2019 Legislative Preview
2019 Georgia General Assembly Legislative Session
It's almost that time of year! Monday, January 14th is the first official day of the 2019 Legislative Session of the Georgia General Assembly.
The Georgia Conservancy's Advocacy team, led by Advocacy Director Leah Dixon, will be 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 Friday of the session.
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.
We are currently focused on a number of expected legislative actions, as well as forwarding other conservation-minded legislation during the 2019 Legislation. The following are a few such measures:
Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Trust Fund Housekeeping Legislation
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.
Housekeeping legislation will be sought during the 2019 Legislative Session to adjust dates for grant and loan application submissions to comply with existing state laws, as well as to allow for the fund to appropriate dollars 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.
The Georgia Conservancy will work with the DNR and legislators to pass these important pieces of housekeeping legislation.
Learn more about the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Act & Amendment
Offshore Oil & Gas Exploration
Since our founding in 1967, the Georgia Conservancy has been strident against any attempt to open our Atlantic waters to oil and gas exploration. A renewed push by the Trump administration to expand domestic oil and gas production has led to the opening of leases for seismic testing in the nearshore Atlantic Ocean, which would include areas off of Georgia's coast. Legislation is expected to be introduced during the 2019 Legislative Session that would oppose these efforts.
The Georgia Conservancy will work with lawmakers to forward legislation that strongly opposes offshore oil and gas exploration in state and federal Atlantic waters, as well as measures that puts in place restrictions that make such ventures unattractive to oil and gas speculators.
Learn more about our opposition to the renewed push for oil and gas exploration off of our coast.
Oyster Aquaculture Regulations
Georgia's delicious oysters have been enjoyed by coastal residents for generations, but bringing them to a larger market through an established oyster aquaculture 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.
Current Georgia law does not permit the farming of individual oysters through oyster cages. During the 2019 Legislative Session, the Georgia Conservancy looks for legislation to be proposed that may seek to amend these regulations, so as to encourage and support the development of a sustainable and thriving oyster aquaculture industry.
The Georgia Conservancy will carefully review the health, environmental, safety and operational issues when and if such legislation is proposed.
Learn more about Georgia’s oyster industry.
Freshwater Stream Buffers
The Georgia Conservancy strongly supports legislation this session that would seek clarification of Georgia’s existing statutory stream buffer regulations.
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 supports clarifying the line of demarcation from which the 25-foot and 50-foot buffers are measured in order to protect waters of the state.
School Siting/Minimum Acreage Requirements
In an effort to reverse long standing development trends that have contributed to sprawl and poor land use practices, the Georgia Conservancy supports legislation this session that would seek to reduce or eliminate the minimum acreage requirements that the state has established for the siting and construction of new schools.
The placement and design of our school facilities are critical to planning and maintaining sustainable communities. School siting decisions have long-term impacts which affect not only students and parents, but also the larger community. Current acreage requirements make it difficult for school boards to locate new schools in population centers that are closest to the families that schools seek to serve. To meet the minimum acreage requirement, many school boards are forced to site schools away from centers of population in areas with little to no development. As a result, increased development and land use ensues – new roads or highways, new subdivisions, new municipal infrastructure – and cars and buses are forced to log more miles on roads to reach school campuses. An additional benefit of such a change to minimum acreage requirements would be an increase in local choice and local decision-making over where schools best serve the community.
Electric Vehicle Tax Credit
The Georgia Conservancy supports the filing of legislation this session to reinstate the electric vehicle tax credit in an effort to encourage the sale and purchase of less carbon reliant transportation options.
In 2015, the Georgia General Assembly voted to remove a $5,000 tax credit for the purchase of zero emission vehicles, an incentive which had placed metro Atlanta among the national leaders in electric vehicle sales. With the tax credit removed, Atlanta and Georgia has seen a decrease in electric vehicle adoption over traditional petroleum powered automobiles. Last year, legislation was filed to establish a $2,500 tax credit per household on electric vehicles with an MSRP under $60K. That bill, House Bill 98, did not pass out of committee.
The Georgia Conservancy supports legislation that would present to voters an amendment to the state constitution requiring 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. A constitutional amendment would prohibit this practice.
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 Environment, House Committee on Natural Resources and the Environment, House 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.
Please contact Georgia Conservancy Advocacy Director Leah Dixon at email@example.com 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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Thank you for your support!