Archive for March, 2012

The busy attorney general across the street

Something was different about the night the Legislature shut down, and it wasn’t the hovering protesters or shoving matches among lobbyists outside the chamber.

Nor was it the sneaky, last-minute amendment, or the bottles of oak-aged stimulant tucked inside this cloakroom or that.

Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens

Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens

No, the most unusual sight on that Thursday evening was Attorney General Sam Olens on the House floor, attempting to push through the last of his four bills.

The measure, intended to stop the spread of “pain pill mills” in the state, didn’t make it. But it was Olens’ only disappointment of the week, which began quite prominently in a pew before nine U.S. Supreme Court justices.

For three days, Olens shuttled between the health care arguments in D.C. and his legislative package in Atlanta. On the far end, simply by witnessing the high-court sessions, Olens established himself as the lead Republican voice – at least, in Georgia, one of the suing states — …

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Legislative leftovers: On elimination of a state income tax, and union dues

In an interview with Denis O’Hayer and WABE (90.1FM), Gov. Nathan Deal implies that the tax reform package passed by the Legislature could limit Republican ability to tackle a long-term topic – elimination of the state income tax:

”It is very difficult in a state like Georgia, where virtually half of all of our revenue comes from individual income tax, to make significant changes in that income tax rate. Many other states are not nearly as dependent on that income tax as we are. It is very costly. It is somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.6 billion that is represented by 1 percent of individual income tax.”

By the time SB 469 died on Thursday, the portion of measure that banned demonstrations at private dwellings had been removed. Left in the bill was a requirement that union employees tell companies each year that they want their union dues deducted from their paychecks.

So this becomes a significant read. From radio station WTAQ in Wisconsin:


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Saxby Chambliss picks a fight with C-SPAN

On MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss today picked a fight with – of all the milquetoast entities to choose from – the low-profile C-SPAN, which televises nonstop the sessions of Congress.

Chambliss was actually making a valid point, of how the presence of TV cameras in the U.S. Capitol has changed the way that Congress does business. Newt Gingrich clawed his way to the House speakership in the 1990s in part by using the new technology – in five-minute speeches he and his GOP allies would deliver to the folks at home.

Here’s the clip:


Said Chambliss on the topic of Washington rancor:

”One thing that has made it that way is C-SPAN, very honestly. You’ve got folks on TV, and now – instead of doing political commercials – they rant and rave during dinner time on the East Coast, and then at 9 o’clock you see the West Coast guys up there. Being able to portray back home – ‘I’m fighting!’ – is the mantra that many people …

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Your morning jolt: The failed attempt to make ‘transparency’ commission a translucent one

If you value open government, the closest call of last night, in the final hour of the legislative session, was a paragraph attached to HB 875, a bill to keep private the personal information on hunting and fishing licenses and such.

But this paragraph applied to political figures subject to investigation by the agency formally known as the State Ethics Commission:

…In the discretion of the commission, to seal any records of the commission relating to a concluded investigation of an alleged or suspected violation if that investigation resulted in a determination by the commission either that no violation occurred or that only a technical defect in a filing occurred in accordance with Code Section 21-5-7.1. Any records so sealed shall not be open to public inspection….

There was also language added to allow the commission to waive late fees and fines.

In other words, the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission would have been handed permission to cut …

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On hiding politicians who violate ethics laws

Updated at 11:10 p.m.: This was just posted by my AJC colleague James Salzer:

A couple of years ago they changed the name of the Georgia Ethics Commission to the Government Transparency Commission. Tonight the Senate passed a last-minute amendment that allows the “transparency” commission to seal the records in some cases against politicians and delay reporting some violations. Nothing like the 40th day – and night – of a session at the Georgia Capitol

Find the largesse in HB 875, a fishing license bill.

Updated at 10:07p.m.: In very volatile speech, state Sen. Steve Thompson, D-Marietta, all but accused House Majority Leader Larry O’Neal, R-Bonaire, of collusion with banks to block a bill – SB 448 – that would free some developers in Georgia of making good on loan guarantees that are sold by banks to other lenders.

A compromise was eventually reached, contained in SB 129. But not before Thompson had his say. “I hope they pay for it one day. Because they’re fixing …

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Fate of anti-protest bill in David Ralston’s hands

Just before wrapping up an afternoon calendar meeting of the House Rules Committee, which again failed to move SB 469 to the floor, Chairman John Meadows addressed his members.

“I love you all dearly,” he said. “But I don’t want to see you again today.”

As the Calhoun Republican walked out, I asked him whether we would see SB 469 before adjournment. This is the measure that began as an anti-union slap by the Georgia Chamber of Commerce. It banned picketing at private dwellings by labor organizations – and required union members to annually approve the dues check-off on their paychecks.

Earlier this week, Wendell Willard, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, engineered an amendment to SB 469 so that it bans demonstrations at all private residences for any reason. You can’t just single out one kind of speech to ban, Willard said. In other words, protesters for such causes as abortion, neighborhood blight – take your pick – have now been wrapped into the …

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Sheldon Adelson: Newt Gingrich ‘at the end of his line’

Breaking presidential news, oddly enough, from the Jewish Journal. Billionaire casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, the chief underwriter for the super PAC that has kept Newt Gingrich’s campaign alive, says time’s about up for his candidate:

Said Adelson:

“It appears as though he’s at the end of his line. Because mathematically, he can’t get anywhere near the numbers, and there’s unlikely to be a brokered convention.”

- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider

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Does Newt Gingrich still need Secret Service protection?

Some interesting paragraphs on Newt Gingrich, from the Huffington Post:

“My greatest fear for Newt is that a month from now, if he’s not gathering delegates, people are going to ask why the federal government is paying (to protect) his campaign. I say that as his friend,” said Matt Towery, a former Gingrich adviser and political commentator who has known Gingrich for 32 years.

Gingrich aides emphasized that the staff cutbacks, and a plan for Gingrich to reduce his travel, did not amount to giving up.

“It’s not possible for us to get 1,144 delegates before the convention, but it looks like neither will (front-runner Mitt) Romney or (Rick) Santorum,” Gingrich chief of staff Patrick Millsaps told MSNBC.

- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider

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Your morning jolt: A last-minute slap at criminal justice reform

Gov. Nathan Deal’s criminal justice reform bill, which should win final approval on this last day of the legislative session, has been widely applauded for its attempt to reduce the size of Georgia’s prison population.

So a critical editorial in the Macon Telegraph came as something of a surprise. A few paragraphs:

Now the state returns with another schizophrenic proposal to lower the number of felony offenses its responsible for adjudicating. In other words, they want to lower the number of inmates in state prisons. How can it do that? Change the definition of a felony from a $500 to a $1,000 offense. It’s not that a thief stopped stealing, it just means instead of being a state felony it would be a local misdemeanor, and local taxpayers would have to foot the bill.

The state only pays 40 percent of the actual costs of feeding and housing state prisoners. And it leaves them languishing in our jail and others across the state for days and weeks. The carrot lawmakers have …

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When the Legislature ends, payback begins

A season of law-making ends Thursday at the state Capitol. And the season of payback begins.

Climatologists tell us that the warm winter will result in a summer brimming with both ticks and tempers.

Payback is common in the male-dominated society that is the Legislature. You kill my bill, I’ll gut yours. It is the old Southern tradition of dueling, or feuding, reduced to code sections and committee meetings.

Usually, payback is confined to the Capitol. But trouble will follow a lawmaker home if the fight is too fierce, or the offender’s sin is too great.

The latter situation fits the case of state Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus. It was bad enough that McKoon, a rookie finishing out his first term, was one of the few Republican lawmakers to side with those who think that members of the Legislature ought not to accept gifts worth more than $100 or so.

But McKoon may have gone a step too far. When this newspaper noted last week that a new report judged Georgia to have the …

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