Legislative Session Report Week 9

June 19, 2020

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The General Assembly returned this week after a three-month hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic with eleven legislative days to tackle the long list of pending bills. Their top priority is passing the FY21 budget, which will reflect an 11% cut across the board, down from the originally projected 14% cut. The Senate passed their version of the budget today, and it returns to the House for evaluation. While the original proposals by agencies to meet their cuts contained elimination of vacant positions and general items unfortunate but understandable given the current situation, there were very concerning inclusions such as the closing of five state farmers markets and the transfer of CAFO/LAS/NPDES inspections from the Department of Agriculture to the Environmental Protection Division. Farm Bureau worked with legislators to express the importance of the markets and to have Department of Agriculture employees familiar with agriculture to be the ones performing inspections on the farm. We are pleased that the Senate Appropriations Committee adjusted the proposals to keep farm inspections with the Department of Agriculture and were able to include funds to keep the Cordele and Thomasville farmer markets open.


The most hotly debated issue this week came Thursday when the Senate took up Farm Bureau’s top priority, HB 545 – the Right to Farm Act. The bill was called for a vote and intense debate stretched for almost two hours as our friends and leaders in the Senate—Senators John Wilkinson, Tyler Harper, Larry Walker, Ellis Black, and Steve Gooch—provided strong and impassioned testimony in support of the bill and our farmers. The opposition continued to resort to doomsday scare tactics purported by environmental activists who generally oppose agriculture and are themselves currently suing farmers for nuisance. Unfortunately, an amendment was added to the bill by Senator Jesse Stone (Waynesboro) that removed a fundamental protection in the bill. However HB 545 did pass the full Senate, with this amendment, by a vote of 29-21. There is still time left and a path forward, as the House and Senate may form a conference committee to finesse the language, and GFB will continue working with legislators to ensure these meaningful protections are realized.


NOW IS THE TIME TO ACT. We need your help pushing HB 545 across the finish line with real protections in place. Please take a moment to send an email to your legislators, Lt. Governor Duncan, and Governor Kemp by clicking below. With only a few days left, it is critical that your elected officials hear from you and that they are engaged to pass HB 545.



The Senate voted 29-21 to pass an amended House Bill 545 on Thursday.


Other ag issues also received attention this week including SB 211 by Senator Harper, which would prohibit vegetarian or cell-cultured food products from misleading consumers with labels such as “beef”, “pork”, or other terms representing animal products. GFB testified in support of SB 211 in the House Agriculture Committee on Tuesday, and expects a vote by the committee next week. Rep. Corbett’s HB 847, updating the hemp program, was passed out of the Senate Ag Committee on Wednesday. This bill aligns Georgia’s program with federal definitions and requirements, allows all colleges and universities to participate, and increases the cost to renew a permit for hemp processors from $10,000 to $50,000. The original processor application fee remains $25,000.


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. Passed the Senate on 6/16/20.


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.

Passed the House by Substitute on 3/05/20. Senate Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee Favorably Reported on 6/18/20.


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. 

Passed the House on 3/04/20. Senate Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee Favorably Reported on 6/18/20.


HB 966: Regulating the Harvest and Sale of Palmetto Berries

Sens. Burchett, Corbett, Pirkle, McCall, Ridley, Rhodes

This bill would regulate the harvest, sale, and personal home use of palmetto berries. 

Passed the House by Substitute on 3/03/20. Senate Adopted by a vote of 49-4 on 6/19/20.


HB 1057: Regulation of Soil Amendments
Reps. Rhodes, Fleming, Erwin, Frye
This bill would authorize further regulation of soil amendments derived from industrial by-products by local governments.
Passed the House by Substitute on 3/12/20.


HB 1093: Establishing an Agricultural Commodity Commission for Wine and Grapes
Reps. Meeks, McCall, Pirkle, Ridley, Watson
This bill would allow for the establishment of an Agricultural Commodity Commission for Wine and Grapes.
Passed the House on 3/12/20.


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.

Passed the Senate on 3/03/20. House Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee Favorably Reported on 6/17/20.


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.
Passed the Senate on 3/10/20.


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.
Passed the Senate on 2/28/20. House Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee Favorably Reported on 3/12/20.


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. 

Natural Resources and Environment Favorably Reported by Substitute on 3/04/20. House Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee Favorably Reported on 6/17/20.



Agricultural producers can now apply for the United States Department of Agriculture's (USDA’s) Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP), which provides direct payments to offset impacts from the coronavirus pandemic. CFAP provides vital financial assistance to producers of agricultural commodities who have suffered a five-percent-or-greater price decline due to COVID-19 and face additional significant marketing costs as a result of lower demand, surplus production, and disruptions to shipping patterns and the orderly marketing of commodities.

Eligible commodities include:

  • Non-specialty Crops: malting barley, canola, corn, upland cotton, millet, oats, soybeans, sorghum, sunflowers, durum wheat, and hard red spring wheat
  • Wool
  • Livestock: cattle, hogs, and sheep (lambs and yearlings only)
  • Dairy
  • Specialty Crops
    • Fruits: apples, avocados, blueberries, cantaloupe, grapefruit, kiwifruit, lemons, oranges, papaya, peaches, pears, raspberries, strawberries, tangerines, tomatoes, watermelons
    • Vegetables: artichokes, asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, sweet corn, cucumbers, eggplant, garlic, iceberg lettuce, romaine lettuce, dry onions, green onions, peppers, potatoes, rhubarb, spinach, squash, sweet potatoes, taro
    • Nuts: almonds, pecans, walnuts
    • Other: beans, mushrooms

USDA has established a process for the public to identify additional commodities for potential inclusion in CFAP. Specifically, USDA is looking for data on agricultural commodities, that are not currently eligible for CFAP, that the public believes to have either:

  1. suffered a five percent-or-greater price decline between mid-January and mid-April as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,
  2. shipped but subsequently spoiled due to loss of marketing channel, or
  3. not left the farm or remained unharvested as mature crops.

USDA is particularly interested in the obtaining information with respect to the following specific categories of agricultural commodities:

  • Nursery Products
  • Aquaculture Products
  • Cut Flowers

Comments may be submitted through either of the following methods by June 22, 2020:

  • Federal Rulemaking Portal – Go to and search for Docket ID FSA-2020-0004. Follow the instructions for submitting comments.
  • Mail – Director, SND, FSA, US Department of Agriculture, 1400 Independence Avenue SW, Stop 0522, Washington, DC 20250-0522.

Learn more by watching our video on the Notice of Funding Availability or by visiting


Agricultural producers who have not yet enrolled in the Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) or Price Loss Coverage (PLC) programs for 2020 must do so by June 30. Although program elections for the 2020 crop year remain the same as elections made for 2019, all producers need to contact their local USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) office to sign a 2020 enrollment contract.

To date, more than 1.4 million ARC and PLC contracts have been signed for the 2020 crop year. This represents 89 percent of expected enrollment. FSA will send reminder postcards to producers who, according to agency records, have not yet submitted signed contracts for ARC or PLC for the 2020 crop year.

Producers who do not complete enrollment by close of business local time on Tuesday, June 30 will not be enrolled in ARC or PLC for the 2020 crop year and will be ineligible to receive a payment should one trigger for an eligible crop.

ARC and PLC contracts can be mailed or emailed to producers for signature depending on producer preference. Signed contracts can be mailed or emailed back to FSA or, arrangements can be made in advance with FSA to drop off signed contracts at the FSA county office – call ahead for local drop off and other options available for submitting signed contracts electronically.

Producers are eligible to enroll on farms with base acres for the following commodities: barley, canola, large and small chickpeas, corn, crambe, flaxseed, grain sorghum, lentils, mustard seed, oats, peanuts, dry peas, rapeseed, long grain rice, medium- and short-grain rice, safflower seed, seed cotton, sesame, soybeans, sunflower seed and wheat. 

More Information 

For more information on ARC and PLC including web-based decision tools, visit

USDA Service Centers, including FSA county offices, are open for business by phone only, and field work will continue with appropriate social distancing. While program delivery staff will continue to come into the office, they will be working with producers by phone and using online tools whenever possible. All Service Center visitors wishing to conduct business with the FSA, Natural Resources Conservation Service or any other Service Center agency are required to call their Service Center to schedule a phone appointment. More information can be found at               

Visit to find location and contact information for the nearest FSA county office.


On June 2, Georgia Farm Bureau signed on to a Georgia Bankers Association letter to Trump Administration officials calling for a streamlined Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan forgiveness application form, as the original version was 11 pages long and required extensive information gathering and calculations. This week, the Treasury Department and the Small Business Administration (SBA) heeded those calls and released an 3-page "EZ" PPP loan forgiveness application form. This new, streamlined version requires far fewer calculations and less documentation than the original 11-page application.

The new form, however, is not available to all who are eligible for PPP. PPP borrowers who are self-employed, have no employees, or did not reduce salaries by more than 25 percent are eligible to use the EZ forgiveness form. To use the form, businesses must also certify that they didn't cut employees' hours or were unable to operate at pre-coronavirus levels because of health mandates.

The SBA and Treasury also released a second shorter version of the full forgiveness application that can be viewed here.


Earlier this week, the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) and a coalition of national grower trade associations asked the Ninth Circuit to reject a non-governmental organization call to invalidate the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA's) existing stocks order for three dicamba products whose registrations were vacated by the court earlier this month.

The amicus brief was filed by AFBF, American Soybean Association, National Cotton Council of America, National Association of Wheat Growers, National Corn Growers Association, and National Sorghum Producers.

On June 3, the Ninth Circuit vacated the registrations for three dicamba herbicides – Bayer’s Xtendimax, BASF’s Engenia, and Corteva’s FeXapan. On June 5, AFBF called on EPA to allow farmers who have already purchased dicamba products to use existing stocks this season. On June 8, EPA issued a Cancellation Order that allows stocks of dicamba purchased before June 3 to be used until July 31. On June 11, the Center for Food Safety and Center for Biological Diversity filed an emergency motion with the Ninth Circuit asking the court to find the Cancellation Order unlawful and hold EPA in contempt of court.

AFBF’s brief focuses on the harm to growers of vacating EPA’s Cancellation Order (and existing stock order), as well as the necessity for farmers to be able to rely on EPA’s registration process when making their planting decisions. The brief highlights that overall financial losses from the unavailability of dicamba could total: (i) for soybean growers, between $2 and $10 billion (assuming $40 to $200 in yield-loss per acre of soybeans), and (ii) for cotton growers, $400 to $800 million (assuming 50% yield loss on 20% to 40% of cotton fields). A decision from the Ninth Circuit could come as soon as Friday.


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 Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities.

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 690: Exempting Agricultural Structures From Permitting Fees
Reps. Burchett, McCall, Pirkle, Rhodes, Corbett
This bill seeks to exempt agricultural structures from excess permitting fees.
Passed the House by Substitute on 3/12/20.


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. 
Passed the House by Substitute on 3/03/20. Assigned to Senate Finance Committee on 3/04/20


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.
Passed the House on 3/04/20. Assigned to Senate Finance Committee on 3/05/20.


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.
Passed the House on 3/12/20.


HB 1015: Georgia Carbon Sequestration Registry Tax Credits
Reps. Wiedower, Burns, Smith, Jones, Corbett, and Gaines
Allows for building materials and timber products to be included in the Georgia Carbon Sequestration Registry for tax credits.
Passed the House by Substitute on 3/12/20.


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.  
Passed the Senate on 3/10/20.


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.
Passed the Senate on 3/10/20.


SB 396: Pecan as State Nut
Sens. Walker, Wilkinson, Black, Anderson, Hill, Burke
This bill would designate the pecan as the official state nut.
Passed the Senate on 3/02/20. Assigned to House Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee on 3/03/20.


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. 

General Election Primary Results:

On Tuesday, June 9, Georgia hosted its General Election Primary. Official results from the Georgia Secretary of State can be found by clicking here.

A number of races resulted in runoffs. The primary runoff will take place on Tuesday, August 11. Other key dates for the 2020 election are included below.

Over the coming weeks, Public Policy staff will be working with candidates for both state and federal races to complete a 2020 Election Guide. The guide will feature the remaining candidates for State House, State Senate, the U.S. House of Representatives, and the U.S. Senate.  Candidates will be provided with questionnaires that ask them to elaborate on their positions on ag policy within the state. As we receive completed questionnaires, we will be sharing them to our I Farm. I Vote. website so that you can make an informed decision when you go to the ballot box this fall. 

Each county Farm Bureau has been provided with an I Farm. I Vote. starter kit of materials for this year's campaign. If you are interested in receiving any of these materials, please reach out to your county office. More information on the I Farm. I Vote. initiative can be found on our website.


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. 

Listen Now


Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the deadline to respond to the 2020 Census has been extended to October 31. Georgia is currently ranked 36th out of all states in the U.S. in terms of response rate. It is imperative that we encourage our Farm Bureau members and local communities to participate in the census as data derived from the short, ten-question survey helps to determine legislative districts and representation as well as funding towards many projects and initiatives important to Georgia’s communities.

Rural Georgia in particular is seeing a significant undercount. While access to reliable internet may play into this discrepancy, there are currently three total ways that the census can be taken. Those include:

As of June 16, Hancock County had the state’s lowest rate at 24.5% and Fayette County had the state’s highest rate at 73.3%. To see where your county ranks, click here. 

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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