On the last day to sign or veto legislation, Governor Nathan Deal vetoed two pieces of legislation in which the Georgia Municipal Association was actively engaged.
House Bill 216, Workers Comp Cancer Claims by Firefighters,
was vetoed by Gov. Deal for a variety of policy reasons. The legislation would have changed the occupational disease statute used in workers compensation claims to allow firefighters to show by a low evidence standard that a diagnosis of cancer was attributable to the firefighter's job duties. In his veto message, Governor Deal was clear in his concerns about the bill:
“… codifying an exception for one occupation at this relatively low standard of proof with no time limitation on diagnosis or restriction on eligible types of cancer is a broad solution for a problem not yet abundantly demonstrated in Georgia.”
Gov. Deal also specifically referenced the GMA’s concern that “HB 216 makes no distinction between paid and volunteer firefighters.” Deal’s veto message continued, “Paid employees are automatically granted workers’ compensation coverage, while cities and counties must affirmatively vote to include volunteer firefighters in their coverage.” He also suggested that the legislation, if signed into law, would “exhaust our State Board of Workers’ Compensation and our state judicial system with litigation at the expense of our cities and counties.”
GMA applauds Governor Deal’s thoughtful and analytical approach to reviewing the policy problems inherent in the legislation and asks that municipal officials contact Gov. Deal to thank him for taking this decisive action.
House Bill 370, Local Fines for Ethics Filings,
was also vetoed by Gov. Deal. This bill would have required the state Ethics Commission to create a process to authorize the waiver of fines related to late or non-filings of ethics disclosures incurred between January 1, 2010 and January 10, 2014 for local government candidates. Gov. Deal stated that the bill “amounts to amnesty for individuals who failed to follow correct procedure” before the sunset of the old system of state-level filing by local officials. Deal also suggested that the process proposed in HB 370 would place and “undue burden” on the Ethics Commission “for the distribution of notice, promulgation of forms, and collection of new documents for those local officials or candidates to refile if they had previously failed to file, filed late, or filed incomplete documents during the 2010- 2014 timeframe.”
Gov. Deal’s veto also expressed concerns about language in the bill that had the potential, subject to appropriation by the General Assembly, for the refund of previously paid fines if all of the delinquent or incomplete filings were approved by the Ethics Commission.
It is uncertain at this point what actions the Ethics Commission will undertake to pursue late or non-filing claims against local government officials caught in the old system which was sunset by the General Assembly due to documented mismanagement. GMA recognizes that this veto is a disappointment to municipal officials who have been unfairly caught in the dysfunctional system in place at the state level and will apprise city officials of any action the Ethics Commission may take moving forward.
Plan Hometown Connections Now
In order to prepare for success during the 2017 Session of the General Assembly, it is crucial that municipal officials engage with their legislators and candidates for legislative seats. GMA encourages city officials to begin planning your city's 2016 Hometown Connection to maintain strong relationship with legislators, educate them about the important work you do for shared constituents, and work with GMA’s governmental relations staff to develop partnerships that will lead to future success for municipal goals under the Gold Dome.