Capitol Forestry Report | Week Six

The pace of action has picked up at the Capitol during week 6 of the legislative session. Bills started moving into and out of committees as we approach legislative day 30, Feb. 29, the last day for bills to “crossover” from one chamber to the other for consideration.

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Forestry Focus

House Bill 966 | Stream Buffers Redefined

HB 966, a bill that is very similar to the Environmental Protection Agency’s rule on Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS), changes the measuring point for 25-foot buffers from the point where vegetation is wrested by stream flow to a loosely defined “ordinary high water mark.”

The ordinary high water mark could be the point where vegetation is wrested, or it could be shelving, a change in soil, impressions on the bank, or the presence of litter or debris. While the silvicultural exemption would still allow forestry practices in the zone, the bill is problematic in its impact on property values and open the door for litigation.

HB 966 will get a thorough examination in the House Natural Resources Committee. GFA will show strong opposition to the bill in its current state.

House Bill 1036 | Pipeline Moratorium

HB 1036, sponsored by Rep. Bill Hitchens (R-Rincon), would put an immediate moratorium on new petroleum pipeline construction to allow for a complete review of the State’s eminent domain policies and the potential environmental impacts from petroleum pipelines.

This bill is of considerable importance and will have a direct impact on some GFA members. A hearing for the bill is scheduled in the House Energy, Utilities and Telecommunications Committee on Tuesday, Feb. 23. Please reach out to Andres Villegas at andres@gfagrow.org with your thoughts or concerns.

House Bill 411 | Haul Weights

HB 411 went through a considerable turbulence this week with a hearing that brought out an organized effort to kill the bill. The Association of County Commissioners of Georgia (ACCG), rail interest, the Georgia Department of Public Safety and the families of victims involved in auto/truck crashes all spoke against the bill.

Even before the bill was debated, the language increasing truck weights to 88,000 lbs. had been removed. While peanuts, chips, savings and bark were added to the list of commodities included and the fine structure was clarified as starting at 84,000 lbs., many in the agriculture, mining and forestry community are reconsidering their level of support for HB 411 in its current state.

The bill is scheduled to be considered by the House Transportation Committee on Tuesday, Feb. 23.

House Bill 779 | Drones Over Private Property

HB 779, sponsored by Rep. Kevin Tanner (R-Dawsonville), 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.

The bill is currently awaiting consideration by the House Judiciary Committee.

Senate Bill 354 | Rodeos and Renewals on Covenanted Land

SB 354, sponsored by Sen. Bill Jackson (R-Appling), would allow property owners 65 years of age or older to renew or re-enter a covenant in CUVA which has existed without lapse for two consecutive covenant periods for an additional period. The bill would also allow 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 shall be terminated without breach.

This bill provides important flexibility for landowners. The Senate Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee is expected to consider the bill on Monday, Feb. 22.

To be introduced: Each session brings multiple requests to adjust CUVA or FLPA. The GFA legislative team expects to see legislation introduced to allow for rodeos and the ability to charge admission fees on covenant land.

Bill Tracker | Other Items of Interest This Week

Georgia Agricultural Tax Exemption (GATE) Program Changes | House Bill 911
A substitute of HB 911, sponsored by Rep. Geoff Duncan (R-Cumming), was passed by the House Ways & Means Sales Tax Subcommittee on Friday, Feb. 19. The revised bill keeps the administration of the program with the Georgia Department of Agriculture, changes the minimum sales required to $10,000 per year, changes the program to a three-year card and increases the reporting requirements on retailers.
Status: House Ways & Means Committee
Position: Monitor

Medical Marijuana | House Bill 722
HB 722, sponsored by Rep. Allen Peak (R-Macon), appears to be in trouble. However, Rep. Peake said he will remove troublesome language relating to employers. That language would diminish Georgia’s “employment-at-will” policy and create uncertainties for drug testing programs. [Source: Georgia Paper and Forest Products Association]
Status: Awaiting consideration in the House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee
Position: Monitor

Property Value During the Appeal Process | Senate Bill 258
SB 258, sponsored by Rep. Fran Millar (R-Atlanta), would prevent the assessed value of property to 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.
Status: Substitute approved by the Senate Finance Committee
Position: Monitor

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