2015 Georgia Legislative Session Review

2015 General Assembly Concludes

On April 2 the General Assembly concluded the 2015 session by adjourning sine die, literally “without a day.” For the first time in recent memory, the House and Senate did not adjourn concurrently.  The House gaveled sine die a full ten minutes before the Senate, which worked past midnight to pass a final tax reform measure.

Bills that were adopted in the same form by both chambers now go to Governor Nathan Deal.  He will spend the coming weeks reviewing bills and has forty days to sign or veto legislation.  Bills that are not acted on at the end of the forty-day window automatically become law.  Bills that did not make it to the Governor remain eligible for consideration in the 2016 General Assembly.

Pending Tax Reform Efforts

The House and Senate sent HB 170, the Transportation Funding Act, to the Governor.  HB 170 proposes about $900 million annually in new transportation funding and has been one of the major initiatives this year.  The final version contained a provision that creates a Special Joint Committee on Georgia Revenue Structure.

The profession engaged with a similar committee in 2010.  GVMA provided the group with extensive data on taxing veterinary services and encouraged local veterinarians to contact legislators in opposition to that efforts.  This year's exercise will go through a similar process, in which the committee conducts hearings and potentially proposes a tax reform package for consideration in 2016.  While the intention is for the General Assembly to consider the resulting legislation as-is without amendments, that was also the case last time and the final bill did not much resemble the recommendations by the time it made it to the Governor.

Other tax reform legislation has been proposed this year and may also receive some attention this summer.  That includes HB 445, which reduces the income tax rate, increases the state sales tax, and eliminates a number of existing sales tax exemption.  Also for consideration is HB 435, which reduces the income tax rate and eliminates all but two personal income tax deductions.

GVMA will be actively engaged in these reform efforts and will provide additional details as they become available.

Animal Welfare & Regulation Issues

HB 160: Raccoon Trapping

Representative Emory Dunahoo, R-Gainesville
Eligible for action by the Governor

HB 160 allows for the trapping of raccoons year round in North Georgia.  Currently, this practice is prohibited during certain times of the year.  Proponents argue that raccoon pelts currently fetch such a low price that trappers have stopped pursuing the animals, leading to overpopulation and increased interaction with people, which is alarming given their propensity to carry rabies.

SB 72: Protection of Police Animals

Senator Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga
Eligible for action by the Governor

This bill increases penalties for persons found guilty of killing, physically harming or causing debilitating physical injury to working police dogs and/or police horses.  The bill has undergone significant changes after the initial version allowed the charge of murder to be brought against a person who killed a police animal.  Legal analysts cautioned against allowing that charge to apply to any non-human death.  While in the House Judiciary Non-Civil, the bill picked up a number of “dead” bills.  The Senate agreed to those changes on April 2.

SB 175: Regulation of Imported Animals

Senator Ellis Black, R-Valdosta
Eligible for action by the Governor

SB 175 maintains the requirement that livestock and horses have a certificate of veterinary inspection before entering the state.  It gives the Department more authority to require veterinary inspection of other imported animals by stating, "It shall be unlawful to import any other type of animal which the Commissioner has determined poses a significant risk of disease to domestic animals or humans" unless the animal has been inspected.  It provides an exemption from inspection for poultry originating from flocks participating in the National Poultry Improvement Plan administered by the USDA.

The House Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee made wordsmithing changes before passing it on March 25.  While on the House floor, an amendment was offered that would have severely limited the Commissioner’s regulatory authority regarding imported animals.  The amendment was voted down and the bill was adopted by the House.  The Senate agreed to the committee changes on April 2.

HB 475: Hunting of Feral Hogs

Representative Tom McCall, R-Elberton
Eligible for action by the Governor

This measure clarifies that feral hogs are not considered wildlife and allows for lawful hunting or capturing of the animals.  The Department of Natural Resources has identified feral hogs as a growing problem, especially considering they are known to carry diseases transmissible to humans and domestic animals.

SB 184: Breed-Specific Regulations

Senator Ellis Black, R-Valdosta
Lost, failed to report from the House Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee

SB 184 prohibits breed-specific regulations at the local level and requires that any effort to classify dogs based on breed must be enacted by general law at the state level.  The House Government Affairs Committee held a hearing on the bill this week.  After the Committee adopted an unfriendly amendment, proponents moved to table the bill, killing it for this year.

HR 906: Allow Local Governments to Regulate Pit Bulls

Representative Keisha Waites, D-Atlanta
Lost, failed to report from the House Governmental Affairs Committee

Introduced on the last day of session, HR 906 urges the General Assembly to not impose on local governments that choose to regulate pit bulls.  The resolution makes specific reference to pit bulls and points to the “devastation” caused by the breed.  The measure may be considered next year.


Professional & General Business Issues

HB 211: Dangerous Drug Update

Representative Bruce Broadrick, R-Dalton
Eligible for action by the Governor

This is the annual drug update bill that adds to and revises the lists of drugs classified as controlled substances.  Specifically, hydrocodone is reclassified as a Schedule II drug, which will require providers, veterinarians included, to use security paper for prescriptions and prohibits refills for all products containing the drug.  The bill approves Alfaxalone as a new Schedule IV drug and establishes differences between over-the-counter and prescription fluticasone products.  GVMA representatives have reviewed the legislation and believe it will not adversely affect veterinarians or animal healthcare in Georgia.

HB 297: Professional Licensing Boards

Representative Beth Beskin, R-Atlanta
Lost, failed to report from the Senate Rules Committee

HB 297 permits a professional licensing board to delegate certain administrative services to a national association of state boards or other related national association.  The author introduced the bill at the request of architects, although it applies to all other licensing boards.  The Office of the Secretary of State supports the legislation.

SB 183: Livestock Liability Protection

Senator John Wilkinson, R-Toccoa
Lost, failed to report from the House Judiciary Committee

SB 183 extends existing liability protections to livestock and limits civil liability of those involved in livestock activities, which is defined as grazing, herding, feeding, branding, boarding, milking, inspecting, or evaluating livestock or taking part in any other activity that involves the care or maintenance of livestock.

SB 230: Uniform Emergency Volunteer Health Practitioners Act

Senator Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome
Lost, failed to report from the Senate Health and Human Services Committee

This bill comes out of the Uniform Law Commission, a non-partisan group that provides states with well-drafted legislation to bring clarity and stability to critical areas of state law.  The Uniform Emergency Volunteer Health Practitioners Act allows state governments, during a declared emergency, to give reciprocity to other states’ licensees on emergency services providers so that individuals may provide services without meeting the state’s licensing requirements.  The legislation makes specific reference to veterinarians, thereby allowing veterinarians licensed in other states to provide veterinarian services in Georgia in times of emergency without being licensed in Georgia.  This model law has been enacted by 15 other states and is under consideration is the Mississippi legislature this year.  For more information click here.