Federal Ruling on Legislative Districts Creates Chaos for Legislature

On February 10, 2003, a panel of three Federal judges ruled that legislative maps drawn up by Democrats during the Barnes administration are unconstitutional, and gave the General Assembly a deadline of March 1 to draw new maps.  The Assembly will not meet this deadline, and Federal judges will begin the process of drawing new districts.  The boundaries drawn by the judges will be politically blind.  Many incumbents will be drawn in the districts and others will get put in districts that are not politically ?safe,? meaning that their new constituents may clash with their beliefs.  

The uncertainty has created turmoil in the Legislature.  Both political parties are fearful of each other having too much control in drawing the districts.  Senate Democrats and House Republicans have complained of being left out of this process.  At the same time, both sides are strongly committed to preserving State control of this issue and are unwilling to turn this decision over to Federal judges.  However, unless the Legislature passes new maps before the Federal judges finish, the state will be stuck with the lines they impose, at least for the 2004 elections.  

The Republican controlled Senate has already passed its proposal, while the Democratically controlled House has demonstrated an inability to reach a consensus on new maps that will both preserve the Democratic majority and win approval.  

State Democrats have accused Republicans of drawing the boundaries with political gains in mind, just as Republicans accused Democrats of the same issue in 2001.  Traditionally, each legislative chamber drafted its own reapportionment plan, which was approved as a matter of courtesy by the other branch.  

One thing is certain ? politics in Georgia have never been more uncertain.  
Same-Sex Marriage Issue Draws Moral Line
S.B. 595 Fails to Win Approval in House, Proponents Promise a Re-Vote

The issue of the sanctity of marriage and whether or not same-sex unions should receive the benefits and respect that traditional marriage receives has created a moral dilemma in this Legislative session.  On Thursday, February 26, 2004, the House of Representatives voted 117-50 in favor of a constitutional amendment to reinforce a pre-existing Georgia law that permits marriage between only a man and a woman.  While the margin was wide, aligning all but one Republican with rural conservative Democrats, it was not enough to reach the 2/3 majority needed to pass a constitutional amendment.  Standing in the way of the resolution?s passage was the black caucus who along with urban white Democrats, overwhelmingly voted against S.B. 595.   Many African-American legislators who spoke against the resolution, elaborated on the position the Atlanta Journal Constitution Editorial Page had staked out, comparing the discrimination underlying the resolution to the discrimination of segregation 50 years ago.   The Atlanta Journal-Constitution said that some day citizens of Georgia will be as embarrassed by this bill, as we are now of legislative efforts in the 1950?s and 60?s opposing desegregation.

Immediately after the votes were tallied and it was clear that S.B. 595 failed, its supporters asked for its reconsideration.  This re-vote on the issue will likely take place on Tuesday, March 2, 2004.  

The Senate voted in favor of the ban on same-sex marriages by 40-14, only two more votes than needed.  All 30 Republicans and 10 Democrats voted in favor of the ban.  

Many see this as a wedge issue meant to be divisive and timed to coincide with the upcoming Presidential election.  Those opposed to the ban cite that it is unnecessary legislation as there is currently a state law in place banning same-sex unions.  Others point out that this bill attempts to legislate morality, albeit a narrowly defined morality.
Georgia Voters Go to Polls on Super Tuesday to decide Democratic Nominee and the State Flag

Kerry Remains Ahead in Georgia

On Tuesday, March 2, 2004 voters in Georgia will finally get a chance to weigh in on their presidential primary preference and their preference for the state?s banner.

The latest Georgia polls show Senator John Kerry ahead of Senator John Edwards by 10 percentage points.  Secretary of State Cathy Cox has predicted that 26 percent of Georgia?s registered voters, or slightly more than one million citizens, will participate in Tuesday?s Presidential Preference Primary and Special Advisory Flag Referendum.  Political watchers expect that African-American and other minority voters will make up nearly half of the voters that turnout.  Much to Senator Edwards? dismay, Senator Kerry appears to be the candidate of choice among likely African American voters tomorrow in Georgia.  Edwards largest support will come from rural-white Democrats.

Looking for a victory in his native South, Edwards has visited Georgia numerous times in the past several weeks.  On Monday, February 23rd, he appeared at the Georgia Capitol.  Throngs of supporters joined curious onlookers as he delivered his prepackaged stump speech.  Edwards was boosted by the support of House Speaker Terry Coleman and of dozens of other Democratic legislators who symbolically stood behind him for the Television cameras.  Noticeably absent from the group of Democratic legislative supporters were members of the black caucus.  

Flag?s Supporters Looking to Put Issue to Rest

Supporters of Georgia?s current flag, which was passed by the legislature in 2003 and supported by Governor Sonny Perdue, are hopeful the voters in tomorrow?s referendum will affirm it.  The legislation that gave Georgia its current flag also mandated that voters would have a say.  Tomorrow?s choice, although it is a non-biding referendum, will serve as the voters? chance to participate.  

Voters will have only two choices, the 2003 flag, which is based on the Confederate national flag, and the blue banner that flew from 2001 to 2003, often referred to as the Barnes Flag.  

The Georgia business community has allied themselves with the African American community in asking voters to affirm the current flag and put the entire issue to rest.  These groups fear a victory for the Barnes Flag would re-open the contentious and divisive debate on the Confederate Battle Emblem.  On the business community side, The Georgia Chamber of Commerce is urging its members to get out the vote for the current flag.  In an attempt to sway African American voters, noted civil rights leader Tyrone Brooks has endorsed the current flag in order to ?put the issue to rest once and for all.?  
H.B. 1579 Introduced to Eliminate Subsequent Injury Trust Fund

Representative Mary Margaret Oliver (D-Decatur) along with fifteen co-sponsors has introduced legislation that would reform and update Georgia?s workers? compensation system by eliminating the Subsequent Injury Trust Fund (SITF).    The SITF was set up in 1977 and was intended to help workers who had been previously injured on the job get back to work after an injury.  Unfortunately, the Fund never worked as it intended and fails to help workers in the state.  Today, the Fund is a bureaucratic black hole costing the average employer in the state hundreds of dollars a year on their workers? compensation premium.  

Joining Oliver as sponsors of H.B. 1579 are a group of bi-partisan legislators including several committee chairs and other House leaders.  Speaker Terry Coleman has assigned the bill to the House Industrial Relations Committee, Chaired by Mickey Channell (D-Greensboro).  Chairman Channell in-turn assigned the bill to a sub-committee chaired by Representative Tom Bordeaux (D-Savannah).  Bordeaux?s subcommittee will likely hold a public hearing on the issue later this week before voting to bring it to the full Committee.  Bordeaux?s ten-member subcommittee includes seven of the bill?s sponsors.  

To read a copy of H.B. 1579 visit:

Legislators Work to Make Needed Budget Adjustments

Both the House and Senate are working on making mid-year adjustments to the FY 2004 budget.  The adjustments are being made on the heels of a report by Governor Perdue that the state?s revenue estimate has again been forecast lower, dropping the amount of funds on which the state budget is based by another $109 million.  The Governor hopes to make up for much of this deficit by adding back $89 million in nursing home revenue fees that his office mistakenly omitted from his original budget.   The Democratically controlled House, however, has proposed using that "found" money to mitigate some of Perdue?s recommended cuts in state funding for schools.

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