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Annexation bill clears another hurdle in state Senate

ATLANTA - A compromise over annexation reform hammered out by lobbyists for city and county governments is another step closer to becoming state law.

A Senate committee Thursday approved legislation that would give counties more say over annexation requests.

The bill, which passed the House late last month, is expected to hit the Senate floor early next week.

The legislation, introduced by Rep. Doug Holt, R-Covington, has been gaining momentum in recent weeks.

Earlier in this year's legislative session, talks between the Georgia Municipal Association and the Association County Commissioners of Georgia appeared to have broken down.

But the two sides finally got together on a compromise that calls for cities and counties to submit disputed annexation requests to binding arbitration before an independent panel, which would have to include some elected officials.

Under the mediation process found in current law, cities are free to ignore mediators' recommendations.

"This bill is the result of hours and hours of work," Sen. John Wiles, R-Marietta, chairman of the Senate's State and Local Governmental Operations Committee, told his colleagues before Thursday's vote. "It's a very, very tenuous coalition supporting this bill."

Holt originally got involved in the issue because of a controversial annexation in his district involving Newton County and the City of Social Circle.

But cities and counties have tussled over annexation across the state, including in Gwinnett County.

Rep. Donna Sheldon, R-Dacula, has worked on the legislation as well and brought several proposed amendments to the Senate committee on Thursday.

One of the changes would postpone the bill's effective date from July 1 until Sept. 1. Sheldon said the extra time would be needed to organize the proposed independent review panel.

After agreeing to the amendments, the committee unanimously approved the bill.