By Representative Jeff Jones
One year-ago – Earth Day, April 22, 2014 – the Director of the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) of the Department of Natural Resources, announced that the State of Georgia would no longer enforce a long-standing provision requiring a 25-foot marsh protection buffer. (View EPD Director Jud Turner’s letter) The marsh buffer stipulation, which appears in the Erosion and Sedimentation Act, requires marsh front developments - whether large or small, commercial or residential - to observe a 25-foot buffer. The buffer’s purpose is to protect salt marshes from upland soil erosion, and runoff from construction and from commercial or residential marsh-side developments.
As a resident of coastal Georgia serving my first term in the Georgia House of Representatives, I was extremely concerned about the prospect that our coastal marshes were unprotected by a buffer and the possibility that our environmentally and economically important marsh buffers would continue unprotected.
Throughout the end of 2014, I continued to read, listen and learn more about coastal marsh protection issues. In the process, coastal residents and legislators voiced strong concerns and objections to EPD's decision to cease enforcement of the buffer provision. The EPD Director justified the decision to stop buffer enforcement because he said that language in the Erosion and Sedimentation Act was confusing, EPD's enforcement was inconsistent across the state and that the 2004 letter from ex-EPD Director Carol Couch, which had been acceptable for over 10 years was not enforceable as law (View Carol Couch’s 2004 memorandum). For example, for more than a decade, the agency had been enforcing the buffer on coastal salt marsh, but not on freshwater wetlands, which have their own, separate complexities, issues and challenges. Upon reading the language in the Erosion and Sedimentation Act, I began to better understand the confusion about the Act's applicability to coastal salt marsh and became convinced that we needed a legislative remedy.Read more
This siting of this jellyfish processing factory on the Sapelo River in 2014 shows the changes that could come if loopholes aren't closed in the current marsh buffer bill, environmentalists say. Photocourtesy Megan Desrosiers/ One Hundred Miles.
By Mary Landers
Worried that the current marsh buffer bill is too weak, Rep. Jeff Jones of Brunswick is gathering support for a substitute that would close its major loopholes.
On Friday, Jones emailed his fellow state representatives with his substitute for S.B. 101, the buffer bill introduced by Savannah Republican state Sen. Ben Watson.
“Many of us believe that S.B. 101, as presented, has too many broad exceptions and significantly hampers the Environmental Protection Division of the DNR’s ability to effectively and properly manage and protect Georgia’s coastal marshes,” Jones wrote to house members. “I’ve been working with (Rules Committee) Chairman (John) Meadows, other representatives and members of the environmental community, to craft a substitute bill that tightens up the broad exception language in the original S.B. 101 and effectively returns control and oversight of handling marsh buffer exceptions to the EPD.”
Coastal lawmaker tries to salvage marsh protections
Posted: March 21, 2015 - 11:22pm | Updated: March 23, 2015 - 8:39am
(Pictured: Teen Author Maya Van Wagenen, and Representative Jeff Jones)
Learn more about Maya Van Wagenen (Visit Website)
From the Desk of Representative Jeff Jones
Legislative Update Week 11, March 27, 2015 - Crunch Time!
We returned to Atlanta and reconvened the House of Representatives on Monday, March 23, 2015. This is quite literally crunch time as legislators in both the House and Senate work to get legislation they have sponsored pushed through the process and on to the floor of the House and/or Senate for a vote.
It’s interesting to see the types of bills that come before the General Assembly anywhere from mundane, but necessary, laws to bring Georgia tax code in line with Federal tax code, to a bill allowing the non-traditional zero-emission Tesla automobile to be sold in Georgia not following the traditional auto manufacturer-franchised dealer network (current Georgia law prevents vehicles from being sold “direct to the public” from the manufacturer.) I sit on the Motor Vehicles Committee that heard that bill, and I voted to pass it out of committee. The “Tesla” bill, like many others, may or may not make it through the Senate, and may or may not be signed into law. Again, just another example of the type of bills that are considered.Read more
There are many, many people in Georgia, who will benefit greatly from the passage of this legislation. Can you imagine having as many as 1,000 seizures a day? And for having no hope for medical relief! It is just hard to comprehend the agony that these individuals, and their families have had to endure. I am so thankful to Representative Allen Peake, the other house members, the Georgia Senate, to Governor Deal, and to everyone else who worked so hard to get this bill passed. The final hurdles are another vote in the House, which already voted overwhelmingly to pass the bill, and then to Governor Deal for his signature. This is a historic day in Georgia.
Representative Jeff Jones
Georgia State House
From the Desk of Representative Jeff Jones
Legislative Update Week 10, March 20, 2015 - House Considers Senate Bills after "Crossover"
In my last weekly legislative update, I explained that last Friday, March 13, 2015, was “Crossover Day”, the 30th day of the 2015 session of the Georgia General Assembly. “Crossover Day” is a significant point in each year’s 40 day session because it is the last day for “general bills” to “pass” in the House or Senate to “crossover” to the other body for their consideration. With Crossover Day behind us, we returned to Capitol Hill to focus on legislation that has already been passed by the Georgia Senate. To ensure that every bill is fully vetted before its final passage, we spent most of our time this week in committee meetings reviewing Senate legislation. This coming week will very busy as well with committee to review Senate bills.
Ed Note: Below are discussions of a number of bills that have passed the Senate. Only those bills where I indicated my vote as YES or NO have actually come to the House floor for a vote. All of the other bills and resolutions are in the discussion or negotiation stage, but are bills that I thought you may want to read about.
Marsh Buffer Bill (SB101)
One bill of particular importance to Coastal Georgia, that “crossed over” from the Senate to the House, is the Marsh Buffer Bill, Senate Bill 101 (SB101). This bill purports to re-establish the 25 foot Marsh Buffer that has been in existence for many years along Georgia’s coastal marshes. In April 2014, the Director of the Environmental Protection Division (EPD) of the DNR proclaimed that the EPD would no longer enforce the buffer because doing so was not founded in law. The Director further explained that the 25 foot buffer had been enforced for years by virtue of a letter written by then DNR Commissioner Carol Couch. The current EPD Director dismissed the letter, and its establishment of the 25 foot buffer, as being unenforceable.
After careful study of SB101, I reached the conclusion that it contains such large, gaping holes as to render it almost totally devoid of meaningful, enforceable buffer provisions.
In response, I have submitted a “substitute” to SB101, which is officially numbered as “SB101 Substitute LC 40 0902ERS”. (This numbering is important in identifying the correct bill.)
The substitute bill does two things:
1. Inserts a date of December 31, 2015 in the existing bill so that all “new” shoreline stabilization projects are subject to a 25 foot. buffer, unless a variance is granted. SB101, as presented, does not achieve this.
2. Moves language that deals with Army Corps of Engineers Section 404 exemptions to a location earlier in SB101. The current location of this section effectively exempts any project that has a Federal permit from the buffer provision, regardless of size, scope or impact.
Moving the language to an earlier section ensures that EPD must review requests for buffer variance projects, even if those projects have Federal permits.
The question we have to answer is “Do we want local control or Federal control of what happens to our marshes?” In my opinion, this control MUST BE local, not federal; hence we need the substitute bill I have proposed.
Tom Barton of the Savannah Morning News recently penned the following editorial regarding SB101, and this was distributed to house members earlier today. Dead Marsh Walking by Tom Barton (Click Here)Read more
From the Desk of Representative Jeff Jones
Legislative Update Week 9, March 13, 2015 - Crossover Day
On Friday, March 13, we reached day 30 of the 2015 legislative session. Each year the 30th legislative day marks a crucial deadline for the Georgia General Assembly. This date, which is also known as “Crossover Day,” is the final chance for bills to pass the legislative chamber from which they originated, either the House or Senate. After Crossover Day, all bills passed by the House must “cross over” to the Senate, and vice versa; we will then spend the remaining ten legislative days considering Senate bills. As a result, we were in session for long hours for several days to ensure a quality review of as much legislation as possible before the critical “crossover” deadline. I have been impressed that, of all of the bills that legislators draft, only those bills that are truly important make it through the tedious committee process to come to the House floor for a vote.
Below is a discussion of a selected number of bills that passed the House this past week, of which there were many. A complete list of the Bills that passed the House this past week can be viewed by clicking on this link: Sponsored LegislationRead more
From the Desk of Representative Jeff Jones
Legislative Update Week 8, March 6, 2015 - The $1 Billion Transportation Bill, a Tax Increase
We returned to the Capitol and our Legislative duties on Monday, March 2 for the 24th day and start of the 8th week of the 2015 legislative session. Like many State Reps, being in Atlanta is only part of the job. I usually stay busy with legislative activities pretty much all weekend, whether it’s making phone calls, answering correspondence, attending community events, and attending meetings – all of which are part of the job.
This week, we spent a few more hours “in session”, and attending committee and sub-committee hearings as legislators present their bills for consideration. This step occurs before bills move to the rules committee and a final decision on whether a bill will come before the full house for a vote. These are time consuming but vitally important steps in the legislative process as bills work their way through the General Assembly.
Transportation Bill (HB170)
Probably the most significant bill of the 2015 session, at least in terms of the dollars involved, came before the House and was passed by a vote of 123 for and 46 against. I voted NO on the Transportation Bill.
In my view, the Transportation Bill - as passed - is bad for Georgia taxpayers, bad for Georgia consumers, bad for our local communities (counties and cities) and bad for our local school system. It is purely and simply a tax increase of major proportions.
We all agree that we must fund transportation infrastructure needs. We all know and agree on that basic premise. What we disagree on is how to pay for it.
In my opinion, the Transportation Committee proposed absolutely no fresh, new, out-of-the-box ideas on solving our funding problem. The choice we were given to vote on – raise taxes.
Transportation Bill –Official Version from the House Communications Office
Transportation improvements have long struggled to match Georgia’s rapid economic progress, resulting in too many roads and bridges that are now in need of critical maintenance. HB170, or the Transportation Funding Act of 2015, is a comprehensive package of measures to address the critical and urgent need for funding for Georgia’s transportation infrastructure needs. HB170 seeks to raise just under a billion dollars for maintenance and repair of our state’s bridges and roadways, many of which have been deemed functionally obsolete and structurally deficient; therefore, these funds are crucial to guarantee that our roads and infrastructures are safe for Georgia drivers. Well-maintained roads and bridges will enhance safety and quality of life for our citizens, but these road improvements will also continue to attract new businesses to our state and create jobs for Georgians.
HB 170 provides this funding through a variety of measures, including the conversion of the state sales tax on motor fuel to a straight excise tax that will be dedicated to transportation. This excise tax will initially be set at 29.2 cents per gallon, which approximates the sales tax rate that has been imposed on gasoline using a weighted average of the price of gasoline over the previous four years. Unlike the current gas tax, which is a 4% sales tax that varies with the cost of gas, the flat excise tax will provide a more stable alternative. This tax conversion will provide a dedicated, predictable and steady funding source and a long term solution to our state’s transportation funding issues. Not only will the excise tax conversion provide the necessary funding for transportation maintenance and improvement, but it also will help ensure gas taxes remain constant between counties and through periods of high spikes in gas prices.
Additional revenue for our transportation needs will come from a significant bond package that will go towards funding for the 128 transit systems across Georgia. Funding for our transit systems will enable more communities across our state to take advantage of public transportation options. This bond package is a practical way to provide more immediate funding for our transportation needs, while leveraging the state’s high credit, AAA bond rating to borrow at little cost to the state.
Other funding sources in the Transportation Funding Act include the establishment of a user fee for alternative fueled vehicles of $200 for non-commercial and $300 for commercial vehicles each year. As these vehicles do not use gasoline, their owners do not currently pay their share of taxes devoted to the maintenance of the roads they use. This fee will provide equity among those who drive on our roads and ensure everyone pays their fair share. HB170 will also eliminate the state tax credit for the purchase of alternative fueled vehicles, as well as the state tax credit on jet fuel, which was established several years ago in a struggling economy, where companies were in jeopardy of bankruptcy. Furthermore, the Georgia Transportation Infrastructure Bank will allow for preference for loans to be given to tier 1 and tier 2 counties, as well as to eligible projects with local financial assistance.
Overall, HB170 ensures that Georgia remains an attractive place for businesses and families by making our roadways safe for all drivers. I look forward to seeing the impact that this legislation will have in our district and communities, and I am proud that our body sees the value in transportation. HB170 is now in the Senate’s hands for consideration.
(Now back to my stuff)
Uber and Other Private Transportation Companies (HB190)
The House also passed another piece of legislation intended to ensure that passengers riding in private transportation services, such as Uber and Lyft, are covered with sufficient insurance for the protection of their passengers. Some would argue that passage of this bill is intended to stifle free-enterprise and entrepreneurship by forcing this new, alternative form of transportation to buy insurance. I disagreed with that opinion and voted in favor of HB190.
Currently, many of these drivers are offering ride-share services to the public with their personal vehicles, counting on their personal auto policy, to provide insurance coverage. In fact, personal auto coverage does not cover commercial activity when the vehicle is being used for hire. HB190 addresses this lack of insurance coverage by requiring the transportation network company or the driver to purchase a commercial motor vehicle insurance policy that maintains $1 million in insurance coverage for drivers anytime they are logged into the company system, regardless if any passengers are onboard. The legislation also requires at least $300,000 in coverage for bodily injury or death and $50,000 for property damage. HB190 takes the necessary steps to protect the many Georgians who drive or ride with companies like UBER and LYFT.
Seat Belts Now Required for 15 Passenger Vans (HB325)
You may be surprised to learn that 15 passenger vans, used by many child care centers, churches and others, are among the most dangerous vehicles in which to be a passenger because they are so long and are very top-heavy, causing then to easily roll over. House Bill 325, which passed this week, requires passengers in vans that have 15-passenger capacities to wear seat belts. Under current law, safety belts only required for vans that carry 10 passengers or fewer. According to a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) study, approximately 1,111 fatalities occurred between 1990 and 2002 as a result of crashes involving 15 passenger vans, and the study found that 80 percent of those who died were not wearing seat belts.
State ID Card Holders Can Elect to be Automatic Organ Donors (HB210)
Another potentially life-saving bill passed this week was House Bill 210, which allows Georgia citizens to designate that they wish to be an organ donor by so designating on their state issued I.D. cards. Currently, organ donor status is listed on drivers’ licenses, but not on state issued I.D. cards. Interestingly, changes such as this require legislation to make them happen.
Asthma Treatment for Children While at School (HB362)
In addition to passing several measures related to our state’s transportation system, the House also passed a bill to improve the health and safety of our children. House Bill 362 ensures that schools are well equipped to treat students with asthma by allowing schools to obtain and stock levalbuterol sulfate, a medication commonly used to treat asthma. Under HB362, any school employee who is trained in recognizing symptoms of respiratory distress could administer the medication to students. Asthma has become a common and growing illness and schools should be prepared to help our children handle these types of emergencies.
Read Across Georgia Month – a Sandra and Governor Deal Reading Initiative
In a continued effort to combat illiteracy, Governor Deal and First Lady Sandra Deal this week announced Read Across Georgia Month, a campaign to make reading more fun for Georgia’s children. As a part of the launch of this new initiative, First Lady Sandra Deal visited the House and introduced a new Pre-K book, TJ’s Discovery, written by teachers at the Rollins Center for Language and Literacy at the Atlanta Speech School. This book will be given as a gift to every student in Georgia’s Pre-K program and helps teach parents and caregivers how to make reading come alive to the children in their lives. I commend our First Lady for her diligent efforts to help Georgia’s children develop a lifelong love of reading.
On a Lighter Note
Finally, this week we took some time to recognize John Smoltz, a former pitcher for the Atlanta Braves and honoree in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. In addition to being named an eight-time All Star, Smoltz is the only pitcher in major league history to top both 200 wins and 150 saves. Smoltz was honored before the Georgia House of Representatives with House Resolution 343 for his accomplishments both on and off the field. I’m proud that such an outstanding athlete and citizen claims Georgia as his home state.
Looking Ahead to Week 9
Next week will be an extremely busy week. On Friday, March 13, we are scheduled to complete the 30th legislative day, which is also known as “Crossover Day.” Crossover Day is the last date in which a piece of legislation must pass at least one of the General Assembly’s two chambers. With this deadline in mind, we will work longer hours every day to pass whatever remaining legislation is out there to get it through the House chamber.
Communicating with Constituents
I hope that you will contact me during this crucial week, so that I can address any concerns you might have. You can visit me or call my office at the State Capitol, the number is 404-656-0126. Please also encourage your friends, neighbors and co-workers to sign up for these email updates on our website: www.VoteJeffJones.com. I look forward to hearing from you.
Thank you for your prayers and your continued support.
Brunswick, GA 31525