Business leaders in a number of Georgia industries in the last several years held to a common refrain — there are good jobs to be found, but not enough qualified people to fill them. State Senate study committees addressing that and the legal costs of doing business in Georgia wrapped up Tuesday and adopted reports that are to go for consideration to the General Assembly in January.
The Senate Study Committee on Higher Education Outcomes came about because, according to the committee’s report, “Georgia is experiencing a gap in skilled workers in various industries, including education, health care and information technology. This gap can be attributed to many factors including an aging workforce, a decline in rural populations and an inefficient talent pipeline.”
This committee set out to come up with suggestions about how to make that talent pipeline more effective in supplying the talent pool necessary to staff needed jobs.
Senators agreed on three goals — increasing post-secondary enrollment, persisting and progressing in post-secondary education and preparing for the workforce and lifelong learning.
To increase enrollment, the committee advocated increased completion by state students of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), encouraged school districts to offer the ACT and SAT exams during regular school hours, and supported statewide expansion of the College Advising Corps program.
The committee also recommended further giving for completion grants and emergency funding, pay-as-you-go installment plans for tuition and other costs, and expansion of the nexus degree. Nexus degrees, according to the University System of Georgia, are “college credentials that emphasize hands-on experiential learning, skilled knowledge and connections with industry in high-demand career fields.”
The committee handling tort reform — the Senate Study Committee on Reducing Georgia’s Cost of Doing Business — agreed to 19 different suggestions and recommendations for legislation not only at the state level, but federal as well, with No. 14 advocating that Congress pass a new trucking regulations package.
No. 1 as addressed by the committee was a punitive damages cap, encouraging a $250,000 limit for product liability, and extending that to all industries. Gino Brogdon, an Atlanta personal injury lawyer and mediator, said he felt such caps opened up the chances of people doing the wrong thing because they can afford it.
“My only concern is, we heard a lot about the punitive damages caps, and punitives are specifically meant to punish bad actors, for those of you who aren’t attorneys,” Brogdon said. “By limiting them, that allows people to budget for bad acting, and my concern in terms of keeping kind of a middle ground on our recommendations is that if we cap punitive damages, then it allows different industries — and, I guess, specifically related to product liability claims — it allows different industries to have expectations for that. And, it encourages — I don’t want to say incentivizes — but it encourages bad acting since you understand there’s a limitation on it.”
Caps went on the beginning and end of the report, with Will Fagan, vice president and senior corporate counsel at MagMututal Insurance, suggesting that there be contingency fee caps for plaintiffs’ attorneys.
“I do believe there needs to be an economic incentive to bring meritorious cases to the court system — cases that plaintiffs otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford to bring, and to fund — but I think there needs to be a middle ground here that we could establish,” Fagan said. “We heard testimony that California’s put together a tiered system, adjusting the fee as damages go up, and I think that would provide enough incentive for plaintiff’s attorneys to bring meritorious cases, but would also guarantee that plaintiffs receive more of the money that they are awarded.”
The committee went into a roughly 15-minute discussion as to the merits of suggesting specific numbers and whether it was wise to look to California for guidance. Ultimately, committee members agreed that a different committee of plaintiffs’ and defense attorneys should use their collective wisdom to come up with a method that maximizes returns for plaintiffs while maintaining fair compensation for plaintiffs’ attorneys.
The Senate Study Committee on Agriculture, Forestry and Landscape Workforce Access also met and adopted its report Tuesday, but committee members did not speak to the report’s recommendations at the meeting, and the report was not published on the Senate website as of press time.
The higher education outcomes meeting can be seen online at livestream.com/accounts/26021522/events/8869277/videos/199755710, the tort reform committee meeting can be seen at livestream.com/accounts/26021522/events/8790076/videos/199756419, and the agriculture workforce committee meeting can be seen at https://livestream.com/accounts/26021522/events/8790076/videos/199765815.
The report of the state Senate Study Committee on Agriculture, Forestry and Landscape Workforce Access became available Wednesday morning.