Where I stand on key bills as the 2012 session wraps up
The AJC’s Capitol correspondents compiled a list of some of the most prominent bills yet to be settled in this year’s legislative session, which will end by midnight today. I haven’t written about most of them but, for the record, here’s where I stand on each (I’m not going to link to each one, but you can search for the text of any bill that interests you here):
- SB 469 (outlawing picketing outside private residences): The changes proposed by the House, which broaden the bill to cover anyone’s residence rather than just those of business leaders dealing with labor unions, strike me as constitutional and desirable — a protest outside one’s home isn’t a negotiation tactic, just pure intimidation. I support it as amended by the House Judiciary Committee.
- HB 954 (limiting elective abortions to the first 20 weeks of a pregnancy, rather than the current 26): Anti-abortion activists say the bill has been gutted; pro-abortion-rights activists still oppose it anyway. What’s the point of passing it at this juncture, except to have something to tout in an election year? As it stands now, I see no good reason to pass it.
- HB 1176 (criminal justice reform): Georgia has to get a handle on prison costs. Using alternative sentences for the likes of nonviolent drug offenders is a sensible step. I support it.
- SB 458 (tweaks to last year’s illegal-immigration bill): The big change from the bill’s original text is the removal of a provision to ban all illegal immigrants from attending the state’s public colleges. That would have changed current Board of Regents policy, which is to bar them only from colleges which have had to turn away qualified, legally present Georgia residents. Allowing illegal immigrants merely to attend a public college which has open spots does not strike me as enough of a state subsidy to fight about, so I prefer the Regents’ policy. Absent that provision, I support the bill.
- HB 347 (changing unemployment benefits and taxes): The question is not whether to raise unemployment taxes. The federal government already imposed a tax increase on employers as a condition of its loan to the state to cover a shortfall in the trust fund that pays jobless benefits. And it’s an undesirable one, because it treats employers the same whether they have a history of laying off employees or not. HB 347 would head off the worst of the federal tax increases, which grow each year until the debt is repaid, by paying it off sooner, and it does so by re-linking the tax burden to a company’s use of the benefits system. As for the benefits changes: They only affect new claimants, and the biggest changes would not kick in until unemployment has started easing anyway. It’s unfortunate that the state is in a position to have to pass a bill like this one, but that position can’t be wished away. This bill is better than the alternative, and I support it.
- HB 811 (ensuring that state fees are spent for their intended purpose): Well, that was the original intent of the bill, anyway. The Senate essentially gutted it by adding a requirement that the state’s reserves hit $1 billion before the changes kick in. If Georgia Republicans don’t like their growing reputation for increasing “fees” to avoid raising “taxes,” they ought not be in the business of blurring the distinction between the two (a “fee” ought to cover the cost of providing a particular service and nothing more; “taxes” are general revenues to be spent at the Legislature’s discretion). They shouldn’t be able to shed that reputation so easily. Unless the original House language is restored, I oppose this bill.
- HB 861 (requiring drug testing for welfare recipients): The state has an interest in ensuring taxpayer dollars are spent for their intended purpose. I say pass it.
- SB 448 (limiting the recovery of bad loans made to developers when the loan is sold to a third party; the news story says HB 448 but that’s a different bill): Call it the developer-bailout bill. There are some legitimate concerns for some small-business owners, but they’re not the ones whose problems would be addressed by this bill; well-connected developers are more likely to benefit. There are constitutional questions about whether this bill could be applied retroactively. The substitute text proposed by the House Banking Committee is not enough of an improvement. It’s a bad bill and ought to be defeated by the full House.
- SB 321/HB 872 (restricting metal recyclers to fight metal theft): I understand the recyclers aren’t the criminals here and that a requirement that they wait 14 days and then mail payments to sellers may be burdensome. That said, the recyclers can probably pass along their compliance costs to their customers. Metal theft is enough of a problem that I think it’s worth a try.
That’s a lot of fodder for discussion — no one should feel the need to go off-topic today.
– By Kyle Wingfield