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Political Notes: March 2016

Circling The Drain: State Rep. Tommy Benton (R-Jefferson), who drew local and national condemnation for his comments on the Ku Klux Klan, saying it “made a lot of people straighten up” and characterizing it as a “vigilante thing to keep law and order,” withdrew three pieces of legislation he introduced.

HB 855 would have forced the state to recognize Confederate Memorial Day and Robert E. Lee’s birthday as holidays, and HB 854 would have required that street names changed after 1968 – including Atlanta’s Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard – be changed back to the original names if those names honored a veteran.

House Resolution 1179 called for a constitutional amendment to protect Stone Mountain as a Confederate memorial.


State Civil Rights Law: Rep. Rich Golick (R-Smyrna), chairman of the House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee, has a powerful bipartisan group of legislators co-sponsoring his HB 849, which would ban discrimination in public accommodations based on race, religion, color or national origin. Georgia is one of a handful of states without such a statute.

The bill is based on the federal Civil Rights Act passed in 1964. When that landmark legislation passed, the late Atlanta Mayor Ivan Allen Jr. was the only elected official from a Southern state to speak on its behalf.

The bill does not address gender or sexual preference; neither does the federal statute. HB 849 would allow individuals who believe they are being discriminated against in the area of public accommodations to file a complaint with the state Commission on Equal Opportunity.

Among Golick’s co-sponsors are Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones (R-Milton); Judiciary Committee Chair Wendell Willard (R-Sandy Springs); House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams (D-Atlanta); Rep. Calvin Smyre (D-Columbus); and Rep. Karla Drenner (D-Avondale Estates).


Pot Luck: The leader of last year’s successful fight to make medical marijuana available to Georgia patients with certain diseases and medical conditions, Sen. Allen Peake (R-Macon), is championing HB 772 this year. The bill would expand the number of conditions for which medical cannabis is allowed – and would provide for a small number of in-state manufacturing operations.

Despite the 2015 passage of HB 1, Haleigh’s Hope Act, it is still illegal to grow marijuana or produce medical cannabis in Georgia. Peake and his supporters say this creates hardships for patients who can be helped by the cannabis. Additionally, marijuana possession is still prohibited by federal law.

House Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) has indicated his support of Peake’s effort, but Gov. Nathan Deal is opposed.

Yet another cannabis-related measure, SB 254, introduced by State Sen. Harold Jones II (D-Augusta), would do away with the felony marijuana possession charge in Georgia and make it a misdemeanor. The bill would not legalize the sale or possession of marijuana but would reduce the penalties.


Crane In The Race: State Sen. Mike Crane (R-Newnan) has announced he will be a candidate for the Third Congressional District seat being vacated by Republican Rep. Lynn Westmoreland at the end of his current term. Westmoreland, who flirted with the idea of running for House speaker last year, has said he is weighing his options for the future; some believe that could include a run for governor. West Point Mayor Drew Ferguson and Peachtree City developer Jim Pace, both Republicans, have also announced they will run for Westmoreland’s seat.


Top Farm Role: Greene County dairy farmer Zippy Duvall is the new president of the Washington, D.C.-based American Farm Bureau Federation, the nation’s largest farm organization and agricultural advocacy group.

Duvall, former president of the Georgia Farm Bureau, was elected earlier this year to a two-year term. He is succeeded at the Georgia bureau by Gerald Long of Bainbridge, who was previously first vice-president. Long’s term runs until December.


Done With DeKalb? The Georgia Bureau of Investigation will not investigate charges of corruption within DeKalb County that came from a report prepared by special investigators Mike Bowers and Richard Hyde at the request of county Interim CEO Lee May.

The report excoriated the county and a number of its officials – including May – indicating widespread corruption and alleging a half-million dollars in questionable spending.

The GBI concluded that the conduct, while hardly exemplary, was not criminal.

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