The big question in Washington today was whether the Department of Homeland Security was going to get funded past tonight’s deadline, and if it did, would the funding bill have restrictions preventing President Obama’s executive order allowing additional illegal immigrants to get work permits and driver’s licenses under an expanded DACA and the new DAPA program.

After the Senate passed a clean funding bill that did not block the so-called “Executive Amnesty,” House leaders tried to buy time by pressing for passage of a three week short-term funding bill for DHS. As the AJC’s Daniel Malloy reports, the effort failed, and Georgia Congressmen Jody Hice and Barry Loudermilk were the only Georgia congressmen voting against GOP leadership on the bill.

Hice and Loudermilk waited a long time before casting their “no” votes, as GOP leaders tried to cajole various members. Hice voted last, after chief deputy whip Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., came by and whispered in his ear.

Later, Hice and Loudermilk were summoned into the Republican cloakroom but did not change their votes.

For all of those who threatened to impeach the two freshmen congressmen when they voted in favor of John Boehner as Speaker of the House last month: it appears that both have learned their lesson.

After the vote in the House failed, workers at the Department of Homeland Security were informed about how to react. And, a new plan was proposed by those who hope to force the President to drop his plans to temporarily give undocumented immigrants legal status.

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Ban the Bag Ban Ban

February 27, 2015 16:45 pm

by Teri · 21 comments

We are heading into Day 24 of the 2015 legislative session, and this time of year, a girl’s thoughts often turn to legislation that could potentially impact the way she does her job as a local elected official.

This year, I have my eye on several bills. I’ve written before on the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission (formerly the State Ethics Commission) and how it was a bit of a hot mess during several transitional years. Others agree, and the House and Senate are each considering bills that would provide waivers for fines that were accrued – frequently in error on the part of the GGTCFC(FKASCE) – during this special time in GGTCFC(FKASCE) history.

House Bill 442 addresses conflicts of interests for county and municipal governing authorities. I thought this was already a thing, but I’m all for anything that further clarifies to my colleagues throughout the state that if you have a substantial interest – and by “interest,” I mean money – in something before your elected body, recuse thyself! I’ve always felt like conflict of interest recusals is not something an elected official – at any level – should need to be told to do, but as I am often wrong (yet rarely in doubt), it can’t hurt to spell it out as clearly as possible, in ways that are as subtle as an anvil to the head. [click to continue…]

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Behold the American Values Atlas

February 27, 2015 10:13 am

by Jon Richards · 2 comments

I’ll admit I’m probably more of a statistics nerd than I should be. So it was interesting to discover the American Values Atlas, which measures a number of variables, including demographics, political views, and religion across the country, by state and by metro areas, including Atlanta. The atlas was created by the Public Religion Research Institute from phone interviews of roughly 50,000 people. That gives a nationwide margin of error of half a point, although it is obviously larger for states and metro areas. The Georgia sample was 1,657 people, and the Atlanta sample was 858.

georgia_political_ideologyWhat do we see? Based on a Georgia summary page, independents make up the largest percentage of the population at 37%, followed by Democrats at 32% and Republicans at 23%. That’s fairly close to the national average. Yet, Georgians are more conservative than the country as a whole. 40% consider themselves conservative, 27% are liberal, and 25% are moderate. We have a higher percentage of white evangelical protestants than the country as a whole, and are more culturally conservative than the rest of the country.

There’s plenty to digest in the survey. And if that’s not enough for you, this morning’s Jolt from the AJC’s Political Insider provides these maps showing population and other demographic data projected out to 2060.

For a nerd like me, it’s all much more interesting than whether the dress is white and gold or blue and black.

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Here:
– GA senators blast presidential veto of Keystone.
– Shenanigans in Newton County.
– So… it’s really a tax decrease only if you don’t spend any money.
If you build it, they will come.
– Folks are still wondering about the New Georgia Project.

There:
– Rep. David Scott blames law enforcement for the millions on food stamps. What, wait?
– And the old lady fell down, go boom.
CPAC fun: Carly calls out Hillary.
– Loretta Lynch approved by Senate Judiciary Committee.
A good jobs program won’t turn this jihadi from his life of destruction. He’s already rich.

Random Everywhere:
– If you don’t read anything else today, read this.
An entire house is missing in Oregon.
Doooooooom.
– Don’t you wish all press releases were like this?

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Today, 14 scholars wrote to Rep. Sam Teasley endorsing his religious freedom legislation, HB218. (Full disclosure: I have co-authored with one of the letter’s signatories, Robin Fretwell Wilson). Earlier in the year, another group of scholars wrote to legislators also analyzing Teasley’s legislation voicing concern.

Two key paragraphs from the most recent group touch on the epicenter of controversy that RFRAs are a “license to discriminate.” They note the most prominent attempt to use a state RFRA to escape a civil rights law in New Mexico failed:

Much of the opposition to HB 218 appears to center on the fear that religious owners of for-profit businesses might use the state RFRA as a shield against discrimination claims. The only prominent case involved a Christian wedding photographer who was sued after refusing to photograph a same-sex commitment ceremony, believing she would thereby be promoting an immoral act deeply at odds with her religious understanding of the meaning of marriage and of weddings. See Elane Photography v. Willock, 309 P.3d 53 (N.M. 2013).

For many religious believers, weddings are inherently religious events in which their participation must conform to religious obligations. There are serious arguments for exempting religious individuals who personally provide creative services to assist with weddings. But whatever one thinks of those arguments, it is far from clear that HB 218 would lead courts to recognize such an exemption.

One important thing to highlight. Unlike Georgia, New Mexico has both a statewide nondiscrimination law and a RFRA. The New Mexico courts declined to apply RFRA in Elane Photography because it arose from a lawsuit between two private parties. It was not directly enforced by the government.

Under current Georgia law, however, local nondiscrimination ordinances are only enforceable by government agencies. Thus, the private action distinction made by the New Mexico courts would not apply in Georgia as of now. The scholars’ letter argues that even if New Mexico’s RFRA had been triggered in the Elane Photography case, the courts “would likely have held that the enforcement of the anti-discrimination laws served a compelling interest by the least restrictive means.”

The letter is certainly worth a read.  It may well impact how the legislation moves forward, particularly whether an explicit civil rights exception to RFRA is adopted.

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I usually don’t give any attention to the happenings of Hollywood, but this hit close to home. Stacey Dash, best known for her role in Clueless, doesn’t take well to threats. She called out Georgia State Representative Dar’Shun Kendrick for publicly stating that she would “slap Stacey Dash.” I truly don’t know (and don’t care) what upset Representative Kendrick, but it was enough get violent.

Stacey Dash made news when she publicly came out in support of Governor Mitt Romney in 2012. Dash has since used her platform to advocate for Republican candidates.

But don’t worry, Representative Kendrick recanted her statement… sorta.

Good morning, #gapol.

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The police practice of executing no knock search warrants came under criticism last year with the botched case of 18 month old Bou Bou Phonesavanh. Officers executing the warrant late in the evening had hoped to find drugs or weapons, but they found neither, nor did they locate a drug dealer. Upon entering the house, the officers deployed a flash bang grenade in order to distract the home’s occupants. The grenade landed in a crib holding the baby and exploded, injuring Bou Bou, which led to expensive medical treatment that the family could ill afford.

At present in Georgia, the use of no-knock warrants is lightly regulated, if at all. In order to receive a search warrant, an officer must go before a judge and swear an oath explaining the probable cause for needing the warrant. And in practice, officers can request that they can execute the warrant without knocking on the door and identifying themselves first. While meant to be used sparingly, judges in some jurisdictions reportedly issue no-knock warrants up to 80% of the time.

To address this issue, Dawsonville Republican Rep. Kevin Tanner wrote House Bill 56 in order to codify the use of no knock warrants and provide a method of monitoring their use. The bill specifically defines a no knock warrant, and sets up several conditions that must be satisfied before one can be issued. Under the bill, in order for a judge to issue a no knock warrant to an officer, the warrant request would have to have been reviewed by that officer’s supervising officer, who then must accompany the first officer in the warrant’s execution. Except for good cause, the no knock warrant must be executed between 6 AM and 10 PM, and the applying officer must testify that knocking and announcing the police presence would cause an imminent danger to life or the destruction of evidence.

In addition, any law enforcement agency that uses no knock warrants must develop written policies for their use that can be examined by the general public. The bill also requires each judge who issues any type of search warrant to produce a monthly report detailing the number of warrants issued and the number of no knock warrants requested and executed. [click to continue…]

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While the Georgia General Assembly is considering several measures this year to increase the state’s return on its significant investment in education, the focus is a proposed constitutional amendment to create a statewide Recovery School District.  The plan would allow the state to move up to 20 schools per year, with no more than 100 schools at any one time, under some form of state control.

Tuesday, the Georgia Children’s Advocacy Network hosted an event at the Depot to help outline Georgia’s history with it’s own attempts to help troubled schools, as well as some lessons learned from others such as Tennessee (whose Achievement School District most closely resembles Governor Deal’s proposal), New Schools New Orleans, Michigan’s Education Achievement Authority, and our own Fulton County Schools.  There were 2 hours of discussion and Q&A.

One of the lessons learned that was shared by most speakers was that community buy in was essential to any intervention effort to be successful.   The restructurings need to be viewed as a partnership, and not a hostile takeover.  As one of the panelists put it, “Resources are a gift. They are not adversarial.”

The Recovery School District, in short, needs to be presented as a carrot, not a stick.

Kenneth Zeff, the Chief Strategy and Innovation Officer for Fulton County Schools, spoke of changes already underway in Fulton’s Banneker feeder system.  The area near Old National Highway just below Hartsfield Airport, is among the most impoverished in the county.  Yet it tends to have the newest teachers, with an incredibly high turnover rate.  Often the school years starts with positions unfilled, leaving students with long term substitute teachers to begin their year.

Fulton decided to shrink the High School from 1800 to 1200 students.  A Junior Achievement School focusing on entrepreneurship is an alternative.  Fulton’s best teachers will be offered stipends of up to $20,000 to transfer to these schools, adding much needed quality and experience to the teachers’ ranks.

Should the constitutional amendment and enabling legislation pass to create a Recovery School District, it’s not certain schools like Banneker would be taken over by the state.  Erin Hames, Deputy Chief of Staff to Governor Deal, noted that trends would be considered when picking the schools that needed help.  A failing school where a local district has made significant changes and is on a positive trendline would likely not be a candidate.

Local districts must be rewarded for such efforts, even if the success is not instantaneous.  All of those who spoke at the event with Georgia ties seemed to understand and accept this as part of the proposal.

To help build support for the initiative, the Governor and a delegation of legislators will be traveling to New Orleans tonight to visit with New Schools New Orleans on Friday.  I’ll be attending this trip as well to hear first hand from the folks that pioneered this effort what has worked, what did not, and any recommendations they have for us in Georgia.

For this effort to be ultimately successful, it will require more than getting 2/3 of both the House and Senate.  It will require skeptical local officials, parents, and other stakeholders to hear the words “We’re from Atlanta and we’re here to help” as genuine.

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On this date in 1907, the U.S. Congress raised their own pay to $7500. I’m all for reverting back to that.

Peaches

Jimmy Carter

Sweet Tea

Liberty Drum

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Rep. Allen Peake addresses the media following passage of H.B. 1.  Photo: Jon Richards

Rep. Allen Peake addresses the media following
passage of H.B. 1. Photo: Jon Richards

House Bill 1, which would allow the use of medical cannabis in Georgia to treat nine serious diseases, passed in the Georgia House today by a vote of 158-2. The two dissenting votes were cast by Darrel Ealum (D-Albany) and Darlene Taylor (R-Thomasville). The measure now heads to the Senate for consideration. In a press release, the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Allen Peake of Macon, had this to say:

When I began this journey, I made a promise to bring those families home and to give Georgians a chance to obtain medical cannabis oil in our state without fear of prosecution. I thank my colleagues in the House for their support and Governor Deal for his leadership as we worked toward today’s vote.

Following passage of the bill, House Speaker David Ralston praised the passage of the bill from his seat at the rostrum:

I don’t think I’ve done this before, but I’m going to take a personal point of privilege to say I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a finer piece of legislating than Representative Peake has done over two years on this very important measure, a measure that is a real solution to a real problem that exists now, and I want to personally thank him and tell him that I am pleased to support his efforts.

With passage of his bill in the House, Peake’s attention now turns to the Senate, which he fears will remove most of the diseases that can be treated with the CBD oil, leaving only childhood seizures. As passed in the House, the oil could be used to treat cancer, multiple sclerosis, seizure disorders, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, mitochondrial disease, sickle cell disease, and fibromyalgia. Peake estimates up to half a million Georgians could potentially benefit from the use of medical marijuana.

Peake pointed to the safeguards built into his bill requiring a patient-doctor relationship in order to use the oil, and asked, “As long as we are leaving the decision between a patient and his doctor, why would we not allow as many citizens as possible to benefit from a low THC product?”

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One of the most disruptive features of the 2014 election cycle was a result of a court ruling that in order to allow overseas soldiers enough time to vote in a runoff election, absentee ballots would need to be provided 45 days prior to election day. Following the judge’s ruling, the legislature passed House Bill 310, which moved the primary election to late May and the runoff election to late July. Had the general election for the Senate gone to a runoff, that would have been held in early January. But election dates were not the only things to change. Election qualifying was moved up to early March, and legislators sped through the 2014 session, even “meeting” when the Capitol was closed due to snow and ice, in order to be able to raise money and campaign as early as possible.

The state had appealed Judge Jones’s ruling to the 11th Circuit Court, which issued its ruling on Tuesday. From the summary:

The district court ruled that the 45-day transmittal requirement applies to runoff elections for federal office, and that the runoff election schemes in these two states violated UOCAVA. After the district court had issued its ruling and after the briefs in this appeal were filed, the Georgia Legislature passed H.B. 310, which in relevant part amends Georgia’s election calendar and voting procedures to comply with the 45-day transmittal requirement. In light of H.B. 310, the court dismissed Georgia’s appeal as moot.

Coincidentally, State Rep. Buzz Brockway filed House Resolution 399 a week ago, calling for the Speaker to appoint a five member committee to study alternatives to runoffs. Specifically, the resolution states,

WHEREAS, there have been many ideas proposed regarding alternatives to runoffs, such as plurality elections, “jungle” primaries, and instant run-off or preferential voting methods, and alternatives to long run-off periods, such as allowing military and overseas citizens to vote online or through other electronic means; and

WHEREAS, in light of the experiences from the 2014 election and the dissatisfaction expressed by many citizens regarding the process, alternatives to the current election schedule need to be studied to determine if modifications should be made to how Georgia conducts its elections.

A hearing on the resolution in the Elections Subcommittee of the Governmental Affairs Committee had been scheduled for this afternoon. Due to the weather, the meeting is going to be postponed. But because of the Appeals Court ruling, the need for the study committee just became more important.

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Morning Reads that Eagerly Await Spring

February 25, 2015 3:15 am

by Ed · 15 comments

The weather is terrible, but these Morning Reads…

“The Farmers’ Hotel” by The Silver Jews. 

  1. What is it with Georgia producing conservative wunderkinds? 
  2. Anyway, anyone remember Jonathan Krohn? Pearson will burn out by college and be apathetic upon graduation–mark my words.
  3. WaHo is the newest competitor to FedEx and UPS. 
  4. King and Queen buildings sold for as much as $500 mill.
  5. Want to see where all o the planned $250m worth of infrastructure spending for Atlanta will go to? 
  6. ICYMI: Yes, Kasim Reed is such an idiot he thought it was OK to park on a sidewalk while he ate lunch. 
  7. Southern Company gave more than $400,000 the corrupt, lone scientist who denies climate change. 
  8. Is it possible to go sans car in Atlanta for a month? 
  9. Take a creepy visit to the world’s largest insane asylum. (Bet you can’t guess where it is…)

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With President Obama vetoing a bipartisan Congressional measure to authorize the construction of the Keystone XL pipe-line, Georgia’s Republican members in both chambers of Congress wasted no time in responding to the President’s decision.

While some members issued brief statements, others issued more detailed press releases. The following are excerpts from these statements / press releases:

Senator Johnny Isakson

Tens of thousands of jobs in America — gone. Energy independence in America — impeded. I hope the Senate will override this veto and send it back to him so he can rethink this terrible decision and approve Keystone XL pipeline once and for all.

Senator David Perdue

It’s ridiculous that President Obama vetoed the Keystone Pipeline jobs bill. Georgians are sick and tired of petty politics and gridlock in Washington, and President Obama’s veto is the epitome of both…Despite the President’s veto, I am optimistic that Congress’ bipartisan work on the Keystone jobs bill is a signal that lawmakers want to actually get things done. I can only hope that President Obama will let go of gridlock and join us in making Washington work again.

[click to continue…]

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Georgia House Transportation Committee Chairman Jay Roberts previewed at a public hearing sponsored by the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus the three changes in House Bill 170 that he plans to present to the committee when it meets on Wednesday. The changes, which are designed to address concerns of the Association of County Commissioners and the Georgia Municipal Association, come after the Rules Committee sent the bill back to Transportation this morning because it didn’t want the amendments made in Rules.

The first change concerns LOST, ELOST, HOST and MOST taxes. In the previous version of the bill, these taxes would have stopped being charged on motor fuel on July 1, 2015 in exchange for a quarter point increase in the rate charged on all other purchases. In the new version, the switchover date becomes July 1, 2016, a year later than earlier proposed.

The second change involves SPLOST and ESPLOST taxes. In the previous version of the bill, those taxes would have been allowed to be charged on gasoline purchases, but not diesel fuel. The change allows the tax to be charged on diesel, a major concern for some counties like Butts, which gains much of its sales tax revenue from a truck stop on I-75. The plans for increased transportation funding call for an additional $60 million to be raised because of a switchover from sales to excise taxes on fuel purchased by trucks. Roberts states he doesn’t think that county sales taxes like SPLOSTs will affect what the state will bring in through the IFTA agreement on truck fuel sales.

The final change has to do with how level one funds derived from SPLOST taxes are allocated between cities and counties. In the previous version of the bill, transportation projects would have been considered Level One projects, a high priority. In the new version, they will not be, with the assumption that there will be sufficient funding of local transportation with LOST and SPLOST funds without the extra incentive.

Roberts hopes the Transportation Committee will approve the changes Wednesday and send the bill to the Rules Committee for quick approval and a presentation to the entire House next week. He seems fairly confident that the House will approve the bill, saying that the bill did not pass through Rules last Friday because of the pending changes being made tomorrow, rather than a whip count indicating the bill would not passed. When asked if he agreed with Speaker David Ralston’s statement at Monday’s press conference that support among members of the House began to turn around last Thursday, he agreed.

The Transportation Committee is scheduled to meet at 3 PM Wednesday at 506 Coverdell Office Building, assuming the weather permits,

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Mike Bowers, Gays, and the Klan

February 24, 2015 13:17 pm

by anthonymkreis · 43 comments

Didn’t think we had enough dramatic flair over “religious liberty” in Georgia? Welcome, Mike Bowers.

The former Attorney General, well known for his defense of the criminalization of gays and lesbians in Bowers v. Hardwick, is now LGBT Georgians’ ally. Bowers released a memo today condemning the proposed “religious freedom” [RFRA] bills, HB218 and SB129. Let’s digest the memo.

Bowers doesn’t pull punches. He attacked the motivation behind the legislation, writing, “The obvious unstated purpose of the proposed RFRA is to authorize discrimination against disfavored groups.” This is not an earth shattering conclusion. It has been patently obvious for some time that the groups most mobilized behind these bills see RFRAs as a tool to escape civil rights laws and ordinances. They hope to use the shield of RFRA as a sword to reduce gays and lesbians to second-class status.

This has been my largest source of concern– a concern shared by a bipartisan group of legislators. These bills do not exempt civil rights laws, leaving nondiscrimination law and ordinances open to attack by religious objectors. Removing civil rights from religious-based law suits is not unprecedented, nor is it a blue state phenomenon.  Texas and Missouri both took steps to protect civil rights laws from “religious liberty” challenges.  Adopting legislation without a civil rights exception threatens our civil rights tradition and the rule of law. Bowers has that much right.

The public has been told again and again– and again– that the “religious freedom” legislation will not undercut nondiscrimination norms. I have no reason to doubt the sincerity of these assurances from legislative leaders. At the end of the day, however, what is said during media interviews and legislative hearings about their personal intent does not matter.  Legislative text does. Any lawyer worth his or her salt knows that.

Like the former attorney general, I am increasingly convinced that the lobbyists pushing these bills have a different definition of discrimination than most Georgians. In their world, denying services, housing or employment on the basis of race and sex is wrongful discrimination– but, mistreating gays and lesbians in the public square is just deserts. If there was any doubt to the veracity of that observation, the intense opposition to Bill Cowsert’s amendment, which would remove civil rights laws from RFRA lawsuits, is evidence enough. Res ipsa loquitur.

Does RFRA mean impending doom for nondiscrimination laws? I do not think so. But, while I believe that nondiscrimination laws meet the standard embedded in RFRA to trump free exercise claims, it is an open question as to whether state courts would agree.  Specifically, just as the Bowers Memo teases out, there is no guarantee state courts would consider the interest of a local governments enacting nondiscrimination protections as satisfying the test put forth in this legislation. Even if governments are ultimately successful, RFRA legislation without robust protections for civil rights laws and ordinances, is potentially costly. It may have a chilling effect, discouraging more local municipalities from adopting nondiscrimination protections. That is a risk we cannot take.

What is certain to draw attention, if nothing else, is Bowers’ claim that a state RFRA would embolden hate groups, namely the Klan. To this effect, the Bowers memo refers to the Anti-Mask Act, a 1951 law that prohibits mask wearing in public.  The law states exempts the following: “traditional holiday costume[s],” occupational masks, sporting masks,  theatrical masks (the Code specifically exempts Mardi Gras celebrations and masquerade balls), and gas masks used during emergencies and emergency drills.

Importantly here, members of the Klan challenged the law in 1990, when Bowers was Attorney General. The Georgia Supreme Court rebuffed the Klan, though the law was struck down in a Gwinnett County trial court. The Court’s opinion in State v. Miller stated, “Safeguarding the right of the people to exercise their civil rights and to be free from violence and intimidation is not only a compelling interest.” In other words, the state’s interest met the threshold that a RFRA would establish.This, however, is what lawyers call dicta. It wasn’t necessary to resolve the case because the justices used a weaker standard to dispense the Klan’s lawsuit. In other words, it is not binding precedent. If you don’t want to take my word for it, the Georgia Supreme Court pointed it out in a 2011 case, Grady v. Athens-Clark County.

The Bowers memo will likely come under attack as fear mongering. It is hard to engage in dialogue once the image of sheet-wearing throngs is thrown into the debate. But, the truth is that a state RFRA may well spawn the re-litigation of the Anti-Mask Act. Whether the Georgia courts and, ultimately, the Georgia Supreme Court, would carve out a religious exception to the Anti-Mask Act is another question. Courts in New York and Indiana have divided on the issue.

The debate on these bills is likely to rage on with some intensity for the remainder of session. A national spotlight will be on the Gold Dome. Let us hope that we can work together to advance the civil rights of all Georgians and not the discriminatory interests of a shrinking hostile minority.

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