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Posted: February 4, 2014 10:00 p.m.

A view from the House-- week 3

Legislators weigh bills on cell towers, Jekyll Island

The third week of the legislative session saw the House turn, at least partially, to non-appropriations committee work. Work on the Fiscal 2015 budget will be ongoing, but at a more measured pace.

Thus bills on other topics began to come out of committee. Several of those made it to the House floor for consideration, and we voted on seven bills and resolutions, sending them to the Senate (or in one case, agreeing with something the Senate had already passed). Two of the bills are of note.

HB 176 seeks to streamline and standardize the permit process for setting up and modifying cell towers. The industry has been complaining for some time about how local governments across the state handle this process, claiming that the standards are too inconsistent, that the process often moves far too slowly, and that the required costs and fees are sometimes far too excessive. Many of those claims are rather inflated, but there are elements of concern among the issues.

This bill was launched during last year’s session, and the author twice got far more aggressive versions of the bill out of committee.

However, it never made it to the House floor. So last summer, the author brought together representatives of the industry and of counties and cities around the state to try to find some common ground. He sort of succeeded, with the industry endorsing the resulting revised bill, and the counties and cities taking a position of neutrality, rather than the vehement opposition of last year. That was enough of an improvement for the bill to make more progress this year.

I supported the measure, considering that ongoing rapid growth of demand does call for a more standardized process for permitting of capacity upgrades. And also because it is clear that demand growth will continue, since it’s looking more likely that the future of residential broadband access will largely be via cell networks.

The bill saw a limited debate, but little serious opposition and passed 154-4.

HB 715 addresses recent problems concerning land use on Jekyll Island, the state’s wholly-owned park on the coast. Previous law governing how land on the island could be used specified that a certain percentage of the island’s area never be developed. Growth of land use on the island has led to a dispute over just how that percentage should be calculated.

Concerns were thus raised that the dispute could lead to a subversion of the original legislative intent under which the island was purchased. This bill seeks to solve the problem by setting an explicit cap on the number of acres that can be developed, at a total of 1,675.

Under current conditions, this allows for another 78 acres to be developed. The bill also lays out some fairly common-sense rules for how those 78 acres can be used, as well as providing clarification on other gray areas in the current law.

I felt both the bill and the process under which it was developed were good-faith efforts at resolving the issues, and supported the measure. It passed 156 to 4.

Now for some interesting new bills. HB 724 is an attempt to curb game fighting of chickens. The author feels that current law that attempts to constrain and punish those who organize such fights is not enough.

So this bill would make the act of knowingly being a spectator at a chicken fight a misdemeanor of a high and aggravated nature.

HB 732 is another bill looking to curb federal overreach. It would nullify the effect of any new federal gun-control legislation with regards to firearms, ammunition or accessories exclusively manufactured within the state of Georgia.

HB 739 would prohibit an abuse of state expense policies made possible by modern technology. Specifically, it would restrain any member of a board, committee, commission or other body of the state from claiming expense reimbursement for a meeting in which that member participated via some form of teleconferencing. Sounds to me like the author got wind of someone using this new gambit.

Doug Holt (R-Social Circle) can be reached at 404-656-0152 or Doug@DougHolt.org

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