The 2017 Session of the Georgia General Assembly adjourned sine die on Thursday, March 30, 2017. This is the first year of the 2017-2018 biennial session, so any legislative proposals that were not passed this year will carry over to next year. Such bills will return to their committee of origin to be debated in January of 2018. Bills that did pass both chambers are headed to the Governor’s desk to be signed into law or vetoed by the Governor within the next 40 days.
As the voice of business for Savannah and the Chatham County area, the Savanna Area Chamber of Commerce is committed to keeping our region competitive and thriving. During the 2017 session, we advocated for legislation and policies which improve the business climate, help develop and retain an educated workforce, support our military and support the pillars of our regional economy. It was a great session for the Savannah Area Chamber as it accomplished most of its legislative priorities.
SPECIFIC LEGISLATIVE PRIORITIES:
- Defend against legislative measures that would negatively impact Savannah’s business climate, appear discriminatory in nature, or would harm the ability to create, attract, retain and expand jobs.
- Despite several attempts, no bill containing discriminatory language passed, thereby helping to ensure Georgia remains the #1 state in which to do business.
- Support Armstrong State University’s Board of Regents’ request for $22.6 million for new construction and renovation of existing Health Professions facilities.
- $22 million was included in the Governor’s supplemental budget.
- Support enhancement of Georgia’s historic preservation incentives to encourage investment of historic landmarks.
- HB 59, introduced by Rep. Ron Stephens, sought to amend current legislation in order to extend the sunset, allow for carry-over of credits and increase the overall cap. The bill did not pass and will carry over to next year.
- Support the recommendations of the Georgia Military Affairs Study Committee in an effort to retain and grow this important statewide Economic Development Target Industry, including initiatives to attract and retain military veterans through tax and education incentives that encourage veterans to reside in Georgia.
- HB 224, introduced by Rep. Dave Belton, authorizes military students to attend any school of their choice in their school system. This bill passed and is headed to the Governor’s desk for his signature.
- HB 245, introduced by Rep. Al Williams, establishes a process for military spouses to qualify for temporary certification in the school systems of Georgia. This bill is headed for the Governor’s desk for his signature.
- HB 599, introduced by Rep. Heath Clark, provides a tax exemption for income received as retirement benefit by a member of the armed forces. This bill was introduced after crossover and will be eligible for consideration in the 2018 session.
- We thank Rep. Bill Hitchens for his leadership on these issues and thank our entire delegation for their commitment to our military.
- Support the passage of legislation to assure there is a level playing field regarding the taxation of parts installed on large watercraft registered in other states. Making Georgia competitive for this work will directly lead to increased maritime repair and service jobs throughout the Georgia coast.
- HB 125, introduced by Rep. Ron Stephens, was adopted on the final day of the session and will now head to the Governor’s desk for his signature. This legislation creates a sales tax exemption on boat repairs, maintenance or retrofitting where sales tax exceeds $35,000. It will sunset June 30, 2020. Currently, this industry does not exist in our state. The business community, our City and its advocates worked tirelessly on this issue under the leadership of our delegation. The Chamber looks forward to welcoming this new industry and the many jobs it will create to Chatham County.
- Support initiatives to limit the unanticipated, large percentage swings of annual commercial property tax assessments.
- HB 325, sponsored by Rep. Ron Stephens, was adopted on the final day of the session by including the bill’s provisions in HB 196 as a vehicle. A legislative solution was sought in response to the dramatic swings in property taxes such as experienced by the business community during the re-development of Broughton Street. By amending the current statute to allow the property owner to supply actual income and expense data for utilization under the income approach, more predictability and transparency should occur in the assessing of commercial properties. We thank the City of Savannah, the business community, and our delegation for their hard work on this legislation over the last two years. This bill is now headed to the Governor’s desk for his signature.
- Update laws governing the Georgia International Maritime and Trade Center to modernize governance and improve their marketability.
- HB 354, did not pass this session and is eligible for consideration in 2018.
- Reform transparency by requiring more thorough notifications and communication to allow local communities to have significantly greater knowledge and input when offenders are being considered for pardons and/or paroles.
- HB 34, introduced by Rep. Jesse Petrea, imposes increased transparency and notification requirements on the Parole and Pardons Board. There was much consideration and work on this issue throughout the session and this bill will carry over to next year.
BILLS OF INTEREST:
Eminent Domain: HB 434 sponsored by Rep. Wendell Williard will remove the 20-year restriction for condemnation of blighted property. Under the new law, the property can be converted to private use following a series of procedural steps provided it remains in the same land use for five years. This legislation was a product of hard work by a coalition comprised of the City of Savannah, GMA, the Georgia Realtors, the City of Atlanta, and the Georgia Apartment Association.
Education: HB 338, introduced by Rep. Kevin Tanner, provides measures for turning around low performing schools. While this legislation was introduced as a response to the earlier failed Opportunity School District Amendment, it is not quite as far reaching as that plan. Entitled the “First Priority Act – Helping Turnaround Schools Put Students First Act”, this legislation would create a chief turnaround officer to assist in helping low performing schools. Private managers would step in to oversee those schools that do not improve after three years of support. HB 338 passed this session and is headed to the Governor’s desk for his signature.
Hospitals: SB 70 was signed into law by the Governor on February 13. This legislation extends the sunset on the provider fee for hospitals through June 2020. It is expected to generate $311 million annually in state Medicaid funds and assist in drawing down $600 million in federal Medicaid dollars.
“FAST Act”: SB 2, which required Cities to establish an expedited process for permits and licenses, failed to pass.
The Chamber would like to especially thank the main members of our delegation, other legislators, key elected officials and business leaders who have made these successes possible. We would also like to recognize our director of government affairs Ms. Ansley Threlkeld for her tireless efforts.