OPINION: Sine Die. The Good. The Bad. And, yes, the Ugly

As the work day started in the state Senate Monday morning, Rev. Andy Stanley, the pastor of a north suburban megachurch, imparted a simple message to his political brethren: Don’t be jerks.

Monday was the final day of the this year’s General Assembly and is called Sine Die, which is Latin for “Yippie! They’re finally leaving town!” I enjoy attending for the sheer entertainment value.

The reverend groused in an ever-so-pleasant Christian way about receiving a political mailer that blasted Democrats for lying, cheating and stealing to win elections. It also took a shot at Republican Governor Brian Kemp for letting “us” down and helping create problems like Ukraine, inflation, high gas prices and the open borders.

One could argue the mailer was an equal-opportunity basher. It dinged both the cheatin’ Dems as well as our own Governor Shotgun. Of course, it didn’t berate everyone, steering clear of the likes of Trump toady David Perdue, the defeated U.S. Senator who’s taking a shot at Kemp in the Republican primary next month.

Now, you might argue that I’m reverting to name calling, although I’d say I’m just calling them like I see ‘em. But in the mood of togetherness, let me just say David Perdue looks ruggedly managerial when he dons his jean jacket.

Stanley suggested that politicians should stop fear mongering, deferring to the schemes of oily consultants and refrain from demonizing those on the other side.

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When Andy Stanley delivers the sermon at North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, his words are heard not only by the 4,700 or so parishioners in the sanctuary, but by tens of thousands of others who watch a real-time videocast at four other campuses.

When Andy Stanley delivers the sermon at North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, his words are heard not only by the 4,700 or so parishioners in the sanctuary, but by tens of thousands of others who watch a real-time videocast at four other campuses.

Combined ShapeCaption
When Andy Stanley delivers the sermon at North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, his words are heard not only by the 4,700 or so parishioners in the sanctuary, but by tens of thousands of others who watch a real-time videocast at four other campuses.

“What if we decided, you decided, that we just need to do things differently — not only are we not going to mail out this kind of garbage but we’re going to call each other out and hold each other accountable when we see this happening,” he said.

As Stanley spoke, most senators nodded amiably while a few others scrolled their phones while feigning attention and plotted out their strategies for the day.

Sine Die is a day full of tension, enthusiasm and panicked conspiracy. It’s the last chance for lawmakers to pass their well-crafted, well-researched (I’m being kind) legislation. The looming deadline creates a sense of unbridled desperation in the Capitol’s corridors. Proposed bills are constantly being changed, tweaked, gutted and smoothed over. One Senate resolution that started out as a vehicle to bring sports betting to the hard-working citizens of Georgia strangely ended up being a bill to tax timber at a lower rate. That, my friends, is ingenuity.

Now, the day wasn’t all political battling and partisan gamesmanship. Calvin Smyre, a Democrat from Columbus who was elected to the House when Jimmy Carter was merely an ambitious governor (1974), was lauded by his colleagues and presented a portrait that will hang in the Capitol. As he recalled nearly half century in an often rambunctious building, the quiet political veteran gave his Top 10 list of things he’ll miss, #1 being, “Mr. Speaker, I yield the well.” And then he did.

A little while after that great communal hug, state pols played some more Kumbaya on the interior steps of the Capitol with a bill signing ceremony that marked the passage of some sweeping mental health legislation. Sometimes government can do good things. This was one of those times.

Explore‘A day to put your seat belt on’: Sine Die at the Capitol
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With much fanfare, Gov. Brian Kemp signs HB 1013, which aims to increase access to mental health coverage in Georgia on Sine Die, the last day of the General Assembly at the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta on Monday, April 4, 2022. (Bob Andres / robert.andres@ajc.com)

Credit: robert.andres@ajc.com

With much fanfare, Gov. Brian Kemp signs HB 1013, which aims to increase access to mental health coverage in Georgia on Sine Die, the last day of the General Assembly at the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta on Monday, April 4, 2022.   (Bob Andres / robert.andres@ajc.com)

Credit: robert.andres@ajc.com

Combined ShapeCaption
With much fanfare, Gov. Brian Kemp signs HB 1013, which aims to increase access to mental health coverage in Georgia on Sine Die, the last day of the General Assembly at the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta on Monday, April 4, 2022. (Bob Andres / robert.andres@ajc.com)

Credit: robert.andres@ajc.com

Credit: robert.andres@ajc.com

The bipartisan bill, pushed hard by Speaker David Ralston and signed by Gov. Kemp, would require most insurance companies to cover mental health care the same way physical health is covered. It would also forgive student loans for those working in the mental health field in underserved areas and increase funding for services.

State Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver, a Democrat who has spent decades in the legislature, was one of the bill’s sponsors, along with Republican state Rep. Todd Jones. After the ceremony, Oliver was still shaking her head. “I still feel a bit stunned,” she said. “This bill has such depth. It was a privilege to work on something that means something.”

That means, then, with the good work out of the way, legislators were then free to engage their true inner selves.

As the night wore on, bills that would smooth out the disastrous rollout of medical marijuana, continue messing with election law and whack transgender students were still in the offing.

As the clock ticked toward the midnight(ish) deadline legislators scurried, huddled, conferred, plotted and compromised. Or they did not.

A bill that would have allowed more than 20,000 patients a legal path to obtaining medical marijuana in Georgia fell one vote short of getting a final hearing in the Senate late Monday night. The legislature voted in 2015 to allow medical marijuana oil to be prescribed by doctors. Except you can’t get it here. Legally, at least. I don’t have enough fingers to point at those dragging their feet or working to make this not happen.

And as the witching hour loomed, Republican lawmakers revived much of the election bill that had been largely scuttled and then hashed out a plan to let the GBI investigate any perceived infractions that might put election results in doubt. Dems said the vote was to unleash police power as a tactic to intimidate voters and election workers.

Republicans gave their stock answer, election integrity. It must have been listed on the flier Rev. Stanley was talking about.