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2016 Session Comes to a Close

Monday, March 28, 2016   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Jennifer Addington
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2016 Session Comes to a Close


state capitolHad 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.


GATE logoHB 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 budgeting process. 


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



on the Senate John Wilkinsonside 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. 

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