Georgia: Business secrecy deal won't be considered this year

Georgia: Business secrecy deal won't be considered this year

March 17th, 2011 by Adam Crisp in News

A Georgia bill that would have afforded secrecy to government and private business looking to locate in Georgia is dead for this session.

Senate Bill 159 was sponsored by Sen. Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga, who is executive director of the Northwest Georgia Joint Development Authority in Walker County and routinely negotiates such government deals with businesses.

Under Mullis' bill, any details of what a company is, does or what it would do would be secret until the negotiations are complete.

But the bill will not be considered for passage this session, according to Matthew Colvin, the senator's spokesman. Wednesday was Crossover Day, the point in the legislative session where a bill dies if it hasn't received a vote in either chamber.

Mullis said if businesses are worried about their plans leaking out, they will head elsewhere to states such as Tennessee, which already keeps such negotiations secret while they're in progress.

While some government officials back the bill, it was opposed by the Sierra Club and the Georgia First Amendment Foundation.

"SB 159 undermines open government and citizen oversight of government," said Hollie Manheimer, director of the First Amendment Foundation. "The public has a right to review information in the hands of its government, and this type of information is of the utmost interest and concern to the community."

Also, a bill sponsored by state Rep. Jay Neal, R-LaFayette, that could change the way nonviolent drug offenders are sentenced and jailed passed the House almost unanimously.

Backed by Gov. Nathan Deal, HB 265 would create a special council to spend the next year studying the state's current criminal justice structure and criminal sentencing procedures for nonviolent offenders.

After a year, lawmakers said, the council - a 17-member, bipartisan committee - will submit its findings to the General Assembly.

Georgia has the nation's fourth-highest incarceration rate, and the state spends more than $1 billion annually on its corrections system, officials said.

Staff writer Joy Lukachick contributed to this story.