Special session winding down

By Michael Davis

Lawmakers are expected to wrap up a special session of the Georgia General Assembly today – a session that was called to plug a $57 million hole in the state's spending plan.

Gov. Sonny Perdue recalled legislators to pass a bill that would fund the statewide indigent defense program by raising court fees. The bill passed the House earlier this week and was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday.

The program to provide attorneys for people accused of crimes who can't afford an attorney was passed in last year's session but remained unfunded.

The program creates the position of a public defender and provides for support staff in all judicial circuits throughout the state.

Flint Circuit District Attorney Tommy Floyd helped work on the bill for three years, though he said that program "fixes a system that isn't broken," at least in Henry County.

"The problems that existed in other parts of the state didn't exist in Henry County," Floyd said.

Another bill before the General Assembly merges the Board of Elections in Henry with the Board of Registrars. In some Georgia counties, the boards are already merged. Sponsor Rep. John Lunsford, R-McDonough, said the bill would help increase accountability in local elections. "It seems like every time we have a mistake in an election, somebody says it's somebody else's fault," he said. "It just puts all the Indians under one chief."

Henry election board members say that the change will help board function more smoothly since they already work closely with registrars, but are concerned about language that designates appointments made to the board.

Under the plan, the county's Republican and Democratic parties would get one appointment each, and the Board of Commissioners would get three. Giving the Board of Commissioners more appointments, elections board members say, politicizes a board that should not be politically motivated. "We were kind of hoping it would be one (appointment) from the Republican Party, one from the Democratic Party, one from the commissioners at large and two from the grand jury," said elections board chairman Eddie Cardell.

Rep. Victor Hill, D-Riverdale, is also floating a bill that would allow Clayton County employees to seek election to county office.

Hill is embroiled in a conflict over his position as a Clayton County police detective and his bid for sheriff of the county. The U.S. Justice Department is reviewing policies in Clayton that preclude employees to run for elected office.

Several county employees however, already hold elected office, including a Henry County commissioner. Hill accused Clayton County Commission Chairman Crandle Bray of trying to knock him out of the election.

"This is bigger than just me. What about people that want to run in the future?" Hill said. " Basically the chairman is trying to pick and choose who he wants to run for office."

He said that though the bill had overwhelming support in the House, he would not try to push it through the Senate.

"The intent was for this legislation to be statewide until I found out what the restrictions are for the special session," Hill said.

The governor sets the agenda for special sessions of the legislature and allowed local legislation to be considered this week.

"I've got calls from all over the state from people who have run into the same problem," Hill said, adding, "our forefathers fought for freedom – not only the right to vote, but to seek elected office."