June 30, 2020
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Sine Die Legislative Update
The 2020 Legislative Session of the Georgia General Assembly ended at midnight on Friday, June 26. Some b ills we were following closely to help Georgians through this ongoing financial and public health crisis passed, including legislation to end surprise medical bills and better regulate small dollar loans. Other bills, however, did not pass in the final hours of Sine Die.

Here's an update on key bills we were following for which you helped us advocate:

The Surprise Billing Consumer Protection Act, Senate Bill 359 and House Bill 888 introduced by Senator Chuck Hufstetler (R - 52) and Representative Lee Hawkins (R - 27) respectively, passed both chambers. The Act aims to take patients out of the middle of billing disputes between providers and insurers. With the passage of HB 888 in the Senate this month, the Act now heads to Governor Kemp's desk for his signature.   Click here to read the press release.

Legislation to Establish an All Payer Claims Database Passed
Senate Bill 482, sponsored by Senator Dean Burke (R - 11),
builds on Georgia's new surprise billing legislation (HB 888). HB 888 authorizes Georgia's Department of Insurance to establish an all payer claims database (APCD) that will inform the surprise billing payment resolution process. APCDs can be a powerful tool that can also help policymakers, stakeholders, and advocates develop better understandings of health care costs, use of services, population trends, and disparities. SB 482 goes farther than HB 888 by setting up an advisory body to assist in the creation of the APCD and establishing the purposes of the APCD, among other provisions. The advisory body does not currently include consumer representation. The creation of Georgia's APCD is subject to appropriations. It was not funded in the FY2021 budget but state leaders have expressed optimism about funding it in future state budgets and attracting private funds to help support its development.

Senator John Kennedy's  Senate Bill 462 passed both chambers. This bill continues previous efforts to shift regulatory authority of industrial loans, also known as small-dollar loans, from the Industrial Loan Commissioner to the Department of Banking and Finance. We supported SB 462, which strengthens consumer protections in Georgia by employing more robust licensing and reporting requirements for installment lenders. The bill heads to the Governor's desk for signature.

Representative Bonnie Rich (R - 97) introduced House Bill 864, which would add a 7% excise tax to vaping products and would require businesses that sell vaping products to register with the state for a $250 fee. On June 25, the House agreed to an amended version that merged HB 864 into Senate Bill 375, sponsored by Senator Jeff Mullis (R - 53). As a result of the merger, SB 375 will increase the purchase age for tobacco products to 21, implement robust licensing requirements for businesses that wish to sell vaping products, and place a nominal tax of 5 cents per ML on vaping products. SB 375 passed the Senate and is heading to the governor's desk for signature. While we are grateful for the passage of SB 375, we are disappointed that the state has again missed the opportunity to raise the tax on tobacco to the national average of $1.81 per pack. Amid this ongoing financial crisis, an increase in the tobacco tax would have generated around $600 million in revenue, thereby reducing the need for significant program cuts that could slow down economic recovery for Georgians. 

Bill to Extend Medicaid Coverage Post-Partum Passes
House Bill 1114, sponsored by Representative Sharon Cooper (R - 43), passed with full funding($19.7 million) in the updated version of the FY21 budget. The bill will allow new mothers to receive Medicaid coverage for six months after giving birth. Currently, pregnant women receiving Medicaid are covered only up to 60 days after they give birth or miscarry. The bill will ensure that many new mothers do not go without health insurance during the critical post-partum period when maternal health is at greatest risk. Many thanks to Rep. Cooper, our 2019 Consumer Champion for Well-Being, championing HB 1114 and looking out for Georgia's mothers. The bill heads to the Governor's desk for signature.

Introduced by Senator Kay Kirkpatrick (R - 32) and Representative Mark Newton (R - 123), Senate Bill 311
would have required non-profit hospitals to publicly disclose how often they sue patients for unpaid debt and/or garnish the wages of patients to satisfy unpaid debts. The bill passed out of the House Special Committee on Quality Health Care, but failed to receive a vote in the House Rules Committee to advance to the floor for a vote of the House. We are grateful to Sen. Kirkpatrick for her pledge to reintroduce this important legislation during the next Session. 

Bill to Cut Affordable Housing, Other Tax Credits Fails
We advocated against passage of HB 1035, sponsored by Representative Chuck Martin (R - 49). The bill would have limited or eliminated a number of State tax credits for programs that assist Georgians in need, including affordable housing and food banks. The bill was introduced in the Senate, but failed to receive a floor vote before Sine Die.

You can learn more about all the legislation we were following this Session on our Take Action  page. Thank you for all your efforts over the last two weeks to join our advocacy in support of legislation to protect the health and financial well-being of Georgians!