Senate panel tables Augusta election bill

ATLANTA — The Senate Ethics Committee voted along party lines Wednesday to table legislation that sought to make clear that Augusta’s municipal elections could be held in November.

The House has already passed a separate bill switching them to July.

Both measures arose because a law enacted last year to move the election of judges to July also included nonpartisan races in consolidated governments, which includes Augusta-Richmond County and six others.

“The unintended consequence has proved problematic to us in Augusta,” said Sen. Hardie Davis, D-Augusta.

Augusta officials are planning to hold this year’s balloting in November along with the presidential contest. They are relying on a letter from the Attorney General’s Office that says the city charter trumps last year’s law, but other consolidated governments like Athens and Columbus are holding theirs during this summer’s Republican and Democratic primaries.

The bill tabled Wednesday, Senate Bill 298 sponsored by Davis who serves on the committee, would have allowed local legislative delegations to move the dates of elections without involving the entire General Assembly.

Davis told his colleagues his approach is better than the House version going the other way, sponsored by Rep. Barbara Sims, R-Augusta, because his has the support of the Augusta Commission and legislators from other consolidated governments.

Sen. George Hooks, D-Americus, represents two of them in Chattahoochee County and Webster County, one of Georgia’s smallest at a population of just 2,000.

“They have no problem with doing this,” he said.

Sen. John Albers, R-Roswell, moved to table the bill saying other senators who couldn’t attend the meeting had concerns.

“Well, who are they?” Hooks asked. “If a senator has a concern with Richmond County, they should take it to the Augusta delegation.”

The 4-3 vote stalled the bill unless another vote at a later meeting revives it. Chairman John Crosby, R-Tifton, declined to answer a senator’s question about whether he would schedule another meeting in time for a revived SB 298 to pass the Senate before midnight on March 7, the deadline for bills to pass one legislative chamber or die.

Sims’ bill has already beat the deadline by passing the House. It is pending in the Senate Ethics Committee but hasn’t been scheduled for a hearing yet.

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