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Governor Perdue Signs House Bill 748

Wednesday, June 4, 2003  Contact: Office of Communications 404-651-7774


Governor Cites Difficult Decision; Obligation to Defend Citizens' Constitutional Privacy Rights

Atlanta - Governor Sonny Perdue signed into law today House Bill 748 (HB748), legislation that prohibits local governments from requiring inspections of residential rental properties unless there is probable cause to believe there is a code violation. The bill also prohibits local governments from requiring registration of residential rental property. The original portions of the bill, as introduced, expand the type of businesses that qualify for tax exemptions in an enterprise zone as defined by local government. This expansion includes retail businesses and day care activities.

In signing the bill, Governor Perdue provided the following comments:

House Bill 748 was among the most controversial bills passed in the 2003 Session and making a decision on this legislation was one of the toughest required during the bill review process. I was forced to weigh this bill's effect of usurping an area of local governmental action with citizens' privacy rights. After much angst, I decided to sign HB 748, deciding that constitutional privacy rights are rights my oath as Governor require I defend for all citizens.

The ordinances in Athens and Roswell include requirements that severely infringe upon tenants' privacy rights. While I generally wholeheartedly support home rule and local control, I cannot sit idly while these jurisdictions enforce ordinances that potentially violate citizens' constitutional privacy guarantees and protections against unlawful searches.

The bill's more controversial section was tacked on during the last hours of the Session, a tactic frequently used by legislators at the end of any session, and one I strongly discourage. Each bill should be judged on its own merits rather than stacking unrelated topics on a 'vehicle' bill," added Governor Perdue regarding another issue related to this bill.

The decision as whether to sign or veto HB 748 presented a balancing test - home rule and local control versus the protection of individual property and privacy rights. Both sides put forth cogent and meritorious arguments.

Georgia has a long-established, respected practice of 'home rule' and our state's constitution and statutes explicitly delineate specific powers to local governments, including the power to pass ordinances protecting the general health and safety of its citizenry and the power to zone property for specific uses. I am sensitive to local control and strongly believe that decisions that affect the everyday lives of citizens in a community can best be made in that community.

At least one locality requires the registration of residential rental property and mandates making names and addresses of tenants available to city officials. Another jurisdiction requires city employees to inspect residential rental properties without regard to whether probable cause of a code violation exists to justify these searches and inspections. These approaches to administering building, health, and safety code restrictions deeply trouble me.

HB 748, as amended, presents a palatable solution. The legislation would prohibit local governments from requiring inspections of residential rental properties unless there is probable cause to believe there is or has been a code violation. This language does nothing to affect the already established power of municipalities to conduct general health and safety inspections pursuant to existing codes. It simply codifies the probable cause standard originally set forth by the U.S. Supreme Court in Camara v. Municipal Court, 387 U.S. 523 (1967).

The bill also takes the important step of prohibiting local governments from requiring registration of residential rental property. Publicizing the names of rental residents violates individual privacy rights.

Usurping the decisions of local governments is not a decision I make lightly or with enthusiasm. However, when local governments threaten the very rights afforded to every citizen under our U.S. and State Constitution, I cannot sit idly by and watch these rights be violated. My oath as Governor of this State requires me to defend citizens' constitutional rights. Therefore, I will sign HB 748 into law.