Transit bill, hands-free driving bill move forward, Greenhaven and DeKalb CEO bills die

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"Marta Train" by hyku is licensed under CC BY

The Gist: The Georgia legislature has crossed the yearly milestone of crossover day, the day when bills must move from one chamber to the other if they have any chance of becoming a law. Here is a look at what key pieces of legislation crossed over this session and what didn’t make the cut.

Transit Bill Moves: Both the House and Senate passed their versions of the transit bill, which is a combination of bills that would create a governing authority for the 13-county transportation region. The measure is an update to the MARTA bill from the 1970s that would expand metro Atlanta’s transit offerings and develop one cohesive metro-wide transit plan.

Still up for debate is the branding. The bill’s sponsor, Transportation Committee Chairman Brandon Beach, wants MARTA and all other transit options, including those in Gwinnett and Cobb, use the new branding, ATL. That plan did not go over well with Sen. Renee Unterman of Gwinnett, who reminded Beach that autonomy was important to each county.

“We’ve spent a lot of money on these buses and on our branding,” she said. “I’m willing to work with you, but you gotta work with us.”

That sentiment was echoed by Sen. Lindsey Tippins of Cobb, who was hesitant about the amount of influence the new authority would have over county governments. “I do not believe it is wise for a county to cede all local control over transit to an organization that they have very little influence on the outcome of decisions for that organization,” he said.

The transit bill has been a keystone of this year’s legislative session and is likely to receive final passage, but the final bill is bound to look different than the current versions passed by each chamber.

Put Your Phone Down: The State House of Representatives worked late into the night hammering out the hands-free driving bill. Under this bill, Georgians would have to use speaker phone or a hands-free bluetooth device to talk on their phones while driving. The bill allows drivers to touch their phones to make a phone call and to operate their GPS. Drivers can use voice-to-text apps to send messages, but they can’t watch videos or use FaceTime. The bill would also make texting and driving a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $300. The bill was hotly contested on the House floor. Expect the Senate to make a few changes to what is allowed and what isn’t.

Big Brother Is Still Watching: If you aren’t a fan of red light cameras, you’re probably not going to like House Bill 978. The bill would allow local governments to place traffic cameras in school zones. The House passed the bill 94-76. A similar bill passed in the House last year, but did not make it through the Senate.

Greenhaven Dies Again: The bill to create a new city called Greenhaven in DeKalb County didn’t make it through the House and will have to wait until next session if organizers want to make another attempt at cityhood. Meanwhile, the Senate passed a bill that will make it more difficult for new cities to incorporate. If SB 453 passes in the House, new cities would be required to provide five out of 11 government services in order to incorporate. The existing state law requires three out of 11 services. Also, the bill would not allow a new city to incorporate within three miles of the boundary of another city.

DeKalb Gets to Keep Its CEO: HB 961, which called for the elimination of DeKalb County’s CEO form of government, (without ever mentioning DeKalb County in the bill’s text) did not pass in the House. The county will get to keep its CEO and unique form of government at least for the foreseeable future.