By Jason

Georgia’s New Civil Asset Forfeiture Law Does Not Go Far Enough

Jason Pye is the Director of Justice Reform for FreedomWorks. Jorge Marin is the Policy Specialist for Criminal Justice Reform for Americans for Tax Reform.

Under the leadership of Gov. Nathan Deal, Georgia has become a national leader on justice reform. Prior to the reforms, which began in 2012, the Peach State spent over $1 billion annually housing almost 56,000 inmates, many of whom are low-level, nonviolent offenders, the rate of repeat offenders was depressingly high.

The new “smart on crime” approach undertaken by Gov. Deal has been a resounding success. The number of inmates has fallen and crime and repeat offender rates have dipped. The reforms have been good for taxpayers. In 2014, the Georgia Justice Reform Council estimated savings of $264 million over five years.

This past legislative session, Gov. Deal and the Georgia General Assembly took a look at another aspect of justice reform by reforming the state’s terrible civil asset forfeiture laws, which lack meaningful protections for innocent people.

Civil asset forfeiture is a particularly pernicious form of government overreach. Overzealous law enforcement can seize the property or money of an individual without ever charging or convicting them with a crime. In an inversion of justice, the seized items are considered “guilty” until proven innocent by the property owner.

Innocent people who are adversely affected by civil asset forfeiture walk away from their property rather than fight what would be a lengthy and costly legal battle to get wrongfully seized property back.
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Johnny Isakson is very wrong about the Patriot Act

In the wee hours of Saturday morning, a little more than a week before a controversial provision of the USA PATRIOT Act expires, the U.S. Senate took up two separate pieces of legislation dealing with mass surveillance.

The first bill was the USA FREEDOM Act — which ends bulk collection of phone metadata by the National Security Agency, though requires retention by providers — fell just short of the 60 votes required on a motion to proceed. Sens. Johnny Isakson and David Perdue voted against the bill.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed the USA FREEDOM Act by a wide margin earlier in the month. Most of the Georgia delegation voted for the bill, though Reps. Tom Graves and Rob Woodall voted against it because they felt that the reforms didn’t go far enough.
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The House approves legislation to repeal the pernicious “Death Tax,” and Georgia Republicans want you to know they voted for it

The U.S. House of Representatives passed, by a 240-179 vote, the Death Tax Repeal Act (H.R. 1105), which, as the name of the indicates, ends the federal estate tax, known to many as the “death tax.”

Every Republican in Georgia’s House delegation voted for the bill. Most of them were cosponsors. And, as one might imagine, the press shops for many Georgia-based House Republicans quickly sent out press releases praising the passage of the Death Tax Repeal Act.

You can find the press releases we’ve received below. Rep. Sanford Bishop, a Democrat, also cosponsored and voted for the bill, though we haven’t received a press release from his office and his statement has been included below.

We’ll update the post if and when we receive more press releases.

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Georgia House Republicans want to silence dissent while padding their caucus with unlimited cash

Georgia House Republicans have hijacked a Senate bill dealing with ethics fines for elected officials and candidates by adding provisions that would allow for unlimited contributions to party caucuses while placing new restrictions on paid issue advocacy within 180 days of an election.

When it was introduced in February, SB 127 was a fairly mundane, three-page piece of legislation dealing with outstanding ethics fines for elected officials and candidates running for office. A substitute version of the bill passed the state Senate last month with little opposition.

Members of the House Rules Committee, however, had other plans for the bill. They’ve pushed a substitute version through the committee that could have startling ramifications for free speech.
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Newton County GOP’s concerning shenanigans continue

“I’ve been a Republican my whole life, and I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Fred Wheeler from his wheelchair outside the Newton County Courthouse after he was told he couldn’t participate in the local Republican Party’s convention on Saturday.

Wheeler, 70, is just one of more than 120 local Republicans who were selected by their precincts to serve as delegates at the February 7 mass precinct meeting, in accordance with the Call and Georgia Republican Party Rule 1.1, but later were told that they didn’t meet local party membership requirements to participate in the county convention. The list of disqualified delegates not only includes local Republicans motivated to get involved due to a recent controversy related to the county government, but also former county party chairmen, elected officials, and Republican donors. Read more

Tone-deaf Newton GOP leaders are actively pushing away elected delegates

One would think that a county Republican Party that has lost three consecutive federal elections to Democrats would embrace new people joining its ranks. It wouldn’t make sense for a party that has lost members at an alarming rate over the last four years due to a lack of any serious involvement by the local party in any local issue to turn away new members.

With that said, people who attended the mass precinct meeting in Newton County on February 7 came home on Wednesday to find a letter, with no return address and no contact number, from the sitting party chair, Delia Fleming, telling them that they aren’t welcome to be a part of the March 14 county convention.
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Atlanta’s Plaza Theatre to show “The Interview” (updated)

UPDATE: If you don’t feel like going out on Christmas evening, the film has been made available for purchase or rental online, including Google Play and YouTube.

The Interview, the controversial film starring Seth Rogen and James Franco, has been approved by Sony Pictures for a limited release on Christmas, according The Hill. Among the locations that will screen the flick — the plot of which is about two journalists (Rogen and Franco) tasked with assassinating North Korean dictator and all around terrible person, Kim Jong-un — is Atlanta’s own Plaza Theatre:

“We have never given up on releasing ‘The Interview’ and we’re excited our movie will be in a number of theaters on Christmas Day,” said Sony Entertainment chief executive Michael Lynton in a statement.
[…]
“We are proud to make [‘The Interview’] available to the public and to have stood up to those who attempted to suppress free speech,” Lynton said.

The Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, a small theater chain based in Austin, Texas, and the Plaza Theatre, an independent theater in Atlanta, will screen the film starting Thursday. Major theater chains had canceled plans to screen the film after the threats.

Plaza confirmed the showing of the movie, including showtimes, on its Facebook and Twitter accounts. There will be additional showings from Friday, December 26 through Thursday, January 1, the times for which have not yet been announced.

Your move, commie.

Kim-Jong-Un-despot

Doug Collins to Jonathan Gruber: “I’m done with you”

There were a number of moments during Tuesday’s House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on the transparency failures of ObamaCare. Republican members took turns grilling Jonathan Gruber, the economist who worked with the Obama administration to craft the law, and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administration Marilyn Tavenner.

Toward the end of the hearing, Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA) got his chance to question Gruber, who has come under fire in recent weeks for calling voters “stupid” on a few different occasions. Unlike many of colleagues, Collins didn’t spend much his limited time grilling him. Instead, he spent under a minute with a short but pointed statement to Gruber.
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Michael Caldwell re-introduces term limits amendment

Georgia voters may have the opportunity to limit the number of terms state legislators are allowed to serve, that is, if lawmakers under the Gold Dome let them.

On Friday, state Rep. Michael Caldwell (R-Woodstock) prefiled HR 2, which would limit to four the number of consecutive terms state legislators can serve, requiring them to wait at least one full term to serve again.
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RIP: Chuck Donovan

Chuck Donovan, the Libertarian Party of Georgia’s 2010 nominee for United States Senate, passed away on Wednesday, according to his wife, Claudia:

It is with great sadness that I let you know that Chuck passed away peacefully Wednesday night surrounded by family. Since suffering a massive brain hemorrhage in January and learning that he had cancer, he underwent radiation and chemotherapy until recently. During the ensuing months, Chuck was able to make the most of his time, enjoying activities with family and friends. To the end he never lost his enthusiasm for life, his sense of humor, or his kind, easy-going demeanor.

There will not be a funeral service for Mr. Donovan. His wife is urging friends and family to donate to the Foundation for Economic Education and the Ludwig von Mises Institute, two libertarian-leaning organization’s her husband respected, in lieu of flowers.

It’s time for Georgia lawmakers to end the auto dealership monopoly

Earlier this afternoon, I took part in a Google Hangout hosted by the Cato Institute on Tesla Motors and disruptive technologies that have entered the marketplace. Below are my prepared remarks — and, yes, I write them out because I have a terrible memory — as well as the video of the event. The Hangout was hosted by Cato’s Rebecca Bernbach. Andrew Moylan of the R Street Institute and Peter Van Doren of the Cato Institute spoke at length about the regulatory issues Tesla and other innovative technologies that have gained popularity face.

Regulatory battles over disruptive technologies have slowly made their way to Georgia. Earlier this year, for example, legislation was introduced at the behest of the antiquated taxicab industry that would have driven ridesharing services, such as Uber and Lyft, out of the state. There was a significant amount of backlash that forced the measure’s House Republican sponsor to agree to a much less restrictive substitute in committee, though it never went to the floor for a vote.

Though this regulatory battle stalled out, at least for now, the legal battle between the Georgia Automobile Dealers Association and Tesla is one that could be one of the more interesting to watch in the 2015 legislation session, which begins on January 12 and is expected to run through late March or early April.
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NRCC hits John Barrow for supporting the Obama stimulus bill, and something about monkeys doing blow

The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) has dropped a new ad in GA-12 in which the House GOP campaign arm mocks Rep. John Barrow’s (D-GA) claim that he’s “passed $100 billion in spending cuts.” The NRCC knocks Barrow, who is running for his sixth term, for voting to support the 2009 stimulus bill, using a couple egregious examples of wasteful spending that were funded by the $831 billion measure.

“John Barrow has voted to spend millions creating jobs in China, millions on chairlifts in Vermont and hundreds of thousands testing cocaine on monkeys. In what twilight zone does job creation in China and cocaine monkeys help Georgia families?” NRCC spokeswoman Katie Prill said in an email. “Barrow can’t be serious if he thinks Georgia families will overlook his horrendous voting record in Congress.”

Despite the fact that he represents a district with a PVI of R+9, The Cook Political Report gives Barrow the edge to defeat his Republican opponent, Rick Allen.

Former CEO of company with Georgia ties indicted in Chicago

A little over a year, I wrote about a Redflex Traffic Systems, a company that specializes in traffic cameras. The Arizona-based company was awarded a contract from the Gwinnett County Public Schools to install cameras in its school buses.

As noted at the time, Redflex has a pretty sordid past. The company was barred from doing business with the Chicago government because of corruption allegations. Think about that for a moment. The Windy City is known for its, uh, special breed of politics. How sketchy does a company have to be to be barred from doing business there?

Well, earlier this month, the former CEO of Redflex was indicted by a federal grand jury on a number of corruption charges:

The 23-count indictment accuses former Redflex CEO Karen Finley of providing illegal kickbacks to John Bills, a city employee who served as a member of the red-light camera evaluation committee as managing deputy commissioner of Chicago’s transportation department.

The scheme allegedly rewarded Bills with $570,000 in cash and other personal benefits in exchange for insider information that allowed Redflex to expand its Chicago contracts — to the tune of $124 million. The kickbacks were reportedly funneled through one of Bill’s friends, who was hired as an independent contractor at Redflex and earned $2 million in total compensation.

“When public officials peddle influence for profit, the consequences are severe, and when corporate executives enable that corruption, the same rule applies,” said Zachary T. Fardon, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois. “We will attack alleged public corruption from every angle.”

Automated camera enforcement of speed limits and red lights has proven a controversial practice, despite widespread use in many US cities and abroad. The systems are promoted as beneficial to public safety, however critics argue that the cameras are primarily adopted to provide a revenue stream from fines.

You can read the press release on the indictment from the FBI here. Redflex’s former customer liaison was also indicted.