Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections for February 8, 2013


Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections for February 8, 2013

gwinnett29955I love the look of this little pocket low-rider. She’s a young pup and will be available for adoption beginning Sunday from the Gwinnett County Animal Shelter.

Gwinnett2965529655 is a senior male Lab who is available for adoption from the Gwinnett County Animal Shelter and has been neutered, tested heartworm-negative and vaccinated, so he can go home with you today. Senior dogs make great companions because they’ve simply got bigger hearts and many people find them easier to bring into a new home than a puppy.

Gwinnett2988129881 is a young yellow lab who is available for adoption today from the Gwinnett County Animal Shelter.

Gwinnett2985529855 is a big old male Boxer or Boxer mix who is friendly and available for adoption today from the Gwinnett County Animal Shelter. And by old, I don’t mean senior, as he’s pretty young. I mean “big ole”.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections

The Senate Rules Committee will meet upon adjournment of the senior chamber today in Room 450 of the Capitol. Chairman Jeff Mullis (R-Extreme Northwest Georgia) will be using the “Imperial Death March” as his walk-up music.

The House Rules Committee will meet at 9 AM in Room 341 of the Capitol.

New versions of the Speaker’s ethics reform bills HB 142 and HB 143 were passed out of the Rules Subcommittee yesterday and are expected to be heard by the Rules Committee acting in a substantive capacity sometime next week. The new versions aren’t on the State House website yet, so here’s a link to the version they began the meeting with. A couple amendments were made and should be incorporated into the version that is posted later on the official site.

The lobbyist regulation bill retains the broader definition of “lobbyist” that caused outcry among some unpaid lobbyists, but the new version carves out an exception for people who engage in unpaid lobbying for five or fewer days per calendar year. It also reduces the lobbyist registration fee from $300 to $25 for those required to register.

Not everyone agrees that the changes will work.

Count Debbie Dooley, state coordinator of the Georgia Tea Party Patriots, among those taking an exception.

“This is an attack on grass-roots organizations,” Dooley said after the subcommittee vote. “Many people are up here more than five days every legislative session. No other state around us penalizes grass-roots activists.”

But Dooley later said she was invited to meet with two top House Republicans about possible changes to the bill. Majority Whip Edward Lindsey, R-Atlanta, indicated during the meeting that there might be a way to exempt those grass-roots activists who register from having to file disclosure reports if they sign an affidavit vowing not to spend money on lawmakers.

William Perry, executive director of Common Cause Georgia, agreed with Dooley and said the bill is still “ridiculous.”

“It’s pretty clearly an attack on the tea party and … to silence the people who disagree with the speaker,” Perry said.

An op-ed I wrote about defining lobbyists is posted at behind the paywall. Here’s the free version.

Some anonymous coward intrepid editorialist distributed flyers mocking Jet Toney, Trip Martin and Rick Thompson for supporting lobbying reform while being lobbyists.

The mailer says it was prepared by the Trust Your Georgia Legislators Committee. No such committee is registered with the state’s ethics commission.

Singled out in the flier for allegedly trying to bar citizens from exercising their First Amendment rights were Trip Martin and Jet Toney, two influential veteran lobbyists at the Capitol, along with Rick Thompson, the former commission chairman who now helps elected officials follow ethics rules.

Martin called the anonymous flier “a cowardly act.”

Martin said registering as a lobbyist allows the public to know who he represents.

“I have always made it a practice to sit down with my opponents on an issue and discuss our differences,” Martin said. “The people who secretly produced this flier are the same people who are afraid to step into the sunshine and register. I look forward to the opportunity to meet them face to face. I will seek them out.”

Rick Thompson, former Director of the State Ethics Commission, issued a statement:

“The anonymous flyer, although very amusing, sends an important message. The proposed ethics legislation by the Speaker is beginning to make certain individuals nervous.”

“It would appear individuals who have circumvented the lobbyist registration laws for years are now beginning to feel threatened by legislation that creates greater transparency; these individuals may be required to register and report as lobbyists.”

“Chairman Golick was clear in the first hearing on the legislation that it in no way is aimed at individuals advocating on their own behalf but rather targets individuals, lobbying for corporations and other entities, who have been side stepping the lobbyist registration and reporting laws.”

“To me, this flyer makes it clear that certain individuals who know they are lobbyists and know they should be registering and reporting but have not done so are beginning to feel the heat.”

For the record, I consult Rick Thompson when I have questions about campaign disclosures. And if you click on the following image and then hire him, he’s promised to deliver me a paper sack filled with dollar bills.


Governor Deal held a press conference to announce that among other things, he will be working to change the GPA requirement for students to remain eligible for the HOPE Grants from 3.0 back to 2.0. This is a change that I mocked yesterday when it was suggested by Democrats.

DealPresser02072013v2 copy

I’ve posted video of Governor Deal’s entire press conference on the website and will add the speeches by State Rep. Stacey Evans and others.

For more from the press conference, the Athens Banner-Herald via AP:

Lawmakers raised the requirement to a 3.0 two years ago during a time of sagging lottery revenues and long-term forecasts of HOPE insolvency, but Deal said an uptick in lottery proceeds allows for the flexibility.

“This will help Georgia families that are trying to get ahead and help with our work force development,” Deal said, noting that technical college enrollment had dropped considerably since lawmakers raised the standards.

Rep. Stacey Evans, a Smyrna Democrat, said, “The difference in these students getting this grant and not getting this grant is the difference in them having a ticket into the middle class.”

The change will require a legislative act, but Deal’s event, which included House Speaker David Ralston, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and several committee chairmen, made clear that the bill will experience smooth sailing. The changes will not affect requirements for HOPE grants to four-year schools.

Deal tied that change to a shift the funding for University and Technical College institutions from an enrollment-basis to results-based.

In a separate matter, Deal will add a measure that changes the way Georgia funds the University and Technical College systems. The plan, developed by a commission that Deal appointed, would tie taxpayer money to how well students progress through and graduate from college. The current system is driven by enrollment with little consideration as to whether students ever graduate.

Under the plan, schools could earn or lose money based on whether they improve under the system starting in the 2016 fiscal year.

“Increasing the numbers of (HOPE) Grant recipients does no one any good if the student doesn’t finish with a degree,” Deal said. “Put simply, we need more Georgians with college or technical college degrees in order to attract the jobs of tomorrow into our state.”

Two points about the HOPE Grant that some suggest means students who receive it should be held to a lower standard than HOPE Scholarship recipients in college or university.

Seth Clark, a Democrat who works under the Gold Dome made a good point on Twitter when he wrote:

2.1-2.9 GPA for a working 28 yr old mother getting a tech degree is not mediocre. That’s what the avg tech student is.

I’m willing to concede that a working mom getting a degree has greater demands on her time than a college student living in a frat house or their parents’ basement.

Seth also wrote that the HOPE Grant has a different purpose than the HOPE Scholarship:

The HOPE Grant is a work force development program for tech schools. Not a merit-based scholarship program.

Here’s the issue I have with that idea. Does the fact that you’re training automotive techs and healthcare professionals make actual merit any less important than when you’re training history and philosophy majors? Do you really want a C-student working on your car’s brake system and is there overwhelming demand among manufacturers for C-grade welders?

Finally, Seth called me an elitist and said I was calling tech students mediocre.

I plead guilty to elitism when it’s based on actual merit and not hereditary. But I wasn’t calling tech students mediocre, I was calling C-students mediocre, especially when we have a history of grades drifting upwards to preserve student eligibility for HOPE. And isn’t doing C-level work throughout your academic career the definition of mediocrity?

Frankly, real elitism is saying that we should hold predominantly middle-class college and university students studying sociology to a higher academic standard than we hold older tech school students and those who may be the first in their families to reach post-secondary education.

Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Carol Hunstein presented the “State of the Judiciary” to the General Assembly yesterday. Among the Chief’s top concerns was Juvenile Justice Reform.

No one is urging Georgia to become soft on crime,” the chief justice said. “Some of our juvenile offenders have committed heinous, violent crimes and must be treated as adults and locked away from society. But they are the minority. For our citizens’ sake, we must do better with the majority. Many of our juveniles deserve a second chance.”

Hunstein highlighted that Georgia spends more than $90,000 annually on each juvenile behind bars, only to watch 75 percent of offenders commit crimes again.

“Surely our return on investment warrants juvenile justice reform,” she said.

The chief justice also urged greater investment in behavioral health programs. She said she often hears from juvenile court judges who are frustrated that they have few options — other than incarceration — for petty thieves and other repeat criminals who need counseling related to sexual abuse, physical abuse or other hardships.

“It’s almost impossible to get mental health services for clearly disturbed youngsters unless they threaten suicide or homicide,” she said. Quoting one juvenile court judge, she added, “If we wait for the explosions, they will come.”

House Bill 242 by Rep. Wendell Willard is the vehicle for Juvenile Justice Reform.

The bill sponsored by Willard, R-Sandy Springs, allows judges to send non-violent juveniles to community based-programs instead of one of the state’s seven youth development campuses, which are high-security lockups. It also calls for trimming the lists of “designated felonies,” which are more serious crimes that automatically lead to incarceration. That would give judges the authority choose alternatives to high-security detention.

Last year, legislators passed a similar law that allow judges to divert the less dangerous adult criminals away from prison into community-based programs like drug courts to address the root causes of the criminal behavior.

The proposal to fix the juvenile justice system comes with the political weight of the governor as well as the endorsement of the state’s top jurist.

The legislation includes recommendations from the Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform for Georgians. The council compared Georgia’s juvenile justice system to other states that are recognized for having successful and innovative approaches.

The idea is to reverse some of the harsher policies of the 1990s on how Georgia punishes its youngest offenders and to reserve incarceration for the most hardened juveniles who are most likely to commit future crimes.

“The bill focuses on taking children who are not really doing bad, bad crimes and finding ways to keep them in the community instead of state detention,” Willard said. “Certain types of crimes do not require detention.”

Advocates say the proposed changes could save the state $88 million over the next five years — on top of the $250 million in savings attributed to the reforms in the adult system.

Senate and Congress 2014

Bill Cowsert told the hippies at Flagpole Magazine that he’s looking at a run for the seat being vacated by Congressman Paul Broun.

“I am going to consider that congressional race if Paul Broun does run for higher office,” Cowsert said last week, pointing to the dysfunction in Washington. “I’m very, I don’t know the word, disturbed or concerned about the job the United States Congress is doing the past five or six years.”

And if Cowsert does run, that leaves an opening for everyone’s favorite ex-state representative, Doug McKillip, who is longing to return to politics after Athens-area voters kicked him to the curb last year. “It’s too early,” McKillip said. “I am considering all options, discussing those with my family, and am holding off on making any decisions right now.”

I wrote on Twitter yesterday that I heard that former Congressman Mac Collins was considering a run for the Tenth Congressional District seat as well as Cowsert and John Douglas.

Apparently Roll Call heard the same rumor, because they wrote:

Two possible GOP contenders for his seat are state Sen. Bill Cowsert and former Rep. Mac Collins, insiders said.

Of course at this stage, there’s always the chance that we both heard it from the same person who was just idly speculating. Make of it what you will.

Ends & Pieces

ATLawblog wins the headline of the week award for “R.E.M. lawyer to talk about his passions Feb. 18”.

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