TAC alumnus Brian Underwood brings us the latest from the state Capitol. Part I comprises general observations and “low points” of the 2014 Georgia General Assembly. Part II, which follows here, gives us its “high points”.
1. The House on SB 397: Unlike their counterparts in the Senate, the House of Representatives was not as willing to pass an additional insurance mandate in the state of Georgia. The House had sponsored its own mandate relating to orally administered chemotherapy (HB 943, currently before Gov. Deal), but fell short of supporting the Senate-sponsored bill. House leadership allowed SB 397 to die in committee, but not before the Senate made a final kamikaze attack against a House bill. HB 885, which would have legalized a particular variant of orally-consumed medical cannabis for certain seizure disorders, passed the House with only four dissenting votes. The Senate HHS Committee, realizing the death of its mandate, incorporated the autism mandate language into HB 885 through a committee substitute. Sen. Unterman then took the well to declare that the autism mandate was “non-negotiable” and that if the House wanted medical cannabis to move forward this year, then it would have to accept the autism mandate as well. The substitute passed the Senate 54-0. The House, angered but resolute, refused to accept the Senate substitute. The bill died on the final day of session. While the news about the medical cannabis is disheartening, and the absence of HB 885 continues to keep effective seizure treatment from children by means of government regulation, Pres. Coolidge was correct when he said, “It is much more important to kill bad bills than to pass good ones.” Medical cannabis will be legalized in time, as it is long past due. Undoing another insurance mandate from the Senate, however, would have been considerably more cumbersome.
2. Sen. Tommie Williams (R-19) on a floor amendment by Sen. Bill Heath (R-31): Though I cannot recall the bill in question, I vividly remember Sen. Williams’s address from the well against his own party and colleague on yet another anti-immigration measure. Sen. Heath’s amendment would have effectively barred deferred action status immigrants (mostly those who entered the United States illegally as a child but were nevertheless raised as Americans) from receiving drivers’ licenses. In response, Sen. Williams gave a passionate defense of the rights of immigrants, all too uncommon from Republican ranks. He stated that the amendment, if passed, would force these immigrant Americans into unemployment as a result of a lack of transportation, and that it would injure a group of people who have done nothing to injure others. Further, he stated that these individuals know no other home but the United States, and that it is patently unjust to effectively tell them to go “back home” when they have no home to which they can return. He went so far as to address the blatant immorality and falsehood of the claim that immigrants are “stealing” jobs with an example from his farm. During a harvest season, he put out a notice for a temporary job for about $9 or $10 an hour. Several immigrants showed up to accept the positions, while only one native born American did. Incidentally, the native born American was perpetually late and had to be fired within two weeks, while immigrant Americans were always timely. Essentially, jobs belong to those who deserve them, not to those of a particular nationality. Sen. Williams stated that taking away immigrant Americans’ means of transportation injured the immigrants as well as the employers trying to hire them. His speech helped convince his colleagues to break ranks and overwhelmingly vote down the amendment.
3. Sen. Steve Thomson (D-33) on SB 363: Odd though it may seem that a Democrat made this list, an opponent to policies that violate individual rights is a man worthy of commendation regardless of his party. At face value, SB 363 was a rather unassuming bill dealing with some of the finer points of liens, cause of action, and contract law. The issue arose when Sen. Steve Thompson, a banker, realized that the bill would have required the bank to release sensitive financial information to contractors working on “trust” — meaning that the contractor has agreed to accept payment at the end of a job rather than demand it throughout. If the project costs $20,000.00 or more and a bank or lending institution provided a portion of the funds, then the contractor could instruct the bank to release a statement regarding the property owner’s availability of funds. The chief sponsor of the bill, Sen. Tippins (R-37), offered the justification that the contractors expend their time and resources to improve the property and that, when a property owner defaults, the banks profit from the improved property on which they foreclose while the contractor is unpaid. Sen. Steve Thompson then stated something remarkable that I have not explicitly heard from any member of either party: that banks do not make money through foreclosure, but through making sound investments that they expect will be repaid. Giving a defense of the banking industry worthy of Midas Mulligan, he said that he feared this law would lead to banks being liable to pay contractors in the event of the property owner’s default — a contract into which the bank itself never entered. The privileged nature of the relationship between a bank and its client was something, Sen. Steve Thompson argued, that the government had no business violating. If contractors want to ensure they will receive payment for a project, rather, they should not simply “trust” that the property owner will be able to pay them, but nor should they violate the contract rights of banks and their clients. Sen. Steve Thompson was the only one to speak against the bill, which was sponsored by GOP power players like the Rules Chairman and the Majority Leader. Nevertheless, his efforts (combined with some sheer luck of senators being out of the room) prevented the bill from attaining a 29-vote majority, killing it by a vote of 26-25.
Part I to follow.
—Brian Underwood is a University of Georgia alumnus (Class of 2013)
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