Georgia legislature passes ag laws

The Georgia General Assembly recently adjourned the second-half of its two-year session by passing several bills of interest to the state's farming community. Among these is “The Landowner's Bill of Rights and Private Property Protection Act” or eminent domain bill.

Highlights of House Bill 1313 include clarification that eminent domain may only be used for public use, the condemnor must prove public use to a court, and public use does not include economic development. The bill, according to officials with the Georgia Farm Bureau, also brings better definitions to pertinent terms, restricts who can authorize eminent domain proceedings, offers more reimbursement for costs associated with moving landowners, and provides a way for landowners to seek to buy back their property if the government doesn't use it within five years.

The bill includes the following provision: “Neither this state nor any political subdivision thereof nor any other condemning authority shall use eminent domain unless it is for public use. Public use is a matter of law to be determined by the court and the condemnor bears the burden of proof. The public benefit of economic development shall not constitute a public use.”

A related resolution also passed and provides for a constitutional amendment to be on the ballot tightening the use of eminent domain. Many related bills did not pass. Among them was a house resolution which proposed a constitutional amendment to compensate landowners damaged by “inverse condemnation.”

The General Assembly also passed an immigration bill which contains provisions that prohibit the business expense deductibility of labor costs for workers who cannot provide “acceptable documents.” The bill pertains only to illegal workers, but Georgia farmers have been concerned about unintended consequences of the legislation. Farmers who depend on migrant labor are concerned that legal farm workers may decide to forego working in Georgia and go instead to neighboring states that do not have similar laws.

Tax bills also were on the legislature's agenda this year. The passage of House Bill 834 provides a sales tax exemption on the fuels used in swine facilities and will result in a savings to hog producers. Another bill, which passed early in the session, provides a state income tax credit for landowners who donate a conservation easement or a tract of land to the government.

House Bill 1293 will loosen restrictions for some senior landowners to get out of the conservation use covenant without penalty under certain circumstances. Yet another tax-related bill gives a sales tax exemption for biomass material if it is used in energy production.

Commodity commissions also were up for discussion this year by the Georgia General Assembly, including the Equine Commission, which was established by Senate Bill 380. Equine producers throughout the state supported the commission, which will be funded by a specialty vehicle tag purchased voluntarily by equine enthusiasts. The new commission will be structured essentially like other commodity commissions, and since there will be no mandatory producer assessments, there will be no producer referendum.

Lawmakers also passed a bill regulating irrigation permits for the Flint River Basin. Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue has lifted the moratorium on irrigation permits in the region. According to the legislation, future irrigation permits in the Flint River Basin will require an application fee of $250 to prevent an anticipated run on speculative permit applications. Issued permits will have to be acted upon within two years, and they will be in effect for 25 years, renewable at expiration based on future circumstances.'

Other agriculture-related bills that passed include:

  • House Bill 999, Vet Practices Act — The minor changes in the bill will allow for more access to large animal vets in rural areas through the use of veterinary technicians.

  • House Bill 1213 — Concerns about controlling poultry diseases prompted this bill to prohibit the slaughter of poultry at a market where live birds are sold.

  • House Bill 1320, Litter Bill — The aim is to reduce the amount of litter in Georgia, and the final version included some needed farm exemptions.

  • House Bill 1392, Vehicle Gross Weights — In current law, holders of Class C drivers' licenses may tow a trailer with a gross vehicle weight of no more than 10,000 pounds. This bill allows farmers with Class C licenses to exceed the 10,000-pound trailer weight provided the combined weight of the truck and trailer do not exceed 26,000 pounds. This change effectively expands the current agricultural CDL exemption from 150 miles to the entire state.

  • House Bill 1412, Biodiesel Requirements — The original bill required most government entities in Georgia to use biodiesel by 2008. However, an amendment added in a House committee changed “requiring” to “urging.”

  • House Bill 1551, Joint Comprehensive Water Desalination Study Committee — This bill creates a 10-member committee to study the feasibility of water desalination in Georgia.

  • Senate Bill 636, Biodiesel Definition — This bill provides a legal definition for biodiesel fuel.

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