2017 Georgia Agribusiness Council weekly legislative report 
Volume 26, No. 12       Published by the Georgia Agribusiness Council, Inc.       March 31, 2017
2017 Legislative Session Summary

Georgia lawmakers wrapped up the 2017 session Thursday in record fashion as the flurry of negotiating lasted until nearly 1:00 a.m. We are pleased to report that ag industry interests finished a very good 40-day run. We appreciate GAC members and friends keeping tabs on the week-by-week progress on issues under the gold dome. There is much to like about the final outcome of agribusiness bills of interest and we have provided a comprehensive look at what crossed the finish line as well as a short list of bills that will continue their journey in the 2018 session.

We want to express our thanks to key legislative leaders as well as ag industry allies at the State Capitol. Activities during session focus on ag policy, but it is the relationships built in agriculture that really sets the tone for the future. We’ll start by expressing our gratitude to the two Agriculture Committee Chairmen, Rep. Tom McCall and Sen. John Wilkinson. They are not only outstanding leaders on our issues, they are amazing friends to our industry.

Key actions at the Capitol, some quite visible and others very subtle, are also commendable. We thank  Rep. Sam Watson, Rep. Terry England, Rep. Jay Powell, Rep. Matt Hatchett, Rep. Clay Pirkle, Rep. Robert Dickey, Rep. Jason Shaw, Sen. Ellis Black, Sen. Larry Walker, Sen. Tyler Harper, and Sen. Bill Heath  for each having an important role in advancing one or more of the bills in our report. We also applaud the partnership of ag industry allies  Georgia Poultry Federation, Georgia Farm Bureau , Georgia Forestry Association, and  Georgia Cattlemen Association  for their work each week. We are stronger together. 

Thanks again for reaching out to us throughout the session. Special thanks to our long list of 2017 Star Sponsors and for those making early contributions to the new Georgia AgPAC. This support is what will help us lead our industry now and in the future. We are very grateful.

We appreciate the excellent engagement in our poll last week. Our question was: 
Which of these US Dept of Ag (USDA) responsibilities would you like to see be more of a focus?

Here is how you voted:
1.       Play a direct role with U.S. EPA in crafting regulations impacting ag (51%)

2.       Help lead in the development of farm labor programs (30%)

3.       Advance public hearings in the southeast for the upcoming Farm Bill (13%)
4.       Rework USDA programs to improve the viability of dairy farms (6%)

After reviewing the bills below, which do you believe will benefit agribusiness the most?
Rural Georgia initiatives
Ad valorem tax relief on leased farm equipment
CUVA update that includes solar panels and farm worker housing
Liability protections for livestock management practices
State budget support of agriculture programs & projects

We are very pleased to have HB 238 by Rep. Matt Hatchett (Dublin) and Sen. Tyler Harper (Ocilla) make it to the finish line. It provides three very important changes to Conservation Use Valuation Assessment (CUVA) and Forest Land Protection Act (FLPA) programs. What started out as a bill dealing solely with solar panels, morphed into a key bill for the Council. As discussed in previous reports, we were successfully updated the definition of “family farm entity” that now includes ‘entities created by the merger of two or more entities which independently qualify as a family owned farm entity.’ This important change is key for farm mergers already in place as well as those that will develop in the future. The solar panel provisions allow installation on CUVA with just a one-year tax penalty for breach of the area where the solar panels are installed. The bill also includes a carve out for farm worker housing if it is provided to workers at no charge – this will aid those utilizing the H2A or H2B farm worker programs. Even without the solar panel or farmworker housing provisions, this bill is very important for our industry. It now awaits Governor Deal's signature.

HB 290
  by  Rep. Sam Watson  (Moultrie) is awaiting the signature of Governor Deal to become law. It will clarify to many Georgia county tax offices that leased farm equipment to family farm operations is NOT subject to property tax. This will save cash and headaches for the farms and farm equipment dealers that have been caught up in confusion created by county tax officials. A special thanks to GAC members, John Deere and AGCO, for providing examples of county tax assessors misinterpreting the law and charging property taxes when they shouldn’t.

We are very grateful for the makeup of the FY 2018 State Budget (HB 44) as it proved to be beneficial to a wide spectrum of ag interests. The respective Appropriations Committee Chairmen, Rep. Terry England and Sen. Jack Hill, provide outstanding leadership to this essential process. We encourage you to view this short video of Rep. England as he gives a brief overview of issues benefiting agriculture.

Budget gains include:
* UGA Experiment Station and Extension Service over $6.25 million that is sorely needed to maintain and operate their many buildings and facilities.
* Funds for additional veterinarians dedicated to food animal practice and for disease surveillance were included. 
* Georgia Department of Agriculture 
food safety, plant and animal industry positions. 
* Bond money for the  Poultry Science Research Facilities  in Athens and for structures at the National Fairgrounds in Perry for a livestock facility, birthing center and an expansion of the Georgia Grown building .
In addition, the Georgia Forestry Commission picked up substantial funds for equipment in the FY 2017 adjusted budget and in a One Georgia grant.

There is a lot to like about these state investments in our industry.  

With the approval of Governor Deal in the weeks ahead, this long-awaited bill will provide needed liability protections for livestock (cattle, goats, sheep, and swine) interests. The protections provided by HB 50 will help encourage farmers and farm facilities to help educate future generations on livestock management with less threat of a lawsuit should someone become injured. Only a posted hazard sign is required to receive the protections. 
As pictured above, we congratulate Will Bentley of the GA Cattlemen’s Association, Rep. Clay Pirkle (Ashburn), and Alex Bradford of the GA Farm Bureau for grinding this bill out for the past few years. We appreciate Sen. Ellis Black (Valdosta) for handling this bill in the Senate on Tuesday, where it received a unanimous vote. This new state policy will help advance livestock programs for 4-H, FFA, and ag education students across the state.  
HB 49, also by Rep. Pirkle, passed earlier this session and is now available for the Governor to sign. The legislation establishes a 3-year livestock dealer and market operator license for a fee to ensure they are following existing surety requirements. The fee is not to exceed $200 for livestock market operators or $25 for dealers.
SR 152 by Sen. Frank Ginn (Danielsville) awaits the Governor’s signature. In partnership with House Natural Resource & Environment Chair  Lynn Smith (Newnan) , it will create a joint study committee to explore issues related to stream buffers on state waters. We support this study committee focus on Georgia stream buffers to ensure property rights and environmental stewardship are considered before any new laws are created. Meetings will be held this summer to discuss these issues.

"Georgia Agribusiness and Rural Jobs Act," by Rep. Jason Shaw (Lakeland), stalled in the final weeks of the session, but was fortunately added to SB 133 by Sen. Larry Walker (Perry) and passed on the final day of session by the slimmest of margins. The challenges in rural Georgia for access to capital for business growth will be aided by this legislation. This bill will provide a $100 million fund through a partnership of private equity groups and state tax credits to stimulate economic and job growth in rural counties - click here to see a video summary. We appreciate the excellent work by GAC member Rep. Shaw to lead this initiative and excellent management by Sen. Walker to pass this bill. It now needs the approval of Governor Deal.

HB 73 by Rep. Penny Houston (Nashville) called the “Revitalization of Vacant Rural Georgia Act,” is designed to encourage investment, job creation, and economic growth in long-established business districts with the incentive of tax credits in rural downtown areas. We are proud to say that this bill passed the Senate on Tuesday and now heads to the Governor to sign. 

HR 389 creates the House Rural Development Council that would look to address the problems facing rural Georgia. Click here to view a brief video detailing this initiative. The Senate introduced SR 392 that would create the Senate Rural Georgia Study Committee which is a similar initiative. They both passed their respective chambers with overwhelming support.

We applaud all of these initiatives to advance opportunities and further explore the challenges facing rural areas all across the state. 

HB 437  by Rep. Robert Dickey (Musella)  is a bill establishing the Agriculture Education Advisory Commission. It will evaluate and provide reports on the conditions, needs, issues, and problems facing our state's ag education division. A similar initiative was utilized in the past with great success. This bill awaits the Governor's signature.
A.M. Bickley Inc.
Barrington Dairies
Bay Branch Farms, Inc.
Choice Wood Inc.
Clay Co. & Associates
Curry Farm Supply Inc.
 Davis M. Love III and Robin B. Love 
Docia Farms
Doerun Gin Co. Inc.
Doug Hopkins
Dollar Farm Products Co. Inc. 
Embry Farm Services
GA Ag. Commodity Commission for Tobacco
GA Association of Professional Ag. Consultants
Georgia Peach Council
Georgia Poultry Federation
Georgia Seed Association Inc.
Georgia Watermelon Association
Greg Sikes Farm, LLC
Hattaway Farms Partnerships
Holifield Farms Inc.
Israel Farm Supply Inc.
J & B Irrigation Inc.

Leger & Son, Inc.
Majors Electric & Mechanical Co., Inc.
Oak Hill Farm
Pike Creek Turf, Inc.
Pitts Insurance Agency Inc.

Plantation Seed Conditioners, Inc.
Quality Gin, Inc.
Saddle Creek Farm
Swainsboro Stockyard
TriEst Ag Group, Inc.
Vidalia Onion Business Council
Special thanks to our 2017 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!
HB 481 by House Transportation Chairman Kevin Tanner (Dawsonville) limits local regulations on unmanned aircraft or drones. Local governments that already have laws in place will stand but any new ordinances must fall under the guidelines set by the Federal Aviation Administration. With new advances in drone technology and agriculture, we view this as a positive step forward. It passed out of the Senate on Tuesday and now goes to the desk of the Governor.

Further proof that defeating bad bills is just as important as passing good ones, we opposed SB 115 in the Senate Agriculture Committee early in the session and we were pleased the bill never advanced, however it is still viable for 2018. While there are some legitimate concerns about the use of ethanol in fuel, this bill would prohibit the sale of ethanol gasoline throughout Georgia. We highlighted the important economic benefits of ethanol availability and the impact of a stable corn market for Georgia farms. 
There were several initiatives coming from the Georgia Department of Agriculture this year and they passed out of both chambers early in the session. HB 176 allows the Georgia DOA to inspect and enforce federal provisions rather than having the federal government perform these inspections. SB 69 is a housekeeping bill that strikes language requiring organic food operations register under the Georgia DOA. The USDA already requires this under federal statute so this bill will simplify the registering process. Lastly, SB 78 allows the Department of Ag to issue specific variances to certain food safety regulations. These are all initiatives requested by the department.
HB 208 adjusts the fees for hunting, trapping and fishing licenses to be on par with similar licenses in southeastern states. It is expected to raise an additional $13 million in fees to assist the Georgia Department of Natural Resources in maintaining the high standards set for managing hunting and fishing facilities. This was an important initiative of Governor Deal and it is now on his desk for signature.

Early in the session, House Ways & Means Chairman Jay Powell (Camilla) introduced HR 51 and  HB 85 . This constitutional amendment and its enabling legislation seek to update the mechanism for determining the fair market value of forest land, creating more uniform formula reimbursing counties for tax revenue losses from the FLPA program, and create a new category of taxable property for timberland. We expect to see these bills build momentum in the Senate Finance Committee next year. 
HR 238  and  HB 332  by Rep. Sam Watson would create the GA Outdoor Stewardship Trust Fund. It provides for a Constitutional Amendment that would authorize 75% of all state sales tax collected from sales of outdoor recreation equipment be dedicated to the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Trust Fund. The funds would be used specifically for protection and preservation of conservation land and for state operated recreation facilities. Governor Deal has great interest in issue. If passed, the proposed constitutional amendment would be placed on the ballot for voters to consider.
During meetings this week with the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) and the Georgia Rural Caucus , the challenges of water management loomed large as spring arrives and planting season gets underway. Georgia EPD Director Rick Dunn reported to the DNR Board that, even with rain in recent months, Lake Lanier is still nearly 10 feet below full pool. When the 2007-2008 drought began, Lake Lanier was down just four feet at the same time of year. This sets the stage for continued or increased outdoor water use restrictions for much of the metro Atlanta area and will have an impact on tufgrass, greenhouse and nursery growers/retailers.  At the Rural Caucus luncheon Wednesday, Doug Wilson of the Georgia Water Planning and Policy Center  (photo) shared insight on historic and current stream flows in southwest Georgia. The planting season is already off to a dry start and streams have not benefited from much rainfall in recent weeks. These conditions, especially on the heals of the water war ruling a few weeks ago by the U.S. Supreme Court Special Master, are leading toward some very difficult decisions by Georgia EPD if drought conditions do not improve.  
*The Senate introduced SR 507 recognizing Sonny Perdue. The resolution commends the former Governor for his dedication to our state and congratulates him on his nomination as the United States Agriculture Secretary. Sonny's nomination passed the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee this week. He now awaits confirmation by the U.S. Senate, which is expected to take place in the next few weeks. 

*Celebrate Georgia’s strawberry industry on April 21 & 22 in Reynolds, GA as the Georgia Strawberry Festival gets underway. Learn more at www.ga-strawberry.org

*Registration is now live for the Georgia Forestry Association's 2017 Annual Conference and Forestry Expo on July 21-23 in Jekyll Island.  Click here for more info.
*The Georgia Plant Food Educational Society will be having their Summer meeting July 23rd - 26th at the Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island. Register today!

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.

Georgia Agribusiness Council | 706-336-6830 | WWW.GA-AGRIBUSINESS.ORG