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Editorial: Capitol crusades tie up legislature
Lawmakers aiming for higher office craft campaign pitches disguised as legislation
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The moon last week was big and blue and even red, depending where you were looking at it. As if on cue, some members of the Georgia General Assembly began to howl at it midway through this year’s session.

The season of election-geared legislation is underway, one you can set your watch by. While most lawmakers are correctly focused on addressing the state’s pressing issues, others with their sights on higher office craft legislation designed to appeal to certain voter interests rather than solve real problems.

The first is the move to establish English as the state’s “official” language on government documents, aimed at the ongoing effort to provide election ballots and other materials to non-English speaking residents. Georgia is among 40 states that do this and already has such a law, though it is seldom enforced, perhaps because it’s highly impractical. This year’s bill would put the issue before voters as a constitutional  amendment, with exceptions for issues like health care and public safety.

We agree new residents should learn English for their own benefit and assimilation into American culture, and most will in time. Still, they don’t need to be treated with disdain. Allowing them to get drivers licenses and other services provided in a language in which they are more comfortable seems a reasonable accommodation. If needed, fees could be adjusted to handle the extra cost for such services. 

For practical purposes, a statewide English-only amendment is purely symbolic. Election ballots mandated by the Voting Rights Act and similar federal requirements will take precedence over any state decree. 

The unfortunate effect of such a law is to send a message to those who aren’t fluent in English that they’re not welcome. That’s how many perceive it, even if that’s not the intent. And remember, such a law is already on the books.

The bill’s key sponsor: Sen. Josh McKoon, candidate for secretary of state.

Next up: The push for religious expression in schools. A bill proposed in the Senate is intended to protect coaches or faculty members taking part in student-led prayer or religious event, provided they are acting on their personal beliefs and not as an agent of the school. It also would allow student-run prayer clubs access to school facilities.

This topic includes some gray area. Faculty members are limited from leading prayers or other faith activities as agents of the school, but where is the line drawn between the right of the individual and the role of a teacher? 

Yet when such conflicts occur, it will be up to the courts to decide based on constitutional principles, no matter how many laws are piled on top of it. The need for another is questionable, particularly if meant as an emotional appeal to voters.

The sponsor: Sen. Michael Williams, candidate for governor.

And last but surely tops in the nonsense parade: A state Senate resolution passed unanimously Thursday that denounces the National Football League for allowing players to kneel during the national anthem but then refusing an ad by a veterans group in the Super Bowl program that would urge fans to stand during “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Why are state leaders inserting themselves into a spat between a sports league and a veterans group? Even if one agrees the NFL’s stance is obnoxious, crafting a resolution to say so serves no purpose other than to huff and puff at an unpopular boogeyman.

If Georgia legislators wanted to slap the NFL, they could have done so a few years ago when the local team owner came begging for hundreds of millions of dollars for a new palace to replace the one the state built for his team just two decades before. Back then, legislators were all too eager to please the football gods and lure next year’s Super Bowl to Atlanta. 

Perhaps if legislators really wanted to stick it to the league, they could insist it move the 2019 Super Bowl elsewhere, along with the millions of visitors’ dollars that come with it. Thus, this resolution is an empty gesture wasting taxpayers’ time and money.

The sponsor: Sen. David Shafer, candidate for lieutenant governor.

With each of these bills, and others, the goal isn’t to address a topic that affects most Georgians but to craft campaign ads in the form of legislation. Candidates are entitled to their opinions, as we all are, but they shouldn’t spend state time and resources on matters for which they have little or no impact. When the session is over, they’re free to pontificate at will on their campaign stumps or their social media sites. But while they’re clocked in at the Capitol, they’re on our dime and should address issues of substance.

If any of us decided to use our work time in the office to spout views on various issues, our employers would be justified to tap us on the shoulder and say, “Look, I’m not paying you to have opinions. I’m paying you to work. So get to work.”

Likewise, lawmakers work for us Georgians, and they need to get busy. That means tackling problems that matter most, like improving schools, helping rural economies, streamlining the adoption process and addressing the nightmarish traffic in metro areas, all within the confines of a balanced budget that spends taxpayer money wisely. And they have only 40 days to get it all done, which leaves little time for using the legislature’s bully pulpit to further their own political goals.

The Capitol is the people’s house, built to conduct the people’s business. Georgia lawmakers should quit stoking the emotional fires of self-serving campaign crusades and do the jobs they were sent to do.

Share your thoughts on this or any other topic in a letter to the editor; you can use this form or send email to letters@gainesvilletimes.com. The Times editorial board includes General Manager Norman Baggs, Editor Keith Albertson and Managing Editor Shannon Casas, plus community members Susan DeCrescenzo, Cathy Drerup and Brent Hoffman.

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