The pell-mell madness of the last day of the legislative session may be what awaits House Bill 445, controversial legislation realigning and shrinking the jurisdictional area of the Shore Protection Act, among other revisions to the law.
In a lengthy Senate Rules Committee hearing that set the first group of bills for the full Senate to vote on today and Tuesday, state Rep. Don Hogan, R-St. Simons Island, first presented H.B. 201, which prohibits the occupants of live-aboard vessels from dumping raw sewage into the state’s estuaries.
“This is a bill that requires individuals who live aboard vessels in the estuaries of the coastal area to have pump-outs every so often, and be regulated by the (Coastal Resources Division),” Hogan said. “The pump-outs are very important to protect our oysters that we’re going to be growing, and it also allows (the state Department of Natural Resources) to establish mooring areas so vessels can anchor out.”
H.B. 201 made it on to the Rules calendar. Before leaving the committee lectern, Hogan said he would bring up H.B. 445 today for consideration in a supplemental calendar. Committee Chairman Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga, first said it was an important bill, but “we’re just not quite there yet.” He later elaborated, “We’re going to have a supplemental calendar, probably, tomorrow, which is one of our first over the last few days, so just bear with me, stay tuned, right after this message.”
Any changes beside the removal of the Sea Island carve-out have yet to be expressed in public, so it’s unknown to what further alterations Mullis refers.
House Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee Chairman Tom McCall, R-Elberton, received the same treatment regarding H.B. 545, the bill limiting who can sue an agricultural operation and under what circumstances.
“Well, we’re all for the farmers,” Mullis said “We’re working on making that even better, but we’re all for the farmers.”
Ultimately, 47 house bills and four house resolutions went on the Rules calendar for the next two legislative days, making the Senate one busy place to be. The committee amended H.B. 502, which delineates new rules for lawyer-legislators and other lawyers in public service at the Capitol who have legal practices away from the General Assembly.
Senate Majority Caucus Chairman John F. Kennedy, R-Macon, noted they added legislative counsel to those who could request legislative leave and be covered under the new policies. The policies grew out of a investigation into House Speaker David Ralston’s use of leave regarding his criminal law clients.
State Sen. Bill Cowsert, R-Athens, sought and eventually obtained a friendly amendment to the bill that allows leave to also cover national legislative conferences or board meetings, caucus meetings and study committees. Discussion continued as to whether to keep the bill moving at all — instead decided to take more time to perfect it — but since it could be amended on the Senate floor and in conference committee, the Rules members let it move on to the calendar.
Other bills making it onto the first Senate Rules calendar for the final days included H.B. 424, which adds sex trafficking to the definition of criminal gang activity, and H.B. 282, which extends the amount of time the state preserves evidence in sexual assault cases.
In the House Rules Committee, members listened to state Sen. William Ligon, R-White Oak, present Senate Bill 38. S.B. 38 principally concerns eliminating e-filing fees among governmental entities to prevent what’s seen as a generally unnecessary circulation of tax dollars between government subdivisions. It also includes legislative leave language akin to what was in H.B. 502 before Senate Rules’ amendments.
S.B. 38 did not make it onto the Thursday supplemental calendar or the House Rules calendar for today — as opposed to the volume in the Senate, House Rules only approved eight bills between the two calendars decided Thursday.
The Glynn County Board of Education intends to move forward with plans to gate off a portion of Glynn Academy’s campus by approving agreements with the City of Brunswick at the next school board meeting.
The school board discussed two “memorandums of understanding,” or MOUs, with the city at its work session Thursday afternoon.
The first MOU states that the city permits the school board to install gates on Mansfield Street from Albany Street westward to Egmont Street. The school board plans to do so in order to close the campus to oncoming traffic during school hours and after-school events and to better secure the campus from unauthorized visitors.
“Now it’s our turn to ratify, with the board’s decision on that,” said Virgil Cole, superintendent of Glynn County Schools. “As you saw today, we had a situation where several police officers went through the middle of our campus on the way to a pretty serious call. Even with that said, it was extremely bad timing and very dangerous for our students.”
The city will maintain ownership of the street and the right-of-way, according to the MOU. The school board will pay for the cost of constructing the gates and will control when the gates are opened and closed.
The second MOU allows for the school board to transfer to the city a portion of the now-closed part of Carpenter Street north of George Street and a portion of Wright Square.
Wright Square is one of the original squares from the city’s earliest development during the British colonial period, according to the MOU, and the city plans to renovate and beautify the square. The plans for renovation include routing traffic around the square, like traffic is routed around Hanover Square.
The currently-closed portion of Carpenter Street will be transferred to the city, as well as the north end of Wright Square.
The school system will gain parking spots out of the trade. The school board will vote on whether to approve both MOUs at its next meeting on April 9.
A handful of votes meant the difference Thursday in the state House of Representatives as Senate Bill 77 — a monuments protection bill, generally seen as originating to protect those recognizing the Confederacy — passed that chamber by a vote of 100-71.
The state constitution mandates a majority of all members, not just a simple majority of those present, be required to pass a bill. There are 180 House districts, so it’s taken that 91 votes are needed to pass.
State Rep. Alan Powell, R-Hartwell, carried S.B. 77 in the House and as such presented it to the chamber.
“I want to talk about this bill, because it’s about inclusion, diversity, tolerance,” Powell said. “It’s about respect.”
He returned to a main talking point among supporters of the bill that it’s not about Confederate monuments, but covers all monuments in the state. While the language in the bill holds that to be true, it also ties the hands of localities that would choose to relocate Confederate monuments to places discussed as possibly more appropriate, like museums, cemeteries or mausoleums.
Powell also noted people in the chamber who asked others to pray for recent victims of hate crimes in this country and abroad.
“So let me ask you a question, is there no greater hate crime than to destroy history, or to destroy a monument that was put out there to remember what had came before,” Powell said. “This only leads and only breeds to more crimes and those hate crimes. So, you know, for those of you who say you’re opposed to hate crimes, I quite frankly don’t know of a greater hate crime than when I see the Peace Memorial in Piedmont Park that’s been desecrated. To be, that’s pretty durn hateful.”
State Rep. Karen Bennett, D-Stone Mountain, drew a comparison between Confederate monuments and the poem and song “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”
“The poem was originally performed in honor of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday on Feb. 12, in 1900 and yes, was later set to music,” Bennett said. “The difference between singing the ‘black national anthem’ and living among Confederate monuments is that people have a choice as to whether they wish to sing the anthem, listen to the anthem, or not. When Confederate monuments are placed in public places among the communities in which we live, we are not given the choice as to whether or not to engage and see them or not.”
She said that with Georgia on her mind, she dreams of a state where the victors of the Civil War represent what is best in Georgia — that it’s one thing to recognize history, but cruel to be reminded repeatedly and without choice “of the pain, ill-will and shame of slavery.” In seeking common ground, Bennett said that can be found in local control of monuments, which the bill prohibits.
State Rep. Josh McLaurin, D-Sandy Springs — a freshman member of the House — said the bill simply won’t work legally because of it presents a private cause of action if there is damage to any monument.
“What it does is it allows literally anybody to sue, and it puts no restrictions on who can sue,” McLaurin said.
At points in committee consideration of the S.B. 77, this was pointed to as a feature by bill supporters, not a bug.
The language in the bill reads, “A public entity owning a monument or any person, group, or legal entity shall have a right to bring a cause of action for any conduct prohibited by this Code section for damages as permitted by this Code section.”
“The problem is there’s no coherent vision for how to describe the difference between the harm to one person or group, versus another person or group,” McLaurin said.
In giving a mini-lesson to the House on civil lawsuits, he said that under the law, to have standing, you have to show there was real and applicable harm to a specific person or group.
“You can’t sue someone just because you find dishonor or offense to come from their actions,” McLaurin said.
He further stated that S.B. 77 says the offender is liable, without specifying who to, and so the triple damages would be payable to anyone who brought a suit, and that this bill, if enacted, would not hold up in a court challenge.
“We’ve got to take the L on this one because we didn’t draft it in a way that works,” McLaurin said.
State Rep. Sharon Cooper, R-Marietta — who gives tours at Atlanta’s Oakland Cemetery, spoke of a woman’s grave in the formerly white-only section, a black nanny who was born a slave and allowed to be buried in that part of the cemetery because her employers made it possible. Cooper also recounted her childhood through about 10 years old, effectively raised by a black nanny during segregation, and what she learned during those times.
“This is our history — it’s not good, but this is our history,” Cooper said. “And I don’t want us, 100 years from now, when none of us are here, and we don’t remember the Civil War and it’s not being taught, just like World War II is not being taught, just like most of the kids graduating from school today cannot tell you about our forefathers, can’t name them, can’t tell you what they did. Because we’re not teaching history. I don’t want that to happen, because I don’t want something like the Civil War — named something totally different — to ever happen again.
“I see the statues and the monuments that are at Oakland and the ones that are other places, are moments and reasons to teach what has happened to us, and why we should not be that way.”
S.B. 77 heads back to the Senate for concurrence.
Thursday, the House also passed S.B. 6, which regulates drone activity near incarceration facilities, and S.B. 72, which overhauls the state hunting regulations.
Both bills passed with large majorities and return to the Senate.
The Senate also passed a couple bills of note Thursday — H.B. 281, which increases penalties for repeat offenders under the pimping and pandering law, and H.B. 382, which provides for the administration of the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Act. H.B. 281 and H.B. 382 passed unanimously.
Before going on Spring Break next week, students at Golden Isles Elementary School and Sterling Elementary School got to enjoy field day activities. At Sterling, the event was centered around principal Kelly Howe, who is retiring after this year. The school surprised Howe by basing all of this year’s field day activities around her. At Golden Isles, The theme of this year’s event was Ohana, which is Hawaiian for family. All events centered around a Hawaiian theme, like the pineapple bowling relay.
Brunswick Police arrested Kwame Brown following a traffic stop shortly after midnight Saturday at Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and I Street, charging the Glynn County Sports Hall of Fame member and former NBA player with felony possession of edible marijuana products, according to a police report.
Brown, 37, a graduate of Glynn Academy who spent 12 years in the NBA, was charged with felony possession of a schedule 1 substance and misdemeanor possession of less than 1 ounce of marijuana. The Glendale, Ariz., resident was released later Saturday from the Glynn County Detention Center on a total bond of $13,076.50, according to jail records.
According to police, an officer standing beside Martin Luther King Boulevard during a traffic stop at 12:28 a.m. “smelled the odor of burning marijuana coming from” a passing vehicle in which Brown was a passenger. The officer got into his patrol vehicle and conducted a stop on the Mercedes Benz van, which belonged to Brown. “The smell of marijuana followed the Mercedes Benz,” the report said.
Police allegedly found a small amount of marijuana in a glass bottle between the front passenger and driver’s seats, the report said. Brown allegedly told officers there was also a “small amount of (pot) in a bag in the trunk,” the report said.
Inside a backpack in the trunk, police allegedly located one bag of Korova Cannabis cookies, one bag of Kikoko Cannabis infused tea, a can of cannabis infused Mr. Moxey’s Mints, Breez Cannabis tablets, and two jars of Connected Biscotti cannabis cookies. These marijuana products are advertised online and are produced in regions of the United States where marijuana is now legal.
The vehicle’s driver, Ivy Mcgeil Cash, 48, was arrested for driving without a license, the report said. As Brown was being arrested, Cash allegedly “started yelling that the bag belonged to him,” the report said. Brown then also said the marijuana products belonged to Cash, the report said.
The 7-foot-tall Brown could not be transported to the county jail in a standard patrol vehicle, “and we had to wait for a larger one to transport,” the report said.