Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections for December 31, 2012

TPPH_Marsha

Marsha is a 35-pound Jack Russel Terrier mix who is available for adoption from The Park Pet Haven Rescue in Atlanta. She enjoys running, playing and gets along well with other dogs.

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Zach is a three-year old JRT-mix who gets along well with others and is available for adoption from The Park Pet Haven Rescue in Atlanta.

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Henley is an adult Pointer who is available for adoption from The Park Pet Haven.

We chose these three dogs today because some jackwagons stole 40 dog crates from The Park Pet Haven Rescue that were used to transport and house dogs at adoption events. They estimate the cost to replace the crates at $5000. You can make an online donation through their Facebook page. I don’t know if they’re a 501(c)(3), so if this is important to you, check with the organization.

If you’re looking for someplace to make a year-end donation and haven’t already had your inbox filled with pleas, here are a couple you might consider.

Adopt-A-Golden Atlanta has saved nearly 300 of the big yellow dogs this year, and sets the gold standard for dog rescue and post-adoption support of adoptive families. You can donate online, and while you’re at their website, maybe you’ll find a Golden Retriever to give a new home to.

Angels Among Us Rescue saves a large number of dogs and cats and you can find them at local pet stores in the Atlanta area most weekends holding adoption days. They accept online donations and also greatly need volunteers and foster homes.

Operation Second Chance — Jail Dogs is a partnership between the Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Department and the Society of Humane Friends that brings dogs that would otherwise be euthanized into the Gwinnett County Jail. Inmates train and care for the dogs, learning useful employment skills and how to care for something other than themselves. The dogs eventually become available for adoption outside the jail. All funding is provided privately, and no taxpayer funds are used. You can donate online to the Society of Humane Friends to support this excellent partnership.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections

Seventeen people died in accidents on Georgia’s roads during the Christmas holidays. Be safe and smart tonight and don’t add to the toll.

The Post-Searchlight in Bainbridge, Georgia, profiles the candidates in the special election for State Senate District 11.

Mandi Ballinger is celebrating her impending swearing-in to the State House of Representatives by sounding completely sane in an interview with Patch.com, something that not all Representatives-elect are able to manage.

Pro-tip for the newly elected: you might want to wait and get your committee assignments before you pre-file a bill telling the House Leadership that they’ve all been in office too long. Thus end two promising legislative careers before they’re even sworn in. At least they’ve presumably committed to only spending eight years in the basement of the Coverdell Legislative Office Building State House.

The estimated financial impact of the Caterpillar plant being built near Athens, GA is between $1.4 and $2.4 billion.

At the end of November, when Gov. Nathan Deal spoke at the annual Georgia Economic Outlook series in Atlanta, he cited it as an example of the state’s Department of Economic Development fulfilling its mission, despite the hangover of the Great Recession.

“(The Caterpillar manufacturing plant in Athens-Clarke and Oconee counties) is an excellent example of the work that our Department of Economic Development is doing,” Deal said then to an auditorium full policymakers, business leaders and academics. “And I tell you that one of the characteristics of that facility is the fact that this is not just the relocation of plant from one part of the United States to another. It is the relocation of a plant in Japan to the mainland, and part of the mainland that was chosen was the state of Georgia.

“I consider that a high compliment to all of us. We want to continue to build on that framework.”

Last night, Gwinnett County Commission Chair Charlotte Nash was sworn in for her first full term after serving eighteen months to fill the term vacated by her predecessor in order to not risk serving time elsewhere. Commissioner Jace Brooks was sworn in for his first full term after serving several months of the term vacated by his predecessor, who is in federal prison. Commissioner Tommy Hunter was sworn in as well. Hunter’s predecessor Mike Beaudreau is making the best out of being un-elected.

It was the first swearing-in I’ve been to where most of the previous holders of the offices were indicted and convicted or left office to avoid indictment. It was also the first political event I’ve attended that had a reserved seating section for unindicted co-conspirators.

Common Cause handed out fliers at the Falcons game last night protesting what they say is a lack of public input into the proposed $1 billion dollar new stadium.

Serious question for advocates of limiting lobbyist gifts: what section of your bill addresses the problem of Gwinnett County Commissioners getting indicted for allegedly accepting bribes? Or the former Mayor of Douglasville getting indicted for theft and pleading guilty? I believe that there is far more actual corruption happening at the county and local level than under the Gold Dome and that actual corruption does more to undermine public confidence in our elected government than potential problems.

Among the potential casualties of a limit on lobbyist gifts would be free tickets to Georgia and Georgia Tech games, given to legislators annually.

UGA, Tech and other schools with football programs in Georgia dole out $25,000 to $30,000 or more each football season in tickets and meals to lawmakers and other top state officials, according to lobbyist disclosure reports. When the Bulldogs or Yellow Jackets earn a bowl bid, at least a few lawmakers often tag along, compliments of the school’s fund-raising foundations.

The games are an important lobbying tool for big state schools: lawmakers vote on a state budget each year that includes $1.8 billion or more in funding for public colleges and universities.

The question is whether any gift ban or limit the General Assembly approves will include tickets given to state lawmakers and officials.

“Absolutely, I’d like to see them do away with everything,” said Kay Godwin of Georgia Conservatives in Action, part of the coalition pushing for limiting or eliminating lobbyist gifts to lawmakers. Currently there’s no limit on lobbyist spending.

But Rep. Earl Ehrhart, R-Powder Springs, who heads a House budget subcommittee on higher education, said there’s nothing wrong with schools inviting lawmakers to campus for games, and he would lean toward supporting an exemption for the tickets.

“I think it’s a benefit to the schools for the legislators who make decisions on those schools to come to those football games,” said Ehrhart, who typically goes to a UGA game each year. “I think they are able to show off the university at those events.”

That’s the main argument made by colleges, who sometimes spend big money to have legislators on campus. College lobbyists point out that money they spend comes from school fund-raising foundations, not from taxpayers.

Divers continue searching for evidence in the death of Glynn County Commissioner Tom Sublett, who drowned in the Frederica River after being shot in the head.

While most new state laws will take effect on July 1 of the year in which they are passed and signed by the Governor, several take effect tomorrow.

Tax breaks for manufacturers and higher unemployment taxes for employers take effect with the new year in Georgia, but it remains to be seen whether the state’s newest abortion restrictions will be enforced.

Among the most significant changes from lawmakers in 2012 was a law banning doctors from performing abortions five months or more after an egg is fertilized, except when doctors decide a fetus has a defect so severe that it is unlikely to live. The law also would permit abortions to protect the life or health of the mother, though those exceptions would not apply to a mother’s mental health.

Georgia voters approved a new amendment to the state constitution this fall allowing the state to authorize the creation of new charter schools over the objection of local school boards. Given that vote, a new law specifying how the approval process will work takes effect Jan. 1, re-establishing a seven-person Georgia Charter Schools Commission.

The commission was originally created in 2008, but the state Supreme Court ruled two years later that it was unconstitutional. Gov. Nathan Deal has said his office is already vetting potential nominees for the commission. House Speaker David Ralston and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle have said they are also prepared to name their appointees.

Meanwhile, a series of tax laws will also change.

Married couples filing their tax returns jointly will not have to pay state taxes on their first $7,400 of income, an increase from the current $5,400. Manufacturers will not have to pay the state sales tax on the energy they consume while producing their goods, though local governments can still keep their portion of the tax. Agricultural firms will enjoy a similar tax break on the energy and raw products used to create their goods in the coming year.

Employers will be forced to pay more in taxes to support an unemployment insurance system stressed by a chronically high jobless rate. A new law forces companies to pay the unemployment insurance tax on the first $9,500 of an employee’s taxable wages, an increase over the current level of $8,500.

Yet another wave of EPA regulations will affect cement plants, paper mills, and facilities that use large boilers.

New Richmond County Sheriff Richard Roundtree has announced personnel changes that will take place tomorrow.

The Georgia Farm Bureau raised $20,000 to donate to food banks.

Zippy Duvall, president of the Georgia Farm Bureau, says the money was raised by the group’s 158 county chapters during its Harvest for All campaign.

The cash went to the Georgia Food Bank Association to buy chicken, peanut butter and other food that’s inexpensive but high in protein for distribution to affiliated food banks in the state.

A Northwest Georgia woman is fixing to go Caddyshack on the armadilloes that are tearing up her lawn.

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