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Cities Prepare for the 2017 Legislative Session

January 10, 2017  |  Tom Crawford
This article appeared in the January 2017 issue of the Georgia's Cities newspaper.

GMA is supporting a change in the state’s alcohol beverage law that makes it all but impossible for craft brewers to sell their product at the retail level without working through a wholesale distributor.
 
Craft brewers can often be a catalyst for the redevelopment of down­town business areas. But the inability to sell retail hampers the ability of craft brewers to turn a profit.
 
“There is a tourism and travel factor here,” said Rep. Brett Harrell (R-Snellville), the former mayor of Snellville. “They (craft brewers) tend to occupy spaces that have been vacant for several years. It can also bring in some beer tourism.”
 
If action isn’t taken in the Regulated Industries Committee chaired by Rep. Howard Maxwell (R-Dallas), Rep. Matt Dollar (R-Marietta) has indicated a willingness to take on the issue in his Interstate Cooperation Committee.
 
Another major push will be made by the casino industry this session to try to get a constitutional amendment on the ballot to allow casino gambling.
 
The casino industry has retained the services of dozens of prominent lobbyists to try to make their case, but so far no casino-related bill has received a floor vote in either the House or Senate.
 
City representatives want to have say on this issue because of the impact casinos can have on public safety, crime and traffic in the areas where they locate.
 
One of the most prominent critics of casino operations in Georgia has been a mu­nicipal official, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed.
“I believe that Las Ve­gas is in Las Vegas for a reason, and I just have real issues with putting a facility in Atlanta where working folks can get off work and walk into a gaming casino,” Reed said last year.
 
Other cities are getting behind the issue, however.
 
The Columbus City Council voted 7-2 last month to ask the local legislative del­egation to introduce legislation that would call a referendum to authorize casino gambling.
 
The House and Senate appointed a joint study committee to develop recommen­dations on how to bring broadband internet access to rural areas that currently are under-served.
 
The committee’s report may not be finalized until just before the start of the session in January, said Sen. John Wilkinson (R-Toccoa).
 
“We’re trying to open it up and give opportunities to more people,” Wilkinson said. “Maybe we offer tax breaks or incentives to serve areas that aren’t currently served. People should be real careful not to get in the business of picking winners.”
 
Legislators are expected to introduce bills, as they do ev­ery session, to pre-empt local governments on such issues as ordinances that would ban plastic bags or restrict dangerous dogs.
 
City governments may obtain more flexibility in dealing with the condemnation of blighted properties in the upcoming session of the General Assembly.
 
Georgia’s restrictive eminent domain law, which was passed and signed in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Kelo vs. City of New London ruling in 2005, includes a requirement that cities must hold title for 20 years on blighted properties they condemn.
 
Now there are indications that the provision could be eased. City representatives are talk­ing to real estate officials about changing the 20-year requirement and are finding a receptiveness to the idea.
 
“Reasonable tweaks can be made to the con­demnation statute to allow cities to transfer truly blighted proper­ties to the private sec­tor for redevelopment,” said GMA’s Director of Governmental Rela­tions Tom Gehl. “Blight is a problem in almost every community in this state, and chang­ing the law to give cit­ies a meaningful tool for blight remediation is a priority for GMA.”
“I’m very optimistic we’ll be able to reach some agreement to revise our current law,” said Keith Hatcher, the public policy director for the Georgia Association of Realtors.
 
Hatcher acknowledged that the 20-year restriction “may be too strict—it disin­centivizes local governments to clean up blighted properties.”

“We’re still looking at those ideas,” Hatcher said.