Proposals aplenty ahead of legislative session
State legislators are preparing for their upcoming session with proposals ranging from long overdue ratification of federal constitutional amendments to term limits for members of the General Assembly.
Two measures sponsored by Rep. Scot Turner, R-holly Springs, would have Georgia at long last formally (1) ratify the repeal of Prohibition going back to 1933 when the 21st Amendment was ratified by a majority of states; and (2) ratify the 24th Amendment banning poll taxes, ratified by a majority of states in 1964. To Georgia’s credit, under reform Gov. Ellis Arnall, this state ended the pernicious discriminatory tax on the right to vote in 1945, nearly two decades before the national demise of the tax.
Why this late and seemingly meaningless ratification now in Georgia?
“As a history nerd, I was surprised to learn that Georgia never ratified these Constitutional Amendments,” Rep. Turner explained in an email. “When it was brought to my attention that we had not ratified them, I was honestly a little embarrassed for my state. Since they have long been the law of the land, ratification now is nothing more than a housekeeping measure, but an important one nonetheless to our reputation as a forward-looking state.”
The poll tax measure could be seen as symbolic in light of last year’s contentious election for governor, marked by Democrats charging suppression of minority voters. The legislature will have to deal with updating the state’s voting system in the session starting in mid-january. Gov.-elect Brian Kemp, the target of voter suppression charges while secretary of state during last year’s elections, has insisted that the current system is secure and reliable. But he created a commission to recommend legislative action.
In my book, the best solution has been offered by Wenke Lee, Georgia Tech computer science professor and the only computer-cybersecurity expert on the commission. His choice is hand-marked paper ballots read by optical scanner. With technology evolving so quickly, he said Georgia would be left with another outdated system within a few years if it chose ballot-marking machines which supporters say cut down on error and offer better accessibility for voters with disabilities. Costs could range from roughly $50 million for the hand- marked paper ballot system and about $150 million for the ballot-marking machine system, according to Rep. Barry Fleming, commission co-chairman.
A proposed state constitutional amendment to limit the terms of legislators is proposed by Rep. Michael Caldwell, R-woodstock. HR 6 would limit members of the General Assembly to four consecutive terms and they could not qualify for their office again until one full term had intervened. The proposal would be subject to approval by Georgia voters.
Rep. Caldwell doesn’t just talk the talk. He has imposed a limit of eight years on his own tenure in the Georgia House. While running for re-election last year, he posted this for constituents: “Six years ago, I promised that I would lead by example and self-impose an eight-year term limit for my time in the House of Representatives. That makes this 2018 race the last bid I will make for Georgia’s 20th House seat.” He won re-election by a big majority in the Nov. 6 election. Despite Caldwell’s self-imposed term limit, don’t look for a majority of his fellow legislators to buy into his proposal to limit theirs.
Expanded gun rights are in the sights of Rep. Matt Gurtler, R-tiger, sponsor of a bill to eliminate the requirement for obtaining a permit for a firearm in Georgia and undergoing a background check. Gurtler’s proposal, known as Constitutional Carry, was introduced in last year’s special session but did not come up for consideration. The measure has the backing of Gov.-elect Kemp but judging from how effective opposition has been to similar proposals in the past, this may run into a lot of heavy fire.
Another issue that could stir up local school boards is the recommendation by a state Senate study committee that Georgia schools start a week to 10 days before the first Monday in September and end the term about June 1 to create a summer break of three months — a return to what once prevailed in the schools. The proposal has to do with helping the tourism industry and business interests, but you can look for plenty of opposition from the local boards, teachers and students who like the earlier start and extended breaks during the year.
These issues along with plenty of others are sure to make this year’s General Assembly session worth keeping your eye on.
Contact Don Mckee at dmc[email protected]