Bills favorable to ag pass Georgia General Assembly
Georgia farmers could benefit from a number of bills passed in the 2018 session of the Georgia General Assembly, which concluded on March 30. Among them are protections for livestock producers, a clarification of rules for the Conservation Use Value Assessment (CUVA), measures to improve oversight of the Georgia Agricultural Tax Exemption (GATE) and setting statutory responsibilities for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Environmental Protection Division (EPD).
The General Assembly also approved a number of ag-related provisions in the state budget.
Language requiring consultation with animal husbandry experts before charges are filed against farmers for alleged animal cruelty, was included in House Bill 956, which was sponsored by Rep. Clay Pirkle (R-Ashburn). The livestock producer protection, which originated with Senate Bill 257 sponsored by Sen. Bill Heath (R-Bremen), sought to implement this involvement with food animal veterinarians early in an investigation to provide the best care for animals, to protect farmers from false accusations.
Two measures concerning CUVA were passed in one bill and sent to the governor for final approval. Senate Bill 458, introduced by Sen. John Wilkinson (R-Toccoa), will clarify the intent of CUVA and add accountability for counties that wrongfully restrict access to the program. The bill includes language from HB 373 sponsored by Rep. David Knight (R-Griffin). Following an update to last year's inclusion of “farm entities” as qualified participants, Wilkinson's bill clarifies that farm entities are treated the same as individuals regarding the ability of those age 65 and older to pull out at a reduced penalty rate. Knight's changes specify that a new plat or survey is not required to exclude a residential area, and provides accountability by repayment of attorney fees to individuals who are wrongly charged a breach.
House Bill 866, sponsored by Rep. Sam Watson (R-Moultrie), strengthens the integrity of the GATE program. The bill allows sharing of information between the Georgia Departments of Agriculture and Revenue to investigate and enforce the rules of the program. The bill also doubled the threshold qualification to $5,000 annual aggregate sales of agriculture products and moved to a $150, 3-year GATE card with the goal of ensuring only qualified users access the program.
Companion actions House Resolution 51 and House Bill 85, both sponsored by Rep. Jay Powell (R-Camilla), could end up benefitting the state’s forest landowners. HR 51 authorized an amendment to the state constitution on the language of HB 85, which would establish a new tax class of timberland and adjust the formula for determining the fair market value of forest land enrolled in the Forest Land Protection Act (FLPA). This action would provide flexible options for landowners if it is signed by Gov. Nathan Deal and then receives at least 50 percent of a statewide vote in November.
Sen. Larry Walker III (R-Perry), sponsored SB 451, which codifies the responsibilities of agriculture water metering with the EPD, establishes procedures for permitted withdrawals to be metered, and requires EPD to contract out meter reading, maintenance, repair, and replacement.
The General Assembly also approved the state budget, which included $1.7 million for a new Rural Innovation and Prosperity Center, $223,823 for research on whitefly management and $171,400 for disease-resistant turf, $726,740 for several positions with the UGA Cooperative Extension Service, $150,000 for young farmer programs in Polk County and at the Pataula Charter Academy in Calhoun County, $100,000 for a Young Farmer Executive Director position, $1.1 million for the Veterinary Medicine Experiment Station and $179,205 for a Georgia Forestry Commission deputy director position.
For more details from the 2018 Session of the Georgia General Assembly, visit https://www.votervoice.net/iframes/GFB/newsletters/29125.