A Trumpian bill makes its debut in the state Capitol

In this 2014 file photo, workers sit at desks at a call center in the northern border city of Tijuana, Mexico. AP/Alex Cossio
In this 2014 file photo, workers sit at desks at a call center in the northern border city of Tijuana, Mexico. AP/Alex Cossio

Credit: Jim Galloway

Credit: Jim Galloway

The most Trumpian bill in the Legislature, the one that may best reflect the political angst that our new president has tapped, made its debut in the state Capitol on Tuesday.

Senate Bill 195 was greeted mostly with awkward silence from members of the Senate economic development committee, and will not move this session. But it is the kind of measure that could bedevil Republicans next year — an election year, if they cannot formulate the proper response.

The bill violates most legislative norms. Its author is state Sen. John Albers of Roswell, a very conservative Republican. But the bill's content is union-inspired.

Virtually every Democrat in the Senate (some signatures are illegible, so it’s best to fudge) and the most conservative members of the GOP caucus are co-sponsors — a total of 38 in a chamber of 56.

The bill makes only one small demand: All companies that accept state tax incentives, and all companies awarded state contracts, would be required to send an email or two to the Capitol if they shift any jobs out of state.

Just to let the right people know.

Tax credits wouldn’t be yanked back. Contracts wouldn’t be canceled. The only thing to happen would be the placement of a simple fact on the public record.

“If their business does move in a different direction, it’s not the intent or the role of the Legislature to tell them that they cannot. But it is important that all the proper people are notified,” Albers said in an interview. “It will not be a cost to the state. It will be of minimal or no cost to the business.”

Albers said his bill isn’t punitive, but communicative. I would add that it also goes straight to the we’ve-been-suckered zeitgeist of last year’s presidential campaign. The bill’s formal name: The “Georgia Jobs First Act of 2017”

The Roswell senator and I were in his Capitol office. He had just finished presenting SB 195 before the economic development committee. All parties understood going in that no action was to be taken.

Corporate lobbyists had remained silent. But Chairman Mike Dugan, R-Carrollton, asked the questions they might have wanted to pose.

“Are you not concerned that this puts Georgia at a little bit of a disadvantage in recruiting new businesses to come into the state?” Dugan asked.

“If anything, I think this is really good for the state, it’s very good for businesses, and it’s certainly good for the workers in Georgia,” Albers replied.

Dugan tried again. “You said that there’s no punitive action, but that [lawmakers] will use that information to make a decision in the future. If somebody told me that, I’m not sure how I can see that in any other way but as kind of a veiled threat,” the chairman said.

Once we were back in Albers’ office, I took note of what wasn’t in the bill. There was no enforcement language. No state penalty for businesses that simply ignore it.

“There is not a punitive part of this at all right now. However, should later on someone find out about it, my guess is that it would find its way to somebody like you, and they would be called out appropriately for that,” Albers said. “But my guess is that most companies would do the right thing.”

The idea for SB 195 originated with Tony Tilley, a McDonough lobbyist for the Communications Workers of America. As a service technician, he climbs telephone poles for AT&T. His union reimburses him for wages lost to his time at the Capitol.

Tilley had originally wanted legislation that would have applied only to call centers, and only to jobs moved offshore. Albers upped the ante by broadening the bill – and Tilley had no objections. (A similar measure, House Bill 495, sponsored by state Rep. Sherri Gilligan, R-Cumming, has been introduced on the House side. It applies only to call centers.)

Tilley is on delicate ground here. “My company has been given tax breaks to open some of these call centers, especially in rural Georgia,” the union lobbyist said. “We’ve got one in Cedartown, where we got incentives to open a call center. It has a sister call center in the Philippines. In the last two years they keep cutting those jobs in Cedartown, while adding to the ones in the Philippines.”

Tilley said AT&T will oppose SB 195. “They told me they would fight this. And I’m still an employee of theirs, but it is what it is. I’m here to save these folks’ jobs,” Tilley said. “I was straight upfront with them. They told me they didn’t want to be shackled by the government. I said, ‘Well, don’t move call centers out of the country and you won’t be shackled.’”

(A spokeswoman for AT&T didn’t address Tilley’s comments or her company’s position on SB 195 directly.

“We’re one of the largest employers in Georgia and nationwide, with more full-time, union represented employees than any company in America,” AT&T’s Catherine Stengel replied via email. “We hired nearly 1,800 people in Georgia last year, and we’re currently hiring nearly 100 more.”)

But back to the union guy. Tilley acknowledges that SB 195 is a reflection of the times we live in. Specifically, the worry among white working class workers that they no longer have a secure place in our society. His union endorsed Democrat Hillary Clinton last year. But many CWA workers were – and are – Trump supporters.

“A lot of my members vote Republican. If we’re not talking to both sides, we’re turning our backs on part of our membership,” he acknowledged.

He’s getting comfortable with the nickname he’s given SB 195. “I call it my Trump card,” Tilley said.

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