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March 28--  The Georgia General Assembly is wrapping up its session and four bills passed the state Senate yesterday according to the Senate Press Office.

"The Georgia Senate today passed House Bill 1114 by a vote of 48 to 1. Sponsored in the House by Rep. Setzler and carried in the Senate by Sen. William Ligon (R-Waverly), this legislation prohibits assisted suicide, making it a felony punishable by incarceration of up to 10 years. 

“This legislation was crafted to prevent unnecessary deaths as a result of assisted suicide,” said Sen. Ligon. “The passage of HB 1114 was a positive step toward protecting the lives of Georgia’s citizens while also strengthening laws which govern end-of-life care or physician-assisted suicide.”

HB 1114 was drafted in response to the Georgia Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the state’s assisted suicide law, which prohibits the advertisement of assisted suicide services.

According to this bill, it would be considered a felony punishable by law if an individual knows that someone intends to commit suicide and knowingly and willfully assists in that person’s suicide. The offense is punishable by imprisonment of up to 10 years. According to the bill’s provisions, the following individuals are exempt from this law, including:

·       Those dispensing palliative care with the intent to relieve pain but without the intent to cause death;

·       Those withholding treatment with the patient’s consent or other authorized consent;

·       Those dispensing medicine according to a living will or similar document, as long as mercy killing or the deliberate act to end life is not involved;

·       Those withholding treatment pursuant to a living will or similar document; and

·       Those advocating on behalf of a patient in accordance with one of the above exceptions.

Any health care provider convicted of committing this offense must notify the state licensing board and will have their licenses revoked.  

Additionally, the act of assisted suicide is covered under the Georgia Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act as a racketeering activity.

HB 1114 will now travel to the Governor’s desk for final approval.

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The Georgia Senate today passed House Bill 822 by a vote of 42 to 0. Sponsored in the Senate by Sen. William Ligon (R-Waverly), this legislation aims to combat fraud in government programs and contracts.

“I am pleased by the passage of HB 822 in the Senate today,” said Sen. Ligon. “This legislation is designed to protect the taxpayers from having their money fraudulently stolen by those who are unethical and cheating the system.”

The Georgia Taxpayer Protection False Claims Act establishes civil penalties for any person or legal entity that commits or conspires to engage in certain fraudulent acts, including but not limited to:

  • Knowingly presenting a false or fraudulent claim for payment or approval;
  • Possessing property or money to be used by the state or local government and knowingly delivering less than all of that money or property;
  • Knowingly buying or receiving as a pledge of an obligation or debt public property from an officer or employee of a state or local government who lawfully may not sell or pledge the property;
  • Knowingly conceals or improperly avoids an obligation to pay or transmit money or property to the state or a local government.

Individuals or entities found guilty of committing these violations will be liable to the State for a civil penalty of $5,000 to $11,000 for each false or fraudulent claim, plus attorney’s fees and three times the amount of damages which the state or local government sustains because of the violation. An individual who commits these violations will only be held liable for two times the amount of damages if he or she fully cooperates with government investigators and provides all known information about the violation within 30 days.

Under this legislation, the Georgia Attorney General may investigate alleged violations of this Act and impose a civil suit. The Attorney General may also delegate the authority to investigate and bring suit to a local government that has allegedly sustained damages because of the violation.

In addition, an individual may bring suit upon written approval by the Attorney General; however, the suit must be in the name of the State of Georgia or local government.

There are several limitations to civil actions under the Act. Public employers are not allowed to bring a civil action that is based upon allegations of wrong doing that the public employee or official had a duty to report or investigate. This also includes information that the public employee or official had access to as a result of his or her position.

The statute of limitations for civil actions brought under this Act is six years after the date of the violation was committed, or three years after the date when facts material to the right of civil action reasonably should have been known. However, no action may be filed more than 10 years after the date the violation occurred.

Additionally, this legislation also updates various provisions of the State False Medicaid Claims Act. These updates include adding definitions to the current code, redirecting certain proceeds from civil actions under this Act from the Indigent Care Trust Fund to the Department of Community Health and revising the statute of limitations for civil action under the Act.

HB 822 will now travel to the Governor’s desk for final approval.

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The Georgia Senate passed HB 861, the Social Responsibility and Accountability Act, today by a vote of 36 to 15. Sponsored in the House by Rep. Michael Harden and carried in the Senate by Sen. John Albers (R-Roswell), this legislation requires recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) to undergo drug screening to receive welfare benefits.

HB 861 is the companion legislation to the Senate’s version of the Social Reasonability and Accountability Act, or SB 292.

“The passage of HB 861 today is the culmination of several months of hard work as members of both the House and Senate worked to pass this historic piece of legislation,” said Sen. Albers. “The reason I worked on SB 292, which is identical legislation to HB 861, was to establish a new precedent for how government welfare programs are run and challenge the status quo as it relates to the overall perception of government entitlement programs. Ultimately, TANF benefits were always intended to provide families with a “hand up” and not a “hand out.” This common sense legislation provides for families in need and ensures that hard earned taxpayer money isn’t being diverted to drug use.”

Under this legislation, which was merged with the original language from SB 292 in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, the drug testing requirement was modeled after the tests required by the Mandatory Guidelines for Federal Workplace Drug Testing Programs or other professionally valid procedures. If enacted into law, this test would require a swab test in lieu of urinalysis.

TANF applicants who are not currently enrolled in Medicaid will be responsible for covering the drug-testing application fee, which could run up to 17 dollars. However, if these individuals test negative for controlled substances, they will be fully reimbursed for all expenses as part of their first benefits check.

In addition, TANF applicants enrolled in Medicaid will be required to pay the $17 drug-testing application fee and will not be eligible for direct TANF reimbursement.

As part of the bill’s provisions, all TANF applicants must be drug tested no later than 48 hours after their application has been approved by the Department of Human Services (DHS).

Under this legislation, individuals who test positive for controlled substances will be ineligible for TANF benefits under the following restrictions:

  • If an applicant tests positive, the individual will be ineligible to reapply for benefits for one month.
  • If a second positive result is produced, the applicant will be ineligible to receive benefits for three months.
  • For a third and subsequent positive result, the applicant will be ineligible for benefits for one year.

If an applicant is found ineligible after subsequent drug tests, the individual may reapply after six months if they successfully complete a substance abuse program.

Recent studies have shown that individuals who engage in drug abuse are less likely to maintain employment and, as a result, remain on welfare-related programs for longer periods of time. In a study surveying New Jersey TANF recipients, individuals who abused drugs stayed on welfare for an average of 12 years, versus 5.8 years for those who did not.

For two parent families, only one parent must comply with drug screening requirements. However, teen parents who do not currently live with a parent or adult caretaker will be responsible to comply with all drug testing requirements. In addition, dependent children under the age of 18 are exempt from these requirements.

If a parent fails the state mandated drug-testing and is deemed ineligible to receive TANF benefits, the eligibility of a dependent child will not be affected. For these instances, another individual can be designated to receive benefits on behalf of the child.

According to this legislation, if an applicant fails a drug test, the DHS must provide them with a list of substance abuse providers, although the state will not be responsible for providing or paying for treatment.

Exemptions for mandatory drug testing will be made for individuals who are considered by the Department of Human Services to be significantly impaired due to a physical, mental or developmental disability. In addition, persons enrolled in a Medicaid enhanced primary care case management program will also be exempt from this requirement.

In an effort to protect the privacy of welfare applicants, all screening results will remain confidential and exempt from public records law.

HB 861 will now travel to the Governor’s desk for final approval.

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In a great show of bipartisan support today, the Georgia Senate passed HB 1176 by a vote of 51 to 0. The comprehensive sentencing and corrections reform bill promises to save Georgia taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars, move low-level offenders permanently out of the system, and improve overall public safety. Sen. Bill Hamrick (R-Carrollton), a long-time supporter of criminal justice reform in Georgia, carried the bill.

“The common-sense solutions found in this bill are the result of months of work analyzing our state’s corrections system and consulting a wide range of stakeholders,” said Sen. Hamrick. “HB 1176 outlines much-needed reforms that will improve public safety, lower recidivism rates and bring real costs savings to Georgia taxpayers. Without action, taxpayers would have paid $264 million over the next five years to accommodate a rising prison population. I am pleased to see the Senate overwhelmingly support this bill.”

The overall intention of HB 1176 is to strengthen penalties for violent and career criminals, while providing more effective punishments for low-level drug users and property offenders. The creation of a rehabilitation-based system for low-level offenders will free up prison space in order to keep the most dangerous offenders behind bars.

 

Specific initiatives of HB 1176 include creating a tougher process for probation and parole supervision; expanding proven community-based sentencing options to reduce recidivism, such as accountability courts and substance abuse and mental health programs; and holding agencies accountable for better results by implementing systematic data collection and performance measurement systems.

If signed into law, the legislation will place Georgia in the company of more than a dozen states—including Texas, South Carolina, North Carolina, Arkansas and Kentucky—that are currently implementing criminal justice policies designed to improve public safety, hold offenders accountable, and control corrections costs.

This legislation is the product of more than six months of work by the Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform for Georgians.  This bipartisan, inter-branch Council conducted an in-depth analysis of the state’s sentencing and corrections data and met with a wide range of stakeholders including victim advocates, sheriffs, prosecutors and county officials.  Members of a special joint legislative committee approved this bill before sending it to the Georgia House of Representatives where the bill passed unanimously. 

The next step will be final agreement by the Georgia House of Representatives and Governor Deal to sign the legislation into law.