The last week of the General Assembly session is fast approaching and you might think the state’s lawmakers would be concentrating on major issues that are truly important to constituents back in their districts.
So what momentous bills were being debated last week?
Our legislators voted for final passage of House Resolution 281, a resolution that will change the name of Tift County to ... Tift County.
You heard that correctly. It seems that when this county south of Macon was created back in 1905, it was named after Nelson Tift. Now we learn that it really should have been named for another member of that family, Henry Harding Tift.
"Nelson Tift was a good man, but he was actually from Dougherty County," explained Rep. Jay Roberts, R-Ocilla, the sponsor of HR 281. The end result of this legislation is that Tift County will still go by the name "Tift County."
Laugh at that if you want to, but that was one of the most significant measures approved last week.
During that same week, the House of Representatives debated and passed HR 410, which implores the International Olympic Committee to retain wrestling as a sport in the Olympic Games after the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
The measure's sponsor, Rep. Mike Glanton, D-Jonesboro, was confronted with a very serious question as he urged his House colleagues to adopt the measure.
"Can you tell me the difference between wrestling and rasslin’?" Rep. Jason Spencer, R-Woodbine, inquired.
"I cannot tell you the difference, but I can tell you they’ll both get you tangled up," Glanton said solemnly.
The House later voted to pass SB 61, landmark legislation from Sen. Jesse Stone, R-Waynesboro, that will assure owners of self-service storage facilities have the God-given right to send default notices by email as well as by regular mail to delinquent renters.
"It brings us into uniformity with other states on this very important issue," Rep. Ed Lindsey, R-Atlanta, assured the House.
Voters send 180 representatives and 56 senators to the capitol every winter presumably so they can conduct important business for the state. These days, that business largely consists of passing bills that don’t really accomplish anything but simply recycle stale ideas that have been floated for years.
Here are two prime examples. Sen. Bill Ligon, R-Brunswick, sponsored SB 68, which would require public schools to hold "Celebrate Freedom Week" every September and teach students about such important documents as the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. Rep. Barbara Sims, R-Augusta, introduced HR 218, which urges local school superintendents to "take the initiative" of making sure that students learn about the U.S. Constitution.
Have either of these legislators set foot in a classroom recently? If they had, they might have learned that Georgia’s public schools have been required for many years to teach students in American history classes about the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
The Georgia Performance Standards require American history teachers to "explain the language, organization, and intellectual sources of the Declaration of Independence (and) include the writing of John Locke and the role of Thomas Jefferson."
The standards also require teachers to explain the origins, major arguments and checks and balances contained within the Constitution, as well as the "key features" of that most important document.
In other words, lawmakers squandered an untold amount of their time and the taxpayers’ money to consider legislation that would require public schools to teach things they have already been required to teach for a long time.
Here’s a simple suggestion: Over the past 10 years, the General Assembly has cut state funding to local schools by an amount totaling more than $5 billion. This has forced about two-thirds of the school systems to reduce the 180 required days in the school calendar because they don’t have enough money to keep their doors open.
Instead of passing meaningless bills that repeat what is already in state law, legislators could consider restoring full state funding for local school systems. Public schools might then have the resources to make sure students are taught fully about the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.
That would require lawmakers, of course, to actually think about things besides wrestling and self-service storage space.