Category: Legislature

What Can Fundraising Data Tell Us About The HD24 Special Election?

A blog called “Local And Special Elections” has taken a look at the fundraising data reported thusfar in the special election for House district 24. The election of course takes place today.

The author matched donations over $100 with precincts within the district and within Forsyth in an attempt to a) gauge support each candidate has from people who can vote and b) predict what might happen today. He wisely decides not to predict the outcome since the sample size is very small. However, there is some interesting data in his post.

– The two vote-rich areas of HD 24 are likely to be precincts 10 (Midway) and 16 (Otwell), which comprise much of the middle of the district. The three candidates who received contributions from within the district (Gilligan, Underwood, and Van Sant) all received money from multiple individuals and businesses in Midway, so I would expect that the votes from there will be split.

– Surprisingly, only one campaign donation came from someone in Otwell precinct (to Gilligan). One data point isn’t much to base a strong conclusion on – the method would be better tested with more data. Perhaps this suggests that turnout in Otwell will be less than in the district as a whole.

– Precinct 29 (Polo) is likely to produce the third-most amount of votes. Here, Gilligan boasts more contributions than anyone (3), and she also received another from someone in the precinct, but just outside the HD 24 boundary. This suggests she should run very strong here.

– Underwood received the only contribution from an address in precinct 15 (Heardsville), which has almost as many voters as Polo. Based on the address provided on his registration documents, it is also his home area. I would expect him to finish first or second here.

The candidate with the most unique contributors (donating over $100) within HD24? Sheri Gilligan.

Georgia’s New Civil Asset Forfeiture Law Does Not Go Far Enough

Jason Pye is the Director of Justice Reform for FreedomWorks. Jorge Marin is the Policy Specialist for Criminal Justice Reform for Americans for Tax Reform.

Under the leadership of Gov. Nathan Deal, Georgia has become a national leader on justice reform. Prior to the reforms, which began in 2012, the Peach State spent over $1 billion annually housing almost 56,000 inmates, many of whom are low-level, nonviolent offenders, the rate of repeat offenders was depressingly high.

The new “smart on crime” approach undertaken by Gov. Deal has been a resounding success. The number of inmates has fallen and crime and repeat offender rates have dipped. The reforms have been good for taxpayers. In 2014, the Georgia Justice Reform Council estimated savings of $264 million over five years.

This past legislative session, Gov. Deal and the Georgia General Assembly took a look at another aspect of justice reform by reforming the state’s terrible civil asset forfeiture laws, which lack meaningful protections for innocent people.

Civil asset forfeiture is a particularly pernicious form of government overreach. Overzealous law enforcement can seize the property or money of an individual without ever charging or convicting them with a crime. In an inversion of justice, the seized items are considered “guilty” until proven innocent by the property owner.

Innocent people who are adversely affected by civil asset forfeiture walk away from their property rather than fight what would be a lengthy and costly legal battle to get wrongfully seized property back.
Read more

New House Committee Chairmen Named

The Georgia House Committee on Assignments met today to begin the process of replacing the committee chairmanships left open as a result of the six vacant seats this spring.

The following representatives were named committee chairmen:

  • Transportation:  Rep. Christian Coomer (R-Cartersville)
  • Industry & Labor:  Rep. Jason Shaw (R-Lakeland)
  • Game, Fish & Parks:  Rep. David Knight (R-Griffin)
  • MARTOC:  Rep. Tom Taylor (R-Dunwoody)
  • Small Business Development:  Rep. Bubber Epps (R-Dry Branch)
  • Special Rules:  Rep. Rick Jasperse (R-Jasper)
  • Code Revision:  Rep. Gerald Greene (R-Cuthbert)
  • Appropriations Subcommittee on Public Safety:  Rep. Andy Welch (R-McDonough)

Good choices or bad? You tell us in the comments.

Jon Burns Elected House Majority Leader; Bruce Williamson Elected Secretary Treasurer

The House Majority Caucus met this afternoon to elect new leadership, following the appointment of Larry O’Neal to a judgeship in late April. Representative Jon Burns of Newington was elected as Majority Leader to replace O’Neal, defeating Representative Allen Peake of Macon. Because Peake had to resign his position as majority Secretary / Treasurer, an election for that position was also held. Rep. Bruce Williamson of Monroe defeated Rep. Mike Dudgeon of Johns Creek for that seat.

Following the elections, House Speaker David Ralston of Blue Ridge said in a statement,

I am proud to congratulate Rep. Jon Burns on his election as Majority Leade. Jon is a great asset to our leadership team and I know he will serve our members well in this important role. The Republican caucus is fortunate to have a deep bench of talented leaders and I know Rep. Allen Peake will continue to help us move our caucus and this state forward.

The Speaker was widely viewed as supporting Rep. Burns for Majority Leader, and there were rumors of pressure from his office to support Burns prior to the vote. However, the vote was conducted by secret ballot, and the vote count was not announced, making the arm twisting claims less plausible. Speaking to reporters after the election, Speaker Ralston denied that arms were twisted.

Each candidate addressed the caucus from the well prior to the election. Here is Rep. Burns’s speech:

And Rep. Peake’s speech:


RIP: Representative Harry Geisinger

More sad news from the General Assembly today as Rep. Harry Geisinger has passed away at the age of 81. Geisinger was one of those Republican Pioneers who served in the House when Republicans were almost as rare as a comet. Geisinger, along with people like Paul Coverdell, John Linder, and many others worked hard to make the GOP appealing to more Georgians. As Jim Galloway notes:

Geisinger was a member of the inner corps of Republicans of the post-Goldwater period in Georgia, and was first elected to the House in 1968. He attempted a run in a multi-candidate Republican primary for governor in 1974, but was defeated – “Machine Gun” Ronnie Thompson, the mayor of Macon, was the GOP nominee that year. He lost to Democrat George Busbee.

Geisinger won re-election to the House in 2004, where he became an advocate for pari-mutuel wagering and the horse-racing industry.

It was an honor to get to know Rep. Geisinger and to serve with him in the Legislature. He will be missed.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to his wife Pat and their family and friends.

Jay Roberts To Leave the House?

I heard a rumor a few weeks back that Georgia House Transportation Chairman Jay Roberts was going to be appointed as Georgia DOT Planning Director, perhaps as a reward for successfully guiding the Transportation Funding Act to passage this year. No one has confirmed it, although several others with connections at the Gold Dome have heard the rumor as well.

If true, that might explain why Roberts’s name wasn’t mentioned as a possible replacement for Majority Leader Larry O’Neil.

Anyone else out there hear anything?

RIP: Former Rep. Jay Shaw

Former State Representative Jay Shaw passed away this morning. I have the pleasure of serving with his son Rep. Jason Shaw, who was elected to his father’s seat when the elder Shaw retired from the Legislature in 2010. After his retirement, Jay Shaw served on the Georgia Department of Transportation Board and was re-elected to that position earlier this year.

According to the Valdosta Times:

Shaw served as the Mayor of Lakeland for many years as well as the state representative of District 176 from 1994-2010.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the Shaw family.

House Majority Leader O’Neal On His Way Out?

It appears as if a rumor that has floated around the Capitol might actually be true. I little while ago I received an email addressed to the House Republican Caucus from Majority Leader Larry O’Neal. The Leader will be accepting a Judgeship of the Georgia Tax Tribunal, should the Governor offer it to him. I think it’s safe to say that by sending this email out, the Governor will be making him an offer. Leader O’Neal will make a fine Tax Tribunal Judge. I don’t know of anyone who knows Georgia’s tax code better then he does.

In my five years in the House, Larry O’Neal has been the Majority Leader. He truly cares, perhaps more than anyone else in the House, about each member of the GOP Caucus. He spent countless hours as our Leader, providing advice, raising money, hosting fundraisers, and doing what he could to insure our success as individuals and as Caucus members.

As I mentioned on WGST this past Friday, a misconception seeped out during this past session. As you will recall, during the initial House debate over HB170, the transportation funding act, O’Neal offered an amendment to lower the excise tax rate from .292 cents per gallon to .24. That amendment was defeated and somehow the rumor started that the amendment was part of some sort of rebellion. Nothing could be further from the truth, and anyone who knows Larry O’Neal knows that is false. The amendment was not a surprise move. It had been talked about in one of our Caucus meetings, and I learned later, talked about for some time in House Leadership meetings. Whether you agreed with the amendment or not, the goal behind the amendment, and the reason the Leader offered it was to try to get 91 Republicans to vote for HB170. Why 91? That is the number of votes needed to pass any bill in the House. If 91 Republicans supported the House version of the bill, it would send a strong signal of unity among the House GOP Caucus. As I said, the amendment failed, and I’m disappointed that some may have misinterpreted his actions.

It will be the House’s loss should Larry O’Neal resign at the end of the month, but I’m glad for the opportunity to have served with him. I know he will do an excellent job with the Tax Tribunal. I’m also glad for the reader’s indulgence as I in a small way set the record straight.

Below the fold is the full text of Leader O’Neal’s letter to the House GOP Caucus. Read more

Georgia House Republicans want to silence dissent while padding their caucus with unlimited cash

Georgia House Republicans have hijacked a Senate bill dealing with ethics fines for elected officials and candidates by adding provisions that would allow for unlimited contributions to party caucuses while placing new restrictions on paid issue advocacy within 180 days of an election.

When it was introduced in February, SB 127 was a fairly mundane, three-page piece of legislation dealing with outstanding ethics fines for elected officials and candidates running for office. A substitute version of the bill passed the state Senate last month with little opposition.

Members of the House Rules Committee, however, had other plans for the bill. They’ve pushed a substitute version through the committee that could have startling ramifications for free speech.
Read more

HB 91: Removing Barrier Of Graduation Tests–Heading To Governor’s Desk Today

HB 91, sponsored by House Education Committee Chairman Brooks Coleman (R-HD 97), passed out of the Senate last Wednesday by a vote of 50-3. The bill is expected to be signed into law by Governor Nathan Deal at noon today according to a House press release.

The bill removes the barrier of the Graduation Test, a test that has not been used since 2012, for prospective graduates who were unable to graduate due to failing one part of the exam but passed other metrics. The bill would allow those former students to petition the local school board in which they were last enrolled to determine their eligibility to receive a high school diploma. From the House presser:

“I am proud of my colleagues in the House and Senate for passing this important piece of legislation,” said Rep. Coleman. “The Georgia High School Graduation Test is an outdated standard that is no longer used by the state Board of Education. Although the test has not been used as a graduation standard since 2012, it still remains a barrier for some who attended high school when graduation was partly contingent on passage of the exam. HB 91 will allow more than 8,000 citizens to obtain their high school diplomas, secure higher paying jobs, and enjoy the sense of accomplishment that comes with a high school degree. I look forward to seeing Governor Deal sign it into law on Monday.”

Sponsored by Rep. Coleman, HB 91 allows students who met all other requirements for graduation to petition their local school board where they were last enrolled to obtain a degree from their high school. The legislation has received endorsements from the Atlanta Metro Chamber, Professional Association of Georgia Educators, Georgia Association of Educators, Georgia Association of Educational Leaders, Superintendent Association, and the Georgia School Board Association.

This looks to be a bill that helps Georgia confer more diplomas for folks who did meet standards but missed the mark of the no longer used graduation tests. Of course, it looks like it will be up to the local school boards to do the leg work to determine eligibility. Congratulations, Representative.

Updated: Legislature Battles with Autism Issue

An agreement that will allow some children with autism to be covered by insurance has been reached between the chairmen of the House and Senate insurance committee. In a press conference this afternoon at the Capitol, Charlie Bethel and Richard Smith announced that Bethel’s Senate Bill 1 will be merged with House Bill 429 at an 8 AM Senate Insurance committee on Friday. SB1 will be modified in two ways: The annual limit on benefits will be reduced from $35,000 to $30,000, and a sunset provision will be added to the bill such that if the plan announced by Smith this morning is implemented, the mandate in SB1 will end.

Both chairmen expect that the combined bill will easily pass the Senate, and the modified bill should be accepted by the House, which has already approved the non0=amended version. The law would take effect this year.

The proposed .2 cent sales tax would provide benefits for all autistic children up to 18 years old. Before it goes into effect, voters would have to approve a constitutional amendment, presumably in the fall of 2016. Should the voters not approve the tax, the provisions of SB1, which mandates insurance benefits for autistic children up to age 3 would remain in effect.

Original Post:

The possibility of a way to insure or treat children with autism is still alive at the Georgia Legislature, despite several setbacks. An effort to provide insurance coverage to children up to six years old failed during the 2014 session, as the House and Senate could not agree on Rep. Allen Peake’s medical marijuana bill. This year, Peake’s House Bill 1 is awaiting Governor Deal’s signature, while Senate Bill 1, one of the Senate Majority Caucus’s priorities for the session, remains stalled in the House. The bill received a hearing on Monday and remarks by House Insurance Chair Richard Smith afterwards cast doubt on whether the bill would advance.

In a Senate committee hearing, the contents of Senate Bill 1 were substituted into House Bill 162, giving the autism measure another chance at passage. The bill, carried in the Senate by P.K. Martin of Lawrenceville, is expected to be easily passed by the full Senate. The original bill would have set up parameters for insurance companies to conduct internal evaluations in order to ensure compliance with regulations–certainly not a bill of importance enough to set up a major battle with the House.

Meanwhile, Smith has his own idea for providing autism treatment. According to Sandra Parrish of WSB Radio, it would involve voters approving a constitutional amendment authorizing a two tenths of a percent sales tax. The approximately two to three hundred million dollars the tax would raise would provide coverage for all autistic children up to the age of 18.

With four days left in the session, including today, Smith’s bill is unlikely to advance very far this year.

Georgia Senate to Congress: Vote for Balanced Budget amendment

The Georgia State Senate passed a resolution on Wednesday, urging Congress to draft a Constitutional amendment requiring a balanced federal budget.

SR  155 passed by a vote of 37 to 17 and was sponsored by Sen. Judson Hill (R – Marietta).

Georgia joins other states that have introduced similar legislation to encourage Congress to act on a balanced budget amendment. In 1995, a widely-supported Congressional balanced budget amendment failed by one vote. In 2014, a similar bill also sponsored by Hill passed the Georgia State Senate, but failed to receive a vote in the Georgia House of Representatives.

The resolution now moves over to the state House.

Rep. Joe Wilkinson To Drop Bill To Make “Adoptable Dogs” Georgia’s Official Dog

Our dog Penelope may not qualify as an official state dog under Rep. Wilkinson’s legislation, per se, but she was rescued just the same.

Representative Joe Wilkinson (R-Atlanta) will be introducing legislation today in the House to make Georgia’s official dog “adoptable dogs”. It’s another admirable piece of “feel good” legislation that does highlight the need for more permanent and even foster homes to homeless dogs. My wife and I rescued two one week-old puppies from a litter that a friend and his wife’s dog had by accident. The mother dog was very young and inexperienced, so most of the litter didn’t survive. We took them in because our friends have two young twin boys, so splitting time between the boys and the puppies would have been too much, so we volunteered. It was a difficult, but rewarding task. We bottle-fed them every few hours, nurtured them, and made sure that they were on track of growing at a steady pace. We wound up adopting one of them, Penelope (as you can see in the picture to the right).

My first reaction to the bill was “Really? Of all the things we need to do, this is one of them?” I then took a breath and though about it some more. I think I understand the reason behind it, and I’m even fine with it passing, but I hope the part to raise awareness doesn’t stop after the cameras cut off after the press conferences are over. There are plenty of dogs and cats out there that are looking for warm, loving families. If the legislation garners an increase in pet adoptions, then great, but I believe there’s more that can be done.

I know that one of the local Humane Societies in Chattanooga was looking for volunteers, and I believe that the volunteer hours required to help take care of all of the animals was somewhere in the 15 hours per day range. That’s a lot of care. So, even if you can’t adopt a(nother) pet, there are other ways to make sure that homeless pets like volunteering or even donating to your local animal shelter.

UPDATE: Rep. Wilkinson stopped by the House press gallery to talk to Charlie and said that shelters have reported that they have had a few folks coming in and saying they have thought about adopting, but this has given them the motivation to adopt. Good job, Representative.

Ban the Bag Ban Ban

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. Read more

HB 56 Hopes to Regulate No-Knock Warrants

The police practice of executing no knock search warrants came under criticism last year with the botched case of 18 month old Bou Bou Phonesavanh. Officers executing the warrant late in the evening had hoped to find drugs or weapons, but they found neither, nor did they locate a drug dealer. Upon entering the house, the officers deployed a flash bang grenade in order to distract the home’s occupants. The grenade landed in a crib holding the baby and exploded, injuring Bou Bou, which led to expensive medical treatment that the family could ill afford.

At present in Georgia, the use of no-knock warrants is lightly regulated, if at all. In order to receive a search warrant, an officer must go before a judge and swear an oath explaining the probable cause for needing the warrant. And in practice, officers can request that they can execute the warrant without knocking on the door and identifying themselves first. While meant to be used sparingly, judges in some jurisdictions reportedly issue no-knock warrants up to 80% of the time.

To address this issue, Dawsonville Republican Rep. Kevin Tanner wrote House Bill 56 in order to codify the use of no knock warrants and provide a method of monitoring their use. The bill specifically defines a no knock warrant, and sets up several conditions that must be satisfied before one can be issued. Under the bill, in order for a judge to issue a no knock warrant to an officer, the warrant request would have to have been reviewed by that officer’s supervising officer, who then must accompany the first officer in the warrant’s execution. Except for good cause, the no knock warrant must be executed between 6 AM and 10 PM, and the applying officer must testify that knocking and announcing the police presence would cause an imminent danger to life or the destruction of evidence.

In addition, any law enforcement agency that uses no knock warrants must develop written policies for their use that can be examined by the general public. The bill also requires each judge who issues any type of search warrant to produce a monthly report detailing the number of warrants issued and the number of no knock warrants requested and executed. Read more