and currently awaits Governor Kemp’s signature.

Further, SB 155, legislation to eliminate “phantom damages,” sponsored by Senator Bill Cowsert, was introduced in the Senate and heard before a subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee.  Although the testimony was compelling in support of the legislation, it was not afforded a vote and will remain in the Senate Judiciary Committee until next year.  Recognizing SB 155 would not receive a vote, SGR worked to pass SR 433 just before Sine Die, which creates a study committee to address the problem of inaccuracy in damages.

Additionally, Senate Caucus Chairman John Kennedy introduced SB 203 to modernize the Civil Practice Act with an excellent group of Senate signers; however, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Jesse Stone did not permit a hearing of the bill.  As a result, the bill will remain in committee until next year.

Further, statewide business court legislation passed after it was significantly weakened on the final day of session.  HB 239 no longer permits one party to remove a case to the business court as a matter of right, but instead requires the consent of both parties.  The practical impact of this change is that very few cases will appear before the business court because one party almost always prefers state or superior court.  The Fulton County Business Court tried two-party consent in the past and it was thoroughly unsuccessful.  It has been substantially more successful since the change was made to permit only one party to bring its case to the business court.  If Governor Kemp signs the legislation, the statewide business court will sit in both Atlanta and Macon.

Finally, the SGR team spent significant time playing defense to defeat harmful legislation.

Other noteworthy legislation that passed:

SB 2 and SB 17 – Legislation allowing electric membership and telephone cooperatives, respectively, to provide broadband internet to rural areas in Georgia.

SB 37 – Legislation requiring an agreement to modify an existing contract to be reduced to writing and subject to the Statute of Frauds.

SB 106 – Legislation permitting the governor to request a Medicaid waiver and an Affordable Care Act insurance market waiver from the federal government in an effort to expand the number of Georgians insured by Medicaid and to allow the pursuit of innovative market strategies for affordable health insurance.

HB 128 – Legislation eliminating the requirement that doctors or their insurers must notify the Georgia Composite Medical Board of a judgment or settlement for medical malpractice when it results in a low payment under a high-low agreement.

HB 182 – Legislation requiring internet retailers to collect sales tax if they have $100,000 or more in annual Georgia sales.

HB 186 – Legislation softening certificate of need (“CON”) regulations and promoting more competition by limiting health care entities who may oppose a CON application to those located within 35 miles of a project, allowing Cancer Treatment Centers of America to boost volume by adding patients and establishing the Office of Health Strategy and Coordination to streamline coordination among state health care agencies.

HB 213 – Legislation permitting farmers to grow hemp for CBD oil and other uses.

HB 311 – Legislation waiving sovereign immunity to provide injunctive relief in certain cases against the government.

HB 324 – Legislation permitting the cultivation, manufacture, research and distribution of medical marijuana in Georgia.

Please contact the SGR governmental affairs team for your future governmental affairs needs.