The 2018 Georgia General Assembly proved to be an overall successful one for the state’s tourism and hospitality sector, according to industry experts who recapped the legislative session on Tuesday during a panel discussion at the Georgia Hotel & Lodging Association’s Legislative Update luncheon.
Expected to have a large positive impact by providing an estimated $100 million on the food and beverage industry is Senate Bill 17, which was signed by Gov. Nathan Deal last week.
“This is a big economic driver,” Karen Bremer, CEO, Georgia Restaurant Association said of the bill, better known as ‘the brunch bill.
Other panelists on Tuesday included Jay Morgan of JL Morgan Company and Chief GHLA lobbyist, along with Lee Hughes, partner at Hughes Public Affairs. The trio also addressed school start dates, short-term vacation rental regulations and the possible impact a “religious freedom” bill would have on the state’s business climate.
All the participants agreed that a reappearance of a religious freedom or liberty bill, which would essentially permit faith-based organizations to deny services to people who violate their religious beliefs and allow employers to fire employees who aren’t in line with their doctrine, would impact the state negatively.
“It’s going to be a big game during (the next session),” Hughes said, adding that while Gov. Deal previously vetoed a religious liberty bill in 2016, the future of a similar bill is uncertain since a new governor will be elected in November.
″... Let’s not put whoever our next governor is in that position... Just a caution that it is coming back, we just hope it doesn’t come back with a vengeance and we’re able to play the game and win.”
“The responsibility we all have is to educate legislators on what unintended consequences are. (The Religious Freedom Restoration Act) is definitely one we have to be on the lookout for and let our voice be heard on that,” Bremer added.
Casino gambling, which has been a recurring issue in the last few legislative sessions was also discussed on Tuesday.
On the heels of the recent ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, which struck a down a federal law that has since 1992 prohibited states from authorizing sports betting, Hughes said he expects to see the issue return in the 2019 session with strong favor.
“Millions of American’s are already doing this and there is a revenue stream out there that is untapped...,” he said, adding that the possibility a percentage of casino revenue going back to the state government is an enticing opportunity. “That is a really enticing carrot for state legislators who are under pressure to fund projects statewide.”
Morgan, however, said after previous gambling bills died he believes the support has widely diminished.
“They let expectations rise to the point where something was going to happen and then when it didn’t the support evaporated,” he said. “I think we’d almost have to have an economic downtown in the state economy for there to be new support.”
All three panelists urged those in attendance to vote, encourage others to vote, and stay educated on laws that could affect their businesses and industry. They also stressed the importance of having one-on-one meetings with representatives.
“Keep yourself educated... Make yourself aware and always know what the impact is on your business,” Bremer said.
Also speaking briefly at Tuesday’s event was state Sen. Lester Jackson, who praised the hospitality as well as agriculture and Georgia’s growing entertainment industries, as key players in keeping the state the number one place to do business for the fifth year in a row.
“We’re consistently working year-round to make Georgia the best state in the country to live, the best state to start a business, raise a family,” he said.
“Georgia will continue to grow and Georgia will continue to be a top state to do business and live in because we have people like you that go to work every day and do the best that you can. We are moving forward.”