Political Notes: May 2015
Waiting Till Next Year: Supporters of Senate Bill 129, named by its backers the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” lost this year’s round in the General Assembly, but will undoubtedly be back in 2016.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Joshua McKoon (R-Columbus), was stuck in the House Judicial Committee after moderate Republicans, notably Rep. Mike Jacobs (R-Brookhaven), inserted a “non-discrimination” clause to ensure the measure would not permit discrimination against gay or transgender Georgians.
This riled the hardcore supporters but effectively kept the bill from a floor vote – with more than a little help from The Coca-Cola Company, which opposed the bill, and the state of Indiana, where everything including the kitchen sink hit the fan when a similar measure passed its legislature, which ultimately reconsidered and added its own “non-discrimination” language.
Citizens’ Turn: Georgia voters will get a chance to weigh in on a high-profile “Opportunity School District” bill that passed the General Assembly this year. Senate Bill 133, pushed by Gov. Nathan Deal, would create a mechanism for failing local schools to be taken over by the state. However, since the measure requires a constitutional amendment, it needs approval by voters and will go on the ballot in November 2016.
Big Gun, Big Job: Former Georgia Attorney General Mike Bowers is investigating corruption in DeKalb County, at the behest of interim DeKalb CEO Lee May. It’s a big job – the county is hardly at the top of anyone’s “good government” list these days, and the investigation will take at least six months.
But Bowers, who led the state investigation into test cheating in Atlanta Public Schools, says he is ready “to root out conflicts of interest, corruption, malfeasance and misfeasance, so help me God.”
May, who signed an executive order giving Bowers investigative authority, says he will have complete access to county records and county employees. The former AG, May notes, “takes no prisoners and will do what it takes.” He promises that Bowers’ report will be released to the public with no editing from the CEO’s office.
Sounding almost preacher-like, Bowers, who grew up in DeKalb County, said at a press conference that honest, hard-working county employees have nothing to fear, but warned the bad apples, “Woe, be unto you.”
The scope of his investigation, however, does not include the DeKalb County Commission – only departments and employees under the CEO.
Grandparents And Kinship Care: The Georgia House voted unanimously to establish a House Study Committee on Grandparents Raising Grandchildren and Kinship Care. House Resolution 474, sponsored by Minority Leader Stacey Abrams (D-Atlanta), authorizes the committee to look at the state’s kinship placement services, evaluate public and private resources and initiate a process for streamlining the delivery of services and support.
“Grandparents and other kinship caregivers who play a vital role in the delivery of social welfare services to children often find themselves strained for resources, living in retirement or on fixed incomes,” Abrams said.
Joining Abrams as co-sponsors of the resolution were Reps. Calvin Smyre (D-Columbus), Carolyn Hugley (D-Columbus), Matt Ramsey (R-Peachtree City) and Jan Jones (R-Milton), House speaker pro tem.
State Chamber’s Air View: The Georgia Chamber is opposing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposal to reduce the national ambient air quality standard to a range of 65-70 parts per million, down from the present 75, citing the economic effects on the state.
Chamber President and CEO Chris Clark said the existing standard is delivering positive results and improving air quality. “The EPA’s proposal would impose a crippling burden on Georgia’s economy, while only providing marginal environmental and health benefits beyond those already possible with the full implementation of the existing standard.”