The General Assembly reconvened this week for Legislative Days 13-16. There was a flurry of activity in the committees, as well as several new pieces of legislation that were introduced. The big news of the week is that the House passed HR 792, the Amended FY20 budget. The House restored many of the cuts to their preferred programs, which had been included in the Governor's budget. The budget is now in the Senate awaiting action by Senate Appropriations subcommittees. 

Newly Introduced Legislation:

The much-anticipated tort reform package, SB 415 by Sen. Gooch and the Senate Leadership, was introduced and assigned to the Senate Insurance Committee. An earlier tort reform package, SB 390, had been sent to Senate Judiciary and died. The following reforms are included in SB 415:
  1. Eliminates “phantom damages”
  2. Includes landowner liability protections
  3. Requires disclosure of third-party agreements and medical funding agreements
  4. Provides immunity for municipal corporations that are part of a joint airport authority with a county
  5. Prohibits direct action against insurers in trucking cases
  6. Allows seat belt nonuse to be introduced as evidence
  7. Extends the $250,000 cap on punitive damages to include manufacturers
  8. Creates transparency around asbestos bankruptcy trust claims
 
Sen. Gooch plans to hold a press conference on Thursday, February 27 th at 11 am in the North Atrium of the Capitol, and we encourage our members to attend this press conference and stand behind Sen. Gooch and this effort to bring much-needed reform to Georgia's tort laws. 

Sen. Steve Gooch (R-Dahlonega) also introduced SB 371, which is companion legislation to HB 820 by Rep. Kevin Tanner (R- Dawsonville), creating the Georgia Freight Railroad Program within GDOT. This bill was heard in the Senate Transportation Committee on February 21 st and passed by substitute version, which included GDOT recommended language changes to allow maximum flexibility to allocate funding. The bill is now in the Senate Rules Committee.

Bills on the Move:

Both of the PE, SE bills had movement this week. HB 790 by Rep. Vance Smith (R-Pine Mountain) passed out of House Regulated Industries subcommittee, and SB 310 passed out of Senate Rules on a motion by Sen. John Albers (R-Roswell) on Friday. SB 310 will be on the Senate Floor Monday. 

HB 777, which would facilitate a potential amendment to the state building code to allow for the use of tall mass timber construction, passed out of committee on Tuesday and passed the full House on Thursday. It is now awaiting further action in the Senate Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee.

The AirBnB tax, HB 448, which would require lodging facilitators to collect all existing taxes applicable to hotels and motels (including the $5 per night hotel/motel fee for transportation purposes), passed out of the House Ways & Means Committee.

HB 715 by Rep. Shaw Blackmon (R- Bonaire) alters the way that cities and counties calculate and charge occupational taxes, as well as imposing a new requirement that the proceeds of occupational taxes be used solely to fund the regulatory activity related to that occupation, rather than the local government’s general operations. Under current law, local governments may opt to charge occupational taxes by the number of employees, profitability ratio, gross receipts, or a flat fee of $400 for certain professions (the so-called “$400 Club”). Engineers are part of the $400 Club that pay a flat fee of $400 per engineer, as are other professions, including architects, land surveyors, landscape architects, attorneys, doctors, accountants, and others. Blackmon’s bill would eliminate the options of gross receipts and the flat fee of $400. Elimination of the gross receipts option means that instead of McDonald’s paying $10,000 and a food truck paying $150, they would both pay the same rate. As this would result in a significant loss of revenue to cities and counties, they would likely make up the revenue loss by charging much higher fees on the professions currently protected in the $400 Club. Blackmon and the members of the Ways & Means subcommittee that heard the bill believe that it isn’t fair to contractors (and others) that are not in the protected club. They also believe that the $400 amount should have been indexed when set in code in 1992. This bill moved out of the House Ways & Means subcommittee on Wednesday and is pending in the House Rules Committee.

The resolution to reauthorize the Freight & Logistics Commission, HR 935, for another year passed the Senate Transportation Committee on Thursday and is pending further action in the Senate Rules Committee. 

Local Government Infrastructure Bank Authority, SB 309, passed out of Senate State and Local Government Operations Committee on Tuesday. Testimony by GMA and ACCG was that there are $20 billion in local government infrastructure needs over the next five years. Currently, local governments use lease-purchase agreements, but this new vehicle of tax-exempt bonds would be much less expensive for taxpayers.  

The Lien Law fix, SB 315 by Sen. Lindsey Tippins (R - Marietta), passed the Senate unanimously on Friday and is now awaiting further action in the House.  
 
Active Legislation that ACEC Georgia is Following:

HB 276 – By Rep. Brett Harrell (R-Snellville) The Marketplace Facilitator Act to collect existing state and local sales taxes from online sellers of retail products. STATUS: Signed into law by the Governor on January 30th, 2020, and will go into effect on April 1st, 2020.

HB 444 – By Rep. Bert Reeves (R-Marietta) Changes the Dual Enrollment program so that students may only take core classes, with a cap of 30 credit hours, and limited to 11 th & 12 th -grade students. STATUS: Passed the full Senate by a vote of 34-18 on January 28th, 2020. Pending action by the House.

HB 448 – By Rep. Matt Dollar (R-East Cobb) would expand the $5 per night hotel/motel fee established in The Transportation Funding Act of 2015 (HB 170) to include AirBnB rentals that generate $100,000 or more per year in revenue. STATUS: Passed House Ways & Means Committee on February 20th, 2020. Pending in House Rules Committee.

HB 511 – By Rep. Kevin Tanner (R-Dawsonville) this is an amended version of last year’s Rural Transit Bill that stalled in the Senate late last session. Would allow single county transit SPLOSTs on general or primary elections; Would create a $0.50 per ride fee for rideshare services (Uber/Lyft) to fund rural transit within the mobility zone it is collected (subject to the appropriation process); would create a Georgia Transit Link Division within GDOT (The ATL would still control transit within the Metro area); would create Mobility Councils, similar to the Regional Commissions to approve transit plans; creates several pilot programs. STATUS: pending in Senate Transportation Committee.
 
HB 715 – By Shaw Blackmon (R-Bonaire) alters the way that cities and counties calculate and charge occupational taxes, as well as imposing a new requirement that the proceeds of occupational taxes be used solely to fund the regulatory activity related to that occupation, rather than the local government’s general operations. Under current law, local governments may opt to charge occupational taxes by the number of employees, profitability ratio, gross receipts, or a flat fee of $400 for certain professions (the so-called "$400 Club"). Engineers are part of the $400 Club that pay a flat fee of $400 per engineer, as are other professions, including architects, land surveyors, landscape architects, attorneys, doctors, accountants, and others. Blackmon's bill would eliminate the options of gross receipts and the flat fee of $400. Elimination of the gross receipts option means that instead of McDonald's paying $10,000 and a food truck paying $150, they would both pay the same rate. As this would result in a significant loss of revenue to cities and counties, they would likely make up the revenue loss by charging much higher fees on the professions currently protected in the $400 Club. STATUS: Passed out of the House Ways & Means Committee. Pending in the House Rules Committee. 

HB 773 – By Rep. Scot Turner (R-Holly Springs), a reciprocal licensure bill aimed at military service members and their spouses (similar in intent to SB 285 below), but this bill allows licensure boards to have oversight of who is issued a professional license by comity in Georgia. STATUS: Assigned to the House Regulated Industries Committee.

HB 777 – By Rep. John Corbett (R-Lake Park) directs DCA to undertake a review of the tall mass timber provisions of the 2021 International Building Code, for the purpose of considering whether Georgia’s building codes should be amended to include provisions for tall mass timber for construction types IV-A, IV-B, and IV-C. STATUS: Passed House Agriculture & Consumer Affairs Committee on February 18th, Passed House on February 20th, Assigned to Senate Agriculture.

HB 790 – By Rep. Vance Smith (R-Pine Mountain) would establish a new “PE, SE” license for structural engineers. This bill would alleviate the competitive disadvantage Georgia structural engineers face when competing for bids against individuals from states that have already established some sort of SE license. STATUS: Passed House Regulated Industries Subcommittee on February 18 th .

HB 792 – By Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) is the Amended FY20 budget.  STATUS: Passed House February 19 th . Assigned to Senate Appropriations.

HB 820 – By Kevin Tanner (R-Dawsonville) would establish the Georgia Freight Railroad Program as a placeholder line Item in the Georgia DOT budget for possible future funding for freight rail improvements, subject to the appropriations process. STATUS: Passed out of the House Transportation Committee on January 30th, 2020. Pending in House Rules Committee.

HB 914 – By Heath Clark (R-Warner Robbins) is a reciprocal licensure bill for the spouses of military service members or transitioning service members which would require professional licensure boards “shall issue” a reciprocal license if a spouse holds a license in another state and meets “at least a majority” of the requirements under Georgia law to obtain that license. The “majority” of requirements is a disturbing and undefined standard to which ACEC Georgia is opposed.  STATUS: Pending in House Government Affairs Committee.

HB 937 – By Vance Smith (R-Pine Mountain) would prevent cities and counties from banning certain materials in the construction of single-family dwellings.  STATUS: Pending in Agriculture & Consumer Affairs Committee.

HR 910 – By Rep. Josh McLaurin (D-Sandy Springs) would allow Georgia’s existing motor fuels tax to be used for all transportation purposes (including transit), rather than its current Constitutional restriction to “roads and bridges.” STATUS: Assigned to the House Transportation Committee.

HR 935 – By Rep. Kevin Tanner (R-Dawsonville) would continue the Georgia Freight & Logistics Commission for an additional year (through December 2020). STATUS: Passed the Senate Transportation Committee. Pending in Senate Rules Committee.

SB 309 – By Sen. Jesse Stone (R-Waynesboro) creates a Local Government Infrastructure Bank Authority to provide low-interest loans to local governments for equipment, land, construction projects, and other needs. STATUS: Passed Senate State and Local Government Operations Committee February 18 th , Pending in Senate Rules.

SB 310 – By Sen. Tyler Harper (R-Ocillia) would establish a new “PE, SE” license for structural engineers. This bill would alleviate the competitive disadvantage Georgia structural engineers face when competing for bids against individuals from states that have already established some sort of SE license. STATUS: Passed the Senate 46-8 on Monday, February 24th.

SB 315 – By Sen. Lindsey Tippins (R-Marietta) was introduced to address a Georgia Court of Appeals ruling that extinguished ALL rights (including contract rights) for failure to file an Affidavit of Non-Payment. STATUS: Passed the Senate unanimously on February 21 st . Heads to the House.

SB 316 – By Sen. Bruce Thompson (R-White) Reciprocal licensure for Military Spouses. While better than the prefiled version, we still have serious concerns regarding this legislation. Reciprocity under current law allows a licensed individual to apply for a Georgia license upon presenting credentials to the corresponding professional licensing board. (PLB) The applicable PLB will review and grant a license if all criteria are met, including any Georgia specific exams. This legislation changes “individual shall apply for reciprocity” to “the PLB shall issue to an individual” and removes the Georgia specific requirement for military spouses. STATUS: Passed Senate Veterans, Military, and Homeland Security Committee on February 21st, 2020.

SB 319 – By Sen. Frank Ginn (R-Danielsville) would allow habitable structures within the inundation zone below a Category II dam if an engineer of record certifies that the structure is fortified to such a degree to prevent significant risk of loss of life, without the dam in question becoming classified as a Category I dam. STATUS: On Senate Floor Monday, February 24th.

SB 353 – By Sen. Elena Parent (D-Atlanta) would eliminate the alternative fuel tax on electric vehicles, which was intended to mirror the amount that the average Georgia driver of a gas-fueled vehicle pays in motor fuel taxes since alternative fuel vehicles also use and have the same impact on our roads and bridges. STATUS: Pending in the Senate Finance Committee.

SB 371 – By Sen. Steve Gooch (R- Dahlonega) is companion legislation to HB 820, creating the Georgia Freight Railroad Program within GDOT, and now includes language requested by GDOT that would allow maximum flexibility to allocate funding. STATUS: Passed out of the Senate Transportation Committee on February 21 st . The bill is now in the Senate Rules Committee.

SB 415 – By Sen. Steve Gooch (R-Dahlonega) is the Senate Tort Reform Package. Eliminates "phantom damages," Includes landowner liability protections, requires disclosure of third party agreements and medical funding agreements, provides immunity for municipal corporations who are part of a joint airport authority with a county, prohibits direct action against insurers in trucking cases, allows seat belt nonuse to be introduced as evidence, extends the $250,000 cap on punitive damages to include manufacturers, and creates transparency around asbestos bankruptcy trust claims.  STATUS: Assigned to the Senate Insurance Committee.
 
SR 654 – By Sen. Sally Harrell (D-Dunwoody) would allow Georgia’s existing motor fuels tax to be used for all transportation purposes (including transit), rather than its current Constitutional restriction to “roads and bridges.” STATUS: Senate Transportation Committee held a hearing (but no vote) on February 4th, 2020.

Legislation Introduced in Last Year’s Session that ACEC Georgia is Following:

HB 1 - By Rep. Jesse Petrea (R-Savannah) would rename Georgia’s existing Georgia Special Needs Scholarship Act the “Senator Eric Johnson Scholarship Act.” Eric Johnson is a former state senator from Savannah who served as President Pro Tem of the Senate and is President of ACEC Georgia Member Firm, Hussey Gay Bell. A well-deserved honor for a great Georgian. STATUS: Assigned to House Education Committee (the bill did not crossover last year).

HB 3 – By Rep. Matt Gurtler (R-Tiger) would repeal the $5 per night hotel/motel room fee for transportation that makes up a significant part of the revenue generated by the Transportation Funding Act of 2015 (HB 170). While ACEC Georgia will oppose this bill, it is unlikely even to receive a hearing. STATUS: Assigned to House Ways and Means Committee (the bill did not crossover last year).

HB 36 – Rep. Bob Trammell (D-Luthersville) HOPE Grant for students enrolled at Georgia technical colleges. STATUS: Assigned to the Higher Education Committee (the bill did not crossover last year).

HB 184 - By Rep. Bret Harrell (R-Snellville) would allow 5G to be collocated on poles located in the city/county right of way. STATUS: Passed House. Passed Senate Regulated Industries. Companion Legislation SB 66 was passed by both House and Senate and signed into law by the Governor last year. Senate recommitted HB 184 to Senate Regulated Industries Committee on January 13th, 2020.

HB 200 – By Rep. Don Hogan (R-St. Simons Island) exempts hotels operated by a 501(c)3 charitable tax-exempt organization (such as a religious denomination from charging the $5 per night hotel/motel fee, which is a significant component of the revenue generated by The Transportation Funding Act of 2015 (HB 170). STATUS: Assigned to House Ways & Means Committee (the bill did not crossover last year).

HB 294 – By Bonnie Rich (R- Suwanee) would protect competitively awarded bids that were entered into prior to a Special District Sales and Use Tax vote from the burden of an additional sales tax that was approved by voters after the bid was signed. STATUS: Heard in House Ways & Means Committee (the bill did not crossover last year). 

HB 422 - By Rep. Tim Barr (R-Lawrenceville) Amended Version would allow non-Local Issuing Authorities (LIA) two new options for soil and erosion plan review. Currently, a non-LIA government must use EPD for soil and erosion plan review. This bill would allow a non-LIA government to contract with an LIA government within their water district for plan review or allow a non-LIA to employ or contract with an individual with Level 2 Design status for in house plan review. STATUS: Attached to HB 493 in Regulated Industries last year and passed the House 142-20. HB 422 language was stripped out of the version of HB 493 that was signed into law by the Governor. Assigned to House Natural Resources and Environment Committee (the bill did not crossover last year).

HB 428 – By Rep. Bill Werkheiser (R-Glennville), the "Georgia Communications Tax Act" originally proposed a tax on streaming services (the so-called "Netflix tax") to create a revenue stream to support broadband expansion in rural Georgia. STATUS: Assigned to House Ways & Means Committee. 

HB 447 - By Rep. Dominic LaRiccia (R-Douglas) merged with SB 131, the Hartsfield Jackson Airport Takeover bill in Senate Finance. This amended bill also increased the excise tax from $.005 to $.01. The Governor's floor leader objected to the amendment, but the bill passed out of Senate Finance 5-4. STATUS: Recommitted to Senate Finance Committee on January 13th, 2020.

HB 508 – By Rep. Brett Harrell (R-Snellville) would establish a direct nexus between fees generated by the Professional Licensing Boards Division (PLBD) and expenditures back to the PLBD. STATUS: Assigned to House Regulated Industries Committee (the bill did not crossover last year).

HR 38 – By Rep. Dar'shun Kendrick (D-Lithonia) would create a House Study Committee on Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Fields. STATUS: Recommitted to House Special Rules Committee.

HR 164 - By Rep. Jay Powell (R-Camilla) Constitutional Amendment that would allow revenues derived from fees or taxes to be dedicated to the public purpose for which such fees or taxes were imposed. The House passed an identical bill last year by a vote of 166-1, and now Lt. Governor Geoff Duncan was a cosponsor of the bill. It did not receive a hearing in the Senate last year. STATUS: Passed House 169-1. A substitute version that gutted the original intent of the bill passed the Senate 52-0—awaiting action by the House.

SB 131 - By Sen. Burt Jones (R-Jackson) "Georgia Major Airport Act" would allow the State to create an Authority to run Hartsfield Jackson Airport. It was amended in House Rules to create an oversight committee instead of a State takeover. House Rules also attached HB 511 and HB 447. STATUS: Passed Senate Transportation Committee. Passed Senate 34-22. Amended in House Rules. Passed House (creating only an oversight committee) and is awaiting further action by the Senate.

SB 200 - By Sen. Steve Gooch would require GDOT to establish an appeals process for bid rejection. STATUS: Passed Transportation. Passed Senate 54-0. Passed House Transportation Committee. Bill was assigned to Conference Committee.