Archive for the ‘Georgia Legislature’ Category

Big news for charter schools amendment

The General Assembly wasn’t in session yesterday, but there was big news anyway. From the AJC’s Kristina Torres:

The GOP-controlled General Assembly came within reach Thursday of asking voters to revive the state’s ability to sponsor charter schools, when one of the Senate’s most venerable statesmen said he would buck his party and vote yes — as two others suggested they would strongly consider it.

State Sen. George Hooks, D-Americus, said he made his decision to vote for the measure on behalf of local parents stung by accreditation concerns involving the leadership of Sumter County Schools.

Sen. Curt Thompson, D-Tucker, said a yes vote would be consistent with his past support of charter schools. Sen. Hardie Davis, D-Augusta, said he would give the measure “strong consideration.” A vote on the measure is expected Monday in the Senate.

Republicans reportedly believed Davis was one of the Democrats on board with the amendment when they brought it to the floor two weeks ago, …

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Transparency alone is not the ticket for Georgia legislators and ethics

Today is the first full day of action in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. It puts me in the mind of the Georgia Legislature — and not because they call the tournament “March Madness.”

Two years ago, when a $100 limit on lobbyist gifts was proposed, I asked a House committee chairman to explain why he opposed it. He recounted this story:

The last time the Final Four was in Atlanta (2007), by late March he’d worked a lot of late hours away from the family. As he walked toward the exit one night, a lobbyist passing by held out a pair of tickets and suggested he take his son to a game.

As one might expect, they had a grand time. Looking back, he told me, he wouldn’t have wanted to deprive his son of that experience they had together. A $100 gift limit, you see, would have left father and son to watch the game at home or pay their own way.

Remember: This was his defense of $100-plus gifts.

Lest you think this was a one-off scenario, the online records of the agency …

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If social issues favor the left, why the deceit about the right’s stances?

For a group so certain of public support for their social-issue stances, Democrats sure are resorting to some trickeration to paint the right as extremist.

Yasmin Neal, a freshman state legislator from Jonesboro, got a lot of laughs last week for proposing to limit vasectomies to cases where a man could face death or “impairment of a major bodily function.” Neal’s legislation is a parody of an anti-abortion bill, HB 954, moving through the House. And hers would be laughable indeed, if it didn’t reflect such a serious distortion of what animates abortion opponents.

In a press release, Neal explained herself thus:

Thousands of children are deprived of birth in this state every year because of the lack of state regulation over vasectomies. It is patently unfair that men can avoid unwanted fatherhood by presuming that their judgment over such matters is more valid than the judgment of the General Assembly, while women’s ability to decide is constantly up for debate …

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Claims of a painless HOPE fix with income caps don’t hold up

One way to gauge a government program’s popularity is by how far politicians are willing to stretch the truth to argue they are that program’s strongest defenders. By that measure, the HOPE scholarship must be the most beloved program in all of Georgia.

A year after a broad reform of HOPE — one that accepted lottery revenues had plateaued while tuition levels soared — the scholarship suddenly is being hotly debated again. The apparent impetus is a state agency’s report forecasting falling HOPE award levels during the next several years.

Given that such forecasts accompanied last year’s reform, however, one can’t help but sense political opportunism. And some truth-stretching.

Democrats in the state Senate are agitating to re-revamp HOPE. (House Democrats have little leg to stand on here, because they were very public participants in crafting last year’s legislation.) Their pitch is that the “old” HOPE — covering 100 percent of tuition costs — could be restored, …

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Gas prices add to case for delaying T-SPLOST vote

Take the news today about gasoline prices locally (from AJC.com) …

The average price for a gallon of unleaded regular stood at $3.55 Monday, up 3 cents from a week ago and 45 cents from this time a year ago, according to AAA.

The price has risen 15 cents a gallon in the past month.

Georgia’s average price is just slightly below the national average of $3.56, which is the highest price ever for this time of year, the Associated Press reported. Since January, a gallon of gas has risen 25 cents per gallon.

… add this prediction nationally from a Friday story in the San Jose Mercury News (note the part I’ve bolded) …

Some oil analysts predict $4.50 a gallon or more by Memorial Day on the West Coast and major cities across the United States such as Chicago, New York and Atlanta.

… and tell me how this news improves the T-SPLOST’s chances of being approved by voters in a referendum scheduled for July.

On one hand, I suppose a project list with half the spending dedicated to mass …

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Charter schools amendment can fix our court-made mess

House Speaker David Ralston has said he “didn’t know if we were living in an era of two-thirds votes anymore.” We’ll soon find out.

Last week, Ralston’s House rejected a constitutional amendment restoring the state’s authority to establish charter schools. The measure needed 120 votes but received 110. (It would also need a two-thirds majority in the Senate and a simple majority in a referendum this fall.)

A day later, the House voted to give the measure another chance, as soon as today. Two chief objections stand in the way of at least 10 lawmakers changing their minds.

The first is that the General Assembly should favor local control. This is a familiar refrain, particularly among Republicans. While seven Democrats voted for the amendment, other Democrats like to throw that phrase back in the GOP’s collective face when it departs from that orthodoxy.

But no control is more local than that exercised by parents and students. And this issue is chiefly about …

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Catching up on the past week: Charter schools, Santorum, birth control, Whitney

While I’ve been away, I (and y’all) missed a lot of opportunities to comment on a lot of topics. Here’s some quick making up for lost time:

CHARTER SCHOOLS AMENDMENT FAILS: Here’s hoping a second effort this week finds success. If not, the agents of the status quo — i.e., the educational establishment trying to protect its turf — may find the next option even less palatable than this one. I’ve been hearing for weeks now that one prominent Plan B involves setting up a state commission to review charter applications in tandem with local school boards; if a local board doesn’t follow that commission’s recommendation, the board could find itself receiving significantly less state education money. It would be wholly constitutional — the Legislature already attaches all sorts of strings to state money, and the final decision on an application on the charter would rest with the local board — and there are Democrats and Republicans alike pitching its merits. Only a simple majority …

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T-SPLOST transit projects don’t address real problems of congestion — or even of MARTA

The chief argument for approving the T-SPLOST in a referendum this year boils down to this: If it fails, what kind of signal will that send to businesses wary of Atlanta’s notorious traffic congestion?

Instead of worrying about a negative message for a couple of years — until Plan B emerged, as it inevitably would — voters ought to be more concerned by what it will mean for the next couple of decades if we spend billions of dollars on projects that don’t improve matters much.

It’s true that some worthy projects would receive funding from the 1 percent sales tax lawmakers are putting to a public vote. To wit: Improved interchanges of major interstates, such as the top end of I-285 with I-85 and Ga. 400, should ease bottlenecks that now back up rush-hour commuters for miles.

But the list is too compromised by other big-ticket items that will tie up tax dollars for far more than 10 years without lessening traffic. Transit projects, which consume more than half of the $6.14 …

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By the numbers: Why ethics reform makes sense in Georgia

The Pareto Principle is alive and well under the Gold Dome.

Roughly speaking, the Pareto Principle holds that 20 percent of the people produce 80 percent of the results. In business, it might mean a handful of salespeople are responsible for most of a firm’s revenue. In agriculture, it might mean — as the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto observed a century ago — one-fifth of the pods produce four-fifths of the peas.

Regarding our General Assembly, I allude not to how many lawmakers introduce the bulk of bills that are passed — although that might be true. Rather, I’m talking about gifts from lobbyists to legislators.

My review of such gifts reported in 2011 found that, for the top three leaders in the House (David Ralston, Jan Jones and Larry O’Neal) and Senate (Casey Cagle, Tommie Williams and Chip Rogers), 19 percent of reported gifts accounted for 72 percent of the money spent.

Pretty close to Pareto.

The dividing line that created the 19-72 split was a gift value of …

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Pass charter schools amendment, get back to fixing education in Georgia

Ask Georgians about education, and you’ll likely hear two things: It’s important to our future prosperity, and we’re lagging behind. They’re right about its importance. There is one area, however, in which Georgia doesn’t trail most other states when it comes to education:

Spending.

Not what you expected? Join the club. But Georgia ranked 23rd in spending per pupil according to the latest data available for all states, the 2007-08 school year. Further analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities suggests budget cuts since then have yet to push Georgia out of the top 30. We remain right around the middle.

Where we do lag behind is in the results we get for our money. Georgia ranks in the bottom third of states when it comes to proficiency in reading and math among fourth- and eighth-graders taking the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP.

The disparities show up all too plainly when one compares Georgia to the states with which we sometimes …

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