Cowart brings a wealth of experience in government relations and grassroots advocacy, a host of strong relationships, and expertise in external communications and crafting political strategy.
“I am excited to join the Georgia Retailers team and advocate on behalf of Georgia’s 134,000 retailers," said Ben Cowart. "I look forward to working with the General Assembly and our partners to provide a strong unified voice for the retail industry. I’m eager for the opportunity to grow the association and promote the Georgia Retailers brand throughout the state of Georgia."
Cowart will work alongside local state and federal officials to address key issues in the retail industry and lead the development and implementation of the association’s strategic initiatives. Cowart will also manage the organization's political action committee.
Before joining GEFA, Cowart led business development initiatives and account management for healthcare organizations throughout the region.
Ben Cowart is an active member of the Georgia Chamber Government Affairs Council, a member of the Georgia Professional Lobbyist Association, and a graduate of the Zell Miller Leadership Institute.
Cowart is a Georgia native and an alumnus of the University of Georgia, where he received two degrees, a Bachelor of Business Administration in Marketing and a Master of Business Administration in Innovation/Entrepreneurship.
He and his wife, Charlotte, reside in Decatur, GA.
Beginning this week, the Georgia Department of Human Services (DHS) will provide cash assistance of up to $350 for active enrollees in Medicaid, PeachCare for Kids, SNAP, and/or TANF government benefit programs.
Georgians with email addresses registered with DHS will receive virtual payments by eGift card, this is separate from current benefit payment cards. Plastic cards will be mailed to eligible Georgians who do not have their email address listed in Gateway.
The virtual payment card is a Mastercard prepaid card that works exactly like a debit card – and will live in the recipient's digital wallet (Apple, Google, Samsung Wallets). The virtual payments can also be used via keyed entry anywhere that accepts Mastercard payments, not just online.
Click here to read the Governor's entire press release.
There is now only one day left in the 2022 Session. Week Twelve saw movement on very important bills including legislation sponsored by Speaker David Ralston reforming mental health care in the state. That bill was passed by the Senate and Agreed to by the House. This action allowed numerous other bills that were being held by the two chambers to move forward.
There are still a number of bills left to be decided on including legislation to allow sports betting (and possibly other forms of gambling) in Georgia, Freedom to Farm legislation and more. The Senate and House are also wrangling over how large of an income tax cut to pass following a record year for state tax collections. The next few days will see long nights and lots of deals getting cut as legislators look to get these bills over the finish line.
SB 332-The Georgia Inform Consumers Act Passes by Overwhelming Margin
The Georgia Retailers' top priority during the 2022 Session, the Georgia Inform Consumers Act, was passed by the House on Monday of this week by a vote of 155-4. The Senate followed that action by agreeing to the House version on Wednesday.
The legislation, sponsored by Sen. John Albers of Roswell, will require online marketplaces to collect certain basic information from third-party sellers of new, unused items who make at least $5,000 in sales. SB 332 also requires third party sellers with $20,000 or more in annual sales to provide a phone number, email or other form of direct contact between the buyer and seller.
The legislation will give consumers access to more information about the third-party sellers they are buying from. Many third party sellers take advantage of the anonymity currently offered by online platforms hiding behind trusted brands like Amazon and ebay to sell stolen merchandise to unknowing consumers. In addition, the new law gives law enforcement another tool to track and fight organized retail crime.
The GA Retailers would like to thank the members who came to the Capitol to help lobby the bill and speak in favor of it during committee hearings. We also need to thank the members of the Senate and House who supported the legislation. Members can see how legislators from their district voted on the bill by clicking on the Votes section at the bottom of this page.
The General Assembly has now completed 39 Legislative Days of the 40 Day Session.
Next week’s schedule is as follows:
Week Eleven of the 2022 Session is in the books. The budget has now been passed by the Senate which means that the negotiation can begin between the House and Senate on how much money each program or project is going to receive in the coming fiscal year. Getting the budget agreed on by both sides is a discussion that occurs at the highest levels with the Appropriations Chairs and Majority Leaders of the House and Senate serving on the Conference Committee.
As we get closer to the end of Session, conference committees are now being tasked with reconciling different versions of bills that are passed. This process starts when a bill passes both chambers but with different language. Even a slight difference means that the bill is in limbo until the final language is agreed to by both Chambers. Either chamber can Recede from its position and allow the other chamber’s language to be the final version. This allows the bill to move forward to the Governor.
If the House and Senate both insist on the language, a conference committee is appointed with three members from each. Those members negotiate the language, and the bill can look very different when they are finished. If a majority of the conference committee comes to an agreement on the final product, they issue a conference committee report that both the House and Senate must again pass with a majority of the members.
The Agree/Disagree and Conference Committee process offers many opportunities for new twists and turns in the making of legislation.
Georgia Inform Consumers Act Receives
Do Pass Recommendation; Scheduled for Floor Debate on Monday, March 28
SB 332, the Georgia Inform Consumers Act, was passed by the House Judiciary Committee by substitute on Tuesday of this week. The Committee included language sought by Amazon that would clarify that the “unhindered” communication between consumers and third-party sellers did not prevent them from monitoring the chat function their platform provides and acting on any abusive behavior through the chat function. Georgia Retailers argued against the change with committee members prior to the meeting because of concerns that it could be used by the company to cut off communication between a consumer with a legitimate complaint and a seller who didn’t want to resolve the complaint.
Despite that small change, the bill remains overwhelmingly positive for the retail industry and consumers. The legislation was heard in the Rules Committee today and placed on the calendar for Floor Debate and a vote in the House on Monday. Rep. Houston Gaines of Athens will present the bill on the floor and answer any questions that other Representatives may have.
Assuming SB 332 passes, the bill would then go back to the Senate for an Agree or Disagree motion. An Agree motion that succeeds would send the bill to the Governor for his signature or veto. The Governor has 40 days following the end of Session to review legislation and make a decision on the bill.
The General Assembly has now completed 35 Legislative Days of the 40 Day Session.
Next week’s schedule is as follows:
Week ten began with a bang as Crossover Day took place on Tuesday. Both the Senate and the House worked late into the night with multiple controversial issues providing plenty of fireworks and lots of “oohs and ahhs” by the lobbyists watching the screens outside the chambers as vote counts were displayed. After the dust had settled, a better picture of which legislation is still alive and which bills will have to wait a year (or longer) has emerged.
Wednesday through Friday, on the other hand, was a time for the General Assembly to collect its breath and restart the process of committee hearings with bills from the other chamber.
One final word of warning…as everyone familiar with this process knows, legislation is never really dead at the Georgia State Capitol. Language from bills that are considered “dead” can be amended into bills that are considered “germane.” Typically, bills are germane when they are located in the same code section as the original bill or if the subject matter is the same. These bills are also known as “vehicles” and identifying vehicles is a big part of what the lobbying team will be doing over the next few weeks to ensure that no nasty surprises slip though the chaos which defines the final days of a Session.
“Must Accept Cash” Bill Held on Crossover Day
HB 1152, requiring retailers to accept cash for purchases, was not brought to the House floor for a vote on Tuesday and so will be ineligible for further consideration. As noted above, language from the bill could be added to other legislation that is still moving. Considering the second signer on the bill is the Chairman of the Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee, it will be important to monitor that committee for any legislation that could serve as a vehicle.
Georgia Inform Consumers Act Receives First Hearing in House; Substitute Language Being Considered
The House Judiciary Committee held a hearing Thursday afternoon on SB 332, the Georgia Inform Consumers Act. Chairman Chuck Efstration, (R – Dacula) brought a substitute with language sought by Amazon that allows them to monitor the chat function of the merchants that use their platform.
Two representatives from the online marketplace companies spoke against the bill and asked for it to be held. Neither seemed to have much impact with the committee. Georgia Retailers spoke for the legislation along with representatives from members companies Walmart, CVS, Walgreens and The Home Depot. The Georgia Food Industry Association also spoke in support of the legislation.
While the committee did not take a vote in this hearing, the Chairman indicated that a vote would be taken at the next meeting which is likely to be held early next week.
The General Assembly has now completed 31 Legislative Days of the 40 Day Session.
Next week’s schedule is as follows: