2019 Legislative Update - Week 5

2019 Georgia General Assembly Legislative Session

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

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.

Interested in learning more about the Georgia Conservancy's work on the coast and how it informs our approach to coastal issues at the State Capitol? And you like wild Georgia oysters? Please join us on March 2 in Savannah for our annual Oyster Roast! Learn more: www.georgiaconservancy.org/oysterroast

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

This week, the Joint Committee of Natural Resources and the Environment met for a hearing on coal combustable residuals (CCR). The state Environmental Protection Division, Georgia Power, Oglethorpe Power and Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia gave presentations. Learn more from the Brunswick News.

Important dates: 

Last week, the legislature passed an adjournment resolution that sets the legislative calendar through Sine Die, the last day of the legislative session. 

Crossover Day, the day in which bill must pass their chamber of origin to be considered by the other chamber, will be Thursday, March 7. 

Sine Die, the final day of the 2019 Legislative Session, will be Tuesday, April 2. 


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:

Eliminating Oil Well Finders Reward - House Bill 119

Introduced by Rep. Park Cannon (D-58), HB 119 seeks to eliminate a state-provided financial incentive for oil production in Georgia. Currently, the State of Georgia has promised a $250,000 reward to "the first person, firm, or corporation, or combination thereof, which puts down and brings in the first commercial oil well in this state, provided that such well must produce at least 100 barrels of oil per day."  

HR 119 is currently in the House Committee on Natural Resources and the Environment

The Georgia Conservancy strongly supports the passage of House Bill 119


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


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


Inter-Basin Transfers of Water - House Bill 49

House Bill 49, introduced by Rep. Marc Morris (R-26), seeks to allow for certain inter-river basin transfers of water to be included in the water supply and water conservation management plans of the Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District. Under the proposed bill, inter-basin transfers would be permitted if the there is an "annual average flow of at least 15 billion gallons per day at the withdrawal point when such transfer is approved by the county in which the withdrawal point is located."

It is the Georgia Conservancy's position that inter-basin transfers should be considered only after strong conservation and efficiency measures are in place, an aggressive reduction goal is met, and a full assessment of the environmental impacts of the proposed project is conducted, as inter-basin transfers have the potential to interrupt the hydrological and ecological integrity of the both effected river basins.

HB 49 has been assigned to the House Committee on Natural Resources and the Environment

The Georgia Conservancy is opposed to House Bill 49
 

Local Design and Zoning Regulations for Residential Properties - House Bill 302

HB 302, sponsored by Rep. Vance Smith (R-133), seeks to prohibit local governments from adopting or enforcing ordinances or regulations relating to or regulating building design elements as applied to one or two-family dwellings.

As the largest state east of the Mississippi, Georgia has not only a significant land area, but a land area that encompasses a variety of landscapes, histories and cultures with all the nuanced community challenges and opportunities such variety entails.

HB 302 has the potential to hinder, if not completely remove, innovation at the local level to address needs or leverage assets related to natural resources, housing, revitalization, or other land use conditions.

Further, our state is comprised of over 400 small communities of 5,000 in population or less. These often less-resourced communities benefit from transferring proven policies tested by their peer cities or towns and putting their own local touch to such policies. HB 302 could create limitations in the ability of a success in one community to ripple across our state.

Georgia Conservancy supports local communities’ authority to explore their own community development solutions.

HB 302 is in the House Committee on Agriculture and Community Affairs

The Georgia Conservancy opposes House Bill 302.


Coal Ash Landfill Dewatering Notifications - House Bill 93

House Bill 93, 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.

HB 93 has been assigned to the House Committee on Natural Resources and the Environment.

The Georgia Conservancy is currently evaluating and monitoring House Bill 93.
 

Coal Ash Landfill Regulations & Requirements - House Bill 94

House Bill 94, 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.

HB 94 has been assigned to the House Committee on Natural Resources and the Environment.

The Georgia Conservancy is currently evaluating and monitoring House Bill 94.


Expanding Rural Broadband Access - House Bill 22 and House Bill 23

House Bill 22 and 23, introduced by Rep. Penny Houston (R-170) 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 22 has passed House Committee on Economic Development and Tourism. HB 23 has passed the full House and will now be heard by the Senate.

The Georgia Conservancy is currently evaluating and monitoring House Bills 22 and 23


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 is currently in the House Committee on Natural Resources and the Environment.

The Georgia Conservancy is currently monitoring 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 is currently in the House Ways & Means Committee.

The Georgia Conservancy supports the passage the House Resolution 164.


Extending the Solid Waste Trust Fund  House Bill 220

HB 220, sponsored by Rep. Terry Rogers (R-10), would extend the expiration or "sunset" date for the $1 tire fee on purchase of new tires in Georgia from June 30, 2019, to the same date in 2024.  

Though the $1 tire fee is intended to fund the clean-up of dangerous tire dumps, the collected fees have instead 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 is currently in the House Committee on Natural Resources and the Environment

In addition to supporting House Bill 220, 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.


We are currently focused on a number of expected legislative actions, as well as other conservation-minded legislation that may be forwarded during the 2019 Session. If and when any of these issues are filed as a bill or resolution, we will provide an in-depth summary of that 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, to incorporate consistent definitions of eligible recipients, and 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.

Read our opinion piece in this week's Saporta Report.


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 would support legislation this session that seeks to clarify 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. 

Read our white paper on school siting to learn more about the negative effects of minimum acreage requirements.


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, HB 98, did not pass out of committee.


Dedicated Fees

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.


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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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