Legislature Enters The Home Stretch

Today’s Courier Herald Column:

 If all goes as planned, the Georgia General Assembly will wrap up its work this week on Thursday.  Legislators can then quickly turn their attention to fundraising for re-election in new districts, as there will be but a few short weeks between Sine Die and qualifying for the July 31st primary elections.  The November election will be mostly a formality for most legislative incumbents.

Before lawmakers break camp in Atlanta, quite a few bills remain to be decided.  And, as is custom, last minute shenanigans cannot be ruled out.  Bills that did not pass prior to “crossover day” and thus cannot be considered have fallen off most people’s radar.  This does not prohibit these items – or brand new ones – appearing as last minute amendments to bills on track to pass.  Lobbyists earn their retainers based on their abilities to accomplish such acts late in the game.

Lawmakers appear likely to end this session without tweaks made to the enabling legislation for the regional sales tax referendums to be held on the same day as their re-election primaries.  Legislators are betting that a multi-million dollar public relations campaign will outweigh concerns expressed by outlying metro-Atlanta counties and questions of equity from Fulton and DeKalb residents that already pay a 1% sales tax dedicated to transit.

The closest bill that remains active which could address part of the metro T-SLOST grievances is HB 1052 which would change MARTA’s governance structure.  While the bill has passed the house, it has been changed significantly in the Senate.  The two bodies have this week to work out their differences and somehow convince Fulton and DeKalb taxpayers that their 40 years of investment in MARTA should now share governance with counties that have refused to fund transit in any form and are openly campaigning against it now.

The bill in its current form continues to place restrictions on how MARTA can spend its fare receipts.  This continues the state’s tradition of “oversight” of MARTA, while also continuing the state’s tradition of not providing MARTA any operating support from the state budget.  MARTA remains, by far, the largest transit authority in the country that does not receive state funding.  But advice and governance? That’s free.

There are a pair of bills restricting abortion that will dominate talk of the final days of the general assembly.  The bill more likely to reach Governor Deal’s desk is HB 954, sponsored by Representative Doug McKillip.  McKillip has been a leader of the pro-life movement since at least January, but possibly as far back as when he resigned as the pro-choice Minority Leader of the House Democratic caucus about a year ago.  The bill would eliminate abortions after 20 weeks, believed to be the time that the fetus can experience pain.

A bit more of a long shot is SB 438 which would eliminate abortion services from state employee health plans.  Freshman Senator Mike Crane managed the bill through the Senate, but the House seems to be treated the bill as if it was an insurance claim. They acknowledge receipt of the paperwork, but can’t quite seem to articulate where it is in the process.

The bill that would dramatically alter Georgia sentencing laws is likely to pass the Senate this week and head to the Governor.  HB 1176 passed the House last week without opposition, signaling agreement with the Governor who had expressed some skepticism when his concept appeared in actual draft language.  The bill raises the threshold for some crimes to be treated as felonies, and creates different categories of some crimes with more lenient or more stringent penalties depending on the severity.

There are two bills that you will not see pass this session.  Last week, three House legislators entered a resolution aimed at stating opposition to using public funds for a new stadium for the Falcons.  They could have found more sponsors, but most legislators were checking on the availability of seats for next season.

Which brings us to the biggest bill that will not be discussed or debated this week – that of ethics reform.  Despite the multitude of recent scandals, and despite Georgia being ranked dead last for its current ethics laws, legislators could not be bothered this session to find even one area where they could strengthen oversight over their activities nor restrict any form or amount of gift to be bestowed upon them.

By week’s end, it will all be over.  What happens this week will represent some of the most significant changes to Georgia’s laws of the entire session.  What doesn’t happen this week will reflect a continued satisfaction with the status quo, and a failure of leadership to actually address the “can’t fail” solution to be imposed on Georgia’s voters this July.

 

9 comments

  1. Cassandra says:

    “The bill more likely to reach Governor Deal’s desk is HB 954, sponsored by Representative Doug McKillip. McKillip has been a leader of the pro-life movement since at least January, but possibly as far back as when he resigned as the pro-choice Minority Leader of the House Democratic caucus about a year ago. ”

    Holy Crap!

    “…but possibly as far back as when he resigned as the pro-choice Minority Leader of the House Democratic caucus about a year ago.”

    ~Throwing up in throat noise~

    • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

      In other words, McKillip is a LIFELONG pro-lifer.

      …At least that’s what he would have us all believe, anyway.

  2. The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

    “Despite the multitude of recent scandals, and despite Georgia being ranked dead last for its current ethics laws, legislators could not be bothered this session to find even one area where they could strengthen oversight over their activities nor restrict any form or amount of gift to be bestowed upon them.”

    That’s because there are no areas where ethics and oversight laws need strengthing as we are all well aware that it is pretty obvious that Georgia unquestionably has the toughest ethics laws and legislative oversight in the nation (we all know that the authors of that report that claimed the Georgia is dead last in enforcing ethics laws in government just got a little confused and accidentially ranked all of the states at the opposite end of the spectrum from where they really are).

    We all also know that our highly-esteemed state legislators and government officials are perfect angels who would never put their own personal interests and the interests of the highest bidder above that of the people they are tasked with honorably serving which is why there is no obvious need for restrictions or even minimal limits on gifts to legislators from lobbyists and special interests.

  3. debbie0040 says:

    All candidates have been invited to join Atlanta Tea Party Patriots, Common Cause Georgia, Georgia Conservatives in Action, Georgia Tea Party Patriots and other organizations supporting ethics reform to a press conference announcing the candidate pledge campaign.

    The pledge campaign kick-off press conference will be held: Tuesday, March 27 at 12:30 PM Georgia State Capitol Rotunda
    Below is text of the letter sent to incumbent members of the Georgia General Assembly.

    Atlanta, Georgia, March 26, 2012 – Common Cause Georgia announced today that it will join a number of other organizations supporting ethics reform in calling for all candidates to sign a pledge to co-sponsor a bill during the 2013 legislative session limiting gifts lobbyist can give legislators. The groups will kick-off the pledge campaign with a state capitol press conference.

    “I am sure many legislators are disappointed that they did not have the opportunity to vote in favor of ethics reform this session,” said William Perry, Executive Director of Common Cause Georgia. “This pledge campaign will give members of the legislature the opportunity to publicly support the lobbyist gift cap before they return home to begin their re-election campaigns, and give non-incumbent candidates the opportunity to pledge their willingness, if elected, to co-sponsor legislation ending the unlimited spending on gifts to legislators by lobbyists.”

    All candidates have been invited to join Atlanta Tea Party Patriots, Common Cause Georgia, Georgia Conservatives in Action, Georgia Tea Party Patriots and other organizations supporting ethics reform to a press conference announcing the candidate pledge campaign.

    The pledge campaign kick-off press conference will be held:

    Tuesday, March 27 at 12:30 PM
    Georgia State Capitol Rotunda

    Below is text of the letter sent to incumbent members of the Georgia General Assembly.

    Dear Senator or Representative:

    As an incumbent candidate for the Georgia General Assembly, you are invited by Atlanta Tea Party Patriots, Common Cause Georgia, Georgia Conservatives in Action, Georgia Tea Party Patriots and other organizations supporting ethics reform to a press conference announcing our candidate pledge campaign.

    I know many of you are disappointed that you will not have the opportunity to vote for the ethics bills that were proposed during this session, so we are providing you the opportunity to show your constituents that you support limiting lobbyist gifts to legislators. During this session, members of the General Assembly told constituents they would vote for the ethics bill if it reached the floor. Since you were denied that opportunity, we are giving you the chance to support meaningful change in 2013 if you are re-elected.

    We are inviting all candidates to sign our pledge that states “I pledge, if elected, to co-sponsor a bill during the 2013 legislative session to limit each lobbyist gift to $100”.

    If you are a candidate willing to sign this pledge, please join us:

    Tuesday, March 27 at 12:30 PM
    Georgia State Capitol Rotunda

    A copy of the pledge text appears below and the final pledge document will be available at the press conference (and available for download soon).

    Please note, only representatives from our organizations will make remarks during the press conference. All candidates willing to sign the pledge are invited to stand with us, but doing so does not constitute an endorsement of any candidate. Members of the media will be encouraged to speak with all candidates about their interest in signing our pledge.

    Candidate Pledge:

    I pledge, if elected, to co-sponsor a bill during the 2013 legislative session to limit each lobbyist gift to $100.

    The proposed legislation will add the following language to a new section of the Ethics in Government Act, Chapter 5 of Title 21 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated:

    “It shall be unlawful for a lobbyist to make a gift to a public officer where the value of the gift is more than $100.00.”

    Candidate Signature:_______________________

  4. abmagic says:

    Can you give an update on SB 448? Does the fact that it is not mentioned here mean it has little shot of getting passed this session?

    • Charlie says:

      It’s not mentioned mainly due to space limitations, and because writing “What the hell will Don Balfour try to pull off next?” gets old, despite the frequent opportunities to do so.

      It’s meeting with a good bit of resistance from House memebers. The combination of sunlight and a powerful banking lobby are helping to fend it off.

      That said, On days 39 and 40, ANYTHING is in the realm of possibility. Nothing is safe and off the table until the gavel bangs Sine Die.

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