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Posted: May 3, 2014 10:00 p.m.

A look into the law

The 2014 legislative session ended in March, but there may still be questions among residents about how these new laws passed by Governor Deal will directly affect local cities, governments and residents.

The Georgia Municipal Association (GMA) held a District Five meeting in Commerce at the end of April to discuss the bills that passed and how they will affect residents and cities, from downtown funding to control over cell towers.
House Bill (HB) 128, Georgia’s Downtown Renaissance Fund Act, was signed by Gov. Deal and went into effect on April 16. This bill, authored by Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon), established a fund to make direct investments in Georgia’s downtowns. Actual funding has not been given yet, but money should be allocated next year, according to GMA spokesperson Amy Henderson.

The fund is administered by the Department of Community Affairs, which also regulates the Main Street programs. According the bill’s text, money is meant to finance technical assistance to encourage economic and small-business development, historic preservation, private investment, public improvements, leadership development, training and design assistance related to downtown districts.

An annual amount of $5 million is allocated for up to four years and cannot exceed $20 million.

Local campaign contribution disclosure reports
Senate Bill 297, authored by Sen. Butch Miller (R-Gainesville), deals with who has to disclose campaign spending and fundraising. Gov. Deal signed SB 297 on January 31, putting it into effect immediately.

A technical defect in last year’s ethics legislation required every local official to file a campaign contribution disclosure report, regardless of how much money he or she raised or spent, according to a GMA summary. Now, local elected officials are not required to report their campaign contributions if they do not raise or spend more than $2,500 per election cycle, pending they file an exemption notice with their city clerk.

Henderson said SB 297 allows someone in the community who is interested in seeing what another person contributed to a candidate to see those reports at city hall.

“We certainly think it’s a good thing,” Henderson said. “The people it matters to are the people who vote in that area. Sending it to Atlanta, while it’s important that they file it there and someone knows it’s filed, it’s important to have it at the local level where people know they can check it out.”

Who controls cell towers?
Negotiations between GMA, the Association County Commissioners of Georgia (ACCG) and the telecommunications industry scrapped last year’s bill to finalize HB 176, which deals with cell towers, authored by Rep. Don Parsons (R-Marietta). This bill goes into effect July 1.

HB 176 requires a city to review an application for a new tower within a specified timeframe and limits the fees a city can charge for reviewing an application, according to a GMA summary. It does not affect a city’s authority to deny an application for a new tower.

“With increased use, it’s a big deal to have wireless, but they can’t put a tower wherever they want,” Henderson said.

With this bill, a telecommunications company cannot significantly increase a tower’s height or footprint without city approval. Also, a city may continue to regulate infrastructure attached to poles in the right of way.

It’ll be back
Of the bills that did not pass, Henderson pointed out HB 713 as one to look out for in future legislative sessions. The Full Accountability in Collection of Taxes (FACT) Act of 2014, authored by Rep. Paul Battles (R-Cartersville), would allow the Georgia Department of Revenue to share sales information with a designated local government official.

A GMA summary said the designee would be able to research sales and use tax errors, including underreporting and misuse. This designee would be forbidden from contacting any taxpayer identified in confidential information.
Henderson said HB 713 would help cities’ economic development by having a more accurate understanding of how much sales tax is being collected in a community and in what areas.

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