Tuesday, July 21, 2015

So, What Is The Outcome of The Pay Study?

So what's the hold up?

Click here for the outline. Click here for pay study timeline.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Burrell Guilty!

Finally, the Burrell Ellis crime syndicate comes crashing down. Can we hope for some backroom deals to bring others down with him?

See ya later, convict

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Retired Captain Jim Rowell Needs Your Prayers

Hello everyone,

This is Louise, Jim's wife.

I am writing everyone I can think of to let you know about Jim. The thing that we feared the most, has happened. He suffered a major decline that has put him into the end stages of dementia about a week and a half ago. He was already in end state congestive heart failure. Jim was in the hospital for over a week.

This past Monday, he was placed in the NW Louisiana War Veterans Home in Bossier City, LA, for therapy and care. His dementia has been progressing slowly for over 3 years. While I anticipated this to happen one day, I was not prepared for what all has transpired in less than two weeks time. As of today, he is having great difficulty in talking, walking, just functioning in general. He is unable to sue the telephone or his computer.

Dementia patients can sometimes get better health-wise, but they never return to the mental plateau that they had in previous stage. At least, that's what I've been told. I will keep you all informed on his condition. Jim is the most caring person I've ever known. He loves his family and friends very much. I am praying for a miracle. Please keep him in your prayers as well.

Lousie Rowell

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Vote For Me, I Passed a Polygraph Test

by George Chidi - Peach Pundit
I think we can now guess at some of the reasons Lee May might have been holding off from resigning the District 5 commission seat. Exhibit A: the spectacle of Vaughn Irons’ candidacy for the job.

By outside accounts, the two aren’t speaking any more. Irons, a politically-connected property developer and former Freddie Mac executive, has been close to the commission for years. But Irons and May appear to have fallen out.

May went out of his way to issue a press release yesterday disavowing Irons. “I look forward to talking with some of the announced candidates about their priorities and vision for DeKalb County,” May wrote. “A decision on whether to endorse a candidate will be made after these discussions.  However, let me be clear:  I have not and will not endorse the candidacy of Mr. Vaughn Irons to be the next District 5 Commissioner.”

That’s about as plain as it gets. Anyone but you.  

Scandal takes its toll. First, Irons tried to win approval of what he assures us all is not a casino in south DeKalb — even though it would be permitted for hundreds of video lottery terminals and is owned by an Indian gambling concern from Louisiana. The project stalled when it became clear that commissioner Stan Watson couldn’t vote on it because Watson is on Irons’ payroll.

Then the press uncovered what appeared to be a forged ethics document granting Irons clearance to bid — and win — $1.5 million in HUD-funded rehab business from the county, despite clear county ethics rules preventing him from doing so. Commissioner Stan Watson, who works for Irons’ firm, voted on this contract in plain violation of the county’s ethics ordinance.

Irons said at a February 28 press conference that he would take a polygraph test … then took six weeks to prepare for it. I would recommend ignoring Irons’ noise about passing that polygraph test.
Never mind that polygraph tests aren’t generally admissible in court, nor that the low-profile testing service — Gary Lancaster in Lawrenceville — hasn’t returned phone calls to validate Irons’ claims, nor the lack of witnesses to the feat, nor that Irons arranged for “relevant” questions to exclude ones like “do you know who forged the ethics opinion,” or “did you arrange for the ethics opinion to be forged?”

To have even the veneer of honesty, Irons would have had to publicly declare in advance which testing service he planned to use. Given polygraph accuracy rates of 70 to 80 percent, the promise of client confidentiality and a little coaching, Irons could quietly test with several services around Atlanta, declaring victory in public the first time he passed. Announced this way, it’s a PR gimmick. Nothing more.

But here we go again. Another scandal magnet is running for office. “Vote for me, I passed a polygraph test,” one might imagine him saying on the campaign trail. “There’s less than a 30 percent chance I’m dishonest.”

Perhaps that will fit on a Mother’s Day card.

Nonetheless, given the short prep time for a June 16 election and his access to campaign capital, Irons may be viable.

But he has some stout … and surprising … competition.
Harmel Deanne Codi works as an education consultant, with an MBA from UGA and a law degree. She’s an accidental politician of sorts. Codi served as a contracts review officer for DeKalb County in the Ellis administration, until she began raising questions about misconduct there. When nothing happened, she resigned in disgust and has been dogging public officials ever since. She’s says she’s raising money by the fistful as an outsider anticorruption candidate, reaching out to DeKalb Strong and Blueprint for DeKalb on reform issues. Her task now is to pick up enough ground support in the district without ties to existing power structures in south DeKalb.
Mereda JohnsonMereda Johnson is a founding member of the DeKalb Lawyers Association, a former magistrate court judge in DeKalb county — the first black woman to serve as such here — and the wife of U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson. Hank came under fire earlier this year after the press revealed that Mereda has been on the congressman’s payroll since 2008 as a community liaison. And Mereda’s been relatively silent on the county’s controversies. But Hank Johnson, former District 5 commissioner, won all but one precinct there in a strong primary challenge last year. It remains to be seen whether Mereda Johnson’s candidacy will be illuminated by Hank’s halo or rejected as an attempt at political nepotism.
gina manghamGina Mangham’s been wearing a “District 5 commission candidate” nameplate in community meetings for at least a year. She ran for the seat in 2012, placing third against the incumbent May. A Lithonia attorney and longtime activist, Mangham has been a vocal critic of county mismanagement and was instrumental in blocking a biomass gasification plant in south DeKalb. She’s been working closely with the South DeKalb Improvement Association on bread-and-butter economic issues like the on-going foreclosure crisis. Mangham is counting on her familiarity with the district’s grassroots activists to overcome a weak fundraising track record.
gregory adamsGregory Adams — not the municipal court judge, the other one — is the guy more people probably would have voted for, if they knew then what they know now about Stan Watson or Burrell Ellis. Adams is a military veteran, a former police officer and a pastor who lost to Watson two-to-one last year in the supercommission district contest, generally underperforming even that mark in the precincts of District 5. Adams ran for CEO against Ellis in 2012, losing in the primary. But he has the distinction of having challenged both men when they needed challenging. Still, Adams has to shake off the perennial candidate tag with something dramatic this round to compete effectively.

Undoubtedly, other people are considering a run as well. State Rep. Dar’shun Kendrick declined to contest the seat this time (despite my best efforts to convince her otherwise), as has Jason Lary, proponent of the Stonecrest cityhood movement in the district. George Turner, May’s pick as an appointed replacement before the entire process devolved into acrimonious chaos, has been silent about his intentions so far. Dr. Kathryn Rice, president of the SDIA, says she hasn’t made her mind up yet. (One wonders if she’s waiting for Watson’s seat to suddenly become vacant in the near future.)

Expect a runoff in July. Qualification begins Monday.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Friday, May 1, 2015

Hostile Work Environment

Looks like the powers at be are applying pressure to the lieutenants making for a hostile work environment.

The brass are going to forcibly move senior lieutenants to less desirable jobs plus put them on call. Something unheard of unless assigned to a specialized unit.

The reason? To make the senior lieutenants so uncomfortable they will retire or just go away. It's not that they are after one particular person, they just want to be able to manipulate the less experience ones, knowing they have no recourse. They less experienced lieutenants will be under fear and constant threats from the brass if they don't "conform".


Bar Argument Leads to $150K Verdict Against DeKalb Commissioner

Excuse me, but can I use that P-Card one more time?

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Bob Lundsten Indicted In DeKalb: A Fall From Grace

A DeKalb County grand jury indicted Bob Lundsten last month on nine charges of theft and making false statements, accusing him of using his government-issued purchasing card for buying things for personal use, and then lying about it. Lundsten was arrested Thursday and is out on a $15,000 bond.
Lundsten, former chief of staff to disgraced DeKalb Commissioner Elaine Boyer and a long-time player in Dunwoody politics, is not the sort of man who shies from a fight, whether fighting the extension of the DeKalb municipal airport’s runway extension almost 30 years ago or calling an ethics board member a lying son of a bitch at a hearing last month.

So I can’t say right now if he’s going to fight the criminal charges or cut a deal. Lundsten did not return a request for comment and has gone dark on social media. What I can say is that the charges puncture and punctuate a long career in the public eye. They’re probably a period, and perhaps an exclamation point.

“If you are someone entrusted with public funds and you misspend them, and steal, it carries a penalty of up to 15 years per count,” the district attorney, Robert James, told 11 Alive.
James did him a favor when he charged him.  

Or, perhaps the U.S. Attorney did. Lundsten’s charges of theft using a P-Card are the same that Boyer pleaded guilty to in federal court. Never mind that she also stole about $80,000 using fake invoices to a shill vendor. P-Card abuse by a government official can be charged as a federal crime.
Either the feds didn’t want him or the district attorney wanted him more. Probably the former. Boyer got off relatively light in federal court because she had gifts to give a federal prosecutor – state’s evidence against other criminals. The FBI has been collecting cooperating witnesses Pokemon-style for months now. (Patrick Jackson, I choose you!) While Lundsten has been around for a very, very long time, he may not know enough dirt to aid any of the many federal investigations swirling around the county.

Nothing to offer means nothing to bargain with. And federal sentencing guidelines means doing most of a 20 year term. Were I to have to choose to face a federal jury in Atlanta or one of DeKalb County’s mercurial juries, I’d take DeKalb.

It’s worth noting that commissioners Sharon Barnes-Sutton, Stan Watson and others had equally-questionable spending on their P-cards. Barnes-Sutton has more than $60,000 in expenditures without receipts, while Watson put his campaign website on the county dime – an unambiguous no-no. Every single commissioner had at least some unaccounted-for P-Card spending last year.

Nonetheless, it’s a stunning moment – at least as stunning as Boyer’s crimes. Lundsten is a marketing executive and fundraiser with a long history of philanthropic endeavors and community activism around Dunwoody. He was an early member of the Dunwoody Homeowners Assocation, predating the city’s incorporation. He raised money to get defibrilators into Dunwoody police cars, and has worked closely with the refugee community in Clarkston – much to the disgust of anti-immigration activists including Tom Owens and Joe Newton.

In a previous interview, describing his reaction to ethics charges related to the spending, Lundsten told Jodie Fleischer at WSB “to have my integrity challenged, it was disheartening and upsetting.” He said the policies were never fully explained to him, and had worked with interim CEO Lee May to craft new policies for P-Card use.

This is not to excuse criminality, of course. If administrators at Georgia Tech can catch a 10-year sentence for P-Card abuse, one would expect Lundsten to serve jail time if convicted.
But it speaks to the damage the county is taking. More than one person has told me that Lundsten would have been the natural heir to Boyer’s commission seat, had Boyer not gone down the way she did … and had he been untainted. We’re running out of leaders.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

From the Peach Pundit.

by George Chidi 

I’m dumping my notes today, simply to keep from being swept up by events. Things are moving fast in DeKalb County. Beware – I plan to speculate today.

No one knows Ismail. Only, everyone knows Ismail, if you get me.

I stopped in at El Matador in February. It’s one of the restaurants owned by Sirdah Enterprises. I asked for the owner. The staff knew the guy is named Ismail, but that’s all they knew. They pronounced the name “Ishmael.” They have no way to contact him, a server told me. Try the number on the posters on the club next door, she said.

“Leave your name and your number, and if he wants to talk to you, he’ll call,” the nameless young man on the other end of the line said with surprising candor. I asked for Ismail’s last name. “Man, I don’t know.” I hung up. Other numbers led to phone mail that was full or phone mail that wasn’t set up or wrong numbers.

A couple of days later, I stopped in at Lulu Billiares, a dimly-lit pool joint and restaurant next door. The bouncer approached me, all smiles, in exactly the way bouncers do when they’re trying to figure out if they have to tank someone’s aggro; hands forward and open, weight on the balls of the feet. I asked for Ismail. He stopped for a moment, trying to assess whether I might be a cop or a creditor, before answering too casually that he doesn’t know anyone named Ishmael.

He asked the guy unloading liquor if he knew. Ishmael would be back in the office tomorrow around 10 a.m., the guy replied in Spanish. Someone didn’t get the memo.

Last month, the U.S. Attorney’s office in Atlanta indicted Ismail Sirdah on a count of bribery. Sirdah pleaded guilty last week.

Coincidentally, the name on the marquee of the club changed later in the day I visited to “La Vaca Billiards.”

The club, right next to the offices of Lulu Productions, kitty corner to the El Noa Noa club at the end of dingy little Pittsburg Plaza in Tucker, has suddenly become the most politically important strip mall in DeKalb County.  

People in Tucker plan to form a city. One of the reasons Tucker partisans give when asked why has been rampant DeKalb County corruption. Incorporated cities can take over services from the county, like the planning and zoning process.

That might have seemed like a small thing. But the FBI’s bust of a zoning board official for taking bribes to keep a shady night club open rather illustrates the problem.

The FBI’s news release touting the guilty plea of now-disgraced zoning board of appeals member Jerry Clark said that a “late-night establishment in Tucker” was under instruction from the planning department to stop operating as a nightclub, because they weren’t zoned for it.

Only Lulu Billiards matched the description in the November 2012 meeting minutes of the DeKalb ZBA. Lulu Promotions And Music Llc was the applicant. And Ismail Sirdah owns that firm, along with a half-dozen others.

Two proposed cities — Tucker and LaVista Hills — have been battling over borders for about two years. The busy street corner where Chamblee-Tucker Road bends into Tucker-Norcross Road had been the edge of disputed territory, fought over block by block in legislative committee hearings late last year. It’s commercial property, which helps the tax base of any city containing it. But its filled with the kind of businesses that give the vapors to folks with class pretensions. Pool halls. Car shops. A club catering to Latinos.

Somehow, when the dust settled in the committee room, Pittsburg Plaza managed to find itself a jagged corner of the Tucker map.

And then … it wasn’t. State Sen. Fran Millar, the cantankerous Republican representing north DeKalb, decided to screw State Rep. Scott Holcomb with a map change.

Millar said he moved the Livsey precinct and assorted territory into LaVista Hills because residents there told him that they would rather be there than Tucker. The House special committee determined otherwise, but, whatever.

I’m a cynical, miserable bastard of course, so it was hard not to notice that the change just happens to shift territory in Holcomb’s district that he carried by thin margins relative to his stronger base of support in Doraville and Chamblee. The area contains about 2000 expected votes … and about 500 votes in the area of Holcomb’s district now remaining in Tucker.

Holcomb, an Iraq War veteran and attorney, holds a nominally-Republican district as a Democrat, and is widely considered a future candidate for statewide office, though he may move elsewhere. The margin of his victories is a shift of about 900 votes in a presidential election year or 350 votes in an off year. And the map change leaves Holcomb perched between Scylla and Charybdis, with some number of Tucker supporters ready to punish him if he goes along with it and some number of Livsey voters ready to punish him if he doesn’t.

“It is time for Democratic State Representative Scott Holcomb to step up and get his caucus to support the Agree votes in the House,” Millar said. That might be read as “Eat me, Holcomb. Talk your way out of this, pretty-boy.”

After the assembled masses in the House pitched a fit, Tucker, LaVista Hills and Millar cut a deal. LaVista Hills got most of the voters. Tucker got … Lulu Billares.

I’ve been quietly watching the fall of Sirdah, Clark and Patrick Jackson for a little while now. Jackson, DeKalb’s head of custodial services also somehow managed to be a full-time employee for the Georgia World Congress Center … and on the take with a contractor as well. He pleaded guilty on federal charges last week, too.

Jackson is almost certainly looking at jail time, given how blatant his crimes were.
Clark is small fry, but he got Sirdah. Now Sirdah’s back is up against the wall. Sirdah lost a $300,000 judgment in January for mistreating waitstaff at Taboo in Sandy Springs. He tried and failed to file for bankruptcy. The court rejected his filing because he didn’t disclose his assets properly. His plea comes with a recommended sentence of a year and a day. He wouldn’t get that deal without something to give.

The nightclubs he owns or runs promotions for through Lulu Promotions — the now-defunct Echelon 3000, Coco Cabana at Tucker Festival, La Rumba in Doraville on Buford Highway and others — have long been a sore spot for DeKalb Police, but are also the sort of places police officers might have been earning a living as an off-duty security side gig … or to look the other way when permit violations occurred. After the mass arrest of area police a couple of years ago for protecting drug dealers, I suspect (ah, that word) the FBI has had antennae up for more. This may be their way to get at a deeper problem in the force, and have nothing at all to do with political corruption.
On the other hand, Sirdah is a heavy political donor, maxing out to Vernon Jones’ goofy Senate campaign in 2008 and donating to other candidates, both statewide and in DeKalb and Clayton County.

Clark begat Sirdah. Sirdah and Jackson beget … who? The three soon-to-be cooperating witnesses are dominoes falling. The question is where the line ends.

To note what is surely just a coincidence, the same day the U.S. Attorney’s Office issued an indictment on Sirdah, Morris Williams, the long-time insider in DeKalb County government, resigned without warning. Retired, actually. So did some folks in watershed management.
Williams hasn’t been charged with anything. He may not ever be charged with anything. But he knows everything.

Williams has been in DeKalb government since the Liane Levitan administration. He served as chief of staff for the commission for years. He served under both Burrell Ellis and Vernon Jones. He is the one person who almost certainly knows where all the bodies are buried. And — I note merely for the record — retiring before refusing questions from Lee May’s investigators means his pension can’t be jeopardized by a firing for cause.

If it seems like there’s crazy corruption under every surface of this county, you could hardly be blamed.

Burrell Ellis, DeKalb’s elected chief executive, escaped conviction on corruption charges last year by a single juror’s vote. The hung jury extended the fetor of unresolved charges hanging over the county. 

As long as May serves as CEO – and chooses not to resign the District 5 commission seat – the chair representing about half of south DeKalb’s voters remains empty.

That screws up county government, of course. But it also massively complicates federal prosecutions. Suppose (there’s that speculative word) the FBI planned to indict one or more county commissioners. The DoJ might be credibly accused of disenfranchising African-American voters right in the middle of a serious political question — the incorporation movement. Never mind all the zoning and planning and purchasing decisions that would have to be held.

Still, that’s already a problem. Commissioner Stan Watson works on the side for a politically-connected developer, Vaughn Irons … who happened to be the head of DeKalb’s development board before May unceremoniously defenestrated him last month. Irons started drawing fire in February when he thought it a good idea to try to build something akin to a casino with hundreds of grotty video lottery terminals in South DeKalb.

The commission approved it … and then had to take it back after discovering that their vote didn’t pass legal muster. The law requires a commissioner representing the district to approve it. May can’t vote while he’s acting CEO. And Watson, whose superdistrict overlaps the parcel, can’t vote because he’s on the developer’s payroll.

Watson has been trying to lower his profile since June, after the AJC hilariously caught him trying to hide his connection to two now-convicted men facing public corruption charges in South Carolina. So much for that.

The media then discovered that Irons’ firm, APD Solutions, had somehow managed to obtain a written ethics waiver in 2011 allowing it to bid on millions of dollars in county contracts, even though no one on the ethics board says they actually issued it. Watson voted on these contracts, despite black-letter law requiring him to recuse himself.
Irons told me to “be careful” a few weeks ago, after reading my opinion on Facebook about his predicament. “My explanations are clear,” he said in a Facebook message. “The reporting is biased and incomplete. I’m looking forward to the investigation which will clear me of ANY wrong doing. As I said you’ll eat your words soon enough and I’ll be waiting eagerly awaiting your apology from you and others.”


Anyway, May’s absence has tied the commission into knots … which I’m beginning to suspect is purposeful. Even by DeKalb County standards, we’re at Wagnerian levels of infighting. Last month, Commissioner Sharon Barnes-Sutton took the not-at-all-suspicious step of filing a Georgia Open Records Act request to see email from May, the district attorney and other commissioners, hoping to determine who might be cooperating with the FBI or state investigators in a criminal probe of her.
That looks completely insane, of course. I have a pet theory to explain it.

Last year, it became clear that the FBI has every commissioner’s phone tapped and was watching contracting. Right around then, the county started considering big land deals. A 3-3 deadlock scuttled financially-questionable plans for DeKalb to buy a YMCA for $5 million, for example. The not-a-casino in South DeKalb was tied into an Indian gaming company in Louisiana, and would have been worth millions.

I suggest two possibilities. (More speculation.) The FBI could have told May and other commissioners to stall for time while they build their case. Prevent big moves until we have enough evidence to convict bad actors, they could have been told. May’s empty seat helps prevent the commission from making big deals, the kind that might come with money under the table. Money for lawyers. Money for friends. Money for plane tickets to Argentina. That might explain a fishing expedition by a sitting commissioner.

A more dire possibility: May is deliberately protecting people by remaining the interim CEO. Leaving the District 5 seat open may be an informal block to further indictments.
Or, May could simply be protecting his seat from being filled so he can return to it after this is over, or to prevent it from being filled by someone he doesn’t trust. Given the circumstances, trust is a rare commodity.

District Attorney Robert James is undoubtedly coming under pressure to settle the Ellis case one way or another. A deal that removes him from office — even if it doesn’t ultimately send him to jail — might be considered a victory for good governance … if not justice. But James doesn’t have the power to compel the feds not to turn around and indict Ellis themselves, which might (even more speculation) make Ellis reluctant to accept any deal while he has a tenuous grasp on elected office as leverage.

Enough speculating. The dominoes are falling. We’ll know soon enough.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

The End Is Near: Georgia Lawmakers Wrap Up Session Today

ATLANTA, GA, March 31, 2015by Trey Benton  Brookhaven Post

The proposed City of LaVista Hills and City of Tucker Bills failed to get support from the State House of Representatives Tuesday, because House members did not agree with changes the State Senate made to the respective boundaries.

While in the Senate, Senator Fran Millar proposed moving the boundaries to shift approximately 2,000 people in the Livsey Elementary School area from Tucker to LaVista Hills. Millar said this move was because numerous people in the area said they wanted to be in LaVista Hills rather than Tucker.

Because the boundaries the House originally approved got changed in the Senate, the Bills had to travel back to the House for them to accept or reject the changes. The House rejected them.
If the House and the Senate cannot come to an agreement, a Conference Committee may be appointed to settle the boundaries. Either way, they must act fast as the last day of the Legislative Session is Thursday.

If neither Bill is approved by both the House and the Senate, the Bills will die.
Back in November, then House Governmental Affairs Committee Chairwoman Amy Carter appointed a panel of five State House members to the DeKalb County Cityhood Subcommittee of the House Governmental Affairs Committee to carry out the task of drawing city boundaries.
Because the Tucker and LaVista Hills cityhood groups could not agree on boundaries on their own by November 15, 2014, the boundaries were decided for them.
In December of 2014, the Cityhood Subcommittee voted 3-1 to approve a map they came up with that Subcommittee Chairman Buzz Brockway said sets the boundary between LaVista Hills and Tucker in stone, stating he would not support changes to this line.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Senate to Vote on Cityhood for LaVista Hills and Tucker

By Mark Niesse - The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The state Senate is scheduled to vote today on legislation that could lead to the creation of the cities of LaVista Hills and Tucker.

These bills already passed the state House earlier this month, but a Senate committee changed their shared borders, shifting about 2,000 residents from Tucker to LaVista Hills.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Former GA Attorney General Bowers to Investigate DeKalb

The AJC is reporting that Mike Bowers, Former Attorney General in Georgia, was hired by Lee May, the Interim CEO of DeKalb, to investigate corruption in DeKalb County.  May stated:
"We are willing to spend what is necessary to root out corruption. I think Mike could throw me in jail if I’m doing something wrong. This administration is willing to take on an endeavor that could possibly go even to my office, and I’m fine with that".
The investigation is slated to take at least 120 days. Bowers will have a team working to help examine documents and interview some of the 6,000 government employees. Bowers shared his goal of the investigation:
"We’re going to try to restore the public’s trust in its government. We’re going to root out conflicts of interest, corruption, malfeasance".
Bowers has ties to DeKalb, as he was resident there during his service as Attorney General. His children also graduated from DeKalb County schools.

Peach Pundit

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Tip sheet: Here Come the DeKalb City Bills

By: Jim Galloway, AJC 

The number of working days left until the end of the 2015 session of the General Assembly: 11.
With the Crossover Day deadline closing in, the House and Senate will try to crank through a pile of bills. We’re bracing for a long day.
The action will start at 10 in both chambers. The House calendar has 17 bills and that list is expected to grow.
Among the bills that made the calendar are three cityhood bills:  HB 514, which would create the city of South Fulton; HB515, which would create the city of Tucker; and HB 520, which would create the city of LaVista Hills. The first two are sponsored by Democrats; the last by a Republican.