Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections for January 15, 2013 “Senate Rules Edition”

Gwinnett Puppy Terrier

 

The Gwinnett County Animal Shelter is under strain now because of an influx of new dogs and will likely have to euthanize some.

29644 above is a friendly little 2-month old male puppy who is thought to be a Rottie mix. Often “thought to be a Rottie mix” means “is black and brown.” 29635 might “Yo Quiero Taco Bell,” because he looks like he might be part Chihuahua. Or miniature pinscher or some kind of terrier.

Gwinnett Bulldog and Frenchy

 

 

29597 is a friendly adult male English Bulldog who was found stray. 29576 is listed as a Terrier, and I’m thinking she’s likely a Boston Terrier mix or maybe a French Bulldog mix.

The Murray County Animal Shelter in Chatsworth, Georgia is also in a population crisis because of a dog hoarding case. Here are three dogs that will be euthanized this week without a foster or adoptive home. Transportation is available to Metro Atlanta or elsewhere.

Murray Oreo Puppy

This one looks like a miniature Golden Retriever:

Murray Mini Golden


Murray Brown

For more information on one of these dogs, or any of the others at Murray County, email Lisa Hester or call 770-441-0329.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections

Senator David Shafer in the well

The General Assembly will meet today through Thursday.

Live Feed from the House Floor.  Live Feed from the Senate Floor.

The House Economic Development/Small Business Development/Ways and Means Committees will meet jointly today from 1:30 to 3 PM in Room 341 CAP to hear a presentation.

The Senate Committee on Regulated Industries meets today at 3 PM in Room 450 of the Capitol.

Next week, the Senate and House Appropriations Committees will meet in 341 of the Captiol on Tuesday, January 22d from 10:30 AM to 5 PM; on Wednesday, Jan. 23d from 9:30 AM to 5 PM; on Thursday, Jan. 24th beginning at 9:30 AM.

The first few days of the legislative session, especially the first in the two-year cycle, are primarily organizational, rather than substantive.

Senator David Shafer was formally elected President Pro Tempore of the Senate, making him first among equals and giving him much responsibility for the smooth flow of legislation through the chamber. Pictured on the podium behind Shafer are Lt. Governor Casey Cagle (R-Gainesville) and Senate Majority Leader Ronnie Chance (R-Tyrone).

The Senate then moved to adopt Senate Rules, including for the first time, a cap on lobbyist gifts to legislators. This would prove to be more controversial outside the chamber than I would have thought. The controversy stems mainly from two areas.

Josh McKoon on Ethics

First is the continuation of a prohibition on the filing of ethics complaints with the Senate Ethics Committee by people who are not members, staff or interns of the Senate. With one slight change of removing volunteers from the list of potential complainants, this represents a continuation of the old Senate rules, rather than a new rule.

That ban came into play last year after a private citizen’s complaint against Sen. Don Balfour prompted the Senate Ethics Committee to pursue its own complaint against the powerful Republican from Snellville. Balfour was eventually fined $5,000 for filing inaccurate travel reports to claim expenses. He was also told to repay about $350 to the state for the lapses.

Penalties for violating the new Senate rule will be at the discretion of the Senate Ethics Committee, which is expected to continue its work during the session. Penalties could be anything from a fine to public censure.

Ethics watchdogs are pushing this year for an ethics law that would make the cap, and other restrictions, permanent — more legislation, including in the Senate, is expected to be filed. They applauded the new Senate cap, even if they didn’t think it was perfect.

“We ordered chocolate cake. We’ve been given apple sauce,” said William Perry, executive director of Common Cause Georgia. “But today is a big step forward.”

The editors at the Athens Banner-Herald wrote of the new Rules:

[O]ne chamber of the Georgia General Assembly sent a clear signal Monday of its reaction to the straw polls on July primary election ballots that found both Republican and Democratic voters wanting tighter controls on meals, tickets and other lobbyist largess.

Technically speaking, that signal was a new Senate rule on lobbyist gifts. Plainly speaking, that rule was a finger in the eye to the people of Georgia.

So what did the Georgia Senate do on Monday, with a 42-12 vote? Well, according to an Associated Press report, while senators did adopt a rule prohibiting members of the Senate from accepting gifts worth more than $100 from lobbyists, the rule “does not limit how many gifts that lobbyists can give.” Additionally, according to the AP, the rule “does not stop lawmakers from accepting travel junkets from lobbyists, industries or businesses.” And, the AP story further notes, the rule “would not apply to meals or events that are open to all members of the General Assembly.”

To my friends who believe that limiting lobbyist gifts will fix some problem in state and local government, please remember that this is the first step this year in a process that is unprecedented in Georgia. Take this not as the final word, but as the starting point, and I think you’ll agree that it’s a good place to start the conversation.

At the same time, the standard that must be met before an investigation by the Senate Ethics Committee is triggered has been lowered from “substantial cause” to “reasonable grounds.” Rule 1-4.10(c). Here are the Rules as adopted in a 42-12 vote (hat tip to Jim Galloway).

Also on the plate for Day One was the handing-out of Committee Chairmanships and Assignments.

Senate Committee Chairs
Rules – Jeff Mullis
Agriculture – John Wilkinson
Appropriations – Jack Hill
Banking – John Crosby
Economic Development – Frank Ginn
Education – Lindsey Tippins
Ethics – Rick Jeffares
Finance – Judson Hill
Government Oversight – Judson Hill
Health and Human Services – Renee Unterman
Higher Education – Bill Cowsert
Insurance – Tim Golden
Interstate Cooperation – Hardie Davis
Judiciary – Josh McKoon
Judiciary Non-Civil Jesse Stone
Natural Resources – Ross Tolleson
Public Safety – Buddy Carter
Reapportionment – Don Balfour
Regulated Industries and Utilities – Jack Murphy
Retirement – Fran Millar (pronounced “Miller”)
Science and Technology – Barry Loudermilk
Special Judiciary – Curt Thompson
State and Local Government Operations – William Ligon
State Institutions – John Albers
Transportation – Steve Gooch
Urban Affairs – Ronald Ramsey
Veterans, Military and Homeland Security – Ed Harbison

More information is out on a possible tactic for avoiding voting on the Hospital Bed Tax.

What to do about the two-year-old fee, which expires this year, is expected to be a defining debate of the 40-day legislative session that began on Monday. The fee was conceived to fill a more than $500 million hole in the state Medicaid budget, and advocates warn that hospitals could close and key services scaled back without the funding.

The proposal introduced on Monday by Deal’s allies in the Senate and House allows the department’s board to levy the fee — a small percentage of total patient revenue — and imposes stiff penalties on hospitals that fail to make payments on time. It would lapse in June 2018, providing a dedicated source of Medicaid funding for at least five years.

Resolving the future of the fee early would enable lawmakers to focus on plugging holes in Georgia’s budget and thousands of other proposals expected this session. It’s far from a done deal, though, and industry experts expect the debate to continue over the weeks to come.

It would not be a trailblazing move. The DCH has levied a similar nursing home fee for at least a decade. Yet giving the agency power to collect the “bed tax” still would represent a fundamental shift that gives a state department more leeway to change rates as it sees fit with little legislative oversight.

Virginia Galloway, state director of Americans for Prosperity, called the proposal a “cowardly move by our elected legislators to double-kick the can across the road to an unelected bureaucracy, and down the road to add to our federal spending and debt problem.”

Anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist had cited the Georgia hospital tax as a case where conservatives can draw the line. His group, Americans for Tax Reform, called the Deal proposal “a step in the wrong direction, attempting to absolve the governor and legislature of any potential blame for the looming tax increase.”

I’d be shocked if some Tea Party organizations don’t oppose this. Then again, I’d be shocked if someone out there in his mom’s basement calling himself a local Tea Party didn’t oppose the rising and setting of the sun. If it were me trying to pass this, I might try calling it a “co-pay” instead of a “bed tax” as the term “Medicaid Assessment Fee” doesn’t seem to be working.

In the State House of Representatives, a change in the Rules to tighten who is able to receive a block of twenty minutes on the Floor to file and discuss a Minority Report opposing a Committee vote has Democrats crying foul.

In the past, if a bill made it out of committee, an individual committee member could formally state opposition by filing a minority report.

The report automatically set aside 20 minutes for that committee member to go before the entire House chamber and summarize their opposition.

The rule change, which was passed along party lines, restricts individual committee members from filing a minority report. Filing will now require a majority of the opposition in a committee.

Stacey Abrams, the top ranking Democrat in the House, said it would have a “chilling effect” on members of the minority.

Not surprisingly, the GOP leadership called it an efficiency measure that will not stop debate.

Speaking before the chamber, Majority Leader Larry O’Neal said if bill opponents can’t find a majority in a committee, they can still file for time to speak once the legislation reaches the full chamber.

“A single objector to a proposition in a bill always has the right to register and speak in opposition to a bill which will thereafter be archived on the records in this House, even on video, so I don’t know [the rule change] is that limiting…except it may lessen the time that someone has,” said O’Neal.

The Richmond County Board of Elections is challenging the eligibility of 33 voters whom the Augusta Chronicle identified as being registered to vote at vacant lots or business addresses.

Bailey explained that most of the voters on the vacant-lot list had updated their addresses to legitimate ones and that a few others were found to have structures on them owned by the Augusta Land Bank.

Bailey said her own efforts turned up six more voters who were registered at properties now used as parking lots by Augusta National Golf Club, one of which had since changed his address.

That left 12 voters from the vacant-lot list for the board to consider, she said.

“We have confirmed that there are no structures on these properties,” Bailey said.

She said she was still working to compare all voter addresses to those listed as vacant lots in the property database maintained by the Richmond County Tax Assessor’s Office. After an address is determined to be a vacant lot, it will be flagged in the voter registration files to prevent another person from registering there, she said.

Bailey said that with the large number of vacant and abandoned properties in the county, she expects there are more cases to be identified.

“The data is there,” she said. “We can do the comparison and probably find some more, quite frankly.”

It’s a good thing we have Jay Bookman at the AJC to let us know that voter fraud doesn’t actually exist.

Georgia Republican Party

As we wrote last week as an unconfirmed rumor, Chip Pearson has dropped out of the race for Chairman of the Georgia Republican Party, leaving B.J. VanGundy as the only current announced candidate.

Former State Representative Gene Callaway has joined the race for Chairman of the Gwinnett County Republican Party. Activist Rachel Little previously announced she will run for the Chair.

Also in Gwinnett County, Jon Richards is running for Treasurer of the local GOP.

Stephen Aaron, currently of Ellijay, is running for Second Vice Chair of the Georgia GOP.

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