State Bar Legislative Update: Days 12-20

Legislative Update | Days 12-20

The Legislature has worked at a hectic pace for the past two weeks as committees hear bills and debate legislation. Crossover Day is quickly approaching on March 7, which marks the point in the session where a bill must pass in one chamber to continue through the process. The halls of the State Capitol have been humming with activity, as everyone from the Girl Scouts to the Future Farmers of America descend on Atlanta to promote legislation and meet their elected officials.

On Feb. 19, Chief Justice Harold D. Melton delivered his first State of the Judiciary Address before a joint session of the General Assembly. Chief Justice Melton discussed the work of the Georgia judiciary over the past year, expressed the Court’s anticipation of the new judicial building and highlighted the work of the Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation at Thomasville Heights Elementary School in Atlanta. The video and full text of the speech is available on the Supreme Court’s website [ ] .

Here’s a current rundown of legislation that may be of interest to legal practitioners across the state.

On Thursday, subcommittees in the House and Senate each heard their own respective versions of legislation to implement a statewide business court. HB 239 [ ] , sponsored by Rep. Chuck Efstration (R-Dacula), provides that the court has concurrent jurisdiction and the powers of a court of equity over claims arising under the Uniform Commercial Code, the Georgia Uniform Securities Act and the Georgia Business Corporation Code, among others. Additionally, under HB 239 [ ] , the court has concurrent jurisdiction over certain claims between two or more businesses where the amount in controversy exceeds $250,000, as well as claims involving commercial real property that exceed $1 million. The business court may accept cases that are (1) directly initiated with the court; (2) removed from superior or state court by an agreement of all the parties; or (3) transferred after a party files a petition to transfer and the business court finds by a written order that the case is within its authority. The most recent substitute of HB 239 [ ] sets the filing fee at $1,000 and provides that the judge shall be appointed by Aug. 1, 2019, and the court will begin accepting cases on Aug. 1, 2020.

The Senate version of the business court’s legislation is SB 110 [ ] , sponsored by Sen. Jesse Stone (R-Waynesboro). SB 110 [ ] includes some of the same subject matter jurisdiction as the House bill, but has a lower amount in controversy requirement ($100,000) and expressly lists concurrent jurisdiction in cases involving receiverships of businesses, noncompetition covenants, and antitrust laws or restraints of trade. Under SB 110 [ ] , the business court would commence operations on Jan. 1, 2020, and could begin accepting cases on Aug. 1, 2020. The filing fee for a case in the business court would be $1,000, paid by the party filing the action in the business court or seeking to transfer the case, or by an equal allocation across all parties if they all agree to remove the case to the business court.

Both HB 239 [ ] and SB 110 [ ] received a hearing, but no vote, on Thursday. We expect both bills to receive another hearing and vote in the House and Senate Judiciary committees this week.

HB 70 [ ] , the State Bar’s guardianship cleanup bill, passed out of the House this morning. Sponsored by Rep. Chuck Efstration (R-Dacula), HB 70 [ ] integrates citations to provisions in Title 29 Chapter 11 in order to provide clarity for attorneys practicing in this area and to prevent litigation based on ambiguities between these chapters. The bill also adds three new provisions that address bonding, costs and registering guardianship letters from other states. HB 70 [ ] will now crossover to the Senate, where it will likely be taken up in committee after March 7.

A bill that makes a change to the statute governing mandatory civil eFiling passed in the Senate on Feb. 15 and now awaits a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee. SB 38 [ ] , sponsored by Sen.William Ligon (R-Brunswick), amends the civil eFiling statute so that clerks or electronic filing service providers may not charge a fee for pleadings or documents filed by the state, its agents or political subdivisions and may not charge any filer for leave of absence and conflict notices.

SB 37 [ ] seeks to amend the Statute of Frauds so that any agreement to modify, alter, cancel, revoke or rescind a contract that falls within the Statute of Frauds must be in writing. SB 37 [ ] is in response to a 2018 Court of Appeals of Georgia decision in Crop Production Services, Inc. v. Moye , which found that a mutual oral agreement to rescind a written guarantee is not subject to the Statute of Frauds. SB 37 [ ] has received two hearings in the Senate Banking and Financial Institutions Committee and will receive another hearing Tuesday at 3 p.m.

Several bills were filed last week that touch on issues in personal injury and tort legislation. HR 256 [ ] , sponsored by Rep. Kasey Carpenter (R-Dalton), would amend the constitution so that the General Assembly may provide by law for limitations on the amount of awards allowable by a jury. SB 148 [ ] , sponsored by Sen. Randy Robertson (R-Cataula), would allow the admission of evidence for a failure to use a seatbelt in any civil action when the evidence is used to prove a failure to mitigate damages, assumption of risk, apportionment of fault, negligence, comparative negligence, per se nor contributory negligence, or causation per se. SB 155 [ ] , sponsored by Sen. Bill Cowsert (R-Athens), provides that in an action to recover damages resulting from death or injury, the damages recovered by a claimant for reasonable and necessary health care services or treatment received shall only include: (1) amounts actually paid by or on behalf of the claimant; and (2) amounts actually necessary to satisfy unpaid charges still due and payable to the health care service provider for which the claimant or a third party on behalf of the claimant has a legal obligation to pay. To date, HR 256 [ ] , SB 148 [ ] and SB 155 [ ] have not been scheduled for a committee hearing.

HB 311 [ ] and SB 135 [ ] may also be of interest to the legal community. HB 311 [ ] , sponsored by Rep. Andy Welch (R-McDonough), provides for specific instances where sovereign immunity is waived in a lawsuit against the state, as well as specific circumstances where sovereign immunity shall not be waived. SB 135 [ ] , sponsored by Rep. Larry Walker (R-Perry), would amend workers’ compensation administration and benefits, and proposed to increase the compensation benefits for total disability and temporary partial disability, among other things. Both HB 311 [ ] and SB 135 [ ] are set for a hearing this week.

The General Assembly will convene today through Friday, March 1, for legislative days 21 through 25. If you have questions or comments on these bills or any other legislation before the General Assembly this session, please email Christine Butcher Hayes, director of governmental affairs, at [ ] . For additional information about the State Bar of Georgia’s legislative program and agenda, to track legislation or to contact the Bar’s legislative team, please visit the Legislative Program page [ ] .