The General Assembly was in session this week for Legislative Days 26 through 29 and will stand in “indefinite suspension” until the COVID-19 epidemic has subsided. Once the General Assembly does reconvene to continue with the last ten legislative days, all bills that have crossed over remain alive. Should the current situation require the suspension of the session to drag on for more than two weeks, they may come back in and only pass HB 793 which is the FY21 “big budget” (and the only bill they are required by the Georgia Constitution to pass). As this is the end of the two-year biennial session, all remaining bills would die and must be reintroduced next session.   
 
Fee Dedication Constitutional Amendment:

For time immemorial, the General Assembly has created new fees or taxes with the promise that the revenue generated would be used for a specific purpose, such as the solid waste and scrap tire funds. After a few years, those funds invariably get raided for other purposes, leaving the efforts for which they were originally created underfunded. The problem is that currently, the only way finds can truly be dedicated to a specific purpose (and thus be protected from the whims of the annual appropriations process) is by an amendment to the Georgia Constitution.

HR 164 by former Rep. Jay Powell (R-Camilla) (who passed away last year) is a constitutional amendment that may finally change that. It would allow revenues derived from fees or taxes to be dedicated to the public purpose for which such fees or taxes were imposed by regular legislation, rather than a constitutional amendment. The proposed amendment received final passage by the Senate on March 9 th , which means that it will appear on the 2020 general election ballot. If approved by Georgia voters in November, it would, for example, provide a tool for dedicating professional licensure fees to fund the operations of the licensing board that generates those fees, rather than being diverted to the General Fund and appropriated to other general government purposes. ACEC Georgia has strongly supported the passage of this legislation and will be working toward its approval by Georgia’s voters in November. Please keep an eye out for more information from us about how you can help support the effort to pass this important Constitutional Amendment. 

Budget AFY20:

Thursday, both chambers passed the conference committee report on the amended FY20 Budget and immediately transmitted it to the Governor. The amended budget included $100 million in emergency reserve fund money requested by Governor Kemp for the State to combat the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Budget FY21:

The House passed HB 793, the FY21 budget, on Tuesday and immediately transmitted it to the Senate. The House version included major changes to the Governor’s proposed budget. The House reduced the Governor’s proposed $2,000 raise for all Georgia teachers to $1000 and included targeted raises for state employees that would be based on merit and retention needs, rather than being applied to all employees making less than $40,000 per year. They also restored funding to mental health, community health centers, and the criminal justice system.

Legislation That Crossed Over and Remains Alive:

HB 105 – By Rep. Sam Watson (R-Moultrie) started out as a tax break bill for farmers impacted by Hurricane Michael. This bill was later amended in the Senate Finance Committee to include a new flat fee of $.50 per ride or $.25 per shared ride for taxis, Uber & Lyft. Without the imposition of the proposed flat fees, ride share services would be subject to all applicable state and local sales taxes as a result of the passage of the Marketplace Facilitator bill, which would greatly increase the cost of ride-sharing services to consumers. Under Thursday’s House amendment, the revenue generated by the new flat fee would be used exclusively for transit projects. The bill also includes a new carve out whereby up to 10% of the existing heavy vehicle impact fees and 10% of the existing $5 per night hotel/motel fee may be appropriated for transit projects, with the remaining 90% being dedicated to construction and maintenance of roads and bridges. STATUS: Passed the full Senate by a vote of 51-2 on Wednesday, March 4 th . The House amended the Senate substitute version and it passed the full House by a vote of 150-7. The House version will have to go back to the Senate for approval.

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. Passed House on March 3 rd by a vote of 103-67 and sent to the Governor.

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 105-48. Awaiting committee assignment in the Senate.

HB 511 – By Rep. Kevin Tanner (R-Dawsonville) is back in a scaled-down version. This substitute has been vetted with GDOT, The ATL, Senators Gooch and Beach. The new version moves the ATL from GRTA to GDOT and streamlines the elections procedures for the ATL Board. Requires all transit providers within the ATL region to use the ATL Brand within three years. It also extends the CPI index on motor fuels to 2025. STATUS: Passed Senate Transportation on Thursday, March 5 th , awaiting action in Senate Rules.
 
HB 777 – By Rep. John Corbett (R-Lake Park) directs the Department of Community Affairs 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 Committee.

HB 792 – By Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) is the Amended FY20 budget. Final version contains $3 million for the Middle Georgia Regional Airport construction.  STATUS: Conference Committee report passed both the House and Senate and is on the Governor’s desk.

HB 793 – By Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) is the FY21 budget.  STATUS: Passed the House by a vote of 134-35 on March 10, 2020. Now pending in the Senate Appropriations Committee. 

HB 820 – By Rep. 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 House 162-1 on Monday, February 24 th , passed Senate Transportation Committee on March 4 th , awaiting action in Senate Rules.

HB 914 – By Rep. Heath Clark (R-Warner Robbins) is a reciprocal licensure bill for the spouses of military service members or transitioning service members. Expedited reciprocity for military spouses will now be granted by the applicable professional licensing board if the person holds a current license to practice such occupation or profession issued by another state for which the training, experience, and testing are “ substantially similar in qualifications and scope” to the Georgia requirements to obtain that license. Rep. Clark also removed the section that would have exempted military spouses from having to sit for a Georgia specific test. STATUS: Passed House 165-0 on Monday, March 2 nd , Assigned to Senate Veterans Affairs.

HB 1098 – By Rep. Kasey Carpenter (R-Dalton) is the annual GDOT “housekeeping bill.” It aligns the statewide strategic plan with the federal strategic plan, resulting in cost savings for GDOT. STATUS: Passed House 167-0.

HR 164 – By former Rep. Jay Powell (R-Camilla) is a 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. This passed the House by a vote of 169-1 in 2019 but was gutted by the Senate last year and sent back to the House. The House stripped the Senate’s language and reinserted Rep. Powell’s original language on Wednesday. The restored version passed the House by a vote of 164-4 on March 4 th , 2020 and was sent back to the Senate. The Senate agreed to the House language on March 9 th , which puts the bill on the November 2020 election ballot. If this Constitutional Amendment is approved by Georgia voters, it would provide a tool to dedicate professional licensure fees to the licensing board that generates those fees, rather than being diverted to the General Fund and appropriated to other general government purposes. STATUS: Constitutional Amendment will be on the ballot in November. Look for information from ACEC Georgia about how you can support the effort to pass this important Constitutional Amendment. 

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

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 Monday, February 24 th 46-8, pending in House Regulated Industries.

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 . Pending in the House Regulated Industries Committee.

SB 316 – By Sen. Bruce Thompson (R-White) is Reciprocal Licensure for Military Spouses. An amended version of the bill passed out of Committee on Friday, February 21 st . The amended version corrected several of the issues that we had with the bill. Expedited reciprocity for military spouses will now be granted by the applicable licensure board if the person holds a current license to practice such occupation or profession issued by another state for which the training, experience, and testing are “ substantially similar in qualifications and scope” to the Georgia requirements to obtain that license. Sen. Thompson also removed the section that would have exempted military spouses from having to sit for a Georgia specific test. STATUS: Passed Senate unanimously on February 27 th , assigned to the House Government Affairs Committee.

SB 319 – By Sen. Frank Ginn (R-Danielsville) will 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 the significant risk of loss of life, without the dam in question becoming classified as a Category I dam. STATUS: Passed the Senate on Monday, February 24 th by a vote of 47-6. Pending in the House Natural Resources 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 the Senate unanimously on Friday, February 28 th . Pending in the House Transportation Committee.

SR 793 – By Sen. Brandon Beach (R-Alpharetta) would create the Joint Private Financing of Infrastructure Study Committee. This is in response to the Freight & Logistics Commission's findings last year of the need for $4 Billion per year for the next 30 years to accommodate the increase in freight coming through the Port of Savannah. STATUS: Passed the Senate on March 10 th . Pending in the House Government Affairs Committee.

SR 885 – By Sen. Tyler Harper (R-Ocilla) is a constitutional amendment that would allow the state to finance General Obligation Bonds for local community airport construction. STATUS: Passed the Senate on March 12 th by a vote of 55-0. Awaiting assignment to committee in the House.

Legislation That Did Not Cross and is Only “Mostly Dead”:

HB 153 By Rep. Shaw Blackmon (R-Bonaire) was a dummy bill in Ways & Means and was stripped of its original language and inserted the non-offending portion of HB 715 related to regulatory costs that cities may charge. The bill simply states that the proceeds of regulatory fees shall be used to fund such regulatory activity and not general operations of the government. This effectively kills HB 715 for the session. STATUS: House Rules.

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 pays 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 for example, 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: Pulled from House Floor agenda and recommitted to House Ways & Means Committee on February 26 th . Bill is dead for the session. Substitute bill dealing only with regulatory fees was introduced into HB 153. 

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 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 but will not be moving further, as the bill’s author, Rep. Vance Smith, will instead be leading the effort to pass SB 310, which has already passed out of the Senate.

HB 868 – By Rep. Chuck Martin (R-Alpharetta) would eliminate all taxes on rideshare companies, including taxis, Uber and Lift. STATUS: Passed Ways & Means subcommittee awaiting action in full Ways & Means Committee.

HB 937 – By Rep. Vance Smith (R-Pine Mountain) would prevent cities and counties from banning certain materials in the construction of single-family dwellings. STATUS: Passed Agriculture & Consumer Affairs Committee on Wednesday, February 26 th , by a vote of 13-10.

HB 1089 - By Rep. Tom McCall (R-Elberton) is the House version of Tort Reform. Unfortunately, the House created a Special Committee on Access to the Civil Justice System to "study" tort reform. The Committee is stacked with trial lawyers who will effectively kill tort reform this year.  STATUS: Pending in Special Committee on Access to the Civil Justice System.  

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.

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 take-over. 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 (R-Dahlonega) would require GDOT to establish an appeal process for bid rejection. STATUS: Passed Transportation. Passed Senate 54-0. Passed House Transportation Committee. Bill was assigned to the Conference 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 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, hearing only on March 4 th with no action taken.

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: Passed Senate Insurance Committee on March 3 rd , Debate on Senate Floor on March 10 th . Bill was tabled. Brought back up on March 12 th but did not have sufficient votes to remove from the table. Tort Reform is dead for the session.
 
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 4 th .