Second Setzler bill to stop Cobb home rule effort advances

Feb. 28—A day after a related bill passed a Georgia Senate committee, the same committee passed Sen. Ed Setzler's other bill combating Cobb County's home rule redistricting gambit.

The committee's Republicans on Tuesday passed Senate Bill 236, which would reimpose the county commission map signed into law last year by Gov. Brian Kemp.

Setzler, an Acworth Republican, wrote the legislation as a "companion bill" to SB 124, which would explicitly prohibit Georgia counties from drawing their own district lines, something the Democratic majority on the Cobb Board of Commissioners has sought to do.

SB 236 mirrors the map passed last year by the General Assembly which drew Democratic Commissioner Jerica Richardson out of her seat.

In an untested attempt to keep Richardson in office, the board last fall passed a pair of "home rule" resolutions amending the Kemp-approved map.

The county's map, using one drawn by former state Rep. Erick Allen, D-Smyrna, would keep Richardson in her seat.

Setzler told the Senate committee his bills will put to bed the county's "unprecedented, and we will find, unlawful act."

"That's not to use inciting tone, it's just as a matter of law, counties in Georgia have never been able to apportion themselves. And the county home rule powers have always been construed ... as requiring the General Assembly to act," Setzler said.

Lisa Cupid, chair of the Cobb Board of Commissioners, acknowledged her board's acts were unusual, but told the legislators the board was forced to try and find a way to keep their colleague, elected in 2020, in office.

"It's been stated that our actions at the county were novel, but I would assert that what we did was a novel response to novel action taken by the General Assembly. We did not do anything to undermine this organization," Cupid said.

Though Republican officials, including Attorney General Chris Carr, have said the home rule bid is unconstitutional, Richardson, Cupid and Democratic Commissioner Monique Sheffield maintain the effort is legal.

Richardson also spoke, echoing Cupid's comments.

"... In consideration of the potential slippery slope at hand, the county did come together and under legal wisdom, invoked home rule, which was truly a way to assert what the local delegation had produced as a result of conversations with the community through transparency," Richardson said.

Democrats, including state Sen. Michael "Doc" Rhett, D-Marietta, opposed Setzler's bill.

Sen. Tonya Anderson, D-Lithonia, asked Setzler, as she did at a Monday hearing, if this was not local legislation that should be advanced by the Cobb County Legislative Delegation.

Setzler said that though the bill is "in essence a local statute, with local effect," he was not required to advance it through that channel.

Other Republicans have pursued litigation, rather than legislation, to combat the county's move. East Cobb activist Larry Savage and Republican Commissioner Keli Gambrill are suing Cobb, asking the court to overturn the commission's actions, contending they were illegal.

Some of Richardson's allies on Monday called for the question to be left up to a judge.

Anderson had asked Setzler if the issue was currently being litigated at Monday's hearing. He said then that there was no ongoing litigation he was aware of (Savage previously sued the county but withdrew the suit before filing the new one, with Gambrill, late last week).

"I literally found out yesterday after the hearing," Setzler said, that a subsequent suit had been filed.

Anderson later made it clear she felt the courts should handle the issue.

But Setzler argued that "we shouldn't wait for a court case to duke something out and try to adjudicate what the constitution says."

Setzler has said his bills are not targeting Richardson. Anderson asked, if that was true, why he was quoted in the MDJ saying that Richardson "had 304 days to live in the district that she was going to represent."

The Acworth senator said that it was a fact worth mentioning, and that his legislation will settle the issue of home rule redistricting for the entire state.

"The thing that the delegation wrestled with last year in these maps was, should we conform the maps for 760,000 people to bend around someone's houses because they made an offer on a home and moved eight months after being elected? I don't think it's fair that 760,000 people should have their apportionment lines built around one person's real estate decision," Setzler said.

Richardson's fate

Richardson said last week that should the legislation be passed, it would end her tenure on the board.

Some legal experts, however, say that may not be the case. Both Jason Shepherd, a former Cobb GOP chair, and Joseph Young, an attorney and former legislative counsel, say Richardson would be able to stay in her seat through the end of her term, which runs through 2024.

Setzler also endorsed adding an amendment to his other bill, SB 124, that would keep Richardson in office. Sen. Blake Tillery, R-Vidalia, floated the idea of the amendment at Monday's hearing.

"There will be a floor amendment offered on Senate Bill 124, a bipartisan amendment, that I'll be a signatory to," Setzler said, "... which changes state policy, that will confirm that anybody who's serving a four-year term, and then they're reapportioned out of their four-year term by district lines changing ... would be able to serve out their (remaining two years)."