Legislative Session Report Week 10
LEGISLATIVE REPORT #10
March 22, 2021
In This Issue:
- General Assembly Enters the Final Weeks of the Session
- Ag Committees Meet
- Ad Valorem Bills Advance Out of Senate Finance Committee
- Time Change Marches On
- Georgia Cattlemen's Association to Host Annual Steak Biscuit Breakfast
- State Agricultural Organizations Encourage Farmers to "Protect Your Peach"
- Action This Week
- Bills of Interest
- Election Bills of Interest
GENERAL ASSEMBLY ENTERS THE FINAL WEEKS OF THE SESSION
After meeting for four days this week, lawmakers adjourned on Thursday – day 35 of the session. In the final days after Crossover when legislators’ bills are at the mercy of the other chamber, tensions have increased as lawmakers search for vehicles for legislation that didn’t move to the next chamber. The debate calendars this week were light, indicating the upcoming final weeks of the session will be quite busy. Bills related to agriculture saw some movement this week including the Senate's passage of HB 336 sponsored by Rep. Corbett (R-Lake Park). This bill, which updates Georgia’s hemp program to bring it in line with federal regulations, will now go to the House floor for an agree/disagree vote. HB 693 by Rep. Steven Meeks (R-Screven), which would give farm equipment the right-of-way on state roads, also passed the full Senate Wednesday and heads to the Governor’s desk for signature.
As we enter the home stretch of the 40-day session, Georgia Farm Bureau (GFB) staff will continue to monitor the issues that affect our members and the legislation that pertains to Georgia agriculture. To see which bills related to Georgia’s number one industry are still in play please see the Action This Week and Bills of Interest sections below.
Rep. John Corbett (R-Lake Park) and Chairman Robert Dickey (R-Musella) visit on the House floor earlier this week. (Photo Credit: Georgia House Photo)
AG COMMITTEES MEET
Both the House and Senate Agriculture Committees met this week, taking up a blend of ag and consumer affairs bills that crossed over. Fortunately, ag issues are somewhat insulated from Capitol politics with two chairmen that work closely together, so a number of priorities have continued moving through the legislative process.
SB 195 – Georgia Hemp Program Update
Sen. Jeff Mullis (R-Chickamauga) brought SB 195 as an update to Georgia’s hemp program that brings us in line with federal standards. This bill mirrors Rep. John Corbett’s HB 336, which passed the full Senate on Thursday. SB 195 received a do pass vote by House Ag Committee.
SB 247 – Agricultural Commodity Commissions Update
Sen. Lee Anderson (R-Grovetown) presented SB 247, which modernizes the procedures for Commodity Commissions to serve notices, hold public hearings, and vote to better utilize commission funds and more effectively reach producers. Georgia Farm Bureau staff have worked closely with Sen. Anderson and the Department of Agriculture to advance this priority. The bill received a unanimous do pass vote, and the House Rules Committee has placed it on the debate calendar for a full House vote on Monday.
SB 260 – Buffer Zone for Soil Amendments
Following last year’s initiative to regulate bad actors applying non-agricultural soil amendments (from industrial by-products), Sen. Tyler Harper (R-Ocilla) authored SB 260 to place reasonable restrictions on local governments from imposing excessive buffer zones (maximum of 100ft) on these applications. This bill allows for the implementation of buffers in line with the widest currently in Georgia code, but does not change any standards for application of soil amendments nor the ability of the Department of Agriculture and Georgia EPD to regulate and enforce the strict guidelines for such practices. This bill received a do pass recommendation by House Ag Committee and awaits action by the House Rules Committee.
HB 676 – State Farmers' Markets
Legislators have worked the past several years to address issues facing the profitability and usability of the state’s farmers’ markets, which have seen decline. Rep. Penny Houston (R-Nashville) has led this charge, navigating significant hurdles of bureaucratic restructure. HB 676, the Georgia Farmers’ Market and Produce Terminal Development Authority Act, is just one piece of the puzzle driving discussion and efforts by both House and Senate members seeking a solution. While the bill only received a hearing Monday, Chairman Larry Walker created a subcommittee to continue work over the summer on this complex task. Another component of this discussion is HB 511, which passed the full Senate on Thursday and now goes back to the House for an agree/disagree vote. Included in HB 511 is the establishment of the Georgia Agricultural Trust fund, which will dedicate GATE card fees to be used on agricultural marketing & promotion activities by the Department of Agriculture and for the maintenance and operation of state farmers’ markets.
Sen. Larry Walker presides over the Senate Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee meeting on Monday.
AD VALOREM BILLS ADVANCE OUT OF SENATE FINANCE COMMITTEE
This week HB 498 and HB 282 were taken up by the Senate Finance Committee after having crossed over from the House earlier in the session.
HB 498 by Rep. Sam Watson (R-Moultrie) amends the ad valorem tax exemption of farm equipment and products to allow the exemption for a farm entity made up of two individually-qualifying family farms. Because this change requires amending the state’s constitution, if passed it will require a statewide referendum on the November 2022 ballot to be enacted.
HB 282, sponsored by Rep. Steven Meeks (R-Screven), provides clarity to the ad valorem taxation of qualified timberland property by defining parameters for “contiguous” property. This would allow for tracts separated by utility lines, railroads, etc. to be considered one piece of property for valuation purposes.
Both pieces of legislation were passed out of committee favorably and are on their way to the Senate Rules Committee.
Rep. Sam Watson (R-Moultrie) presents
House Bill 498 to the Senate Finance Committee.
TIME CHANGE MARCHES ON
This past Sunday, March 14, Georgians moved their clocks forward one hour and gained a little extra daylight in their evenings. However, two bills that the state legislature has seen this session aim to disrupt the biannual changing of the clocks and have caused a stir in the State Capitol this week.
As originally written and passed out of the Senate last month, Senate Bill 100 by Sen. Ben Watson (R-Savannah) aimed to require the state to observe standard time year-round until the point at which Congress authorizes states to observe daylight saving time year-round. Across the Capitol, House Bill 44 by Rep. Wes Cantrell (R-Woodstock) was written to require the state to observe daylight saving time year-round upon Congress' authorization - however, until that point in time, the state would see no change and would continue to shift clocks twice a year.
Both bills passed out of their respective chambers prior to the Crossover deadline and were was assigned to a committee in their new chamber. This week, both committees passed their corresponding legislation by substitute - first with the Senate amending House Bill 44 to reflect the original intent of Senate Bill 100, and then with the House amending Senate Bill 100 to reflect the original intent of House Bill 44. In essence, nothing has changed except for the name of the bills - each will be presented to their respective chambers for a full vote and would then have to go back to their original chamber for an agree/disagree.
With only a few days left in this year's session, it is unknown at this time what further traction either bill will see. Neither Georgia Farm Bureau or the American Farm Bureau Federation has current policy reflecting a position on time change, but we are aware that it is an issue that many of our members are passionate about and will continue to keep you up to date as the legislative clock winds down.
GEORGIA CATTLEMEN'S ASSOCIATION TO HOST ANNUAL STEAK BISCUIT BREAKFAST
The Georgia Cattlemen’s Association (GCA) will be at the Capitol on Monday, March 22nd to host their annual Legislative Steak Biscuit Breakfast. From 7:30 am to 9:00 am, GCA will be set up on Mitchell Street between the Capitol and the Coverdell Legislative Office Building to serve up steak biscuits, milk, and coffee while sharing the issues facing the Georgia cattle industry today.
STATE AGRICULTURAL ORGANIZATIONS ENCOURAGE FARMERS TO "PROTECT YOUR PEACH"
The Georgia Department of Agriculture, UGA Extension and Georgia Farm Bureau are partnering with local health departments and other organizations asking the Georgia ag community to “Protect Your Peach.”
The public education campaign is using the social media hashtag #ProtectYourPeach to feature information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) to promote the safety of the COVID-19 vaccine. The goal is to provide Georgians with the facts about the vaccine.
Extension, CDC and DPH have compiled resources and encourage all members of Georgia’s agriculture community to share them. UGA Extension encourages anyone working closely with the agriculture sector to utilize the materials, which were jointly developed with CDC and DPH to educate Georgia farmers and ag workers. ‘Healthy Georgia’ flyers, which outline pertinent facts about the vaccine are available to download at the aforementioned website or may be requested at county Extension & Farm Bureau offices. For more information on these collaborative efforts, click here.
As of Wednesday, March 17, a total of nine state mass vaccination sites are operational. To register for a vaccine at one of the sites, visit MyVaccineGeorgia.com. For a complete list of health conditions that currently qualify for vaccination in Georgia, click here.
BIBB COUNTY: Macon Farmers Market, 2055 Eisenhower Parkway, Macon, GA 31206
BARTOW COUNTY: LakePoint Sports Complex, 261 Stars Way, Emerson, GA 30121
CHATHAM COUNTY: Gulfstream Aerospace, 500 Gulfstream Rd, Savannah, GA 31408
DOUGHERTY COUNTY: Albany, Georgia Forestry Site, 2910 Newton Road, Albany, GA 31701
FULTON COUNTY: Delta Air Museum, 1220 Woolman Place SW, Hapeville, GA 30354
HABERSHAM COUNTY: Habersham County Fairgrounds, 4235 Toccoa Highway Clarkesville, GA 30523
MUSCOGEE COUNTY: Columbus Civic Center, 400 4th St, Columbus, GA 31901
WARE COUNTY: Waycross Mall, 2209 Memorial Dr, Waycross, GA 31501
WASHINGTON COUNTY: Sandersville Word of Life Church, 1209 S Harris St, Sandersville, GA 31082
ACTION THIS WEEK
Reps. Cantrell, Greene, Barr, Werkheiser, Gambill, and Williams
This bill NOW would require Georgia to observe Standard Time year-round until Congress authorizes states to observe Daylight Savings Time, at which point Georgia would observe Daylight Savings Time year-round. (See above section for additional clarification.)
House Passed/Adopted on 3/5/2021. Senate Government Oversight Committee Favorably Reported by Substitute on 3/16/2021.
Reps. Meeks, England, Hatchett, Watson, and Dickey
This bill provides clarity to the ad valorem taxation of qualified timberland property by defining parameters for “contiguous” property, specifying how the appraised value of timberland property is calculated, and clarifies the required documentation landowners must submit to the Commissioner of Revenue for certification.
House Passed/Adopted by Committee Substitute on 2/17/2021. Senate Finance Committee Favorably Reported by Substitute on 3/18/2021.
Reps. Corbett, Dickey, Pirkle, Jasperse, and Watson
Following two years of extensive legislation establishing Georgia's new hemp industry, HB 336 is a cleanup bill seeking to align Georgia's hemp laws to match federal standards.
House Passed/Adopted on 2/26/2021. Senate Passed/Adopted by Committee Substitute on 3/18/2021.
Reps. Watson, Dickey, LaHood, England, and Pirkle
Tax programs and business models have increased the prevalence of family farm mergers. This bill modernizes the ad valorem tax exemption of farm equipment and products to these merged entities, so long as they would qualify for the exemption individually.
House Passed/Adopted on 3/8/2021. Senate Finance Committee Favorably Reported on 3/18/2021.
Sens. Watson, Dugan, Kennedy, Miller, Au, and Burke
This bill would NOW require Georgia to observe Daylight Savings Time year-round. This will only become effective if Congress authorizes states to observe daylight savings time year-round. (See above section for additional clarification.)
Senate Passed/Adopted by Substitute on 2/24/2021. House State Planning and Community Affairs Committee Favorably Reported by Substitute on 3/18/2021.
Sens. Harper, Goodman, Burke, Mullis, Anderson, and Walker
Under Senate Bill 119, you would not have to obtain a burn permit to burn leaf piles, yard debris, or hand-piled natural vegetation, given that you meet guidelines regarding time, location, and others.
Senate Passed/Adopted by Substitute on 2/24/2021. House Natural Resources and Environment Committee Favorably Reported on 3/16/2021.
Sens. Hufstetler, Miller, Butler, Dugan, Parent, and Mullis
Senate Bill 148 calls for the systematic study of the state's revenue structure through the creation of the Special Council on Tax Reform and Fairness for Georgians and the Special Joint Committee on Georgia Revenue Structure. The committee would report its findings and make recommendations to the Speaker of the House and the Lieutenant Governor by January 10, 2022.
Senate Passed/Adopted by Substitute on 2/24/2021. Failed to Pass the House on 3/18/2021.
In another clarification to Georgia’s new hemp industry, this legislation states that the drying and curing of hemp plants does not qualify as “processing.”
Senate Passed/Adopted by Substitute on 3/3/2021. House Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee Favorably Reported on 3/17/2021.
Sens. Summers, Walker III, Sims, Harper, Goodman
SB 222 would designate the pecan as the official state nut of Georgia.
Senate Passed/Adopted on 3/3/2021. House State Planning and Community Affairs Committee Favorably Reported on 3/18/2021.
Sens. Anderson, Walker, Miller, Goodman, and Summers
SB 247 modernizes the Agricultural Commodities Promotion Act regarding marketing orders to allow for online publication of notices and announcements, online public comment periods, and clarity to the voting process to create new or major amendments to marketing orders.
Senate Passed/Adopted by Substitute and Floor Amendment on 3/8/2021. House Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee Favorably Reported on 3/17/2021.
BILLS OF INTEREST
Reps. Williamson, Burns, Dickey, Hatchett, Morris, and Watson
HB 90 seeks to address an issue that the existing 1939 statute does not appropriately cover modern forestry practices with in regards to mill purchases of cut timber and the chain of liability that follows such transactions. The legislation is supported by both the Georgia Bankers Association and the Georgia Forestry Association.
House Passed/Adopted by Substitute on 2/17/2021. Senate Passed/Adopted on 3/9/2021.
Reps. Williamson, Hatchett, Kelley, Frazier, Parsons, and Smith
In a concerning trend, some state and local authorities in the U.S. have adopted measures banning the connection of certain fuels (propane and natural gas) in new construction in an effort to reach their “carbon free” goals. HB 150 would prohibit government entities in Georgia from banning the connection of any utility service based on the type or source of fuel. GFB supports this bill, as many agricultural producers rely on these resources.
House Passed/Adopted by Substitute on 2/22/2021. Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities Adopted by Substitute on 3/10/2021.
Reps. Knight, Williamson, and Blackmon
House Bill 265 aims to clean up the state's revenue code, a large portion of the bill relating to tax-relief measures stemming from federal Covid-19 relief legislation. Included in the bill is a measure which would make certain Payroll Protection Program (PPP) loans tax exempt. Under SB 265, businesses eligible for PPP loan forgiveness would not be required to pay state taxes on the loans, even though they count as income. The measure also lets those business owners claim tax deductions on the loans.
House Passed/Adopted on 2/9/2021. Senate Passed/Adopted on 2/24/2021.
Reps. Setzler, Newton, Hatchett, Rich, Jackson, and Bentley
House Bill 290, or the "Right to Visit" Bill, would require Georgia's hospitals and nursing home facilities to allow patients to visit with family members for a minimum of two hours per day - even during a public health emergency such as the Covid-19 pandemic - following proper safety and health protocols including as negative testing.
House Passed/Adopted by Substitute on 3/8/2021. Assigned to Senate Health and Human Services Committee on 3/9/2021.
Reps. Ralston, Watson, Jasperse, England, Dickey
House Resolution 185 would reauthorize the House Rural Development Council. The Council was created to study the issues facing rural parts of Georgia and recommend any action or legislation necessary to the continued economic success of Georgia, especially in rural areas.
House Passed/Adopted on 3/3/2021.
ELECTION BILLS OF INTEREST
Reps. Fleming, Jones, Powell, Blackmon, Smith, and Williams
House Bill 531 is an omnibus bill that aims to provide uniformity to Georgia’s voting process. It would require all counties to hold early voting from 9am to 5pm Monday through Friday for the three weeks leading up to the election in addition to the second Saturday prior to the election and it would prohibit any Sunday voting. Additionally, the bill contains photo ID requirements for absentee ballots and limits the amount of time that absentee ballots can be requested and returned. It also restricts drop boxes to early voting sites, only allowing for their usage during early voting hours.
House Passed/Adopted by Substitute on 3/1/2021. Assigned to Senate Ethics Committee on 3/3/2021.
Sens. Walker, Miller, Mullis, Kennedy, Gooch, and Anavitarte
SB 67 would require Georgia's voters to provide a copy of a valid driver's license, voter ID card, or state ID number when requesting an absentee ballot. It would also allow the Secretary of State's office to establish a web portal in which a voter may submit a request for an absentee ballot by providing proper identification, following which the Secretary of State's office would forward the information to the voter's county of residence for issuance of an absentee ballot.
Senate Passed/Adopted on 2/23/2021. Assigned to House Special Committee on Election Integrity on 2/25/2021.
Sens. Miller, Albers, Gooch, Kennedy, Anavitarte, and Brass
Senate Bill 89 would create within the Secretary of State's office a "Chief Elections Assistance" officer to work under the supervision of the director of the Elections Division. The Chief Elections Assistance officer shall be appointed by the State Election Board. The officer would be responsible for overseeing and training county election superintendents, establishing a list of third-party vendors to perform routine audits and evaluations of election management practices, and provide support to those lowest-performing election superintendents in need of assistance.
Senate Passed/Adopted by Committee Substitute on 2/24/2021. Assigned to House Special Committee on Election Integrity on 2/25/2021.
Sens. Burns, Miller, Dugan, Ginn, Anderson, and Robertson
SB 202, which originally passed out of the Senate as a two-page bill focused on outside groups sending applications for mail-in absentee ballots, was rewritten prior to being heard in its House Committee to encompass 93-pages of election reform text containing proposals from bills such as HB 531 and SB 241. For a detailed outline of new measures, you can view the substitute language here.
Senate Passed/Adopted by Committee Substitute on 3/8/2021. Assigned to House Special Committee on Election Integrity on 3/9/2021.
Sens. Dugan, Miller, Gooch, Kennedy, Cowsert, and Anderson
Similar to HB 531, SB 241 is an omnibus bill that covers a variety of issues including requiring state-issued ID with absentee ballots, under oath submission of absentee ballots, elimination of no-excuse absentee ballots, limited usage of mobile voting units, succinct ballot-counting guidelines, and creation of a voter intimidation and illegal election activity hotline run by the Attorney General’s office, among other things.
Senate Passed/Adopted by Substitute on 3/8/2021. Assigned to House Special Committee on Election Integrity on 3/9/2021.
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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
Jake Matthews, Governmental Affairs Specialist
Jeremy Taylor, Agricultural Programs Specialist