The General Assembly was in session last week on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday for Legislative Days 17 through 19. This week, the pace will start to pick up, as they will be in session Monday through Friday (Legislative Days 20-24).
Making the PELS Board an Independent State Agency
As those of you with engineering licenses from other states are well aware, the engineer licensing boards in every other state in the South – from Texas to Kentucky – have their own dedicated staffs and in all but two southern states, are independent state agencies. Not so in Georgia, where the Professional Engineers & Land Surveyors (PELS) Board shares a small staff with five other unrelated licensing boards. As a result, customer service and enforcement have suffered for decades.
To rectify that situation, HB 476 – The Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors Act of 2021 - was introduced (at ACEC Georgia’s request) by Rep. Dale Washburn (R-Macon) to make the PELS Board an independent state agency, with its own separate budget, its own executive director and staff and its own attorney and investigators to investigate and enforce violations. This legislation was modeled on the existing arrangements for the Georgia Real Estate Commission and the Georgia State Board of Accountancy and will provide the financial and operational independence needed for the PELS Board to properly serve the 23,000 Professional Engineers and 1,200 Land Surveyors whose licensure is critical to protecting the health, safety and welfare of Georgia’s citizens and our built environment. This legislation has been assigned to the House Regulated Industries Committee and we hope to have a hearing this week. ACEC Georgia will continue to keep you updated on this important legislation.
Legislation ACEC Georgia is following
HB 100 – By Rep. Carl Gilliard (D-Garden City), would exempt public mass transit, campus transit, and public school system buses from paying Georgia’s motor fuel excise tax. This bill would undermine the premise underlying the Transportation Funding Act of 2015 (HB 170) – that all users of Georgia’s roads and bridges should contribute toward their upkeep. As such, ACEC Georgia opposes this bill. STATUS: Assigned to the House Ways & Means Committee.
HB 112 – By Rep. Trey Kelley (R-Cedartown), is an extension of the business COVID liability relief bill that was originally passed in 2020 as SB 359 and which is currently scheduled to sunset on July 14, 2021. HB 112 extends liability protections for an additional year until July 14, 2022. STATUS: Assigned to the House Special Committee on Access to the Civil Justice System. Passed out of committee on February 3rd. Passed the full House on February 11th by a vote of 99 to 63. Assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
HB 147 – By Rep. Heath Clark (R-Warner Robbins) is a bill aimed at speeding up occupational and professional licensure by comity for new residents of Georgia. It is identical to SB 45 by Sen. Bruce Thompson (see below). STATUS: Heard in the House Regulated Industries Committee’s Professional Licensing Subcommittee on February 3rd but no vote was taken. It was rescheduled for hearing on February 10th but was pulled from agenda at the last minute.
HB 265 – By Rep. David Knight (R-Griffin) is the annual IRS clean-up bill that aligns Georgia Code with Federal IRS code. This bill makes clear that businesses eligible for PPP loan forgiveness would not be required to pay state taxes on the loans, even though they count as income. The measure also lets those business owners claim tax deduction on the loans. STATUS: Fast tracked legislation that passed the House unanimously on February 9th. Passed out of the Senate Finance Committee on February 18th. Pending in Senate Rules Committee.
HB 302 – By Rep. Martin Momtahan (R-Dallas) involves regulatory fees charged by local governments on business, occupations and professions. The bill would require local government regulatory fees to approximate the cost of the service provided and prohibit the use of regulatory fee revenue to fund the general operation of the government. We fully support the intent of this legislation as drafted, but will also be watching this bill because it opens up the code section regulating occupation fees charged by local governments, potentially serving as a vehicle for changes that could open up engineering firms to exorbitant fees charged by local governments (similar to legislation ACEC Georgia and others fought last year). STATUS: Assigned to the House Ways & Means Committee.
HB 317 – By Rep. Ron Stephens (R-Savannah) is the Marketplace Facilitator Innkeeper bill. This is the same as HB 488 that the House passed last year that would require VRBO and AirBnB to charge its customers and remit to the government the $5 per night room fee that was created by HB 170 in 2015 to fund transportation. All other types of hotels, motels and lodging facilities already pay this fee, so HB 317 would create a level playing field for all types of businesses selling lodging room nights. ACEC Georgia supports this legislation. STATUS: Passed out of the House Ways & Means Committee on February 18th. Pending in House Rules Committee.
HB 476 – By Rep. Dale Washburn (R-Macon) "The Professional Engineers & Land Surveyors Act of 2021” was introduced at the request of ACEC Georgia to make the PELS Board an independent state agency, with its own separate budget, its own executive director and staff and its own attorney and investigators to investigate and enforce violations. This legislation was modeled on the existing arrangements for the Georgia Real Estate Commission and the Georgia State Board of Accountancy. STATUS: Assigned to House Regulated Industries Committee.
HB 496 – By Rep. James Burchett (R-Waycross) is this year’s version of the perennial “truck weights bill” would allow trucks hauling forest products trucks to apply for an annual “forest product permit” that would allow them to exceed maximum truck weight limits. This is the House version of SB 118 Sen. Tyler Harper (R-Ocilla) (see below). STATUS: Assigned to the Senate Transportation Committee.
HR 87 – By Rep. Viola Davis (D-Stone Mountain) is a Resolution asking that MARTA reaffirm its commitment to providing heavy rail along I-20 from Indian Creek to Stone Crest Mall. STATUS: Assigned to the House Transportation Committee.
SB 6 – By Sen. John Albers (R-Roswell), is a tax credit review bill that would require the Office of Planning and Budget to determine (either themselves or through a contract with a third party) the direct and indirect effects of Georgia’s tax credits and incentives upon the request of either the Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee or the House Ways and Means Committee. Each chairman may choose up to five incentives (either already in law or contained in proposed legislation) each year to be reviewed, with such reviews to be completed no later than December 1 of that year. There is general concern from the business community that the bill is overly broad and lacks any official recourse to counterclaim audit assumptions and/or findings, among other concerns. House Speaker David Ralston has indicated that he is not interested in taking up any bill during the current economic downturn that might negatively impact that impacts tax incentives designed to promote economic growth and development. STATUS: Passed the Senate unanimously on February 1st. Assigned to the House Ways & Means Committee.
SB 45 – By Sen. Bruce Thompson (R-White), is a bill aimed at speeding up occupational and professional licensure by comity for new residents of Georgia. The bill would require the professional licensing boards to approve new occupational or professional licenses by endorsement for anyone who: (1) moves from another state and establishes residency in Georgia; (2) holds a current license to practice such occupation or profession issued by another state that was acquired prior to establishing residency in Georgia for which the training, experience, and testing are substantially similar in qualifications and scope to the Georgia requirements for that license; (3) such license is in good standing in that other state; and (4) passes any examination that may only be required to demonstrate knowledge of the laws and rules and regulations of this state that are specific to the practice of the profession, business, or trade for which such license by endorsement is being sought. ACEC Georgia has obvious concerns about this bill (as well as the identical HB 147) and we will be closely monitoring its progress. STATUS: Passed out of the Senate Regulated Industries Committee with an amendment making it not apply to illegal immigrants. Passed the full Senate of February 16th by a vote of 37 to 15. Assigned to the House Regulated Industries Committee.
SB 49 – By Sen. Clint Dixon (R-Buford), is a clean-up bill to legislation passed by ACEC Georgia and AGC Georgia in 2019 (HB 493) that allows owners to use a licensed engineer or architect to perform private plan review and inspection services, rather than using the local government entity’s services. This bill would cement into law Governor Brian Kemp’s Executive Order 03.20.20.02 that allows owners to go straight to private plan review and/or inspections and pay 50% of that jurisdictions regulatory fee up front to the local government regardless of the time frame in which that local government is able to provide the service. If the local government determines that it did in fact have staff capable of performing the review, they can come back to the owner and request the other 50% of the regulatory fee. This Executive Order was instrumental in ensuring that projects could continue to move forward at the beginning of the pandemic lockdown, when many local government employees had been sent home. STATUS: Amended in Senate State and Local Government Operations Committee to allow ICC certified individuals to also provide the service at the request of the Home Builders Association and the Building Officials Association. Passed the full Senate on February 11th by a vote of 39 to 13. Much of the Senate opposition was due to the fact that the local government can still charge a 100% “convenience fee” even if the owner uses a third-party provider.
SB 94 – By Sen. Frank Ginn (R-Danielsville) is a modified version of the dam bill that Senator Ginn introduced in the 2020 session. Like that bill, it would allow habitable structures to be placed in the inundation zone below a Category II dam if an engineer of record were willing to certify that it would not create the possibility of loss of life. If a structure currently exists in the inundation zone of a Category II dam, the owner could hire an engineer of record to fortify the structure to prevent loss of life. Under either scenario there is an explicit prohibition on requiring the dam owner to fortify the Category II dam into a Category I dam (which is the actual point of the bill). STATUS: Assigned to the Senate Natural Resources & Environment Committee.
SB 98 – By Sen. Brandon Beach (R-Alpharetta) is a Freight & Logistics bill that would allow SRTA to negotiate public/private partnership investments in infrastructure that would provide a “substantial public benefit.” It would also make the Georgia DOT Commissioner an ex officio member of the Georgia Ports Authority Board. STATUS: Assigned to the Senate Transportation Committee.
SB 118 – By Sen. Tyler Harper (R-Ocilla) this year’s version of the perennial “truck weights bill” would allow trucks hauling forest products trucks to apply for an annual “forest product permit” that would allow them to exceed maximum truck weight limits. This is the Senate version of HB 496 by Rep. James Burchett (R-Waycross). STATUS: Assigned to the Senate Transportation Committee.
SB 169 – By Sen. Larry Walker, III would allow public procurement officers to accept electronic signatures and corporate seals on bonds relating to contracts for public works. STATUS: assigned to Senate Insurance & Labor Committee.
SR 26 – By Sen. Tyler Harper (R-Ocilla), is a proposed Constitutional Amendment to allow the state to issue general obligation debt (GO Bonds) to fund improvements at municipal airports (other than Hartsfield Jackson Atlanta International Airport). The funds would be used to finance the state’s federal matching portion of project finding. STATUS: Passed out of the Senate Appropriations Committee on February 4th. Placed on Senate Floor on February 9th but was tabled by the sponsor.
SR 84 – By Sen. Tyler Harper (R-Ocilla) would create a Joint Study Committee on Airport Infrastructure and Funding options. There are concerns that SR 26 (above), might have a negative impact the state’s credit rating and this Study Committee would look into those concerns and explore available options. STATUS: Referred to the Senate Rules Committee.
The Week Ahead
The pace will start to pick up, as the General Assembly will be in session Monday through Friday (Legislative Days 20-24) this week. The current Adjournment Resolution, SR 82, only provides the date for one additional day, which would be next Monday, March 1st (Legislative Day 25). We may see a new Adjournment resolution this week, or they may wait until next Monday to provide the schedule for some or all of the remaining days in the 40-day legislative session.