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Legislative Update: Crossover Day 2016

March 1, 2016

Crossover Day has come and gone.

Monday, February 29, also known as Crossover Day, was a big day at the General Assembly.  Any bill number that failed to pass either the House or the Senate chamber by Crossover Day, Day 30 of the 40-day session, is now a dead bill number for the reminder of the session.

Next Big Day? Any bill number that survived Crossover Day could still be amended and acted upon before the last day of the session, Thursday, March 24, also known as sine die, which means to adjourn without a date set for return.

Here’s an update on the status of a number of issues Georgia River Network has been tracking:

Bills Still in the Mix

SB 36: Protect Georgia’s Well Water

Current groundwater laws do not protect the health and safety of the public and the property rights of landowners. Senate Bill 36, the Underground Water Supply Protection Act, fixes gaps in current laws and protects groundwater now and into the future.  The bill passed the Senate by a wide margin—48 to 3, but remains stalled in the House of Representatives’ Natural Resources & Environment Committee.  GRN supports SB 36: the bill must pass this session.

HB 1028: Leaky Landfill Bill

House Bill 1028 will require the owner or operator of a municipal solid waste landfill to notify local city and county governments of “any significant release” within 14 days.  HB 1028 unanimously passed the House—163 to 0—on Crossover Day.  Given the fact that releases in Georgia have not been shared with local communities—including a 2011 leak at a Wayne County landfill processing coal ash—GRN supports timely public notification of any violations by permitted facilities.

SB 346: Bulldozing Cultural & Natural Resources

Senate Bill 346 exempts the Georgia Department of Transportation and local government projects from Georgia Environmental Policy Act (GEPA) review if they are state funded—that is, with no federal money—up to $100 million.  SB 346 passed the Senate—36 to 15—on Crossover Day.   This is bad because GEPA protects natural and cultural resources by requiring alternatives analysis and consideration of impacts and ways to mitigate that the Erosion and Sedimentation Act does not. GRN opposes this roll back.

Measures That Did Not Survive Crossover Day

HB 966: Buffer Housekeeping

In the wake of Turner v. Georgia River Network, current law does not enable the Georgia Environmental Protection Division to consistently establish streamside buffers on all Georgia creeks, streams, and rivers.  The Georgia Supreme Court said this problem can be fixed only by the legislature.  House Bill 966 would have fixed the E&S Act’s confusing language so buffers are consistently applied to all of Georgia’s waters.

HB 966 was assigned to the House Natural Resources & Environment Committee.  GRN testified in support of HB 966.  Committee Chairman Rep. Lynn Smith (R-Newnan) elected not to allow the committee to vote on the bill, so the bill number died on Crossover Day.

HR 502: Putting the Trust Back in Trust Funds

House Resolution 502 called for a referendum to amend the Georgia Constitution.  HR 502 would have stopped Governors and legislators from raiding trust funds like the Solid Waste and Hazardous Waste trust funds.  Most Georgians assume that the fees they pay for new car tires, for example, will pay to clean up abandoned tire dumps as required by law.

The fees designated for the two funds have collected about $450 million since the 1990s.  But the legislature has only appropriated about $264 million for the fees’ intended purposes.  The remainder has been directed to the state’s general budget. Only a constitutional amendment can fix this problem.  GRN supported this measure.

SB 321: Utility Bill Secrecy

Senate Bill 321 would have undone a water and energy conservation ordinance adopted by the City of Atlanta in 2015.  SB 321 would have created a “Property Usage Protection Act” aimed to make water and energy consumption data from public utilities confidential and prohibit the state or local governments from reporting this information without express consent from property owners.  GRN opposed this roll-back.

SB 326: E&S Roll-back

Senate Bill 326 would have created an unworkable environment by handcuffing land disturbance permit reviews, and in effect cause greater downstream property damage by allowing more mud in our rivers, lakes and streams.  On February 24, the Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities committee sent the bill into a study committee for further review.  GRN opposed this roll-back.

WHAT CAN YOU DO?  Please SIGN UP to receive important and timely Protect Georgia action alerts to stay up to date on issues affecting clean water, the health of our rivers and Georgia’s vital natural resources.  Membership in Protect Georgia is free and allows you to easily contact your senator, representative or other decision maker via e-mail when an important decision is pending or a vote is scheduled.

-Chris Manganiello

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