Last week, we crossed the halfway mark for the legislative session. The pace is really picking up, with the second half promising to be very intense. The House voted on 22 bills and resolutions during the week. Most were fairly minor issues or housekeeping measures, though we did pass two bills to restructure MARTA, which were obviously significant for folks inside the perimeter.
One other bill was of significance. HB 178 is the latest in a series of bills we’ve seen in recent years targeted at "pill mills." As I’ve related previously, this is a problem in which businesses known as "pain management clinics" are occasionally little more than front operations for criminals dealing in narcotic pain relievers. We’ve had testimony from law enforcement and the medical community that there is a real problem here, which I don’t doubt.
HB 178 proposes doing several things to combat the situation. It would require that pain management clinics be a specific, regulated type of business, for which a license would have to be obtained from the Georgia Composite Medical Board.
The Board would have significant powers to ensure such businesses are monitored for suspicious activity, investigated and have their licenses revoked if anything is getting out of hand. Also, since many of the "pill mill" operations have been owned by convicted criminals, the bill would simply make it unlawful for anyone with a felony conviction to even have an ownership stake.
The other significant provision in the bill is the requirement that any new pain management clinics must be owned by licensed physicians, under that logic that such individuals have too much at stake to allow any nefarious activity. This last condition troubles me greatly. It sets the precedent that government can reserve the right of participation in a sector of the economy to an arbitrarily selected group. Not to exclude criminals, as above; nor as a matter of specific skills or training necessary to do the work, as for say, plumbers or dentists — but simply as policy. We might soon be debating whether only dietitians should be allowed to own restaurants. I don’t think we should explore that road, so I opposed the bill. Nonetheless, after only a limited debate, it passed, by 150 to 15.
Now for a couple of interesting new bills. HB 25, entitled the "Fully Informed Jury Act of 2013" would require that judges allow a defendant to argue for jury nullification in court proceedings. Jury nullification happens when a jury either disagrees with the law the defendant is being charged under, or feels that the law shouldn’t be applied in the case before them. Thus the jury essentially takes the law into its own hands and acquits.
HB 49 is a definite sign of the times. The bill seeks to create regulatory oversight of what it calls the "foreclosure rescue" industry. The term refers to businesses that offer various means of preventing foreclosure on often desperate homeowners.
On Monday, Linda Park from Almon came by to say hello while waiting on a bill hearing. On Thursday, Leadership Newton had their state government day, meeting with the Newton legislative delegation, and having a photo with Governor Deal. It was a great group as always, and I enjoyed the chance to see friendly faces from home.
You can reach Doug Holt at 404-656-0152 or Doug@DougHolt.org.