Legislative Notebook: Houston County senator two for three

March 11, 2014 

Two Senate bills zoomed through the state House of Representatives on Monday, and they both have a Houston County connection.

First, in a 169-5 vote, the House passed a bill to give landowners a place to complain if they think their property isn’t as dirty as the state says.

“If your property is listed on the Hazardous Site Inventory, then starting July 1, you get a right to an appeal,” said state Rep. Tom McCall, R-Elberton, ahead of the Senate Bill 333 vote. However, if it’s listed June 30 or before, no dice.

Second, Senate Bill 296 ends “42 years of arguing” by limiting the overall developable area of Jekyll Island at 1,675 acres, said state Rep. Mark Hamilton, R-Cumming. Fewer than 100 of those acres are undeveloped. The House passed the measure in a 169-2 vote.

The connection? Both bills originated from state Sen. Ross Tolleson, R-Perry.

So while both bills now sit on Gov. Nathan Deal’s desk, the House was not completely kind to Tolleson.

The House postponed a scheduled Wednesday vote on his Senate Bill 213, a much amended, much fought-over rewrite of the Flint River Drought Protection Act. For more than a year, it’s angered shifting coalitions of environmentalists, farmers, tea party members, state environmental regulators and mainline Republicans over how to share and protect the water.

It could reappear for a House floor vote as early as Thursday.

High school sports bill wins

Senate Bill 288, the first of two bills that imposes a legislative oversight committee on the Georgia High School Association, passed the House easily Tuesday in a 165-5 tally.

The GHSA sets up divisions, regions and tournaments for high school sports.

A similar version of the bill by state Sen. Charlie Bethel, R-Dalton, already passed the other chamber. If the Senate accepts minor House amendments, the bill will head to the governor’s desk.

A second bill, Senate Bill 343 that was drafted by state Sen. Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga, does the same thing plus imposes term limits on the 58-member board that runs GHSA. It could appear on the House floor as early as this week.

No mercy for timber thieving

The state Senate agreed with the House on Monday that timber thieves should face civil fines as well as the criminal prosecution to which they are already subject.

Senators unanimously passed House Bill 790 written by tree farmer and state Rep. Chuck Williams, R-Watkinsville.

Under the new law, victims of thieving would be able to sue defendants for three times the fair market value of the stolen trees, the cost of replanting, plus unspecified punitive damages. It also says Georgia Forestry Commission rangers can investigate timber theft and make arrests, something they can now only do in arson cases.

Now the House must agree with minor Senate edits to send the bill to the governor’s desk.

Medical cannabis hearing scheduled

A medical cannabis bill championed by state Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, begins the second half of the legislative gauntlet with a Senate panel hearing scheduled Wednesday.

The Senate Health and Human Services Committee has put House Bill 885, five other bills and a briefing on hepatitis-C on its 2 p.m. agenda.

Given that Peake plans to offer an amendment to create nonprofit dispensaries to grow the marijuana and formulate a non-hallucinogenic liquid medicine for pediatric seizures, it’s a bit of an ambitious schedule for a hearing room that’s only booked for two hours.

Writer Maggie Lee compiled this report.

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