A test of faith

Last Friday Governor Brian Kemp took the unprecedented step of declaring a statewide public health emergency as the number of Covid-19 (coronavirus) cases began to increase on national and state levels. The Georgia General Assembly suspended its calendar last Thursday and returned for on Monday for a special session called by the Governor to approve his actions.  Yesterday the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) confirmed  197 cases of Covid-19 and three deaths.  The number of reported cases are updated daily at noon.

Whether the changes we are adopting come from business, civic, or elected leaders, the chorus in this choir is to avoid being closer than six feet from other people. I prefer the phrase physical distancing instead of social distancing. We need our social connections now more than ever, just not the close physical ones.

Last weekend I was supposed to be with about 12 other Life Is A Verb Campers for a house party filled with making art, cooking Pi Day themed meals, walking, yoga, and sharing stories. Instead of being together physically, we gathered at 11:00 in the morning via Zoom for coffee and everyone’s choice of pie. I made a roasted mushroom and asparagus quiche. It wasn’t the same as being in a room together, but it was good to see much-loved faces and talk.

Having done that on Saturday, the next morning I did a quick FaceBook search of five large churches in rural Washington County to see how they were adapting to the six foot wingspan way of living now. All five opened their doors to congregation members. One of the five churches was St James Christian Fellowship. This congregation is led by Georgia State House Representative Mack Jackson. He did not reply to my email with questions about opening the church last week.

Last Thursday Jackson worked with other state representatives to suspend their work and return home out of an abundance of caution due to Covid-19. On Friday some members stood closer than six feet to Kemp while he announce the public health emergency. Despite the cautions taken by the state, Jackson and other faith leaders invited people to gather together, perhaps more than once, last Sunday.

Everyone in those churches knows that the local hospital, like those in other rural counties, is not equipped to handle a large number of Covid-19 patients. The capacity just isn’t there, no matter how caring and well=trained the health providers are. With all of the free and easy-to-use technology available for streaming a service, why any church leaders thought that unlocking the doors last Sunday was a good idea, is enough to test one’s faith.

 

Georgia doesn’t need to legislate hate

Rocco's Litte Chicago Pizza in Tucson, AZ
Rocco’s Litte Chicago Pizza in Tucson, AZ

Arizona’s Republican United States Senators, John McCain and Jeff Flake, are joining the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and major corporations and calling for Gov Jan Brewer to reject SB 1062, a bill designed to allow discrimination against gay people (and who knows who else) based on the religion of the person who feels a need to discriminate. The uproar and pushback are so strong that four major companies are reconsidering decisions to bring thousands of jobs to the state. Arizona hobbled itself over establishing a Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday years ago, and there is already plenty of talk about moving the 2015 Super Bowl out of the state if Brewer signs the bill.

Arizona’s bad idea is also a bad idea for Georgia, and there are two bills in the General Assembly that would hurt our state by legalizing discrimination based on the “preservation of religious freedom.” The House version of this hate bill masquerading as religious freedom is HB 1023. The Senate’s version is SB 377.

I was stunned to find Rep Mack Jackson’s name on the House version of this bill. Mack, a Democrat who serves District 128 where I live, is the minster of St. James Christian Fellowship in Tennille.

My first questions to him were, “Have you talked to Dr Lowery about this? Would Dr. King support you on this?”

I value religious freedom and the separation of church and state. But there’s a big difference between religious freedom and legalizing discrimination based on one’s personal faith.

What lies at the heart of this bill is legalizing discrimination against gay people. In addition to a business choosing to refuse service to gay people, they could also discriminate against Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, …….. How about overweight and obese people if your faith deplores people who are more than a healthy weight (that could reduce revenues for businesses in the South where we seem to have an epidemic of weight issues)?

It is stunning that in the state where Dr King is buried, and Civil Rights champions Dr Joseph Lowery and Rep John Lewis call home, any state legislator would put their name on a bill like HB 1023/SB 377.

Crossover Day in the General Assembly is Monday, March 3rd. That means you need to act now! You can sign this petition, contact your legislators, or do both.

As this morning has progressed Mack replied to my text message saying he took his name off the bill (it still appears in the online version). A couple of hours later he posted on Facebook that he didn’t sponsor this bill. Now, as I am posting here, he has texted me saying, “My name was on the bill but was taken off in the clerk’s office after it was brought to my attention the effect of this bill. It is never my intention to discriminate against anyone. I did not sponsor the bill.”

Thank you for stepping back Rep Jackson. You and others under the Gold Dome will better serve your constituents if you fully understand the impact legislation will have on individuals, families, businesses, and our state before filing bills. Our job is to hold you accountable.

Speak up TODAY to protect Georgia’s rivers, property rights, and taxpayers.

As the clock runs out on this year’s General Assembly session, the House is yet to take action on S.B. 213, a water rights bill drenched in bad policies. The Rules Committee will consider it first, and I’ve already been in touch with my local rep, Mack Jackson, a Rule members, who took time yesterday to thank me for bringing the issues to his attention via email.

This bill, as passed by the Senate, included a Yes vote by my absentee freshman senator, David Lucas. He must not know, or care, that his district includes rivers which could be put at risk for reduced downstream flow, as well as stripping away water rights for his constituents.

This bill allows government to step in and make decisions impacting property owners and taxpayers without public hearings. It puts government and private business ahead of citizens. It threatens property owner’s access to water that flows through their land in rivers and streams, or under their land.

S.B. 213 is poisonous for our rivers, property owners, farmers, and sportmen.  

“Augmentation” threatens Georgia’s riparian rights system – altering fundamental property rights and threatening longstanding Georgia water rights law. 

The bill now includes:

  • The augmentation provisions allow the EPD director to deny water users that are downstream of an undefined “augmentation” project the use of any of the “augmented” water flowing past their property, without prior opportunity to be heard.
  • This provision allows the State to control (or allow a private party to control) a portion of stream flow and prohibit the reasonable use of it, which is akin to prior appropriation of water – a short step from western-type water regulation.  State ownership of water is different from the state’s current regulation by permit.
  • Property owners in Georgia have a “bundle” of rights that make up their property rights. An essential property right in that bundle is the right to reasonable use of water on or under your property. Allowing the appropriation and state control of water, and not allowing downstream property owners the right to reasonable use of it, radically diminishes that property right.
  • An augmentation project to benefit endangered species is already operating on a tributary to the Flint River. This language is not needed to do this augmentation project or protect endangered species.
  • The flow augmentation language will allow a hugely expensive, taxpayer-funded, multi-million dollar Aquifer Storage and Recovery/Southwest Georgia Regional Commission Stream Flow Augmentation project to continue to be funded in the lower Flint.
  • The water added by this project will flow to Florida while Georgia farmers and other property owners will be denied reasonable use of it.
  • The project could add to Metro Atlanta water supply but at an extremely high cost that is projected to fall on Metro utility ratepayers, who already pay the highest water bills in the state.

You need to call your Georgia House member TODAY, right now, before you get another cup of coffee, check Face Book, or think about what you want for lunch. Find your House member’s info here and tell them to oppose S.B. 213 if it includes this language when it reaches them for a vote.

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.