Wednesday, March 25, 2009

On The Flip Side . . . Where We've Got More Hope - CALL TODAY!

Call in days . . . Today and Tomorrow (Wednesday and Thursday) . . . get those fingers dialing!

We have a real opportunity to pass a budget that moves the country in the direction we need, but only if you . . .

Call Senators Saxby Chambliss, Johnnie Isakson and your Congressional Representative too!

Do it now, toll-free, at 1-888-436-8427!

GRUS distributing fliers asking the same thing last Friday's Stand for Peace at Colony Square in Atlanta, asking people to contact their Representatives and Senators NOW:

Tell them: "Please vote to support President Obama's budget priorities, to set us on the path to create jobs, provide health care for all, and develop renewable energy. I care about taking care of families during the recession, and about reducing poverty in the long run. These investments will revive our economy and build a foundation for long-term prosperity."

The President has produced a groundbreaking 2010 budget proposal to reset America's priorities.

But opposition is growing. That's because the budget is responsible in paying for these investments. There are corporations who don't want their loopholes closed, wealthy households who don't want to lose any of their tax deductions, military contractors who like their generous payments, and companies who don't want to pay a fee designed to reduce global warming. The hoofprints of a lot of gored oxen are visible on Capitol Hill.

The President included $634 billion in the budget as a down payment on health care reform. This is an historic commitment and a vital first step toward achieving quality, affordable health care for all in 2009. Put simply, Congress must pass a budget that funds health care if we want to enact comprehensive reform this year. It's time to turn our momentum into action and make sure President Obama's budget passes, so we can get our economy back on track and win quality affordable health care for all. (Join )

If you want the public interest to win out over the vested interests, please call your Congressional Representative and Senators Chambliss and Isakson!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Day 33 - Like High School, with Higher Stakes

A few weeks ago one of us left a voice mail for someone and got a text back asking, "Where are you? Church?" There are multiple school choirs singing in the rotunda or on the main stairs every day of the session. "It doesn't make it hard to hear what's going on in the House and Senate?" you might ask. Yes, it does.

Today we actually had some high school's rock band. Not kidding. They had gone electric, and there were these two kids singing alt rock.

Then we had another elementary school choir, and someone commented that they felt like they were in the cafeteria in third grade.

To which a more astute lobbyist replied, "This whole place is like high school. You've got the rich kids over there [the corporate lobbyists, who hang out in one spot], you've got the poor kids over here [the progressive non-profit lobbyists, who hang out in another spot], and then in both you've got all these different cliques."

And of course there are bullies. Leaving out some of the bullies inside the chambers, there's a certain infamous, nationally-known anti-immigrant lobbyist who likes to follow around those of us who work to protect immigrants' rights, post up on a wall, and try to stare us down. Or something. It's actually a little unclear what he's trying to accomplish. But isn't it always that way with bullies?

Speaking of which, we're fighting 3 bills that have passed the House and are in committee this coming Tuesday. They all seek to keep Georgia in the past:

First of all, there's SB 20 and SB 86. Rather than rehash the issues with those bills here, you can go back to Day 21 and read about SB 20 and HB 45, which is the House version of SB 86. (Sometimes they'll pass separate House and Senate versions of a bill in case one of them gets held up somewhere and risks not passing.) Day 21 is here:

Then there's SB 67. It would require that driver's license exams be given only in English. The sponsors apparently want to make a point about immigrants needing to learn English. But the real effect will be to discourage foreign companies from doing business here. If you're Kia -- the car company -- for example, and you're planning to build a plant in Georgia, and you find out that your executives' spouses, who might stay home with the kids and not really need to learn English to live their lives, are gonna have to learn English just to be able to drive to the grocery store, wouldn't you take another look at some other state that doesn't have such restrictions?

The thing is, the road test is already given only in English. If you don't understand English well enough to understand the person riding with you administering your road test, and you fail that, you don't get a driver's license. But the bill's sponsors want the written test to be given only in English too. Lots of business folks oppose this bill. As one of them told us, he has plenty of clients -- foreign business-people working in the U.S., many with Green Cards -- who are completely fluent in English but who might not do well on a written English test full of technicalities. If we effectively make companies pay for those employees to get extra English training when they're already fluent, are they really gonna want to come here?

At a time when Georgians are suffering crisis levels of unemployment, we're apparently about to tell these companies that we don't want their jobs. All just to make a political point.

***We can really use your help on Tuesday. If you want to come to the capitol to help us oppose the bill at the committee meeting, please email You don't have to have any experience; we just need you to show up.***

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Day 30 - Crossover Madness 4: Rules, Shmules

So, the Republicans came back from the arm-twisting recess ready to fall in line. They introduced a new version of SB 169, with at least 5 amendments and a new name. Sen. Steve Thompson (D) raised an objection, saying with the amendments and the name change, the bill either had to go through the usual committee process (which there would not be time for since it was Crossover Day) or the Senate would have to approve putting the new bill on the Calendar with a 2/3 vote.

Lt. Gov Casey Cagel and the Sec. of the Senate denied Thompson's invocation of the rule - ignoring the rule - and put the new version of the bill on the Calendar for debate.

During the debate, Thompson gave an impassioned speech about the Lt. Gov.'s violation of the rules, saying that the majority party ran the risk of damaging our system of government by playing "fast and loose" with the rules, that the Senate was supposed to be "the deliberative house," and that the embryo/stem cell issue should take a year and a half of work, not be crammed through like it was being.

He, along with others, also took issue with Sen. Ralph T. Hudgens's (R - sponsor of the bill) comparison of embryonic stem cell research to the deadly and torturous experimentation on humans of the Nazi Dr. Mengele and the Tuskegee Experiment. Yes, he really made that comparison.

Sen. David Adelman (D), read the language in the bill that made the use of in vitro fertilization legal only in cases of infertility. Adelman said that this would take away in vitro fertilization away as an option in cases where both members of a couple are fertile but the woman has health problems that make carrying a baby or giving birth dangerous. Hudgens said that in that case the woman was infertile. After much back-and-forth, Adelman nailed Hudgens down on the point, asking, Are you saying that if a woman can get pregnant, but she has a heart condition that makes it dangerous for her to carry a baby, then she is infertile? Hudgens finally answered Yes.

Day 30 - Crossover Madness 3: A Bad Bill Fails, and the Arm-Twisting Begins

As we write, some Republican senators arms are being twisted in the backroom of the Senate. We're outside listening for that snapping sound that means, well, you know...

Just a bit ago, there was applause from all the folks glued to the monitor in the hallway, after SB 169 was tabled (meaning it wouldn't have a chance to pass this year.)

SB 169, by Sen. Hudgens, was rewritten in special a subcommittee by Senator Smith. Much of the original language was removed but the revised bill would ban cloning and stem cell research and would elevate the legal status of an embryo to that of a "person".

For couples who are challenged with fertility issues, it would throw up road blocks that interfere with their ability to build their families.

Elevating the legal status of embryos, to that of a “person,” could have random implications and broad, legal and medical ramifications.

And other language that would shut down stem cell research projects in Georgia.

The "debate" was hilarious. Sen. Hudgins (R) took question after question that he admitted to not being able to answer.

In response to many questions about the bill, his response was, "I'm not a scientist" [and thus can't answer the question.]

Sen. Seth Harp (D) asked, Wouldn't the bill, if passed, make anyone who destroys an embryo guilty of capital murder? Hudgins's response, after saying at least once that he wasn't a lawyer: "I'm not gonna argue the law with you."

Apparently he isn't much of anything.

In response to Sen. Nan Orrock's (D) question about the 71,000 Georgians that have in vitro babies that wouldn't have been able to be born under this law, Hudgins said, "We want that embryo declared an 'embryonic human being' - or whatever you wanna call it."

This bill was about three things: science, the law, and legal definitions of embryos. Yet Hudgins directly and indirectly said that he couldn't address any of those things.

Thankfully, the bill failed. And now, the arm-twisting has begun.

. . .

On the House side, they're still working their way through the bills on the calendar. And we're still waiting to see if they do a supplemental Rules meeting when they're done, meaning...will they meet to add more bills to the calendar. We're crossing our fingers that the relative calm of today's Crossover Day will not be shattered in the next couple of hours, and that everybody can go home at a reasonable time and without having to deal with any more crazy bills or backroom mauneuvers.

Day 30 - Crossover Madness 2: What's Austin Scott up to?

HB 225: This bill would require a person to be a Georgia resident in order to register voters in Georgia. That's right, it would be illegal for someone to come here as a volunteer to register voters. It's most likely a response to Obama's success using voter registration teams. The bill had been tabled in committee, giving us a brief sigh of relief. Then Monday we had heard it might be added as an amendment on the floor, and people were running all over to get the opposition together. The rumor that the bill would be resurrected was only half true. It turned out that the attempt to resurrect was not on the floor but in committee. Governmental Affairs Committee Chair, Rep. Austin Scott (R), briefly had HB 225 on his agenda, but when questioned about why the tabled bill was coming back up, he removed it from the agenda. That was Monday.

So what happened yesterday...when the legislature wasn't even in session? Chairman Scott (also an announced candidate for Governor) held a committee meeting and started talking about the bill. He did not follow procedure and post a notice about the meeting on the House notice board. The meeting was at 11:00; we happened to notice at 11:30 that it was posted on the small board outside his office.

In the committee, he didn't even discuss taking it back off the table. He just started talking about it again. Both Republican and Democratic Committee members were clearly not much interested in passing the bill. Scott just said we're going to pass this bill.

Things are hard enough to accomplish when the rules are stacked against you...but ignoring the rules makes things impossible. This is what gives politicians a bad name. And the public a cynical view of government.

Rep. Alisha Thomas-Morgan (D) filed a Minority Report, a procedure which will give her 20 minutes to speak on the floor about her and fellow committee members' objections to the bill. In addition, she challenged the rules violations that occurred when the bill was not voted off the table and when the meeting notice was not properly given.

We're curious to see if Rep. Scott wants that discussion to happen on the House floor.

Technically the bill does not qualify for the regular 30th day calendar, because even with the shenanigans, it came out of committee a day too late. But it could come up again if the House calls a supplemental Rules Committee meeting to add more bills to today's calendar to try to get it through by the end of the day. We expect at least one of these meetings later today on the House side. Stay tuned.

Day 30 - Crossover Madness 1

It's Crossover Day, the 30th day of the session, when a bill has to pass either the House or the Senate or it's dead.

Here's where we are:

HB 388 passed the House, 96-66. Clost vote: They needed 91 to pass. What does it do? Allows you to adopt human embryos. Yeah. Very useful. Good use of taxpayer money. But Obama just lifted the ban on federal funding for stem cell research, right? Right. But with this bill, NONE of that money can come to Georgia. Apparently, some of our legislators would rather save zygotes than save human lives with stem cell research. "Pro-life"? Really?

SB 228 passed the Senate, 49-3. It's a terrible bill, which exempts "ephemeral" and "intermittent" streams from the statewide 25-foot stream buffer. The buffer exists to prevent construction within 25 feet of all waterways, in large part to protect our waterways from construction runoff. This bill exempts all ephemeral and intermittent streams, streams which only appear when it rains, from the buffer. The problem: When it rains, these streams appear, and whatever runs into them runs right into our water supply.

COBRA Extension: Read the post from yesterday for the details on what SB 182 would have done. It's a no-brainer. All it will do is help Georgians keep health insurance while they're unemployed, and it will cost taxpayers nothing. So it's hard to figure out why it wasn't put on the calendar today. But it wasn't. We're looking at other ways to get the extension passed, and we're hoping our legislators will do the right thing. Read the post from yesterday and stay tuned.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

COBRA before Crossover (Call Today)

In addition to the bills to take action on listed in the "Sleep with the Lights On" post from Monday, we've got a proactive bill that needs support

SB 182 would go a long way towards helping all the folks who are or will soon be out of work. Here's how:
When you lose your job and with it the health insurance provided by your employer, the COBRA program allows you to pay a premium for health insurance until you find another job. Right now in Georgia, however, there is a 3 month cap on COBRA coverage.

The good news is that the Federal Stimulus Package provides for 9 months of COBRA subsidized by the federal goverment at 65% (meaning the federal government will pay 65% of your COBRA premium for 9 months). But with the 3-month cap in Georgia, Georgians who are unemployed are still out of luck.

So SB 182 has been forth to remedy the problem. SB 182 calls for increasing the Georgia cap on COBRA coverage to 18 months. That would allow Georgians to accept the 9 months of subsidized COBRA coverage. And unlike so much legislation, it includes the foresight that the federal government may renew the subsidies at the end of 9 months and add on another 9 months. This is a bill that just makes so much sense in these desperate times of increasing unemployment.

What you can do:
1. Of course let your own representatives and senators know you support this bill, but more importantly:
2. Call Senator Don Balfour at 404.656.0095 and tell him that you support the bill and ask him to please put the bill on the Senate Calendar. Balfour is the chair of the Senate Rules Committee, which decides which bills get put on the calendar to even get a chance of being passed. Since all bills have to be out of committee by tomorrow ("Crossover Day" - the 30th day of the session, when a bill has to get passed out of committee or it dies), your call is needed TODAY to tell him that you support SB 182 and you want it heard.