Capitol Update from ACEC Georgia
The Georgia General Assembly was gaveled into session on Monday, January 8, 2018. With this being the second year of the two-year legislative session, there are many bills that were introduced last year that are still technically "alive" for consideration this year. ACEC Georgia will be tracking those bills (because, you never know), but keep in mind that most legislative time and attention will be focused on newly introduced legislation, rather than bills that already failed to make it to passage in the previous session. 

As per usual, the first week of the legislative session got off to a slow start, particularly with the emotional rollercoaster around the National Championship game. They did manage to pass an initial adjournment resolution (which lets us know what days the legislature will be in session), which will take us through Legislative Day 11:

January 18, Legislative Day 5 January 24, Legislative Day 9
January 19, Legislative Day 6 January 25, Legislative Day 10
January 22, Legislative Day 7 January 29, Legislative Day 11
January 23, Legislative Day 8
Transit Governance _ Funding
One issue that is expected to occupy a huge amount of legislative time and attention in both chambers is the effort to create a new framework for regional transit governance in the metro Atlanta region. Legislation is expected to be introduced that would create a new governance structure over all existing metro Atlanta transit agencies (MARTA, GRTA, Gwinnett Transit, Cobb Transit, etc.), with unified branding (such as "The ATL" proposed several years ago by Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Brandon Beach), a seamless payment system and coordinated routing. The new entity would also be responsible for planning future expansion and capital expenditures. 

This will be one of ACEC Georgia's top legislative priorities for the 2018 session. Stay tuned to these ACEC Georgia Capitol Updates for updates.
Rural Development
This legislative session will also be focused on ways to improve the climate for job creation and retention for rural Georgia communities. The House Rural Development Council was created last year to try to find solutions to the problems of loss of population, limited access to quality health care, poor infrastructure, diminished quality of educational opportunity, scarcity of employment opportunities, lack of high-speed broadband Internet access and overall lack of economic growth in rural Georgia. You can read the Council's final report HERE.
State of the State
Governor Nathan Deal gave his eighth and final State of the State Address to a joint session of the State House and Senate last week. His update was filled with reflection on the tremendous successes of his seven years in office; a level of success which Speaker Ralston stated in his introduction placed Gov. Deal (along with Carl Sanders and Zell Miller) among the greatest governors of the modern era. Uncharacteristically for Deal, the speech was also filled with a lot of emotion. There was a waver in Deal's voice as he spoke of looking back over his time as Georgia's Governor. There were few dry eyes in the House when he choked up as he spoke of the work done by First Lady Sandra Deal, who has visited over 800 schools around the state, reading to students, and learning what she and Governor Deal could do to improve literacy and learning for Georgia's children. 

While some of the speech was a well-deserved victory lap of all that his administration has accomplished, much of the speech was focused on sending the message that he isn't done yet. "There ain't nothing lame about this duck," he said, making it clear he plans to keep working to improve the state of our state in this legislative session and until the very end of his term, which is still a year away.
Budget Highlights
State Agency heads and others will present their budget requests this week to the Joint House and Senate Appropriations Committees and work will begin on the amended budget for the current fiscal year (the supplemental or "little budget"), making changes to appropriations made last session in light of actual revenue received thus far and more accurate revenue forecasts for the remainder of the fiscal year (which ends June 30). Then, work will commence on the "big budget" for the upcoming fiscal year. 

The amended FY2018 budget highlights include:
  • $17.6 million for Forestland Protection Act grants.
  • $10 million for the OneGeorgia Authority for beach nourishment projects.
  • $25.2 million for airport runway extension projects. 

FY2018 projects included: 

  • $241,775,000 in bonds for construction and renovation for local school systems and the Atlanta Area School for the Deaf.
  • $233,200,000 in bonds for new capital projects as well as major repairs and renovations at all University System institutions.
  • $8,295,000 in bonds for the renovation of Jenkins Hall at Georgia Military College.
  • $13,875,000 in bonds for major repairs and renovations and technology improvements for public libraries statewide.
  • $1,500,000 in bonds for infrastructure and equipment replacement and facility repairs and sustainment for the Georgia Public Telecommunications Commission.
  • $153,530,000 in bonds for new capital projects, as well as repairs, renovations, and equipment at all TCSG institutions.
  • $36,375,000 in bond funds for construction and equipment for a new crime lab in Savannah, Chatham County.
  • $2,400,000 in bond funds for the Georgia Grown Expansion building.
  • $8,780,000 in bond funds the Georgia Agricultural Exposition Authority for the construction of a covered equine area.
  • $6,500,000 in bond funds for the rehabilitation of flood control structures.
  • $8,000,000 in bond funds for water supply projects through the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority.
  • $55,000,000 in bond funds for planning, construction, and equipment for a new exhibition facility for the Georgia World Congress Center.
  • $1,670,000 in bond funds to construct two new boat houses and one regional office building to support law enforcement activities for the Department of Natural Resources.
  • $105,000,000 in bond funds for the construction of a new Judicial Complex Building.

The FY2019 budget highlights include:

  • $31.7 million in new motor fuel funds for transportation.
  • $100 million in bond funds to repair and replace bridges throughout the state.

FY2019 projects include:

  • $259,525,000 in bonds for construction and renovation projects for local school systems and $1,150,000 for facility improvements for state schools.
  • $1,675,000 in bonds for construction and renovation projects at Camp John Hope in Fort Valley and the FFA/FCCLA center in Covington.
  • $266,700,000 in bonds for new capital projects as well as major repairs and renovations at all University System institutions.
  • $2,000,000 in bonds for major repairs and renovations and technology improvements for public libraries statewide.
  • $1,900,000 in bonds for equipment at Georgia Military College.
  • $95,270,000 in bonds for new capital projects, as well as repairs, renovations, and equipment at all TCSG institutions.
The Week Ahead
The second week of the legislative session is traditionally "Budget Week," with Monday (yesterday) off for the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday and the rest of the week reserved for hearings by the House and Senate Appropriations Committees. Rather than taking the whole week off for budget hearings, they are bucking that recent trend and will actually be in session on Thursday and Friday of this week. Next week, they will be in session Monday through Thursday, taking us to Legislative Day 10 and end of the first quarter of the 40-day legislative session.
Legislation ACEC Georgia is Following
The following are the bills ACEC reported on from last session that are still "alive" and can be taken up this session. ACEC will continue to follow and report on all the following legislation: 

HB 55 - By Rep. Rick Williams (R-Milledgeville) is a proposal to institute term limits for the members of Georgia's professional licensing boards (limiting appointees to no more than eight consecutive years of service). As with last session, this legislation is unlikely to move forward. STATUS: Assigned to House Regulated Industries Committee. 

HB 59 - By Rep. Ron Stephens (R-Savannah) modifies Georgia's existing historic structures tax credit by eliminating the caps on non-residential structures and by making the tax credits more readily transferable. STATUS: Passed out of House Ways & Means Committee February 27, 2017 and Full House March 3, 2017. Passed out of Senate Finance Committee by substitute on March 22, 2017. Bill has been recommitted to and is now pending in the Senate Finance Committee.  

HB 68 - By Rep. Andrew Welch (R-McDonough) would require the creation of an emergency pull-off shoulder for the entire length of any GDOT road construction zone. As with last session, this legislation is unlikely to move forward. STATUS: Assigned to House Transportation Committee. 

HB 150 - By Rep. Allan Powell (R-Hartwell) would allow the State Road & Tollway Authority (SRTA) to place a hold on the motor vehicle registration of anyone who fails to pay tolls, after sufficient notice and opportunity to respond and pay the tolls and associated fines. It would also allow unpaid tolls and fines to be collected via state income tax refund set-off. More importantly, the version which passed the Senate on the final day of last year's session also includes language that extends the sunset on use of the Consumer Price Index in calculating Georgia's motor fuel excise tax for an additional four years, to July 1, 2022. STATUS: Senate Passed on March 30, 2017. House can vote to agree or disagree to Senate version. 

HB 158 - By Rep. Ron Stephens (R-Savannah) the "Destination Resort Act" is one of two identical companion bills [the other being SB 79 by Sen. Brandon Beach (R-Alpharetta)] that would allow for the construction and operation of two destination casino resorts in Georgia. One would be somewhere in the metro Atlanta area near a convention center district (think downtown Atlanta, near the Georgia World Congress Center) and with a minimum of 1,000 rooms and $2 billion in investment. The other would be located somewhere outside the metro area, also near a convention center (think Savannah), with a minimum investment of $450 million. One company cannot operate both resorts. A 20% tax on gross receipts that will go to the HOPE scholarship (70%) and needs-based scholarships (30%). The Act would require the approval of an amendment to the Georgia Constitution, which would be placed on the November 2018 ballot. STATUS: Assigned to House Regulated Industries Committee. 

HB 160 - By Rep. Kevin Tanner (R-Dawsonville) created the Georgia Commission on Transit Governance & Funding that was tasked with coming up with a plan for how Georgia's myriad transit services could be cohesively coordinated, integrated or even combined. The Commission met numerous times in the summer and fall of 2017, hearing testimony and engaging consultants to compile data and make recommendations. Chairman Tanner is expected to introduce sweeping legislation within the next few weeks that will provide a new transit governance structure, as well as recommending future funding sources for construction and operation of the unified transit structure. STATUS: The Commission has completed its work for now and new comprehensive governance and funding legislation is expected in the next few weeks.

HB 189 - By Rep. Sheila Nelson (D-Augusta) the "Contract Cancellation Act" would require any service contract with a state agency or local government to "contain specific performance and cost parameters" and require the service provider to submit quarterly reports to the governing authority showing the provider's compliance with those performance criteria. It would also allow all contracts to contain a provision allowing governing authority to unilaterally terminate the contract if the contractor fails to comply with the performance criteria or if projected annual costs exceed the cost established by the contract. Obviously, performance and cost criteria can be affected by conditions outside of the service provider's control, including acts of God (such as weather), actions of third parties or even the actions (or inaction) of the governing authority itself. This bill did not move until very late in the process and we are still working alongside other stakeholders (AGC, ABC and AIA) to understand the motivation behind the bill (i.e. what exactly is the problem this bill is trying to solve?) and to work with the Senate committee to educate them on the potential unintended consequences of this legislation. STATUS: Passed out of the House Government Affairs Committee on March 1, 2017 and the full House on March 6, 2017 by a vote of 156-13. Assigned to the Senate State & Local Government Operations Committee. 

HB 201 - By Rep. Ron Stephens (R-Savannah) would exempt transit busses and school buses from Georgia's motor fuel excise tax. STATUS: Assigned to House Ways & Means.  

HB 204 - By Rep. Brett Harrell (R-Snellville) would prohibit anything other than actual ad valorem property taxes from being included on property tax bills (i.e. no solid waste or stormwater fees on tax bills). There has been significant opposition to this legislation from local governments, particularly local stormwater authorities. The Senate passed a substitute version that gutted Rep. Harrell's original bill and replaced it with language exempting 501(c)(3) charitable tax-exempt corporations from the definition of innkeeper. Sen. Frank Ginn (R-Danielsville) chaired a Joint House Senate Study Committee which explored issues relating to stormwater fee collections, including placing them on property tax bills. Consensus of that joint committee seemed to fall on the side of leaving that issue alone. STATUS: Passed out of the House Ways & Means Committee on February 16, 2017 and out of the full House on February 28, 2017 by a vote of 111-61. Passed out of the Senate Finance Committee by substitute on March 22, 2017. Bill has been recommitted to and is now pending in the Senate Finance Committee. 

HB 248 - By Rep. Trey Kelley (R-Cedartown) seeks to provide a legal framework for the operation of autonomous motor vehicles on public roads. However, the legislation also presents some significant concerns that it may actually stifle the use and development of this emerging technology in Georgia if passed as is. STATUS: Assigned to House Transportation. 

HB 271 - By Rep. Jesse Petrea (R-Savannah) seeks to clarify and expand shore protections in coastal Georgia. STATUS: Passed out of the House Natural Resources & Environment Committee on February 23, 2017 and the full House on March 3, 2017 by a vote of 174-0. Assigned to Senate Natural Resources and the Environment Committee. 

HB 317 - By Rep. Todd Jones (R-Cumming) would lower the current annual fee for alternative fuel vehicles from $200 to $100, meaning alternative fuel vehicles would pay approximately half as much to maintain Georgia's roads as the drivers of conventional fuel vehicles, while having the same maintenance impact on those roads. ACEC Georgia opposes this legislation. STATUS: Assigned to the House Transportation Committee. 

HB 364 - By Rep. Matt Gurtler (R-Tiger) is identical to SB 58 by Sen. Josh McKoon and would completely eliminate the $5.00 per night hotel/motel room fee that makes up a significant portion of the new transportation revenues created by HB 170 in 2015. ACEC Georgia opposes this legislation.  STATUS: Assigned to the House Transportation Committee. 

HB 379 - By Rep. Kevin Tanner (R-Dawsonville) would create a new Georgia Public Road Authority which would be a public corporation established to provide financing alternatives for the construction of public roads throughout the state, including tolled facilities and public-private partnerships. STATUS: Assigned to the House Transportation Committee.

HR 284 - By Rep. Dominic LaRiccia (R-Douglas) created a House Study Committee on State & Local Construction Management to look at CM At-Risk vs. Design-Build and other methods of contracting to determine their impacts on the ability of small firms to compete for contracts, as well as potential efficiencies and cost-savings. STATUS: The study committee met several times over the summer and fall, however, there has been no final report issued at this time. 

HR 389 - By Rep. Sam Watson (R-Moultrie), but an initiative of Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge), created the House Rural Development Council to try to find solutions to the problems of loss of population, limited access to quality health care, poor infrastructure, diminished quality of educational opportunity, scarcity of employment opportunities and overall lack of economic growth in rural Georgia. STATUS: The study committee was held over the interim and you may read the final report HERE. 

SB 2 - By Sen. Mike Dugan (R-Carrollton) the FAST Act ("Fairness, Accountability, Simplification, and Transparency - Empowering Our Small Businesses to Succeed") seeks to eliminate duplicative rules, regulations and red tape to create a more efficient and transparent permitting process for Georgia businesses. It would require state agencies and local governments to set forth a specific turnaround time for processing licenses, permits and approvals as well as associated fees, including making available an expedited process available for an additional fee. If the agency fails to meet its timeline, the fee for that service would be reduced. ACEC Georgia supports this legislation.  STATUS: Passed out of the Senate Economic Development and Tourism Committee on February 15, 2017 and the full Senate on February 17, 2017. Passed out of House Small Business Development Committee on March 28, 2017 but was recommitted by the full House on March 30, 2017. Pending in House Small Business Development Committee.

SB 3 - By Sen. Lindsey Tippins (R-Marietta) the "Creating Opportunities Needed Now to Expand Credentialed Training (CONNECT) Act" would expand career education in grades 6 through 12, including new opportunities for internships, apprenticeships and cooperative learning and to provide a means of industry credentialing for those programs. It also requires closer collaboration between the Georgia Department of Education and the Technical College System of Georgia relative to identifying and addressing critical workforce needs through career education. STATUS: A Conference Committee was appointed on March 30, 2017 to hammer out the differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill but which failed to report. 

SB 17 - By Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford) is the so-called "Mimosa Mandate" bill (formerly known as the "Better Brunch Bill") to allow local governments to authorize the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages on Sundays starting at 10:30 a.m. (current law prohibits this activity until 12:30 p.m. on Sundays). STATUS: Assigned to Senate Regulated Industries & Utilities Committee. Since the Senate failed to move this bill last session, word is that Rep. Meagan Hanson (R-Brookhaven) will be reintroducing the Better Brunch Bill/Mimosa Mandate in the House this session. 

SB 19 - By Sen. Josh McKoon (R-Columbus) would require the State Treasurer to create an "Expenditure Database of the State of Georgia" that would show all expenditures made by any state entity to all vendors and which would be fully searchable online by a variety of search criteria. Vendor is defined in the legislation as anyone providing equipment, materials, goods, supplies or services to any state entity pursuant to a contract. STATUS: Assigned to Senate Government Oversight Committee.

SB 26 - By Sen. Josh McKoon (R-Columbus) would require local school boards to use "competitive sealed bidding" for any professional services contracts that exceed $50,000 in any calendar year. The bill only applies to local boards of education. STATUS: Assigned to Senate Education & Youth Committee. 

SB 27 - By Sen. Josh McKoon (R-Columbus) would require attorneys fees to be awarded to prevailing condemnees in condemnation cases. STATUS: Assigned to Senate Transportation Committee.  

SB 54 - By Sen. Josh McKoon (R-Columbus) creates new regulations around autonomous vehicles. STATUS: Assigned to Senate Transportation Committee. 

SB 58 - By Sen. Josh McKoon (R-Columbus) would completely eliminate the $5.00 per night hotel/motel room fee that makes up a significant portion of the new transportation revenues created by HB 170 in 2015. ACEC Georgia will be joined by many organizations in opposing this bill. STATUS: Assigned to Senate Education & Youth Committee. 

SB 67 - By Sen. John Albers (R-Roswell) the "Bring Small Businesses Back to Georgia Act" is a regulatory reform bill focused on small businesses (defined as an independently-owned business having less than 50 employees or less than $4 million in gross annual sales). It would amend the administrative procedures act relative to state agency rule making authority, requiring a cost-benefit analysis, expanded notice and hearing requirements, as well as requiring amendment or repeal of two existing rules for every new rule proposed. It would also require hearings by standing legislative committees of jurisdiction and review and reports every four years by each agency of all rules and regulations, their efficacy, complaints received, etc. STATUS: Assigned to Senate Economic Development & Tourism Committee. 

SB 79 - By Sen. Brandon Beach (R-Alpharetta) the "Destination Resort Act" is one of two companion bills [an identical bill will be introduced in the House by Rep. Ron Stephens (R-Savannah)] that would allow for the construction and operation of two destination casino resorts in Georgia. One would be somewhere in the metro Atlanta area near a convention center district (think downtown Atlanta, near the Georgia World Congress Center) and with a minimum of 1,000 rooms and $2 billion in investment. The other would be located somewhere outside the metro area, also near a convention center (think Savannah), with a minimum investment of $450 million. One company cannot operate both resorts. A 20 percent tax on gross receipts that will go to the HOPE scholarship (70 percent) and needs-based scholarships (30 percent). The Act would require the approval of an amendment to the Georgia Constitution, which would be placed on the November 2018 ballot. STATUS: Assigned to Senate Regulated Industries.

SB 89 - By Sen. David Shafer (R-Duluth) would create a Georgia Freight Railroad Program within the Georgia DOT and would facilitate the expenditure of additional appropriations by the General Assembly for purposes of improving freight and passenger railway and crossing infrastructure. ACEC Georgia supports this legislation.  STATUS: Passed out of the Senate Transportation Committee on February 7, 2017 and the full Senate on February 15, 2017 by a vote of 49-0. Pending in House Transportation Committee. 

SB 116 - By Sen. Frank Ginn (R- Danielsville) exempts properties deemed to be "water-neutral" from all local government stormwater fees. The bill defines water-neutral as " a property designed to achieve control of water runoff from a 25-year, 24-hour storm event in a manner consistent with the Georgia Stormwater Management Manual" as certified by a professional engineer. STATUS: Bill was assigned to Senate Regulated Industries on February 7, 2017. The Senate decided to have a study committee (SR 224) on storm water management fees (SR 224) look further into the issue. The study committee recommended that the utility determining the fees should use best practices that will be developed jointly by The Georgia Association of Water Professionals (GAWP), Association of County Commissioners of Georgia (ACCG), Georgia Municipal Association (GMA), along with other organizations. No further action on this bill is expected. 

SB 210 - By Sen. Bruce Thompson (R-White) the "Georgia Government Accountability Act" would create a Legislative Sunset Advisory Committee that would be tasked with reviewing individual state agencies and departments to determine if they should be abolished and their responsibilities transferred to another agency. STATUS: Assigned to the Senate Government Oversight Committee. 

SB 232 - By Sen. Steve Gooch (R-Dahlonega) the "Facilitating Internet Broadband Rural Expansion (FIBRE) Act" would create incentives for public and/or private entities to expand gigabit or higher broadband services to areas within the state where such services are not currently available. STATUS: Assigned to Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities Committee. 

SB 233 - By Sen. Marty Harbin (R-Tyrone) is a drastically scaled down version of the so-called "religious liberty" or RFRA (Religious Freedom Restoration Act) bills that have been introduced over the past several years. This version would simply make Georgia subject to the existing Federal RFRA statute that was passed in 1993. Opponents in Georgia's business community believe this legislation would result in significant damage to our state's economy and welcoming, business-friendly reputation... sentiments that have been echoed by Governor Deal, Speaker Ralston and other leaders... and which have grown even louder with Georgia in the running for the Amazon HQ2 project and the 50,000 jobs it would bring. ACEC Georgia opposes this legislation. STATUS: Assigned to the Senate Rules Committee. 

SR 152 - By Sen. Frank Ginn (R-Danielsville) would create a "Joint Study Committee on Stream Buffers in Georgia" to look into best practices from around the southeast and recommend new stream buffer legislation in 2018 that would "strike the proper balance between water protection and private property rights." ACEC Georgia supported this legislation.  STATUS: Passed out both chambers last session. Committee was co-chaired by Sen. Ginn and Rep. Lynn Smith (R-Newnan) and held several meetings around the state in the fall. The committee concluded that certain areas needed further study by the legislature. Meanwhile, the Georgia EPD will create a manual of best practices, which should resolve these issues. 

SR 224 - By Sen. Frank Ginn (R-Danielsville) created a "Joint Study Committee on Storm-Water Management Fees" which met several times over the summer and fall in different cities around the state. STATUS: The study committee recommended that the utility determining the fees should use best practices that will be developed jointly by The Georgia Association of Water Professionals (GAWP), Association of County Commissioners of Georgia (ACCG), Georgia Municipal Association (GMA), along with other organizations. 

The following are bills either prefiled or dropped this session that ACEC will be tracking and working: 

HB 674 - By Rep. Wendell Willard (R-Sandy Springs) would waive the government's sovereign immunity in cases for declaratory judgments or other injunctive relief. STATUS: Assigned to the House Judiciary Committee. 

SR 312 - By Sen. Joshua McKoon (R-Columbus) would place a fee on expedited processing and filing of corporate documents in the Secretary of State's office. Provided the fee not exceed $50 per filing. STATUS: Prefiled, which means it was dropped before the legislative session began and has yet to be assigned to a committee. 

SR 576 - By Sen. Joshua McKoon (R-Columbus) will no longer require proceeds from corporate filing fees in the Secretary of the State's office to be deposited into the general fund. Rather, The General Assembly may dedicate any part or all of the funds to go back into administration of the office. STATUS: Prefiled, which means it was dropped before the legislative session began and has yet to be assigned to a committee. 

SR 577 - By Sen. Joshua McKoon (R-Columbus) will no longer require proceeds from licensing fees in the Secretary of the State's office to be deposited into the general fund. Rather, The General Assembly may dedicate any part or all of the funds to go back into administration of the office. STATUS: Prefiled, which means it was dropped before the legislative session began and has yet to be assigned to a committee.
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