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Here’s a look at the food and farm highlights:

Farm to school

HB 367 and HB 843 were introduced to establish farm to school programming. While neither bill ultimately passed this session, the intent of the proposals are well on their way. In fact, thanks to the amazing collaboration of the Departments of Education, Agriculture and Public Health with Georgia Organics and other farm to school leaders, GA is on its way to serving 3 million meals featuring locally grown produce this school year. Read more here.

On a related school nutrition note, school nutrition budgets ultimately were not shifted in to the larger education funding formula, known as QBE (Quality Basic Education Act). This was a somewhat contentious issue, especially among those on the front lines implementing farm to school programs. That idea, which was included as part of the Governor’s original budget proposal, was successfully defeated thanks to the leadership of the Appropriations Committee’s chairs, Rep. Terry England and Sen. Jack Hill. What does this mean in the end? School nutrition money will continue to meet the needs of school nutrition, and not be diverted to cover other non nutrition –related costs.

Georgia Right to Grow Act

Unfortunately, this bill did not make it out of the House before session concluded. HB 2 and HB 853 met opposition from local government associations and even a lukewarm reception from Agribusiness. This means there will continue to be some places in GA where you can grow a garden and raise chickens for your own consumption and others where you cannot. Georgia Organics appreciates the leadership ofRep. Earl EhrhartRep. Terry England and others for bringing this bill forward.

Tax Reform

Some of us will be paying less, some of us will be paying more. Luckily, the state sales tax on groceries will not happen, for now. After 2 years of tax reform debate, HB 386 passed. Here’s what the final package looks like:

• Adds a new tax for internet sales transactions. Currently, out-of-state retailers are not required to collect taxes on internet purchases unless they have a physical presence in the state.
• Broadens existing sales tax exemptions for agricultural producers to exempt a wider array of inputs including farm fuel and energy used for further processing of an agricultural commodity (includes dairy, swine and other such facilities not currently exempt). This goes into effect January 1, 2013.
• The current exemptions in place for agricultural inputs will be continued (seed, fertilizer, and pesticides, for example).
• Phases out the sales tax on energy used in manufacturing over a four-year period. (Local governments can still elect to keep this tax however. GA is one of only 10 states that tax energy used in manufacturing.)
• Reduces the conservation easement tax credit. Since 2006, Georgia has had an income tax credit for individuals, corporations, or partnerships who donate land to government entities or qualified nonprofits for the purpose of conservation. The credit was modified in 2011 so that taxpayers are now allowed to sell any unused credits without limit, which has notably increased its cost—the state’s loss of revenue rose from $14 million in 2011 to $33 million in 2013. The tax reform package passed eliminates this unlimited transferability and cuts back the maximum credit for partnerships.
• Increases the personal state income tax exemption for married people filing jointly from $5,400 to $7,400.
• Eliminates the property tax on cars bought after March 1, 2013. Instead of the annual ad valorem tax — also known as the “birthday tax” — the legislation established a one-time title fee. The fee would start at 6.5 percent in 2013 and rise to 7 percent in 2015.
• Restores sales tax holidays for school supplies and energy-efficient appliances.
• Caps non-work income that seniors can exclude from income taxes at $65,000, or $130,000 per couple.
• Exempts sales taxes on construction materials for “regionally significant” local infrastructure projects for two years.
• Eliminates the sales tax exemption for film productions. Georgia currently has two film tax credits: a 30-percent income tax credit and a sales tax exemption for purchased or leased equipment, such as materials bought locally for set design or wardrobes. HB 386 would eliminate the sales tax exemption while keeping the 30-percent tax credit.
• Replaces the annual subsidy of Delta with a jet fuel subsidy (lowering the state sales tax on jet fuel to 3 from 4 percent) that applies to all airlines.

GMOs

SR 43 – A non-binding resolution urging the USDA to deregulate genetically modified alfalfa without any conditions or precautions to protect organic farmers or others from contamination by GMO seeds.

Tilapia Farming

SB 360 would have permitted the farming of tilapia but prohibited their sale or use as live bait. This bill did pass the Senate very favorably but was stopped in a House committee and ultimately died before the session concluded.

State Budget

Ultimately, the Georgia General Assembly passed a state budget that increases spending by $800 million over last year, bringing the total state budget for the 2013 fiscal year just north of $19 billion.

Some ag-related highlights include:

• $600,000 provided to Cooperative Extension for four crop scientist positions.
• $150,000 for two positions at the Department of Agriculture to assist with labor issues created as a result of HB 87, the immigration bill.
• Extended Day/Extended Year teachers, Young Farmers and youth camps in the agricultural education area sustained a 1% cut in funding.
• $2.5 million in 20-year bonds was authorized for a food technology facility at the UGA Griffin Campus.
• $4 million in 20-year bonds was authorized to support renovations and updates to Agricultural Experiment Stations and Cooperative Extension facilities.
• $3 million in 20-year bonds was authorized for updates to the UGA RDC in Tifton.

Local Beer and Brewpubs

Thanks to HB 472, Beer brewpubs will be increasing their annual amounts and will now be allowed to sell to distributors. I think our local beer movement is about to get a lot bigger!

EPD Permits

SB 427 requires EPD to provide real time tracking of permits issued to businesses. This bill also sets up an interesting mechanism that allows permit-seekers to pay to expedite the permit process.

Preference to Georgia Products

SB 358 requires Georgia companies be given preferential treatment over out-of-state companies equal to the preferential treatment that those companies receive by local governments in other states.