March 31, 2018
 
 Inside this issue
  General Assembly Biennium Adjourns  
 
Yesterday not only marked the end of the 40-day legislative session, but also the end of the two-year biennium. Legislators worked late into the night and stayed in their chambers beyond the official midnight cut off, voting on legislation until 12:15. Many priority bills passed and have been sent to the desk of the Governor to wait for his signature. Governor Deal now has 40 days to sign or veto all the bills that were passed this year.

Along with the chaos of the final week of the legislative session, the Capitol was full of people who came to pay their respects to the great former Governor Zell Miller. Among the many visitors who came to town for the services, there were a few more notable guests who came to say their last farewells. Former Governor and President Jimmy Carter, along with former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush attended his church service on Tuesday. Former Governor and current Secretary for the U.S. Department of Agriculture also provided remarks at Governor Miller's state funeral on Wednesday.

 
 

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  Livestock Producer Protection Passes  
 
Sen. Bill Heath (R-Bremen) worked diligently the past year on a GFB Priority Issue, inserting consultation with experts of animal husbandry before charges are filed against farmers for alleged animal cruelty. SB 257 sought to implement this involvement with food animal veterinarians early in an investigation to provide the best care for animals, but also protect farmers from false accusations. While SB 257 got caught up in the legislative process, its language was added to the Veterinary Practice Act update, HB 956, sponsored by Farm Bureau friend Rep. Clay Pirkle (R-Ashburn) with the help of Ag Chairman Rep. Tom McCall (R-Elberton) and Sen. Ellis Black (R-Valdosta). The bill passed the Senate yesterday, and received one of the final House "agree" votes of the night at 11:57 p.m. 
 
We would like to thank all of you who participated in our call-to-action last week writing your legislators in support of the bill and our industry partners like Georgia Cattleman's Association who have worked to pass this important legislation!
 

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  Record $26 billion FY19 Budget Sent to Governor  
 
The General Assembly's only constitutionally required duty was achieved this week, as both chambers reached an agreement on the $26 billion budget to fund the next year, based on the revenue projections of the Governor. This tedious process of fragile negotiations was led by Appropriations Chairmen Sen. Jack Hill (R-Reidsville) and Rep. Terry England (R-Auburn) and included several positive allocations for agriculture:
 
  • $1,717,100 for the new Rural Innovation and Prosperity center at ABAC
  • $1,102,900 to the Department of Agriculture for domestic and international marketing of Georgia products, including four positions.
  • $376,974 to Governor's Office of Economic Development for a new rural economic development program and positions
  • Ag Experiment Station
    • $223,823 one-time funds for whitefly management research
    • $171,400 funds for a turfgrass pathologist to develop disease-resistant grass and forage cultivars.
  • Cooperative Extension Service
    • $324,000 for six educator positions to support Agricultural and Natural Resources, 4-H Youth Development, and the Family and Consumer Sciences educational programs
    • $402,740 for a pasture weeds and forage specialist in crop and soil sciences, a soil nutritionist in crop and soil sciences, and a post harvest physiologist in horticulture. 
  • Ag Education
    • $150,000 for the Young Farmer programs in Polk County and Pataula Charter Academy
    • $50,000 partially funding a Young Farmer Executive Director position
  • Veterinary Medicine Experiment Station
    • $160,000 funds for a poultry clinical services veterinarian to address avian influenza.
    • $900,000 one-time funds for a Food Animal Medicine Haul-In Facility in Tifton.
    • $52,000 funds for a lab technician
  • Georgia Forestry Commission
    • $179,205 for one deputy director position
 

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  Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue Visits Rural Caucus  
 
The agriculture industry has been fortunate over this two-year legislative session as attention turned to solving rural Georgia's economic development challenges. One reason efforts have shifted away from Atlanta is the unified work of the General Assembly's Rural Caucus, chaired by Rep. Sam Watson (R-Moultrie). Industry stakeholders meet with the caucus bi-weekly to identify these challenges and discuss potential solutions.
 
At this week's final meeting, the Rural Caucus was treated to a special guest speaker. U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue attended the luncheon visiting with our rural legislators. His comments and discussion centered around the federal rural development initiatives, his work chairing President Trump's Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity, and urging the General Assembly to pursue complementary measures such as rural broadband and infrastructure. 
 

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  Former GFB National Affairs Leader, Tas Smith, Honored  
 
In a special resolution (HR 1765), Rep. Tom McCall and members of the House of Representative honored GFB's former National Affairs Coordinator Tas Smith on his appointment by President Trump to lead the Farm Service Agency in Georgia. Highlighting the substantial impact Smith has had on our state's agriculture industry by advocating both at the state capitol and in D.C. over his time at Farm Bureau, members congratulated him on this career milestone. 
 

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  CUVA, GATE, and Forestry Tax Bills Cross Finish Line  
 
It was a busy year for agriculture tax legislation. Fortunately, our friends carefully vetted these proposed changes to our most critical programs, and we were able to shepherd them across the finish line.
 
Two bills were sent to the Governor's desk this week that will clarify the intent of CUVA and add accountability for counties that wrongfully restrict access to the program. While the bills were ultimately combined into one, the language of both HB 373 by Rep. David Knight (R-Griffin) and SB 458 by Sen. John Wilkinson (R-Toccoa). Following an update to last year's inclusion of "farm entities" as qualified participants, Wilkinson's bill clarifies that farm entities are treated the same as individuals regarding the ability of those 65+ years of age from pulling out at a reduced penalty rate. Knight's changes specify that a new plat or survey is not required to exclude a residential area, and provides accountability by repayment of attorney fees to individuals who are wrongly charged a breach.
 
HB 866, sponsored by Rep. Sam Watson (R-Moultrie), compiled aspects from discussion over the past two years to strengthen the Georgia Agriculture Tax Exemption (GATE) program. We appreciate the diligence from the Agriculture Committee members to strengthen the integrity of the program. Perhaps the most beneficial change allows sharing of information between the Departments of Agriculture and Revenue to investigate and enforce the rules of the program. The bill also doubled the threshold to entry to $5,000 annual aggregate sales of agriculture products and moved to a $150, 3-year card. These adjustments enhance the natural barriers to entry to ensure only qualified users access the program.
 
Another achievement for the forestry industry is the passage of companion bills HR 51 and HB 85. This constitutional amendment referendum and enabling legislation were created by Rep. Jay Powell (R-Camilla), in coordination with Georgia Forestry Association, to create a new tax class of timberland and adjust the formula determining the fair market value of forest land enrolled in the Forest Land Protection Act (FLPA). This beneficial adjustment provides flexible options for landowners, and now awaits the Governor's signature. Then, it will need to pass the final hurdle in November garnering at least 50% of the statewide ballot vote. 
 

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  Legislation Impacting Ag That Stalled; Some Good, Some Harmful  
 
The legislative process can effectively vet and mold bills, but sometimes it can be too cumbersome and prohibit good policy from being enacted. One topic receiving a lot of debate among the sportsman was eliminating the deer baiting line. There were multiple bills, versions, and opinions surrounding this debate. Ultimately, the compromise in the works did not make the "sine die" deadline, and the process must start over again next year.
 
Another well-intentioned bill, HB 723, sought to create a state sales tax exemption specifically for supplies and tools used for disease monitoring services by the Veterinary Poultry Diagnostic Labs. This would have prevented a quasi-state agency from being taxed. Given the unique structure of the Lab, this bill addressed an unusual circumstance causing the state to tax its own service.
 
One instance this process was beneficial in stopping legislation was with SB 452. This troublesome bill would have had a concerning affect on agriculture labor, similar to past attempts of immigration control. If passed, immigration status would be checked and mandatory-reporting requirements to federal authorities implemented for even minor offenses. This bill was stalled due to continued negotiations on language changes, and ultimately did not pass.
 

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  Action This Week  
 
HB 85/ HR 51: Forest Land Protection Act (FLPA)
Reps. Powell, England, McCall, Williams, and Greene
This constitutional amendment and its enabling legislation seeks to update the mechanism for determining the fair market value of forest land, creating a more uniform formula for reimbursing counties for tax revenue losses from the FLPA program, and create a new category of taxable property for timberland. Passed the full House on 3/1/17. Passed the full Senate on 3/23. Sent to the Governor.
 
HB 332/HR 238: Georgia Outdoors Stewardship Act
Reps. Watson, Burns, Nimmer, Smith, Frye, and Newton
House Bill 332 creates the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Trust Fund and dedicates up to 0.75 percent of all revenues from the state sales and use tax to the fund. Funds in the trust shall be made available for the acquisition of land for the purposes of maintenance or restoration projects at the Department of Natural Resources public lands. The trust fund shall also make money available to aid with the costs of conservation land or conservation easements. The Georgia Environmental Finance Authority will manage and administer the fund. HB 332 is the enabling legislation that will be enacted following voter approval of HR 238, the constitutional amendment. Passed the full House on 2/28. Passed the full Senate on 3/27. Sent to the Governor.
 
HB 671: Georgia Beekeepers License Plate
Reps. Dunahoo, Epps, Barr, McCall, Pruett, and Cooke
A specialty license plate promoting the conservation and protection of the official insect of this state, the honey bee. The funds raised by the sale of this special license plate shall be disbursed to the Georgia Beekeepers Association and shall be used to increase public awareness of the importance of the conservation of the honey bee and for funding and supporting numerous association programs. Passed by the House on 2/1. Passed by the Senate on 3/21. Sent to the Governor.
 
HB 695: Georgia Forestry Foundation License Plate
Reps. Epps, England, Nimmer, McCall, Dickey, and Shaw
This bill establishes a specialty license plate honoring Georgia's working forests and proceeds from the sales of the specialty plates will go to the Georgia Forestry Foundation. Passed the full House on 2/23. Passed the full Senate on 3/14. Sent to the Governor.
 
HB 876: Local Restriction of Building Materials
Reps. Corbett, Nimmer, Powell, England, McCall, and LaRiccia
This bill adds language to the standard building codes, so as to make it where no county or municipality can prohibit the use of wood as a construction material if it conforms to the Georgia State Fire Code. Passed the full House on 2/22. Passed the full Senate on 3/19. Sent to the Governor.
 
HB 885: Agriculture Exemption From Burn Bans
Reps. Tom McCall, Knight, and Jasperse
This legislation provides an exemption from the State Burn Ban for agriculture lands. Passed by the full House on 2/26. Passed the full Senate on 3/12. Sent to the Governor.
 
HB 886: GATE Program
Reps. Watson, Powell, McCall, Dickey, Pirkle, and LaRiccia
This bill makes changes to the GATE program. This bill would increase the minimum qualifying threshold to $5,000 which is calculated as an aggregate of commodities produced. It would also raise the cost of the card to $150 and increase the term of the card to three years instead of one. This bill would also allow the Department of Revenue to share necessary information with the Department of Agriculture to enforce rules and revoke cards from those abusing the program. Passed the full House on 2/26. Passed the full Senate on 3/21. Sent to the Governor.
 
HB 951: Center for Rural Prosperity and Innovation
Reps. Shaw, Watson, Houston, Powell, England, and Jackson
This bill will create the Center for Rural Prosperity and Innovation, taking over the business and responsibilities of the current Centers of Innovation Agribusiness administered by the Department of Economic Development. This bill also establishes the Georgia Rural Development Council, which will be comprised of 12 members: 6 appointed by the Governor, 3 by the Speaker of the House, and 3 by the President of the Senate. The Center for Rural Prosperity and Innovation will provide a central information and research hub for rural leadership training and best practices for rural communities. Passed the full House on 2/28. Passed the full Senate on 3/29. Sent to the Governor.
 
HB 956: Georgia Veterinary Practice Act
Reps. Pirkle, McCall, and Jasperse
This bill was created with industry stakeholders, including the Georgia Veterinary Medical Association and the Georgia State Veterinary Board, in order to update the Georgia Veterinary Practice Act. Georgia Farm Bureau staff has worked very closely with the bill sponsor to make sure that the farmers' rights are not infringed upon when managing their animals. In the final days language from two stalled bills were added to this bill. The language from SB 257, which requires law enforcement to consult a state veterinarian before filing charges, and language from HB 40, which requires veterinarians to disclose rabies vaccination history to a physician when requested, was also added. Passed the full House on 2/28. Passed the Senate as amended on 3/29. Sent to the Governor.
 
SB 232: FIBRE Act
Sens. Gooch, Wilkinson, Harper, Lucas, Burke, and Stone
The Facilitating Internet Broadband Rural Expansion (FIBRE) Act is a comprehensive bill outlining service planning, deployment, and incentives to encourage broadband access across the state. Passed the full Senate on 2/28. Sent to the Governor.
 
SB 330: Quality Basic Education Act
Sens. Wilkinson, Mullis, Walker, Black, Burke, and Sims
This bill will provide for a pilot program that develops and implements an agricultural education program in elementary schools. The program would incorporate daily instruction of agriculture in an organized classroom and lab environment. It will also require the Professional Standards Commission to extend in-field certification for agricultural education to include kindergarten through fifth grade. Passed Senate unanimously on 2/20. Passed the full House on 3/15. Sent to the Governor.
 
SB 451: Ag Water Metering Program
Sens. Walker III, Martin IV, Strickland, Wilkinson, and Black
This proposal will codify the responsibilities of agriculture water metering with the Environmental Protection Division, establishes procedures for permitted withdrawals to be metered, and requires EPD to contract out meter reading, maintenance, repair, and replacement. Passed the full Senate on 2/28. Passed the full House on 3/23. Sent to the Governor.
 
SB 458: CUVA
Sens. Wilkinson, Gooch, Ginn, Brass, and Mullis
This bill provides for conditions upon which family owned farm entities, who have reached the age of 65, may elect to remove themselves from the covenant while incurring reduced penalties. The committee also attached Rep. David Knight's HB 373 language, clarifying that a residential property shall not require a recorded plat or survey to designate the boundaries of the property and removes the provision of requiring additional information by the board of assessors on tracts of ten acres or less if the owner has provided proof of filing of certain IRS forms. Passed the full Senate on 2/26. Passed the full House on 3/19. Sent to the Governor.
 

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  Bills That Failed to Pass  
 
HB 271: Georgia Outdoor Recreation Omnibus
Reps. Petrea, Stephens, Jones, Spencer, Hogan, and Smith
This bill consolidates multiple outdoor recreation activities. Including the removal of the northern baiting line; allowing the use of air guns for hunting; modify the seasons and bag limits for deer, opossum, and raccoons. Passed the full House on 3/3. Passed the full Senate as amended on 3/23. Failed to receive final passage.
 
HB 723: Poultry Diagnostic Center Tax Exemption
Reps. Watson, McCall, Jasperse, Hawkins, Frye, and Epps
This bill will create a state sales tax exemption specifically for supplies and tools of the Veterinary Poultry Diagnostic Labs used for disease monitoring services-preventing an essential state agency from being taxed. Given the unique structure of the Lab, this bill addresses an unusual circumstance causing the state to tax its own service. Passed the full House on 2/12. Senate Finance Committee favorably reported on 3/14. Failed to receive final passage.
 
HR 158: Dedicated Fees & Taxes Allocated to Assigned Use
Reps. Powell, Abrams, Welch, Harrell, Meadows, and Duncan
If this resolution receives a 2/3 approval by the General Assembly, it would allow a referendum on a Constitutional Amendment authorizing the dedication of revenue from fees and taxes to be used for the cause they are collected. Passed the full House on 2/14. Assigned to Senate Appropriations Committee. Failed to receive final passage.
 
SB 450: Northern Baiting Line Removal
Sens. Payne, Harper, Mullis, Jones, Brass, and Ginn.
This bill removes the Northern Baiting line, making it legal for sportsmen to hunt over bait statewide. Passed the full Senate on 2/28. House Game, Fish, & Parks Committee favorably reported on 3/14. Failed to receive final passage.
 
SB 159: Purple Paint Law
Sens. Anderson, Stone, Hill, Harper, and Mullis
Adopted by numerous states around the country, the bill allows the voluntary use of "purple paint" marks to indicate private property boundaries in lieu of 'Posted' signs. This bill seeks to improve the ease, efficiency, and cost of marking property lines by providing another method to choose from. During this year's GFB Policy Development Process, this idea surfaced as a resolution and was later adopted into policy. Public Policy staff testified in favor of this initiative on 2/17/17 and 3/10/17. Passed the full Senate on 3/1/17. House Judiciary Non-Civil. Failed to receive final passage.
 

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