Category Archives: Georgia

Nuisance Bill in Legislature Will Harm Property Owners, Agriculture Community

A measure that has already passed the Georgia House of Representatives would be tremendously detrimental to private property owners and those in the agriculture community if it clears the state senate as well. The bill has pitted agricultural and conservation groups against each other as the state legislature has worked to further protect a number of bigger agriculture companies.

House Bill 545, sponsored by House Agriculture Chairman Tom McCall, seeks to prohibit nuisance claims after one year of the establishment of an an agricultural facility, agricultural support facility,  or any operation at an agricultural support facility. The bill, which targets nuisance claims exclusively in the agriculture community, provides an exception to that 1-year timeline in the event that a facility expands, changes ownership, or changes purpose only to the extent that said change or growth requires approval by a state agency or authorization by a local zoning board.  An agricultural operation can be something as simple as a roadside market or honeybee farm to something more complex like the application of pesticides or the manufacturing of feed for poultry, livestock or forestry products.

OCGA 41-1-1 already defines a ‘nuisance’ as “anything that causes hurt, inconvenience, or damage to another and the fact that the act done may otherwise be lawful shall not keep it from being a nuisance. The inconvenience complained of shall not be fanciful, or such as would affect only one of fastidious taste, but it shall be such as would affect an ordinary, reasonable man.”

Simply put: Under HB 545, property owners would be prohibited from taking actions against other landowner and/or agricultural operation owners unless the action is taken within one year of the establishment of the operation, regardless of how severe the impact on the complainants property may be.

Initially, the bill’s sponsor sought to restrict the distance from the agriculture operation to ½ mile, but a floor amendment expanded that distance to ownership within 5 miles of the nuisance. Chairman McCall repeatedly told the Rules committee that the bill sought to “protect the state’s largest industry,” which is agriculture. McCall also told colleagues that the bill doesn’t eliminate the ability to sue if a facility is doing something illegal, but HB 545 makes no mention of that.

The bill mimics a 2018 North Carolina law designed to stop the ability of neighbors to pursue nuisance actions against industrial hog facilities. North Carolina farmers direct the waste of 10 million hogs into open air lagoons whose stench and water pollution have ruined many lives.

The measure in the peach state is supported by the Georgia Poultry Federation, the Georgia Urban Ag Council, the Georgia Farm Bureau, the Georgia Forestry Association, and the Georgia Agribusiness Council.  While sponsored by some of Georgia’s agriculture-oriented lawmakers, the measure narrowly passed by a vote of 107-58.

So, while we talk about protecting big agricultural businesses, who is looking out for the private property owners and smaller agricultural entities adjacent to or in close proximity of those thriving mega-entities?

Right now, it seems the opposition is limited to private property owners, the US Water Coalition, the Flint Riverkeeper, and the Georgia Water Coalition, which has said, “HB 545 severely restricts the rights of individual property owners, businesses, and schools from protecting their rights against nuisances from industrial agricultural operations that move into their communities.” The Georgia Water Coalition, by the way, is comprised of over 250 organizations, including conservation groups, farmers, homeowners and lake associations, business owners, sporting clubs, professional associations, and religious groups.

April Lipscomb, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center said that “HB 545 flips current law on its head” and “prevents existing land owners from protecting their property values from new and expanding agricultural operations that move into their neighborhoods.” This, in part, is a foundation for opposition because if a state agency or local zoning board doesn’t have to approve the move or expansion, the “establishment period” does not apply. This would be especially troublesome for rural counties without any zoning regulations at all.

House Minority Leader Bob Trammell told me that the bill would “substantially limit [the] ability to seek redress.  In some instances, it will completely preclude the ability to seek redress. The sad irony is that it will adversely affect rural Georgians most.”

In addition to what all of the experts have said, there are a number of reason to oppose the bill, so I’ll go through them one by one.

  1. The Georgia House passed the measure knowing it wasn’t good legislation. In the Rules Committee on March 5th, Rules Chairman Jay Powell made it clear that he had concerns with the bill but they would work to ‘fix it in the Senate.’ Not only this an unprincipled approach to legislation, it’s also completely reckless. What if the Senate doesn’t ‘fix it’? The House can’t weigh in on anything after the fact unless the Senate actually makes a change, which would have to be approved by the House before heading to Governor Kemp’s desk.
  2. The distance is subjective.  5 miles is a subjective number which is contingent upon on the type of agricultural facility in a region, whether or not the facility is in close proximity to a water source, other agriculture facilities, or a farming operation, if there are tree lines or open fields…and so much more. Additionally, a landowner could be impacted at 5.25 miles in the same way someone at 4.95 miles is impacted, but only one of them would have a legal pathway to address the issue.  
  3. The bill requires the owner of the land to file a nuisance action. Whether a landowner leases his/her property to a farmer for cultivation or to a school for other uses, the landowner may not always be the one impacted by the nuisance. Shouldn’t the wronged party have recourse?
  4. Some agriculture may benefit, but many others could suffer from HB 545. What Chairman McCall is failing to address in his advocacy of the bill is how others in the agriculture business will be adversely impacted by this type of legislation. While it may help the poultry producer at mile marker 101, it could negatively affect the cotton farmer at mile marker 103.
  5. Mere establishment of a facility does not equate to the commencement of a nuisance or harm to a neighbor. An agriculture facility may begin a practice that creates a toxic runoff to adjacent property owners two years after the facility opens, but the property owner would have no recourse because the nuisance did not begin within one year of when the facility was established.
  6. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The current law has been in place since 1980 and properly balances the protections for all parties involved. In fact, the code section already on the books states,“It is the purpose of this Code section to reduce losses of the state’s agricultural and forest land resources by limiting the circumstances under which agricultural facilities and operations or agricultural support facilities may be deemed to be a nuisance,” which shows the laws are already in place – restrictive enough – to protect some businesses from lawsuits. 
  7. It’s not the proper role of government. We have a court system that allows those elected and appointed to sit on a bench to weigh the facts of each individual case and make a decision based on the complaints and the statements of the defense. It is not the job of the legislature to protect a particular industry — or, in this case, a specific facet of a particular industry.

The lawsuits from these nuisance claims don’t always seek financial relief, but instead simply injunctive relief — to get whoever the nuisance is to stop doing what they are doing that is causing harm. This limits the ability to do that.

That’s why we should leave the law the way it is. The very foundation of our nation is property rights. Landowners have the right to do as you please on your own property — so long as it doesn’t negatively impact the private property of those around them. This legislation circumvents that ideology entirely and it does so while offering smaller landowners as sacrificial lambs for Georgia’s agriculture industry. 

The bill has been assigned to the Senate Agriculture & Consumer Affairs committee. One hearing has already been held and it could be voted on by the committee as early as March 19th.

Here is a link to the bill.
Here is a link to the Amendment which was added from the House floor, which passed.

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Georgia Doesn’t Need “Cagle’s Law” or 2-Party Consent

Northwest Georgia Senator and Rules Chairman Jeff Mullis wants to make Georgia a two-party consent state and he’s never been more wrong.

Under current Georgia law, only one party must consent to being recorded in a conversation and that one party can be the recording party. (Ex: If I’m having a conversation with Bob and I decide to record it, I don’t need to ask Bob’s permission. I’m the consenting party.)

But this is nothing more than a poorly structured elected official protection act – or “Cagle’s Law.” Mullis can say it isn’t about our former Lieutenant Governor who was recorded on tape during the 2018 election cycle saying he backed ‘bad public policy’ because of [expletive] politics, but Senator Jeff Mullis, who donated more than $10,000 to Cagle’s failed campaign, is doing this to make sure no one else gets Cagled. The bill is sponsored by other Cagle supporters including Senators Larry Walker, Steve Gooch, John Wilkinson, Butch Miller, and Ellis Black.

Mullis filed Senate Bill 59 this week, which would bring Georgia in line with 12 other states in the U.S. that require both parties give consent to being recorded – California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Washington. (Ex: I consent to conversation with Bob and both Bob and I announced that we consent to being recorded) The other 36, including Georgia, protect individuals in consensual conversations.

Mullis was quoted in the AJC saying that people have “a right to know when people are recording them.”

He’s wrong about that. Rights are found in the Constitution. The Constitution is supposed to restrict the government, not people. The legislation not only restricts people individually but interferes in private interactions between two parties who are already consenting to have a conversation. The government does not need to be involved.

These lawmakers would be limiting a tool long used by the media, a tool that has long allowed the media to hold elected officials accountable. Perhaps that’s why they want to make it illegal. Remember the Planned Parenthood videos back in 2015? Some of that was protected by one-party consent laws. In California, they faced felony charges. Mitt Romney was recorded in 2012 talking about Obama voters and the ACORN voting process recordings rocked the election in 2008. These seem to exclude the times when private citizens have taken things they recorded to the media for distribution because a crime was committed or something unethical was happening in their community.

In rural Georgia, I was able to highlight the poor behavior of a magistrate judge because of the one-party consent rules. Ironically, the judge and his attorney were not aware of Georgia’s one-party consent law and even dangled the idea of criminal charges in front of me because I released the recording of his inappropriate behavior.

From the Atlanta Journal Constitution:

It’s something that Georgia First Amendment Foundation President Richard T. Griffiths said would be “very bad for the public.”

Not only would it have an impact on investigative journalism, it would keep people from being able to pursue legal action against people trying to commit fraud over the phone, Griffiths said.

The current law is direct, clear, and takes less than a paragraph to explain, but Mullis and his friends in the Senate want to change that in the name of a failed political campaign and a candidate who amounted to an even bigger failure. I can’t think of a worse reason to enact a law, but I’ve come to know that our lawmakers thrive in environments where the public has less and politicans can do more.

Criminal charges for recording a conversation between adults. That’s what these Senators want to do with Senate Bill 59.

It’s imperative for you to contact your state lawmakers and voice your disapproval. Additionally, contact Lieutenant Governor Geoff Duncan and urge him not to allow this bill to come to the Senate floor for a vote.

If you support investigative journalism, the First Amendment, consensual conversations between adults without government regulation, and the rights of an individual, email this group and let them know you OPPOSE Senate Bill 59 and encourage them to vote against the measure in committee.

jesse.stone@senate.ga.gov, blake.tillery@senate.ga.gov, billheath@billheath.net, harold.jones@senate.ga.gov, john.kennedy@senate.ga.gov, william.ligon@senate.ga.gov, elena.parent@senate.ga.gov, michael.rhett@senate.ga.gov, brian.strickland@senate.ga.gov

You can contact the sponsors of the bill by email at:

jeff.mullis@senate.ga.gov
john.wilkinson@senate.ga.gov
butch.miller@senate.ga.gov
ellis.black@senate.ga.gov
larry.walker@senate.ga.gov
steve.gooch@senate.ga.gov

You can contact Lt. Governor Geoff Duncan’s office by clicking here. His office number is (404) 656-5030.

Georgia legislators channel inner Joel Osteen

In 2015, I said I would never forgive the Georgia legislature for putting forth a bill that put me in a position to defend strippers, but the government overreach and unnecessary taxation was just too much to keep quiet. It was a trying time and even still, if you google my name, you’ll be blessed to see information about strippers – all in the name of liberty.

And here we are, two years later, facing another overreach and another tax. The victim this time? Porn.

State representative Paulette Rakestraw has filed House Bill 509 which would require pauletteretailers to put a “digital blocking capability” on some devices to make “obscene material” inaccessible. Retailers, in this code section, would mean anyone who SELLS or LEASES a device that allows content to be accessed on the Internet. The “blocking capability” is required to make porn, child porn, revenge porn, websites about prostitution, and websites about sex trafficking all inaccessible.

Retailers would be required to have a telephone line where consumers could call to report complaints and it prohibits retailers from giving consumers intel on how to deactivate the blocking program themselves.

Here is the real humdinger: If you are 18 years of age or older, request in writing that you would like to deactivate the program, acknowledge in writing that you understand the dangers (yes, that is really the word they use) of deactivating the program, and pay a $20 fee, you can have the program removed from your device.

You read that correctly. If, as a reasonable, responsible, American adult, you wish to look at obscene material in the privacy of your own home, you have to tell the grandmother at the Wal-Mart check out line that you would like her to delete the program so you can enjoy the device to the fullest extent.

First things first: how does a computer program identify whether or not porn is regular porn or revenge porn? Where does the list of people who consented in writing go? Is the state going to maintain a database of who may one day look at obscene content?

Second, phones, tablets, computers, Smart TVs, AppleWatch, Fitbits – anything that connects to the Internet would be subjected to this $20 fee if you, as an adult, wish to enjoy the luxury of obscenities and adult entertainment. The language is so broad and does not specify what type of content has to be accessible for a device to qualify.

The cover is in the name of the bill. “Human Trafficking Prevention Act.” Your legislators believe that taxing people who watch porn will prevent human trafficking. Say that aloud so you can hear how ridiculous the idea is.

The money will be directed, by way of a Constitutional Amendment, to the “Georgia Mental Health and Addiction Treatment Trust Fund” and then directed to programs for nonpermanent long-term residential mental health and addiction treatment.

Would someone like to explain to me how funding addiction treatment programs is going to help prevent human trafficking?

People who become victims as a result of any violation of the legislation can apply for restitution from the fund for an amount not to exceed three times the amount the original consumer paid the retailer for the device.

At first glance of the bill, I thought the legislation was sponsored by Kim Jong Un, but no, it is our beloved Republicans. Republicans that should obviously hand over their Party cards and get in line for the Communist Express train that is on its way. This is not limited government. This is not low taxation. This is not pro-Constitution.

Let’s once again, run through the reasons why something like this is not only inappropriate, but unconstitutional.

Porn is free speech. This is a tax on free speech. A tax on people who wish to exercise and enjoy free speech.

Here’s another thing: By taxing porn, the government is condoning the industry, “allowing” it to exist, if you will. If the risks are SO high for sex trafficking and child pornography, then all porn should be illegal.

The fact that there is no advocacy for eradication of porn just reiterates the point: This isn’t about protecting anyone or helping anyone. It’s about taxing a vulnerable industry that is considered immoral. There is less resistance. After all, who is going to speak out in favor of porn?

Why does a woman like myself, who sees no value in porn – for education or entertainment – have to take on a cause and try to explain to our legislators why free speech protects obscenities?

Now, Crossover Day has come and gone, which means House Bill 509 cannot pass “as-is,” but the legislature has already passed multiple sex trafficking and sex crime bills in both chambers to which this language could be attached. And then, of course, there is next year due to the fact that a bill can be revived in a two-year period.

I told you this would happen. Anyone who opposed the garbage that was Senate Bill 8 knew this would happen. When you give government the authority to tax a business because of preference, not purpose, you set a precedent. A $5,000 annual fee just to run an adult entertainment establishment leads to a $20 fee if you want the privilege to view the dark parts of the Internet while at home…what is next?

Forests, strippers, fireworks and porn. That would be the Georgia Constitution, y’all.

If passed by the legislature, the Constitutional Amendment to make this permanent would be on the November 2018 ballot. The worst part of all is that they will probably get away with it.

We aren’t winning.

There are two things I hate: when someone takes advantage of their position in government and when The People are silenced. Unfortunately, my job highlights both of those things almost daily.

I remember when I first moved to South Georgia and started working on a corruption case. Someone said to me, “You know they’re not all going to be like this. Not all towns are like this.” Of course I didn’t believe him because I’m no political rookie and it took me all of one month on the council/commission meeting circuit to learn that simply is not true.

Whether people are buying elections, making promises to businesses, circumventing the system checks and balances, discussing votes off the record ahead of time, quietly receiving money, publicly receiving money, ignoring the rule of law, or having prisoners mow their own yard, nearly everywhere you look you will see people losing the battles against their governments.

Sure, there are little victories and things to cheer about, but by and large, problems exist in all corners of government operations. Throw in the courts and the public universities for good measure.

If I had a dollar for every time an interested, informed citizen was made a mockery of or told that a council meeting was not a time for them to address their council members I could build my own town, which I would, of course, name Sunshine USA.

But this is the reality. The reality is that your elected officials hope you aren’t paying attention and they hope you’ll excuse any bad behavior because of a long running friendship or because they sit with you at church.

I am sick and tired of people saying, “He is such a good dad” or “She has given so much to the community.” What’s even worse is when someone says, “Well, they are really trying to do what is best.”

First of all, that is fantastic, but they were not elected because they coach soccer. Second, no, they are not doing what is best for the community at the local, state or federal level. These people who rise to power via election or appointment know exactly what they’re doing. They help facilitate a system that keeps them in control. They lie to you, they twist words, they leave information out because power feels good.

“It’s not a tax increase, it’s a revenue increase,” one Georgia legislator said.
What does that even mean?

I am not saying there are not any good people in politics – I know many of them. But like us, they are losing.

Look at the state legislature. Last Wednesday and Friday the House chamber shoved nearly 100 bills to the floor for a vote. Three of them died, two of which were brought back to pass after strong arming folks to flip their votes, which they did. So out of all of those bills, all those topics, all those industries, and all those groups of people that will be affected, just one time did the people you trust to serve you collaboratively think an initiative was not in your best interest.

I could dedicate an entire blog series to terrible things the legislature does and how ours operates so backwardly, I need the state government to mandate Frontier upgrade my rural broadband before I am able to take on an endeavor like a blog series.

In all seriousness, the Georgia legislature is quietly morphing into a photocopy of the federal level – minus the Democrats who vote NO. There once was a group of legislators who would vote NO, work to reform bad bills, and influence their fellow lawmakers, but between political pressure and a damaged professional life, that movement has dissolved. Few remain, but clearly not enough. Just like one or two commissioners is not enough for change, neither is a handful of legislators when the population of the chamber is 180.

And what is this nonsense about people who vote NO being villains? I can think of more times than not when it is appropriate to vote nay: Perhaps when you did not read the bill, when you do not understand the bill, when an overwhelming number of your constituents request that you do, when you know the bill will do something negative – even to only one person, when you do not know what the bill will do, when the bill benefits a specific group of people.

Besides, if the issue is that important, it will come back soon. I assure you that no one will die while waiting for musicians who produce in Georgia to have a tax credit crafted for their industry. If you wait to approve the legislation adding “llama” to the livestock code section, I promise the world will keep turning.

Voting NO has become taboo. Look at Senators Rand Paul and Ted Cruz or Congressman Justin Amash. They have earned a level of respect, but they are still outcasts. They vote NO too much, they are idealists, they are unreasonable, and worst of all – they’re just doing it for publicity. That’s right – you’re the media whore if you dare commit the illicit action of voting against something. You’re dangerous and the powers that be will try to damage you to the people who helped elect you. “How dare you vote against my idea” is used more frequently than “Maybe we’ll agree on the next one” or “Explain to me why you voted NO.”

As for whether or not The People help decide whether or not something is going to become law, it’s time to let the air out of the balloon. It just isn’t happening. Haleigh’s HOPE Act for medical cannabis is one of the few initiatives where there was statewide pressure to pass legislation, so they did. But when the people oppose something, you may as well be speaking Yiddish in China.

To our elected officials, it’s about a tangible legacy and what can be left behind. It’s about what can be said about their tenure.

Unfortunately, the local governments are just a microcosm of all of the above. The Commissioner who questions something in a meeting is suddenly a pain in the rear. The city councilwoman who asks to table a tax increase because she thinks it’s too much is “radical.” We praise the bumps on a long who only repeat “YEA” over and over and over because they pick up the phone when we call and they send a card at Christmas.

And what are you doing while all of this is unfolding? You are in the gallery while the surgeons mutilate your organs and swipe the extra cash in your wallet while you’re under anesthesia. We watch from above but we feel every cut, snip, and tuck.

Things are not changing and as it stands, the path forward is paved with disappointment. After a while, you learn that a “win” for The People is often accompanied by the humiliation of someone else and it is likely that the very best you can do is ruin a legacy.

You attend council meetings only to be asked to refrain from commenting. You watch your Commissioners spend your money against the will of the community. You campaign for your state official only to learn that the dollar of a lobbyist is worth more than yours. You call your Congressman to be told “I’ll make note of it.” You see good people sour and succumb to the system. You become the cynic that everyone loves to hate.

But you won’t quit and neither will I. We’ll just complain about it, go to bed, and wake up for another round tomorrow. Because if we don’t, who will?

The Angry Mob.

I’ve lived in Georgia since I was old enough to have an opinion. That means just about every opinion I’ve ever had has been formulated based on circumstances and influences of my peachy roots. Just recently, I was pressed with the question of whether I was part of the angry mob that’s tanking everything good in politics or just a subject of their shenanigans. I realized that at one point I was, but I have long grown out of that.

I’ve made a career out of saying and doing things that are unpopular. Speaking truths FullSizeRender (22)when they didn’t want to be heard or even when they were deemed inappropriate. It’s been a journey that has gone over mostly well across the state as I’ve worked in politics and established a writing portfolio. I’ve watched as the general public becomes more angry and disenfranchised with the government and the political system as a whole. My career of off-the-cuff thoughts and tidbits usually places me in the category of “unpopular” thinking, and I’ve come to terms with that.

But just because something is unpopular, doesn’t make it any less true and that’s why an angry mob is dangerous.

I’ve been faced with the challenge that every time I write an article or a column, I’m starting from scratch. I must assume that no one knows who I am, where my heart is, or the consistency I have demonstrated over the last 5 years in my writing. I can’t fault people for their lack of knowledge in that territory -it is my responsibility to articulate my thoughts and beliefs on paper without invoking too much emotion or heart. But the lack of emotion ticks off the angry mob and invokes a new emotion-based campaign that is a complete and utter derailment…and it happens nearly every single time.

If you think I’m talking about Donald Trump supporters, you’re sort of right. I am. But it goes so much deeper than that. This trickles down to our state and local governments, too. It has penetrated every aspect of discussion of politics and religion, or the lack thereof.  This is personal because I’m seeing what it’s harming.

The emotional campaigns spread like wildfire because humans have hearts and humans thrive off of drama, not fact. The emotion and the drama culminate into a volcano of rage, grudges, and vendettas and begins formulating in pockets and factions in communities across the country. Soon enough, the angry mob forms.

The angry mob can be two people, two hundred people, or two million people. The angry mob can, and has, included elected officials. The number or profession of people in the mob isn’t as important as the M.O. of the mob.

You see, the angry mob doesn’t listen. They won’t hear reason and they won’t allow justification. The angry mob is incapable of understanding that a “different” opinion doesn’t mean a “wrong” opinion. The angry mob has emotion cycling through the rudder so fast that everything else is just noise.  

The angry mob chastises those who are offended by everything from Indian rituals to confederate memorials and atheist thoughts, but is the first to say the opinion of someone else is offensive to them. The angry mob shouts at the TV because the mainstream media  is feeding them lies. This same angry mob praises social media and alternative media outlets for offering a different perspective – when they share that perspective.

The angry mob is selective in their battles in the sense that they do what is politically or professionally expedient. They may stand for transparency in one instance, but back down when the controversy turns a corner or spreads because they may know someone, they may have a vested interest or one of dozens of other reasons, but the angry mob is not consistent. The angry mob wants the lights shone on their neighbors so long as that light doesn’t cross the property line. The angry mob, mistakenly, protects their own and nearly always finds someone else to lynch.

The angry mob sends “anonymous” emails late at night, harasses people they don’t know on social media, has to apologize for the nasty things they said behind a computer screen when the time comes to meet in person, and uses the Internet as a crutch to say they’re doing something and affecting change. But they are not.

The angry mob says they want transparency, change, hope, freedom, consistency, openness, accountability, and every other buzz word. They do…until it’s their town, their issue, their industry, or their guy. They do until the tables are turned and the mirror reflects the reality that, just like everyone else, they are imperfect.

In reality, the angry mob want clouds and baby photos. They want Instagram shots of champagne, fancy shoes and delicious dinners. The angry mob isn’t ready for anything better because better requires discomfort before pleasure.

The angry mob doesn’t show up when it counts or when it hurts. The angry mob is a group of hypocritical Monday morning quarterbacks who won’t fill the stands in the rain. The angry mob runs off of emotion alone and never offers a solution. The angry mob establishes a villain in every story. The angry mob lobs bombs because it’s the only way to retaliate for hurt feelings.

The angry mob is destroying us because they’re silencing the very truth they’re demanding.

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.  

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.

10 Worst Bills to Pass the House by Crossover

The 2015 legislative session has been rather…interesting. Between the slow start over what would actually happen with Transportation and the Budget to the abrupt ending which halted just about every piece of pending legislation that had a ‘NO’ vote attached to the transportation tax, most of us have been spending our days that it will just hurry up and be over. Despite that, however, the House has still managed to pass some pretty awful legislation. Trending in the ‘Top 10 Worst’ are 1) expanded powers for the Governor, 2) creation of new Commissions, and 3) strengthened mandates for individuals and small businesses.

10. The AMENDMENT presented by Rep. Ed Setzler to HB 429 – (Ron Stephens)
The bill makes sure that if you’re given a diagnosis of 2 years or less to live, your insurance company cannot deny you the use of a drug if your doctor deems it necessary and appropriate. The amendment disallows people from traveling to other states for the purpose of assisted suicide and then requesting the insurance company cover such costs.
So, in the same passage, we mandate that a company cannot deny coverage while also mandating a certain type of coverage that cannot be covered. Together these two concepts do not make sense. The amendment passed 105-61. The bill passed 170-0.

9. HB 418 – (Rep. Bert Reeves)
This bill disallows anyone in alternative sentencing programs (first offender, diversion, etc.) Crying_little_girlfrom serving on a grand jury as they would had they been convicted of a felony. Arguments in favor of the bill say it is a conflict of interest as these people may (if they live in the same county as their sentencing) be reporting to the District Attorney. On the contrary, these programs are supposed to be classified as ‘not a felony,’ so what is the purpose if we are still going to rescind rights? Further, these alternative sentencing programs are similar to those that have not yet been convicted. We are setting bad precedent.
HB 418 passed the House 139-40.

8.  HB 416 – (Rep. Carl Rogers) 
The “Consumer Information and Awareness Act” demonstrates just how cumbersome the legislature can be. This mandates that all health practitioners wear name badges of ‘sufficient size’ font. With little room for enforceability or true need, ‘common sense’ was cited with regard to how to determine ‘sufficient size.’  The problem? At some point, consumers assume a risk and if they are concerned about the legitimacy of their health care provider, perhaps they should find another one. HB 416 passed the House 151-21.

7. HR 395: (Rep. Gerald Greene)
boy cry
In an effort to waste as much time and money as possible while documenting more ‘per diem’ days, a study committee was created to evaluate Georgia-Alabama relations to address regional issues. Somewhere, we must have outlawed telephones and emails if this is necessary. Passed 164-2.

6. HB 288: (Rep. Katie Dempsey)
This bill adds two members appointed by the Governor to the Behavioral Health Coordinating Council, a council on which he already has 3 appointed members. Why don’t we just repeal the Board and have it directly under his discretion?
This bill passed the House 161-7.

5. HB 3 – (Rep. Barry Fleming)
This bill, revised from it’s original form with a $25,000 fine and a felony charge, now only makes Little-Girl-Cryingit illegal to enter into a transaction with a student athlete which would damage their eligibility or revoke their scholarship eligibility. These contracts would otherwise be legal and are only prohibited under the regulation of the NCAA. The bill also tips the scales to the person on the other side of the transaction, not the student athlete – providing an unbalanced punishment. This isn’t how contractual agreements should be managed. HB 3 passed 145-27.

4.  HB 296  – (Rep. Randy Nix – 69th)
This bill allows children classified as ‘refugees’ under federal law to qualify for ‘special needs’ scholarships if they have ‘limited proficiency’ in English. While this may not seem so bad on the surface, the precedent for classifying ‘limited proficiency in English’ as a special need is a very dangerous precedent – especially with concerns over immigration.
HB 296 passed the House 155-16.

3.  HB 310: (Rep. Alan Powell)
Another change from the Office of the Governor is the creation of  the Board of Community project-365-fall-seven-20100913Supervision and the Department of Community Supervision. In a 119-page explanation of what the bill actually does, the bill includes language to expand executive power to “be liberally construed so that its purposes may be achieved” (huh?!), expands powers formerly held by the Department of Corrections, and creates a new layer of bureaucracy overseen by the executive branch, essentially creating a new police force.
HB 310 passed 164-5.

2.  HB 315 – (Rep. Chad Nimmer)
The name change of Georgia’s Technical School System to ‘The Career College System of Georgia.’
Putting the enormous administrative costs and the burden on Technical Colleges to re-brand aside, we are still left with a lack of ‘need’ to actually do this. The technical colleges do not want it and the new name sounds like a headquarters for home economics. Students and employers alike thrive off of the name ‘technology’…an actual buzz word across industries.
This legislation, stemming from the Office of the Governor, seems to be more of a power grab to better position schools within the Board of Regents than anything that will benefit the students or the technical schools. HB 315 passed the House 122-40.

1. HB 170: (Rep. Jay Roberts) – The Transportation Tax
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Each point from increasing the motor fuel tax to 29 cents per gallon and the diesel tax to 33 cents per gallon, to including the locals in the mess when they aren’t properly allocating funds to transportation, is bad news. This is one of Georgia’s largest tax increases in state history. It also raises the hotel/motel tax, which will negatively affect tourism, without substantial explanation or justification. The only positives coming from the bill are the repeal of the Delta tax credit and the electric car tax credit, both of which were addressed in standalone legislation.

A bill that divided not only the House, but also the Republican caucus has low-end estimates of $700 million in tax increases. Representatives from across the state have publicly condemned the action of ‘taxing first’ and assessing later. Supporters of the bill consistently struggle to distinguish between ‘need’ and ‘the end game,’ saying they simply couldn’t get there without taxing despite the overwhelming number of sales and income tax exemptions that could have been repealed. Their closing argument? You should have attended the meetings around the state in 2014. Unfortunately, these meetings were aimed at the ‘Why?’ not the ‘How?’
Passed 123-46.

Not much commentary is appropriate or needed. #EverythingIsAwful. We’ve been told over and over that ‘they’ll fix it in the Senate,’ but that hasn’t exactly worked out well in the past and it isn’t an example of good governing.