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Sludge bill approved in House
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A sludge bill that originated in Dawson County passed the House on Monday and begins making its way to the Senate.

"We've had three bills pass the House," State Rep. Kevin Tanner said. "It's exciting to see three get passed this early in the session. I'm looking forward to working with the senators to get them through and signed into law soon."

The sludge bill (HB 741), if signed into law, would require applicants seeking sludge disposal permits to show compliance with local city or county land use ordinances and to require that public hearings be held in the effected jurisdiction.

Jane Graves, president of the Dawson County Homeowners and Civic Association, was a driving force behind the bill.

"I am very satisfied," she said. "This is a good piece of non-partisian legislation we've put together. It's very gratifying to see the process actually work. It takes patience as well as persistence."

Wording for the bill came with help from Tanner and the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia (ACCG).

"Kevin and ACCG put the wording together and someone came up with the great idea of linking it with the land use plan."

That idea came from Dawson County Commission Chair Mike Berg during conversations with Jud Turner, director of the Environmental Protection Division for Georgia.

"I recommended to Jud that the way to manage sludge is through land use and zoning," Berg said. "That was a way to get EPD to accept it. We couldn't just say, 'we don't want it.' It has to go somewhere. We can specify certain areas for it based on land use -- not next to residential or commercial but rather in industrial areas. EPD accepted that, and it allows us to manage it."

Also passed in the House was LOST (Local Option Sales Tax) legislation. Known as House Bill 719, the bill provides for the continuation of a joint city and county sales and use tax and to repeal certain provisions regarding a process for specifying and determining the distribution of tax funds.The bill aims to prevent lawsuits between county and city officials over how tax proceeds are split.

Berg, as ACCG's president, formed a committee made up of county commissioners and city officials to work on LOST.

"We're putting something together to help us all," Berg said. "Whenever counties and cities can work together and avoid litigation, we save taxpayers' dollars."

Thirty-five counties and cities, out of 159 in Georgia, were involved in disputes last year over LOST dollars, including nearby Lumpkin County.Several counties hired outside negotiators, which the Georgia Supreme Court said they could not do.

"We proposed a clean-up. It is the first time ACCG and GMA (Georgia Municipal Association) have put together a committee," Berg explained. "I hope it becomes a standing committee to work on other options, and I look forward to working together."

A third bill passed relates to the issuance of hunting licenses for military personnel.

House Bill 470 would allow full-time military personnel on active duty, and their dependents, to be considered residents of Georgia when buying certain hunting and fishing licenses regardless of where they live.

All House bills must be passed in the Senate before making their way to Gov. Deal's desk for signature.