2020 State Bar Legislative Update: Days 5-12

2020 Legislative Update | Days 5-12

The Legislature has been in full swing for the past few weeks as committees hear bills and debate legislation. The halls of the State Capitol have been humming with activity, as everyone from the Girl Scouts to the Future Farmers of America to the State Bar’s Young Lawyers Division descends on Atlanta to promote legislation and meet their elected officials.

The budget will continue to be one of the biggest political debates of the session. Gov. Kemp has proposed a $2,000 pay raise for Georgia teachers alongside proposed budget cuts totaling 10 percent for certain state agencies. The result has been a battle of priorities that must be ironed out between the Legislature and the executive. The House has spent this week fact-finding and exploring state agency funding before the Appropriations Committee presents its budget recommendations next week. The House and Senate adjourned on Wednesday, Feb. 5, and will not be back in session until Tuesday, Feb. 18.

Corporate Legislation

On Jan. 27, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed HB 230 [ www.legis.ga.gov ] , sponsored by Rep. Scott Holcomb (D-Atlanta), which would create a new type of corporate entity called a “benefit corporation” under Georgia law. A benefit corporation allows for a particular public cause to be a charter purpose of the corporation in addition to the traditional corporate goal of maximizing profit for shareholders. Similar legislation has been enacted in 36 other states. HB 230 [ www.legis.ga.gov ] passed in the House last year and awaits a vote before the full Senate to pass during this legislative session.

Sovereign Immunity

On Feb. 4, the House Judiciary Committee passed HR 1023 [ www.legis.ga.gov ] , which is a constitutional amendment addressing sovereign immunity. The amendment provides an express cause of action for declaratory relief against an officer or agency that is outside the scope of lawful authority or in violation of the laws or Constitution of this state or the U.S. Constitution. Additionally, the amendment provides that the General Assembly may authorize petitions for injunctive relief against officers and agencies of the state and local governments, and that such petitions may be subject to additional procedural requirements. The amendment explicitly states that no damages, attorney’s fees or costs of litigation shall be awarded in an action filed pursuant to this subparagraph, unless specifically authorized by an act of the General Assembly.

The Legislature has spent many years debating sovereign immunity legislation after a series of cases from the Supreme Court of Georgia held that sovereign immunity can only be waived by an act of the General Assembly which specifically provides for the waiver and the extent of its application. The Legislature has passed three sovereign immunity bills since 2015, each of which has been vetoed.

Raise the Age

Over the past two weeks, House Juvenile Justice Chairwoman Mandi Ballinger (R-Canton) has held a number of hearings on HB 440 [ www.legis.ga.gov ] , also known as the “Raise the Age” bill. The bill would give juvenile courts jurisdiction over criminal cases where the accused is 17 years or younger—under the present statute, juvenile courts only hear cases where the accused is 16 years or younger. The change would not apply to juveniles who have been charged with murder, sexual battery, armed robbery or other serious crimes. Georgia is one of three states nationally that prosecutes an accused 17-year-old as an adult.

Personal Injury and Tort-Related Legislation

There has been no movement thus far this session on any carryover legislation that addresses personal injury or tort litigation. Legislation that was filed during the 2019 session remains active through the end of the 2020 legislative session. Tort-related bills that have carried over from last year include: HR 256 [ www.legis.ga.gov ] , sponsored by Rep. Kasey Carpenter (R-Dalton), amending the state Constitution so that the General Assembly may set damage caps by law; SB 148 [ www.legis.ga.gov ] , sponsored by Sen. Randy Robertson (R-Cataula), allowing a court to admit evidence that a person failed to use a seatbelt to prove a party’s assumption of risk, negligence and apportionment of fault, among other things; SB 155 [ www.legis.ga.gov ] , sponsored by Sen. Bill Cowsert (R-Athens), limiting health care damages recovered by a claimant to the amount actually paid by the claimant and the amount necessary to satisfy unpaid charges that the claimant has a legal obligation to pay; and SB 203 [ www.legis.ga.gov ] , sponsored by Sen. John Kennedy (R-Macon), which makes several revisions to the Georgia Civil Practice Act, including a provision that sets a proportionality standard for the scope of discovery.

Other Bills of Interest

SB 315 [ www.legis.ga.gov ] , sponsored by Sen. Lindsey Tippins (R-Marietta), provides that a waiver and release of lien and bond rights shall only be applicable to the issues of the waiver and release and shall not affect any other rights or remedies available under the law. The bill also revises language and appearance requirements of statutory forms. The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on this bill on Feb. 5.

SB 373 [ www.legis.ga.gov ] , sponsored by Sen. John Kennedy (R-Macon), amends the business judgment rule as it related to nonprofit corporations so that the actions and decisions of a director are presumed to be in good faith and exercised using ordinary care. That presumption may be rebutted by evidence of gross negligence. The bill was filed on Feb. 5.

HB 484 [ www.legis.ga.gov ] , sponsored by Rep. Andy Welch (R-McDonough), creates regulations for medical funding providers. The House subcommittee held a hearing on this bill on Feb. 3.

HB 538 [ www.legis.ga.gov ] , sponsored by Rep. Todd Jones (R-South Forsyth), precludes the Georgia Tax Tribunal, when deciding a question of law, from applying deference to rules and determinations by the Department of Revenue. The bill passed the House Judiciary Committee on Jan. 28.

HB 544 [ www.legis.ga.gov ] , sponsored by Rep. Chuck Efstration (R-Dacula), mental health and procedures regarding emergency involuntary treatment.

HB 785 [ www.legis.ga.gov ] , sponsored by Rep. Joseph Gullet (R-Dallas), creates remote online notarization in Georgia. The bill was filed on Jan. 15.

HB 865 [ www.legis.ga.gov ] , sponsored by Rep. Mitchell Scoggins (R-Cartersville), provides revisions to Title 53 of the Georgia Code dealing with wills, trusts and administration of estates. The bill was filed on Jan. 31.

For a look at the State Bar’s 2020 legislative package, visit the website [ www.gabar.org ] . We plan to keep Bar membership in the know with weekly updates like this one covering legislation that impacts the practice of law. For questions about the legislative session or to plan a lobby day at the State Capitol, please reach out to Christine Butcher Hayes, director of governmental affairs, at christineh@gabar.org [ mailto:christineh@gabar.org ] .