The following is an excerpt from a podcast discussion on “The Commute” that featured Georgia House Rep. Ron Stephens, the Savannah area’s oldest lawmaker. The comments have been summarized in the interests of space. For the full interview, visit SavannahNow.com/podcasts or via mobile podcast apps by searching for “The Commute with @SavannahOpinion”.
Question: Both Georgia House and the Georgia Senate have passed their own versions of the electoral reform packages, and they are very different. How will they be reconciled in the last few days?
Ron Stephens: “Some of the things in the Senate bill that I disagree with, and I’m sure there are some things in the House bill that the Senate doesn’t like either. But the truth is if we make the rules the same for those who are personal vote and those voting absent we have come a long way to fix our problem. Right now there are two different mechanisms. You need to show your ID when you show up to vote in person, but when when you cast a postal vote “Just sign something that says you are who you say you are. If we can address this piece of it, this is the greatest piece.”
Q: Ultimately, the Senate and House will have a conference to resolve this. Should we expect horse trading? Or more of a stalemate?
RS: “Many of us moderators will say, ‘Look, that just doesn’t make sense.’ The last thing we want to do is we shut down the vote in some way, but then you have those on the other side who insist on doing whatever they can to make sure that only those people who should be voting are voting. There you run into the train wreck if you will. But I expect cooler minds to prevail and fix things to make sure the integrity of the vote is safe. I think it’s you I’ll be right in last minute, probably on the last day of the meeting. “
Q: As polarizing as the voting reforms are, one issue that every Georgian legislature has sought is the removal of the citizens’ arrest law. Indeed repeal legislation passed the House unanimously on Monday? How emotional was this vote?
RS: “Every now and then something will cause you to get a lump in your throat up here. You see a special moment that it was one of them. It meant a lot to me because it allows us to put the brakes on a bit that has existed for too long and could really be abused. We sent a strong message. It was one of those moments in my 24 years that will truly stay with me. “
Q: One law that has only been bubbling in the air in the past few weeks is the idea of a “visitation right”. Essentially, a sick patient who is in a hospital or nursing home that is on lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic is granted specific visiting rights for a family member. I know you supported it and it’s very personal to you, right?
RS: “My mother-in-law is 97 years old and she’s been in a nursing home for two or three years now. She’s getting on well and we’re used to visiting every week. That stalled almost every day a year ago Basically imprisoned and we couldn’t visit them. I understand the reasons for this of course, but it was amazingly difficult. They don’t want to go in and infect someone. But by the same token, we know enough about safeguards now and can do so if they’re the right ones Comply with guidelines. “