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Greg BluesteinTamar Hallerman
Jim Galloway

Georgia gets its own central intelligence agency

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State Sen. Renee S Unterman (left) confers with House Speaker Pro-Tempore Jan Jones on Thursday night. An amendment was negotiated to allow the rape kit legislation that had passed in the House but blocked in the Senate by Unterman. Ultimately, the Senate approved it. Bob Andres, bandres@ajc.com

State Sen. Renee S Unterman (left) confers with House Speaker Pro-Tempore Jan Jones on Thursday night. An amendment was negotiated to allow the rape kit legislation that had passed in the House but blocked in the Senate by Unterman. Ultimately, the Senate approved it. Bob Andres, bandres@ajc.com

It seems as if last night gave Georgia a new central intelligence agency. From Morris News Service:

Thursday’s vote to pass Senate Bill 416 by Senate Majority Leader Bill Cowsert, R-Athens, set in motion the administration’s plan to enhance state security. The new “fusion center” within the Georgia Bureau of Investigation will gather intelligence reports from local and state agencies about suspected threats, both criminal and terroristic. It will analyze the information and provide assessments to the director of emergency management and homeland security and federal officials if warranted….logo-all

The bill also alters the name of state outfit that coordinates multi-agency response to disasters and terrorist attacks to become the Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency.

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The confetti still blanketed the Senate floor when state Sen. Bill Heath, one of the most conservative lawmakers in the chamber, was asked a question: How would lawmakers react if Gov. Nathan Deal were to veto the “religious liberty” measure now before him. Heath’s reaction was swift.

“We will call a veto session,” he said. “And we have the votes.”

Such a rebuke is not easy: It takes a two-thirds majority in both chambers to override a governor’s veto — a threshold the contentious bill failed to reach in its initial passage. But it speaks to the bubbling legislative angst over the measure, which Deal has until May 3 to sign or veto.

But just as Heath was speaking, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed issued a post-midnight press release renewing his opposition to HB 757.

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The Senate finished its business well past midnight, into Friday morning. One suspects this may have been Senate leadership’s answer to senators who had insisted that last-minute legislation be available for two hours before a vote. Shortly after 10 p.m., state Sen. Bill Heath, R-Bremen, asked Senate pro tem David Shafer, R-Buford, who was at the helm of the chamber, whether — given the hour — it was time to stop piling bills on everyone’s desk.

Shafer said no — that the legislative day wouldn’t end at midnight. It would end when the Legislature said it did.

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“Heartbroken.” That’s how state Rep. Allen Peake described his mood after the Georgia Senate refused to vote on his measure to expand the number of conditions eligible for coverage under the state’s medical marijuana program.

The Macon Republican darted back and forth from the House to the Senate most of the evening in hopes of forcing the chamber to take action. The maneuvering reached a fever pitch after state Sen. Renee Unterman, R-Buford, said she couldn’t schedule a hearing on the measure.

Peake, who is running for another term, made clear he was going to revive the effort next year. “Not giving up,” he tweeted.

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Late last night, House Speaker David Ralston said good-bye to state Rep. Joe Wilkinson, R-Sandy Springs, and made clear he wasn’t pleased with the circumstances leading to Wilkinson’s decision not to seek re-election. Via spokesman Kaleb McMichen:

“Chairman Wilkinson has a distinguished tenure spanning some 16 years of service in the House.  The post of Chairman of the House Ethics Committee is one of great trust and Chairman Wilkinson has worked tirelessly to maintain the highest ethical standards in the House.  His personal character is universally respected in the Capitol. 

Speaker Ralston is sad to see him end his legislative service.  The Speaker particularly wishes that the circumstances weren’t clouded as they are by political maneuvering – Chairman Wilkinson and his distinguished legacy deserve better.

The Speaker wishes the Chairman all the best as he shifts his focus to his family and other avenues of public service.  He very much appreciates the friendship and wise counsel Chairman Wilkinson has offered throughout the years.” 

***

At least Senate Republicans were consistent. No minimum wage increases for anyone were approved last night. From our AJC colleague James Salzer:

A controversial insurance agents minimum commission bill pushed by a powerful House leader failed to win support of the Senate on the 40th and final day of the 2016 General Assembly session.

House Bill 838 would have guaranteed a minimum 5 percent commission for agents who sell group health policies to small businesses. It also would set a 4 percent minimum commission for individual health benefit plans.

***

While lawmakers churned out bills Thursday night, this message arrived from Facebook friend Andrew Pace:

Sad news, my friend Harold S. Gulliver passed away this morning in Valdosta, Georgia. He was comfortable and had been suffering from alzheimer’s disease. His wife, Marian, passed away 2 years ago. For those of you who didn’t know him, Hal served as editor of the Atlanta Constitution [editorial page] for many years and was very supportive of his friend Jimmy Carter, who would become President of the United States, with his help. He was also an author of several books. His only son, Harold, died tragically at the age of 20 in 1982. They are all missed. Obituary notice will be forth coming.

***

The citification of Fulton County may now be about to complete itself. A bill to allow residents on that end of the county to vote on corporation was given final passage last night.

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Speaking of Fulton County: Commission Chairman John Eaves spoke to the Buckhead Business Association on Thursday morning. Presidential politics were on his mind:

Said Eaves:

“There is a degree of intrigue about what Donald Trump is doing. I’m a Democrat. But I admit this – when I look at CNN or whatever news it is, I will look at what’s happening on the Republican side, and what’s the latest Donald Trump has said. Then when it shifts to the discussion about the Democrats, which I’m a part of, that’s when I walk out of the room and get me some coffee.”

***

One of our favorite people at the state Capitol, Liz Flowers, was saying good-bye last night. The chief aide to the Senate Democratic caucus is headed to New York for some think-tanking. We will miss her. Over at Georgiapol.com, Charlie Harper sends Flowers off by reminiscing about the first time she caught the eye of the public – and AJC columnist Lewis Grizzard:

WAAAAY back in 1993, a lobbyist brought an apron to the capitol. It was a novelty apron, and under it was a replica of male anatomy, made of cloth. It was presented as a gift to a ranking State Representative. He found it humorous, tried it on, and had some fun with it. A male teenage page witnessed the frivolity, and told his mom about it. Hilarity did not ensue.

The mom complained to then Speaker Tom Murphy, who ignored it as a harmless prank. Mom took the issue public. Witnesses to corroborate the story were sought. Liz the feminist was known to have also witnessed part of the prank. Liz is a team player, but also isn’t one to lie. She and another feminist were named publicly. We’ll pick up with the words of Mr. Grizzard (from the AJC, August 6 1993):

According to reports, two women – Clara Bowers Bostick, past president of the Georgia chapter of the National Organization for Women, and Liz Flowers, executive director for Georgians for Choice – saw Rep Benefield wearing the apron that day in a hallway and demonstrating it “for a group of laughing men.”

When Rep. Benefield saw the two women, they said he “smirked” at them.

You’re showing your cloth penis to your buddies at the state Capitol and two women see you doing it. But they’re not just any two women. They’re card-carrying feminists. How unlucky can you get.

***

The race for the 9th district congressional seat continues to heat up in northeast Georgia.

A new ad from the Paul Broun campaign is hitting the airwaves today that focuses on the voting record of two-term incumbent Doug Collins, R-Gainesville. It’s also a response to the recent spot from the Collins campaign that touched on the doctor and former congressman’s residency and past controversies.

Listen to it here. Here’s a partial transcript:

Broun: “You’ve probably heard the personal attack ads establishment politician Doug Collins has against me.

They are full of distortions and half-truths. My daddy told me a half truth is a whole lie. And the whole truth is he’s desperate to distract you from his record.

Establishment Doug Collins voted for Boehner for Speaker. Twice. Even after you told him not to.

Then Collins voted for Boehner’s omnibus bill that fully funds Planned Parenthood, Obamacare, and Obama’s amnesty plan.”

Broun goes on to defend his own track record from his four terms representing Georgia’s 10th district and even gives out his cell phone number for voters to contact him.