Battle of words
The final round of a Chattanooga legal fight on how to word a ballot question in the final hours before the ballot goes to the printer will be decided Monday morning.
The topic is touchy -- city-approved benefits for Chattanooga city employees' domestic partners now is up to voters in a citywide referendum after a tea party-leaning group gathered enough petition signatures to force the City Council to repeal the decision or put it on the August ballot.
The city opted for the ballot. But now there's a brouhaha about the words voters will read as they cast their vote -- those written by the city or those written by the petitioning group, Citizens for Governmental Accountability and Transparency.
It all started in November when Chattanooga followed Collegedale's lead to approve benefits for domestic partners -- something the city says will cost less than 1/10th of 1 percent more than the current cost of city benefits. But Mark West -- president of the Citizens for Governmental Accountability and Transparency, as well as president of the Chattanooga Tea Party (though not a resident of the city) spearheaded the petition drive to block the move. He called it a "faith, fiscal and fairness issue" when he announced the petition effort in April on the heels of another group's failed attempt to recall Chattanooga Councilman Chris Anderson.
Anderson, who sponsored the domestic partners ordinance, was correct when he called the referendum effort something else: bad math, hate and fear.
When the petition was OK'd by the Hamilton County Election Commission in May, the commission had petitioners write the question for the ballot. But in June, when the Election Commission sent the proposed ballot language to the city for review as is common with city-led referenda, the city attorney said the petitioners' language, which focuses on "domestic partnership," was "slanted" and vague. The city attorney submitted another question twice as long and legalistic -- leading with language about protecting city workers from harassment and discrimination. Though denser, the city language does offer a more complete description of the ordinance.
The election commission says state law gives the petitioner the right to choose wording, but the city counters that the City Charter gives the city that right.
Last Monday, a city police officer sued the election commission over its decision to use the petitioners' language, and on Tuesday in an 8-1 vote, the City Council approved a lawsuit to join the officer and force the election commission to use city language.
In the end? Regardless of wording, voters will be asked to decide something that most of them already accept and something that is estimated to add only about $168,000 a year to the city's current benefits expense.
The city probably has already spent more than that on attorneys and hearings to deal with the very petitioners who said they wanted to fight additional cost. What they really want is to push their own values and ideology where it doesn't belong -- on all of the rest of us.
Then there are Georgia taxes
Speaking of saving tax money, Georgia officials this week said they would delay enforcing the new state law to drug-test welfare recipients until a federal appeals court rules on a related Florida case.
Why? So as not to waste money on a legal fight, according to Brian Robinson, a spokesman for Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal.
This spring, Georgia lawmakers and Deal approved the nation's hardest-hitting law calling for drug tests on recipients of poverty aid -- welfare and food stamps -- all just before the May 20 primary when Deal faced tea party-favored David Pennington. But the food stamp part of the Georgia law has already been thrown out. What remains is the part of the law that applies to the state's 16,000 welfare recipients.
Yes, you read that right: Of Georgia's 9.9 million population, state officials say there are only 16,000 welfare recipients.
Georgia's contract to do this drug testing would probably be a larger expenditure than the cost of the welfare benefits, since a single parent in a family of three only receives $280 a month.
Isn't it a pity that our tea party friends don't think to wonder whose friend or firm was angling for dibs on that original contract? Instead it seems the "Don't Tread On Me" types just want to tread on welfare folks and those whose home lives don't mirror their own.