Sunday, March 19, 2023

Oconee Legislators Begin Final Days Of Deliberations In Atlanta On Bills of Local Interest

***District Attorney Bill At Top Of List***

As the General Assembly heads into its final five days on Monday, decisions on legislation for which the Oconee County delegation has played prominent roles remain to be resolved.

Included are laws designed to create an oversight body for district attorneys and legislation to legalize some form of sports betting.

The House has passed legislation to increase the allowed weight of some types of trucks–with Oconee County Rep. Houston Gaines supporting the increase and Oconee County Rep. Marcus Wiedower voting against it–but the Senate has not yet taken action on the issue.

Gaines, Wiedower, and Oconee County Sen. Bill Cowsert have voted in favor of Senate Bill 140, which limits the care doctors are allowed to provide transgender patients under the age of 18.

Because the House changed a provision of the bill that would have protected doctors from civil or criminal charges for violating the proposed law, the bill is back before the Senate for reconsideration.

Senate Bill 233, which would give $6,000 a year in state funds to the parents of each child who opts for private schooling, has passed the Senate, with Cowsert voting for the bill, but the House has not yet taken action on the bill.

House Bill 514, which passed with the support of Gaines and Wiedower, would limit a temporary moratorium on zoning decisions or issuance of permits by a local government to not more than 180 days. The Senate has not yet acted on the bill.

With official notification on Thursday in the county’s legal organ, Gaines and Wiedower are able on Monday to introduce legislation to increase Oconee County’s homestead exemption and freeze property tax assessments for persons 65 years of age or older.

District Attorney Oversight

House Bill 231, which creates a Prosecuting Attorneys Oversight Commission, has passed the House and been sent to the Senate.

Screen Shot Gaines Advocating For House Bill 231

Gaines is a co-sponsor of that bill, which also was supported by Wiedower.

Gaines represents House District 120, which includes Marswood Hall and Bogart precincts in Oconee County as well as parts of Clarke, Barrow, and Jackson counties.

Wiedower represents the remainder of Oconee County as well as parts of Clarke County

The Senate has passed a similar bill, SB 92, which was co-sponsored by Oconee County Sen. Bill Cowsert, from Senate District 46.

All of Oconee County is in Senate District 46, which also includes parts of Clarke, Walton, Barrow, and Gwinnett counties.

House Bill 231 is now in the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Senate Bill 92 is in the House Judiciary Committee Non-Civil.

Cowsert is on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Gaines’ Priorities

Gaines, in his emailed Legislative Update on Sunday, said that HB 231 has been “at the top of my priority list this session.”

Gaines said the bill provides “much needed commonsense oversight of District Attorneys and Prosecutors” and called it “desperately needed legislation.”

“I'm looking forward to this bill getting through the Senate and signed into law by the Governor over the next two weeks,” he wrote.

The legislative session is scheduled to end on March 29.

Gaines also noted his endorsement of SB 140 “to protect children from gender transition surgeries.”

“We have a duty to protect Georgia's children from the potential harms posed by procedures that may not be in their best interests and for which they’re too young to decide,” he wrote.

The bill prohibits hospitals and doctors from providing hormone-replacement therapy or gender-affirming surgeries to minors.

Doctors and hospitals could lose their licenses for providing such care, and the House-passed version of the bill says doctors could be held civilly and criminally liable for providing these treatments to persons under 18.

Sports Betting

Cowsert and Wiedower had championed legislation this session that would have allowed sports betting.

Cowsert introduced Senate Resolution 140 and Senate Bill 172, which would have asked voters to amend the state constitution to allow sports betting and created a gaming commission to regulate that betting.

Senate Resolution 140 passed the Senate 30 to 26, short of the two-thirds requirement needed to ask for a vote on a Constitutional Amendment. The Senate did not vote on Senate Bill 172.

Wiedower was the sponsor of House Bill 380, which would have granted up to 16 licenses to companies running sports betting businesses and would not have asked for a constitutional amendment.

Instead, it would have relied on the authorization already existing for the state lottery.

House Bill 380 did not get a vote in the House.

Last week, a Senate Economic Development and Tourism Committee added sports betting language similar in some ways to what Wiedower proposed onto House Bill 237, which had cleared that chamber and declares the Southeast Georgia Soap Box Derby as the state’s official soap box derby.

The revised bill would authorize the Georgia Lottery Corporation to oversee online sports betting in Georgia--as well as declare the Southeast Georgia Soap Box Derby as the state’s official soap box derby.

Truck Weights

House Bill 189, which increases the weight limit of specified types of commercial trucks on state and local roads from 80,000 to 88,000 pounds, is now in the Senate Transportation Committee.

Oconee County Board of Commissioners Chair John Daniell has spoken out against that bill.

Russell McMurray, GDOT Commissioner, and Meg Pirkle, Chief Engineer at GDOT, testified against it before the House Transportation Committee.

The law at present sets a maximum weight of 80,000 pounds for trucks, but it grants trucks carrying certain agricultural, forestry, and other products a variance up to 84,000 pounds.

The version of the bill passed by the House would allow trucks carrying these specified types of products to carry up to 88,000 pounds. The initial version of the bill would have allowed all trucks, regardless of content, to carry 90,000 pounds.

David Wickert, who covers transportation for the The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, wrote in a front page story on Sunday that “the bill appears to be morphing again in the Senate, which may add more goods that would qualify for the higher weight.”

School Vouchers

Senate Bill 233, which would give $6,000 a year in state funds to the parents of each child who opts for private schooling, passed the Senate with Cowsert voting in favor.

The Bill is now in the House Education Committee.

Oconee County Board of Education Chair Kim Argo said the Board is opposed to the bill.

“The Board has communicated consistently that public money belongs in public schools,” she said.

Local Zoning, Affordable Housing

House Bill 514 would limit a temporary moratorium on zoning decisions or issuance of permits by a local government to not more than 180 days. The bill applied only to single-family housing.

The Senate Committee on Economic Development and Tourism has offered a substitute bill that would broaden the bill to include all housing.

The bill also would prohibit local governments from continually renewing moratoriums and instead require a 180-day break between such moratoriums.

The House did not pass House Bill 517, which had drawn the ire of Oconee Commission Chair Daniell as well as Oconee Commissioner Chuck Horton and Watkinsville Mayor Brian Brodrick.

The bill would have prohibited counties and cities in the state from regulating building design of one- or two-family dwellings, unless those dwellings were in a historic district.

Features of House Bill 517 could be incorporated into House Bill 514, as the example of the Soap Box Derby bill illustrates.

Both House Bill 514 and House Bill 517 were offered as bills designed to address problems of affordable housing in the state.

Okefenokee Protection

House Bill 71, which would have prohibited the state from issuing, modifying, or renewing any permit or from accepting any bond to conduct surface mining operations near the Okefenokee Swamp in the future, did not make it out of the House Committee on Natural Resources and Environment.

Screen Shot Wiedower At House
Natural Resources
And Environment Committee 2/2/23

Wiedower, who is a member of the House Committee on Natural Resources and Environment, was a co-sponsor of House Bill 71, as were nine other of the 24 members of that Committee.

The Resource Management Subcommittee of the House Committee on Natural Resources and Environment did hold a hearing on the bill on March 14, though no action was taken at the end of the hearing.

Wiedower is not on that subcommittee.

House Resolution 438, which would create the House Study Committee on the Okefenokee Swamp, is still before the full Natural Resources and Environment Committee and could be acted up before the session ends.

Local Legislation

The legal section of Thursday’s edition of The Oconee Enterprise, the county’s legal organ, included 10 Notices of Intention to Introduce Local Legislation.

Gaines and Wiedower on Monday can introduce legislation requested by the Oconee County Board of Commissioners to increase the county’s homestead exemption and freeze property tax assessments for persons 65 years of age or older.

The proposed changes would increase the homestead exemption from its current $2,000 to $5,000 in 2025 and to $10,000 in 2035.

The property assessment would be frozen at its level after a person turns 65.

Persons who turn 75 also would get an additional $10,000 homestead exemption.

Voters would have to approve each of these changes.

The Board of Education did not pass a resolution, but Board Chair Argo said the Board approved of the changes requested by the county.

Lemonade Stand Bill

In his email on Sunday, Gaines said “one of my favorite bills this year” was Senate Bill 55, known as the Lemonade Stand Bill, which has now passed both the House and the Senate.

Authored by Elena Parent, an Atlanta Democrat, the bill allows children to operate a lemonade stand on private property with the permission of the landowners and without requiring permits or licenses.

“The bill also allows these young entrepreneurs to make up to $5,000 before incurring taxes on their profits,” Gaines states.

Gaines, Wiedower, and Cowsert voted in support of Senate Bill 55.

All three are Republicans.

1 comment:

Harold Thompson said...

I seem to recall last year that parents had a fundamental right to guide education and healthcare choices for their children. But transgender care? Apparently that's for the (non-Pediatric trained) legislators to decide. The bill's sponsor admits the details of SB140 are "a little bit over my pay grade". No truer words have been spoken.

After last year's bull rush to ban trans kids from girls sports designed only to help the Gov get re-elected, maybe a better course of action is to first understand transgender during the complicated young adult years before passing laws that can't be undone.

I sometimes wish this legislature stuck to less complicated issues like leaf blowers, lemonade stands and honoring the soap box derby.