2017 General Assembly and Gubernatorial Review

After the 2017 session of the Georgia General Assembly adjourned Thursday, March 30, 2017, Governor Deal had 40 days to consider the legislation that had passed and then either sign it into law or veto it or do nothing and allow it to become law without his signature. After seven years as Governor, Nathan Deal has never utilized that third option, suggesting publicly that he considers that to be irresponsible. 

RFRA threats fail to materialize
After the legislature passed a potentially devastating religious freedom bill in 2016, Georgia's tourism industry was bailed out by a courageous veto by Governor Deal. The industry braced for more religious freedom legislation during the 2017 session, but while there were some bold statements about potential legislation and a few ill-fated attempts at legislative maneuvering by a few rogue senators (Harbin and Heath), no serious RFRA threat ever materialized. There are multiple theories about why, but most believe that the cost of the RFRA and "bathroom bills" to North Carolina resonated with Leadership in the House and the Senate and the Governor used that example to suppress efforts at renewing RFRA efforts. He was unequivocal in his opposition and stated publicly, "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."

Wine, Beer, Spirits, and Sundays
Georgia has some of the most rigid and strict laws in the country regulating the production, distribution and sale of wine and beer and other alcohol. In recent years the state has seen a proliferation of breweries and witnessed a burgeoning wine industry, both of which have led to a relatively new niche in tourism. Based on success in other states there was also optimism about similar potential for distilleries - the legal kind rather than those portrayed in The Dukes of Hazzard and those that proliferated during Prohibition. The laws of Georgia needed modifications for these new cottage tourism industries to continue to succeed.

Wine - Led by Senator Butch Miller, the Senate passed SB 226 - The Georgia Wineries bill with only two dissenting votes March 3rd and the House passed the same bill three weeks later. Governor Deal signed the bill May the 9th. It was promoted by the wine industry and it changes the laws related production requirements for Georgia farm wineries.

Beer - The Brew Pubs bill was sponsored by Senator Rick Jeffares. When enacted September 1st it will allow breweries to sell up to a case of beer at a time and up to 3000 barrels annually directly to customers on site. It will also remove restrictions and requirements of brewery tours, and allow brewpubs and breweries to sell packaged products with some limitations for off-site consumption. This will mark the first time beer manufacturers will be able to sell directly to consumers since the end of prohibition. Georgia’s “three tier” system of producers, wholesalers and retailers has, until recently, been very strict. Beer is big business in Georgia, the fifth-largest producer of beer in the country.

Spirits - While the laws on wine and beer sales at production facilities were opened up this year, the bill seeking similar flexibility for distilleries was held in the House Regulated Industries Committee. Undeterred, the bill's sponsor Representative Ron Stephens (R-Savannah), managed to attach the distilleries language to toe beer breweries law that ultimately passed and was signed by the governor. 

Sundays - Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford) sponsored Senate Bill 17 which became known as the "Mimosa Mandate" or the “Brunch Bill. It failed to pass the Senate before Crossover Day so Sunday sales of alcohol cannot begin in time for morning brunch for at least another year (except in government-owned buildings). 

Continued Defense of Hotel-Motel Taxes
Each and every year the Georgia Association of Convention and Visitors bureaus stands guard against erosion of the hotel-motel tax revenue stream, and each year there are attempts to pluck that revenue from that purpose and use it for other reasons. 2017 was no exception. Multiple bills were introduced and complex maneuvers were attempted, but none passed out of committee after our warnings about negative impacts on tourism were delivered to key legislators.

Casino Gambling In Georgia
The most intriguing issue of the 2017 session was wrapped up into two similar bills, Senate Bill 79 House Bill 158, that would have ultimately led to the two "destination resort" casinos in the state. One would have been in Atlanta and the other somewhere else in the state. Ultimately neither bill moved out of its committee though there is guarded optimism about the bills for next year.

Other issues
Senate Bill 51 by Jeff Mullis (R-Chickamauga) would create the "Georgia Film & Television Trail" recognizing and placing signage at film and television production sites along the Georgia Film and Television Trail. The bill was assigned to the Senate Economic Development & Tourism Committee, but did not pass. 

Senate Bill 58 would repeal the $5 hotel fee, but there is absolutely no appetite for this legislation from Senate or House leadership. The bill did not move this year and is not expected to progress next year.

House Bill 1, known as the Georgia Space Flight Act, is designed to launch a space industry in coastal Georgia. The measure gives commercial spaceports the same legal protections offered by other states that house commercial rocket launch sites. It was cheered by developers in Camden County on Georgia’s coast, where local authorities have long sought a sprawling spaceport. The county is working with Vector, a satellite launch firm based in Arizona, to conduct a test launch this summer. To the surprise of many insiders it passed and was signed by the governor. 

House Resolution 608 would create a Joint Study Committee on the Georgia Public Schools Calendar, allowing our state to begin a dialogue to evaluate the economic and social impact that early school start dates have on students, working parents and the economy. It did not pass this year.