Fantasy sports contests and big yachts hitch a ride on DeKalb bill

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The fantasy sports website DraftKings is shown, in a 2015 file photo. Scott Olson/Getty Images

The funny business has begun in the Legislature. From our AJC colleague James Salzer:

The House Ways and Means Committee on Thursday attached a bill to give owners of giant yachts a tax break if they get their boats repaired or retrofitted on Georgia’s coast (House Bill 125) and another measure to regulate and tax daily online fantasy sports leagues (House Bill 118) onto legislation that would allow DeKalb County voters to decide whether to adopt a 1-cent sales tax for roads, bridges and other transportation improvements (Senate Bill 156).

Both the yacht bill and the fantasy sports measure have passed Senate committees, but House sponsors suspected that the measures were being held up by GOP leadership in the Senate.

State Sen. Fran Millar, R-Dunwoody, author of the DeKalb bill, explained his moral dilemma on Facebook last night. The House maneuver has turned him into a reluctant vote in favor of a bill that declares fantasy sports contests to be something other than gambling:

My SB 156 that limits how the DeKalb Splost can be spent (no government complex, etc) has been “improved” in the House. Fantasy Sports bill and Yacht Repair bills have been added. I previously indicated I would be voting no on the Fantasy Sports bill but will have to vote Yes on SB 156 because I want to make sure DeKalb spends $300 million on the right projects over the next five years.

There’s a subtle irony here. Normally, a bill like SB 156 would be local legislation and considered sacrosanct. But DeKalb County’s delegation is dominated by Democrats. So Millar, a Republican, had to go the general legislation route. And because it was general legislation, it was eligible for attachment.

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Meanwhile, the Senate Judiciary Committee, asked to rethink its amendment to the first rewrite of Georgia’s adoption since 1990, decided late Thursday to simply pocket the bill for the session, according to our AJC colleague Kristina Torres.

The Senate amendment to HB 159, attached by William Ligon, R-Brunswick, would offer legal protection to child placement agencies that refuse to process the adoption requests of certain would-be parents for religious reasons. Adoptions by LGBT parents are considered the main target by opponents.

Gov. Nathan Deal has expressed strong opposition to the amendment. See the background here.

“Currently in Georgia, the average foster care adoption takes 30.7 months. In the nation, the average is 13.4 months,” state Rep. Bert Reeves, R-Marietta, said this morning. “Georgia has approximately 700 children a year that age out of foster care – meaning they spend their entire youth in the foster care system.”

Reeves said his bill represented a “massive improvement” in the state’s adoption procedures, and that Ligon’s initiative could easily be addressed next year. “It doesn’t need to be the reason why this bill is not acted on this year,” Reeves said.

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State Sen. Lindsey Tippens, R-Cobb County, has an op-ed piece in today’s Marietta Daily Journal that cautions state officials not to write off the possibility of using a state-owned rail line between Atlanta and Chattanooga for commuter or passenger rail.

Legislation has passed both chambers authorizing the state to negotiate a 50-year lease of the line with CSX. Writes Tippens:

There is in excess of 30 miles of track from downtown Atlanta to the northern part of Cobb County. With the current cost of heavy rail being in excess of $100 million a mile, the estimate to build a line from downtown through Cobb would exceed $3 billion. There are another 100 miles of track north of Cobb not even figured in that equation.

 

Other benefits to joint usage of this right of way include more availability of land for commuter parking adjacent to the line than along the I-75/US41 corridor. Time is also an issue. If a program started today to acquire right of way, acquire federal environmental permits and design, construct and put a comparable rail line in use, it would take in excess of 15 years before the first commuter would ride, best case scenario.

 

Let me be clear, I’m not saying this is THE SOLUTION. I am saying this is a possible option that in all probability would offer a much quicker and more cost-effective alternative for partially relieving our traffic congestion.

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No doubt you’ve waited all morning for President Donald Trump’s reaction to the House Republican decision to stall a vote on the president’s reworking of the American health care system. Wait no longer:

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U.S. Rep. Austin Scott’s MO on Capitol Hill is typically measured and low-key. But the Tifton Republican, an ally of House leadership,  did not mince words last night ahead of an emergency meeting on the GOP health care bill.

The specific target of his ire was the chairman of the Freedom Caucus that ultimately caused House Republicans to delay a vote on their effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Said Scott;

“This is about a couple of self-serving people like Mark Meadows who are pulling a cheap political stunt for their own glorification at the expense of the country.”

Many leadership-aligned Republicans and their aides have privately vented their frustration at the Freedom Caucus for too often shifting their demands during these health care negotiations. Meadows says it’s all part of the art of the deal, to use a phrase we’ve heard somewhere:

“That’s what a negotiation is. You start with what you demand and if you negotiate in good faith you say, ‘Well I can’t get this, what about that?’ If they want to say I’m moving the goalposts, I’ve negotiated all my life and what happens is you only reach a deal if you change things at the end.”  

Meanwhile, Scott and other bill backers in the delegation said they aren’t putting the pressure on Freedom Caucus-ers like Hice to change their votes. “Jody’s got the right to do what he wants to do. That’s up to him,” Scott said.

Hice sounded more optimistic about the bill on Thursday night than he has in recent days but said he was still deciding where he was after leaders rolled out eleventh-hour changes: “I’m encouraged with the president’s willingness to reach out and work with us, and we’ll be meeting here in a little bit to discuss it a little further,” Hice said of the Freedom Caucus.

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Republican Bruce LeVell, one of the 11 GOP contenders for the 6th District, made a campaign promise Friday to oppose “job killing trade deals” and curb the H1B visa program for tech workers.

“The outsourcing of vital American technology-sector jobs must stop,” said LeVell, a Dunwoody business owner who headed Donald Trump’s diversity coalition. “The importing of cheap H1B visa labor to supplant American technology workers likewise must stop.”

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This could be interesting: Former CIA director John Brennan is addressing some of the nation’s top business executives on April 6 in Augusta. Brennan is speaking at the Executive Marketers Leadership Summit at the West Lake Country Club.


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