Legislative update: Battle lines drawn

From staff and wire reports

Meandering congressional districts could look quite different under House and Senate committee proposals approved Friday.

Republicans in the House and Senate took up a controversial revision of the state's U.S. congressional district maps last week and by Friday, both chambers had agreed to "principles of redistricting" that would keep districts from splitting counties and cities and passed the same version of the map for later consideration by both chambers.

The maps, drawn under Democratic control, meander through the state, carving up counties and cities in what Democrats admitted then was an attempt to pick up more votes for Democratic Congress members. The map has been approved by a federal court.

The new standards would "prevent the unfair treatment received by Republicans under the Gov. (Roy) Barnes administration," said Rep. John Yates, R-Griffin, a member of the House map-drawing committee. "The 8th and 13th is all mixed up like scrambled eggs but you don't have that in the new maps. It's very concise."

U.S. Rep. David Scott, D-Jonesboro, whose district is one of the more odd-shaped, had not seen the proposed maps, but said Friday he hoped statehouse leaders would allow him to hold onto his constituency.

"It's out of my hands," he said from his Jonesboro office. "There's nothing I can do but wait and see what they do."

Democrats cried foul at the new lines saying the process was kept secret and new lines don't have to be drawn until the next U.S. Census us complete.

In other legislative action, on Wednesday, the Senate overwhelmingly passed a smoking ban proposal that includes few exceptions. Last year, the GOP-run Senate passed a similar bill but it died in the Democrat-controlled House.

The bill would ban smoking almost everywhere except some hotel rooms, nursing home rooms and small businesses with five or fewer employees.

Several smoking bans have been instituted in counties and cities across the state in recent years, but it's unclear how effective the bans are, as enforcement is sometimes left up to individual bar or restaurant owners.

Some have complained that smoking bans would hurt business. Others, however, are behind the measure, saying it's more popular that the ban comes from the state level than from the individual owner.

"I'm not sure if it would hurt business or not but personally, I'm not a smoker so I don't think it would bother me," said Richard Stamey, a co-owner of Cafe Hot Wing on Tara Boulevard in Jonesboro.

Stamey, who has worked around smokers both in the restaurant and bar industry as well as the airline industry, says he's been effected by second-hand smoke.

"My doctor tells me my lungs look like I've been a smoker all my life," he said.

Smoking would be a misdemeanor in all public buildings not exempt and anyone caught lighting up would face a $50-100 fine. The business or building owner could also be charged and face a $100 fine and up a $500 fine if they're caught allowing smoking three times in 12 months.

The bill is pending in a House committee.

The Senate also took up House Bill 218, which would allow governments and roughly 900 economic development agencies across the state to keep secret the details of development negotiations between government and industry across the state.

Open records proponents have opposed the bill saying it slams shut the door created by Georgia's open records and open meetings laws.

Henry County Development Authority Chairman W.L. "Billy" Carter said this week that companies rarely seek secrecy when locating into an area. But, he said, when they do, the authority is obliged to abide.

"I've had them tell me that if this gets out, we won't come here, we'll go somewhere else," Carter said. "But everybody is not that way."

Steve Davis, a freshman Republican legislator from McDonough, said last weekend he supported the bill's intent to create a pro-business image for the state.

"Georgia is one of only two state's that don't have this bill," Davis said at a town hall meeting hosted by Democrat Rep. Stan Watson of Decatur. "We need to have a pro-business attitude in Georgia and that's what we need to support," he said.

The Senate took the bill up for debate Thursday but ultimately tabled it.

House members also passed a bill requiring a 24-hour waiting period before a woman could get an abortion. With bi-partisan support, abortion opponents said the bill would go a long way toward reducing the number of abortions in the state, but critics said the bill causes undue governmental intrusion into medical matters.

The bill, with language removed that would have had doctors warn patients about a possible link between the procedure and breast cancer, will go to a Senate committee after doctors said no such link is known to exist.

Tuesday, the House passed legislation to limit the number of semester hours college students could be granted under the popular HOPE scholarship program. The bill, in a Senate committee for consideration, would limit the number of hours a student could receive the scholarship to 127, despite some degree programs requiring more.

Democrats pushed Wednesday for a new vote but Republicans refused.

The House on Thursday adopted a resolution to name the Clayton Regional Youth Detention Center for long-time Juvenile Court Judge Martha K. Glaze.

Glaze presided for 22 years as the judge of the Juvenile Court of the Clayton Judicial Circuit. Since her retirement in 1999, she has served as a visiting senior judge.

Ellenwood Sen. Emanuel Jones was named as the Whip for the Legislative Black Caucus Tuesday. As a whip, Jones' responsibility will be to ensure the caucus has the votes it needs on issues important to black leadership.

"I am quite honored that Rep. (Stan) Watson has chosen me for this important position," Jones said in a news release.

Watson is the Black Caucus chairman.