Category: Speaker of the House

Speaker Ralston Discusses the Upcoming Legislative Session

In a wide ranging discussion with members of the Capitol Hill press corps, House Speaker David Ralston covered several issues that are expected to come up during the 2016 legislative session, which begins on Monday. Among the topics the Speaker addressed were medical marijuana legislation, MARTA legislation, and funding for the Hope scholarship.

Speaker David Ralston takes questions from the media in advance of the legislative session.
Speaker David Ralston takes questions from the media in advance of the legislative session.
The Speaker expressed his disappointment with President Obama’s recent executive actions to expand the scope of background checks in an effort to reduce gun violence. He said that the president had tried to make a terror attack into a gun issue. “I am firmly committed to our Constitution, including the Second Amendment,” the Speaker said. “We blame a lot of things on guns in our society. I think we’re wrong to do that, and as long as I’m in this position, we’re going to continue to protect the rights of Georgians under the Second Amendment, and anything that will infringe on that will have a tough time getting past my office.”

On other issues, Speaker Ralston expressed his support for Rep. Allen Peake’s new bill that would expand the number of diseases that could be treated, and said that at some point, the decision over whether to treat a patient using medical marijuana should be made by medical professionals. On whether the state should permit casinos and / or horse racing as a method of raising funds for the Hope Scholarship, the Speaker said that ultimately, whether to allow gambling would be up to the people. But, figuring out the details of implementation could be more difficult. It’s also important, the Speaker said, to examine ways to reduce tuition and fee increases within the university system so as not to put such a burden on the scholarship program. Read more

Woodall Addresses Continuing Resolution and Boehner’s Resignation

Rep. Rob Woodall addresses the Southwest Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce.
Rep. Rob Woodall addresses the Southwest Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce.
7th District Representative Rob Woodall talked about the resignation of Speaker John Boehner, the passage of the Continuing Resolution that funds the government through mid-December, and the atmosphere in Washington, DC when he spoke to members and guests of the Southwest Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce Friday morning.

Because the House and Senate failed to pass this year’s appropriation bills, Congress was forced to pass a continuing resolution to keep the government funded past September 30th. Leading up to Wednesday’s vote, much of the debate on the bill concerned the possible defunding of Planned Parenthood. The organization has come under fire in recent weeks following a series of videos showing the organization allegedly selling fetal tissue.

Woodall pointed out that Planned Parenthood receives funding from the government two ways. A portion is received from state Medicaid programs that pay the organization for providing healthcare services. These reimbursements are not subject to the appropriations process. The remainder comes from annual grants that were previously approved in March, none of which are paid out during the ten week period covered by the continuing resolution.

The congressman pointed out that even though there was no Planned Parenthood funding in the bill, those who opposed the organization felt it was more important to make a statement than it was to keep the government running past September 30th. Those supporting Planned Parenthood refused to allow the symbolic vote on funding, even though it would not have made any difference to the organization’s revenues.

Congressman Woodall summarized the situation this way: “If we can’t keep the doors open because we can’t get together on something that’s not going to happen anyway, 13 months away from an election, that’s not a Republican problem or a Democratic problem, it’s self governance problem.” 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.

An Offer MARTA Can Refuse – or Not

My father always says, “It’s not a bargain if you can’t afford it.” I believe that is the advice he might pass along to MARTA supporters.

MARTA has long desired more flexibility in its ability to determine how it will spend its funds. Currently, 50% of MARTA funds must be spent on capital improvements and 50% on operations. This is a fairly tight financial straitjacket, though it is a way to prevent subsidization of riders at the expense of abandoning necessary upkeep of the system.

There is a possibility that the ties on spending might be loosened in the draft legislation suggested by the Transit Governance Task Force. There are; however, strings as Maria Saporta writes in The Saporta Report:

To free MARTA from the state-imposed restriction that 50 percent of its revenues be spent on capital and 50 percent be spent on operations, MARTA basically would have to turn over most of its authorities to the newly-created Transit Governance Council. For the record, no other transit agency in the nation is saddled with such an unworkable rule.
MARTA represents a $6 billion investment in our region. Why should MARTA turn over its Constitutional powers to a state-controlled entity and give up its designation as the transit authority that can receive federal funding in the region.
According to folks close to MARTA, relaxing the 50/50 rule would give MARTA flexibility over how it spends its sales tax revenue (and it is expected that currently would be worth about $20 million a year for the transit agency.
It is inconceivable that MARTA could or should give up most of its powers and its $6 billion investment in return for getting flexibility in how it can spend the MARTA sales tax collected in the City of Atlanta, and Fulton and DeKalb counties.

And then there is the issue of the make-up of the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority (GRTA) which would be the body with the ultimate control of MARTA. The 15 members would all be appointed: 9 by the governor, 3 by the lieutenant governor and 3 by the state house speaker. It’s not as though petty, personal politics ever happens in Georgia, so what could possibly go wrong?

From the state’s perspective, things are different. One of the complaints about the state is that it has not contributed as much money to MARTA as is needed. It is a fact that state governments are reluctant to give up control of funds, but let’s take this a step farther.

If the state increases its control of the funds, then it has greatly increased its responsibility for MARTA. It can no longer stand at a distance and point fingers. It will be forced to have a hands-on, problem-solving approach and let’s face it, the state has many more resources at its disposal that it could employ to improve MARTA – if the price is right.

In this case, the price for the state of Georgia taking so much control of MARTA is inescapable political responsibility.

If one wants the state to “man up” and do the right thing by MARTA, then allowing the state to be responsible might be the right way to go. The next logical step would be for the state to increase its funding of MARTA to acceptable levels for a state that still lays claim to the title Empire State of the South.

Is this a bargain that MARTA can’t afford? Perhaps, after all, it is not. My father, actually a man of few words, might offer another bit of sage advice to MARTA supporters, “If you want a man’s help, then make your interests his interests.” Yeah, that bit of wisdom would certainly fit.

There is much more at The Saporta Report, so check it out to get additional information. This is not the only issue with the draft legislation that is discussed. You’re big boys and girls so you can wander over there and find your way back again. For the weary, here’s the link.

Lobbyist Who Paid For Ralston & Family’s European Trip Receives Ethics Complaint From Common Cause

Lori Geary of WSB-TV led off their 6PM newscast with a report that Common Cause Georgia, an non-partisan ethics watchdog which claims Republican Bob Irvin as its chair, has filed an ethics complaint against James Christopher Brady, a Virginia based lobbyist who took Speaker David Ralston and his family to experience the European rail network over Thanksgiving.

According to Common Cause, Brady was not a registered lobbyist in Georgia when he took Ralston and his family to Europe or at any time in 2010, and did not disclose the trip as required by the required January 5th, 2011 deadline.

Georgia ethics law puts the burden of disclosure on the lobbyist. Thus, had Brady never registered and disclosed the trip later in 2011, it is unlikely this trip would have ever been reported. Common Cause believes this incident demonstrates a fundamental flaw in the system, and that disclosure requirements are not enough.
Read more

Peaches for Thought: Obamacare, Early Voting, and an Unlikely Alliance

Today’s “fresh political pickins from the Peach State”:

1.) Coming off a bitter campaign, Governor Deal and former Governor Barnes have forged an unlikely alliance over a good cause: ensuring that spouses of state employees killed in the line of duty are able to continue health coverage under the state’s plan. Read more

Would You Like Some Eggs With Your Issues?

The annual “Eggs and Issues” breakfast sponsored by the Georgia Chamber of Commerce will be held tomorrow morning at the ungodly hour of 7:30am at the Georgia World Congress Center.

Because it was delayed by the ice storm of inaugural week, the Eggs and Issues is now being held on the same day as the State of the Union.  Thus, the day will begin with the issues of the State, and end with the issues of the Nation.

The Eggs and Issues is usually significant because it features the Governor, Lt. Governor, and Speaker with presentations, and usually is a major tipoff to legislative strategy and goals for the session.  I’m glad to see that the Lt. Governor will represent the Senate again this year, as listening to the priorities of all 8 members of the Committee On Assignments would be quite lengthy, and would re-define the “issues” that are supposed to be highlighted at this event.

If getting up early and heading downtown on a winter Tuesday morning sounds like you’re idea of fun, there are still tickets floating around.  Just call someone that works for one of the larger businesses in town and ask them if they have extra tickets, because you have issues.

Speaker Ralston’s European Vacation

Speaker David Ralston was a guest on a $17,000 lobbyist-funded trip to Europe over Thanksgiving.

House Speaker David Ralston and his family spent part of Thanksgiving week in Europe on a $17,000 economic development mission paid for by lobbyists interested in building a high-speed train line between Atlanta and Chattanooga.

Commonwealth Research Associates, a D.C.-based consulting firm, paid for the trip, which also included Ralston’s chief of staff Spiro Amburn and his spouse, to Germany and the Netherlands the week of Nov. 21-27, according to records filed with the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission, formerly known as the State Ethics Commission.

The trip was the most expensive single expenditure reported by a lobbyist since at least 2005.

Read more

Recognizing The Cost Of The War On Drugs Is Paid In Human Capital

This morning’s Courier Herald column.

If a few years ago, I had told you that right after Georgia completed a wholesale change of statewide offices to the Republican party with social conservatives firmly in control, that both the Speaker of the House and the Governor would suggest a possible cease fire in the war on drugs, you would have been justified in asking what I was smoking.

Sometimes, however, social policies get additional scrutiny when the coffers that underwrite them run low.   Before budgets can be cut, however, public opinion on such lighting rod topics must be changed, less the leaders and their caucus members open themselves up to being told they are “soft on crime” during their next re-election.

This week, with the attention of the State firmly upon them, both Speaker Ralston and Governor Deal suggested we re-think our approach to the war on drugs.  Said Ralston first: Read more

Deal Inaugurated In Speaker Ralston’s House

Today’s column in the Courier Herald (Subscription Required)

Whether planning a Super Bowl or swearing in a Governor, there is a certain element of risk planning an event in Atlanta in January.  Despite much hard work by Governor Deal’s Inaugural committee, most activities were canceled, and the official ceremony to swear in the Governor was moved inside the House chamber from the capitol steps.

Presiding over this House is David Ralston, Republican from Blue Ridge Georgia, a man who was not supposed to be Speaker.  A little over a year ago, it was reported that then Speaker Glenn Richardson had tried a suicide attempt, and a few weeks later, his ex-wife produced documents proving infidelity with a lobbyist.  Richardson, who along with a small inner circle, enjoyed house rules that allowed him to stack committees at will, giving him more power over the body than Speaker Murphy had ever dreamed of.  Yet his inability to get along with neither Lt. Governor Cagle nor Governor Perdue limited the reach of his power beyond the house, and Senators privately enjoyed the leadership vacuum in the House in the wake of Richardson’s resignation.  Even when a new speaker was elected, he had to bring disparate groups together under a new agenda while making needed changes in House rules and operations.

One year later, Speaker Ralston has full control over his body, and with a very successful election and additional Democratic defections, is just a couple votes shy of an outright supermajority – the two-thirds of the body needed to pass Constitutional amendments.  Meanwhile, on the other side of the Capitol, Republican Senators are still trying to decide how they will operate their body, with changes to the Senate Rules – updated primarily to take away most of the power of the Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle – still being negotiated up to their final vote yesterday. Read more

Georgia Trend Names David Ralston “Georgian Of The Year”

Georgia Trend magazine says Speaker David Ralston was 2010’s “Georgian Of The Year.” As a soon to be member of the House who hasn’t yet received committee, office, or seating assignments, I whole heartedly concur with Georgia Trend’s choice. 🙂

In all seriousness, there is broad agreement that Ralston did a great job during last year’s Legislative session and there are high expectations that he’ll continue to lead the House successfully. I look forward to working with him beginning one week from today.

As his friend and colleague Rep. John Meadows (R-Calhoun) puts it: “Things are so much better now you can’t stand it.”

Georgia’s U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, whom Ralston has said he considers a role model, says, “David Ralston has shown the capacity, the intellect and the drive to be a great speaker of the House. David always gets the job done because he never seeks the credit, only the right result.”

In a time of harsh rhetoric and snarling charges and counter-charges on the state and national levels, he stands out as a new model of leadership bolstered by determination and civility.

Bloggers To Keep Chicken Capital Of The World From Becoming The Pork Capital Of Georgia

Jim Galloway has  this fine article online regarding the new power center of Georgia residing squarely in the 9th Congressional District.   But have no fear, because David Ralston says that no special favors will come to North Georgia, because, well, of some malcontents with access to the internets:

Then there’s the Internet, the House speaker said. Special favors for the home folk — at least the big ones — have become too difficult to hide. “Can you imagine the blogging that would go on?” Ralston asked. “Zell Miller didn’t have to worry about blogging on Brasstown Valley. I think you can’t ignore that anymore.”

Feel free to discuss the merits of whether anyone under the gold dome has actually changed their behavior because of those damn bloggers.

Governor, Lt. Governor, Speaker Back Clay Cox For CD-7

Found this in my in-box as well:

Clay Cox is proud to announce that Georgia’s first Republican governor since reconstruction, the Honorable Sonny Perdue, will host a fundraiser rally for the Clay Cox for Congress campaign.

Cox, a Republican state legislator from Lilburn, is running to replace the retiring U.S. Rep. John Linder. The primary election will be held on July 20 – barely more than three weeks from now.

“Obviously, we’re thrilled that the Governor is supporting this campaign,” Cox said. “This is more proof that those with the highest desire to see the state succeed want a Congressman with experience balancing a family budget, balancing a business budget and balancing a state budget.”

Joining the governor will be Georgia’s House Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle.

The event will be held the evening of July 13 at 550 Trackside, the historic gathering place on North Clayton Street in Lawrenceville.

I find this one interesting because Cox began the campaign somewhat positioned as the outsider of this campaign, set to take on “the insider” Don Balfour. Though there are now quite a few challengers positioning themselves as outsiders and Clay as “the establishment”, it will be interesting to see if Cox can hold his original base while merging those voters with those who follow the establishment. It’s a delicate act, but if he can pull it off, he’ll win big.