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Homestead exemption bill fails; other Fulton reform bills pass
by Everett Catts
March 29, 2013 02:55 PM | 2675 views | 0 0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
(UPDATED AT 4:08 P.M. FRIDAY WITH INFO, QUOTES FROM EDWARD LINDSEY AND CORRECTED INFO ON HOUSE BILL 123)

Most of the bills sponsored by local state legislators were approved during the 2013 Georgia General Assembly, which ended Thursday.

All bills introduced in the House and Senate must be approved by both branches and then signed by the governor.

The few that were not include House Bill 170, part of a set of bills to reform Fulton County government. HB 170, co-sponsored by six central and north Fulton Republican representatives, would double the Fulton County homestead exemption to $60,000 via a two-year phase-in period. Another bill, HB 541, would also increase the homestead exemption to $60,000 but would do so in three years.

“We’ve got to redo it,” said District 52 State Rep. Joe Wilkinson, R-Sandy Springs, referring to HB 170, which was co-sponsored by him and led by District 47 State Rep. Jan Jones, R-Milton.

The bill was not voted on by the House this year. Its critics said it would cause the county to lose too much tax revenue, cutting needed services. HB 541 was approved by the House but not by the Senate.

Another bill not approved was HB 41, which would allow cities that contract services from other cities to negotiate better terms for those agreements. That bill, which was co-sponsored by District 51 State Rep. Willard, R-Sandy Springs, and Wilkinson, was a product of the city Sandy Springs’ disagreement with the city of Atlanta over water and sewer service rates. Willard also serves as the Sandy Springs city attorney.

Fulton reform bills that were approved by both the House and Senate include HB 171, which would reconfigure the Fulton County Board of Commissioners’ districts to give north Fulton more representation, and HB 604, which keeps Fulton County from raising the millage rate.

“I think it was a successful beginning to a two-year term,” said House Majority Whip and District 54 State Rep. Edward Lindsey, R-Atlanta, who represents Buckhead and co-sponsored many of the county reform bills. “We came in with the pledge to reform the governance of Fulton County and we’ve made good on the first phase of that goal. There’s still a lot more that needs to be done but we made a very good first step.”

HB 172, which would make all Fulton employees unclassified, meaning they could be fired more easily based on their performance, was not voted on.

HB 346, which would make the Fulton County tax commissioner an appointed position instead of an elected one, was approved by the House in March but never voted on by the Senate. The bill was filed because the current tax commissioner, Arthur Ferdinand, makes about $300,000 in salary and compensation/fees based on how many properties he collects taxes for.

HB 347, which would change the way members of the Fulton County Board of Elections and Registration are appointed, was approved by the House but not by the Senate. The bill was filed due to problems the board and the county have had with past elections.

HB 473, which would allow state municipalities to use a fiscal year instead of a calendar year for billing and tax collections, was approved. Wilkinson, a co-sponsor, said Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, a former state senator, requested the bill so that city could adopt a fiscal year system.

One bill Wilkinson said he was proud of is HB 310, which was merged with HB 143, which would allow elected officials and candidates to file campaign disclosures with municipalities where they live instead of sending them directly to the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission, which was a slow process. Each municipality’s clerk’s office would then be required to forward the disclosures to the commission. HB 310, co-sponsored by Lindsey, was approved Thursday.

In February, the House approved HB 142, co-sponsored by Lindsey, which limits lobbyists’ gifts to lawmakers to $75 but does not include their committees. It was approved by the Senate in March.

“It’s a fact that people have lost confidence in or have concerns for their elected officials,” said Wilkinson, who chairs the House Ethics Committee. “I’m so pleased the ethics bill passed. It will go a long way to restore that confidence.”

Lindsey’s Parent and Teacher Empowerment Act bill (HB 123), which would allow public schools to be converted to charter schools if parents appealed to their local school board and could justify the need to improve the school, was approved by the House in March but not voted on by the Senate.

Under the act, Lindsey said, teachers “would have the power to petition the school board, if they’re working at a low-performing school, to reorganize the management of the school.” Lindsey filed the bill in part because of the recent issues Atlanta Public Schools has had. He added he hopes the bill to be approved next year.

“Keep in mind that most education reform bills take a while to get through,” Lindsey said. “This is a two-year term. We’re working with the Senate in the offseason and will work to get it approved next year.”

Another bill Lindsey said he is proud of his HB 141, which deals with human trafficking and was approved by the House and Senate.

“This is the second phase of our attempt to curb and hopefully someday eliminate human trafficking,” he said. ‘Two years ago I carried and sponsored HB 200, which was a massive overhaul of how we handle human trafficking.”

HB 141 would require certain businesses where human trafficking is likely to occur to post a notice on information about the issue and how people can get help if they are a victim, including a hotline. It also further defines human trafficking, the legal penalties for it and how law enforcement can handle it, Lindsey said.

Willard did not return messages to his cell phone Thursday night and Friday afternoon.
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