2017 Legislative Recap
The mission of the Georgia Conservancy is to protect and conserve Georgia’s natural resources through advocacy, engagement and collaboration. That mission no better manifests itself than in our work at the Georgia State Capitol during the General Assembly’s yearly legislative session.
In our pursuit to strengthen the legal frameworks that provide our state with necessary environmental protections, we must advocate for and against bills, engage with our members and with lawmakers, and collaborate with our partners. Our balanced approach at the State Capitol is key to our goal of forwarding a culture of conservation in Georgia - one in which people and the environment thrive.
Before the session began, we made the passage of a number of pieces of legislation a priority, including stronger regulations on the siting, permitting and construction of petroleum pipelines, as well as an increase in hunting and fishing licensing fees. Bills that successfully addressed these priorities passed the General Assembly and have moved to the Governor's desk. Other priority legislation of the Georgia Conservancy, such as the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Act and the clarification of our freshwater buffer regulations were introduced during the session and will move forward into the 2018 Legislative Session for consideration.
Click here to read our comprehensive update from the final week of the 2017 Legislative Session.
Legislation that we reported on or tracked in 2017:
Petroleum Pipeline Regulations - House Bill 413
HB 413 passed both legislative chambers after a number of rounds of procedural back-and-forth. The final bill that will move to the Governor’s desk addressed many of the Georgia Conservancy’s concerns as they relate to the siting, permitting and construction of petroleum pipelines in Georgia, providing the state with the necessary guidelines from which deny or approve such projects.
Click here to learn more about our work on this issue
State Hunting & Fishing License Fees – House Bill 208
HB 208 will adjust and simplify the fee structure for Georgia’s hunting and fishing licenses. There has not been a fee increase since 1992. These fees are crucial to funding the conservation of state lands and waters, providing improved access for recreation and opportunities for more technical assistance, educational programs and habitat management.
Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) estimates that the license fee adjustment will bring in approximately $9 million each year in revenue to the State and will also allow for additional federal matching dollars each year.
Recognition of Georgia Conservancy 50th Anniversary - House Resolution 226 & Senate Resolution 289
This joint resolution recognizes the Georgia Conservancy 50 years of advocating for the protection and conservation of our state’s natural resources.
Click here to see photos from Georgia Conservancy Day at the State Capitol
Recognition of Georgia Water Trails - House Resolution 281
This resolution encourages the use of and highlights the tremendous positive benefits that Georgia’s water trails have on education, recreation, conservation and the environment.
Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Act - House Bill 332 & House Resolution 238
House Bill 332, the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Act (GOSA), seeks to establish a dedicated and sustainable source of funding for land conservation in Georgia. GOSA did not pass the House before Crossover Day. The Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Act, along with companion legislation (House Resolution 238) that called for a required November 2018 voter referendum, proposed that 75% of the existing sales and use tax on outdoor recreation equipment be dedicated for the protection of the state's water, wildlife and quality of life. The bill will be considered again during the 2018 legislative session.
The Georgia Conservancy and a coalition of partners will continue to encourage support for GOSA legislation during the interim and in 2018.
Click here to learn more about the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Act
Shore Protection Act - House Bill 271
HB 271, which was tabled during the 2017 session, seeks to amend Georgia's Shore Protection Act (SPA) in order to redefine and clarify the landward jurisdictional boundary of the SPA. Though tabled, HB 271’s proposed measures will be studied by the Senate Natural Resources Committee during the interim.
The Shore Protection Act became law in 1979 to ensure that the sand sharing system was protected from adverse impacts from human activity. The sand sharing system is the network of dunes, beaches, shoals and sandbars. This network is what protects the barrier islands from storms, erosion and corresponding property loss or damage. The current jurisdictional line creates an unnecessary regulatory burden and often does not protect the fragile sand sharing systems closest to previously developed areas.
The Georgia Conservancy is working with DNR and the sponsors of the bill to better clarify the definition of sand dunes for the purposes of measuring the jurisdictional line.
Fresh Water Stream Buffers - Senate Resolution 152
SR 152 will create a Senate Study Committee to research and recommend a clarification of Georgia’s existing statutory stream buffer regulations. The Georgia Conservancy supports clarifying the line of demarcation from which the 25-foot and 50-foot buffers are measured to protect waters of the state.
Also, House Bill 525, a measure sponsored by Rep. Debbie Bucker to ensure that tax assessors consider buffer acreage in the assessment of fair market property values, did not pass, but its intent will be studied by the Committee established by SR 152.
The Georgia Conservancy will continue to monitor the Study Committee during the interim and will continue to advocate for a collaborative effort from a broad range of partners to clarify and strengthen the enforcement of our buffers.
Local Stormwater Fee Restrictions - Senate Bill 116
SB 116 seeks to prohibit counties or municipalities from collecting stormwater utility fees from water-neutral sites, which are defined as properties 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.
Such fee exemptions could potentially have devastating effects on a municipality's ability to provide essential services to residents, because much of the stormwater utility revenue comes from fees on water-neutral sites. Aside from essential day-to-day services, this revenue allows local authorities to reduce flooding, as well as replace or upgrade failing infrastructure.
SB 116 was tabled before crossover day and, through Senate Resolution 224, a Joint Study Committee has been established to review the intent of the bill and to make recommendations.
The Georgia Conservancy does not support the intent of SB 116 and will monitor the Senate Study Committee during the interim.
Oil and Gas Extraction Regulations - House Bill 205
House Bill 205 proposes new rules and stronger regulations for the extraction of oil and gas in Georgia, and the authority to create an Oil & Gas Board under certain circumstances.
The bill would establish much needed regulations on the extraction methods commonly known as fracking. The intent is to put in place statutory measures to properly protect Georgia's waters, especially those in Northwest Georgia, an area of the state that has seen an increased interest in gas extraction from its Conasauga Shale.
HB 205 passed the House, but an amended Senate version could not be agreed upon in conference committee before the close of the session.
Scrap Tire Collection Fee - Senate Bill 65
Not passed during the 2017 session, Senate Bill 65 seeks to amend an existing Georgia code that requires the collection of a scrap tire disposal fee by retailers when replacing old tires with new tires. The amendment would require the fee to be collected by the retailer whether or not the customer decides to relinquish the old tires to the retailer for disposal. Those fees will then be used by the retailer to dispose of any scrap tires that they may acquire. The bill would essentially require a scrap tire fee to be collected whenever new tires are replaced by a retailer.
The bill up for consideration during the 2018 Legislative Session.
Coal Ash Landfill Regulations – House Bill 387 & House Bill 388
These bills largely seek to make statute the Environmental Protection Division’s current regulatory guidance for the disposal of coal combustion residuals (CCRs) in landfills.
The Georgia Conservancy strongly supports EPD's existing procedures, as well as increased public notice and wants to ensure that any codifying of such procedures through legislation will not hinder the flexibility of EPD to swiftly and effectively respond to changing science, new best practices and new technologies under their current guidance.
HB 387 and HB 388 did not pass the House before Crossover Day and will be considered again during the 2018 Legislative Session.
Coal Ash Producer Liability - Senate Bill 165
SB 165 seeks to impose liability on any producer of coal who disposes ash in Georgia in the event of a release. The bill would require the owner of any coal ash disposal site to own at least $100 million in assets in this state or has posted a surety bond in an amount sufficient to cover any liability under this part.
The intent of this bill is to prevent the disposal of coal ash in Georgia from out-of-state operators. The Georgia Conservancy is supportive of efforts that will strongly limit the disposal of out-of-state coal ash within our borders, but does not feel that this bill effectively meets that standard.
SB 165 did not pass the Senate before Crossover Day and will be considered during the 2018 Legislative Session.
Georgia Commission on Transit Governance and Funding - House Bill 160
HB 160 seeks to establish the Georgia Commission on Transit Governance and Funding so as to study and assess the needs and means for providing a system of mass transportation and its facilities for metropolitan areas in Georgia, as well as potential funding for such a system. Its findings, recommendations and proposals would be submitted to the Governor, President of the Senate, Speaker of the House and Director of Planning.
Though the bill did not pass before Sine Die, House Resolution 848 passed and establishes a House Study Committee to review the intent of House Bill 160.
Georgia Space Flight Act - House Bill 1
HB 1 seeks to establish the Georgia Space Flight Act, which defines terms related to space flight and would limit the liability of space flight entities related to injuries sustained by any passengers of space flight. The bill is intended to further position Camden County as the chief candidate for the proposed Spaceport Camden.
HB 1 does not address any of our concerns as they relate to the potential environmental impacts of a Spaceport in Camden County. We will continue to monitor these bills and any legislative activities related to the proposed Spaceport Camden.
Click here to learn more about the proposed Spaceport Camden
Easing of Solar Installation Restrictions - House Bill 238
HB 238 allows for a breach of covenant without penalty for landowners whose property is under Conservation Use Valuation (CUVA) and/or Forest Land Protection (FLPA) for the purpose of the construction large-scale solar installations.
The bill passed and has moved the Governor’s desk.
Downtown Revitalization Tax Credits - House Bill 73
HB 73, which passed and will now move to the Governor’s desk, seeks to provide tax credit incentives to promote the revitalization of vacant rural Georgia downtowns by encouraging investment, job creation, and economic growth in long-established business districts.
Through our Sustainable Growth Program, the Georgia Conservancy is actively working to better the economic and environmental sustainability of Georgia’s small, rural towns. An active and thriving downtown is a key component to the future of such communities and HB 73 helps to encourage such growth.