The War in Georgia – The Session So Far

Misdirection is a familiar trope in comedies.  When caught misbehaving, the comic villain shouts and points in the opposite direction, and while all eyes are on some far-off point, the villain escapes.  And so goes the 2012 legislative session at Cross-over Day – Day 30.  As Georgia grapples with unemployment at 9.4%, a poverty rate that is 3rd in the nation and ranks 51st in job growth, the General Assembly has tackled the rampant use of the First Amendment, the danger of TANF beneficiaries and the tragedy of medically-necessary abortions.  The Governor’s signature jobs tax credits were gutted, MARTA remained handcuffed to a failed fiscal policy and we’ve demanded that the federal government give us no more money for transportation – while we plead for aid to dredge the Savannah River.

The session has yielded a few bright spots, including mandatory child health insurance (HB 1166), stronger regulation of metals theft (HB 872) and the restoration of tax exemptions for food banks (HB 318 and HB 334).

Among the disasters to pass through the House or Senate by Day 30:

War on the Poor     HB 861 and SB 292:  Requires all applicants for TANF to submit to a drug test in order to be eligible for benefits (which can include family violence support or after-care for children). Also, contingent upon funding, requires that every recipient of TANF benefits shall submit, not less than once every two years, to the department’s random drug testing program (to be established by the bill). The cost of the drug test will be paid for by the TANF recipient through a deduction from their benefits.  A family of three receives only 66% of the benefits to which they are entitled, and under this bill will lose another 1% to pay for a drug test, even if they pass.

SB 312:  Require TANF recipients to work toward a GED or high school diploma, receive technical training, attend self-development classes or enroll in adult literacy classes – all of which are programs that have been severely cut by Republicans in the last 10 years and have long waiting lists.

SB 447:  Cuts unemployment benefits to 12-20 weeks in order to fill a $700M+ gap created by an extended tax holiday for employers.  The unemployed will also see their checks delayed by a week, which will really mean nearly a month between application and receipt of benefits.

War on Women     HB 954:  Forces women to carry medically futile pregnancies to term after the 20th week, even if three physicians believe the abortion to be medically necessary.  A doctor in violation faces criminal sanctions, and women in 21% of Georgia’s counties have no access to an ob/gyn.

SB 438 and SB 460:  Bans state employee health insurance plans from offering coverage for abortion services and allows Georgia to exempt religiously affiliated businesses from having to provide birth control coverage.

General Dislike for Georgians   SB 469: Will outlaw mass protests in more areas and further constrains the limited rights of unions in Georgia.

HB 730:  Prohibits cities and counties from mandating local hires through labor agreements with vendors.

HB 1052:  Allows the state to continue to impose on MARTA the “50/50 Rule,” which ties MARTA’s hands by allowing it to use only 50% of its tax revenue for operations, despite that being the majority of its costs.  Changes the composition of the Fulton County appointments to the board by allowing the two North Fulton appointees to be selected by the mayors of North Fulton’s municipalities, instead of by the Fulton County Commissioners. The GRTA (Georgia Regional Transportation Authority) Executive Director will be a voting member instead of  the DOT (Department of Transportation) Commissioner.

While this litany represents only a smattering of state actions during the last 30 days, we cannot ignore the implications for the next 10 days or the next 10 years.  Georgia can either focus on the issues that will make us a better, stronger state or we can redirect our focus to problems that don’t exist with solutions that hurt those least able to defend themselves.  Shame on Georgia for taking the easy way out.

Georgia House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams

Comments

  1. Ricky Carter says:

    I do not disagree with the drug test but I wonder if this will be required for the elected officials also.

  2. Interesting about the drug test. Great blog post!

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  1. […] Georgia State Senate this week passed a bill (SB 312) requiring recipients of food stamps to complete certain “professional growth activities”, to be determined by the Georgia Department of Human Services. I became aware of the Senate bill in […]