Georgia Update: The 2018 Legislative Session

November 29, 2017

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Looking ahead to the 2018 legislative session, two key dynamics will drivemuch of the activity. First, it will be Gov. Nathan Deal’s last session tomove major policy issues forward as he finishes his second term in office.The Deal team is adept at maneuvering the legislative process, soanticipate significant efforts around his key priorities of educationreform, economic development and criminal justice reform.

Second, the session will progress in the shadow of the May primary for allstatewide offices, including the races for governor and lieutenantgovernor. Because many of the candidates also will be actively serving inthe legislature, it is a safe bet that issues appealing to the primaryelectorate (particularly the Republican primary electorate) will be frontand center.

Following are some of the key issues expected to see debate next year:


The state continues to perform well economically, and this continues toresult in a generally stable budget situation. The legislature likely wouldbe considering significant forward movement on spending in new priorityissues, were it not for two factors. The first is a growing gap betweenpension funding and pension obligations for state employees and teachers.The second factor is growth in medical costs for the state employee healthplan that continue to significantly exceed member contributions. Combined,these mandatory spend items will consume much of the available new fundingon the cash side of the ledger. Due to the state’s strong credit position,expect to see another substantial bond package to fund a range ofinfrastructure priorities. Economic growth also will positively impact theavailability of funding for state transportation needs since that money islargely earmarked for transportation purposes only.

Medicaid Reform

Incrementalism will be the word of the day when the legislature starts tolook at changes to the Medicaid program. The state Senate finished a roundof hearings on this topic around the state, and heard a great deal aboutthe need to increase provider payments, implement new telehealthtechnologies and consider limited waiver-driven expansion programs to coverspecific needs, such as opioid addiction and mental health. Additionally,the state is now embarking on replacement of its Medicaid ManagementInformation System with a new modular approach, which will reshape the waythe Medicaid program is technically delivered to providers and members.Because of the interplay with the Centers for Medicare and MedicaidServices on any changes — and the lack of global progress in the healthreform discussion in Washington — the outlook for specific policy changescoming out of this discussion remains unclear.

Certificate of Need

This session likely will feature more discussion of Georgia’s Certificateof Need program than has occurred in recent years. Continued challengeswith operating smaller rural hospitals have opened a debate about whetherthese laws are preventing restructuring of small hospitals and creation ofurgent and emergency care facilities that can provide immediate care at alower total cost. Additionally, the competitive Atlanta hospital operatingenvironment may have some large organizations considering changes to enableexpansion for their physician groups. Several other CON issues have beenbrewing for some time and will get legislative attention. Given the generalopposition of most Georgia hospitals to any change, this will be anotherhard-fought issue in 2018.

Mass Transit

In the wake of Atlanta’s new sales tax to fund transit expansion, severalother metro Atlanta jurisdictions are considering similar changes to remaineconomically competitive and reduce traffic congestion. These jurisdictionsinclude DeKalb County, Fulton County and Gwinnett County. At the same time,legislators continue to examine broader governance models for transit inthe metro Atlanta region. Whether any of these jurisdictions are successfulwill depend largely on whether they built strong legislative support aroundtheir proposals prior to the legislative session.

Sanctuary Cities

As the national fight around local compliance with U.S. Immigration andCustoms Enforcement detainers heats up in Georgia, expectimmigration-related legislation around this issue to emerge quickly in2018. Given the intensity of this issue with Republican primary voters, theodds are relatively high that a bill will pass.

Rural Broadband

Speaker David Ralston put a great deal of personal effort into leading atask force looking at issues that need addressing to keep rural Georgiaeconomically competitive. Rural broadband access is front and center inthis debate. On the more controversial side, some proposed letting electricco-ops enter the broadband business. Also discussed were proposals toreduce regulatory burdens for installation and lower the sales tax onbroadband equipment. While policy details are still taking shape, the oddsof a major package dealing with this issue moving next year are very high.

Religious Freedom

This session almost certainly will feature debate on legislative proposalspitting the business community against social conservatives. The mostprominent candidate is an effort to codify the federal Religious FreedomRestoration Act, which many businesses, activist groups and motion picturecompanies have identified as catastrophic from a business growth andcommunity branding standpoint. Other permutations of this general issuehave been debated as well, including new regulations around faith-basedorganizations that receive public funding to provide adoption and fostercare services. Gov. Deal opposes any moves in this direction, which willmake enactment of such legislation unlikely, at least in the 2018 session.Regardless, it will be a major point of debate.

Tax Policy

A Senate study committee spent time in the off-season examining the taxcredits and deductions that are on the books in Georgia. While the Senatecannot start tax bills, the general is that there is a pretty strongappetite to implement some kind of regular sunset and/or review process forthese programs. It is unclear at this point whether the House would beinclined to move in this direction. Additionally, there continues to beconcern about Georgia’s recently revamped auto tax program and its impacton the leasing business. Finally, expect that debate around taxation ofemerging industries, from online software and books, to retails sales andrideshares, will continue as new economic ideas collide with old tax laws.

Gun Policy

Legislative conservatives are clamoring to vote on “Constitutional Carry”legislation, which essentially negates the requirement to get a permitbefore carrying a firearm in public. The actual parameters are not yetavailable, but in a primary election year, there’s no ruling out movementon another piece of firearms legislation.

Balance Billing

The two-year-old fight among insurers, patient advocates, hospitals andphysicians around billing for surprise out-of-network services willcertainly continue for a third year. All parties involved agree thepractice should be curtailed, but there is little agreement on how to doso. Generally, the debate revolves around what standard to use as the floorfor out-of-network charges when the patient has no opportunity to consentto them in advance.

Destination Gaming

The discussion about gaming in Georgia will certainly continue next year.In general, the success of these efforts will depend on whether there is anew program or existing fiscal need that is compelling enough to getlawmakers who are concerned about the political implications of this issueto want to put it in front of voters. While primary election pressures makethis a challenge, existing fund sources cannot meet the needs around ruralhealthcare, opioid addiction and other priorities, so many legislators willcontinue to look at gaming as a potential solution.

Energy Policy

As Georgia moves forward with a nuclear power expansion, some level oflegislative attention will focus on the topic. However, the debate aroundfinancing is largely assigned to the Public Service Commission, so majorlegislative movement in the area is unlikely. A related issue concernsdisposal of coal ash residuals from other states in Georgia landfills.Federal constitutional limitations outline what Georgia can do on thisissue, but that will not deter concerned legislators from seeking a pathforward.

This is just a sampling of the major issues expected to consume time andfocus moving forward into the session. As always, if you have questionsabout any of these issues, please contact a member of McGuireWoodsConsulting’s Georgia team.

For additional information, please contact Ashley Groome or a member of McGuireWoods Consulting’s Georgia State Government Relations Group.

Ashley S. Groome, Senior Vice President rel=”noopener noreferrer” and Director

Robert rel=”noopener noreferrer” L. Fortson, Senior Vice President

Lauren rel=”noopener noreferrer” C. Greer, Assistant Vice President

Misty rel=”noopener noreferrer” H. Holcomb, Senior Vice President

Danica R. Key, Assistant Vice President

Michael T. Shelnutt, Senior Vice President