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Bill allowing backyard chickens may not survive Crossover Day
A hen roams around the backyard of a house on McConnell Street, which is located within Hall County limits. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

A backyard chicken coop might have been the norm 50 years ago, but it hasn’t been legal for quite some time in Gainesville’s city limits.

And for a brief moment in legislative time, it seemed residents might regain that right.

But today it seems a bill authored by state Rep. Bobby Franklin, R-Marietta, which promised to outlaw local ordinances prohibiting residents from keeping animals or growing food for personal use in their backyards, might not make it to the House floor.

Today is Crossover Day, the day all bills either make it out of one chamber this legislative session or get sent back to their maker to wait for next year.

Late Thursday afternoon, Franklin’s bill, House Bill 842, was not listed on the Rules calendar for today’s do-or-die day in the state House of Representatives.

Of a handful of House-generated bills that offered to expand Georgians’ ability to be involved in small-scale agriculture, House Bill 842, was the closest to seeing a full House vote.

The bill seeks to protect residents’ “right to grow food crops and raise small animals on private property, so long as such crops and animals are used for human consumption by the occupants, gardeners, or raisers and their households.”

Another bill authored by Franklin legalizing the sale of raw milk without regulation, as well as a similar bill by Athens Democrat Doug McKillip, which sought to regulate the sale of raw milk, never made it out of committee.

The House Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee passed a substitute of House Bill 842 on March 11.

Since then, it does not look like the bill has seen much action. The House Rules Committee must give its blessing before the bill can be taken up for a full vote on the House floor.

Though the bill is on the general calendar for today, a representative from the House Clerk’s office said Thursday the bill was not on the schedule.

She said the bill could, however, be added to a supplemental calendar later in the day since it remains on the House’s general calendar. More than 100 bills are on the general calendar for today’s marathon in the legislature. Only about 30 are currently on the Rules calendar.

If House Bill 842 does become law, it likely will shake up a yearslong tradition in which residents were not allowed to keep small livestock in Gainesville’s city limits.

Keeping backyard chicken coops has been outlawed in Gainesville since at least 1958. County ordinances allow unincorporated residents to keep animals as long as the animals are “adequately contained.”

In the last six years, Gainesville code enforcement officials have issued 10 citations to residents unlawfully keeping chicken coops in their backyards, said Gary Kansky, manager of the city’s code enforcement division.

When it comes to chickens and roosters in the city limits, most complaints emanate from the noise, said Kansky.

“They crow in the mornings,” Kansky said. “... Most of the times, our complaints come in that way, because people complain about the noise. Some people grew up on farms. That’s fine. They grew up on farms, they’re used to it. Other people, they’re not. So when we get the call, we go out and tell the people they have to get rid of the chickens.”

In Gainesville, code enforcement is usually carried out on a complaint basis. If officers find a code violation, they usually give residents a week to 10 days to come into compliance. After that, the officers issue a citation.

The maximum fine for unlawfully keeping chickens in the city limits is $730, he said.

Since the current ordinance is more than 50 years old, Kansky had plans to rework it and make it more clear. But until he does that, Kansky said he will have to wait to see whether House Bill 842 makes it to the House floor.

If it does, Kansky said the city’s enforcement will likely shift to making sure backyard livestock is penned up and not making too much noise.

“We probably won’t do anything with our ordinance until we find out what this does,” he said.

Franklin, the bill’s sponsor, did not return repeated phone calls as of press time Thursday.

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