2018 Legislative Update

Week 6 of the 2018 Georgia General Assembly Legislative Session

Welcome to the Georgia Conservancy's legislative update for the fifth week of the 2018 Legislative Session. 

We're at the Georgia State Capitol every day of the legislative session pushing for conservation-minded bills and fighting against legislation that would roll back the advancements that we've already made. If you are interested in receiving our weekly legislative updates, please click here. We will provide you with updates every week of the legislative session.

Important Dates:

  • Crossover Day, the last day for a piece of legislation to pass the chamber in which it was introduced for it to be considered by the other chamber, is set for February 28.
  • Fondly referred to as Sine Die, Latin for "without day," this year's legislative session ends on March 29th.

There are often many surprises that arrive during the three month session. Some of these surprises may be welcome pieces of legislation that will be of benefit to Georgia's natural resources, while others could have dire consequences for our state.  

As the session progresses and more bills are filed, our weekly summary will become more comprehensive. This session, we are focusing on a number of important issues and anticipate the filing of a number of bills that will have an impact on Georgia's natural resources.


The following bills are of high importance to the Conservancy.  We will keep a dedicated eye on these measures during this 2018 Legislative Session:

Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Act - House Bill 332 & House Resolution 238

Please note: House Resolution 238, companion legislation to House Bill 332, was amended this week by the House Ways and Means Committee after being recommitted by the House Rules Committee. The amended version then unanimously passed Ways & Means. Please see those changes in bold below. House Bill 332, which will be heard by the Environmental Quality Subcommittee of the House Committee on Natural Resources the the Environment on Tuesday morning, will be amended so as to reflect the changes made to HR 238. We will keep you updated on any and all amendments of HB 332.

Currently, House Bill 332, the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Act (GOSA), sponsored by Rep. Sam Watson (R-172), would create a dedicated and sustainable source of funding for land conservation in Georgia. The Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Act, along with companion legislation House Resolution 238 which calls for a required November 2018 voter referendum, proposes that up to 0.75% of the existing state sales and use tax would be annually dedicated to the protection of the state's land, water, wildlife and quality of life.

Our state currently lacks a dedicated funding mechanism for the conservation for priority lands, the stewardship of state parks and wildlife management areas, and the support of local parks and preserves - the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Act seeks to change that.

With the goal of conserving Georgia’s precious natural resources – its people, jobs, land and water – through a sustainable source of funding for land and water conservation, The Georgia Conservancy, The Nature Conservancy, Trust for Public Land, Georgia Wildlife Federation, The Conservation Fund and Park Pride joined forces in 2010 as a coalition advocating for dedicated conservation funding.

Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Act seeks to:

  • Dedicate up to 0.75% of the existing state sales and use tax annually for the purpose of the protection and preservation of conservation land. 
  • Provide for the acquisition of critical areas for the provision or protection of clean water, game, wildlife, or fisheries, or natural-resource-based outdoor recreation.
  • Aid local governments in the acquisition and improvement of local parks and trails.
  • Provide for the stewardship of conservation lands through maintenance and restoration projects.

Georgia's natural resources play a critical role in job creation and the economic health of communities throughout the state. Conservation funds generated by the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Act would have a significant impact on our ability to conserve and protect our lands and waters and to continue to attract hunters, anglers and other outdoor enthusiasts who contribute to our tourism and recreation economy. Access to outdoor space also plays a key role in the state's efforts to promote a healthier population. Finally, it is important to note that Georgia's economic competitors, such as Texas, Virginia, Alabama and Florida, all have programs in place to ensure conservation funding.

From within the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Act, dollars would also be made available in each fiscal year for loans to any city, county, or nongovernmental entity to defray the costs of acquisition of conservation land or of conservation easements placed upon property that ensure its permanent protection as conservation land.

To allow for the dedicated allocation of tax revenue, the Constitution of Georgia would first have to be amended and the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Act would seek to accomplish this through the creation of a ballot initiative presented to Georgia voters during the fall 2018 election cycle. House Resolution 238 introduces this ballot initiative.

It is estimated that the proposal would generate as much as $40 million annually and would better position Georgia to compete for additional investment from federal, private and philanthropic entities. 

Click here to learn more about the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Coalition.
Click here to read last month's AJC article on the benefits of the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Act.

On Tuesday morning, House Bill 332 will be heard by the Environmental Quality Subcommittee of the House Committee on Natural Resources and the Environment.

The amended version of House Resolution 238 has unanimously passed the House Ways & Means Committee.
 
The Georgia Conservancy strongly supports the passage of House Bill 332 and House Resolution 238.


Shore Protection Act - House Bill 271

HB 271 seeks to amend Georgia's Shore Protection Act (SPA) in order to redefine and clarify the landward jurisdictional boundary of the SPA. HB 271’s proposed measures were 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.

The Georgia Conservancy supports legislation clarifying and redefining the jurisdictional boundary of the SPA and will continue to explore options with our partners that will further the landward extension of the line.

House Bill 271 passed the House during the 2017 Legislative Session and has been assigned to the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and the Environment.


Dedicated Fees - House Resolution 158

HR 158, sponsored by Rep. Jay Powell (R-171) proposes an amendment to the state constitution that would require the state to "dedicate", or spend fees on the specific purposes for which the fees were collected.

Since the economic downturn of 2007-08, Georgia lawmakers have relied on a practice of diverting to the state's general fund fees that are collected for specific purposes.

For example, the tire fee on new tire purchases that is supposed to fund the clean-up of dangerous tire dumps has been diverted to other state activities and programs. The diversion of fee income has left the state with inadequate funds to properly clean-up these tire dumps that pose a threat to the public safety, health and the environment. HR 158 would prohibit this practice.

House Resolution 158 has passed the full House and will now move to the Senate.

The Georgia Conservancy supports the passage the House Resolution 158
 

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.

During 2017, HB 205 passed the House, but an amended Senate version could not be agreed upon in conference committee before the close of the session.

After a conference committee was appointed at the end of the 2017 Legislative Session. The Conference Committee report has been adopted by the House and currently waiting to be agreed upon by the Senate.

The Georgia Conservancy supports the passage of House Bill 205 as passed by the House.


Offshore Oil and Gas Exploration - House Resolution 1041 and Senate Resolution 706

House Resolution 1041, sponsored by Rep. Carl Gilliard (D-162), and Senate Resolution 706, sponsored by Sen. Lester Jackson (D-2), are bi-partisan measures that oppose seismic testing and oil and gas drilling off of Georgia's coast. The resolutions ask for the General Assembly to express their support for Georgia's fishing and coastal tourism industries, extensive salt marsh and marine mammals, as well as opposition to offshore oil and gas exploration.

House Resolution 1041 is currently in the House Committee on Energy, Utilities and Telecommunications.  Senate Resolution 706 is currently in Senate Committee on Natural Resources and the Environment.

The Georgia Conservancy strongly supports the passage of both resolutions and urges Chairmans Rep. Don Parson and Sen. Tyler Harper to hear their respective chamber's resolutions.
Please read our statement on offshore oil and gas exploration.



Coal Ash Landfill Dewatering Notifications - House Bill 879

Introduced last week, House Bill 879, sponsored by Rep. Jeff Jones (R-167), provides for new coal combustion residual (CCR) definitions in the code section and requires the owner or operator of a coal ash pond to provide notifications to the local governing authority and public before the start of dewatering practices at CCR surface impoundments. 

House Bill 879 has not yet been assigned to a House committee.

The Georgia Conservancy is currently evaluating and monitoring House Bill 879.


Coal Ash Landfill Regulations & Requirements - House Bill 880

Introduced last week, House Bill 880, sponsored by Rep. Jeff Jones (R-167), provides guidelines and requirements for coal ash disposal in public and private landfills, as well as sets up a public notification process for landfills accepting coal ash.

House Bill 880 has not yet been assigned to a House committee.

The Georgia Conservancy is currently evaluating and monitoring House Bill 880.


Fresh Water Stream Buffers

During the 2017 Legislative Session, Senate Resolution 152 created a Senate Study Committee to research and recommend a clarification of Georgia’s existing statutory stream buffer regulations, and to review the intent of the bill and to make recommendations. Its report can be read here.

We will be monitoring any potential legislation that may come forward from the Study Committee during this session.

Stream buffers help to keep pollution, dirt from construction sites and other “run-off” from roads, roofs, farm fields, etc. out of our rivers and streams. By providing for a clear definition of state water buffers, potentially destructive development near rivers and streams - developments that could damage our water supply, harm species, and affect everything from property values to recreational opportunities, such as fishing, boating and swimming - can be stopped.

The Georgia Conservancy strongly supports the clarification of statutory regulations that define the line of demarcation from which the 25-foot and 50-foot buffers will be measured to protect waters of the state. We advocate for a collaborative effort to clarify and strengthen the enforcement of our buffers.


Working Forests License Plate - House Bill 695
 
HB 695, sponsored by seeks to establish a specialty license plate honoring Georgia’s working forests and the benefits they provide to Georgians and wildlife habitat.

The funds generated by the sale of this license plate would be given to the Georgia Forestry Foundation. Passage of this bill requires a two-third’s majority vote in both houses of the Legislature.

House Bill 695 has passed the House Committee on Motor Vehicles and will now move the House Rules Committee for consideration
 
The Georgia Conservancy supports the passage of HB 695
 

Electric Vehicle Tax Credit - House Bill 98 (link not live as of this Friday)

House Bill 98, sponsored by Rep. Alan Peake (R-141), would establish a $2,500 tax credit on the purchase of new electric vehicles in Georgia. The tax credit would apply for electric vehicles with a value under $60,000 MSRP. The credit could be utilized once per household and would sunset after five years.

House Bill 98 is up for consideration by the House Committee on Ways and Means

The Georgia Conservancy supports measures to re-establish a tax credit for the purchase of electric vehicles.


Extending The Hazardous Waste Trust Fund - House Bill 792

Sponsored by Rep. Terry Rogers (R-10), HB 792 seeks to extend the sunset date on the state's Hazardous Waste Trust Fund to July 1, 2019. In a substitute bill last week, the committee amended language that would have extended the sunset date to 5 years. With passage of this amended bill, the sunset day would be set for July 1, 2019. The collection of fees that support the fund is currently set to expire on July 1 of this year. 

The Hazardous Waste Trust Fund is supported by monies collected from hazardous waste generators, solid waste tipping fees and various fines for violations.  The Fund, which is administered by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, is used to remediate contaminated sites throughout the state. If the collection of fees were to sunset, the ability of local governments to fund the clean up of leaking landfills, as well as abandoned and contaminated properties, would be seriously hindered. 

House Bill 792 passed the full House and will now move to the Senate.

The Georgia Conservancy supports the passage of House Bill 792


Fuel Conversion of Non-Recyclable Plastics - House Bill 785

House Bill 785, sponsored by Rep. Randy Nix (R-69), seek to adds to and modify definitions of solid waste so as to provide for additional options in their management. These additional management options include the gassification and pryolosis of materials previously classified as waste, such as non-recycled feedstock and post-use plastics.

To complement current recycling, this bill would allow for materials that cannot be economically recycled to be converted in to fuel.

HB 785 has passed the House Committee on Natural Resources and the Environment.

The Georgia Conservancy supports the passage of HB 785


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Georgia Conservancy Advocacy Program

For a statewide nonprofit organization, there are more barriers than incentives to including an Advocacy Program in its mission and work.

Advocacy work is difficult to resource. It takes a special disposition to balance various relationships with elected officials and between partners, and an interest not only in policy, but also in politics, process and strategy.

The 2017 Georgia General Assembly demonstrated again why the investment in an effective and engaged Advocacy Program at the Georgia Conservancy is so important – it’s necessary! Georgia Conservancy Advocacy Director Leah Dixon and our team reported on more than 30 pieces of legislation last year, in addition to the Governor’s budget. 

Click here to learn more about our advocacy efforts.


House and Senate Committees

The Conservancy works closely with members of the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and the EnvironmentHouse Committee on Natural Resources and the EnvironmentHouse Committee on Game, Fish and Parks, and the House Committee on Ways and Means.  Bills that originate in these committees often have the greatest impact on Georgia's natural environment.

Please advocate for sound environmental policies that benefit all of Georgia by reaching out to your elected officials. This is our Georgia.


QUESTIONS?

Please contact Georgia Conservancy Advocacy Director Leah Dixon at ldixon@gaconservancy.org with any questions regarding the 2018 Legislative Session.

The Georgia Conservancy is a member-supported organization. Learn more about how you can join the Georgia Conservancy and be a part of our mission to protect and conserve Georgia's natural resources.


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