Capitol Forestry Report | Week Eight

Please click the image above to view a short update on the session from Rep. Chad Nimmer (R-Blackshear), a GFA member with Pierce Timber and a member of the Governor’s floor leader team in the Georgia House of Representatives.

With three quarters of the legislative session over, only bills that have been passed by the full House or full Senate will receive further consideration. The forestry community is fortunate to have important pieces of legislation advance related to the use of eminent domain, the Georgia Agricultural Tax Exemption (GATE) Program and farm use vehicles. Just as critical was the failure of legislation detrimental to forestry that would have expanded stream buffer regulation and negatively impacted private property rights.

Forestry

House Bill 966 | Stream Buffers Redefined | Did Not Pass Crossover

HB 966, an initiative to change the stream buffer definitions in the Erosion & Sedimentation Act, did not advance out of committee last week after GFA, Georgia Chamber of Commerce, Georgia EPD, Georgia Agribusiness Council and Georgia Farm Bureau voiced their opposition to the bill which would have greatly expanded water buffers in Georgia.

House Bill 1036 | Eminent Domain Study Commission and Pipeline Moratorium | Support

HB 1036 was the last bill to be approved by the House on crossover day (day 30). In its current form, this proposed legislation will create a study commission to conduct a complete review of the State’s eminent domain policies and the potential environmental impacts from petroleum pipelines. While the restriction on the use of eminent domain until the study commission completes its work is vitally important, the bill would not prohibit petroleum pipeline construction that does not utilize eminent domain. This bill is now awaiting consideration will now be considered by the Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities Committee.

Of direct importance to this legislation, on Tuesday an appellate court upheld the decision by the Georgia Department of Transportation to deny Kinder Morgan eminent domain authority for the construction of the planned Palmetto Pipeline. (See: Judge Denies East Georgia Palmetto Pipeline)

House Bill 579 | Farm Vehicles on Public Roads | Support

HB 579 allows anyone 16 or older to drive farm use vehicles (AVTs, golf carts, etc.) on public roads for “agricultural or forestry pursuits” – such as driving from one property to another – provided that a “low speed vehicle” emblem is displayed. This bill is now awaiting consideration in the Senate Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee.

House Bill 779 | Drones on Private Property | Conditional Support

HB 779, also known as the drone bill, has been narrowed to only apply to law enforcement and state agencies who are flying a drone over private property to have the permission of the property owner before doing so. The bill still makes it unlawful to use drones in hunting or to fly them over public roads and highways. The bill was approved by the House on Monday and is now awaiting consideration in the Senate Science and Technology Committee.

Repeal WOTUS Resolutions | Support

House Ag Committee Chairman Tom McCall and Senate Ag Committee Chairman John Wilkinson have introduced identical resolutions (HR 1343 and SR 1018) that stress the need to repeal the Environmental Protection Agency’s “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS) proposed rule under the Clean Water Act. These measures are expected to advance next week.

Tax

House Bill 911 | GATE Program Changes | Support

HB 911 makes adjustments to the GATE program by changing the total annual farm income requirement from the current $2500 to $7500 (includes potential income), extends the validity of the card from one year to three years, requires a $150 fee, increases the reporting requirements for retailers, tracks users of the GATE card by their tax ID number and keeps the administration of the program at the Georgia Department of Agriculture.This bill is now awaiting consideration in the Senate Finance Committee.

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, and creates reporting requirements to provide the Georgia General Assembly with information on the effectiveness of the exemption. This bill is now awaiting consideration in the Senate Finance Committee.

House Bill 960 | Tax Overpayment Refunds and Interest

HB 960 provides a mechanism by which local governments can satisfy refunds owed to taxpayers as a result of sales and use tax overpayments. The bill changes the 12 percent annual interest rate to the prime rate plus three percent. It changes penalties for failing to repay from 10 percent to an initial five percent, with an additional five percent penalty assessed every six months thereafter and a cap of 20 percent on aggregate. This bill is now awaiting consideration in the Senate Finance Committee.

House Bill 496 | Solar Panels on Covenanted Land | Oppose

HB 496 would allow the property where solar energy is generated to be removed from the existing covenant such as CUVA or FLPA without penalty. From that point forward, it would be subject to property taxation at fair market value [Source: GAC]. This bill is in the Senate Finance Committee.

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 | Valuation of Property During an Appeal

SB 258 would provide 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. This bill was passed Senate and referred to House Ways & Means. [Source: GPFPA]

House Bill 987 | Rodeos on CUVA land | Oppose

HB 987 would allow landowners who host a non-profit rodeo on their covenant land to charge a fee that does not exceed the cost of hosting the event. This bill was fast tracked through the House and is now under consideration by the Senate Finance Committee.

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.

House Bill 990 | Removal of the Ceiling Value of Property Going Through an Appeal

HB 990 changes the application of the “299c” which currently creates a ceiling on a value in favor of a taxpayer who has appealed his assessment. In the two years following an appeal, the Tax Assessors cannot increase the assessment value over the value resulting from an appeal unless certain circumstances are present. HB 990 will take away the two-year lock from a taxpayer who goes through the appeals process but does not get a reduction in value. This bill is currently awaiting consideration in the Senate Finance Committee.

House Bill 982 | Change in Valuation of Income Producing Property | Under GFA Review

HB 982 changes definitions relating to the ad valorem taxation of property by requiring that the income approach be used in determining the fair market value of a property if 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 in the income approach when establishing a valuation for property. Under HB 982, the tax assessors would ONLY use the income approach if actual data was submitted by the property owner. This bill is currently awaiting consideration in the Senate Finance Committee. 

Senate Bill 354 | CUVA Land Renewals | Did Not Pass Before Crossover

This bill did not make it to a vote before the crossover day deadline and will not be considered further. Although already stated in code but not equally administered across the State, SB 354 would have provided greater flexibility for property owners 65 years of age or older to renew or re-enter a CUVA covenant.

General Business

House Bill 1017 | E-Discovery | Did not Pass before Crossover Day

After strong opposition was expressed across Georgia, including several forest products companies and the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, the “e-discovery” bill failed to get a vote in the full House prior to the crossover deadline. This bill would have enhanced plaintiff lawyers’ ability to force settlements by driving up discovery costs for electronically stored information (every email sent by a company).

House Bill 772 | Medical Marijuana | Monitor

A substitute version of HB 722, the medical cannabis bill, passed the House on Day 30. The bill has been stripped of troublesome language relating to “employment-at-will” and employer drug testing programs. As passed by the House on day 30, it expands the list of maladies for which medical cannabis may be used and provides for shipping of the product. It does not provide for legal growing of marijuana or the production of medical cannabis. The bill faces an uncertain future in the Senate, but it is currently awaiting consideration by the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. [Source: GPFPA]

Learn More

The Week Eight Capitol Forestry Report was distributed to GFA members on March 4, 2016. If you have any questions or concerns that you are not receiving these emails, please contact Michele Dunham at michele@gfagrow.org.

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