Conservative group seeks clarity for pending legislation

A coalition of conservative lawmakers and groups is calling for changes to allow legislators and the public better understand what the General Assembly is voting on.

Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus, said he has asked the Senate to change its rules so that lawmakers get the final version of bills at the end of each session — called conference committees reports — at least 24 hours before they vote on the measures. The reports would also be posted online for the public to see ahead of time.

Typically, lawmakers get final agreements on bills on the last day of the session with little time to read what they are voting on. In some cases, entire new proposals are attached to bills and there is scant time to debate the measures.

“Anybody who has been here on the 40th day (of sessions) knows the games that get played,” McKoon said. “If you are a legislator who doesn’t know what’s in the bill, how can we expect the public to have any idea what’s in a bill and have any opportunity for meaningful input?”

On the last day of the 2012 session, a conference committee of House and Senate members rewrote a bill on hunting and fishing licenses so that it would seal the records of some ethics cases filed against politicians. The measure passed the Senate at 10 p.m., but after the media and a few lawmakers found out what had been added to the bill, the House killed it.

McKoon is also asking the Senate to begin recording all votes on legislation. Currently, votes on many proposed amendments to bills are done by a show of hands, so there is no record of how individual lawmakers voted.

McKoon’s proposals, which will have a tough time passing the Senate, are part of the agenda of the Capitol Coalition of Conservative Leaders, which includes the Atlanta Tea Party, Georgia Conservatives in Action and Georgia Right to Life, among others. The group released its agenda Tuesday.

The agenda includes legislation to outlaw abortion coverage in health plans offered through state or federal laws and regulations, a bill to prohibit taxpayer funds from being used to implement the Affordable Care Act, a proposed constitutional amendment to prohibit the use of foreign laws to resolve Georgia court cases, a measure to help end Georgia’s involvement in Common Core national academic standards and another to limit the collecting and sharing of student and teacher data.

One of the group’s other priorities passed the Senate Tuesday. The chamber voted overwhelmingly for legislation allowing local school systems to educate students about the history of “traditional winter celebrations” and let students and staff offer “traditional greetings” such as “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Hanukkah.”