Senate vote scuttles local ‘call before you dig’ laws

[private]After an hour of rancorous debate that included two consecutive tie votes on the same amendment, the Georgia Senate finally voted 34-18 Friday to pass legislation (SB 191) prohibiting local governments from enacting “call before you dig” ordinances that keep developers from accidentally cutting utility lines.

The Senate Republican caucus was divided between those who support the ability of local governments to handle public safety issues and those who support the rights of businesses.

“A red vote is saying yes to business and no to more government,” said Sen. Tommie Williams (R-Lyons) as he urged his colleagues to defeat an amendment that would have enabled local governments to keep their utility relocation laws in place.

Sen. Lindsey Tippins (R-Marietta), who runs a pipeline construction business that would benefit from the bill, sponsored SB 191.

“We got 159 counties and about 535 cities,” Tippins said. “We could have 700 utility location laws in Georgia. That’s too many. Let’s have one law for uniformity.”

Sen. Frank Ginn (R-Danielsville), the former city manager of Sugar Hill, tried to amend the bill to keep these local laws in place but require governments to coordinate utility location questions with the Public Service Commission.

Ginn’s amendment was supported by Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford), a former mayor and county commissioner. It also had the support of local government organizations like GMA and ACCG.

The first vote on Ginn’s amendment was a 23-23 tie. Unterman moved that the Senate reconsider the vote, which senators agreed to do, but the second vote on the amendment was also a tie, 26-26.

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle said Senate rules didn’t allow any more reconsiderations.

“Isn’t it true that 13 plus 13 equals 26?” asked Sen. Jeff Mullis (R-Chickamauga). “I’d say this is an omen.”

The Senate finally voted to pass the bill and send it to the House of Representatives.

© 2015 by The Georgia Report

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Tags: Frank Ginn , Lindsey Tippins , local governments , Renee Unterman , utility relocations