This Thursday, Jan. 28, marked legislative day 12 for the Georgia General Assembly with 28 legislative days till sine die on March 24.
Budget hearings have taken up most of the legislative priorities of the week. On Thursday, the House unanimously approved a midyear budget, which would add about $1 billion to the state budget through June 2016.
Three-fourths of the additional budget will be dedicated to transportation projects funded by new taxes on gas and hotel stays. Once the midyear budget is approved and put on Governor Deal’s desk, lawmakers will complete work on the budget for the upcoming fiscal year.
On Jan. 26, Georgia Forestry Association (GFA) President and CEO Andres Villegas addressed the Senate Natural Resources and the Environment Committee, chaired by Sen. Frank Ginn (R- Danielsville) who replaced Sen. Ross Tolleson following his retirement in 2015.
“I was honored to have the opportunity to speak with the Natural Resources and the Environment Committee,” Villegas said. “Sen. Ginn has already shown that he will be an asset as chair of the committee, and we look forward to continuing our great working relationship with him in 2016.”
As lawmakers completed week three of the session, GFA’s legislative team actively monitored legislative initiatives of interest to the forestry community, including progress on truck weights, solar panel exemptions on covenanted land and farm vehicle use.
In its current state, House Bill 411, sponsored by Rep. Sam Watson (R-Moultrie), addresses the allowable truck weights for unfinished wood products. The provisions of the bill would set the allowable weight at 84,000 lbs. with a 5 percent variance, allowing weights of 88,200 lbs. without penalty. The bill would also require haulers to purchase a permit of $250 per vehicle per year from the Georgia Department of Transportation.
It is expected that a substitute bill will be presented to the House Transportation Committee, as early as next week, that will include not only unfinished wood products, but also other commodities (cattle, poultry, peanuts, granite, etc.). This bill is important as it would put Georgia on equal footing with Florida and Alabama that allow weights up to 88,000lbs.
Solar Panel on CUVA and FLPA Property
House Bill 496, sponsored by Rep. Matt Hatchett (R-Dublin), would allow the property where solar energy is generated to be removed from an existing covenant (such as the Conservation Use Valuation Assessment (CUVA) or the Forest Land Protection Act (FLPA)) without penalty. After the property is removed, it would be subject to property taxation at fair market value.
HB 496 was presented to the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday, and the bill was assigned to a subcommittee chaired by Sen. Bill Heath (R-Bremen), who expressed opposition to the bill in 2015. The bill was assigned to the subcommittee because of two major concerns expressed by the committee:
- The bill does not address other potential commercial uses for covenanted property (i.e. gas stations, etc.); and,
- In its current form, the bill would allow an individual to take an entire piece of property out of the covenant for the purposes of solar panels.
GFA will continue to monitor this legislation to ensure the integrity of the CUVA and FLPA programs for forest owners.
Farm Vehicle Use
House Bill 579, sponsored by House Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom McCall (R-Elberton), would allow anyone 16 or older to move farm use vehicles (AVTs, golf carts, etc.) on public roads for “agricultural or forestry pursuits” – such as driving from piece of property to another – provided that a “low speed vehicle” emblem is displayed. The bill was passed unanimously by the House Agriculture Committee on Wednesday.
Because some counties have increased restrictions on the use of such vehicles on public roads, this bill could greatly benefit foresters and landowners who are moving from one tract to another via public road. GFA commends Rep. Chuck Williams (R-Watkinsville) for ensuring that forestry language was included in the bill during the committee meeting.
Capitol Forestry Reports are distributed weekly during the session of the Georgia General Assembly. Click here to view the full report from week three →