Georgia lawmakers ponder ag items

Several items of interest to Georgia's farmers were on the agenda as the state's general assembly convened for its 2001 session. The Georgia Farm Bureau lists the following items as priority issues for the current legislature:

- Right to farm - The farm bureau recommends that Georgia's Right to Farm Law be strengthened, and that legislation be passed that would require a statement of disclosure signed at all real estate closings and/or title transfers of property, and that it be recorded with the deed in the county clerk's office.

- Cost share - The farm bureau recommends that cost-share funds be made available by the Georgia Legislature. Under such legislation, on a basis similar to that provided by the state of North Carolina. Farmers can receive up to 75 percent of the cost of implementing environmental regulations mandated by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

- Sales tax exemptions - A sales tax exemption for all on-farm electricity utilized in agricultural production, processing and general operations. This would include sales of liquefied petroleum gas or other fuel used in dairy, swine and tobacco production.

- EPD ag advisory committee - The farm bureau recommends that the Georgia Legislature create an Environmental Protection Division (EPD) advisory committee consisting of farmers and members of the house and senate agriculture committees to protect farmers from excessive environmental regulations. Before any new regulation becomes law, it would be reviewed by this committee.

- Limited liability - Pick-your-own farm owners should be exempt from liability when customers enter private property to harvest their own fruits and vegetables.

Farm-related items also were discussed at recent budget hearings held by the state's appropriation committees. They include:

- Department of Agriculture - $200,000 for increased Market Bulletin printing and postage; $50,000 to add one pathologist to the Athens Veterinary Laboratory to maintain American Association of Veterinary Laboratory Diagnostic accreditation.

- Board of Regents - $695,000 for additional maintenance and operation funding for the Agriculture Experiment Stations; $401,668 for additional maintenance and operation funding for the Cooperative Extension Service facilities; $350,000 for Agricultural Extension Stations for the study of mushrooms as a potential cash crop; $32,019 for the Veterinary Medicine Experiment Station Agricultural Research program to conduct research in antibiotic-resistant poultry to reduce the risk of transferring resistance to humans.

- Department of Education - $200,000 to expand industry certification in agricultural education; $10,000 to expand the Governor's Honor Program by 15 students in agrisciences and biotechnology.

- Department of Natural Resources - $3,958,774 to provide 70 positions and seven motor vehicles as part of a staff enhancement plan for EPD programs related to water pollution, control, water allocation, hazardous waste management, surface mining and ozone standard attainment; $250,000 to provide for the second year of a four-year comprehensive study of the Savannah River Basin; $55,000 in payments in lieu of taxes for Baker and Calhoun counties to compensate for the loss of tax revenues associated with the state purchase of the Chickasawhatchee tract.

- Department of Revenue - $249 million for the Governor's Property Tax Relief Program that will raise statewide homestead exemption value from the current amount of $6,000 to $8,000.

Gov. Roy Barnes also has proposed spending $38.8 million in tobacco settlement funds to form the Georgia Cancer Coalition, creating the state's first cancer center of excellence.

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