When the Georgia Senate passed House Bill 481 — also known as the Living Infants Fairness and Equality (LIFE) Act, yet more commonly referred to as the “heartbeat bill” — on Friday, District 14 State Rep. Mitchell Scoggins (R, Cartersville) found himself seated between two female legislators.
One was a Republican, the other a Democrat.
“She hit me on the arm when we passed the abortion bill and she said ‘We’ve got you,’” Scoggins said of the Democratic lawmaker. “So they actually think they’re going to take over the State House in 2020.”
The first-year legislator recounted Friday’s contentious General Assembly gathering at Saturday’s Bartow County Republican Party monthly meeting.
Indeed, Scoggins said a quartet of bills from the 2019 legislative session — that aforementioned heartbeat bill, a proposal to wrest control of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport from the City of Atlanta, legislation seeking to overhaul the State’s voting procedures and a bill that would officially codify “hate crimes” under Georgia law — have galvanized Democrats in both chambers under the Gold Dome.
“They think those four bills are going to get them,” he said. “And that’s what the Speaker has been beating down on us, trying to get our fundraisers going so that we’re ready.”
While Bartow County may not find itself engulfed in a “blue wave” next year, Scoggins said the State House very well could be up for grabs.
“The Senate has a little more flexibility than we do, but we lost nine seats, four of them in Cobb County,” he said. “And Cobb County’s the one that started the Republican Party [movement] in the early ‘90s, and now they’ve flipped.”
HB 481 would effectively ban abortions throughout Georgia after a fetus’ heartbeat can be detected, with exceptions for pregnancies resulting from rape and/or incest, or circumstances in which “a medical emergency existed” or it is determined that a woman has “a medically futile pregnancy.”
After the Senate approved the proposed legislation 34-18 Friday, the controversial bill will return to the State House early this week.
“It does have to come back to the House, either on Monday or Tuesday,” Scoggins said. “I think we’ll get it done.”
On the subject of local controversial issues, Scoggins spoke at length about proposed legislation that would make senior school tax relief a ballot item for next year’s general election.
“We did drop the Bartow County Schools senior tax exemption bill, local legislation last week that was read for the first time on Friday,” he said. “The City one is being dropped on Monday … you have to do two, because there are two different school systems that we’re dealing with.”
Under the proposal, residents ages 65-69 would see 50 percent of their school taxes relieved, while those between the ages of 70-79 would see 75 percent relieved. Residents over the age of 80 would receive a total abatement and would not have to pay any school taxes.
Scoggins said there will be a $500,000 cap. “Anything over that,” he said, “you’ll still have to pay regular taxes on it, at the regular rate.”
If the legislative proposal is approved, the issue of senior school tax relief would come before Bartow voters in November 2020.
“Our intentions are just to get it on for a vote. That’s what we told the people we were going to do and we had a lot of people ask us about it in our campaign,” Scoggins said. “We can’t do it just by the stroke of a pen, we have to let people vote on it … that is the most fair way to do anything."
Scoggins addressed the Cartersville School Board, which signed a resolution Thursday clearly expressing opposition to the proposed senior tax exemptions.
“We knew that going in, that they had already voiced their opinion,” he said. “I don’t know how much they will actually work against it … but we couldn’t do the County and not do the City. It wouldn’t be fair, or vice versa. It had to be for everybody, and that was our intentions. If it doesn’t pass, so be it. But we had to give everybody an opportunity, in the whole county, to vote. Seniors in the City want it, just like seniors in the County want it.”
Scoggins noted that there’s a possibility the legislation could pass in the County but falter in the City — or, perhaps, the other way around. But with the proposed exemptions not taking effect until Jan. 1, 2021, he nonetheless said the local school systems have plenty of time to prepare.
“We don’t think it’s going to impact the schools very much,” he said. “We think it’s going to be very little, because I think that the tax digest grew 8 percent last year and it looks like another 8 percent growth in the county taxes again [this year.]”
On the local level, Scoggins said the exemptions proposal has solid support from himself, District 15 State Rep. Matthew Gambill (R, Cartersville) and District 16 State Rep. Trey Kelley (R, Cedartown.)
“[District 14 State Senator] Bruce Thompson has said that he will sign the bills, but we don’t know if [District 52 State Senator] Chuck Hufststeler will sign or not, we haven’t talked to him yet,” Scoggins said.
Pending the issue makes it to the ballot, Scoggins said he’s optimistic that the local electorate will approve the senior tax relief item.
“We’ve kind of got a combination of Paulding County and Cherokee counties, and kind of looked at their systems and tried to get something we thought would work here and be very effective for the seniors and [have] the least impact on the schools,” he said. “We hope we’ve reached a solution that the seniors will like and the school systems can live with — they might not like it, but they can live with it — and we’ll be OK.”