On January 10th, Governor Deal took the podium in the House Chamber under the Gold Dome ad presented a 2012 State of the State address chock full of promises focusing on promoting Georgia’s economic competitiveness. At the start of March, the state legislature finally reached the beginning of the end. Day 30, otherwise known as Crossover Day, is the last day a bill has to pass at least one of the chambers, either House or Senate, and still have a chance of being signed by the governor this year. It’s traditionally a busy day and the 12-hour session this year didn’t disappoint. With passionate speeches like Governor Deal's coming from Georgia’s leaders, it’s obvious that we spent most of those hours debating the various merits of legislation intended to improve our state’s economy.
Yet, nothing could be further from the truth. Instead of a day full of Democrats sparring with Republicans over differing economic ideologies, it was a day full of sparring over differing social ideologies. Though self-evident, it’s worth it to note that arguing over the latter usually gets people a lot more worked up. For example, take SB438 and SB490. SB438 prevents the health plans that our state employees use from paying for abortions, with no exceptions for rape or incest related situations. Under SB490, any group recognized by the state and organized for “religious purposes” could be exempted from covering birth control for their employees if they have “moral objections”. While trotted out to the tune of ‘these bills will save money for the state’, these bills are as related to economic competitiveness as trying to save money by building fewer roads.
However, other bills seen on the floor didn’t even try to keep up the pretense. SB 469 turns civil disobedience into an aggravated misdemeanor. Billed as a response to the Occupy protests seen last year, SB469 instead criminalizes one of the most passionate political activities a citizen can become involved in: protesting. SB292 requires that all recipients of Temporary Aid for Needy Families are tested for drugs. A similar bill in Florida was just found unconstitutional by a federal court. In fact, one of the few bills that could be said to help promote jobs in Georgia, SB401, which allowed individuals and businesses to defray power costs by installing solar panels, had to be sneaked onto another bill in the form of an amendment. The original version had never been passed out of committee.
It’s disappointing to find Georgia’s leaders pressing full-tilt ahead with controversial social issues mostly influenced by national politics, instead of focusing on the progress of Georgia’s economy. We’ve got some important, ingrained problems that our state has to face in the fields of infrastructure, education, and taxation. This year, both bold ideas and not-so-bold ideas were proposed in an attempt to solve these problems, and it’s a sin that they were pushed aside to act on these sorts of bills instead. It does neither our constituents nor us any good if, as legislators, those issues are kicked down the road year after year.