Capitol Forestry Report | Week 10

With only two legislative days left in this year’s session, any bill with a chance of getting to the Governor’s desk is out of Committee and awaiting action by the House and Senate. GFA has been focused on bills impacting private property rights and pipeline construction, the Georgia Agricultural Tax Exemption (GATE) program (sales tax) and property taxes (assessment methods). The legislature will meet on Tuesday and Thursday next week for its final two days of the session.

Please click the image above to view a short update on the session from Rep. Chuck Williams (R-Watkinsville), landowner and GFA board member.

Forestry

House Bill 1036 | Eminent Domain Study Committee and Pipeline Moratorium (Support)

HB 1036 passed the Senate (53-1) on March 15. The amended version of the bill must now be agreed to by the House or be sent to a conference committee to reconcile differences between the versions passed by both chambers.

The amended version of the bill that passed the Senate allows a petroleum pipeline company to engage in negotiations to acquire property or easements, but it prohibits all government agencies from issuing a license for the construction of a petroleum pipeline in Georgia until July 2017. Additionally, it suspends the use of eminent domain powers for a private company building a petroleum pipeline for that same time frame. This bill only impacts gasoline and oil pipelines (natural gas is excluded). Most importantly, HB 1036 calls for the creation of a study commission to review the use of eminent domain in Georgia, an issue that is critical to many GFA members, as well as the environmental impacts of pipeline construction and operation.

House Bill 579 | Farm use vehicles on public roads (Support)

HB 579 passed the Senate (55-1) on March 16, but the bill was amended by urban legislators to allow local municipalities the ability to prohibit the operation of farm use vehicles on public roads if it harms the safety of the traveling public. In all other instances, the bill allows anyone 16 or older to drive farm use vehicles (AVTs, golf carts, etc.) on public roads for agricultural or silvicultural pursuits such as driving from one property to another.

House Bill 779 | Drones over Private Property (Support)

HB 779 passed the full Senate (55-3) on March 16. It 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 then over public roads and highways.

HR 1343 and SR 1018 | Repeal WOTUS Resolutions (Support)

Two resolutions (HR 1343 and SR 1018) stressing the need to repeal the ‘Waters of the United States’ (WOTUS) rule interpretation under the Clean Water Act are close to final approval. The House passed its resolution this week, and the Senate is set to review its resolution next week.

Tax

House Bill 911 | GATE program changes (Support)

HB 911 received a considerable improvement this week before passing the full Senate Finance Committee. Championed by Senator Bill Heath (R-Bremen), the threshold to qualify in the program was decreased to $5000 of potential annual income. Since many small landowners (75 acres or less) do not reach this threshold, language was added to allow a landowner to claim credit through their annual tax filing. While it may be somewhat cumbersome to track receipts, this still provides for a way smaller landowners and farmers to enjoy this important tax exemption. This bill is currently awaiting a vote by the full Senate.

House Bill 987 | Rodeos on CUVA Land (Monitor)

An amended version of HB 987 passed the Senate Finance committee this week with support from the Governor’s office. In addition to allowing non-profit rodeo on CUVA land, it now also extends the period of time you can build and occupy a house to 24 months. This bill is currently awaiting a vote by the full Senate.

While the bill is well intentioned, GFA is concerned with any changes to CUVA or FLPA that are narrow in scope and that undermine the principles upon which the program was established.

Senate Bill 258 and House Bill 990 | Valuation of property during an appeal (Monitor)

These bills (SB 258 and HB 990) ensure that the assessed value of property may not be increased beyond the initial assessed value established by the board of tax assessors during an appeal by the taxpayer in such taxable year, but may be reduced as a result of the appeal by the taxpayer. SB 258 is currently awaiting a vote by the full House, and HB 990 is not likely to be voted on by the Senate Finance Committee.

House Bill 982 and Senate Bill 379| Change in Valuation of Income Producing Property (Monitor)

Both of these bills (HB 982 and SB 379) impact the ways in which tax assessors value property by requiring that the income approach be used in determining the fair market value of a property (provided that income data is supplied by the property owner). As many landowners do not supply income data on their property to local tax assessors, many tax assessors generally rely on market data (comparable sales) in the income approach when establishing a valuation for property.

This legislation helps address an issue that many landowners face with many county tax assessors which don’t use the income approach for timberland claiming that it doesn’t reflect the market. In other words, comparable properties with alternative higher and better uses sell for more than values indicated under the income approach. SB 379 is currently awaiting a vote by the full House and HB 982 is still in the Senate Finance Committee.

House Bill 960 | Tax overpayment refunds and interest (Monitor)

HB 960 provides for local governments to satisfy refunds owed to taxpayers as a result of tax overpayments. The bill changes the 12 percent annual interest rate to the prime rate plus three percent. In the latest Senate version of the bill, penalties start at 10 percent after 120 days and, with an additional five percent penalty assessed every 4 months thereafter with a cap of 20 percent. HB 960 is currently awaiting a vote by the full Senate.

House Bill 1014 | Extension of the income tax exemption for land donated for conservation (Support)

HB 1014 extends the exemption on the donation of real property for conservation use to 2021. HB 1014 was approved by the Senate Finance Committee and is currently awaiting a vote by the full Senate.

General Business

House Bill 722 | Medical Cannabis (Monitor)

HB 722 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 manufacture of medical cannabis. This bill is awaiting a vote in the full Senate.

The Capitol Forestry Report for Week 10 of the Georgia General Assembly was distributed on March 18 to GFA members via email. Click here to view the email report.

 

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