Committees, Programs & Sections

Legislative Update, Week 10 (03.31.17)

The Georgia General Assembly adjourned Sine Die around 1 a.m. on Friday, March 31. As is typical for the end of the session, Days 39 and 40 were both eventful and demanding.

On Thursday, the State Bar saw the passage of its nonprofit corporation bill, which provides a statutory means for a foreign (out-of-state) nonprofit corporation to change its state of incorporation to Georgia. Under current law, a foreign nonprofit can only change its state of incorporation to Georgia through a merger. In the case of a merger, the surviving nonprofit must already have an IRS Determination Letter stating that it is tax exempt. Recent private letter rulings from the IRS permit nonprofits to redomesticate in a new state if the move is pursuant to a state statute that allows for it. If signed by the governor, this legislation will do just that. This bill began as SB 148, sponsored by Sen. John Kennedy (R-Macon), but was merged with HB 87 after Crossover Day. In addition to the nonprofit corporation language attached by the State Bar, HB 87 also allows a corporation's annual registration with the Secretary of State to be valid for a period up to three years.

Another State Bar priority, SB 130, was sent back to committee in the Senate during the final minutes of the session on Friday morning. SB 130 included two components: (1) that a parent's waiver of an attorney in a juvenile case be knowing, voluntary and on the record, and (2) that an adoption proceeding be stayed if the child's parent is appealing a final determination terminating his or her parental rights. When SB 130 came up for a vote in the House, it was amended to attach HB 159, a thorough adoption code rewrite intended to modernize Georgia's adoption law. While the bill as amended passed unanimously in the House, the legislation hit a roadblock before its final vote in the Senate due to a controversial amendment proposed on the Senate floor. We will continue to work towards the passage of SB 130 during the 2018 legislative session.

The Uniform Power of Attorney Act, HB 221, received final passage last Tuesday. This legislation seeks to modernize Georgia's power of attorney statute by outlining the duty, liability and authority for agents, co-agents and successor agents. The bill also provides for the applicability, meaning, effect and termination of a power of attorney. I encourage you all to read through this bill and familiarize yourselves with the new "Statutory Form Power of Attorney" that is also found in the legislation. The State Bar's Fiduciary Section played an active and important role in drafting and revising HB 221. We are grateful for the service of Nick Djuric and Blake Melton, as well as Rep. Chuck Efstration (R-Dacula) and others, who spent significant time working on this issue.

HB 126, the Judicial Qualifications Commission Reform Act of 2017, received its final vote in the House last Tuesday and is headed to the governor's desk for signature. If signed, the law will go into effect on July 1, 2017. The State Bar, the Judiciary and the Legislature have put forth a substantial effort to draft legislation that creates a better JQC. We are confident that HB 126 will create a more modernized, transparent and fair commission for Georgia's judges with the direct input and involvement of the State Bar of Georgia.

HB 15, the legislation to implement mandatory e-filing in Georgia's state and superior courts, did not pass before the conclusion of the session. After the Senate amended the bill on Tuesday to make e-filing voluntary to attorneys statewide, the House voted to "disagree" with the Senate changes and the bill was sent to a conference committee. The conference committee members were unable to reach an agreement on the terms of the bill before the conclusion of the session on Thursday. This issue is an important one to Georgia lawyers and the State Bar plans to work with the judiciary over the summer to deliberate the best path forward for e-filing in Georgia.

2017 is the first year of a two-year legislative cycle. As a result, bills that did not pass this year carry over to the 2018 legislative session. The State Bar will be busy next year with a number of bills that stopped short in 2017. Two bills from the Fiduciary Section, HB 121 (dealing with trust modifications) and HB 122 (the Rule Against Perpetuities bill) will be back in the State House next year. Similarly, HB 190, the Family Law Section's antenuptial agreements bill, will also remain in the House. Two bills filed in the Senate, SB 120 (constructive notice for improperly executed deeds) and SB 301 (the Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act) will start the process again in the Senate next year.

Legislative Update, Week 9 (03.24.17)

Today concludes day 37 of the 40-day legislative session. Our legislative team has been busy at the Capitol monitoring legislation and working on the passage of the State Bar's legislative package.

Two bills of particular interest to Bar members, HB 126 and HB 15, were voted out of committee in the past week.

HB 126

Last Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee held its first hearing and vote on HB 126, the Judicial Qualifications Improvement Act of 2017. Sen. John Kennedy presented a legislative substitute that would have expanded the JQC's proposed hearing panel to nine members, two of which would be appointments made directly by the State Bar. Sen. Kennedy's substitute also gave the State Bar a direct appointment to the JQC's proposed hearing panel.

The Committee moved to pass Sen. Kennedy's substitute that included the State Bar appointments, but the motion failed on a 4-5 vote. The Committee later reconsidered the bill on a second vote after additional members joined the hearing; however, the Committee was deadlocked with six members in favor of passage and six members against.

After the deadlock vote on Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee convened again Monday afternoon to hear HB 126. At yesterday's hearing, the Committee considered the House version of the bill with some technical changes. That version of the bill includes bifurcated panels, one investigative and one adjudicative. The investigative panel includes seven members: a lawyer appointed by the governor, a lawyer and a citizen appointed by the Speaker of the House, a lawyer and a citizen appointed by the Lt. governor and two judges appointed by the Supreme Court. The adjudicative panel, known as the hearing panel, is comprised of three members: a citizen appointed by the governor, a lawyer appointed by the Supreme Court, and a judge appointed by the Supreme Court. The State Bar would have the ability under this bill to provide a list of potential nominees for all of the lawyer appointments to the JQC. This House version of HB 126, including the Senate's technical revisions, passed by a vote of 8 to 2.

HB 126 is currently in the Senate Rules committee, where it must be put on the Rules calendar by Thursday, March 30 in order to pass during the current legislative session.

HB 15

HB 15 would mandate electronic filing by attorneys in civil cases in Georgia's superior and state courts. The bill has undergone several changes since it was filed in early January, a number of which have been raised by our membership and lobbied by our legislative team.

HB 15 passed in the House on March 3 by a vote of 168-5. The bill cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday, March 16 and will receive a vote on the Senate floor tonight.

I encourage everyone to read HB 15, as it substantially affects attorneys and the practice of law in Georgia. The most recent substitute of HB 15 outlines that a transaction fee for electronically filing pleadings or documents in a civil action, including electronic service of pleadings, shall not exceed $7 per transaction. A convenience fee for credit card and bank drafting services may be assessed and shall not exceed 3.5 percent plus $0.30 per transaction.

Under this legislation, mandatory e-filing does not apply to filings made in connection with a pauper's affidavit, pleadings or documents filed under seal or presented to a court in camera or ex parte, or pleadings or documents to which access is otherwise restricted by law or court order. With recent weather emergencies in Southwest and Coastal Georgia in mind, the State Bar successfully asked to include an additional exception when a court is located in an area declared to be in a state of emergency. A recent change to the bill would also allow attorneys to e-file pleadings or documents for free in-person at a public access terminal in the courthouse.

It should be noted that the $7 fee per transaction is a ceiling and that mechanisms have been placed in the bill to curb the filing costs for attorneys and their clients. The final paragraph of the bill precludes a clerk from entering into an exclusive contract with an e-filing vendor. While there are currently two predominant e-filing vendors in Georgia, the intent is to create a competitive marketplace that lowers the cost of e-filing and provides high quality service to consumers. A recent amendment by Senator Blake Tillery would also ensure that no amount of the transaction fee would be remitted to the clerks or any state or local entity–this is intended to prevent fee increases stemming from contractual incentives between e-filing vendors and clerks.

HB 15 will receive a floor vote in the Senate tonight. It will need a final agree/disagree vote in the House in order to receive final passage and make its way to the governor's desk.

Other Legislation

HB 221, the Uniform Power of Attorney Act, passed in the Senate this afternoon by a vote of 52-0. Because changes were made to the bill in the Senate, HB 221 will need an agree/disagree vote in the House before moving to the governor's desk for signature. The Senate also passed HB 192 this afternoon, which provides for a rebuttable presumption that a corporate director acted in good faith in the process of decision-making and that he or she exercised ordinary care.

SB 126, sponsored by Sen. John Kennedy, would amend the State Tort Claims Act so that venue would be proper in the county where the tort giving rise to the loss occurred. This bill has passed out of House Judiciary on March 15 and is currently in the House Rules Committee.

SB 130, which is part of the State Bar's legislative package, cleared the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. A substitute was created in House Judiciary to merge SB 131 with SB 130–this means that both bills from the Child Protection and Advocacy Section have been combined into one piece of legislation. We are optimistic that SB 130 will make it out of the House Rules Committee and receive a floor vote in the House next week.

Legislative Update, Week 8 (03.10.17)

This past week marked Days 29 through 31 of the 2017 legislative session. Since Crossover Day last Friday, House committees have begun to take up Senate legislation and Senate committees have started to hear bills that crossed over from the House.

The House Judiciary Committee passed SB 46 on Thursday afternoon. This bill would limit criminal and civil liability for an injured space flight participant if the injury arose out of the inherent risk associated with any space flight activities occurring in Georgia. Liability would only be limited if the participant signed a warning agreement and gave written, informed consent. Liability would not be limited if the participant's injury was proximately caused by the space flight entity's gross negligence for the safety of the participant or intentionally caused by the space flight entity. The legislation is directed at a proposed spaceport in Camden County, which intends to attract commercial space flight companies to Georgia.

A pair of bankruptcy bills, sponsored by Senate Judiciary Chairman Jesse Stone (R-Waynesboro), also passed the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday. SB 71 would add health savings accounts and medical savings accounts to the list of bankruptcy exemptions. SB 87 provides for the discharge of judgments against exempt property in bankruptcy and lays out the procedure for doing so.

In the Senate, the Judiciary Committee passed HB 213 sponsored by Rep. Rich Golick (R-Smyrna) and HB 88 by Rep. Barry Fleming (R-Harlem). HB 213 amends the code to add fentanyl as a Schedule I controlled substance and also amends O.C.G.A. § 16-13-31, relating to criminal drug trafficking, to add a reference to fentanyl and its derivatives. HB 88 would require an individual qualifying to run as superior or state court judge to be a member in good standing with the State Bar of Georgia. The legislation would also require a superior or state court judge to vacate their seat upon disbarment or suspension from the practice of law by the Supreme Court and upon order of the Supreme Court providing for such removal.

Legislative Update, Week 7 (03.03.17)

Friday marked Day 28 of the 2017 legislative session, which served as Crossover Day. By Crossover Day, all legislation must pass in either the House or the Senate to continue through the process for the remainder of the 40-day session.

It was a busy week leading up to Crossover Day, with packed calendars in both the House and the Senate. On Feb. 28, Sen. Blake Tillery (R-Vidalia) presented SB 130 on the Senate floor, where it passed by a vote of 52-0. SB 130, which is part of the State Bar's legislative package, would require that a waiver of a parent's right to an attorney in a juvenile case be knowing, voluntary and on the record. Now that SB 130 has crossed over, we expect it will be heard in the House Judiciary Committee in the coming weeks.

HB 15, which would require mandatory civil e-filing in all of Georgia's superior and state courts, passed the House by a vote of 168-5 on Crossover Day. We will continue to monitor this bill and update our State Bar members if changes are made as the bill moves over to the Senate.

HB 221, the Uniform Power of Attorney Act, passed the House by a vote of 170-0 on Crossover Day. The House also passed HB 192, which provides for a rebuttable presumption that a corporate director acted in good faith in the process of decision-making and that he or she exercised ordinary care. This presumption may be rebutted if there is evidence that a director was grossly negligent in his or her decision-making process. HB 441, which would establish qualified self-settled spendthrift trusts in Georgia, also passed in the House Friday evening by a vote of 125-37.

On Crossover Day, the Senate passed SR 146 and SB 127, also known as Marsy's Law. Marsy's Law would amend the Georgia Constitution to include a victim's bill of rights. Its enabling legislation (SB 127) would give a victim the ability to file a motion to be heard if he or she made a written request to the prosecuting attorney to be notified of all proceedings and he or she was not provided such notification.

Finally, the annual legislative package studied and developed by Gov. Deal and the Georgia Council on Criminal Justice Reform passed unanimously in the Senate last Wednesday. Some of this year's reforms include changes to juvenile proceedings (SB 175), veterans’ accountability courts and sentencing of first-time non-violent felony offenders (SB 174), and changes to the procedure of issuing bench warrants for individuals charged with certain traffic, motorist and road violations (SB 176).

There are 12 legislative days left in this session before Sine Die on March 30. President Pat O'Connor will continue to closely monitor the progress of the State Bar legislation, as well as those bills that affect the practice of law and our profession. If there is a particular piece of legislation that is of concern to you or your section, please reach out to Christine Butcher, Director of Governmental Affairs, at christineb@gabar.org.

Legislative Update, Weeks 5 and 6 (02.25.17)

This update covers weeks 5 and 6 of the 2017 legislative session. Feb. 14 through Feb. 17 were legislative days 17 through 20, and this week we wrapped up days 21 through 24 of the session. Things are moving quickly under the Gold Dome with only four days left until Crossover Day, when legislation must pass in either the House or the Senate in order to continue through the legislative process.

Last week in the Senate, three bills in the State Bar legislative package passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Freshman Sen. Blake Tillery (R-Vidalia) did great work presenting SB 130 and SB 131, both of which were brought by the State Bar's Child Protection and Advocacy Section. SB 130 would require that a waiver of a parent's right to an attorney in a juvenile case be knowing, voluntary and on the record. SB 131 seeks to amend the juvenile code so that an appeal of an order terminating parental rights would stay a pending adoption proceeding related to that child until the termination appeal is finalized. This is so both children and parents know that an adoption proceeding following a termination of parental rights is final.

The Senate Judiciary Committee also passed SB 148, sponsored by Sen. John Kennedy (R-Macon). Under current Georgia law, a foreign nonprofit corporation can only become a Georgia nonprofit corporation through a merger. The same is true for a Georgia nonprofit corporation that seeks to move from Georgia. This legislation would create a statutory process by which a nonprofit corporation could redomesticate.

We are grateful for the service of Sen. Tillery and Sen. Kennedy, who have given their time and expertise to help the State Bar with this legislation at the State Capitol.

HB 15, which would require mandatory e-filing for civil matters in state and superior court, passed out of the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, Feb. 21. New provisions were added to the legislation that would give the Judicial Council of Georgia rulemaking authority on filing during declared state of emergency that may limit access to utilities like power and internet in certain regions. We appreciate the comments we have received from our members on this bill.

On Thursday, the House Judiciary Committee heard HB 221, also know as the "Uniform Power of Attorney Act." This legislation would substantially modernize Georgia's power of attorney statute by providing the duties, liability and authority for agents, coagents and successor agents, in addition to provisions that provide for the applicability, meaning, effect and termination of a power of attorney. The legislation also includes an updated statutory form power of attorney. HB 221 is intended to provide updated provisions that would protect Georgia's elderly population.

As the Legislature speeds into its final month of the 2017 session, please do not hesitate to reach out to Christine Butcher, Director of Governmental Affairs, at christineb@gabar.org with any questions or concerns you may have. For additional information about the State Bar's legislative program and agenda, or to contact the Bar's legislative team, please visit the Legislative Program page.

Legislative Update, Week 4 (02.10.17)

The Legislature was in session Tuesday through Friday for days 13 through 16 of its 40-day session.

On Tuesday, Rep. Meagan Hanson (R-Brookhaven) presented HB 190 in a House Judiciary subcommittee. HB 190, which is part of State Bar's legislative package, seeks to codify that antenuptial agreements must be in writing, signed by both parties, and attested by at least two witnesses, at least one of which must be a notary. After the bill passed out of subcommittee on Tuesday, HB 190 was heard by the full House Judiciary Committee on Thursday, where the committee voted "do pass." HB 190 will move on to the House Rules Committee early next week. Rep. Hanson, a freshmen legislator and family law attorney, has done a great job advocating this legislative priority on behalf of the State Bar.

Rep. Wendell Willard (R-Sandy Springs) presented HB 126, the Judicial Qualifications Commission Improvement Act of 2017, on the floor of the House of Representatives Thursday. HB 126 passed by a vote of 176-0 and crossed over to the Senate today, where it was assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee. We plan to work with the Senate to emphasize the importance of the State Bar's involvement in appointing lawyers to the JQC.

This week, a House Judiciary subcommittee also held hearings on HB 159, which extensively updates and modernizes Georgia's adoption code. The Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony on SB 95, which seeks to improve the collection of data for the compilation of the state-wide master jury list. If you have questions or comments on these bills or any other legislation before the General Assembly this session, please email Christine Butcher, Director of Governmental Affairs, at christineb@gabar.org.

On Thursday, the YLD Leadership Academy met with a number of lawyer-legislators, who discussed the importance of public service and how they juggle legal practice and legislative duties. We were happy to engage this group of bright young attorneys at the Capitol and encourage everyone to reach out to Christine to plan a lobby day for your local or voluntary bar association. 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.

Legislative Update, Week 3 (02.03.17)

It was another exciting week under the Gold Dome as committee meetings are in full swing and bills begin to move to the House and Senate floor for consideration.

The Legislature was in session Monday through Thursday for days 9 through 12 of its 40-day session. The House and Senate passed a final adjournment resolution on Wednesday that schedules Crossover Day (Day 28) for March 3 and Sine Day (Day 40) on March 30.

A House Judiciary subcommittee heard HB 121 and HB 122 on Monday. Nick Djuric testified on behalf of the State Bar's Fiduciary Section, which seeks to update Georgia's trust code and bring it up to speed with our neighboring states. Both bills were voted favorably out of subcommittee and heard by the full House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. The Judiciary Committee voted "do pass" on both bills, which will move on to the House Rules Committee early next week. The State Bar is grateful for the service of Rep. Chuck Efstration (R-Dacula), who has worked closely with the us to sponsor these bills in the House.

On Monday the House Judiciary Committee also began hearings on HB 126, known as The Judicial Qualifications Commission Improvement Act of 2017. State Bar President Pat O'Connor testified on behalf of the Bar at both Wednesday's subcommittee hearing and Thursday's full committee hearing. A link to the House Judiciary hearing on HB 126, including Pat's testimony, can be found here. (Please note that the meeting starts at the seven-minute mark.) HB 126 received a "do pass" vote from the House Judiciary Committee and will be brought before the House Rules Committee next week. O'Connor remains committed to restoring the State Bar's involvement in the JQC appointment process and will continue to work towards this goal as the legislative session progresses.

Another piece of legislation on the radar of many Georgia lawyers is HB 15, which would require mandatory e-filing in all of Georgia's Superior and State Courts. A House Judiciary subcommittee held its first hearing on the bill Thursday and will continue to take testimony and comments from stakeholders next week. If you have questions or comments on this bill or any other legislation before the General Assembly this session, please email Christine Butcher, Director of Governmental Affairs, at christineb@gabar.org.

If you would like to plan a lobby day under the Gold Dome for your local or voluntary bar association, please contact Christine Butcher, the State Bar of Georgia's Director of Governmental Affairs, at christineb@gabar.org.

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.

Legislative Update, Week 2 (01.27.17)

AT A GLANCE:

  • Chief Justice Hines delivers the State of the Judiciary Address ( Read it here.)
  • Judicial Qualifications Commission Improvement Act of 2017 introduced Wednesday ( HB 126)
  • Fiduciary Section bills introduced this week ( HB 121 and HB 122)

The General Assembly met on Monday through Thursday of this week for legislative days 5 through 8, and it was a busy week as members continue to introduce this session's legislation.

On Wednesday, the House and Senate met in a joint session to hear Chief Justice P. Harris Hines' State of the Judiciary Address. You can read a copy of the Chief Justice's speech here.

Also on Wednesday, the House introduced HB 126, also known as The Judicial Qualifications Commission Improvement Act of 2017. This bill seeks to make improvements to the size, makeup and procedure of the JQC following the passage of Amendment 3 and ongoing study of the commission since the end of the 2016 legislative session. Most notably, the bill seeks to create a two-panel commission, with an investigative panel that is responsible for the investigative and administrative functions of the commission and a hearing panel that is responsible for adjudicating formal charges filed by the investigative panel. The legislation, as filed, is available here.

Rep. Chuck Efstration introduced HB 121 and HB 122 this week. HB 121 is related to the modification of irrevocable trusts and HB 122 amends the Uniform Statutory Rule Against Perpetuities to allow for a 360-year permissible vesting period.

The General Assembly will meet on Monday through Thursday of next week for legislative days 9 through 12. We hope to have the remainder of the Bar's agenda items introduced in the next week.

If you would like to plan a lobby day under the Gold Dome for your local or voluntary bar association, please contact Christine Butcher, the State Bar of Georgia's Director of Governmental Affairs, at christineb@gabar.org.

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.

Legislative Update, Week 1 (01.20.17)

The 2017 Regular Session of the 154th Georgia General Assembly commenced on Monday, Jan. 9. Legislative day 1 saw the swearing-in ceremonies of each member of the General Assembly, including seven new lawyer-legislators: Rep. William Boddie (D-East Point), Rep. David Dreyer (D-Atlanta), Rep. Meagan Hanson (R-Brookhaven), Rep. Brenda Lopez (D-Norcross), Rep. Sam Park (D-Lawrenceville), Rep. Deborah Silcox (R-Sandy Springs) and Sen. Blake Tillery (R-Vidalia).

As expected, this first week was generally slow with respect to conducting legislative business and holding committee hearings, but members were busy drafting and introducing legislation in both chambers. Casino gambling, K-12 education reforms and immigration are shaping up to be top issues this year under the Gold Dome.

On Wednesday, Jan. 11, day 3 of the legislative session, the General Assembly met jointly to hear Gov. Deal's State of the State address. The governor laid out his budgetary and legislative priorities for the year, which include a 2 percent pay raise for teachers, raises for caseworkers at the Division of Family and Child Services and investment in a new cybersecurity training center, among other things. You can read the entire text of the speech here.

The General Assembly convened again on Thursday, Jan. 12, for legislative day 4, when it received Gov. Deal's FY 2018 budget recommendations. By the end of the week, House and Senate leadership had also finalized their committee and chairmanship assignments. Rep. Wendell Willard (R-Sandy Springs) has once again been named chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and Rep. Rich Golick (R-Smyrna) has been renamed chairman of the House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee. The Senate voted to combine its Judiciary and Judiciary Non-Civil Committees into a single committee, which will be chaired by Sen. Jesse Stone (R-Waynesboro).

In State Bar news, the Board of Governors met on Friday, Jan. 13, to approve the final pieces of the Bar's 2017 legislative agenda. A preview of the State Bar's entire 2017 legislative package is available on the Legislative Program page. The Bar's legislative team has begun its work finding sponsors for new proposals and working with stakeholders interested in the legislation.

The General Assembly took Monday, Jan. 16, off in observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Although technically out of session this week, a number of legislators spent Tuesday and Wednesday in joint budget hearings, where both the House and the Senate examined the proposed FY 2018 and amended FY 2017 state budgets. Legislators will convene for legislative day 5 of the session on Monday, Jan. 23.

If you have any questions about the Bar's Legislative Program and agenda, or if you would like to plan a lobby day under the Gold Dome for your local or voluntary bar association, please contact Christine Butcher, the State Bar of Georgia's Director of Governmental Affairs, at christineb@gabar.org.

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.