Please click the image above to view a short update on the session from Rep. John Burns (R-Newington), House Majority Leader and GFA Landowner Member.
GFA Members and Forestry Advocates:
The 153rd session of the Georgia General Assembly ended late on Thursday night. I am proud to report that the Georgia forestry community remained well-positioned throughout the session as our legislative team focused on initiatives relating to water buffers, truck weights, eminent domain, sales tax exemptions and tax appeals. In the near term, we will continue monitoring actions by the Governor as he determines which bills he will approve or veto.
By many accounts, it was an unusual year in the volume of legislation, issues addressed and length of the session. Even the Governor’s address to both chambers on the final day of the session was unusual in its brevity – under two minutes! This session was also one of transition for GFA as I picked up the lobbying reins for GFA under the gold dome. I would like to personally thank Richard Royal for his steady and determined attention to tax matters and Steve McWilliams for his support of the bill that delayed the Palmetto Pipeline and created an eminent domain study committee.
Elected officials will now return home to raise funds and work on their re-election campaigns. GFA will be active in the election cycle with support from the ForestPAC. In addition, for the balance of the year, we will continue to develop policy and communication strategies that are favorable to Georgia’s forestry community. A good example of this will be our involvement in the eminent domain study commission.
It is important to note that just because the session is over, the importance of advocating for forestry in Georgia does not end. Borrowing from a sports analogy, the legislative session is like the playoffs and the rest of the year is like the regular season. In order to be successful, GFA must actively develop policy solutions during the nine months of the year that the General Assembly is not in session.
Bills of interest to the forestry community during this session have been outlined below. If you have any questions, please let us know.
Forestry & Private Property Rights
House Bill 1036 | Eminent Domain Study Committee and Pipeline Moratorium (PASSED)
HB 1036 establishes a moratorium for petroleum pipelines in Georgia until July 2017, suspends the use of eminent domain powers for a private company, and creates a study commission to review the future use of eminent domain and the environmental impacts of pipelines. To address concerns voiced by GFA, the bill still allows landowners and pipeline companies to engage in negotiations to acquire property or easements. This bill is now on the Governor’s desk for final consideration.
House Bill 966 | Stream Buffers Redefined (FAILED)
GFA joined a large group of organizations to oppose HB 966, which would have greatly expanded water buffers in Georgia. While this bill never received a vote in committee, this issue is expected to be discussed in the future.
House Bill 411 | Truck Weights (FAILED)
GFA was joined by a coalition of agriculture interests to try to increase truck weights to 88,000 lbs. While HB 411 was dropped from consideration this year, GFA will continue working with the coalition of interested parties to set a strategy and path forward on this issue.
House Bill 579 | Farm use vehicles on public roads (PASSED)
HB 579 allows the operation of vehicles on public roads for agricultural or silvicultural purposes unless the local government finds it harmful to the safety of the traveling public.This bill is now on the Governor’s desk for final consideration.
House Bill 779 | Drones over Private Property (PASSED)
HB 779 requires law enforcement and state agencies that are flying a drone over private property to obtain the permission of the property owner before doing so, and makes it unlawful to use drones in hunting or to fly them over public roads and highways. This bill is now on the Governor’s desk for final consideration.
House Resolution 1343 and Senate Resolution 1018 | Repealed WOTUS Resolutions (PASSED)
HR 1343 and SR 1018 passed in both chambers. While these proposals do not have the force of law, it does show the support of Georgia’s State Legislature to to repeal the recently adopted interpretive rule regarding Waters of the United States (WOTUS) by the Environmental Protection Agency. You may learn more about this very important federal issue on our Federal Issues & Action Items page.
House Bill 911 | GATE program changes (FAILED)
HB 911 to reform the Georgia Agricultural Tax Exemption (GATE) program failed on the evening of the last day of the session. This was a heavily negotiated bill that ultimately failed due to last-minute attempts to make adjustments to the reporting requirements for retailers. For at least another year, we will depend on oversight from the Department of Agriculture, and the honor system for retailers and customers using the GATE card to avoid abuses of the program.
GFA would like to thank the leadership of the House Ways and Means, Senate Finance and House Agriculture Committees for working on this bill. If the bill passed in the final version, it would have increased the threshold for qualification in the program to $5,000 of potential annual income, required the use of a tax identification number, kept the administration and oversight of the card at the Department of Agriculture, provided for a three-year GATE card at a cost of $105 and required the retailer to maintain records of sales (common practice). GFA worked with Sen. Bill Heath (R-Bremen) to ensure that landowners who do not meet the $5,000 annual income threshold be able to claim the sales tax credit through their annual tax filing.
House Bill 987 | Rodeos on CUVA Land (PASSED)
An amended version of HB 987 allows a non-profit rodeo to take place on CUVA land without being in breach. In addition, it extends the period of time you can build and occupy a home that is on CUVA land from 12 to 24 months. This bill is now on the Governor’s desk for final consideration.
House Bill 1014 | Extension of the income tax exemption for land donated for conservation (PASSED)
HB 1014 extends the exemption on the donation of real property for conservation use to 2021. This bill is now on the Governor’s desk for final consideration.
Senate Bill 258 | Valuation of property during an appeal (PASSED)
SB 258 was the product of a House Senate Conference Committee which included the content of other bills that been introduced during the 2016 legislative session. As introduced, SB 258 locked in the assessed value of real property for a three-year period while the taxpayer is going through an appeal. It further provides that the assessed value of the property following such appeal can be decreased, but not increased. This bill is now on the Governor’s desk for final approval.
Senate Bill 379 | Change in Valuation of Income Producing Property (PASSED)
Language was removed from SB 379 on the final day of the legislative session that would have changed the way tax assessors value property by requiring that the income approach be used in determining the fair-market value of a property if income data is supplied by the property owner. This bill is now on the Governor’s desk for final consideration.
House Bill 960 | Tax overpayment refunds and interest (PASSED)
HB 960 provides for local governments to satisfy refunds owed to taxpayers as a result of tax overpayments. The bill changes the annual interest rate to the prime rate plus three percent. This bill is now on the Governor’s desk for final consideration.
House Bill 496 | Solar Panels on CUVA and FLPA Property (FAILED)
HB 496 would have allowed solar panels on CUVA or FLPA land without causing a breach. It failed to make it out of the Senate Finance Committee.
HB 415 | Sales tax exemption for equipment and machinery used research and development (FAILED)
An initiative of the Georgia Association of Manufacturers, HB 415 would have provided a sales tax exemption for equipment used in research and development. An inaccurate fiscal note stalled progress of this bill.
House Bill 1017 – E Discovery (FAILED)
The Georgia Paper and Forest Products Association (GPFPA) and the Coalition for a Competitive Georgia (GFA is a member) led opposition to HB 1017. Known as the “e-discovery” bill, this would have enhanced plaintiff lawyers’ ability to force settlements by driving up discovery costs for electronically stored information. (Worldwide, there are 205 billion emails sent daily.)
Senate Bill 145 | Medical Cannabis (FAILED)
The original bill (HB 722) was debated and discussed vigorously but never made it out of the Senate committee where it was assigned. Substitute language was folded into SB 145, an unrelated bill that expands the maladies for which medical cannabis can be used and provides for shipping of the product. It does not allow growing of medical marijuana or the manufacturing of medical cannabis. The House approved the measure on March 24; however, the bill did not pass before adjournment.
The Georgia Forestry Association’s Capitol Forestry Report was distributed to GFA members on March 25. Click here to see the original report.