March 28th, 2013 marked the 40th and final day of the 2013 Georgia General Assembly. Day 40 of the General Assembly is known as “Sine Die,” which is Latin for “without assigning a day for further meeting.” On the tail end of a 14 hour legislative day, the General Assembly adjourned “Sine Die” around midnight Thursday after the passing $19.92 Billion budget for FY 2014. GCC’s attention this final week was focused on Hazardous Waste Trust Fund Reauthorization and Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) tax credit legislation.
Hazardous Waste Trust Fund — As you may remember, HB 276 is the Hazardous Waste Trust Fund reauthorization legislation that would reauthorize the use of the fund for an additional 5 years.
Last week, automatic fee reduction language that GCC supported was gutted from HB 276 by the Senate NR Committee, and because it was included in a separate bill, HB 127, which would provide the fee reduction language to a broader range of fees. This automatic reduction legislation would require the amount of funds appropriated to be greater than or equal to 95% of the amount of fees collected. If the amount appropriated was less than 95%, there would be an automatic fee reduction of 25% for the following year. HB 127 passed the House overwhelmingly, but unfortunately never made it out of committee in the Senate this week.
On the final day of the session, the House amended the fee reduction language back on to HB 276 on the floor. This put the Senate in a difficult situation. With the final hours quickly waning, the Senate’s disapproval of this floor amendment would kill the legislation and leave a $16 million hole in the FY2014 budget. At 11:48pm on March 28th, the Senate approved HB 276 which both reauthorized the Hazardous Waste Trust Fund for an additional 5 years and established an automatic fee reduction program. The bill has now been sent to the Governor to be signed in to law. GCC worked with the House leadership to make sure the fee reduction language was part of the final bill.
Compressed Natural Gas Tax Credit
While the original natural gas vehicle tax credit legislation was not considered before the crossover deadline, GCC spent much of its time this last week making sure that this legislation did not resurface as an amendment on other bills. What we primarily monitored was potential vehicle legislation. “Vehicle legislation” is a bill that is likely to pass and is or can be used by an outside party to carry other legislation. GCC remained vigilant and ensured that the natural gas tax credit bill, or certain provisions of it, was not amended on to other pieces of legislation. This legislation was successfully defeated this session, but the original bill, HB 348, will carry over to the 2014 session.
Voluntary Remediation Program Revision/HRSA Moderation
As we have reported earlier, HB 357/ SB 176 that would clarify some provisions of the VRP and update the Hazardous Site Recovery Act by making the corrective action provisions the same as the VRP was assigned to study committees in both the House and Senate. During the interim, we will be working with other allied groups and GA EPD to make necessary changes to the bills, so they can be acted upon in the 2014 session.
Ethics Reform Legislation
The Georgia General Assembly passed a new lobbyist ethics law on the last day of the 2013 legislative session. This ethics law had been introduced earlier in the session but was stagnant due to disagreement between the House and the Senate only days before Sine Die. Governor Nathan Deal encouraged the House and the Senate to pass this ethics legislation, and the Georgia legislature eventually compromised and passed a bill unanimously. This new legislation will limit meals/gifts from lobbyists to legislators to be capped $75. This limit is per occurrence, per lobbyist, and does not include a cumulative limit in expenditure. There are notable exceptions to this new limit for lobbyist-funded domestic travel and group dinners. Some of the specific exceptions include:
- Food, beverages, and registration at group events where all members of the Georgia House, Senate, standing committee, or caucus are invited
- Transportation, lodging, travel, and registration for a public officer and necessary staff attending educational, informational, charitable, or civic meetings or conferences in the United States that directly relate to official duties
- Food and beverages for a public officer, necessary staff, and spouse while attending an educational, informational, charitable, or civic meeting or conference in the United States
The new proposal also clarifies who needs to be registered as a lobbyist, which now includes anyone that is paid $1,000 or more to lobby or is reimbursed more than $250 a year in lobbyist expenses. This is a good provision because it will require a lot more activists to get registered.
This session, the Georgia General Assembly passed a HOPE Grant Expansion. This legislation changes the eligibility requirements of the HOPE Scholarship technical school students, returning the eligibility requirement for HOPE Grants from a 3.0 GPA back to a 2.0 GPA. This change in eligibility requirements is expected to increase attendance at Georgia’s various technical schools by 3,500-5,000 students. This increase in enrollment will help fill empty technical positions throughout the state.
The high-profile gun bill that would have increased an individual’s ability to carry firearms in public places did not pass out of the General Assembly this session. The bill would have banned the carrying of a firearm in government buildings, courthouses, jails or prisons, places of worship, mental health facilities, bars, nuclear power plants, or within 150 feet of any polling place. Exceptions to this ban included bars and places of worship where the administrative boards or owners of these entities explicitly allowed firearms on the premises. An individual would have the right to carry a firearm in any other public institution not listed as a banned location. The legislation was held up due to differences in opinion between the House and Senate over the ability of students to carry firearms on college campuses. This legislation is expected to roll over to the 2014 legislative session.