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The "Poor People Can't Fight Back ... Right?" Award
Sens. John Albers, R-Roswell, and William Ligon, R-Brunswick
Republican lawmakers last year tried to make immigrants' lives a living hell in hopes they'd leave town. This year's legislative session was all about crushing the men and women who depend on such public assistance as food stamps and unemployment assistance. Albers, whom some lawmakers refer to behind his back as "Sen. Know-it-all," wanted people receiving welfare benefits to first submit to a drug test. No biggie that a federal judge had blocked a nearly identical law in Florida for violating the U.S. Constitution's ban on unreasonable searches and seizures. Ligon's bill, on the other hand, would require people receiving food stamps to engage in "personal growth," a vague term which could mean anything from obtaining their GED or going through job training. Yes, even those with college degrees and who are working their asses off trying to find a job in a dismal economy — one that lawmakers appeared unable to address during 40 days of lawmakin' and obsessing.
The "No Breaks for the Poor" Award
Sen. Fran Millar, R-Dunwoody
In 2000, then-Gov. Roy Barnes gave Georgia businesses a big fat kiss when he OK'd a moratorium on employers' contributions to the state's unemployment insurance trust fund. What was supposed to be a four-year exemption turned out to be quite popular when Republicans took over the Gold Dome, who continued giving most employers a pass. By 2009, the height of the Great Recession, the trust fund was bone dry and Georgia was forced to ask the federal government for a $736 million loan. It's time to start chipping away at the debt. So employers will carry the burden, right? Nope! Millar would prefer the men and women getting by on some of the nation's most frugal unemployment benefits absorb the bulk of that pain. Under the Dunwoody Republican's plan (which might violate the Georgia Constitution because it didn't originate in the House), the state's maximum of 26 weeks of unemployment benefits will reduce to a sliding scale between 12 and 20 weeks — less than any other state in the country. A compromise avoided a provision whereby applicants would have had to wait a week before receiving benefits. So they've got that going for them, which is nice. [Sarcasm font.]
The "MARTA Must BE Destroyed to Succeed" Award
Rep. Mike Jacobs, R-Brookhaven
Jacobs fought his damnedest to rearrange the deck chairs on the SS MARTA. When the DeKalb County Republican last year became chairman of the Gold Dome committee that oversees MARTA, we thought we finally had someone in charge who understood that the transit agency was dying thanks in large part to an antiquated restriction on how it spends the tax revenue generated by Fulton and DeKalb county residents. But it appears the days of using MARTA — which, we should note, enjoys no state funding — as a piñata are far from over. Sure, Jacobs offered to temporarily extend a suspension of the "50/50" restriction — so called because it requires that half of MARTA's funding be spent on operations while the other half pays for system expansion. But only if the Fulton County Commission, which currently makes three appointments to the MARTA board, gives up two of those slots to a "caucus of mayors" from North Fulton. (Jacobs denied linking the two in an interview with WABE, but really, c'mon.) It did not pass, but we expected more from Jacobs than to treat MARTA like a political football — especially when it's on the road to insolvency.
The "We Were Promised Better" Award
House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge
After the scandal-plagued era and resignation of his predecessor Glenn Richardson, you'd think that Ralston, the top dog in the state House of Representatives, would be all for ethics reform. Especially after he and his family enjoyed a lobbyist-funded junket to Europe to ride high-speed trains. But the behavior of the burly elephant from Blue Ridge this session proves otherwise. According to numerous sources, Ralston deserves much of the blame for at least two of his own party members' ethics reform proposals — including one in another chamber — not making any movement this year. Among them: legislation which would give the state commission that's tasked with regulating elected officials the authority to make its own rules, a power that was stripped under Richardson. Despite an earlier endorsement by Ralston, who essentially decides what bills receive a vote in the lower chamber, the measure never got off the ground. And notice no Republicans stepped forward with a proposal in the House. Yes, Ralston's been very clear that, in the words of his chief of staff, "transparency through disclosure and providing the information to Georgians with only the click of a mouse." Which is code for "I'm not finished with enjoying steak dinners on the National Rifle Association's dime."