June 29, 2020  

General Assembly Completes Session

The Georgia General Assembly ended their 2020 session late this past Friday evening. Although each annual session is never more than 40-legislative days, most observers noted this was the longest one on record from a calendar standpoint. The time during the suspension related to COVID-19 was spent by the leadership looking for ways to cut spending, determine the most essential legislation to be considered upon their return and developing protocols for committee meetings and floor activity. All their hard work proved successful. The Georgia Building Authority prepared the Capitol to implement CDC-recommended building entry and cleaning procedures, and state law enforcement was visible allowing anyone with business to conduct or views to be shared to gain entry. “The leadership shown by Speaker Ralston, Lt. Gov. Duncan and Gov. Kemp throughout the session resulted in what many believe will go down in history as one of the best from a policy standpoint. The most important legislation for our industry was dealt with appropriately, and I hope all our members will be sure and thank the leadership and their own legislators for a job well done,” said GBA’s Senior Vice President for Government Relations Elizabeth Chandler. As 2020 was the second year of the biennial session, any legislation that did not receive final action will need to be introduced again in the 2021 session should the sponsor choose to press forward.

Many Bills of Interest Received Final Action

Each year the GBA prioritizes legislation; and as the session unfolds, we add bills to that priority list. Here is a list of those priority bills along with others we supported or monitored that received final passage. Gov. Kemp has 40 calendar days from June 25, to decide whether to sign, veto, or allow the legislation to go into effect without his signature.
Department of Banking and Finance Housekeeping Bill (Priority). HB 781 by Rep. Bruce Williamson (R-Monroe) is the annual bill crafted by the Banking Department with input from GBA’s Bank Counsel Section and other stakeholders. Among the major provisions are those that would allow a de novo bank to pay a dividend before becoming cumulatively profitable in certain circumstances; allow the Department to waive director residency requirements; revise the requirements to acquire a trust company; clarify that representative offices may exercise the same powers as other bank offices; and add night depositories as an extension of a bank location. The bill passed the House and Senate.
Director and Officer Liability (Priority). SB 373 by Sen. John Kennedy (R-Macon) is patterned after GBA’s legislation from 2018 that gave directors and officers of banks and other business corporations gross negligence protections under the state’s Business Judgment Rule. This bill applies to directors and officers of not-for-profit corporations like those who serve on the Board of Directors of the Georgia Bankers Association. The bill passed the Senate and House.
COVID-19 Immunity (Priority). HB 167 by Rep. Darlene Taylor (R-Bainbridge),originally dealt with those authorized to adjust residential insurance claims. In the Senate, the bill was amended at the request Sen. John Kennedy (R-Macon) to add language giving businesses certain immunity from frivolous law suits related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The bill passed the Senate, but the House chose to focus on SB 359 by Sen. Chuck Hufstetler (R-Rome) that originally dealt with surprise billing of medical claims. The bill was amended to include somewhat similar immunity language and was handled in the House by Rep. Trey Kelley (R-Cedartown). GBA was among a large coalition of business interests supporting the concept. The latter bill passed the Senate and House.
Garnishment (Support). SB 443 by Sen. Jesse Stone (R-Waynesboro) is a mostly-technical revision to the current garnishment statute with one of the more significant provisions being to extend Georgia’s continuing garnishments from six months to three years. The bill was passed by the Senate and House.
Hemp (Support). HB 847 by Rep. John Corbett (R-Lake Park) builds off legislation passed in 2019 setting up a regulatory structure for growing and processing hemp so the Georgia Department of Agriculture’s policies and procedures will comply with federal law and regulations.
Income Tax - Hurricane Michael Relief (Support). HB 105 by Rep. Sam Watson (R-Moultrie) would exempt federal disaster relief payments to victims of Hurricane Michael from state income taxes. The Senate amended the original bill to include a $.50 per ride fee on ride share services in Georgia ($.25 for shared). The House agreed to the amendment which gave the bill final passage.
Timber Harvesting (Monitor). HB 897 by Rep. James Burchett (R-Waycross) requires the State Forestry Commission to develop a website to provide a state-wide notification platform for persons or firms harvesting standing timber to utilize as a uniform system of notification to local governing authorities.
Georgia Industrial Loan Act Supervision (Support). HB 462 by Sen. John Kennedy (R-Macon) moves the supervision of lenders making loans under the provisions of the Georgia Industrial Act from the Insurance Commissioner to the Banking Commissioner. The name of the loans is changed from industrial loans to installment loans. The bill passed both Houses.
Banking Improvement Zone (Support). SB 20 by Sen. Michael "Doc" Rhett provides for the establishment of banking improvement zones to encourage opening of bank branches or representative offices in areas underserved by banks incentivized through incentive-based rates paid on local government deposits. The bill passed the Senate and House. Similar legislation, HB 552 was introduced by Rep. Spencer Frye (D-Athens), but did not move from the House Banks and Banking Committee during the session.
Dedicated Taxes and Fees (Monitor). HR 164 by Rep. Jay Powell (R-Camilla) would amend the Constitution to authorize the General Assembly to provide by general law for the dedication of revenues derived from fees or taxes to the public purpose for which such fees or taxes were imposed. The bill passed the House in 2019 and regretfully Rep. Powell died unexpectedly following the Session. Sen. William Ligon (R-Brunswick) took up the cause in 2020 and shepherded the bill through the Senate. The bill was eventually passed by the House and Senate.
Criminal History Record Restriction (Monitor). SB 288 by Sen. Tonya Anderson (D-Lithonia) would restrict certain criminal history record information of arrests when there has been a final disposition other than a conviction or a certain time period and conditions are met since a conviction. Exemptions are included for financial institutions requiring such information for hiring decisions under federal statutes. The bill passed both the Senate and House.
Elder Abuse Reporting (Monitor). HB 978 by Rep. Bee Nguyen (D-Atlanta) amends the current statute related to mandated reporters including employees of financial institutions to prohibit retaliation against a person relating to a report that a disabled adult or elder person is in need of protective services or has been the victim of abuse, neglect or exploitation. The bill was amended to remove private right of action language and merged with HB 987 by Rep. Sharon Cooper (R-Marietta) which is a comprehensive bill that increases the oversight of elder care facilities. The bill was passed by the House and Senate.
Electronic Filing – Courts / Abolishing County Police Departments (Monitor). SB 38 by Sen. William Ligon (R-Brunswick) would exclude certain filings such as those related to the enforcement of child support orders to be entered into the clerk of court’s electronic filing registry. The bill passed the Senate and was reported out of the House Judiciary Committee during the 2019 session but did not move further. In the waning days of the 2020 session, the Committee deleted all the previous language and substituted language establishing a procedure for a county police department to be disbanded. The amended bill passed the House and was agreed to by the Senate.
Factory Built Buildings and Residential Units (Monitor). HB 1008 by Rep. Joe Campbell (R-Camilla) removes the requirement that factory-built buildings be permanently attached to a metal chassis. The bill passed the House and Senate.
Lien Waivers (Monitor). SB 315 by Sen. Lindsey Tippins (R-Marietta) intends to address Court of Appeals decisions involving waivers of liens and notices of nonpayment in contractor-subcontractor relationships. As background, the Courts reversed the customary belief that not perfecting a lien waiver waived a contractor’s lien rights, but did not affect the contractor’s right to bring a subsequent breach of contract action. The proposed bill reverses the Court of Appeals decisions and codifies the industry’s prior understanding. If passed, contractors may bring a breach of contract action (usually for non-payment) even if they do not perfect their lien rights. The bill also adds an additional 30 days for the contractor to perfect their lien to bring the time to 90 days. The bill passed the House and Senate.
Peer-to-peer Vehicle Sharing (Monitor). HB 337 by Rep. Shaw Blackmon (R-Bonaire) would establish a regulatory structure for peer-to-peer vehicle sharing services. The bill passed the House and Senate.
Probate Code (Monitor). HB 865 by Rep. Mitchell Scoggins (R-Cartersville) is a substantial rewrite of the Probate Code that was last revised in 1999. The bill passed the House and Senate.
Rental Property Owner Protection (Monitor). SB 442 by Sen. William Ligon (R-Brunswick) balances the needs of Property Owners Associations with the needs of rental property owners. If an owner purchases a property and rents it to a long-term tenant in accordance with Property Owners Association rules, such property can remain a grandfathered rental property though the POA may change the rules in the future. The bill passed both the Senate and House.
Warranties (Monitor). HB 968 by Rep. Chuck Efstration (R-Dacula) and SB 451 by Sen. John Kennedy (R-Macon) are identical bills that would overturn Court of Appeals decisions that ensure existing warranties in contracts would remain in effect. HB 968 bill passed the House but received no further action in the Senate Judiciary Committee. SB 451 passed both the Senate and House.

Most Bills Introduced Didn’t Pass

With the hundreds of bills introduced each session, many don’t make it through the process. We were disappointed one dealing with remote online notarization, HB 785 by Rep. Joseph Gullett (R-Dallas), didn’t pass. As we’ve seen in previous sessions, notary bills have a wide constituency with differing views. A consensus could not be reached among the members of the House Judiciary Committee on Rep. Gullet’s bill and the bill did not move forward. Rep. Gullett then introduced HR 1525 that would create a House study committee on electronic and remote online notarization. However, the bill did not advance from the House Judiciary Committee due to budget restrictions. GBA looks forward to working with legislators next session on the concept.
Bills Opposed. We opposed other bills and spent significant time and effort on three bills as they had the potential to pass. Those bills dealt with subjects ranging from local government infrastructure financing authorities (SB 309 by Sen. Jesse Stone) to elder financial abuse (HB 402 by Rep. Houston Gaines).
Amendments/Information Sharing. We spent time on many other bills like HB 955 by Rep. Chuck Efstration (R-Dacula). The bill would increase the penalty for willfully failing to report cases of elder financial exploitation to a misdemeanor of a high and aggravated nature. Several of our members raised concerns about some of the language detrimental to their processes and procedures and the bill was amended by the House Governmental Affairs Committee at Rep. Efstration's request to address those concerns. Although the bill didn’t pass, we appreciate legislators like Rep. Efstration who are open to hearing and addressing concerns. Another example is SB 302 by Sen. John Albers (R-Roswell). The bill would have created a process to review various state tax credits, deductions and exemptions. GBA provided Sen. Albers an analysis of the Bank Tax Credit developed by GBA’s Tax Advisory Committee explaining the background of the credit and that it is neither an incentive nor transferable credit. That bill passed the Senate in 2019 but did not get traction in the House.
There are dozens of other examples, and we’ve tracked all the bills we’ve been reporting about on our State Issues Page of GBA’s website. Please take a look at the 73 bills we found of most significance.
Ligon and GBA's Elizabeth Chandler

Best Wishes, Chairman Ligon

Sen. William Ligon was named chairman of the Senate Banking and Financial Institutions Committee at the beginning of the 2017 session which coincided with the start of his fourth term in the Georgia State Senate. Sen. Ligon announced earlier this year that the 2020 session would be his last so that he may devote more time to his family and law practice. “Sen. Ligon is the consummate professional. He brought to the chairmanship a deep knowledge of banking law as well as a philosophy supportive of a regulatory and legal structure allowing banks to serve the needs of their communities without unnecessary burdens. His impeccable character and genuine likeableness were winning attributes for an incredibly successful tenure as chairman,” said GBA president and CEO, Joe Brannen. We at GBA send along our best wishes to Sen. Ligon, his wife Kim and their five children as they begin their next chapter.

Committee Chairs Play Crucial Role

The Leadership of the House and Senate appoint committee chairs and give them significant power to determine the committee’s approach to the legislation assigned. This year was especially trying as committees adapted to a combination of remote and in-person hearings and the flow of legislation was focused on only that deemed the highest priority. In addition to Chairman Ligon mentioned above, we wanted to recognize other committee chairs that presided over most of our key legislation this past session. Rep. Greg Morris (R-Vidalia), House Banks and Banking Committee. Rep. Barry Fleming (R-Harlem) and Sen. Jesse Stone (R-Waynesboro) House and Senate Judiciary Committees. Rep. Brett Harrell (R-Snellville) and Sen. Chuck Hufstetler (R-Rome), House Ways and Means Committee and Senate Finance Committee. Rep. Tom McCall (R-Elberton) and Sen. John Wilkinson (R-Toccoa), House and Senate Agriculture Committee. And, Rep. Richard Smith (R-Columbus) and Sen. Jeff Mullis (R-Chickamauga), House and Senate Rules Committees. Stone, McCall and Wilkinson are leaving the legislature after this term, and several others are in tight re-election battles.

GBA Democracy Days

We have one of the largest numbers of elected officials in some time that are leaving office this year. That means we will have a lot of new people to get to know. With the primary elections behind us, run-offs scheduled for this summer and the fall elections almost upon us, you’ll see us writing about these and other election-related matters under the broad heading of Georgia Bankers Democracy Days. Bankers being a trusted resource on the election process is just one more thing you do. We hope you’ll take advantage of the opportunity to spread the word, encourage voter participation and become involved throughout the election season helping educate candidates on issues important to you, your bank, your community and to your industry. Here are important dates to remember:
  • Aug. 11, 2020 – Primary Runoff
  • Nov. 3, 2020 – General and Special Election
  • Dec. 1, 2020 – General and Special Election Runoffs for state offices
  • Jan. 5, 2021 – General and Special Election Runoffs for federal offices

GBA’s Advocacy Team at the Capitol

Led by GBA’s Senior Vice President, Government Relations, Elizabeth Chandler, GBA will be at the Capitol every day advocating on behalf of our members. Also at the Capitol are GBA’s government relations consultant Steve Bridges and GBA President and CEO Joe Brannen. With questions about GBA legislation, other issues of interest, or anything related to the legislative process, contact Elizabeth at 404.420.2027, Steve at 404.420.2037 or Joe at 404.420.2026.