Monday, January 14, 2013

Is the opposition dead in Georgia?

ATLANTA, GA - Georgia lawmakers begin a new legislative session Monday. They will wade through hundreds of bills over the next three months. But there’s only one thing they are required to get done. By state law, legislators must pass a balanced budget.

Lawmakers at the first day of session tackled ethics reform, with a bill aimed at limiting gifts from lobbyists. They can only receive up to $100 in gift. They shouldn't at all, but that is another story.

The Senate put in its rules a limitation on what lobbyists can spend on members of the Senate.

Ethics violations over false expense reports snared one state Senator, Don Balfour of Snellville, last session.

Lawmakers will also debate the so-called hospital bed tax. It’s a Medicaid provider fee that expires next summer. If the tax goes away, that’s going to create a lot of financial hardships for some hospitals, especially those in rural areas, according to the hospitals organization. Some predictions estimate that six or seven hospitals actually might have to shut their doors because of hardships brought on by the lack of money in Medicaid.

State lawmakers have already pre-filed a number of bills dealing with issues such as repealing a ban on guns on college campuses and legalizing horse racing.

There is also a strong movement to pass a bill to pay for a new stadium for the Falcons. In 2009 the General Assembly passed a bill to impose Georgia Power customers to pay for two new reactors at Plant Vogtle with SB 31. The bill was supported by democrats and republicans. Republicans this time have a supermajority and probably any opposition from the left probably won't have impact.

They begin the 40-day session with budget hearings.

The GOP gained two seats in the state Senate, giving Republicans 38 of the 56 seats and a long-sought two-thirds majority.

However, Republicans fell just short of the 120 seats necessary for a supermajority in the Georgia House of Representatives. A net gain of four House seats means 119 Republicans office in the lower chamber since today.

A two-thirds majority is a milestone because it allows the majority party to push through any legislation requiring a two-thirds vote – typically constitutional amendments – without any votes from the minority party.

In reality, however, it promises to be difficult for Republicans to muster every one of their House members or senators to line up behind any given legislative proposal.

Redistricting survivor
"It is with great honor that for the sixth time I get to represent the wonderful people of the 96th District", said democratic representative Pedro Marin at the moment of swearing in today. He has survived the redistricting attempt by republicans to lose his seat. He was moved from a Latino constituents area but managed to keep his seat.

It is not clear if the role of the opposition will mean much in the new supermajority republican General Assembly and many critics of the Georgia Democratic Party leadership blame them for the political landscape lose by democrats in the state. For some critics in Augusta, for example, the opposition of the Democratic Party is close to a rubber stamp position than a force of change or challenge to the powerful.

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