By DOUG NURSE www.ajc.com
The state Senate voted 45-0 on legislation that would head off up to 75 billboards, primarily in the cities of Johns Creek, Milton, and Sandy Springs.All that remains is for Gov. Sonny Perdue to sign the bill, sponsored by House Speaker Pro Tem Mark Burkhalter (R-Johns Creek). The state House passed the legislation in February.
Despite assurances by senators, Burkhalter and leaders in the cities were growing anxious as the final week in the legislative session began Monday and the bill appeared stuck in a committee. Burkhalter publicly complained about the Senate's apparent inaction.
The bill would gut a key provision in a pending court settlement between Fulton County and billboard companies.
For years, Fulton County denied billboard companies permits for signs in the then-unincorporated parts of the county, including areas that are now the municipalities of Johns Creek, Milton and Sandy Springs.
Billboard companies challenged Fulton County's sign ordinance in Superior Court, saying it was unconstitutional. Ultimately, the state Supreme Court threw out the ordinance. The sign companies then argued the county had wrongfully denied them their permits and should give them the permits or pay them for lost revenue, conservatively estimated at $5 million.
The Fulton County Commission on Dec. 5 voted to settle the dispute with the companies by offering to backdate the permits to before the new cities were formed.
The cities were upset and asked their legislators to fix it, so Burkhalter drafted a bill to undo the settlement offer by outlawing the backdating of permits in other jurisdictions.