An overhaul of MARTA looks like it’s on the way. On a largely party line vote, the House of Representatives approved a plan that would reshuffle the regional transit authority’s governing board and privatize many of its operations. Similar results are expected in the Senate. The changes also would eventually cap the authority’s debt service at 35 percent of the sales tax revenue the system now gets from Fulton and DeKalb counties. That’s lower than existing costs. Brookhaven Republican Mike Jacobs pitches the plans as necessary to sustain the system and get more buy-in from residents and potential riders outside the city of Atlanta. But the plans drew sharp opposition from urban Democrats. The debate highlighted the historical racial divide on MARTA discussions, with black lawmakers largely defending the system and their white colleagues arguing for changes. North Atlanta Republican Ed Lindsey, however, made sure to emphasize that it’s not exclusively a black-white issue. A Republican from a majority white portion of the city, Lindsey wielded his MARTA Breeze card at the podium as he endorsed the changes.
ODDS AND ENDS:
* The House of Representatives has approved a bill designed to crack down on so-called pill mills, businesses that pitch themselves as pain clinics only to distribute narcotics to customers without legitimate prescriptions. Georgia currently does not regulate the clinics. House Bill 178 would define pain clinics as any health care facility where at least half of the patients were being treated for chronic pain. Such facilities would have to get a state license beginning in July and renew it every two years. And, perhaps more importantly, the bill would mandate that new clinics be owned only by physicians.
* The state Board of Education voted this week to recommend the suspension of six of nine DeKalb County school board members. Gov. Nathan Deal issued a statement following the act saying he will announce Monday his decision on the recommendation. The system, which is the state’s third largest public school system, is at risk of losing accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. “I will do everything in my power to prevent the loss of accreditation of the DeKalb school system and the devastating impact it would have on students and economic development in one of the state’s largest counties,” Deal said in a statement released by his press office.
* The state of Georgia this week quietly carried out its first execution using one drug, instead of the three-drug combination that had dominated lethal injections in death penalty states. Andrew Cook had been condemned for the 1995 slayings of two Mercer University students: Grant Patrick Hendrickson and Michele Cartagena. Cook’s execution was overshadowed by the case of fellow death row inmate Warren Hill. A federal appeals court this week voted 2-1 to stay Hill’s execution for at least 30 days. Hill’s defense team argues that Hill is mentally handicapped. Georgia law and U.S Supreme Court precedent prohibit executing mentally retarded persons. Hill was sentenced to death the 1990 killing of a fellow inmate. Hill was already serving time for killing his girlfriend, Myra Wright, in 1986.
* Chatter about the 2014 U.S. Senate race and the subsequent political dominoes seems to have quieted since the initial burst after Sen. Saxby Chambliss announced he won’t seek a third term. But that doesn’t mean it’s gone away. U.S. Rep. Paul Broun has already announced a bid for the seat, prompting several lawmakers to talk about running for the 10th Congressional District seat. Broun’s colleague, Rep. Tom Price, was in the Capitol on Friday. He made the rounds on the Senate floor, huddling quietly with several members of the upper chamber.
* Rep. Earl Ehrhart has had multiple meetings with Deal’s office to negotiate the details of the Cobb County Republican’s proposed expansion of a tax credit scheme that finances student aid to private schools. The program allows corporations and individuals to get dollar-for-dollar tax credits — as opposed to deductions that simply lower a filer’s taxable income — by giving money to third-party organizations that, in turn, issue scholarship to private school students. Ehrhart proposes, among other things, raising the total cap of the program from $50 million to $80 million. Deal has not included that plan as an official part of his session agenda, but Ehrhart confirms that he has been working with the governor’s office.
“We want to control who owns these clinics. That’s a shot to the heart for how organized crime operates these businesses.” — Rep. Tom Weldon (R-Ringgold) on why House Bill 178 would require that owners of new pain clinics be owned by licensed Georgia physicians.
DAYS IN SESSION:
18 days remain in the 40-day legislative session.
The House is scheduled to vote Monday on Speaker David Ralston’s plans to ban gifts from lobbyists to individual lawmakers. There are several exceptions in the law. Some grassroots activists, including tea party leaders, have balked at stricter requirements on who must register as a lobbyist and pay a $25 processing fee.