The new generation of leaders

The Friday Photo

Decatur High School, Decatur, GA

Students walked out or took a knee on Wednesday because #enoughisenough. I stood with them and for them.

And the winners are…..

Current leadership in the Georgia General Assembly never fails to disappoint. This year’s session has been a catalog of hate-baiting legislation against LGBTQ citizens and people of faith (and no faith). Rape victims have been dismissed, and Georgia’s Guns Everywhere mentality threatens campuses across our state.

Creative Loafing Atlanta didn’t wait until the end of the session to announce this year’s Golden Sleaze Awards. If you want to hear keen political analysis of this year’s General Assembly session in Georgia, tune in to GPB’s Political Rewind at 3:00 this afternoon.

 

Legalizing hate in Georgia

It only took three days before the Georgia General Assembly saw a bill filed that, if passed and signed by Governor Deal, will mark us a state that allows discrimination based on religious faith. Filed by Republican Representative Kevin Tanner of Dawsonville, HB756 allows business owners the right to deny services or the selling of goods to a “religious organization” or for a “religious or matrimonial ceremony” if the business owner says the organization or ceremony conflicts with his/her right to exercise their religious freedom.

That means HB756 legalizes discrimination by florists, bakers, bridal shops, caterers, wedding sites, and other businesses connected to the wedding industry, simply because the business owner personally opposes the marriage. That’s legislative code for opposing same-sex marriage.That also means the business owner can do the same if they don’t like the tenants of a religious organization.

In other words, if you don’t worship where I worship, I don’t have to treat you like I would the members of my church when you come into my place of business.

I used the word “church” because HB756 specifies churches for protection under this law. Temples, mosques, and other places of worship are not described at all, just churches. 

HB756 reads, “the term ‘religious organization’ means a church, a religious school, an association or convention of churches, a convention mission agency, or an integrated auxiliary of a church or convention or association of churches…”
Christians go to church, Jews attend synagogues or temples, and Hindus and Muslims worship in temples. Tanner and Hb756 co-sponsors Tom Rice, R-Norcross, Randy Nix, R-LaGrange, and Paul Battles, R-Cartersville, know this, and their choice of words is telling. They want to make sure churchgoers are afforded the right to discriminate.

Speaker of the House David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, is only supporting Tanner’s other bill, HB757, called the “Pastor Protection Bill,” a bill that allows a minister to decline a request to perform a marriage ceremony if it conflicts with his/her beliefs.

Of course there shouldn’t be legislation allowing a person who is licensed by the state to perform legal ceremonies, to deny services to anyone, but this move to “protect” pastors pales in comparison to Tanner’s HB756.

The wedding industry is huge, and state coffers benefit greatly from them. Hotel rooms are booked, gas tanks filled, gifts sent, clothing bought, and bouquets tossed to guests. Legalizing hate in HB756 doesn’t make legal sense or good economic sense.

Bobby Jindal doesn’t have much of an imagination

The Friday Photo
July 24, 2015

Gringos, Milledgeville, GA
Gringos, Milledgeville, GA

I posted this photo as a Friday Photo on August 29, 2014, almost two months after Georgia’s Open Carry (Guns Everywhere) law, passed by the Georgia General Assembly and signed into law by Governor Nathan Deal, went into effect.

Last night nine innocent people out for a night at the movies in Lafayette, Louisiana, became the victims of a shooting. Two victims died, seven are wounded.

Republican Presidential candidate and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, who has signed over 12 bills increasing access to guns and where they can be carried in his state, told the media, “We never imagined this would happen in Louisiana.” Brushing off a reporter’s question about gun control after last night’s shooting rampage and murders, Jindal said the thing to do to do now is pray.

Governor Jindal doesn’t have much of an imagination.

As for prayers? How about praying for reduced access to guns, thorough background checks, removing banning the sale of assault weapons, and serious limits on where guns can be carried?

Don’t let child abusers and marital rapists hide behind religion

Sam Teasley
Sam Teasley

The AJC Political Insider reports that the Georgia Baptist Convention met last week to support a bill floating in the Georgia General Assembly sponsored by Marietta Republican Representative Sam Teasley. HB 29 will allow people accused of child and spousal abuse to use their religious beliefs as a justification for their violent and abhorrent actions. (The bill would also legislate discriminating against a person because of race, sexual orientation, their religion.)

Legislators who support HB 29 made an exception that doesn’t allow child sexual abuse, but beating a child, perhaps to death, could be claimed as justified by the abusers and/or murderers. Anything short of child sexual abuse is fair game under the law. Rape happens within marriage. When a woman says No, even to her husband, then it isn’t sex, it is marital rape. HB 29 legalizes it.

I just can’t find a way to be tolerant of beating or killing a child, or beating, raping, or murdering a spouse, because your god told you it was ok. And our legislators shouldn’t either.

What’s happening to teachers’ health insurance is just TRAGIC

TRAGIC

This was posted on the Teachers Rallying Against Insurance Change (T.R.A.G.I.C.) group page. It is an open group, so if you want to stay current on what the state and Governor Deal are doing to teacher’s health coverage join the group and do your part to protect one of Georgia’s most valuable resources, our public school teachers!
https://www.facebook.com/groups/TRAGIC4GEORGIA/

***ACTION ALERT***
By now, you should have seen the 2015 Rate Comparisons for both the Active and Medicare Advantage plans. While we are pleased the Department of Community Health has offered choices for 2015, these choices are just as unaffordable as last year! The premiums and deductibles are way out of line with state employee and teacher salaries, and mean financial ruin for school support personnel and other state employees.

The newspaper headlines have been mainly positive, telling a very different story than the unaffordable reality that we will be dealing with next year. There are numerous lobbyists and pubic relations people working for the other side, spinning the story and getting their side out. We have only our voice (and our vote!).
We are strong when we speak as one, and it is time to speak up!

Call the Governor’s Office tomorrow and the DCH. Send emails. Contact your Legislators.

Here are some sample questions, but feel free to ask your own!“ Can you explain how I am supposed to afford this insurance and pay up to $28,000 on my salary of $___________?”

“Can you explain why the BCBS Medicare Advantage plan costs 300 – 700% more than it does this year? Why is it so much higher than United Health Care?”

“Why is the United Health Care HMO 25% more than the Blue Cross HMO?

What are members getting for that additional money?”

“Why are the Board of Regents, with fewer employees and a smaller risk pool, able to offer so much better insurance than the State Heath Benefit Plan?”

Office of the Governor: (404) 656-1776
Email the Governor: http://gov.georgia.gov/webform/contact-governor-domestic-form

Call the DCH: (404) 656-4507.
Email the DCH (use both addresses): DCHBoard@dch.ga.gov, creese@dch.ga.gov

Find your Legislators: 
Georgia House of Representatives: http://openstates.org/ga/ 
Georgia Senate: http://www.senate.ga.gov/senators/en-US/FindyourLegislator.aspx

Contact the Governor electronically here.

At least 194

I don’t like guns. I’ve never fired one and I don’t care if I ever do.

I can appreciate the hand and eye coordination in shooting a target because some days I can barely thread a needle when wearing my readers.

I get the issues around hunting to provide food for families (Hunting is violent, but I don’t think Contained Animal Feeding Operations, or CAFOs, are any more humane than killing an animal with a single shot.)

What I don’t get is why AT LEAST 194 children have died in our country since Newtown. One hundred ninety-four. 10 x 19 +4.  AT LEAST that many.

We don’t keep good data on gun deaths and children, so 194 is on the conservative side. Why don’t we have uniform reporting on children who die because they are shot? Who doesn’t want us to know how many children are dying because of guns in the country we say is the greatest in the world?

A year ago today we were stunned into silence as a nation while we waited for the students and teachers to emerge from Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Yesterday we waited for the body count at Arapahoe High School in Centennial, Colorado.

Shame on us for waiting to learn the body count at another school shooting.

Shame on us.

It took 10 years to get the Brady Bill passed after Jim Brady and Ronald Reagan were shot. 10 years.

Using the conservative data we have, are we willing, as Americans, to let 1,940 more children die while the NRA, the members of Congress that they own, chest-thumping state’s rights legislators, and gun waving citizens, prevent background checks and bans on assault weapons?

I am asking my fellow rural Americans who own guns and think enough children have died just since Newtown to do something about it.

The next time you buy bullets for hunting, put 194 individual bullets on the counter.

194 bullets

Ask the people standing there with you if they think 194 children shot and killed since Newtown is enough. Ask them why we need to be able to buy assault weapons and rigorous background checks aren’t the law. If they say “because of the Second Amendment,” ask them about the last time their home was invaded by an entire Army division. Owning an assault weapon is over-kill. No pun intended.

If you think speaking up for gun control isn’t “your thing,” ask any one of the 194 families who won’t open birthday presents with their daughter, son, sister, or brother, in 2014, why speaking up shouldn’t be “your thing.”

They can give you one reason why you should.

Senator Unterman wants lobbyists to buy lunch twice a week

Senator Renee Unterman, R-Buford, is having a little trouble with the Senate rule adopted last month which caps lobbyists gifts at $100 per senator. The rule, true to form from Gold Dome leaders, includes a loophole allowing more to be spent if an entire committee or subcommittee is included in an invitation.

The AJC reports that Unterman wants to use that loophole so she and 25 Republicans, the “majority’s chairmen,” can meet on Tuesdays and Wednesdays over lunches paid for with lobbyist money. But there are also Democrats chairing committees, so making it a “special for Republican leaders” lunch isn’t the same as inviting all committee chairs as the loophole requires.

In other words, Unterman’s request seems to violate the Senate’s new rule.

Members of the General Assembly receive $17, 342 per year, and a per diem of $173 per day when they are in session. Apparently that isn’t enough for Unterman and her Republican colleagues so she wants lobbyists to pick up the lunch tab twice a week.

If General Assembly members need some help learning how to manage lunch on a busy work day, there are plenty of taxpaying constituents who can share some tips with them.

I’ve got some money-saving ideas for Unterman if she needs some suggestions on lunches brown-bag-lunch that are nutritious, easy to pack, and inexpensive. In a pinch lots of restaurants offer Dollar and Value Menu choices now, plus online coupons for savings.

There’s no excuse for sidestepping the cap on gifts. And lunch is never free when it is paid for by lobbyists.

Dark days for Georgia’s women

The chase to Crossover Day in the Georgia General Assembly (when bills must be voted out of one side of the legislature or die) allows our elected officials to be seen at their worst and their best. Women and men across the state who value the ability of women, and their doctors, to make responsible decisions about their health care, have opposed HB 954 and SB 438.

SB 438, which passed yesterday, is stunning in its interference in the decision-making process for women’s health. The bill removes any state employee insurance coverage for a legal abortion unless the mother’s health is at serious risk. The AJC reports that the lead sponsor of SB 438, Sen Mike Crane, R-Newnan, drew gasps when refusing to add exceptions for rape and incest victims.

The 33-18 vote so angered Democratic women in the Senate that they linked arms and left the floor. Valenica Seay, D-Riverdale, said,  “This is not a good day for women in Georgia. “Come on, guys. We are not your property.”

  

The House has also been hard at work reducing health care options for women. HB 954 shortened the window of time for a legal abortion from 26 weeks to 20. Again, the question bears asking: Do state legislators in Georgia think their wives, daughters, aunts, nieces, granddaughters, friends, and doctors, are really incapable of making good decisions about abortions (which are still legal despite Conservative efforts).

Well, Rep Terry England, R-Auburn, seems to think that the women in our state can fairly be compared to cows, pigs, and chickens. England thinks that stillborn pigs and calves make for good comparisons when talking about the difficult decisions involving abortion. I don’t think I can give his comments from the House floor their due, but fortunately Bryan Long at Better Georgia posted video footage of England explaining his thoughts before voting on HB 945.

What is next Rep. England? Giving farm animals the right to vote? Or stripping away a woman’s right to do that too?

SB 401: A bill conservatives and treehuggers can love

Georgia Senate Bill 401, (SB 401) would,  in a nutshell,  deregulate solar power in Georgia and serve as an incentive for both private and commercial expansion of solar power. Between the fleet of lobbyists and influential directors at GA Power, the company has maintained a stranglehold on the amount of power that can be moved to the grid from private and commercial sources, and the way solar energy production can be financed.

In addition to removing the cap on selling solar power, SB 401 will allow companies such as MAGE, which produces solar panels at its North American headquarters just down the road from me in Dublin, to finance or lease systems to customers. Currently financing or leasing is not allowed in Georgia. Restrictions in Georgia make large scale solar energy production unattractive to investors (see paragraph above, re: GA Power lobbyists and directors).

Two doctors in Savannah. Pat Godbey and Sidney Smith, got tired of waiting on the General Assembly to loosen GA Power’s control over the grid, and in open defiance, established Tabby Power. Tabby Power sells solar produced electricity to consumers. Smith and Godbey also started Lower Rates for Customers, which helps sell solar generated electricity made in one location to consumers in other areas. You can get a taste of their solar power projects at the Driftaway Cafe in Savannah, which is a Lower Rates for Customers client.

What’s not to love in SB 401 for advocates of open and free markets? What’s not to love about maximizing clean renewable solar power, which we do have in bountiful amounts here (see paragraph above, re: MAGE solar panels decision to locate in Georgia)? Supporters of SB 401 are collecting signatures here. At the end of the day, SB 401 is the rare bill that citizens on opposite sides of the political spectrum can love.

I have to give Rep Mack Jackson credit for follow through

Last week when I was doing back flips over HB 475, which gives Industrial Development Authority boards far too much power over and control of taxpayer dollars. I called my rep in the Georgia General Assembly, Mack Jackson, to “share” my concerns (he might say I vented).

If you follow the Georgia General Assembly during the session, it is a chase. The schedule is crazy, committee meetings are cancelled after rooms are packed, there is the race to Cross Over Day, and a helmet is suggested for the last day of the session. Lobbyists have money and staff support to sway legislators but the average citizen like me doesn’t.

Mack offered to send me a link to the House Daily Report each day. With everything he has   to do, plus keeping up with a church and congregation in Tennille, he has gotten the link to me since he made his offer to do that. He encouraged me to stay in touch and he asked me specifically about the charter school bill HR 1162 last week. The Democrats have now countered with HR 1335.

This isn’t just a bill though, it is a resolution which would go to voters to amend the state’s constitution. The vote could happen today and the hallways under the gold dome are filled with lobbyists and children (Should parents and administrators use students in the front line of political warfare? That’s fodder for another post).

My phone rang a few minutes ago with Mack calling back about a question I had raised about the Democrats counter-proposal. We had a good discussion about the impact charter schools could have on rural districts with the resolutions on the floor (I found Maureen Dowd’s column on the rural impacts since Mack and I hung up the phone). Part of our discussion also included the use of constitutional amendments for policy and program change.

Mack added, and this is sad folks, I am the only person contacting him about legislation. We commiserated about the lack of online news access for people in his district which might facilitate keeping folks current. I offered to think of some ways to get information out that would be readily accessible to his constituents (the constituent has an obligation to show up at places besides the voting booth). In the mean time I offered to forward the link to my friends who follow the session. Better yet, I am adding it as a link on my blogroll to the right.

I haven’t agreed with all the votes and bills Mack has sponsored since he was elected. That is already the case with this session too. He deserves credit for following up with someone who has been his critic. Today I want to applaud him for his efforts. Let’s step up in Georgia House District  142. Mack’s contact info is here.

 

 

Senate Bill 269: Georgia’s rivers and streams for sale to lowest bidder

One would think that if an elected official, like Jesse Stone of Senate District 23, had an opportunity to introduce legislation that would create stronger safeguards for the already polluted rivers in his district, he would. But in fact, as a co-sponsor of SB 269, he hasn’t.

The Ogeechee River, which experienced the largest fish kill in our state’s history last year, meanders through Stone’s district. Reedy Creek and Brier Creek also pass through the district, and both were recently polluted with spills (the Reedy Creek spill happened over New Year’s weekend).  Stone sits on the Senate Natural Resources and the Environment Committee, so he certainly has access to and influence on a committee that should be attuned to clean air and water issues.


SB 269
, which Stone co-sponsored, as written now, would allow the director of the Environmental Protection Division (sometimes referred to as the Environmental Pollution Division among citizens) to negotiate a settlement with a polluter (both private companies and local governments) rather than imposing a stiff fine or penalty. SB 269 would allow the EPD director to notify “any person” (i.e. the polluter) and offer to negoiate an agreement    In short, the polluter and the EPD director can ignore penalties and just settle on some type of corrective action.

The director may also extend the period of time for clean up in six month increments with no limit on the number of extensions allowed.

So who has Jesse Stone’s ear? Of local interest were Stone’s campaign contributors Ben Tarbutton, Jr and Hugh Tarbutton, both donating $500.00. Hugh Tarbutton chairs the Washington County Industrial Development Authority. (The Tarbuttons have been advocates for coal fired Plant Washington, organized by Power4Georgians since it was announced over four years ago.)  Ben Turnipspeed, an engineer who has worked for the cities of Sandersville, Davisboro, Deepstep, and Louisville, donated $200.00 to Stone’s campaign.

The citizens of Georgia know that the EPD failed completely and absolutely to conduct proper inspections at King America Finishing during a five year period when the company dumped unpermitted fire retardant chemicals into the river. The EPD tucked its tail between its legs and entered into a $1M consent agreement with King Finishing, when the penalty could have been as high as $91M. And now Stone supports giving the EPD even more freedom to negoiate way our natural resources?

Right now I don’t have a lot of confidence in the inspection and oversight conducted by the EPD, or its ability and willingness to pursue companies and local governments responsible for spills and dumping which endanger the drink water supplies of both municipal water systems and home and farms depending on well water in the aquifer. Drinking water alone is a reason to have and uphold the highest regulations and penalties possible. Add the damage to wildlife, recreational areas, and businesses connected to the rivers, and the damage is even greater. Georgia can’t afford to have dirty water.

I called Stone’s office and left a message that will leave no doubt in his mind how disappointed I am in this bill and his support of it. The bill now moves to the Senate Rules Committee. Citizens across the state are contacting Rules Committee members Jack Hill, Buddy Carter, and Johnny Grant by phone and email to urge them to VOTE NO on SB 269. These three senators know and value the rivers in our state. We are counting on them to stand up for clean water for all Georgians. Apparently we can’t count on Jesse Stone to do that.