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2022 Legislative Update from the Georgia Conservancy
Week 4 of the General Assembly

The Georgia Conservancy’s Advocacy team is at the State Capitol every day of the Legislative Session advocating for the protection of Georgia’s land and water. We look forward to working with House and Senate leadership, and legislators on both sides of the aisle, to forward thoughtful conservation-minded policy with no rollbacks to the environmental protections that are already in place.

There are often many surprises that arrive during the three-month session. Some of these surprises may be welcome pieces of legislation that will be of benefit to Georgia’s natural resources, while others could have dire consequences for our state. The following bills have been filed and are of high importance to the Georgia Conservancy. We will keep a dedicated eye on these measures during the 2022 Legislative Session.

Coastal Marshlands Restoration Act – House Bill 748 (https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/60428?mc_cid=a36f5cf2e7&mc_eid=UNIQID)

House Bill 748, sponsored by Rep. Jesse Petrea (R-166) (https://www.legis.ga.gov/members/house/862?session=1029&mc_cid=a36f5cf2e7&mc_eid=UNIQID) , seeks to alter the process of determining the private title of coastal salt marsh in Georgia by way of crown grant or state grant. The bill, which was originally filed last year, had its first subcommittee hearing last Tuesday.

The bill would allow for private parties who claim ownership of salt marsh through a centuries-old crown grant or state grant to present their evidence, or abstract of title, to the State Attorney General’s office. Under HB 748, if the Attorney General fails to issue a determination within 60 days, then it is deemed an admission by the State that the petitioner has clear title, and the salt marsh in question would no longer belong to the State of Georgia and the public.

The vast majority of Georgia’s nearly 400,000 acres of salt marsh are owned by the State of Georgia and are protected by the Georgia Coastal Marshlands Protection Act. The GCMPA has provided Georgia with consistent and “constant political and regulatory enforcement of marsh protection measures” for more than 50 years. Thanks to this enduring legislation, Georgia’s expansive network of salt marsh is intact and remains one of the most protected ecosystems on the eastern seaboard.

House Bill 748 presents a number of issues relating to the continued protection of Georgia’s salt marsh ecosystem. Of these, the Georgia Conservancy sees two key issues of concern:
* Salt marshes are held by the State pursuant to the common law public trust doctrine. This legislation has the potential to disrupt a pillar of protection for these valuable coastlands by shifting the responsibility for proving ownership from the private parties to the Office of the Attorney General of Georgia.
* Within Georgia’s salt marsh lie numerous islands of uplands, known as marsh hammocks. Hammocks fall outside of GCMPA protection and would be vulnerable to development should they be transferred to private ownership.

House Bill 748 is currently in the House Committee on Natural Resources and the Environment.

The Georgia Conservancy is strongly opposed to the passage of House Bill 748 as it is written.

Extension of Hazardous Waste Trust Fund – House Bill 893 (https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/61108?mc_cid=a36f5cf2e7&mc_eid=UNIQID)

House Bill 893, sponsored by Rep. Randy Nix (R-69) (https://www.legis.ga.gov/members/house/179?session=1029&mc_cid=a36f5cf2e7&mc_eid=UNIQID) , seeks to extend the sunset date on the state’s Hazardous Waste Trust Fund by ten years to July 1, 2032. The collection of fees that support the fund is currently set to expire on July 1 of this year.

During last year’s Legislative Session, House Bill 511 (https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/59805?mc_cid=a36f5cf2e7&mc_eid=UNIQID)  was passed, ensuring that the majority of fees collected by the state for a specific trust fund are truly dedicated to their intended purpose. The legislation has a significant bearing on trust funds such as the solid and hazardous waste funds, which for years have had dollars diverted from the environmentally important programs.

The Hazardous Waste Trust Fund is supported by monies collected from hazardous waste generators, solid waste tipping fees, and various fines for violations. The Fund, which is administered by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, is used to remediate contaminated sites throughout the state. If the collection of fees were to sunset, the ability of local governments to fund the clean up of leaking landfills, as well as abandoned and contaminated properties, would be seriously hindered.

Though HB 511 truly dedicated the majority of fees collected, it did not, however, dedicate all fees, including fines for violations. While HB 893 will extend the Fund and the collection of fees, currently not all dollars are ensured dedication to their intended purpose.

House Bill 893 is currently in the House Committee on Natural Resources and the Environment.

The Georgia Conservancy supports the passage of HB 893 and is discussing with legislators language to amend the bill to include the dedication of ALL fees collected for the Fund.

Exempt Timber Equipment from Ad Valorem Taxes – House Bill 997 (https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/61327?mc_cid=a36f5cf2e7&mc_eid=UNIQID)

Unlike other agricultural equipment used in the production of farm products by family-owned farms, timber equipment used by timber producers is not exempt from state ad valorem taxes. House Bill 997, sponsored by Rep. Sam Watson (R-172) (https://www.legis.ga.gov/members/house/837?session=1029&mc_cid=a36f5cf2e7&mc_eid=UNIQID) , seeks the exemption of forest equipment and forest products from state ad valorem taxes through a voter referendum to be held during the general election cycle in November 2022.

House Bill 997 is currently in the House Committee on Ways & Means

The Georgia Conservancy is monitoring House Bill 997

We are currently focused on a number of expected legislative actions, many of which began during last year’s session, as well as forwarding other conservation-minded legislation during the 2022 Legislative Session. Some of these include:

Land Conservation Tax Credit – Strongly supported by the Georgia Conservancy during the 2021 Legislative Session, House Bill 477 sought to reauthorize the tax credit on a landowner’s qualified conservation donation of real property until December 31, 2026. Due to last-minute additions to the bill, unrelated to the tax credit reauthorization, the measure was not passed and the current land conservation tax credit expired on December 31, 2021. The Georgia Conservancy, along with our partners in the Association of Georgia Land Trusts, seeks the reinstatement of the land conservation tax credit during the 2022 Session and continues to make progress during these first weeks of this session.

The Georgia Conservation Tax Credit (GCTC) is essential to land conservation in our state. The tax incentive has supported the permanent conservation of critical lands and habitats. This renewal legislation is also important as a succinct statement of Georgia’s conservation values and priorities that inform many aspects of the essential work of land trusts. Click here (https://www.georgiaconservancy.org/s/GCTC.pdf?mc_cid=a36f5cf2e7&mc_eid=UNIQID) to learn more about the importance of the GCTC.

Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Program – As a member of the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Coalition, the Georgia Conservancy continues to monitor Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Program (GOSP (https://gadnr.org/gosp?mc_cid=a36f5cf2e7&mc_eid=UNIQID) ) funding activities during the session and throughout the interim. The third-year application period closed on October 15th and applications are now being reviewed and ranked based on their alignment with set criteria. The GOSP Board of Trustees will vote on a set slate of projects, which will then be considered by the DNR Board, followed by the Joint Appropriations Committee of the State House and Senate.

Georgia Outdoor Recreation – Georgia’s robust outdoor recreation assets benefit the conservation of our natural resources and bolster the health of communities large and small. During the 2022 Legislative Session, the Georgia Conservancy is working with partners in the Georgia Outdoor Recreation Coalition (GORC) and legislators to strengthen and expand our outdoor recreation infrastructure through thoughtful policies and programs. Learn more about GORC at www.gaoutdoors.org (http://www.gaoutdoors.org/?mc_cid=a36f5cf2e7&mc_eid=UNIQID)

Ocmulgee National Park & Preserve – The Georgia Conservancy, along with our partners with the Ocmulgee National Park & Preserve Initiative, is working to establish a National Park and Preserve in Middle Georgia, between Macon and Hawkinsville. As the project gains momentum, the Georgia Conservancy will work with legislators during the 2022 Legislative Session to introduce resolutions of support. Learn more about the proposed Ocmulgee National Park & Preserve: www.georgiaconservancy.org/ocmulgee-national-park

Coal Ash Legislation – A number of bills were introduced during the 2021 Legislation Session that seek to regulate the storage and disposal of coal combustion residuals (CCR or coal ash) in Georgia. These bills will be eligible to be considered during this year’s session and the Georgia Conservancy will continue to monitor the status and details of these measures.
The Conservancy works closely with members of the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and the Environment (https://www.legis.ga.gov/committees/senate/139?mc_cid=a36f5cf2e7&mc_eid=UNIQID) , House Committee on Natural Resources and the Environment (https://www.legis.ga.gov/committees/house/98?mc_cid=a36f5cf2e7&mc_eid=UNIQID) , House Committee on Game, Fish and Parks (https://www.legis.ga.gov/committees/house/91?mc_cid=a36f5cf2e7&mc_eid=UNIQID) , and the House Committee on Ways and Means (https://www.legis.ga.gov/committees/house/101?mc_cid=a36f5cf2e7&mc_eid=UNIQID) .  Bills that originate in these committees often have the greatest impact on Georgia’s natural environment.

Please advocate for sound environmental policies that benefit all of Georgia by reaching out to your elected officials. This is our Georgia.
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