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Gwinnett leaders fight changes to vacant property registry bill

ATLANTA -- Gwinnett senators went to the Capitol Wednesday ready for a floor fight.

But instead, a bill that has officials from the county with the most foreclosures in the state worried will go back to committee.

For years, local leaders have been pushing for a registry for vacant property, so the county would be able to contact property owners about maintenance issues, such as knee-high grass.

But the proposal changed, with caps on fees and other issues.

At the end of the 2011 session, Sen. Renee Unterman filibustered the proposal, and she was prepared to speak from the well again when it was brought up Wednesday, just three days into the 2012 session.

Instead, the Buford Republican and her Snellville colleague, Sen. Don Balfour, convinced legislators to return the House bill to its committee for further review.

"It's a tremendous problem in our county," Unterman said, talking about her own experience with the house next to her Buford home, where it took six months to find the owner because it had been bought and sold so many times.

As a compromise, Unterman said she is looking into adding regulations to a Department of Revenue form that would require contact information with a deed change.

"We're in a crisis," Unterman said of the mortgage problems that have lead to an abundance of empty houses. "We're going back to work on (the bill) now."

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