The best thing we can say about Georgia’s 2014 Legislative Session is that it’s over.
Republicans in both chambers spent the session trying to restrict access to affordable health care, forcing radical anti-choice legislation on female state employees and working to allow guns in places they don’t belong.
They even attempted to legalize discrimination under the guise of “religious freedom.”
Here’s a wrap-up of what our legislators were busy doing this session:
“The Preservation of Religious Freedom Act”
Thanks to everyone who responded to Better Georgia’s call-to-action yesterday, we defeated the last gasp of the “Religious Freedom” bill. There is no doubt they were trying to sneak this pro-discrimination, anti-civil rights policy into law in the final hours of the session. They got caught. Sen. McKoon told Creative Loafing that he withdrew the amendment because of “overwhelming” opposition.
At the 11th hour, conservative lawmakers passed a bill that drastically expands the rights of gun owners. If signed into law, gun owners will be able to bring their weapons into bars and parts of the airport. If you’re caught with a gun in a restricted area, you’ll only be subject to a $100 fine — less than the price of a speeding ticket.
Lawmakers know the law is unpopular with most Georgians so they’ve included an “opt-in” measure that will pit church member vs. church member over the decision on whether to allow guns in each church across the state. This is yet another example of our legislators kicking their leadership responsibilities to someone else. Gov. Deal should veto this bill to make sure it never becomes law.
Conservative lawmakers also passed a new measure that would strip insurance coverage for abortion–even in cases of rape and incest—from state employee health plans. This extremist anti-choice bill is sitting on Gov. Deal’s desk. Sign the petition telling him to veto it.
Health Care blockade
Despite the pleas of hundreds of thousands of uninsured Georgians and four rural hospitals closing under Gov. Deal’s watch with many more on the brink of financial ruin, conservative lawmakers passed two bills that put Medicaid expansion and accessible health care out of reach for our state.
One of the bills prohibits any state or local employee from even talking about the Affordable Care Act or educating Georgians about their health insurance options. The other allows Gov. Deal to become the first governor in the U.S. to voluntarily give up his Medicaid decision-making power to Georgia’s part-time legislature.
The bill is so bad, that Republican Senator Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome, implored his fellow Republican senators to vote against it. Not surprisingly, they ignored Sen. Hufstetler’s wise advice and now the bill is on its way to Gov. Deal’s desk.
Unemployment benefits for school bus drivers slashed
School bus drivers sheltered our children during January’s snowstorm, but conservative lawmakers have made sure that bus drivers will not be able to collect unemployment insurance during summer and winter breaks. Thousands of hardworking Georgia bus drivers will suddenly be left without any income during the long breaks in the school calendar.
Drug testing for food stamps
Republican Sen. Don Balfour, whose trial about his false expense report filing will cost taxpayers $156,000 in legal fees, now wants to waste even more taxpayer dollars. He and other conservatives have passed legislation that would allow the state to randomly drug screen food stamp recipients they “suspect” of being under the influence of drugs. We’ve already seen how well this legislation worked in Florida.
State income tax cap
In an effort to mobilize the far right wing of their party during election season, lawmakers passed a resolution placing a constitutional amendment on November’s ballot that will cap the state income tax at 6 percent. At a time when our public schools are still facing a funding crisis of epic proportions, the last thing we need to do is constitutionally limit the revenue the state can collect.
Now is the time to create change in Georgia
We now fully know what it feels like to have a supermajority of one party running our state. We know our lawmakers simply don’t listen to most Georgians. Now, it’s time for change.
The legislative session might be over, but the hard work is just beginning.
Together, we can make sure that Georgia becomes a better place for all of us and is no longer a state that passes such regressive legislation each and every year.
If we start today, we can turn Georgia into a state that works for real Georgians.