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]


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