The 2016 Georgia General Assembly session got underway last week with the goal of tackling some high-profile issues such as religious liberty and casinos among many other things. We’ll focus our attention on the bills and discussions involving issues related to cities, local governments, transportation, development, and the environment. Here is a quick look at some of the significant and fun things happening downtown under the dome.
Milton County. Perhaps one of the most talked-about issues over the past several years has been the growing demand by communities to break away from their parent counties through formal incorporation. Since 2005 we’ve seen the creation of Dunwoody, Sandy Springs, John’s Creek, Peachtree Corners, and Tucker to name a few. The perceived and actual corruption of local political figures in Fulton and Dekalb Counties (among other things) has led to many of the northern suburbs in those counties asking for more autonomy over local issues.
The Georgia Constitution limits the number of counties in the state to 159 thus the only constitutional means of gaining local control from Fulton and Dekalb has been to form new cities. Well why not just change the Constitution? That’s exactly what HR-964 seeks to do.
The resolution proposes an amendment to the Constitution to allow certain counties that were in existence at one point, but later merged to form a new county, to be re-created. Enter Milton County. The land of present-day northern Fulton County used to be known as Milton County up until 1931 when it merged with Fulton to avoid bankruptcy.
While this resolution is generating buzz the AJC gives it a 1% chance of passing.
The Georgia Space Flight Act seeks to make operating and riding around in spaceships a little easier in the state. HB-734 seeks to prohibit local governments from creating any ordinances or resolutions related to noise control, noise pollution, or noise abatement to prohibit conduct of a space flight operator. Additionally, the bill shields space flight operators from civil liability for noise-related issues meaning neighbors would have no private recourse so long as the operator is abiding by state law.
While local governments can still zone for space flight operations they would seemingly not be able to create noise ordinances that would prevent space flight operators from operating within the jurisdictions. The bill also contains a “coming-to-the-nuisance” provision which states that no space flight operator is capable of becoming a nuisance due to changed circumstances so long as space flight activity has been in existence for one year. This prevents people from moving into the area around the operation and then subsequently claiming it is a nuisance. Interestingly, a later expansion of the facility would not create a new commencement date of space flight activities. So build quickly and start doing activities!
Jet Skis for Nature?
Soon 75% of the revenue collected by the state on outdoor recreation equipment could go into a fund to land conservation purposes. HB-693 seeks to establish the Georgia Legacy Trust Fund as a means of bolstering funding for the protection of nature. The State Properties Commission would issue grants from the the fund to the state, non-governmental entities, and to local governments for conservation purposes including habitat protections, trail creation, water quality protection, and preserving historical sites among other things.
In many ways this is similar to the gas tax or any other tax where revenue generated is to be used to protect or enhance the activity that produced the revenue. Outdoor recreation is, after all, much better when the environment is at least somewhat enjoyable and this usually requires conditions to be more on the pristine side of the spectrum as opposed to the love canal or Cuyahoga River side of the spectrum.
Same Old Friends
We’ll finish up with a few holdovers from last session. Please see the 2015 Legislative Page for more background discussion. The City of South Fulton is still pending. HB-514, which would create a referendum to incorporate the area in the southern part of the county, passed the House last session and was recommitted in the Senate last week.
One of my favorites, HB-496, was also recommitted in the Senate. This bill allows solar panels on land encumbered by conservation restrictions. Such land is subject to strict development restrictions, but is taxed at a much lower rate. This bill allows solar panels to be constructed without nullifying restrictions on the entirety of the land. The land used for the panels would be removed from such restrictions and thus taxed at the normal rate, but the remaining land would remain under the conservation restrictions and could still get the taxing benefit.
Lastly we have SB-36, which prohibits the pumping of surface water into the Floridan Aquifer. Pumping surface water into an aquifer is becoming an increasingly popular method of storing water in the southeast region, but there are concerns over whether this practice is best for coastal regions where surface water, groundwater, and groundwater in an aquifer can contain dramatically different salinity levels. The Senate passed it 43-3 and it is still in committee in the House.