Politics & Government

Political notebook: Freedom’s cost

Midstate tourism directors have led a charge against Senate Bill 129, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, saying the measure raises concerns about discrimination against convention groups that could take their business elsewhere.

“As of today we know of at least $15 million in convention business that has stated that they will cancel their conventions should this bill pass,” reads a letter from the Georgia Association of Convention & Visitors Bureaus’ board of directors. “... If this bill passes, we expect the long term negative impact will be hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue.”

The bill is signed by the president of the Georgia association, Monica Smith, who also leads the Macon-Bibb County CVB. Every other board member of the association signed on, including Jane Sowell of the Milledge­ville-Baldwin County CVB and Rebecca McWilliam of the Dublin CVB.

Smith told The Telegraph that the letter was signed by people representing the association’s board and not their local CVB. She didn’t know of any business that would be lost in Middle Georgia.

The letter goes on to say the legislation is “unnecessary and divisive,” and the group says it has a legislative priority to oppose legislation that could discriminate on race, gender, sexual orientation or religious affiliation or practice.

Some businesses oppose the bill. The bill, championed by Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus, is proclaimed to “provide for the preservation of religious freedom.” Pundits say it’s now a long shot that the bill could pass this session, which is scheduled to end April 2.

Macon Judicial Circuit District Attorney David Cooke has said an earlier version of the proposal would have made it harder to convict child abusers.

NEAR MISS

It didn’t happen here, Macon-Bibb County Mayor Robert Reichert mused last week.

When he came to speak to The Telegraph’s editorial board, Reichert said, he came prepared to talk about the racially fueled turmoil in Ferguson, Missouri. He wasn’t asked about it, but it was on his mind anyway.

“We came awfully close to being Ferguson with Junebug,” Reichert said.

He was referring to the Dec. 21, 2102, incident in which then-Macon Police Officer Clayton Sutton, who is white, fatally shot an unarmed black man Sammie “Junebug” Davis after a struggle outside the Pio Nono Avenue Kroger.

After a monthslong investigation, Sutton was declared to have acted in justifiable self-defense, but after the merger of Macon police with the Bibb County Sheriff’s Office, Sutton was fired in June 2014 for insubordination.

Davis’ death brought small-scale demonstrations, but no violent confrontations or property damage. The anonymous author of a racially inflammatory flier tried to make it an issue in the October 2013 commission and mayoral races, but even the candidates the flier endorsed denounced and disavowed it. The flier didn’t appear to have any effect on the election’s outcome.

About 53 percent of Macon-Bibb’s 155,000 people are black, and 43 percent white. Ferguson, a 21,000-population suburb of St. Louis, is 67 percent black and 29 percent white.

The Aug. 9, 2014, shooting death of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown by white Ferguson policeman Darren Wilson touched off massive protests that turned violent. Wilson’s actions were ruled justified and he was not charged, though he quit the force in November.

But the uproar continued in the wake of a Justice Department investigation that found a pattern of racism pervading Ferguson’s government, from racist email exchanges to a court-fine structure built to exploit minorities as a revenue source.

Reichert credits Bibb County Sheriff David Davis with helping to ensure that similar things can’t be said about Macon-Bibb. Davis has renewed staff warnings about email policies and has “done a great job” at making the Sheriff’s Office resemble the makeup of the community, Reichert said.

And Ferguson’s exploitative fee structure won’t be found here either, Reichert said. In fact, Macon-Bibb Municipal Court is running an amnesty through March 31 that waives late fees on tickets and fines for non-appearance in court.

INFLUENCE WARNER ROBINS RECREATION

Consultants helping Warner Robins develop its recreation master plan will discuss the planning process, show opportunities for the parks and take input from the public in a 6 p.m. meeting April 2. The event will kick off the planning campaign. It will be held at the Wellston Center, 155 Maple St.

Further meetings will be held as the planning process continues.

PLAN THE FUTURE OF TRANSPORTATION

The Warner Robins Area Transportation Study organization is seeking public comment on the development of goals and objectives for its 2040 transportation plan. Public meetings are scheduled for April 7, with one session running from 3:30-5 p.m. at the Georgia Military College’s Warner Robins Campus, 801 Duke Ave., and another running from 6:30-8 p.m. at the atrium next to the library of Central Georgia Technical College, 80 Cohen Walker Drive. Information is also available online by visiting www.wrga.gov, then clicking the Government tab, then Transportation.

BUCKEYE BULL’S-EYE

It’s not quite “guns everywhere,” as last year’s loosening of firearms restrictions in Georgia was dubbed, but it is, at least, our guns there for your guns here.

Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens’ office announced this week that Ohio has become the 29th state to reciprocally recognize Georgia firearms permits. That means if your gun is legal in Georgia, you can have it in the Buckeye State too, and Ohio gun owners can bring theirs into the Peach State without qualms.

A 1996 Georgia law allows such reciprocal agreements to be made. Similar deals are in effect with every state that borders Georgia except South Carolina, according to Olens spokeswoman Lauren Kane.

“As always, Georgia firearms permit holders should familiarize themselves with the individual requirements and limitations on firearms permits in any of the reciprocating states where they wish to exercise their rights under this reciprocity program,” she wrote in the announcement.

RISING DOUGH

Crawford County Manager Pat Kelly recently asked commissioners to OK several relatively small budget changes. He also offered good news: The balance in the county’s general fund rose from $862,969 to $1,340,765. That’s a net change of about $478,000 or 55 percent.

DEAL APPOINTS MIDSTATERS

Gov. Nathan Deal recently appointed several people from Middle Georgia to boards.

Ben Copeland of Fort Valley was reappointed to the Middle Ocmulgee Regional Water Planning Council.

Charles Bass Jr. of Dublin, owner of Bass Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Center, was appointed to the Board of Physical Therapy.

Gary Bishop of Perry was reappointed to the Georgia Higher Education Facilities Authority. He retired as president from CB&T Bank after 39 years of service and has 35 years of perfect attendance with the Perry Rotary Club.

Writers Jim Gaines and Mike Stucka contributed to this report.

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