Capitol Forestry Report | Week Seven

Activity was brisk this week at the Capitol as legislation moved through both chambers prior to Legislative Day 30 (Monday, Feb. 29), the last day for bills to “crossover” from one chamber to the other for consideration. The Georgia Forestry Association (GFA) provided testimony on bills regarding water buffers and eminent domain used for the purposes of petroleum pipelines and closely monitored other bills of importance.


House Bill 966 | Stream Buffers Redefined | Strongly Oppose

An effort to greatly expand water buffers in Georgia, this HB 966 has been of considerable concern for landowners. Along with GFA, the Georgia Forestry Commission, Georgia Chamber of Commerce, Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD), Georgia Agribusiness Council and Georgia Farm Bureau voiced their opposition to this bill.

A substitute bill was introduced on Thursday that changed the “ordinary high water mark” standard to “top of the bank” language. GFA provided testimony against the bill in a subcommittee hearing. No vote was taken, but given the level of opposition, the bill has poor prospects of advancing.

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

GFA provided strong testimony in support of HB 1036 that would have placed an immediate moratorium on new petroleum pipeline construction and created a study committee to conduct a complete review of the State’s eminent domain policies and the potential environmental impacts from petroleum pipelines. GFA based its comments on the Association’s established positions on Eminent Domain and Private Property Rights.

A substitute bill was passed by the House Committee on Energy, Utilities and Telecommunications on Thursday that retains the moratorium on the use of eminent domain by petroleum pipeline companies but does not require that any proposed pipeline –for example, the Palmetto Pipeline planned for Georgia’s eastern-most counties – be halted until the work of the study commission is complete and any resulting legislative action approved. GFA will continue monitoring this legislation and working with stakeholders and GFA members impacted by petroleum pipelines.

House Bill 911 | GATE Program Changes | Support

HB 911 makes adjustments to the Georgia Agricultural Tax Exemption (GATE) Program by changing the total annual farm income requirement to $7500 (includes potential income), extends the validity of the card from 1 year to 3 years, increases the reporting requirements for retailers, tracks users of the GATE by their tax ID number and keeps the administration of the program at the Georgia Department of Agriculture.

This bill passed the full House on Thursday and moves over to the Senate. GFA will continue tracking this bill as well as seeking clarity from regulators as to how they will treat potential annual income.

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 piece of property to another – provided that a “low speed vehicle” emblem is displayed. This bill passed the full house and is currently awaiting consideration the Senate.

GFA commends Rep. Chuck Williams (R-Watkinsville) who stepped up on two occasions to ensure that forestry language was included in the bill.

House Bill 779 | Drones on Private Property | Conditional Support

HB 779 passed the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday and is awaiting action by the full House. Known as the “drone bill,” this piece of legislation would require that anyone flying a drone over private property have the permission of the property owner before doing so. This is an important step in the right direction to protect private property rights, but it also could generate problems for landowners whose land is not contiguous or contains inholdings. The bill also regulates the use of drones in hunting and fishing.

Senate Bill 354 | CUVA Land Renewals | Support

Although already stated in code but not equally administered across the State, SB 354 allows property owners 65 years of age or older to renew or reenter a covenant in CUVA which has existed without lapse for two consecutive covenant periods for an additional period and allows the qualifying use to be changed to maintenance of wildlife habitat and also be maintained in its natural state and to lie fallow. Upon the death of the owner, the covenant can be terminated without breach.

The bill passed the Senate Agriculture Committee by a slim 4-3 margin and now moves to the Senate Rules committee awaiting approval to be sent to the full Senate for debate and action.

House Bill 987 | Rodeos on CUVA Land | Monitor

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 introduced this week and quickly made its way through committee, Rules and the full House. The bill now will be assigned to committee in the Senate. While the bill is well intentioned, GFA is concerned with any changes to CUVA that undermine the merits upon which the program was established.

House Resolution 1343 and Senate Resolution 1018 | Repeal WOTUS Resolutions

House Ag Committee Chairman Tom McCall and Senate Ag Committee Chairman John Wilkinson have introduced identical resolutions that stress the need to repeal the federal WOTUS regulations being pushed by EPA and highlight the opposition that has been expressed by a long list of landowners and nearly every level of elected leadership. We thank Chairman McCall and Chairman Wilkinson for their leadership and for continuing to fight EPA. [Source: Georgia Agribusiness Council]

House Bill 411 | Haul Weights

Although the amended version of HB 411 did not include a weight increase to 88,000 lbs, the bill had poor prospects of passage and was removed from the Transportation Committee’s agenda earlier this week. GFA will continue working with the coalition of interested parties to set a strategy and path forward on this issue in future years.

General Business

House Bill 1071 | E-Discovery | Oppose

The Coalition for a Competitive Georgia, in which the Georgia Forestry Association and the Georgia Paper and Forest Products Association are members, are requesting help opposing HB 1071. Known as the “e-discovery” bill, HB 1017 would enhance plaintiff lawyers’ ability to force settlements by driving up discovery costs for electronically stored information (worldwide there are 205 billion emails sent daily). Should this bill pass, Georgia will be the only state that does not fully embrace the “proportionality” standard for what constitutes an appropriate level of discovery. HB 1017 is a radical departure from the “e-discovery” reforms proposed by the U.S. Supreme Court and the Congress. It wasn’t on the agenda subcommittee meeting on Wednesday, but the “e-discovery” bill passed out anyway, and was approved Thursday by the full House Judiciary Committee.

Those in the business community are encouraged to contact their own Georgia legislators, as well as House and Senate leaders, in opposition to HB 1017. It will take a strong stand by the business community to defeat this bill, which has enormous potential for increasing business costs and diminishing economic development in Georgia. Click here to learn more and to write your legislator. 

House Bill 722 | Medical Marijuana

HB 722, the medical cannabis bill, has been stripped of troublesome language relating to “employment-at-will” policy and employer drug testing programs. This heavily amended bill was favorably reported by the Judiciary Non-Civil Committee, and now abides in the House Rules Committee. Employers are not directly affected by the substitute version of this bill. [Source: GPFPA]

The Capitol Forestry Report for Week Seven was distributed on Feb. 28, 2016. Click here to view the full report →

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