From Lt. Governor

Senate Majority Caucus Announces A Pro-Children Agenda

Lt. Governor Casey Cagle talks about the majority caucus agenda, along with Senators Bill Cowsert, William Ligon and Charlie Bethel.  Photo: Jon Richards
Lt. Governor Casey Cagle talks about the majority caucus agenda, along with Senators Bill Cowsert, William Ligon and Charlie Bethel. Photo: Jon Richards
Senate Majority Leader Bill Cowsert, Lt. Governor Casey Cagle, and Senate President Pro Tempore David Shafer were among the GOP lawmakers in the Georgia Senate Majority Caucus to outline the conference’s priorities in a Capitol press conference Monday morning. The caucus’s goals for 2015 are reflected in the first three numbered bills filed in the Senate, covering autism insurance, supporting career education, and protecting the state’s vulnerable children.

The caucus’s goals include helping young children with autism, providing opportunities for high school students ready to take college level courses, and continuing and expanding the protection of the state’s children. Other more general goals include pushing economic development and job creation, and ensuring students are taught the founding principles of the American republic, including American Exceptionalism.

Senator Charlie Bethel talked about Senate Bill 1, which would provide insurance benefits to the one in 68 children affected with an autism spectrum disorder. Saying that we “cannot turn a blind eye to a clear crisis,” Senator Bethel pointed out that it much cheaper and more effective to treat a child with autism as a young child rather than waiting until he or she enters school.

Lt. Governor Casey Cagle addressed the second goal of improving education for students who may be able to take college level or technical coursework before graduating from high school. Senate Bill 2 would make that possible, and would build on the success of the state’s college and career academy program.

Senate Bill 3, the Supporting and Strengthening Families Act, is sponsored by Sen. Renee Unterman. The purpose of the bill is to allow children in need of foster care to be handed over to someone other than a blood relative. The goals are to prevent maltreatment of children, to place fewer children on welfare and to support and stabilize the family.

It’s interesting to note that, except for opening remarks by Sen. David Shafer talking about the need to improve the state’s business environment by investing in transportation infrastructure, no mention was made of what is considered to be one of the most important issues facing the legislature this session. On the other hand, a bill reflecting the conclusions of the Joint Transportation Study Committee is expected to be introduced soon in the House, rather than the Senate. Given the theme of tying goals with specific legislation, perhaps that makes sense.

And, a press release announcing the initiatives had this:

The Majority Caucus also will use this session of the General Assembly to attract new businesses and promote job creation. Along with the proven tactics that have helped Georgia become the best place in the U.S. to do business, the Senate will work to improve the state’s infrastructure. This will ensure transportation issues do not interfere with businesses’ ability to transport goods and services and people have an easy ability to get to work, home, school, and church.

“Job creation remains our highest priority,” said Senate President Pro Tem David Shafer (R – Duluth). “We want to keep Georgia a place where businesses want to locate and where people want to live, work, study, and worship.”

Medical Marijuana Today. Casinos Tomorrow?

Is the Georgia GOP experiencing a shift in attitudes when it comes to controversial social issues?

A couple of weeks ago, Gov. Nathan Deal expressed a seeming willingness to consider an executive measure that would allow the use of a form of medical marijuana. This came after the failure of a bill on the legislature’s last day that would allow the use of cannabis oil to treat the symptoms of children who are suffering from intractable seizures. 

Now, this past Wednesday, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, as reported by Southern Political Report, made some surprising remarks.

At a Capitol Hill news conference on the subject of autism, Cagle said that Georgia parents shouldn’t have to fear prosecution if they use medical marijuana derivatives to treat their children who suffer from intractable seizures.

Cagle and the Senate were criticized by parents of children with seizures for refusing to adopt the medical marijuana legislation unless it included another bill, sponsored by Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford), which mandated private insurance coverage for children with autism.

Cagle also apologized for the failure of the medical marijuana bill. “I’m sorry we weren’t able to do something that was impactful for” the children, he said.

But the mere fact that any form of medical marijuana made it as far as it did in a GOP-controlled legislature could signal a dramatic shift in Republican leadership attitudes. It’s a safe bet to make that such a bill would never have made it to a committee vote while Sonny Perdue was sitting in the governor’s mansion.

Now, as the city of Atlanta ponders what to do with Underground Atlanta, the old idea of turning the complex into a casino or gambling complex may resurface.

Recall that Deal, when he was running for governor in 2010, came under fire from conservatives after he said that the state should keep an “open mind” about casino gambling and other types of gaming.

Seven days later, Deal backtracked, saying, “I just don’t think you can gamble yourself out of a bad economy.”

And consider that Deal and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed enjoy a close and rather successful working relationship, and Deal gets much higher marks on metro issues than his predecessor ever did. The two men are pragmatic political leaders who know that progress for the city and state come from working together, despite being on opposite ends of the political spectrum.

I’m not saying the state should buy Underground and turn it into a casino. But Deal and his party could outflank Georgia Democrats by aggressively promoting the idea of a public-private partnership with the city and Underground’s new owners (whoever they turn out to be) for a gaming complex, and with the revenues going to, say, the HOPE Scholarship.

The Georgia GOP has already seemingly turned a corner on one social issue. Let’s see what’s next … if anything.

Here’s A Thought: Why Don’t Georgia Republicans Set A 10-Year Plan To Improve Georgia?

In talking with 14th District Chairman Darrell Galloway, his wife and state coordinator of Americans for Prosperity Virginia Galloway, and 14th District Vice-Chairman Chuck Payne at Congressman Tom Graves’ Corn Roast in Gordon County Saturday evening, the issue of incrementalism (i.e., moving the football down the field towards the goal rather than giving up after 1 play just because you don’t make a touchdown) and, ultimately, the question of “why don’t we have a 10-year plan to get Georgia off the dependence of education and transportation funding from the federal government?” came up.  T-SPLOST looks like it may be DOA come Tuesday evening, and with no supposed “Plan B”, this may give us an opportunity for our state leaders to do some outside-of-the-box thinking in coming up with effective solutions for Georgia’s transportation situation (perhaps they can look at reforming the Georgia Department of Transportation board and doing a little bit of cleaning house…might want to look at how those gasoline taxes are used as well).

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An Offer MARTA Can Refuse – or Not

My father always says, “It’s not a bargain if you can’t afford it.” I believe that is the advice he might pass along to MARTA supporters.

MARTA has long desired more flexibility in its ability to determine how it will spend its funds. Currently, 50% of MARTA funds must be spent on capital improvements and 50% on operations. This is a fairly tight financial straitjacket, though it is a way to prevent subsidization of riders at the expense of abandoning necessary upkeep of the system.

There is a possibility that the ties on spending might be loosened in the draft legislation suggested by the Transit Governance Task Force. There are; however, strings as Maria Saporta writes in The Saporta Report:

To free MARTA from the state-imposed restriction that 50 percent of its revenues be spent on capital and 50 percent be spent on operations, MARTA basically would have to turn over most of its authorities to the newly-created Transit Governance Council. For the record, no other transit agency in the nation is saddled with such an unworkable rule.
MARTA represents a $6 billion investment in our region. Why should MARTA turn over its Constitutional powers to a state-controlled entity and give up its designation as the transit authority that can receive federal funding in the region.
According to folks close to MARTA, relaxing the 50/50 rule would give MARTA flexibility over how it spends its sales tax revenue (and it is expected that currently would be worth about $20 million a year for the transit agency.
It is inconceivable that MARTA could or should give up most of its powers and its $6 billion investment in return for getting flexibility in how it can spend the MARTA sales tax collected in the City of Atlanta, and Fulton and DeKalb counties.

And then there is the issue of the make-up of the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority (GRTA) which would be the body with the ultimate control of MARTA. The 15 members would all be appointed: 9 by the governor, 3 by the lieutenant governor and 3 by the state house speaker. It’s not as though petty, personal politics ever happens in Georgia, so what could possibly go wrong?

From the state’s perspective, things are different. One of the complaints about the state is that it has not contributed as much money to MARTA as is needed. It is a fact that state governments are reluctant to give up control of funds, but let’s take this a step farther.

If the state increases its control of the funds, then it has greatly increased its responsibility for MARTA. It can no longer stand at a distance and point fingers. It will be forced to have a hands-on, problem-solving approach and let’s face it, the state has many more resources at its disposal that it could employ to improve MARTA – if the price is right.

In this case, the price for the state of Georgia taking so much control of MARTA is inescapable political responsibility.

If one wants the state to “man up” and do the right thing by MARTA, then allowing the state to be responsible might be the right way to go. The next logical step would be for the state to increase its funding of MARTA to acceptable levels for a state that still lays claim to the title Empire State of the South.

Is this a bargain that MARTA can’t afford? Perhaps, after all, it is not. My father, actually a man of few words, might offer another bit of sage advice to MARTA supporters, “If you want a man’s help, then make your interests his interests.” Yeah, that bit of wisdom would certainly fit.

There is much more at The Saporta Report, so check it out to get additional information. This is not the only issue with the draft legislation that is discussed. You’re big boys and girls so you can wander over there and find your way back again. For the weary, here’s the link.

The Battle to Control the Georgia Senate, Round 2

It’s a nasty political fight with no-holds barred and kicking, biting, gouging and low blows galore – and no Democrats are involved. It’s the battle for control of the Georgia Senate. Following the national example, Georgia Republicans formed a circular firing squad last year and commenced firing and never slackened until the session was over.

English: This is a picture of Lt. Gov. Cagle t...
Georgia Lt. Governor Casey Cagle - Image via Wikipedia

The past few peaceful months for the combatants have been spent re-loading and apparently preparing for further embarrassment in 2012. One indicator is that the sales of red rubber noses, big floppy shoes and frizzy orange wigs have skyrocketed. When the Georgia Senate convenes with Lt. Governor Cagle as its nominal head, the appropriate theme music will be Send in the Clowns.

The only thing protecting Cagle and various Georgia Senators is the relative lack of attention paid by Georgia citizens and the fact that most Georgians neither know nor care who these people are. If the people of this state stop long enough to study the sorry mess that calls itself a legislative body then all bets are off in the local and state elections.

While The Columbus Leger-Enquirer has an excellent interview with Georgia Lt. Governor Casey Cagle, touching on many subjects of interest, the real news is not in the headline. The real news is Cagle’s take on the continuing power struggle between himself and the majority of the Georgia Senate. From the story:

The Senate will continue to operate under a leadership structure implemented last session that forces Cagle to share power with other GOP leaders, but Cagle maintains that he is still head of the chamber.

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Context and constitutionality: why “separation of powers” doesn’t really mean “separate”

If you want to open a can of worms at Peach Pundit, simply start a thread that gives readers an excuse to talk aboutseparation of powers” and the role of the Lieutenant Governor. Eventually someone will start throwing around the term “separation of powers” and even suggest that a lawsuit is inevitable if Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle is given back some of the traditional administrative duties of the office he holds.

But such a viewpoint fails to consider the context of the notion of separation of powers in the twenty-first century and oversimplifies a complex subject to the level of an episode of Schoolhouse Rock. Eventually it bends the concept so far by suggesting that the judiciary may intervene to sort out a disagreement about Senate rules, that it breaks the principle of separation of powers more effectively than any change in Senate rules could manage.

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Dear Georgia Legislature, Here’s My Christmas Wish List

First let me say that I encourage my friends on the left and middle, as well as fellow conservatives to critique this list – and hopefully add to it. The state legislature will convene in a few days, and I’m sure they are all waiting breathlessly to know what we citizens want. What do you really want? Please share your ideas.

Dear Georgia Legislature, The citizens of the state, with a few exceptions. have been good this year and so they deserve some consideration. Here is my Christmas wish list for the state of Georgia. I hope you’ll look at it carefully.

Georgia State Capitol building in Atlanta, Geo...
Georgia Capitol Building - Image via Wikipedia

1. The state needs to give individual counties the flexibility to increase the limit on local option sales taxes subject to the same current restrictions (other than the overall cap) but limit that authority to the next five years with tax receipts to go into the local government’s general fund. Some poor, rural counties may need this to remain financially viable in this economy. I don’t like increasing taxes, so if there is a better way, I’ll certainly accept it.

2 – EVERY department at the state level needs to implement zero-based budgeting.

3 – Stop thinking about education in its present form. Look for alternatives that work whether they are within the current framework or not. Look at eliminating grade-levels so that students can work at different levels within each subject matter without regard to age. Grade levels stifle students in their best subjects and bewilder them in the areas in which they struggle. Could you please pass legislation making it possible to fix this?

4 – The most independent, politically neutral ethics commission possible should be established. There is a great motivation for this: The majority today may not be the majority tomorrow and this commission must be established in a way that no one can manipulate it for political gain and so that it is effective, consistent and renders the closest thing to justice available in this world. Read more

Are Battle Lines Being Drawn In The State Senate?

The Georgia Senate has been fairly quiet for the past few months, but January is only a couple of months away. The Senate will have a slightly different make-up. The 1st session ended in a deadlock where the Senate GOP Caucus was basically split into Pro-Cagle and Anti-Cagle factions. That could potentially change in a few days when voters in the 50th senate district elect a new senator to fill the balance of Sen. Jim Butterworth’s term as well as Sen. Mitch Seabaugh’s now-vacated seat in the 28th district.

Battle lines are being drawn between Rep. Rick Austin, who is known for bucking GOP leadership and would probably do the same in the senate, and John Wilkinson, who is an apparent Pro-Cagle candidate. I’m sure Lt. Gov. Cagle and his allies are looking to hold on to the stalemate (and even shift the balance of power in favor of the LG since Sen. Mitch Seabaugh has left as well) in the senate.

Come January, we’ll see a power-shift in the senate either towards the LG and his allies or towards Sen. Chip Rogers and his allies or just a repeat of the 2011 session. It could be the “Fight of the Century”…or not. Have your popcorn ready!

All’s Too Quiet on the Western Front

The first few months of 2011 was tumultuious in the Georgia Senate with a group of senators leading the charge to topple Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle as the leader of the Senate. That ended up being more of a flesh wound rather than a full-fledged coup d’etat. The Senate GOP Caucus civil war was the butt of most jokes for those who follow inside baseball in Georgia politics. Once the gavel slammed down on Sine Die to close the 2011 session of the Georgia General Assembly, it seemed like both sides retreated back to their camps and pretty much been mum on the issue since. It’s been quiet…all too quiet.

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RLC-GA Chairman Travis Bowden on the Role of the Lieutenant Governor

My friend and colleague Travis Bowden, Chairman of the Republican Liberty Caucus of Georgia, has written an op-ed about the office of lieutenant governor and the role it plays:

At last month’s 7th Congressional District Convention, a resolution was proposed that would demote the Lieutenant Governor of Georgia by stripping him of the title of President of the Senate. I respectfully disagree with this plan and the ideas behind it.

If the Lieutenant Governor were to be demoted in such a way, then the constitution would be needlessly violated. The resolution brought up at the convention says that the Lieutenant Governor is a member of Georgia’s Executive Branch, and therefore he should not be able to govern any part of Georgia’s Legislative Branch, in this case, the Georgia State Senate.

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Significant Changes To Georgia Abortion Laws Presented To Empty Chairs

Nothing can stir political controversy like a good old fashioned battle over abortion.  Unless, that is, you’re the committee assigned jurisdiction to hold hearings on the matter.  Today, Senate leadership tapped freshman Charlie Bethel (R-Dalton) to become an ex-officio member of the Rules Committee so they could approve SB 210 with a quorum present. (Please don’t call him a “Hawk”.  That was a term used in Glenn Richardson’s House, when the Senate quietly disapproved of the practice.  And besides, a hawk is a bird of prey, and today’s hearing was about being pro-life.)

The fact that Rules was even hearing SB 210 is a bit of a surprise.  After all, 210 is clearly a tort bill, allowing suits for wrongful death depending on circumstances surrounding an abortion.  Yet only one permanent member of the Rules Committee is an attorney (Bill Hamrick, not present).

In the recent unpleasantness that was the battle over Senate control, Casey Cagle was left with the sole authority to direct legislation to committee of jurisdiction, and little else.  A bit low in his political capital these days, Cagle directed SB 210 and SB 209 to the Rules Committee with solid pro-life Chairman Don Balfour, who also couldn’t hurt by brushing up his social conservative bonafides.   SB 210 sailed through without too much difficulty after some testimony.

SB 209, however, became a pure bait and switch on behalf of its sponsor, Barry Loudermilk.  Many states this year are attempting to pass pro-life legislation to prohibit abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, when a baby is estimated to have the ability to feel pain.  Thus, those in attendance for the hearing were prepared to give testimony for or against the “fetal pain” bill.  Yet at the beginning of the session, Loudermilk instead passed out a substitute bill, taking virtually all in the room off guard. Read more

Thank You For The Power We Demanded. Now Please Forget We Have It

Senate leaders demanded they be returned the power of committee assignments from Lt. Governor Casey Cagle.  Within days of executing their new found toy power, they have been put in the uncomfortable position of having to determine if the Chairman of Banking should continue in light of his pending suit by the FDIC on charges of breach of fiduciary duty and neglect.  Jim Galloway brings us a quote obtained by his AJC colleague Chris Quin from Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers:

 “The Committee on Assignment’s work is done for the most part and already complete. I don’t know that there is going to be a lot more action by the committee.”

It sounds like the dog has caught the car he’s been chasing.  Somewhere, Casey Cagle is laughing hysterically.

Would You Like Some Eggs With Your Issues?

The annual “Eggs and Issues” breakfast sponsored by the Georgia Chamber of Commerce will be held tomorrow morning at the ungodly hour of 7:30am at the Georgia World Congress Center.

Because it was delayed by the ice storm of inaugural week, the Eggs and Issues is now being held on the same day as the State of the Union.  Thus, the day will begin with the issues of the State, and end with the issues of the Nation.

The Eggs and Issues is usually significant because it features the Governor, Lt. Governor, and Speaker with presentations, and usually is a major tipoff to legislative strategy and goals for the session.  I’m glad to see that the Lt. Governor will represent the Senate again this year, as listening to the priorities of all 8 members of the Committee On Assignments would be quite lengthy, and would re-define the “issues” that are supposed to be highlighted at this event.

If getting up early and heading downtown on a winter Tuesday morning sounds like you’re idea of fun, there are still tickets floating around.  Just call someone that works for one of the larger businesses in town and ask them if they have extra tickets, because you have issues.

Deal Inaugurated In Speaker Ralston’s House

Today’s column in the Courier Herald (Subscription Required)

Whether planning a Super Bowl or swearing in a Governor, there is a certain element of risk planning an event in Atlanta in January.  Despite much hard work by Governor Deal’s Inaugural committee, most activities were canceled, and the official ceremony to swear in the Governor was moved inside the House chamber from the capitol steps.

Presiding over this House is David Ralston, Republican from Blue Ridge Georgia, a man who was not supposed to be Speaker.  A little over a year ago, it was reported that then Speaker Glenn Richardson had tried a suicide attempt, and a few weeks later, his ex-wife produced documents proving infidelity with a lobbyist.  Richardson, who along with a small inner circle, enjoyed house rules that allowed him to stack committees at will, giving him more power over the body than Speaker Murphy had ever dreamed of.  Yet his inability to get along with neither Lt. Governor Cagle nor Governor Perdue limited the reach of his power beyond the house, and Senators privately enjoyed the leadership vacuum in the House in the wake of Richardson’s resignation.  Even when a new speaker was elected, he had to bring disparate groups together under a new agenda while making needed changes in House rules and operations.

One year later, Speaker Ralston has full control over his body, and with a very successful election and additional Democratic defections, is just a couple votes shy of an outright supermajority – the two-thirds of the body needed to pass Constitutional amendments.  Meanwhile, on the other side of the Capitol, Republican Senators are still trying to decide how they will operate their body, with changes to the Senate Rules – updated primarily to take away most of the power of the Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle – still being negotiated up to their final vote yesterday. Read more

Looking Beyond The Public Smiles At The Biennial Meeting

Republicans have had a lot to smile about lately, and look for Cheshire grins to be on display in Athens as the epicenter of Georgia government to be in Athens today and tomorrow.  The biennial meeting, hosted by UGA’s Carl Vinson Institute, is a meeting held for all legislators and other interested members of GA Government, represents the first time for the newly expanded Republican majorities to meet en masse.

Moving beyond the obvious successes of a statewide constitutional sweep and the resulting parade of party switchers, however, there is still a bit of friction that must be addressed in-house.   The Senate leadership and the Lt. Governor are still at war with each other, and bits of this fissure continue to show themselves publicly.

A story was floated again last week, this time landing in the AJC, regarding government affairs work Majority Leader Chip Rogers has done for a “plant based diet” advocacy group.   While the work was not done to influence the Georgia legislature, nor when the legislature was in session, someone has been working hard to make sure you know that Chip Rogers has worked for a group that breaks neither state law nor (almost nonexistent) ethics rules, or worse, that he may be a vegetarian.

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