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Bill Shipp - 03/11/09
NEW VISION FOR GEORGIA

House Speaker Glenn Richardson has just unveiled a new vision for Georgia that would surpass previous endeavors and might even make a little money.

Richardson would make Georgia the marriage capital of the nation almost overnight. Atlanta could become Las Vegas east without quite as many home foreclosures with a lot more churches.

We've been given only a peek at Romeo's great cash project. Last week, in a rare appearance in the well of the House, Richardson delivered a rip-roaring argument for allowing the state's constitutional officers to perform legal wedding ceremonies.

The marriage measure sailed to passage in the House with only one dissenting vote. Spoilsport Rep. Bobby Franklin, R-Marietta, cast the lone "nay."

If the Senate signs off on the House action, Georgia will have more politician-parsons than any state east of the Ozarks. Just look at who would be given the legal right to hitch man and woman into legal matrimony: the current governor, the former governor, the lieutenant governor, House Speaker, House Speaker pro tem, Senate president pro tem, attorney general, secretary of state, state school superintendent, commissioners of labor, insurance and agriculture, and, of course, the state House clerk.

This new battalion of marryin' folk could set up booths on every corner of every county seat. Georgians and out-of-state tourists could customize their marriage ceremonies to fit their personalities. One might tap Gov. Sonny Perdue for the honors, and the governor might throw in a bass-fishing trip as a free prize.

Not many people know that Georgia once hosted a thriving marriage mill industry. One such mill was located near Folkston to make it easy for Florida couples to sneak across the line and tie the knot. The other mill, at Ringgold, was located near the Tennessee, Alabama and North Carolina state lines. That made the Georgia stop super-convenient for mountain couples with a sudden yen to get hitched.

Alas, Georgia's blue noses crusaded against the mills, labeling them illegal, immoral and perhaps unconstitutional. Like the roadside clip joints and pet bears and possums, wedding centers vanished from the landscape. Not a word has been heard about them ... until now.

One might think the General Assembly would be working overtime in this especially crucial session. But no, that is not the case. Between planning marriage chapels and selling bass tackle, Georgia lawmakers have had little to do but twiddle their thumbs and watch the mailbox, awaiting the arrival of government bailout money.

Of course, they could have occupied their time otherwise, with items such as:

· Fixing the state laws that allowed subprime loans and set off an unprecedented wave of bankruptcies and foreclosures.

· Investigating Georgia Power to determine why the company wants Georgia taxpayers to pay for a nuclear power plant seven years before it is built.

· Calling for a referendum on casino gambling in several border counties. (Just think of the new revenues that would generate.)

· Reorganizing Georgia's state budget writers. Last year's team missed Georgia's total estimated income and appropriations by 37 percent.

· Creating a special ethics commission to oversee Gov. Perdue's method of estimating the annual revenue. Any project with "ethics" in the title always makes the legislators look good, and they don't have to work much to win praise.

We could think of a thousand other projects to keep state officials busy while they waited for the Obama bailout. When the bailout train finally does roll into the station, our lawmakers will have to get down to hard labor and forget wedding chapels for the moment. The lawmakers will need to work around the clock reorganizing Georgia's budget so we can spend our way out of debt. For this crowd, that should be just as easy as a walk down the aisle.

You can reach Bill Shipp at P.O. Box 2520, Kennesaw, GA 30156, e-mail: shipp1@bellsouth.net, or Web address: billshipponline.com.