Bennett’s election could move the needle on some issues

[private]Taylor Bennett’s win in the House District 80 runoff election could have an impact on several state and local issues that will be up for consideration in the next legislative session.

Because Bennett, a Democrat, has secured a House seat formerly held by a Republican, he increases the number of Democrats in the House to 61 and flips the party control of the Fulton County House delegation to 13-12 Democratic.

The Republican majority in the Fulton delegation was able to pass several bills restricting the authority of the Fulton County Commission, which is majority Democratic, but Bennett will make that task more difficult. Republicans will now have to persuade a Democratic legislator to join them if they want to get a local bill through.

Bennett could get caught up in a bitter feud next year with Sen. Josh McKoon (R-Columbus) over McKoon’s proposed “religious freedom” bill that would allow business owners to refuse to participate in same-sex weddings because of religious objections.

Bennett, whose mother is gay, spoke out against the bill during the campaign and said the gay marriage issue was one of the primary factors in his decision to run for the legislative seat. The former occupant of the House District 80 seat, Mike Jacobs, played a key role in keeping McKoon’s bill bottled up in committee during the last session.

“As a labor and employment attorney and obviously my personal connection to the issue, watching the Georgia legislature literally try to figure out ways to discriminate, especially to the LGBT community, I didn’t want to sit by and just watch this unfold in front of me,” Bennett said in an interview with Georgia Voice.

McKoon attacked Bennett over the religious freedom issue in several Facebook postings in which McKoon would not refer to Bennett by name: he simply called him “the Democrat.”

“The Democrat in HD 80 has doubled down on championing Planned Parenthood even after the revelations of their apparent sale of baby body parts,” McKoon wrote. “The Democrat in HD 80 has clearly said he will be an enemy of the free exercise of religion if elected. Is this even a close call?”

Bennett also took a position 180 degrees opposite from his Republican opponent, J. Max Davis, on a couple of important local issues.

Davis, the former mayor of Brookhaven, supported a legislative proposal that would allow Brookhaven to form its own independent school district. Bennett opposed the proposal and now will provide another vote against it if it comes up in the House.

“If we create an independent school district here in Brookhaven, the responsibility goes on the taxpayers to fund that initiative,” Bennett said at a candidate forum.

“Your property taxes will be affected by that,” Bennett said. “You cannot cap property taxes, then add a school system and expect your property taxes to go down. Those are mutually exclusive, in and of themselves.

Bennett also differed with Davis over immigration, a major issue in an area of DeKalb that is becoming increasingly diverse.

Davis opposed allowing undocumented immigrant students to pay the lower in-state tuition rates when they attend public colleges, but Bennett supported the idea.

“This is an opportunity for children who otherwise don’t have access to the opportunities that a lot of Americans have in our educational system,” Bennett said.

“They can go through our educational system and then become a part of society and have meaningful impacts on their everyday lives,” Bennett said. “This is a country that was founded by immigrants, so we need to celebrate that.”

© 2015 by The Georgia Report

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Tags: House District 80 , immigration , J. Max Davis , Josh McKoon , religious freedom , Taylor Bennett