Legislative Alert from the Georgia Agribusiness Council
Volume 25, No. 11      Published by the Georgia Agribusiness Council, Inc.       March 25, 2016

IT’S OVER…finally! The session usually ends no later than midnight on Day 40 (a.k.a. Sine Die), but for the first time anyone can recollect, the legislative session went into overtime. Lawmakers in the House and Senate kept pushing bills until 12:30 a.m. Friday morning, which almost provided the time needed to secure one of the ag bills…more on that later.

These past 11 weeks have been a rollercoaster as battles were waged on several fronts – many of which never make it in a newsletter like this. One thing is for sure, we are proud to join other ag industry friends at the Capitol each and every day to protect and enhance agriculture and forestry interests. We appreciate the work of our friends at the Georgia Farm Bureau, Georgia Forestry Association, Georgia Poultry Federation and the Georgia Cattlemen’s Association for the commitment and cooperation under the gold dome. We also thank you, our members and industry allies, for getting in the trenches with us when we send the signal. THANK YOU…our success is a team effort.
With the 2016 legislative session now complete, we’ve provided a full list of ag legislation below. In addition, we tip our hat to legislators who were key to getting our mission accomplished or for efforts that gave us the best shot. There is often much interest in getting bills to the finish line, but defeating bad legislation is often just as important. As always, we encourage you to thank the legislators mentioned below – because they deserve it. Here we go:
HB 911
 was a battle for ag interests from the very start and a clear reminder that sometimes the best remedy is to kill the bill – and that’s what we did. THANK YOU for the many emails to Senators over the past few weeks. It really made a difference as we worked to eliminate language in the bill that would place a laundry list of mandates on retailers. There was a lot of maneuvering with this bill during the final day of the session, but the process worked and several ag industry friends stood tall to defeat this bill. Change is not always a good thing, and HB 911 is a great example of that fact. We are grateful for several key leaders in the effort to stop this bill, including  Lt. Governor Casey Cagle, Senate Ag Chairman John Wilkinson, House Majority Leader Jon Burns, House Ag Chairman Tom McCall  and  Representative Jimmy Pruett . These men were very helpful!
So, the good news is that the GATE program remains the same, however, we must step up efforts to ensure the sales tax exemptions are on appropriate items and that retailers are not encouraging misconduct. This bill was not a warning, but a promise that if the program doesn’t show it is being used appropriately CHANGES WILL HAPPEN. Please help the industry by discouraging abuses and protect the integrity of these tax benefits.
It is also important to note that the Georgia Department of Agriculture received $200,000 to have inspectors visit GATE card holders and ag retailers to help provide assistance with compliance and look for trouble areas in this program. This is an excellent step to provide first-hand information and education about making this program function for agriculture and the state. We fully support this initiative.
2017 BUDGET:
We saw a lot of up and down adjustments to ag portions of the state budget this year, but we are very pleased that these programs fared very well once the stormy seas changed to calm waters. Click here to see the final report.  House Appropriations Chairman Terry England sat down with us again this year to hit some of the highlights in a brief budget summary video. Check it out for key highlights to UGA CAES, 4-H, GATE program, and more.
We also want to express our appreciation to state leaders for following the recommendations of Governor Deal with regard to the Georgia Soil and Water Conservation Commission. They will continue managing the irrigation metering program as they have done since inception. In addition, the Young Farmer program picked up $150K for Extended Day and new positions in Atkinson and Toombs counties. We are thankful to Governor DealHouse Appropriations Chairman Terry England and Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Hill for their leadership, coupled with the support of so many budget leaders that continue to show their commitment to invest in agriculture and forestry.
Rep. Sam Watson and Sen. Ellis Black championed HB 1030 all the way to the finish line Thursday. We also acknowledge the work of Sen. John Wilkinson for his work to forge the final language that helped propel this initiative. We congratulate Georgia Seed Development Commission and the other UGA partners that combined their leadership to craft this legislation that broadens the scope of those who are eligible to serve on the GSDC. This bill will include licensees and/or those involved in production, conditioning, or marketing of seed, crops turfgrass, or horticultural plants to be eligible for appointment to the GSDC board. No doubt this move will allow for an even stronger program that helps build and direct funds for reinvestment in new plant varieties. It now awaits the Governor’s signature.
The Senate passed SR 1018 on Tuesday to match the House version HR 1343 that passed last week sending a strong statement about the negative impacts of the Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) regulations being pushed by the EPA. The agriculture community has been very vocal in opposition to WOTUS regulations. We appreciate the leadership of House Ag Committee Chairman Tom McCall and Senate Ag Committee Chairman John Wilkinson for advancing these resolutions. 
This bill passed early in the session and received the Governor’s signature in time for tax filings.  We appreciate Rep. David Knight leading HB 742 through the legislative process, giving Georgia the necessary state language to take advantage of the Section 179 expense deductions passed by Congress in late December.
HB 579
by Rep. Tom McCall, passed the Senate last week and received final approval on Day 40.  This bill allows for golf carts, four wheelers, and other off-road vehicles to be used on roads if using them for agricultural or forestry pursuits.  These vehicles would have to be outfitted with a “slow moving vehicle” emblem.  It is now awaiting the Governor’s signature.
This is the one ag bill that didn’t beat the clock this session – even with the 30 extra minutes provided on the final day.  HB 876  would have paved the way to improved licensing for livestock dealers and sale barns, but changes to the bill required it go through some late hour maneuvers that needed more time. This bill would have established a three year livestock market operator license with a fee not to exceed $200. The annual fee for a livestock dealer license would be no more than $25.00. It would have also put in place “surety” (bond) requirement to aid in the prevention of nonpayment or contract purchase failure by a licensed livestock market operator or a livestock dealer. Even as a newcomer to the legislature,  Rep. Clay Pirkle  showed he is a solid ag industry leader as he did an excellent job handling this issue. We look forward to working with him to tackle it next year. 
Boston Gin Co.
Brown Implement & Milling, Inc.
CSA Farms, Inc.
Center for Agribusiness & Economic Dev.
Coley Gin & Fertilizer Co. Inc.
C.M Tanner Grocery Co. Inc
Curry Farm Supply Inc.
Doerun Gin Co. Inc.
Doug Hopkins
Georgia 4-H Foundation
Hardy Farms
IsoAge Technologies L.L.C.
Israel Farm Supply Inc.
J & B Irrigation Inc.

Lauri Jo's Southern Style Canning
Leger & Son, Inc.
LHR Farms, Inc.
Majors Electric & Mechanical Co., Inc.
Marion Reeves Equipment Sales
Mercier Orchards
Mobley Gin
Newcastle Trucking, LLC
Northeast Georgia Livestock. LLC
Patrick Farms
Pike Creek Turf, Inc.
Pineland Plantation
Plantation Seed Conditioners, Inc.
Quality Gin, Inc.
Quality Feedstuff, Inc.
Russell Landscape Contractors, LLC
Segura's Harvesting
Southeastern Cotton Ginners Association

Southern Crop Production Assn.
Southern Equipment Dealers Association
Sylvania Peanut Co. Inc.
Swainsboro Stockyard
The J.L. Morgan Co, Inc.
  Special thanks to our Star Sponsors listed below. We welcome having GAC member companies be a part of this initiative. Please call our office at 706-336-6830 or  click here for details . Thank you!
This bill by Rep. Trey Rhodes fixes a gap in Georgia meat inspection laws by requiring any avian species grown commercially for slaughter and preparation as human food to be inspected.  Birds harvested at hunting plantations would not be included.  HB 815  now only needs the Governor’s signature to become law. We congratulate Rep. Rhodes for his leadership and help to enhance Georgia’s food safety laws.  
HB 779  by  Rep. Kevin Tanner  flew through some late hour adjustments and received final approval on Day 40.  Changes to the bill include a “drone commission” formed by appointees from the Governor, Lt. Governor and Speaker of the House.  The appointees of the commission include Senate and House members, representatives from GEMA, GBI, and the Georgia National Guard, among others.  The bill still only addresses uses of drones by law enforcement and other state agencies and does not specifically address agriculture.  It has now landed on the Governor’s desk for his signature.  
We appreciate the great work by Rep. Rick Jasperse and Sen. Larry Walker for their efforts to improve veterinary services across Georgia. HB 800  makes it possible for a livestock or poultry producer to call and get medical treatment prescribed for their animals without a vet visit, if the vet has seen an illness progressing through their area affecting the production animal population.  It will help our livestock and poultry industries maintain a healthy herd or flock. Congrats to the Georgia Poultry Federation for spearheading this initiative. It awaits the Governor’s signature.
HB 987 by Rep. Tom McCall made its way to the Governor’s desk Thursday. It will make it possible for a landowner to host a not-for-profit rodeo on their land, without causing a breach in the CUVA covenant. The bill also includes language to clarify that if a parcel of land is taken out of CUVA for a house to be built, they have 12 months to begin construction and 24 months to complete construction. 


* Sine Die not only marked the end of the 2016 session, but also the end of Capitol service for some longtime legislator friends. These include Sen. Tommie Williams of Lyons, Sen. Bill Jackson of Augusta, Rep. Carl Rogers of Gainesville, and Rep. Margaret Kaiser of Atlanta. We thank them for their assistance to agriculture throughout their years of service.  

* Several legislators that work hard to support agriculture interests have opposition in the 2016 elections. Please let us know if you would like to discuss the rolls each has played in supporting our industry initiatives. We’ll be happy to provide insight to encourage or discourage your support for them.

* Congrats to the Georgia Forestry Association (GFA) on serving lunch and providing a forestry update to the Rural Caucus on Wednesday. GFA President Andres Villegas is doing a great job as the new head of this association, and we appreciate the work they do at the State Capitol. We are also grateful for the leadership of GAC member Rep. Jason Shaw as the chairman of the Rural Caucus. Great group of key legislators for our issues. 

The Georgia Plant Food Educational Society will be having their 2016 Summer Meeting at the Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island, July 24 – 27, 2016. Please make plans to attend and secure your hotel reservations no later than June 21. Click here for more information.

This information is intended for members of the Georgia Agribusiness Council, Inc. No part of this document shall be copied, edited, or redistributed in any form without express written consent from the Georgia Agribusiness Council, Inc.

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