06/15/2020 - Atlanta , Georgia - Members of the Georgia House of Representatives watch their peers work out of the House chamber as they live stream the session from the Senate Committee Room during the 30th day of the legislative session at the Georgia State Capitol building, Monday, June 15, 2020. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, members of the house were seated on the floor of the house, the gallery of the house and in the Senate Committee Room. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)
Photo: Alyssa Pointer/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM
Photo: Alyssa Pointer/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM

The Jolt: The art of ‘stripping’ at the rebooted Georgia legislative session

Get your mind out of the gutter. 

Not that kind of stripping. We’re talking about the fully-clothed, but no less nakedly brazen, legislative attempt to take a perfectly innocuous proposal and replace it with an entirely different measure. 

That’s what happened on Monday when Senate Republicans turned House Bill 216, initially designed to provide specialty tennis license plates, into legislation that would shield businesses and healthcare workers from legal liability if workers or customers contract COVID-19.

State Rep. Teri Anulewicz, the Smyrna Democrat who sponsored the original bill, produced a breezy video about the practice, complete with jolly background music that reminds us of pre-pandemic elevator rides.

“Stripping isn’t always a bad thing,” she said. “Stripping, for example, is how Rep. Scott Holcomb was able to pass legislation that mandated the testing of every rape kit in Georgia.”

And sometimes it is. In Capitol parlance, it’s also known as hijacking that’s legal.

And it can get particularly onerous in the last stretch of the legislative session, particularly during Sine Die when lawmakers vote on scores of bills with just minutes in between. Sometimes, that work takes place in hastily-arranged conference committees. 

“You can have a bill to recognize Coca-Cola as the state drink of the state of Georgia,” former state Sen. Don Balfour, a Republican who represented Gwinnett County for more than 20 years, told the AJC of the practice

“Good bill. It could come out of the conference committee saying Pepsi is the state drink of the state of Georgia. It can be 100 percent different, and you just never know.”

(For more on the final-stretch craziness, check out this Politically Georgia podcast with one of your Insiders and our colleague James Salzer.)


***

Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan will unveil his version of a hate-crimes measure later this morning. We’ve got the details for you here.

***

The White House and Congress are moving forward with separate proposals to address national protests over police brutality, indicating how seriously lawmakers are taking the movement but also how tricky it will be to reach a final compromise.

President Donald Trump made his move Tuesday, signing an executive order to encourage more robust training for police and reduce use-of-force incidents. He also met privately with families of slain African-Americans, including Ahmaud Arbery, a move that also drew criticism along with the order itself.

Lee Merritt, Arbery’s family attorney, countered that the meeting with Trump was about meaningful change and not a photo op. However, Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, was among those who said she left Washington less than satisfied with Trump's actions. 

“After explaining it, I don’t think that that order would actually have an influence on my son’s case,” she told a Jacksonville TV station.

The Senate is expected to release its proposal this morning, Politico reported. Around the same time, the House Judiciary Committee will review the sweeping measure that Democrats unveiled last week, setting up a floor vote later this month. 

We’ll be watching the three Georgia members on the committee: U.S. Reps. Doug Collins, Hank Johnson and Lucy McBath.

***

“It was a facade that accomplished nothing.”

That’s what Stacey Abrams told “Press Pool with Julie Mason” on SiriusXM of President Donald Trump’s executive order that seeks to incentive changes to policing practices but which critics say will result in little concrete action.

“And unfortunately, as with everything I've seen from this president, he has met the moment with cowardice and with prestidigitation, but without actually doing things that will improve the lives of Americans.”

***

Project Q reports there are renewed calls to take up a stalled bill that would require law enforcement agencies across the state to report use-of-force incidents to a database that is accessible to the public.

State Rep. Renitta Shannon, a Democrat from Decatur, introduced the bill during the 2019 legislative session, but it has not received a hearing before the Public Safety & Homeland Security committee. 

State Rep. Park Cannon, a Democrat from Atlanta who co-sponsored the bill, said the committee “doesn’t respect” the bills that she and Shannon put before it.

***

This is making the rounds among the demonstrators seeking to remove Confederate statues and other monuments to white power protected by state law: “How to topple a statue using science.” 

***

FILE - In this Nov. 12, 2018 file photo, Carolyn Bourdeaux, Democratic Nominee for Georgia's 7th Congressional District, displays a Gwinnett County absentee ballot as she speaks during a press conference outside of the Gwinnett County Board of Voter Registration and Elections in Lawrenceville, Ga. The Democratic primary in Georgia’s 7th Congressional District is too close to call after new vote counts showed a runoff may not be required in the suburban Atlanta district. Carolyn Bourdeaux had 50.5% of the vote as of Saturday afternoon, June 13, 2020, but the race remains too close to determine a winner.
Photo: Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP, File

About six days after projecting that Carolyn Bourdeaux would advance to a runoff in Georgia’s 7th District race, The Associated Press quietly retracted the call and instead said the Democrat won her primary outright.

By then, the call was an afterthought. Several of Bourdeaux’s rivals had conceded the race and one, Nabilah Islam, endorsed her over the weekend. Bourdeaux herself declared victory on Monday morning.

Yet the reversal ruffled some feathers among state and national Democrats. The wire service hadn’t accounted for the surge in absentee ballots and warnings from state elections officials that it would take days to tally the votes.

The wire service had also erroneously projected that U.S. Rep. David Scott would be forced into a runoff - he has since won outright - and miscast several state legislative races. 

But the 7th District contest, involving one of the nation’s most competitive U.S. House races, caught the most attention. 

One national operative panned the outlet for “miscalling the race despite the evidence” and several local Democratic leaders feared this could foreshadow errors in calls for November. 

It’s a reminder of how absentee ballots have not only turbocharged primary turnout but also fundamentally changed the pace of vote-counting.

***

On a related note, the powerful EMILY’s List PAC endorsed Carolyn Bourdeaux shortly after her victory was sealed. Stephanie Schriock, the group’s president, called the Democrat a tireless leader, educator and progressive champion.”

“Overcoming the challenges of the economic recession in the 1990s and her family’s struggles with obtaining affordable health care led Carolyn to commit herself to creating policies that work for women and working families,” she said.

***

State Rep. Brenda Lopez Romero was on the other side of that erroneous Associated Press call, and initially trumpeted the belief that she would face Bourdeaux in the August runoff.

After it became clear that Bourdeaux had won the primary outright, Lopez Romero conceded the race in a lengthy post on her social media. An excerpt:

"I am about to walk into legislative session and just walked out of our streets as I protested and stated that #BlackLivesMatter, this impresses upon me how vital our work is and that there is still a great deal to do for our state and country. As I finish up my last term in the state legislature (for now), I will continue to fight for the hate crimes bill and justice-for-all legislation, push back against cuts to our education budget, and reform our state’s election laws so every citizen can exercise their sacred right to vote with ease and security. Furthermore, I will concentrate on supporting efforts to flip the 16 state house seats we need in order to prevent disastrous gerrymandering in 2021."

***

There’s a new member of Gov. Brian Kemp’s leadership team. The Republican tapped Chris Wells to serve as executive director of the Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency. Wells, who is African-American, is among several of the governor’s racially-diverse picks that have surprised even his critics. 

***

News broke Tuesday evening that U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop is facing an ethics investigation, and his office later said the allegations are regarding concerns about information in his campaign spending reports.

The House Ethics Committee released a memo Tuesday saying it had extended its time to complete the investigation, which also happened to be the first public disclosure that one existed at all.

A spokesperson for Bishop, D-Albany, said he is “cooperating fully in this matter in an open and transparent way.”

***

Pete Buttigieg, the former candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, is campaigning virtually with U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath tonight. She endorsed former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg in the presidential primary.

***

U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler is again claiming vindication after the Senate Ethics Committee announced it had dismissed complaints from watchdog groups regarding stock trading on her behalf during the coronavirus pandemic.

Here is a portion of the Georgia senator’s latest victory lap statement:

“The Senate Ethics Committee has come to the exact same conclusion as the U.S. Department of Justice: Senator Loeffler did absolutely nothing wrong and has been completely exonerated. Despite the obvious attempts by the media, political opportunists and liberal groups like CREW and Common Cause to distort reality, facts still matter and the truth is prevailing.”

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