Thursday, January 31, 2013

Day 8: “Affordable Care Act benefits Georgia”

Day 8: “Affordable Care Act benefits Georgia”

Thursday 01/31/2013. Eighth day of the Georgia Legislative Session. Hectic day, with tons of visitors at the Capitol. For starters, we got a School Choice rally in the outside (and then moving into the inside). We have a big and enthusiastic group of citizens lobbying to stop violence against women. It was Savannah Day too (with a big group of people from Savannah and Columbus University visiting the Capitol as well). We have the meeting of the Working Families Caucus (with a great report on budget and health by the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute). And to close, the press conference of the House Democratic Caucus to unveil their legislative platform for the session.

Something worth to mention of days like this is that having the Capitol this full is not unusual during the middle of the session, in times that talking with legislators regarding a bill to be in the floor is really needed. Ergo, if anybody is considering coming, be ready to encounter this kind of ‘bella caos’.

From the meeting with the Working Families Caucus, the most relevant was the presentation on the budget of Alan Essig from the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute. Among his best quotes:

We can find many resources and reports on the webpage, among them, options to increase Georgia Revenue.

The day closed with a press conference by the Georgia House Democratic Caucus presenting their platform for this session. Interesting proposals, among them the repealing of the imposition of E-Verify and the prove of citizenship to renew business licenses every year, legislation against cyber bullying and mandatory licenses to sell guns at gun shows and background checks to buy them at gun shows as well. Also, the party is going to organize hearings to promote this legislation.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Day 7: Ethics, Hate Crimes and Safety Education for Gun Permits

Day 7: Ethics, Hate Crimes and Safety Education for Gun Permits

Wednesday 01/30/2013. Seventh day of the Georgia Legislative Session. We start to see interesting bills. Today we had the committee referral of two bills of Representative Pedro Marin(D-Duluth).  HB119, which refers to hatecrimes, specifying definitions of hate crimes (victim's race, religion, gender,gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, or national origin) to what the Georgia code currently refers as ‘bias or prejudice’. HB120 was referred aswell. HB120 requires ‘completion of a firearms safety training course withinthree years prior to the date of the application for a (gun) license’. Both bills were referred to committee, and can be monitored in the links above.

We also have a controversy follow up regarding the ethics project presented by House Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge). The controversy came from a mandatory lobbyist fee ($300/year) anybody who wants to talk with a legislator in the Capitol would have to pay. This spawned a negative reaction, especially from the Tea Party. Rumor in the Hall says that this is a distraction for the other problem with the proposal, which is the many exceptions there are for the lobbyist gifts. The current proposal puts a value limit for the gifts of $100. However, this limit does not include gifts for Caucuses, Committees and Subcommittees. As its current version, this proposal is nothing more than an attempt to save face and to say ‘we did something’, but is not really offering a major reform from the current situation.

It is worth to mention that Georgia is one of three states in the whole country that does not have regulations for gifts from lobbyists to legislators.

Leave you with a picture of the author of the bills HB119 and HB120, Rep. Pedro Marin (D-Duluth).

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Day 6: Immigration Reform

Day 6: Immigration Reform

Tuesday 01/29/2013. Sixth day of the Georgia Legislative Session. The most relevant of today did not happen inside the Session, but in the halls of the Capitol. As a reaction of the immigration reform proposals by the 'Gang of 8' of the Senate yesterday and President Obama’s today, old rivals of campaigns pro-immigrant rights show up at the Capitol. Gotta keep an eye on them. Also, the Tea Party was around as well, but their presence was due to the ethics bill that is on the works.

Between the proposals of the Senate and The President, the difference (fairly small as both proposals sounds quite similar) was the path to citizenship. It came across to me that the Senate is asking for harsher conditions for that matter. We will find out soon enough, I am sure.

Leave with a pic of two friends and allies, Krista and Larry. 

Monday, January 28, 2013

Day 5: Schedule of the Georgia Legislation until Crossover Day

Day 5: Schedule for the upcoming legislative days until Crossover Day

Monday 01/28/2013. Fifth day of the Georgia Legislative Session. After a slow start, a week off coinciding with the inauguration of the second mandate of President Obama, the Georgia Legislature reconvened today.  As for the main news to report, the House cameout with the schedule for the upcoming legislative days until Crossover Day.

Among other things that happened in the federal level, today a bipartisan group of Senators (the ‘Gang of 8’ as they are called :P ) presented a comprehensive immigration reform package. To make things even more interesting, President Obama is scheduled tomorrow to present his immigrationreform proposal as well. Looks like we finally are going to have a concrete proposal to reform once and for all the national immigration system. Let’s hope and work. In case it needs to be said, this weekend also was the very successful firstGIRRC Immigration Conference. GIRRC stands for Georgia Immigrants and Refugees Rights Coalition, and it is the organization under which we develop most of our actions.

In the Senate side, they reconvened at 10am and left quite early. The most relevant part on that was the presentation of Senator Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta) supporting the extension of Medicaid.

That would do for now, leave you with a pic of the colorful event at the capitol today: an elementary school chorus.

GIRRC Immigration Conference - Macon 2013

GIRRC Immigration Conference - Macon 2013

So this past Saturday was the first GIRRC Immigration Conference in Macon. I was not planning to blog directly on this, but given the big success it was I thought it deserved some space J. GIRRC stands for Georgia Immigrants and Refugees Rights Coalition, it is the main umbrella organization through we channel our advocacy effort in and outside the Georgia capitol, and at one point last year we decided it was a good idea to have a conference. From that far day, we have gone far. What originally was a conference planned for around 60 people grew all the way to almost 200, to the point of challenging the capacity of our generous hosts, High Street Unitarian Universalist Church in Macon. This is the link to the program of the conference, which includes additionallinks to the presenters, and the organizations that work for.

After the openings of rigor and the breakfast donated by the Refugee Women's Network (thank you very much Duoa!) and the Young Democrats of Georgia, we got our first keynote speaker (yep, we opening with a boom), Anton Flores from Alterna. It was the first time I heard Anton speaking, so I was curious. Took Anton 10 minutes to have us in his pocket, and for the next 50 he had the audience following the cadence of his soulful speech, that went from nurturing to intense to real to hopeful. It ended with a fun and heartwarming story that will I let you listen directly from him next time you have the chance to hear him presenting.

After the stand-up ovation Anton got at the end of his speech, we had a split session on Immigration 101 in charge of attorney Amna Shirazi from the Shirazi Law Group and Communication and Language Beyond the Base in charge of Rachel Steinhardt. Great information given in both.

Then the next event was plenary panel with local politicians and academics, and it was formed by Rep. Scott Holcomb, Dr. Salvador Peralta, Rep. Virgil Fludd, Dr. Ying Zhen, and Rep. Pedro Marin. The panel was facilitated by Dr. Debra Sabia from Georgia Southern University. It was great to hear academic and political perspectives related to immigration, and look for ways both can intertwine and work together to approach it.

 After the panel and a yummy lunch of rigor, we have our several break up sessions that covered Children and Families (presented by Suttiwan Cox and Dr. April Schueths), Working with the Faith Community (presented by Dr. Aquiles Martinez and Frank Mulcahy, Esq), Dreamers, DACA and Higher Education (presented by attorney David Kennedy and author Gou Hang Wand), Health Care (presented by Dr. Juan Luque, Nolan Kline and Maria Azuri, MSW) to Legislative Updates (presented by Larry Pelegrini).

The day was coming to its end, and we have our last key speaker of the conference, State House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams. I was interested to see her speech after the high bar Anton has set few hours before. Stacey was not there to hear Anton speaking, nonetheless, her speech was brought the house (church) down as well, and set up a great call of action with her “Speak up, Show up, Stand up”.

After such an inspirational day, we have an action planning session to brainstorm different actions that we could work individually as an organization, facilitated by Maria Azuri and Major Paul Bridges. If you like to be more involved, just ask to join GIRRC to this email girrc@yahoogroups.comwith a small blurb about you and/or your organization, and why you want to join. Also, don’t forget to join our Facebook group, which is separated from our email, and is a great source of information and outlet for future events.

We closed the day with a small reception of cheese and wine, which was a fun and relaxing way to know more of the people we spend the whole day together.

Big thanks and kudos to Ric Stewart, June McDowall and Pat Burns, for their tireless groundwork putting this conference together, Rev. Cynthia Prescott and High Street Unitarian Universalist Church for hosting us (you guys have a beautiful church!), Debra Greenwood for being such a gracious EmCee, Estela Martinez for the yummy food, fellow members of the Steering Committee, to all those organizations and persons that openhandedly sponsored our conference, to our presenters and speakers that donated their time and knowledge to us, and all members and volunteers that worked so hard and consistently to make this event a big success. Be sure this conference will not have worked as it did without you.

It was close to midnight when I arrived home, quite tired after have woke up at 5am to make it to Macon on time, but although tired I have the serene satisfaction of a successful event, and the hope that we can accomplish great things when we work together. We had activists, scholars, professionals, students, and politicians, talking together about immigration in the national and local level, discussing its challenges and calls of action. All on this in the community of Macon, which rarely see events of this nature, but that nonetheless, took full advantage of the opportunity. Now the next step is walk the talk and follow up with actions. I am confident we together can make this happen.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Barack Obama’s Presidential Inauguration 2013

Barack Obama’s Presidential Inauguration 2013

So this post is not related to the Georgia session, but since we have the week without legislative days, I thought to post since I think the inauguration is surely relevant J. I ended up going thanks to an email I got Friday (thanks to whoever send it to me, and please let me know how I end up in your email list lol). So I went in one-day round-trip to Washington DC, with precise time to check the inauguration ceremony and few hours extra at the end. Given it is that especial time right after the beginning of the semester and right before my student loan check, it was all I can afford, so I am very thankful for the opportunity. Through a combination of hope, luck, faith, patience, good humor and don’t stop believing, I was able to make it to a reasonable good place in the crowd, from which I could take the pics and listened to inauguration speech with comfort. The link includes video, only audio, and text versions of it.

My favorite part?:

“It is now our generation’s task to carry on what those pioneers began.  For our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts.  Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law, for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well. Our journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote. Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country. Our journey is not complete until all our children, from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia, to the quiet lanes of Newtown, know that they are cared for and cherished and always safe from harm.”

Not as idealist as it was four year ago and notoriously aged by the weight of being the President, Barack Obama did make a call, once more, for unity and “to work together” as a way to accomplish the challenges the country is facing today. Let’s hope that his work with Congress and the interaction between Democrats and Republicans inside it is more productive and efficient than we just thought this previous four years, and looks more like collaboration than an uncompromising clash of political agendas.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Day 4: State of the State of Georgia

Day 4: State of the State of Georgia

Thursday 1/17/2013. Fourth Day of the Georgia session. We start our day with the GeorgiaHispanic Chamber of Commerce Annual Legislative Appreciation Breakfast (thank you very much Rep. Pedro Marin). The breakfast had Gov. Nathan Deal and US Senator Johnny Isakson among other important political leaders as participants. In my opinion, the best quote was from Minority Leader Stacey Abrams: “Politicians are like 15 year old teenagers. We respond to money, peer pressure and attention”. Gotta remember that J.

The big event today was the State of the State (SOS) by Governor Nathan Deal. The SOS is the state version of the State of the Nation that the President of the USA (POTUS) presents to congress once a year. Gov. Deal’s  focused in public safety,education, healthcare, economic development and ethics. These are the points that caught my attention the most.
  • Public Safety: Gov. Deal celebrated the reform of the juvenile judicial system started last year, and called for harsher measures for boating under the influence.
  • Education: The focus was to support on education K-12, and an evaluation of the higher education system so to refocus their programs of study to give priority to those educational paths that have a proven record of employability. As example, Gov. Deal mentioned support for Nursing, Middle School Education and Commercial Driving. Another point was his mention of the HOPE scholarship. Gov. Deal mentioned the current new system saved the HOPE scholarship. The new current system is based on a GPA cap, and strongly favors students with more resources rather than students from poor backgrounds, which were the original intent of Zell Miller when created HOPE back in 1993. Gov. Deal said that 97% of the students in UGA and GATech get HOPE. I would ask how many students in colleges outside the Atlanta metro area are receiving HOPE as well.
  • Healthcare: On here, Gov. Deal indicated that the increase on coverage in Medicaid, which is part of what would be Obamacare, would increase its cost dramatically for the state. There is research that proves otherwise, mentioning that this expansionwould cost only 3% of the current spend in Medicaid. BTW, Georgia is one of the 10 states that refuses to implement Obamacare. Make your own conclusions.
  • Economic Development: Gov. Deal mentioned that he would keep looking to grow the economy of the state through tax reductions and running the economy with a business-like model.
  • Ethics: Gov. Deal called for an expansion of the code of ethical conduct for members of the General Assembly, and that it should apply equally to all elected officials at the state and local levels.

Did I say the posts were going to get longer? Also, the response of the Democrat minority form the Senate, and a video from the Democratic party of Georgia. Leave you with pics of the SOS and the Sportsman Day at the Capitol. The next Legislative Day is Monday January 28th, but I might post depending what is going on until then. Happy MLK weekend and Inauguration Day you all. 

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Day 3: House Committees, first readers bills and Women in the Hall

Day 3: House Committees, first readers bills and Women in the Hall

Wednesday 01/16/2013, Third day of the Georgia legislation. So the committees in the House came out, also its first readers. Bills on HOPE, gun control, immigration, hate crimes, etc. Reviewing them and posting updates as soon as I get anything relevant. We have the chance to talk with Representative Pedro Marin (D-Duluth), the only Latino Democrat in the Georgia Capitol, who mentioned us that he is working on legislation related to immigration and hate crimes, among others. Look for updates in upcoming days. It is worth to mention that when a legislator comes with an idea for a bill/resolution, he/she takes his/her idea to the legislation counsel, so it is drafted in a language consistent with Georgia law. Then the bill/resolution gets a number and it is sent to a committee. The committee reviews the bill in public meetings, makes amendments, and pass it to the floor of the chamber to be debated.

Another regular event started its participation in the session today. Women in the Halls, the advocate program of Planned Parenthood started today as well. Just like the ACLU has its By the People Lobby Days on Tuesdays, Women in the Halls is the advocacy program of Planned Parenthood, and happens every Wednesday of the session. Planned Parenthood is one of the champions for reproductive rights, and right now they are working on a bill called HB7. HB7 is a bill that prohibits the use of shackles on female prison inmates during childbirth.

Stay put because as the legislation takes momentum, there is going to be longer entries here. Also, if anybody has any questions regarding terms or procedure, do not hesitate on ask. Leave you with a picture of the visitors of today: a school music band.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Day 2: Senate Committee members and a follow up on ethics

Day 2: Senate Committee members and a follow up on ethics

Tuesday 01/15/2013, second day of the Georgia legislation. We start to see regular events already making their way back to the Capitol, such as By the People Lobby Day organized by the ACLU of Georgia, which happens every Tuesday of the session. Also, today was Addiction Rehabilitation Awareness Day, and the organizers did a great job gathering an enthusiastic and numerous multitude in one of the stairs of the Capitol (picture below).

Also, we got the new members of the Committees in the Senate. As you might now, this 2013 GA Senate has the peculiarity of having a Republican super majority, so it is going to be interesting (to say the least) how this is going to play during session. On this note, the Democrat super minority expressed criticism to the new ethic rules that passed yesterday in the Georgia Senate.

Also, there were a good number of first-reader bills introduced in the Senate. We are currently reviewing them. On the House side, it was established that the next week is not going to have legislative days. Given that tomorrow and Thursday will do for the 3rd and 4th Day, the 5th Day would be Monday January 28th. Opportunity for some time off. Hard to complain to that.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Day 1: Dawn of the Session and Ethics Press Conference

Day 1: First Day of the Georgia Legislation Session 2013, press conference on ethics by Georgia Alliance for Ethics Reform with Senator Josh McKoon (R-Columbus)

So today Monday 01/14/2013 was the first day of the legislative session for the State Legislation of Georgia. The idea of these posts is to give a short and sweet (hopefully) summary of each day of the GA legislation. As you might know, I am interning covering a great variety of issues, focusing primarily in immigration, but going through abortion, poverty, LGBT rights, education, health, etc. 

So today was the first day of the session, (first day of 40 legislative days, and typically we have 4 or 3 legislative days per calendar week). By the time I left, today was mainly for housekeeping, and setting the rules for the Senate.  The relevant issue for this first day was a debate related to ethics, which included a press conference hosted by the Georgia Alliance for Ethics Reform, in which State Senator Josh McKoon (R-Columbus) confirmed his interest on introducing a bill that would limit the gifts lobbyists give to legislators to a maximum value of $100. Among the reasons for this, William Perry, Executive Director of Common Cause Georgia, mentioned a trip to Europe of the Speaker of the House David Ralston worth $17000 paid by a lobbyist.

I can probably keep going, but better to stop here, and save the long posts for the later days. More coming soon enough I am sure.