Capitol Update Issue 2
Last week was relatively quiet, with the General Assembly experiencing the same "middle of the week weekend" that many of us experienced due to icy weather conditions. Even before the snow, the General Assembly had only scheduled two legislative days last week due to the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday and for the appropriations hearings being held to work on the only bill they are required to pass -- that being the annual budget. Some meetings were held on Tuesday before the weather hit, but the Appropriations Committees did lose a day-and-a-half of hearings. The Senate and House Chambers did hold session on both Thursday and Friday as scheduled, but both were abbreviated. 

With few full days to move bills, Week 2 did not yield many major developments. However, the Senate did pass their first bill for the session and it had been a very contentious one. HB 159 (aka the adoption reform bill) had been seen as one of the bills that could set the tone for the entire session. The bill passed both chambers last year, but the Senate version included so-called "religious liberty" language that was similar to legislation that has been passed or considered in other states - and has led to significant, negative impacts on economic development in those states where it has passed. Speaker Ralston was very clear in his stance that he would not be in a hurry to pass anything out of the House until the Senate had passed a "clean" version of the adoption reform bill (i.e. without the religious liberty language) this year. Last Thursday (Day 5), the Senate debated this important issue for a few hours before ultimately passing the bill by a vote of 40 - 13. There were some additional changes to the bill:
  • The controversial language regarding the rights of adoption agencies affiliated with religious organizations was removed.
  • The 10-day mandatory waiting period has been changed to 72 hours.
  • The addition of language from HB 359, which allows a parent to give power-of-attorney over a child to a close friend or family member temporarily in certain circumstances.
The addition of language from HB 359 was in response to the Governor's veto statement, "I believe a comprehensive foster care/adoption reform legislative package is in Georgia's best interests in 2018," when he vetoed that bill last year. The Senate believes that including the language from HB 359 in just such a comprehensive adoption reform bill is the best approach to addressing the Governor's expressed concerns. 

Another piece of legislation that caught a lot of interest this week was HB 674, crafted by Chairman Wendall Willard (R-Sandy Springs). The legislation waives sovereign immunity for any claim "seeking a declaratory judgment or injunctive relief against the state or any political subdivision," although it continues to bar actions for money damages unless sovereign immunity was specifically waived. Although Governor Deal vetoed a previous bill with nearly the exact language by Rep. Willard in 2016, he feels this new legislation is a starting point to hear more opinions of those concerned. Where previous Attorney General Sam Olens did not support the legislation, current Attorney General, Chris Carr, dedicated a subcommittee to the topic in Gov. Deal's Court Reform Council. Carr is reviewing the language before commenting. There is a subcommittee hearing on the bill Monday afternoon and we will report the results next week.
Legislation ACEC Georgia is Following
The following are the bills dropped last week that ACEC Georgia will be tracking and working: 

HB 653  - By Rep. Jason Spencer (R-Woodbine) would allow certain professional licensing boards to suspend the license of a person upon notice of nonpayment or default on a federal educational loan or service conditional scholarship, but the licensing boards are not required to do so.  STATUS: Assigned to House Regulated Industries.

HB 704 - By Rep. Michael Caldwell (R-Woodstock) creates a statute of limitations as it relates to actions on recovery for deficiencies connected with improvements to realty and resulting injuries as it pertains to all causes of action for trespass upon or damage to real property due to the burying of construction waste or materials.  STATUS: Not assigned to a committee yet.

SB 324  - By Sen. John Albers (R-Alpharetta) would allow any municipality to contract with any county abutting that municipality's corporate limits for the construction and maintenance of a bridge within the limits of both the municipality and county.  STATUS: Assigned to Senate Transportation.


The following are the bills ACEC Georgia has reported on but have not had a "status" update. ACEC Georgia will continue to follow and report on all of 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.

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. 

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. 

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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