The only bill to fail in the Georgia House of Representatives on Crossover Day wreaked havoc on a caucus, ripe with political manipulation, vindictiveness from leadership, and a terrible lesson on ‘how the sausage is made.’
House Bill 520 by State Representative Philip Singleton was by definition one of the most simple bills to be presented in the last 60 days. The legislation merely corrected the definition of broadband internet, as the State of Georgia currently defines the service incorrectly.
But it was met with an unfortunate and unexpected thwack down, garnering only 51 YES votes. The list of 108 NO votes that helped HB 520 meet its demise consists of ranking Republicans, Democrats, the very people who helped the bill get to the House floor, and even a co-sponsor of the bill.
The political theater has some wondering if it was a set-up from the beginning, in which legislation was sacrificed for the purposes of making an example out of a lawmaker who occasionally votes NO on GOP measures and has taken on a handful of controversial issues.
What The Bill Does
Specifically, HB 520 removes the word ‘terrestrial’ from the definition of broadband service to update the Georgia code to ensure the state is not limiting service by limiting the definition of broadband without interfering in the OneGeorgia Authority or the Rural Broadband Commission operations for broadband expansion in the state.
A co-sponsor of the legislation who spoke on the condition of anonymity said the bill was brought forth because those in House leadership said it was a subject that needed to be addressed this year.
2/17/21 — HB 520 is introduced.
2/22/21 — HB 520 is assigned to the Energy, Utilities, & Telecommunications Committee [see member list].
3/02/21 — HB 520 passes out of committee without opposition. Chairman Don Parsons congratulates Singleton on the approval of his bill and explains the process of how to get the bill before the House Rules committee.
3/08/21 — HB 520 is passed out of the House Rules Committee without any opposition.
3/08/21 — HB 520 is presented to the House Chamber.
Rep. Penny Houston voices concerns about satellites being able to provide broadband internet under the new definition, a practice which is already in place. Houston expresses that people in South Georgia want internet with wires. Rep. Al Williams echoes her concerns.
Rep. Sam Watson vocalizes his concern that allowing access to satellite providers to provide more internet will limit resources of current telecommunications carriers and reduce available choices because they would take all the money from telecom companies. Singleton is adamant that the bill would do neither because only the definition for ‘rural broadband service’ was being amended and not the definition related to the service provider.
“This bill is a free market bill if you believe that we should not arbitrarily define things based on certain courses in the market,” Singleton said on the House floor. He also told members that the vocalized concerns do not apply to HB 520, that the bill had unanimous and bipartisan support in both the House subcommittee and the House committee, and that no industry lobbyists vocalized opposition either.
Rep. Terry England, Chair of the House Appropriations Committee, rises to vocalize his concerns about how the definition change would alter rural broadband maps put into place over the last four years, another point Singleton refutes.
As the votes were being cast, Chairman Don Parsons rose for a parliamentary inquiry to reiterate that what Singleton stated in The Well was accurate, while simultaneously refuting the statements alleged by Houston, Watson, Williams, and England.
Nevertheless, HB 520 dies on the House floor in a vote of 51-108. No motion for reconsideration was made.
Following the NO votes by so many Democrats, many of whom previously supported the bill, a handful of Democratic measures were considered as late hour additions. Every one of them passed.
Note: Part 3 of Crossover Day on the Georgia General Assembly LiveStream Library was missing as of 10:00 a.m. on 3/10/21. A clip of the debate on HB 520 was uploaded by GPB Reporter Rahul Bali and is embedded at the bottom of this article.
Who Was For It Before They Were Against It?
Ultimately, 51 lawmakers voted in favor of the bill, 108 voted against, and 14 members were present but chose not to vote including Representative Victor Anderson who was a co-sponsor on the bill as well. Representatives Shaw Blackmon, Wes Cantrell, Barry Fleming, Carl Gilliard, Joseph Gullett, El-Mhadi Holly, Martin Momtahan, David Ralston, Ed Setzler, Rules Chairman Richard Smith, and Ron Stephens. Another 7 were ‘excused’ due to an absence for some reason or another and Betsy Holland abstained due to a conflict.
Among those who voted NO:
- 20 are on the Rules Committee but did not raise opposition
- One of those 20 is Rep. Rick Jasperse, Secretary of the House Rules Committee, who made the motion to send HB 520 from the Rules Committee to the House floor
- Rep. Beth Camp, elected just last year, who is a co-sponsor of the bill.
- 9 of the NO votes are members of the Energy, Utilities, & Telecommunications Committee which gave favorable consideration to the bill. Those members include: Reps John Carson, Katie Dempsey, Robert Dickey, Shelly Hutchinson, Derrick Jackson, Josh McLaurin, Steven Meeks, Sheila Nelson, and Bill Werkheiser.
Here is the full list of votes:
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“When asked about his bill’s failure Monday, Singleton simply said “I am appreciative to the Speaker for giving me the opportunity to present my bill. This is important for Georgia and I clearly have work to do.”
Singleton is no stranger to hard hitting legislation, sponsoring ‘Save Girls Sports’ this year and backing Constitutional Carry provisions, higher education savings accounts, and election reform. But his political ideologies and closely-held principles are no match for a caucus that thrives having a whipping boy or two.
Disclosure from the author: Singleton is among the 17 lawmakers for whom I have produced legislative policy analysis during the legislative session over the last seven years which is a paid part-time consulting service. He declined to be interviewed for this story, but offered one quote as included above.