Opinion - Legislative letdowns

With a flourish of political recklessness, Georgia's 40-day legislative session drew to a close last week. And that means it's time to sit back and assess the damage the people we elect to manage our best interests did to said best interests.

Granted, it wasn't all bad. A good criminal justice reform bill, popular on both sides of the aisle, passed. It should help improve public safety, taxpayer money, and help some criminals get the drug treatment they need. And in some instances, logic prevailed and bad bills were voted down, like SB 469, an incredibly unpopular attempt to prevent protests at private homes, a measure both the far right and the far left argued was tantamount to a violation of the First Amendment.

But, as always, a slew of terrible bills became law — or will after a short stint on Gov. Nathan Deal's desk. Our annual Golden Sleaze awards (see p. 12) calls out the legislators who stood out among their esteemed colleagues as particularly inept or malicious in their own lovable, unique ways. But just like it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a State Capitol full of sleazes to really mess things up. Here are some of the mess-ups that stand out:

MARTA gets shafted

Georgia's legislators, the vast majority of whom represent the suburbs and the sticks, consistently demonstrate that mass transit — especially in big, bad Atlanta — does not appear on their list of priorities. Basically every measure introduced that might have benefitted MARTA was voted down, including a bill that would have extended an exemption and given the agency the liberty to continue to spend more than half of its sales tax revenue on operations. Without the exemption, MARTA officials are predicting a shortfall of millions and are already discussing service cuts.

The unemployed get screwed

Because an unemployment tax break to businesses left the state in debt to the federal government to the tune of $700 million, legislators had to come up with money, and quick. Someone would have to foot the bill. Those someones turned out to be the people who can afford it the least: the unemployed. The passage of HB 347 means jobless benefits, formerly available to the unemployed for a period of 26 weeks, will now only be available for between 14 weeks and 20 weeks, based on a sliding scale. Georgia's unemployment rate currently hovers around 9 percent, which is higher than the national rate.

Women's rights get trampled

Currently, women can electively abort a pregnancy up until they're 26 weeks along, but only a tiny number — something like 1 percent — of abortions take place past 21 weeks. Still, there was an unbridled enthusiasm among the right-to-lifers in the Capitol to outlaw abortions after 20 weeks, the point at which they say evidence suggests fetuses can begin feeling pain. The "fetal pain bill" passed in a slightly less intrusive form that makes concessions for pregnancies in which the fetus is not viable outside the womb. It doesn't, however, make concessions for victims of rape or incest.

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