Capitol Forestry Report | Week Nine

The pace of legislation at the Capitol slowed considerably this week as both chambers of the Legislature considered bills more closely after the recent flurry of activity. Of importance to the forestry community, the Senate focused on many of the measures that came from the House including the GATE reform legislation and eminent domain (pipeline).

Forestry

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

This bill was approved unanimously by the Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities committee on Monday and now is in the Senate Rules Committee awaiting being placed on the Senate agenda for a floor vote. The bill was amended in Committee to more closely reflect the original version as introduced in the House.  The Senate version would prohibit all government agencies from issuing a license for the construction of a petroleum pipeline in Georgia until July 2017. 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 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 passed the Senate Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee and is awaiting a vote by the full Senate.

House Bill 779 | Drones over Private Property
Support

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

HR 1343 and SR 1018 | Repeal WOTUS Resolutions
Support

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom McCall and Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman John Wilkinson have introduced identical resolutions that stress the need to repeal the federal WOTUS regulations being pushed by EPA.

Tax

House Bill 911 | GATE program changes
Conditional Support

This bill received substantial discussion on Tuesday in the Senate Finance committee. Of particular concern to Senator Bill Heath, a staunch supporter of CUVA and forestland owner, was the impact of the bill on small forestland owners. It is difficult to establish an exact threshold due to the variability in stand productivity, management and market pricing for timber, but in the bills current state, landowners who own less than 50 acres are likely to be impacted due to the $7500 potential annual income threshold required. GFA is engaged in conversions to reduce the threshold to $5000 of potential annual income. This bill is still under consideration in the Senate Finance Committee.

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

This bill 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. HB 1014 is under consideration in the Senate Finance Committee.

House Bill 960 | Tax overpayment refunds and interest
Monitor

This legislation 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. HB 960 is under consideration in the Senate Finance Committee.

Senate Bill 258 | Valuation of property during an appeal
Monitor

This bill 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. SB passed the House Ways & Means Committee and awaits consideration by the full House.

House Bill 990 | Removal of the ceiling value of property going through an appeal
Monitor

HB 990 has been amended to retain the two-year lock on the valuation for a taxpayer who goes through the appeals process. 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. This bill is under consideration in the Senate Finance Committee.

House Bill 982 | Change in Valuation of Income Producing Property
Monitor

This legislation 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 under consideration in the Senate Finance Committee.

HB 496 | Solar Panels on covenant land
Monitor and 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 under consideration 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.

House Bill 987 | Rodeos on CUVA Land
Monitor and 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.

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. A substitute passed House and currently is under consideration by the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. [Source: GPFPA]

The Capitol Forestry Report for Week Nine was distributed on March 11 via email. Click here to view the full report. Click here to view all reports from this legislative session.

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