Opinion Columns & Blogs

Unrecorded votes will continue in the Georgia state Senate

State Sen. John F. Kennedy, just right of center during the January hearing on SR 24.
State Sen. John F. Kennedy, just right of center during the January hearing on SR 24. D.A. King

“One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors”

Attributed to Plato

Readers will need to decide for themselves if their moral inferiors are governing them on this one. Last month we told you about current rules in the state Senate that are used for unrecorded votes on changes to legislation after the public committee vetting process.

Part of the January write-up:“To quickly repeat the lesson in how the Georgia Senate works, when any senator suggests a change in a bill on the floor of the Senate (called a floor amendment), the default manner of voting on that amendment is a raise-your-hand vote that is not recorded anywhere. Neither is a non-vote. It takes five senators to insist on a recorded vote that is put on the vote tally machine and in the permanent Senate Journal. Most floor amendments do not get a recorded vote.

“Let us make it clear here that one of the most dependable tools used by politicians is the knowledge that most Americans have no idea how their government works. If you are looking for a voluntary explanation on all of this from your own state senator, regardless of party, it will be a very long wait.”

If you missed it, you may want to read the full column (Unrecorded vote rule in the Georgia Senate should be scrapped and all Georgians should be making that demand).

The rest of the story so far is that the secretive Senate management wins again and the unrecorded votes will continue — and pesky citizens with video cameras are not exactly welcomed in the Senate Rules Committee room during hearings.

Senate Resolution 24 sponsored by Sen. Josh McKoon, R- Columbus aimed at changing the unrecorded vote rule was killed in a January Senate Rules Committee meeting. In that hearing, several members acted as if McKoon had lost his mind in suggesting that any (all Georgians) should always be able to see how their state senator voted in Senate chambers.

The standing room only crowd of Georgians who had been alerted to the morning hearing and packed the Capitol committee room came as an unpleasant surprise to the members of the committee. Some of the curious Georgians had driven more than 100 miles to speak for McKoon’s resolution.

A muffled gasp went up in the room as 16-year veteran of the Gold Dome and Chairman Jeff Mullis, R–Chickamauga, announced at the start of the 30-minute hearing that he would not allow any testimony from the bipartisan crowd.

A clearly irritated Republican committee member, Senate Majority Leader Bill Cowsert, R-Athens, made it clear that in his opinion, the Senate was already transparent enough. McKoon’s resolution died with a motion from Cowsert that was quickly seconded by Sen. John F. Kennedy, R-Macon.

You can read more on that hearing and as a bonus, see a video of the entire meeting courtesy of citizen videographer Jack Staver of Woodstock.

A much-anticipated and promised second attempt at a change in Senate rules on unrecorded votes was cancelled last week due to a lack of support in the Senate.

Staver was not the only citizen witness to the January event who was armed with a camera. Many in the room — including this writer — had their cell phone cameras in hand and were taking still photos and videos of the committee hearing.

Unlike the Georgia state House, the Senate does not broadcast its hearings and does not have archived videos of what goes on in committee. You may want to ask your own senator about that.

Citizen videographers relegated to the back of the room

Last week, at an unrelated hearing in the Rules Committee, Chairman Mullis’ revealed his level of fear and resentment at the presence of citizen videographers. When it became clear that Jack Staver — who with his wife had arrived 45 minutes early to get a seat in front — had returned with his camera, Mullis ordered him to the back of the half-empty room and out of microphone range.

The Secretary of the Senate was then involved and (gasp) took down Staver’s name and about ten state troopers and Capitol Police showed up to guard against video recordings in the public hearing. There is more of that story here. You can see back-of-the-room video Staver shot of the second hearing here.

There is a swamp under the Gold Dome. It should be drained.