ATLANTA – Last week, All on Georgia-Camden reported that local legislators were progressing toward the passage of spaceflight bills allowing Camden County to more competitive in the eyes of the spaceflight industry. If the bill passed into law, Camden County’s competitiveness with Florida and Texas would be on equal footing. HB 1, the Georgia Spaceflight Act, passed out of subcommittee with a vote of 4-1 last week, and since then, efforts to kill the continued to mount.

Opponents: Coastal Communities, LLC (Little Cumberland Island)

John Watson, a lobbyist hired by a local group of property owners,  urged the committee for continued conversations in the matter of safety, environment, and viability of the project. Dick Parker, who does not live in Camden, but is a property owner, states that Spaceport Camden wants to launch private rockets over our homes. Parker provided a map to highlight private property that could be affected in areas of “ hazard zones.” Parker mentioned that the government would require people to leave their land if launches occurred.

John Simpson, a consultant with the Camden County Commissioners, stated that Dick Parker had a misunderstanding of the federal regulations.  Simpson stated that homeowners were considered “authorized personnel” and the regulations did not call for owners to be removed from their homes.  Kevin Lang, a lawyer who lives in Athens, Georgia and is the husband of a property owner on Little Cumberland Island, states there is a lot of uncertainty about the impacts of this bill.  Lang presented three proposed amendments for the committee to consider, but those amendments previously failed in the subcommittee hearings. In addition, Rep. Stacey Evans (D-Smyrna) also offered two previously debated amendments that failed in subcommittee last week.  She attempted to offer the similar amendments today but failed to get support for passage.

Spaceport bill passes out of committee – headed to Rules

Jason Spencer, HD-180Rep. Spencer (R-Woodbine) was asked in committee what is the progress of the findings of the FAA’s environmental impact student and that study may not be complete for another two months, according to Spencer. The bill was heard in the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday afternoon and passed into the Rules Committee by a vote of 7-5.  The Rules Committee decides when bills go to the House floor for a  full vote by the entire chamber.

Rep. Jason Spencer said in committee that the current changes in the bill will “keep Georgia competitive with our neighbor, Florida”. Spencer also says “passing HB 1 out of the full House Judiciary Committee, is a major milestone in the legislative process. We are now poised to put this bill on the House floor for a full vote. This bill passed last session 164-8, and I expect the House to give it’s overwhelming endorsement once again this year. Reaching this milestone will send a clear signal to the commercial space industry the Georgia is open for business.”

Lobbyist, and Georgia GOP Chairman candidate, hired to kill the bill

John Watson, GA State GOP Chairman candidate and hired lobbyist (left) testifies with Dick Parker, a Little Cumberland Property Owner who lives in Dekalb County (right), before the House Judiciary Committee hearing Jan. 31, 2017 against HB1, the Georgia Space Flight Act.
John Watson, GA State GOP Chairman candidate and hired lobbyist (left) testifies with Dick Parker, a Little Cumberland Property Owner who lives in Dekalb County (right), before the House Judiciary Committee hearing Jan. 31, 2017 against HB1, the Georgia Space Flight Act.

About a year ago, the lobbying firm of Massey, Watson & Hembree, LLC out of Atlanta, was hired to stop the passage of the first spaceflight bill filed by Rep. Jason Spencer. All on Georgia-Camden has acquired those emails and other information supporting the current efforts to kill the bill from the lobbying firm. Currently, the firm has been hired for $10,000 by opponents to kill the bill this legislative session according to sources inside the Capitol. Of note, one of the hired lobbyist, John Watson, is the former Chief of Staff for Governor Sonny Perdue and has announced he is running for the chairmanship of the state Georgia Republican Party.

Fees paid to Watson by property owners of Little Cumberland. Screen shot taken from GA Ethics site.
Fees paid to Watson by property owners of Little Cumberland. Screen shot taken from GA Ethics site.

Rep. Jason Spencer said that since moving the bill out of subcommittee, the lobbyist has ramped up their efforts. Rep.Spencer said Watson is a “hired gun” and is trying to “stop this economic development project for our area and the state.” Spencer also said that anyone in the Georgia GOP considering Watson for chairman should be suspicious of him of being a voice for the grassroots while trying to kill economic development for South Georgia and the rest of the state for his interests.  “Apparently, Mr. Watson doesn’t let his supposed Republican principles get in the way of his wallet”, said Representative Spencer.  “I am not sure that is who we need running the state party.”

Watson has two opponents for the GAGOP chairmanship, Michael McNeely, currently the GAGOP First Vice Chair,  and Alex Johnson, an attorney from Atlanta.  All On Georgia-Camden reached out to both candidates to get their thoughts.

GAGOP Chairman candidates weigh in

Alex Johnson: “I don’t see how a GOP State Chairman candidate who seems to side with Democrats on such issues expects to credibly raise money from Republican donors. Volunteers committed to putting Georgia first,  not paid political industry insiders,  should lead the Georgia GOP.”

Michael McNeely: “As a citizen of the state of Georgia, it is my sincere hope that our state’s public policy will consistently reflect the will of the people. I am hopeful that in this case, both elected officials under the Gold Dome, as well as, those in our party’s leadership will remain respectful of the will of the people.”

Up next, Senator William Ligon (R-Brunswick) will have a hearing on the companion bill (SB 46) to the Georgia Space Flight Act this coming Thursday, February 2, 2017 in the Senate Science and Technology Committee at 2 p.m.

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