Georgia Legislature Crossover Day, An Overview

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With additional reporting by Gloria Tatum.

(APN) ATLANTA — Yesterday, March 07, 2012, was Crossover Day for the Georgia General Assembly, the final day for legislation pass either the House or the Senate to be able to pass both chambers this year.

A number of regressive and oppressive measures related to abortion, charter schools, civil disobedience, and drug testing of welfare recipients passed either the Senate or House.

Meanwhile, progressive proposals related to ballot access and solar power failed.

“The Senate has voted to allow eighteen year-olds to carry guns, has damaged women’s health by limiting access to sometime necessary medical procedures [abortions], will require the most needy to pay for drug testing to receive food for their children, and next threatens to subvert the First Amendment,” State Sen. Steve Thomspon (D-Marietta) said.

Also of note, the State House passed HR 1620, on February 28, commending the News Editor of Atlanta Progressive News.  State Rep. Keisha Waites (D-Atlanta) sponsored the resolution.

ABORTION

SB 438, which seeks to prohibit the primarily taxpayer-funded State Health Benefit Plan from providing abortion coverage to state employees, passed on March 07, in a 33 to 18 vote.

During last night’s debate, one female State Senator after another spoke in opposition to the bill while Lt Gov. Casey Cagle and a few male Senators sat around laughing and not listening, Atlanta Progressive News observed.

“Women have a right to choose, we are not your property.  Rich folks can pay for abortions, the poor cannot,” Sen. Valencia Seay (D-Riverdale) said.   

HB 954, legislation that bans all abortions past twenty weeks, with some medical exemptions only for situations that threaten the life of the mother or “the unborn child,” passed on February 29, in a 102 to 65 vote.

BALLOT ACCESS

HB 949, as previously reported by APN, was a bill that would have reduced the number of signatures required for ballot access petitions by independent and minor party candidates, by basing the five percent or one percent requirements on the number of voters in the last Presidential Election, instead of on registered voters.

However, State Rep. Mark Hamilton (R-Cumming), who chairs the Government Affairs Committee, removed the provision from the bill after noting that he and other Committee Members received calls from ballot access advocates who were unhappy that the legislation did not eliminate the petition requirements completely.

“I decided as well as some others, okay, if you’re accusing us of doing nothing, fine, we’ll do nothing,” Hamilton said during Committee, according to the Macon Telegraph newspaper.

Meanwhile, HB 494, introduced by State Rep. Rusty Kidd (I-Milledgeville), which would have removed the petitioning requirements altogether, did not come up in Committee.

Ballot access advocates did defeat SB 377, a bill which would have required all signers of a ballot access petition to show their identification to the petition circulator.  The Senate Ethics Committee voted against the bill, in a three to five vote, on February 22.

CHARTER SCHOOLS

HR 1162, which would have allowed for a referendum on a Constitutional Amendment to allow the State of Georgia to create charter schools, by-passing local control of school systems, passed February 22, 2012, in a vote of 123 to 48.  A minimum of 121 yea votes was required because it is dealing with a Constitutional Amendment.

However, HR 1162, contained some revisions forced by House Democrats.

On February 08, an earlier version of the bill failed 100 to 62.  Then on February 09, it failed on 114 to 49.

The majority of House Democrats stood strong against the earlier versions.  

The main change to the bill is that state-created charter schools would have to be funded by the state; they could not take away funding from the local school system.

The bill also more narrowly defines what types of charter schools could be created by the state, limiting them to public schools, and prohibiting charters for private, religious, sectarian, and for-profit schools.

The bill is currently tabled in the State Senate, although State Sen. Chip Rogers (R-Woodstock) has sponsored it there.

CITY OF BROOKHAVEN

HB 636, to create a City of Brookhaven out of an unincorporated area in DeKalb County, passed the State House on February 17 in a vote of 101 to 57; however, it did so in amended format that names the new city, the City of Ashford.

The amended bill, sponsored by State Rep. Mike Jacobs (R-DeKalb), now heads over to the Senate for consideration.

A hearing on the bill before the Senate State and Local Governmental Operations (SLGO) Committee is expected on Tuesday, March 13.  

There, it will likely face several amendments, according to State Rep. Elena Parent (D-Chamblee).  These will include changing the name of the proposed city back to Brookhaven, increasing the number if Council Districts, and reducing the proposed boundaries of the city.

“This means the Plaza Fiesta/QT commercial area will be dropped and the city’s eastern boundary would be Clairmont Rd.,” Parent wrote in a recent email to constituents.

That area, meanwhile, is subject to HB 1006, which would allow the Dresden East Civic Association area neighborhoods--east of Buford Highway, south of Clairmont-Tucker, and north and west of I-85–to vote on whether they want to annex into the City of Chamblee.

HB 1006 passed on February 23 in a vote of 149 to 0.

CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE

SB 469, a bill to make civil disobedience an aggravated misdemeanor, passed the State Senate on March 07, in a vote of 30 to 20.

SB 469 makes civil disobedience punishable up to one year in jail, a ten thousand dollar fine for organizations that support such actions, and a one thousand dollar fine for individuals who participate.

Yesterday, Cagle told the room to hurry and get their questions in because it was going to be a short debate.

“Senator, in the bill what do you consider mass picketing?  Two people, a hundred people,” Sen. Henson asked Sen. Don Balfour (R-Snellville), who sponsored the bill.    

“That is defined in other places in the law,” Sen. Balfour said.

“If an organization is picketing against a company that is discriminating and I join the picket line, are you going to have the courts collect the fines and then turn around and give that money back to the person that did the discrimination, do you think that is fair?” Sen. Seay asked.  

“Yes, I absolutely believe what’s in this bill is fair,” Sen. Belfour replied.

Sen. Rogers called for a vote and the room exploded into a protest about the debate being cut off.

DISCRIMINATION

HB 630, a bill by State Rep. Karla Drenner (D-Avondale Estates), to prohibit discrimination in public employment on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, was heard, but did not come up for a vote in, House Judiciary Civil Subcommittee II.

During a February 27 hearing, Chairman Jacobs said the Committee would keep the bill under advisement.

During an earlier hearing, Tanya Ditty, State Director of Concerned Women for America, testified that the bill would prohibit discrimination on the basis of not just sexual orientation but “sexual orientations” in the plural.  She went on to list what she considered to be a number of sexual orientations, including pedophilia and necrophilia, leading to outrage among LGBTQI advocates for the comparison.

DRUG TESTING OF WELFARE RECIPIENTS

Bills requiring drug testing for recipients of aid in Georgia under the Temporary Aid for Needy Families (TANF) program, passed both the House and Senate.  This bill is likely to face a legal challenge, seeing as how a similar law, recently passed in Florida, has already been ruled unconstitutional in federal court.

SB 292 passed the Senate on March 07, in a vote of 35 to 18, according to a Senate press release.

“We should be concerned with foreclosures, jobs, bankruptcy, and legislation to boost the economy instead of obsessed with social issues,” Sen. Emanuel Jones (D-Decatur) said yesterday.

A similar House bill, HB 861 passed the House on March 07, instead of HB 668, which was originally introduced.  It appears to be a repackaging of the same bill.

OPEN GOVERNMENT

HB 397, a bill to dramatically revise Georgia’s Open Meetings Act and Open Records Act, passed the Georgia House on March 05, in a vote of 154 to 5.

As previously reported by APN, the bill is a mixed bag, containing several good provisions on the side of openness and citizens, and containing several bad provisions on the side of secrecy and government agencies.

At a hearing on February 22, State Rep. Jay Powell (R-Camilla) noted that the bill had been amended to address concerns raised by APN’s News Editor regarding the requirements for the recording of voters in the minutes.

APN had been concerned that the way the bill had currently been written, the requirements for non-roll call votes would have been confusing.  

The Supreme Court of Georgia recently ruled in favor of APN’s Editor on February 06, that secret votes are not allowed in the State of Georgia, as per the way the Open Meetings Act is currently written.

Additionally, a controversial provision regarding allowing agencies to bill individuals requesting records under the Georgia Open Records Act, for time spent by agencies’ attorneys reviewing the documents for possible exemptions or redactions, was removed.

Attorney General Sam Olens originally told the House Judiciary Civil Subcommittee II on February 22 that he had no problem with any of the provisions as proposed at that time.

However, ironically, Olens held a private meeting with Powell and Chairman Jacobs, to relay his concerns.

“I can’t be expected to disagree publicly with the bill’s sponsor,” Olens told the Fulton County Daily Report newspaper.  

SOLAR POWER

SB 401, a bill by State Sen. Buddy Carter (R-Pooler), to allow individuals and businesses to enter into finance agreements to install solar panels and sell the excess energy from the panels to entities other than Georgia Power, stalled in the Natural Resources and Environment Committee, where it was opposed by Chairman Ross Tolleson (R-Perry).

Carter then attached the bill to another bill, SB 459, which had been referred to the Regulated Industries and Utilities Committee.  SB 459 passed the Senate on March 07; however, according to Kate Greer in the Senate Press Office, it did not include Carter’s amendment.

HB 961, a bill by State Rep. Drenner, which would have prohibited homeowner associations from not allowing homeowners to have solar panels on their homes, passed the House Judiciary Committee favorably.

However, on March 07, it failed in the full House, in a vote of 84 to 79.  While there were more yeas than nays, it failed to get the required 91 votes [half of the 180 Member House plus one].

It failed a second time upon reconsideration, getting 87 to 74.

SYNTHETIC CANNABINOIDS

SB 370, a bill intended to end the sale of synthetic cannabinoids or fake marijuana in Georgia stores, passed the Senate on February 22.  The bill now awaits for House action.

As previously reported by APN, the chemicals are sprayed on various herbs and hold as herbal incense or potpurri.  Ingestion of the incense has led to thousands of emergency room visits nationwide and even some deaths.  

Chase Burnett of Fayette County, Georgia, died after smoking one of the herbal incense brands and getting in a hot tub.  The herbal incense has been reported to cause extremely rapid heart beats, which may have been exacerbated by Burnett getting in the hot tub, which also raises the heart rate.

The legislature banned a number of synthetic cannabinoids two years ago; however, those who make the herbal incense blends switched to a number of different chemical compounds that were not banned.  SB 370 is intended to ban such a wide array of compounds that it will be difficult to make new products.  However, time will tell whether even that will work.

(END/2012)

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