Legislative Notebook: Georgia’s Senate first to resolve for U.S. Constitution amendments

February 4, 2014 

The Georgia Senate agreed 37-16 that states should band together and amend the U.S. Constitution to limit federal spending, power and congressional terms.

“We sense an utter frustration (from voters) with what’s going on in Washington, D.C., today,” resolution sponsor state Sen. Cecil Staton, R-Macon, told his colleagues from the Senate floor on Tuesday ahead of the party line vote.

The resolution tells the U.S. Congress that Georgia wants an Article V convention: a meeting of states authorized in the U.S. Constitution to make amendments to that document. It could consider any one of the three topics in the resolution. They are worded broadly and aim to make the federal government live within its means, cut federal power and impose some kind of congressional term limits.

It takes similar resolutions in 34 states to trigger an Article V convention, something that has never happened before. However, a national group called the Convention of the States Project is coordinating a push. Several other Legislatures including South Carolina will look at the issue this year. Georgia’s Senate is the first legislative success for the campaign.

But it’s a divisive issue, said state Sen. Steve Thompson, D-Marietta, urging a “no” vote.

“It’s open-ended, and it’s dangerous,” Thompson said. He said he thinks most Americans could agree to sustainable federal spending, but an Article V convention is too potentially explosive.

Georgia has sent about a dozen Article V convention requests to Congress over the years, said Staton.

“The cynics among us might say, ‘Well it’ll never happen,’ ” said Staton, continuing, “history doesn’t suggest that it’s an easy thing to do.”

Senate Resolution 736 now moves to the state House.

A similar, narrower resolution passed the state Senate last year, but the House never took a floor vote.

Regents deflect GMC move

A state House panel will schedule another hearing on a bill that would let Georgia Military College offer four-year degrees after the Georgia Board of Regents came to the first hearing Tuesday with objections.

Georgia Military College, by law, is a two-year institution. Only about 5 percent of its 8,000 students live on campus. It’s only that small on-campus group that is enrolled in a cadet program that can lead to a U.S. Army commission. For the rest of the students, it’s a liberal arts commuter college, meant to ready its students for transfer to four-year colleges.

But GMC wants to offer a four-year Bachelor of Applied Sciences degree in management at its Milledgeville, Warner Robins and Augusta campuses.

The lack of a four-year program prevents GMC from offering an additional opportunity to its unique student population, said House Bill 763 author state Rep. Bubber Epps, R-Dry Branch.

GMC is an “open admission” school: it accepts anyone who has a high school degree or equivalent, regardless of grades or SAT scores.

The result is a student body heavy on people who were less likely to have prepared for college and to whom GMC offers remedial courses.

But Tom Daniel, senior vice chancellor of the University System of Georgia, told the House Higher Education Committee that some of his universities already offer four-year degrees where GMC wants to expand.

While GMC is a state school, it raises most of its income itself and is not part of the Board of Regents’ University System.

But GMC students, when they qualify, dip from the same pot of HOPE Scholarship money as university students.

Now it’s up to the regents, GMC and Epps to come to some agreement to present to the committee.

Beverly finalizing enhancement authority

The Macon-Bibb County Community Enhancement Authority would be governed by a three-member board of trustees plus a chair, under a new bill by state Rep. James Beverly, D-Macon.

It’s one of several tweaks he’s planned before booting up the authority, which would use grants to attract economic development to Macon’s poorest communities. The Macon-Bibb County Commission would name one board member. Bibb’s lawmakers would choose the rest and the chair.

The authority covers all Macon census tracts where the poverty level is 40 percent or higher. House Bill 896 expands that footprint to adjacent tracts.

The bill already has support from enough of Beverly’s colleagues to ensure House passage.

-- Maggie Lee

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