CapitolThe big news this week is the upcoming changes to the motor vehicle taxation system that will take place on March 1st. Tax reform legislation enacted by the Georgia General Assembly last year will create a new system for taxing motor vehicles registered in Georgia. As a result, the annual vehicle ad valorem tax, often called the “birthday tax,” will change to a state and local title ad valorem tax on March 1, 2013.

House Bill 0080 was introduced earlier this year as a substantial revision to the new system. Among other things, the bill changes how the fair market value is determined; exempts IRP vehicles from the new system and continues them under the apportioned ad valorem tax; changes registration procedures; changes numerous items regarding dealers who directly finance sales; changes numerous items regarding new leases; and provides for new criminal penalties. This legislation passed in the House on Thursday and is headed to the Senate this week.

As I reported last week, House Bill 0176 is working its way through the legislative system now. This bill concerns “Cell Tower Siting Preemption” and if passed, will take away the power of the local county governments and city governments in determining where cell phone towers can be placed. HB 0176 passed a House Energy, Utilities and Telecommunications Sub-Committee on Thursday. Representatives from ACCG, Cobb County, Gwinnett County, Georgia Municipal Association and several cities expressed concerns that the impact this legislation will have on local cell tower siting ordinances.

This bill significantly pre-empts local governments in reviewing and approving applications for both the modification of existing cell towers and structures (collocation) and the construction of new cell towers and structures in local communities. Effectively, this means that if a cell phone company wanted to place a cell phone tower in your backyard, there would be very little the local government could do to stop it. This bill is getting strong lobby support from the wireless telephone industry and is their top priority during this session. It is also being backed by many other influential groups including the “Americans for Prosperity” and the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, so needless to say, it has very strong momentum. This legislation will likely be heard on the House floor soon.

In the area of ethics legislation, legislators in the House Rules Committee reviewed and discussed House Bills 0142 and 0143 as they passed out of subcommittee.  An additional substitute for HB 142 was presented during the Rules Committee meeting on Thursday but was not formally adopted.  The significant change that was proposed dealt with providing an exemption from filing disclosure reports for lobbyists who work pro bono and do not have any lobbyist expenditures provided they fill out a written statement of intent to not have lobbyist expenditures for the calendar year.  Some additional changes that came out of subcommittee include a reduction of the lobbyist registration fee and exemptions for individuals who have limited lobbying activities.

Other Legislation that is progressing includes the following bills and I am providing a shorter list this week that focuses on the areas that I think will be of most interest to local citizens:

House Bill 0035-School Personnel to Carry Concealed Weapons

This legislation allows any school board to designate one or more qualified persons to carry a concealed firearm within a school safety zone or school building, at a school function, on school property or on a bus. Said qualified person would have to obtain a weapons carry license, complete sufficient training, cannot be mentally or emotionally instable and have a criminal background check run annually. Firearms must either be locked up or carried concealed on the person at all times. Any person serving in this capacity would have to do so on a voluntary basis and the local school board is responsible for any costs associated with this process. ACCG, who represents the interest of Georgia’s 159 county governments, is neutral on this bill.

House Bill 0087-Use Boundaries of a Gated Community as Precinct Boundaries
This legislation allows gated communities to become a voter precinct. On election days, the gated community would have to provide access to the public. ACCG is neutral on this bill.

House Bill 0091-Local Governments Restricted in Moving Monuments
This legislation protects “monuments”, which include plaques, statues, markers, flags, banners, displays and memorials, dedicated to a historical entity, event, nation or government and that honors military service to the United States, Confederacy or several states therein. No publicly owned monument, meant to be permanent, located on county property may be relocated, removed, concealed, obscured in any way by the county other than as necessary to preserve or protect the monument. Counties may relocate such a monument when necessary to build or expand edifices, buildings, roads and other transportation construction projects; however, the monument must be relocated to a site of similar prominence, honor, visibility, availability and access within the county. The monument may not be relocated to a museum, cemetery or mausoleum unless it was originally placed there. ACCG is still working with the legislature on this bill.

House Bill 0143-Changes/Eliminates Certain Filing Requirements for County Offices
This legislation changes the requirements for filing campaign disclosure reports by allowing candidates for county office to file their reports with the election superintendent in the county of election. This legislation also eliminates the filing requirement for candidates for county office who raise less than $2,500 in a calendar year and file a written notice of intent not to accept contributions in excess of $2,500. For candidates who raise between $2,500-$5,000, they will only be required to file the June 30th and October 25th reports. Candidates who raise more than $5,000 in a calendar year are subject to the full filing requirements of O.C.G.A S21-5-34.

House Bill 0176-Cell Towers/Equipment
This legislation significantly preempts local governments’ authority in reviewing and approving both the modification of existing cell towers and structures (collocation) and the construction of new cell towers/structures in several key areas. Provisions include: expanded prohibitions on local review of applications for collocation; set time periods (shot clocks) on local review/action on collocation and new towers/equipment applications; automatic approval of applications if shot clocks are not met; preemptions on local actions and practices in reviewing applications; conditions on what locals can charge in lease/rent for equipment on public property; and set limits/conditions on local consulting and application fees. Both ACCG, representing the county governments and GMA, representing the city governments, oppose this legislation that disenfranchises the local governments rights to regulate affairs within its own jurisdiction.

Senate Bills 0004-0005-0008-0054
These senate bills would allow local Superior Court Clerks, District Attorneys, Tax Commissioners and Coroners to be elected in nonpartisan elections if the appropriate local legislation is enacted. ACCG is neutral on this matter.

Senate Bill 0083-County Funded Burials of Paupers – Cremation Authorized
Under current law, counties are required to provide for the decent internment of indigents who pass away within their jurisdiction, as is the Department of Corrections for inmates in their care. This legislation simply clarifies that decent internment allows for cremation. ACCG supports this legislation.

NEW BILLS

House Bill 0300-Change Fair Market Value for Ad Valorem Taxes
This legislation requires the fair market value of property to be based on its average value over the preceding seven years. ACCG is opposed to this legislation.

House Bill 0311-Procurement and Newspaper Notice Mandates
This legislation requires counties to advertise all bids for goods and services over $10,000 on the Georgia Procurement Registry in the county legal organ and any other media normally used by the county including the county’s website. Since the bidding and notice requirements for purchasing goods and services varies greatly from county-to-county based upon their local legislation and ordinance, this legislation may require significant additional taxpayer funds to be spent in advertising in the legal organ.

The legislation also requires public works contracts over $100,000 to be advertised on an “appropriate” website and on the Georgia Procurement Registry. ACCG is negotiating with the legislature on this bill.

House Bill 0313-Georgia Tourism Development Act
This legislation changes the procedures of the Georgia Tourism Development Act and the necessary agreements that provide sales tax exemptions for certain projects. More importantly, the bill excludes ALL local sales and use taxes from its provisions and now will apply ONLY to state sales and use tax. ACCG supports this bill.

House Resolution 0298-Public Officials Prohibited from Holding Office if Delinquent on Taxes
This proposed constitutional amendment revises comprehensively the constitutional eligibility of persons to hold public office if they are in default on any taxes. The new provision applies to: ALL state or local elected or appointed offices and ALL federal, state, or local taxes. The proposal mandates that any person seeking to qualify for any state or local public office must agree to release confidential tax information to the GA Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission if the commission so requests. The commission is vested with the authority to declare any state or local elected or appointed office vacant for failure to comply with the new provision. The proposal does not define public office. ACCG is evaluating this resolution.

Senate Bill 0135-Required DNA Collection on Every Person Arrested For A Felony
This legislation requires law enforcement officers to collect a DNA sample for every person arrested for a felony offense if a magistrate or grand jury has determined that there is probable cause for arrest. ACCG is evaluating this resolution.

Senate Bill 0160-Immigration Reform Enhancements to Create Regulatory Efficiencies
This legislation, exactly identical to HB 183, addresses one of ACCG’s top priorities this session. To reduce paperwork and bureaucratic morass in complying with Georgia’s illegal immigration reform laws, this legislation consolidates three local government immigration reporting mandates to one report, due once a year, to one agency; no longer mandates that businesses seeking business licenses, occupation tax certificates or other documents required to operate a business to submit E-Verify information to local governments annually, but just once; eliminates “contracts” as a public benefit; allows those submitting documents to local governments to prove immigration status to do so by mail; and allows legal U.S. citizens to only have to prove their citizenship by affidavit once, rather than annually, to receive public benefits from the same agency. ACCG supports this legislation.

That’s a wrap for this report. If you have concerns about the legislation posted here, please contact your state legislators. Their contact information can be found on our website at www.buttscountyga.com

Thanks and have a good week!
JMB