The General Assembly wrapped up its session late last month by passing several significant pieces of legislation, including bills to create tax relief, a regional transit authority and local control of firework limitations. It also struck down or didn’t take a vote on restricting city of Atlanta voting hours and creating a tax district to fund the BeltLine.
BeltLine tax district
A bill that would have created a special improvement district to fund the Atlanta BeltLine did not pass. It was not voted on by the Senate before the session ended, but was passed by the House of Representatives.
The bill would have created a district with a concept similar to community improvement districts, where businesses voluntarily tax themselves to pay for improvements, but would additionally include commercial residential developments.
The legislation was pushed for by developers, who said they wanted to speed up construction of the BeltLine, a planned 22-mile loop of multiuse trails, parks and public transit that would eventually run through south Buckhead and the Lindbergh area. Two major segments of the trail and other smaller pieces have been built.
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.
Atlanta voting hours
A bill that would have limited city of Atlanta voting hours to those typical in the rest of metro Atlanta and the state failed.
The city of Atlanta polls close at 8 p.m., while in the rest of the state they close at 7 p.m.
Legislators sponsoring the bill, which were from other parts of the state, were concerned with uniformity and fairness, but Atlanta needs the extra hour, state Sen. Jen Jordan (D-Atlanta) said.
“In light of traffic and how long it takes to get anywhere in Atlanta, we’ve got to make it easier for people to get to the polls,” she said. “We shouldn’t restrict people from voting.”
A bill was passed that would create a regional authority to oversee transit expansion in the metro Atlanta area, which includes 13 counties. It would be dubbed the Atlanta-region Transit Link Authority, or The ATL.
The region’s transit systems, including MARTA, CobbLinc, Gwinnett County Transit, and GRTA’s Xpress service, would operate under the unified brand name by 2023, according to a press release from the Atlanta Regional Commission, which supported the legislation.
Jordan said that she supports the change and that it would provide better transit options for residents.
“We have to look at it from a regional perspective,” Jordan said.
It would also enable counties to seek sales tax increases of up to 1 percent for up to 30 years to fund transit expansion.
“I wholeheartedly support it,” said Rep. Beth Beskin (R-Atlanta). “For too long, Atlanta has had an unfair burden to pay for transit expansion.”
Property tax relief
Two bills were passed to provide city of Atlanta homeowners property tax relief.
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.
Beskin’s, which is HB 820, 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 (D-Atlanta), 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.
They both count the bills as their major successes of this session.
“This is the most important thing that is going to make a difference for the average homeowner in Atlanta,” Beskin said. “I spent my whole session on it.”
A bill that added post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain to the approved list of conditions that can be treated with medical marijuana was passed by the General Assembly and awaits the governor’s approval.
Jordan said she was surprised and pleased to see the additional conditions approved.
“I think that was something no one thought was happening,” Jordan said. “It’s going to affect a lot of Georgians.”
–Evelyn Andrews and John Ruch
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.