The Jolt: David Ralston is a ‘no’ on ERA, and ‘maybe’ on a maternal mortality fix

News and analysis from the AJC politics team
January 14, 2020 - Atlanta -  House Speaker David Ralston welcomes Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms before she addressed the House.  The Georgia General Assembly continued with the second legislative day of the 2020 session.   Bob Andres /



January 14, 2020 - Atlanta - House Speaker David Ralston welcomes Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms before she addressed the House. The Georgia General Assembly continued with the second legislative day of the 2020 session. Bob Andres /

Last week, we told you of a special House committee report on Georgia's maternal mortality crisis. A refresher:

Georgia is one of the 10 most dangerous states in the U.S. to be a new mother. Our maternal mortality rate is among the highest in the developed world.

More disturbing is the fact that African-American mothers, particularly those in rural Georgia, are bearing most of the risk. A close examination of maternal deaths in 2012, 2013 and 2014 found that new black mothers in Georgia died at a rate of "three to four times higher" than white mothers – about 47 deaths for every 100,000 births. The national average is 17 deaths per 100,000 births.

On Tuesday, our AJC colleague (and former Insider) Tamar Hallerman sat down with House Speaker David Ralston to talk about a number of topics. One of them was that maternal mortality report – and its top recommendation to expand Medicaid coverage to moms from 60 to 365 days after birth. Ralston said he had yet to make a detailed examination of the 14-page report, but added this:

"I wish we could do it. That's a recommendation in this budget environment that's going to be tough. But I think we should have a discussion about making that a priority."

In Virginia, both chambers of that state’s Legislature are poised for votes on the Equal Rights Amendment today. Final passage would make Virginia the decisive 38th state to ratify the ERA, surpassing the three-quarters of states needed to add an amendment to the Constitution.

Next would come a court battle over a long-passed 1982 deadline set by Congress. Hallerman asked Ralston whether Georgia would join the fray. Said the speaker:

"We've done pretty well, I think, in terms of equal opportunities for women without passing the amendment. And I know that there are even some women who have concerns that passing it might not have the intended consequences.

"I haven't really detected an appetite in the General Assembly to tackle that issue. We've got all kinds of, and rightly so, federal laws and state laws that promote equality between the sexes, prohibit discrimination based on the basis of sex."


Sticking with that last topic: In ancient times, the beginning of a General Assembly is when editors would warn fathers to lock up their wives and daughters until lawmakers had gone back to whence they came.

Things change. Currently, many wives and daughters are more than a little ticked off. To the point that we would warn certain state lawmakers – for their own safety -- to keep within the secure confines of the state Capitol.

Yet vestiges of past attitudes remain. For instance, Chapter 1 of Title 51 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated allows a father to sue for damages rising out of a daughter’s seduction.

The attitude lingers. Even now, we have dads waving shotguns in the direction of young suitors. Sometimes on video.

But statutes are another matter. State Rep. Josh McLaurin, D-Sandy Springs, has filed House Bill 750, which would repeal the right to collect damages when a daughter indulges in sex without parental approval.

The same lawmaker has also filed legislation that would strike phonographs, adding machines, "comptometers," and Dictaphones from a list of products whose serial numbers can't be altered – a hedge against the resale of stolen property.


At the Eggs & Issues breakfast this morning, new Georgia Chamber chair Peter Carter singled out Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and thanked her for her "stewardship" of the the city's airport.

Two things worth noting here: 1) Carter is a top executive for Delta Air Lines, and 2) the audience included several GOP lawmakers who want the state to have oversight of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.


Uber wants to make sure sweeping legislation aimed at requiring online retailers to collect sales tax doesn't also include new fees on ride-sharing apps.

House Bill 276 was designed to collect taxes from so-called "facilitators" whose websites or apps are used to sell goods or services provided by someone else. Senate leaders plan to move quickly on the legislation, though it's unclear if ride-sharing services will remain covered by the measure.

The ride-sharing giant is circulating a Public Opinion Strategies poll of 335 likely voters in September in several competitive state House districts, which showed support for the tax on ride-share services was dim, particularly among swing voters. You can see it here. 

The group also plans a series of digital ads that advocates for separate legislation with a "reasonable fee structure that keeps rideshare affordable for consumers while generating millions in revenue for the state."

“We agree that addressing inequities between online and brick and mortar retailers is an important issue,” said Evangeline George, an Uber spokeswoman.

“However, if action is not taken to put a reasonable fee structure on ride share in place, Georgians will end up paying one of the highest ride-share taxes in the nation."


Normally, an appointment to chair Georgia's film commission is quite the perk. But state Rep. Terry Rogers might now think Gov. Brian Kemp is out to get him.

Rogers, one of Kemp’s staunchest allies, was tapped Tuesday as chairman of the Georgia Film, Music, and Digital Entertainment Commission at a precarious time.

Two recent audits cast doubt on the effectiveness of the state’s famed film tax incentive, which is credited for transforming Georgia into a competitor to Hollywood.

In another notable appointment, Kemp tapped radio host Martha Zoller to a seven-year term on the Board of Education. A former aide to both Kemp and U.S. Sen. David Perdue, Zoller recently re-launched her conservative talk radio show.

“I’m ready to get back to campus,” she said.


Just posted: Our AJC colleague Mark Niesse has the latest on the struggles of a new crop for Georgia farmers:

Hemp farming can't start in Georgia unless the state government spends hundreds of thousands of dollars to oversee the crop.

Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black said Tuesday he will ask state lawmakers for $800,000 for this year and next year to create a state hemp program, a requirement of the U.S. Department of Agriculture before the state's hemp regulations can be approved.


Our AJC colleague Kristal Dixon points us to another sign of a metro Atlanta county that's rapidly shifting from red to blue:

Longtime Cobb County Commissioner Bob Ott stunned his colleagues Tuesday, by announcing he would retire from his post at the end of the year.

During the commission meeting at the Cobb County Government Center, the Republican said he would not seek a fourth term as the District 2 representative on the five-member panel.


In years gone by, Georgia Democrats scrambled to recruit candidates for even some of the most competitive seats. This year, though, expect the party to grapple with a surplus of contenders -- many challenging incumbents.

The latest example comes from Project Q, which reports that Devin Barrington Ward would take on longtime state Sen. Horacena Tate of Atlanta. Ward would be the chamber's first African-American member who is also openly gay.

Other candidates seeking the seat include Tania Robinson, a Cobb County business owner.

First elected in 1988, Tate is a reliably Democratic vote and has coasted to recent election wins.


The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is sending staff to bolster voter outreach in two Georgia districts ahead of the 2020 elections, NBC News reported Tuesday. 

Georgia’s Sixth and Seventh districts are among a dozen battleground seats on the DCCC priority list. The ultimate goal is to bolster the party’s control of the House by holding on to current seats, such as the Sixth District won by Lucy McBath in 2018, and to try to win new ones, such as the Seventh District being vacated by Republican Rob Woodall.

The organizers being sent to the two suburban Atlanta districts will focus on outreach to minority voters and religious leaders, NBC said.


U.S. Rep. John Lewis of Atlanta is among 16 House members who have endorsed the Senate campaign of Massachusetts U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy. A grandson of Robert Kennedy, who was assassinated in 1968, Kennedy is running against fellow Democrat and incumbent Sen. Ed Markey in 2020.

Markey has the support of fellow Democrats in the Senate, but Kennedy's name recognition has made him the race's front-runner. His roll-out of endorsements from House incumbents on Tuesday was just the latest show of strength.


The NAACP and National Urban League are among a coalition of civil rights groups calling for the Senate to reject President Donald Trump's latest nominee to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which handles cases in Georgia, Florida and Alabama.

Trump nominated Judge Andrew Brasher to the appellate court in November, just months after he was confirmed to the U.S. District Court in Alabama. Then, the Senate approved him on a party-line vote after civil rights groups raised objections concerning his record on voting rights as Alabama's solicitor general.

The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on Brasher’s nomination to the appellate court last week, but no decision was made on whether to send his name to the floor for confirmation.

The civil rights groups are making the same argument against Brasher as last year while also asserting that Trump's judicial nominations should be held in place while he faces an impeachment trial.

Brasher and two other appointees to the 11th Circuit are waiting for Senate confirmation. If they all join the bench, Trump will have appointed half of the judges at the Atlanta-based appellate court.