Wednesday, March 08, 2023

Oconee Legislators Play Prominent Roles In Crossover Day Voting In Atlanta

***Gambling Bills Fail In Both House And Senate***

Oconee County Rep. Houston Gaines on Monday voted for a bill that would increase the weight of some types of commercial trucks on the local and state roads from 80,000 to 88,000 pounds, while Oconee County’s Rep. Marcus Wiedower voted against the bill.

Gaines and Wiedower voted in favor of a bill to set up an oversight commission for district attorneys and in favor of a bill limiting the ability of city and county governments to impose a temporary moratorium on zoning decisions or issuance of permits.

Sen. Bill Cowsert, who represents Oconee County, on Monday voted with the majority of his colleagues to approve a bill authorizing school vouchers. He also voted with the majority to prohibit certain surgical procedures for the treatment of gender dysphoria in minors.

Cowsert was unsuccessful in his efforts to get his colleagues to approve a bill that would have allowed voters to decide whether to legalize sports gambling via a constitutional amendment.

A bill filed by Wiedower that would have legalized sports betting without forcing Georgians to amend the state constitution never made it to the House floor for a vote.

Monday was Crossover day–the day the legislators have set as a deadline for passage of a bill by at least one chamber of the General Assembly. Bills must move to the other chamber and the Governor before they can take effect.

Lots of bills that had been filed didn’t get voted on, including a bill to protect the Okefenokee Swamp and a more far reaching bill restricting local zoning.

Some of the votes put the local legislators at odds with local leaders, as Oconee County Board of Commissioners Chair John Daniell had spoken out strongly against increased weight limits for trucks and Oconee County Board of Education Chair Kim Argo says the Board is strongly opposed to school vouchers.

District Attorney Oversight

The General Assembly has been considering four bills, three in the House and one in the Senate, to address what some legislators see as problems with how district attorneys in the state are performing their jobs.

Screen Shot Cowsert 3/6/2023

House Bill 231 would create a Prosecuting Attorneys Oversight Commission with the powers to discipline, remove, and cause involuntary retirement of District Attorneys.

That bill passed the House on Monday, 98 to 75, with Gaines and Wiedower voting with the majority.

Gaines represents the Marswood Hall and Bogart precincts in Oconee County in House District 120, and Wiedower represents the remainder of the county in House District 121. Gaines, Wiedower, and Cowsert are Republicans.

A similar bill in the senate, Senate Bill 92, passed the Senate 32 to 24 on March 2, with Cowsert voting with the majority.

House Bill 48, which would have made the election of the District Attorney of the Western Judicial Circuit consisting of Oconee and Clarke counties, and all other circuits in the state, nonpartisan, did not get a House vote before Monday’s deadline.

House Bill 229 would have reduced the number of voters required to initiate a recall petition and dramatically reduce the number of voters required to approve the petition for an actual recall election to be held for the District Attorney.

Gaines introduced House Bill 229, and Wiedower was a co-sponsor.

Housing And Roads

The House has before it three bills that were designed to deal with issues of affordable housing.

Screen Shot House Debate HB 189 3/6/2023

HB 517 had drawn the particular ire of Oconee Commission Chair Daniell as well as Oconee Commissioner Chuck Horton, and Watkinsville Mayor Brian Brodrick.

The bill would prohibit counties and cities in the state from regulating building design of one- or two-family dwellings, unless those dwellings were in a historic district.

That bill was not voted on Monday, but features of it could be incorporated into another bill, such as House Bill 514, before a revised bill comes back for a final vote.

House Bill 514, which passed 127 to 42 with Gaines and Wiedower voting in the majority, would limit a temporary moratorium on zoning decisions or issuance of permits by a local government to not more than 180 days.

House Bill 490, which was not voted on Monday, would limit the tax benefit to large institutional investors who purchase single-family homes and then rent them out.

House Bill 189, which increases the weight limit of specified types of commercial trucks on state and local roads from 80,000 to 88,000 pounds, also was opposed strongly by Commission Chair Daniell as well as by Russell McMurray, GDOT Commissioner, and Meg Pirkle, Chief Engineer at GDOT.

Gaines voted in favor of House Bill 189 on Monday, and Wiedower voted against, with the final vote 98 in favor and 75 against.

School Legislation

On Feb. 27, the House passed, 148 to 20, House Bill 147, requiring school districts to submit school safety plans to the Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency, to hold intruder alert drills in all public schools, and to report completion of the drills to the state.

Gaines and Wiedower joined the large majority. 

 “Oconee County Schools meets and exceeds the requirements listed in HB 147,” Oconee School Board Chair Argo told me in an email message on March 2. “No significant changes would be required.”

I also ask Argo to comment on school vouchers, then being discussed.

“The Board has communicated consistently that public money belongs in public schools,” she wrote in reply.

Senate Bill 233, which would give $6,000 a year in state funds to the parents of each child who opts for private schooling, passed the Senate by a 33 to 23 vote on Monday, with Cowsert from Senate District 46 voting for the bill.

All of Oconee County falls in Senate District 46.

Sports Betting

Cowsert introduced Senate Resolution 140 and Senate Bill 172, which would have asked voters to amend the state constitution to allow sports betting and created a gaming commission to regulate that betting.

Senate Resolution 140 passed the Senate 30 to 26, short of the two-thirds requirement needed to ask for a vote on a constitutional amendment. Cowsert, of course, voted with the 30 supporters.

The Senate did not vote on Senate Bill 172.

Wiedower was the sponsor of House Bill 380, which would have granted up to 16 licenses to companies running sports betting businesses and would not have asked for a constitutional amendment.

Instead, it would have relied on the authorization already existing for the state lottery.

A similar bill in the Senate, Senate Bill 57, would also have legalized horse racing.

Wiedower’s bill, House Bill 380, did not get a vote in the House.

Senate Bill 57 was voted down in the Senate, with Cowsert voting to reject the bill.

Transgender, Antisemitism, Redactions

Senate Bill 140, which prohibits medical professionals from giving transgender children certain hormones or surgical treatments to help them align with their gender identity, passed the Senate with a 32 to 22 vote on Monday.

House Bill 189 Sponsor 3/6/2023

Cowsert voted with the majority.

The House passed House Bill 30 with a 136 to 22 vote on Monday requiring state agencies to consider antisemitism as evidence of discriminatory intent for any criminal or noncriminal law or policy in this state which prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, or national origin.

Gaines and Wiedower voted in favor of the bill.

The Senate voted 53 to 0 on March 2 to pass Senate Bill 215 to protect from public disclosure certain personal information of public employees and to require local governments to remove upon request certain personally identifiable information of public employees from certain property records.

Cowsert voted for the bill.

Okefenokee Swamp

For the second year in a row, a bill introduced by Thomasville Republican Darlene Taylor to protect the Okefenokee Swamp from nearby development, never made it out of the House Committee on Natural Resources and Environment prior to Crossover Day.

The Bill, House Bill 71, would not have affected the pending application by Twin Pines Minerals LLC of Birmingham, Ala. to surface mine on Trail Ridge, which borders the Swamp, but it would prohibit the state from issuing, modifying, or renewing any permit or from accepting any bond to conduct surface mining operations near the Swamp in the future.

According to Chandra Brown of the Georgia River Network, prior to Monday, the bill had 90 co-sponsors.

Wiedower, who is a member of the House Committee on Natural Resources and Environment, was a co-sponsor, as were nine other of the 24 members of that Committee.

I asked Wiedower in an email message yesterday (March 7) if he could “offer me any insight on why this bill has not moved forward?”

He did not reply.

Wiedower On No Response

I had written to Wiedower before I posted my story on the House Bill 71 on March 3 and asked him if he supported the Bill. He did not reply, and I reported that in my post.

I live in Wiedower’s House District 121, and on Feb. 10 I sent him a form letter through the Georgia River Network asking him to support House Bill 71.

On March 4, Wiedower wrote a relatively lengthy reply to that Feb. 10 email.

A main point of the email was his contention that I had not been honest in explaining why he does not reply to my emails.

He wrote: “Your bias of me began in 2016, when as a then candidate for a commission seat. I was in favor of the Oconee Connector flyover which you adamantly opposed because your own neighborhood’s proximity to the proposed project. In the guise of your ‘relentless pursuit of transparency’, I further drew your ire when I wouldn’t answer questions, I knew you were asking to steer your readers against me. A practice you continue today, regardless of their merits.”

Wiedower wrote that in July of 2020 I had used “an invasion of my privacy as a pawn in your efforts to drive fear around Covid 19.”

“In November of 2021, I wrote you explaining this unethical invasion of privacy was why I would no longer contribute commentary to your blog,” Wiedower said in his email.

I thanked Wiedower for writing and suggested that we meet in person to discuss the issues he had raised.

I also told him I would continue to ask him for comments in the hopes he would reply.


Harold Thompson said...

Lee - can you confirm that HB229 (2% recall) was not submitted for a vote in the House? But it can be added to a bill that made it to the Assembly on crossover day?

Lee Becker said...

The General Assembly web site reports no vote on HB 229. HB 231 and SB 92 passed. They also deal with the DA.
It is my understanding that bills that did not pass can be attached to bills that did. My understanding is based on media reports, not first-hand observation of the process.