Archive for the ‘State’ Category

This ethics bill is hardly a stopping point

Shortly before the 2013 legislative session ended, the House and Senate passed an ethics bill by a combined vote of 225-0. Such overwhelming, bipartisan actions often are hailed. Should this one be?

Before I answer, let me offer an analogy to kicking a field goal. No, not the one involving Charlie Brown and Lucy.

I mean the one Sen. Josh McKoon made just before HB 142 passed in his chamber. The Columbus Republican has been an early and tireless champion of ethics reform. After enumerating the final bill’s problems, including the way it came into being, McKoon explained why he’d vote for it anyway:

“It’s not everything we need to do, but it’s definitely putting points on the board,” McKoon said. “Tonight, let’s put this one through the uprights, but let’s be prepared to come back next year to score a touchdown on ethics reform.”

I sympathize with the position McKoon found himself in. I also think his analogy should go further.

The way football fans think …

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Ethics bill isn’t perfect, but it is progress

It appears we have an ethics bill.

Speaker David Ralston just confirmed from the House side what the AJC had heard from senators earlier today. Namely, that the two sides, urged along by Gov. Nathan Deal, agreed in the wee hours of Thursday to a compromise between the two main* ethics bills they each passed earlier in the session.

The text of the bill has not yet been made available publicly, but the compromise appears to have been chiefly along two grounds:

First, the House agreed to drop its insistence on a ban on one-on-one lobbyist gifts to legislators and accept the Senate’s preference for a cap — albeit a cap of $75 rather than $100. In exchange, the House won more carve-outs it included in its original version of the bill, HB 142. Those exceptions include gifts (think meals) provided by lobbyists to entire caucuses, the nature of which is subject to approval by each chamber’s ethics committee, as well as allowances for spouses and staff members to accompany legislators …

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Most important bill of 2013? A river runs through it

The final day of the legislative session is upon us, with a variety of high-profile bills from guns to ethics to education yet to be decided. But legislators already have taken what could become one of their most consequential actions this year.

And it’s not even a law.

HR 4 is a resolution calling for the settlement of something that, at least until recently, you probably believed was settled long ago: the Georgia-Tennessee border.

Turns out, HR 4 is the 10th such resolution our General Assembly has passed since 1887 seeking to correct a surveyor’s error in marking the border two centuries ago. This time, however, the Legislature explicitly threatens legal action if Tennessee will not resolve the dispute with us by the end of next year’s legislative session.

You can practically hear the guffaws ringing through national news stories about HR 4. To read some of them, you’d think even a meth-addled Don Quixote would know better than to accept this quest.

I, too, …

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Poll: Who should be next to join 2014 Senate race?

Phil Gingrey today joined fellow congressman Paul Broun in the race to represent Georgia in the U.S. Senate. No surprise there, nor will there be when Jack Kingston makes it a trio of House members trying to move to the other end of the Capitol.

But the field is highly unlikely to remain at three — and it’s anyone’s guess who will be the fourth person to enter the race.

Who do you want to join the 2014 Georgia Senate race next?

  • Karen Handel (69 Votes)
  • No one; I’m planning to vote for Broun, Gingrey or Kingston (31 Votes)
  • Someone else (specify below) (25 Votes)
  • Tom Price (24 Votes)
  • Casey Cagle (16 Votes)
  • A state legislator (specify below) (2 Votes)

Total Voters: 167

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Congressman Tom Price was once thought to be a lock to enter the race, but now I’d put the odds of his running at less than 50 percent. He won’t make an announcement until mid-May and is said to be truly undecided, but the thinking is that he would be risking a great deal of upward …

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How to bridge the gap between House, Senate on ethics bill

A ban on lobbyist-to-legislator gifts with several big exceptions, or a $100 cap with fewer exceptions? That’s the main question legislators must answer by midnight Thursday if they are going to pass ethics reform this year.

The proposed ban originated in the House, the cap in the Senate. Either one would be an improvement over the status quo of unlimited gifts. But, ultimately, legislators must pick one approach. And the best approach would be an even tighter version of the $100 cap.

House Speaker David Ralston has called a cap, rather than a ban, a “gimmick.” Referring to the $100 cap senators imposed on themselves on the first day of this session, Ralston has wondered aloud: Does it limit gifts to $100 per day? Per hour? Per minute? He opted instead to sponsor a bill with a ban.

The speaker was right to question the Senate rule’s lack of specificity. But with only three days left in this session, and with his bill looking dramatically different as senators send it …

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Broun’s wrong about ’slight’ difference between Ryan, Obama plans

Congressman Paul Broun, R-Athens, is the only announced candidate in the election next year to replace retiring Sen. Saxby Chambliss. I met with him last week while I was in Washington, and the thing he talked about over and over was cutting federal spending.

“I expect to win” next year’s election, he told me. “Georgians know I have the record. I have the will to say no to out-of-control spending. And I’m the only person who can be in this race who has done so, and they’ll elect me to the U.S. Senate.”

Asked about the possibility that two or three of his fellow House members could join him in the race, Broun replied: “I hope they’ll see the wisdom of staying where they are instead of losing to me.”

Strong words, as were the ones Broun wrote in an op-ed published in the New York Times on Monday. In the op-ed, Broun criticized House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan’s latest budget — the one Democrats have railed against as Draconian — as instead being inadequate.

“Spending [under the …

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Morehead eyes private money to sustain UGA’s rise

In January, as the University of Georgia was wrapping up the search for its new president, I came across an open letter former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels wrote to the people of Purdue University, whose presidency he had just assumed.

The letter made so many good points about the role and future of higher education that I considered writing a column about it, along the lines of: “I don’t know who the next president of UGA should be, but he or she should think like this.” Before I did, UGA announced its next president. And he was thinking about Daniels’ letter, too.

In particular, Jere Morehead noticed this part of the missive:

“We should all remind ourselves every day that the dollars we are privileged to spend come, for the most part, from either a family or a taxpayer. We measure many activities by FTEs, full-time equivalents; we should likewise see every $10,000 we spend as an ‘STE,’ a student tuition equivalent. Any unnecessary expenditure of that amount could …

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Olens takes on another federal overreach: Dodd-Frank

In Washington, Congress passes and the president signs a vast expansion of federal power over a large and critical industry.

In corporate boardrooms, business executives believe that law usurps their rights. In state capitals, attorneys general believe it infringes on states’ sovereignty and puts them at great financial risk. The two groups come together and sue to overturn the law.

A recap of the Obamacare lawsuit decided by the U.S. Supreme Court last summer? Yes, but it’s also the lead-up to another legal battle stemming from Democrats’ dominance of Washington in 2009 and 2010.

Last month, Georgia joined a lawsuit seeking to overturn major portions of the Dodd-Frank financial reform law of 2010. The law’s stated intent was to avoid failures of “too big to fail” banks and subsequent market panics, of the kind we saw in autumn 2008.

There are good arguments that the law’s authors got the policy wrong, and enshrined “too big to fail” in federal law rather …

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Numbers for Medicaid expansion don’t add up

Obamacare supporters want to talk numbers when it comes to expanding Medicaid in Georgia. OK, let’s talk numbers:

When they returned last month, Georgia’s legislators already faced a $774 million hole for Medicaid through June 2014. That was before any expansion, and even after assuming renewal of the “bed tax” that brings in some $700 million a year for the program.

Medicaid is already the fastest-growing part of Georgia’s budget. Including PeachCare for kids, it will consume $1 of every $7 in state funds in fiscal 2014, up from $1 per $9 a decade ago.

That increased ratio means almost $616 million will go to Medicaid next year instead of transportation, tax cuts, whatever. State lawmakers can do precious little to arrest the trend.

Still, Obamacare supporters want Medicaid to grow faster.

Pressure is mounting on Nathan Deal to follow the path taken by some other Republican governors — Florida’s Rick Scott and New Jersey’s Chris Christie joined the list in the past eight …

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With House on verge of ethics reform, give Ralston his due

It’s dangerous to heap too much praise on an unfinished product, particularly when there’s still politics to play out. But with a major ethics bill headed for likely passage in the Georgia House of Representatives Monday, it’s worth noting just how much of an unexpected, pleasant turn of events this is.

The bill’s not perfect — show me a bill that is — and it shouldn’t represent the last word ever in Georgia on the topic. It is, however, a bigger step forward than this supporter of ethics reform thought we’d see so soon.

And “soon” is the right word. It was just two years ago, following reports Speaker David Ralston had taken a lobbyist-funded trip to Germany with his family over the previous Thanksgiving, that the latest round of calls for ethics reform got under way.

Nothing came of those calls in that year’s session. As recently as nine months ago, Ralston was casting aspersions on his fellow Republicans who were going along with “media elites and liberal special interest …

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