February 26, 2017 - GACVB General Assembly Update

Crossover Day is the deadline for legislation to pass out of the legislative chamber where it originated and still be eligible for final passage in the same year.  That important day is coming this Friday, March 3rd.  The already frenetic pace at the Capitol has picked up considerably in anticipation of that deadline. 

Action Alert

HB 141 - Hotel/Motel Tax Legislation - Each and every year there are efforts to change the laws related to lodging taxes so that the revenue stream can be redirected. HB 141 was originally sponsored by Representative Ron Stephens (R-Savannah) for his constituents in Richmond Hill.  As a reminder, our friend Representative Stephens is the long-time Chairman of the House Economic Development and Tourism Committee and has long been an effective proponent of the tourism industry.  The City of Richmond Hill purchased a building from the Ford Foundation that they would like to convert into a visitor center.  HB 141 was designed to allow them to use lodging taxes to acquire, refurbish, restore and support that building.  Concerns were shared with Chairman Stephens that the bill could open up the statute for misuse and he has been working with us to confirm that the legislation may not be necessary.  Other legislators have now stripped HB 141 of its original language and it is now being used as a vehicle for legislation that is much more problematic as it makes it possible for lodging tax revenue to be used for "tourism product development" which is a vague and undefined term that could be interpreted very broadly. 

This language was inserted with no warning into another bill during a Friday afternoon meeting of a subcommittee.  We oppose this legislation because it creates an opportunity for abuse and it threatens a very important source of revenue for our industry.  GACVB's #1 legislative policy is to protect Georgia's hotel/motel tax dollars from policies that would erode funding for tourism/destination marketing.  

The original legislative intent of hotel/motel taxation was to promote tourism.  This change would create a dangerous precedent because it allows local elected officials to fund constructions projects which might never be approved by the voters in the way that school buildings and transportation projects currently receive approval to be taxpayer backed and funded.  

The very best way to engage on this issue is to call House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Jay Powell and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Wendell Willard.  Tell them that your organization opposes House Bill 141 because it is a "money grab" by local governments and it will disrupt what has been a successful solution to a complex problem of funding for tourism marketing.  You can also reach out with the same message to members of the House Ways and Means Full Committee as they will be called on to vote on this bill Monday afternoon.

Legislation we're watching:

SB 233 - Religious Freedom or RFRA bill sponsored by Senator Marty Harbin and several others.  The sponsor claims that the bill only codifies federal law in the Georgia law.  GACVB opposes this bill in accordance with our legislative priorities.  

Governor Deal was unequivocal in his opposition and was quoted "I didn't want there to be any confusion about where I stand on the RFRA bill: I have no desire or appetite to entertain that legislation," Deal said.  More about Governor Deal's comments here. 

Also, the Georgia Chamber of Commerce and the Metro-Atlanta Chamber of Commerce released a joint statement in opposition to the legislation: "While there's no new evidence to suggest this legislation is needed to strengthen a right guaranteed by our constitution, there is plentiful data indicating other states have suffered and will continue to suffer long-term economic harm for enacting a law that many see as discriminatory."

HB 158 and SB 79 - "Destination Resort" or "Casino" Legislation are the two almost identical "Destination Resort" (casino) bills.  The bills seek to create two casinos, one in Atlanta and another somewhere else in the state. Neither bill has moved out of its committee though SB 79 is scheduled for a vote this Monday in the Senate Committee.  If it passes that committee then it will have to pass out of the Senate Rules Committee in time for a vote of the full Senate by Friday in order to make the Crossover Day deadline.

SB 226 - The Georgia Wineries bill is by Senator Butch Miller and others. If passed it will change the laws related production requirements for Georgia farm wineries.    

SB 85 - the Brew Pubs bill as it is sometimes known was sponsored by Senator Rick Jeffares (R-McDonough) and if passed will allow breweries to sell a limited amount of their product (3000 barrels annually) directly to customers on site, remove the restrictions and requirements of brewery tours, and allow brewpubs and breweries to sell packaged products with some limitations for off-site consumption.  The bill passed the Senate February 2 and is now awaiting consideration by the House Regulated Industries Committee.

The following legislation has had no change in status since our last update:

HB 60 by Rep. Ron Stephens (R-Savannah), is pending in the House Regulated Industries Committee. It will allow licensed distillers to apply to the Commissioner of the Department of Revenue for a retail package liquor store license with several limitations on how much could be sold and where the sales could take place. If passed it will also allow a distiller to have a restaurant on the premises.  

HB 96 appears to be a "placeholder" bill in the excise tax on lodging code section.  We will continue to monitor it, but this is probably not a bill to be concerned about. 

HB 107 by Jay Powell (R-Camilla) seeks to refine the definition of "Innkeeper" to include "any person who is subject to taxation under this article for the furnishing for value to the public any rooms, lodgings, or accommodations." The bill was sent to the Ways and Means Committee and Powell is the Chair of that committee. 

SB 17 by Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford)is related to Sunday Sales of alcohol in restaurants and is commonly referred to as the Brunch Bill or "Mimosa Mandate."  It will allow a local government to authorize the sale of alcoholic beverages for consumption on the premises on Sundays beginning as early as 10:30 a.m. (moved back from 12:30 P.M.)  The bill also includes language related to  sales for consumption or closed package sales on the premises in tasting rooms of Georgia farm wineries on Sundays.  

SB 51 by Jeff Mullis (R-Chickamauga) creates the "Georgia Film & Television Trail" recognizing and placing signage at film and television production sites along the Georgia Film and Television Trail.  The bill is assigned to Senate Economic Development & Tourism Committee.  

SB 58 seeks to repeal the $5 hotel fee, but there is absolutely no appetite for this legislation from Senate or House leadership and the bill is not expected to move. 

SR 105 by Bill Heath (R-Bremen) is a proposed constitutional amendment to prevent discrimination in the public funding of social services by allowing religious or faith based organizations to receive public aid, directly or indirectly, for the provision of such services.  It is in the Senate Government Oversight Committee and has not yet has a hearing.