Legislative Session Report Week 5

February 21, 2020

Subscribe to GFB's Action Alerts


The General Assembly reconvened at the Capitol on Tuesday for the long-awaited day thirteen of the legislative session. The legislature was in for four days this week and took full advantage of their time back under the Gold Dome, with the House passing the amended mid-year 2020 budget on Wednesday.


The biggest news of this week comes from the Senate Rules Committee where House Bill (HB) 545 - The Right to Farm Bill - was passed out of committee. It will be heard on the Senate floor for a full vote on Friday. If you have not already, we highly encourage you to contact your legislators and urge them to pass HB 545 to ensure that Georgia's agricultural interests are adequately protected.


To read about the other bills affecting Georgia agriculture, please see the Action This Week and Bills of Interest sections.


The Senate Rules Committee decided Thursday to move the Right to Farm bill – HB 545 – out of committee and to the Senate floor for a full vote. The vote will take place on Friday. Georgia Farm Bureau (GFB) Public Policy staff, along with our allied industry partners, have been hard at work at the Capitol to address the many misconceptions that have been floating around the state this week. This misinformation is coming from environmental groups and those who generally oppose production agriculture. It is just that - misinformation. These groups have been extremely vocal and we need your help contacting legislators to combat this opposition campaign. It is imperative that the state legislature pass this bill in order to protect our state's agricultural interests.


If you have not already, we highly encourage you to contact your legislators as soon as possible and encourage them to pass HB 545 by clicking the "Take Action" button below. Agriculture is the number one industry in the state of Georgia. Without a strong right to farm law, our farmers could be subjected to frivolous nuisance lawsuits which could upend their operations and bankrupt their families. It is vital that we pass House Bill 545 to preserve the production of food and fiber in our state.




On Wednesday, the House passed House Bill 792 – the FY20 Amended Budget – after extensive debate and taking a rare second recess to evaluate the Governor’s proposed cuts of $200 million. Government agency heads have struggled to explain to lawmakers how many of these reductions would leave Georgians better off, especially with a flux of advocates fighting for funding priorities dear to them. House members ultimately scaled back many of the proposed cuts, particularly to services and resources benefiting rural Georgians still recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Michael. Below is an overview of budget items important to agriculture:


Department of Agriculture

  • Restored $763,733 to the total budget, resulting in a 2.06% cut instead of the Governor’s 3.75% proposed cut.
  • These additions made by the House included:
    • Funding for 5 food animal safety inspectors & two animal industry inspectors
    • $200,000 for the development of. The Georgia Hemp Program
    • Funds for a business support analyst and one international trade representative
    • Funds for marketing materials and Georgia Grown website


Department of Community Health

  • Restored $463,000 in one-time funds for Rural Health Systems Innovation Center


Department of Education

  • Provide $177,600 in one-time funds for bunk beds at Georgia FFA-FCCLA camp


UGA Cooperative Extension

  • Restored $1,794,569 to the total budget, resulting in a 3.99% cut instead of the Governor’s 8.05% proposed cut.


UGA Experiment Station

  • Restored $1,029,962 to the total budget, resulting in a 3.44% cut instead of the Governor’s 5.61% proposed cut.


Forestry Commission

  • Restored $191,202 to the total budget, resulting in a 3.41% cut instead of the Governor’s 3.90% proposed cut.


Department of Natural Resources

  • Restored $2,002,114 to the total budget, resulting in a 1.66% cut instead of the Governor’s 3.31% proposed cut.


With the FY20 Amended Budget being sent to the Senate to restart the process there, the House will take up the FY21 Budget. We will also see an acceleration of legislation moving now that this hurdle has passed.



Despite the legislature being in recess last week, over 500 Georgia Farm Bureau (GFB) members braved the rain and gathered in Atlanta for Farm Bureau Day at the Capitol. 


President Gerald Long welcomed the standing room only crowd and thanked them for making the trip to the state's capital to advocate on behalf of Georgia's farmers. Alex Bradford, State Affairs Coordinator, provided a brief update on GFB's priority issues during the legislative session - namely the Right-to-Farm bill (House Bill 545) to protect farmers against frivolous nuisance lawsuits, protecting ag program funding in the state budget process, prohibiting cell-cultured protein and nonanimal food products from being called meat (Senate Bill 211) and securing farmers’ right to repair farm equipment that has advanced electronic systems (House Bill 286). Lastly, Katie Duvallchallenged the group with visiting with the legislators that remained in town, sharing their personal stories, and encouraging them to pass House Bill 545. 


Following visits with legislators, members reconvened at the Georgia Freight Depot for lunch, highlighted by keynote speaker Governor Brian Kemp. In his address, Kemp pledged his support for House Bill 545 and reiterated his commitment to rural Georgia. Georgia Department of Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black also spoke with the group, updating members on his work with USDA and the Department's efforts to assist victims of Hurricane Michael through the Georgia Farm Recovery Block Grant. More information on the grant, as well as information on how to apply, is included in this report.


Additionally, GFB recognized Senator John Wilkinson, Chair of the Senate Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee, and Representative Tom McCall, Chair of the House Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee, for their service to Georgia agriculture as neither will be seeking reelection this fall. We commend each for their dedication to the legislature and appreciate their continued support of Farm Bureau over the years.


HB 545: Right to Farm
Reps. McCall, Burns, England, Watson, Pirkle, and Dickey
This legislation seeks to strengthen and protect farmers from loopholes in our states right to farm laws. This clarification in language helps producers by clearing up language that is vague and could be interpreted in ways detrimental to agriculture.
Passed the House on 3/7/19. Senate Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee Favorably Reported By Substitute on 2/5/20.

HB 777: Tall Mass Timber Construction
Reps. Corbett, Burns, McCall, England, Smith, LaRiccia
This bill would allow for the Department of Community Affairs to review the 2021 International Building Code so as to consider amending the state minimum standard codes to allow tall mass timber construction types.
Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee Favorably Reported on 2/18/20. 


HB 847: Hemp Regulation Updates
Reps. Corbett, McCall, Dickey, Pruett, and Gilliard
This update to the hemp legislation that was passed last legislative session makes technical adjustments to comply with federal rules, creates a new license for a hemp nursery grower allowing sale to another permittee, sets the initial processor permit fee at $25,000, increases the automatic renewal fee from $10,000 to $50,000 after the first calendar year, and establishes a sampling test requirement prior to harvest.
Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee Favorably Reported by Substitute on 2/18/20.


HB 886: Animal Microchips and Reporting
Reps. Welch, McCall, Knight
This bill would require veterinarians or veterinary technicians that provide treatment to animals to scan such animals' microchips and to report ownership information under certain circumstances.
Assigned to Agriculture and Consumer Affairs.


HB 897: Uniform Timber Harvest Ordinance
Reps. Burchett, Burns, McCall, Corbett, Rhodes, Watson
This would provide for a uniform timber harvest ordinance statewide and establish a statewide notification process by the Georgia Forestry Commission. 
Assigned to Agriculture and Consumer Affairs.


HB 919: Tax Deduction on Timber Casualty Losses
Reps. Hatchett, Jasperse, Burns, England, McCall, Watson
This bill would provide a deduction from Georgia taxable income for casualty losses of timber in an amount based on the diminution of value. 
Assigned to Ways and Means.


HB 926: Waste Management Tire Disposal Restrictions and Fees
Reps. Rogers, Lott, LaRiccia, Corbett, Reeves
This would increase certain solid waste disposal surcharges, particularly relating to waste management tire disposal restrictions and fees and would increase certain tire disposal fees.
Assigned to Natural Resources and Environment.


SB 362: Livestock Straying
Sens. Wilkinson, Anderson, Harper, Burke, Rahman
This bill would change the fees for impounding animals and disposing of impounding animals that are running at large or straying.
Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee Favorably Reported on 2/18/20.


SB 381: Georgia Food Act
Sens. Kirkpatrick, Burke, Black, Walker, Wilkinson, Rahman
This would deem certain information obtained by the Department of Agriculture from the Federal Food and Drug Administration confidential and not subject to disclosure.
Assigned to Agriculture and Consumer Affairs.


SB 396: Pecan as State Nut
Sens. Walker, Wilkinson, Black, Anderson, Hill, Burke
This bill would designate the pecan as the official state nut.
Assigned to Agriculture and Consumer Affairs.


SB 407: Regulating the Harvest and Sale of Palmetto Berries
Sens. Harper, Heath, Burke, Harrell, Ginn
This bill would regulate the harvest, sale, and personal home use of palmetto berries. 


SR 789: Alpha Gamma Rho Day at the Capitol
Sen. Harper
This resolution designates February 21 as Alpha Gamma Rho Day at the Capitol.



The Georgia Department of Agriculture is working diligently with USDA to finalize details for the Georgia Farm Recovery Block Grant, which will cover qualifying losses from Hurricane Michael not covered by other USDA disaster programs. To help farmers prepare for the application process, GDA has released the Georgia Farm Recovery Block Grant Application Guide. The guide, which can be viewed here, explains the enrollment process and details the documents that will be required to apply for block grant assistance. 


Once federal approval is received, there will be a three-week sign up period. Georgia Farm Bureau will notify our members when that time arrives. In the meantime, we encourage you to use the application guide to begin collecting relevant documents and information so that you will be able to submit your application quickly and efficiently when the sign up period begins. We also invite you to visit the Georgia Department of Agriculture's Farm Recovery website here



This year is a significant one in Georgia as we are positioned to elect a President and not one, but two, U.S. Senators, as well as a number of U.S. Representatives. As Election Day nears, Georgia Farm Bureau's Public Policy team will keep you up to date on what is happening in the political arena to ensure that you are prepared to make well-educated, informed decisions at the ballot box.


List of U.S. Senate Seat Challengers Grows
Thursday, U.S. former federal prosecutor Ed Tarver officially announced his bid for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Sen. Kelly Loeffler. Loeffler was appointed to the Senate by Governor Kemp in December after Sen. Johnny Isakson announced he would be retiring due to health concerns. Tarver joins the growing list of challengers facing Loeffler including Republican candidate Doug Collins and Democratic candidates Raphael Warnock and Matt Lieberman. Each candidate will face off in November's special election, a "jungle primary" in which candidates from all parties will be included on the same ballot. If one candidate does not receive more than 50% of the votes, a runoff will be held in January 2021 between the two candidates with the highest number of votes. The winner will serve the remaining two years of Isakson's term.


Senate District 13
On Tuesday, February 4, a special election was held in Senate District 13 to fill the seat previously held by Sen. Greg Kirk, who passed away in December following a battle with cancer. With three candidates vying for the spot, and none of the three receiving more than fifty percent of the votes, the race is headed to a runoff. Carden Summers (R) and Jim Quinn (R) will go head to head on March 3 for the seat. Senate District 13 includes parts of Crisp, Dodge, Dooly, Lee, Sumter, Tift, Worth, Turner, and Wilcox counties. To see if this election impacts you, visit our Action Center to find your legislator. If it does, make sure you get to the polls on Tuesday to vote! You can find a list of polling places here.


Presidential Primary
Georgia's Presidential Primary will be held on Tuesday, March 24. The deadline to register to vote in the primary is February 24, 2020. Visit the Georgia Secretary of State's website to check your voter registration status. Other key dates: 

  • February 24: Voter Registration Deadline
  • March 2: Early Voting Begins
  • March 14: Saturday Voting
  • March 24: Georgia's Presidential Primary


Hosted by John Holcomb, Jay Stone, and Katie Duvall, "Growing On" is a new podcast produced by Georgia Farm Bureau, covering agriculture related issues and topics to help promote and advocate for Georgia agriculture as well as educate consumers about the production of food and modern farming practices.


With episodes dropping every two weeks, Public Policy staff will be reporting from the Capitol, providing a deeper look into the legislative session in a digestible, audio format. You can subscribe to the podcast and download on Apple Podcasts by clicking here or on Spotify by clicking here. Be sure to look for a new episode every other Tuesday!


HB 13: Livestock & Rodeo Sales Tax Exemption
Reps. Williams, Mathiak, McCall, Blackmon, and Jones
This bill will provide an exemption from sales tax on the entry fee or admission of non-profit livestock, horse shows, or rodeo events and exhibits. This exemption will apply to any participation fees paid for entrants and any admission paid by the public.
Assigned to House Ways and Means Committee.


HB 22: Telephone Cooperatives Authorization for Broadband Services
Reps. Houston, Powell, England, Watson, Corbett, and Greene
House Bill 22 is a bill that comes from a recommendation of the Rural Development Council. This bill will authorize telephone cooperatives and their broadband affiliates to provide broadband services to its members, as well as, apply for federal grants to provide broadband.
Assigned to House Economic Development and Tourism Committee.

HB 23: EMC Authorization to Provide Broadband Services
Reps. Houston, Powell, England, Watson, Corbett, and Greene
House Bill 23 is another bill to come out of the Rural Development Council. This bill authorizes electric membership corporations (EMC) to establish or partner with another entity to provide broadband services to its members independent from its electrical services. This bill will also allow for EMCs to apply for federal grants to provide broadband.
Passed the House on 2/11/19. Assigned to Regulated Industries and Utilities.


HB 49: Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District Interbasin Transfers
Reps. Morris, Jones, Tanner, Lumsden, Powell, and Carpenter
House Bill 49 relates to water supply and water conservation plan in the Metropolitan Georgia Water Planning District to allow for certain interbasin transfers on rivers with an annual flow of at least 15 billion gallons per day at the withdrawal point.
Assigned to House Natural Resources and Environment Committee.
HB 104: Boll Weevil Eradication Tax Exemption
Reps. Watson, Powell, McCall, Meeks, and Pirkle
This bill would propose a constitutional amendment to provide the Boll Weevil Eradication program an ad valorem tax exemption for all of their supplies used for trapping, baiting, luring, and pesticides, as it regards to detecting and preventing the return of boll weevils.
Assigned to House Ways and Means Committee.


HB 105: State Income Tax Exemption for Disaster Payments
Reps. Watson, Powell, Meeks, McCall, Pirkle
In an effort to provide further relief in the wake of Hurricane Michael, this bill exempts payments from USDA as part of a disaster relief payment or program in connection to Hurricane Michael from state income tax.
Passed the House on 2/25/19. Assigned to Senate Finance Committee.
HB 286: Right to Repair
Reps. Turner, Pirkle, and Dickey
House Bill 286 is known as the Right to Repair Act. This bill would require a manufacturer to provide documents, tools, and parts that are necessary for diagnostic, maintenance, or repair services on digital electronic equipment to independent service providers.
Assigned to House Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee.
HB 371: Securing Animals in the Back of Motor Vehicles
Reps. Drenner, McCall, Powell, Williams, Trammell
This bill would require a person to secure or contain a live animal in the back of a motor vehicle if the vehicle is within the arc of Interstate 285 and on any portion on Interstates 20,75 or 85 or Georgia Highway 400.
Assigned to House Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee.

HB 455: Georgia Agriculture Marketing Authority
Reps. Houston, England, McCall, Gilliard, and Stovall
This bill creates the Georgia Agriculture Marketing Authority, the purpose of the authority is to manage the facilities and activities of farmers markets. The Authority will market and promote agricultural products to agribusinesses and the public in an effort to boost the state's economy.
Passed the House on 3/5/19. Assigned to Senate Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee.

HB 592: Surface Mining in FLPA
Reps. Meeks, Corbett, England, and Rhodes
House Bill 592 would provide for under certain circumstances for short-term mineral surface mining to not be considered a breach of FLPA. The property would remain under the covenant only if they return the property to premining condition within three years.
Assigned to House Natural Resources and Environment.


HR 930: Endorse Stand4Forests Platform and its Objectives
Reps. Gilliard and Clark 
House Resolution 930 encourages the State of Georgia to endorse the Stand4Forests platform and its objectives.
Assigned to House Natural Resources and Environment Committee.


SB 45: "Rural Georgia Jobs and Growth Act"
Sens. Beach, B. Jones, Mullis, Harbison, E. Jones, Sims
Senate Bill 45 would provide for pari-mutuel horse racing in the state at a limited number of licensed equestrian centers, create the Georgia Horse Racing Commission, and provide for the comprehensive regulation of pari-mutuel horse racing and related activities.
Assigned to State Institutions and Property.


SB 76: Veterinary Nurses
Reps. Black, Wilkinson, Harper, Anderson, Burke, and Karinshak
This bill has been proposed in order to change terms used by the State Board of Veterinarians. This bill would change the term veterinary technician to veterinary nurses.
Assigned to Senate Agriculture and Consumer Affairs.


SB 211: Meat Labeling
Sens. Harper, Wilkinson, Black, Anderson, Walker, Heath
This bill will prohibit the sale and advertisement of nonanimal and non-slaughtered animal flesh from being called meat.
Passed the Senate on 3/7/19. Assigned to House Agriculture and Consumer Affairs.


SB 338: Animal Protection
Sens. Kirkpatrick, Black, Walker, Cowsert, Anderson, Sims
This bill would require licenses for pet dealers, kennels, stables, etc., and would also allow the Commissioner to promulgate rules and regulations for animal protection.  
Assigned to Agriculture and Consumer Affairs.


SB 346: State Board of Veterinary Medicine
Sens. Black, Burke, Anderson, Harrell, Payne
This bill would allow for the addition of a veterinary technician to the State Board of Veterinary Medicine as well as provide a professional health program for impaired veterinarians.
Assigned to Agriculture and Consumer Affairs.


SB 358: Muscadine as State Grape
Sens. Harper, Sims, Burke, Walker, Black, Karinshak
This bill would designate the muscadine grape as the official state grape.
Assigned to Government Oversight.


SR 84: Propose Pari-mutuel Betting on Horse Racing
Sen. Beach
Senate Resolution 84 proposes an amendment to the Constitution so as to authorize the General Assembly to provide by law for pari-mutuel betting on horse racing and to provide for the disposition of licensing and taxation revenues from such activities.
Assigned to Economic Development and Tourism.



In late March, you will begin receiving requests to complete the 2020 Census. Georgia Farm Bureau is proud to be partnering with the Governor's Complete Count Committee to encourage our members to complete the census in a timely manner. The 2020 Census will be the first year you can fill out your census online.


The census website is safe, secure and confidential. The census provides critical data that lawmakers, business owners, teachers, and many others use to provide daily services, products, and support for you and your community. The results of the census also determine the number of seats each state will have in the U.S. House of Representatives, and they are used to draw congressional and state legislative districts.


In addition to shaping legislative districts, the census dictates how key funds are distributed. The federal government distributes over $675 billion dollars to states based on the population for healthcare, food, education, and roads. Key programs using census data to drive funding include:

  • Federal Medical Assistance Programs (FMAP)
  • The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program
  • Medicare Part B
  • Highway Planning and Construction
  • The Federal Pell Grant Program
  • Cooperative Extension Service


Georgia’s rural assistance programs received more than $1.4 billion annually in the federal FY 2016.


Census Dates to Remember:

  • March 2020: The Census Bureau will begin mailing invitations to participate in the 2020 Census to homes. Once the invitation arrives, you should respond for your home in one of three ways: online, by phone, or by mail.
  • April 1, 2020: Census Day is observed nationwide. By this date, every home will receive an invitation to participate in the 2020 Census. When you respond to the census, you tell the Census Bureau where you live as of April 1, 2020.
  • April 2020: Census takers begin visiting college students who live on campus, people living in senior centers, and others who live among large groups of people. Census takers also begin conducting quality check interviews to help ensure an accurate count.
  • May 2020: The Census Bureau begins visiting homes that haven't responded to the 2020 Census to make sure everyone is counted.
  • August 2020: The online form of the Census will close.
  • December 2020: The Census Bureau delivers apportionment counts to the President and Congress as required by law.
  • March 31, 2021: By this date, the Census Bureau will send redistricting counts to states. This information is used to redraw legislative districts based on population changes.


  • February 21: Alpha Gamma Rho Day at the Capitol
  • March 2: PB&J Day at the Capitol
  • March 2-5: GFB YF&R Trip to Washington
  • March 4-5: GFB Commodity Advisory Committee Spring Meetings, Macon
  • March 11: Steak Biscuit Day at the Capitol
  • March 24: Georgia's Presidential Primary
  • March 31-April 2: GFB Presidents' Trip to Washington
  • April 2-4: Georgia Cattlemen's Convention, Perry



Public Policy Department Staff

Jeffrey Harvey, Director
Joe McManus, Assistant Director
Alex Bradford, State Affairs Coordinator
Raynor Churchwell, Agricultural Programs Specialist
Tripp Cofield, National Policy Counsel
Katie Duvall, Advocacy and Policy Development Coordinator
Renee Jones, Office Coordinator
Blake Raulerson, Governmental Affairs Specialist
Jeremy Taylor, Agricultural Programs Specialist



 Connect to the Capitol