Originally created 04/09/06

Bills on thorny issues absent



ATLANTA - State lawmakers from Richmond and Columbia counties might have passed several local bills during the recently completed General Assembly session, but the biggest - and most contentious - issues that could have come before area legislators remained off the table this year.

Among Columbia County's lawmakers, it was not taking up a proposed consolidation plan that county officials wanted.

For Augusta, it was the annual debate about whether the legislative team should lead changes over how the local government acts.

Sen. J.B. Powell, D-Blythe, announced before the start of the session that he planned to introduce a bill to allow Augusta residents to decide whether a county commissioner should be allowed to abstain from voting and whether the mayor should have veto powers.

He never introduced the legislation, saying there was a lack of support for it among delegation members.

Sen. Ed Tarver, D-Augusta, pointed out that while legislators were in session, a Richmond County judge ruled that Augusta Mayor Deke Copenhaver could decide whether to count abstentions as no votes.

"I'd like to see what the result of that is," Mr. Tarver said.

Rep. Sue Burmeister, R-Augusta, who has championed the change in previous years, said she also is willing to wait and see how the issues are worked out among local officials.

"Ideally, I would really want the commission to develop a resolution to present to the state delegation to say, here - these are the changes that the majority of us have agreed on that we need," she said. "I think there needs to be a change in our charter that needs to be done at the state level."

Under one local bill that did survive this year, Augusta's sheriff, Superior Court clerk, State Court solicitor, district attorney and Superior Court judge jobs all received paycheck increases. The salaries' legislation easily passed, unlike a similar measure that got derailed last year because it also included extra money for the mayor and county commissioners.

The Georgia Medical Center Authority, which is trying to build up the area's biomedical industry, will have the power to issue and purchase bonds, under another bill.

That legislation also clarified that the authority is a statewide entity instead of one specifically based in Augusta, raising some concerns that the body could move away.

Mrs. Burmeister said those worries are unfounded, adding that the bonding power could help attract more companies.

A second chance for voters to decide whether to accept an economic development tool also passed this session.

Under a bipartisan Augusta bill, commissioners can designate certain parts of town that need help as "tax allocation districts." Bond sales will finance infrastructure improvements, and the debt will be paid off by increases in property taxes generated by new projects.

Last year, the districts got buried on an unpopular referendum ballot that included separate jail and sports arena requests, lawmakers said.

"That was the primary thing that I wanted to see pass, because those tax allocation districts stand to be a huge benefit to the community," Mr. Copenhaver said.

Reach Vicky Eckenrode at (404) 681-1701 or vicky.eckenrode@morris.com.

AUGUSTA LEGISLATION


Here are the local bills that lived and died this year at the General Assembly:

PASSED


Senate Bill 532: Security guards at nuclear power plants


- Action: Passed House, passed Senate


- Description: Authorizes guards at Plant Vogtle to use reasonable force against people believed to present a danger to the site and allows guards to detain them until law enforcement authorities arrive.

House Bill 831: County officials' salaries


- Action: Passed House, passed Senate


- Description: Increases the base salaries for Richmond County's positions of sheriff, Superior Court clerk, State Court solicitor, district attorney and Superior Court judges

House Bill 1327: Redevelopment Powers Law


- Action: Passed House, passed Senate


- Description: Allows Richmond County's commission to create tax allocation districts and issue tax allocation bonds for the

redevelopment of blighted areas. Voters have to approve the tool in a referendum.

House Bill 1597: Burke County salaries


- Action: Passed House, passed Senate


- Description: Changes the salary and expense allowance for members of the Board of Education in Burke County

FAILED


Senate Bill 508: State Court judges


- Action: Never made it out of the Senate


- Description: Would have added a fourth State Court judge in Richmond County. Sitting judges said they need the extra position because of increasing case loads and the desire to create a special court to hear repeat offenders for DUI and drug charges

Senate Bill 622: Hospital acquisition changes


- Action: Passed Senate, died in House


- Description: Would have streamlined the state review process on a new deal when a nonprofit hospital gets jilted by a proposed buyer. The statewide bill was crafted to help St. Joseph Hospital, which recently found itself in that situation.


- Morris News Service