APN Issues State House, State Senate Scorecard for 2015 (UPDATE 2)
(APN) ATLANTA — As next year’s General Assembly legislative session quickly approaches in Georgia, Atlanta Progressive News is taking a look back on what took place under the Gold Dome earlier this year, in 2015, updating the Legislative Scorecard we first published in 2014.
We again rated State House Representatives and State Senators representing areas wholly or partially in Fulton and/or DeKalb Counties on the progressiveness of their voting records.
The new, combined 2014-2015 Legislative Scorecard is available as a public Google spreadsheet, online HERE: http://bit.ly/1NV1p0D
APN introduced its Legislative Scorecard last year, grading legislators based on how they voted on bills APN covered, and whether their votes aligned with APN’s editorial stance on those bills.
While we believe our editorial positions, which inform the scoring of the votes, reflect progressive principles of justice, readers are free to use the data underlying the Scorecards to develop their own grades.
This year, we focused on eleven bills and resolutions that concerned topics including cityhood movements, the “religious freedom” to discriminate, a state takeover of public schools, and medical cannabis, to name a few.
APN has updated the Legislative Scorecard to include scored voting records for the 2014 and 2015 sessions. The Scorecard includes individual grades for each year, as well as Cumulative Grades.
Points of interest include:
- While there seem to be more intra-party splits among House Democrats, Senate Democrats appear to have stuck together in opposition to Republican proposals.
- The most progressive House Democrat over the last two years has been State Rep. Margaret Kaiser (D-Atlanta), who is not running for reelection and is likely running for Mayor of Atlanta. Her score, however, does not include her votes regarding the Charter School Commission referendum, which took place prior to 2014.
- In the House, there is a full range of scores, from very low F’s, to high F’s, among Republicans; and from high F to A, among Democrats.
- There is even slight overlap in the House, with Republican Rep. Joe Wilkinson (R-Sandy Springs)–the most progressive House Republican–receiving a score of 62, that is, 10.5 points higher that the least progressive House Democrat, State Rep. LaDawn Blankett Jones (D-Atlanta), who scored 51.5. Another Republican State Representative, Beth Beskin (R-Atlanta), scored 56, which is 4.5 points higher than that of Jones.
Below is a list of how Metro Atlanta Senators and Representatives ranked on their Cumulative Grades, from highest to lowest, followed by a complete description of each bill we covered:
STATE SENATE (CUMULATIVE GRADE 2014 – 2015)
Sen. Nan Orrock A+ 100
Sen. Horacena Tate A+ 100
Sen. Vincent Fort A+ 100
Sen. Steve Henson A+ 100
Sen. Elena Parent A+ 100 (2015 only)
Sen. Gloria Butler A+ 100
Sen. Gail Davenport A 95
Sen. Emanuel Jones A 94
Sen. Ronald Ramsey A 94
Sen. Donzella James B+ 87.5
Sen. Michael Crane F 37
Sen. Fran Millar F 34.5
Sen. Brandon Beach F 24.5
Sen. Hunter Hill F 22.5
Sen. Judson Hill F 20.25
Sen. David Shafer F 19.75
Sen. John Albers F 7.5
STATE HOUSE (CUMULATIVE GRADE 2014 – 2015)
Rep. Margaret Kaiser A- 92.5
Rep. Michele Henson B+ 89
Rep. Karla Drenner B- 82.5
Rep. Simone Bell B- 81.5
Rep. Sheila Jones B- 81.5
Rep. Rahn Mayo B- 81.25
Rep. Scott Holcomb B- 81.25
Rep. Keisha Waites B- 80.5
Rep. Tyrone Brooks B- 80.5
Rep. Mable Thomas B- 80
Rep. Stacey Abrams C 76.5
Rep. Virgil Fludd C 75.5
Rep. Howard Mosby C 75.5
Rep. Sharon Beasley-Teague C 75
Rep. Tonya Anderson C 73.75
Rep. Pat Gardner C 73
Rep. Karen Bennett D 69
Rep. Roger Bruce D 68.5
Rep. E. “Coach” Williams D 68.5
Rep. Billy Mitchell D 68.5
Rep. Dar’shun Kendrick D 68.5
Rep. Pamela Stephenson D 67.5
Rep. Joe Wilkinson D 62
Rep. Ronnie Mabra F 56.25
Rep. Beth Beskin F 56 (2015 only)
Rep. LaDawn Jones F 51.5
Rep. Wes Cantrell F 50 (2015 only)
Rep. Dee Dawkins-Haigler F 44.5
Rep. Jan Jones F 42
Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver F 40
Rep. Brad Raffensperger F 37.5 (2015 only)
Rep. Chuck Martin F 34.75
Rep. Wendell Willard F 33
Rep. Tom Rice F 31
Rep. Harry Geisinger F 30.5
Rep. Mike Jacobs F 27.5
Rep. Rich Golick F 27
Rep. Matt Dollar F 27
Rep. Tom Taylor F 24.75
Rep. Mike Dudgeon F 24
HB 1 – MEDICAL CANNABIS OIL CRIMINAL IMMUNITY – PASSED
HB 1, sponsored by State Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon), provides immunity from prosecution in Georgia, for those with qualifying conditions, who use low-THC cannabis oil.
On February 25, 2015, HB 1 passed the House in a vote of 158 to 2.
On March 24, the Georgia Senate passed HB 1, which contained elements of a previously-passed Senate bill, with a vote of 48 to 6.
The Senate version of HB 1 passed the House on March 25, with a vote of 160 to 1. State Rep. Stephen Allison (R-Blairsville) was the only opposition vote in the House.
The medically qualifying conditions are cancer, Multiple Sclerosis, seizure disorders, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Mitochondrial disease, and Sickle Cell disease.
Provisions from SB 185 were added to HB 1 to require a physician’s recommendation and a registration card from the Georgia Department of Public Health for qualifying individuals to receive a low maximum five percent THC oil. The Senate amendments also create the Georgia Commission on Medical Cannabis, which will study the possibility of in-state cultivation in the future.
Governor Deal signed this bill into law on April 16, 2015.
HB 57 – SOLAR PANEL LEASE FINANCING – PASSED
HB 57 passed the House on February 09, 2015, with a vote of 165 to 0. It passed the Senate on March 27 with a vote of 51 to 0.
It was authored by State Rep. Mike Dudgeon (R-Johns Creek), an electrical engineer.
It allows for third party solar financing for the installation of rooftop solar panels, instead of homeowners and business having to pay full price up front. The energy generated is to be used by property owned or occupied by customers, and any excess power fed back to Georgia Power.
Governor Deal signed this bill into law on May 12, 2015.
HB 160 – RACCOON TRAPPING – PASSED
The full House passed the bill–which repeals a provision prohibiting the trapping of raccoons in certain counties–on February 20, 2015, in a vote of 144 to 18.
The Senate passed the bill with a vote of 32 to 17 on March 25, 2015.
Governor Deal signed this bill into law on April 29, 2015.
HB 397 – ELIMINATING GEORGIA SOIL AND WATER CONSERVATION COMMISSION – PASSED
In his proposed budget, Gov. Deal eliminated funding for the Georgia Soil and Water Conservation Commission (GSWCC) and conferred it upon the Department of Agriculture and Department of Natural Resources. The move sought to effectively eliminate the Commission as an independent agency.
HB 397, introduced by State Rep. David Knight (R-Griffin) on February 19, 2015, subordinates GSWCC to the Georgia Department of Agriculture.
It also creates a separate, Governor-appointed Council that will have ultimate control over the “Green Book,” GSWCC’s manual which sets the standards for protecting against runoff and erosion.
HB 397 passed the House on March 09, 2015, in a vote of 156 to 12.
It passed the Senate on March 26, 2015, in a vote of 31 to 19, one day after GSWCC’s board fired the agency’s director of seven years.
Governor Deal signed this bill into law on April 8, 2015.
HB 515 – PROPOSED CITY OF TUCKER – PASSED
The bill, to create a referendum to create a City of Tucker, out of the portion of the historic Tucker neighborhood in DeKalb County, passed the House on April 02, 2015, with a vote of 313 to 33.
It passed the Senate on April 02, 2015, with a vote of 43 to 4.
A deal was finally struck on the shared borders between Tucker and LaVista Hills. The agreement gives Tucker a Walmart and QuikTrip.
Tucker would include approximately 33,300 people and extend eastward from the I-285 perimeter with some land inside. The two cities would share Northlake Mall retail area with LaVista Road forming the border.
Governor Deal signed this bill into law on May 12, 2015.
On November 3, 2015, citizens in the proposed city of Tucker voted overwhelmingly to approve cityhood.
HB 520 – PROPOSED CITY OF LAVISTA HILLS – PASSED
The bill to establish a referendum on whether to create a new city of LaVista Hills, out of a portion of northwest unincorporated DeKalb County, passed the House on April 02, 2015 by a vote of 112 to 52. It passed the Senate on April 02 by a vote of 36 to 8.
The last minute boundary deal between proponents of Tucker and proponents of LaVista Hills will move about 1,500 residents near Livsey Elementary into the proposed LaVista Hills.
As currently envisioned, LaVista Hills would include approximately 67,500 people with an area from outside Emory University to the eastern perimeter of I-285.
Mason Mill and Medlock neighborhoods were removed from the LaVista Hills map because residents there wish to consider annexation into Atlanta.
Governor Deal signed this bill into law on May 12, 2015.
On November 3, 2015, citizens in the proposed city of LaVista voted to reject cityhood.
SB 129 – RELIGIOUS FREEDOM – FAILED
SB 129, sponsored by State Sen. Josh McKoon (R-Columbus), passed the State Senate on March 05, 2015, with a 37 to 15 vote and was engrossed.
The bill would have purported to change the standard by which courts determine whether government laws or actions burden a Georgian’s freedom of religion, to the compelling interest standard.
LGBTQI equality activists were most vocal against the bill, concerned that the bill could be used as a license to discriminate; other opponents of the bill raised the possibility of religious freedom being used to purportedly justify child abuse or domestic violence.
The bill was tabled in the House Judiciary Civil Committee after State Rep. Mike Jacobs (R-Brookhaven) successfully added an anti-discrimination amendment by a narrow 9 to 8 vote.
State Rep. Barry Fleming (R-Harlem) tabled the bill and said he could no longer support it.
Sen. McKoon, on Sine Die day, made a last ditch attempt to attach the language of SB 129, without the non-discrimination language, to HB 71, but it was rejected by the Senate.
SB 133 AND SR 287 – STATEWIDE OPPORTUNITY SCHOOL DISTRICT TO TAKE OVER AND PRIVATIZE LOCAL SCHOOLS – PASSED
SB 133, which creates the statewide Opportunity School District, to take over so-called failing schools, passed the House on March 25, 2015 with a vote of 108 to 53.
The Senate agreed to House Substitute on March 27, with a vote of 33 to 16.
Companion legislation, SR 287, to create a referendum to amend the constitution to allow the District to operate, also passed. The referendum will appear on the November 2016 General Election ballot.
SR 287 passed the Senate on March 05 with a vote of 38 to 15. The House voted on March 25 to adopt and pass with a vote of 121 to 47.
The resolution was sponsored in the House by State Rep. Butch Miller (R- Gainesville) and in the Senate by State Sen. Christian Coomer (R-Cartersville).
The Opportunity School District (OSD) would take the place of local school boards with respect to the governance of certain schools. The Governor would appoint the OSD superintendent. The OSD superintendent would have unlimited power to fire, hire, and control finances and curricula.
Governor Deal signed SR 287 into law on May 12, 2015. He signed HB 133 into law on April 21, 2015.
Georgia voters will have the choice to approve or reject the Opportunity School District on the November 2016 ballot.
SB 139 – LIMITING MUNICIPALITIES’ ABILITY TO ENACT PLASTIC BAG BANS – FAILED
Introduced by State Sen. Tyler Harper (R-Ocilla), the bill aimed to prohibit local governments from banning or regulating plastic bags and other disposable items like takeout food containers. Clarke County and Tybee Island are currently considering ordinances to ban plastic bags.
The House voted against the bill 85 to 67 on March 27, 2015.
It had passed the Senate on February 26, 2015, in a vote of 32 to 19.
SR 80 – DEMANDING CHANGES TO AP HISTORY – FAILED
The resolution to demand changes to Advanced Placement history courses in Georgia–to de-emphasize social justice and emphasize American Exceptionalism–was sponsored in the House by State Rep. William Ligon (R-Brunswick) and in the Senate by State Sen. Mike Dudgeon (R-Johns Creek).
The resolution instructs the state Education Superintendent to reject the College Board’s new AP U.S. History program on the grounds that it has a left-leaning bias.
On March 11, 2015, it was adopted by substitute, with a vote of 38 to 17.
On March 26, the House committee passed a substitute of the substitute.
On April 02, it was withdrawn from the House and recommitted; it did not come up for a full House vote.
CORRECTION and UPDATE 1: A previous version of this article stated that State Rep. Beth Beskin (R-Atlanta) had the highest score of any House Republican in the Fulton and DeKalb delegations. In fact, Rep. Joe Wilkinson (R-Sandy Springs) scored a few points higher.
UPDATE 2: A previous version of this article referred to State Sen. “Gail” Butler; however, it is Gloria Butler.