Published on: Feb. 10, 2017
Georgia Legislative Update for February 13, 2017

The Georgia General Assembly convened at 10 a.m. Monday, January 9, for the first year of the 2017-2018 biennial session. The Governor’s State of the State address emphasized major initiatives in education, health care, transportation and public safety. Savannah/Chatham County fared very well in the budget.
The General Assembly has adopted a work schedule for the remainder of the session. Crossover Day (legislative day 28), the last day a bill can go from one house to the other, is set for Friday, March 3. Legislative day 40 is set for Thursday, March 30. It is important to note that we are at the beginning of the two-year session cycle, so unresolved bills can resume progress next year (2018).

For information on House and Senate leadership and the Chatham County delegation, see Georgia Legislative Leadership 2017. For information on how to track a bill through the General Assembly, see Tracking a Bill Through the General Assembly.

The Georgia Chamber’s Legislative Update follows the Savannah Area Chamber’s below.



  • Armstrong University: Request for $22.6 million for new construction and renovation of existing Health Professions facilities–$22 million included in the Governor’s supplemental budget
  • Georgia’s historic preservation incentives: House Bill 59 introduced by Rep. Ron Stephens would eliminate the cap and extend the sunset. The current legislation has been so impactful that the allowances are fully allocated through 2018/2019. By removing or increasing the cap, the credit will be available to more historic properties throughout the state. Heard in subcommittee and a substitute was introduced this past week which increases the cap instead of outright removing it. The Bill will be headed to subcommittee this week.
  • Military Affairs Study Committee Recommendations: Several possible bills could be introduced at the suggestion of the Military Affairs Study Committee Report. HB 72: Sponsored by Rep. Petrea, this legislation would create an income tax exemption for employers who hire disabled veterans or those who have gotten out of the military service in the following year for full time jobs. Income tax credit $2000 per veteran; Up to $50,000 per year.
  • Tax exemption for marine repair industry: HB 125 introduced by Rep. Ron Stephens—creates an exemption for repair of boats valued over $500,000. Was heard in Ways and Means last week and the substitute was voted favorably.
  • Commercial Property Tax Assessments: David Knight, a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, has taken the lead on drafting legislation to resolve this issue. The issue would have been resolved during the 2016 session with the passage of HB 982. This bill was pulled because of last minute amendments by the tax assessors to include market and expense data or typical income and expense data to be applied along with other market income and expense information in determining the fair market value of commercial properties. Rep. Ron Stephens is working with Rep. Knight on this issue and may offer legislation as well.
  • Parole and Pardons Transparency: HB 34 by Representative Jesse Petera imposes increased transparency on the Parole and Pardons Board by to make reports, files, records and information relative to the supervision of parolees subject  to the provisions of the Georgia Open Records Act (this information is currently secret). The Board would be required to hold public hearings before granting pardons or commuting death sentences. The bill gives the superior court that imposed the sentence the power to revoke the unexpired term of parole. The bill is supported by the Prosecuting Attorneys Council of Georgia. HB 34 was assigned to the House Public Safety & Homeland Security Committee. The Governor is preparing a broad criminal justice bill so the Chairman of the Committee will wait on the Governor before hearing HB 34.

OTHER MATTERS:Eminent Domain:

On City of Savannah agenda: Legislation is being drafted by legislative counsel to clarify that the 20 year public use rule does not preclude the City from transferring title to a private party when condemnation is used to remedy blight. Rep. Wendell Willard, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, has agreed to be the lead sponsor of the bill.  The bill is being finalized by legislative counsel and should be introduced this week.

Recorder’s Court of Chatham County:  Senator Watson introduced SB 73 to revise the responsibilities and method of selection of the chief judge of the court.  The chief judge is selected by the other seated judges for a term of two years.  The bill establishes a court administrator as an employee of the City reporting to the city manager.  It prescribes his/her duties including managing of dockets and the assigning of cases.  All employees of the court are employees of the City and subject to its personnel rules and procedures.  Senate Bill 73 was passed by the Senate State and Local Government Operations Committee on Thursday, February 8 and now goes to the Senate Rules Committee.  An identical bill, HB 298, was introduced in the House by Rep. Ron Stephens and Rep. Petrea on Friday, February 10.

“Brunch Bill”/ “Mimosa Mandate”: Senate Bill 17, introduced by Sen. Unterman, would allow restaurants already authorized to sell alcohol at 12:30 p.m. on Sundays to sell alcohol beginning at 10:30 a.m. Sundays.  Bill assigned to the Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities Committee.

Savannah / Chatham County Merger: Sen. Lester Jackson and Rep. Ron Stephens are proposing legislation to fund a study through the University of Georgia’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government to determine the feasibility of consolidating Savannah and Chatham County governments.

Hotel Motel Tax: HB 141 amends OCGA 48-13-51 section 4.5 to expand the list of permitted expenditures for revenues from excise taxes on lodging.  Specifically, it will allow Richmond Hill to acquire and refurbish a building from the Ford Foundation to make it into a visitor’s center.  They currently collect the 7th cent but this will allow them to use their funds for the building.

Hospital Medicaid Financing Program: SB 70 authored by Sen. Miller seeks to extend the sunset on the so-called “provider fee” for hospitals through June 2020.  The bill is expected to generate $311 million annually in state Medicaid funds and assists in drawing down $600 million in federal Medicaid dollars.  SB 70 passed both the Senate and House and should be signed by the Governor on February 14th.

The FAST Act (Fairness, Accountability, Simplification and Transparency):

SB 2 seeks to streamline regulations and licensing requirements for small business.  It was heard in Senate Committee on Economic Development and a new version will be introduced to improve the bill.

Destination Resort Act: SB 79* and HB 158, introduced by Senator Beach and Rep. Ron Stephens respectively, would provide for 2 licenses for Destination Resorts.

  • A destination resort is defined as “a mixed-use development consisting of a combination of various tourism amenities and facilities, including, but not limited to, hotels, villas, restaurants, limited gaming facilities, convention and meeting facilities, attractions, entertainment facilities, service centers, and shopping centers.”
  • Limited Gaming includes, but is not limited to: “games commonly known as baccarat, twenty-one, poker, craps, slot machines, video gaming of chance, roulette wheels, Klondike tables, punch board, faro layout, numbers ticket, push car, jar ticket, pull tab, or their common variants, or any other game of chance or wagering device that is authorized by the commission.”
  • The legislation creates a Georgia Gaming Commission with 5 appointments made by the Governor (3 appointees), Lt. Gov., and Speaker of the House. Board members will serve 2 or 4 year terms, depending on their appointment.
  • As originally written, the legislation included two destination resort licenses to be awarded by the Commission:
    • First license:
      • In a county with a population in excess of 900,000 (i.e. Fulton, Gwinnett).
      • Required investment of at least $2 billion
      • Close proximity to a convention center district within same county
      • Must include a hotel of a minimum of 1000 guest rooms
    • Second license (presumably after the first has shown success)*
      • County with population range of 250,000 to 900,000 (Chatham, Cobb, Clayton, DeKalb with possibility of Cherokee, Forsyth, and Henry by 2030)
      • Required investment of at least $450 million
      • Proximity to a convention center district within same county
      • No hotel requirement


  • No one company can hold both licenses concurrently
  • Application fee for license $1 million plus $50 million one-time licensing fee
  • $5 million annual renewal fee for license
  • Plan to have over 60% of its gross revenue derived from non-gaming sources
  • Max capacity of 3500 people
  • Gross receipts taxed at 20% to be placed in a fund
  • 70 % to HOPE
  • 30% for needs-based scholarships


Should either of the bills pass the General Assembly this session, then they will go to Georgia voters to choose to pass a constitutional amendment in the November 2018 election to allow for the facilities.

*SB 79 was sent back to legislative counsel after the county population approach was deemed unconstitutional and a substitute bill was offered in subcommittee. A hearing was held during which Sen. Beach outlined proposed adjustments to the bill. Additional support arguments were offered by the American Gaming Association and opposition remarks were also heard from members of various church contingents. Notable changes in the legislation were the adjustment of the population thresholds to counties of 200,000, which would open it up to Columbus and Augusta, and the addition of a portion of funds, up to 20%, being allocated towards rural Georgia hospitals. The requirement of a local referendum was also included.  No vote was taken during Thursday’s hearing. An additional Committee hearing is expected this week.



Legislative Calendar
Thursday, February 2 marked the 12th legislative day. Tuesday, February 7 will begin the 13th legislative day and run through Friday, February 10, as the 16th legislative day. You can view the rest of the legislative calendar through sine die, here.

Legislation of Interest
Senate Bill 70: Hospital Medicaid Financing Program *Chamber Scorecard (Support)

  • Status: Support
  • Bill Author: Senator Butch Miller (R – Gainesville)
  • SB 70 seeks to extend the sunset on the so-called “provider fee” for hospitals through June of 2020. The bill is expected to generate $311 million annually in state Medicaid funds and assists in drawing down $600 million in federal Medicaid dollars.
  • SB 70 passed the Senate on Thursday, February 2 by an overwhelming vote of 50-3, and is the first bill to receive scorecard designation (support) from the Chamber for the 2017 session. The bill will now advance to the state House.

Senate Bill 2

: The FAST Act – Fairness, Accountability, Simplification, and Transparency – Empowering Our Small Businesses to Succeed

  • Status: Under Consideration
  • Bill Author: Senator Mike Dugan (R – Carrolton)
  • SB 2 seeks to streamline regulations and licensing requirements for small business.
  • SB 2 was heard in the Senate Committee on Economic Development on Tuesday. The Chamber testified at the hearing and commended Senator Dugan and the Senate caucus for making regulatory reform a top priority for the 2017 session. We anticipate a new version will be introduced early next week that seeks to improve the bill, and we and will continue to monitor the legislation as it makes its way through the process.

House Bill 13


  • Status: Support
  • Bill Author: Representative Jeff Jones (R – Brunswick)
  • HB 13 allows an income tax credit up to $250 for teachers who use personal funds to buy supplies for their classrooms. The bill received its first hearing in the Ways & Means Income Tax Subcommittee on January 25.
  • The Chamber recognizes the importance of supporting educators who go above and beyond in the classroom, and supports legislation such as HB 13, which assists in retaining high-quality teachers.

Senate Bill 89


  • Status: Support
  • Bill Author: Senator David Shafer (R – Duluth); Majority Leader Bill Cowsert (R – Athens) and Majority Whip Steve Gooch (R – Dahlonega) are also co-signers on this legislation.
  • SB 89 creates the Georgia Freight Railroad program to streamline state investment in a critical area of infrastructure. Additional freight rail capacity will be needed to provide highway congestion relief and accommodate Georgia’s growing economy; to that end, the program established through SB 89 will ensure state funds are effectively appropriated. The bill was heard and passed out of the Senate Transportation Committee on Thursday.
  • Recognizing the importance of a continued commitment to our transportation infrastructure for economic development, the Chamber supports this legislation.

Facebook Live Conversation

Please join us on Facebook and Twitter next Wednesday, February 8th, for a live discussion on healthcare in Georgia. Jason O’Rouke, the Chamber’s senior director of public policy and federal affairs, and Kyle Jackson, our vice president of state and political affairs, will cover what federal action could mean for your healthcare and where the General Assembly is taking reform initiatives this legislative session.

Political Engagement
The Georgia Chamber is gearing up for the 2018 election cycle and we need your help. Your personal or corporate commitment today to the Georgia Chamber PAC will ensure that we as an organization are prepared to meet the challenges ahead. If you have any questions or would like more information regarding the Chamber’s political engagement efforts, please contact Chelsey Ruppersburg at

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