Your Calls Stopped A Bad Bill

Libertarian Party Of Georgia Legislative Director Jason Pye explains the tortured story of a bill the party opposed in the just-ended session of the Georgia General Assembly.

If you subscribe to the Libertarian Party of Georgia’s mailing list, no doubt you received the action alert last Friday about how the State House was going to substitute the language of HB 614, the Prescription Drug Monitoring Act, into SB 56.

Early east month, a friend told me to read HB 614, the Prescription Drug Monitoring Act. The bill, introduced by Rep. Sharon Cooper (R-Marietta) and Rep. Ron Stephens (R-Savannah), was making its way through the state legislature and she thought that I might be interested in looking it up. It was introduced and passed by the House last year, but the Senate never took it up and it died.

The bill was an egregious violation of personal privacy rights, protected in both the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and the Georgia Constitution. The Libertarian Party of Georgia took a position against HB 614 in a press release that was sent out by the state party office on March 9th. Unfortunately, the House passed it three days later by a vote of 161 to 9 (all the votes against the bill came from Republicans).

As you can see from the video below, there wasn’t much debate on the bill, it was presented and passed by the House in just over eight minutes:

Several of us watched it carefully as it moved through the Senate. TheRegulated Industries and Utilities Committee ended up passing a substitute version that gave nothing substantive in the way of addressing privacy advocates’ concerns. After clearing committee, HB 614 was placed on thecalendar for March 30th.

On Monday morning, I posted an entry at my personal blog and at Peach Punditexpressing concerns about the legislation and urging readers to call their representatives to vote against the bill.

Bob Barr also wrote against the bill on his AJC blog on Friday, March 27th. Barr wrote, “The purpose of the legislation, although couched deceptively as necessary to ‘improve health care quality and effectiveness,’ is obviously to make it easier for law enforcement and regulatory agencies to discover alleged ‘pill pushers’ and prescription abusers without having to go through the normal — and constitutionally appropriate — process of obtaining subpoenas and warrants (in other words, without having to first develop at least some evidence that a person may be violating the law before invading their medical privacy).”

HB 614 was brought up in the Senate late Monday evening. Sen. David Shafer(R-Duluth) presented the bill (he also introduced his own version). Sen.Preston Smith (R-Rome) began questioning Sen. Shafer on the legislation, expressing concerns that the government was overstepping its boundaries. Sen. Shafer could not defend the criticisms, in fact, he noticeably struggled with them. Sen. Smith eventually took to the well and gave a great speech against the bill.

Both Sen. Shafer’s presentation and Sen. Smith’s speech can be seen in the video below. Interestingly, the Senate spent nearly 30 minutes on this bill. Contrast that from the eight minutes of “attention” it got in the House:

The Senate killed HB 614 by a vote of 25 to 29. By the way, Sen. David Shafer is running for Lt. Governor in 2010. Keep this bill in mind as you make your decision on who to support in that race.

Anyway, HB 614 is dead at this point, right? Well, not exactly. On Wednesday evening, I got word that the House was tacking on the language of HB 614 to another bill. I got a post written over at Peach Pundit for Thursday morning and alerted the state office to what was going on. I knew on Thursday morning thatSB 56, legislation to establish the Stop MethLog (which is equally as bad as HB 614 because the government presumes anyone buying an over-the-counter medicine containing pseudoephedrine is using it to make Meth, God forbid someone actually have allergies or a cold), was the bill to watch. I just had no idea whether it was going to be done in committee, House Rules, on the floor or in conference (if it got that far).

What happened was the House Judiciary Committee (Non-Civil) substituted the language from HB 614 into SB 56.

Bill Simon, who runs a great newsletter and blog called the Political Vine, picked up on SB 56 and blasted it out to his newsletter. Dustin at UGA Liberalalso helped raised awareness to the bill.

SB 56 was introduced on Friday morning and it faced some very tough questions and opposition. Many members, some who voted for HB 614 just two weeks before, were questioning how it got through without catching their attention. House Rules Chairman Earl Ehrhart (R-Powder Springs) moved that the House table SB 56. The motion was tied 86 to 86 until Speaker Glenn Richardson (R-Hiram) broke the tie in favor of tabling.

The Libertarian Party of Georgia sent out an action alert that wound up getting the attention of Neal Boortz, who alerted his listeners to what was going on under the Gold Dome and urged them to contact their representatives.

Despite being told by a member of House leadership that it was unlikely that SB 56 would come back to the House for a vote, the House decided to bring it off the table, this time without the language of HB 614, but still creating the Stop MethLog. The original version of SB 56 passed the House by a vote of 107 to 60 (a link to the vote information isn’t available at this time).

Despite being passed with a little more than an hour left in the session, the Senate did not take up SB 56, meaning it’s on hold until next year.

This measure went from passing easily in the House to being shot down in the Senate in just two weeks and all it took was a little sunlight to expose the tricks with SB 56 in the House. Never let anyone tell you blogs and grassroots activists do not have an impact.

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