This article appeared in the January 2019 issue of the Georgia's Cities newspaper.
Rural development is still at the forefront of many legislators’ agendas. Like last year, broadband expansion is sure to be on the table during the 2019 Georgia Legislative Session. GMA opposes any legislation that limits the ability of local leaders to invest in broadband infrastructure. The association believes that limiting the option of publicly funded broadband hampers the ability of communities to alleviate the access problem many Georgia communities are facing.
GMA remains concerned about legislation that would limit right-of-way oversight by local communities. Telecommunications companies have sought legislative preemption over local control in permitting right-of-way access and esthetics to deploy new technology. Both federal and state regulations have been proposed that would limit municipal control.
“Local government has the day-to-day visibility, in terms of maintenance, but also in terms of the fact that they are the ones that will be getting the phone calls if something goes wrong,” said Rep. Derrick Jackson (D-64 Tyrone).
“It’s practically impossible for the state to govern over right-of-way for 538 cities. It helps the state and the cities to delegate. Right-of-way is not a part-time job. Only local government would be able to facilitate, maintain and manage it 365 days a year,” added Jackson.
Minority Leader Bob Trammell (D-132 Luthersville) agrees. “The presumption should always initially be in favor of protecting home rule. I trust our local elected officials to get it right. And if they are missing the mark, I am sure their citizens will not hesitate to let them know,” said Trammell. “I certainly hold open the possibility that there are instances when there is the need for uniformity in the law, but I believe those should certainly be the exception, not the rule.”
“Legislative leadership encouraged GMA and ACCG to reach a compromise with the telecom companies to allow small cell wireless deployment or legislation to be introduced with or without protections that could be agreed to through a negotiation,” said GMA Governmental Relations Associate Charlotte Davis. “GMA’s goal in these negotiations has been to incentivize collocation of small cells rather than installing new poles, protecting residential, historic and areas where utilities are required to be underground, and allowing local governments to assess reasonable fees to access the rights-of-way.”
Another legislative push will be to address election reform, notably regarding ballot security.
“The Secretary of State’s Secure, Accessible & Fair Elections Commission is still meeting and working on recommendations for new voting technology. Once they make their recommendations, the General Assembly will review them and consider how to move forward,” said Rep. Ed Rynders (R-152 Albany).
Trammell is committed to a move to paper ballots. “We need hand marked paper ballots. While I am certain that there will be lots of discussion about voting machine technologies, the reality is that low tech is more secure. Hand marked paper ballots with optical scanners. That option should also make it easier to share scanners for municipal elections, because scanners just read the hand-marked ballots. I think the rush to pay more for technologies that do not incorporate hand-marked paper ballots is unwise, expensive and not well thought out,” said Trammell.
One issue that may not be at the top of voters’ minds but does concern GMA members involves coin operated amusement machines (COAMs). GMA supports legislation that would allow local governments to levy an excise tax on COAMs to be applied to local public safety, law enforcement and code enforcement.
“We have had a couple of raids over the years where stores were closed and assets were seized,” said Rome City Manager Sammy Rich. “While those were somewhat successful at the time, the stores did ultimately reopen and resume their gaming activity. Local government needs the ability to better regulate the machines within our communities, that would include licensure and taxation.”
Nia Roberts, Communications Coordinator for the Georgia Lottery Corporation, said the Georgia Lottery Corporation is more optimistic about the current rules but is open to working with GMA on adjustments and increasing compliance.
“GMA’s advocacy team is looking forward to working with Gov. Kemp, Lt. Gov. Duncan, Speaker Ralston and the General Assembly members as they kick-off the 2019-2020 term,” said GMA Director of Governmental Affairs Tom Gehl. “There is a palpable enthusiasm at the Capitol to work in partnership with city officials, and when the state and local governments are pulling in the same direction, it is exciting to think of all that can be accomplished.”