Monday, March 23, 2009

Runners are Ambulance Chasers, a Public Service Mini Movie

Click the link to view it, worth your while:

Ambulance Chasers are known as Runners for short. Ambulance Chasing is a crime in the State of Georgia. See OCGA 33-24-53 (d).

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Crossover Day Doings

Bills that crossed over include:

The Insurance Delivery Enactment Act of 2009, HB 321, passed the House with bipartisan support on Thursday with 171 members voting for the bill. This bill amends the Georgia Code by changing the definitions of group accident, sickness insurance, and true association. Also, the bill reduces the number of people required for an association from 25 to 10 people. This bill now requires that spouses be included under a policy issued to a legal entity providing a multiple employer welfare arrangement. Other changes relate to the amount of insurance under the policy and makes changes in the required number of years in existence from 5 to 3 years.
ouse Bills 481 and 482, the Jobs, Opportunity, and Business Success (JOBS) Act of 2009. HB 481 provides tax credits to employers for each unemployed person hired, suspends business “start-up” fees for one year, and eliminates the state sales tax deposit. HB 482 will eliminate the state ad valorem tax on business inventory through a statewide referendum. This legislation will allow small businesses to create, expand and attract jobs for Georgians.

-House Bill 400, the Building Resourceful Individuals to Develop Georgia’s Economy (BRIDGE) Bill. This legislation ensures that all students will have a personalized graduation plan as well as the opportunity for dual enrollment. The bill also seeks to increase student interest by creating programs that combine real world experience with increased academic rigor.

-HB 261 creates a six month window during which anyone purchasing one single-family residence will receive a tax credit of up to $3,600.

-HB 480 removes all ad valorem and sales taxes from automobiles purchased in Georgia after December 31, 2009. Instead, these vehicles will be subject to a one-time seven percent title fee based upon the value of the automobile being purchased, with a maximum fee of $2,000.

Bills with an * are essentially dead until next year after Thursday's internal deadline, unless they are tacked onto another similar bill:

House Bill 39 *

Cigarette tax increase of $1 per pack

HB 67 *

Sales tax on food

HB 118

The midyear adjustment to the current year's budget, including providing for the $428 million Homeowners Tax Relief Grants to local government

Status: Signed by governor

HB 119

Fiscal-year 2010 budget, including Gov. Sonny Perdue's recommendation for a 1.6 percent tax on hospitals, 10 percent spending cuts and a $1.2 billion stimulus package

Status: House Appropriations Committee

HB 160

Perdue's "super speeder" bill to boost fines $200 for drivers exceeding 85 mph on Interstate highways and 75 on other roads

Status: Passed the House, awaiting committee assignment in the Senate

HB 233

Caps local property-tax assessments for two years at the current level or lower

Status: Conference committee

HB 277

House bill to levy a 1 percent sales tax statewide for specified transportation projects over 10 years

Status: Passed House, Senate Finance Committee

HB 605 *

House version of bill to transfer state transportation construction from the Department of Transportation to the new State Transportation Authority

House Resolution 1 *

Capping local assessments on property at 3 percent for residential, 4 percent commercial

Status: Won a majority in the House, but is awaiting a second House vote to see if it gains the two-thirds majority needed as a constitutional amendment

Senate Bill 16 *

Permit local voters to approve the sale of packaged alcohol on Sundays

SB 17

Reports legislators who fail to file income-tax returns

Status: Passed Senate, awaiting committee assignment in House

SB 31

Allowing the Georgia Power Co. to charge customers the financing costs of nuclear plants before they begin operation

Status: Awaiting governor's signature

GTLA Upcoming Annual Convention- Multi Day Schedule

You can find it here.

More than 100 speakers. Tracks including Product Liability, Ethics, and a track for new lawyers. A 1/2 on law and tech.

Ridiculously low price - click the link to see more.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

2009 Bills Pending Before Crossover Day

Here is a list of what is pending:

SB 31 - Allows Georgia Power Co. to charge customers the financing costs of nuclear plants before they begin operation - passed both House and Senate, awaiting governor's signature

SB 39 and HB 277 - Two approaches to transportation funding are moving through the General Assembly. The Senate passed SB 30 that would allow a one-penny sales tax for transportation (TSPLOST) to be approved for the metro Atlanta region and in individual counties outside metro Atlanta. The legislation was sent to the House, where it has been put on the back burner while House members consider their own transportation funding solution. The House passed HB 277, which provides for a ten-year, statewide sales tax for transportation with specific projects listed in the legislation. Status: It is likely that a conference committee will be formed to work on a consensus proposal for transportation funding before the Governor for signature or veto.

SB 54 - Prohibits abusive home loan practices as part of the Georgia Fair Lending Act. Status: Senate read and referred to committee.

SB 55 - Alters factors to be considered in determining fair market value of real property in relation to ad valorem taxes. Status: Senate passed, read second time in House.

SB 60 - Authorizes each local board of education to determine the maximum age of mandatory education from 16 to 18 for its local school system. Status: Senate read and referred to committee.

SB 71 - Prohibits engaging in certain outdoor sporting activities while under the influence of alcohol, drugs, and other substances. Status: Senate read and referred to committee.

SB 83 - Increases the amount of the statewide homestead exemption for ad valorem taxes. Status: Senate Passed, House Committee favorably reported, passed House vote on March 4, House voted to reconsider on March 5.

SB 84 - revise provisions relating to eligibility for election as a local board of education member; limit the size of local boards of education; revise provisions relating to per diem and expenses of local board of education members; provide for the fundamental roles of local boards of education and local school superintendents; prohibit certain conflicts of interest of board members; provide for a code of ethics for local board of education members. Status: Passed in Senate, read a second time in House.

SB 90 - Establishes vouchers to use taxpayer funds for families to pay private school tuition. Status: Senate committee favorably reported, read a second time in the Senate.

SB 108 - Provides tort reform to allow the charging of attorney fees to plaintiffs when a judge grant's a defendant's motion to dismiss. Status: Senate Committee favorably reported, read a second time in Senate.

SB 142 - Creates the Georgia Family Violence Offender Registry and enhances penalties for an act of family violence. Status: Senate read and referred to committee.

SB 169 - Restricts stem cell research in Georgia; provides that it shall be unlawful for any person or entity to intentionally or knowingly create or attempt to create an in vitro human embryo by any means other than fertilization of a human egg by a human sperm; provides for standards for physicians and facilities performing in vitro fertilizations; defines a living human embryo as a person, not property; prohibits the destruction of a living human embryo for any reason, such as disposal of unwanted frozen embryos kept at a fertility clinic or scientific research. President Barack Obama has announced a lifting of restrictions on federal dollars for such research. Status: Senate Committee favorably reported.

SB 175 - Provides for a moratorium on the administration of a death sentence. Status: Senate read and referred to committee.

SB200 and HB605 - proposed by Governor Perdue with the support of Lieutenant Governor Cagle and Speaker Richardson, would implement sweeping changes in statewide transportation planning, including the merging of the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority (GRTA) and the State Road and Toll way Authority (SRTA) into a new State Transportation Authority (STA), which would be responsible for planning, policy and funding decisions. The current Department of Transportation would remain responsible for operations, maintenance and certain construction projects. SB200 passed the Senate on March 5. HB 605 has been read a second time in the Senate.

HB 39 - Cigarette tax increase in the amount of $1 per pack - currently in the House Ways and Means Committee. Status: Read a second time in the House.

HB 67 - Suspending exemption on sales and use tax on certain food and beverages, reinstating a four-cent sales tax on groceries. Status: House Committee favorably reported.

HB 118 - Mid-year adjustments to the current year's budget, including reinstatement of the Homeowners Tax Relief Grant to local governments. Status: passed both House and Senate, now in conference before going before the Governor for signature or veto.

HB 119 - Fiscal year 2010 budget including a 10 percent cut in spending and a $1.2 billion stimulus package - currently in the House Appropriations Committee.

HB 160 - "Super Speeder" bill to boost fines $200 for drivers exceeding 85 mph on interstates and 75 on other roads. Also increases the fees paid for reinstatement or restoration of suspended or revoked drivers' licenses. Passed the House on Monday (March 9) and headed to the Senate.

HB 209 - Allowing the use of valid student identification cards issue by a public or private college or university in Georgia as proof of identity in order to vote. Status: House Committee favorably reported.

HB 228 - Reorganizing and reestablishing various state health and human services agency and reassign various functions of the Department of Community Health and the Department of Human Resources and abolish the Board of Community Health and the Board of Human Resources and establish the position of State Health Officer and the Behavioral Health Coordinating Council. Status: House Committee favorably reported.

HB 261 - Providing for an income tax credit for a limited period of time for the purchase of one eligible single-family residence. Status: House Committee favorably reported.

HB 277 - Levying a 1 percent sales tax statewide for specific transportation projects over the coming 10 years - passed the House, currently in the Senate Finance Committee. Status: Passed house, read in Senate and referred to Senate Committee.

HB 385 - Repealing the date on which the State Commission on Family Violence shall cease to exist. Status: House Committee favorably reported.

HB 517 - Imposing a cap on property assessment increases at the inflation rate or 3 percent. Status: Read a second time in the House.

51 resolutions under consideration in the Georgia General Assembly. Many are associated with House or Senate Bills currently under consideration. Adopted resolutions are constitutional amendments to the Georgia Constitution and require voter approval following adoption and signature by the Governor. For a complete list of Resolutions and their status, see the link posted above.

Link/source here.
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School Vouchers Bill Up for a Vote

School-voucher legislation comes up for the first legislative vote in decades.

Sen. Eric Johnson, R-Savannah, sponsored Senate Bill 90. Polls show overwhelming support among the public but little enthusiasm among professional educators.

Opponents are lobbying against it right up until the Senate vote.

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Speeding Bill Passes GA House

Gov. Sonny Perdue’s proposal to charge what some call "super speeders” an extra $200 on their traffic fines was passed by the Georgia House of Representatives.

Under the proposed law, speeders who are travelling at more than 85 mph on an interstate or four-lane highway and those who top 75 mph on other roads will be hit with the new fine.

There is a revenue implication: The governor’s office estimates that the new law could create an additional $23 million a year to help subsidize hospital emergency room operations and to improve emergency trauma care in rural areas.

Our thanks to

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Is the FDA Broken?

Many think so. A recent article in Newsday highlights a number of problems.

"Many defenders acknowledge the FDA is struggling.

"'Broken' is the kind of word that's sort of a fighting word," said Dr. Frank Torti, the cancer researcher serving as acting FDA commissioner. "We have recognized for a long time that more is needed. Because of a lack of (legal) authorities and inadequate resources, it's really hard to do the job."

One Representative suggests that that the agency is either nonfunctional or dysfunctional, or both.

For more, go here.

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Friday, March 6, 2009

U.S. Supreme Court: A Victory for Consumers

The Supreme Court on Wednesday issued its decision in the much-watched case of Wyeth v. Levine—the underlying lawsuit that inspired it is based on a fairly simple idea: Diana Levine was severely injured when she was given Wyeth’s Phenergan by a physician’s assistant who was attempting to inject the drug directly into the vein but instead either got it into the artery or injected it in such a way that it leaked out of the vein (”perivascular extravasation”) and mixed with arterial blood.

The Court held that the labeling approval by the FDA does not preempt state laws or shield companies from legal damages as part of liability claims.

From the opinion, the Supreme Court noted what many saw as a practical reality about the FDA:

"The [FDA] lacks the resources needed to accomplish its large and complex mission . . . .There is widespread agreement that resources for post marketing drug safety work are especially inadequate and that resource limitations have hobbled the agency’s ability to improve and expand this essential component of its mission”); GAO, Drug Safety: Improvement Needed inFDA’s Post market Decision-making and Oversight Process 5 (GAO–06–402, 2006),"

"The FDA lacks a clear and effective process for making decisions about, and providing management oversight of, post market safety issues."

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Mcdonald's Coffee Case

THE MCDONALD'S SCALDING COFFEE CASE- Have you seen the real facts?

Stella Liebeck of Albuquerque , New Mexico , was in the passenger seat of her grandson's car when she was severely burned by McDonald's coffee in February 1992. Liebeck, now 81, ordered coffee that was served in a styrofoam cup at the drive-through window of a local McDonald's.

After receiving the order, the grandson pulled his car forward and stopped momentarily so that Liebeck could add cream and sugar to her coffee. (Critics of civil justice, who have pounced on this case, often charge that Liebeck was driving the car or that the vehicle was in motion when she spilled the coffee; neither is true.) Liebeck placed the cup between her knees and attempted to remove the plastic lid from the cup. As she removed the lid, the entire contents of the cup spilled into her lap.

The sweatpants Liebeck was wearing absorbed the coffee and held it next to her skin. A vascular surgeon determined that Liebeck suffered full thickness burns (or third-degree burns) over 6 percent of her body, including her inner thighs, perineum, buttocks, and genital and groin areas. She was hospitalized for eight days, during which time she underwent skin grafting. Liebeck, who also underwent debridement treatments, sought to settle her claim for $20,000, but McDonald's refused.

During discovery, McDonald's produced documents showing more than 700 claims by people burned by its coffee between 1982 and 1992. Some claims involved third-degree burns substantially similar to Liebeck's. This history documented McDonald's knowledge about the extent and nature of this hazard.

McDonald's also said during discovery that, based on a consultant's advice, it held its coffee at between 180 and 190 degrees fahrenheit to maintain optimum taste. He admitted that he had not evaluated the safety ramifications at this temperature. Other establishments sell coffee at substantially lower temperatures, and coffee served at home is generally 135 to 140 degrees.

Further, McDonald's quality assurance manager testified that the company actively enforces a requirement that coffee be held in the pot at 185 degrees, plus or minus five degrees. He also testified that a burn hazard exists with any food substance served at 140 degree or above, and that McDonald's coffee, at the temperature at which it was poured into styrofoam cups, was not fit for consumption because it would burn the mouth and throat. The quality assurance manager admitted that burns would occur, but testified that McDonald's had no intention of reducing the "holding temperature" of its coffee.

Plaintiff's expert, a scholar in thermodynamics as applied to human skin burns, testified that liquids, at 180 degrees, will cause a full thickness burn to human skin in two to seven seconds. Other testimony showed that as the temperature decreases toward 155 degrees, the extent of the burn relative to that temperature decreases exponentially. Thus, if Liebeck's spill had involved coffee at 155 degrees, the liquid would have cooled and given her time to avoid a serious burn.

McDonald's asserted that customers buy coffee on their way to work or home, intending to consume it there. However, the company's own research showed that customers intend to consume the coffee immediately while driving. McDonald's also argued that consumers know coffee is hot and that its customers want it that way. The company admitted its customers were unaware that they could suffer third- degree burns from the coffee and that a statement on the side of the cup was not a "warning" but a "reminder" since the location of the writing would not warn customers of the hazard.

The jury awarded Liebeck $200,000 in compensatory damages. This amount was reduced to $160,000 because the jury found Liebeck 20 percent at fault in the spill. The jury also awarded Liebeck $2.7 million in punitive damages, which equals about two days of McDonald's coffee sales.

Post-verdict investigation found that the temperature of coffee at the local Albuquerque McDonald's had dropped to 158 degrees fahrenheit. The trial court subsequently reduced the punitive award to $480,000 -- or three times compensatory damages -- even though the judge called McDonald's conduct reckless, callous and willful. Subsequent to remittitur, the parties entered a post-verdict settlement.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Legislative Days 25 and 26

The biggest news over these past two legislative days had to be the death of HB 200 on the House Floor. HB 200 would have allowed for the failure to wear a seatbelt to be admissible in civil cases. Together, GTLA and the Georgia Chamber of Commerce worked to hammer out a compromise that both parties could support.

The bill was introduced from the well and questions were answered. Representatives began to question why a victim in a car accident would be revictimized in a court of law. Momentum began to build against the bill.

The Speaker of the House called for the vote and the bill failed 15-143.

SB 108, the Victim Pays provision of the Governor's Tort Reform Package passed the Senate Special Judiciary Committee as well. The orgiginal language was replaced with the language found in HB 414. SB 108 no longer contains the Victim Pays provision, but it does allow for a Stay of Discovery.

Monday, March 2, 2009

FDA Only Investigates 96 of 188,000+ Food Processing Plants

I know what you are thinking - that stat simply cannot be correct. The FDA, the entity created to guard the gates for the public when it comes to food, product, and device safety, has only investigated about 100 food processing plants of the nearly 200,000 food processing plants that in some manner bring food into our homes?

It is. That's .0005% of all such facilities.

The FDA is badly broken. The only thing more discouraging (if that is possible) than the numbers cited above? Some folks think the FDA is doing a bang up job. If the FDA guards the public, who is guarding the guards?

Read more here.