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Wrap-Up of the 2015 Georgia General Assembly

ATLANTA - March 31, 2016

The dust has settled since Sine Die last week, and we’re beginning to finally process some of this session’s victories, as well as defeats. It was, without a doubt, a productive session with much deliberation and discussion. We tackled issues on a wide-range of topics, and I believe we ended the session with a more financially secure and safe Georgia.

Education was a success throughout the session as we passed numerous bills that would improve the quality of education in our state. Senate Bill 355, which I sponsored, passed through the House last week securing its transmission to the Governor’s desk.  Also known as the “Student Protection Act,” this bill provides that students would not be required to take state mandated standardized tests if they are suffering from a serious health condition, which is documented by a physician or licensed therapist. Additionally, the State School Superintendent shall develop alternative policies for students who don’t participate in standardized tests that local school boards can adopt. The State Board of Education and local school districts may also provide paper and pencil versions of standardized tests if the parent of a student requests them.
We also passed legislation reducing the percentage of student test scores that would be taken into consideration when performing teacher evaluations. Senate Bill 364 lowers the percentage from 50 to 30 percent. For principals and assistant principals, the legislation requires student growth to count for 40 percent of the evaluations.

Senate Bill 275, which passed, ensures that governmental entities, including boards of education, cannot adopt ethics policies that interfere with a board member's freedom of speech. Two other education measures that I worked on, Senate Bill 357 and Senate Bill 310, instead of passing as stand-alone legislation, were added, in part, to other bills which did pass through the House by our deadline. SB 357, similar to SB 275, addresses board of education policies, and SB 310 requires more transparency from the state in how education grants will affect long-term education policies and finances. All of these changes will benefit Georgia’s board of education members, principals, teachers, and students and generally improve the quality of education received in our state.
With regard to illegal immigration, I was also glad to see that Senate Bill 269 passed both chambers. It ensures that all local governmental entities that receive state funding must prohibit immigration sanctuary policies. 

Two high-profile bills that were introduced early in the session failed to receive a vote in the Senate. The widely publicized bills that would legalize casino gambling and allow the in-state cultivation of medical marijuana failed to gain enough traction this session and were therefore defeated. I am pleased that we were able to beat back both of these ill-advised efforts, but we will have to be ready again next year to again play defense in the Senate.
After three years of effort and finally making a breakthrough with the House of Representatives this year on addressing religious liberty protections, it was a sad moment to see Governor Nathan Deal decide to veto House Bill 757, the Free Exercise Protection Act. However, perhaps next year, when the General Assembly sends him another bill or two or three, he may have a change of heart.

However, in the bigger picture, it has been clearly demonstrated by the reaction of the hard Left and their allies that Georgia, as well as the rest of the nation, that we are in for a protracted battle to defend religious liberty. Those who take their faith seriously will need to become greatly engaged in civic life in order to maintain the freedoms that, up to this point, they have taken for granted. What the hard Left is attempting to do, along with the cooperation of the media and big business, is to recast any terms of religious liberty into the twisted idea that it means a "license to discriminate." That is what the Left does. They take something that is good and repackage it as something bad. Once that happens, then bad results follow.
Comments on Social Studies Standards

ATLANTA - March 14, 2016

Over the past couple of months, citizens had the opportunity to comment on the revision of the Social Studies standards for K-12 students. I hope that many of my constituents took this civic responsibility seriously and made the effort to provide quality input. Below, I am sharing some of my comments that I shared with the Department of Education. If you would like to review the entire letter, it can be accessed on the Education Issues Page.
Excerpts from Sen. Ligon's Letter on Social Studies Standards

Within the K-12 standards, the reorganization of the sequencing is now in better chronological order in Grades 3-5 than the previous standards. However,  the historical roots of Western Civilization are nowhere to be seen. The previous standards gave some, although not enough, attention to this topic and even did so in the lower grades.

In addition, the shift away from these historical roots in Western Civilization is replaced with a focus on early American Indian cultures. Though important, we should recognize that the dominate features of our culture are no longer anchored in native American cultures, but in the Anglo-American traditions of Western Civilization, and therefore, the historical focus should major on the majors, not major in the minor themes of displaced cultures. This shift in focus reminds me far too much of the recent problems we addressed in the AP U.S. History Framework. We should not repeat the mistakes of the College Board in our own Social Studies standards.
Furthermore, there is a shift in language choices in how our nation is described. The previous standards clearly recognized that students needed to study our " foundations of a republican form of government." The new description is that our nation is a "representative democracy." This language shift starts in Grade 3. Though still a correct term, it does not reflect how our Founders most referred to this nation, which was as a "confederate Republic." In fact, I never see the term "confederate Republic" anywhere, and only once do I see the term "Republic" mentioned in the high school standards.

Starting with Grade 1, I find no logical reason why President George Washington continues to be omitted from the standards. This should be corrected. He is not mentioned until Grade 4, and this is far too late to introduce our most preeminent Founding Father.  Grade 1 also needs to build on the American symbols learned in Kindergarten. For example, why not add the Liberty Bell and what it represents? Why not have the teaching of the Pledge of Allegiance or the introduction of the poem, The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere? Why not introduce the first 13 colonies and have the students identify the original 13 colonies on a map?
In Grade 2, why are only two rivers mentioned in the standards and not even the largest river, which is the Altamaha? If the standards cannot mention all the major rivers, the standards should at least mention all the major watersheds in our state. The standards should also include our aquifers. Students need to understand the importance of our aquifers for our drinking water, farming needs, and industrial needs. Also, in Grade 2, students should be introduced to another Economic Standard, SS2E5 - "Explain why private property rights are necessary for a free society."

In Grade 3, as already pointed out above, the emphasis has been poorly chosen. The emphasis should not be on Native American cultures but on the colonies and the forms of government the colonists established - beginning with the Mayflower Compact. The standards need more emphasis on specific people, places, and events that shaped our history during the Colonial Era.
In Grade 4, Alexander Hamilton should be included in SS4H1(b), and the major Southern battle of Cowpens should be included in SS4H1(c) and SS4G2. In SS4H3, are we willing to simply leave our 4th Grade students with the impression that there were no positive benefits to westward expansion? Does the focus totally need to be on the forced relocation of American Indians to reservations? Is there no balance showing some of the benefits of westward expansion? Again, this seems to mirror the mistakes made by the College Board in its AP U.S. History Framework. SS4CG1 should not use the term, "representative democracy," but instead should use the term, "confederate republic." SS4CG3(a) should include a few more principles of our republican form of government, such as the foundational principles of "the consent of the governed" and "the rule of law."
In Grade 5, unfortunately, the standards embrace politically-correct language. Previously, the standards referred to the "War on Terrorism"  in response to 9/11. The current standard, SS5H7(b) fails to even use the word, "terrorism." Regarding geography, SS5G1 is woefully inadequate. By now, students should have learned every state that has been added to the union up to this point in the standards, along with all their current capitol cities, however, I see no focus on this in the standards. In addition, students should also know, up to this point in the chronology, all the presidents. Again, I do not see that this had been addressed in the standards anywhere.

In Grade 6, the previous standards were far better with regard to Latin America because they provided a broader foundation and provided more context, especially when comparing the sections on Historical Understandings side-by-side.
In Grade 7, SS7H2(b) needs a comma after the word, "land." Either in Geographic Understandings or Economic Understanding, students need to understand that the allocation of resources, such as oil, has much to do with modern economies and conflicts. With regard to Government/Civic Understandings, SS7CG3, students need to understand the different forms of autocracy - whether those take the shape of a dictatorship or a monarchy or a theocratic form that imposes Sharia law.
In Grade 8, under SS8H1, the early settlements of the French have been ignored. Under SS8H2(c), the Moravians and the Salzburgers should be included. Somewhere within SS8H2, the final defeat of the Spanish at Bloody Marsh should be included. In addition, the unique provision that Gen. Oglethorpe obtained from the King of England should be included. Georgia was the only colony which was granted permission to forbid slavery, which it did for many years. Also within SS8H2, the effects of the First Great Awakening in Georgia should be mentioned with particular attention to those who preached here such as the evangelist, Rev. George Whitefield.  Rev. John Wesley and Rev. Charles Wesley also need to be included. In SS8H3, key people have been omitted and need to be added back into the standards, such as Nancy Hart, Austin Dabney, and Elijah Clarke. The first and second Georgia State Constitutions and some of the key features of those original documents need to be included in SS8CG1 (a).  Georgia's role in the Constitutional Convention and its role in ratification should also be covered in the standards. Standard SS8CG3(b) needs the insertion of the word "all," before the words "elected members," so that students know all the statewide elected positions.  With regard to SS8CG4 on the judicial system, I believe the previous standards were somewhat better. Finally, in the SS8H12(d), why is the film industry included yet Georgia's most important economic sector, agriculture, is not included? In Geographic Understandings, again, our largest river, the Altamaha has been omitted, and there is no mention of our aquifers.
While Georgia may not be presently experiencing the types of adverse government action cases that have happened to the bakers in Oregon and Colorado or the photographer in New Mexico or the florist in Washington, we have seen our own Georgia Department of Human Services dismiss Dr. Erick Walsh after learning he was a lay minister whose sermons did not conform to the new sexual orthodoxy of the Left. We have seen the City of Atlanta fire its former Fire Chief, Kelvin Cochran, for expressing his views on marriage and sexual purity in his book. We have seen a college student dismissed from her chosen degree program in counseling because she refused to compromise her religious convictions on biblical sexuality. The Left, with its "collectivist ethics" where everyone must walk in lock-step, cannot tolerate disagreement, and if religious liberty stands in their way for their brave new world social agenda, then religious liberty and all that flows from being able to peacefully follow one's conscience, must be eliminated.
Since our founding, religious liberty has always been honored as a preeminent human right, and Georgia citizens, along with their businesses and nonprofit organizations - I might add, have every right to peacefully speak and act upon the tenets of their faith without concern for civil lawsuits or adverse action from government. The Bill of Rights and U.S. Constitution have not changed, and the way our courts and social institutions interpret our right to the free exercise of religion should not change either. Our efforts to strengthen religious liberty protections are meant to ensure that our courts and legal system as well as government bureaucracies do not diminish our free exercise rights as has happened right here in Georgia and is happening across the nation. In the General Assembly, we will continue this fight, because our first freedom is the foundation for all our freedoms.
While we were able to make progress on many issues throughout the session, there is still much work to be done. There is opportunity over the summer and fall months to further study legislation that was not successful this year so it can be brought back next year. I, and my conservative colleagues at the Capitol, will not surrender the rights of countless Georgians and we will never stop fighting to protect you and your constitutionally protected liberties.
In the high school courses, the Economics standards have been greatly improved. I want to compliment the team who worked together on that effort. One extra improvement could be the introduction of key free-market economists to students to better prepare them for college courses.

In American Government/Civics, it would be good to see the use of the term, "confederate republic," in SSCG1(d). I am concerned about the way standard SSCG5(f) is worded. With regard to how the U.S. Constitution is amended, this standard implies that is it constitutional for a U.S. Supreme Court decision to amend the Constitution. The standard reads as follows: "Compare this formal process to the informal process of changing the Constitution through Supreme Court decisions." There is no provision in the U.S. Constitution which allows any U.S. Supreme Court decision to effectively amend the Constitution. In practice, we have tolerated this abuse by the U.S. Supreme Court, however, it is not constitutionally sound. In SSCG17(c) it would be good to also analyze the powers of state and local governments and examine how those powers differ from federal powers.
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