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State legislative proceedings are often difficult to understand and can be even more challenging to track. Georgia Watch provides details on legislation affecting consumers so the general public can stay informed as bills move through the halls of the Capitol. Our aim is to keep you informed and involved so that you can become engaged in the legislative process.


ISSUES & ACTIVITIES WE ARE CURRENTLY WATCHING:

2024 Legislative Session Update: This bill had a hearing in the House Banking Committee last year, but no vote was taken. To date, a hearing hasn’t been scheduled this session.

Representative Josh Bonner (R-Fayetteville) introduced HB 342, the Motor Vehicle Title Loan Act, to require statewide regulation of car title lenders who prey on cash-strapped Georgia families, often trapping them in a cycle of debt. Many consumers turn to car title loans in times of crisis only to find out later that these high-interest loans spell big trouble. To protect Georgians, we support the passage of HB 342 to:

  • Require regulation of motor vehicle title lenders by the Department of Banking and Finance, which regulates all other lenders in the state.
  • Make car title loans subject to small-dollar lending interest rate caps and other consumer protections.
  • Require lenders to return to the borrower any surplus obtained if the vehicle is repossessed and sold.

This bill received a hearing but, unfortunately, did not get a vote in committee in the 2023 session. We continued to work so the bill gets not only a hearing but also a vote in the second year of the biennial, and hopefully becomes law in 2024.

Read our latest updates on title loans:

TitleMax demands high-interest payments from borrowers in bankruptcy

How Georgia’s top GOP leaders have blocked title lending reform

Proposed bill would close loophole, putting restrictions on title pawn companies

Bill would make car title loans subject to state’s cap on interest rates

2024 Legislative Session Update: The bill passed the House (adopted by substitute) on 2/27/2024 and moved to the Senate for consideration! We will continue to work towards this important bill being signed into law.

Representative Butch Parrish introduced HB 1339 to increase access to affordable, quality healthcare throughout our state—a very important first step.

A hearing and vote on this bill will be held before crossover day on 2/29/24. We urge Georgia legislators to strengthen this provision by:

  • Adding a definition of uncompensated indigent and charity care to this code
    section, which reads: “’Uncompensated indigent or charity care’ means the
    dollar amount of ‘net uncompensated indigent or charity care after direct and
    indirect (all) compensation’ as defined by, and calculated in accordance with,
    the department’s Hospital Financial Survey and related instructions.”
  • Amending line 590 to add “per year” to the end of the phrase.
  • Extending the above provision to any CON holder that does not participate in
    Medicaid or PeachCare for Kids Program by changing “4” to “5” at line 458.

We support the increase in fines DCH is authorized to collect (at lines 624-625) for
the untimely or deficient filing of required annual reports. We further suggest adding:

  • Any penalty so recovered shall be dedicated to and deposited by the
    department into the Indigent Care Trust Fund created pursuant to Code
    Section 31-8-152.

We recognize that ensuring more Georgians have access to insurance coverage is anticipated by this legislation as a necessary component to balance CON reform. We believe moving more quickly to expand Medicaid is the best way to achieve that balance.

 


Hospital closures are a growing concern statewide, devastatingly impacting communities, leaving residents without access to vital medical care and emergency services, and causing strain on the surrounding health system. We have introduced our hospital accountability framework to the (GA) House Study Committee on Certificate of Need Modernization. Our proposed policy solutions aim to ensure statewide accountability to keep providers where they are needed, reduce disparities in access, and prevent destabilizing closures such as the untimely closing of the Atlanta Medical Center and Atlanta Medical Center South by WellStar and Southwest Georgia Medical Center in Cuthbert.


Read our latest updates on hospital accountability:

Call for legislation changes in light of Atlanta Medical Center closing

Change Georgia laws to improve access to healthcare

Consumer advocates want more notice on Georgia hospital closures

Change Georgia laws for better healthcare access, advocates urge in Augusta meeting

Consumer advocate calls for more notice of hospital closures

AU Health, Wellstar merger hailed by some, dreaded by others

2024 Legislative Session Update: An amended version of the bill passed the Senate unanimously and now moves to the House for consideration. We strongly support passage of this legislation to hold health systems accountable!

Senator Blake Tillery (R – Vidalia) introduced SB 505 on 2/15/24, which would bring about much-needed transparency and accountability to our state’s hospital systems. SB 505 would ensure statewide accountability of hospital systems by:

  • Requiring hospitals to disclose financial information.
  • Dedicating their resources to charity care.
  • Empowering Georgians with knowledge and choice of care around financial assistance and cost.
  • Fostering a healthcare landscape that prioritizes the well-being of our communities.

We believe informed consumers are empowered consumers, and this bill is a crucial step toward achieving that goal.

2024 Legislative Session Update: SB 524 passed the Senate Health and Human Services Committee unanimously, but did not pass the Rules Committee in time for a vote by the full Senate before Crossover Day.

Senator Jason Anavitarte, along with co-sponsor Senator Ben Watson, introduced SB 524 to provide for the certification of community health workers.

A state certification for Community Health Workers (CHWs) would standardize training on core competencies and address assessment and continuing education needs to strengthen and sustain the CHW workforce, connecting communities to care. CHWs choosing to participate in the state certification process would provide recognition for this growing group of health professionals and ensure reimbursement from third-party payers for their services.

Read our latest updates on Community Health Workers:

Unsung healthcare heroes, community health workers seek more awareness

2024 Legislative Session Updates:

  • SB 552 has last been Senate read and referred on 2/22/2024.
  • On 2/21/24, Senator Sonya Halpern introduced SB 552 to implement a demographic note process to ensure legislators can review bills for their impact on vulnerable communities.

The public health and economic crises tied to the COVID-19 pandemic shone a light on existing disparities affecting communities of color, economically distressed communities, and other demographic groups who have historically experienced disinvestment and barriers to opportunity. To adequately address existing disparities and prevent the emergence of new ones, Georgia legislators should have a tool to analyze the potential positive or negative effects of proposed laws or regulations. As they have been applied in at least nine states, equity impact tools are shown to be useful and practical resources that demonstrate the potential scope of the impact of pending legislation on certain demographic populations.

2024 Legislative Session Update: SB 254 passed the House Banking Committee on 2/21/2024. We are working diligently to prevent it from moving further.

Georgia’s current laws protect consumers from these services’ abusive fees.

  • Senate Bill 254, would authorize earned wage access (EWA) providers to operate in the state, avoiding characterization as a loan. Ultimately, this bill would have loosened consumer protections and made EWA services practically indistinguishable from payday lending, which is illegal in Georgia.
  • House Bill 187, would allow for-profit credit repair organizations (CROs) to charge consumers exorbitant fees for deceptive services.

2024 Legislative Session Update: SB 452 the bill failed to pass the Senate Finance Committee.

Senate Bill 452 would legitimize the predatory and harmful practices of title pawn entities in the state. In the 2024 session, this bill has garnered traction despite:

  • Lack of a usury cap to deter title pawn deals with exorbitant interest rates, sometimes exceeding 300%.
  • Removal of restrictions on associated fees such as vehicle storage, relying on vague language stating they should be deemed “commercially reasonable.”
  • Perpetuating the classification of these transactions as pawns rather than loans, sidestepping the state’s lending laws.

Georgia Watch aims to bring fairness to title pawn loans, which are short-term, high-interest loans that require a borrower’s car title as collateral. Title pawn lenders target poor neighborhoods and military personnel with promises of fast cash. Car title lenders are the only lenders in Georgia allowed to charge more than the state’s 60 percent usury cap on loans. Georgia law currently allows car title lenders to charge more than 300 percent APR on small loans despite having a car as collateral. When a borrower cannot keep up with the high monthly payments, a car title lender can take possession of his or her car, leaving the borrower without transportation to work, school or the grocery store. Georgia Watch opposes any bill that increases the potential for consumers to become trapped in a cycle of debt through unfavorable loan terms like those associated with title pawn and other sub-prime lenders. If any changes are made in the title pawn statute, they should be to benefit consumers, not harm them.

Georgia Watch believes lawmakers should provide consumers with more protections by:

  • Making car title loans subject to a reasonable usury cap.
  • Putting in place a state regulatory framework to oversee the car title pawn industry.
  • Requiring car title lenders to return money over and above the debt after a repossessed car is sold.
  • Ensuring the regulation prevents rollovers or renewals of loans that allow lenders to continue charging 25% interest month after month.

House Bill 565, introduced in 2023 by Representative Tyler Paul Smith and gaining traction as of 2/22/24, aims to overhaul the state’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program by expanding access and boosting benefits. The bill proposes a significant increase in monthly assistance, raising it to 30% of the federal poverty guidelines. However, it also introduces a lifetime limit of 5 years (60 months) for cash assistance to adults in the household, starting in July 2024.

Wage garnishment by debt collectors may occur after a creditor goes to court and wins a judgment against a consumer, allowing the creditor to seize a portion of the consumer’s wages or bank account savings to pay the debt. Currently, only $217.50 of Georgians’ weekly earnings per person are protected by law from garnishment, which risks destabilizing family finances and local businesses that depend on consumer spending. Even medical debt may be subject to garnishment. We support reforms of wage and bank account garnishment law to help Georgians pay off their debts while maintaining a livable wage and emergency savings.

In 2022, the Georgia Public Service Commission approved a rate increase for Georgia Power Company that will cause customers’ bills to go up nearly 12% over the next three years to pay for spending on grid infrastructure, coal ash cleanup, retiring coal plants ahead of schedule, and the Company’s significant profits on these expenditures. Not included yet in these rate hikes are capital costs to build Plant Vogtle Units 3 & 4. Construction of the units is now more than six years behind schedule at more than double the original cost. Securitization is a low-cost capital option for investor-owned utilities like Georgia Power to replace higher-cost capital financing. It uses bond financing to lower costs for utility customers, saving customers hundreds of millions of dollars in the long run.

As of 2/12/24, the Senate has passed HB404! The bill will head to the Governor where it will hopefully be signed into law.

The Safe at Home Act (HB404) establishes a “fit for human habitation” standard for living conditions, promotes housing affordability by capping security deposits at two months’ rent, and provides a buffer from immediate eviction proceedings by introducing a three-day period for tenants to pay back due rent.

This includes tort reform legislation seeking to cap damages, expand the use of mandatory arbitration, and limiting consumers’ right to join in class action lawsuits against powerful special interests. We oppose any efforts to limit access to civil justice.

Creating a more equitable Georgia means bringing comprehensive, accessible programs, like energy efficiency and solar, to utilities and EMCs throughout the state. With skyrocketing energy bills and the interests of utilities as firmly entrenched across the state as ever, the state must take steps to reduce power bills for struggling families.

Georgia legislators should not impose any work requirements that would lock Georgians out of healthcare coverage. Instead, Georgia should streamline enrollment to expedite coverage for eligible families and minimize administrative burden for overwhelmed eligibility workers.

We support these efforts to increase Medicaid eligibility and healthcare access in Georgia.

Past Georgia Legislation: In February, Senator Blake Tillery (R-19) introduced Senate Bill 106, seeking an 1115 and 1332 Medicaid waiver. An 1115 Medicaid waiver provides states with the ability to experiment with or tailor their Medicaid programs, while a 1332 waiver addresses plans offered on the exchange. On March 27, 2019, Governor Kemp signed the bill into law. Though we are concerned that the 1115 waiver is limited to those only up to 100% of the federal poverty level ($12,100 annually for an individual), we look forward to working with the Governor’s office to make the waiver proposal as helpful as it can be for the maximum amount of Georgians.

Additionally, introduced by Rep. Bob Trammell (D-132) and Senator Steve Henson (D-41) respectively, House Bill 37 and Senate Bill 36 would expand Medicaid in Georgia as envisioned by the Affordable Care Act by increasing Medicaid eligibility for adults up to 138% of the federal poverty level (FPL). This is equivalent to $17,236 annually for an individual and $29,435 for a family of three. Georgia Watch supports closing the coverage gap by expanding Medicaid coverage to all Georgians below 138 percent FPL. These bills were left behind in favor of SB 106.

Previously, in 2018, House of Representatives Minority Leader Robert Trammel filed House Bill 669. The health subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee held a hearing on this Medicaid expansion bill on March 20, 2018. Unfortunately the bill did not advance during the 2017-2018 Legislative Session.

House Bill 163, sponsored by Consumer Champion, Representative Sharon Cooper (R-43), directs Georgia’s Medicaid program to adopt “express lane” eligibility for kids who qualify for Medicaid coverage. The change would make it easier for uninsured Georgia kids who already qualify for Medicaid to enroll and stay covered. The House passed HB 163 in early February and the Senate Health and Human Services Committee later approved it.

Senate Bill 172, sponsored by Senator Gloria Butler (D-55), would allow Georgia to fully expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Georgia is one of only 12 states that continues to reject federal money to cover low-income adults. Medicaid expansion would cover more than 500,000 Georgians. SB 172 has not yet been considered by the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Georgia Watch supports a state-level earned income tax credit (Georgia Work Credit) legislation to give an economic boost to low-income working families in Georgia. Georgia is one of the few states that continue to levy an income tax on low-income families. Many states have used state EITC legislation to help working families move up the economic ladder into the middle-class and break the cycle of poverty. Providing a state-level work credit to low-income working Georgians would benefit Georgia families and our economy by putting more disposable income into the pockets of consumers, infusing dollars into local economies, and boosting business. We support the Georgia Work Credit that would boost the financial well-being of struggling Georgia families and communities during this difficult time.

Current Georgia Legislation:

  • Senator Elena Parent (D-42) introduced Senate Bill 118, the Georgia Work and Family Credit Act, to provide for a state EITC. The bill was read and referred to the Senate Committee on Finance.

Past Georgia Legislation:

  • During the 2019-2020 legislative session, legislators introduced two bills that would create a state EITC in Georgia. Senator Elena Parent (D-42) introduced Senate Bill 41, and in the House, Representative Houston Gaines (R-117) introduced House Bill 588. Unfortunately, neither made it through Crossover Day.
  • During the 2021-2022 legislative session, Representative Houston Gaines (R-117) introduced House Bill 510 on February 17, 2021. HB 510 would have provided for a nonrefundable earned income tax credit. The bill was referred to the House Ways and Means Committee but did not make it through Crossover Day.

Why is a state EITC credit important?

Georgia is one of the few states that continue to levy an income tax on low-income families. Many states have used state EITC legislation to help working families move up the economic ladder into the middle-class and break the cycle of poverty. Providing a state-level work credit to low-income working Georgians would benefit Georgia families and our economy by putting more disposable income into the pockets of consumers, infusing dollars into local economies and boosting business.

Learn about Georgia Work Credit here.

Measures that would stimulate and incentivize rural access to healthcare, include but are not limited to increasing the Medicaid provider reimbursement rate, physician student loan forgiveness, expanding rural broadband access for purposes of telemedicine, and increasing the state tobacco tax (including for vaping products) to provide funds for rural healthcare. We support efforts to increase rural access and equity.

Current Georgia Legislation:

  • Senator Steve Gooch (R-51) introduced Senate Bill 193 to authorize the Department of Community Health to determine locations eligible for state or federal funding programs administered by the state for improved broadband services. The bill was read and referred to the Senate Committee on Regulated Industries and Utilities.

In the 2023 legislative session, Senator Kay Kirkpatrick (R-Marietta) introduced Senate Bill 20, the Consumer Access to Contracted Healthcare (CATCH) Act, which amends the Surprise Billing Consumer Protection Act to ensure consumer access to quality healthcare by setting adequacy standards for network plans offered by an insurer. This bill also ensures that all consumers with insurance coverage have access to primary and specialty care, mental healthcare, substance use treatment, pharmacies, and laboratories based on geographic proximity and provider to patient ratios, among other comprehensive network adequacy criteria.

Since it was introduced, this bill has passed and went into effect on January 1, 2024.

Financial exploitation of vulnerable adults is a serious issue that affects individuals who may be more susceptible to fraud. Perpetrators often use manipulative tactics to gain access to the individual’s financial assets. SB 84, introduced by Senator Chuck Hufstetler (R-Rome), provides guidelines for protecting disabled or elderly adults from financial exploitation when potential fraud is suspected, by allowing broker-dealers or investment advisors to hold disbursements if they have reasonable cause to believe there is fraud involved.

This bill passed unanimously out of both the House and the Senate in the 2023 legislative session and went into effect on May 5, 2023.