The General Assembly was in session last week Monday through Thursday for Legislative Days 32 through 35. There are only five Legislative Days left before the General Assembly adjourns Sine Die on Tuesday, March 31st. Sine Die is Latin for “without a day” – meaning the day they adjourn at the end of the 40-day session not to return until the following year’s session. They will be in session this week Monday, Tuesday and Thursday for Legislative Days 35 through 38.
The log jam in both chambers has hopefully broken, as both the House and Senate Rules Committees are now putting bills on the calendar for votes on the floor. These final five legislative days will be a flurry of activity, as the Senate still must pass the Big Budget (HB 81) in time for the differences between the House version and Senate version to be worked out by the Conference Committee. The Senate Appropriations Committee is scheduled to meet today, so we could see action on the budget Thursday on the Senate floor. The Conference Committee would need to be appointed and work through the weekend to have a final product ready to be voted on by both the House and Senate on Legislative Day 39 or 40.
On Monday, March 15th, Governor Kemp announced $277 million in Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act 2021 (CRRSAA) funds are being allocated to the Georgia Department of Transportation to fill in projected revenue gaps caused by the impacts of COVID-19. These additional funds allow Georgia DOT flexibility to advance several strategic transportation improvements in predominantly rural areas in Jefferson, Jasper, Putnam, Upson, and Barrow Counties. Most of these investments will be on Georgia’s freight network, which are corridors that play a vital role in moving agriculture commodities, manufacturing inputs, and consumer goods between production, distribution, and retail locations in all areas of Georgia. These projects were previously further out in Georgia DOT’s outer-year delivery plans but will now begin construction a cumulative total of 13 years earlier, advancing the safety and reliability of Georgia’s freight network.
HB 476 – The Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors Act of 2021
HB 476 by Rep. Dale Washburn (R-Macon) passed out of the Senate Regulated Industries Committee unanimously on Thursday, March 11th. Sen. John Albers (R-Roswell) made the motion to pass, which was seconded by Sen. Gloria Butler (D-Stone Mountain), the leader of the Senate Democratic Caucus. Sen. Albers is the Senate Sponsor for HB 476. The bill is pending in the Senate Rules Committee.
HB 476 was introduced at ACEC Georgia’s request and is also supported by the Georgia Society of Professional Engineers (GSPE), Surveying and Mapping Society of Georgia (SAMSOG) and Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors Board (PELS Board). If passed, it will make the PELS Board an independent state agency, with its own separate budget and its own, dedicated staff. This legislation was modeled on the existing arrangements in place 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.
HB 81 – The FY 2022 Budget
The “Big Budget” is up for a vote in Senate Appropriations on Monday, March 22nd. We expect the bill to be on the Senate Floor Thursday. Once passed, a Conference Committee of three Senators and three House members will be appointed to work out the differences between the House and Senate versions.
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. ACEC Georgia is opposed to 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. ACEC Georgia supports this legislation. STATUS: Passed out of the House Special Committee on Access to the Civil Justice System on February 3rd. Passed the full House on February 11th by a vote of 99 to 63. Passed Senate Judiciary Committee on March 11. Passed the Senate 36-17. Heads to the Governor.
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. ACEC Georgia has obvious concerns about this bill (as well as the identical SB 45, see below) and we will be closely monitoring its progress. 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 and passed the Senate unanimously on February 24th. Now awaiting the Governor’s signature.
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. ACEC Georgia fully supports 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: Passed the House on March 5th by a razor thin vote of 91 to 65 (bills need at least 91 votes to pass the House). Awaiting a hearing in Senate Finance.
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. Passed the House on March 8th on 147-22 vote. Awaiting a hearing in the Senate Finance Committee.
HB 452 – By Rep. Rick Jasperse (R-Jasper) would extend the sunset date for an existing tax credit for expenditures the maintenance of railroad track owned or leased by Class III railroads to December 30, 2028 (currently set to expire in 2023). STATUS: Assigned the House Transportation Committee but the language of HB 452 was included in HB 587 by Rep. Bruce Williamson (R-Monroe). HB 587 passed the House on March 3rd by a vote of 157 to 14. HB 587 is assigned to the Senate Finance 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: Passed out of the House Regulated Industries Committee on February 23rd. Passed House on March 1st by a vote of 163-2. Passed Senate Regulated Industries unanimously on March 11th. Pending in the Senate Rules 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 House Transportation Committee.
HB 511 – By Rep. Bert Reeves (R-Marietta) would Constitutionally dedicate revenue from several existing Trust Funds, pursuant to the Constitutional amendment passed overwhelmingly by Georgia voters last November. The protected trust funds include Transportation (including the hotel/motel, heavy truck and alternative fuel vehicle fees created by House Bill 170), Transit, Solid Waste, Scrap Tire, Trauma Care and others. ACEC Georgia supports this legislation. STATUS: Passed out of the House Appropriations Committee on February 26th. Passed the House by a unanimous vote (168-0) on March 3rd. Passed the Senate 51-0. Heads to the Governor.
HB 588 – By Rep. Rick Jasperse (R-Jasper) would facilitate future investments related to Georgia’s transportation, freight and logistics infrastructure. ACEC Georgia supports this legislation. STATUS: Passed out of the House Transportation Committee on February 26th and passed the full House by a unanimous vote (166-0) on March 3rd. Pending in the Senate Finance 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.
HR 203 – By Rep. Josh McLaurin (D-Atlanta) is a proposed amendment to the Georgia Constitution which would expand the current Constitutional dedication of all motor fuel excise taxes to “roads and bridges” and instead allow those funds to be used for all public transportation purposes, including “roads, bridges, rails, airports, buses, seaports, and all accompanying infrastructure and services.” ACEC Georgia is opposed to this legislation but fear not - this proposal has no hope of advancing. 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 by a unanimous vote (51-0) 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. ACEC Georgia supports this legislation. 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. Passed out of House Agriculture & Consumer Affairs Committee. Pending in House Rules. Motion in Rules to move to the floor failed on Friday.
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. Did not crossover (dead for this year’s session).
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: Passed out of the Senate Transportation Committee on March 3rd. Passed the full Senate on March 8 on a 53-1 vote. Referred to the House Rules 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: Passed out of the Senate Insurance & Labor Committee on February 25th. Passed the full Senate by a unanimous vote (51-0) on March 3rd. Passed House Judiciary Committee. Passed House on March 19 162-0.
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. Likely will not move forward this year, but will be studied pursuant to SR 26, below).
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: Assigned to the Senate Rules Committee. Passed the full Senate by a vote of 41 to 8 on March 5th. Passed House Transportation Committee on March 17.
SR 102 – By Sen. Steve Gooch (R-Dahlonega) would create the Georgia Commission on E-Commerce and Freight Infrastructure Funding to continue the work of the Georgia Freight & Logistics Commission, specifically to explore how the dramatic expansion of e-commerce will impact Georgia’s freight & logistics network as well as studying potential funding options for freight & logistics infrastructure investments. STATUS: Passed out of the Senate Transportation Committee on February 26th. Passed the Senate on March 8th. Passed House Transportation on March 17. Pending in House Rules.
The Week Ahead
There are several bills that ACEC Georgia is working on that are stuck in the Senate Finance Committee: HB 302, HB 317, HB 587, and HB 588, due to the traditional end of session House/Senate tensions. We are hopeful that they will move forward this week.
The General Assembly will be in Session on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday this week, taking us through Legislative Day 38. The final two legislative days are scheduled to occur next week on Monday, March 29 and Wednesday, March 31.