Capitol Recap: So what does ‘clean’ mean?


House Bill 159, legislation that would make Georgia’s adoption process faster and easier, was seen as an early indicator about how smoothly General Assembly’s 2018 session might progress.

It could still be a bumpy ride.

Before the session, Gov. Nathan Deal and House Speaker David Ralston made it clear what their hopes were for HB 159, that it would be a “clean” bill without “religious liberty” language that the Senate had added to the bill late in the past session. Religious liberty measures concern Deal and Ralston because they know those bills ruffle the pocket squares of industrial leaders. That would be bad when the state is working so hard to sell Amazon on the idea that Georgia is the friendliest of business-friendly states and, thus, a great place to dump $5 billion and 50,000 jobs as part of its second headquarters.

The Senate Judiciary Committee gave Deal and Ralston what they wanted, voting 8-2 to drop a provision that would have allowed adoption agencies to refuse to serve anyone based on religious grounds. Critics said it would have given faith-based adoption agencies license to deny children to same-sex couples, someone who had been previously divorced or couples of different religions.

But the committee also gave Deal and Ralston a lesson in being careful about what they want.

Taking out the religious liberty language left a void they filled with the contents of House Bill 359, a measure the governor vetoed last year. When Deal nixed HB 359, he said it would have granted power of attorney for a child to an individual or nonprofit agency without oversight. That, he said in his veto message, would have created “a parallel and unchecked system” to the state’s Division of Family and Children Services, “unintentionally placing children at risk.”

A new electoral battlefield? When Republican state Rep. Rich Golick’s announced that he would be stepping down after this legislative session, it immediately began feeding speculation about whether Democrats can flip his Smyrna-based seat.

Golick first won election to represent House District 40 in 1998, and he ran unopposed as late as 2012.

In 2014, he won convincingly against Democrat Erick Allen, a former division director with the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Development Disabilities who drew only 40 percent of the vote.

But a Golick-Allen rematch in 2016 showed the margin tightening when the challenger took 46 percent of the vote while spending only about one-seventh as much as the incumbent.

The district’s numbers were even tighter in races that did not feature Golick.

In the 2014 U.S. Senate race, Republican David Perdue took 52 percent of the vote to defeat Democrat Michelle Nunn.

In the 2016 presidential race, Democrat Hillary Clinton won 54 percent of the vote to top Donald Trump. That same year, U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, a favorite son of Cobb County, barely carried the district while running for re-election.

Not so fast: Taking a long view, Henry County looks like a place where Republicans might have a hard time holding onto legislative seats. After all, it’s seen a dramatic population shift, going from 80 percent white in 2000 to 47 percent white in 2016.

But this past week’s special election results tell a different story. Former Republican state Rep. Brian Strickland easily won the state Senate seat Rick Jeffares vacated to concentrate on his run for lieutenant governor. He took 62 percent of the vote in a race against three other contenders, including a Democrat.

Meanwhile, Republican Geoffrey Cauble beat out four other candidates, drawing 51 percent of the vote to win the seat Strickland left open to run for the Senate.

The GOP success could be a result of the efforts Henry Republicans have made to shift with the demographics. The county’s GOP chairman is Pete Peterson, an African-American.

Taking a lesson from GOP: Stacey Abrams, one of two Democrats running for governor, got some high-profile airtime during a segment on “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee” that focused on how powerful a force African-American women are in the Democratic Party.

Abrams, who is aiming to become the country’s first black female governor, took part in the comedy, but also talked about how well Republicans have done in building their base of support.

“What the GOP has done effectively for the last 40 years is talk to people that other people ignored. That’s something Democrats have been afraid to do. Obvious but expensive,” Abrams said. “My goal is to reverse engineer what Republicans did.”

A relationship going to pot:U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions' pursuit of greater federal prosecution for possession of marijuana is about as popular as spilled bong water with at least one Republican legislator.

State Rep. Allen Peake of Macon, who is the man most responsible for Georgia’s medical marijuana law, took to social media to express his displeasure with Sessions’ decision. And in the same missive, he also targeted marijuana’s continued presence on the federal government’s list of Schedule I drugs, which ranks it with heroin among the drugs considered to show the greatest potential for abuse.

On Facebook, Peake posted: “Jeff Sessions may have changed the course of history, if only Congress will have the guts to CHANGE THE DAMN LAW!”

Peake, who this session will continue to press for in-state cultivation of marijuana for medical use, also linked to a Daily Beast article: Republicans: Instead of Whining About Jeff Sessions, Legalize Pot.

On a related note, count B.J. Pak among federal prosecutors who don’t plan to make any changes concerning marijuana possession despite Sessions’ advocacy.

During a recent interview with Denis O’Hayer of WABE, the new U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Georgia said his office is targeting drug traffickers, not users.

The former Republican state legislator, who supported Peake’s past efforts on medical marijuana, said:

“From our perspective, we don’t prosecute users of drugs. Our resources don’t allow us to do that. We have enough traffickers and violent criminals who are dealing in drugs that — I can’t remember the last time we actually prosecuted a user. I just don’t see that.”

No satisfaction here: We’re closing in on the first anniversary of the Women’s March in Washington and in communities across the country, a massive protest held on the day after President Donald Trump’s inauguration. That included hundreds of thousands who gathered in the nation’s capital and tens of thousands of who marched in downtown Atlanta. (By the way, another Atlanta protest is scheduled for Jan. 20 at the Bakery, at 825 Warner St. S.W. in Atlanta.)

With that in mind, Gallup reports that a recent poll shows nearly four in 10 Americans say they are “very” or “somewhat” dissatisfied with the position of women in the U.S. That’s the highest that figure has risen since Gallup first posed the question in 2001.

The dissatisfaction is even stronger among U.S. women. Forty-six percent say they are very or somewhat dissatisfied with their position in society. That’s up from 30 percent when Gallup last asked the question in 2008, and it’s also the highest point the figure has ever reached.

Collins eyes promotion: The job isn’t open yet, but U.S. Rep. Doug Collins is angling for a promotion to chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

The current chairman, U.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, is retiring at the end of the year.

Collins appears to have a pretty good chance. While 12 Republicans on the committee possess more seniority — Collins is in his third term — nearly half of them are taking the Goodlatte route, pursuing the congressional version of Sun City. Others have their eyes on other chairmanships. A few more are members of the House Freedom Caucus, who tend to sit at their own table in the cafeteria, away from the GOP leadership.

Collins, on the other hand, is the No. 5-ranking member of Republican leadership. Plus, he’s donated a lot of money to the party, and that counts for a lot.


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