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General Assembly

House Majority Leader O’Neal confirms retirement
2 years ago

House Majority Leader O’Neal confirms retirement

The number-three Republican in the Georgia House of Representatives confirmed Wednesday to his hometown newspaper that he would resign his seat at the end of the month.

House Majority Leader Larry O’Neal will be dumping his leadership post in exchange for an appointment as the first permanent judge in Georgia’s Tax Tribunal, which settles disputes between taxpayers and the Department of Revenue, according to the Macon Telegraph.

O’Neal, a tax attorney by trade, told the paper he considered the appointment a “bucket list opportunity.”

Tipsheet reported Monday that O’Neal would be resign in exchange for a state appointment by Gov. Nathan Deal, though the majority leader did not respond to requests for comment. An aide to Speaker David Ralston refused comment when asked earlier this week if O’Neal had consulted House leadership on his plans.

Gold Dome Republicans tell Tipsheet that O’Neal has been eying his possible retirement since last summer, when he had hoped to run the state Department of Revenue. That job instead went to former state Rep. Lynne Riley. Read More

RFRA sponsor: nondiscrimination rider would hold hostage people of faith
2 years ago

RFRA sponsor: nondiscrimination rider would hold hostage people of faith

The author of Georgia’s failed religious liberty legislation says he will revive the divisive proposal next year as written — without non-discrimination protections for gays and lesbians that supporters in the General Assembly deemed a poison pill.

State Sen. Josh McKoon, the Columbus Republican who authored the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, said in a Monday radio interview that possible discrimination based on sexual orientation is totally immaterial to his bill—it’s already the case in Georgia that private businesses may refuse service to LGBT persons barring municipal nondiscrimination ordinances—and accused activists of dishonestly leveraging the debate over free exercise of faith to force an unrelated discussion about nondiscrimination.

“There’s nothing about this bill that impacts the current state of Georgia law as to whether we’re going to recognize sexual orientation as a protected class,” McKoon told Atlanta NPR affiliate WABE. “I think that one of the objectives of the opposition to this bill has been to create confuse about [religious freedom] to then leverage it to try to talk about [nondiscrimination].”

McKoon evaded questions by host Denis O’Hayer why those two debates—the barring of government from interfering with the free exercise of faith, and codifying in state law sexual orientation as protected class—could not be had in tandem as a means of diffusing criticisms of his bill and similar measures in states like Indiana and Arkansas.

“I don’t think that people of faith in this state should be held hostage to any other issue, any other public policy issue,” he said. “That debate … has nothing to do with the fundamental protection of the first freedom of all Georgians, which is the right of free exercise.”

The GOPer also said he expected state party activists to send a “very strong message” to the General Assembly that the base supports his bill. Party activists will huddle this weekend for district conventions and again next month for the state Republican party’s convention in Athens.

“I’ve been spending most of my time talking to congressional district Republican party chairmen around this state. We’ll be having conventions this Saturday,” he said. “And I expect you’re going to hear a very strong message sent from all over this state and all 14 congressional districts on this issue.”

Asked if that strong message might translate to primary challenges for the three Republicans who were instrumental in the bill’s demise by supporting the inclusion of nondiscrimination clause in committee, McKoon said he wasn’t “in the business of getting into threatening people” but expected it would “certainly impact the debate.”

Listen to the full exchange at WABE’s website. Read More

House GOP leader to resign: source
2 years ago

House GOP leader to resign: source

The third most senior GOP lawmaker in the Georgia state House of Representatives will resign his leadership post in exchange for a state appointment, a Republican with knowledge of the arrangement told Tipsheet.

House Majority Leader Larry O’Neal, who was elected to leadership in 2010 after his party’s representation under the Gold Dome jumped by triple digits, will be appointed to a state board in about a month’s time, according to a GOP source who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the plans.

O’Neal, a tax lawyer, had originally sought to lead state Department of Revenue, but Gov. Nathan Deal instead appointed then-state Rep. Lynne Riley as commissioner last November.

The source, who cautioned that the jump had nothing to do with the majority leader’s role in the recent transportation spending package, said that O’Neal’s timeline may be accelerated now that word of the arrangement has leaked.

Attempts by Tipsheet to contact O’Neal and a Deal spokesman Monday morning were unsuccessful.

O’Neal’s plans to resign were first reported over the weekend by Tom Crawford of GA Report. Read More

Dem. lawmaker pleads guilty to tax fraud, resigns seat
2 years ago

Dem. lawmaker pleads guilty to tax fraud, resigns seat

A Georgia Democratic state lawmaker and local civil rights leader pleaded guilty Thursday to federal tax fraud on charges he misappropriated almost $1 million in charitable funds.

State Rep. Tyrone Brooks, who was first elected in 1981 to his Atlanta district, struck a plea deal with federal prosecutors to cop to one charge of filing a false tax claim and no contest to five charges of wire and mail fraud. He had earlier pleaded not guilty to 30 counts of mail, wire, and tax fraud in 2013.

Former Governor Roy Barnes, who represented Brooks in the matter, had argued that the lawmaker was guilty only of careless bookkeeping.

Federal prosecutors accused Brooks of diverting nearly $1 million in charitable funds from a pair of nonprofits he operated and using that money instead to make payments on personal loans and a host of personal expenses, including cash payouts to family members.

The funds, raised from corporate contributors like Coca-Cola and Georgia Pacific, were intended to finance voter registration campaigns and programs to combat illiteracy and food insecurity in Georgia’s black communities.

The case against Brooks was brought in 2013 by then-U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia Sally Quillian Yates, who was recently named as President Barack Obama’s pick for the second-highest ranking prosecutor at the Department of Justice.

Earlier Thursday Brooks signaled to Governor Nathan Deal that he would resign his seat in the state House to shift his focus to civil rights work and solving the notorious Moore’s Ford lynching of 1946, regarded by historians as the state’s last public lynching.

“After 35 enjoyable and successful years in the Georgia House of Representatives, I have decided to shift my priorities and transition back to full time civil human rights work,” Brooks wrote in a letter to the governor. “I have decided to make the Moore’s Ford Bridge Lynching’s in Monroe, GA, my number #1 priority.”

Read Brooks’ resignation letter after the jump. Read More

RFRA sponsor: Georgia biz can already discriminate against gays
2 years ago

RFRA sponsor: Georgia biz can already discriminate against gays

The author of Georgia’s failed religious freedom proposal complained in a television interview hours before the General Assembly adjourned Thursday night that a “far-left outrage machine” had taken hostage the debate about the free exercise of faith and made it instead about discrimination.

Sen. Josh McKoon, sponsor of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, said on CNN last night that the question of discrimination against gays and lesbians was completely immaterial to his legislation, because discrimination of the sort is already permitted in the state.

“Under current Georgia law, sexual orientation is not a protected class,” McKoon told host Chris Cuomo when asked if his legislation would give license to businesses to discriminate. “And so discrimination on that basis can occur today. My law would in no way impact that one way or the other. We’re not seeking to enable discrimination.”

When Cuomo pressed the Columbus Republican why he objected then to the introduction of a non-discrimination clause, which supporters deemed a poison pill, McKoon argued the amendment was “poorly drafted” but said the debate over discrimination should be had — separately.

“There are 236 members of the Georgia General Assembly and if someone wants to come forward and propose a law that has to do with statewide non-discrimination, I’m ready to have that discussion, I’m ready to have that debate,” he said.

Watch the full interview after the jump. Read More

At eleventh hour, Coca-Cola criticizes RFRA
2 years ago

At eleventh hour, Coca-Cola criticizes RFRA

The Georgia-based Coca-Cola Company said in a statement Thursday that it opposed religious freedom legislation that gives license to businesses to discriminate against gays and lesbians.

“Coca-Cola does not support any legislation that discriminates, in our home state of Georgia or anywhere else,” the beverage giant said in a short statement posted to its website. “We believe policies that would allow a business to refuse service to an individual based upon discrimination of any kind, does not only violate our Company’s core values, but would also negatively affect our consumers, customers, suppliers, bottling partners and associates.”

When similar legislation was introduced last year, the corporate giant issued a February statement—nearly a full month before the legislature’s adjournment—to denounce the effort as discriminatory.

But Thursday’s statement came on the absolute last day of session, when the legislation’s primary sponsor had already told reporters he believed the bill was dead. In fact, until today, the company has remained conspicuously hushed as Gold Dome Republicans attempted to revive the proposal. Read More

Ga. House OK’s new stripper tax
2 years ago

Ga. House OK’s new stripper tax

Georgia House lawmakers approved on Tuesday a plan to finance a new state fund for victims of sex trafficking in part by taxing adult entertainment establishments.

Under a pair of companion bill’s that passed last night, the state will pay for a new rehabilitation fund for sexually exploited children by requiring convicted traffickers to pay fines of $2,500 and a $5,000 annual operating tax on strip clubs. Convicted traffickers would also be required to register as sex offenders.

The new fund would assume healthcare, housing, and counseling bills for victims of the sex trade.

The two bills, SB 8 and SR 7, passed the Senate in February but the complimentary measures were amended during negotiations in the lower chamber and must be green lighted a second time by Senate lawmakers before final adoption.

Outside boosters of the legislation included the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, the Georgia Municipal Association, and the executive director of the Georgia Catholic Conference. Read More

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