Georgia’s legislators will be heading back to the capitol for a special session to allocate funding for hurricane recovery in southwest Georgia.
Gov. Nathan Deal announced the special session Tuesday morning. It will convene Nov. 13 and last at least five days – and possibly more.
“Georgia was severely impacted by Hurricane Michael and many communities across our state sustained heavy financial losses,” Deal said in a press release. “In response, I will ask the General Assembly to take immediate action and lead the way in spurring rapid economic recovery for southwest Georgia communities. Our state budget also needs to be amended to ensure that we adequately cover our obligations.”
"I hope to work quickly with the General Assembly in the coming days to provide support to the Georgia communities that need it most,” Deal continued.
The governor has the ability to do some emergency funding, but in a case like this, “there has to be action taken by our body,” said Rep. Lynn Smith, R-Newnan. Smith is the Coweta delegation’s senior legislator and serves on the House Appropriations Committee, which writes the budget. “We can’t just put it off until next year,” she said.
The main order of business will be amending the FY 2019 budget.
During the regular general assembly session, which begins each January, the House and Senate always work on amending the previous fiscal year’s budget to take into account various changes. Smith expects there to be hurricane relief actions in that amendment next session, as well as in the FY 2020 budget.
The work during the special session will likely just be the start to dealing with the devastation from the hurricane, according to Smith.
During the special session, the budget amendment will go through the same process that any bill goes through – it will be “dropped” and “first read” and then after a second reading will be assigned to the House Appropriations Committee.
That committee will hold a hearing, possibly make changes, approve the bill and send it to the Rules Committee, and then to the House floor for a vote. After the House approves it, things move to the Senate for a committee hearing and floor vote. Some rules could be suspended during the special session to make things move a bit faster, Smith said.
House members got an email Tuesday from Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge. In it, Ralston said that “while we will work as expeditiously as possible, legislative procedures will require several days,” Smith said, and Ralston tells House members to prepare to be at the capitol through at least Friday, Nov. 16, and to “bear in mind additional days may be required.”
Between now and the opening of the special session, various state agencies and the governor’s office will be compiling data on the damage and the need, and a prepared budget amendment should be ready to introduce on the first day of the special session, Smith said.
Tuesday afternoon, the Georgia Department of Agriculture released updated damage estimates. The loss to the cotton crop is estimated to be $550 to $600 million. The loss to the landscape and green industry is estimated at $13 million, and the loss to the forestry industry is estimated at $374 million. The initial estimate of forestry loss was $1 billion.
The pecan industry was hit particularly hard, with $560 million in losses and the destruction of trees that will take years to replace. The loss to the pecan industry has been described as “generational,” according to the Department of Agriculture.
The loss to vegetable crops including corn, squash, peppers and tomatoes is estimated at $480 million.
“These estimations are a clear indicator of the unfortunate devastation many of our farmers and farm families have had to endure," said Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black. "These staggering numbers are tough to read, but Georgia farmers have shown great resilience through this unsettling time and we will continue to stand with them.”