2017-2018 Georgia Legislative Session

 

Latest Update: February 06, 2018

The 2017-2018 Georgia Legislative Session kicks off its first session on January 9, 2017. It re-convenes on January 8, 2018 for session two. We will be following bills related to local government, land use, transportation, planning, and environmental issues. Each week we will add any relevant new bills and update the status of existing bills we are tracking. The title and sponsor of each bill will be listed, as well as links to any relevant SustainAtlanta articles and a brief synopsis and opinion of the bill.

Throughout the session we will be posting articles that analyze and debate some of the more interesting and consequential issues contained in the proposed bills. Please check back each week for updates.

Bills must be passed by both houses of the Georgia Assembly (Senate and House of Representatives) in order to go to the Governor for final approval. Crossover Day (March 3, 2017) is the final day for bills to be passed in their respective house so that they can move into debate in the opposite house. Those bills that failed to pass in their respective house by Crossover Day are marked as Dead and no longer have the opportunity to be by passed by the full Georgia Legislature and signed by the Governor. Those marked as Passed have been signed by the governor. However, those bills can be re-considered when the legislature re-convenes in January of 2018. Once the legislature re-convenes in 2018 the Dead label will be removed from all bills.

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Bills to Watch

HB-6: Georgia Rail Passenger and High-Speed Rail Facilities Authority Law

Sponsored By: Keisha Waites, 60th District

Status: House Second Readers (2/7/2017)

Relevant SustainAtlanta Articles: Chattanooga Could Spell Disaster for High-Speed Rail in the Southeast; Is Passenger Rail Service Between Atlanta and Athens Finally Happening?

In 1981 the Georgia Legislature passed O.C.G.A. §46-9-271, which created the Georgia Rail Passenger Authority and gave the Authority the power to construct, finance, develop, and operate rail passenger service in Georgia. HB-6 amends the law to include “High-Speed Rail” in all relevant sections.

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HB-60: Distillers to Sell Beverages on Premises/SB-85: Sale of Beer at Breweries *Passed*

HB-60 Sponsored by: Ron Stephens, 164th District

HB-60 Status: House Second Readers (02/07/2017)

SB-85 Sponsored by: Rick Jeffares, 17th; Hunter Hill, 6th; PK Martin, IV, 9th.

SB-85 Status: Passed. House Passed by substitute to include distilleries. Senate agreed to House substitute. Signed by Governor. (May 08, 2017)

Relevant SustainAtlanta articles: A Proposed Reform to Georgia’s Beer Law Could Also Be Great for Neighborhood RevitalizationBeer and Neighborhood Redevelopment, Freeways over Communities, and More Solar Panels in an Exciting Crossover Week at the Georgia Legislature

Currently breweries and distilleries are prohibited from selling their beverages on premises. They can, however, offer tours, which allows the consumption of their product on the premises, but they are not allowed to sell packaged products. HB-60 would allow up to 10% of a distillery’s yearly sales to come from on-premises sales of packaged beverages. This would allow distilleries to sell some of their own packaged alcoholic beverages directly to consumers without going through a distributor. The alcoholic distribution system in Georgia is a relic of the post-prohibition period and has drawn sharp criticism from consumers and producers in recent years as the number of breweries and distilleries has skyrocketed throughout the state.

Similarly, SB-85 would allow breweries to sell their beer directly to consumers for on and off-premises consumption without the absurd requirements that tours be offered. Breweries would be allowed to sell up to 3,000 barrels a year for on-premises and off-premises consumption with off-premises consumption capped at 288 ounces per consumer per day.

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HR-3: Establish an Independent, Bi-Partisan Commission for Congressional Reapportionment

Sponsored by: Pat Gardner, 57th; Mary Margaret Oliver, 82nd; Dar’Shun Kendrick, 93rd; David Dreyer, 59th; Spencer Frye, 118th; Michael Smith, 41st

Status: House Second Readers (1/24/2017)

Gerrymandering should be a major concern for all Americans. Every ten years congressional districts are reapportioned based on the latest Census data available so as to establish districts that are roughly equal in population. Since the governor and legislature are responsible for doing this in most states the issue is highly politicized. Districts can be drawn so as to ensure an easy win for a particular party and, sure enough, this is exactly what is done. If Republicans are in charge then they simply draw the districts in such a way as to ensure a comfortable Republican win in as many districts as possible. While Republicans have been responsible for doing this as of late, Democrats have done the exact same thing when they have been in charge. This results in scenarios where one party will get hundreds of thousands of more votes than the opposing party, but lose congressional seats in an election.

The US Supreme Court has largely stayed out of the debate calling it a “political issue” that isn’t appropriate for judicial interpretation. So as long as their isn’t some clear motivation to draw the districts based on race, and not on political affiliation, then courts will largely allow politicians to play politics. The US Supreme Court did, however, recently uphold Arizona’s policy of requiring an independent, bi-partisan commission to reapportion congressional districts. This is Georgia’s attempt at establishing a similar system for reapportionment. If the resolution is passed by the Georgia Legislature then it will go to the voters in the form of a referendum to amend the Georgia Constitution.

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HB-160: Transit Funding Commission/SB-6: Georgia Regional Transit Council

HB-160 Sponsored by: Kevin Tanner, 9th; Christian Coomer, 4th; Jason Shaw, 176th; Calvin Smyre, 135th; John Burns, 159th.

HB-160 Status: Senate Recommitted (January 8, 2018)

SB-6 Sponsored by: Steve Gooch, 51st; Brandon Beach, 21st; David Shafer, 48th; Bill Cowsert, 46th; John Kennedy, 18th; Ben Watson, 1st

SB-6 Status: Senate Passed. House Withdrawn (March 30, 2017)

Relevant SustainAtlanta articles: Staunchly Opposing Transit is Reckless and Irresponsible

The Senate and House have both come up with plans for finding funding solutions for transit throughout the state. The two bills are similar, though the House’s version would require the commission to report its finding by the end of the year, while the SB-6 would require a report in 2018-2019.

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HB-194: Zoning Decisions Shall Consider Local Schools

Sponsored by: Todd Jones, 25th; Barry Fleming, 121st; Sherri Gilligan, 24th

Status: House Withdrawn Recommitted (March 30, 2017)

The US Constitution allows local governments to zone for the health, safety, welfare, and morals of the community. Under OCGA §36-66-5, local governments are to provide general policies and procedures for how they are to balance these interests when exercising their zoning authority. HB-194 would require local governments to consider the effect a zoning change may have on the local schools, including and potential overcrowding.

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HB-225: Taxing Rideshare Services

Sponsored by: Jay Powell, 171st; Trey Kelley, 16th; Terry England, 116th

Status: Passed. Senate Recommitted (January 08, 2018)

Relevant SustainAtlanta articles: Will Uber and Lyft Make Mass Transit Obsolete?

HB-225 establishes a 4% sales tax on all ride share transactions. This conforms with the standard 4% sales tax for all retail services.

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HB-251: Emergency Management Personnel to Go on Private Property *Passed*

Sponsored by: Darrel Ealum, 153rd; Jay Powell, 171st; Penny Houston, 170th

Status: Passed House and Senate. Signed by Governor (May 08, 2017)

This bill allows Depatment of Corrections personnel and those in their custody to enter private property when a state of emergency or state of disaster has been declared by the Governor. A private property owner, however, shall have the authority to revoke this right.

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HB-332: Outdoor Stewardship Act

Sponsored by: Sam Watson, 172nd; Jon Burns, 159th; Chad Nimmer, 178th

Status: House Withdrawn, Recommitted (March 30, 2017)

Relevant SustainAtlanta articles: Conservation Easements: When Privatizing Environmental Protection Can Be a Great Thing

This bill would require 75% of all tax revenue collected from the sale of outdoor recreation equipment to go to the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Trust Fund. The funds would then be given as grant money to local governments for conservation and restoration purposes.

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HB-386/SB-261: Dekalb Sales Tax Increase to Pay for Transit

HB-386 Sponsors: Bill Mitchell, 88th; Howard Mosby, 83rd

HB-386 Status: House Second Readers (February 17, 2017)

SB-261 Sponsors: Gloria Butler, 55th; Steve Henson, 41st

SB-261 Status: Senate Read and Referred (February 17, 2017)

The Georgia Legislature must give local governments the authority to increase taxes. The process involves the legislature approving a bill that allows local governments to hold referenda where voters would approve or disapprove of the tax increase. Citizens of Atlanta and Fulton County recently voted to increase their sales tax to pay for more public transit. HB-386 and SB-261 allow for residents of Dekalb County to approve a similar sales tax increase for transit expansion in the county.

Not this year Dekalb. Legislators, most of whom do not live in Dekalb, decided that Dekalb residents should not have the ability to vote on whether to raise their own taxes. That’s paternalism at its finest.

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HB-481: State Preemption of Drone Laws *Passed*

Sponsors: Kevin Tanner, 9th; Rick Golick, 40th; Ed Rynder, 142nd

Status: Passed House and Senate. Signed by Governor (May 09, 2017)

Drones are the new millenials. For months and years now all we’ve heard about is drones and how they’re going to save the world. Well the Georgia Legislature believes that the state, and not local governments, should have the ability to regulate drones. This seems like wise policy as drones will undoubtedly be crossing city and county lines on a regular basis, so statewide regulatory regime makes sense. HB-481 officially declares the regulation of drones to be in the State of Georgia’s realm and voids most local laws pertaining to drones created after April 1, 2017. The bill does allow local government to pass laws that conform to FAA requirements or that prohibit or provide for the launching or landing of drones on public property, but not for commercial purposes.

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SB-116/HB-512: No Stormwater Tax for Water-Neutral Properties

SB-116 Sponsored by: Frank Ginn, 47th; Burt Jones, 25th; Michael Williams, 27th

SB-116 Status: Senate Read and Referred (2/7/17)

HB-512 Sponsored by: Regina Quick, 117th; Chuck Williams, 119th; Brett Harrell, 106th

HB-512 Status: House Second Readers (March 1, 2017)

Relevant SustainAtlanta articles: The Public Doesn’t Care About Stormwater Management. Here’s Why You Should

Local governments charge stormwater fees as a means of reimbursing the local government for having to deal with stormwater runoff. Properties that have a greater impervious surface area are generally charged a higher fee since water runs off of those properties at a much greater rate. SB-116 and HB-512 would prohibit local governments from charging any fee for any property that is certified as water-neutral under the Georgia Stormwater Management Manual.

It’s unclear whether allowing property owners to not be charged a stormwater fee at all in exchange for setting up a system that satisfies a Stormwater Management best practices for a 25 year flood event over a 24 hour period is really a good idea. Just because your property meets the requirements for a 25 year event doesn’t necessarily mean that it isn’t contributing to normal stormwater runoff that is seen on a day-to-day basis, which is the basis for the stormwater fee.

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SB-159: Private Property to be Marked with Purple Paint

Sponsors: Lee Anderson, 24th; Jesse Stone, 23rd; Jack Hill, 4th

Status: Senate Passed. House Second Readers (March 6, 2017)

Relevant SustainAtlanta articles: Proposed Georgia Law May Lead to Higher Rates of Violet

*Warning: this synopsis contains sarcasm

Everyone in America understands that the color purple means Do Not Enter. This is basic information that we’re all taught from an early age. So it makes sense that the Georgia Legislature wants to amend the criminal trespass statute so as to make it a criminal trespass when one knowingly, and without permission, enters the land of another when the property owner has marked their property with little purple lines. The stipulations in SB-159 for the purple lines are that they must be more than 8 inches in length and 1 inch in width, be between 3-5 feet from the ground, and placed in areas that are readily visible to approaching people, but that are no more than 100 feet apart for forested land or 1,000 feet apart for unforested land.

The good news is that this bill would seemingly eliminate the need for “No Trespassing” or “Keep Out Private Property” signs, but the bad news is that it replaces those signs with indiscernible information to the average person. While the current law requires one to know that they are entering the land of another, this bill reduces the standard by effectively claiming that people “know” they have entered the land of another if purple lines are present. It is unclear, though, whether one satisfies the knowledge element of the crime when one knowingly enters land that has been painted with purple lines or if one must know they are entering land and know that purple paint is present.

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SB-191: Petroleum Pipelines

Sponsors: Rick Jeffares, 117th; Jack Hill, 4th; Jesse Stone, 23rd

Status: Passed. House Withdrawn, Recommitted (March 30, 2017)

Petroleum pipelines can once again be constructed in Georgia. SB-191 allows pipeline companies to use eminent domain to construct pipelines once they receive authority from the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority and from the Environmental Protection Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. The bill prohibits pipelines from being constructed in the Georgia coastal management zone.

 

SB-119: Prohibit Housing Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation

Sponsored by: Lester Jackson, 2nd; Vincent Fort, 39th; Horacena Tate, 38th

Status: Senate Read and Referred (February 07, 2017)

While the US Supreme Court ruled in 2015 that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marriage, there is little constitutional protection for sexual orientation in other aspects of life under current jurisprudence. This could change with future Supreme Court decisions, though the federal government is highly unlikely to create statutory protections given its current political makeup. SB-119 would extend housing discrimination protection beyond what is in the federal Fair Housing Act to also include protections for sexual orientation.

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HB-650: Local Control Over Monuments

Sponsored by: Mary Margaret Oliver, 82nd

Status: House Second Readers (January 22, 2018)

Under OCGA 50-3-1, the state prohibits local governments from relocating monuments dedicated to past or present military personnel of the United States or the Confederate States of America. This bill would allow local governments to move or conceal those monuments that are on public property owned by the local government. This bill only relates to monuments dedicated to military personnel. Interestingly, this bill does not seek to amend OCGA 50-3-1(c), which prohibits the moving or concealing of the memorial to the “heroes of the Confederate States of America” on the face of Stone Mountain.

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SB-295: Regulation of Recreational Marijuana

Sponsored by: Curt Thompson, 5th

Status: Senate Read and Referred (March 22, 2017)

I’m sure many are surprised to hear that the Georgia Legislature isn’t too fond of marijuana. This is a legislature that needed multiple sessions and extended debate over legalizing medical marijuana for sick children. When it finally came to its senses and allowed marijuana for this purpose, it specifically banned the production of medical marijuana in Georgia; so medical marijuana for sick children is legal, but not available. However, HB-645, which is currently being debated in the legislature, would allow medical marijuana dispensaries in Georgia.

As other red and blue states jump on board with the legalization of recreational marijuana, Georgia likely will remain on the sidelines. Though it should be pointed out that Vermont is the only state to have legalized marijuana through the legislative process as opposed to voters approving of legalization through referendum. Unlike in many western states, the Georgia Legislature must allow residents to directly vote on legislation through referenda.

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HB-645: Medical Marijuana Dispensaries

Sponsored by: Allen Peake (141st)

Status: House Second Readers (January 08, 2018)

As referenced above, the Georgia Legislature approved passed medical marijuana legislation last year, but barred the production and selling of medical marijuana in Georgia. This bill would setup a regulatory scheme to both  produce and dispense medical marijuana.

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SB-309: Reduce Voting Time in Large Cities

Sponsored by: Josh McKoon, 29th

Status: Senate Read and Referred (January 09, 2018)

Relevant SustainAtlanta articles: Vote No on Confusing Ballot Language

Current Georgia law requires polls to be open from 7am to 7pm on election days. However, in cities with populations over 300,000 the polls must stay open until 8pm. It’s hard to find any rationale behind this other than the suppression of Democratic voters as cities in Georgia with populations over 300,000 are overwhelmingly populated by Democratic-leaning voters. The bill also provides for primaries ahead of special elections. The likely rationale for this is to avoid another 2017 6th Congressional District Special Election situation where a Democratic almost wins a Congressional race because Republican votes are spread across several candidates.

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SB-340: Reduce Global Temperatures

Sponsored by: Nan Orrock, 36th

Status: Senate Read and Referred (January 22, 2018)

Relevant SustainAtlanta articlesGeorgia, I Love You, But You’re Bringing Me Down

This bill would require the Georgia Environmental Protection Division to craft rules to combat climate change. Specifically the rules must be tailored to reducing the global temperature to one and half degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. In addition to having zero chance of getting out of committee due to political reasons, it’s not the most well-crafted piece of legislation. The bill is too general and doesn’t instruct the EPD to do anything specifically; but, again, this bill is more of a statement and less of serious legislative proposal.

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SB-320: Voter Registration in Schools

Sponsored by: Steve Henson, 41st

Status: Senate Read and Referred (January 11, 2018)

This bill designates public elementary and secondary schools as voter registration sites. Since schools often serve as community centers in many neighborhoods, this idea makes sense. How else do you register to vote other than when you get or renew your drivers license? How do you register when you don’t have a car? It’s likely that very few people know of any other means. While providing greater access to the ballot box should be a goal of any democracy, this bill probably has no chance of passing because it would likely lead to more Democratic voters.

 

SB-386: Regional Transportation

Sponsored by: Brandon Beach (21st)

Status: Senate Hopper (February 05, 2018)

Relevant SustainAtlanta articles: Staunchly Opposing Transit is Reckless and Irresponsible

This is the latest effort by members of the Legislature to implement mass transit throughout the Atlanta region. SB-386 allows each county to hold a referendum to increase the sales and use tax to pay for regional transit projects. A regional commission, called “ATL Commission”, would create a regional transit plan consisting of various transit projects throughout the metro area with all of the projects being operated by MARTA. After a county decides to hold a referendum, the ATL Commission would provide a list of projects to be funded by the tax. The ATL Commission would be made up of the Governor, the department of transportation commission, the CEO of MARTA, and officials from Atlanta, Dekalb, Clayton, and Fulton. Any county that approves of the sales and use tax increase would gain representation on the Commission.

This bill does not have any Democratic co-sponsors and similar bill is in the works in the House.