Monday shapes up as a pivotal day for high-profile health bills as the General Assembly enters its final week.
Those expected to get a Senate floor vote include a bill that would establish rules for cameras in nursing home residents’ rooms. Senators will also consider a recently gutted measure involving visits to people in hospitals and long-term care facilities.
And a third proposal, which has raised some concerns after recent mass shootings in Georgia and Colorado, would expand gun rights here.
The timing is crucial for all pending bills. The Legislature adjourns Wednesday.
Conflicts between House and Senate leaders over legislation can arise quickly in the final hours of a session. That’s because even if a bill is blocked or defeated in one chamber, its language can be attached to legislation sitting in the other chamber.
A bill that’s generating plenty of behind-the-scenes discussion in the health care industry is House Bill 290. Its original version would have required hospitals and long-term care facilities to allow a “legal representative’’ to visit a patient or resident during an emergency, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
Georgia House Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) has strongly supported the original version, citing his own experience in trying and failing to get patients’ family members access to their loved ones.
But a Senate committee gutted the measure after a series of hospital groups spoke against the bill, arguing that allowing such visits could risk the safety of patients and staff during a disease outbreak.
The panel’s move to scrap the visitation portion infuriated Rep. Ed Setzler (R-Acworth), the lead sponsor of the bill.
He said in a Senate Rules Committee meeting Friday that he would prefer that the stripped-down bill not go forward to the Senate floor, characterizing it as worthless in its reduced form. “People will think they’re getting something, when there’s literally no provision in this bill that accomplishes any single thing.’’
The Rules Committee, despite Setzler’s objection, voted to send the new version of the bill to the House floor.
Gun rights bill draws critics
House Bill 218 – touted as “a Second Amendment bill” — is set to get a Senate vote after the Rules Committee amended it Friday.
The proposal’s remaining provisions include requiring Georgia to recognize other states’ concealed weapons permits. Six states would be added to Georgia’s list, said Republican Rep. Mandi Ballinger. She represents metro Atlanta’s Cherokee County, where the recent spa shootings that killed eight people began. (The suspect in the killings is from the county.)
The Georgia killing spree and a deadly mass shooting at a Colorado supermarket a few days later have made gun safety proponents question the timing of the bill, but the Senate is expected to approve the measure Monday. It has the backing of the Senate Republican leadership and Gov. Brian Kemp.
The governor’s floor leader, Sen. Bo Hatchett (R-Cornelia), told the Rules Committee that the legislation deals with preventing a governor from taking away ammunition, other weapons like crossbows, and reloading equipment such as speedloaders or magazines, during a state of emergency.
The bill would also require local governments to auction off weapons that have come into their possession at least once every 12 months.
The Senate Public Safety Committee, which approved HB 218, did not give hearings to gun control bills introduced by Atlanta-area Senate Democrats.
Senator Michelle Au (D-Johns Creek) has proposed a bill for universal background checks for weapons purchases. The day before the spa shootings, she had warned of violence against Asian-Americans, which reportedly has increased around the nation in recent months. Six of the eight people killed in the Georgia shootings were Asian women.
Since that violence, Au and other Democratic lawmakers proposed waiting period bills for gun purchases, but those attempts went nowhere.
The previous version of the Georgia gun bill would have allowed state residents to apply for concealed weapon permits in any county in the state, not just the one where they live. But that provision was removed after opposition from the state’s probate court judges, who grant such permits in the individual counties.
Hidden cameras or visible monitoring?
The camera bill generated strong debate and an extremely close vote last week in a Senate health committee.
House Bill 605 promotes the use of cameras in rooms of residents of long-term care facilities to prevent neglect or abuse. But the 7-6 vote reflected the Senate Health and Human Services Committee’s differences on the issue of cameras that are hidden, versus those that would be visible and known to the facility and its staff.
Some advocates for seniors oppose House Bill 605 because they say it limits the use of hidden cameras in a civil case or administrative procedure if abuse or neglect occur in nursing homes or other facilities.
Sen. Ben Watson (R-Savannah), chairman of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, cast a tie-breaking vote in favor of the “granny cam’’ legislation after panel members deadlocked 6-6 on the bill.
The vote followed vigorous testimony, including from the son of a man who died in a nursing home in a case that wound up in the Georgia Supreme Court. Last year, the court ruled in December that hidden camera footage showing James Dempsey’s final hours was recorded legally and could be used in a criminal case against his caregivers.
The lead sponsor of 605, Rep. Sharon Cooper (R-Marietta), told the Senate committee Tuesday that the legislation is “a compromise bill’’ that would promote open and transparent monitoring of a person’s care. “We want to prevent harm in the first place,’’ Cooper said. “I want to prevent bad care that leads to accidents.’’
But Kathy Floyd, executive director of the Georgia Council on Aging, said the bill isn’t necessary. By not allowing hidden camera footage for civil and administrative actions, the employer is shielded if any wrongdoing is committed, she said.
Rebecca Grapevine contributed to this article.
This story available through a news partnership with Georgia Health News.