Georgia Cities Prepare for the 2020 Legislative Session

Baker Owens

Wednesday, January 15th, 2020

GMA is following several issues this legislative session and keeping cities’ interests as its top priority. First is a pair of bills, House Bill 302 and Senate Bill 172, that would prohibit municipalities from regulating design elements for one or two-family dwellings. GMA maintains ­that residents—not special interests—should decide standards ­for each community.

More than 50 cities passed an opposition resolution to HB 302 last session. Rep. Darlene Taylor (R-Thomasville) is also concerned about the­ bill. According to her, Thomasville has a distinct ­character with its current design standards, and the bill could undermine this.

“The state­ needs to have control over­ structures­ being secure and mandating­ strength. But when it comes to­ design or ­appearance of local buildings, local politicians are the ones that face a penalty ­from voters,” said Taylor. “Every community should have that choice at the local level. What works and in Atlanta may not work in South Georgia.”

One GMA priority successfully moved through the legislative process in the first week of the General Assembly. House Bill 276, sponsored by Rep. Brett Harrell (R-Snellville) required third-party retailers facilitated on Internet marketplaces (like Amazon or Etsy)­to collect and remit state and local sales tax.

Due to a loophole in the current state law, these third-party retailers are ­not collecting and remitting these taxes.­

“The individuals themselves actually ­owe this ­today and are supposed to self-report at the end of the year on­ purchases they ­made and not paid sales tax on. As you can imagine, literally only­ 10-12 individuals do this each year,” said Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee Rep. Terry England (R-Auburn).

“While we’ve seen some growth in sales taxes, we realize the state and locals are missing out on what would­ previously have been a ­brick-and-mortar transaction with sales tax­paid and remitted,” England continued. “These are businesses­ in our local communities providing jobs, paying property taxes and sponsoring ball teams.­ That’s why this should be important to every Georgian. None of us like to pay tax, but this is­ a fairness ­issue if there ever was one.­ Again, it is not a tax increase, ­just ­a means to collect a tax ­already on the books.”

One item sure to make the news is HB 523,­which­would prevent local governments from ­regulating rental transactions, occupancy, duration or­ other restrictions on short-term rental properties, such as Airbnb.

Snellville Councilmember Tod Warner, who has a real estate background, understands the impact these rentals can have on communities as well as unsuspecting owners. Snellville passed regulations on these types of properties last September.

Both GMA leaders and members of the Georgia General Assembly encourage city officials to remain engaged during this year’s session to continue the association’s 80-plus year history of advocacy.

“Remaining influential in the Capitol halls is a team sport that requires engagement from city leaders,” said GMA Legislative Policy Council Chair Vince Williams, mayor of Union City.

“We urge folks to be vigilant and respond to staff requests for help in getting the right votes from legislators during the 40-day session. Since 2020 is an election year, legislators need to know that officials are monitoring their choices between either special interests or community values,” said GMA Director of Governmental Relations Tom Gehl.

In addition, House Minority Leader Bob Trammell (D-Luthersville), whose father served nearly 20 years as the mayor of Luthersville, offered advice to city officials. “Get your representatives’ and senators’ cell phone numbers and use them when you need them, said Trammel. “Also, give your legislator as much advance notice as possible about local legislation and any legislative issues that impact your city.”

Connecting with GMA During the Session

“Snellville did not regulate Short Term Rentals (STRs)­to infringe on property owners’ rights. We were driven to it ­by the need to protect ­owners’ rights,” said Warner. “HB 523 ­pre-empts ­local governments from ­regulating ­zoning and takes away the ability to limit occupancy and use. Residential neighborhoods are designed ­on certain criteria. Number of occupants per household affects everything from parking requirements to size of septic fields and overloading them has direct impact on­ adjacent property owners and the community. The same proposed ­code section also pre-empts restriction on use, so I guess the brothel, event venue, flea market or haunted ­house will not be able to be regulated by local authority.”

Finally, GMA is watching legislation concerning vaping or e-cigarettes and focusing on an anticipated bill to be introduced by Rep. Bonnie Rich (R-Suwanee). GMA advocates for the continuation of local regulations on vaping in public spaces and retail sales, and Rich says her bill would not preempt local control.

“My personal experience as a mother of teenagers, is that we’ve been dealing with this problem for years. We’ve worked with schools ­but just­ can’t get ahead of it. It’s­ too easy for kids to buy it. It’s becoming all too common for kids to experiment, use and become addicted,” said Rich. “We have a new generation that is now addicted to nicotine, and I’m trying to shut that door.”