As the General Assembly wrapped up this session’s lawmaking last month, local legislators saw some wins and a few losses.
Local control on codes
In a session that Mayor Rusty Paul described as an “assault” on local governments’ powers, the city took a big hit on wood-frame apartment construction regulations, but dodged bullets on other bills that leaders had feared.
House Bill 876 will wipe out ordinances in Sandy Springs and Dunwoody that require certain large buildings, especially multifamily housing over three stories tall, to be built of concrete and steel rather than wood for fire safety and quality reasons.
The bill became a battleground between the concrete and timber industries, with the latter winning. The cities may yet sue. State Rep. Wendell Willard (R-Sandy Springs) is among those who were not fans.
“The unknown consequences are yet to be known from this directive,” Willard said, “but it is a further erosion of the state constitutional directive of granting local control to the cities and counties to determine what is best for their community, and not to have state interference on the powers granting these local controls.”
Senate Bill 426 was another much-feared proposal that Sandy Springs officials said would strip local review of small-scale wireless antennas on public streets. The bill passed in a heavily altered substitute form without any of the bits that the city feared.
And House Bill 579, which could have wiped out the city’s new regulations on short-term rental services like Airbnb, stalled and did not get a vote.
Sales tax review
Senate Bill 371 will give cities the power to double-check whether they are getting the correct share of sales tax from local businesses.
With a recent transportation special local option sales tax bringing in about 15 percent less revenue than projected, Sandy Springs has been concerned that it is losing revenue from businesses that share ZIP codes with Atlanta and may accidentally be making payments to the wrong city. But the state Department of Revenue has been less than cooperative about payment transparency with cities and the media.
“This bill is intended to provide a privilege to all local governments in the state that was already granted to the city of Atlanta,” said state Sen. Kay Kirkpatrick (R-Cobb County), who represents part of Sandy Springs.
Property tax relief
In the wake of concerns about sudden jumps in Fulton County property assessments, three bills have proposals that could go before voters.
HB 820, authored by state Rep. Beth Beskin (R-Buckhead), would provide a new homestead exemption that caps annual property tax increases at 2.6 percent for the city of Atlanta portion.
Sen. Jen Jordan’s, which is SB 485, would exempt residents from paying taxes to the school district on $50,000 of their property value, but the first $10,000 would remain taxable. The current exemption is $30,000. Atlanta Public Schools estimates it would cost the school district up to $25 million per year.
Both proposals would need to be voted on by residents in the Nov. 6 election, and neither would take effect before the 2018 assessments go out.
State Sen. Fran Millar was a co-sponsor of SB 317, a Fulton County homestead exemption, that goes to the voters in November. If approved, it will give Fulton County residents some relief on school taxes and caps home value assessments by the lesser of 3 percent or the inflation rate.
Fireworks noise control
State Rep. Deborah Silcox (R-Sandy Springs) secured passage of House Bill 419, which allows fireworks use to be controlled under city noise ordinances.
The restriction has been desired by many local officials since the state controversially legalized the sale and use of fireworks in 2015 with few limits on their use, regardless of the noise and fire safety differences between rural, urban and suburban areas.
A bill to allow restaurants to begin serving alcohol on Sundays at 11 a.m. instead of waiting until 12:30 p.m. easily passed this year. Local municipalities are now able to put a referendum on the ballot to see if their voters want to do so.
State Rep. Meagan Hanson (R-Brookhaven) carried the bill in the House.
Hanson’s hate crimes law bill failed to get out of committee this year despite new language introduced by co-sponsor state Rep. Willard that excluded specific protections for transgender people. Similar hate crime bills have failed for the past decade.
“It was very disappointing,” Hanson said. “But we had some really great conversations about the rising numbers of hate crimes. The current environment won’t let this bill go away.”
–John Ruch, Dyana Bagby and Evelyn Andrews
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the amount of the current exemption and effect SB 485 would have on Atlanta Public Schools. The correct current exemption is $30,000 and it is estimated to cost APS up to $25 million per year.