Georgia’s lawmakers have reached the halfway point of the General Assembly session, raising the question we ask every year: What have they done for you?
The answer: not much. Legislators have worked through light calendars so far and have voted on a relatively small number of bills, with most of them being minor measures.
“There’s been no clampdown from the leadership,” House Majority Leader Larry O’Neal, R-Bonaire, said. “I think it’s more a product of the committees being a little slower to engage.”
The Senate and the House of Representatives have been able to finalize the midyear state budget and send it to Gov. Nathan Deal for his signature, so there’s that. But what else?
The House passed a bill that would protect Georgians who want to have a few drinks and then ride down the river on their homemade rafts or inner tubes. The bill would allow them to do that without being arrested under the state’s “boating under the influence” law.
As Rep. Eddie Lumsden, R-Armuchee, said, “There’s a big difference between boating under the influence and floating under the influence.”
The legislature also has under consideration a bill that designates the white-tailed deer as the official state mammal.
As initially drafted, the measure would have named the gray fox as the official state mammal. Georgia’s gray foxes obviously don’t have enough lobbying clout at the Capitol, because the bill was amended and the white-tailed deer gets top honors instead.
Lawmakers aren’t ignoring the state’s other worthy mammals, however. Rep. Emory Dunahoo,R-Gainesville, secured House passage of a bill that would make it legal to trap raccoons in North Georgia counties “at any time during the year.”
In light of the current fad of claiming every bill has something to do with jobs, I’m confident Dunahoo’s measure will be touted as helping the job creators among Georgia’s professional fur trappers.
It’s been quite a session for outdoor types and our four-footed friends. But what about the other Georgians?
Most of the energy and effort by the leadership has been focused on trying to pass a bill that would raise more money to build highways and bridges. The problem is, the lawmakers can’t craft a bill that would generate the revenue without angering either the city governments, the county governments or the local school boards.
Rep. Jay Roberts, R-Ocilla, who’s writing this piece of legislation, at one point had a version the counties supported but the cities opposed. He revised it to take care of the cities’ concerns, but that caused the county governments to drop their support.
Roberts is learning firsthand the truth of the old saying that when you try to please everybody, you please nobody.
The Republican majority at the Gold Dome is also getting tied up in knots over “religious freedom” bills that pit one faction of the party against another.
These types of bills have been introduced in several locales as gay marriages have been legalized in a growing number of states. The authors of the bills say they are trying to protect citizens from government intrusion into their “sincerely held religious beliefs.”
Gay activists aren’t buying that argument. They say the legislation is really intended to provide legal cover to people who don’t like gays and want to discriminate against them.
On this issue, many of Georgia’s largest corporations are in agreement with the gay activists and are pressing lawmakers not to pass the bills. They say the legislation would harm the state’s image, which is an important consideration when you’re trying to persuade a business to locate here.
Macon District Attorney David Cooke also contends the proposed law could allow someone to beat or abuse children and then claim in court they can’t be prosecuted because they were only following the dictates of their religion.
The religious freedom bills have triggered hostile remarks from both sides of the issue and will probably cause a lot of hurt feelings before the session ends.
House Speaker David Ralston probably had the most common-sense approach to this when he noted the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution has been protecting religious freedom for more than two centuries.
“What does this bill do that the Constitution doesn’t do?” Ralston asked.
Tom Crawford is the editor of the Georgia Report.