April 2, 2021
Volume 12, Issue 12
2021 Legislative Session Recap
The 2021 session of the Georgia General Assembly adjourned on March 31. There were multiple victories for Georgia's counties as legislation addressing several ACCG Policy Agenda items such as broadband funding, the dedication of trust funds, lodging facilitator tax collection, and more passed. The Association appreciates Governor Kemp and the General Assembly for including in the Amended FY 2021 budget $20 million for the state broadband grant program and $10 million in the FY 2022 budget. 

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 today, April 2 at 9:00 a.m. for a recap of the 2021 legislative session on Zoom. County officials are strongly encouraged to ask questions and offer comments during the meeting as this is an opportunity to engage directly with the team. You can join the meeting here.

Please continue to monitor ACCG's updates for additional information as the Governor prepares to either sign bills into law, let bills become law without his signature, or issue vetoes. A more comprehensive Legislative Report will be released within the coming week, and the Final Legislative Report will be made available after the Governor's 40-day period to sign or veto bills.

As always, ACCG extends its many thanks and sincerest appreciation to all county officials for another successful session under the Gold Dome.
Key Legislation That Passed
Authorize Public Hearings via Teleconference

One of ACCG’s 2021 Policy Agenda items, House Bill 98, by Rep. Eddie Lumsden, authorizes local governments to conduct public hearings by teleconference during emergency situations. The bill was amended in the Senate to address concerns by the Governor’s Office, then the House agreed to the Senate changes.  
Protections Added for County Cybersecurity Discussions and Records

House Bill 134, by Rep. Victor Anderson, allows local governments to discuss matters related to cybersecurity services in executive session; however, no vote in executive session can be binding – a subsequent vote must be taken in an open meeting. Secondly, this bill exempts certain cybersecurity documents from open records. ACCG supported this bill.    
Municipal Option Sales Tax

In the waning minutes of the session, the General Assembly passed House Bill 160, an expansion of the Municipal Option Sales Tax (MOST) that currently is only available to the City of Atlanta. Under HB 160, several other cities located in Fulton County would be authorized to implement a 1% sales tax within their boundaries for water and wastewater infrastructure. ACCG opposed HB 160 because sales taxes covering less than an entire county (like LOST, SPLOST, T-SPLOST) are likely to lessen the chances of voter approval of countywide taxes. 

For talking points on this dangerous precedent, please click here.
Increased Reimbursement for EMS Providers

House Bill 271 expands the Upper Limit Payment Program, allowing EMS providers to average actual costs and numbers of calls to justify higher reimbursement rates from Centers for Medicaid & Medicare Services (CMS).
Bill Dictates County Police Budgets

House Bill 286 limits counties from cutting county police budgets more than 5% in any given year. Some provisions exempt one-time capital purchases and for overall revenue shortfalls.
Telehealth Expansion to Facilitate Mental Health Treatment

House Bill 307 expands the use of telehealth to bring more services to rural areas and jails.
Lodging Facilitator Tax Collection

Late on Sine Die evening, the Senate and House agreed to the final version of House Bill 317, an ACCG Policy Agenda item. HB 317 requires online lodging platforms such as Airbnb and VRBO to collect and remit county and city hotel/motel taxes on short-term rentals (STRs) that are hosted via those platforms. These are taxes currently due from the STR owner but, in many cases, not being collected. Fiscal estimates from the state anticipate this bill will generate additional annual local tax collections of between $20 million and $30 million. ACCG thanks bill sponsor Rep. Ron Stephens (Chatham County) and the General Assembly for passing HB 317.
Trust Fund Dedication Legislation

In November 2020, Georgia voters approved a Constitutional Amendment that would allow the General Assembly to dedicate fees and taxes for their intended purpose. ACCG has long advocated for the Hazardous Waste Trust Fund and the Solid Waste Trust Fund to be dedicated as more than 60% of the fees collected have been redirected to the General Fund. House Bill 511 dedicates nine trust funds, including the two environmental trusts funds, for a period of 10 years. 

ACCG thanks Governor Kemp for having this bill introduced and the Georgia General Assembly for granting it final passage, once and for all putting the “trust in trust funds”. 
Tools Provided to Counties for Court Backlog

House Bill 635 contains several provisions that will assist county courts with the handling case backlog. The bill will allow judges to perform duties via video conferencing, conduct bench trials instead of jury trials in certain instances, and allow district attorneys to bring forth charges by accusation instead of presenting certain cases to grand juries. 

Additionally, Senate Bill 163 suspends the speedy trial requirements to enable the courts to deal with the backlog. Under current law, if those speedy trial time limits are not met, the accused is released. This bill extends that time frame.
House Study Committee on Annexation Created

House Resolution 222, by Rep. Victor Anderson, establishes a study committee, to be composed of five House members, that will examine the impacts of annexation, the laws and rules governing the creation of new cities, and whether changes should be made to Georgia’s annexation dispute resolution process. The subcommittee must submit its report to the House by December 1, 2021.  ACCG supported this resolution.   
Remove 35 % Petition Requirement on Package Liquor Sales

Senate Bill 145, by Sen. Matt Brass, allows county and city voters to authorize package liquor sales without having to obtain petition signatures of at least 35% of the registered voters in the jurisdiction. Local governments would simply have to pass a resolution in order to present this issue to voters as a referendum. This change has long been an ACCG policy position.   
Omnibus Election Bill Passed and Signed Into Law - No Other Election Measures Approved    

As previously reported, Senate Bill 202 was passed and signed into law by Governor Kemp on Thursday, March 25. This was the only election legislation to pass this session with all other election bills having failed or been incorporated into this bill. 

At 95 pages, SB 202 includes numerous changes to state election law that will impact counties’ administration of elections, including the below provisions that were part of ACCG’s 2021 Policy Agenda: 

  • Establish an absentee ballot application receipt deadline at 11 days before an election.
  • Authorize counties to begin processing and scanning absentee ballots on the third Monday before an election.
  • Authorize counties to reduce the 1/250 ratio of voting machines per registered voter in non-general elections.
  • Authorize poll workers to serve in an adjoining county to where they live or work.  

The legislation also includes several provisions which ACCG opposed or expressed concerns:
  • Mandating that ballots be printed on new, encrypted security paper.
  • ACCG asked that this requirement be conditioned on the state providing funding.
  • Numerous reporting requirements that will require additional staff and costs.
  • ACCG asked that these requirements be reduced, particularly on election night.
  • Requiring a second Saturday of advance voting.
  • ACCG asked that the second Saturday be optional for counties.  
  • Limited Absentee Ballot Drop Box Options
  • ACCG asked for counties to have the option to deploy drop boxes, as well as where they could be placed.  

The FY 2022 Budget Conference Committee added $1.5 million for ballot security which will help offset the cost to counties for the new requirement of SB 202 for next year. 

For a detailed summary of these and other provisions in SB 202, please click here.
Other Key Legislation That Passed
Key Legislation That Failed to Pass
Property Tax Notification

House Bill 75, an ACCG Policy Agenda item, failed to advance in the 2021 Session. This bill would have clarified the public notice that counties and other local governments must publish as a part of setting a property tax millage rate that exceeds the “rollback rate”. 
Juvenile Justice "Raise the Age" Act

House Bill 272 would have raised the age of jurisdiction in Juvenile Court. The proposed legislation did not provide funding or resources to counties to accommodate the change in jurisdiction, nor did it offer best practices for creating programming for the juveniles.
Latest County Permitting Preemption Bill Fails

House Bill 302, by Rep. Martin Momtahan, passed the House but never made it out of the Senate Finance CommitteeCurrently, Georgia statute allows local governments to calculate and apply permit/regulatory fees through six different methods. This legislation would have prohibited two of those methods: 1) basing these fees on the square footage of the new construction to be served by the system to be installed or 2) for renovations, basing fees on the cost of the project taking into account the building valuation data.  ACCG opposed this preemptive legislation as it would have significantly impacted and disrupted county permitting processes.  
Public Works Construction Projects - Procurement Flexibility

Current law requires all local government public works construction contracts valued at over $100,000 to go out for public bid. House Bill 435, Rep. Victor Anderson, would have allowed an exception for contracts that were competitively procured by the state or through a cooperative purchasing organization, certified by the state as a source of supply. ACCG supported this bill, though did not ask for it.    
Costly Call Before You Dig Mandate on Counties

House Bill 449, by Rep. Vance Smith, started off making routine, needed changes to Georgia’s Utility Facility Protection Act (GUFPA) – also known as the Call Before You Dig Law.  However, the Senate amended the bill to define all traffic control devices and traffic management systems as “utility facilities”. Thus, all counties with these facilities would have been required to join Georgia’s Utility Protection Center (UPC) and abide by all state locate rules and requirements when any excavation was performed in the county right of way. ACCG strongly opposed the Senate version of this legislation and Rep. Smith is to be commended for his work on the bill.  
New Tax Commissioner Retirement Plan

Senate Bill 41 would have created a new pension plan for county tax commissioners, funded in substantial part by county funds: a portion of Title Ad Valorem Tax (TAVT) administration fees that currently go into county general funds. ACCG opposed this mandated use of county funds, as retirement plans for other county constitutional officers are funded via various add-on fees in court cases, fines, etc. rather than county funds. While legislation dealing with retirement are usually referred out for actuarial study by the assigned General Assembly committee, SB 41 never received a committee hearing.
Legislation to Increase Truck Weights for Logging Trucks Fails

Both pieces of legislation that would allow logging trucks to increase their weight limits failed to pass; however, ACCG expects the debate to continue in the interim. Senate Bill 118 proposed to increase the weight limit for logging trucks up to 100,000 pounds, and House Bill 496 would have allowed vehicles hauling forest products to reach a total gross weight of up to 95,000 pounds. ACCG has traditionally opposed legislation that increases allowable weight limits on local roads and bridges, as the increase in truck weight contributes to the rapid decline of the transportation infrastructure, expands the number of bridges that need "posting" due to weight restrictions, and enhances the number and severity of accidents.
Public Protest Lawsuits against Local Governments/Budgeting Restrictions

Two bills that would have created county and city liability for injuries and damages during public assemblies failed to gain final approval. In addition to authorizing such lawsuits, Senate Bill 171 and House Bill 289 would have barred local governments from receiving state or federal funds if the local government reduced any law enforcement agency budget by 30% or more. These bills would also have required local governments to set up administrative processes to require permits for every assembly of two or more people on government property. Thank you to all county officials who contacted their state legislators to oppose these bills.
Other Key Legislation That Failed to Pass
Questions? Email the
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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.