The General Assembly resumed the 2020 legislative session this morning, which had been paused since March 16th due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The current plan is for both chambers to be in session continuously for the next two weeks beginning Monday, June 15th, and adjourning Sine Die on Friday June 26th. The only bill they are required by the Georgia Constitution to pass is the FY21 Budget, but they will also be taking up other important legislation during these final 11 legislative days. 

With the state facing deep budget cuts due to significantly decreased revenues, legislative leaders have established a “three buckets” approach to what bills will be taken up: (1) Does it save the state money (2) Does it generate new revenue for the state, and (3) Does it promote economic development activity? Bills that fall into one or more of these three “buckets” will be prioritized, and those that do not will likely not move forward.

FY 21 Budget:

The version of the FY 21 Budget (HB 793) passed by the House in early March has now become meaningless in light of the severe economic downturn (and its impact on overall state revenues) that has occurred since then. Governor Kemp has projected that state revenues will be reduced by about $2.6 billion for the upcoming fiscal year that begins on July 1st. The Senate has been working on a completely new FY 21 Budget for the last several weeks that reflect these reduced revenue projections.
The Governor had initially asked all state agencies to submit plans for an across the board 14% reduction, but that number has since been revised to an 11% reduction. The largest component of most state agencies’ budgets are labor costs, but cuts are also being made in IT, reduced office space, travel, and marketing to try to preserve as many jobs as possible.

Private Plan Review and Inspection for Previously Exempted Structures:

Last year, ACEC Georgia and AGC Georgia worked with ACCG, GMA, and others to pass HB 493 by Rep. Kevin Tanner (R-Dawsonville). This strengthened the ability of owners and developers to use licensed engineers or architects for private plan review and inspections. However, under current law (O.C.G.A. 8-2-26(g)(17)), private plan review and inspection is prohibited for hospitals, ambulatory health care centers, nursing homes, jails, penal institutions, airports, buildings that impact national or state homeland security and high rises.

When COVID-19 hit in March, many local governments reduced or suspended their operations and were unable to provide plan review and inspection services for ongoing projects. ACEC Georgia and AGC Georgia worked with Governor Kemp’s office to quickly address this situation, and on March 20th, the Governor issued an Executive Order to allow private plan review and/or inspection services for projects that were already in progress with local government employee plan review and/or inspections. On March 30th, the Governor issued a second Executive Order that allowed private plan review and inspection to be used for the previously excluded project types listed above.

Based on the demonstrated, successful implementation of private plan review and inspections for these previously excluded project types over the past several months in jurisdictions across the State of Georgia, our request is to make the Governor’s Executive Order allowing private plan review and inspections for all building types permanent, by deleting subsection 8-2-26(g)(17) of the Georgia Code in its entirety. 

As a result of the Governor's Executive Orders, many important economic development projects were able to continue unabated, including the new Norfolk Southern Headquarters and numerous other high-profile projects across the state. These massive projects employ thousands of hard-working Georgians, and keeping these projects moving forward will help position Georgia to bounce back more quickly from the negative economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As this is a new proposal, not previously introduced before Crossover Day, we will be attaching this language to another bill - SB 377 by Sen. Burt Jones (R-Jackson), which deals with elevator inspections by the Insurance Commissioner Office. The revised bill containing our proposed language will be heard in the House Insurance Committee on Wednesday.

Hate Crimes Bill:   

HB 426 is the Hate Crimes legislation introduced by Rep. Chuck Efstration (R-Dacula) and passed by the full House of Representatives during the 2019 session. It was assigned last year to the Senate Judiciary Committee, where it had languished for over a year.

More recently, the circumstances surrounding the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and Rayshard Brooks have sparked worldwide outrage and ongoing protests calling for legislation to address racial inequality and calls for police reform. They have also created a groundswell of public support for the passage of a Hate Crimes Bill in Georgia. Georgia is one of only four states without a Hate Crimes Law.

Lt. Governor Geoff Duncan, who is also the President of the Senate, has indicated his support for passing Hate Crimes legislation but believes changes are needed to the current version of the bill. House Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) started this morning’s session by renewing his calls to make passage of the Hate Crimes bill one of the session’s highest priorities, stating unequivocally “ If we leave here this session without passing a hate crimes bill, it will be a stain on this state that we can never wash away .” 
  
HB 426 would increase penalties during the sentencing phase of anyone convicted of intentionally targeting a victim because of their race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, mental disability or physical disability. ACEC Georgia stands with the many Chambers of Commerce, business organizations, Georgia companies, and citizens who are calling for swift passage of a Hate Crimes bill in this legislative session.

Georgia Freight & Logistics Commission:

HR 935 by Rep. Kevin Tanner (R-Dawsonville) will continue the existing Georgia Freight & Logistics Commission for an additional year (through December 2020). This resolution passed the House on February 5 th and passed the Senate this morning. It is now effective, as joint resolutions do not require the signature of the Governor.

Additional Legislation ACEC Georgia is Following (that will likely be voted on):

HB 105 – By Rep. Sam Watson (R-Moultrie) started out as a tax break bill for farmers who were impacted by Hurricane Michael. This bill was amended in the Senate Finance Committee to include a new rideshare flat fee of $.50 per ride or $.25 per shared ride for taxis, Uber & Lyft. Without the flat fee carve-out to the previously passed Marketplace Facilitators bill, ride shares would be subject to state and local sales taxes, which would greatly increase the cost of ride-sharing services to consumers. Under the House’s amendment, the revenue generated by the new rideshare flat fee would be used to fund transit projects, and there will also be a new 10% carve-out for transit from the revenue collected from existing heavy vehicle impact fees and $5 per night hotel/motel fees that were created by the Transportation Funding Act of 2015 (HB 170). STATUS: Passed Senate 51-2 on Wednesday, March 4 th . House amended the Senate Substitute, and it passed the House 150-7. Pending further action in the Senate.

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. Pending further action 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 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 sunset on use of the CPI index on motor fuel taxes 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 on February 20th, will be on Senate Floor Tuesday, June 16th

HB 793 – By Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) is the FY21 Budget. STATUS: Passed House 134-35. Pending further action 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. The applicable PLB Board will now grant expedited reciprocity for military spouses 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 requirements under this state to obtain a 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 Committee.

HB 1098 – By 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. Pending further action in the Senate.

SB 310 – By Sen. Tyler Harper (R-Ocilla) 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 Committee.

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 . It was assigned to 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. The applicable PLB Board will now grant expedited reciprocity for military spouses 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 requirements under this state to obtain a 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 27th, assigned to House Government Affairs 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 unanimously on Friday, February 28th, pending in 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 from the Port of Savannah. STATUS: Passed Senate on March 10 th and assigned to 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 Senate 55-0.