Thursday was Augusta Day at the Georgia General Assembly, a big barbecue the Augusta Chamber puts on in Atlanta to draw attention to our community.
The event also is a good time to take stock of some of the legislation local lawmakers are sponsoring, and on other legislation that could have potentially serious impact on our community. Here are just a few:
Freshman state Sen. Jim Whitehead is one of the sponsors of Senate Bill 86. The bill is largely in response to the controversial SB 5, which would allow local governments to work in secret with developers to take over property for private use.
SB 86 cracks down on the use of the power of eminent domain to prevent governments from seizing private property from one owner and turning it over to another just to boost the tax base. It's a great effort.
A not-so-great effort co-sponsored by Whitehead is SB 103. This bill would reverse changes pushed through in 2000 by then-House Speaker Tom Murphy, who wanted to stack the deck when private schools compete in sports against public schools.
Murphy's bill wreaked havoc throughout the state, but in the years since it was enacted schools have adjusted quite well. Whitehead's bill would upset that applecart -- and likely draw howls of protest.
Whitehead also is introducing the bill to establish an elected school board chairman for Columbia County, following voters' overwhelming wishes. One word of caution: Because the change would require new districts for school board members, an early draft temporarily shortens the terms of two trustees: That shouldn't happen.
Over in the House, state Rep. Sue Burmeister, R-Augusta (and part of Martinez), has made good on a promise to follow up on legislation derailed in the then-Democrat majority House in 2004.
House Bill 188 is fairly simple: It would require the publication of a photo of any person convicted of a crime whose sentence includes registration in the state's Sex Offender Registry.
Such a requirement already exists for multiple offenders in DUI and family violence; it just makes sense to add sexual predators to the list.
A mandate of another kind also made its way into the state House this past week with the introduction of a bill to require all schools in the state to begin fall classes no earlier than late August.
This bill -- which, fortunately, has no local sponsors -- would be a terrible intrusion into the decision-making process of individual school systems, which should be free to design their school calendars any way local constituencies will approve. In Columbia County the early August start dates even went to voters in a Republican straw poll, and received overwhelming approval. Overturning such local decisions is just plain wrong.
These are just a few of the hundreds of bills introduced in the Legislature this year. There are some good ideas in play, but even under new Republican management some lawmakers still can't resist trying to put their pet projects and dumb ideas into law.
Just as the Sconyer's barbecue was bountiful in Atlanta Thursday, so is the legislation plentiful in the state House this year. If the Republicans hold to their pledge of filtering all such legislation through a fiscally and socially conservative screen, Georgia and Columbia County should get some good changes this year -- and a lot of mischief will never make it to the governor's desk.
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