ATLANTA (AP) -- The Georgia Senate has approved a House proposal that would create a uniform process for cities and counties that establish foreclosure registries.
The Senate amendment to House Bill 110 passed by a vote of 33-15 as metro-Atlanta area and rural lawmakers debated for about two hours.
Under the proposal, cities or counties with foreclosure registries would require owners to register those properties or face a fine.
Supporters maintained that the Legislature should do something to address the state's foreclosure crisis and a growing concern about neglected properties, while critics claimed the measure could infringe on private property rights without actually cracking down on absentee owners.
"In Georgia, the program has become worse with the recession," said state Sen. Jesse Stone, R-Waynesboro, who sponsored the bill in the chamber. He said with properties constantly changing hands it has become difficult to identify the current owners and for local governments to enforce code violations.
To help combat that, some counties and cities are requiring that owners register the properties. Under Stone's proposal, the registration fee would be capped at $100 and the maximum penalty for not registering would be $1,000.
The bill is a carryover from last year, when it stalled as lobbyists for cities and counties, as well as the banking and real estate industries, raised concerns that the bill could have unintended consequences. The original legislation was sponsored by state Rep. Mike Jacobs, a Republican lawmaker whose district includes DeKalb County, which took in more than $550,000 in foreclosure fees in less than a year. The fees raised eyebrows among some who worried the registry could be used as a way to fill strapped municipal coffers.
Sen. Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta, supported the bill, which he said does not just affect neighborhoods with foreclosures. Fort proposed a failed amendment that would have required state funds derived from the recently reached federal settlement with mortgage lenders to be used to help distressed homeowners.
"This is a weak effort, but it is an effort," he said. "They have an impact. We all pay for it."
The proposal would apply to foreclosed and vacant properties, and would not mandate cities or counties to create foreclosure registries -- a concern among rural lawmakers, whose areas have not been as hard hit as the urban parts of the state.
"This is a real issue, not to the whole state, but to certain areas of the state," said Sen. Don Balfour, R-Snellville, whose district includes many foreclosures. "But this is a huge issue to homeowners."