Georgia Legislature-Final Day

House members toss papers in the air as Sine Die was proclaimed shortly after midnight. Thursday, was the 40th and final day of the 2018 General Assembly.

This ain’t no goat rodeo — it ain’t no possum drop, either. This is sine die.

Those two words, Latin for “without day,” mean the moment at when — for our purposes — the state legislature concludes business without intention to return for the rest of the year. Pronunciation can sound a little harsh to the ear, but it is said to sound as sweet as Georgia honey when the clock strikes midnight.

And certainly sweetness was the air of an evening in which Speaker of the House David Ralston moseyed over to the Senate to praise outgoing Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle. The pair later released a lengthy joint statement listing legislative accomplishments of the session.

“Whether it is making it easier for people to adopt children or encouraging job growth in rural Georgia, we’ve taken substantive action to make Georgia’s future brighter this legislative session,” Ralston said in the statement. “We have cut taxes on Georgians, fully funded K-12 education and invested in critical projects like deepening the Port of Savannah and supporting transit systems across the state.

“I appreciate the strong partnership with Gov. (Nathan) Deal, Lt. Gov. Cagle and my colleagues in the General Assembly which has allowed us to get these important measures to the governor’s desk.”

Speaking of adoption, the bill championed by Sen. William Ligon, R-White Oak, died on arrival in the House when the outgoing House Judiciary Committee chairman said he had no intention on his committee considering it.

However, the legislation — Senate Bill 375 — found a lot of support in the Senate among the Republican majority. Should SB 375 have made it into law, it would have allowed an agency to accept state money and participate in the state adoption and foster care system, but be allowed to decline to perform services that did not align with the agency’s religious beliefs. Opponents of the bill saw it as being unfairly discriminatory to sexual minorities.

“Someone will bring that bill again,” Ligon said. “We’re seeing every year, our state, we have just over 500 children that are aging out of the foster care process, and many of those would’ve been eligible throughout their time in foster care for permanent adoption. And, we just do not have — we need more prospective parents, we need more prospective foster homes.

“Throughout the hearings we learned there are agencies that would like to contract with the state — in fact, we heard from one just this week, and they would come in and provide more options for these children.”

Ligon was able to see SB 338 and SB 339 passed, and while they are numbered in order, they deal with entirely different matters. SB 339, the campus free speech bill, was put forth in order to make sure that speakers would not be disrupted, lest those disrupters face penalties. Opponents of the bill said it would in effect protect white nationalists who have gone on a run of speaking at universities, instead of the vast amount of students who oppose them.

That arrangement is going to be tested again in Alabama, in which a student group at the university in Tuscaloosa announced an invitation to speak for Jared Taylor, a white nationalist writer and editor. Ligon maintained during the session that his bill seeks to preserve speech among students and encourage a diversity of ideas and debates.

SB 338 allows for the legislature to get a tighter handle on state agencies, when those agencies put forth a policy legislators may feel is not intended.

“Senate Bill 338, which is an adjustment to current law to give the legislature a little more, make it a little more practical for us to give oversight to the agencies in regard to their regulations, passed both houses and it will be going to the governor for signature,” Ligon said.

Ligon, partnering with Rep. Jason Spencer, R-Woodbine, also was able to secure $17.79 million in bonds for a new Coastal Pines Technical College campus in Kingsland.

Meanwhile, it appeared at one time like one of Rep. Jeff Jones’ coal ash notification bills — House Bill 879 — was going to go all the way. It passed the House, the Senate, and was on the Senate Rules Calendar, which meant it was ready for a vote on the floor. But, that was a vote that never came.

Jones, R-St. Simons Island, said a number of folks in the House had bills pending in the Senate on the final day Thursday, and they were trying to figure out where the Senate was in the rules calendar, and thinks there were so many House bills that senators got behind on legislation that had procedural priority, while other bills — like HB 879 — simply ran out of time.

The bill, if passed, would have mandated notification to the public regarding details of coal ash pond dewatering, when that dewatering was to occur.

Jones said he and a number of other House members are displeased with the pace of the early part of the legislative session.

“The first third of the session, we simply do not maximize our time to get stuff moved through and dealt with,” Jones said. “And I think that’s part of what happened. Every year, it seems like we get down into crunch time and we haven’t used our … time wisely at the front end of the session. And, that’s frustrating.”

He also pointed out that a Georgia Power lobbyist became quite upset with him following an incident at Lake Sinclair. A reporter with the Eatonton Messenger was with a Georgia Water Coalition group on the water when they boated past two coal ash ponds and, according to the article the reporter wrote, noticed “a large puddle of black marsh just beyond the bank” between the ponds.

Altamaha Riverkeeper Jen Hilburn took samples from the area, and local law enforcement detained the reporter, Shannon Sneed. According to Sneed, a sheriff’s deputy held her on the property until Georgia Power security could arrive and question her, and she was eventually cited for trespassing.

Georgia Power denied any untreated water discharge at the site.

“Right after that incident on Lake Sinclair occurred, one of the government affairs person(s) that I work with, out at Georgia Power, stopped me in the Capitol and said, ‘The Altamaha Riverkeeper falsely accused us of allowing coal ash water to leak into Lake Sinclair, and it’s not true, and we don’t appreciate it, and we’re not happy,’” Jones said.

He added that he told the Georgia Power lobbyist that he had nothing to do with the actions of the riverkeeper or the GWC, and that he would like to believe the incident had nothing to do with the fact HB 879 was not called for a vote Thursday.

Earlier in the week, Rep. Don Hogan, R-St. Simons Island, said he was pleased that one of the things accomplished this year was securing additional funds for the Coastal Georgia Greenway.

“Of course, the Greenway project is very important for our area, so I’d like to see that funding continue,” Hogan said.

With $100,000 appropriated for the Greenway, Ligon said the Coastal Regional Commission of Georgia has been able to leverage that state funding into $2 million.

Gov. Deal has 40 days to consider the bills before him and whether to sign them into law.

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