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North Georgia bills still in play in Atlanta
License plates, rural broadband changes in the works

With the Georgia General Assembly in its home stretch, a few bills from North Georgia are still on track to make it to Gov. Nathan Deal’s desk this year.

The last day for House bills to pass into the Senate and vice versa, called crossover day, was Feb. 28, and a several pieces of legislation from Hall County’s state delegation and nearby lawmakers made the cutoff.

Rep. Emory Dunahoo, R-Gillsville, got one piece of legislation, House Bill 671, into the Senate this year. HB 671 benefits the state’s beekeepers with a special license plate that will raise money for the Georgia Beekeepers Association.

“Hopefully everything goes well and it’ll be on the Senate floor early next week,” Dunahoo said on Wednesday, March 7.

His other bill would have stiffened penalties for people throwing house parties that includes underage drinking, but the bill didn’t clear the House before crossover day.

Rep. Matt Dubnik, R-Gainesville, also has a license plate bill that cleared the House this year: House Bill 784 benefitting Ducks Unlimited and the conservation of waterfowl and their wetlands habitat. His other bill, House Bill 275, clarified state law to require boaters to use life jackets in a few peculiar situations. That bill also cleared the House, but Dubnik said on Wednesday that senators had “stripped it down today and changed it down to something completely separate” and that he was no longer pleased with the changes.

Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, could not be contacted by deadline on Wednesday.

Two bills that cleared crossover day from Dahlonega Republican Sen. Steve Gooch make significant changes to rural broadband — a big issue in rural North Georgia. Gooch took up the issue after significant attention on rural broadband in the runup to the session.

He’s shepherded two rural broadband bills, Senate Bills 232 and 426, into the House. SB 232 allows electric membership corporations to deploy broadband and other internet services along with their power utilities. SB 426 streamlines the state permitting process for small operators to deploy wireless internet services in state rights of way and allows the installation of small telecommunications poles on existing structures, according to a March 1 announcement.

“We have been working on these bills for a long time, and I am proud of our chamber for taking action,” Gooch told the Senate on March 1. Expanding broadband access has long been a top priority of the Senate, and we have taken another step toward providing rural Georgians with the services they need for economic development, telehealth, education and quality of life.” 

With less than a month left in the session, lawmakers are running in high gear in Atlanta and dealing with marathon days in session.

“You start at 10 a.m. and you go to 1:15 a.m. and you just kind of look cross-eyed,” Dubnik said, laughing.

The chambers still need to settle on the state’s 2019 fiscal year budget, which will include millions of dollars in funding for various projects and programs that affect Hall County.

One of those chunks of funding is a $2 million grant for the Hall County Library System. The grant has been sought for a few years and now Hall is at the top of the list recommended by the board of regents of the University System of Georgia. 

It’s a critical piece of the system’s planned $4.2 million renovation of its Gainesville branch — the busiest library in the county. 

Library System Director Lisa MacKinney said the system plans to add at most 6,000 square feet to the branch, boosting space for youth services, meetings and local history.

MacKinney said she should know the fate of the grant next week as lawmakers dig deeper into next year’s budget.

“We’re just crossing our fingers,” she said.

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