Many of the high-profile bills Willard co-sponsored were part of a package of Fulton County government reform bills, most of which were approved by both the House and Senate and now await Gov. Nathan Deal’s signature.
One bill not approved was HB 41, which would allow cities that contract services from other cities to negotiate better terms for those agreements. That bill, co-sponsored by Willard and District 52 State Rep. Joe Wilkinson, R-Sandy Springs, was a product of the city of Sandy Springs’ disagreement with the city of Atlanta over water and sewer service rates.
Willard also serves as the Sandy Springs city attorney.
HB 170, co-sponsored by six central and north Fulton Republican representatives, would double the Fulton County homestead exemption to $60,000 via a two-year phase-in period.
Another bill, HB 541, would also increase the homestead exemption to $60,000 but would do so in three years.
HB 170 was not voted on by the House this year. Its critics said it would cause the county to lose too much tax revenue, cutting needed services. HB 541 was approved by the House but not by the Senate.
“For Fulton County [government reform], it was very successful. Unfortunately, some tried to raise a specter that’s not there.” Willard said, referring to the homestead exemption bills. “They were trying to find ways to have our county government operate more efficiently and economically. They have a lot of waste. They don’t want to address it, but it’s there.
“When you compare Fulton County to Gwinnett County, Cobb County or DeKalb County, we’re spending a great deal more. If you take out Grady [Memorial Hospital] and the library system [funding], Fulton County is spending 121 percent more than Gwinnett County. It tells us there are needs that need to be addressed.”
Willard also co-sponsored at least four other Fulton government reform bills.
Those approved by both the House and Senate include HB 171, which would reconfigure the Fulton County Board of Commissioners’ districts to give north Fulton more representation, and HB 604, which keeps Fulton County from raising the millage rate.
HB 172, which would make all Fulton employees unclassified, meaning they could be fired more easily based on their performance, was not voted on.
HB 346, which would make the Fulton County tax commissioner an appointed position instead of an elected one, was approved by the House in March but never voted on by the Senate. The bill was filed because the current tax commissioner, Arthur Ferdinand, makes about $300,000 in salary and compensation/fees based on how many properties he collects taxes for.
HB 347, which would change the way members of the Fulton County Board of Elections and Registration are appointed, was approved by the House but not by the Senate. The bill was filed due to problems the board and the county have had with past elections.
Other bills Willard said he was proud of were HB 78 and 242 both of which were approved by the House and Senate, and HB 1.
HB 78 provides more protection for disabled adults and elderly persons and stiffen crimes committed against them.
“It entails not only abuse emotionally and physically but also financially. There are civil penalties of up to $50,000,” Willard said.
HB 242 revises the juvenile justice system in an effort to keep youths out of jail by creating a special program for these offenders.
“The idea is to stop their conduct, make corrections and not let them become future, senior criminals. … We’re doing something that’s not unique and is being used in other states,” Willard said. “It costs the state right now $242 a day to keep a youth in lockup and about $90,000 a year per child. … The cost of doing programs in the community would be under $30,000 annually.
The governor has earmarked $5 million for the first year and has pledged to keep the program going in the future.”
HB 1, which would make it easier for people to regain possessions confiscated by law enforcement officials suspecting those items were used for criminal purposes, was not voted on by the House.
“The police should have the obligation to prove that whatever they got via forfeiture was due to a criminal enterprise,” Willard said.