By: Gary Ashcroft
October Policy Snapshot
As lawmakers continue to gear up for the spring session, and as policy wonks wait for the political fireworks to start at the Golden Dome, the Spencer Frye team is here to bring you up to speed on 5 important policy developments from the past month.
1. Craft Beer Blues
During the most recent legislative session, the General Assembly passed SB 63, a bill that permits craft breweries to, in a roundabout way, sell beer directly to consumers. Basically, SB 63 allows brewers to evade the current prohibition on direct-to-consumer alcohol sales by charging for tours, with visitors being able to take home some suds as “souvenirs.” As part of the bill, brewers are also allowed to create a tiered system in which consumers are charged different prices for different types of tours.
However, recent guidance from the Georgia Department of Revenue may put the stoppers back on brewers’ kegs. According to a notice published by the department, although brewers may sell different tiers of tours, the price differences of those tours may not be based on differences in the market value of their beer offerings. This has led some craft brewers to suspend their tours, and others are even considering building facilities in neighboring states rather than building them in Georgia. It’s unclear what led to the Department of Revenue’s decision, especially given its previous approval of brewers’ value-based tiered systems. Despite this lack of clarity, one thing seems certain: we can expect the lobbyists for craft brewers and beer wholesalers to engage in a pitched battle over this new development during the spring session.
2. Casino Royale ATL
Move over Las Vegas – casino gambling may soon be coming to Georgia. In an effort to keep the HOPE Scholarship program viable, joint committees in the Senate and House are examining the creation of a limited number of casinos in the state. Revenues from these casinos could be used to bolster the lagging finances of HOPE, ensuring that it remains a resource for Georgia’s students in the future. However, others are concerned that the social costs of casino gambling could outweigh any benefits. For example, at a recent hearing in Atlanta on casino gambling, a scholar from the University of Illinois highlighted the fact that crime and bankruptcies dramatically increase after the introduction of casino gambling.
3. Cannabis Oil
Last session the legislature passed HB 1, legalizing the use of cannabis oil to treat side effects of cancer treatment, symptoms of epilepsy, and other medical issues. However, although the law decriminalized the possession of cannabis oil, production of the substance is still illegal in Georgia. Due to this, Georgia patients may have trouble obtaining cannabis oil and could even face jail time if caught transporting it from states like California and Colorado.
A coalition of patients and their family members is seeking to remedy this problem. Georgians for Freedom in Healthcare, a new non-profit group committed to legalizing the production of cannabis oil in Georgia, has stated that it will lobby lawmakers to approve cannabis oil production in the state. Although the success of such lobbying efforts is yet to be seen, if history is any judge, it will be hard for lawmakers to ignore heart-wrenching stories about seriously ill children whose health can be improved through treatment with cannabis oil.
4. Garnishment Gridiron
Debtors must have thought they’d won the Super Bowl on September 8 when a federal judge ruled Georgia’s garnishment law unconstitutional and halted all garnishments in Gwinnett County. This ruling had reverberations around the state, as other Georgia counties halted their garnishment proceedings, anticipating that the General Assembly would change the law to cure its supposed constitutional defects. However, lenders and debt collection agencies regained some yardage on October 5 when Judge Marvin Shoob ruled that wage garnishments could resume, although a prohibition on garnishing bank accounts remains in place. If Judge Shoob’s ruling is upheld on appeal, lawmakers will be forced to enact changes to make sure that debtors have notice that garnishments cannot touch Social Security benefits, welfare payments, and workers’ compensation.
5. And you thought college was expensive . . .
Georgia’s state-funded pre-kindergarten may soon be getting a boost, as lawmakers recently proposed using lottery funds to increase the budget for the program. The hope is that increasing pre-K funding will help lower class sizes and lead to more competitive pay for teachers.