About 50 residents turned out to Simply Southern Restaurant to pose questions to the representative from District 22 about his wildly controversial House Bill 1033, which could have allowed some sex offenders at schools.
Moore, who just finished his third week in office, apologized for the way he went about presenting the bill and the maelstrom of public outrage that followed, with House leaders and residents alike slamming the measure they called irresponsible.
“I am sorry. That is heartfelt,” said Moore, who won a runoff Feb. 4 to finish the term of the late Rep. Calvin Hill. “I am sorry to District 22 and the supporters and everyone else that I didn’t talk to, folks who could have told me, ‘Look buddy, when this gets out in the news you’re going to be roasted and everyone’s going to be embarrassed.’”
Moore clarified he was sorry for his methods, not the bill, because he didn’t believe it would have endangered anyone, as he maintained that other laws are on the books to keep dangerous sex offenders away from schools. He named one law that restricts sex offenders from living or working near schools, a law which Moore said one media outlet incorrectly reported that he wanted to overturn.
“I’m not saying there’s not a problem. There might be a gap because of this bill that does endanger someone. There might be,” said Moore. “But so far, not a single person has legally challenged this bill successfully.”
Moore also expressed concern for who has to register as a sex offender. Some people get on the list for things such as public urination or flashing their buttocks as a joke, he said, adding that true sex offenders need to be locked up.
Those in attendance Saturday appeared to be supportive of Moore in general, with some calling the backlash against him an orchestrated attack because of his politics and intent to shake up the establishment. Others told Moore to slow down and to think his actions.
“Lesson learned. I agree 100 percent,” Moore said after a man, who said he voted for the new official in the February runoff, asked him to be more careful. “Because of that, I’ve requested a mentor to help me out. I plan on running everything (of significance) through a mentor.”
How he says it happened
The new lawmaker told the crowd the whole ordeal started with his idea to make it illegal for law enforcement to ever be able to force someone to give their name, because Moore believes that is a violation of the Fifth Amendment. Then, Moore said, legislative attorneys at the Capitol told him to accomplish that goal he’d have to do away with the crime of loitering, which requires people to give their name. He said he was OK with that because it’s a vague law that has often been used as a tool to harass minorities and the homeless.
Next came the attorneys’ bombshell that the law restricting sex offenders from going to schools would have to go too, because that law hinged on the offenders loitering, the representative said.
Moore recalled sitting on a couch with his legislative aide, Jack Staver, at the Capitol right after hearing about that stipulation. Moore said he looked at Staver and said, “This is horrible. This isn’t going to fly.”
But Moore said he thought all that would get hashed out in committee hearings and he didn’t know the public would be reading his bills.
“Now, I was aware that the bill went online, but who reads that stuff?” he told the crowd, leading several people to raise their hands affirming that they read bills online.
Moore was asked what laws could protect schools from people who aren’t sex offenders but still may be dangerous and have no business there.
“I don’t know. I can’t answer that now,” he answered. “The reason’s not because I don’t care or anything. To answer the question, I’d go to legal counsel.”
Several people told the new representative they had been scared by the bill, which he said he understood.
“If I was a father, it would scare me to death, ‘What’s this guy doing? He’s messing with the child sex laws,’ regardless of if that’s the truth or not,” he said. “It’s the political ramifications, not the legal ones. So far, as far as I know, legally there’s nothing wrong with it. Politically, it’s horrible, embarrassing and shocking.”
Lisa-Marie Haygood, Georgia Parent Teacher Association president-elect, told Moore she voted for him and hoped to be able to defend his actions, but she was concerned by her understanding of his position.
“What bothers me is that what was reported was that it was brought to your attention that this loitering law would open up the sexual predator can of worms, and your response was that the personal liberties outweighed that protection,” she said. “I just want to know, please, that that’s not accurate.”
Moore said no, “that’s not accurate,” without elaborating further.
He later asked the crowd to help get his explanation out in the public because he didn’t trust the media to do it.
Like some of his supporters, Moore says his public backlash was because of a political ploy to make him look bad because of his politics. According to Moore, that coup was executed last Friday, when more than a dozen representatives bashed his bill on the floor of the House.
Moore recalled sitting in the House as representatives got up to publicly condemn House Bill 1033. When the first lawmaker took to the floor and talked about a horrible proposal, Moore says he was sitting there wondering what “doofus” would draft such a bill.
By the time the third speaker came up, Moore says he thought to himself that he was being “ambushed.”
During the town hall, Moore declined to name whoever was responsible for the attack, which he said was orchestrated by someone in the House. Moore said the media had been called in to watch the parade of lawmakers chastising him. According to Moore, the target on his back was because he went to the Capitol to end “corruption” and buck the establishment.
Before the onslaught of criticism last Friday, Moore says he had already raised eyebrows by voting no on a number of bills, including the state budget. Moore said he voted against it because no one could justify certain expenses to him, and that it included funding for the Affordable Care Act.
After voting against the budget, Moore says he was approached by a House member who told him that no one is supposed to vote against the “governor’s budget.”
Some have accused House Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) of being behind the criticisms, but Ralston has said the bill was what concerned him. Ralston had given to Moore’s opponent in the runoff, Meagan Biello, who announced Friday that she is running against him again in the May 20 primary.
Ralston told reporters this week that, “I had no idea he was going to introduce a bill that would repeal restrictions on pedophiles and sex offenders in Georgia, and if I would have known that I wish I could have sent her more.”
Rep. Scot Turner, who didn’t support Biello but condemned the bill, has said he had to call out “wrong when it is wrong.”
Some at the town hall seemed to appreciate Moore’s statements on going down to the Capitol to clean things up and stop legislators’ uninformed or suspiciously motivated decisions.
Moore accused some of his fellow representatives of having a nonchalant attitude about their responsibilities and sometimes voting “yes” on bills without even reading them all the way through. But Moore says his “default” vote if he doesn’t have time to read a bill is “no.”
Political activist Bill Hudson spoke up and told Moore he appreciated his stance on voting.
“You’re doing it right,” Hudson said.
Moore said some lawmakers are too concerned with taking “goodies” from lobbyists — freebies — which Moore says he has consistently declined to take.
Moore said he was also working on a bill that would require House committee members to have their votes recorded as the bills move to the floor for a regular vote. This, Moore said, would allow for more transparency and accountability from committee members who now don’t have to answer to how they vote in the hearings.
Moore also said he planned to support House Bill 885, which would allow academic medical institutions to cultivate and administer non-psychoactive cannabis oil to chronic seizure patients.
Another bill Moore has filed would make it illegal for any chemical not used for purification to be put in municipal drinking water, though he made it clear that he wasn’t one of the people who thought chemicals like fluoride being put in drinking water was dangerous. He said he just didn’t like the idea of medicine in water.
The freshman lawmaker said he signed on to a bill which makes it illegal for law enforcement to use tracking devices to keep track of people without a warrant. Considering the police connection some of the bills Moore has been in favor of, he said he wanted to clarify that he wasn’t against police.
Moore said he had signed onto Health Care Freedom and ACA Non-Compliance Act, which aims to stop Georgia from using state resources to implement the health care law but has recently undergone changes in committee hearings.
But that bill doesn’t go far enough, Moore said.
To go the full distance and completely fight the Affordable Care Act in Georgia, Moore says he drafted House Bill 1014 to nullify the health care law.
“That bill eliminates Obamacare from Georgia completely and utterly, to the point that I received a letter from legislative counsel telling me this could almost be considered an act of treason,” he said. “And I dropped that one anyway. If this passes, it’s as if it never existed.”
Moore said he went home after hearing about the potential ramifications and talked to his wife, telling her that he could go to jail.
But Moore said he later talked to legislative attorneys who told him that other states have tried similar bills and authorities haven’t tried to arrest those lawmakers.
“Now, could they have tried? Certainly. 100 percent. 100 percent,” he said.
Moore said he told the attorneys, “I was sent down here to do a job and I’m going to do that job. And if it means I get arrested, then it means I get arrested.”