2019 Legislative Update - Week 9

2019 Georgia General Assembly Legislative Session

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Welcome to the Georgia Conservancy's legislative update for the ninth week of the 2019 Legislative Session. 

The Georgia Conservancy's Advocacy team, led by Advocacy Director Leah Dixon, is under the Gold Dome every day of the Legislative Session advocating for the protection of Georgia's land and water.

Please click here to sign up for our weekly legislative updates, emailed every week of the session.

The General Assembly met Monday, Wednesday and Thursday for legislative days last week with Tuesday dedicated as a committee work day. The Georgia Conservancy saw the movement of a number of important pieces of legislation related to our natural resources this week. There are 2.5 weeks left in the 2019 Legislative Session. Sine Die, the last day of the session, will be on Tuesday, April 2nd. Please follow this link for the adjournment resolution, which outlines the legislative calendar.


The following bills have been filed and are of high importance to the Georgia Conservancy. We will kept a dedicated eye on these measures during the 2019 Legislative Session:

Changes to the Shore Protection Act - House Bill 445

House Bill 445, introduced by Rep. Don Hogan (R-179), seeks to amend the Shore Protection Act. The Shore Protection Act (SPA) 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. We believe that rigorous application and coordination of the Shoreline Protection Act is critical to preserving the coast’s ecological integrity as human activity, including tourism and recreation, expands.
This bill seeks to redefine and clarify the jurisdictional line by using three methods:

  • 1) A line 25 feet landward of the ordinary high water mark on private land and 100 feet landward of the ordinary high water mark on state-owned land. This method would be used when there is an eroding shoreline and no dune field present at the upland sand sharing interface.

  • 2) A line 25 feet landward on private and public land from the landward most toe of the most landward sand dunes. This method would be used when there is an existing dune field at the upland/sand sharing system interface.

  • 3) A line 25 feet landward on private and 100 feet on state land (Jekyll Island) from the crest of a visible and functional shoreline or stabilization structure. This method would be used when there is a rock revetment, bulkhead or seawall at the upland, sand sharing system interface.

The Georgia Conservancy has worked closely and effectively with legislators and the State Department of Natural Resources during the last couple of years to address the Shore Protection Act to ensure efficient and clear management of the jurisdictional line.

We are in full support of changing the manner in which the jurisdictional lines are measured. We do, however, have concerns relating to the exemption included in lines 84-88. This exemption is of significant concern to Georgia Conservancy in that it appears to not only exempt a current construction project, but will set a dangerous precedent which may be used by other landowners to exempt their projects up and down the coast.

Since its inception, the Shore Protection Act has been relatively free of such preferential treatment provided in this exemption. We hope that we can achieve the necessary management changes to this Act, while preserving Georgia’s strong history of shoreline protection.

House Bill 445 has passed the House and will now move to the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and the Environment.

The Georgia Conservancy supports legislation clarifying and redefining the jurisdictional boundary of the SPA. We do, however, have concerns over an exemption that is included in the legislation for development on the upstream side of the Sea Island spit, and we believe that it sets a dangerous precedent for the future. We will continue to explore options with DNR, our partners and legislators to achieve a clear and efficient manner of measuring the jurisdictional line without exempting single construction projects on our precious coast.


GOSA Housekeeping Legislation - House Bill 382

During the 2018 Legislative Session, through the advocacy efforts of the Georgia Conservancy and our Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Coalition partners, the Georgia General Assembly overwhelmingly passed the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Act (HB 332 & HR 238). With Governor Nathan Deal’s signature and a November 2018 ballot initiative that received 83% support from Georgia voters, the state's first dedicated trust fund for conservation was established.

House Bill 382, introduced by House Majority Leader Jon Burns (R-159), serves as housekeeping legislation so as to allow grant and loan application submission dates to comply with existing state laws, to incorporate consistent definitions of eligible recipients, and to allow for the fund to appropriate up to 5% of the total dollars collected in the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Trust Fund to the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) for fund administration. These proposed changes simply allow DNR to better implement and administer the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Trust Fund.

Learn more about the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Act & Amendment

House Bill 382 has passed the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and the Environment and will now move to the Senate Rules Committee.

The Georgia Conservancy supports the passage of House Bill 382


Oyster Mariculture - Senate Bill 182 and House Bill 501

Senate Bill 182, introduced by Sen. William Ligon (R-49), and House Bill 501, introduced by Rep. Jesse Petrea (R-166) seek to allow for the development of shellfish (oyster and clam) mariculture on the Georgia coast.

Georgia's delicious oysters and clams have been enjoyed by coastal residents for generations, but bringing them to a larger market through an established oyster mariculture industry has been difficult due to the sensitive balance of environmental conditions, health concerns and restrictive state regulations.
 
Georgia's powerful tidal swings do not allow for industry-preferred single oysters to naturally settle and mature, but instead creates an environment where oysters have to clump together for support. This clumping creates inconsistency in oyster size and shell structure - a barrier to providing consistent and affordable single oysters to restaurants and retailers.         
   
Several of our adjacent states southeastern states have thriving shellfish industries.  Current Georgia law does not permit the farming of individual oysters through oyster cages. It is important for Georgia to develop a similar resource that highlights our local seafood, while not detrimentally impacting our coastal environment.
The goals of this maricultural legislation are to provide a regulatory framework which protect consumer health, state siting guidance for aqua culture installations and protect the marsh including the important role shellfish play in our estuarine ecology.

Learn more about Georgia's oyster industry. 

Senate Bill 182 has passed the Senate and will now move to the House Committee on Game, Fish & Parks. House Bill 501 passed the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and the Environment and will now move to the Senate Rules Committee for consideration.

The Georgia Conservancy supports the development of an Oyster mariculture industry, and we continue to evaluate the health, environmental, safety and operational issues for this oyster mariculture legislation with the Coastal Resources Division of DNR, as well as our partners.


Resolutions to Oppose Offshore Oil & Gas Exploration - House Resolution 48 and Senate Resolution 88

House Resolution 48, sponsored by Rep. Carl Gilliard (D-162), and Senate Resolution 88, 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 asks for the General Assembly to express their support for Georgia's fishing and coastal tourism industries, extensive salt marsh and marine mammals through their opposition to offshore seismic testing and oil and gas exploration.  

Last week, bi-partisan legislators from the House and the Senate, from across the state, joined together for a press conference to announce their support for a ban on offshore oil and gas exploration off the coast of Georgia. Learn more.

The Georgia Conservancy is opposed to offshore oil and gas exploration off of Georgia's coast.

HR 48 has been assigned to the House Committee on Natural Resources and the Environment
SR 88 has been assigned to the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and the Environment
Resolutions do not have to pass their chamber of origin before Crossover Day in order to be heard by the other chamber.


The Georgia Conservancy strongly supports the passage of House Resolution 48 and Senate Resolution 88

Changes to the Right to Farm Act - House Bill 545
 
Georgia's current Right to Farm Act protects existing agricultural operations from a variety of nuisance lawsuits. All 50 states have some form of Right to Farm laws, which prevent a number of unreasonable lawsuits from being filed against existing farming operations.
 
HB 545, sponsored by Chairman Tom McCall (R-33), seeks to amend Georgia's Right to Farm Act by prohibiting neighboring property owners from filing nuisance suits against incoming agricultural operations one year after the established date of operation. It also sets a 5-mile radius for which these suits are eligible. The Georgia Conservancy sees concern with these changes due to the limited time frame a property owner is able to bring action against incoming agricultural operations. This legislation does not change the fact that if an agricultural operation is negligent or acting illegally, they do not qualify for protection under the Right to Farm Act. 
 
HB 545 Passed the House and is assigned to the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and the Environment, where it had a hearing last week.
 
The Georgia Conservancy opposes this legislation and will continue to monitor HB 545. 


Expanding Rural Broadband Access - House Bill 23 and Senate Bill 2

House Bill 22 and 23, introduced by Rep. Penny Houston (R-170), and Senate Bill 2, introduced by Sen. Steve Gooch (R-51) seek to facilitate the expansion of broadband services to rural communities across Georgia, places which have, historically, had difficulties establishing reliable services. The Georgia Conservancy is supportive of measures that will allow for our small and rural communities to remain or become economically resilient. Just like urban areas, the vitality and resilience of our small and rural Georgia areas rely on continued investment of people, infrastructure, education, healthcare, and economic opportunity. We are monitoring the following legislation because we believe reliable, affordable internet access will advance education, economic innovation, equity and access to healthcare.

Learn more about our work to advance the resilience of small and rural communities.


HB 23 has passed the full House and will now move to the Senate Committee on Regulated Industries.
SB 2 has passed the full Senate and will now move to the House.


The Georgia Conservancy is continuing to evaluate and monitor House Bill 23 and Senate Bill 2.


Regulations for Vessel Anchoring - House Bill 201 

Sponsored by Rep. Dan Hogan (R-179), HB 201 seeks to authorize the Board of Natural Resources to promulgate rules and regulations regarding anchoring certain vessels within estuarine areas of the state and to authorize the Department of Natural Resources to establish anchorage areas. 

The Georgia Conservancy support measures that seek to provide closer scrutiny of sewage discharge by live-aboard vessels and closer oversight by DNR of estaurine anchoring. During the next few weeks we will work with legislators to better understand the scope of the rule promulgation.

HB 201 has passed the House and will now move to the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and the Environment.

The Georgia Conservancy continues to monitor House Bill 201.


Dedicated Fees - House Resolution 164

HR 164, 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 through the Solid Waste Trust Fund 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 164 would prohibit this practice. (See additional legislation regarding the Solid Waste Trust Fund) below.

HR 164 has passed the full House and will now move to the Senate. It has been assigned to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The Georgia Conservancy supports the passage the House Resolution 164.


Extending the Hazardous and Solid Waste Trust Funds - House Bill 220

HB 220, sponsored by Rep. Terry Rogers (R-10), would extend the expiration or "sunset" date for both the Hazardous Waste Trust Fund and the Solid Waste Trust Fund from June 30, 2019, to the same date in 2022. However, the bill also seeks to decrease the amount that each fund collects, beginning on July 1, 2020. 

The Hazardous Waste Trust Fund is supported by monies collected from hazardous waste generators, solid waste tipping fees ($0.75 per ton of solid waste disposed) 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. Though this bill seeks to extend the expiration date of the fund, it also seeks to decrease the amount collected from $0.75 per ton of inert waste to $0.51, beginning July 1, 2020 until the proposed sunset date of June 30, 2022.

The Solid Waste Trust Fund, through $1 tire fee on purchase of new tires in Georgia, is intended to fund the clean-up of dangerous tire dumps. Though this bill seeks to extend the expiration date of the fund, it also seeks to decrease the amount collected from $1 per tire to $0.37, beginning July 1, 2020 until the proposed sunset date of June 30, 2022.

The collected fees for both funds have been diverted to other state programs and activities for the past five years. The diversion of fee income has left the state with inadequate funds to properly clean-up these tire dumps that pose a threat to public health, safety and the environment.

HB 220 has passed the Senate Finance Committee and will now move to the Senate Rules Committee for consideration.

The Georgia Conservancy supports the extension of both trusts, but has concerns regarding the decrease in fees. Additionally, the Georgia Conservancy supports further legislation (see above HR 164) that will make sure that fees dedicated to tire dump clean-ups actually fund their intended purpose, as well as advocates for the state budget to increase its allocation of funds towards the solid waste trust fund. It is currently appropriated at $2.7 million. 


Expanding Statewide Transit Services - House Bill 511

House Bill 511, sponsored by Kevin Tanner (R-9) seeks to expand transit programs, options and accessibility throughout Georgia with a 50 cent fee on limos/taxis and a 25 cent fee on ride shares and the establishment of eight regional transit planning and funding zones outside of metro Atlanta. The bill would also consolidate Georgia's statewide transit oversight, which is currently administered through six separate state agencies, under a new agency - the Georgia Department of Mobility and Innovation.

The Georgia Conservancy supports legislation that will provide Georgia’s transportation system with diverse options so that Georgians can reduce their reliance on automobiles.

House Bill 511 passed the full House and will now move to the Senate.

The Georgia Conservancy is currently evaluating and monitoring House Bill 511.


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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 2018 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 two dozen pieces of legislation last year, in addition to the Governor’s budget. Our work at the Capitol, along with our partners in the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Coalition, was critical in the establishment of the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Trust Fund.

Click here to learn more about our advocacy efforts during last year's session.


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 2019 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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