Legislative session ends March 29th

We are nearing the end of the 2018 Legislative Session, with the Senate adjourning Sine Die on Thursday, March 29th. During the tenth week, we passed 22 House bills and resolutions over three legislative days. One of those bills was House Bill 885, which amends the Georgia Air Quality Act. This legislation gives more power back to foresters and farmers who use controlled burns as a method of clearing vegetation or for conservation efforts.

The Senate also passed House Bills 695 and 784 which would create specialty license plates for the Georgia Forestry Foundation and Ducks Unlimited. It may seem like a small thing, but the fees that are collected from these license plates will go to funding projects that will continue to promote our state’s #1 ranking in forestry and protect our waterfowl habitats for future generations of hunters.

House Bill 769 would create the Rural Health System Innovation Center that would fall within the State Office of Rural Health. The past two legislative sessions we have focused on legislation to help our rural hospitals stay afloat. This bill would establish a grant program that would work to create incentives for physicians to practice in rural areas and would allow for a 100 percent tax credit on donations that are made to rural hospitals. In addition, one of the biggest things this piece of legislation would do is expand remote order pharmacy entries in rural hospitals. We see a shortage of professionals across the health care field in rural Georgia, but especially in pharmacies. This bill will help our hospitals thrive, and I look forward to passing more legislation in the future that addresses the concerns of hospital management, doctors, nurses and other stakeholders in rural areas.

During week 11 in the Senate, I carried several House bills that will benefit our state’s biggest industry, agriculture. House Bill 876 would prohibit local governments from restricting the use of wood as a construction material, as long as the minimum state and federal building codes and Georgia State Fire Code have been met. As our forestry industry is so important to Georgia, it’s important that we protect it from being unjustly regulated and this bill does just that. House Bill 671 creates a special license plate that will benefit the Georgia Beekeepers Association, bringing awareness to the importance of honey bees in crop production and maintaining a balanced ecosystem. And finally, House Bill 886 makes several changes to the Georgia Agricultural Tax Exemption (GATE) program that improves its integrity and makes it better. One provision of the bill makes communication possible between the Department of Revenue and the Department of Agriculture. These changes enhance the GATE program by discouraging those who do not qualify for the program from applying and taking advantage of farmers’ well deserved tax exemptions.

These are just a few of the measures that passed this week. If you are interested in hearing about pieces of legislation that passed or have questions, please do not hesitate to reach out to my office. You can reach me at 404.463.5257 or by email at john.wilkinson@senate.ga.gov.

About the author: Sen. John Wilkinson serves as Chairman of the Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee and Vice Chairman of the Education and Youth Committee. He represents the 50th Senate District which includes Banks, Franklin, Habersham, Rabun, Stephens and Towns counties and portions of Hall and Jackson counties. He can be reached by phone at 404.463.5257 or by email at john.wikinson@senate.ga.gov.

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