By State Rep. Ron Stephens.
This week I will devote this column to some of the key local legislation affecting both Chatham and Bryan counties that I am responsible for along with other members of the counties delegation. Local legislation is not bound by “Crossover Day” rules and can be passed anytime during the session, which is why the delegation usually waits until the budget is passed and other priority legislation that affects the state has moved to the other body.
There are four pieces of local legislation that we will begin working on shortly for Chatham County. There are two bills that would affect the increasingly dysfunctional Chatham Area Transit system and their Board of Directors. The first bill would completely reorganize the system by determining who can serve on the board of directors and their length of terms. This would take the selection priority out of the hands of the Chatham County Board of Commissioners and spread it out to county and cities within Chatham County to ensure representation throughout the county and giving a voice to underserved areas. A second piece of legislation could limit any taxation funding provided by a single county to remain only for operations in a single county that passed the local taxation. There is much discussion about what to do about CAT and we are prepared to have those discussions when we return.
Another dysfunction in Chatham County is the current system that has two different boards responsible for Chatham County elections. Legislation has been introduced to merge the Board of Elections and the Board of Registrars. The BOE is responsible for day-of balloting and counting of votes. The BOR is responsible for the registration of voters and maintaining the voting rolls. The BOE is selected by the Democrat party and the Republican party to select two board members each via their primary voting system. They then come together to select a chairman. The BOR is selected by the Grand Jury and essentially their seats are filled by the Chief Judge of the Superior Court. The BOR has agreed to be taken over by the BOE and the BOR board would be disbanded. This is consistent with the way that most counties in Georgia handle their voters and elections.
The final bill is a request from the City of Savannah to raise the hotel/ motel tax in the city and how the money is distributed that is consistent with state law regarding this type of tax. While this tax is paid for by the user of a hotel or motel room and is only a “pass through” by the hotelier, it is just anther increase in the cost of a room that makes the costs to travel to Savannah more expensive. I am leery of passing legislation this year that would make hotels and motels more expensive when so many of them are hurting financially from the pandemic. We are considering legislation that would allow the tax to be passed this year and implemented in 2022.
Finally, in Bryan County we passed legislation that revised the city charter for Richmond Hill that they requested. The legislation will codify how the city council may replace a council member if one resigns during their term and it sets residency requirements to run for office by aligning the length with state laws. It also addresses how the mayor’s veto may be used and the hiring and firing of city personnel.
I encourage you to contact me with your input and thoughts on proposed legislation or current events that may impact our community. I am in 226-A of the State Capitol.
My office phone number is (404) 656-5115 and my email is ron.stephens@ house.ga.gov.
I look forward to continuing this session and serving all of you.