Attorney General Olens Files Brief in Support of Religious Freedom

Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens has filed a friend of the court brief supporting the case of Zubik v Burwell. In that case, the Supreme Court will decide if the contraceptive mandate found in the Affordable Care Act, and the accommodation that says religious institutions can notify HHS that they don’t wish to provide contraceptive coverage, so the government can arrange for coverage violates the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Commenting on the brief, Attorney General Olens said, “Religious liberty is a fundamental principle upon which our nation was founded. I will continue to defend the Constitution, and Georgians, from an administration driven to exercise government power over our freedoms, our rights, and our lives.”

From the brief:

Religious nonprofits serve their communities in a variety of ways, from caring for the youngest members of society, to serving the elderly with compassion, to providing educations that allow individuals to pursue their own contributions.” “Erecting impediments to their adherence to their religious beliefs can threaten such religious nonprofits’ continued work, which is driven and shaped by those beliefs.

The amicus brief is being jointly filed by Georgia and 19 other states. The Supreme Court has yet to set a date for oral arguments in the case.

Senate Republicans List Their 2016 Priorities

Senate Majority Leader Bill Cowsert of Athens released the agenda of the Majority Caucus this morning, including seven priority items the Senate will focus on this year.

At the top of the caucus’s agenda are efforts to combat the possibility of terrorist attacks in Georgia. The caucus will conduct an assessment of threats to the state, and if necessary, will draft a legislative response. The caucus also intends to address one of the priorities Lt. Governor Casey Cagle mentioned at the Eggs and Issues breakfast: rural healthcare needs. The Senate also will work to give teachers more time to teach by making testing requirements more flexible.

The caucus will work to protect first amendment freedoms of Georgians, likely referring to Georgia’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act and other measures introduced this session to preserve religious freedom. It also pledges to protect the future of disabled persons by passing legislation authorizing tax free accounts that could be used to provide for the disabled elderly. The caucus pledged to protect the unborn by expanding women’s access to pregnancy centers and family planning services, and pledged to protect small businesses by limiting the ability of government to intrude. Continue reading “Senate Republicans List Their 2016 Priorities”

Of Pastors and Protection

In yesterday’s daily Senate devotional, the chaplain of the day seized on the opportunity to condemn LGBT persons before members of the General Assembly. In an all too often occurrence under the Gold Dome, gay and lesbian Georgians were called “an abomination” who contribute to the nation’s moral decline. In the Senate— the people’s chamber— the rostrum was used to tell an entire class of people that they do not belong in this state, that they are less than. A sad display made more shocking with the knowledge that school children are often in the chamber for morning devotionals and balcony onlookers are locked in until the chaplain concludes.

In moments like these we need to ask what is to become of Georgia in the next few years. Do we want to break from our past of deep resistance to the progression of civil rights? Do we want to be a magnet for commerce and culture, welcoming all and protecting all? Or will we let the ghosts of our past haunt us, digging our heels while the rest of the nation looks at Georgia with disdain?

Now, comes a series of bills that attempt to tackle the balancing of LGBT civil rights and religious objectors to same-sex marriage that will test our commitment as a state to equal citizenship. One of those bills, the Pastor Protection Act, consists of three sections, two of which are nominally controversial. The first section reaffirms the constitutional rights of clergy to perform only those marriages consistent with their faith. Continue reading “Of Pastors and Protection”

Georgia Democrats introduce gun seizure bill

House Bill 731, filed by Georgia democrat Mary Margaret Oliver, is one of the most extreme anti-second amendment bills the state has seen in some time. Co-sponsored by Minority Leader Stacey Abrams and Reps. Carolyn Hugley, Pat Gardine, Dar’shun Kendrick, Dee Dawkins-Haigler, the bill seeks to focus on “dangerous instrumentalities and practices” by prohibiting the “possession, sale, transport, distribution, or use of certain assault weapons, large capacity magazines, armor-piercing bullets, and incendiary .50 caliber bullets.”

The bill goes on to punishments which include control of  “the possession, sale, transport, distribution, or use of certain assault weapons, large capacity magazines, armor-piercing bullets, and incendiary .50 caliber bullets.”

Most alarming, however, is the stipulation to require seizure of the weaponry and ammunition by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation by designating both as “contraband.”

Representative Mary Margaret Oliver announced on her webpage:

[Oliver] and fifteen Democrat women House members introduced HB 731 on the first day of the 2016 Session. The bill bans assault weapons and high capacity magazines. Georgia needs debate about these weapons which are only used for rapidly killing people. Assault weapons are not necessary for deer hunting.

Georgia’s premier Second Amendment group, Georgia Carry, tweeted, “Dems finally honest about gun control, their ultimate goal is confiscation.” Other pro-gun activists say .50 caliber weapons and assault weapons are not the problem, and even most mass shootings do not occur with so-called “assault weapons.”

Morning Reads – Thursday, January 14, 2016

On this date in 1943, President Franklin D. Roosevelt became the first U.S. President to fly in an airplane while in office. He flew from Miami to French Morocco where he met with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill to discuss World War II.

Peaches

Jimmy Carter

Sweet Tea

Liberty Drum

Georgia Found to have Made Most “Racial Progress” in America, Seventh Most-Integrated State

The well-known bastion of sociological expertise,WalletHub, crunched numbers from all 50 states in our union and the District of Columbia to evaluate racial progress and the increase of integration in our states and D.C. Georgia, for all her warts, has fared excellently. We’re no. 7 for integration and no. 1 for racial integration.

What does that mean? Well, integration should be straight forward but the conclusion was reached evaluating a variety of metrics based on education, poverty levels, voter participation and more. Racial progress is “measured by calculating the difference between whites and blacks for a given metric, using the oldest available data and the most recent. Based on the result, we calculated the percentage of progress for that specific metric in the analyzed period.” Oh… kay.

You can see that the rest of the methodology is quite a bit thin, shall we say. But, the point of the study is still valid and should be celebrated because we don’t need semi-serious studies to tell us what we already know: “America has certainly come a lot closer to realizing Dr. King’s vision.”

GA Tax Revenues Up 3.6% In December

An announcement was made today by Gov. Deal stating that Georgia’s net tax collections for December, 2015 totaled over $2.04 billion, an increase of about $67.7 million (3.6%) from December, 2014. This brings the final net tax revenue collections to $10.44 billion for the 2016 fiscal year, which is up $834.2 million (8.7%) from last year.

In addition, $67.0 million was generated for transportation in December due to changes implemented by House Bill 170.

The following is a breakdown of the December, 2015 revenues in comparison to December, 2014:

Description Amount Collected Change From Dec., 2014 Percentage Change
Individual income taxes $1.11 billion $27.1 million 2.5%
Gross Sales & Use Tax $830.9 million -$3.0 million -0.4%
Net Sales & Use Tax $426.3 million -$4.7 million -1.1%
Corporate income taxes $200.8 million $13.6 million 7.3%

A copy of the December, 2015 financial report can be seen below the fold. Continue reading “GA Tax Revenues Up 3.6% In December”

A Democrat Enters the Race for SD-6

“Medium beige head atop hazy copper body.” That’s how a reviewer on RateBeer.com described the Five Seasons Westside’s Hunter Hill IPA, which boasts a respectable 3.5 out of 5.0 rating. Senator Hunter Hill (R-Smyrna) is a friend to Georgia’s beer industry, and represents Senate District 6. SD-6 spans the top end of I-285, and includes most of Smyrna, Vinings, north Buckhead, and Sandy Springs.

SD-6 was represented by Doug Stoner, a Democrat, until Hill unseated him in 2012 with 53% of the vote (Stoner was elected to the Smyrna City Council in November 2015 and began representing Smyrna’s Ward 6 earlier this month). Smyrna leans Democrat – typically, by around 50-55% – so it’s not surprising that another Democrat from Smyrna is interested in the seat, and this morning Jaha Howard announced his candidacy. Howard is a pediatric dentist with a busy practice in Vinings, and he is perhaps best known in the community for launching the Smyrna Wave of Excellence, a grassroots Facebook group that has played a large part in reinvigorating participation and engagement between the community and Smyrna’s public schools. The group also dabbled its toes in politics during the school board election for the Cobb County School District’s Post 2 in 2014 when Susan Thayer, who eventually won the seat, defeated incumbent Tim Stultz in the primary.

It will be interesting to see how this race evolves. Hill can’t fundraise during the session, but that won’t be a problem after late March, when the Legislature is predicted to adjourn. Hill supported the “Guns Everywhere” bill in 2014 despite lackluster support for the measure from the Republican base in his district, but beer makes for a better talking point than bullets, and the Fulton part of SD-6 leans around 60-65% Republican.

Georgia Democratic Congressmen Weigh In On SOTU

We heard from several Republican elected officials last night, but we wanted to be fair and share some Democratic views from our Georgia delegation. Below you will find statements from Rep. John Lewis (D, GA-5), Rep. Hank Johnson (D, GA-4), and Sanford D. Bishop, Jr. (D, GA-2).

Rep. John Lewis (D, GA-5):

“Tonight President Obama appealed to the very best in the American people. He suggested we all have a responsibility, as members of Congress and as participants in our democracy, to come together to serve the greatest and highest good. He encouraged us to us to lay aside whatever divides us and find ways to move forward on common ground , knowing that doing so benefits all of us, including those who depend on our leadership around the world.

He spoke with great faith about the dignity of the countless and nameless Americans who are the lifeblood of our democracy. It is those ordinary men, women and children who are the true keepers of the American flame. He reminded us that our vision of a fair and just society can only be realized when we participate as citizens. He charged us to vote, to speak out and speak up as we face the challenges that lay ahead.

He appealed to us to open up the political process and let everyone come in. We cannot fear a change that is inevitable. We must embrace the calling of the 21st century. He encouraged us to take the money out of politics so that the people select us through their votes as their representatives, not party politics, gerrymandering or, big money interests. As a nation and as a people, we must find a better way.

Most importantly, I think President Obama made it crystal clear that the union is strong. Some politicians who are running for president make it appear that the country is weak, in service to their own ambitions. They want us to believe that the American dream is no more. But President Obama said tonight, that even though our nation is challenged by change, it is still strong. It is still vibrant, and it is still the most powerful nation on earth. And I believe the history books will show, that President Barack Obama left this nation much better shape than he found it.”

Reactions from Reps. Hank Johnson and Sanford Bishop are below the fold. Continue reading “Georgia Democratic Congressmen Weigh In On SOTU”

GAGOP Finances Run Low

Greg Bluestein and James Salzer at the AJC released a story yesterday that shone the light on some financial issues with the Georgia Republican Party. From their story:

“The Georgia GOP filed an end-of-the-year report showing it had $11,403 cash on hand and was $231,000 in debt, in a startling revelation for a party that commanded millions just a few election cycles ago.

[T]he party’s bank account has steadily depleted over the last six years. It had $2 million in the bank at the start of 2010, $844,000 in early 2012 and $425,000 in 2014.”

From the Federal and State reports, which you can see by following the links below, the Federal balance on hand was $19,005.10 with a debt of $125,050.46 and the State balance on hand was $11,403.28 with a debt of $231,162.96.

FEDERAL REPORT OF RECEIPTS AND DISBURSEMENTS

STATE REPORT

From Party spokesman Ryan Mahoney:

“Under the leadership of Party Chairman John Padgett and Foundation Chairman Jack Kingston, the GAGOP continues to raise money and strengthen relationships with key donors throughout the state and country. Thanks to their hard work and the continued support of so many Georgia Republicans, we will have the resources in place to implement the Party’s 2016 Victory program, protect our U.S. Senate seat, and win back the White House in November.”

Please feel free to speculate, pontificate, and prognosticate in the comment section.