GOP takes Middle Georgia bills hostage

Rep. Nikki Randall: “It’s more about party than Bibb County”

mlee@macon.comMarch 11, 2013 

ATLANTA -- Lawmaking earned the comparison with sausage making Monday, as the GOP-controlled state House of Representatives threw out five uncontested Democrat-authored midstate bills about redistricting and Bibb County management.

What state Rep. Nikki Randall, D-Macon, called “revenge,” happened Monday, as she and other Democrats statewide found several of their successful local bills reconsidered and tabled. That is, the GOP rescinded House approval and laid the bills aside.

It was a move in retaliation for Democrats failing to help pass a Fulton County Republican bill to raise homestead exemptions in that county only, Randall said.

“Bibb County has gotten caught up in a war from other counties,” she said.

The Monday fight brought down House Bill 273, a bill to allow a county-funded State Court judge in Bibb; House Bill 514, a vehicle to carry a few local government rule tweaks ahead of consolidation requested by the city-county task force; House Bill 470, an adjustment to the Bibb County Civil Service Board; and Senate Bills 182 and 183, which deal with routine redistricting in Hancock County.

Randall authored the first three, with bipartisan support. The second two came from state Sen. David Lucas, D-Macon, who is Hancock County’s sole senator. His bills needed no other signatures.

The House also tabled Democrat-sponsored local bills from Albany and Hinesville.

The Bibb measures still have a chance to become law, said state Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon.

“We’re going to drop three new bills ... that I feel very certain will move quickly,” he said. His name will top each bill, rather than Randall’s.

Normally, so-called local bills that only affect a single jurisdiction glide easily through the Legislature.

But big counties such as Fulton, Bibb and Augusta-Richmond can cause partisan fireworks when Democrats and Republicans from a given county disagree on what’s best in their jurisdiction.

That happened last Thursday, when Fulton County Republicans needed a single Democrat or Independent vote to get a super-majority in the House to pass the homestead exemption change. State Rep. Rusty Kidd, I-Milledgeville, said he planned to go along with Fulton County, but he ran late Thursday. In his absence, the Fulton County bill failed.

“I was approached to assist” in passing the Fulton bill, Randall said. “And I said, ‘No, I’m not going to have anything to do with that.’ Because I said that, all of a sudden my bills got on the same calendar,” hitching the Bibb bills’ fates to Fulton’s.

She made a parliamentary move on Thursday to unhitch them, but she was voted down.

Randall lambasted Bibb County’s Republicans for following party orders to table her bills rather than voting in what she called the county’s interest.

“Apparently it’s more about party than Bibb County,” she said.

Peake said he would have voted for the Bibb bills if there was no other way to pass them.

“But this was one that I felt like I needed to stick with my party, with my caucus, when I knew I had another alternative to accomplish what we needed to do at the local level,” he said.

House Majority Whip Edward Lindsey, R-Atlanta, acknowledged that removing the Democrat bills was meant to be a shot across the minority party’s bow.

“All we are asking,” he said, “is for our friends on the Democrat side to show equal courtesy” on legislation agreed on by a majority in a county’s delegation.

But Fulton’s politics are divided in a way similar to Bibb’s: Republicans dominate each county’s team in the state Legislature, and that team is in charge of writing rules for cities and counties that are run by Democrats.

The Monday fight is widening the rift among Bibb’s lawmakers. Randall is the senior lawmaker, but she said she is going to step down as chairwoman of the delegation.

“I’m done,” she said. “I can’t be the face of an organization that’s a hoax.”

Five of Bibb’s eight legislators are Republicans, meaning they can, and have, moved legislation to which Randall and other Democrats object.

As for the Hancock County redistricting bills, Lucas said he still expects to get them passed sooner or later, and if not, let the federal Department of Justice take care of it. The Justice Department is in charge of investigating policies that may abridge voting rights.

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