2022 Legislative Update - Week 11

Posted By: Stephen Davis 2022 Legislative Updates ,

Squabbling and Mental Health Scrutiny

 

There’s always a level of gamesmanship and infighting within the legislative branch.  Like squabbling siblings, the House and Senate will quarrel and undermine the other.  This behavior comes to a head following Crossover, when one sibling is responsible for checking the other’s work.  Ambiguities or imperfections that went unnoticed in the first chamber are highlighted and corrected by the second.  More substantive shortcomings are generally shelved for another year.
 
This, of course, is the natural process for a bi-cameral legislative branch.  And just like siblings, the House and Senate generally sort out their differences and present a unified front before the end of the session.
 
One issue threatens the likelihood of cooperation.  A singular focus of House Speaker David Ralston is legislation making wholesale changes to mental healthcare in Georgia.  The bill is vast, focusing on insurers, workforce development, the judicial and corrections systems, and juvenile behavioral health.  While it passed the House with strong bipartisan support, it has run into roadblocks in the Senate.  State Troopers were called in to help maintain order in a Senate Health and Human Services Subcommittee this week as protestors rallied against the measure.  The Senate’s failure to advance the House’s mental health legislation has the potential to derail the remaining five days of the 2022 session.

 

Priority Legislation

 

Apportionment of Damages (HB 961)                                         
Rep. Chuck Efstration, R-Dacula

Pending in the Senate Judiciary Cmte
In August 2021, the Georgia Supreme Court upended Georgia’s longstanding apportionment statute.  In the opinion, the court ruled that only named defendants could be apportioned fault.  This increases exposure and liability for “deep pocket” defendants.  HB 961 restores the statute by allowing apportionment of damages in single-defendant lawsuits.  The law would become effective for all cases filed after the signature of the Governor. The bill has been pending in the Senate Judiciary Committee since Mar-3 and may be considered during a Mar-28 meeting.
 

 

Property Management Legislation

 

Secondary Metals Recyclers (SB 591)                                                 
Sen. Bo Hatchett, R-Cornelia

Adopted by the Senate on Mar-15, assigned to the House Judiciary Non-Civil Cmte
A decade ago, Georgia passed legislation that significantly curtailed metal theft by prohibiting cash payouts.  This year’s effort makes it illegal to purchase, possess, obtain, or sell a used detached catalytic converter, utility wire, or communication copper.  While the bill allows for small cash payouts for other recyclable materials, these specific items remain on the no-cash list.  The House also adopted related legislation (HB 1528) that only pertains to catalytic converters.
 
Childhood Lead Exposure Control Act (HB 1355)                           
Rep. Katie Dempsey, R-Rome

Given a hearing in the Senate Health and Human Services Cmte on Mar-16
Based on recommendations made by a 2021 House Study Committee, HB 1355 addresses lead exposure and remediation, particularly in children.  It updates the state’s definition of “confirmed lead poisoning” to comport with nationally recognized guidelines; this lower threshold is likely to result in more properties requiring lead hazard abatement.  The House is providing additional funding to the Department of Public Health in anticipation of increased utilization as a result of the legislation.
 
Further, it expends the property owner’s responsibility to outdoor areas.  It increases, from 14 to 30 days, the time an owner or managing agent must submit an abatement plan.  In lieu of abatement, it allows the owner to attest that the property will be not used as a dwelling in the future. The National Apartment Association has reviewed the bill for concerns, indicating that this version is largely consistent with federal law. However, Senate Committee members have expressed concern that the regulatory authority provided in the bill may be too broad.
 
Eviction Diversion Program (HR 1041)                           
Rep. Karen Bennett, D-Stone Mountain

Assigned to the House Judiciary Cmte on Mar-18
HR 1041 urges the Georgia Supreme Court to establish rules and best practices for the creation of eviction diversion programs to be implemented by courts throughout the state.  The resolution finds that “rapidly rising housing costs have exacerbated the precarious housing status of renter with low or moderate incomes” and that “eviction diversion programs have proven successful and benefit” tenants, landlords, court systems, and the community.  Because the legislation is limited to the House, it is exempt from Crossover Day restrictions.
 
Unsheltered Homelessness (SR 659)                                          
Sen. Carden Summers, R-Cordele

Pending in the Senate Rules Committee
After his initial legislation (SB 535) relating to encampment areas for homeless persons drew fierce criticism, the author will pursue SR 659 to create a study committee on the issue.  Because the study committee is limited to the Senate, it is exempt from Crossover Day restrictions.
 
Criminal Case Data Exchange Board (SB 441)                           
Sen. Bo Hatchett (R-Clarkesville)

Pending in the House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee
SB 441 reestablishes the Criminal Case Data Exchange Board, acknowledging that the state’s current system for sharing criminal case data is inadequate in providing interested parties – including housing providers – with criminal case data.  It has been co-signed by all 56 members of the Senate.
 
Other active crime-related legislation includes SB 257, which allows for criminal history record information restrictions for persons cited with or convicted of certain criminal offenses, and HB 1134, which provides the attorney general with concurrent jurisdiction with prosecutors for certain criminal gang-related crimes across the state. 
 
DeKalb Country Eviction Fees.  Members of the DeKalb County delegation may pursue legislation that allows the State Court clerk to collect a fee for the removal of personal property and other unremunerated costs incurred by DeKalb County after an eviction. Specifically, they are seeking to charge up to $150 for the removal of personal property left for at least five business days after the execution of a writ of possession.  Local legislation is exempt from Crossover Day restrictions.

 

Property Taxation & Valuation Legislation

 

Values in Disaster Areas (HR 594)                                                        
Rep. Lynn Smith, R-Newnan

Favorably reported from the Senate Finance Cmte on Mar-23
HB 978 allows the county board of tax assessors to provide temporary property tax relief to properties located in a declared federal disaster area.  The sponsor is from Newnan, which is still recovering from a March 2021 tornado.  According to her, this will allow tax relief for the balance of the taxable year of the natural disaster.  Without this change, property owners would be responsible for paying taxes on the property as it was valued on January 1 despite subsequent damage or destruction.
 
Appeals of Property Tax Assessments (SB 511)                      
Sen. Lee Anderson, R-Grovetown

Heard in a House Ways & Means Subcmte on Mar-22
SB 511 reduces the time a county board of equalization must notify the taxpayer of corrections or changes to the assessment after reviewing the appeal.  Current law allows 180 days after receipt of the appeal notice; SB 511 allows 90.  Current law gives the board 15 days to set a hearing date; SB 511 requires the hearing to take place within 90 days.  If the hearing fails to take place within 180 days from the date of appeal, the taxpayer’s asserted value stands.  Similar changes are made to the timeline specific to appeals to hearing officers.
 
Rehabilitation of Historic Structures (HB 469)                          
Rep. Ron Stephens, R-Savannah

Favorably reported from the Senate Finance Cmte on Mar-23
HB 469 revises state income tax credits for the rehabilitation of historic structures.  For calendar years 2023 and 2024, historic homes are allowed $5 million in aggregate per year.  For certified structures other than homes, the credit is $30 million in aggregate per year.  It sunsets the income tax credit after 2024.
 

 

Land Use & Development Legislation

 

Utility Facility Protection Act (HB 1372)                              
Rep. Vance Smith, R-Pine Mountain

Scheduled for debate in the Senate on Mar-25
HB 1372 makes changes to the Georgia Utility Protection Act; reportedly the statute has not been updated since 1990.  An effort to update the Act failed last year over concerns about how underground traffic signal facilities are treated.  Specific to development, it adds a new obligation that requires emergency services be contacted if an excavator damages a gas or hazardous liquid pipeline.  Similar legislation (HB 1307) is also active.
 
Annexation Dispute Resolution (HB 1461)                               
Rep. Victor Anderson, R-Cornelia

Favorably reported from the Senate Judiciary Cmte on Mar-22
HB 1461 revises provisions relating to dispute resolution.  It extends the period of a zoning freeze following an arbitration and revises notices municipalities must provide counties regarding annexation applications.  It requires arbitration findings to be sent to the Department of Community Affairs.  The original version gave impacted school systems standing in the dispute resolution process, but that language has been removed.  The substitute version passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee now contains language from SB 354 dealing with written notice to property owners in an area subject to annexation.
 
Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors Act (HB 476)        
Rep. Dale Washburn, R-Macon

Favorably reported from the Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities Cmte on Mar-24
HB 476 makes the Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors Board an independent state agency with a separate budget and dedicated staff.  The legislation was modeled on the Georgia Real Estate Commission.
 
Discount for Tornado-Resistant Property (HB 1297)      
Rep. Matthew Gambill, R-Cartersville

Favorably reported from the Senate Insurance and Labor Cmte on Mar-22
HB 1297 requires insurers to offer a premium discount or reduction for home or commercial property owners who build or retrofit a home or commercial property that better resists tornado, hurricane, or other catastrophic windstorm events.  The standard for “fortified” buildings is maintained by Insurance Institution for Business and Home Safety. 
 
Local Regulatory Fees (HB 302)                                                    
Rep. Martin Momtahan, R-Dallas

Favorably reported from the Senate Finance Cmte on Mar-24
HB 302 requires local governments to approximate the actual cost of regulatory services they provide.  The measure then mandates the local government use those fees exclusively for that regulatory activity and not general operations.
 
Zoning Procedures Law (HB 1405)                                         
Rep. Shea Roberts, D-Sandy Springs

Favorably reported from the Senate Judiciary Cmte on Mar-24
HB 1405 revises provisions related to the judicial review of zoning decisions.
 
Eminent Domain for Blighted Properties (SB 227)                        
Sen. Harold Jones, D-Augusta

Heard in a House Governmental Affairs Subcmte on Mar-21
In 2006, Georgia voters overwhelmingly amended the state constitution to prohibit the government from seizing private property for economic development projects.  Condemned property cannot then be converted to private use for 20 years.  This prohibits governments from seizing property for “public use” and then immediately selling it to a developer.

Then in 2017, the legislature enacted HB 434.  It allows a government to immediately transfer condemned property to a developer after it has proved to a judge that the property is blighted.  Property owners can appear in court and can appeal an unfavorable ruling.  The idea behind HB 434 was to address “urban blight.”
 
SB 227 builds on that 2017 legislation by providing an alternative process in superior court for a county, municipality, or consolidated government to identify and subsequently condemn certain blighted properties.  It defines a “blighted property” as one that is at least 375,000 square feet, was built prior to 2000, and has been vacant for 10 years or less than 30% occupied for 20 years.  The legislation is aimed at revitalizing “dead” malls.
 
Multifamily Zoning (HB 1406)                                                       
Rep. Chuck Martin, R-Alpharetta

Pending in the Senate Rules Cmte
HB 1406 requires additional notices and hearing provisions for changes to zoning ordinances that revise single-family residential to multifamily residential.  This does not apply when the rezoning is initiated by the owner or authorized agent of the owner of the property.
 
Municipal Incorporations.  There are several active bills to incorporate new cities, including these already signed into law by the Governor: HB 826 (City of Lost Mountain), HB 840 (City of Vinings), and HB 841 (City of East Cobb).  Enactment does not create new cities automatically but rather allows voters to make that decision later this year.  HB 839 to incorporate the City of Mableton was adopted by the House on Mar-11.
 

 

General Business Legislation

 

Remote Online Notarizations (HB 334)                                              
Rep. Joseph Gullett, R-Dallas

House and Senate Conference Committee Appointed
HB 334 makes remote online notarizations (RONs) legal, as has been allowed by Executive Order during the pandemic.  During the 2021 session, there was disagreement among the chambers as to whether real estate closings should be allowed to use RONs.  The legislation has been in limbo until recently when both the House and Senate appointed members to a conference committee to negotiate a final version.  It appears there is consensus to allowing RONs for real estate closings when all parties have counsel.