Political Notes – Some criticisms of the Senate ‘process’

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When legislators vote on bills, either on the floor of their chamber or in committee, those actions are usually taken in public view. You may not agree with the way a lawmaker voted, but most of the time you at least can observe or check a tally sheet to determine which way he or she voted.

That was not the case last week with Senate legislation, SB 10, that would have allowed local governments to hold referendums on the issue of Sunday package sales of alcoholic beverages.

A portion of the Georgia Senate – the 36 Republican members – met behind closed doors and took a private vote to determine whether they would allow SB 10 to proceed to the general calendar for floor debate and a public vote.

Reporters were told that a “decisive” majority of those 36 senators indicated they would not vote for SB 10, so the decision was made not to move the bill any further. That vote was held in private, of course, and GOP leaders would not even reveal how many of the 36 Republican senators opposed the bill. That’s a private caucus matter, they said.

The lack of public debate or a public vote on the bill – no one outside of that group of 36 senators was allowed to see who voted for or against SB 10 – has prompted criticism of the GOP caucus for its lack of transparency.

Those critics include the guy who presides over the daily Senate sessions, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle. Cagle has had some of his authority taken away by a group of Senate Republicans calling themselves the “Committee on Assignments” who determine committee chairmanships and other matters of Senate business – in private meetings, naturally.

“This is a very delicate situation,” Cagle was quoted by the Gwinnett Daily Post. “When you ultimately allow the caucus to decide it, it doesn’t provide the sort of transparency in government that the citizens are really looking for.”

Cagle’s criticism was also sounded by the editorial page of the Athens Banner-Herald, which commented:

Now, it’s tempting to blame the conservative Christians who lobbied against Sunday store sales of alcohol for halting the bill. But they were doing nothing more than engaging in the sort of political activism in which any individual or group can choose to engage to influence legislative activity.

If there is blame to be affixed here – and that is, most emphatically, the case – it is most properly affixed to the Senate Republicans who, rather than taking a public stand to show voters whether they sided with supporters or opponents of the bill, opted instead to conspire in a dark corner to keep from having to cast an honest vote on a straightforward proposal.

In short, this state’s Republican senators lack the courage of whatever convictions – pro-business or pro-religion – they might have on the issue of allowing people to decide whether they should be able to buy alcohol while they’re shopping for groceries on Sunday.

In the process, those GOP senators also have shortchanged the conservative mantra that the best place for decisions to be made is on the local level. And, in the bargain, they’ve also worked to deny Georgians the right to vote on an issue that has considerable public support, according to polls conducted on the question of allowing Sunday store sales of alcohol.

Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers, who evidently was a little nettled by the criticism, defended the GOP caucus process at his weekly news conference Monday morning.

“The process question I find a little strange,” he said. “This process is probably the best process that we have – if the votes are there, we’ll take it to the floor.”

“Not every bill gets to the floor, not every bill has a vote,” Rogers added. “We can’t have every bill that is introduced on the Senate floor – there’s simply not enough time.”

Libertarians keep up the fight

Georgia’s Libertarian Party hasn’t given up the fight for Sunday sales just yet. They’ll hold a press conference and rally on the capitol steps at 12 noon Wednesday to gin up support for the legislation.

From the Libertarian Party’s news release:

Because Georgia is the only state in the Southeast with a total ban on Sunday sales, we are at a distinct economic disadvantage. For many Georgians, the current law defies common sense. “The state allows us to drive to a restaurant on Sunday to buy alcohol, but the state won’t let us go to the corner store to buy beer to drink in the safety of our own home,” says Zak Koffler, one of the organizers of the rally.

Moreover, shopping patterns have changed in Georgia. Sunday is now the highest volume shopping day in many areas throughout Georgia. Yet customers who enter a retail store on Sunday are prohibited from purchasing alcohol. “As a busy mom, Sundays are the best days for me to do my family’s grocery shopping since our Saturdays are filled with soccer games, birthday parties, and other family activities. Yet, I have to make a separate trip to buy a bottle of wine,” says Stephanie Stuckey Benfield, a state representative from Decatur and mother of two.

Problems for farmers

A lengthy article in Sunday’s edition of the Macon Telegraph explores the problems that could be created for Georgia’s farmers – who make up the state’s largest industrial sector – if the anti-immigrant bills introduced in the General Assembly should be signed into law.

From the Telegraph’s account:

Rodney Dawson, who farms about 1,500 acres of peanuts and 5,000 acres of cotton in Pulaski and Wilcox counties, said he uses eight to 12 immigrants, mostly for the cotton harvest. He does not go through the H-2A program because he only needs the workers for up to 10 weeks.

Dawson is concerned about having to use E-Verify and fears it will keep immigrants — even legal ones — from working here.

“I don’t know where we’ll find the workers,” he said. “You can’t find people from here who are interested in the type of work (immigrants) will do for us. … When it’s 100 degrees, they don’t mind working.”

Dawson said he supports something that would keep people from entering the country illegally.

“But we need some type of system that lets immigrants come into this country to work, because we need them,” he said . . .

Farmers have a hard time finding workers now that want to do the physically difficult labor required, and many feel the new rules would make it even harder.

“The people who catch my chickens, they are contract workers for either Tyson or Perdue who are Hispanic,” [Donald] Chase said. “Nobody wants to catch chickens, and so I don’t know what happens to those guys. In the farm sector, it appears the Hispanics are much more willing to do the work than perhaps anyone else.”

One of the issues many farmers have with E-Verify is that employers must hire a worker before they can search the federal system to verify the employee’s work status.

Another issue is the employer must have a designated person who must be trained on the E-Verify system and know all the guidelines and regulations before the employer can be registered as an E-Verify user.

“It’s adding just an additional burden that’s not required at the federal level,” said Charles Hall, executive director of the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association based in LaGrange. “And we are depending on a federal program that may or may not be funded. … I read something that said if everyone in the U.S. was required to do mandatory E-Verify, there would be something like 200,000 people a year who would have to go to the Social Security office to get paperwork straightened out — and they are U.S. citizens. The system is not accurate, so that’s a big concern.”

Another problem is if Georgia has the E-Verify requirement and other states like Alabama and Florida don’t, it would cause “a patchwork of states that have additional requirements on hiring than other states,” Hall said. “From an economic development standpoint, that’s not good for the state of Georgia.”

Executive appointments

Gov. Nathan Deal has made the following appointments to state boards and commissions –

Georgia Composite Medical Board: Dr. John S. Antalis, a Dalton physician; Capitol Arts Standards Commission: Barbara Lynn Howell of Savannah, Carrollton artist Stephan L. Penley, and Ansley Saville, vice president of marketing and public relations for Coosa Steel; State Board of Registration of Used Car Dealers and Used Motor Vehicle Parts Dealers: Gainesville auto dealer Jerruld Lewis Page, Jr.; Auctioneers Commission: Macon auctioneer Larry “Bo” Benton, Jr. and Tignall minister Roy Dean Cates, Sr.

© 2011 by The Georgia Report

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Tags: Chip Rogers , Georgia farmers , immigrant workers , Nathan Deal appointments , Republicans vote privately , Sunday alcohol sales