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Ga. Senate OKs massage parlor bill

ATLANTA — Legislation meant to crack down on shady massage parlors passed the Georgia Senate unanimously Wednesday.

Senate Bill 364, sponsored by state Sen. Cecil Staton, R-Macon, moves now to the House of Representatives for consideration.

The bill strengthens current massage laws on several fronts and makes it clear that local governments can regulate parlors and spas. Though dozens of other Georgia communities have local ordinances, the city of Macon had resisted making its own rules because of concerns that it wasn’t authorized to get involved.

Some think the city’s reluctance has contributed to the proliferation of shady massage parlors and spas in Macon.

The bill also would hit parlor owners with a fine of up to $5,000 if they allow unlicensed workers to perform massages or, more to the point, if their parlors are simply covers for illegal sex operations.

House approves sales-tax crackdown measure

Legislation meant to help the state crack down on businesses that collect sales tax from customers but don’t send it to the state treasury easily passed the House of Representatives on Wednesday. The need to improve collections has been heavily discussed this session, largely due to the state’s budget crisis. Democrats have pushed to allow local governments to hire private companies to handle collections instead of having the state do it. But that idea has largely fallen by the wayside, since large businesses might find themselves dealing with multiple governments and contractors.

Democrats also have pushed to force the state to share retailer information with local governments so they can target businesses that don’t pay. That idea died due to privacy concerns.

But House Bill 1093, a Republican effort to improve collections, passed the House on Wednesday and heads to the state Senate for consideration. It directs the state to collect information from local governments about businesses licensed in those communities. The state would compare that information to its own sales tax records to see who is and isn’t paying.

A pilot program looking at this issue found more than 900 businesses in Hall County that weren’t on the Department of Revenue’s sales tax list, according to The Gainesville Times.

Though Democrats have pushed for more changes, they supported HB 1093 and it passed 160-2.

Local governments don’t have to comply with the bill, since they must consent to share their information before the state can get it.

Bill for Georgia online voter registration avoids roadblock

Legislation that would allow Georgians to register online to vote cleared the Georgia Senate Wednesday.

Senate Bill 406, sponsored by state Sen. Cecil Staton, passed by a vote of 33-20. A motion to table the bill failed, 21-32. Opponents said they had several problems with the bill, but the biggest seemed to come in parts of the bill empowering the Georgia Secretary of State to seek information he or she “deems necessary to establish the identity of the applicant.”

Under former Secretary of State Karen Handel, Georgia has tangled repeatedly with the U.S. Department of Justice over voter rights. Handel has said she’s trying to ensure illegal immigrants don’t vote in Georgia, but opponents say she’s tried to suppress minority voters.

The online voter registration bill and the way the secretary of state would have to verify a potential voter’s status using drivers license records brought that debate to the forefront again Wednesday.

House OKs measure to overhaul rules of evidence

Lengthy legislation overhauling the state’s rules of evidence passed the Georgia House of Representatives on Wednesday.

House Bill 24 was the product of years of work by attorneys and legislators, said state Rep. Wendell Willard, R-Sandy Springs, who is the bill’s sponsor. The 182-page bill is a “complete rewrite” of evidence rules and brings Georgia’s laws into line with federal rules and rules in other states.

There were some concerns that the bill is too wide-reaching, particularly for legislators to digest and vote on quickly. But supporters said it was probably the most vetted bill of the session, with the House Judiciary Committee working on it for six months and attorneys working on it for years before that.

It passed 150-12 and moves to the Senate for consideration.

House OKs toll road bill

Legislation that will help prepare the state for more toll roads passed the Georgia House of Representatives on Wednesday.

House Bill 1186, sponsored by state Rep. Jay Roberts, R-Ocilla, makes sure that private entities that build tolls roads for the state won’t have to pay property taxes on the property they build the road on.

The state is moving toward using public-private partnerships to build roads, largely because of a need to find more money for transportation projects. The first such project likely will be the addition of toll lanes along Interstate 75 in Cobb County.

The bill passed Wednesday 139-16. It moves to the Senate for consideration.

Bicycles-on-sidewalks bill passes House unanimously

Legislation allowing local governments to decide whether to allow people to ride bicycles on sidewalks passed the Georgia House of Representatives unanimously Wednesday.

House Bill 965, sponsored by state Rep. Doug McKillip, D-Athens, reworks a state law that currently allows local governments to decide whether children can ride their bikes on sidewalks.

The bill basically removes that age requirement, and it moves now to the state Senate for consideration.

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