Capitol Recap: Georgia Senate’s harassment rules could see alterations

Georgia’s state Capitol.

Georgia’s state Capitol.

The state Senate's new rules on sexual harassment complaints appear to be headed for a rewrite.

Negotiations have begun under the guidance of Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan. His chief of staff, Chip Lake, described his boss as "hopeful" a compromise can be reached.

The new rules, which the Senate’s GOP majority adopted on the first day of the legislative session to address the handling of complaints against senators and staff members, managed to make it until the third day of the session before a protest broke out among the chamber's female members.

They still aren’t happy about it.

State Sen. Jen Jordanduring an appearance this past week on GPB's "Political Rewind," characterized the rules as "a ridiculous, draconian kind of approach."

“You can’t file a complaint while someone is running for re-election. We run for re-election every two years,” the Democrat from Atlanta said. “They changed the burden of proof to say that it has to be ‘clear and convincing evidence.’ You may have to reimburse the cost of the investigation if you’re a complainant.

“You can be sanctioned for contempt, meaning you can be jailed by the Senate. And these are all targeted toward the person making the complaint,” Jordan said.

The lieutenant governor has said he was blindsided by the rules — which came in the wake of a complaint filed last year against one of Duncan's opponents in last year's GOP primary, David Shafer. The complaint was eventually dismissed, although it still helped fuel a dark money campaign against Shafer.

Changing the rules at this point will be a steeper climb than what it took to put them in place. Because the current rules were adopted on the first day of the session, it only took a simple majority to approve them. Any alterations after that will require a two-thirds majority.

That gives Democrats, who hold 21 of the Senate’s 56 seats, including 13 of the 15 female senators, a say in the outcome.

While they don’t like the sexual harassment rules, the female senators haven’t always been pleased with Duncan, either. The same protest they waged against the sexual harassment rules also focused on one of Duncan’s first acts in office: the committee assignments he handed out in consultation with the Senate’s GOP leadership.

One of the leaders in that protest, Republican Renee Unterman of Buford, was a big loser. She is no longer chairwoman of the Senate's powerful Health and Human Services Committee, nor vice chairwoman of the even-more-powerful Appropriations Committee. Instead, she is the chairwoman of the low-profile Science and Technology Committee, which generally handles a substantially smaller load of the legislation that passes through the upper chamber.

The other female senators raised similar issues with their assignments to committees that also hold sway over minimal amounts of legislation.

Duncan responded to that protest by calling the assignment process "difficult" while defending himself against charges of bias.

“Any insinuation that this year’s process was discriminatory is nonsense,” he said.

Hanging with a different crowd: You'll usually find Georgia U.S. Sen. David Perdue in the same camp with fellow Georgian Republican Johnny Isakson and their party's leader in the upper chamber, Mitch McConnell.

But this past week, one issue — President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria and Afghanistan — put Perdue closer to the likes of Democratic U.S. Sens. Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand and Kamala Harris.

Isakson was one of 70 senators who passed a measure that McConnell proposed opposing the troop pullouts.

Perdue missed the vote, taking care of business that day back in Georgia. A day later, however, the senator indicated that he was no fan of the move. Perdue, one of Trump's closest allies in the Senate, said he was "disappointed that some have used this process for political posturing."

The proposal — an amendment to a larger foreign policy bill — states, according to The Associated Press, that "a precipitous withdrawal" of U.S. forces could "allow terrorists to regroup, destabilize critical regions and create vacuums that could be filled by Iran or Russia."

It doesn’t mean much, though, in terms of action because it’s nonbinding. Still, Trump would have preferred it hadn’t happen, since it shows his grip on GOP senators has slipped a bit.

Isakson spokeswoman Amanda Maddox said the “success and subsequent withdrawal from military conflicts must be based on conditions and not arbitrary.”

“This has been (Isakson’s) position regardless of administration,” Maddox said. “We cannot risk allowing a repeat of the conditions that enabled (al-Qaida, the Islamic State and affiliates) to gain enough strength to attack our homeland.”

Perdue expressed similar concerns in the past — during the Obama administration — warning that removing troops too quickly can produce troubling results.

If Perdue had voted against the amendment, he would have found himself part of an unusual mix of 26 senators. In addition to Booker, Gillibrand and Harris — who have all launched presidential campaigns in 2020 — there were conservative Republican U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah, at least one other potential Democratic presidential hopeful in U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and libertarian-thinking U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky.

'Sleepwalking' toward peril: Former Georgia U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn responded quickly and harshly after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the U.S. would withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, citing Russian violations.

Nunn joined former Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, his partner in leading the Washington-based Nuclear Threat Initiative, in criticizing the move in an article for Politico Magazine.

Withdrawal from the treaty, they wrote, is a sign that relations between the U.S. and Russia are “dangerously off the rails,” and that investigations into Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election are a contributing factor.

“The U.S. and Russia are sleepwalking toward a nuclear disaster,” they wrote, “and America’s best hope of avoiding catastrophe is reengaging with Russia now — with Congress taking the lead.

“Reengagement cannot wait for the special counsel’s office to complete its work, or for new leadership to take office in the Kremlin or White House — the stakes are simply too high. Congressional leaders from both parties must help create the political space to steer the world’s nuclear superpowers away from catastrophe.”

A legislative riddle: What has three ayes and moves quickly? It could be voting legislation.

House Minority Leader Bob Trammell says he has fallen short in trying to expand the House Governmental Affairs Committee's requirement for a quorum to hold a meeting.

The panel, with Republican state Rep. Ed Rynders of Albany as its chairman, set the quorum at four of 20 members. Trammell had hoped to make that eight.

The committee is expected to play a key role this session on any legislation dealing with voter access and ballot security. You may remember some talk about those issues back during the November election.

Republicans called the four-member requirement a reaction to past Democratic walkouts meant to halt committee work. But a quorum of four makes it possible for the chairman and three others to hold an impromptu committee meeting and pass legislation out of the committee with only three of its 20 members saying “aye.”

Saving for a rainy day in 2020: Most of us might think the 2020 elections are far off. Didn't we just have an election?

But it's never too early to raise campaign cash. Right, Lucy McBath?

McBath, who’s been a congresswoman a whole month now, raised nearly $247,000 between her election Nov. 6 and the end of 2018, according to Issue One, a group interested in changing campaign finance laws.

The Democrat from Marietta took the top spot on Issue One's list of post-election fundraising totals by members of Congress in the country's most competitive districts.

At the bottom of the list was another familiar name, U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall, R-Lawrenceville. He took in less than $8,000 over the same period. Thursday, Woodall announced that he would not seek re-election in 2020.

McBath and Woodall represent Georgia’s 6th and 7th congressional districts, respectively. Both were once reliably conservative and Republican districts, but they’ll likely be highly contested battlegrounds in 2020.

One Republican, state Sen. Brandon Beach of Alpharetta, has already announced plans to run for McBath's seat. U.S. Rep. Karen Handel, whom McBath beat in November, has not announced whether she'll make another run at McBath.

Woodall's exit — after barely surviving Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux's challenge in November by less than 500 votes — leaves the next 7th District race wide open. Bourdeaux says she's in.

Capitol Recap

Here's a look at some of the political and government stories that The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's staff broke online during the past week. To see more of them, go to