End of 2013 Georgia Legislative Session Wrap-up
(APN) ATLANTA — The Georgia General Assembly wrapped up the 2013 Legislative Session on Thursday, March 28, 2013, the fortieth day of the session.
During the Session, where Republicans fell just short of a supermajority in the State House, Republicans continued to push legislation to further their extreme right-wing agenda.
This year, Republicans in the Legislature focused on attacking on Fulton County specifically and the principle of local control generally, which is ironic given Republicans’ citation of local control as something that they support when it suits them, for example, in the creation of new majority White cities in north Fulton and DeKalb counties.
A number of bills were proposed to micromanage the governance structure and affairs of Fulton County and MARTA. Some of these passed, while others failed.
Other bills were targeted at other Democratic strongholds in the State of Georgia, such as the newly consolidated Macon-Bibb government.
Republicans also continued to push privatization of education through so-called parent trigger legislation, which did not pass this year.
HB 541 – TO RAISE HOMESTEAD TAX EXEMPTION IN FULTON COUNTY – FAILED
As previously reported by APN, State Rep. Jan Jones (R-Milton) first introduced HB 170, which would have imposed a cap on certain millage rates imposed by Fulton County, and would have increased the homestead exemption from the current amount of 30,000 dollars to 60,000 dollars after a two year phase-in period.
However, HB 170 did not pass, and Rep. Jones introduced HB 541 to accomplish the same.
HB 541 passed the House on March 13, 2013, on a vote of 119 to 51, with House Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge), who typically does not vote, making the 120th vote.
Because HB 541 was local legislation, it was able to be considered by the State Senate even though it passed after crossover day.
However, the legislation did not pass the Senate, in part because some Republicans could not stomach the idea of supporting a tax break that would have had a progressive impact on working class and middle class families [that is, more Fulton County homeowners whose homes are less valuable, would have paid little or no property taxes], even if it aided them in their goal of starving Fulton County government of revenue.
HB 171 – TO REFORM THE FULTON COUNTY COMMISSION – PASSED, PENDING GOVERNOR SIGNATURE AND USDOJ REVIEW
HB 171, sponsored by State Rep. Lynne Riley (R-Johns Creek), re-shapes the Fulton County Board of Commissioners (BOC), eliminating one at-large seat that is currently held by Commission Robb Pitts (District 2 at large); creating a new sixth District seat to be located in North Fulton; and redrawing the district map to draw Commissioners Emma Darnell (District 5) and Bill Edwards (District 7)–the Board’s two progressive champions–into the same District.
The legislation passed the State House on March 01, 2013, on a vote of 99 to 54; and the State Senate on a vote of 31 to 11 on March 21. The House has sent it to the Governor for signature.
However, the legislation will likely face challenges under the Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965 on the basis that it reduces the ability of minority voters in Fulton County to elect the Representative of their choice.
First, the new maps would reduce the number of candidates Black voters in Atlanta and South Fulton can vote for from three to two [that is, from two at-large seats and one District seat, to one at-large seat and one District seat].
Second, the new maps would force two Black incumbents, who have been selected by minority voters to represent them, to run against each other, without requiring any White incumbents to run against each other.
Section 5 of the VRA, which requires that Georgia and other states and jurisdictions receive preclearance for any and all election changes to the US Department of Justice, is currently being reviewed by the Supreme Court of the US.
If Section 5 is upheld by the Court, the new Fulton County map would continue to require pre-approval by the USDOJ. In the unlikely event Section 5 is not upheld, the USDOJ could still bring Section 3 litigation, seeking injunctive relief from a federal court specific to the Fulton County map.
HB 172 – LEGISLATION ALTERING EMPLOYEE CLASSIFICATIONS AND PROTECTIONS IN FULTON COUNTY – FAILED
HB 172, sponsored by Rep. Chuck Martin (R-Alpharetta), would have made changes to Fulton County’s civil service system for employees, to where any employee hired after the adoption of the bill would have been automatically placed in an unclassified status. It stated that any current employee who is in a classified status but who accepts another position within Fulton County Government would have been placed in an unclassified status at that time. It also provided that employees may be dismissed, demoted, or disciplined for any reason or no reason without notice, explanation, or appeal.
It did not come up for a vote in the State House or Senate.
HR 275, 276, 277, 278, 279 – LEGISLATION TO RE-CREATE MILTON COUNTY – FAILED
Various pieces of legislation to pave the way for the re-creation of Milton County out of north Fulton County, including House Resolutions 275, 276, 277, 278, and 289, did not come up for votes in the State House or Senate.
The identical bills would have allowed for counties that previously existed, and that had historically merged into other counties, to re-create themselves through a voter referendum.
HB 264 – LEGISLATION TO REFORM MARTA BY REQUIRING PRIVATIZATION – FAILED
HB 264, sponsored by State Rep. Mike Jacobs (R-Brookhaven), would have revised the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority Act of 1965, to make numerous changes.
Of the major changes, first, the bill would have made further changes to the Board of Directors, which Jacobs had already successfully worked to reduce in size in previous years.
City of Atlanta would have retained three appointees to the MARTA Board.
DeKalb County would retained four appointees, and instead of the Board of Commissioners of Dekalb County appointing all four, they would have appointed three, while the fourth appointment would have been made by a consortium of mayors of cities in DeKalb County.
Fulton County would have retained three appointees. However, instead of the Board of Commissioners selecting all three, a consortium of mayors of cities in north Fulton County would have selected two; and a consortium of mayors of cities in south Fulton County–along with the Chairman of the Board of Commissioners and any Commissioners representing south Fulton County–would have selected the third.
The governor would have also gotten to appoint one voting member who lives DeKalb County or Fulton County.
In addition, the Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Transportation and the Executive Director of the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority would have continued to serve as non-voting members.
This is the second year in a row that legislation to restructure the MARTA Board was defeated. Similar legislation had been considered in 2012.
The bill also would have provided for a method for Clayton County, Cobb County, or Gwinnett County, to join the Authority, by submitting to the voters the respective county a ballot referendum.
The bill also would have removed restrictions on the operation of private enterprises; and changed retirement plans for future MARTA employees, by suspending defined benefit plans for future employees.
The bill also would provided for the privatization of certain services: specifically, accounts payable, payroll processing, human resource benefits administration, employee recruiting and staffing, employee data and records management, telephone maintenance and support, information technology service desk, end-user computer support, workers’ compensation claims administration, customer care telephone hotline, paratransit bus service, and the interior cleaning of buses and trains.
The privatization proposal follows from a management audit done by KPMG, a consulting group, that reported that MARTA spent 50 million dollars above the national average for employee benefits, and could save between 60 million and 142 million dollars over five years by outsourcing many functions. MARTA currently has an annual operating deficit of 30 million dollars.
The bill also would have revised procedures for the collective bargaining process and the appointment of an arbitrator.
Also, it would have provided for a three-year suspension of MARTA’s state-imposed restriction on how it spends its sales and use tax proceeds. MARTA is currently required to spend fifty percent of its sales and use tax revenue on capital improvements. The legislature has previously waived the requirement for certain temporary periods in the past.
The legislation passed the State House 113 to 57 on February 21, 2013, but did not come up for a vote in the Senate.
HB 361 – LEGISLATION TO HARM UNIONS – PASSED
HB 361, sponsored by State Rep. Ed Lindsey (R-Atlanta), is directed at harming unions and making it more difficult for them to operate.
Among other things, the legislation requires that union members reauthorize any deduction of union dues from their paychecks no less frequently than once per year.
The legislation was opposed by groups such as the Atlanta-North Georgia Labor Council of the American Federation of Labor – Council of Industrial Organizations.
HB 361 passed the State House in a vote of 110 to 57 on March 04, 2013.
The State Senate passed an amended version on March 25, 2013. However, the State House disagreed with the substitute on March 28, and the Senate “receded” from their substitute, thus agreeing to the House version of the bill.
The bill does not reflect as having been sent to the Governor’s office yet, but according to JD Easley, Member Press Secretary for the House, the Governor’s office will have received the bill by today, April 04, or tomorrow, April 05.
The bill originally included language that revived a debate from 2012, regarding providing for criminal trespass and criminal conspiracy charges aimed at protesters who engage in civil disobedience in the State of Georgia.
“A person may be convicted of both conspiracy to commit criminal trespass and the completed crime of criminal trespass, in which event such separate crime of conspiracy shall be a misdemeanor of a high and aggravated nature,” the original HB 361 stated.
However, that language was removed from the bill after a Committee hearing.
HB 362 – LEGISLATION TO RESTRICT LOCAL GOVERNMENTS FROM LIMITING CERTAIN PUBLIC WORKS CONSTRUCTION CONTRACTS TO CERTAIN VENDORS – FAILED
HB 362, also sponsored by Rep. Lindsey, would have required that local governments put any public works construction contracts out for competitive bidding.
“It would restrict the ability of local communities to hire skilled, local workers for construction projects and open the door to contractors from out of state—many of whom would give big money to state politicians in return—to come into Georgia and make a quick buck using a less-skilled workforce,” the AFL-CIO said in an email to supporters.
Earlier this year, the City of Atlanta passed legislation to increase First Source Hiring for the City, which gives preferential treatment to local workers for development projects using taxpayer dollars. The city legislation established a new program within the Atlanta Workforce Development Agency called Atlanta City Build, where local workers will be trained for such jobs.
Georgia STAND-UP had advocated for the new policy, a policy which would have become illegal under the proposed HB 362.
Currently, the City of Atlanta is also considering setting aside jobs for local workers in the context of the proposed deal for a new Falcons Stadium in Atlanta’s Vine City neighborhood.
HB 362 passed the State House in vote of 110 to 59 on March 04, 2013. However, in the Senate, the bill was referred to the Senate Urban Affairs Cmte, which is chaired by State Sen. Ronald Ramsey (D-Decatur) and is populated nearly completely by Democrats. It did not come up there for a vote.
Jim Galloway, a blogger for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper, speculated that the Lt. Governor referred the bill to the Urban Affairs Cmte in order to kill it, and thus save the Falcons Stadium deal from possibly falling apart.
HB 123 – PARENT TRIGGER LEGISLATION TO ALLOW EASIER CONVERSION OF PUBLIC SCHOOLS TO CHARTER SCHOOLS – FAILED
HB 123, also sponsored by Rep. Lindsey, as previously covered by APN, would have allowed for a “parent trigger” process by which a majority of parents at a traditional public school could petition to convert the school to a charter school.
It passed the State House on March 05, 2013, 97 to 74. It did not come up a vote in the Senate.
HB 372 – HOPE SCHOLARSHIP CHANGES – PASSED
HB 372, sponsored by Rep. Christian Coomer (R-Cartersville), made further changes to the HOPE Scholarship since those enacted in 2011. It lowers the grade point average required for students to receive the scholarship if they attend a technical college, from the current 3.0, back to the previous standard of 2.0.
It passed the State House on March 07, 2013, 169 to 1. It passed the Senate by substitute on March 22. The House agreed to amendments on March 26; the Senate agreed to amendments on March 28. The bill was sent to the Governor on April 03.