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Crawford: Our lawmakers provide comic relief
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When Bobby Franklin passed away last summer from a heart attack, I thought we had seen the end of a legislative tradition.

Franklin, who represented Cobb County in the Georgia House for 15 years, was a somewhat strange politician who was at the center of a yearly tradition at the Gold Dome. Every November, when legislators would start pre-filing bills for the upcoming session, Franklin would introduce a bunch of measures that were, shall we say, out there on the far reaches of the political spectrum.

His bills would require prison sentences for doctors who performed abortions, or force state government to pay its bills in gold, or allow Segway scooter riders to carry firearms.

These bills were never going to be seriously considered, of course, but they would always provide the media with material for humorous feature stories and kick off the "silly season" leading up to the General Assembly session in January.

Even with Franklin having departed this vale of tears, I should not have worried that capitol reporters would no longer have a "silly season" to write about.

Sen. John Albers, a dapper first-term lawmaker from Roswell, has stepped up to the plate and shown that he can be just as amusing as Franklin.

Albers and his cohort from the House, Rep. Jason Spencer, R-Woodbine, recently introduced bills that would require low-income people to pay for and pass a drug screening test before they could apply for Medicaid or welfare benefits.

For those applicants who are being tested, "the bill does require bodily fluids," Spencer helpfully explained at a news conference.

These bills likely are not going to pass, but even if they did, they would be tossed out by a federal judge as soon as someone could get to the courthouse and file a lawsuit.

A drug-testing law similar to the one proposed by Albers was overturned in October by a federal judge in Florida who was a George W. Bush appointee. It turns out that even poor people have constitutional protections against unreasonable searches. Who knew?

Albers' idea caught on quickly with other legislators, however, and a few have even been saying that drug tests should be required of politicians as well as Medicaid applicants.

At a chamber of commerce function in Savannah, Rep. Bob Bryant, D-Savannah, said he would support the drug tests "if you require all elected officials to take the same exam."

"Anyone who holds elected office ought to be able to do so unimpaired," Rep. Ron Stephens, R-Savannah, agreed.

Sen. Buddy Carter, R-Pooler, who owns and operates a pharmacy in Chatham County, said he was also OK with the idea: "I will be glad to take a test anytime. I sell drugs. I don't take them."

It reminds me of a congressional race in Atlanta involving John Lewis and Julian Bond about 25 years ago in which Lewis challenged Bond to take a drug test - a controversy that was called "Jar Wars" by reporters who were covering the election.

Albers has certainly stirred up some media coverage with this one, but he's the kind of guy who knows how to attract attention in the public arena.

When he was running for the legislature last year, Albers appeared at a political forum in Fulton County and boasted that he had been in charge of a $5 billion division at AT&T, the telecommunications giant.

Unfortunately for Albers, there was a guy in the audience who really had been a vice president at AT&T. The AT&T executive said he had never heard of Albers.

My journalistic colleagues at Politifact then checked into the Albers claim and ultimately determined that it was false.

This suggests that it might be a good idea for all politicians to start testing themselves for drugs before they make any public appearances - it may reduce the chances that they'll say something inaccurate or misleading.

Rep. Scott Holcomb, D-Atlanta, in fact, is already on the case. He pre-filed a bill last week that would require all members of the General Assembly to be tested for drugs.

"If required for the poor, we need to do it, too," Holcomb declared.

Somewhere, surely, the spirit of Bobby Franklin is looking on and smiling.

Tom Crawford is the editor of Capitol Impact's Georgia Report, an Internet news service at that covers government and politics in Georgia. His column appears Wednesdays.

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