CountyLogoMdCounty Commissioners and County Administrators from all over Georgia attended the 2013 Capitol Connection Conference held in Atlanta on February 4th and 5th. Legislators from both the House and the Senate met with local officials on the evening of the 4th to discuss ongoing legislation of concern to county governments.

On the 5th, we heard from Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle and House Speaker David Ralston on the activities of this session, followed by a luncheon with Governor Nathan Deal. Deal indicated that leadership in the state legislature is focused on addressing priority issues this year. The official legislative days are passing quickly, with the legislature scheduled to complete Day 14 today. While many bills appear to be stalled in committee and subcommittee hearings, several of the bills that address county legislative priorities are starting to move. Some bills of note for this week’s report include:

House Bill 242 introduced on Thursday, includes the rewrite of the juvenile justice code legislation that was under consideration last year as well as the recommendations from the Criminal Justice Reform Council for juvenile justice reform. While we have been told that the legislation will not have a negative financial impact on counties, our county government association, ACCG, is in the process of thoroughly reviewing the 200+ page legislation and we should have a more detailed analysis of this important legislation early next week.

One of ACCGโ€™s top legislative priorities this year is to address issues related to the implementation of the illegal immigration reform legislation passed by the General Assembly in 2011. HB 183 incorporates many of these issues, including the consolidation of immigration reporting requirements, the elimination of the requirement for businesses to annually submit E-Verify information, the clarification of “public benefit” as defined by the Attorney General and other concerns. County officials are being asked to contact their representatives and encourage support for this legislation which reduces the administrative concerns of counties for implementing this legislation as well as the bureaucratic processes placed on individuals and businesses through the original legislation.

Last year, the General Assembly passed legislation to provide for an exemption on the state and local sales tax on the energy used in manufacturing. Local governments were given the flexibility to replace this lost revenue with a local energy excise tax. Approximately one-third of Georgia counties have taken this action. HB 250, which was introduced this week, addressed several concerns with the legislation passed last year. This legislation includes an amendment that addresses how quickly the excise tax can become effective after the adoption of the ordinance; provides for a Statute of Limitations of three years for the collection of unpaid excise taxes from a purchaser or dealer; and provides for penalty provisions against dealers and purchasers for noncompliance as well as clarifies the audit authority of a local government.

Rep. Mark Hamilton has introduced legislation (HB 228) that prohibits public employees from using government property for promoting or opposing the passage of legislation by the General Assembly or the approval or veto of legislation by the Governor. This legislation prohibits county employees from contacting members of the General Assembly or the Governor to discuss the impact of pending legislation on local governments, unless they are registered as lobbyists or if information is requested directly from them. ACCG is working to modify this legislation to allow county employees who are authorized by the commission to speak on behalf of the county to contact legislators regarding pending legislation.

Here is a rundown on other bills in the legislature that are noteworthy:

PROGRESSING LEGISLATION

HB 0055-Wiretapping by Law Enforcement – Statewide Application
This legislation clarifies the existing statute regarding wiretapping and trace devices to specify that warrants issued to district attorneys or the Attorney General to use trace devices or intercept communications shall have statewide application and shall be permitted in any location of the state. ACCG supports this legislation

HB 0059-Requirement for Alarm Monitoring Services
This legislation requires alarm companies to attempt to verify alarm calls by calling or texting the property owner up to two times before sending the alarm signal to public safety for response. The alarm companies would not be required to verify the alarm calls for fire alarms, panic alarms, robbery in progress alarms or alarms where the alarm company can tell from the audio or video that a crime is occurring. ACCG continues to evaluate this legislation.

HB 0080-Changes to Vehicle Tax Reform
This legislation is a substantial revision of the new state and local title ad valorem tax (TAVT) system. Among other things, the bill changes how 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 leases; and provides for new criminal penalties. HB 80 is similar to, but slightly different from, HB 66. It treats used motor vehicles differently in terms of how fair market value is determined. ACCG is evaluating this bill at this time and has not made a determination on whether to support or oppose. It will likely get consideration next week.

HB 0142-Expand Lobbyist Definition
This legislation provides for changes relating to the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission (formerly known as the Ethics Commission) as well as the definition of a lobbyist and expenditures. ACCG is evaluating this bill. This bill was introduced by the Speaker of the House, David Ralston.

HB 0143-Change and 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. This legislation does not extend the filing changes to personal financial disclosures. ACCG supports this measure. I also think it is a good idea because I have seen firsthand the frustration local elected officials have to face trying to file their disclosures electronically instead of being able to hand deliver it to a local election office. Not every person who runs for local office is fluent in the use of computers and not every one owns a computer with an internet connection. This is a good, common sense approach.

HB 202 Value Engineering Studies
This legislation requires the Department of Transportation to perform a value engineering study on any project over $50 million except for design-build projects. Currently, a value engineering study is required on all projects over $10 million.

This legislation also changes the total expenditures of the State Public Transportation Fund.

SENATE BILLS

SB 0014-Creation of Georgia Alzheimer’s and Related Dementias State Plan Task Force
This legislation creates a Georgia Alzheimer’s and Related Dementias State Plan Task Force to assess the impact of Alzheimer’s on Georgia and to create a state plan. The task force would be abolished on March 31, 2014. Upon its abolishment, a Georgia Alzheimer’s and Related Dementias Advisory would be created to annually review progress made on the state plan. The Senate has passed this bill and it has now gone to the House for further action.

SB 0066-Increase Penalties for Contempt of Court in Superior and State Courts
This legislation increases the fine for contempt of court from $500 to $1,000. ACCG is currently evaluating this bill from the Senate.

NEW LEGISLATION

HB 0183 Immigration Reform Enhancements to Create Regulatory Efficiencies
This legislation addresses one of ACCG’s top priorities this session. To reduce paperwork and bureaucratic morass in complying with Georgia’s illegal immigration reform laws, HB 183 consolidates three local government immigration reporting mandates to one report, due once a year, to one agency; no longer mandates that businesses submit E-Verify information to local governments annually, but just once; clarifies what exactly is a “public benefit” by having them defined by the Attorney General, rather than having to go by his list as well as the federal government’s; 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. Georgia Counties are in support of this legislation.

HB 0189 DNR to Give Counties Notice of Park Closings
This legislation requires the Department of Natural Resources to provide at least a 90-day notice to a county or city before the State closes a park or recreation area, decreases its operating hours or services by 50 percent or more, or permanently changes a primary operational function within the local’s jurisdiction. This is simply to give notice, providing the county some time to decide whether it wants to assume any responsibilities in operating the park or recreation area. ACCG supports this bill.

HB 0195 Special District Transportation Sales and Use Tax
This legislation makes substantial revisions to TSPLOST. It allows any two counties to levy as long as they are contiguous and located in a special district that rejected the imposition of the tax in 2012. ACCG is evaluating this bill.

HB 0199 Expand GEFA’s Reservoir Fund for Leak Detection and Conservation
This legislation expands the uses of the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority’s Reservoir Fund to cover leak-detection and conservation-type projects to include operation, maintenance and monitoring functions. While ACCG certainly recognizes the importance of leak detection and conservation, GEFA currently has about $318 in loaning capacity available for them though its Georgia Fund, Clean Water and Drinking Water loan programs; whereas the Reservoir Fund only has $41 million in loaning capacity. ACCG is neutral on this bill.

HB 0214 Entertainment Tax Credits
This legislation changes the transfer of income tax credits designed to encourage film, video and digital production in Georgia. ACCG is neutral on this bill.

HB 0215 Filings in the Clerk of Superior Court Office
This legislation allows, but does not require, superior court clerks to require payment of filing fees before accepting an instrument or document for recording. It also allows the clerks to require that an instrument or document meet all legal requirements before accepting it for recording.

Increases the per page fee for certified copies from .50 cents to $1.00 per page.

Current law requires the superior court clerk’s office to be open from 9:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. This legislation requires that the clerk’s office be open for eight hours between 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. ACCG is evaluating this bill.

HB 0216 Exempt Vehicles Inherited From Title Ad Valorem Tax
This legislation allows title to a vehicle to be transferred without a fee if it is transferred due to the death of the owner. ACCG is opposed to this bill.

HB 0219 Allows for the Sealing of Juvenile Delinquency for Children Who Are Victims of Abuse
This legislation allows the juvenile court to seal the records of any juvenile delinquent if that juvenile was the victim of sexual abuse or trafficking. ACCG is evaluating this bill.

HB 0225 General Assembly must First Approve All EPD Rules
Current law provides that the General Assembly can stay and override rules and regulations of the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD), except in cases where EPD is following federal directives as part of its delegated powers. This legislation would require that the General Assembly first approve any EPD rules and regulations before they can take effect. ACCG is evaluating this bill.

HB 0226 Revising Used/Scrap Tire Transportation Storage and Disposal Laws
This legislation adds several definitions to aid in EPD’s enforcement of organics management and the hauling and storage of scrap tires. The bill defines compost and composting as an aerobic process and defines and limits who can transport used and scrap tires, not new tires. It authorizes, but does not require, local law and code enforcement agencies to enforce Georgia’s used/scrap tire laws and limits the amount of scrap tires that can be stored by tire retailers, tire retreaders, salvage yards and the general public. Local governments would be exempted from the tire hauling registration and quantity restrictions.

SB 0090 Reporting of Public-Private Partnership Alternatives for Transit
This legislation requires any state, regional or local authority that provides public mass transportation services to develop a report of potential public-private partnership alternatives to public mass transportation services. ACCG is evaluating this bill.

SB 0099 Authorize Fractional SPLOST and Repair and Maintenance Use
This legislation allows for one or more of a fractional SPLOSTs at any rate of less than 1 percent as long as the combined total does not exceed 1 percent. ACCG is negotiating with Senate members on this bill.

SB 0101 Legally-Owned Firearms Allowed in Public Housing
This legislation prohibits housing authorities from restricting the lawful possession of firearms by their tenants. ACCG is evaluating this legislation.

SB 0102 Ineligible Voter Notation on State IDs
This legislation would require Department of Driver Services to place a notation on state issued IDs that a non-citizen or convicted felon is an ineligible voter. A convicted felon who can show proof that their voting privileges have been restored will not have such notation. The notation shall be shaded in red and clearly state ‘Ineligible Voter’.

SB 0104 Comprehensive Planning Revisions – Streamlining Requirements
This legislation results from a two-year stakeholder process whereby ACCG, GMA and others partnered on the Department of Community Affairs’ Planning Rules Task force to revise Georgia’s comprehensive planning requirements on local governments. While, to the credit of DCA, most of the task force’s recommendations have been achieved via its rulemaking process, three changes in statute were necessary. This legislation covers these necessary changes by:

– making housing, human services, natural resources, vital areas, historic and cultural resources, infrastructure, recreation and other components of a comprehensive plan optional to the local government;

– not requiring Regional Commissions (RC) to issue a public finding on whether a development of regional impact is in the best interest of the region or state; and

-changing deadlines on when a local government must adopt a comprehensive plan and submit it to their RC.

ACCG supports this legislation.

SB 0117 Call Before You Dig Revisions
This legislation results from a two-year stakeholder process whereby several changes are made to Georgia’s Utility Facility Protection Act (GUFPA, or Call Before You Dig Law). Revisions to current dig law include revising the definition of large projects and procedures for addressing unlocatable utilities; reinforcing that sewer laterals are not owned by local governments; clarifying what routine road maintenance does not qualify as “excavating”; and altering the makeup of the GUFPA advisory committee, among others. ACCG participated in this stakeholder process and, counter to earlier concerns, this bill does not expand penalties for local governments found in violation of the law, nor does it expand the Public Service Commission’s regulatory reach over local governments or their water authorities. ACCG is neutral on this legislation.

SB 0120 Creation of Prosecutor Position for Probate Court Upon Approval of BOC or Local Law
This legislation is a permissive bill that will allow counties to create a prosecutor position for probate courts which handle traffic. Butts County currently has such a position provided for in the local probate court. ACCG is evaluating this legislation.

That summarizes the legislation that was worked on or introduced this week in the Georgia General Assembly. I’ll be back next week with another report on the upcoming week.
JMB