Legislative Session Report Week 6

February 28, 2020

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The General Assembly met at the Capitol each day this week for days 17 through 21 of the 2020 legislative session, officially putting us halfway through the 40 day session. Once again, the Georgia Farm Bureau (GFB) Public Policy team spent the large majority of their week devoted to moving the needle on House Bill 545 - the Right to Farm bill. You may recall that it was supposed to go to the Senate floor for a full vote last Friday, February 21. Instead, the bill was tabled on account of a whip count that was feared to be in favor of the opposition. This week, we are urging you, our grassroots "boots on the ground" membership, to pick up the phone, call your Senators, and encourage them to support House Bill 545. 


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


The Senate Rules Committee decided last Thursday, February 20, to move the Right to Farm bill – House Bill 545 – out of committee and to the Senate floor for a full vote. The bill, which was expected to be voted on in the Senate the next day, Friday, February 21, was tabled due to a perceived lack of votes in its favor. While we would like to see the bill passed in as timely a manner as possible, Georgia Farm Bureau (GFB) Public Policy staff, along with our allied industry partners, are focused on educating our legislators on the bill and its intent and working to squash the inundation of misinformation that they are receiving from the opposition.


We are proud of our members who have exemplified grassroots advocacy in action this week, sharing their personal stories through on-farm videos and testimonials to the importance of House Bill 545 on their social media platforms. Below, you will see only a few of the many that took to social media to tell their stories. If you have not taken this step already, we encourage you to do so. Be sure to tag your legislators and include the hashtag #ProtectMyFarm in any posts you make. 


We also appreciate those who took the time to contact their legislators this past week through our action center. If you did not have the opportunity to reach out, please take a moment to do so by clicking the "Take Action" button below. We challenge you to take your advocacy efforts a step further by giving your Senator a call. You can get in touch with any of your legislators, state or federal, by visiting the "Find Your Legislators" link in the action center. 


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. If you would like further information on the bill, visit our House Bill 545 page here.


Hear From More Farmers




The General Assembly continues to make headway on what is their only constitutional responsibility – passing a balanced budget. With the House passing the FY20 Amended Budget last week, the Senate has now picked up the torch, holding hearings and evaluating their proposal. The House has since moved on to hearings and allocating the state’s record $28.1 billion FY21 budget, factoring in the Governor’s directed cuts.


As legislators continue evaluating requests and monetary requirements of proposed legislation, they will adjust the Governor’s proposal for spending. No official developments have been voted on this week, but Georgia Farm Bureau Public Policy staff will continue advocating for initiatives important to agriculture, its supporting resources and programs, and new priorities like the hemp program. We will keep you informed as the General Assembly moves forward appropriating funds in the coming weeks.

Legislative Report Graph



At a press conference at the State Capitol on Wednesday, Governor Kemp announced details surrounding the $347 million in federal block grant funds that the state has secured to help producers recover from the devastation incurred by Hurricane Michael. 


Georgia farmers and forest landowners in 95 eligible counties, who suffered losses to beef, dairy, fruit and vegetable, pecan, poultry, timber, and uninsured infrastructure, will need to enroll in the recovery program beginning March 18. The federal block grants seek to help recover losses not covered under existing USDA Farm Service Agency programs.


Only online applications will be accepted. While mobile phones may be used to sign up and log in, applicants are strongly encouraged to complete the application using a computer to ensure proper upload and attachment of required documents. All applications must be completed and submitted by April 8, 2020.


Between now and March 18, 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 as you will only have three weeks to complete the application. We also invite you to visit the Georgia Department of Agriculture's Farm Recovery website here.


On a related note, Rep. Sam Watson’s House Bill 105 seeks to exempt federal disaster payments related to Hurricane Michael from state income taxes to stretch these dollars to their fullest for impacted producers. HB 105 was passed by the full House last year, and remains in the Senate where it passed out of the Senate Finance Committee Thursday.

Governor Brian Kemp and Georgia Department of Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black announce details of the block grant.


An exciting initiative came to fruition this week in the form of Senate Bill 415, which provides a comprehensive civil lawsuit reform package. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Steve Gooch with the robust support of the Senate Majority Leadership and 23 Senate sponsors, seeks to balance the legal environment for business against the trial lawyers who have chipped away at our protections, resulting in monumental legal awards. Georgia Farm Bureau was a founding member of the coalition, fighting back against this degradation of legal positioning, which has now grown to a diverse multi-industry support of over 30 major company stakeholders. While the omnibus bill deals with a variety of topics, agriculture and rural businesses will benefit from its passage. This legislation – which was the result of months of work by the Senate Study Committee on Reducing Georgia’s Cost of Doing Business – would reform the state’s rapidly-declining legal climate in crucial ways to ensure that small businesses, health care providers, the agriculture industry, and countless others have an even playing field in Georgia’s legal system.

A press conference was held on Thursday touting the reform proposal’s correction to outdated and damaging effects to Georgia’s small businesses. Senate Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Chairman John Wilkinson spoke in support of the bill, resulting from the study committee. House Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee Chairman Tom McCall will carry the House version of the bill.

A press conference was held on Thursday touting the reform proposal’s correction to outdated and damaging effects to Georgia’s small businesses.


The American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) Issue Advisory Committee meetings were held February 20 & 21 in Washington. AFBF has 13 Issue Advisory Committees that provide expertise on a host of agricultural issues. The committees meet in person once a year and hold additional meetings via webinars or conference calls throughout the year. Outcomes of the committee’s deliberations include advice and counsel to the AFBF Board of Directors on policy related actions, recommendations for state Farm Bureau policy development, and policy recommendations for the AFBF Resolutions Committee. Georgia Farm Bureau (GFB) has 11 members who serve on the committees. We appreciate their willingness to represent GFB on the national scale as they offer their experiences and expertise to their respective committees. 


The meetings were split into two groups this year as follows:


Group A: February 20

  • Water - Mark Masters
  • Budget & Economy - Terry Bramlett
  • Environmental Regulations - Casey Cox
  • Organic & Direct Marketing - Garrett Ganas
  • Technology - Wesley Porter
  • Pests & Invasive Species - Eddie Green


Group B: February 21

  • Energy - Jake Carter
  • Animal Care - Paul Johnson
  • Food Safety - Bob McLeod
  • Market Structures - Andy Bell
  • Agricultural Labor - Tim McMillan


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 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. Senate Finance Committee Favorably Reported on 2/27/20.


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.
Passed the House on 2/20/20. Assigned to Senate 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. 
Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee Favorably Reported on 2/26/20.


HB 1015: Georgia Carbon Sequestration Registry Tax Credits
Allows for building materials and timber products to be included in the Georgia Carbon Sequestration Registry for tax credits.
Assigned to Natural Resources and Environment on 2/27/20.


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.
Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee Favorably Reported on 2/26/20.


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.
Withdrawn from Government Oversight and recommitted to Agriculture and Consumer Affairs on 2/24/20.


SB 396: Pecan as State Nut
Sens. Walker, Wilkinson, Black, Anderson, Hill, Burke
This bill would designate the pecan as the official state nut.
Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee Favorably Reported on 2/26/20.


SR 818: Right to Register and Vote
Sens. Dolezal, Brass, Robertson, Miller, Gooch, Harper
SR 818 proposes an amendment to the Constitution of the State of Georgia so as to clarify that only citizens of the United States shall have a right to vote in elections in this state.
Assigned to Government Oversight on 2/26/20.


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. 


Qualifying Date Set for U.S. Senate Race

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger set qualifying for U.S. Senator Kelly Loeffler's seat for next week, March 2 to March 6. This is the same period of qualifying during which other candidates seeking state office must declare their intention to run, and is months earlier than some expected qualifying for the special election to take place. The Atlanta Journal Constitution has more on Raffensperger's decision which some believe could lead to more drama in what has already proven to be a contentious battle for former Senator Johnny Isakson's seat.


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 NEXT TUESDAY, 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 related to Georgia's Presidential Primary are below.


  • 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. 


In this week's episode, the team is "getting fiscal" by talking about Georgia's budget in regards to agriculture as well as the 2020 census and how it affects federal funding for the state. Katie Duvall shares her interview with Rusty Haygood where they talk about the 2020 census and how important it is for Georgia when it comes to federal funding and congressional districts.  Jay Stone shares his interview with Glen Raines from the University of Georgia. They discuss tractor safety in regards to PTO! John Holcomb discusses Georgia's 2020-2021 budget. After Gov. Kemp's proposed budget cuts that would ultimately cut funding for Experimental Stations and Cooperative Extension Services, farmers traveled to Atlanta to express just how important those are for Georgia agriculture. Lastly, we share the Farm Monitor interview with Senator Kelly Loeffler, Georgia's newest Senator that was sworn in earlier this year.  

Listen Now


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 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.


HB 709: Daylight Savings Time
Reps. Cantrell, Burns, Trammell, Gravley, McCall, Caldwell
House Bill 709 would allow for a referendum election to determine whether or not the state should continue to observe Daylight Savings Time or observe Standard Time year-round.


HB 829: Authorize Reduction of Residential Homestead Property Assessment
Reps. Stephens and Harrell
This bill would allow for local governments to hold a referendum to reduce the 40% assessment of residential homestead property owned by those aged 65 or older to only 20%. This would only apply to local school district taxes for educational purposes. 
Assigned to Ways and Means.


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 850: Uniform Referendums for Local Option Sales Taxes
Reps. Ridley, Harrell, Jasperse, Tarvin, Gravley, Gullett
This would require all referendums on local option sales tax to be held in November general elections.
Assigned to Ways and Means.


HB 882: Tax Exemption for Food Banks
Reps. Houston, Rich, Corbett, Greene, Cheokas
This bill would eliminate the sunset period for the exemption from state and certain local sales and use taxes for the sale of food and food ingredients to qualified food banks and for the use of food and food ingredients donated to qualified nonprofit agencies. It would also expand the exemption for the use of food and food ingredients donated to qualified nonprofit agencies to include disaster relief.
Assigned to Ways and Means.


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 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.


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 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 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. 
Assigned to Natural Resources and Environment


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.


  • 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



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