John Lewis Skipping Netanyahu Speech

March 3, 2015 11:10 am

by Ed · 54 comments

Georgia’s own John Lewis is one of the 44 Democrats who will skip Tuesday’s address from Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu.

The controversial joint congressional address is scheduled for 11AM.

If you follow the MSNBC link, you will also see that not only did John Conyers move to Georgia, he was also elected to congress here, too.


A Death Deferred

March 3, 2015 11:01 am

by Chet Martin · 19 comments

For the second time in a week, Kelly Gissendaner survived. The first woman to be sentenced to death in Georgia since 1945 was scheduled to die last Wednesday, until the execution was delayed “due to weather and associated scheduling issues” when temperatures dropped to 33 degrees. (The previous sentence must belong to some macabre Southern satire.)

Monday night, the state’s supply of poisonous pentobarbital had a cloudy appearance. Out of an “abundance of caution,” the state canceled the execution lest the life-and-death procedure be botched.

States with the death penalty have struggled to find pentobarbital to execute their charges since the European Union banned the export of chemicals intended for such a purpose.

If Ms. Gissendaner is not executed by Wednesday night, a Gwinnett County judge will have to sign another 7 day death warrant.

Kelly Gissandaner was sentenced to death in 2008 for her role in the 1997 death of her husband, Douglas Gissandaner. She convinced her lover, Gregory Bruce Owen, to kidnap and kill Douglas for insurance money. Gregory Owen will be eligible for parole in eight years due to a plea deal that required him to testify against Ms. Gissandaner.


Gurley Bill Back

March 3, 2015 8:35 am

by Jessica Szilagyi · 3 comments

In December, I wrote about HB 3, a bill by Rep. Barry Fleming (R-121), which would make contracts with student athletes (also read “consenting adults”) illegal. You can read that article here. While HB 3 seems to have gone all of no where, the concept is back with House Bill 503.

The new legislation, once again, seeks to:

  • limit transactions or contractual agreements where a student-athlete could face sanctions or threats to eligibility OR scholarship eligibility
  • allow colleges and universities to provide action against such contracts and transactions

In it, the legislation states that no person shall enter a contract with a student whose eligibility could be compromised. I’m confused. Is the student, also an adult, not aware that such transaction could threaten eligibility? Why is the burden on only one side of the contractual agreement? The bill also includes ‘immediate family’ of students at public or private universities and relates to those who have applied, are enrolled, or may enroll in the future. The only thing rolling here is my eyes.

What seems to be removed from HB 3 is the $25,000 fine and felony charges, and rightfully so.

I’ll ask the same question I asked back in December: If the NCAA already has jurisdiction over something like this, why is the legislature meddling in something that, if it weren’t for the existence of the NCAA, would not be illegal?


Senator Johnny Isakson and First Lady Sandra Deal visited the Capitol on Monday.  Photo:  Jon Richards

Senator Johnny Isakson and First Lady Sandra Deal visited the Capitol on Monday. Photo: Jon Richards


Two closely watched bills received Do Pass recommendations today as they were voted out of their respective committees and sent to their chamber’s Rules Committee for consideration. Each bill must pass its chamber prior to crossover day on March 13th, which is six legislative days away.

The first page of the revised RFRA bill passed in the Judiciary Committee today. Click to enlarge it.

The first page of the revised RFRA bill passed in the Judiciary Committee today. Click to enlarge it.

In the Senate, the Judiciary Committee took Senate Bill 129, The Georgia Religious Freedom Restoration Act, off the table where is was put by a vote back on February 19th. Senator Bill Cowsert, who offered an amendment at the previous committee meeting to specifically include discrimination as exempt from a RFRA claim withdrew his amendment, saying that Georgians are not bigoted.

He said that he had seen the movie Selma, and realized that Georgians in general and Atlantans specifically responded much differently to the civil rights struggles of the 1950s and 60s than did Alabama, noting that Atlanta called itself “the city too busy to hate.” Cowsert stated that in his opinion, this version of the bill would be accepted by the state’s business community.

Replacing Cowsert’s amendment that would have removed discrimination as the basis for a RFRA case, were additional legislative findings stating, “Courts have consistently held that government has a fundamental compelling interest in eradicating discrimination.” Another change to the bill from the previous version is that it now allows attorney fees to be awarded to a claimant other than the government. The first page of the revised bill is shown to the right; you can also view page 2, page 3 and page 4.

The bill received a unanimous Do Pass recommendation from the committee, however no Democratic members were in attendance during the vote due to other hearings and commitments. Indeed, Senator Vincent Fort, who offered the motion to table the bill at the previous meeting arrived at today’s session moments after the Do Pass vote was taken.

Earlier in the day, the House Transportation Committee voted to send a revised version of House Bill 170, the Transportation Funding Act, to the Rules Committee and the full House for consideration. In addition to the changes from the previous version previously announced by Chairman Jay Roberts, the committee considered three additional amendments from the floor.

The first, offered by Chairman Roberts, was a minor change in wording on one line that got missed in the markup. The second, offered by Democratic Rep. Keisha Waites of Atlanta, would have required the Department of Transportation to conduct a disparity study every three years in an effort to increase women and minority participation in transportation projects. The amendment did not get a vote after it was determined that since the amendment was written, such a study was agreed to be started by the DOT.

The final amendment, offered by Republican Mark Hamilton of Cumming, attached the language of House Bill 175 to the transportation bill. That language, which had been passed as a substitute to the original HB 175 earlier in the day, would eliminate the tax exemption on jet fuel enjoyed by airlines doing business in Georgia. Hamilton estimated that by eliminating the exemption, the state would have an additional $23 million in each of the first two years that could be spent for any purpose. After that two year window, the approximately $25 million in tax revenue would have to be spent on noise abatement, transportation projects or improvements to one of the state’s airports.


Is Innovate the new buzzword for the 2016 Presidential election?

This Politico Magazine article made an interesting point and offered up Bubba Gump like examples of the recent versions of “innovate” used by Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Scott Walker, and even Hillary Clinton. It appears that both sides of the aisle are jumping on this bandwagon. Is this the next Hope & Change, or Forward?

Although it can seem at times that it’s just the recent political buzzword, it’s actually been much debated term even back to when John Adams said in 1797 “Nothing will ever be done by me to impair the national engagements, to innovate upon principles which have been so deliberately and uprightly established, or to surrender in any manner the rights of government.”

I thought the perspective on the word “innovate” in the article was interesting:

With friends like these, “innovation” is poised to become the reigning buzzword in American politics this election cycle. And it makes sense: The way politicians throw the word around today, it can refer precisely to improvements in technology, or denote a fuzzier sense of positive change or, in a pinch, even serve as just a hipper-sounding synonym for “good.” “It’s a very pliable word, so it can be used to indicate a great many things or nothing at all,” says Robert Schlesinger, an editor at U.S. News & World Report and author of White House Ghosts, a book about presidential speech writing.

But the word’s ascendance is striking. For most of American history, new ways of doing things were anathema to a society that revered tradition, so politicians were mostly concerned with disparaging “innovation.” The term’s rise from the pits of indecency to its current vogue is an American comeback story. Think of it as the linguistic equivalent of Al Capone—proof that in America, even a notorious criminal, if he makes enough money, can reinvent himself as a respectable businessman—at least for a time.

Personally, I like breaking down a word. The definition of innovate is: to invent or begin to apply (methods, ideas, etc.). Origin of the word is from the Latin word innovare to renew, from in- + novare to make new, from novus new.

I firmly believe we need a new President, new ideas, new direction, and new blood. With a lot of talk of innovating, let’s hope Republicans are looking for a new plan, making positive changes, limiting government, and not just referring to Ronald Reagan’s glory days. Let’s find the candidate that is truly trying to innovate, and not fall into political conformity.

What’s the over-under on who puts out the “Agenda Innovate” t-shirts with their picture on it first?


A new video from PolicyBEST tries to explain how transportation, especially roads and bridges, is funded in Georgia. Breaking down how the tax money Georgians pay for motor fuel is spent is important as the legislature considers House Bill 170, the Transportation Funding Act.

The video explains how 40% of the excise and sales taxes collected at the pump is spent on non-transportation related purposes. While the state collects a 7.5 cent per gallon excise tax and a 3% sales tax, totalling around 16.3 cents per gallon, the fourth percent of sales tax, or fourth penny, and local LOST and SPLOST taxes account for 11.2 cents per gallon.

When you add in the federal excise tax of 18.4 cents per gallon, Georgians pay 45.90 cents per gallon of gas, compared to the U.S. average of 48.29 cents per gallon. At the surface, Georgia’s tax is less than neighboring states Florida and North Carolina, and more than Tennessee, Alabama and South Carolina. But, when you take out the money not spent for transportation purposes, the effective rate of 34.70 cents per gallon is lower than Tennessee’s 39.80, Alabama’s 39.27, and South Carolina’s 35.15 cents per gallon.

The $1 billion actually raised by the state excise and sales taxes is supplemented by $1.2 billion from the federal Highway Trust Fund. The $2.2 billion the state spends on roads and bridges is far less than Florida’s $5.1 billion and North Carolina’s $4.3 billion. And while per-capita highway spending in the United States is $491, in Georgia it’s $296, making the Peach State dead last in the amount we fund surface transportation.


This week’s Courier Herald column:

We southerners are sometimes known to put on airs to hide our shortcomings. We are, after all, a prideful people. A façade that is skillfully crafted won’t alert every passer by to potential disarray that may be contained within. There are secrets that are generally kept to friends and family, but there’s no need to advertise them to everyone in the outside world.

Hurricane Katrina ripped away many of the literal and figurative facades of New Orleans ten years ago. Many structural problems were laid bare for the entire world to see. High among that list was the embarrassment that was New Orleans schools.

Prior to the storm, New Orleans’ schools were among the worst their state. The Valedictorian of Fortier High School could not graduate because she couldn’t pass the state required exit exam, despite six attempts. Louisiana had passed legislation for a recovery school district two years before Katrina. The storm, and the many revelations that came with it, provided a much-needed catalyst for significant intervention.

A decade later, New Orleans is a national model. Though local leaders are quick to point out they have experienced a lot of trial and error along the way, the resolve to tackle performance issues in urban poor schools remains in full force. Success stories are documented. And skeptical community members who originally fought the program continue to be converted into supporters.

As such, Governor Deal invited roughly a dozen legislators to New Orleans last week to see first hand their model for state intervention in failing schools. Several members of the Capitol press corps including myself attended as well. It was a two-way exchange with those who have been through this journey for ten years. [click to continue…]


The state of Georgia is preparing to execute Kelly Renee Gissendaner at 7:00 PM on Monday, March 2nd. If this continues as planned, her execution will be Georgia’s third of 2015 and our first execution of a woman in 70 years.

While serving time in prison for the murder of her husband, Gissendaner studied theology through a program run by a partnership of Atlanta schools including Emory’s Candler School of Theology. The New York Times wrote last week of Gissendaner’s experience and transformation through her studies and Christian faith along with her development of an unlikely friendship with the with the German theologian Jürgen Moltmann.

In Ms. Gissendaner’s clemency petition, which includes detailed testimony from inmates and former wardens, one guard discussed her calming effect on women who were suicidal or had mental illnesses.

“The other inmates could see when inmates were being escorted across the yard with cut-up or bandaged arms from attempted suicides, and would yell to Kelly about it,” said a former guard, Marian Williams, who enjoyed talking with Ms. Gissendaner about the Bible. “Kelly could talk to those ladies and offer them some sort of hope and peace.”

Professor Moltmann, who has written of his own remorse at having fought in the German Army, offered his own idea of what awaits his friend. “If the State of Georgia has no mercy,” he said, “she has received already the mercy of Heaven.”

Georgia’s Board of Pardons and Parole has denied Gissendaner’s clemency request. This board is the sole source of pardons in the state – Georgia’s governor does not have the power of clemency. Nonetheless, hundreds of Georgia faith leaders are calling for mercy and have issued an open letter asking for commutation of her sentence to one of life without parole. The letter notes that Kelly has prevented other inmates from taking their own lives on multiple occasions and quotes a correctional officer who stated that “her witness has been an amazing beacon in a very dark place.”  Barring a surprising reversal, our state will end that witness Monday.


John Boehner: This is a tough job
Walker: I haven’t changed my position on immigration
What we learned from CPAC

Young conservative’s Facebook account locked after he questions Obama’s patriotism
DeKalb ethics chief calls for investigation
Payne, GA: RIP

$800 million bid in place for the Hawks
Stolen NASCAR race car found in Atlanta suburbs


Rest In Peace Linda Womack

March 1, 2015 19:30 pm

by Charlie

linda_womackLinda Womack, Emory University’s Director of State Government Affairs, died Saturday evening after battling a brief illness.  She has been an integral part of Georgia’s government affairs community for over three decades and was an institution in her own right on the third floor of Georgia’s capitol.

Linda has been a Lobbyist in Georgia since the early 80’s and as such worked with most who compose the relatively small community of folks who work in and around the gold dome.  As news of her death spread last evening, there were consistencies in the messages of grief and condolences shared by her friends on social media that say a lot about who she was both as a person and as a professional.

“Integrity” seems to be a good place to start.  Linda’s word was her bond.  As such, she represented standards that were known from her on behalf of her clients, and was a role model to many others that came into the business after her.  She’s described by friends as “a tireless advocate”, “forceful and gracious”, and “a steel magnolia who will be sorely missed”.

Our condolences and prayers go out to Linda’s family and friends.


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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.


Ban the Bag Ban Ban

February 27, 2015 16:45 pm

by Teri · 24 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…]


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.


– 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.

– 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.
– Don’t you wish all press releases were like this?