Georgia Political News for Feb. 28, 2012

Tiana is about 5 months old and 20# and is a recent arrival at Walton County Animal Control. She’s described as a “spunky, playful girl” who looks to be mostly German Shepherd. Walton Animal Shelter is a great bargain if you’re interested in rescuing a dog, as they come pre-vetted for a $40 adoption fee. Their Director does an outstanding job of photographing the dogs and cats that end up there, and as a result they appear to have a pretty high adoption rate.

Legislative News

In what a legislator described to me as “not one of our best moments,” a subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee voted to bar photography and video of their meeting yesterday. In response to alleged threats to a witness who testified in an earlier meeting against House Bill 630, which would prohibit discrimination in state hiring against gays, lesbians and transgendered individuals, the subcommittee voted and then a Capitol police officer came in to remove anyone photographing the meeting. No vote was taken on HB 630.

Ironically, among the other items on the House subcommittee agenda was House Bill 397, which would rewrite the state’s Open Records and Open Meetings laws to clarify the requirements for other state bodies and subdivision. HB 397 raises the fines for government workers who knowingly violate the acts. The bill is expected to be heard by the Full Committee today at 1:30 PM.

The Senate Regulated Industries Committee passed Senate Bill 483, to allow the state’s Public Service Commission to elect its own Chairman, rather than the currently-mandated rotation among the members. Passage came after the bill was amended to allow embattled PSC Chairman Tim Echols to finish his current term as Chairman.

House Bill 1176, by Rep. Rich Golick, proposes reduced prison sentences for some offenders and expansion of diversionary and treatment programs. According to the AJC “The governor will need to see changes in the current bill that will bring it back toward the recommendations of the Criminal Justice Reform Council,” said Brian Robinson, Deal’s spokesman. “The process is intended to reduce costs to taxpayers, and it’s his opinion that this bill might actually increase costs.”

Senator Buddy Carter took what was described as a “walk of shame” yesterday after pulling his solar bill from consideration before the Senate Regulated Industries Committee. Greg Roberts of Georgia Power writes that allowing third-party financing of solar and power purchase agreements is likely to raise the rates for all other users.

The Senate Passed House Bill 800, which removes the requirement that Georgia’s National Guard Assistant Adjutant General have five years experience in the Guard. The revision will allow Joe Jarrard, a 21-year decorated Army veteran to serve in the post, despite having no service in the Guard.

The Senate Judiciary Committee passed SB 355 by Sen. Renee Unterman, which will make failure to report child abuse a misdemeanor.

Executive Branch News

Superior Court Judge John Girardeau writes that Gov. Nathan Deal’s proposed expansion of “Accountability Courts,” will save taxpayer money, reduce recidivism and attempt to reduce the underlying causes of juvenile crime. The courts are based on the concept of drug courts, which puts offenders into treatments programs for at least two years and requires weekly court appearances to ensure the individual stays on track. The courts appear to be much more successful in reducing recidivism rates that prisons.

Did you know that Gov. Deal has a blog that covers his legislative agenda?

Attorney General Sam Olens continues to live up to his campaign promise to revise Open Records and Open Meetings laws. Olens worked on the drafting of SB 397. Walter Jones of the Morris News Service writes that “People on both sides applaud the attorney general for coming up with a revision that incorporates court decisions in the decades since the current law was enacted. ”

Local News

Savannah property owners might pay higher property taxes when the state’s moratorium on rising property valuations for taxes expires. The moratorium capped property tax valuations for 2009, 2010 and 2011.

Barrow County school teachers will be banned from social networking with students under new rules adopted by the school system unless it is part of a school-approved educational program.

Snellville Mayor Kellie Kautz said “It became apparent tonight … that regardless of what appointments I would put up, that this council is not willing to work to move our city forward,” after the City Council rejected two of her nominations to committees. City Attorney Stuart Oberman, appointed by Kautz, resigned after four members of Council voted to retain their own attorney questioning the “quality and accuracy” of Oberman’s advice.

Gwinnett County Commissioner and former Duluth Mayor Shirley Fanning-Lasseter will not stand for reelection this year.

Flyers purporting to be from the Ku Klux Klan have been distributed in Newnan.

Democratic Party of Georgia Infighting

Infighting among the Executive Committee of the Democratic Party of Georgia continued yesterday as DPG Treasurer Russell Edwards wrote a letter laying out the party’s precarious financial footing.

Ports, Railroads and Freight

South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley has vetoed that state’s bill that purports to undo a state agency approval of plans to dredge the Savannah Riverto improve access to the Port of Savannah. According to Gov. Haley, the bill “amounts to unconstitutional legislative overreaching into an agency’s ruling,” and “reflects a fundamental misunderstanding about the administrative process.”

A third ocean port located at St. Mary’s on the Florida border is gaining some support from local residents in Camden County, where the unemployment rate is significantly higher than the state rate. The proposed location already has rail service, is close to I-95 and is on a river channel that already is maintained at 48 feet deep in order to allow passage of Navy submarines to and from King’s Point, but significant hurdles remain. “This strategic property is one of the largest remaining sites in all of coastal Georgia that enjoys navigable water access and has all infrastructure in place,” noted John McDill, chairman of the Camden County Joint Development Authority.

Georgia Chamber CEO Chris Clark visited Gainesville, where he told the Rotary Club that the state’s TSPLOST will be good for economic development.

Dennis O’Hayer has posted part two of an interview with Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, in which Reed discusses the TSPLOST. The DeKalb NAACP has announced its opposition to the TSPLOST.

Roswell Mayor Jere Wood writes that part of the problem for Metro Atlanta transportation is that no single elected leader is responsible for solving problems that beyond the local level

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