By Jake Matthews, Georgia Farm Bureau
The Georgia General Assembly adjourned Sine Die on March 29, after addressing numerous issues related to Georgia agriculture. Legislators passed impactful legislation this year that moves the ball forward for our state’s farming families.
After many years of debate at the state capitol, legislation increasing truck weights finally passed this year. A broad coalition of organizations, including Farm Bureau, banded together with Rep. Steven Meeks and Sen. Russ Goodman to put Georgia on an even economic playing field with surrounding states. House Bill 189 increases the variance for allowable gross vehicle weights from 5% to 10% for all commercial trucks carrying certain agricultural or forestry products.
The 10% variance is only applicable within 150 miles from point of origin, and trucks may not haul at the higher weights in any Georgia nonattainment zone, which is made up of mostly metro counties.
There will be increased fines for overweight trucks based on every pound over the allowed variance. Local law enforcement who become certified to do so, may stop and weigh trucks on local and city roads but not on state roads or highways. All fines collected are to be remitted to the state treasury to prevent enforcement for profit by a local government.
The bill will have to be revisited after it sunsets in 2025. In the meantime, this legislation will reduce transportation costs for farmers and loggers by reducing the number of trips needed to haul the same amount of goods.
Georgia agriculturists are concerned about the loss of farmland to development and the impact this will have on our state’s number one industry. SB 220, which is a priority of Agriculture Commissioner Tyler Harper, establishes the Georgia Farmland Conservation Fund. This fund provides an avenue to finance the acquisition of development rights on farmland under threat of development. Farmers who want to protect their farm from being developed can be compensated for the value of the development rights of their land, which is being voluntarily encumbered in perpetuity.
Georgia legislators passed a bill, introduced by Rep. Chas Cannon, that establishes a new commodity commission to support Georgia’s growing citrus sector. The commission will allow producers to raise money for marketing, promotion and research to benefit the industry and continue building Georgia’s citrus market.
With this being the first year of a new biennium, bills that did not pass remain eligible for consideration next year. Several of these proposals seek to prevent certain foreign entities from purchasing Georgia farmland. Those entities include non-resident individuals, businesses and governments considered foreign adversaries of the United States. These bills intend to protect our food security and ensure the continued success of Georgia farmers.
When legislators return to the gold dome next year, Farm Bureau will continue working to protect the future of agriculture and ensure farmers’ voices are heard.
Jake Matthews is a GFB Governmental Affairs Specialist. He may be reached at email@example.com or 478-474-8411, ext. 5286.