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Georgia Chamber Legislative Update – Sine Die (April 3)

This last week of action at the Georgia General Assembly included passage of a number of priority bills for our state’s business community. The 2015 session officially ended April 2, and Governor Deal now has 40 days to sign or veto the bills that passed both chambers. Since this was the first year of a two year session, bills not voted on this year will be eligible for passage in 2016. During this legislative session, the Georgia Chamber worked with lawmakers to pass several bills important to the business community and blocked measures that would hurt our state’s competiveness.

One of the greatest successes of the 2015 session was final passage of HB 170, the Transportation Funding Act of 2015. Following the bill’s passage, Georgia Chamber President and CEO Chris Clark issued the following statement:

“The Georgia Chamber applauds the General Assembly for passing a meaningful transportation infrastructure funding bill. The significant new funding created by HB 170 will allow us to ensure the safety and mobility of all who travel on our roads and highways as well as the connectivity between our communities. Few things are more important to our ability to grow and create jobs than our infrastructure, and we are grateful that an agreement was reached that will benefit our state long into the future.

We commend Governor Nathan Deal, Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle, Speaker David Ralston, House Transportation Chairman Jay Roberts, Joint Study Committee Co-Chairman Steve Gooch and all those who played a role in this important victory for Georgia.”

The Chamber wants to thank members of the Government Affairs Council and in particular, Chair Elizabeth Chandler, who worked tirelessly throughout the session on behalf of Georgia’s business community.
Priority Legislation Passed This Session
The Georgia Chamber tracked hundreds of bills during the 2015 legislative session. The priority bills that passed are outlined below. Those bills considered most important to Georgia’s future economic success were deemed “scorecard” issues by the Georgia Chamber.

HB 57: Solar Financing Bill
Chamber Position: Support 

HB 57, sponsored by Representative Mike Dudgeon (Johns Creek), will allow for the financing of solar panels for both residential and commercial customers. The Georgia Chamber recognizes the importance of renewable energy sources as a part of a balanced portfolio for consumers. HB 57 is the product of Georgia’s utility and solar industries reaching an agreement that allows for solar development in a responsible, cost effective way that preserves the integrity and reliability of the electric grid in Georgia and does not burden non-solar customers. Click here to view the bill.

HB 63: Georgia Employer GED Tax Credit Act of 2015
Chamber Position: Support

HB 63, sponsored by Representative Kevin Tanner (Dawsonville), will revise the amount and training requirements of the adult basic skills education program tax credit for employers who help employees get their GED. It would increase the current tax credit of $150 per employee to a possible $1,200 for each employee who takes the proper training classes and successfully passes the skills education test. Click here to view this bill.

HB 170: Transportation Funding Act of 2015
Chamber Position: Support

HB 170, sponsored by Representative Jay Roberts (Ocilla), will provide significant transportation infrastructure funding to address safety, enhance mobility and ensure that Georgia will continue to attract new jobs. The bill will address Georgia’s short term priorities and long term plans in a way that is both predictable and sustainable. Click here to view this bill.

HB 237: Angel Investor Tax Credit
Chamber Position: Support; Scorecard
HB 237, sponsored by Representative Bruce Williamson (Monroe), extends the angel investor tax credit for three years and allows eligible investors to claim 35% of their investment against their taxable income, but no more than $50,000. The extension caps the aggregate statewide tax credit amount at $5 million per year. The program began in tax year 2011, was extended in 2013 and expires at the end of 2015. The Chamber supports efforts to identify and create means to improve the availability of capital in Georgia, attract more venture capital firms to our state and create a healthy ecosystem for keeping Georgia-grown companies in our state. Angel groups in Georgia have seen an increase in angel activity, as well as partnerships with venture capital firms. Georgia is competing with other states for start-up companies, many of which get their start in our very own publicly funded research institutions. Click here to view the bill.

HB 412: Workers’ Compensation Reform
Chamber Position: Support; Scorecard

HB 412, sponsored by Representative Mark Hamilton (Cumming), is the annual workers’ compensation update bill that includes several important provisions developed and agreed upon by the State Board’s legislative advisory council. The most critical provision provides protection of the exclusive remedy for workers’ comp and strengthens Georgia’s workers’ comp system for employers and employees alike. Additionally, the bill extends the Subsequent Injury Trust Fund sunset which will maintain important stability and help to facilitate the settling of cases. The Georgia Chamber supports policies that ensure a balanced and equitable system of handling claims for on the job injuries. An efficient worker’s compensation system should be fair to the employee and employer and designed to return the employee back to work as soon as medically appropriate. Click here to view this bill.

HR 601: House Study Committee on Saltwater Intrusion into Coastal Aquifers
Chamber Position: Support
HR 601, sponsored by Representative Lynn Smith (Newnan), will establish a House study committee on saltwater intrusion into coastal aquifers. This study committee would examine the issues of saltwater intrusion into coastal aquifers, recognizing principles espoused in the state-wide water plan: population forecasts, economic development forecasts, and water quality and quantity needs. The study committee’s deliberations will help determine the steps needed to ensure the security of Georgia’s coastal drinking water supply for the present and future. Click here to view the resolution.

HR 613 & SR 449: To Encourage EPA to Withdraw the Proposed Clean Power Plan
Chamber Position: Support
HR 613, sponsored by Representative Chuck Martin (Alpharetta), and SR 449, sponsored by Senator Steve Gooch (Dahlonega), are identical resolutions encouraging the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to withdraw the proposed Clean Power Plan. The resolutions also encourages EPA to provide Georgia with full credit for CO2 reductions achieved since 2005; supports the comments on the Clean Power Plan submitted to EPA by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, the Georgia Public Service Commission, and the Georgia Attorney General; and urges Congress and the President to enact legislation to prohibit the Clean Power Plan from taking effect unless and until any and all legal challenges to the Clean Power Plan have been fully resolved and no appeals remain. View SR 449 and HR 613.

SB 2: Career Education Dual Enrollment
Chamber Position: Support; Scorecard

SB 2, sponsored by Senator Lindsay Tippins (Marietta), will allow a high school student who has completed ninth and tenth grade requirements for coursework and assessments to enroll in a qualifying post-secondary institution and pursue an associate degree, technical diploma, or industry certification program while counting that coursework towards high school graduation requirements. SB 2 will create a new tool to address many workforce needs of Georgia businesses. By further aligning our K-12 education system with our university and technical college systems and allowing students to simultaneously access both, Georgia will be in a better position to remain economically competitive. Click here to view the bill.

SB 88: Establishing Payroll Card Program 
Chamber Position: Support
SB 88, sponsored by Senator Burt Jones (Jackson), will give employers another option in paying their employees by allowing companies to enroll them in a payroll debit card program. Payroll cards would give employees who may not have access to traditional bank accounts another way to receive their wages electronically. Click here to view this bill.

SB 101: Coastal Marshland Buffers
Chamber Position: Support
SB 101, sponsored by Senator Ben Watson (Savannah), will establish a 25 foot buffer along coastal marshlands and provide variances for activities associated with existing infrastructure, proposed new activities within the buffer zone and the activities of utilities. The bill clarifies permitting requirements for business and private activities within the marshes and will reduce permitting time, complexity and costs for businesses and utilities with infrastructure and other developments located within the marsh environment. Click here to view this bill.

SB 132: “Quality Basic Education Act”
Chamber Position: Support; Scorecard
SB 132, sponsored by Senator Mike Dugan (Carrollton), revises and updates regulations regarding dual enrollment options, giving students new opportunities to receive associate and technical degrees and certifications in high demand industries. It creates a revised funding system, subject to general appropriations, that finances student tuition and related costs for attending colleges through the program. It also authorizes the Department of Education to decide which courses offered by colleges are eligible for high school credit. Click here to view the bill.

SB 133: Opportunity School District
Chamber Position: Support
SB 133, sponsored by Senator Butch Miller (Gainesville), will create an Opportunity School District (OSD), a mechanism that allows the state to intervene in persistently failing schools through a new system of governance that would be controlled under the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement. Under the proposed model, the OSD would only focus on the state’s poorest performing schools – those that are 60 or below on CCRPI for 3 consecutive years – and would operate by giving individual school leaders more flexibility to achieve better results in exchange for increased accountability. The state proposes to intervene in no more than 20 schools per year and in no more than 100 schools at any given time. The Georgia Chamber has long supported improving K-12 outcomes as a critical component in the recruitment, expansion, and retention of employers in Georgia. Click here to view the bill.

SR 287: Constitutional Amendment: Opportunity School District
Chamber Position: Support
SR 287, sponsored by Senator Butch Miller (Gainesville), is a Constitutional Amendment to allow the General Assembly to authorize the establishment of an Opportunity School District (OSD) to provide for state intervention for failing schools. Click here to view the bill.

Priority Bills That Remain Active for 2016

HB 303: Increased Penalties on Insurers Involving Uninsured Motorist Coverage
Chamber Position: Oppose; Scorecard

HB 303, sponsored by Representative Dustin Hightower (Carrollton), passed the House on March 11 by a vote of 153 to 14, and is awaiting action in the Senate. Currently, an insurer has 60 days to process and fulfill a policyholders claim on uninsured motorist coverage. After 60 days, the policyholder can file a lawsuit claiming the insurer is acting in “bad faith” on their claim. If the court finds that the insurer did act in “bad faith,” the court can award a penalty up to 25% of the policyholders uninsured motorist coverage limit. HB 303 is changing the penalty to $25,000 or 25% of the uninsured motorist coverage. If HB 303 were to become law, insurance companies would likely process all claims without a thorough review to avoid the possibility of the court finding them in bad faith. Click here to view the bill.

SB 129: Georgia Religious Freedom Restoration Act
Due in part to concerns raised by the business community and others over the potential discriminatory effect of SB 129, this bill did not pass the Georgia General Assembly during the 2015 legislative session. The Georgia Chamber opposes legislation that would create discriminatory business practices against any group or person which could negatively impact the state’s reputation as a center for global commerce. Click here to view the bill.

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