You may remember HB 614, Prescription Drug Monitoring Act, from the 2009 session of the state legislature. This bill would have set up a state surveillance system for the monitoring of prescribing and dispensing of certain medications. The database would have included most pain relievers, anxiety medications, sleep aids, anti-diarrheals and anything containing codeine.
As former Congressman and US Attorney Bob Barr noted, HB 614 was intended “to make it easier for law enforcement and regulatory agencies to discover alleged ‘pill pushers’ and prescription drug abusers without having to go through the normal – and constitutionally appropriate – process of obtaining subpoenas and warrants (in other words, without having to first develop some evidence that a person may be violating the law before invading their privacy).”
The legislation was a clear violation of the right to privacy and protections against searches without a warrant protected in both the state and federal constitutions, as well as already established court precedent.
Under Georgia law, no law enforcement official can lawfully obtain any part of a Georgia citizen’s medical record without first obtaining the patient’s consent or a court order, such as a search warrant or a subpoena. In Johnson v. State, the Georgia Court of Appeals held that “the State is not entitled to exercise indiscriminate subpoena power as an investigative substitute for procedural devices otherwise available to it in the criminal context, such as a search warrant.”
In King v. State, the Georgia Supreme Court reiterated that “In this state, privacy is considered a fundamental constitutional right and is ‘recognized as having a value so essential to individual liberty in our society that [its] infringement merits careful scrutiny by the courts.’” It also noted that “[p]ermitting the State unlimited access to medical records for the purposes of prosecuting the patient would have the highly oppressive effect of chilling the decision of any and all Georgians to seek medical treatment.”
HB 614 was passed in the House by a vote of 161 to 9 on Crossover Day, but was defeated in the Senate just days later by a vote of 25 to 29. As you can see in the video below, Sen. Preston Smith was key in killing HB 614:
On Sine Die, supporters of the bill attempted to sneak it through in an amendment to SB 56. This was picked up by talk show host Neal Boortz, who alerted his Georgia listeners to what was going. SB 56 faced tough questioning from House members, including many privacy advocates that missed HB 614 the first time around, and was eventually tabled.
Unfortunately, the Prescription Drug Monitoring Act is back, although the sponsors aren’t using that name this time around. SB 418 was filed on February 16th and is sitting in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. A hearing has not been scheduled at this time.
I cannot say that it will receive consideration this year because of everything else going on, but it appears that some noise is being made by supporters of the bill. SB 418 would have to clear the Senate by the end of business on Thursday, March 25th, to be considered this session.