Georgia Legislative Review 1998
In the 1997 issue of the Georgia Legislative Review, we predicted that the 1998 session would include a legislative focus on anti-crime and anti-affirmative action themes. Unfortunately, our worst fears were realized as the Democratic leadership (Governor, Speaker, and Lieutenant Governor) adopted a unity platform that called for abolishing parole while the Republicans, led by their Minority Whip, Representative Earl Ehrhart (36), made a systematic effort to eliminate existing local government affirmative action programs and to prohibit the adoption of any state programs. Indeed, these two public policy issues dominated the recent legislative session and consumed many days of committee meetings and floor debates and became the compelling issues for the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus. Although neither of these initiatives passed the General Assembly, it seems certain that they will reappear on the agenda next year as Republicans are optimistic that they will gain a majority in the House and/or Senate and possibly elect a governor.
Despite the above two initiatives that were detrimental to the interests of African American and low-income Georgians, many positive and progressive policies were enacted. Among the most significant of these efforts were: 1) a new insurance program to cover children in families whose income does not exceed 200 percent of poverty level; 2) an increase to 56 percent of the budget that is allocated for education; 3) major funding for welfare recipients to provide training, transition support, placement service, and transportation; and 4) an income tax cut of $205 million, plus $129 million derived from taking a penny off the state sales tax on food.
This volume’s format is similar to earlier issues and includes eight substantive policy chapters along with the Ratings section, which additionally assesses the voting patterns of African American and white legislators on issues that significantly impact minority and low-income Georgians. The contributors point out that the legislature had a mixed record relating to many issues: on employment and labor it increased unemployment benefits, but refused to increase the state minimum wage; regarding criminal justice, it passed legislation to create a state sentencing commission, but made it easier to carry concealed guns in cars; concerning insurance, it prevented insurance companies from discriminating against abused women, but refused to address red-lining; and it defeated an affirmative action bill, but offered no support to address continuing discrimination in the private and public sectors. The votes on issues such as these were compiled and show the legislature’s overall rating to be lower than that of the previous year. The "Rating" chapter examined votes on a wide range of issues from affirmative action, health insurance, plurality vote for primary election nomination to increasing the* overall ratings scores in the House declined from 5.3 to 4.4 and in the Senate from 4.7 to 4.5. The Democrats' average was 5.6 compared to 2.9 for Republicans in the House, and 5.1 for Senate Democrats compared to 3.6 for their GOP counterparts. Finally, the African American legislators in the Senate had an aggregate rating of 6.5 compared to 5 for white legislators with black constituencies of 40 percent higher and 4 for others. Black members of the House scored 6.2, whites with 40 percent or above the black constituencies a 5.2 and 3.9 for all other senators.
Since 1998 is an election year, it is our hope that many business, civic, grassroots, political, and religious leaders will read this volume, as it should provide them with essential information and insight into the operation of the state legislature. They need to be informed voters and disseminate their knowledge and influence among their followers to become more involved in the political process. If the volume serves to stimulate greater political participation, then it will have achieved its purpose.
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