Under the Republican Dome
The conservative majority's agenda, and what it means for Georgia
It's a new era in Georgia and, of course, a very conservative one. While the rest of the country shifted blue in the 2006 elections, Georgia has become a test tube for such Republican policies as Newt Gingrich's health care savings accounts that could replace group health insurance. "We're headed [back] to the 19th century," says Georgia State University political scientist Daniel Franklin. "Conservatism here means conserving the past."
As the Legislature enters its home stretch, here are key pieces of Republican legislation, what they mean to you and where they stand:
Make it more difficult to obtain an abortion: A House bill that would offer women a chance to view a sonogram before they have an abortion states its intent very clearly: to "protect unborn children from a woman's uninformed decision to have an abortion." Paris Hatcher, program coordinator for Georgians for Choice, says it's a ploy to make women change their minds at the last minute.
Where it stands: passed in the House; a similar Senate bill is in committee.
Make it easier to hand out a death sentence: One tenant of law is that it takes a unanimous jury to give a convicted killer the death sentence. A proposal by House Republicans would allow judges to impose the death penalty as long as 10 out of 12 jurors agree. "To choose the death penalty to lower the standard is absolutely absurd," says Sara Totonchi, public policy director of the Southern Center for Human Rights. "It's changing centuries of law and legal practice."
Where it stands: passed in the House, now in the Senate.
Create "private" cities: Lobbyists are pushing hard to change state law to create "development districts," or private cities. Essentially, these districts would let developers – not the government – charge homeowners for roads, golf courses and more in new communities. Sen. Emanuel Jones, D-Decatur, questioned the premise in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "Why are we giving private developers the power to tax people? I thought that was the role of the government."
Where it stands: The measure failed to get enough votes Tuesday; a second vote was scheduled to take place after CL's deadline.
Allow payday lenders to get back in business: Three years ago, the state was lauded by consumer advocates of all stripes when Gov. Sonny Perdue signed into law a bill that all but banned payday loans with Soprano-like interest rates. Now, despite howls of protests, the Legislature is poised to bring them back. "Sometimes the proper function of government is to protect people from other people," says Allison Wall, executive director of Georgia Watch, a consumer watchdog group. "That's at the very heart of our fight against this bill."
Where it stands: The bill failed on the House floor. The co-sponsor – State Rep. Earl Ehrhart, R-Powder Springs – is expected to pursue it again next year.
Privatize health care: "People need monetary incentives to stay healthy," says state Sen. Judson Hill, R-Marietta, who has sponsored legislation for tax incentives for businesses that offer individual health savings plans to employees. The idea sprang from a Newt Gingrich think tank. "Someone making $200,000 a year can afford to save $5,000," says Alan Essig, executive director of the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute. "[But] if you ask a family of four making $40,000 a year to save 10 percent of their income for health care expenses, they won't be able to afford anything."
Where it stands: referred to Senate committee.