2016 Session Comes to a Close
Monday, March 28, 2016
Posted by: Jennifer Addington
2016 Session Comes to a Close
Had you been traveling through Georgia in early January and caught
the local news you could have been lead to believe that the Georgia General
Assembly was focused solely on gambling, horse racing, medical marijuana or
guns on college campuses. If you followed these same state legislators on the
final day of the session yesterday, you would be hard pressed to hear even a
mention on these subjects. It's a good reminder of the fact that much of the
work that goes on in the Capitol has little to do with the sometimes
sensational stories that appear on the news.
While not sensational to the masses, there are debates and
exchanges of ideas on a daily basis that have the potential to impact our
industry. This year's session was no different and action on some of these
issues continued right up to the final gavel early this morning.
For GGIA, the 2016 session
offered the opportunity to continue working closely with friends and supporters
from across the agriculture spectrum. There are days when we work to bring
attention to the Green Industry. Our annual plant day is always a hit and the
plants we distribute at Ag Appreciation Day are always popular with the 4H and
FFA kids from across the state. Thanks to Premier Growers and Evergreen Nursery
for helping make these days successful.
There are other times where we have the opportunity to work with like-minded groups towards
goals that benefit the greater agriculture industry. We would once again like
to say thank you to these friends who help us leverage our efforts through
cooperation. Our partnerships with and support for UGA Extension and Ag
education as a whole allow us to let our legislators know how important these
programs are to the industry. We also partnered with the GA Fruit and Vegetable
Growers to host the Rural Caucus in February and to tell them about the
economic and environmental impact that industry has in their districts.
Other times we have the pleasure to work with our friends at Farm
Bureau, The GA Agribusiness Council, The Department of Agriculture and others.
We are grateful for their work and collaborative efforts on issues like GATE
and the budget. Finally, there are the legislators themselves. We'd like to
thank Chairman Tom McCall, Chairman John Wilkinson, and Chairman Terry England
among many others who provide outstanding leadership for agriculture and the
Green Industry as well.
Overall, the session had its share of ups and downs. Here is where
some of the more noteworthy bills finished when the Speaker of the House and
Lt. Governor closed the business of their respective chambers.
HB 911- The GATE reform bill was in play until late last
night. There were many positive changes made to this legislation as it wound
its way through the session. We were pleased to see much of the oversight for
the program returned to the Department of Agriculture. The revenue threshold
went up and down but will now remain at the $2,500 level to determine
eligibility to participate in the program. There were also efforts to extend
the card to a 3 year period for a total fee of $105. We were pleased to see data
from Dr. Kent Wolfe earlier in the session that illustrated that changes in
collection of local sales taxes were likely more explained by changes in the
car tag and ad valorem processes than exempt purchases made under the GATE
program. We were supportive of the collaborative approach taken by many
groups to work together to suggest changes to the program. From the beginning,
efforts to increase enforcement were some of the more disputed of the proposed
changes. GGIA took the position that putting burdensome requirements on
retailers was problematic and we encouraged other efforts to step up
enforcement. In the end, the Chambers were unable to agree on changes and the
bill stalled in the House late last night. As a result, the GATE program will
go forward operating under the same set of rules that were put in place at the
inception of the program. Now is the time to renew our focus on insuring only
permitted ag inputs are exempted by our Green Industry Producers. Once
again, we are happy to provide this guide to what those products do and do not
include. As an aside, we visited with a producer last night who was
recently visited by the Department of Revenue who performed a 3 year audit on
their GATE purchases and sales.
HB722- The medical cannabis bill and the possibility of instate cultivation of the crop
sparked the interest of some within our industry. As originally proposed,
instate cultivation would have been allowed to selected firms who would grow
and distribute cannabis oil at secure locations in different geographic areas
of the state. But even a robust set of requirements and regulations did not win
the support of many groups in law enforcement and any possibility of production
in Georgia was quickly dashed. In the end, the bill which would have expanded
the permitted medical uses of cannabis oil passed out of the House but could
not gain needed support in the Senate.
HB 1030 expanded the eligibility of the Seed Development
Commission. These changes are intended to broaden the board of the commission
and were agreed to late last night and now await the signature of the Governor.
The Budget- when we met with new Dean of
the UGA College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences last night he seemed
pleased with the changes approved to the state budget earlier this week.
As House and Senate members met to iron out differences in their budget
proposals were pleased to see funding returned for the college. In the end, UGA
receives funding for 5 specialists, 12 county agents as well as funding for
Rock Eagle and other building improvements. We were also pleased to see
the $200,000 in appropriations for the Department of Agriculture to help them
in their efforts to insure compliance by both card holders and retailers.Kudos
to Chairman Terry England for his continued leadership in the very complex
WATER- Its not a legislative session
without some action on Water. We were very pleased to see resolutions passed in
both the Senate and the House that strongly condemned EPA's Waters of the US
rule that we've told you about for months. Kudos to Chairman John Wilkinson
the Senate side and Chairman Tom McCall on the House side for authoring
SR1018 and HR1343 which clearly call out the overreaching policy that aims to
give EPA oversight over practically every body of water in the country.
Drones- We see more and more examples
of unmanned aircraft being used in the industry. The endless ways in which they
can be used in production and marketing are still to be imagined. HB779
provides for supplemental rules to those already in place by the FFA and
establishes a commission to determine future recommendations for property,
safety and privacy concerns.
Farm Vehicles- HB 579 provides for farm
vehicles to be operated on public roads when
used in agricultural pursuits and allows operators to move vehicles between
home and the production site or between different productions sites when they
display required slow moving signals.