Political Vine: The Insider's Source on Georgia Politics

Political Vine: The Insider's Source on Georgia Politics

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The Root of All Evil in Georgia – Part 2

by Bill Simon

Sunshine Laws, et al.

Whether it is legally defined as the ‘Freedom of Information Act’ (“FOIA”), or a “Sunshine Act” or the ‘Open Records Act,’ the concept behind all of these laws is to make the people who work in government become more accountable to the taxpayers who pay their salaries and expenses.

The primary purpose of these types of laws is to provide disclosure to the public of government activities, and not, as some like to interpret it (in this state and others, including the federal government), to allow governments to withhold things from the public’s eye.

In 1972, Georgia’s legislature passed the first “Sunshine Act.” If you compared the 1972 Act to what is currently Georgia’s “Open Records Act” law, you might notice a couple of similarities of significance: 1) There is no specific exemption specified to exclude the Legislative Branch of Georgia from either of these acts, and 2) There is also no specific exemption specified to exclude the Judicial Branch of Georgia from having to follow these laws.

And yet, in EVERY other part of Georgia law, in order for anyone to be exempt from having to follow the law, there must be a specific, codified exemption written into the law. No written exemption written? Then you have to follow that law to the letter.

And, yet, today, neither the judicial branch of Georgia, nor the legislative branch of Georgia, has to “open their books” to the sunshine of government transparency. Why is that? Well…let me take you on a little case study journey to discover why…that involves two Georgia cases.

Case #1: Coggin v. Davey – Supreme Court of Georgia, Decided Jan. 6, 1975

Coggin v. Davey (“Coggin”) was a lawsuit filed in 1974 by three radio reporters and Common Cause for access to meetings of General Assembly committees.

This is a link to a copy of the full Supreme Court decision.

There are two parts of this decision that you should pay attention to. The first one appears in a yellow highlight [emphasis by me] on Page 3:

“We therefore hold that the ‘Sunshine Law’ is not applicable to the Legislative branch of the government
and its committees. If the House, the Senate, or both want to let the sun shine more brilliantly and more
pervasively upon their deliberations and actions, they can do so by adopting rules and procedures
applicable to their operations that will accomplish this purpose. Such purpose was not accomplished by
the enactment of the ‘Sunshine Law’ in 1972.”

The second element of this Coggin decision that is interesting is found in the dissent on Page 4:

“We do not concur with the statement in the majority opinion that either the House or the Senate can pass an internal operating rule for its own procedures in conflict with a general law enacted by both bodies and signed by the Governor.”

Think about what the majority decision stated for a moment. The Sunshine Law, which did not specifically exempt the Legislature by words, does not cover the legislature because “If the House, the Senate, or both want to let the sun shine more brilliantly and more pervasively upon their deliberations and actions, they can do so by adopting rules and procedures applicable to their operations that will accomplish this purpose.”

By that standard of legal interpretation, no one in the legislature really has to follow ANY law in this state, right? Because unless the House and the Senate write a law that specifically says “It is illegal for any member of the House or the Senate to kill any human,” then their defense attorney should be able to argue in a slam-dunk fashion that if Speaker David Ralston goes on a killing spree, he should not be prosecuted for murder in this state, and cite Coggin for the case law.

‘Cause there is no part of the homicide law that I could find for Georgia that says “This law also applies to elected members of this state’s House and Senate.” No law there, ergo, it’s a free-for-ALL in the legislature if they want to “break laws” (and, it won’t be defined as ‘breaking a law’ because the laws do not apply to them) that everyone else has to follow.

And, for those of you who might disagree with me on the base of “germaneness” between the legislature being subject to Open Records Act requests, and some legislator killing someone, the germaneness is the fact that the law-maker “makes laws,” whether they be Sunshine Act laws, or the taking of someone’s life laws. You will note that the ONLY “laws” legislators think they need to follow are the election laws and the “ethics” (sic) laws in this state, and that is only because those laws specifically state their titles (“candidate”) and their elected position. They don’t have to follow ANY other law unless they are specifically mentioned in the law.

And…one only needs to look at the case of the thrice-arrested DUI-offender, State Representative Chuck Sims.

In 2010, he was arrested for DUI in Atlanta. His breathalyzer test showed 0.105 alcohol in his blood, and the state legal limit is 0.08. Magically, he was able to plead that down reckless driving and the DUI charge was dismissed.

Then, in April 2 of 2013 Sims got arrested for DUI again in Douglas County.

Then, on July 19, 2013, Sims got pulled-over again and was arrested for DUI.

Why does Chuck Sims still have a driver’s license?

Interesting thing I noticed in this AJC article was the comment from Marshall Guest, spokesperson for Speaker Ralston’s office: “‘We’ve just been made aware of it and we’re gathering more information right now,’ he said Friday afternoon.”

The fact of the matter is, as per the Coggin decision, legislators are not covered (as in, they do not have to follow) by the laws they write for others to follow.

So, it’s too bad Ralston can’t be honest and actually say this, because he knows this for a fact. What, exactly, is he afraid of? The Coggin decision covers he and his boys and girls from following ANY laws in this state. They are exempt, completely.




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Today's Deep Thought

For mad scientists who keep brains in jars, here's a tip: why not add a slice of lemon to each jar, for freshness?


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