This year marked the second year of the 2017-2018 Session of the Georgia General Assembly. What that means is that any legislation that did not pass both houses in 2017 was still on the table for 2018. So we entered January with a carry over of bills from last year mixed together with all of the new bills for 2018. The good side of having a two-year structure is that we can take the necessary time to build coalitions, develop a strategy and work with legislators to get more complex, or contentious bills through. The downside is that a bill that has been laying silent can still resurface at the end of the following year as something completely different, or can slip in on another seemingly unrelated bill. Of course the latter is not always a negative, it just depends upon your perspective and what the resulting bill accomplishes.
I am happy to report that the Georgia REALTORS® have had successful session. Let’s take look back at what all happened (and didn’t happen) this session.
If you are either an archivist or a pack-rat, you may still have last year’s version of this article. If so, you notice that it ended with a “What’s Left” section that discussed House Bills 410 and 271. House Bill 410 addressed HOA closing letters. House Bill 271 was a Department of Natural Resources bill that was aimed at cleaning up the Shoreline Protection Act. While each of the bills took a different path, they both are excellent examples of two-year bills.
House Bill 410 came to life out of discussion among REALTORS® regarding the exorbitant fees being charged for HOA closing letters. As we began to work on the issue last year, it became clear that it would require more than a simple bill that would breeze through the chambers. The factors at hand were 1) a stiff opposition from the other side; 2) an outdated existing law that did not specifically cover all elements needed to be part of the letter; and 3) a complicated consortium of players, each bringing a different perspective of what needed to be covered in the bill.
By the end of the 2017 session, we had a better idea of what needed to be changed in the original draft of the bill. By the beginning of 2018, we had solidified our allies and expanded the the language of what needed to be in the bill to cover all forms of HOAs in Georgia (Condominium, POA and Covenants Running the Land), as well as all components of the letter. Thus, the stage was set for battle.
Through the course of the 2018 Session, the bill went through various changes in committees. With each committee and with each floor vote in the House and Senate, we had to call out the big guns and use our best weapon – YOU, our members. Our single biggest legislative asset and advantage we hold over any other group under the Gold Dome is 37,000 REALTORS® ready to act on a moment’s notice. It works and it’s powerful. With the committee votes, only the constituents of the committee members were called upon. With the floor votes, you each received the call. Unlike the Congressional Calls For Action where we have advanced notice and weeks to act, our bills move more quickly at the state level. With only between 24 hours to a couple of days, we had an amazing response of around 4,000 messages sent for each of the floor votes and a similar response rate for the committees – more than 10 percent of our membership! The House responded the Call For Action by passing House Bill 410 with an 85 percent favorable vote and the Senate responded with a 90 percent favorable vote.
We became aware of House Bill 271 when the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) showed us their proposed bill. As the existing law establishes the shoreline boundary based on certain trees and structures, they had been facing a difficult task of visiting sites each time a determination of boundary was needed. Being an onerous task on DNR, they wished to simplify the the process by amending the law to enable a mapping approach. Our part in the bill was to ensure that the new definitions and boundaries did not encroach beyond the current law, nor impede any further upon private property rights.
We were able to get the Senate Natural Resources Committee to meet with a group of our coastal REALTORS® on the matter over the summer of 2017. That meeting went well and the understanding of the REALTOR® perspective by DNR was clear. Entering into 2018, several factors led DNR’s interest in the bill to wane. Since the REALTOR® focus on the bill was to ensure that the changes did no harm, there was no need to push the bill forward.
With House Bill 271 having passed the house, it was now a prime vehicle to become something else. Thus, our work on House Bill 271 during 2018 was to keep it from becoming anything of harm to private property rights. As we neared the end of the session, House Bill 271 became known as the Omnibus Hunting Bill, a collection of seven smaller bills packaged as one and having nothing to do with private property rights. That bill has now passed the Senate in a safe form.
Hopefully, I’ve given you a glimpse into the evolution of two-year bills. Collectively, with the new bills dropped in 2018, we have reviewed a couple thousand bills; zeroed in on around a hundred; and actively navigated a couple of dozen that held the potential to impact private property rights, or the day-to-day business of REALTORS® in Georgia. As we emerge out of the 2018 Session, you should feel good that you have not only one of the most dedicated lobbying teams under the Gold Dome working on your behalf, but you should feel proud for the role YOU play in making the Georgia REALTORS® a force to be reckoned with at the Capitol.