By: Sen. Larry Walker (R – Perry)
Going until midnight on March 31st, the Senate has adjourned the 2021 Legislative Session Sine Die and our time at the Gold Dome has come to a pause. While this session was unlike many others for a number of reasons, namely COVID protocols aimed at protecting members, staffers and constituents, our work remained the same. During our 40 legislative days, we have been working around the clock to ensure we are reflecting your best interests. I am honored to have been able to serve you and I promise to continue doing so during the interim from both the Capitol and in the District.
As Chairman of the Senate Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee, supporting our state’s largest industry, agribusiness, is a priority for me. Therefore, I spent a lot of time working with Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black and my colleagues on the House and Senate Agriculture Committees to craft and pass House Bill 676. The goal of HB 676 is to develop and implement a five-year plan for our nine state owned farmers markets to maximize their benefit to Georgia’s farmers and agribusiness ecosystem, and enhance the marketing of Georgia Grown products. This bill creates a legislative advisory committee on farmers markets, which will be composed of equal members of both the Senate and the House. This committee will be tasked with studying the economic viability and public benefit of each existing market, and to work alongside the Department of Agriculture to rethink and modernize these operations. Georgia’s farmers markets generate $7 million in gross annual revenue from rents and fees, with the bulk of that revenue coming from the Atlanta State Farmers Market in Forest Park. The committee will consider organizational changes, such as an authority, enterprise fund or privatization, allowing for business like operation and the retention and reinvestment of any earnings. Farming and farm product distribution has changed dramatically since the inception of the state markets, and we need to make sure they are still fulfilling their mission in support of Georgia farmers, grocers, restauranteurs and consumers.
Related to that, House Bill 498 is a bill that assists our family-owned farms. Farming today, at a scale necessary to support a family, requires a tremendous capital investment, and Georgia farmers are still struggling to overcome losses from Hurricane Michael and disruptions from the pandemic. Family-owned farms, as defined in code, currently benefit from an ad valorem tax exemption on qualified farm products and machinery. HB 498 expands that exemption to “family-owned farm entities” comprised of two or more unrelated family-owned farms, as long as each farm in the entity would qualify for the family farm exemption on its own. This provides “family-owned farm entities” the financial advantages of sharing equipment, land, labor and inputs while not losing the ad valorem tax exemption enjoyed by stand-alone family-owned farms.
House Bill 153 is a bill identical to my own, Senate Bill 86. It comes from concerns you have voiced to me about whether or not the documents you have received for corporate filing fees were official or not. It would require these solicitations to have an easy to read notice that clarifies it’s a solicitation and not a bill, official government document or has been sent by the Secretary of State’s Office. The premise, is to make sure Georgia remains strong entrepreneurially and you are able to continue keeping your businesses – big and small – afloat.
As the above measures show, I will continue to find ways to support the areas of greatest need in our communities. House Bill 32 is a bill that strengthens our District’s teacher workforce by creating a teacher recruitment and retention program that specializes in rural areas and high need subjects. This initiative is backed by a $3,000 refundable income tax credit for qualified teachers, which should incentivize the expansion of quality education for our students and ensure that every student has access to more academic and professional opportunities.
With a total of over 70 bills passed just on Monday and Tuesday, it is hard to encapsulate the full work of the legislature this session. In the coming weeks, and months, I plan to provide a further summary of the various themes and legislation we passed here, and I want you to know that my work serving you will continue through the interim. Every day here, I have been working to represent you in the best ways that I can. I am grateful for your prayers, support and the opportunity to be able to serve as your legislator. Thank you.
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Sen. Larry Walker serves as the Majority Caucus Vice Chairman and Chairman of the Senate Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee. He represents the 20th Senate District, which includes Bleckley, Houston, Laurens and Pulaski counties. He may be reached by phone at 404.656.0095 or by email at email@example.com.