Senate Democrats run over by HOPE train

7:44 PM, Mar 4, 2011   |    comments
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State Senator Jason Carter (D-DeKalb) at Higher Education Committee meeting.

ATLANTA -- In the words of one angry Democratic State Senator, "We can't come up with high speed rail in Georgia, but we just got run over by a bullet train."

His anger was shared by other Senate Democrats who were cut out of the committee process as Republican Governor Nathan Deal's HOPE Scholarship cuts continue to speed through the legislature.

"You can't on the one hand say that we've had a full and fair process and then ram it through," complained Senator Curt Thompson (D-Tucker).

Thompson was one of two Democrats on the Senate Higher Education Committee who were not allowed to propose any amendments to HB 326, which already sailed through the full House on Tuesday with a 152-22 vote.

Two-thirds of House Democrats, including Minority Leader Rep. Stacey Abrams (D-Atlanta), supported the Governor's plan.

But many Senate Democrats, including Minority Leader Sen. Robert Brown (D-Macon), oppose it.

Senator Jason Carter (D-DeKalb) presented his alternative HOPE plan to the Senate Higher Education Committee on Friday morning.

He claimed his proposal to cap HOPE eligibility at a $140,000 family income and give free tuition, books and fees to the top 3 percent of Georgia's high school graduates would be more fair and less painful than the Governor's plan.

It would cap HOPE payments at 10 percent of this year's tuition levels and take away all books and fees for most HOPE students.

Higher Ed Committee Chairman Sen. Jim Butterworth (R-Cornelia) allowed Republicans to make a handful of technical adjustments to the House bill, including an effective date of July 1.

But he refused to let Democratic Senators offer any amendments of their own.

"Shouldn't the citizens of this great state have a right to listen to possible amendments to make this better?" asked committee member Sen. Lester Jackson (D-Savannah).

"This is a business issue that has to be treated regardless of passion that some folks bring," said Chairman Butterworth.

The Higher Ed Committee passed HB 326 by a 5 to 2 vote along party lines.

Democrats filed a rare "Minority Report" with the Secretary of the Senate to protest being excluded from the amendment process.

Several also blasted Republicans on the Senate floor Friday.

Senate Majority Leader Brown also fired a shot at House Democrats who supported the Governor's plan.

"These crums from Lazarous' table are not worth 30 pieces of silver," he said.

Democrats may be able to attempt amendments when the bill goes to the full Senate for debate, possibly as early as next Tuesday.

But with Republicans outnumbering Democrats 36 to 20, their chances of stopping or even rearranging the HOPE train remain slim.

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