Washington Watch: Rep. Johnson on possible discrimination against unemployed; Deal visits Obama; Rep. Kingston on art and money

WASHINGTON -- Is it discrimination when companies refuse to consider job applicants just because they've been unemployed for a long time?

At a time when unemployment rates are still rising and out-of-work Americans continue to struggle, U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson of Lithonia wants to find out.

Johnson, a Democrat, recently sent a letter to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission asking EEOC Chair Jacqueline Berrien to investigate possible discrimination against the unemployed.

His letter, also signed by more than 30 other members of Congress, comes after Johnson read my Atlanta Journal-Constitution colleague Dan Chapman's story a few weeks ago about how some companies refuse to consider applicants who have been unemployed for a long time.

In a place like Georgia, where about half of the state's 500,000 unemployed workers have been jobless for more than six months, it's a big deal.

“Employer discrimination against unemployed job applicants is fundamentally wrong,” Johnson said in a statement. “This discrimination will only prolong the crisis.”

There's also a race issue here. According to Johnson, some companies' "unemployed need not apply" rules can have a particularly adverse affect on minorities.

A spokeswoman for the EEOC confirmed it had received Johnson's letter, but could not provide more details on the agency's next steps.

Depending on what the EEOC does, Johnson's staff tells me he's considering introducing legislation that could add employment status as one of the protected classes under the Civil Rights Act.

He's also looking into a Connecticut law that prohibits discrimination based on an individual's status as an unemployment insurance claimant and how it might be expanded nationally.

Birth certificate no big deal during Gov.-elect Deal's White House visit

Back when he was still a congressman aspiring to be governor, Nathan Deal asked about President Barack Obama's birth certificate while some questioned whether Obama was born on U.S. soil.

So on the eve of his first visit with Obama as Georgia's Republican governor-elect earlier this week, I asked Deal if he planned to bring up issue with Obama, and/or if he thought it would chill the meeting or his relationship with the president.

"No, and no," he replied.

Later, Deal described the meeting between Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and other White House officials and about 25 newly elected governors as "very amicable."

Unlike many of the other newbie governors, during nearly nine terms in Congress, Deal met with presidents before.

The last time, he said, was a year or so ago when he and other congressmen met with Obama about health care legislation. During the George W. Bush administration, he went to the White House even more frequently, he said, including to some annual holiday parties.

Rep. Kingston's art criticism tied to Appropriations chair bid

Republican Rep. Jack Kingston of Savannah earlier this week blasted the National Portrait Gallery's controversial "Hide/Seek" exhibition that features portraits of poet Walt Whitman and paintings by Georgia O'Keeffe but also sexually charged pictures of Ellen DeGeneres holding her breasts and others featuring acts of bondage.

"Congressman Kingston's a fierce advocate for the freedom of speech, but this kind of art doesn't belong in taxpayer-funded facilities," Kingston spokesman Chris Crawford told me.

Crawford also pointed out that Kingston is in ‘"a strategically valuable spot" to address the issue.

Not only is he currently a member of the House Appropriations Committee that doles out federal funding for publicly funded art exhibits and just about everything else the government spends money on, Kingston is a front-runner for the chairmanship of the committee when Republicans choose their committee chairs next Tuesday.

"When these agencies submit their budgets next year, they'll need to answer for why they used this year's funds for something like this," Crawford said in an e-mail interview.