On this date in 1804, Congress ordered the removal of Indians east of the Mississippi to Louisiana.

Peaches

Jimmy Carter

Sweet Tea

Liberty Drum

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Georgia legislators have toyed around with the idea of allowing horse racing at a new small scale race track. We’ve seen ideas floated to revive Underground Atlanta (since sold to a SC developer) to be a “casino” with video games of chance operated by the Georgia Lottery Corporation. Today, a bi-partisan group of lawmakers has dropped bills  that would pave the way for Georgia to aim higher and assert itself into the major leagues of casino gambling. Supporters of HR 807 and HB 677 tout a potential payoff of 10,000 construction jobs, 10,000 permanent jobs, and – perhaps most importantly – $250 Million dollars added to HOPE’s dwindling coffers every year.

The initial plan would divide the state into five zones, offering up to six licenses that would be awarded by competitive bid. The Atlanta casino (Zone 1) would require a minimum of $1 Billion investment in facilities. Backers make it clear it would be a world class destination facility, pointing to a similar casino/hotel/entertainment complex under construction adjacent to the National Harbor convention center in Maryland, just outside Washington DC, as the model.

There’s a bit more than a wink and a nod to the site where the Georgia Dome currently sits. The GWCC has noted recently that they would like to see a large hotel on that parcel with as many as 800-1200 rooms. It’s clear a Destination Casino on site would give the State owned convention center a leg up on national competitors, as well as fully anchor the Dome/Phillips/Centennial Park area as Downtown Atlanta’s entertainment district.

A secondary casino would be allowed in zone one (which includes not only most of metro Atlanta but all of North Georgia, but the secondary casino would be limited in size to no more than 2,000 total gaming positions

The other four zones would require casinos with a minimum of $200M in facility investment. At the top of likely locations in Zone 2, which includes Chatham and 15 neighboring counties, is Savannah’s Hutcheson Island. Savannah has recently been conducting feasibility studies noting that additional hotel capacity is needed to lure larger conventions, as the downtown/River Street area hotels are generally able to remain at or near capacity with a strong year round tourist draw. [click to continue…]

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Good news, Georgia concealed carry permits are now honored in Ohio. Interesting fact, you can legally now drive from Ohio to Florida if traveling on I-75 with your Georgia concealed carry. With family from Ohio and Florida, this is actually something I had looked into before.

Here’s the information from the Georgia Department of Law:

Attorney General Sam Olens announced today an addition to Georgia’s program of reciprocal recognition to firearms permit holders from other states. Legislation initially passed in 1996 allows Georgia to grant this privilege to citizens of states which recognize Georgia firearms permits. 

The State of Ohio has determined that it will honor Georgia firearms permits. Therefore, effective immediately, Georgia recognizes firearms permits issued by Ohio.

With this revision, Georgia now reciprocates in recognizing firearms licenses with the following states:< Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

Also, South Carolina is still the only neighboring state that does not honor our carry permit.

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The House this morning formally moved to disagree with the Senate-passed version of House Bill 170, and Speaker David Ralston appointed Transportation Committee Chairman Jay Roberts (R-Ocilla), Representative Mark Hamilton (R-Cumming), and Calvin Smyre (D-Columbus) as the House representativers to the conference committee.

Things weren’t as smooth in the Senate, however. Senator Bill Heath, citing Senate Rule 2-8.2, moved that the language removing the jet fuel tax exemption currently enjoyed by Delta and other airlines be kept in any bill produced by the conference committee. Most senators appeared to be unfamiliar with Rule 2-8.2, which essentially says that if the committee does not return a bill containing the Senate’s instructions, the conference bill will be rejected.

Heath’s position was that if consumers’ taxes were to be increased as a result of HB 170, then Delta should no longer be able to enjoy a tax break it received when it was nearly bankrupt several years ago. Senator Steve Gooch (R-Dahlonega) took to the well, calling the action unprecedented, and asked for a no vote. Transportation Chair Tommie Williams (R-Lyons) also spoke against using the rule on the transportation bill. And Senator Unterman (R-Buford) also spoke from the well, concerned that if the rule were employed in this case, it would certainly be used for other bills, which could cause havoc.

In the end, Senator Heath’s motion failed on a hand vote. Lt. Governor Casey Cagle appointed Williams, Gooch, and President Pro-Tem David Shafer (R-Duluth).

It isn’t known at this time when the committee will begin its negotiations.

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Congratulations to Mercer, Emory, Columbus State, Georgia Regents, West Georgia, Emory and Dalton State (who is in the NAIA D. 1 final) for qualifying for post-season collegiate basketball tournaments.

Zodiaccupuncture by Aesop Rock.

  1. Keeping with a theme… GSU’s newspaper The Signal did better in it’s tournament than the Panthers. 
  2. The 2016 GOP POTUS Primary could have an early stop in Athens. 
  3. Mayor Reed leads delegation to Israel. 
  4. Inside the latest movie studio in Georgia. 
  5. The APS cheating trial needs to go on just a little bit longer. 
  6. Is Brian Kemp’s SEC Primary in danger? 

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RFRA Gets a Hearing

March 24, 2015 19:35 pm

by Jon Richards · 6 comments

Former Attorney General Mike Bowers testifies against the Georgia Religious Freedom Restoration Act.  Photo: Jon Richards

Former Attorney General Mike Bowers testifies against the Georgia Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Photo: Jon Richards

Tuesday afternoon, a special subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee conducted a three hour long hearing on Senate Bill 139, the Georgia Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The committee took introductory testimony from the bill’s sponsor, Senator Josh McKoon, and then an hour’s worth of testimony from supporters and opponents of the measure.

Supporters, including Mike Griffin, representing the Georgia Baptist Convention and Georgia Right to Life, Tanya Ditty with the Concerned Women of America and Adam Woodward with the Center of Law and Religion, were among those speaking in favor of the bill. Many of the speakers put forward incidents they claimed would be resolved more promptly if Georgia had a RFRA, although by my reckoning, all referred to issues involving mainstream Christianity, and none dealt with smaller, minority religions. And virtually all asked that the bill be passed without amendments, including former State Rep. Bob Snelling, who said, “I am here to ask you to allow a full House vote on the unamended bill. To deny this would be an irresponsible act of legislative injustice.”

Leading off the opposition to the bill was former Georgia Attorney General Mike Bowers. Representing Georgia Equality, Bowers maintained that the bill provides an excuse to discriminate and an excuse to exclude. He claimed that citizens will become arbiters of the law and would be making law unto themselves on issues including vaccinations and school coursework. In questioning from committee members, Rep. Barry Fleming asked why Bowers didn’t present any examples of discrimination against gays as a result of RFRAs passed in other states. Bowers had no good answers to that.

Other speakers opposed to the bill included a representative from the Georgia Hotel and Lodging Association who said that two organizations planning conventions in Atlanta have threatened to go elsewhere should RFRA pass, and Merwin Peake, the brother of State Rep. Allen Peake, who used the example of bakeries refusing to serve a gay couple as a reason to oppose the bill.

The major witness against the bill, however was former State Rep. Edward Lindsey. Lindsey had a seat in front, almost at the table that the committee sat on, and he presented an alternative version of the bill that offered civil rights protections to those that might be discriminated against. Building on the editorial that first appeared in Peach Pundit last Friday, Lindsey took almost half an hour of questions from committee members who treated his proposal, which you can see at the bottom of this post, as if it were a substitute for McKoon’s bill.

What’s next? Chairman Wendell Willard indicated that he planned to call another meeting of the special subcommittee on Wednesday. At that point, they could recommend SB 129 or a substitute, possibly based on Lindsey’s proposal, to the full Judiciary Committee, which is expected to meet on Thursday. If that scenario holds true, a version of the Religious Liberty bill could be heard in the Rules Committee on Friday, making it possible to have a vote in the full House on Tuesday, March 30th, Day 39 of the legislative session.

You can read the text of Lindsey’s proposal below the fold. [click to continue…]

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U.S. Representative John Lewis has reintroduced H.R. 12, the Voter Empowerment Act of 2015, and Reps. Sanford Bishop, Hank Johnson, and David Scott have joined as original co-sponsors. This bill would standardize and strengthen election requirements nationwide. Major new requirements include online voter registration (as Georgia introduced last year), early-voting for at least 15 consecutive days prior to Election Day, same-day voter registration (which greatly increases voter turnout), and paper trails for electronic voting machines. The bill would also restore voting rights in federal elections to felons who have finished their sentences, ending disenfranchisement laws that disproportionately harm minorities.

Rep. Sanford Bishop explains his support:

“By enhancing voter participation, this bill reflects the true character of the nation, holding leaders more directly accountable to the populations they represent,” said Congressman Bishop. “Modernizing voter registration will improve the integrity of the election system and, during this 50th anniversary of the monumental Voting Rights Act, will serve to advance the mission of equal rights for all Americans.”

“Even if the days of poll taxes, literacy tests, and brutal physical intimidation are behind us, disenfranchisement tactics that aim to suppress voter participation are alive and well. The Voter Empowerment Act eliminates such divisive barriers separating voters from the ballot box and takes advantage of modern technology to bring our elections into the 21st Century,” concluded Bishop.

Lewis’s bill would guarantee that more Americans are able to exercise their right to vote. At present, its 170 co-sponsors in the US House include no Republicans.

 

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Today, the House will vote on Senate Bill 94. While the bill as originally filed provided guidelines for witness identification in criminal matters, it was changed substantially by the House Judiciary Committee, which substituted the language of House Bill 430 before sending the measure to the floor. Substituting or merging the contents of one bill with another is not unusual, especially after Crossover Day. And, unlike a bill substitute made late in the day on Sine Die, no one is arguing the substitute language is a way to sneak in legislation without notice.

Yet the bill is one of several that some believe overly extends the power of police officers in Georgia. Is that the case?

HB 430 / SB 94 is referred to informally as the “Search and Seizure Bill.” Sponsored by Dacula Representative Chuck Efstration, who is a former Assistant District Attorney in Gwinnett County, the 33 page bill is an attempt to revise and modernize this code section for the first time in just under 50 years. And because so much has changed in terms of technology and court decisions, there is a lot of ground to cover. Even the explanation of what the bill does takes up three pages in the House Daily Report.

Changes in technology drive some of the changes in the bill. For example, thermal imaging can be used by law enforcement to identify criminal activity, yet a 2012 court decision determined the practice was illegal under current Georgia law. SB 94 fixes that. Another technology, body cameras worn by police, has been proposed as a remedy to police overreach, especially in the aftermath of events in Ferguson, Missouri. SB 94 codifies their use in search and seizure, making it legal to use a body camera when executing a warrant in a non-public place. Other new technology, including GPS devices is also addressed in the bill.

The bill is one of three this session that have drawn the attention of some legal activists. The first, House Bill 56 by Kevin Tanner, was an attempt to regulate the use of no-knock warrants. The bill didn’t make it out of committee after these activists complained the use of no-knocks would be legalized for the first time, despite their use having been approved by previous court decisions.

Senator Michael Williams shows an org chart he created to witness Garland Favorito at Monday's meeting of the Senate Public Safety Committee.

Senator Michael Williams shows an org chart he created to witness Garland Favorito at Monday’s meeting of the Senate Public Safety Committee.

House Bill 310 would consolidate several departments related to the criminal justice system, including probation, parole and child welfare enforcement into a new Department of Community Supervision. In a Monday hearing before the Senate Public Safety Committee, the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Alan Powell, claimed the bill simply unplugged and replugged existing code sections to form the new agency.

Yet witness Garland Favorito attempted to explain how the measure would lead to a political police state because the combined agency would report to the governor. This, despite Senator Michael Williams of Cumming drawing an organizational chart showing how the agencies being combined already report to the governor. The bill received a Do Pass recommendation, and will be sent to the Senate Rules Committee to be scheduled for floor debate.

No one expects legislation to go unvetted before it becomes law. And, most bills involving civil and non-civil law go before a subcommittee members having legal experience in order to be properly examined. Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter, who has been advocating for the passage of the bills, wants to limit government intrusion, and wants to make sure that what law enforcement does is properly documented in order to protect the interests of both citizens and law enforcement. Those who oppose the three bills seem to want the same thing. One must wonder why they can’t agree with each other.

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Dark Side of the Moon was released 42 years ago today. Additionally it is Harry Houdini’s birthday and International Turberculosis Day. Do what you will with that information, on to the Morning Reads! [click to continue…]

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A little over a month ago, I wrote about the Republican War on Strip Clubs, that being HB 244. The bill, which sought to help victims of human trafficking, with a $5,000 fee or 1% of gross revenue per year, whichever is greater which would be funneled to a new commission created for the sole purpose of victim safe harbor and rehabilitation, it expanded civil forfeiture practices, and in its original form, even managed to make it a misdemeanor for court clerks who inadvertently didn’t collect this fee.

HB 244 faced huge hurdles. After two Judiciary Non-Civil subcommittee hearings, eight amendments, and a complete removal of the adult entertainment industry fee/tax, the bill passed out of subcommittee without a recommendation never to receive a full hearing before Crossover Day. Members of the subcommittee had great concern over the collection of ‘indirectly related assets’ for civil forfeiture, the creation of a new commission, and of course, the new “fee.”

Unfortunately, my own ignorance prevented me from checking to see if there was a Senate counterpart to this bill and to my dismay, there was. Is. Sponsored by Republican Senator Renee Unterman, Senate Bill 8 eased out of committee and skated through a floor vote with only 3 dissenting votes very early on in the session. (A big thank you to the three, Senators H. Hill, Heath, & McKoon, by the way.)

The bill, heard in the House Juvenile Justice today for the 3rd straight day of hearings, has excellent intentions. In fact, I don’t think you’ll find a single sane person anywhere in Georgia who would oppose combating human trafficking and working to strengthen consequences to those convicted. But this bill does very little to achieve that. The committee presented a slew of testimony, some from actual victims with painfully compelling stories. Stories detailing their trafficking experiences, in strip clubs, on the streets, in hotels, massage parlors, and most prevalent, online. They were comforted by the many 501c(3) organizations who have been working with them for years, all of whom were sitting in the audience.

Today, in committee, Rep. Regina Quick made a motion to amend the language of ‘fee’ to a ‘tax’ with regard to the adult entertainment establishment charge. Rep. Andy Welch instead proposed a substitute to amend the word ‘fee’ (and ‘tax’) to ‘assessment.’ A brief Google search tells us that an ‘assessment’ is when you ‘establish a value’ of something. Something like property. This isn’t an assessment. It is a war on a specific type of business. One that many don’t like.

[click to continue…]

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Revisiting The Hidden Predator Act

March 23, 2015 15:30 pm

by Charlie · 8 comments

Jessica wrote a couple of months ago about the Hidden Problems in the Hidden Predator Act.  This may surprise a lot of you, especially her, but I agree with Jessica.

Often the worst legislation is made of the best intentions.  This is one of those times.

People who do harm to children, especially those who do so as sexual predators, have committed the worst of atrocities.  They get little sympathy, nor should they.  These crimes carry a stigma in perpetuity.

The problem with HB 17 is that it tilts the scales of justice in ways that open the entire process for abuse, without necessarily protecting victims.  Really you say?  Let’s explore. [click to continue…]

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Oil Boom you say?  Today oil is trading at about $47/barrel, less than half of what it was in July.

The important part of this is “the why”.  The US has ramped up production to the point where we have affected the worldwide supply of oil.  As a result, prices have fallen. A lot.

The result is that we’re significantly less dependent on others to produce our energy needs.  This is helping both our trade deficit and national security.  It’s also dramatically helped the US employment situation.  When you look at the job growth of the past 6 years, much of it has been in places like Texas and North Dakota – places that have fully embraced the domestic energy industry. Nationwide, consumers are reaping a windfall.  Not only are pump prices down, but businesses are seeing input prices fall as the tax of oil’s middle east risk premium has been eliminated.  This is a boon for consumers, manufacturers, and many other business sectors.

Georgia has been largely left out of the wave, though we are a leader in solar panel production and making cellulosic ethanol with pine pellets.  “All of the above” should remain central to our national energy strategy, and Georgia should participate where economically and environmentally feasible.

Georgia also may soon have the opportunity to join the ranks of states adding oil sector jobs.  The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is considering opening up drilling off the Southeastern Atlantic coast.  Their current plan is to let only one lease, in year 2021.  Their long term plan, however, ends in 2022.  As such, there’s the potential for more leases soon after.  That said, those who are first are often the ones that will capture the lion’s share of the support facilities – and the jobs that come with them. [click to continue…]

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This week’s Courier Herald column:

For the second year in a row, the Washington Post was kind enough to call Atlanta the city that is the “most unequal” in the U.S. The paper is talking of income disparity, where they cite the top 2% of income earners make more than $288,000 per year but those in the 20th percentile of incomes earn just under $15,000. These are the findings from a report issued last week from the Brookings Institution.

These are stories that usually are tailored to fit a narrative, and when income inequality is discussed it is usually with the intention to “soak the rich”. If you prefer a less pejorative term, you can assume the point is to suggest wealth transfer. Especially when the Post ended with the usual refrain noting that the gap continues to get wider.

Let’s stipulate that the gap is a problem. What remains in disagreement is the proper way to solve it.

To do that, let’s assert who we are as a country. We are a country of opportunity. We are not, and cannot, be a country that guarantees outcome. To do so would negate the reward for risk taking, for hard work, for saving and investing. These have always been coupled with the American dream. The basis of this dream, however, has always been one of opportunity. [click to continue…]

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International
Solar eclipse stuns Europe

National
Confederate battle flag at center of Texas free speech case
McCain to Obama: Get over it
Cruz to announce White House run today

Local
Thousands of dollars in political donations vanish and no one notices
A city called … Winship?
Budget, transportation dominate legislature’s final days

Sports
Hawks lose 3 in a row
Why is Michael Vick in a Falcons uniform?

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The Georgia State Senate passed House Bill 170, the Transportation Funding act by the smallest margin possible in the chamber by a vote of 29-25. All Democrats voted against the bill, along with Republicans John Albers of Roswell, Mike Crane of Newnan, Marty Harbin of Tyrone, Bill Heath of Bremen, William Ligon of Brunswick, Josh McKoon of Columbus, and Bruce Thompson of White. In addition, Republicans Bill Jackson of Appling and Jesse Stone of Waynesboro were excused, and did not vote.

The vote came after nine proposed amendments and one amendment to an amendment were considered. Amendment 1, which was approved, removes the annual fee charged on cars and commercial vehicles proposed in the Senate version of the bill. According to a fiscal note developed for the Senate version of the bill, removal of the fee will reduce the revenue raised by the bill by $201.3 million in FY 2016, increasing to $210.4 million in FY 2020. The amendment was sponsored by eleven senators, including Transportation Committee Chair Tommie Williams of Lyons, Transportation Study Committee Co-Chair Steve Gooch of Dahlonega, and President Pro Tem David Shafer of Duluth.

As originally proposed, Amendment 2 would also have eliminated the annual tag fee, and reduced the amount of the fee charged to electric vehicles from $200 to $95 for non-commercial vehicles, and from $300 to $195 for commercial vehicles. In addition, the excise tax rate on gasoline would have been made 20 cents per gallon, down from the proposed Senate rate of 24 cents, and the proposed House rate of 29.2 cents. The amendment was sponsored by Albers, Crane, Harbin and Hunter Hill of Atlanta. An amendment to that amendment, offered by Majority Leader Bill Cowsert of Athens and David Shafer replaced the original language of the amendment with a requirement for GDOT to document efficiencies within the department’s operations. Cowsert and Shafer’s amendment to Amendment 2 was adopted, and then was passed as Amendment 2.

Also adopted was Amendment 4, sponsored by Senators Wiliams, Cowsert, Gooch, Shafer, Jeff Mullis of Chickamauga and Greg Kirk of Americus, It calls for the creation of a Special Joint Committee on Georgia Revenue Structure with members from the House and Senate. The committee would be charged with introducing one or more tax reform bills that would be subject to mandatory up or down votes during the 2016 legislative session. [click to continue…]

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