Once again the state legislature was responsive to the forestry community’s legislative proposals resulting in another successful session of the Georgia General Assembly as adjournment arrived late on April 2.
Two of the Association’s priorities – timber harvest notification amendments and support for Georgia forest products in green building standards used by the state – await Governor Deal’s signature in order to become law.
Green Building and Georgia Grown Wood
House Bill 255 is a Georgia Forestry Association (GFA) initiative to codify the language in Governor Deal’s 2012 Executive Order requiring that green building standards used in the construction of state buildings give equal consideration to all credible forest certification programs.
This is important for Georgia’s forestry community because more and more public buildings are being designed as LEED certified buildings, a designation created and promoted by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). LEED criteria and credit scoring give preference to wood from forests certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, of which there is very little in Georgia – only 32,000 acres. Most certified wood in Georgia is certified under the Sustainable Forestry Initiative or the American Tree Farm System, a combined 4.3 million acres.
“The passage of House Bill 255 addresses the inequality toward forest certification embedded in the USGBC’s LEED green building program. Hopefully, with the passage of the bill, the USGBC will finally correct this flaw directed at sustainable wood and wood products,” Monte Simpson, public affairs manager, Weyerhaeuser, said. “It is important that Georgia landowners and manufacturers not have market access limited by any green building standard or program, especially those paid for by Georgia taxpayers.”
On March 27, the Senate on a 41-7 vote approved HB 255, and the bill currently, awaits approval by the Governor. The legislation was introduced by Rep. Mike Cheokas (R-Americus), co-sponsored by more than 30 House members and carried by Sen. Dean Burke (R-Bainbridge) in the Senate.
Update – May 4, 2015: Governor Deal signed HB 255.
Timber Harvest Notification
House Bill 199 amends Georgia’s timber harvest notification law to achieve greater uniformity among counties that have a timber harvest ordinance and to create operational efficiencies for Georgia loggers.
The current law is administered differently in counties throughout the state and is onerous in many respects for loggers. The legislation will change several provisions of the current law to be more “logger friendly,” by increasing efficiencies and simplifying the compliance process.
“I appreciate the work that GFA put into shaping and getting HB 199 passed and hope the Governor will sign it soon,” Lyle Taylor, president of Woodlands Enterprises, Inc. in Cartersville, said. “This legislation is going to make my life a whole lot easier by simplifying what I have to do to log my clients’ timber.”
HB 199 accomplishes the following:
- Removes the requirement for a bond on every tract harvested in favor of a single bond per county per year
- Clarifies that local governing authorities cannot charge fees for notification of a harvest
- Allows a contractor 24 hours to notify the county after moving onto a tract rather than having to notify authorities prior to moving onto a tract
- Allows notification by email
- Clarifies that the notification form provided by the State Forester is the only information a local governing authority can require from a contractor
On March 25, the Senate on a 49-0 vote approved HB 199, and it currently awaits the Governor’s signature. The legislation was sponsored by Rep. John Corbett (R-Lake Park) and carried in the Senate by Sen. Tyler Harper (R-Ocilla).
Update – April 22, 2015: HB 199 will affect counties, such as Upson County, where unnecessary timber ordinances are being proposed. See: “Thomaston Times: State Law Cuts Down Timber Ordinance”.
Update – May 6, 2015: Governor Deal signed HB 199.
A third priority, increasing truck weights to gain parity with surrounding states, was passed by the House Transportation Committee and has been promised additional hearings prior to being considered on the floor of the House in 2016. House leadership felt strongly that seeking an increase in truck weights while at the same time engaging in a highly charged debate over proposals to raise $1 billion to maintain and repair the state’s roads and bridges was not advisable. GFA agreed.
Future discussions will focus on the economic disparity created due to Georgia’s lower weights compared to those of states around us during hauling of forest products between Georgia and adjacent states. This year is the first in a two-year session. Any legislation not passed or outright defeated automatically carries over to the 2016 (election year) session.
For more information, including a detailed list of bills of interest to the forestry community, download the Capitol Forestry Report Session Wrap Up, here. If you have any questions about the 2015 session, please contact Steve McWilliams at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 478-992-8110.