You may not know this, but not all of Columbia County is Republican. There are Democrats, swing voters and independents. Many times the slant is to the party in control and everybody else kind of loses because the entire context is not told.
To hear the local legislative delegation tell it, it was a perfect session in Atlanta. As an executive member of the Democratic Party of Georgia and the Congressional District chair for the 10th District, which includes Columbia County, I have a few thoughts to share on the recent legislative session.
Voter ID: No one can complain about trying to properly identify legitimate voters. Most people didn't have a problem with a change, except that it was poorly written the first time it was presented. The second time it still included gross oversights as to implementation. The second bill should have been implemented over a period of years.
There is no need to be in a hurry, since the secretary of state has assured us that there are few cases of voter fraud, and, when they do occur, they are with absentee ballots which required no ID. You would think the Legislature would request that anyone receiving an absentee ballot secure a voter ID.
Immigration: Definitely a federal matter. It will not stop until employers stop hiring illegal immigrants, and until there is a strong and enforceable federal law in place. Congress has never appropriated enough money to cover the basics of enforcement. How can the state of Georgia initiate and enforce meaningless state laws?
Tort reform: How can you have tort reform when it's not across the board? As of October 2005, judges have struck down parts of the tort reform law 15 times.
Rep. Barry Fleming stated that some members of the judiciary are hostile to tort reform. So this legislative session, what do they do? Pass House Bill 239, which "clarifies" and strengthens the tort reform law against "constitutional challenges" and the "settlement provision" of last year's law. And how about the $16 million that lawyers have billed the state for fees? Talk about a need for reform.
Consolidation: If the local delegation had attended any of the meetings, we could say at least it was well-discussed. But when they don't attend because it's such a hot potato issue and imperils their re-election, why should ordinary people attend, much less care? To delay the issue based on good, open debate is one thing; to skirt the issue because of political posturing is another.
Sue Burmeister: Everyone wants to know what Rep. Ben Harbin is thinking. The 2005 legislative session demanded ethics reform. Harbin, the delegation chairman, would have been the one to ask for an investigation. Wasn't it Sue Burmeister who contended that widespread fraud was invading the voter files in Georgia?
Education: If you cut education money and make the local boards cough it up, of course you have more money at the state level. But people are agitated that this is how it's done. Most voters don't realize that austerity cuts at the state level resurface at the local level, but help to balance the state budget. And this doesn't even consider the 2 1/2 years that teachers did not receive a raise under Gov. Sonny Perdue, while the cost of living, in particular insurance premiums, skyrocketed.
Property taxes: Many Democrats believe property taxes must be reduced and the burden shifted to everyone to pay for education. Why? Because everyone benefits from an educated populace. Thirty percent of the property tax digests' growth in Columbia County is from reassessment. The Democrats have led the way for implementation of impact fees as a solution for beginning to shift property taxes. Growth needs to pay for growth.
Senate Bill 5: The Republicans call it the right to take private property, which they supported two years ago until the press and the courts convinced them otherwise. Now, they are the "champions" of stopping the issue. No one really forgot SB 5; do they think we did?
But now we have "asset recovery," which is the bill that takes away Granny's house. The idea is to recoup medical coverage costs from nursing homes, and Medicaid began insisting 11 years ago that this happen. Much time should be spent on this issue rather than scaring the wits out of the 40,000 old poor people and their families who got a letter on the subject this year. This is where public education on the issues is a great thing!
Health Care: Republicans in Georgia cut health care $1.3 billion during three years. How about that to give a surplus in the state budget.
Between the amendment inserted by Fleming to drop the requirement that local governments advertise bidding for projects in the local newspaper and instead do it on the Internet, and Harbin's argument through House Bill 1164 that the legislature decide whether to veto court awards and settlements obligating the state's taxpayers (as if they have a veto), the session's victory was overrated.
(R. Terry Holley, a Democratic candidate for the 10th Congressional District seat in the U.S. House, is the 10th Congressional District chair for the Democratic Party of Georgia.)
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