On Thursday, March 29th, the Georgia General Assembly commenced its annual Sine Die, completing the 2018, legislative session. As the statewide advocate for businesses of all sizes across all industry sectors, the Georgia Chamber of Commerce and its affiliates worked diligently with lawmakers from both the House and Senate to develop sound, pro-business policies to ensure economic growth for Georgia businesses, workers, and families.

In tracking over 400 legislative proposals, the Chamber maintained its commitment to advance economic prosperity through the creation and implementation of policy recommendations on major issues including education, taxation, natural resources, rural development, innovation, and civil justice reform. Additionally, the Chamber’s legislative efforts include the opposition of measures that threaten corporate expansion, job retention, inclusion, and Georgia’s competitive business climate. The following bills provide an initial look at some of our most pronounced victories:

Business & Industry:

House Bill 739: Creates licensure reciprocity for military spouses moving to one of Georgia’s military installations and seeks to create a smoother transition into our state for military families.  In addition, the bill provides for a stronger relationship between local communities and our military installations by allowing spouses to quickly integrate themselves into our growing job market.

Senate Bill 315: Seeks to amend the existing “Georgia Computer Systems Protection Act” to include the crime of accessing a computer or computer network with the knowledge that such access is without authority. The new crime of unauthorized computer access would become a misdemeanor of a high and aggravated nature. The passage of this legislation modernizes the current law by strengthening existing security measures. It is critical that Georgia enact laws to ensure safeguards for government security, economic prosperity, and public safety as we seek to remain the #1 state in which to do business.

Senate Bill 395: Creates a joint military commission focused on strengthening, protecting, and growing our base community. As all of our military installations prepare for possible base realignment and closure discussions, we believe it is paramount to have a cohesive state centered strategy to protect Georgia bases. SB 395 includes leadership from the House of Representatives, Senate, governor’s office, as well as industry experts in a state funded effort focused on our growing military communities.

Economic Development & Taxation:

House Bill 793: Extends the sunset from 2018 to 2022 on a sales tax exemption on tangible personal property used to renovate or expand an aquarium and for a museum in Cartersville.

House Bill 888: Clarifies and preserves the intentions of previous freeport exemption legislation by exempting tangible personal property inventory from ad valorem taxes. Freeport exemptions are a county option. The state gives counties the authority to exempt certain goods from local property taxes. These exemptions can exist to allow manufacturers to not pay property taxes on “finished goods” if they are being assembled as part of another bigger piece of equipment.

House Bill 696: Allows for state sales and use tax exemptions for certain computer equipment sold or leased for use in high-technology data centers.  This is a modernization of existing tax law relative to data centers.  The new proposal incentivizes large investments by data centers in the state that will ultimately serve businesses across various industry sectors among other entities.

House Bill 918: Provides for the annual Internal Revenue Code update for the tax years 2017 and 2018 and includes a reduction of both the personal and corporate income tax rate to 5.75% in 2019 and 5.5% in 2020 upon approval by the legislature. The passage of this law marks Georgia’s first income tax reduction since 1937.

Education:

House Bill 787: Increases funding for state authorized charter schools. Schools currently funded at the average of the five lowest funded districts in the state would see funding increased to the state average.

Senate Bill 330: Creates a pilot program introducing agricultural education in elementary schools throughout the state. This program will be based on the nationally recognized three-component model of school based agricultural education. By supporting the “Green Agricultural Education Act,” the Chamber remains committed to developing a qualified future workforce for Georgia’s top industry.

Senate Bill 3: Aims to identify critical workforce needs of emerging industries by creating a career pathway for students to earn industry certification and credentials. If signed into law, students in middle and secondary education will be provided the opportunity to partake in focused areas of study. The legislation also allows for the creation of work-based learning programs and mandates the expansion of tools and resources provided by the Department of Education to incentivize improved credentialed programs through competitive state grants.

Environment & Energy:

House Bill 785: Provides for additional management options for materials previously classified as waste, such as non-recycled feedstock and post-use plastics.  This will allow for materials that cannot currently be economically recycled to be converted in to a new fuel source.

Law & Judiciary:

House Resolution 993: Proposes an amendment to the Georgia Constitution that would establish a business court with statewide jurisdiction. If enacted and approved by voters in November, this court would provide specialized resolution of complex business litigation matters and will enhance predictability, increase speed, improve case management, lower costs, and provide judicial expertise in complex commercial litigation. It will also provide relief to the demands placed on the state’s superior and state courts, making our judicial system more efficient.

Transportation & Infrastructure:

House Bill 930: Creates the Atlanta-region Transit Link Authority (the ‘ATL’): a new structure for coordinated and integrated transit planning for the 13-County Metro Atlanta region. The bill establishes the governance and accountability of the ATL, as well as outlining new and enhanced transit funding; including through optional local taxes (TSPLOST) which counties may apply to raise transit funds.

House Bill 735: Creates an income tax credit for expenditures on the maintenance of railroad track owned or leased by a Class III or short-line railroads. This bill comes directly from the House Rural Development Council recommendations and mirrors the structure of the now expired federal 45G rail tax credit program by creating a tax credit in the amount of 50% of the qualified railroad track maintenance expenditures incurred during the taxable year with a $3,500 per mile cap.

House Bill 150: In 2015 the General Assembly passed HB 170 (The “Transportation Funding Act” of 2015) which reformed the gas tax formula and tied the gas tax to an index. Over a 20-year period, the index will provide GDOT with almost $11 billion in revenue that will help keep up with material and labor costs tied to inflation. HB 170, as passed in 2015, included language that would have caused the consumer price index to sunset on July 1, 2018. This year the General Assembly passed HB 150, which will extend the sunset to July 1, 2022, enabling GDOT to continue to manage the construction program in a way that is commiserate with economic changes.

Rural Healthcare:

House Bill 769: Seeks to provide solutions to revitalize and repopulate Georgia’s most rural communities and implement healthcare recommendations provided by the House Rural Development Council. As an initiative to improve and provide adequate health care in rural Georgia communities, the proposal outlines the development of an incentive program that aims to increase the number of healthcare providers in rural communities and allocates funding for the creation of a Rural Center for Health Care Innovation and Sustainability. House Bill 769 also allows for the purchase of failing or closed hospitals in adjoining counties with less than 50,000 residents to be established as micro-hospitals in rural areas that provide 24-hour emergency services 7 days a week.

The Georgia Chamber, Georgia Transportation Alliance, and Georgians for Lawsuit Reform applaud Governor Deal’s unwavering efforts to improve the quality of life and business climate. As the statewide business champion, we commend the leadership in both the House and Senate chambers and congratulate members of the General Assembly on passing these legislative priorities. We look forward to working with our elected officials post session in establishing broader solutions to some of Georgia’s most pressing economic challenges.

The Georgia Chamber’s legislative priorities from the 2018 legislative session, and sessions past can be found on the Georgia Chamber Scorecard website. The platform records the official votes of state Representatives and Senators and includes an “Honor Roll” guide of the elected officials who have been the most supportive of pro-business legislation. This tool is an effective resource for voters and business leaders, as it provides a concise final summary on the status of measures most important to the business community as well as insight on the economic impact each bill will have. View the Chamber’s Scorecard today at www.gachamberscore.com,  to see how your elected official voted.

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