Published July 2, 2020
GEORGIA GENERAL ASSEMBLY ADJOURNS SINE DIE
The 2020 Legislative Session came to an end late in the evening on Friday, June 26, concluding one of the most unique sessions in recent history. The spread of the COVID-19 virus caused the legislature to not only take an unprecedented 3-month intermission, but also drastically alter their return— donning masks, social distancing, meeting virtually, and limiting access and communication with the public.
The final two weeks were a marathon to complete legislation and recreate a FY21 budget reflecting decreased revenue projections. Lobbyists and organizations had a difficult time vying for the limited attention available for non-pandemic related issues to be taken up, and many bills failed to pass for this reason. Because this was also the conclusion of the biennium, any legislation not passed is now dead and must start the process over next year.
Over the two-year 2019-2020 Legislative Session, members of the General Assembly took up a total of 1,790 bills. While the House passed 725 and the Senate 713 in their respective chambers, 588 were passed by both and sent to the Governor for signature. The Governor now has 40 days, until August 5, to veto legislation. Please see below for updates on priority legislation, as well as a comprehensive list of bills of interest and their outcome.
THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE
The addition of masks and PPE won’t be the only new look under the Gold Dome next year as a very different slate of members will be sworn in. Twenty-six legislators participated in their final session and gave farewell addresses as they either retire or seek higher office. Of these, 5 have served more than 20 years in the General Assembly, and many held leadership or committee chair positions.
The Agriculture Community is at particular loss as both House Ag Chairman Tom McCall and Senate Ag Chairman John Wilkinson retire. The state will experience a tremendous void of institutional knowledge with their departure. It is with great gratitude and best wishes that we thank them and the following members of the Agriculture Committees who will be retiring from office:
John Wilkinson (R-Toccoa
Ellis Black (R-Valdosta)
Bill Heath (R-Bremen)
Zahra Karinshak (D-Duluth)
Tom McCall (R-Elberton)
Kevin Cooke (R-Carrolton)
Matt Gurtler (R-Tiger)
Ken Pullin (R-Zebulon)
Scot Turner (R-Holly Springs)
RIGHT TO FARM
As you know, HB 545 – the Right to Farm Act— has been a contentious issue both in the capitol and media. The bill sought to provide needed updates to protect farmers from frivolous lawsuits and from anti-farm activists imposing their agenda through the courts. The bill faced opposition from trial lawyers and environmental activist groups who are currently suing Georgia farmers for nuisance. The extent the opposition went knew no bounds as they flooded local papers, social media, and legislators’ email with misleading and sometimes simply false information to support their narrative. Unfortunately, they were successful in building enough opposition over the past year despite the diligent work of Sen. Larry Walker to provide clarity and address concerns through his substitute bill. The bill was finally taken up in the full Senate on June 18, with passionate support from Sen. Wilkinson, Sen. Walker, Sen. Tyler Harper, Sen. Steve Gooch, and Sen. Ellis Black. However, Senator Jesse Stone (R-Waynesboro) offered an amendment which not only nullified the protections being sought but would even make farmers more vulnerable than current law. Unfortunately, his Amendment was passed, gutting the bill, by those who voted in green below.
The bill then moved to the House, where we hoped to remove the Stone Amendment in Conference Committee. But with the FY21 Budget, COVID-19, and Hate Crime legislation consuming most of the final days, there was not time nor the political will to continue with the cumbersome steps required. Unfortunately, HB 545 was not able to receive final passage before the legislature adjourned.
We would like to thank our members for pursuing this issue and their unified support. While this was not the outcome we hoped for, we could not be more appreciative of the many calls, emails, and visits that our members made to their legislators over the past two sessions. Your efforts helped us to continue moving the needle in the right direction, and your dedication did not go unnoticed. We would also like to thank our allied organizations supporting the bill, including: Georgia Agribusiness Council, Georgia Cattlemen’s Association, Georgia Green Industry Association, Georgia Poultry Federation, Georgia Chamber of Commerce, National Federation of Independent Business, and Georgia Milk Producers, among others.
TRUTH IN LABELING BILL - SENATE BILL 211 - SENT TO GOVERNOR
Stemming from a GFB Beef Commodity Advisory Committee priority, Senator Tyler Harper introduced SB 211 in 2019 to stymie a concerning trend of vegetarian and cell-cultured products misleading consumers with labels seeming to be meat products. The bill passed the full Senate last year by a vote of 48-7, but was held in House Ag Committee until stakeholders could address concerns, primarily dealing with logistics of grocery supply chain and similar bills being challenged in other states. GFB continued work over the past year with Georgia Cattlemen's Association, Georgia Agribusiness Council, and Georgia Food Industry Association to reach amicable consensus.
In a victory for livestock producers and all Georgia consumers, SB 211 moved out of committee, was unanimously passed by the full House on June 25, and the Senate agreed to the new language by a vote of 43-8 on June 25, sending the bill to the Governor for signature. We would like to thank Sen. Tyler Harper and Rep. Tom McCall for their diligent work protecting livestock producers from this concerning trend and their unwavering support of Georgia agriculture.
HURRICANE MICHAEL PAYMENTS EXEMPT FROM STATE INCOME TAX
In the wake of Hurricane Michael, GFB worked with Rep. Sam Watson to introduce HB 105 in January 2019. This bill sought to provide just one more tool in the toolbox as farmers recovered from the devastation of Hurricane Michael by exempting USDA disaster payments from state income tax. Although the state budget has taken a hit from the COVID-19 pandemic, the General Assembly demonstrated their support for Georgia farmers by passing HB 105. The bill now awaits the Governor’s signature.
HEMP PROGRAM UPDATE HEADS TO GOVERNOR'S DESK
Rep. Corbett’s HB 847, updating the hemp program, was passed by the House in March and was revived after the COVID-19 intermission when the Senate passed the bill on June 22. This bill aligns Georgia’s program with federal definitions and requirements, allows all colleges and universities to participate, allows greenhouse growers to sell transplants to other growers, and increases the cost to renew a permit for hemp processors from $10,000 to $50,000. The original processor application fee remains $25,000.
FY21 BUDGET APPROVED, 10% CUT, NO FURLOUGHS
Perhaps the most daunting task before the General Assembly this year was the one responsibility required by the constitution—passing a balanced state budget. The state-wide shutdown surrounding the pandemic took a significant toll on the state coffers, creating a difficult moving target to aim for. Georgians also lost one of the most knowledgeable and fiscally savvy resources with the death of Senate Appropriations Chairman and Farm Bureau friend, Jack Hill of Reidsville, on April 6. Senator Blake Tillery (R-Vidalia) was tapped to fill this role, spearheading the budget process with House counterpart Rep. Terry England (R-Auburn).
Governor Kemp signed the $26 billion budget on June 30. The final FY21 budget was better than expected; initial revenue estimates called for a 14% cut across the board. That was adjusted to 11% when the General Assembly reconvened in June, but with a last-minute decision by Governor Kemp to utilize $250 million of the Rainy Day Fund the final cut came in at 10%.
While these necessary cuts will be felt across all aspects of state government, key decisions pertinent to agriculture are detailed below.
DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE
Athens & Tifton Veterinary Diagnostic Labs
Reduce funds for operations. ($361,490)
Add funds for the development of the Georgia Hemp Program. $200,000
Reduce funds for operations and contracts. ($461,858)
Marketing & Promotion
Reduce funds for five positions and part-time assistance. ($1,352,881)
Reduce funds for contracts to reflect marketing, auditing, call center services, and gardening. ($820,000)
Reduce funds for operations. ($341,284)
Provide funds for operation of farmers markets in Cordele, Thomasville, and Savannah. $120,000
Provide funds for Georgia Grown marketing activities including Georgia National Fair, Sunbelt Expo, Georgia Grown Chef program and other marketing activities. $620,000
Ag Expo Authority
Reduce funds for operations. ($100,000)
DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION
Reduce funds for the Area Teacher Program, Extended Day/Year, Young Farmers, and Youth Camps. ($842,878)
DEPARTMENT OF NATURAL RESOURCES
Provide funds for two new marine biologists to support oyster aquaculture. $200,000
UNIVERSITY SYSTEM OF GEORGIA
Cooperative Extension Service
Reduce funds jointly funded in the Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service programs. ($1,425,907)
Reduce funds for vacant and temporary positions, operations, and travel while utilizing federal funds available. ($4,844,024) Reduce funds for Center for Rural Prosperity & Innovation services and streamline services. ($237,449)
Student Finance Authority
Food Animal Veterinarian Loan Forgiveness Program 11% cut. ($105,000)
BILLS OF INTEREST THAT SAW PASSAGE THIS SESSION
HB 777: Tall Mass Timber Construction
Reps. Corbett, Burns, McCall, England, Smith, LaRiccia
This bill would allow for the Department of Community Affairs to review the 2021 International Building Code so as to consider amending the state minimum standard codes to allow tall mass timber construction types.
Passed the House on 2/20/20. Senate Adopted on 6/16/20.
HB 847: Hemp Regulation Updates
Reps. Corbett, McCall, Dickey, Pruett, and Gilliard
This update to the hemp legislation that was passed last legislative session makes technical adjustments to comply with federal rules, creates a new license for a hemp nursery grower allowing sale to another permittee, sets the initial processor permit fee at $25,000, increases the automatic renewal fee from $10,000 to $50,000 after the first calendar year, and establishes a sampling test requirement prior to harvest.
Passed the House by Substitute on 3/05/20. Senate Adopted on 6/22/20.
HB 897: Uniform Timber Harvest Ordinance
Reps. Burchett, Burns, McCall, Corbett, Rhodes, Watson
This would provide for a uniform timber harvest ordinance statewide and establish a statewide notification process by the Georgia Forestry Commission.
Passed the House on 3/04/20. Senate Adopted by Substitute on 6/22/20. House Agreed to Senate Substitute on 6/25/20.
HB 966: Regulating the Harvest and Sale of Palmetto Berries
Sens. Burchett, Corbett, Pirkle, McCall, Ridley, Rhodes
This bill would regulate the harvest, sale, and personal home use of palmetto berries.
Passed the House by Substitute on 3/03/20. Senate Adopted by Substitute on 6/19/20. House Agreed to Senate Substitute on 6/25/20.
HB 1057: Regulation of Soil Amendments
Reps. Rhodes, Fleming, Erwin, Frye
This bill would authorize further regulation of soil amendments derived from industrial by-products by local governments.
Passed the House by Substitute on 3/12/20. Senate Adopted on 6/25/20.
HB 1093: Establishing an Agricultural Commodity Commission for Wine and Grapes
Reps. Meeks, McCall, Pirkle, Ridley, Watson
This bill would allow for the establishment of an Agricultural Commodity Commission for Wine and Grapes.
Passed the House on 3/12/20. Senate Adopted by Substitute on 6/23/20. House Agreed to Senate Substitute on 6/25/20.
SB 211: Meat Labeling
Sens. Harper, Wilkinson, Black, Anderson, Walker, Heath
This bill will prohibit the sale and advertisement of nonanimal and non-slaughtered animal flesh from being called meat.
Passed the Senate on 3/7/19. House Adopted by Substitute on 6/25/20. Senate Agreed to House Substitute on 6/25/20.
SB 346: State Board of Veterinary Medicine
Sens. Black, Burke, Anderson, Harrell, Payne
This bill would allow for the addition of a veterinary technician to the State Board of Veterinary Medicine as well as provide a professional health program for impaired veterinarians.
Passed the Senate on 3/03/20. House Adopted on 6/19/20.
SB 358: Muscadine as State Grape
Sens. Harper, Sims, Burke, Walker, Black, Karinshak
This bill would designate the muscadine grape as the official state grape.
Passed the Senate on 3/10/20. House Adopted on 6/19/20.
SB 362: Livestock Straying
Sens. Wilkinson, Anderson, Harper, Burke, Rahman
This bill would change the fees for impounding animals and disposing of impounding animals that are running at large or straying.
Passed the Senate on 2/28/20. House Adopted on 6/17/20.
SB 381: Georgia Food Act
Sens. Kirkpatrick, Burke, Black, Walker, Wilkinson, Rahman
This would deem certain information obtained by the Department of Agriculture from the Federal Food and Drug Administration confidential and not subject to disclosure.
Passed the Senate on 3/10/20. House Adopted on 6/26/20.
REMAINING BILLS OF INTEREST THAT DID NOT SEE PASSAGE THIS SESSION
HB 23: EMC Authorization to Provide Broadband Services
Reps. Houston, Powell, England, Watson, Corbett, and Greene
House Bill 23 is another bill to come out of the Rural Development Council. This bill authorizes electric membership corporations (EMC) to establish or partner with another entity to provide broadband services to its members independent from its electrical services. This bill will also allow for EMCs to apply for federal grants to provide broadband.
Passed the House on 2/11/19. Assigned to Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities.
HB 455: Georgia Agriculture Marketing Authority
Reps. Houston, England, McCall, Gilliard, and Stovall
This bill creates the Georgia Agriculture Marketing Authority, the purpose of the authority is to manage the facilities and activities of farmers markets. The Authority will market and promote agricultural products to agribusinesses and the public in an effort to boost the state's economy.
Passed the House on 3/5/19. Assigned to Senate Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee.
HB 545: Right to Farm
Reps. McCall, Burns, England, Watson, Pirkle, and Dickey
This legislation seeks to strengthen and protect farmers from loopholes in our states right to farm laws. This clarification in language helps producers by clearing up language that is vague and could be interpreted in ways detrimental to agriculture.
Passed the House on 3/7/19. Senate Adopted by Substitute on 6/18/20.
HB 690: Exempting Agricultural Structures From Permitting Fees
Reps. Burchett, McCall, Pirkle, Rhodes, Corbett
This bill seeks to exempt agricultural structures from excess permitting fees.
Passed the House by Substitute on 3/12/20.
HB 829: Authorize Reduction of Residential Homestead Property Assessment
Reps. Stephens and Harrell
This bill would allow for local governments to hold a referendum to reduce the 40% assessment of residential homestead property owned by those aged 65 or older to only 20%. This would only apply to local school district taxes for educational purposes.
Passed the House by Substitute on 3/03/20. Assigned to Senate Finance Committee on 3/04/20.
HB 886: Animal Microchips and Reporting
Reps. Welch, McCall, Knight
This bill would require veterinarians or veterinary technicians that provide treatment to animals to scan such animals' microchips and to report ownership information under certain circumstances.
Passed the House on 3/12/20.
HB 1015: Georgia Carbon Sequestration Registry Tax Credits
Reps. Wiedower, Burns, Smith, Jones, Corbett, and Gaines
Allows for building materials and timber products to be included in the Georgia Carbon Sequestration Registry for tax credits.
Passed the House by Substitute on 3/12/20.
SB 338: Animal Protection
Sens. Kirkpatrick, Black, Walker, Cowsert, Anderson, Sims
This bill would require licenses for pet dealers, kennels, stables, etc., and would also allow the Commissioner to promulgate rules and regulations for animal protection.
Passed the Senate on 3/10/20.
SB 396: Pecan as State Nut
Sens. Walker, Wilkinson, Black, Anderson, Hill, Burke
This bill would designate the pecan as the official state nut.
Passed the Senate on 3/02/20. House Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee Favorably Reported on 6/24/20.
SB 407: Regulating the Harvest and Sale of Palmetto Berries
Sens. Harper, Heath, Burke, Harrell, Ginn
This bill would regulate the harvest, sale, and personal home use of palmetto berries.
Natural Resources and Environment Favorably Reported by Substitute on 3/04/20. House Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee Favorably Reported on 6/17/20.
Public Policy Department Staff
Jeffrey Harvey, Director
Joe McManus, Assistant Director
Alex Bradford, State Affairs Coordinator
Raynor Churchwell, Agricultural Programs Specialist
Tripp Cofield, National Policy Counsel
Katie Duvall, Advocacy and Policy Development Coordinator
Renee Jones, Office Coordinator
Blake Raulerson, Governmental Affairs Specialist
Jeremy Taylor, Agricultural Programs Specialist