House panel approves nonpartisan Macon-Bibb offices

mlee@macon.comJanuary 31, 2013 

ATLANTA -- A Senate proposal to make Macon-Bibb County’s elections nonpartisan has been reformatted by a House committee to speed it through its next hearing.

And holdout state Sen. David Lucas, D-Macon, said he’ll sign a bill to dissolve Payne City.

Seven Senate-approved bills went into the state House Intragovernmental Coordination Committee on Thursday, where they were lumped into just four and got unanimous approval.

Consolidation “passed overwhelmingly last summer, but the one thing I kept hearing from people was, “I’m voting for this thing but why in the world do we still have partisan elections?’’’ state Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, told the committee as he presented the bills.

The committee, in turn, presented Peake with a new Senate Bill 26 that now makes all eligible judicial offices nonpartisan: probate judge, chief magistrate, Bibb County Civil Court judge and coroner.

It replaces four bills, one for each of the offices.

“The more you go to Rules with one of these partisan bills, sometimes the cantankerousness of Rules can get to you there,” the committee chairman, state Rep. Chuck Sims, R-Ambrose, warned Peake.

Bills must get the nod from the powerful Rules Committee before a full House vote.

“It could get cantankerous on the floor. I’m just trying to save you a little time,” Sims continued.

Senate bills 25, 30 and 31 sailed through the committee untouched. They remove the partisan labels from the mayor and consolidated county commission, the board of education and the Macon-Bibb County Water and Sewerage Authority.

“This is a smart move that has precedent across the entire state,” Peake said.

The vast majority of city elections in Georgia are nonpartisan ballots, while most county commissions have (D) and (R) labels. Certain offices, like sheriff and clerk of court, are by law partisan.

On the Senate side of the Capitol, Lucas said he will sign Senate Bill 28, the measure that will formally fold Payne City into the Macon-Bibb merger.

“I talked to the mayor” of Payne City, said Lucas, and she requested he sign the bill. “They don’t want to do it, but they don’t have any money.”

By a tally of 9-7 ballots, Payne voted against consolidation in 2012. For that reason, Lucas declined to sign SB 28 as authored by state Sen. Cecil Staton, R-Macon.

Lucas’ support saves Staton the time it would have taken to steer Senate Bill 28 through two committees and a floor vote.

Though given the GOP majority in the Senate, eventual passage was hardly in doubt.

To contact writer Maggie Lee, e-mail her at mlee@macon.com

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