Following a successful legislative session for Georgia’s forestry community, Governor Nathan Deal signed two of the Georgia Forestry Association’s legislative initiatives, which will go into effect on July 1.
During the 40 legislative days of the 153rd Georgia General Assembly, a total of 955 bills were debated, 349 bills were passed by the House, 388 bills were passed by the Senate and a total of 312 bills were sent to the Governor’s office. Following sine die on April 20, Gov. Deal has vetoed 11 bills and signed 301 into law, including GFA’s legislative initiatives House Bill 255 and House Bill 199.
Despite scrutiny from environmental advocacy groups and the U.S. Green Building Council, the Governor continued his support of Georgia grown wood by signing HB 255. The bill codifies 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. Consequently, the legislation will ban LEED green building certification in publically funded 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. (click here for an issue brief on HB 255)
“We greatly appreciate Governor Deal’s continued support of Georgia grown wood in the construction of state buildings and schools,” GFA President Steve McWilliams 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.”
Gov. Deal gave his approval for House Bill 199, which 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. (click here for an issue brief on HB 199)
HB 199 has already affected counties where unnecessary timber ordinances are being proposed, such as an Upson County proposed timber ordinance that would require each timber company pay the maximum $5,000 bond per harvesting site in the county. Under the new state law, Upson County is only permitted to require one bond per year – no matter the number of harvesting sites.
“I appreciate the work that GFA put into shaping HB 199 and Governor Deal’s support of the bill,” 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.”
In addition to the two GFA initiatives, below is an outline of legislation of particular interest to Georgia’s forestry community. For questions about the 2015 legislative session or GFA’s policy initiatives, contact Steve McWilliams at firstname.lastname@example.org or download GFA’s 2015 Legislative Guide.
Other Legislation of Interest Signed By the Governor
State Budget Appropriations | House Bill 76
The Governor approved HB 76, which deals with general appropriations for the state fiscal year (July 1, 2015 – June 30, 2016). The bill included adding $1.8 million to the Georgia Forestry Commission budget to address pay parity and retention issues and $300,000 to support three new outreach positions in University of Georgia’s Warnell School of Forestry & Natural Resources.
Transportation Funding Act of 2015 | House Bill 170
House Bill 170 is based on recommendations from the Joint Study Committee on Critical Infrastructure Funding, which was tasked with identifying funding solutions for Georgia’s transportation needs. The new law will generate almost $1 billion in new transportation funding annually. According to ACCG, provisions of the bill include:
- A 26 cents-per-gallon state excise tax on gasoline and a 29 cents-per-gallon state excise on diesel.
- The indexing formula was changed to include a variation of CAFÉ standards and Consumer Price Index (CPI) through July 1, 2018, with future indexing being tied only to the CAFÉ formula in the bill.
- Addition of an annual highway impact fee for heavy vehicles at a rate of $50 for vehicles weighing between 15,500-26,000lbs and $100 for vehicles weighing more than 26,001lbs.
- A $5 per night hotel/motel fee for each calendar day that a room, lodging, or accommodations are rented or leased. There is an exception for extended stay rentals.
- Includes additional oversight by the General Assembly by requiring GDOT to annually submit a 10-year strategic plan outlining the use of department resources for the upcoming fiscal years.
- Creates a Special Joint Committee on the Georgia Revenue Structure (Tax Reform).
Ad Valorem Tax Reform | House Bill 202
HB 202 is a comprehensive reform of laws related to ad valorem taxation, assessment and appeal.
Ad Valorem Tax Exemption for Farm Equipment Dealers | House Bill 374
Currently, dealers of farm equipment are exempt from paying ad valorem tax on their inventory. HB 374 clarifies that forestry equipment (and lease-purchase equipment) is included in this exemption.
Georgia Soil and Water Conservation Commission (GSWCC) | House Bill 397
HB 397 amends the code to administratively attach the GSWCC to the Georgia Department of Agriculture. With this administrative change the agency will retain its autonomy as an independent, stand-alone agency.
Workers Compensation | House Bill 412
HB 412 clarifies that workers compensation is the exclusive remedy for work-related injuries, and that exclusive remedy is not nullified by any failure to meet contractual obligations with maintenance, construction, or other contractors on a work site.
Feral Hog Control | House Bill 475
HB 475 amends the code to ease restrictions on feral hog hunting. Among other things, the bill allows feral hogs to be hunted year round with certain exceptions.