June 30, 2020
Volume 11, Issue 12
2020 Legislative Session Recap
The 2020 legislative session ended on Friday, June 26. Extending into early summer, this year's session was unlike any other that state leaders of this generation have witnessed due to the COVID-19 global health pandemic. Despite these unprecedented times, the General Assembly fulfilled its obligation to all Georgians and made it through Legislative Day 40, also known as Sine Die, to finish out another legislative session.

In this edition of the Legislative Update, ACCG outlines key legislation that passed, as well as significant bills that failed to make it through to the finish line. Join members of the Policy Team tomorrow, July 1 at 9:00 a.m . for a recap of the 2020 legislative session via Facebook Live . County officials are strongly encouraged to ask questions and offer comments during the broadcast as this is an opportunity to engage directly with the team.

Please continue to monitor for additional information as the Governor prepares to either sign bills into law, let bills become law without his signature, or issue vetoes. The Final Legislative Update will be released within the coming weeks and will include a complete, final list of bills that are significant to Georgia counties and their ultimate status.

As always, ACCG extends its many thanks and sincerest appreciation to all county officials for another successful session under the Gold Dome. Counties are regularly met with challenges and their resilience often prevails. Though this year's challenges are certainly unique, the active participation of local elected leaders continues to be valuable in all aspects of effective leadership - from speaking with one unified voice at the Capitol down to governing their individual communities. Again, thank you.
Key Legislation That Passed
Despite Cuts, Funding for Counties Retained in FY 2021 Budget

The final FY 2021 Budget, House Bill 793 , reduced or eliminated many of the initially-proposed cuts to the state budget. Though there were many reductions, funding for key county issues was ultimately included in the final version. Forestland Protection Grants were fully funded while funding for public health grants and accountability courts was reinstated. ACCG will provide a thorough overview of the budget and will share it in the near future. For detailed information on the Conference Committee Report on the budget, click here to view the tracking sheet.
COVID-19 Liability Protection for Businesses and Counties

Legislation providing liability coverage for businesses, health care providers, local governments, and other entities in response to the COVID-19 pandemic passed the House and Senate on the last day of session and now awaits the Governor’s signature. Senate Bill 359, the Georgia Pandemic Business Safety Act, includes county government employees and county government facilities in the definition as being afforded liability protection from such lawsuits.      
Tweaks to Title Ad Valorem Tax (TAVT) Formula

House Bill 779 , this year's Title Ad Valorem Tax (TAVT) legislation, is headed to the Governor’s desk. HB 779 adjusts the local split of TAVT proceeds for vehicles registered to addresses within city limits. Under this bill, counties will receive 23% (currently 28%) of the local TAVT share, and cities will receive 28% (currently 23%), with the county school system receiving 49%. For vehicles registered to unincorporated addresses, the county (51%) and school (49%) shares remain unchanged. 
Peace Officer Annuity and Benefit Fund

One of ACCG's agenda items, Senate Bill 249 contains numerous changes to the Peace Officers Annuity and Benefit Fund (POAB). ACCG worked with all stakeholders on this legislation. Among the major components are the inclusion of county jailers in the POAB Fund; an increase in the surcharge in order to meet the actuarial needs of the plan; increased contribution by members; and the language change that adds the fee to the fine instead of deducting it from counties' portion of the fine. This should result in an increase in the amount of fines collected by counties.
Omnibus Alcohol Bill Passes

Late in the session, various alcohol-related bills were combined into House Bill 879 . The bill first requires a statewide, streamlined alcohol licensing process whereby the state and local governments review and issue new and renewed alcohol permits via an online portal. The bill also authorizes the home delivery (under very strict guidelines) of beer, wine and liquor unless prohibited by local governments; allows beer, wine and liquor tastings at package stores; authorizes local governments to permit package sales within 200 yards of college campuses; and allows local governments to change the hours of Sunday alcohol sales via an ordinance rather than taking it to referendum. 

ACCG sought amendments to address two very narrow, specific concerns with Section 1 of the bill - the statewide, online licensing portal. ACCG believes that the Department of Revenue (DOR) should have been allowed additional time (from January 2, 2021 to July 1, 2021) to develop this system and that DOR should have been required to wait to process the state alcohol permit until after the local permit has been submitted. Those proposed revisions were rejected.     
Counties Move Up in Priority of Payment

Representative Rick Williams sponsored House Bill 576, which changes the priority for payment for partial fine payments. When someone pays a portion of a fine instead of the full amount, there is a statutory priority of which entity receives payment first. Under current law, counties are 10th on that priority of payment, but HB 576 now places them at number five. This will result in an increase in fine revenue. 
Sales Tax Refunds - Cash Flow Relief for Counties

House Bill 846 will lessen the impact of some sales-tax refunds paid out by the Department of Revenue (DOR). HB 846 codifies the “direct pay permit” program, under which major taxpayers from industries such as manufacturing, telecommunications, mining and transportation can directly pay sales taxes on their purchases (rather than paying sales taxes to vendors). When DOR determines that a direct-pay permit holder has overpaid sales taxes, counties (and other local governments) may choose to have that refund paid out over the same amount of time that the permit holder overpaid those taxes. Under present law, such refunds are deducted from DOR payments to local governments all at once, even if those taxes were overpaid for multiple years. This change will allow counties to avoid the significant cash flow problems that arise from such refunds being deducted all at once.
Timber Harvesting: Changes to County Ordinance & New Notification Website

Legislation related to timber harvesting received final passage. Supported by ACCG, House Bill 897  establishes a framework for a statewide timber harvest notification web page housed by the Georgia Forestry Commission; increases the fine for harvesters who fail to notify the county that they are operating within their jurisdiction; and increases the bond amount due by harvesters who have previously been found to cause damage to county roads and rights of way. Counties are encouraged to review their current Timber Harvest Notification Ordinance. An ACCG Model Ordinance that will include the procedural changes made in HB 897 is forthcoming, so please monitor the association's website and your email for information regarding this. Click  here for additional details.  
Other Key Legislation That Passed
Constitutional Amendments on the November Ballot
Dedication of Trust Funds

House Resolution 164 establishes a constitutional amendment that will authorize the Georgia General Assembly to establish, by statute, true and dedicated trust funds whereby fees collected for a specific purpose must go to that purpose rather than be redirected to the state's General fund. ACCG has advocated for the General Assembly to dedicate the Hazardous Waste Trust Fund (HWTF) and Solid Waste Trust Fund (SWTF) for more than 10 years. The approval of the constitutional amendment would allow the General Assembly to take steps in the right direction to "put the trust in trust funds.”

ACCG would like to thank Rep. Andy Welch for his efforts in getting this legislation to the finish line. The late Rep. Jay Powell and late Sen. Jack Hill were also instrumental in the bill's passage. Click here for additional details.  
Waiver of Sovereign Immunity for Certain Non-Monetary Claims

If approved on the November ballot, House Resolution 1023 will waive state and local government sovereign immunity for non-monetary claims alleging that the government has violated the Constitution or state law or is otherwise acting beyond its authority. This waiver would apply to claims arising on or after January 1, 2021. Damages and attorney’s fees would not be available as a part of such lawsuits.
Key Legislation That Failed to Pass
Legislation to Modify Legal Advertisement Mandate Fails, Once Again

Senate Bill 406 , an ACCG agenda item for 2020, would have authorized local governments to post legal advertisements on their website, the legal organ’s website, or a common statewide website in addition to the required paid posting in the county’s legal organ. If the legal organ delayed or failed to post the notice in print, the publication on the county website, legal organ’s website or common statewide website would serve as adequate notice to the public and the local government’s business could continue. As with ACCG’s last legal organ modernization legislation, this bill died in the Senate Rules Committee.         
Short Term Rental Preemptions Fall Short

House Bill 523 would have prohibited counties and cities from regulating most aspects of short-term rentals of property. Among the bill’s provisions, local governments could not prohibit such rentals, impose occupancy limits, require registration of such properties, regulate rental frequency, or require licenses/permits for or inspections of such properties.  Senate Bill 162 , as changed in the House, would have allowed local governments to regulate the occupancy or rental of residences (defined as properties rented for less than 30 consecutive days) within their jurisdictions; however, local governments could not have "prohibited all such occupancies or rentals" within their jurisdiction. Lastly, House Bill 980 would have redefined “family" in state law, mandating that local zoning codes permit all forms of housing, co-housing, boarding houses and student housing in single-family neighborhoods. All these bills failed.       
Design Standards Preemptions Fail to Pass Muster

House Bill 302 , House Bill 937 and Senate Bill 172 would have prohibited counties and cities from regulating “building design elements” in single or double family dwellings. In short, if new residences and subdivisions met state minimum building standard codes, they could be built, and local governments would have no say in the matter. ACCG felt these bills were an unconstitutional and unwarranted usurpation of local home rule authority and decision making.       
General Assembly Declines to Take Up Lodging Facilitator Legislation

Despite a flurry of behind-the-scenes activity on the final day of session, legislation ( House Bill 448 ) to require lodging facilitators such as Airbnb and VRBO to collect local hotel-motel taxes failed to pass. However, under legislation passed early in the session, as of April 1 st these lodging facilitators are required to collect sales taxes on short-term rentals through their platforms. HB 448 would also have expanded the state $5 per night fee (currently applicable to hotel stays) to also apply to short-term rentals. 
Other Key Legislation That Failed to Pass

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ACCG is YOUR county association. We are here to advance all Georgia county governments. Please feel free to contact a member of the policy team if they can assist in any way.