Setzler's bills to stop Cobb County's home rule effort stall under Gold Dome
Mar. 7—Two bills which seek to thwart the Cobb County Board of Commissioners' effort to draw its own district map have stalled in the state legislature.
Senate bills 124 and 236, sponsored by state Sen. Ed Setzler, R-Acworth, had been slated for floor votes on Monday — Crossover Day, a crucial legislative deadline during the legislative session. Neither bill received a vote, however.
Setzler told the MDJ Tuesday his legislation was close to getting a vote before the Senate adjourned.
"We kind of had a batting order, kind of went through it ... It was the next 1-3 bills to be called, we adjourned, we worked until 10:30 last night," Setzler said.
Setzler said he hoped the home rule bills might survive in some fashion, saying there are related bills under consideration at the Capitol that his language could be attached to.
"This is a process. We've got a whole 12 more legislative days, and it's not about any bill number, it's about getting the language into the process," Setzler said.
SB 124 would explicitly prohibit Georgia counties from drawing their own district lines, something the Democratic majority on the Cobb commission has sought to do. SB 236, meanwhile, mirrors the map signed into law by Gov. Brian Kemp last year, which drew Democratic Commissioner Jerica Richardson out of her seat.
The Cobb commission last fall passed a pair of resolutions amending the Kemp map, in an untested use of the county's home rule powers. The county's map, using one drawn by former state Rep. Erick Allen, D-Smyrna, would keep Richardson in her seat.
"The (Senate) majority wanted to get some stuff passed that wasn't just for Cobb County. As much as Ed tried to dress it up ... this was truly a hyperlocal issue," said Allen, who now chairs the Cobb Democratic Party.
Republican officials, including Attorney General Chris Carr, have said the home rule bid is unconstitutional, which the commission's Democrats dispute.
Other Republicans have pursued litigation, rather than legislation, to combat the home rule gambit. 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. Gambrill said Tuesday a hearing in the case had been scheduled for early April, but has been postponed.
Setzler was involved with a previous suit filed by Savage, but had recently stepped away from the courts to pursue a legislative route.
"The county doggedly persisted in its direction. As I've said before, they have been lawless in their approach, and I was trying to prevent that from happening," Setzler said. "... It's (the lawsuit) an issue that others are taking up the mantle of."
Critics of Setzler's bills have argued that the question of the county's constitutional home rule powers should be left to the courts. They include Allen and Mindy Seger, executive director of For Which It Stance, a political group formed to support Richardson's efforts to stay in office.
Seger suggested that legislators may agree with her on that point.
"There's a lot of speculation," Seger said, as to why Setzler's bills didn't receive a vote. "... I do think having some pending litigation gave some of our legislators a little pause as to wanting to push something through that really amends constitutional powers."
Allen said that if Setzler wants to redraw the map, he should adhere to the state legislature's tradition of advancing the map through the local legislation process. That process seeks buy-in from a majority of the county's legislative delegation.
Local legislation is also not subject to the Crossover Day deadline.
"He doesn't have to go fishing for another bill to try to tack this on to, to get rid of Jerica Richardson, who he just for some reason has it out for," Allen said.
Allen pointed out that in 2014, Setzler advanced a new commission map through the local legislation process, with majority support from the Cobb legislative delegation. That map was seen as shoring up the GOP lean of then-Commissioner Bob Ott's district.
But the delegation is now narrowly controlled by Democrats, who take issue with the Kemp map.
"The only difference between now and 2014 is he doesn't have control of the delegation and doesn't get to do what he wants to do," Allen said.
In committee hearings last week, some of Setzler's Republican colleagues expressed concern about the legislation potentially ending an elected official's term prematurely.
Sen. Blake Tillery, R-Vidalia, floated the idea of an amendment to one of the bills which would explicitly state that elected officials who were drawn out of their districts mid-term would be able to serve out their full term.
Setzler later endorsed that idea and said he had drafted a bipartisan amendment to that effect. He's now calling it the "Setzler-Rhett amendment," saying Tuesday that state Sen. Michael "Doc" Rhett, D-Marietta, was supportive of it.
His opponents, however, oppose the bills nonetheless.
"I think it's a wonderful show of bipartisanship," Seger said, before saying the issue should still be left to a judge.
Seger and her group have other issues with the Kemp map, charging that it drastically changed Richardson's District 2, and made it less competitive.
Allen concurred, saying "no amendment is good enough for a bad bill."
Setzler has until March 29, the end of the session, to try and attach his language onto another bill. Seger said she was celebrating the setback to the bills as a "reprieve for the moment."
But, she said, "I've learned to sleep with one eye open."