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Election year puts bees in lawmakers' bonnets

Posted: March 13, 2012 - 9:41pm  |  Updated: March 13, 2012 - 11:03pm

There were obviously some very irritated legislators under the gold dome of the Georgia Legislature last week.

Every time I looked up, it seemed like lawmakers were passing another bill intended to crack down on this group or punish that group for some transgression.

While it may have been the Lord who declared that “Vengeance is mine,” vengeance also seemed to be on the minds of our elected representatives at the state capitol. There was scarcely a group anywhere that was not the object of their wrath.

Undocumented immigrants? The Senate passed a bill that would require Chancellor Hank Huckaby and the Board of Regents to put the boot to the 300 undocumented students attending the state’s public colleges. This was done despite public statements by both Gov. Nathan Deal and House Speaker David Ralston that they did not want to revisit the immigration issue this year.

Unemployed people? Both chambers passed bills that would deny applications for Medicaid, food stamps and welfare benefits unless you pay for and pass a drug test. You might also have to take classes to obtain a general equivalency diploma or participate in “personal growth” activities.

Union members? The Senate passed a bill that makes mass picketing in labor disputes punishable by a fine of $1,000 per individual and $10,000 per union if the activity takes place near a private residence. Union members also would be required to give annual written permission for dues to be deducted from their paychecks.

Women? The Senate passed a bill that would eliminate health insurance coverage of contraceptives if your employer is a religious organization. Senators then passed another bill to prohibit the state’s health insurance plan from paying for abortions for state employees or school teachers, even if the pregnancy is a result of rape or incest. This was after the House had already passed a bill criminalizing abortions performed after the 20th week of pregnancy.

Those abortion measures passed by Senate Republicans sparked an equally aggressive response from the Democratic women senators, who staged an outraged walkout from the chamber.

A doctor who wants to ease the pain of a dying patient? The House passed a bill that could lock you away in prison for as long as 10 years if you’re charged with an assisted suicide.

Public Service Commission chairman? The House and Senate both passed bills that would enable the other four members of the PSC to remove Tim Echols as chairman of that regulatory agency.

Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank? The House cut $5 million in bond funds from the state budget that Deal wanted to use for the purchase of some property near the World Congress Center that could be the site of a new stadium for the NFL team.

Muslims? There’s still legislation pending in the Legislature that would make it illegal for judges to apply the principles of Sharia law in issuing a court decision – even though there’s never been a recorded instance of a Sharia decision ever being handed down in the state’s judicial system.

The only demographic group that made it through the week unscathed was white Christian males who are still employed and don’t have to apply for public benefits.

If you’re a white male who also wants to carry a deadly weapon, so much the better. The Senate passed a bill that will lower the minimum age for obtaining a firearms license from 21 to 18. If you’re 18 years old, you still would not be allowed to drink, but you would be allowed to carry a concealed weapon, which no doubt will be reassuring to high school teachers everywhere.

For good measure, the Senate also passed a bill that would prohibit cities and counties from placing additional restrictions on the carrying of knives.

Why are all these social issues popping up now?

Politics is always a factor. It’s an election year with a presidential race on the horizon; lawmakers will also be running in new districts that have been redrawn through the reapportionment process.

The bills passed by the Republican majority are the kinds of red-meat issues that will keep their conservative supporters fired up for the election this fall. If some people’s feelings get hurt in the process, well, that’s politics.

(Tom Crawford is editor of The Georgia Report, an internet news service at gareport.com.)

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