January was a busy month for the Chamber’s legislative team as we worked to keep our members informed of progress at the state capitol. Here is breakdown of the 2016 legislative session.
Specific Legislative Priorities:
Veteran Income Tax Exemption Bill
: HB 714 was introduced by Rep. Jesse Petrea. The legislation calls for an increase to the tobacco tax which has met opposition. Rep. Petrea will continue to work on this important proposal.
Armstrong State University: Armstrong State University’s Board of Regents’ request for $22.6 million for new construction and renovation of existing Health Professions facilities was one of 8 statewide projects that did not receive funding in the Governor’s budget. Efforts are being made to secure funding through the legislature so the project can move forward.
Savannah State University: The 2017 State Budget includes $2 million for science and technology equipment for Savannah State University.
Tourism Marketing: Requests have been made for increased funding for tourism marketing to make Georgia competitive with other Southeastern states.
Key Pro-Business Policy Positions:
Abrupt Property Assessments for Commercial Property
: SB 298 was introduced by Sen.Lester Jackson. Chairman Ron Stephens, along with our entire representative delegation, recently introduced HB 982. Discussions are being held to consider if any other municipalities are facing similar abrupt assessments.
Georgia Ports: Gov. Deal has announced that the $42.7 million in the president’s budget for the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project falls short of the Obama administration’s commitment to the state.
Religious Freedom: Currently 8 bills have been introduced affecting religious freedom.
HB 218- House version of RFRA- in House Judiciary
HB 323- Adds sexual orientation as forbidden area of discrimination for state law employment protections- assigned to House Judiciary
HB 756- Prohibits businesses from being forced to provide goods or services if conflicts with their beliefs- assigned to House Judiciary
HB 757- “Pastor Protection Act” – passed House unanimously
HB 837- similar to SB 129 – assigned to House Judiciary
HB 849- “The Georgia Civil Rights in Public Accommodations Act” – assigned to House Judiciary
SB 129- “RFRA”- filed last session/remains in committee in House
SB 284- “The First Amendment Defense Act”- in committee
HB 816- “The Georgia Student Religious Liberties Act” – passed House
: Included in the 2016 funding under the Transportation Funding Act of 2015 is $244 million of state funds allocated to a complete rebuild of the I-16/I-95 interchange, including widening and lighting. State funds have also been allocated to the project for rebuilding the sidewalks on Broughton Street.
Casino Gambling: Sponsored by Chairman Ron Stephens, HR 807 proposes an amendment to the State Constitution allowing for the local authorization of a limited number of destination resort casinos (approx. 5 districts proposed) within the state. Georgia voters would have the opportunity to vote in a statewide referendum as to whether the state’s gambling laws should be changed. If approved, local districts would then vote on whether to approve a licensed casino gaming facility in their area.
Also sponsored by Chairman Stephens, HB 677 is the enabling legislation, which would direct revenue generated from gaming towards the preservation of the HOPE Scholarship program. Currently, both measures are stalled. The Governor has voiced his opposition to both.
Parimutuel wagering; horse racing: Introduced by Sen. Beach, SR 135 proposes a Constitutional Amendment to allow for a local referendum on parimutuel wagering for horse racing. SB 264, also sponsored by Sen. Beach, is the enabling legislation laying out the rules and requirements related to horse racing in Georgia.
Other legislation of Interest:
: “Protecting Georgia’s Small Business Act”: Sponsored by Sen. Albers, SB 277 is a response to the National Labor Relations Board action in August 2015. The bill seeks to provide small businesses with the ability to maintain control of their operations without excessive and onerous federal overreach.
Excise Tax: Chairman Ron Stephens introduced HB 733 relating to an excise tax on rooms, lodgings and accommodations to reduce the $5.00 per night fee to $2.50 to customers for each calendar day any room, lodging, or accommodation is rented or leased. The bill deletes the term “Extended stay rental” in OCGA 48-13-50.3 (1) and redefines “Innkeeper” by changing the term “hotel or motel room” to mean any “rooms, lodging or accommodations.” The bill was assigned to the House Transportation Committee.
Economic Development & Tax: HB 742: The annual tax update bill to bring Georgia’s revenue code in compliance with changes to the federal tax code. The House unanimously passed HB 742 and it was immediately transmitted to the Senate. This will provide valuable relief for small businesses as they expand in Georgia.