Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections for 12/12/12

 

Cid is a brown, 29# dog who came into Cobb County Animal Shelter with his best friend, Feebee, a little lemon beagle. They are both older dogs, around 8 years but happy and easy going. They can go to different homes, but how cool would it be to get a matched pair who are house trained and good with children. They get along with other dogs and are very easy going.

We featured these dogs on November 2d and they’re still in the Cobb County Animal Shelter, and need to have a rescue commitment by 5 PM today.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections

Today is 12/12/12, the “Day of the Dozens.” Celebrate with a free dozen donuts at Krispy Kreme when you buy a dozen. Mmmmm, dounts.

Two additional candidates have joined Republicans Brad Hughes and Mike Keown in the race to succeed state Senator John Bulloch. Dean Burke, a Republican from Bainbridge, and    Jeffrey G. Bivins, a Librarian Libertarian from Cairo, Georgia will run in the January 8th special election.

Dr. Dean Burke of Bainbridge is an obstetrician and gynecologist who was first elected to the Bainbridge City Council in 2007. He was re-elected in 2011. Among other civic and community activities, Burke serves on the Georgia Board for Physician Workforce and the Lower Flint District Water Planning Board.

Jeffrey A. Bivins, of Cairo, qualified as a Libertarian candidate on Tuesday. According to the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office, Bivins owns a business, Armor Clad Industries LLC. An Internet search of the business shows it is located in Whigham, Ga., and is a firearms dealer/gunsmith.

State Rep. Gene Maddox will not run.

Outgoing Georgia State House Rep. Gene Maddox, who chose not to run for re-election this past November, announced Tuesday that after “prayerful consideration,” he will not run for Bulloch’s former Senate seat. Maddox and Bulloch worked together closely in the state legislature in recent years.

In a news release, Maddox said he had received many telephone calls asking him to run but ultimately decided not to, citing a desire to continue spending time with his family.

State Rep. Sean Jerguson made his entry into the Special Election for the Senate seat formerly held by Chip Rogers official.

State House District 21, to which Jerguson was reelected last month, now has five candidates; Scot Turner, who ran against Jerguson and won 4000 votes this summer, ersatz political consultant Brian Laurens, Jeff Fincher, an Assistant District Attorney, Democrat Lawyer Natalie Bergeron, and now an Independent, Eduardo Correia.

Friday is the last day to register to vote in these special elections.

Governor Nathan Deal addressed legislators at the Biennial Institute in Athens, where new members receive training, and members hear from Government agencies about priorities for the next session.

Deal thanked members of the General Assembly who have served in the last two sessions since he took over as governor.

“You have been a very cooperative group, and as a result of that I think we have done some very positive things for the state of Georgia,” Deal said, going on to list some goals he said he and the Legislature were able to accomplish together, including major tax changes, salvaging the HOPE scholarship program and a sweeping criminal justice overhaul.

Deal also touted other accomplishments: the state receiving a triple-A rating from all three major bond rating agencies; increasing the revenue shortfall reserve, the so-called rainy day fund, by 202 percent; attracting $8.9 billion in new capital investment and adding nearly 47,000 new jobs; and decreasing the unemployment rate by about two points since the height of the recession.

“While we are proud of those accomplishments, I think we all know … that we have challenges that are yet to be met,” Deal said.

Infrastructure growth and development must remain a top priority, he said. Many of the biggest projects — such as adding two reversible lanes to certain highways — are focused on the metro Atlanta area where a large portion of the state’s population is concentrated. Reducing congestion is vital to continuing to attract businesses to the state, he said.

Another major infrastructure project Deal mentioned was the deepening of the Port of Savannah harbor and the river channel that leads to it. He plans to ask the Legislature for a bit more than $50 million in his upcoming budget proposal for that project and is also asking the state’s congressional delegation to work on the federal government, he said. He said he expects dredging to begin next year and to take about three years to complete.

Deal also said education has to remain a high priority.

Cherokee County School Superintendent Dr. Frank Petruzielo wants to return to the old QBE funding formula — or at least enforce it.

At the board of education’s work session last Thursday, Petruzielo spoke plainly and directly in addressing questions surrounding Quality Basic Education, the state’s funding mechanism for all Georgia school districts.

Petruzielo said CCSD has lost $147 million over the last 10 years owed by the state under the QBE formula. This year alone, the school system anticipates losing another $26.5 million.

“We’re not talking about chopped liver here,” Petruzielo said of the lost funds. “This is not small change.”

“This is money that the school district is owed under the statutorily-required QBE formula — the one that the Legislature treats as optional when in fact there is constitutional (and) statutory responsibility to do that job,” Petruzielo said.

Further exacerbating the funding shortage, legislators mandated a freeze on raising property tax mills from 2009 to 2011, leaving local school boards without an avenue to maintain existing educational programs.

“The same people that put the board in the posture of not being able to cover these costs then criticized the board for a ‘back-door increase’ when they’re trying to make up the difference when state dollars do not come that are deserved and that are really called for under the formula,” Petruzielo said.

Deal also told legislators that the budget will be a difficult challenge in the upcoming Session.

“I must tell you it is a rather daunting budget this year,” he said. “We have some challenges.”

Tax collections decreased last month by nearly 1 percent and for the first five months of the fiscal year are only 3.7 percent higher than last year, which is below the 4 percent rate the current state budget is based on.

The governor has already instructed state agencies to plan to get by with 3 percent less than their current appropriations. That equals the $700 million shortfall in the state’s Medicaid system, and Deal said requirements of the federal health reform law will add another $42 million in expenses for the program.

He said that was the reason he rejected the reform law’s incentives that were designed to convince states to expand their Medicaid system to cover more people.

“I don’t know where anybody would find that money in the state budget,” he said.

The chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Jack Hill, described the budget decisions as leaving legislators few choices.

“We’re taking money from what we want to do and putting it into what we have to do,” said Hill, R-Reidsville.

Chief Justice of the Georgia Supreme Court Carol Hunstein told legislators that budget cuts in the courts are creating backlogs that could affect Georgia’s ability to attract businesses and new jobs.

At one point, backlogs in DeKalb County delayed four death-penalty cases, she said. And since criminal defendants have a constitutional right to a speedy trial, their cases go to the head of the line.

Divorce cases and other domestic-relations matters involving children would come next. That leaves business lawsuits to last.

Those delays can harm Georgia’s reputation as a business-friendly environment and discourage large employers from moving here, she warned.

“We want to do everything we can to ensure that the business community can have timely resolution of its disputes,” she said. “… The need for justice does not diminish when the economy shrinks.”

Some counties like Fulton have set up special courts for businesses, which streamline the process. Also, the Legislature created a special, statewide tax court in its last session.

Hunstein serves on a commission that has recommended other solutions like creating special courts for addicts and the mentally ill to remove those from superior-court caseloads.

State Rep. Jay Roberts, who chairs the House Transportation Committee says the General Assembly is unlikely to repeal the incentive for passing penalty for rejecting TSPLOST in this summer’s election.

The three regions that passed TSPLOST will get a discount on the local funds match, 10 percent instead of 30 percent, that must be spent on transportation projects that receive state money. Some politicians representing areas where it failed have called for blocking or watering down the discount. Roberts tried to disarm some of that criticism, telling the crowd that once things like rights of way are purchased the 30-percent match has often already been met.

“If you want to repeal it, well, that ain’t going to happen,” Rep. Jay Roberts, R-Ocilla, told a gathering of his colleagues at the Biennial Institute, a pre-session issues briefing for state legislators at the University of Georgia.

While applause did break out at the UGA auditorium, many, if not most, there sat quiet.

The transportation special purpose local option sales tax failed in a July vote in all but three Georgia regions. It would have authorized a 10-year, 1-percent sales tax to fund a variety of road and transit projects in the state. In the Northeast Georgia region, which includes the Athens area, the referendum received almost twice as many “no” votes as it did “yes.”

State Rep. Brooks Coleman, who chairs the House Education Committee, told legislators that schools showing the best performance will receive some flexibility from state mandates.

Coleman is a former [assistant] superintendent. He said most educators want the freedom to adjust resources to reflect their needs rather than being locked into rules that apply statewide. So, the commission is recommending giving local superintendents whose schools average an “A” or “B” all the flexibility they need as long as they are following the state curriculum.

They might use library funds to buy classroom computers instead, pay some teachers or use textbook money to hire additional aides, he said.

Senate Education Committee Chairman Fran Millar, an Atlanta Republican, predicted that no more than 30 of the state’s 180 school districts would earn the highest grades and the greatest flexibility.

[Coleman] also said the charter-school amendment to the constitution that voters approved last month will give the state power to take control of struggling schools. And the state might soon have authority to more quickly remove local school-board members.

Rep. Brooks Coleman, R-Duluth, called the legislation the most significant education-related bill in his 20 years as a lawmaker.

“This is the crown jewel of the whole study,” he said at a lawmakers meeting held at the University of Georgia to discuss the upcoming legislative session.

State Senator Gloria Butler, an Atlanta Democrat, would like to see a “Pro Choice” car tag made available. A North Carolina federal judge recently ruled that state cannot offer a “Pro Life” tag unless a “Pro Choice” tag is also available.

The State Ethics Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission continues to send out nastygrams.

Carolyn Cosby, chairwoman of the Canton Tea Party, has received two consent orders from The Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission regarding ethics charges made against her as leader of the Canton Tea Party and the Citizens Review and Recommendations Committee, stemming from alleged actions taken during the recent campaign season.

Conrad Quagliaroli, chairman of the Cherokee Tea Party Patriots, was fined $1,000 in the consent order 2012-0031 for failing to register as a ballot committee. Bosch also filed that complaint. Quagliaroli responded, and that case will move to a hearing, along with Cosby’s.

According to ethics commission spokesperson Holly LaBerge, the cases against Cosby and Quagliaroli will come before the board in yet-to-be-scheduled hearings.

She said, in general, if a case being investigated by the commission is not credible, it would be dismissed.

“The issuance of a compliance or consent order means there is a violation of some sort that has occurred,” LaBerge added, noting that proceedings regarding the complaints are not open record until a final resolution is made.

“These are false accusations by an angry Board of Commissioners,” Cosby said.

She said she feels the complaints were issued in direct retaliation for the “public call for the criminal investigation of the Bobo Boondoggle.”

Cosby and a band of vocal protestors have doggedly pursued the county commission in regard to the failed Ball Ground Recycling venture.

The death of Glynn County Commissioner Tom Sublett is being investigated as a homicide.

Sublett’s body was found floating between a dock and a boat at the St. Simons Boating & Fishing Club about 6 a.m., about 3 1/2 hours after his wife, Carol, became alarmed that he had not returned home and called friends he had been with earlier that night, [ Glynn County Police Chief Matt] Doering said.

Doering declined to say how he died.

Elected in 2008, the St. Simons Island resident was leaving office Dec. 31, having decided not to seek re-election to District 2.

Doering had said that Sublett lived within a half-mile of where his body was found.

Some legislators remain skeptical about the new Atlanta stadium proposal after the release of the approved terms by the Georgia World Congress Center.

It could be a whole lot easier to convince me and other members of the General Assembly if we saw the final deal,” said state Rep. Ed Lindsey, a leading Republican House member. He suggested that it could be difficult to sell the plan to legislators if it comes in with too much wiggle room.

House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams, an Atlanta Democrat, hinted at the same concerns: “I think full information for legislators is critical if I’m going to go to our caucus to present this plan.”

Rough outlines of a new stadium deal were released on Monday when the Georgia World Congress Center Authority and the Falcons reached agreement on many business terms, including who will own the facility and who will run it.

But they will not determine the new facility’s location or have an MOU until mid-January.

The two are negotiating building a $948 million retractable roof stadium, though most expect it to cost more than $1 billion.

Legislative support has emerged as a key issue because the GWCCA needs its borrowing cap raised in order to issue the roughly $300 million in bonds that would represent the public financing component. The bonds would be paid by proceeds from an already extended hotel-motel tax.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has had an election year conversion change of heart and now supports gay marriage.

Federal District Court Judge Tom Thrash, who once served as chair of the Cobb County Democratic Party, has lifted an injunction preventing enforcement of Georgia’s “show me your papers” provision allowing law enforcement officers to verify the immigration status of people suspected of having committed a crime.

U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Thrash on Monday issued an order adopting a judgment on the law by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. In a ruling before the law was set to take effect in July 2011, Thrash had issued preliminary injunctions that blocked some parts of the law pending the outcome of a legal challenge to the law filed by a coalition of activist groups.

A three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit in August ruled that a part of the law that authorizes law enforcement to verify the immigration status of criminal suspects who fail to produce proper identification should be allowed to go into effect. Thrash’s order, which showed up in an online filing system Tuesday, seems to indicate that law enforcement agencies can immediately begin enforcing that section of the law, said lawyers in the case.

The 11th Circuit panel left in place Thrash’s injunction blocking part of the law that makes it illegal for someone to knowingly harbor or transport an illegal immigrant during the commission of a crime. That section of the law remains blocked under Thrash’s new order.

The order issued Monday does not resolve the lawsuit filed by the activist groups challenging the law. It merely addresses the preliminary injunctions.

Fulton County Chairman John Eaves says the Fulton Commission’s top priority during the 2013 Session of the General Assembly will be maintaining the status quo against a local legislative delegation now controlled by Republicans.

“These are services that have an economic as well as a cultural impact on our communities. Citizens tell us this is what they want. So the big question is will legislators try and impose their power and authority over Fulton County this legislative session.”

Partly due to controlling the redistricting process, state Republicans have closed in on supermajorities in both chambers of the General Assembly.

For years, Republican lawmakers in north Fulton – citing wasteful spending by the Democrat-led county commission – have talked about breaking off from the county and establishing a new one called Milton County.

But Eaves says this year he’s more concerned about the spending restrictions. Either way, he says county commissioners will have to take a more active and direct role at the Capitol.

The Fulton Commissioners will be speaking to legislators themselves, having turned down a lobbying contract proposal by law firm Arnall Golden Gregory.

Commissioner Tom Lowe made a motion to approve the contract with law firm Arnall Golden Gregory on Wednesday, but no one gave him a second. The issue will come back up in two weeks.

Johns Creek resident Michael Fitzgerald, a Milton County NOW committee member and co-founder of the North Fulton and Friends Tea Party, said commissioners made the right move.

“I wouldn’t call it a good sign,” said Fitzgerald, who plans to be at delegation meetings next year working against the county. “I would call it a once in a rare opportunity for Fulton County to display common sense and reason.”

Fulton County lawmakers, including House Majority Whip Edward Lindsey, R-Atlanta, and Rep. Lynne Riley, R-Johns Creek, have said they would rather deal directly with county commissioners than talk to lobbyists.

Commission Chairman John Eaves said he has already met with five Fulton County lawmakers, and four of them said lobbyists would be a waste of money.

Georgia DOT has put the projects to add HOT lanes to I-75 and I-575 out to bid.

The state has asked for bids, and is already receiving some, on the project to build optional toll lanes alongside I-75 and I-575 in Cobb and Cherokee counties, according to Georgia Department of Transportation Commissioner Keith Golden. It is the largest transportation project by far in state history.

If all goes according to plan, the lanes would open to traffic in March of 2018.

Rather than by a simple low-dollar bid, the winner will be picked by “best value.”

After the winner is selected next year and the deal is inked, the documents would be made public, including the criteria that determine “best value,” said Jill Goldberg, a spokeswoman for the DOT. The proposals will also be publicized, but the proposers may delete “proprietary” information.

Goldberg said DOT’s standard practice is to keep requests for proposals confidential until procurement is over.

DOT is publicly describing “best value” as “financial and technical considerations.” In the world of road bidding, that often means a proposal that would handle traffic better or last longer. But the specific formula remains confidential.

Although the lanes will collect toll money, the revenue will not be enough to build and operate the toll system. Taxpayers will have to subsidize the project, likely by hundreds of millions of dollars. DOT currently estimates the total cost at $951.2 million.

“We’re excited,” Golden said, adding that the project now appears to have the support of relevant power brokers, including Gov. Nathan Deal. Deal pulled the project from bidding last year when it was formulated as a long-term private lease to a toll road company. Now, as currently conceived, the state will own and operate the project after it opens to traffic.

Dennis O’Hayer interviewed State Rep. Sharon Cooper about why Georgia uses about $100 million in tobacco settlement money for programs other than smoking cessation.

The Federal government has moved to dismiss the lawsuit by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta alleging that Obamacare’s requirement of contraceptive coverage infringes upon religious liberty.

Piedmont Hospital is opening a public cord blood repository.

As part of the new program, delivering mothers can decide whether to donate cord blood from their babies’ umbilical cords to the nonprofit Cleveland Cord Blood Center. The center stores the blood for public use for research and stem cell transplants for those with leukemia, lymphoma and other life-threatening blood diseases.

“There are patients out there who are trying to find a match and are having a hard time finding a match through bone marrow, and so this allows us to use cord blood that is harvested after the baby is born.”

In the past, those delivering at the hospital could only participate in private cord blood banking programs. The programs cost money and are only available for private use. Piedmont is the second area hospital to offer the service. Last year, DeKalb Medical started a similar program with New York Blood Center.

Gwinnett County has purchased an historic site at Hog Mountain, where Fort Daniel once guarded the wild western edge of civilization.

Georgia Perimeter College has been sanctioned by SACS for accounting snafus.

Georgia Perimeter recently cut $25 million to cover a budget shortfall discovered in early May. The financial crisis was disclosed a few months before the Southern Association for Colleges and Schools was scheduled to conduct its regular review of the school.

The college remains accredited but was placed on “warning” status because of the shortfall and a lack of financial controls. It is the less serious of two possible sanctions.

Georgia Perimeter officials said they expect to have all concerns resolved within a year.

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