SANDY SPRINGS, GA — The Georgia General Assembly has passed legislation that would prohibit local governments from banning the use of wood as construction materials, a bill the city of Sandy Springs and a national organization publicly campaigned against.
House Bill 876 on Monday, March 19 passed the Georgia Senate, a month after it sailed through the Georgia House of Representatives. It prohibits striking the use of wood as construction material "so long as such use conforms to all 16 applicable state minimum standard codes and the Georgia State Fire Code."
The city of Sandy Springs came out in opposition to the bill, which would preempt an ordinance passed in 2016 by the City Council to require any new building over three stories and exceeding 100,000 square feet be constructed with so-called "noncombustible materials" such as steel or concrete.
Mayor Rusty Paul, who pushed the city to enact the change, said he was "disappointed, but not surprised" by the State Senate’s vote (For more news like this, find your local Patch here. If you have an iPhone, click here to get the free Patch iPhone app; download the free Patch Android app here).
"The rural Senators who drove this process aren’t as familiar with the fire safety issues we face, but timber is big business in rural Georgia and they felt they needed to protect those financial interests," Paul added.
The legislation was sponsored by John Corbett (R-Lake Park), Chad Nimmer (R-Blackshear), Jay Powell (R-Camilla), Terry England (R-Auburn), Tom McCall (Elberton) and Dominic LaRiccia (R-Douglas), who are all from small, rural communities.
Mayor Paul also said he was "very disappointed" that the lawmakers didn’t recognize the particular challenges faced by larger cities and overrode an effort to grandfather the city’s building code and allow it to manage the public safety concerns articulated by Fire Chief Keith Sanders.
Sandy Springs made its change just months after two separate apartment fires displaced several residents and injured at least two children. Along with the city’s ordinance, Sandy Springs has also amended its code to require multi-family buildings use intumescent paint on exposed and untreated wood surfaces, roll out automatic stovetop fire suppression methods and install fire extinguishers in apartment units that do not have a working sprinkler system.
Sandy Springs was joined in its opposition by Build with Strength, a national coalition advocating for strengthening national building codes and safer communities. Kevin Lawlor, a spokesperson with Build for Strength, on Monday criticized state lawmakers who gave the green light to the bill.
"Georgia state legislators made it clear today with the passage of HB 876 that they are willing to endanger the safety and security of their neighbors and communities for the sake of special interests," he said. "Their recklessness in pursuing this misguided legislation will undoubtedly leave Georgia residents painfully vulnerable."
He went on to say that it’s imperative that Gov. Nathan Deal has to veto the "unconstitutional" legislation, which goes against the recommendations brought forth by local firefighters.
"Local lawmakers throughout the state must have the authority to strengthen their communities as they see fit to demand stronger and safer buildings," Lawlor added. "Governor Deal now has the opportunity to show whether he too stands with the special interests or with the people."
State Senator John Albers of Roswell, who expressed the same concerns shared by Sandy Springs leaders, voted against the measure, as did Sen. Fran Millar of Dunwoody. State Senators Jen. Jordan supported the legislation while Kay Kirkpatrick voted against the bill. In the lower chamber, state representatives serving all or parts of Sandy Springs voted against the measure, including State Rep. Deborah Silcox, State Rep. Meagan Hanson and State Rep. Wendell Willard.
House Bill 876 now heads to Governor Nathan Deal for his signature or his veto.
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