Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for January 11, 2018

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Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for January 11, 2018

On January 11, 1765, Francis Salvador of South Carolina became the first Jewish elected official in America when he took a seat in the South Carolina Provincial Congress. Salvador’s grandfather was one of 42 Jews who emigrated to Georgia in 1733. Salvador later became the first Jewish soldier to die in the American Revolution.

On January 11, 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt declared the Grand Canyon a national monument.

“Let this great wonder of nature remain as it now is,” he declared. “You cannot improve on it. But what you can do is keep it for your children, your children’s children, and all who come after you, as the one great sight which every American should see.”

Marvin Griffin of Bainbridge was inaugurated as Governor of Georgia on January 11, 1955.

Marvin Griffin Monument

The first inauguration of Governor Joe Frank Harris was held on January 11, 1983.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Governor Nathan Deal yesterday spoke to the Georgia Chamber’s “Eggs and Issues” breakfast, delivering a speech titled, “Nothin’ Lame about this Duck.” Here’s the money quote.

A major brand we hope to welcome to Georgia in the coming year is, of course, Amazon with its forthcoming HQ2 announcement. Like everyone else in this room and under the Gold Dome, I am excited by this prospect. Rest assured that we have made a strong, highly competitive offer that highlights all that makes us unique and truly the best place for any company to do business – our skilled workforce, our strengthening infrastructure, our business-friendly policies and our connection to the global market.

Given the nature of Amazon’s announcement and the frenzied publicity it has generated, many people suddenly have a lot of advice about what we should do. Do not listen to those voices!

It may be months before Amazon makes a decision or even narrows their choices, and we have many important issues to consider in the interim during this legislative session. We cannot waste valuable time, energy and effort when what we should be doing is focusing on enhancing those issues which have already made us an attractive candidate to Amazon.

We have opportunities over the next few months to strengthen our education system, improve the health and safety of our youngest citizens and invest in our network of transportation infrastructure. We cannot allow those opportunities to pass us by as we wait on another.

Until such a time as we are given notice that we are on the shortlist of candidates, it would be very unwise for this session of the General Assembly to consume valuable time trying to guess what Amazon is going to do. Such speculation may in fact do us more harm than good.

To those who believe we should instead spend that time passing Amazon-specific legislation, let me assure you that if Georgia makes the list of final three contenders for HQ2, I will call a special session so that we can make whatever statutory changes are required to accommodate a business opportunity of this magnitude. To do so before we know where we stand would be presumptuous on our part and premature.

As we know, there is a time and a season for all things; and when the right time comes, we will focus our full attention and efforts on the success Amazon can enjoy by bringing their second headquarters to Georgia.

From the Gainesville Times:

But the announcement has also prompted hand-wringing from lawmakers and lobbyists worried about laws (especially those dealing with social issues and taxes) that might push Amazon away from their state.

On Wednesday, Deal asked the chamber audience to get their lawmakers on board with constitutional changes to the court system that would create a business court open to “provide an efficient and dependable forum to litigants in every corner of the state for the resolution of complex matters,” Deal said.

A business court would resolve complex legal questions affecting businesses and corporations in Georgia, but the constitutional amendment requires supermajority support from the General Assembly and popular support through a ballot measure.

From the Gwinnett Daily Post:

He outlined some initiatives he wants to undertake in his final year as governor, such as upgrading 11 regional airports in mostly rural counties, putting $35 million in the state budget for the Savannah port deepening project and implementing recommendations from his Court Reform Council.

The airports that Deal is targeting for upgrades are located in Burke, Colquitt, Cook, Coweta, Macon, Morgan, Newton, Polk, Seminole, Washington and Wilkes counties.

The improvements at the airports in Burke, Colquitt, Cook, Macon, Morgan, Polk, Seminole, Washington and Wilkes counties are intended to spur economic development in those rural areas.

“Many of the towns and cities in these counties lack direct access to our interstate highway system and are unlikely to have such access in the foreseeable future,” the governor said. “Their airports provide the best option for job creators interested in viewing their resources.

“Therefore, these upgraded airports will provide rural Georgia with a competitive advantage and a strong boost in their efforts to attract new companies.”

Meanwhile, the improvements at the airports in Coweta and Newton counties are intended to relieve demand on other regional airports in metro Atlanta.

The governor said the improvements at all 11 airports should have economic development benefits.

Governor Deal will deliver the State of the State Address today at 11 AM in the House Chamber. Click here to watch the live stream.

Both Chambers convene this morning at 10 AM.

The House and Senate Joint Transportation Committee meets today at Noon in 506 CLOB.

The Georgia Senate Retirement Committee meets today at 3 PM in 310 CLOB.

The Georgia Senate Judiciary Committee adopted an amended version of the House adoption bill yesterday.

A bill to make adoptions in Georgia faster and easier passed a state Senate committee Wednesday, without controversial “religious liberty” provisions that stalled the legislation last year.

But senators changed the adoption legislation, House Bill 159, in other ways that could hurt its chances of becoming law.

The amended version of the bill includes a proposal Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed last year, limits expense payments to birth mothers and partially reinstates waiting periods before adoptions can be finalized.

The version that passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on an 8-2 vote Wednesday could receive a vote by the full Senate by the end of next week. It would then return to the House, which unanimously approved its version of the bill last year.

Both Deal and Ralston demanded a “clean” version of the bill this year, stripped of discriminatory language. It’s unclear whether the Senate’s revisions will be satisfactory when the bill returns to the House.

State Sen. Josh McKoon said senators decided to focus on adoptions and deal with religious protections later.

“Modernizing the adoption code is more important than dealing with that issue within this bill,” said McKoon, R-Columbus. “It’s disappointing to me that we have people engaged in this process for whom it’s evidently more important for them to get their way on the bill than to provide common-sense protections for faith-based adoption agencies.”

From The Valdosta Daily Times:

State representatives are urging their Senate colleagues to pass an adoption bill that stalled last year after a religious liberty amendment was added.

“It’s great to be a Georgia bulldog, but it’s not great to be a Georgia orphan or a Georgia family seeking adoption,” Rep. Christian Coomer, R-Cartersville, said in the House Chamber Tuesday, which was the second day of the new session.

State Senator Bruce Thompson (R-White) introduced Senate Bill 315 to criminalize any unauthorized use of a computer.

Attorney General Chris Carr said Georgia is one of only three states in the nation where it’s not illegal to access a computer as long as nothing is disrupted or stolen.

“This doesn’t make any sense. Unlawfully accessing any computer in Georgia should be a crime, and we must fix this loophole,” Carr said in a statement. “This bill will help us more effectively fight cybercrime in our state.”

Any equipment used to access a computer without permission would be considered contraband, subject to forfeiture to the state, according to the legislation.

From the Daily Report:

Thompson dropped the bill in the first hours of the 2018 legislative session Monday, Carr said. Co-sponsors include Republican Sens. John Albers of Alpharetta, Bill Cowsert of Athens, Butch Miller of Gainesville, Renee Unterman of Buford and Jeff Mullis of Chickamauga. The bill would create the new crime of unauthorized computer access and make it punishable as a misdemeanor of a “high and aggravated nature.”

“Unlawfully accessing any computer in Georgia should be a crime, and we must fix this loophole,” Carr said. “By adding greater protections and penalties against unauthorized computer access, we believe this bill will help us more effectively fight cybercrime in our state.”

House Bill 51 by State Rep. Earl Ehrhart (R-Powder Springs) addressing college treatment of sexual assault claims, may have a second chance in the Senate, according to the Athens Banner-Herald.

On the second day of the 2018 session, the state Senate voted without debate to move House Bill 51 to a new committee after the Senate Judiciary Committee left it in legislative limbo without a vote last year.

The measure’s sponsor, Republican Rep. Earl Ehrhart of Powder Springs, has said safeguards are needed to prevent campus disciplinary proceedings from tarnishing the reputations of students accused of rapes and assaults while denying them due process.

Opponents argue Ehrhart’s bill would discourage some victims from seeking help on campus by requiring schools to report felonies, including sexual assaults, to police.

The House approved the measure last year before it ran into problems in the Senate Judiciary Committee. The full Senate on Tuesday agreed to move the bill to the chamber’s Higher Education Committee.

State Rep. Patty James Bentley (D-Butler) introduced House Bill 667, which would have the effect of requiring instant replay in high school football playoffs and championships.

State Rep. Patty James Bentley said she filed the bill because of what happened with the Peach County High School football team back in December. That was when a controversial call cost Peach County a late-game touchdown in the state 3A football championship.

“Technology is so advanced now, there’s no reason they should not have this already in place,” she said, referring to the Georgia High School Association, which organizes public high school sports.

“It should not be that expensive, so they shouldn’t have to pass a huge financial burden onto schools that are members of the association,” said Bentley.

Bentley, a Democrat, represents part of Peach County. Republican Robert Dickey, who represents the other part, also signed House Bill 667.

State Rep. John Carson (R-Cobb) introduced House Bill 673, designed to limit distracted driving.

While it is already against state law to text while driving, police are required to prove motorists have sent a message from behind the wheel, which police say makes the law virtually unenforceable.

“Public safety personnel made it very clear to us that the texting law is ineffective,” Carson said at a press conference called on the second floor of the Gold Dome. “They simply don’t know whether a driver is texting.”

The number of motorists killed on Georgia’s roads has increased in recent years and Carson said he hopes to reduce the number of deaths by changing driver behavior. There were more than 1,500 motor vehicle fatalities in the state in each of the last two years, according to the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety.

House Bill 673, the hands-free bill introduced Wednesday, would allow motorists to touch their phones once to initiate a call or their navigation apps, but that’s it. Fifteen states and Washington D.C. have similar laws on the books aimed at keeping phones out of drivers’ hands.

Carson’s bill would also increase the fines and penalties assessed on drivers caught using their phones behind the wheel, from a $150 fine and one point on a motorist’s driving record to a $300 to $450 fine on first offenses and a three-point penalty.

Georgia State Patrol Col. Mark McDonough said today’s society has an addiction to electronic devices.

“The fact of the matter is crashes are increasing because of that addictive response to this,” he said, holding up his phone to the reporters gathered under the rotunda. “We have to change behavior … If your eyes are on a cellphone they can’t be on the roadway in front of you.”

Senator Matt Brass (R-Newnan) will Chair the Senate Reapportionment and Redistricting Committee.

“It’s an honor to be appointed to serve as Chairman of the Reapportionment and Redistricting Committee for the 2018 session,” said Sen. Brass.

Congressman Buddy Carter (R-Pooler) is asking for federal hearings on a proposal to allow offshore oil drilling.

“While I applaud the Trump administration for moving forward with a plan to increase America’s energy independence, I am committed to ensuring any moves are made in the best interest of the First District,” U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter said in a press release. “This starts with having an open and honest discussion here on the coast where Coastal Georgians can ask questions and let their voices be heard. I will absolutely be helping to facilitate this meeting and I will stay in contact with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management until it happens.”

The Trump Administration last week announced plans to consider almost all of the U.S. coast, more than 90 percent of the offshore continental shelf, for exploration and drilling. The current plan, by comparison, puts only 6 percent on the table. Gone also is the 50-mile buffer previously included in the Obama administration’s five-year plan. The new draft plan from BOEM proposes three lease sales in the South Atlantic planning area that includes Georgia. There have been no sales in the Atlantic since 1983 and there are no existing leases.

The current schedule of BOEM meetings includes one in each coastal state, at the state’s capital. The Atlanta meeting is the last one, scheduled for Feb. 28. At about a 200-mile distance from the coast, the meeting will be farther away from Savannah than future oil rigs could be.

Carter, R-Ga., continues to support what he calls an “all of the above” energy strategy that includes offshore drilling and exploration.

Former Dawsonville Mayor James Grogan qualified for the Special Election to retake the Mayor’s Office from which he was removed last yeat by a vote of City Council.

Grogan, 75, is seeking to finish a term that he started on Jan. 1, 2016 that was unceremoniously cut short by a vote of city council last year.

If elected during the March 20 special election, Grogan would be working with two city council members who voted for his removal in May of 2016, Caleb Phillips and Jason Power. One of the council members who voted to remove him, Angie Smith, and another who did not, Mike Sosebee,  were defeated in the November election by newcomers Mark French and Stephen Tolson, who took office Jan. 1.

Grogan said Jan. 2 that if elected, he would be ready to work with the new council and move forward.

Grogan served on the city council from 2010 to 2012, and was appointed acting mayor in April 2012 after the death of Joe Lane Cox. He won the July 31, 2012 special election and was re-elected in 2015 for a four-year term.

The elected mayor will serve the remainder of Grogan’s unexpired term, until Dec. 31, 2019.

Lowndes County Commission voted against granting a church a property tax refund on property that is not exempt.

 In a 3-2 vote Tuesday, the county denied a church’s claim that a daycare center it operates qualified as a place of religious worship, making it exempt from property taxes.

Union Cathedral Church requested a refund of taxes from the county on property the church uses as a daycare, which is not exempt like churches. The property is located at 1903 N. Forrest St.

The Lowndes County Commission voted against the request, with Chairman Bill Slaughter being required to vote in order to break a tie.

Commissioners Clay Griner and Scott Orenstein voted in favor of denying the claim and commissioners Mark Wisenbaker and Joyce Evans voted against it.

Commissioner Demarcus Marshall recused himself from voting as his daughter attends the daycare center in question.

Brandon Garrett announced he will run for Augusta Commission District 8.

Brandon Garrett, an account executive for Lamar Advertising, said he wants to bring energy and unity to the commission.

District 8 is the largest and most rural of Augusta’s eight regular commission districts. It includes most of Fort Gordon and the municipalities of Hephzibah and Blythe and stretches east along the southern boundary of Augusta-Richmond County to the Savannah River.

Commissioner Wayne Guilfoyle is completing his second term on the commission representing District 8 and is term-limited. Elections for nonpartisan commission seats are May 22.

Garrett, who serves on Augusta’s planning commission, said he realized almost immediately that building an arena at the vacant Regency Mall site was a bad idea and his neighbors mostly agree.

Navicent Health in middle Georgia is restricting visitors under age 12 due to flu concerns.

The new visitation policy applies to the Medical Center, Navicent Health Baldwin, the Medical Center of Peach County and Navicent Health and Rehabilitation Hospital.

“Our policies and actions are designed to protect those at greatest risk during the flu season,” Dr. Chris Hendry, Navicent Health’s executive vice president and chief operating officer, said in the news release.

Georgia is one of 46 states to report widespread cases of the flu this year, according to the CDC website.

Don’t be offended if I don’t shake your hand – I cannot afford under any circumstance to get sick. Thank you.

Mary Susan Powers and Vanessa Hope Weeks qualified for a special election on March 20, 2018 to Hoschton City Council.

[City Clerk Wendy] Wilson said city leaders are anticipating a second special election later this year, with Councilwoman Tracy Jordan expected to step down in May to make a run for Georgia Insurance Commissioner.

Floyd County Sheriff Tim Burkhalter announced he will not run for reelection in 2020.

Sheriff Tim Burkhalter said he isn’t running for sheriff again in 2020 on Wednesday, and current Chief of Operations Tom Caldwell announced his candidacy.

“I am pleased to announce my candidacy for sheriff to succeed my long-time friend and one of the best to ever hold the position,” Caldwell said.

Sheriff Tim Burkhalter’s term expires in 2020 at the end of his fourth term in that post. Burkhalter said while it’s still several years down the road, the prospect of doing something a little different sounds good after thirty plus years at the FCSO.

“Transparency in our operations, a more modern and professional sheriff’s office with a strong commitment to community involvement have made the foundation for our successes,” Caldwell said. “My experience over these 13 years as chief of operations gives me the unique insight to understand the critical operations and constitutional duties of this office. I believe this will ensure a smooth transition so that we can continue to improve as an agency and dispense a better delivery of services to the community.”

Caldwell is going to run for the office as a Republican.

Newnan Mayor Keith Brady was sworn-in for a new term.

The Newnan Planning Commission approved a proposal to regulate short-term rentals like AirBNB.

The commission met Tuesday night and heard a proposal from City Planner Dean Smith. Smith outlined rules that would limit the number of guests, require notice to neighboring property owners and set up a grievance process.

After discussion, the planning board approved Smith’s proposal and added rules relating to parking. The proposal now goes to the Newnan City Council.

Technically, the concept is illegal in Newnan. Boarding houses, which allow people to rent rooms for short periods, are allowed only in locations grandfathered in because they were in business before a major zoning overhaul in 2000.

“We have the option of just saying this is a prohibited use,” Smith advised the commission. He told them some city residents have stayed in Air B&B spaces in other places and would like to see people have that experience in Newnan.

General Beauregard Lee, Gwinnett County’s most-famous rodent, has moved from the now-closed Yellow River Game Ranch to Butts County.

The groundhog is now housed at Dauset Trails Nature Center, which will carry on the Groundhog Day tradition with a ceremony on Feb. 2.

The Yellow River Game Ranch closed suddenly in mid-December after 62 years in operation as a home to injured and neglected animals, including some wild game animals that couldn’t be released into the wild. It also let the public come in and interact with the animals in a petting zoo format.

“Since they had to close, we offered to transfer some animals to Dauset Trails, including Gen. Lee,” said Gordon Respess, a naturalist at Dauset Trails Nature Center near Jackson.

Respess said the workers there are still finishing the exhibit where the general will live, so he is not yet on public display. Respess said Lee will make his debut during the Groundhog Day celebration, which will be held at sunrise, around 7:30 a.m.

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