Category Archives: 2016 Legislative Session

The 11 Most Ridiculous Bills to Pass in 2016

While expanded medical marijuana legislation that would help thousands of Georgians failed to get a vote in the Senate and little victories like the “brunch bill” died, both chambers spent most of Day 39 & 40 passing bills that will have little to no positive impact on 99% of our lives.

Here’s my list of the most outrageous bills of the 2016 legislative session. Note: This is the short list. There are dozens of dozens more.

  1. HB 798  – Joyce Chandler

This bill allows homeschooling students who meet all the necessary state-mandated requirements to apply for the HOPE scholarship. While this looks like a good idea, the problem lies in that homeschool students, despite meeting all the same standards as public school students, have to score higher on the SAT & ACT in order to qualify. (93rd percentile for homeschool students, 85th percentile for public school students) And the reason? The sponsor said from the floor of the House that she just “came up with the number on her own.)

  1. HB 838 – Shaw Blackmon

Co-sponsored by a representative whose day job is selling insurance, this bill sets a 5% “floor” for Commission rates for certain health insurance policies. Paging Captain Conflict of Interest.

  1. HB 979 – Johnnie Caldwell, Jr.

HB 979 makes it “more illegal” to commit a crime against a person who is a healthcare worker or EMS personnel. With additional fines and criminal punishments, we’re telling the state of Georgia that these people have more value than regular citizens. Like the ridiculousness of “hate crimes,” this does nothing to deter violence. A crime against a person is the same – regardless of the employment status of the victim.

  1. HB 509 – Jesse Petrea

This bill creates an entirely new stem of government thanks to a Republican sponsor and, of course, a Republican majority. HB 509 creates a Georgia Palliative Care and Quality of Life Advisory Council which allows the state to study and assess end of life care measures while working with nursing homes and assisted care facilities – something that is absolutely, definitely NOT the role of the state.

  1. SB 331 – Bruce Thompson

SB 331 has good intentions. The goal of the bill is to prevent rapists from having parental rights should a baby result in “non-consensual” sexual relations.

The problem is that “non-consensual” doesn’t exclusively mean rape in legal terms and the bill doesn’t even call for a conviction of rape…just clear and convincing evidence. What does that even mean?

  1. SB 402 – Jeff Mullis

This bill places a temporary moratorium on narcotic treatment centers in Georgia. New licenses cannot be issued until July 1, 2017. The bill calls for a study of the centers across Georgia and for the Commission to decide whether further legislative action is necessary.

Here’s my question: Under this bill, the number of narcotic treatment centers does not change. If a problem exists, this doesn’t solve it for at least TWO years. One year to study and then another year to pass and implement any changes – something that unscrupulous persons will find a way around anyway.

  1. HB 840 – Ron Stephens

The Georgia legislature took time out of their short 40 day legislative session to redefine the definition of a “feral hog” and then change the wildlife code to require a permit for commercial film purposes that must be obtained by paying an annual fee. Rep. Stephens said the bill was necessary to “honor wildlife” and keep film companies in our state. If that’s true, we don’t need to tack on a fee to entice them to stay.

  1. HB 808 – Wendell Willard – Repealing the Judicial Qualifications Commission

The Judicial Qualifying Commission has long been an oversight committee for judges across the state of Georgia. Unfortunately, it’s also long been victim to grudges in the legal community, and because of such, has been dissolved thanks to the Georgia legislature. The solution is to reinstate a new Commission with new appointees – ones from the Speaker and the Governor – and try to “restore the independence” of the Commission. The problem, though, is that the bill will allow all JQC files and hearings to be closed to the public in an even more private process than before.

The Constitutional Amendment to establish a new form of the JQC will be on the general election ballot in November. I urge you to vote NO.

  1. SB 323Mike Dugan
    This bill will change the law to allow ANY state agency working on an economic development project to keep any and all records pertaining to the project confidential until the

The bill is a slap to the open records process and demonstrates our lawmakers are moving away from transparency, instead of towards it. An amendment that was added in the final days will also allow public colleges’ athletic departments 90 days to respond to open-record requests, when the timeline under the law is a mere 3 days.

  1. SB 369 – Brandon Beach (℅ Jeff Mullis)

In a last ditch attempt to address MARTA following the overwhelming failure early in the session, the initiative was offered a glimmer of hope. In a shameful political move, the Senate stripped a bill originally addressing fireworks and replaced it with MARTA language. That’s right. fireworks to MARTA.
[Similar to the former TSPLOSTs in North Fulton County and South Fulton County as well as the City of Atlanta up to .75% increase  (on the sales tax).]

  1.   HB 757Kevin Tanner

What started as a harmless, do-nothing, feel-good “Pastor Protection Act” quickly spiraled into a discriminatory bill that would allow organizations that receive tax dollars from the state to discriminate against not only same-sex couples, unwed mothers, and divorced parents. Remember the pregnancy resource center bill ? Take that one for example: A pro-life, Christian organization that receives grant money funded by our tax dollars can quickly – and without legitimate cause – turn away a pregnant teen by claiming it violates their religious beliefs.

The bill, because of its harmful language, has made for unlikely bedfellows, including the big business Georgia Chamber “establishment” folks who rallied against the bill alongside those in the the limited government liberty movement.

The most unfortunate part of this process, however, has been watching men and women of God claim this discriminatory bill is an act of good faith – of their faith – and has tarnished the open arm picturesque Christian.

Something good that passed but may not see the light of day is the campus carry legislation. Unfortunately, there are concerns that Deal will veto the measure after he raised concerns after the bill’s final passage from both chambers without significant opposition.  

Governor Nathan Deal has until May 3 to decide whether or not he will veto the legislation passed by both Chambers over the last 40 days.  

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Military Pension Tax Exemptions a Terrible Idea

Freshman legislator Jesse Petrea (R-Savannah) announced earlier this week that he plans to introduce a bill that will exempt military exemptions from Georgia income tax. According to Walter Jones, Petrea “said he would pay for his plan by boosting the tax on cigarettes 28 cents per pack, leaving the 65-cent total below the national average of $1.60. That shouldn’t put Georgia retailers at a disadvantage, but it would help discourage some youngsters from taking up smoking and developing an unhealthy habit.”

So, not only will this bill help veterans and help attract retiring veterans to Georgia, it’s going to help the children as well. Great.

As a purist, I am against any more income tax exemptions or sales tax exemptions. And I am againsteye roll every single one we have on the books. Exemptions don’t provide for limited government – they actually make for more government. “Exemption” essentially means special treatment, and while I firmly believe our veterans should always be our first priority, this is an instance where the “solution” either needs to be applied broadly or not at all.

The tax code in Georgia is already overflowing with exemptions. Pipe organ sales. Mercedes-Benz. Film industry tax credits. They all serve a purpose at some point, but never sunset and then the tax code just complicates more and more and more.

The worst part about this is that no one in their right mind will have the ability to vote NO unless they want to see a primary opponent sending mail pieces claiming they ‘voted against veterans.’ The horror of principles of limited government.

The logic is circular and only perpetuates a problem we continue to face every cycle.

  1. Man introduces feel-good tax exemptions for a class of people
  2. Exemption reduces revenue
  3. Budget doesn’t get reduced
  4. Shortfall
  5. Need more revenue
  6. Create new tax
  7. Complicate tax code

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

I am not advocating for the Georgia General Assembly to continue to raise taxes, and I am certainly not pushing for our veterans to be punished. But sin taxes cannot be our fallback, unless the plan is to have alcohol selling for $120 a liter and pack of cigarettes to be priced at a mere $25/pack.

All this will do is create more problems somewhere else on down the line. But on a positive note, it will give anyone who voted for the $900 million tax increase for transportation a little boost with constituents.

Which Georgia Republican Will Take Up Transgender Policies?

The firestorm stemming from the early release of transgendered inmate Ashley Diamond is dwindling but the flame fanning when it comes to the bigger picture of transgenders in Georgia is still wildly ablaze.

While serving a sentence for robbery, Ashely Diamond, who was born a male but is now living life as a female filed a lawsuit with the U.S. Department of Justice after the Georgia Department of Corrections stopped administering hormone therapy. Georgia and federal law both prohibit incarceration facilities from stopping medication that was part of an inmates lifestyle prior to entering prison, however, furthering a transition through surgery or additional hormone drugs is not permitted. Once the DoJ ruled the Georgia DoC must administer the hormones, Diamond filed another lawsuit alleging repeated rape and assault charges. Shortly after, Diamond was released after serving only 3 of the 12 year prison sentence. The Georgia DoC says early release is common, but others speculate that Diamond was released because no one knew what to do with her and the lawsuits and negative publicity seemed unending.

The majority of the issues around Diamond’s case arose because Diamond was living life as a female…in an all-male prison.

This may have been the first case of its kind in Georgia, but it certainly won’t be the last. The decision to either enact a law, or push for the Georgia Department of Corrections to establish a policy, is on the shoulders of Republicans in the Georgia General Assembly. While the issue certainly isn’t sexy, or politically expedient, it is necessary.

It becomes complicated when you consider that neither the state of Georgia nor the federal government have enacted any type of policies that address things like this. It’s even messier when you consider there’s no manual that describes where a person needs to be in the transition process to be recognized by the state as another gender. What needs to happen? Do birth certificates get re-issued? Amended? What goes on with Social Security cards? While these are federal issues in some cases, what has to occur in order for a person to be legally recognized as another gender so that they are assigned to the appropriate prison facility? Where do basic human rights start and stop with transgendered adults?

What obligation does the state have in protecting these people?

As I have previously mentioned, we are far beyond societal resistance. Faith and morals can convict you in your own home, but our state needs to catch up…and quick. Otherwise, we quickly open the door for lawsuits when inmates are raped and assaulted in prison because of our own decision to place them at risk. It can and will happen. What’s worse is that is spans far beyond prisons.

The prison stories seem to be unendingHospitals. Schools. School bathrooms. It will cost Georgians millions, and even if the state wins, that costs money, too.

It is no longer about whether or not you agree. This isn’t a private business baking a cake. This is a state-funded operation that is going to cause problems continuously if something isn’t done. Permanent isolation? Separation dorms for transgendered people? Try something. Start somewhere. Otherwise, lawsuit settlements are paid by taxpayers. We can’t keep turning a blind eye simply because we don’t know what to do. Georgia needs to work toward a policy. Now.

“I’m Sorry I Raised Your Taxes”

We’ve all heard about it by now. Georgia House Speaker David Ralston plans to introduce the “Pastor’s Protection Act” during the next legislative session.

Let’s call a spade a spade. This is actually the Legislator’s Protection Act. Don’t be fooled, people. This is an apology, an olive branch, a caucus career saver, the “I’m sorry I ran over your dog” bouquet of flowers. The ice pack the punk offers you after slugging you in the jaw.

The same man who spent two sessions making sure the religious liberty bills never hit the House floor for a vote now wants to swoop in Cavalia style with a unicorn horn to the tune of Flash! by Queen and introduce this bill to appease a very specific group of the Republican electorate. To save the souls of the Republicans who went out on a limb to appease him and the Governor this spring.

Forget about Representative Sam Teasley and Senator Josh McKoon. Forget about the Faith and Freedom Coalition, the various groups of united religious denominations, and any Georgian of faith

You can close your jaw. I’m telling the truth. I know I’m telling the truth because folks on both sides of the issue will admit this is the least necessary aspect of the religious liberty controversy. It would only apply to clergy. Not churches. Not businesses. It wouldn’t do much. This is an easy way out for a feel good bill.

While this certainly isn’t a religious liberty bill, the issues have the same roots. This initiative comes on the heels of the Supreme Court decision that has the far religious right up in arms. The same religious right that was mortified by the legislative priority list for the General Assembly last session, what with the taxes, the expanded government, the strippers. The same religious right that turns out election after election. Religious liberty is a hot button issue that will be at every candidate forum come spring 2016.

And the truth is that Republicans who voted in favor of the $900 million tax increase for transportation faced heat at home. (Unless they quit or took an appointment.) Constituents are angry, the grassroots and Tea Party folks are still nailing them to the wall and when polls came out illustrating that voters overwhelmingly didn’t care for the tax, it was clear that the Republican caucus needed a plan.

The truth is that there are plenty of people who would appear more qualified and genuine carrying a bill like this. But it isn’t about that. It’s about an agenda. An agenda that will protect a a particular group of the caucus.

It isn’t supposed to be about who gets the credit. It’s supposed to be about quality legislation and doing the right thing. And if that means Ralston carries this bill, so be it.

But this, this is why people hate politics. It’s manipulative, calculated, and disingenuous. It’s everything they say it is and more. And worse. And then the voters have to make a decision. What is our priority when we head to the ballot box? Civil liberties? Or lower taxes? Because only some Republican districts get representatives with both.