Georgia Grassroots Organizations Call for Improved Public Access to Legislative Process

In the wake of House Minority Leader James Beverly’s comments from the well yesterday, grassroots organizations are releasing a letter they sent state leaders, urging procedural changes to ensure public access to the legislative process

“Although these are challenging times, we cannot allow the times to shred our democratic values. … The Georgia General Assembly is a public body and conducts the business of the Georgia public. … We strongly believe that, even during the current public health crisis, our elected officials must ensure that all the people of Georgia can exercise our right to participate in open and accountable government proceedings,” the letter says. 

Read the full letter here.

The letter recommended procedural improvements, including

  • The creation of an online portal for the public to use to upload testimony, comments, and other written documents for committees. 
  • Extending time frames for public comment to at least 48 hours, so that all Georgians – not just lobbyists – have a fair opportunity to have our voices heard.
  • Require at least  24 hours’ public notice of committee meetings, to give the public an opportunity to learn about the meetings before they are held. 
  • Committee votes should be recorded so that Georgians can have specific information about what our legislators are doing and what choices they make.
  • Fiscal notes should accompany bills, particularly those bills noted as budgetary fixes.

“Georgians shouldn’t have to hire a lobbyist to be able to participate in our government,” said Cierra Franklin, Common Cause Georgia Program Engagement Organizer, who coordinated the coalition letter. “When there is minimal notice of committee meetings, when scheduled committee meetings are canceled at the last minute, when there is no public information about a bill’s fiscal impact, when committee actions are taken without recorded votes – all of these procedural maneuvers keep the public out of what should be the public’s business. Georgia is supposed to have a government ‘by the people’ – but these maneuvers send a clear message that the Legislature doesn’t want the people to know what’s going on.”

The letter was sent on Tuesday. To date, the organizations have received no response to it from House Speaker David Ralston, Lt. Governor Geoff Duncan or Governor Brian Kemp.

Yesterday, Minority Leader Beverly spoke to the coalition’s concerns, particularly as they pertain to the redistricting process. Addressing the House Majority, he said, “Your power politics supersedes the will of the people.” Watch his full remarks starting at 1:09:20 here (use the drop down menu to select House Chamber Day 18, 10:00 am) 

Last year, after passage of SB 202, organizations urged that Georgia’s Open Meeting Law be amended to include the Legislature, as a way of guaranteeing for greater transparency. Read that letter here.

Tuesday’s letter was signed by Common Cause Georgia, Asian-Americans Advancing Justice-Atlanta, Black Voters Matter, Fair Districts GA, GALEO Latino Community Development Fund/GALEO Impact Fund, Georgia AFL-CIO, Georgia Conservation Voters, Georgia Muslim Voter Project, GeorgiaWAND, Indivisible Georgia Coalition, National Democratic Redistricting Committee, New Georgia Project Action Fund, Poder Latinx, Rep GA Institution Inc., SPARK Reproductive Justice NOW!, Women Engaged, and Women Watch Afrika.