Coastal Empire to benefit from new laws written for regional impact

(SAVANNAH) Dozens of new laws are now in effect in Georgia and while some are statewide, others were passed and signed into law for a specific impact in the Coastal Empire. House Bill 572 was drafted to address turmoil in the Chatham County Recorder’s Court in Savannah. The new statute creates a court administrator to lighten the workload on the Chief Judge. In 2016, the legislation was drafted in the wake of a pair of investigations in the court. One probe was conducted on behalf of the city and another by Chief Judge Tammy Stokes herself, who maintained it was her responsibility to do so under powers granted by the Georgia Legislature. The separate investigations looked into accusations of wrongful termination, in-fighting among judges, and inefficient operations in the court. The new law shifts administrative duties to the newly created position of Recorder’s Court Administrator.

In March, Brett Bell, a deputy assistant to Savannah’s City Manager, explained why the city backed the the bill becoming law as Governor Nathan Deal was poised to sign the measure. “Being a judge is enough work by itself, um, ya’ know, the thing that a court clerk or administrator does are things like, um, personnel management, hiring and firing, payroll scheduling, docketing functions, all the stuff, back en stuff that it takes to sort of keep court operations moving forward.” Bell said. The new law will change the way future Chief Judges’ are selected. Instead of bench seniority, future Chiefs will be determined by a vote among the Recorder’s Court judges. Judge Stokes retains her position as chief as long as she remains on the bench and the public will continue to elect Chatham County’s Recorder’s Court judges.

There are other new laws specific to the Georgia coastal region, with one that addresses an issue that popped up in the wake of Hurricane Matthew. The Chatham Emergency Management Agency was in the midst of an all-hands-on-deck debris removal effort after the storm, but not everyone was happy about all the hands that were called in to help. CEMA Director Dennis Jones explains. “During Matthew, there were some cases where private property owners didn’t want certain people on their property.” Jones said, adding that some of those people were opposed to the use of inmates for storm debris removal. Now, House Bill 251 changes the need for permission in a state of emergency. “This particular law allows us to reach out to the department of corrections and have, uh, staff and also inmates come in and assist us with debris removal. Sometimes that takes us onto private property.” said Jones.

There are new laws for the coastal region creating a pair of authorities and dissolving one. HB 480 establishes the Chatham County Urban Development Authority, HB 544 creates the Richmond Hill Public Facilities Authority, and HB 514 dissolves the Chatham-Savannah Youth Futures Authority which was created in 1988. HB 1 could be called the Georgia Space Race law, as it attempts to entice private companies trying to get into the space business to come to Georgia for their launches and landings. The bill, which aims to protect the space industry from lawsuits by presumed space tourists, was considered “must-pass” legislation in order to draw more commercial companies to the Georgia coast.

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