Changes attached to HB 512

Ag Department's definition changes await governor's signature

 A late-hour floor amendment intended to change definitions of “fertilizer” and “soil amendment” and allow the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and Georgia Environmental Protection Division new rules enforcement of businesses such as Broad River Valley Farms was approved on the last day of the Georgia Legislative Session Tuesday.

Just after 6 p.m. Tuesday House Rep. Tom McCall said “another vehicle” was  found for the amendment after the original vehicle – his own House Bill 545 – was stuck in the Georgia Senate Rules Committee. 

With the Georgia legislative clock ticking down on the final day of the session, the amendment was added to HB 512, which received approval from both the House and Senate.

HB 512 – with the rules changes in the amendment – now awaits the signature of Georgia Governor Brian Kemp.

According to McCall, HB 545 stalled in the session that ended Tuesday, but can be brought back in the next legislative session in 2020.

McCall said that rules changes won’t be immediate.

“It ain’t going to start tomorrow,” said McCall. “It does have to have the governor’s signature. I think the Georgia Department of Agriculture needed to get the language in the rules changed, but they were probably working on that while the legislative session was going on.”

When a delegation of commission chairmen (including Elbert County Commission Chairman Lee Vaughn) visited with Georgia Department of Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black last month, the group was told that the rules changes were going to be added to HB 545.

In addition to issues related to Broad River Valley Farms’ actions in Elbert County, similar issues were also being discussed in Wilkes County, Oglethorpe County and Lincoln County.

The meeting was set up between the commissioners in those counties by McCall, Rep. Trey Rhodes (who represents Oglethorpe, Greene and Putnam Counties) and Elbert County’s Georgia State Senate representative, Lee Anderson.

A problem arose in the delegation’s plan when HB 545 was held up in the Georgia State Senate’s Rules Committee, leaving McCall in search of an alternative “vehicle” for the rules changes proposed by Commissioner Black.

Although several changes were made to HB 545, which McCall said was intended to protect legal farm operations in Georgia, there was considerable opposition to the bill.

That’s why, on the last day legislation could be passed during the session, McCall began looking for another bill to attach the rules changes.

“I’m glad that (Rep. McCall) was able to recognize that HB 545 wasn’t going to pass,” said Vaughn Wednesday morning. “We are happy that he was able to find a bill to attach the new rules.”

Vaughn said he is hoping to arrange another meeting with county commissioners, legislators and officials with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and the Georgia Environmental Protection Division.

“I’d like to get everybody together in the next few weeks and find out what their game plan is on enforcement,” said Vaughn.

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