Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Georgia General Assembly





My father would be ashamed (By Martin Luther King III)
Extremist lawmakers in Georgia's legislature are pushing a bill designed to intimidate those who would engage in protest activities, such as picketing or sit-ins. This is an effort to silence protesters who are standing up for economic justice.

My father, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., died fighting for economic justice. Before his assassination in 1968, one of the ways he supported striking sanitation workers in Memphis was by joining them on the picket line.

It's shocking to me that 44 years after my father's death, extremist legislators are still trying to silence peaceful protesters. My father would not back down from opposing this bill, and we cannot either.

That's why I created a petition to the Georgia House and Senate and Governor Nathan Deal on SignOn.org, which says:

We urge all Georgia lawmakers to oppose SB 469. This bill restricts the free speech rights of Georgians.

It burdens small businesses by forcing them to issue additional notices to their employees, and it puts extra strain on our already-stretched public safety forces. We need lawmakers to focus on real solutions to our jobs crisis, not push bills that take away our basic free speech rights. Again, please vote NO on SB 469.



ATLANTA 3-1-2012 - Latino activists, along with two members of the Georgia General Assembly, called for the defeat of HB 59 and SB 458, two similar bills that would require the University System to expel all students who cannot provide documentation that they are legal residents from the state's 35 public colleges.

"House Bill 59 and Senate Bill 458 are worse than any anti-immigration bill that has ever come before us," said Rep. Pedro Marin (D-Duluth), one of the first Latinos elected to the Legislature in 2002.

"It is unjust, immoral, and un-American," Marin said. He promised all undocumented students that "we will not punish you for the actions of your parents."

An undocumented high school senior from the Athens area who identified herself only as "Elizabeth" told the rally that the proposed measures "give me the worst feelings of rejection and discrimination I have ever felt."

"My opportunities for a good education and a good life have been getting slimmer and slimmer," said Elizabeth, who disclosed that she was brought to the United States by her parents at the age of five.

If SB 458 passes the Legislature, "it indicates we will never be good enough and we will always be second-rate," she said.

Sen. Nan Orrock (D-Atlanta) called the proposed legislation "an insanity that is indefensible."

"We must stop this law," Orrock said. "I cannot stand here silently while efforts are made to slam the doors on these students. It is not in the interests of this state, it is not in the interests of our economy to slam the door on these students."

SB 458 is sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers (R-Woodstock), an anti-immigrant legislator who sponsored the immigration control bill, SB 529, that was passed by the General Assembly in 2006.

SB 458 has been approved in committee but has not been voted upon yet by the full state Senate.

House majority approves 20-week restriction on abortions

A majority of the Georgia House of Representatives voted Wednesday to approve legislation that would prohibit most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

HB 954 would allow abortions after 20 weeks only when there is substantial medical risk to expectant mother but would also limit exceptions and require the procedure to be performed so that it "provides the best opportunity for the unborn child to survive." I voted against the measure, which passed by a margin of 102-65 and now goes to the Senate for its consideration.

Aviation Authority: The House approved SB 339, which would dismantle the Georgia Aviation Authority and transfer the aircraft previously owned and operated by the Department of Natural Resources and the Georgia Forestry Commission back to those agencies. The General Assembly passed a bill last year that returned ownership of other state aircraft to the Department of Public Safety. SB 339 now goes to the governor for his signature.

Other legislation approved by the House and sent to the Senate last week includes:
HB 456, which would establish a "sunset commission" of legislators who could recommend abolishing various agencies in the executive branch of state government. I voted against this legislation.
HB 520, which would increase the maximum amount of solar-generated electricity that Georgia Power buys back from its customers who co-generate their own power.
HB 641, which would revise Georgia's juvenile justice code.
HB 898, which would establish a new category of banking entity in the state for companies that validate credit card transactions.


Changes to Special Schools bill, HR 1162 
Atlanta 2-17-2012. The Democratic Caucus is pleased that substantive changes have been made by the authors of HR 1162, the Special Schools bill.

"The changes reflect a recognition that this constitutional amendment will substantively alter public education in Georgia. We fought to protect local control, and these concessions are a step in the right direction," said Democratic Caucus Chairman Brian Thomas.

Democrats led opposition to HR 1162 because the bill allowed the state to create new special schools without limitation, including charter schools. More importantly, it permitted the state to reduce local funding to pay for those state-created schools.

"Democrats are proud to enforce limits on the state with regard to charter schools. The original legislation gave the state unrestrained powers. This puts sensible restrictions on how we operate," said Rep. Scott Holcomb, who authored the alternative bill from which much of the language was taken. "We also unequivocally require that if the state wants to create charter schools - they must pay for them. Under the changes, no local funding can be reduced."

The House Democratic Caucus has put a draft of the revised bill before their members for review.

"Members have been asked to check in with their constituents before we take a vote. We appreciate the strong support of citizens in demanding these critical concessions," said House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams.

Shared Responsabilities
House Democrats held a public hearing on Thursday to promote shared responsibility, highlighting their legislative plans to promote democracy and civic engagement, protect taxpayer investments and fix government so it works.

House Democrats were joined by advocates for better taxpayer investments here in Georgia and by families affected by foreclosure.

Caucus Chairman Brian Thomas, moderator of the public hearing, emphasized that the House Democratic Caucus understands the financial hardship of the downturn and that the caucus wants the government to take its share of responsibility for burden facing families this economic recession.

"The House Democratic Caucus understands that citizens expect more of their government than simply taxes and regulation," said Chairman Thomas. "We want government that works for the people and with the people. And we demand a government that understands its business: to spend our tax dollars wisely."

Representative Dar'shun Kendrick highlighted her targeted legislation towards foreclosure reform with the "Homeowner Fairness Act."

"Five years after the start of the Great Recession, Georgia is fifth in the nation in foreclosures, but we lag far behind in homeowner protection," said Rep. Kendrick. "That's why I have introduced the Foreclosure Reform: Homeowner Fairness Act to help level the playing field and bring Georgia back in line with other states that have placed into law common-sense consumer protections. By changing the judicial process for foreclosures, we will guarantee any homeowner the right to access the courts rather than just the auction block."

Along with aiming to place heavier emphasis in homeowner protection this legislative session, the House Democratic Caucus hopes to improve prompt pay on state contracts.

"Our 2012 legislative agenda began with a conversation about the kind of Georgia we want for our families," said Rep. Elena Parent, co-sponsor of the Georgia Fair Pay Act. "By starting with the basics of determining how government must help where it can and get out of the way when it should, I have introduced this bill to provide better economic security for Georgia companies. Under Georgia law, no contract can be executed without funding, so the state has no excuse for holding onto legitimate payments to its small business vendors who have done the work they were hired to do."


House Democrats held a press conference to introduce their 2012 legislative agenda, which is aimed at creating good jobs, promoting rural recovery, strengthening schools and protect the taxpayer's investment in Georgia.

  The Rural Recovery Act of 2012 that would immediately repeal HB 87, the failed immigration law passed in 2011.  Rep. Pedro Marin, author of the repeal, said, "Georgia farmers have been the victims of a failed experiment.  We have watched crops die in the fields, and millions of dollars have been drained from our economy.  The state must get out of the federal immigration business and return to the business of producing the nation's food supply." Added co-sponsor Rep. Lynmore James,  "Agriculture is our top industry, but they've been abandoned by the Gold Dome.  With repeal of HB 87, we can put our farms on the road to recovery."
   During a public hearing Thursday, House Democrats were joined by advocates for farmers and others impacted by the fall-out of HB 87. "Georgia deserves better than a bill that costs millions of dollars in lost crops, lost revenue and lost opportunities," explained Representative Lynmore James.  "I am a Georgia farmer.  I know that our families cannot afford to have politicians playing with their food.  If we want good jobs and a stronger economy, the first step is repealing HB 87."


  House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams explained the devastating effects of HB 87 at the House Democrat's press conference on Tuesday.
  "HB 87 is a failed attempt at immigration reform that has simply served to cripple the economy of Georgia," said Leader Abrams. "The most modest estimates place the price tag for six months of this bill at $75 million in lost crops alone. That's real money to the thousands of family farms, small grocers and shop owners who rely on Georgia's agriculture industry to survive."
  Larry Pellegrini, Policy Analyst for the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights, was in attendance at the public hearing on Thursday. 
  "The passage of HB 87 was a mistake. Families, the economy and Georgia's reputation have all been hurt," said Pellegrini. "We applaud the Caucus for making an effort to honestly reveal the consequences of the bill and to identify what is needed to correct the destructive fallout. We regret that all of the effort to pass an unworkable Georgia bill was not put into pressuring Congress to enact comprehensive immigration reform. Georgia should now retreat from the failed HB 87 and move forward with policies that respect and value all of it's residents."
  To promote and expand Georgia's economic sector, House Democrats introduced a series of bills that will provide Georgians with a stronger economy, support rural communities reeling from HB 87 and help small businesses grow. 
  Key items include the Georgia Buy American Act by Representative Virgil Fludd and co-sponsored by Representative Sistie Hudson.  The bill will reduce sales taxes on products produced in America, particularly Georgia.  Representative Quincy Murphy and Representative Yasmin Neal have co-sponsored the Georgia Jobs Matter Act to require all procurement bids to include a Georgia jobs impact statement. 
  Representatives will also introduce the Rural Tourism Protection Act, legislation to require mandatory notice of park closures, which can devastate rural tourism.  Author Rep. Debbie Buckner has already secured bi-partisan support for her legislation, which is co-sponsored by Rep. Sharon Beasley Teague and Rep. Bob Bryant.
  Understanding that excess regulation can strangle small businesses, Representatives Glenn Baker and Mack Jackson will ask for a suspension of the E-verify requirement for small businesses with fewer than 50 employees.  The Small Business Protection Act suspension would last until 2015.
  "Our government must step in to provide proper oversight and regulation for the protection of our citizens, but that regulation cannot stop our small businesses from growing," explained Rep. Jackson. 
  For small companies doing business with the state, the Georgia Fair Pay Act will require prompt payment on all state contracts, as authored by Representative Al Williams and co-sponsored by Representative Elena Parent and Representative Mickey Stephens.  "Democrats are committed to helping all Georgians by spurring job creation, and restoring fairness and opportunity to our economy.  The state has already appropriated the funds.  There is no excuse for not making good on our promises to small businesses that have done the work."
  Small businesses facing rising health costs will find support in the Georgia Healthcare Relief Act, which requires the establishment of Small Business Healthcare Exchanges.  Said author Representative Pat Gardner, "We know that small businesses need this flexibility.  Healthcare is a vital state and national interest, and we must be proactive if we want to small businesses to continue to grow in our state." Rep. James Beverly, an optometrist, and Rep. Elly Dobbs will co-sponsor.
  The House Democrats' legislative agenda also includes specific bills designed to continue Georgia's progress of empowering parents and fostering successful students.  The Parent Protection Act, the Restore and Build HOPE Act, the Bright Futures Acts and Whistleblower Protections Act will all help secure stronger schools.  "Democrats recognize that accountability and reform must go hand in hand, and the best education begins with investments in Pre-K," said Bright Futures author Representative Kathy Ashe. 
  "The House Democratic Caucus understands that citizens expect more of their government than taxes and regulation.  We want government that works for the people and with the people.  We expect a government that asks everyone to do his or her fair share and to play by the rules.  And we demand a government that understands its business: to spend our tax dollars wisely," explained House Minority Whip Carolyn Hugley.
  House Democrats offered a package of legislation that will meet those key objectives:  to fix government so it works, to promote democracy and civic engagement and to protect taxpayer investments.  HB 643 by Representative Sheila Jones, co-sponsored by Rep. Barbara Reece will require fingerprints for metal salvage.  The Foreclosure Reform bills will create a judicial foreclosure process and guarantee homeowners a right to cure a delinquency.  HB 707 will permit the use of college identification as qualified documents for voting.  In concert with the Senate Democratic Caucus, the Tax Accountability Act will create an independent panel to review the cost-benefit analysis of tax subsidies.  The Family Energy Credit will address Georgia's deregulated natural gas prices by offering an income tax credit for home energy costs, sponsored by Rep. Simone Bell.
  House Democrats announced 20 legislative initiatives that will promote economic security, educational opportunity and shared responsibility.  Some of this legislation has been heard in committee, but many critical ideas have received no action from the House committees of purview.  To guarantee full consideration of their ideas, House Democrats announced plans to convene public hearings in the Capitol to review each item of legislation. Attendees will receive information about advocating for legislation they support and details about the oversight committees to demand action.
  House Minority Caucus Chairman Brian Thomas explained the House Democrats' bold new approach.  "Rather than wait for committee hearings that may never come, the House Democrats will hold public legislative hearings on all of our agenda items.  For the next six Mondays and Thursdays in the Capitol, we are inviting citizens, advocates and the press to join us to learn about these bills and to provide feedback that will be taped and broadcast.  We cannot afford politics as usual.  Georgia can't wait to move forward."
   Future public hearings will be held on Thursdays from 8:30 am until 10 am and from 9 am until 11 am on Mondays in room 230 in the Capitol.  Public hearing dates are January 26, January 30, February 2, February 6, February 9 and February 15.  All are invited to attend.

Tuition And Fee Increases Are Resulting in More College Dropouts 
   University System of Georgia Chancellor Hank Huckaby, speaking before a joint budget hearing to members of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, said Tuesday that continuing increases in tuition and fees have caused as many as 700 students to drop out of classes at some of the state's larger campuses.
   The chancellor told lawmakers the University System would begin to slow down the pace of these increases. In his budget presentation, he noted the Board of Regents has approved several tuition increases in recent years to compensate in part for major reductions in the funding budgeted by the legislature for higher education. He said the University System has seen its budget reduced by about $1 billion over the past four years.
   To save money, the Regents recently approved a recommendation to consolidate eight of the state's public colleges into four institutions.Meanwhile, Technical College System of Georgia Commissioner Ron Jackson told legislative budget writers that a number of under-utilized technical college campuses will likely be closed in order to achieve a 2 percent budget cut ordered of all agencies by Gov. Nathan Deal.   
  The budget meetings concluded Thursday, with committee members having heard presentations from the heads of more than 20 state agencies and departments, along with Supreme Court Chief Justice Carol Hunstein, speaking on behalf of the judicial branch of government, Secretary of State Brian Kemp and Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black.
    The hearings got under way amid news that Georgia's revenue collections in December 2011 totaled $1.54 billion, a decline of 1.2 percent from the same month a year ago. It was the first month for reduced revenues recorded in a year and a half. Much of the decline came in the categories of corporate income taxes, which were down by $26 million or 17.3 percent. For the first six months of fiscal year 2012, state revenues are up by 5.2 percent over the same period last year.  
    Gov. Deal has presented an amended budget proposal for the remainder of fiscal year 2012 totaling $18.5 billion, and an annual budget for fiscal year 2013 totaling $19.2 billion. You may click here to review the governor's proposals. 

[] Representative Pedro Marin.

video 
Representative Earnest Smith D-122


THE POWER STRUGGLE BEGINS AND GOES ON
ATLANTA, 2012 Session - SB 184 now heads to the governor’s desk, as the senators agreed to changes in the bill made last year by the House. Democrats argued that the bill takes away local control from school boards; Republicans argued that it prevents situations in which good teachers are fired simply because they have been in their jobs for less time than others. Sen. Chip Rogers added that, because less-tenured teachers are paid less, local boards may end up firing more teachers to meet budget-cut targets if they go with a “last in, first out” approach.

The Senate also passed a relatively minor bill SB 38 allowing State Schools Superintendent John Barge to hire some of his own staff, putting him on par with other constitutional officers.

Welcoming
video
Just a few short months ago, NAACP members and activists throughout the state of Georgia joined together as we rallied to save the life of Savannah's Troy Davis. Despite serious doubts to his guilt, Troy sat on death row for more than twenty years before he was executed on September 21 of last year.


On Monday, the NAACP's national fight to end the death penalty returns to Georgia, as civil rights leaders converge to call for the repeal of Georgia's death penalty.
Join me, national NAACP President & CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous, the Georgia NAACP State Conference, and anti-death penalty activists on January 9 as we rally to end the death penalty.
Steps of the Georgia State Capitol Building, 206 Washington St., Atlanta, 30334, 10 AM.
Edward Dubose, President, Georgia State Conference.

Return of Debate Over Changes to Tax Code
Having failed to agree on legislation that would have dramatically changed Georgia's tax code last year, the Republican majority leadership is expected to try again when the 2012 session of the Georgia General Assembly convenes on Monday, Jan. 9.

Proposed changes include large tax breaks for corporations and tax increases on Georgia families in the form of reinstating the 4 percent state sales tax on food. Taxes will be a hotly debated issue again this year. Other issues expected to be at the top of the agenda include:



Transportation: As the result of legislation that was passed in 2010, Georgia voters are scheduled to go to the polls during this year's July 31 primary and decide whether to approve a one-cent sales tax, proceeds from which would be used to fund transportation improvements on a regional basis in the counties of each region where the tax referendum is approved. A proposal has been made to change the election date for the regional sales tax (T-SPLOST) vote from July to the November general election, when voter turnout is historically higher. The proposal failed to reach a vote during the General Assembly's special session last August but is expected to be brought up again during the 2012 session. If approved, the tax would bring in $6.1 billion to the metro Atlanta region over the next 10 years.

Criminal Justice: A special council has recommended an increased use of probation and flexibility in sentencing for non-violent offenders to reduce the financial and human costs of Georgia's overcrowded prisons. It is estimated that Georgia currently spends more than $1 billion a year and has the fourth-highest incarceration rate in the nation. Among the proposals recommended by the council include allowing judges to depart from mandatory minimum sentences in certain circumstances, expanding the use of Drug, DUI and Mental Health Courts and changing many traffic offenses from misdemeanors to violations. Gov. Nathan Deal is supportive of the proposals, and legislative leaders have said criminal justice reform will be a priority issue during the upcoming session.

Requirements for Assistance: Legislation has been introduced to require drug testing for those receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits. A separate proposal would require those receiving unemployment benefits to complete 24 hours of community service each week.    

Other Issues: Lawmakers will consider recommendations on revising the state funding formula for local public school systems, which has been cut by billions of dollars over the past nine years. Separate bills have also been proposed that would authorize counties to hold non-partisan elections for local offices (sheriff, tax commissioner, clerk of court, coroner, county commissioner, school board, etc.); allow persons to carry concealed firearms in public without having to obtain a gun permit; and remove the statute of limitations on prosecuting persons for child molestation or rape.

Pre-clearance to Georgia GOP-aproved Redistricting Maps
On Dec. 23, the U.S. Department of Justice granted pre-clearance for Georgia's proposed new legislative and congressional district maps, which were developed by the general counsel of the state Republican Party and approved by the Republican majority of the General Assembly earlier this year.

The Justice Department's action is only the first round of the review process, as likely court challenges await. The proposed maps were clearly drawn for the purpose of increasing the number of Republican districts in the Georgia House of Representatives and Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives. 

If the new maps take effect in the 2012 election cycle, House District 96 will continue to be located in western Gwinnett County but will undergo substantial changes in terms of precincts added and taken away. Click here to see the proposed House District maps for the metro Atlanta area.
* Representative Pedro Marin





No College for "Illegals Students"
Atlanta - A new proposal would extend the ban to all of Georgia’s 35 public colleges and universities, and its 26 technical colleges. The Board of Regents already has barred undocumented immigrants from 5 in-demand schools.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Brett Harrell, says taxpayers may be footing the bill for illegal immigrants’ education because tuition doesn’t cover all costs. “The taxpayers are subsidizing much of the expense of these institutions so it seems to me that those who are attending should be either legal citizens or have legal alien status,” he said.

Critics say the bill penalizes young people whose parents illegally brought them here as children, pointing out that the much needed revenue from out-of-state tuitions from thousands of these students will be lost. 
It doesn't make economic sense. Lawmakers will consider the bill during the legislative session that starts in January and concludes April 31, for 40 days.


Terrorize Children Bill
ATLANTA, GALEO - Georgia Legislators are talking about terrorizing immigrant children in our K-12 schools.  In Alabama, this type of legislation went into effect and was upheld by a federal district judge.  What we saw in Alabama was significant exodus of the immigrant community and immigrant children fearful and crying about going to school.  Georgia is better than this and this is not a good policy focus for our state.  GALEO and our allies will work against this initiative, as well as against the initiative to ban public college or university access to all undocumented students.

Georgia State Representative Josh Clark (R-Buford, District #98) HB296, about his bill:
"The State Board of Education shall collect and maintain, and each local school board shall provide no later than October 1 of each year, data on the number of students who are illegal aliens and students unable to provide proof of citizenship. The state board shall calculate and publish the total amount of expenditures, by school district, for illegal aliens and undocumented students in grades kindergarten through 12 and the number of illegal aliens and undocumented students in each school district. The report shall be compiled and published on the state board's website no later than January 1 of each year."


Funds for Seniors by Kathy Floyd

As they do every year, state legislators from across Georgia made the trek to our Gold Dome last week to open the 2012 Georgia General Assembly.  And just as we do every year, your Georgia team descended on the capitol armed with our priorities to speak on behalf of nearly one million Georgia members, asking our elected officials to restore money to senior projects and strike down talk of a state sales tax on groceries. 


Good Start to the New Year
As detailed in an article in the January/February issue of the AARP Bulletin, AARP Georgia has made it a priority for the current legislative session to restore key funding for projects that affect seniors.  (If a million Georgians ask, they shall receive!)  In his proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2012/2013, Governor Nathan Deal recommended restoring vital funding for projects benefitting seniors and their caregivers, including: $405,556 for non-Medicaid Home and Community Based Services, and $225,000 for Alzheimer’s Respite Services.


These services keep older Georgians where they want to be – in their homes and communities rather than in nursing homes – and save the state of Georgia money.  (Did you know that 80 percent of Medicaid goes to pay for nursing home costs and that the state pays one-third of the $6 billion-a-year program?) AARP Georgia wants to thank Governor Deal for listening and responding to our seniors’ needs.

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