Friday, April 30, 2010

Perdue to dog: "It was a good session"

Gov. and Mrs. Perdue attended a ceremony this afternoon to mark the 1 millionth child joining Georgia's pre-K program, which happened some time back.

The kids have been saving pennies and, along with a charitable matcher, raised $33,000. It will be used to buy two trained dogs for children with disabilities through a program called Canine Assistants. The idea of the program is that dogs don't care if you can't walk, or you look different.

Give a kid a dog he can take to school and he goes "from being the child who's different to a really cool kid who's got this awesome dog," program founder Jennifer Arnold said.

The group brought a goldendoodle named "Butch" to the Capitol. And as an eager Butch stood on his hind legs for a picture with the governor, Perdue looked at him and said "It was a good session, wasn't it?"

Butch with Mary, Sonny Perdue.

The governor answered a few questions after the ceremony. If he has immediate plans to veto or sign any of the legislation just passed he wouldn't say. The only exception was the 2010 amended budget, which he'll sign quickly. Everything else will be reviewed, and it's worth noting that when two bills are in conflict, the one he signs last takes precedence.

Perdue said he'll continue to support merit pay for teachers despite the legislature's rebuff. "Sometimes you have to put out ideas that need to soak in for a while," he said.

He's going to serve on a study committee to overhaul the state's tax code, but said he doesn't have any specific ideas for reform yet. He said he hopes to see a counter proposal from Florida/Alabama on the ongoing water negotiations soon.

And that's about it. Basically, the story is I took a picture of the governor with a dog.

Good night from the Georgia Capitol

I can't help but wonder: How many of the people who clean up after the legislature would have qualified for the low income tax credit the General Assembly did away with Thursday?

They also use rakes, and say it takes until about 4 a.m.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

UPDATE: That's it. It's over. Sine Die 2010

The Senate is at ease and the House is listening to state Rep. Mark Burkhalter say goodbye.

Senate Bill 308, the gun bill, hasn't come up yet, but should soon. I have only rumor on the abortion bill (SB 529)'s fate. Likewise on whatever last minute deals are cooking to make the House, Senate and governor happy and get us to Sine Die.

The governor stopped by the Senate again. In fact I turned around to find him sitting behind me in the press box. He was in a fantastic mood.

I'll update in this post as things pop up.

10:31: The Senate is back in and dealing with HB 1069, a tax bill that includes, among other things, an end to the refundable portion of the low-income tax credit. The bill also allows Atlanta to extend its MOST tax for water and sewer projects via referendum. Also known as "Atlanta Democrats you have to vote to take government money from poor people if you want to keep your sales tax."

10:42: The Senate passed HB 1069, it still needs approval in the House. UPDATE: It's now passed the House, too. The Senate is on SB 308, the gun bill.

11:10: SB 308 has passed the House and the Senate. It heads to the governor. One of the late changes: You could keep a licensed gun in your car parked on a college campus, but not carry it around the campus.
"On campus you will not be able to carry a firearm. ..." sponsor state Sen. Mitch Seabaugh said. "However, you will be able to park on campus and leave your gun in your vehicle if you have a license."
11:13: Things have taken on that fast-paced, talk-as-fast-as-you-can tone. The Senate is about to give final passage to The Meredith Emerson Act, which limits release of grotesque crime scene pictures.

11:14: It passed unanimously.

11:21: The Senate just passed HB 1321, which the House had passed earlier, and which I certainly hope is as narrowly drawn as it appears to be, and sponsors have promised it is:
HB 1321: Exempts 911 recordings of people dying in a natural disaster from release under the Georgia Open Records Act. The measure is less broad than an earlier proposal to restrict access to any 911 recording of "personal suffering," because it is limited to natural disasters.
11:49: The Senate has brought SB 335, a voter-approved fractional tax to support the arts, back from the dead. A vote will come shortly. Morons all over the place are ripping up paper so they can throw it in the air when midnight hits.

12:01: Sine Die, suckers. SB 335 died, as did SB 529 (the abortion bill), and who knows what else.

Yay! Throw paper!

Late evening shenanigans at the Capitol

This is House Bill 1195. Don't bother reading it, because the real point of the bill as it exists now is only included in a conference committee report being debated now in the state Senate.

Someone tacked on a little amendment that would probably gut police, fire and other unions, as well as state teacher's associations. A lot of members have their dues to these organizations automatically deducted from their paychecks.

But HB 1195, as amended today, would require those employees to send their employer a certified letter every six months.

Democrats are arguing against the change, which they say is over-burdensome and probably against federal law.

Update: The Senate has voted this thing down 10-27. I could hear a cheer come up in the hallway outside when the vote was announced.

The budget has passed

After some back and forth between House Appropriations Chairman Ben Harbin and House Minority Leader DuBose Porter, the House passed the 2011 budget 137-33.

It had already passed the Senate, so that's done.

Porter (above): Not putting up with this Republican budget shit.
Harbin (below): Tired of Porter's running-for-governor shit.

UPDATED: Gov. Perdue addresses the Senate

Update: The governor is expected to visit the House later this evening.

Update: It's 8 p.m. and Gov. Perdue is addressing the House. It sounds like he's giving the same basic speech.

After a flattering introduction from Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, Gov. Perdue ticked off a series of legislative accomplishments and budgetary challenges not just from this year, but from the last few years.

Perdue said he visited the Senate to "congratulate you all on what I think is one of the most productive sessions you could have had."

"Friends," the governor said, "I can say unequivocally, I truly believe state government works better for Georgians, even with fewer employees. ... Georgia will be more prepared to lead the nation in economic recovery because we've worked together."

This below was The AJC's front page shortly after the session ended. Who wouldn't trust those faces?

Crime labs get reprieve in 2011 budget

GBI crime labs in Columbus and Moultrie, which were either about to close or had in fact already closed, got an 11th hour reprieve from the Georgia General Assembly.

Both are in the fiscal 2011 budget, which has passed the Senate and is pending in the House. A third lab, in Summerville, did not make the cut and will remain closed.

UPDATE: Streamline tax bill: Still 78 pages. Budget bill: Now readable.

The final version of the General Assembly's annual bill to update the tax code was just handed out in the Senate. It's 78 pages long. It will be interesting to see what's in it.

Also, the fiscal 2011 budget bill has been handed out. Don't try to figure out what bond projects are in it. It just lists the amount and the department that will spend the money, not the projects themselves.

Update: Staffers have just handed out the budget tracking sheets in the Senate, making it possible to determine what bond projects are still in. Good on you, Georgia General Assembly.

I have bad news for Gov. Perdue, though. The $9 million for his horse park in Perry was removed. Now we'll have to deal with only having a $17 million horse park in Houston County and not a $26 million one.

The House is taking up SB 308 (the guns bill)

It's on the floor now. Would redefine public gatherings, allow licensed carriers to carry (and drink in) bars if the owner consents.

Update: It passed the House 118-48 and heads back to the Senate.

Confirmed: Scott to run in the 8th District

Everyone can stop suggesting that state Rep. Austin Scott run for things, he says he's going to try and beat Jim Marshall in the 8th Congressional District. More details on the main site:
ATLANTA — State Rep. Austin Scott, the Tifton Republican who had been running for governor, will file to run against U.S. Rep. Jim Marshall in the 8th Congressional District instead, he said today.

"It's not about Marshall," he said. "It's about changing the way we govern in this country. And the No. 1 thing we can do for our economy is to bring balance back to our policies in Washington."

Scott, with the shoes he wore on his gubernatorial walk across Georgia, says goodbye to the statehouse.

UPDATE: Trauma tag fee wins final passage

Update: This resolution has passed both chambers. The fee will be on the ballot in November.
SR 277, which calls for a referendum in November to add a $10 fee to your car tag renewal, is on the House floor now. It would raise an estimated $90 million to subsidize emergency rooms, buy ambulances and pay for other trauma upgrades with an eye toward getting trauma care to people quicker.

Update: It passed the House 149-14, but will have to head back to the Senate for another vote. But it passed there easily last year, so I expect it to pass.

Day 40 well on its way

Apologies. Most of this was supposed to go up earlier today.

The Speaker told The AJC last night that the budget is done.

The other big issues of the day, best I could tell yesterday, you can read about here.

I'm pretty sure we're about to raise taxes on food banks and volunteer health clinics.

Nothing shady about this at all:
A story in Sunday’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution had questioned (state Sen. Chip) Pearson’s support of the bill in light of his partnership in a consulting company that may benefit from such projects.

To better explain the legislation, Pearson issued a press release on behalf of himself and the Etowah Water and Sewer Authority.

Authority members, however, distanced themselves from the release, saying it did not come from their organization.

John Oxendine and family qualified for governor this morning. Presumably the timing, on a busy legislative day, was the result of an AJC conspiracy.

Finally, state Sen. Don Thomas is retiring after this session. He was honored this morning in the Senate as a great physician, joke teller and a primary force behind Georgia's restaurant smoking ban and the seat belt requirement in pickup trucks, which passed just this session.

Dr. Don Thomas, Georgia senator.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Dangerous days at the sausage factory

It's odd to me that just about everyone at the Capitol acknowledges the danger inherent in the last days of the legislative session, and the likelihood that bills, amended at the last minute, will pass without being well vetted or understood. It seems like that's the kind of thing that, once discovered, you'd try to change.

Can't get your bill through the House or Senate? No problem, just tack it onto another bill. Maybe you can force people to vote for it then. Better yet, maybe with everything going on at session's end you can fool people into voting for it without really understanding it.

That's smart legislating.

For example: Senate Bill 388 deals with putting state documents on the Internet. State Rep. Sean Jerguson tried to tack on an amendment Tuesday to prohibit the state from printing documents in any language other than English.

Obviously that includes drivers license tests. But look what Jerguson said when confronted on that issue by state Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver. I transcribed this from the Lawmakers broadcast of the debate:
Oliver: Does your amendment have anything to do with the printing of tests to take drivers license?

Jerguson: Only if it is contained as a part of this bill.

Oliver: Well, I'm asking you specifically. Does this prohibit the Department of Motor Vehicles from giving a drivers license test in any language other than English?

Jerguson: It's my understanding that, in this bill, it contains anything that is printed by any department.

Oliver: Are you saying that you don't know or are you saying that you prefer not to answer?

Jerguson: I'm saying that the language in the bill says that anything that is printed by any department in the state would have to be in English.

Oliver: So, it would be fair to say, then, if I'm interpreting your answer correctly, that you believe that, if we pass this amendment, it will prohibit the Department of Motor Vehicles from giving drivers license tests in any language other than English. Isn't that true?

Jerguson: They would have to give the test in English.
Let's repeat that conversation as a normal person would have it:
Reasonable person 1: Is this gonna make it so all the drivers license tests have to be in English?

Reasonable person 2: Yes.
Obviously this wasn't a legislative mastermind at work. SB 388 was tabled before anyone could vote on Rep. Jerguson's amendment. And while this is a simple example of my point, it was more ridiculous than worrisome.

When the really good ones try this, you probably won't even see it until it's too late. Ask Gov. Perdue about that.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

SB 291, the airport gun bill, has passed, and the House has adjourned

SB 308, which allows guns in bars, hasn't been called. The House has adjourned. Everything that hasn't passed will have to wait for Thursday.

Quick gun bill coverage:
ATLANTA — Gun reforms that would let people carry weapons into Georgia airports won final passage Tuesday night at the Georgia General Assembly.

Senate Bill 291, one of two major gun bills before the assembly this year, cleared the House 120-37. It had already passed the Senate and heads to Gov. Sonny Perdue for his signature.

The bill allows licensed carriers to take their guns into airports, but only up to federally controlled security checkpoints. That would include ticketing areas, as well as airport parking lots and drop-off spots.

Tuesday night reset: Here's where we are

The Senate has adjourned after approving more than 50 bills, most of them pretty run of the mill. The House Rules Committee just met and approved a supplemental calendar for this evening.

Below is a list of what they put on. But some were amended by the Rules Committee. I haven't seen the amendments, they're not easily available to you right now and I don't really know what they do. So I've either noted this or simply put question marks next to the bill number.

As you probably know, an amendment at this point could be just a minor technical correction, or it could completely revamp the bill. Because that's how we roll when we're making new laws at nearly the last possible moment, despite having the last 3 1/2 months to have dealt with this stuff.

Bold = sure to inspire debate. Note the absence, too, of SB 529, the coerced abortion bill.
SR 1231 - Calls for a constitutional referendum to allow the state to sign multi-year contracts for energy efficiency or conservation projects
SB 523 - Used to put the sports and music halls of fame up for sale and reorganize the sports hall's controlling board, but it was amended, so I'm not sure now.
SB 520 - Creates an inter-modal division at Georgia DOT and was amended to include some language about MARTA that was left out of last week's transportation funding bill by mistake, according to House Transportation Chairman Jay Roberts.
SB 415 - Might still deal with the public service commission. But it was amended, so who knows.
SB 299 - Changes zero tolerance policies
SB 291 - Allows people to carry firearms into airports, but not past federal security checkpoints
SB 308 - Numerous gun law changes, including allowing people to carry guns into bars, if the owner approves

SB 239 - Requires that parents enroll their child in school within 30 days of moving, but there's an amendment.
SB 173 - ???
SB 7 - Amended. Definitely doesn't do what it used to
SB 454 - Regulates video gambling machines and increases the license fees for them.
SB 474 - Several wildlife regulations have been pasted into this bill.
SB 287 - Deals with driver's license, but the committee added an amendment.
SB 408 - ???
SB 384 - ???
SB 339 - Deals with utility contractors and bidding
SB 521- Used to deal with student enrollment. But it was amended. I'm not sure how significantly, though House Pro Tem Jan Jones said it waters down the bill. State Rep. Fran Millar indicates it has something to do with teacher evaluations and race to the top, but "there's nothing mandatory in here."
SB 22 - Who knows. It sounded like they put the same MARTA amendment that's in SB 520 into this bill.
Update: I should also note that the House is doing a lot of agrees / disagrees, finalizing various bills.

Austin Scott for all state elected positions

Hell, everyone else wants to tell the guy what to run for, why not me?

And why stop at running for governor, or lieutenant governor, or Congress? Why not run for all that stuff, and Secretary of State, too? Why don't we clone Austin Scott and just have him run against himself for every elected position in the state?

This came today from Rep. Scott's campaign for ... whatever he's campaigning for:
Rep. Austin Scott will address a rally of his supporters in conjunction with his qualification proceedings at the State Capitol building in Atlanta.

The event will take place this Friday, April 30th, inside the Capitol, on the North Steps, at 10:00 a.m.
I don't know whether Rep. Scott has made up his mind yet or not. But I do know that if I had bills I wanted to get through the state Senate I wouldn't announce a run against Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle until after sine die on Thursday.

UPDATE: House has passed pickup truck seatbelts

Senate Bill 458 is on the House floor.

Update: It passed 132-29.

Update: State Sen. Don Thomas, who has been pushing for this change for years, says that's final passage and that Gov. Sonny Perdue is going to sign the bill. Sen. Thomas is retiring after this session, and his fellow senators treated him to a round of applause after the House vote.

Sen. Thomas, left, congratulated by state Sen. Jeff Mullis.

$10 fee for trauma back on the table

Senate Resolution 277, which has lain largely undisturbed since last year, is on its way back.

Word is the House will try to pass a constitutional amendment referendum calling for the $10 tag fee to help fund trauma care in Georgia hospitals today or Thursday. It won't be easy, though. These constitutional questions require a 2/3 majority in the House and Senate.

Then voters would have to decide in November whether or not to approve the $10 fee, which would raise an estimated $90 million or so a year, dedicated to the trauma care trust fund, which is used to buy new ambulances and help fund hospital emergency rooms.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Preston Smih to run for A.G.

Some excitement at the end of the day. From Smith's campaign:
“The time has come for Georgians to have an independent minded prosecutor who will end the arm-twisting and backroom deal-making that has become business-as-usual in modern politics. With your support, I pledge to be an Attorney General who has the courage to fight for the people of Georgia.”
I wasn't aware that ending the arm-twisting and backroom deal-making that has become business-as-usual in modern politics was within the reach of Georgia's attorney general, but I wish Sen. Smith good luck.

The Rome News-Tribune posted Sen. Smith's full statement, with some additional coverage.

Boyd to run as independent, prepare for revolution

Unable to strike an agreement with the Georgia Republican Party over its loyalty oath, Ray Boyd said this afternoon that he will run for governor as an independent.

"I have no choice. ..." Boyd said. "I'm going to be Georgia's governor. ... I'll just whip both sides as an independent."

Boyd doing interviews Monday at the state Capitol.

I had a conversation with Mr. Boyd Thursday. Over the space of about 10 minutes he threatened to kick my ass, became tearful over the death of his wife and said he feels like George Washington trying to get people to cross the Delaware, but instead of fellow patriots he's only meeting people who want his money.

He also said there would be a revolution come Nov. 3 if incumbents aren't voted out of office. Should that happen, Mr. Boyd said he would use his fortune to protect the people he loves and "to start preparing for that day when I have to defend my freedom."

"There's gonna be a group of us that they're going to have to kill us," he said. A moment later, he clarified, saying, "I am not saying there will be a shooting war."

And then he added, "Nov. 2 or Nov. 3 is going to be very telling. ... Between good and evil there is no compromise."

This was my third telephone conversation with Mr. Boyd. I ended the first two thinking he'd make this governor's race more interesting.

Senate calendar for Tuesday

I know I think we need to pass 53 new laws tomorrow. How we've existed so long without them is a mystery.

Tomorrow's Senate calendar, as passed by the Senate Rules Committee today and provided by the Senate Press Office:
SR 1395 - President and U.S. Congress; urged to secure borders and reject demands; 1986 legalization program for illegal aliens
HB 23 - Motor vehicles; cell phones; text messaging; prohibit use
HB 199 - Warrants for arrest; persons who may issue warrants; provisions
HB 249 - Public Retirement Systems Investment Authority Law; define certain terms; provisions
HB 303 - Child abuse reports; access to records; solicitors-general; authorize
HB 323 - Death penalty cases; Supreme Court; pretrial proceedings; extend review period
HB 335 - Revenue and taxation; comprehensive revision of provisions; provide
HB 400 - Building Resourceful Individuals to Develop Georgia's Economy Act; enact
HB 406 - Service delivery strategies; certain drinking water projects; funding limitation; provide exemption
HB 417 - Insurance; dispute; material not in English; provisions
HB 516 - Industrialized buildings; comply with local ordinances and resolutions; provisions
HB 827 - Highway employees; death or disability; indemnification; change provisions
HB 858 - County law libraries; payment of certain funds into county general fund; provisions
HB 866 - Physicians for Rural Areas Assistance Act; enact
HB 889 - Recognizance bonds; persons charged with certain crimes; limit
HB 898 - Driving under the influence; notice of conviction publication; change provisions
HB 901 - Repeat offenders; fourth felony offense punishment; change provisions
HB 936 - Student transportation; allowance to refurbish existing school buses; provide
HB 958 - Georgia Ports Authority; applicability of traffic laws and enforcement by security guards; provisions
HB 974 - Peace Officers' Annuity and Benefit Fund; credible service for absence; provisions
HB 977 - Quality Basic Education Act; state funds for salary increase; prohibit
HB 982 - Revenue and taxation; administrative garnishment; comprehensive revisions
HB 990 - Motor carriers; financial responsibility compatible with federal regulations; provisions
HB 991 - Sales and use tax; county and municipal; distribution of proceeds; revise
HB 1005 - Special license plates; Zoo Atlanta; provide
HB 1007 - Property; sales to political subdivisions; maximum amount exempt; increase
HB 1012 - Special license plates; service members killed in action; expand definition
HB 1013 - Sales tax; educational purposes; change provisions
HB 1050 - Real estate appraisers; appraisal management companies; add regulations
HB 1053 - Solicitors-general; act during pendency of vacancy in office; provide
HB 1059 - Solid waste management; permits for handling, disposal, or treatment; change provisions
HB 1069 - Income tax; credits for equipment that reduces energy or water usage; provide
HB 1079 - Teacher certification; additional payment methods; authorize
HB 1082 - Ad valorem tax exemptions; freeport exemptions; revise provisions
HB 1093 - Occupation taxes; county provide electronic information to Department of Revenue; provisions
HB 1103 - Education; Professional Standards Commission; criminal background checks; provisions
HB 1105 - Watercraft held in inventory; exempt from taxation; provide
HB 1147 - Special liens on personalty; eliminate aircraft liens; provisions
HB 1186 - Ad valorem tax exemption; certain public-private transportation projects; provisions
HB 1195 - Labor and industrial relations; Georgia Workforce Investment Board; create
HB 1200 - Local boards of education; solicit and accept donations for field trips; authorize
HB 1231 - Uniform rules of the road; proper execution of a left turn; clarify
HB 1236 - Court reports; reduce number of reports to distribute; change provisions
HB 1251 - Revenue Bond Law; undertakings include economic tourism development; define
HB 1260 - Service delivery regions; applicability of regions; revise a provision
HB 1272 - Income tax returns; make contributions for lupus and kidney disease; authorize
HB 1307 - Teacher certification; learning requirements for renewal; temporarily suspend
HB 1314 - Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities; regulate developmental accounts; provisions
HB 1321 - Emergency Telephone System Fund; additional use for moneys; provide
HB 1338 - Disability parking laws; appointed law enforcer have disability; remove requirement
HB 1393 - Sales and use tax; cap exemption; metropolitan public transportation purposes; provide
HB 1407 - Medicaid and PeachCare for Kids; single administrator for dental services; provisions
HR 136 - Owners of real property; industrial areas; remove property - CA

If we outlaw drinking with guns, only outlaws will get drunk with guns

Update: The newspaper version of this story.

I am not an expert on Georgia's existing gun laws, but it appears that SB 308, which will allow carrying in bars provided the owner consents, would allow people to get drunk while they're in there.

There is a current prohibition against drinking in restaurants when you're strapped, but that language (including in HB 89 two years ago) deals specifically with restaurants or "other eating establishments." A bar, SB 308 makes it clear, is not an eating establishment because "the serving of food is only incidental" in bars.
Update: It also appears SB 308 would strip out the no-drinking-in restaurants language, making it legal to carry a licensed concealed weapon in a restaurant and drink.
State Sen. Mitch Seabaugh was asked about this Thursday in the House Judiciary Committee and he said that, yes, licensed carriers will be able to drink a bar while carrying a gun, if the owner has OK'd carrying in the bar.

He said Georgia doesn't have a blanket prohibition against drinking and carrying and "We've not had issues with that."

Update: I've spoken with Georgia and Georgians for Gun Safety, and both say my reading is correct. Also SB 308 will do away with the prohibition against drinking while carrying in restaurants, according to Georgia Carry.

There is, though, a blanket prohibition against firing a gun while drinking in Georgia.

"Kind of analogous to carrying your car keys, but you can't drive your car (while drinking)," Georgia Carry attorney John Monroe said.

Friday, April 23, 2010

The fine(ish) print in the new transportation bill

I've just finished a Sunday piece breaking down the transportation funding bill. I'll note a few things here, in addition to this from yesterday. I'll assume you already know the basics, or you may read this.
  • The bill creates a new body, the Georgia Coordinating Committee for Rural and Human Services Transportation. That group will look at various transit programs offered by at least seven state departments, such as pickup services for the disabled and Department of Labor programs that help people get to work, and look for efficiencies. Some routes may be combined to save money.
  • The penny-on-the-dollar tax would be charged on most purchases, but not on motor fuel, including jet and diesel fuel. It would be charged on groceries, which are currently exempt from state sales taxes, but not local ones. It would be charged on vehicle sales, but only up to the first $5,000.
  • The bill uses a carrot-and-the-stick approach to make sure referendums are held, and that they pass. Local governments outside of Atlanta will get 25 percent of the money raised for local projects. But if local leaders don’t call a 2012 vote on this new tax, their communities local match for projects funded the old fashioned way goes up to 50 percent. If a referendum is held, but voters reject the tax, the match goes up to 30 percent. Currently these local matches vary by project, but are often 10 percent.
  • Each county gets two representatives on the regional roundtable that works with the state on a project list. One must be the chairman of county commission, or an equivalent elected official, and one must be a city mayor. But Dooly County has six incorporated cities. Webster County, in the same roundtable region, has none, and thus no mayors to place on the roundtable. The bill doesn’t address this situation, which was apparently discovered shortly before Wednesday's vote because Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Jeff Mullis called it “a curve ball that I was not prepared for.” Mullis said this could be addressed next year, when the 2011 legislative session starts in January, but the bill calls for the roundtable to begin its work later this year, and a series of deadlines are built in for this year and next. State Sen. George Hooks, who represents these counties, said he’s been told the Webster County Commission will pick its extra roundtable member, but that’s not contemplated in the bill. You have to wonder, how many other little surprises like that are we going to run into on a bill vetted for three years, but finalized this week and given to most legislators about an hour before they voted?
I don't know how much of this was purposeful and how much it was due to computer problems that delayed printing at the Capitol Wednesday, but it was difficult for the public to get a copy of the final bill — much less read its 29 pages of often very technical language — before the House and Senate voted.

At my request Sen. Mullis gave the press corps in the Senate one copy, which we shared. I was specifically told that the Senate Press Office wouldn't provide copies until after the vote. Most of what's in this bill had been talked about all session, and for the two years before that in some cases. But, at the end, this thing moved very quickly, for better or worse.

That said, I don't see anything shocking in the bill, or anything that I would have strenuously questioned bill writers about before the vote, if I'd had the opportunity.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Gov's office: No merit pay in teacher eval plan

From The Associated Press:
ATLANTA -- Gov. Sonny Perdue is asking lawmakers to create a statewide teacher evaluation system as a last-minute push to boost Georgia's chances of winning up to $400 million in federal funds.
I asked the governor's communications director, Bert Brantley, how this differs from Gov. Perdue's merit pay proposal from earlier this year. Wrote Brantley:
All that is in the bill is a statewide common evaluation tool.

That’s it.

The evaluations that teachers receive each year would be standard across the state. I know what you are thinking, you mean they aren’t already?

The statewide common evaluation tool was part of the merit pay proposal in the Senate Bill, because you obviously need that foundation in order to implement any kind of performance pay.

But we dropped all the merit pay language from the bill and only moved forward with the common statewide evaluation tool portion. An idea, by the way, which 81 percent of teachers said they were in favor of.
The 81 percent comes from a survey of teachers done a while back.

Transportation bill shares power with the Senate

One of the coups in last year's vote to install a planning director at the Georgia Department of Transportation was that the House Transportation Committee — and not the Senate — would have to confirm the governor's choice of planning director.

But in the transportation funding bill approved by both bodies last night, this is changed. Now the House and Senate transportation committees will have to sign off on the appointment.

Somewhere Casey Cagle is smiling and Glenn Richardson is not.

Gun bill change up: Churches, colleges out

State Sen. Mitch Seabaugh's SB 308 is being discussed now in committee (watch online). It no longer strikes the state ban on carrying guns into places of worship or on college campuses.

It leaves state laws on those issues the same, according to Committee Chairman Rich Golick. I'm not sure whether bars are still covered in the bill. The bill still clarifies various confusing sections of the state's carry laws, Golick and Seabaugh both said.

It may not go as far as some want, but Seabaugh said he's "very, very, very satisfied" with the new bill.

Update: Guns would be OK in bars, if individual owners permit them. Also, guns could be kept in your car in a church or college parking lot. It sounds, from the testimony still ongoing, as if you could also keep a gun in your car at a K-12 school, but I'm not 100 percent on that yet.

The bill would definitely do away with the 1,000 foot no-gun buffer zone around colleges and K-12 schools. Seabaugh said it's "confusing enough" to know where school property begins and ends without having to measure 1,000 feet away.

Update: You wouldn't have to put a sign up either way if you allow, or ban, guns in a bar. State Rep. Sharon Cooper noticed this in the bill and asked Seabaugh how, if you don't want to be in a bar where people are armed, you're supposed to know it's allowed.

Said Seabaugh: "You can inquire of the management."

Said Cooper: "If we can (require signs) for smoking, I don't understand ... it could be a lot more deadly."

Update: After a series of Democrat amendments to water down the bill were defeated, as was one from Rep. Cooper dealing with courthouse and jail parking lots, the bill passed committee on a hand vote. The vote count was not announced.

Woke up, it was a Thursday morning

I took this shot last night in a House antechamber on a busy legislative day. I don't know how many quiet moments you get as speaker of the house at the Georgia state Capitol, but we all like to talk on the phone and look out the window.

David Ralston: human.

Yesterday the Georgia General Assembly was on a roll. They passed a new ethics bill and a transportation funding plan. I'm working on a closer look at both for the weekend.

Today, Sen. Mitch Seabaugh's guns bill (SB 308, strikes ban on weapons in churches and bars and on college campuses) is in the House Judiciary Committee. They haven't dealt with it yet, but you can watch it online if you like.

At the moment they're talking about regulating "blunt wraps," which you can put your weed in. So, hopefully, they will be saving Georgia's children from pot today, while also making sure adults can carry loaded handguns into bars.

The House and Senate conference committee on the 2011 budget is also getting together today, though I'm not aware of any major sticking points between them on the budget.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

UPDATE: Ethics has passed House, Senate

Speaker of the House David Ralston has taken the well for the second time tonight, and only the second time this session, to pitch his ethics reform bill.

He says the issues some had with the bill in recent weeks have been addressed.

"I did not want it to be said, and it cannot be said now, that we have backed up on any of our existing law one inch," the speaker said. "And we haven't. This law, this bill, strengthens ... in every respect, the ethics laws in this state that it touches."

Update: The Senate is at ease, waiting on the House to vote the bill out. Then it is expected to follow suit.

Update: The House passed the bill 168-2. The two no votes were state Rep. Bobby Franklin, who votes against everything, and state Rep. David Lucas, D-Macon.

Lucas noted that ethics complaints were filed against former Speaker of the House Glenn Richardson long before the underlying causes forced him to resign, but were quickly dismissed by Richardson's fellow Republicans.

The ethic's legislation wouldn't address that, since legislators would continue to hear ethics complaints against each other.

"So why do we keep playing this game?" Lucas asked.

The Senate, at 9:07 p.m., has come back into session, but is going to deal with another bill before turning to the ethics bill.

Update, 9:23: The Senate is still dealing with other bills. But, based on the amendment just passed out, the Senate is going to amend the speaker's ethics bill to require the State Transportation Board members to file financial disclosures.

Update: The amendment has passed and the full bill has passed the Senate, too, 47-0. That's it. Good night.

UPDATE: Transport has passed House, Senate

The House and Senate are simultaneously debating the transportation bill right now. Basically, it's a regional T-SPLOST with votes in 12 regions in 2012, plus a little help for MARTA.

Votes should come soon.

Update: It passed the House 141-29. Speaker Ralston took the well for the first time this session to argue in favor of it, asking legislators to put aside provincial concerns and saying he's tired of hearing about "the two Georgias."

"I am naive enough to believe that what's good for Atlanta is what's good for my hometown ... is what's good for every hometown in Georgia," the speaker said.

Update: It has also passed the Senate, 43-8. And every metro Atlanta lobbyist in the Capitol appears to be outside in the hall, giggling like a school girl. I heard one guy say "I've run out of hands to shake."

Speaker of the House David Ralston, for.

House Minority Leader DuBose Porter, against, has MARTA card.

Update: I don't know when the clerk's office will have the vote counts up, but you're welcome to pictures I took of the boards.

Democracy, my friends, is not always in focus.

Race-based abortion bill clears committee

Senate Bill 529, which makes it illegal for a doctor to perform an abortion if he or she knows the woman was coerced into getting that abortion on the basis of the baby's race or sex, just cleared the House Judiciary Committee.

The vote was 10-8. The bill had been held up over a contemplated removal of all language referring to race or sex, which would just make it illegal to coerce a woman to have an abortion, or for the doctor to perform that abortion.

As Galloway has explained, that language is key, because it deals with a protected class of citizens. Had the change been made, Georgia Right to Life would have come out against its own bill, because just making it illegal to coerce any woman to have an abortion doesn't get the organization where it wants to be: In front of the U.S. Supreme Court, ideally before President Barack Obama appoints any more justices, arguing to overturn Roe v. Wade.

With the bill clearing committee it heads to House Rules, which is scheduled to meet at 4:30 p.m. It could be on the House floor as soon as today.

Update: Rules Chairman Bill Hembree just announced that the Rules Committee will have to meet later. The computer problems delaying the transportation bill are keeping the Rules Committee from getting all its bills and amendments together so it can set a supplemental calendar.

Hembree said the committee had planned to move the ethics bill to the floor, but that will have to wait.

Computer problems delay transportation deal. UPDATE: We have a deal

Apparently the House and Senate have reached an agreement on transportation funding. But there's some sort of computer problem infecting the state system, so legislative counsel hasn't been able to print up the new bill yet.

After three years of legislators being unable to come together on a deal, that sounds about right.

Update: Looks like we indeed have a deal, because I'm holding a copy of the conference committee report. The AJC has a breakdown.

Drinking from the fire hose: Wednesday at the Capitol

Today is one of those days where a bunch of everything's going on.

Michael Thurmond is announcing his U.S. Senate run right now. State Rep. Mark Burkhalter has announced his retirement, as of the end of this session. CREW, the group that helped get Nathan Deal in so much trouble, has named Gov. Sonny Perdue one of the country's 11 worst who "pride their self-interests over their states'."

Transportation funding talks are ongoing. Maybe it's dead. Maybe there's reason for optimism. It kind of depends which minute you pick to check on it.

The Senate just passed the speaker's sex offender law changes, albeit with some changes that will send it back to the House for another vote.

We might get an ethics bill today. It's been sent to House Rules for a 1:30 meeting, so it could hit the floor this afternoon.

The Senate is probably going to do away with the low income tax credit later today. The attorney general says Democrats are probably right, you're not really supposed to just mash a bunch of bills together in an obvious violation of the spirit of your own rules, but it probably won't matter.

All that, and the Senate has a couple dozen bills left on its schedule today. But they may not get to them all. Just before the Senate broke for lunch, Rules Chairman Don Balfour said the House isn't giving enough attention to Senate bills. So in the always apt legislative spirit of two wrongs making a right, the Senate may slow down later today in an effort to nudge the House toward considering Senate bills.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Guns, abortions, this afternoon. UPDATE: Guns passes cmt., Abortion bill shelved for now

The House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee will take up Sen. David Shafer's gun bill, SB 291, this afternoon.

And the House Judiciary Civil Committee will look at SB 529, the co-erced abortion bill, in its 2 p.m. meeting. Word on the street is that the House is going to gut it, but we shall see.

Said Speaker of the House David Ralston a few moments ago: "The committee's going to do what committees always do. ... I can't predict what they'll do."

Nearly as soon as I wrote this, the House Judiciary Civil Committee sent out an amended agenda for this afternoon's meeting. The abortion bill is off the schedule. We'll have to see what that means, but it doesn't sound like a good thing for bill supporters.

Update: Sen. Shafer's SB 291 passed committee. It deals with people's right to carry weapons in non-secured parts of the Atlanta airport, basically the parking areas, drop off areas and the entrance before you hit security. There are some other changes, but it doesn't get into carrying rights on college campuses, churches and bars like state Sen. Mitch Seabaugh's SB 308.

Sen. Seabaugh said he expects that bill to be in the Judiciary Committee Friday. If it passes there will have to be some conversations about what to mesh together in the two bills and where the governor is on those details.

Update: Apparently there was a push today to pass the abortion bill without language referencing sex or race. It would still make co-erced abortions illegal, but wouldn't broach the subject of a protected class, which means no court case, which means no eventual Supreme Court challenge to Roe v. Wade.

Georgia Right to Life is fighting this.

"We want this bill to not only have an impact in Georgia, but in the United States," GRTL legislative director Mike Griffin said.

The speaker's comments above about committees doing what they will do aside, I understand the House leadership polled the Republican caucus on this bill this morning, and that Ralston is involved in the back and forth on the bill. We'll have to see what comes out of those discussions.

Download the Senate budget

You can download the Senate's version of the 2011 state budget here. Scroll down near the bottom, and it's the "HB948 - Full Bill" link that you want.

Remember, the Senate budget documents look a lot different than the House ones, which look different than the governor's, all of which is a joy that makes it super easy to determine how the state's spending $40 billion or so in public money.

Transport conference today at 2 p.m.

The AJC put most of the details up last night, but it looks like we might actually be getting close to a transportation funding deal.

I'm not sure where the conference committee will gather, but they plan to get together at 2 p.m.

Update: It's in room 403 at the Capitol.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Ray Boyd: I won't be a sheep for the Georgia GOP

If you didn't already heart Ray Boyd, I think you're about to, unless your name is Sue Everhart. Mr. Boyd, who wants to spend $2 million of his own money to run for governor, is refusing to sign a loyalty oath required to run as a member of the Republican Party.

From The Associated Press:
Ray Boyd said Monday he won't sign it saying he isn't "a sheep" and can't promise loyalty to a party that he says has drifted away from its core principles.

Republican Party Chairwoman Sue Everhart says the pledge is required by election law and she's never had anyone object in the past.
Apparently the oath in question says "I do swear or affirm my allegiance to the Georgia Republican Party." And Boyd says that, given the way Sen. Preston Smith was treated recently over his break with a party position, and other transgressions in the Georgia GOP structure, he has no intention of signing this oath.

He said he was willing to sign an amended oath, which would have made it clear that he would only go along with party positions if they jibe with the philosophies of Ronald Reagan-style Republicanism, but Georgia GOP Chair Sue Everhart refused.

"I said, 'You sound a little bit like Nancy Pelosi,'" Boyd said.

He said Mrs. Everhart was not pleased by the comparison. Boyd said he won't sign the oath, and he won't run as an independent. He plans to fight the state GOP on this issue.

The AJC and Associated Press already have stories up about this spat, and Mr. Boyd called me as well in an effort to generate media coverage. This thing is going to have legs.

Budget conference committee meeting now

It's difficult to hear anything, like numbers, from the third row. But the House and Senate negotiating teams are meeting now on the budget in room 403 of the Capitol.

It sounds like they're discussing a schedule to pass a final budget.

Don't you wish a game of duck-duck-goose would break out?

Update: They met only for a few minutes, but finalized agreement on the amended 2010 budget. That had been sitting for a while, but is ready to go now. Final votes could come this week.

The fiscal 2011 budget will be in Senate committee tomorrow, with a Senate floor vote expected Wednesday. Then the House and Senate will conference again on any differences in that budget, but Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Hill and Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers both said the differences between the two versions are relatively minor.

"Not a lot," Sen. Hill said. "In the scheme of things not a lot."

"No big changes," Sen. Rogers said. "Minor differences."

Hippies to Georgia: Save the arts

A few hundred people** marched to the state Capitol today to protest state budget cuts to the Georgia Council for the Arts, which would have some fairly significant impact in lost federal arts grants.

The crowd stayed on message, chanting and singing "Save the arts! Save the arts!" on the Capitol steps with accompaniment from a couple of bongos and at least one flute.

Expressive dance and over-sized sunglasses to the rescue.

** It's hard to estimate crowd size, but this should give you a basic idea:

Perdue picks Medows successor at DCH

I missed this late Friday afternoon. From the governor's office:

ATLANTA – Governor Sonny Perdue today announced that Clyde Reese, General Counsel for the Department of Community Health (DCH), is his choice to succeed Dr. Rhonda Medows as Commissioner of DCH.

“Clyde has demonstrated his talent and commitment to Georgia’s citizens during his career with the state,” said Governor Perdue. “I am deeply grateful for Dr. Medows’ leadership as we transformed the state’s delivery of health services. I am confident Clyde will successfully guide the Department as it administers critical health programs such as Medicaid, Peachcare and the State Health Benefit Plan.”

Reese began his second tenure at DCH as General Counsel in March of 2008. Before that, he served as the Executive Director of the Division of Health Planning. In this role, Reese was in charge of the administration of the Georgia Certificate of Need program. Reese practiced health care regulatory law in the private sector from 2003 to2007. He also has previous experience as an Assistant Attorney General for the State of Georgia.

Woke up, it was Monday at lunch time

A recap of some things from late last week and this weekend. Set to suggested music, if you like.

Erick Erickson has spoken! He says Austin Scott should jump to the lieutenant governor's race, instead of the governor's race:
Right now we need a better Lieutenant Governor and I’d move heaven and earth to help Austin Scott win it.
Watching Erick Erickson's support base try to coalesce with Rep. Scott against Casey Cagle would be relatively entertaining, but Scott has repeatedly made it clear he's running for governor.
As Insider Advantage reports, Amanda Mercier, law partner of Speaker of the House David Ralston, was one of three judges Gov. Sonny Perdue appointed Friday.

I bet you could find a Democrat or two who would suggest some cronyism at work.
I think you can leave most of this piece, but I would highlight this: The House wasn't against the Senate tacking a tax cut onto the hospital tax, it was against the tax cut they chose.

More than one House Republican noted that cutting health insurance premiums didn't exactly translate to savings for the taxpayer. Said Speaker Ralston:
"I think there was concern that working families in Georgia would not benefit to the extent that insurance companies would."

Jones, O'Neal and Rogers discuss the budget deal Wednesday in the House.
House Minority Leader DuBose Porter has found an issue almost as sexy as his continued push to improve state sales tax collections. The plan to monetize GEFA is going to make somebody a lot of money, as much as $275 million (third item).

Said Porter: "Raiding the GEFA fund I think is one of the biggest state scandals I've ever seen."
Larry Peterson entertains while breaking down the governor's race for The Savannah Morning News:
David Poythress: Arguably best resume in field: secretary of state, labor commissioner, assistant attorney general, deputy revenue commissioner. Unfortunately, almost no one knows that. Face last seen on milk carton.

Austin Scott: State Rep. is bright, level-headed; natural choice for moderate conservatives. Too bad so few of them vote in GOP primaries.
Florida Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed a merit pay system for teachers last week. It's similar to the plan Gov. Perdue is pushing here, but which died in the state Senate earlier this session.
Last, but not least, Amy Leigh Womack at The Telegraph wrote a profile of the Macon attorney Gov. Perdue picked to pinch hit for Thurbert Baker in the state's lawsuit against Obamacare.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Obstructing justice, by exposing government incompetence

The Obama Administration gets tough on a government whistle-blower, per The New York Times:
WASHINGTON — In a rare legal action against a government employee accused of leaking secrets, a grand jury has indicted a former senior National Security Agency official on charges of providing classified information to a newspaper reporter in hundreds of e-mail messages in 2006 and 2007. ...

The indictment, approved Wednesday by a grand jury in Baltimore and made public on Thursday, does not name either the reporter or the newspaper that received the information.

But the description applies to articles written by Siobhan Gorman, then a reporter for The Baltimore Sun, that examined in detail the failings of several major N.S.A. programs, costing billions of dollars, using computers to collect and sort electronic intelligence. The efforts were plagued with technical flaws and cost overruns.
"Billions." With a "B." You think we're putting the right guy in jail here?

Numbers explosion: In the budget, out of the budget

I daresay the only piece of state budget analysis out there with more numbers in it is the budget itself.

Friday, April 16, 2010

HB 168: Still a brutal mess to follow

Why would you pass laws even the experts can't easily understand? I can think of reasons, but few of them are good.

HB 168, a telecommunications bill that gained final passage this week and heads to the governor, is just a mess from a read-the-words-in-it-and-understand-what-they-mean standpoint.

The Public Service Commission, which regulates utilities in Georgia, says changes made before passage this week seems to have shored up the PSC's ability to deal with consumer complaints, which was a problem in a previous version of the bill. But PSC staffers are still plowing through other changes.

From PSC spokesman Bill Edge:
"We feel pretty sure the changes do protect the commission's ability to resolve consumer complaints, but on some other stuff it may be that in fact it does deregulate or take AT&T out from some of the commission rules and regulations. That's something we are still looking at."
State Rep. Clay Cox, R-Running for Congress and the bill's sponsor, says everything is good to go with the bill. He said it now puts new controls on universal access fee spending, which he believes smaller phone companies (which are supposed to use the subsidy to serve more-expensive-to-get-to rural customers with land lines) have abused.

Said Cox: "It's a very consumer friendly bill now. ... This bill cracks down on abuse of this slush fund and makes it what it was meant to be."

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Jerry Keen: Southbound

I saw this first on Insider Advantage, but House Majority Leader Jerry Keen does not plan to seek re-election this year, per his office.

Keen, R-St. Simons, recently turned 60. He was first elected in 2000. He was also majority leader during former Speaker Glenn Richardson's tenure, then stayed on when Speaker of the House David Ralston took over earlier this year.

Ralston, Keen.

It seemed, to me at least, that Rep. Keen had found his niche in the new leadership team over the last month, taking the well several times the last few weeks to prod the House forward on major legislation. Ralston put this statement out on his retirement:
“I am saddened personally by Jerry Keen’s decision to retire from the House. He is my friend and I will miss his wise counsel. The House of Representatives, the House Republican Caucus and the Republican Party will greatly miss his leadership. His departure will leave a void which will be difficult to fill. I wish him and his wife, Alice, all the best in the future.”
Among other things, I believe Rep. Keen to be the foremost authority on The Allman Brothers Band in the entire Georgia General Assembly.

Comin' home to you, St. Simons.

Shielding 911 calls, cop videos, from the public, and other "oh, by the ways"

A few odds and ends so far today ...

One way to learn about the budget: Go here and download the "FY 2011 Tracking Sheet House." Open it up and do a search for the word "eliminate."

Walter Jones with Morris News reports that the Senate passed Speaker of the House David Ralston's Meredith Emerson Act on Tuesday. That's the bill meant to keep crime scene photos showing nude or mutilated bodies from being released through the Georgia Open Records Act.

Except the Senate tacked on an amendment to also exempt:
Records of a law enforcement agency, an emergency 9-1-1 system, a public health agency, or any other similar agency when:

(A) Such records consist of or contain audio or video recordings of the personal suffering of a person in physical pain or distress;

(B) Public dissemination of such records would cause emotional distress to the person whose suffering was so recorded or to the family of such person.
I've got a call into amendment author Sen. Donzella James to ask who gets to decide when these 911 calls and police videos shouldn't be released. Also, if a cop beats someone to a pulp on the side of the road and his car camera records it, do we really want to exempt that from the public record?

Shortly after the House passed a massive tax increase, which also included a massive tax cut, and then passed a $17.8 billion budget yesterday, it agreed with the Senate position on HB 168. That's the telecomm bill no one normal really understands, except that it extends a telephone access fee, and we're pretty sure it's good for AT&T.

That's final passage for the controversial bill, which heads to Gov. Sonny Perdue for his signature. Disconcertingly, the Georgia Public Service Commission, which oversees utilities including AT&T and has been heavily involved in analyzing the bill, says it doesn't really know yet what the changes approved mean for the bill.

The amendments filled the front and back of a legal-sized piece of paper, and some of the language was brand new to the PSC, spokesman Bill Edge said today.

"We're still looking at it over all," he said.

My bet proposal on this still stands unaccepted. Let me know if you can find 20 members of the Georgia House of Representatives who actually understand what they voted on yesterday in HB 168.

L. I. (P.): Going, going ...

With yesterday's announcement of a final schedule for the 2010 legislative session, I think it's appropriate to announce my own plans. Shortly after the session ends I will be leaving The Telegraph after nearly 10 years.

I'll be moving to North Carolina to join my girlfriend, and we plan to marry. Just what will become of this blog, I am not sure. It may end, or I may not be able to resist the urge to comment here.

But it will not be what I've tried to make it these last three years: a daily source of original reporting on Georgia politics, presented with an irreverent tone.

I hope you have enjoyed reading it, I hope you will continue to read it for the next few weeks, I hope you will not treat me like the lame duck that I am, and I wish you well.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Looks like Perdue's OK with the new 1055

From the governor's press office:
The arguments for the provider payment plan stood on their own and it would have been our preference for the bill to pass that way. However, when it became clear it wouldn't, the discussion centered around laying out policies that invest in Georgia's future. These additions make good policy sense. They get the state out of the property tax business and will return more than they cost over the years in true supply side theory as retirees come and stay in our state. It is estimated that 20 percent of seniors move to a new state upon retirement. Retirees generate new jobs in local economies by spending money on health-related services and financial services as well as entertainment and new home construction, in addition to their civic contributions to their local communities.
The background on this is in the post below.

Major changes in hospital tax, other tax plans. UPDATE: It passed the House 107-63. UPDATE: And the Senate 39-12.

Final update on this post: Looks like the governor is on board.
Update: I've got a better handle on the bill now:
ATLANTA — House and Senate Republicans broke a budgetary logjam Wednesday afternoon by ramming a series of future tax cuts, paired with a new hospital tax and $90 million in state fee increases, through the Georgia General Assembly.

Georgians aged 65 and up would eventually see a complete phase-out of income taxes on their retirement income in the deal. Currently, only the first $35,000 of retirement income is exempt.

The small portion of property taxes that Georgians pay to the state would also be phased out, and both changes would be made gradually over five years, starting Jan. 1.

Altogether, the changes will bring the state more money in the coming year, and the state's health care budget will get a particular infusion to help fund hospitals that serve most of the state's poor. When paired with significant spending cuts, this will help balance the fiscal 2011 budget, which the Georgia House of Representatives is expected to pass later today.

But as the years go by, and the tax cuts take effect, there will be "a huge net tax cut," according to House Ways and Means Chairman Larry O'Neal, R-Warner Robins. O'Neal said the changes will help keep Georgia's grandparents close to their families, instead of pushing them toward Florida, which already exempts retirement income from taxes.

All of this was pasted into House Bill 1055, which lays out a series of fee increases, including new fees for specialty license plates. The hospital tax, with Gov. Sonny Perdue requested to help fund the state's Medicaid budget, was also lumped into the deal.

The amalgamated bill passed the House 107-63, with Democrats complaining about the quick nature of the deal and the lack of debate on the tax cuts. They were introduced on the House floor Wednesday without going through the normal committee process. Republicans countered that the tax cuts have discussed repeatedly in previous years, though they had not passed.

The bill passed the Senate 39-12.
This is just being described in the House by Ways and Means Chairman Larry O'Neal. But the push is on to take the 1.45 percent hospital tax and merge it with HB 1055, which raises all those fees.

And the legislature would also add in:
  • A 5 year phase out of any state taxes on retirement income for people aged 65 and up.
  • A 5 year phase out of the quarter mill the state charges on property taxes.
O'Neal made no mention of the insurance premium tax cut, which the Senate initially tacked into the hospital tax bill when it passed it. Presumably that means it's off the table for now, but who knows.

Major things are changing rapidly on this today. I will update here when I can.

Update: Democrats are fighting this thing, arguing that the amendment, or amendments, that it would take to do all this are not germane. That's because HB 1055 deals with fees, and the amendments deal with tax code. Honestly, I don't see any way it is germane, except that the Republicans are going to say it is.

Also, I haven't seen any fiscal analysis on this, which is sure to be in the hundreds of millions. And there were no committee hearings. I hope you trust the GOP majority at the Georgia General Assembly.

Update: The new 1055 passed the House 107-63. They also voted to immediately transmit it to the Senate, which will presumably vote on it later today.

Update: The bottom line on this thing is that it brings in new revenue for fiscal 2011 to help balance that budget. Then the tax cuts start piling up, so eventually it's supposed to be a tax benefit for property owners and senior citizens with more than $35,000 or so in annual retirement income, as opposed to income from a job.

Senate just passed the fees bill, 44-9

House Bill 1055 had a lot of changes, though, so it heads back to the House.

The House and Senate are both out for lunch, with the House coming back a 1 p.m. and the Senate at 1:30.

Update: The no votes on HB 1055: Brown, Buckner, Butterworth, Chapman, Hill, Powell, Shafer, Smith, Thompson (Curt). Everyone else voted yes, except for Sen. Seay, who of course is not here.

Notably, state Sen. Mitch Seabaugh, who didn't vote for the hospital tax, did vote for the fees bill.

Day 40 is Thursday, April 29

The Georgia legislature plans to wrap up it's 40 day session April 29. The House approved this schedule this morning, and the Senate is expected to do so soon.

The legislature will be in session Tuesday and Wednesday of next week, for legislative days 37 and 38.

The week after that they will be in session Tuesday, April 27, and Thursday, April 29, for the final two days of the 2010 legislative session. The day in between will be used for conference committee meetings to work out differences the House and Senate still have have on various pieces of legislation, House Majority Leader Jerry Keen said.

Qualifying for elected offices up this year will proceed that same week as normal, but will take place in rooms 216 and 230 at the Capitol for Monday through Thursday, Keen said. It will move back to the House and Senate chambers for Friday morning, the last day of qualifying.

Senate pauses, remembers soldiers from the 48th

It will be a busy day today in both the House and Senate. But before we talk about passing a budget, or anything else, it seems appropriate to pause, as the Senate has this morning, to remember volunteer soldiers killed during the Georgia 48th Brigade's now-ended Afghanistan deployment.

The names, as read by state Sen. John Douglas: Sgt. Brock Chavers, of Bulloch, Spec. Isaac Johnson, of Columbus, Spec. Jeffrey Jordan of Rome, Sgt. Raymundo Morales, of Dalton, Staff Sgt. Alex French, of Milledgeville, Staff Sgt. John Beale, of Riverdale, 1st Sgt. John Blair, of Calhoun, and Maj. Kevin Jennette, of Lula.

"We've lost eight great soldiers. ..." said Col. Lee Durham, commanding officer of the Georgia 48th Brigade. "(But) we brought most of them home. I'm very proud of our soldiers. ... Remember our families."

"They stepped forward. They were courageous. ..." CSM Michael Hurndon said. "We will see them again on the high ground. ... Don't forget their families, and seven of these eight soldiers were fathers."

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Senate schedule for Thursday

A busy day with some relatively big bills. The House has the budget tomorrow, and we shall see what else.
HB 567 - Crime Victims' Bill of Rights; rights of crime victims; change certain provisions
HB 579 - Contractors; eligibility for licensure; provide
HB 883 - Sanitary Activity for Food-Processing Enterprises (SAFE) Act; enact
HB 910 - Gender discrimination; Department of Education; annual gender equality reporting; remove requirements
HB 994 - Community Health, Department of; regulatory authority; revise provisions
HB 1021 - Dangerous drugs; Salvia divinorum A; include
HB 1055 - Drivers' licenses; fees for temporary licenses or identification cards; change
HB 1072 - Motor vehicle franchise practices; voluntary releases; provisions
HB 1128 - Public property; writing off small amounts due to state; provisions
HB 1170 - Medical assistance; health organizations providing service under Medicaid; repeal tax exemption
HB 1179 - Influenza vaccinations; hospitals offer annually to employees; require
HB 1224 - Drivers' licenses; defense for drivers; no vision condition restriction; provide
HB 1284 - Planning and Budget, Office of; record of user fees collected; provide for publication
HB 1309 - Controlled substances; add synthetic cannabinoids to Schedule I list; provide
HB 1345 - Georgia Kosher Food Consumer Protection Act; enact
HR 178 - Enforcement of contracts; restrict competition; provisions

Odds and ends: Ralston on 307, the schedule

Speaker of the House David Ralston hasn't ruled the Senate's changes to HB 307 non-germaine the last two days despite saying, in no uncertain terms, that he would.

Said Ralston this afternoon: "This process ... is always ongoing. I believe very strongly that what the Senate did was non-germaine. (But we're looking) for a constructive alternative before we have to cross that bridge."

For the second straight day the House adjourned without passing an adjournment resolution. So we simply do not know when this legislative session is going to end.

State Sen. Seth Harp, R-Running for Insurance Commissioner, will replace Sen. Preston Smith as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, the Senate Press Office said this afternoon. He had been vice-chairman.

Word on the street is that the transportation funding conference committee will meet tomorrow, which would make sense.

Senate Transportation Chairman Jeff Mullis said he's "more optimistic this year" that past failures to strike a deal will be overcome.

"We realize that we have to leave this building this year with a transportation funding plan," Mullis said. As for what it will look like, Mullis said "everything's on the table."

But, as Dennis O'Hayer reports (via Galloway) MARTA may be under the table.

Update: You know, if "under the table" were actually a saying.

Macon attorney to lead Georgia suit against Obamacare

From the governor's office:
ATLANTA – Governor Sonny Perdue announced today that he is appointing Frank C. Jones as the pro bono Special Attorney General to direct Georgia’s participation in challenging the federal health care legislation recently passed by Congress. Georgia is joining the lawsuit filed by 18 other states in federal court in Florida at no cost to the state.

“The importance of this legal challenge demands the very best representation possible and that is exactly what the state is receiving from Frank C. Jones,” said Governor Perdue. “Frank is one of the best and most respected lawyers in the state. We are grateful he recognizes the importance of this challenge and is taking up the cause on behalf of Georgians.”

Jones is currently Of Counsel at Jones, Cork & Miller in Macon, a firm at which he practiced from 1950 to 1977. From 1977 to 2001, Jones was a Partner at King & Spalding in Atlanta. His professional involvement includes past service as President of the American College of Trial Lawyers, President of the U.S. Supreme Court Historical Society, 22-year member of the House of Delegates for the American Bar Association, President of the State Bar of Georgia and Member of the American Law Institute. Jones also currently serves as Trustee Emeritus of Emory University and Trustee of Wesleyan College in Macon.

“I am honored by Governor Perdue selecting me to lead Georgia’s team and I look forward to adding our state’s perspective to the others that have joined this challenge,” Jones said.

Governor Perdue also appointed the following Georgia attorneys as deputy Special Attorneys General: Mike Russ, retired Partner at King & Spalding; Jason Alloy and Josh Belinfante of RobbinsLaw LLC; Pitts Carr of Carr & Palmer; John Parker and Keith Blackwell of Parker, Hudson, Rainer & Dobbs LLP; and Mercer University law professor David Oedel. These lawyers will also serve the state on a pro bono basis. Other Georgia attorneys have offered to assist with the challenge, and may participate as the case requires.

Harbin's prediction: Senate will pass fees bill

House Appropriations Chairman Ben Harbin, during his budget presentation a few moments ago, said he expects the state Senate to OK the fees bill (HB 1055) that adds an extra $90 million or so into the budget.

Harbin said the bill should be up in the Senate tomorrow, before the House votes to pass the budget, which of course includes the new revenue.

Said Harbin: "I don't think the Senate wants to be the cause of us going to a special session. There aren't too many sources (for more revenue)."

This morning at the Capitol

The House Appropriations Committee is going over the budget right now, and should vote it to the floor this morning.
Update: The appropriations committee just passed the budget, 61-8. Several Democrats voted against. So did state Rep. Jimmy Pruett, one of the governor's floor leaders, and Republican state reps. Ed Setzler and Bob Smith.

Udpate: Rep. Pruett says he voted for the budget, and the committee has him officially recorded as a "yes" vote. So it appears I misheard his vote, as did at least one other person in the room. Pruett said he was conflicted, though, because the Senate has not OK'd the same revenue measures the House has and he worried about "voting for a bill that we don't know for sure that we've got the revenues."

"I really was that close (to voting no)," he said. "Maybe it came out and I didn't mean it to."

The Senate is in session and will be voting on the governor's plan to sell off a bunch of GEFA loans, which will raise money for the budget and no doubt make investors, banks and bond attorneys very happy:
It’s not clear how much the companies and other buyers stand to gain over the life of the deal, but it could be as much as $275 million over the $300 million they’d have to pay in cash up front, figures from the governor’s office suggest.

These Georgia Environmental Facilities Authority loans are a major source of financing for government infrastructure projects across the state. Perdue has promised loans still would be available, albeit in amounts akin to 2005 levels instead of the higher amounts of more recent years.

But many outside the administration are concerned that selling off a revolving source of funding for a one-time cash infusion will devastate the program and force more local governments into the more expensive private borrowing market.

That means Wall Street bankers and “very expensive bond attorneys,” said Todd Edwards, who focuses on these issues for the Association County Commissioners of Georgia, a group that works with county governments.
Update: The GEFA sale has passed the Senate, 30-20.
Finally, Rev. Jesse Jackson stepped into the governor's office about 10 a.m. this morning. As The AJC has noted, he's been pushing the importance of mass transit in the state's ever-evolving, but seldom really changing, transportation funding plan.

Jackson crosses the rotunda this morning and heads toward the governor's office.

Update: Another thing I'd like to mention, because I buried it in my story this morning:
House Transportation Committee Chairman Jay Roberts, R-Ocilla, said Monday that a breakthrough could come as soon as this week. There is talk of going back to a 2010 vote on a constitutional amendment that would allow local governments to raise sales taxes by a penny on the dollar to pay for road construction. That’s an older plan that differs significantly from Perdue’s plan to hold votes on the penny taxes in 2012.

Roberts said Monday there’s “a 50-50 chance right now of moving either way,” adding that he’s “very positive” about the status of House-Senate negotiations on the issue as a whole.
I'd say it's a whole lot likelier than 50 percent that the House and Senate go with the 2010 vote to amend the state constitution on this thing. If they can gin up the 2/3 majority it takes in both chambers to get that question to the voters this year, it trumps the governor's objections, because he can't veto a constitutional referendum. Galloway has noted this as well.