2017 Georgia Legislative Session

Katie Base RobertsReview of Legislative Days 1-4

By Katie Base Roberts
Director of Governmental Affairs
Fiveash Stanley, Inc.

2017 General Assembly Underway

The 2017 General Assembly convened Monday, January 9.  This first day of session was largely ceremonial, with the certification of election results and legislators swearing their oath of office.  Members then installed legislative leadership.  In the House, members reelected David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) as Speaker and Jan Jones (R-Milton) as Speaker Pro Tem.  In the Senate, David Shafer (R-Duluth) was easily reelected as President Pro Tem.

The remaining days in session were uneventful, save for Governor Nathan Deal’s State of the State address on Wednesday.  The Governor touted the state’s job growth, healthy rainy day fund, and increase in state revenues, which will be used to finance pay increases for law enforcement and other state employees.

Next week the legislature will not officially meet, but will be in Atlanta for joint budget meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday.  Many Republicans will travel to Washington, DC for the inauguration of President-Elect Donald Trump on Friday, January 20.  The legislature will reconvene on Monday, January 23.

Change to Crossover Day
In the midst of all the fanfare and formality surrounding the first days of session, the House and Senate did make a number of changes to their internal rules.  One impacts Crossover Day, the all-important deadline for a bill to be adopted by its originating chamber.  Capitol historians remember when Crossover would take place on legislative day 35; it has slowly moved up the legislative calendar to day 30.  But rules adopted this year will place Crossover on day 28.  With the volume of bills adopted by the House—many of them important revenue measures—this change will give the Senate two additional days for thoughtful deliberation.

Committee Membership Update
As is customary at the start of each legislative biennial, a number of changes have been made to House and Senate Committees.  On the Senate side, Burt Jones (R-Jackson) replaces Charlie Bethel as the Chair of the Insurance and Labor Committee.  Bethel has recently been appointed to the state’s court of appeals and is no longer serving in the legislature.  Greg Kirk (R-Americus) is also new to the Committee this year.

Brian Strickland (R-McDonough) is the new Chair of the House Industry and Labor Committee.  He replaces Jason Shaw (R-Lakeland) who will head the new Appropriations subcommittee on transportation.  House freshmen Josh Bonner (R-Peachtree City), Dewayne Hill (R-Ringgold), Todd Jones (R-South Forsyth) and Sam Park (D-Lawrenceville) will also serve on the committee this term.

Healthcare and Workers’ Compensation Issues
State Board of Workers’ Compensation.  The State Board of Workers’ Compensation is also expected to offer a housekeeping bill this year.

Occupational Diseases.  Last year, the legislature adopted legislation that expands the eligibility for workers’ compensation benefits to firefighters diagnosed with cancer.  The Governor subsequently vetoed the legislation over concerns about codifying an exception for a specific occupation and citing the potential for exhaustive litigation.

Taxation Issues

HB 56: Equipment Rental Agreements
Rep. Ron Stephens, R-Savannah

Assigned to the House Ways & Means Committee on 1/12

HB 56 Levies a “property tax recovery fee” on certain rental agreements with rental equipment companies engaged in construction, mining or forestry and general rental centers.  The fee is 1.5% on the total charge for a rental agreement, exclusive of taxes, fees and separately stated charges.  The equipment rental company must then retain the fee in escrow until ad valorem tax is assessed.  If the total amount of property tax recovery fees collected by the company exceeds the company's assessed ad valorem tax liability for rental equipment for that calendar year, the company shall remit such fees, along with any accrued interest, to the general fund of the state treasury.

HB 61: Tax Online Sales
Rep. Jay Powell, R-Camilla

Prefiled in the House on 1/12

HB 61 requires large delivery retailers (like Amazon) to collect and remit sales taxes OR maintain sales tax data for each purchaser and remit that information to the purchaser and the Department of Revenue so the purchaser may pay owed taxes on their tax return.

Omnibus Tax Reform.  Leading tax committee members are in the final stages of drafting legislation that will impact businesses across the state. By recapturing taxes lost to digital downloads, Uber, AirBnB and other disruptive technologies, the sponsors hope to derive sufficient revenue to lower the state’s income tax rate and possibly provide limited property tax relief.  Details are gradually surfacing and the bill is expected in the coming weeks.

Building and Construction Industry Issues

Lien Registry.  The Department of Revenue is expected to introduce legislation that would establish a statewide lien registry for personal property.

Special Election in the Senate

Chuck Payne, an active member of the local Republican Party and a retired juvenile court probation officer became the newest member of the Senate after defeating Debby Peppers in a January 10 Special Runoff Election to represent District 54.  The seat was vacated shortly after the November election, when Governor Deal appointed state Senator Charlie Bethel (R-Dalton) to the state’s court of appeals.

All 236 seats of the House and Senate are now occupied, but the churn will continue.  At least one member of the Georgia Senate is expected to resign in the coming weeks to run for a soon-to-be-open congressional seat.