Category: Georgia Politics


Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for January 17, 2017

On January 17, 1733, Georgia’s Trustees in London voted to ban Jews from the colony.

On January 16, 1919, the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, prohibiting alcoholic beverages, when Nebraska became the 36th of the 48 states then in the Union to ratify the Amendment.

Martin Luther King, Jr. began the Chicago civil rights campaign on January 17, 1966.

At 4:30 PM on January 16, 1991, the Persian Gulf War began as air attacks against Iraq launched from US and British aircraft carriers, beginning Operation Desert Storm.

On January 16, 1997, a bomb exploded in a Sandy Springs abortion clinic, later determined to be the work of Eric Rudolph, who also bombed Centennial Olympic Park in 1996, a lesbian bar in Atlanta in February 1997, and a Birmingham abortion clinic in 1998.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

The Georgia General Assembly is not legislating this week, but they’re doing something just as scary – budget meetings continue on the current year Amended Budget.

9:45 AM Joint Budget Hearings 341 CAP

Trump Inaugural

Trump Sparkling Wine

I’m not sure how all the Trump brand sparkling wine hasn’t been bought off the shelves. These were at the Brookhaven Total Wine store yesterday. I didn’t see a price on the shelf, but they typically see for about $25.

Congressman John Lewis won’t be attending the Trump inaugural this week.Continue Reading..


Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for January 13, 2017

On January 14, 1639, representatives of three cities in Connecticut adopted the “Fundamental Orders,” the first written Constitution in an American colony and one of the first founding document to cite the authority of “the free consent of the people.”

On January 13, 1733, the ship Ann (sometimes spelled “Anne”) sailed into Charles Town harbor and was met by South Carolina Governor Robert Johnson and the Speaker of the Commons House of Assembly. Aboard the ship were James Oglethorpe and the first 114 colonists of what would become Georgia. Later that year they would land at a high bluff on the Savannah River and found the city of Savannah.

On January 14, 1733, Oglethorpe and the other colonists departed Charles Town harbor for what would become Savannah, and the State of Georgia.

An elected Provincial Assembly first convened in Georgia on January 15, 1751. The Assembly did not have the power to tax or spend money, but was to advise the Trustees.

The state of New Connecticut declared its independence of both Britain and New York on January 15, 1777. In June of that year they would decide on the name Vermont. Vermont would be considered part of New York for a number of years, finally being admitted as the 14th state in 1791.

The Continental Congress ratified the Treaty of Paris to end the Revolutionary War on January 14, 1784. The Treaty was negotiated by John Adams, who would later serve as President, and the delegates voting to ratify it included future Presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe.

On January 14, 1835, James M. Wayne took the oath of office as an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court. A Savannah native, Wayne had previously served in the Georgia House of Represestatives, as Mayor of Savannah, on the Supreme Court of Georgia, and in Congress. His sister was the great-grandmother of Juliette Gordon Low, founder of the Girl Scouts, and his home is now known as the Juliette Gordon Low house. When Georgia seceded from the Union, Wayne remained on the Supreme Court.

On January 14, 1860, the United States House “Committee of Thirty-Three” introduced a proposed Constitutional Amendment to allow slavery in the areas it then existed.

The donkey was first used as a symbol for the Democratic Party on January 15, 1870 by cartoonist Thomas Nash.


Martin Luther King, Jr. was born on January 15, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia.

Julian Bond was born on January 14, 1940 in Nashville, Tennessee, and was one of eleven African-American Georgians elected to the Georgia House of Representatives in 1965.

On January 14, 1942, Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Presidential Proclamation No. 2537, requiring Japanese-Americans, including American-born citizens of Japanese ancestry, as well as Italians and Germans to register with the federal Department of Justice. The next month, Roosevelt would have Japanese-Americans, including my grandfather, Joe Yamamoto, interned in concentration camps in the western United States.

On January 13, 1959, Ernest Vandiver was inaugurated as Governor of Georgia.

On January 13, 1966, President Lyndon Baines Johnson appointed Robert C. Weaver head of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), making Weaver the first African-American cabinet secretary in U.S. History.

On January 13, 1982, Hank Aaron was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.

This day in 1987 saw the inauguration of Governor Joe Frank Harris to his second term in office.

On January 13, 1998, Governor Zell Miller presented his $12.5 billion FY1999 budget to the Georgia General Assembly, including $105,000 to provide CDs of classical music for every baby born in the state. According to the New York Times,

“No one questions that listening to music at a very early age affects the spatial, temporal reasoning that underlies math and engineering and even chess,” the Governor said[]. “Having that infant listen to soothing music helps those trillions of brain connections to develop.”

Mr. Miller said he became intrigued by the connection between music and child development at a series of recent seminars sponsored by the Education Commission of the States. As a great-grandfather and the author of “They Hear Georgia Singing” (Mercer University Press, 1983), an encyclopedia of the state’s musical history, Mr. Miller said his fascination came naturally.

He said that he had a stack of research on the subject, but also that his experiences growing up in the mountains of north Georgia had proved convincing.

“Musicians were folks that not only could play a fiddle but they also were good mechanics,” he said. “They could fix your car.”

Legislators, as is their wont, have ideas of their own.

“I asked about the possibility of some Charlie Daniels or something like that,” said Representative Homer M. (Buddy) DeLoach, a Republican from Hinesville, “but they said they thought the classical music has a greater positive impact.”

“Having never studied those impacts too much,” Mr. DeLoach added, “I guess I’ll just have to take their word for that at the moment.”

In 2003, on January 13 at the Georgia Dome, Sonny Perdue took the oath of office as Georgia’s second Republican Governor, the first since Reconstruction.

A little over three years ago, on January 10, 2014, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution released a poll of the Georgia Governor’s race that showed Nathan Deal with 47 percent to 38 percent for Jason Carter. The nine-point Deal advantage was as close as the AJC polling firm would come all year to correctly predicting the point spread in the General Election.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections





Click here for live video feeds of today’s committee meetings.

Governor Nathan Deal announced his Administration Floor Leaders:

Senator Butch Miller (R-Gainesville)
Senator P. K. Martin IV (R-Lawrenceville)
Senator Larry Walker III (R-Kathleen)

Rep. Terry Rogers (R-Clarkesville)
Rep. Chuck Efstration (R-Dacula)
Rep. Trey Rhodes (R-Greensboro)

Senator Renee Unterman (R-Buford) introduced Senate Bill 17, the “Mimosa Mandate,” to allow local governments to move the time for alcohol sales in restaurants from 12:30 PM to 10:30 AM. From the AJC:

Senate Health and Human Services Committee Chairwoman Renee Unterman, R-Buford, does not drink, but said Senate Bill 17 is meant to correct what she considers a fairness issue: While privately owned restaurants in Georgia are banned from serving alcohol before 12:30 p.m. on Sundays, government-owned buildings — such as the Georgia World Congress Center — do not face such restrictions and are free to pour.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Cowsert, R-Athens, has blocked similar efforts over the past two years, saying it would upset what he has called a “fragile compromise” between legislative leaders and the faith community over allowing any alcohol sales on Sunday mornings.

Still, the move so early in this year’s legislative session — Unterman filed the bill on Thursday, the session’s fourth day — has buoyed the hopes of supporters, which include the Georgia Restaurant Association. The association has estimated that at least 4,000 Georgia restaurants would likely take advantage if the law changed.

One in eight DeKalb County homeowners has seen water bills triple according to analysis by the AJC.

Congressman Hank Johnson (D-DeKalb) is holding a “Fourth District Day of Resistance” on Sunday.

Johnson will be joined Sunday by DeKalb CEO Mike Thurmond, state Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta), Georgia NAACP President Francys Johnson, according to a news release.

Johnson is co-hosting the event from 2 to 4 p.m. with Clarkston Mayor Ted Terry at the Clarkston Community Center.

“Joined by faith leaders, environmentalists, seniors, students and immigration reform supporters among others, Johnson and Terry will gather to support Bernie Sanders’ nationwide call to oppose the Republican budget,” Johnson’s news release said.

State Rep. Geoff Duncan (R-Cumming) introduced House Bill 54, to expand the Rural Hospital Tax Credit from 70 percent to 90 percent. From the AJC:

A highly touted tax credit program designed to save rural hospitals has thus far been a major disappointment, and now state lawmakers are scrambling for a fix.

Deemed a “lifeline” for struggling rural hospitals, the tax credit program went live Jan. 3, but thus far, donors have applied for less than 2 percent of the available credits. State Rep. Geoff Duncan, R-Cumming, who sponsored legislation last year that created the program, introduced a new bill Thursday aimed at making the credits more attractive. A similar bill was introduced in the Senate.

The key to HB 54 is increasing the value of the tax credit from 70 percent of the donation to 90 percent. Duncan said many corporate donors have balked at only getting a 70 percent return on their contributions.

“Our rural communities cannot afford for this not to be a success,” said Duncan, who is considering a bid for statewide office in 2018.

State Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon) introduced House Resolution 36, to authorize a statewide referendum on medical cannabis.

From the Macon Telegraph:

“Its clear we’re going to have a hard time passing a cultivation bill (in the state Legislature) for the next two years. So why not put it in front of the voters, where every poll shows there’s clear evidence that voters support this?” Peake asked, just before handing his legislation to staffers on the state House floor.

Virginia Galloway, regional director of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, a national conservative group, said she thinks Georgia’s cannabis laws already put it in a dangerous place.

“I want double-blind placebo testing, just like is done on every other drug. And then we can make good policy decisions,” Galloway said.

She also sees medical cannabis as the first step down a road to recreational legalization.

The problem with recreational marijuana, she said, is “all those people standing over there who have lost family members to drug addiction,” pointing down the marble stairs of the state Capitol, toward folks making speeches for an addiction recovery awareness event.

What’s not yet set are the rules for any medical cannabis cultivation in Georgia: where would it be grown, who could grow it, where and how would it be sold? Would it mean just liquid products, or would it include things to smoke, eat or vape?

Peake’s own preference is for cultivation of specially bred cannabis in secure greenhouses by a handful of licensees, following the model of states like Minnesota.

Those questions would be answered in a separate bill. But Peake wants a vote on the broad idea of medicinal cultivation first. Then if there were a successful 2018 referendum, a newly elected governor and set of lawmakers would work on the rules in 2019.

Peake also introduced House Bill 65, to add several conditions to the list of those eligible for medical cannabis and to remove the “severe or end stage” requirement on conditions already eligible.

(3)(A) Cancer, when such diagnosis is end stage or the treatment disease produces related wasting illness, recalcitrant nausea, and vomiting;
(B) Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, when such diagnosis is severe or end stage;
(C) Seizure disorders related to diagnosis of epilepsy or trauma related head injuries;
(D) Multiple sclerosis, when such diagnosis is severe or end stage;
(E) Crohn’s disease;
(F) Mitochondrial disease;
(G) Parkinson’s disease, when such diagnosis is severe or end stage; or
(H) Sickle cell disease, when such diagnosis is severe or end stage;
(I) Tourette’s syndrome;
(J) Autism spectrum disorder;
(K) Intractable pain;
(L) Post-traumatic stress disorder;
(M) Alzheimer’s disease;
(N) Human immunodeficiency virus; or
(O) Acquired immune deficiency syndrome


(5) ‘Intractable pain’ means severe, debilitating pain that has not responded to previously prescribed medication or surgical measures for more than three months.


Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for January 12, 2017

On January 12, 1775, St. Andrews Parish on the Georgia coast passed a series of resolutions that included approving the actions of patriots in Massachusetts, three resolutions critical of British government actions, and a renunciation of slavery. The resolutions also appointed delegates to a provincial legislature at Savannah and urging that Georgia send two delegates to the Continental Congress to be held in Philadelphia the next year.

Jimmy Carter was inaugurated as Governor of Georgia on January 12, 1971.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

State of the State

Yesterday, Governor Nathan Deal delivered the State of the State address to the General Assembly.

You can read the full text of the Governor’s address here. Here are the economic toplines from the address.

That first year, 2011, I was just entering office as your governor. Our state was still in the grip of the Great Recession. Businesses were going bankrupt, homes were being foreclosed upon, jobs were being lost, our unemployment rate was 10.4 percent. Our rainy day fund was dangerously low at roughly $116 million – hardly enough to operate state government for two days.

The result: that 10.4 percent unemployment rate has dropped to 5.3 percent. Our Rainy Day Fund has increased to approximately $2.033 billion. With prudent budgeting, we have maintained a AAA bond rating. We have set new records in trade, film production and tourism.

We have laid the groundwork to improve our transportation infrastructure dramatically over the next 10 years. We have made our communities safer and offered hope to those with addiction or behavioral disabilities through our accountability courts. We have reduced the rate of recidivism and saved the taxpayers of Georgia millions of dollars, a great example of eliminating the negative. New private sector jobs have reached more than 575,000 and for four consecutive years, Georgia has been named the best state for business.

The budget for FY2018 is based on projected revenue growth of 3.6 percent over the amended FY2017 budget. It will allow us to sustain the important programs that are currently in place as well as address new areas that require attention.

11Alive notes several healthcare measures Deal mentioned:

Deal said he wants state lawmakers to expand mental health coverage for children younger than four in the state’s Medicaid and PeachCare programs.

Deal also wants to allow pharmacists to dispense an overdose-reversing drug over the counter. [Narcan/Naloxone]

Deal said he will ask state lawmakers to expand mental health coverage for children younger than four in the state’s Medicaid and PeachCare programs.

Fox5 Atlanta discusses education issues in the State of the State:

The governor announced that his budget proposal includes two percent pay raises for teachers that will be built into the state pay scale as well as raises for caseworkers with the Division of Family and Children Services, or DFCS, at an average of 19 percent.

“Currently, the greatest negative in the education landscape of Georgia is the number of children trapped in failing schools,” Deal said.  “Two years ago, there were 127 chronically failing schools with roughly 68,000 enrolled students. Now that we have the data from the last school year, we find that there were 153 schools that had a failing score for three consecutive years. Those 153 chronically underperforming schools served almost 89,000 students last school year.”

According to Governor Deal, the majority of the schools the state classifies as failing are elementary schools and that is where he wants to focus state reforms.

“Our prospects for addressing this issue will place an emphasis on elementary schools.  If we can reverse this alarming trend early on, if we can eliminate this negative that directly or indirectly affects all of us, we will see our reading comprehension scores, our math skills, our graduation rates and the quality of our workforce in general improve,” Deal told lawmakers.

From the Gwinnett Daily Post:

The governor dived deep into healthcare issues into his speech, urging the General Assembly to not move too quickly on Medicaid reforms because of expected changes to health care laws at the national level, including a likely repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

“We are very fortunate that former Georgia state senator and Congressman Tom Price is nominated to become the Health and Human Services secretary,” Deal said. “Hopefully very soon, the authority to make decisions regarding our state Medicaid program and how to design it in such a way that best fits the needs of our citizens will be returned to Georgia.”

There is one action related to Medicaid that Deal asked legislators to take however: Renewing the bed tax.

The bed tax, also known as hospital provider fee, is set to expire this year. While it generates about $311 million each year to help pay for Georgia’s Medicaid program, it also lets the state have access to another $600 million from the federal government. In all, $10.5 billion is expected to be spent on Medicaid in the next budget.

Deal said it is important for the General Assembly to renew the Department of Community Health Board’s authority to collect the hospital provider fee.

“If that authority is not renewed, the more than $900 million dollars now available to us for the Medicaid program will have to be made up elsewhere in our allocations,” Deal said. “Therefore, I encourage you to reauthorize the authority expeditiously so that we do not have to take away from other portions of the budget.”

Deal also announced plans to work with Sen. Renee Unterman and Reps. Sharon Cooper and Katie Dempsey to improve Medicaid and state health benefits coverage for people with autism up to the age of 21. He is also planning to ask the legislature to approve $2.5 million in the budget to provide Medicaid and PeachCare to kids who have behavioral and mental health issues.

Deal is planning to have the state take out another $3 million in bonds to fund construction of a facility that will serve veterans who have suffered traumatic brain injuries or PTSD. The state previously took out $3 million in bonds last year for the facility.

Other veterans-related initiatives include training for state employees on state-provided services to help veterans, and hiring a women veterans coordinator who will work with female veterans on issues including sexual assault and counseling.

Georgia Health News has more information on the healthcare related aspects:

Deal unveiled a record $25 billion spending plan for fiscal 2018, which begins July 1.

He also cautioned lawmakers not to take “giant leaps’’ on state health care policy until the U.S. Congress acts on Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act. Republicans who control Congress, along with Donald Trump, who becomes president next week, have pledged to repeal the ACA.

Deal said in his address that his budget plan would include about $2.5 million to expand children’s mental health services under Medicaid and PeachCare. Currently, he said, that coverage is only available to children of age 4 and older. It would be extended to younger children under Deal’s proposal.

Deal also advocated that mental health services be improved for military veterans. “They have given of themselves to protect us,’’ Deal said in his address. “It is only fitting that we should protect them in kind.”

As expected, Deal pushed for the renewal of the hospital provider fee, which would plug a large hole in the state’s Medicaid budget. The funding would help draw more than $600 million from the federal government.

“If that authority is not renewed, the more than $900 million dollars now available to us for the Medicaid program will have to be made up elsewhere in our allocations,’’ Deal said. “Therefore, I encourage you to reauthorize the authority expeditiously so that we do not have to take away from other portions of the budget.”

The budget plan contains $17.9 million to raise Medicaid pay for primary care doctors and OB/GYNs.  “Without adequate funding for our physicians, we will not be able to maintain the proper quality of providers in our Medicaid program,” Deal said.

And the governor said he aims to enhance coverage for autism treatment in Medicaid and the State Health Benefit Plan for those up to age 21, with $20.8 million set aside for this proposal.

Legislative Committee Meetings








State House Committee Chairs

The State House Committee on Assignments announced 2017-18 Committee Chairs:

Committee chairmen for the legislative term are as follows:

  • Agriculture & Consumer Affairs – Rep. Tom McCall
  • Appropriations – Rep. Terry England
  • Banks & Banking – Rep. Greg Morris
  • Budget & Fiscal Affairs Oversight – Rep. Chuck Martin
  • Code Revision – Rep. Buzz Brockway
  • Defense & Veterans Affairs – Rep. Bill Hitchens
  • Economic Development & Tourism – Rep. Ron Stephens
  • Education – Rep. Brooks Coleman
  • Energy, Utilities & Telecommunications – Rep. Don Parsons
  • Ethics – Rep. Randy Nix
  • Game, Fish & Parks – Rep. David Knight
  • Governmental Affairs – Rep. Ed Rynders
  • Health & Human Services – Rep. Sharon Cooper
  • Higher Education – Rep. Rick Jasperse
  • Human Relations & Aging – Rep. Tommy Benton
  • Industry & Labor – Rep. Brian Strickland
  • Information & Audits – Rep. Darlene Taylor
  • Insurance – Rep. Richard Smith
  • Interstate Cooperation – Rep. Matt Dollar
  • Intragovernmental Coordination – Rep. Jan Tankersley
  • Judiciary – Rep. Wendell Willard
  • Judiciary (Non-Civil) – Rep. Rich Golick
  • Juvenile Justice – Rep. Mandi Ballinger
  • Legislative & Congressional Reapportionment – Rep. Johnnie Caldwell
  • MARTOC – Rep. Tom Taylor
  • Motor Vehicles – Rep. Bubber Epps
  • Natural Resources & Environment – Rep. Lynn Smith
  • Public Safety & Homeland Security – Rep. Alan Powell
  • Regulated Industries – Rep. Howard Maxwell
  • Retirement – Rep. Paul Battles
  • Rules – Rep. John Meadows
  • Science & Technology – Rep. Ed Setzler
  • Small Business Development – Rep. Chad Nimmer
  • Special Rules – Rep. Buddy Harden
  • State Planning & Community Affairs – Rep. Jimmy Pruett
  • State Properties – Rep. Gerald Greene
  • Transportation – Rep. Kevin Tanner
  • Ways & Means – Rep. Jay Powell

Chairmen of the subcommittees of Appropriations are as follows:

  • Economic Development – Rep. Penny Houston
  • Education – Rep. Robert Dickey
  • General Government – Rep. Amy Carter
  • Health – Rep. Butch Parrish
  • Higher Education – Rep. Earl Ehrhart
  • Human Resources – Rep. Katie Dempsey
  • Public Safety – Rep. Andy Welch
  • Transportation & Infrastructure – Rep. Jason Shaw

The Committee on Assignments also appointed members of two working groups of the House. Working groups differ from standing committees in that they are term-limited and will expire at the end of this legislative session. These working groups have been tasked with working on legislation relating to military affairs and medical cannabis, respectively.  The chairmen of these two working groups are as follows:

  • Medical Cannabis – Rep. Allen Peake
  • Military Affairs – Rep. Dave Belton

Maggie Lee of the Macon Telegraph looks at the new Medical Cannabis Working Group:

House Speaker David Ralson, R-Blue Ridge, announced the formation of the group on Wednesday. The chair will be Macon Republican state Rep. Allen Peake, author of the state’s medical cannabis possession law.

“I think the naming of this committee just reinforces that this is a real priority for the House, a real priority for Speaker Ralston. And I think that’s a good thing for a lot of Georgia citizens who could potentially benefit,” Peake said.

The new group will be able to hold hearings, and its members will be able to file bills.

Peake has announced two medical cannabis legislative plans this year. First, he will ask fellow lawmakers to set up a 2018 statewide referendum on the cultivation of medical cannabis in Georgia. Second, he wants to open Georgia’s medical cannabis registry to people who have more diagnoses, including post-traumatic stress disorder, autism and chronic pain.

Asked about Peake’s in-state cultivation proposal, Ralson said during a news conference last week, “What I think is important is that we be able to fulfill the promise that was contained in the original (medical cannabis registry) legislation providing access to Georgians.”

Georgia Chamber Focuses on Rural Areas

At the Eggs & Issues breakfast earlier this week, the Georgia Chamber of Commerce announced a new focus on economic issues in rural Georgia.

A key element in the plan will involve reaching out to rural Georgia by forming a new committee to address rural issues and, for the first time, opening a regional office to focus on strengthening the rural economy.

“We can’t have a healthy economy if over half of our counties lose population and close hospitals,” chamber President Chris Clark said during the chamber’s annual Eggs and Issues breakfast at the Georgia World Congress Center.

And from Maggie Lee at the Macon Telegraph:

The chamber will work on legislation to help businesses in rural Georgia, he said, such as making it easier to navigate the complex business of providing broadband internet. The chamber will also hold more events statewide and open a regional office in Tifton that will focus on rural economic prosperity.

“I am excited about the emphasis on rural Georgia,” said Nipper Bunn, chairman of the board of the Forsyth-Monroe County Chamber of Commerce, who was watching from a table at the side of the packed room.

“It seems as though we’ve had ‘two Georgias’ for quite a while,” Bunn said, using a political phrase that’s been around more than two decades. One of the Georgias consists of the mostly urban and suburban counties that attract the most new residents, jobs and investments. The other Georgia is the rest of the state.


Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for January 11, 2017

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.

On January 11, 1989, President Ronald Reagan gave his farewell speech.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections


Governor Nathan Deal delivers the State of the State address today at 11 AM in the House Chamber. You can watch the live feed online at GPB.Continue Reading..


Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for January 10, 2017

Georgia and American History

On January 10, 1868, the Georgia Equal Rights Association was formed in Augusta.

On January 10, 1870, the Georgia General Assembly convened and seated African-American legislators who had been expelled in 1868.

Eugene Talmadge was sworn-in to his first term as Governor of Georgia on January 10, 1933.

Talmadge fired elected officials who resisted his authority. Others were thrown out of their offices. Literally.

After Julian Bond’s election to the Georgia House of Representatives in 1965, the chamber voted against seating him ostensibly because he had publicly state his opposition to the war in Vietnam. On January 10, 1967, after the United States Supreme Court held the legislature had denied Bond his right to free speech, he was seated as a member of the State House.

Governor Nathan Deal was sworn-in as the 82d Governor of Georgia on January 10, 2011 while snow shut down the planned public Inaugural.

Georgia Politics

Senator David Shafer was reelected yesterday as President Pro Tempore and David Ralston was reelected as Speaker of the House.

Today, the Georgia Chamber of Commerce hosts Eggs & Issues at the Georgia World Congress Center. This morning’s event includes U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, Governor Nathan Deal, Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle, and House Speaker David Ralston.

Governor Nathan Deal will deliver the State of the State address at 11 AM on Wednesday in the Georgia House Chamber. At 1:30 PM, Deal Chief of Staff Chris Riley and Budget Director Teresa MacCartney will deliver a media briefing on the Governor’s proposed state budget.

State House leaders passed an adjournment resolution setting the schedule of legislative days through February 2d.


Tuesday, January 10……….Legislative Day 2
Wednesday, January 11…..Legislative Day 3
Thursday, January 12……..Legislative Day 4

Monday, January 23……….Legislative Day 5
Tuesday, January 24……….Legislative Day 6
Wednesday, January 25…..Legislative Day 7
Thursday, January 26……..Legislative Day 8

Monday, January 30……….Legislative Day 5
Tuesday, January 31……….Legislative Day 2
Wednesday, February 1…..Legislative Day 3
Thursday, February 2……..Legislative Day 4

Committee Meetings


Senate Committee Leadership Announcements

Sen. Brandon Beach (R – Alpharetta) will serve as chair of the Senate Transportation Committee.
Sen. Ellis Black (R – Valdosta) will serve as chair of the Senate Retirement Committee.
Sen. Mike Dugan (R – Carrollton) will serve as chair of the Senate Economic Development Committee.
Sen. Chuck Hufstetler (R – Rome) will serve as chair of the Senate Finance Committee and as vice chair of the Senate Retirement Committee.
Sen. Burt Jones (R – Jackson) will serve as chair of the Senate Insurance and Labor Committee.
Sen. William Ligon (R – Brunswick) will serve as chair of the Senate Banking and Financial Institutions Committee and as vice chair of the Senate Ethics and Reapportionment and Redistricting Committees.
Sen. Jesse Stone (R – Waynesboro) will serve as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Sen. Ben Watson (R – Savannah) will serve as chair of the Senate Reapportionment and Redistricting Committee.
Sen. Lee Anderson (R – Grovetown) will serve as vice chair of the Senate Agriculture and Science and Technology Committees.
Sen. Matt Brass (R – Newnan) will serve as vice chair of the Senate Economic Development Committee.
Sen. Dean Burke (R – Bainbridge) will serve as vice chair of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.
Sen. John Kennedy (R – Macon) will serve as vice chair of the Senate Banking and Financial Institutions Committee.
Sen. P.K. Martin (R – Lawrenceville) will serve as vice chair of the Senate State and Local Governmental Operations and Higher Education Committees.
Sen. Blake Tillery (R – Vidalia) will serve as vice chair of the Senate State Institutions and Properties Committee.

The Georgia State House now counts among its members the first Latina state legislator and the first openly gay male legislator.

State Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon) would prefer to decouple local Macon-Bibb elections from primary elections.

“This past election cycle, I didn’t even get to vote for myself in the Republican primary,” state Rep. Allen Peake said. That’s because a couple of key county races were going to get decided in the Democratic primary, and he wanted to vote in them instead of his own shoo-in primary.

“If I wanted to have a say-so in who was going to be the next … sheriff and tax commissioner, … then I needed to vote in the Democratic primary. And that’s crazy,” Peake said.

So he’s filing a bill in the state Legislature that could give each county’s group of lawmakers the right to erase the “D” or “R” behind the names of candidates for tax commissioner, sheriff, district attorney, coroner, and Superior Court clerk.

For a Republican would-be coroner or tax commissioner, Macon-Bibb County looks like a tough place to win office. As a whole, the county tends to vote blue, according to the last couple of years of election results.

Conversely, in red-voting Houston County, it can be hard for Democrats. The races that Peake’s bill addresses were all Republican walkovers last year.

So Peake sees a problem: voters who don’t get a say in a particular local race because the party they prefer doesn’t run a candidate.

But state Sen. David Lucas is against the idea of taking away party labels in a place that’s solidly blue.

“So now Mr. Peake wants to do what he’s always done and that is to try and destroy the Democratic Party,” Lucas said.

On Josh McKoon

State Senator Josh McKoon has lost his committee chairmanship in the Senate.

Following through with a plan put in place less than two weeks ago, the Georgia Senate Republican leadership stripped controversial Columbus state Sen. Josh McKoon of his leadership position, McKoon confirmed late Monday.

It was done as part of a new rules package put in place on the first day of the 2017 session.

McKoon, starting his seventh year in the Senate representing District 29, had been chairman of the Judiciary Committee for four years. In late December, the Republican caucus met in Atlanta to set the rules for the 2017 General Assembly session. The group then decided to eliminate one of the three judiciary committees.

Rep. Richard Smith, R-Columbus, said there were two high-level meetings in which he was told that McKoon’s behavior was an issue and it was going to cost the Columbus region state funding. McKoon has contended that the CSU funding was not necessary for 2016 and will likely be in the 2017 budget.

The Senate also made a change that impacts the timing of bills making their way through the process in the closing days of the 40-day session. Called “Crossover Day,” the deadline for bills starting in the House to reach the Senate and starting in the Senate and reaching the House was changed to the 28th day of the session. In year’s past it was Day 30.

There’s been plenty of crowing about it by his enemies.

Those who think this rebuke, if that’s what it is, will silence McKoon are probably mistaken. After all, “The most dangerous creation of any society is the man who has nothing to lose.” I’d be surprised if McKoon loses any popularity on the GOP Speaker’s circuit or among his district’s Republican primary voters.

But beyond that, we may have lost sight of a relatively recent bit of political history. Think with me all the way back to 2008, when a well-respected Chairman of the House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee challenged the reigning Speaker of the House. The upstart lost that race, and as a result, also lost his committee chairmanship, being demoted to Vice Chair of House Judiciary.

Less than two years later, the House member who lost his Chairmanship took the gavel and State Rep. David Ralston was elected Speaker of the House, where he still commands the rostrum.

I’m not comparing Sen. McKoon to Speaker Ralston, but the Senator’s current position isn’t entirely unlike the situation that the Speaker faced back in 2008.

Campaigns and Elections

Republican Chuck Payne and Democrat Debby Peppers face off in a Special Runoff Election for State Senate today.

The special election is being held because Gov. Nathan Deal appointed Charlie Bethel, a Republican from Dalton who had just been re-elected to the Senate in November, to the Georgia Court of Appeals. Bethel began those duties earlier this month. The district includes all of Whitfield and Murray counties and parts of Gordon and Pickens counties.

Payne, a former chairman of the Whitfield County Republican Party, received the most votes in the five-way special election on Dec. 13 with 1,792 (36.1 percent). Peppers, a former member of the Whitfield County Board of Commissioners, received the second most votes with 1,361 (27.42 percent). Since no one received a majority of the vote, state law required that the two candidates who received the most votes meet in a runoff to decide the winner.

During the campaign, Payne has focused on his conservative credentials while Peppers has said she will be an independent voice in the Legislature if elected. The special election is nonpartisan, but the candidates could list a party preference. Payne listed his party affiliation as Republican on the ballot. Peppers did not list an affiliation but has said she will caucus with the Democratic Party if elected.

State Rep. Chuck Martin has dropped out of the Sixth Congressional District special election to be held later this year, according to Kyle Wingfield of the AJC.

“When you really look at it, to run and win, you have to leave the community you love to do the job,” Martin said. “I felt like I would lose touch with my family and community. That’s just not me.”

The former Alpharetta mayor said he knew the race would be extremely competitive. “I had good feedback” about possibly getting in the race, he said. “I think we would have had support.”

At the end, he said, the prospect of starting over from the standpoint of building relationships and political capital was too much.

“I was never going to be in Washington 10 or 12 years from now,” he said. That wouldn’t have been my plan. It has re-energized me for what we’re doing down here (in the state legislature), though.”

Roy Daniels, a physician from Cobb County, joins the candidate field for Senate District 32, which Judson Hill will vacate in his run for Congress. Click here to visit his website.

Daniels joins the previously announced Dr. Kay Kirkpatrick and lawyer Gus Makris.




Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for January 9, 2017

The first modern circus was held in London on January 9, 1768.

Thomas Paine published a pamphlet titled, “Common Sense” on January 9, 1776. The pamphlet is considered to have united colonists to the cause of American independence.

Herman Talmadge was sworn-in to his second term as Governor of Georgia on January 9, 1951.

Segregated seating on Atlanta buses was held unconstitutional by a federal court on January 9, 1959.

Hamilton Holmes and Charlayne Hunter arrived in Athens to register at the University of Georgia on January 9, 1961.

Steve Jobs, Apple CEO, debuted the iPhone on January 9, 2007.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Republican Chuck Payne and Democrat Debby Peppers meet at the ballot box tomorrow in the Special Runoff Election for Senate District 54.

Turnout is expected to be key in Tuesday’s special election runoff for state Senate District 54.

Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Just 6.6 percent of registered voters, less than 5,000 total voters, turned out for the Dec. 13 special election for the seat for the district that includes all of Whitfield and Murray counties and parts of Gordon and Pickens counties. And turnout in runoffs is typically just a fraction of the turnout in the first election.

That means the race could swing on which candidate does the best job of getting his or her supporters out. The race includes Chuck Payne and Debby Peppers.

Payne, a former chairman of the Whitfield County Republican Party, received the most votes in the five-way special election with 1,792 (36.1 percent). Peppers, a former member of the Whitfield County Board of Commissioners, received the second most votes with 1,361 (27.42 percent).

Early votes cast in December 2016

mail in person
52 1070

Early votes cast as of yesterday:

mail in person
70 1641

Sharp-eyed readers will note that the mail-in ballots number for the runoff is down from what I last reported – last week I reported hom many mail-in ballots had been sent to voters, while today’s number is those who returned their ballots to elections officials.

At 10 AM, the Georgia General Assembly convenes in the first day of the 2017 Session.

Religious liberty bills are not at the top of leadership wish lists for this Session.

Republicans at the helm of Georgia’s General Assembly aren’t including “religious liberty” legislation among their top priorities for the coming session, shifting away from the issue that has prompted accusations of discrimination and fears of economic damage in past years. But they may not be able to head off all discussion when the legislative session begins on Monday.

Senate Republicans didn’t include any such legislation on the list of priorities they unveiled Thursday at the Capitol. Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, who leads the Senate, said President-elect Donald Trump’s election reduced the need for the measures.

“We have a new president, a president who I think is going to appoint a (Supreme Court) justice that’s going to be conservative,” Cagle said. “And much of the fears that existed prior to that may have subsided.”

House Speaker David Ralston, never a fan of the various “religious liberty” measures, said he thinks state lawmakers have spent enough time debating them during the past three legislative sessions.

“Georgia has got so many good things going right now and I’m not sure we want to model after North Carolina and Indiana,” said Ralston, a Republican from Blue Ridge.

Taxes and medicinal cannabis will, however, top the list of priorities for some legislators.

[Senator Butch] Miller said he expects to tackle a wide range of issues in 2017, from potential amendments to medical cannabis laws to broadband internet expansion, a reworking of the hospital bed tax and incentives for rural hospitals to succeed, and water quality and access initiatives.

Miller also wants to keep Georgia running strong as a place to do business, and economic development and education are likely to be a critical part of the governor’s agenda.

Rep. Emory Dunahoo, R-Gillsville, is one of the biggest backers of the so-called “Fair Tax” in all of the Georgia General Assembly.

He is currently preparing a bill that aims to begin lowering state income taxes while raising sales taxes to offset any lost revenue.

He said he supports efforts by Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, to expand access to the drug and stands behind a new effort Peake is making to bring the issue to a ballot referendum.

“I don’t have a problem with that,” Dunahoo said. “I’m an ally with him.”

Rep. Tim Barr, R-Lawrenceville, said he will co-sponsor Dunahoo’s bill to reform the state’s tax code by lowering income taxes.

“I think that’s very important,” he said.

Rep. Lee Hawkins, R-Gainesville, is perpetually focused on improving health care and access to it for Georgians, and that doesn’t change in 2017.

Hawkins said he is also searching for ways to better fund mental health programs across the state.

Funding right now is inadequate, he said, and jail or prison has too often become a substitute for better programs.

Finally, Hawkins said state lawmakers are anxiously awaiting the potential repeal of the Affordable Care Act on the federal level. But while he supports such a move, he knows something will need to replace it.

“We want all Georgians to have good health,” Hawkins said. “But we get into a situation about how to pay for it. Hopefully, (Washington) can come up with a better plan that can replace Obamacare, but at the same time not leave people without access to health care.”

Sen. John Wilkinson, R-Toccoa, knows that education will be front and center on the GOP’s legislative agenda this year.

“I think we’re going to have to continue to increase our commitment and funding to education,” Wilkinson said.

Casino gambling will take center stage this session in a push for a statewide referendum.

“Allowing casinos in Georgia is a complex issue, and you have to determine what model you want to take,” said House Speaker David Ralston. “And then you have to decide what to do with the money, whether it’s for the HOPE scholarship, substance abuse prevention programs or another purpose.

“I’m still not sure that casinos in Georgia are consistent with where we want to be as a state.”

The only duty the legislature is constitutionally required to perform each year is pass a balanced budget. “And we’re going to maintain our AAA bond rating from the three major rating agencies,” said Rep. Terry England, R-Auburn, chairman of the powerful House Appropriations committee.

“I come from a very conservative district and the balanced budget is important to them,” England said.

Transportation funding continues to be important to us due to our proximity to Atlanta, Athens and Gainesville and will remain a priority for me.”

The Columbus Ledger-Enquirer spoke to their local electeds about casinos.

It will be a statewide issue, but it will have keen local interest because Columbus could be a potential site, depending on how the legislation plays out over the next three months under the Gold Dome.

Columbus entrepreneur Robert Wright Jr. said two months ago he would like to bring a $200 million resort casino to south Columbus if the state of Georgia legalizes gambling. The Columbus Council voted in November to ask the local delegation to let voters consider a statewide referendum that, if passed, would legalize casino gambling.

“There is no question casinos will be a big issue,” said Rep. Richard Smith, R-Columbus. “I know a bunch of companies have hired a bunch of lobbyists.”

“There are two questions that have to be answered here,” Smith said. “First: ‘Do we want casinos in Georgia to begin with?’ Then, if that passes, we have to ask, ‘What model do we want?’”

“One, do we want the mega-casino in Atlanta? (Or) do we want one in Atlanta and another one over the coast to get the I-95 and Jacksonville traffic? Or do we want four, five, six of them scattered around the state?” Smith said. “The latter would be the only way you could have a casino in Columbus.”

The Gainesville Times takes a look at what a 2017 budget will look like.

With a nearly $23 billion budget, Georgia lawmakers have as much money to spend as ever.

Revenues are estimated to increase 8.8 percent, bringing in $1.9 billion more this fiscal year.

But expenses are growing, too, as an aging and growing population emerges statewide.

Education is the top spending priority in the state, followed closely by health care.

Sen. John Wilkinson, R-Toccoa, said new education spending likely is needed to hire additional teachers and build new schools to meet the demands of a growing population.

Lawmakers roundly agree changes are needed to the 31-year-old formula the state uses to distribute funding among its 180 public school districts, but changes aren’t likely this year. Deal said Friday he wants to postpone that discussion a year and instead focus on helping underachieving students.

Health care spending, meanwhile, is likely in for major changes as Republican lawmakers in Washington, D.C., look to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

But just what impact that will have on Georgia is unclear, said Rep. Lee Hawkins, R-Gainesville. One thing he is sure of, however, is that there’s never enough money to go around.

Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, one of Deal’s top floor leaders, said legislators likely will revisit the hospital bed tax and other initiatives aimed at shoring up the viability of rural hospitals throughout the state.

In addition, expanding broadband internet access to both urban centers and rural counties, while also funding transportation improvement projects, is crucial to growing industry and jobs, Miller said.

“Those are two real challenges,” he said.

Senate Democrats released a list of priorities for the Session.

“Senate Democrats will be focused on four priority areas in 2017: economy, education, environment and equality,” said Liz Flowers executive director of the Georgia Senate Democratic Caucus.

Democrats are also pushing for a constitutional amendment to create a paid family leave fund to provide up to six weeks paid leave for people suffering from disability, or to care for ill family members, paid for by a payroll tax of up to 1.5 percent.

And efforts to raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour, with annual increases tied to the consumer price index, remain a critical part of the state Democratic platform.

Democrats are gearing up to oppose any federal changes to environmental policy under President Donald Trump, including deregulation of Environmental Protection Agency policies, public land protections and water quality issues.

Democrats hope the state will expand nondiscrimination protections, which provide legal cover to individuals based on race, color, religion, natural origin and sex, to include sexual orientation and gender identity.

And they are pushing for a law that would mandate equal pay for women by prohibiting employers from paying employees less based on gender. Employers would not be allowed to retaliate against employees that discuss their pay under the proposal.

Republican State Rep. Matt Dubnik will be among the new faces in the General Assembly.

“We have a very tight group of freshmen,” said Dubnik, 35. “We’re all wide-eyed and bushy-tailed. We’re ready to go.”

For the Jackson County native, his political journey began long before he threw his hat in the ring in March.

“I was approached a couple of years ago (about running) by some friends and elected officials,” he said. “They said, ‘If and when Carl decides to get out, would you be willing to run?’ I said yes.”

Some of his main concerns heading into the legislature are postsecondary education and workforce development.

“I don’t want to take away from K-12 education … but what are we doing to get the workforce of this state ready for the jobs that are out there?” Dubnik said.

“I have a lot of friends in this community who own businesses who say, ‘My No. 1 challenge is finding qualified people.’ So, how do we marry the two?”

The Atlanta Journal Constitution asked legislative lobbyists for pro-tips for citizens trying to affect the legislative process.

Lewis Massey, ofMassey, Watson & Hembree, LLC

What makes an effective lobbyist? An effective lobbyist establishes relationships with decision makers that allow for the opportunity to share relevant information with legislators that is both factual and persuasive.

What can citizens do? Besides getting to know local lawmakers before the session, cultivate a champion in the General Assembly for your cause. Speak in committee meetings and bring like-minded citizens to do the same. Be respectful, reliable, resilient and resourceful.

 State Senator Vincent Fort has received an assist in his campaign for Mayor of Atlanta.

Vermont U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders formally endorsed Vincent Fort’s bid for Atlanta mayor on Saturday, urging his millions of donors to support a “powerful ally” running to lead the city.

Fort, a state senator representing an Atlanta district, has made no secret that he’s trying to model his bid to succeed Mayor Kasim Reed on Sanders’ insurgent presidential campaign. He’s called for the decriminalization of marijuana, free tuition at Atlanta city colleges and other left-leaning initiatives.

“The establishment in Georgia did everything they could to exact their revenge on Senator Fort – they even recruited a primary opponent to run against him in the last election cycle as punishment,” wrote Sanders. “They failed to take him down then – and now that he’s running to be the next Mayor of Atlanta, we expect the entrenched political establishment and their billionaire backers to do everything in their power to defeat him.”

Fort is among at least a half-dozen politicians in the running for mayor, a field that also includes several former and current councilmembers. It is his second big endorsement; earlier former Gov. Roy Barnes went public with his support for Fort by hosting a fundraiser for him.

The Georgia Republican Party prepares to elect new leadership in the 2017 GAGOP State Convention, to be held in Augusta.

[Gwinnett County Republican] Party Chairman Rich Carithers announced Precinct Mass Meetings will be held at 10 a.m. on Feb. 4 to elect delegates and alternates to the Gwinnett County Republican Convention in March. Precinct officers for the 2017-19 term will also be elected at the mass meetings.

The meetings will be held at Central Gwinnett High School, 564 W. Crogan St. in Lawrenceville, and registration will begin at 9 a.m. Admission to the meetings is free, although the party will accept donations to help offset the cost of holding them.

“All Gwinnett County residents who are legally registered to vote as of the date of the Precinct Mass Meeting and who believe in the principles of the Republican Party are eligible and encouraged to participate in the process,” Carithers said in a statement.

The congressional district conventions will be held on April 22 at locations that will be determined at a later date, and the Georgia Republican Party State Convention will be held on June 2 in Augusta. Like the mass meetings and county convention, officers for the next two years will be chosen at the congressional district and state conventions.

Augusta is once again discussing changing the dates of local elections.

Mayor Hardie Davis, who was first elected in May 2014, slipped the recommendation that nonpartisan races move back to November on the Augusta Commission agenda last week, asking in backup materials that his name not be used.

“Historically in this city, elections have always taken place in November,” Davis said, declining further requests for comment. “It still happens for our school board members.”

Five years ago the Georgia General Assembly changed the dates of most nonpartisan county and consolidated government elections – including offices such as judgeships and the Richmond County Marshal – from November to mid-year, initially to July.

A major impact on holding elections midyear is reduced turnout. Board of Elections Executive Director Lynn Bailey said while turnout for midterm November elections – those not coinciding with presidential elections – typically ranges from 45 percent to 60 percent, turnout for midyear elections is at best 45 percent.

The commission voted 10-0 to send a resolution of support for the election date change to the the city’s legislative delegation, comprised of five Democrats and three Republicans, including two Republican state senators.

Commissioner Marion Williams said he supported the November resolution because it would result in fewer costly elections, although the government can’t opt out of conducting the May statewide primary. Members of the delegation didn’t respond to requests for comment, but Sen. Harold Jones, D-Augusta, said at a recent meeting that conducting local elections in November might be less subject to court action than locals have claimed.

The first Right Whale calf of the birthing season was sighted off the coast of Saint Simons Island.

The new year brought with it the first North Atlantic right whale calf of the season as researchers spotted the mother/calf pair in shallow waters about two miles off Little St. Simons Island on Jan. 1.

The highly endangered whales, whose population numbers about 450, migrate in the late fall from feeding grounds off New England and Canada to their birthing area off Georgia and Florida. Researchers fly aerial surveys to scout for the whales starting Dec. 1. Only one other whale, a known calving female, was seen in Georgia in December.

The first new mother of the year is a 30-year-old whale, number 1711, who doesn’t have a nickname. She’s known to have calved twice before. But she’s also been elusive. Prior to being spotted on New Year’s Day, the last time she was seen was in 2011.



Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for January 6, 2017

Georgia and American History

Lyman Hall, one of three Georgians who signed the Declaration of Independence, was elected Governor on January 8, 1783.

Samuel Elbert was elected Governor of Georgia for a one-year term on January 6, 1785. Elbert was an early participant in Patriot meetings at Tondee’s Tavern, a Lt. Colonel in the first group of troops raised in Georgia, and a prisoner of war, exchanged for a British General, and eventually promoted to Brigadier General reporting to Gen. George Washington. As Governor, Elbert oversaw the charter of the University of Georgia and afterward, he served briefly as Sheriff of Chatham County.

Georgia voted for George Washington for President on January 7, 1789. Technically, they elected Presidential Electors who would later meet in Augusta and cast their ballots for Washington.

On January 7, 1795, Georgia Governor George Matthews signed the Yazoo Act, passed after four land companies bribed members of the General Assembly to vote for legislation selling more than 35 million acres of land for less than 2 cents per acre.

On January 6, 1961, United States District Court Judge William Bootle ordered the University of Georgia to enroll Hamilton Holmes and Charlayne Hunter, ending the segregation of UGA.

On January 6, 1988, the United States Postal Service released a stamp commemorating the bicentennial of Georgia’s ratification of the U.S. Constitution in 1788.

Georgia Congressman Newt Gingrich (R) was re-elected Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives on January 7, 1997. In the election for a second term, nine Republicans voted against the incumbent Speaker.

On January 8, 2014, Atlanta Braves pitchers Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux were announced as incoming members of the Baseball Hall of Fame, along with Columbus, Georgia native Frank Thomas, a long-time Chicago White Sox outfielder.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Governor Nathan Deal is allowing nonessential state employees to head home early ahead of Clusterflake 2017.

With metro Atlanta bracing for up to four inches of snow, Gov. Nathan Deal on Friday ordered nonessential state employees to leave work by noon.

Metro Atlanta’s major school districts — Atlanta, Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton, Gwinnett, Marietta, Decatur — will close at least two hours early today.

Deal also said this morning that pretreatment of roads had begun.

“We believe we are prepared,” the governor said. “We are hopeful the storm will be a light one that will not persist very long. And we hope the weather will warm up by Sunday and that most of the ice will have melted.”

The General Assembly will gavel in on Monday morning, regardless of the weather.

Speaker David Ralston said the General Assembly will convene as planned on Monday.

“We’re required to be here Monday. I will be here. The Constitution says we have to meet on the second Monday in January and we’re going to be here and start.”

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle said he trusts state agencies to be prepared to handle the storm’s impacts.

“Right now, we’re moving forward but we’ll have a contingency plan if weather does become dangerous,” he said.

Many legislators are already making plans to spend the weekend near the Capitol so they can make the session opener.

In Senate District 54, where Republican Chuck Payne is running against Democrat Debby Peppers, early voting has surpassed December in both in-person and mailed ballots.

Early votes cast in December 2016

mail in person
52 1070

Early votes cast as of yesterday:

mail in person
194 1427

The candidate field for the Sixth Congressional District seat that will be vacated when Rep. Tom Price is confirmed as Secretary of HHS is filling out, but not the way anyone expected. I thought we might see 6 to 8 Republicans and one Democrat. Instead, we appear to have more announced Democrats than Republicans.

John Ossoff, a former staffer to Rep. Hank Johnson (D) announced he will run for Congress in the Sixth.

Jon Ossoff, a former Capitol Hill staffer for Rep. Hank Johnson, said he has already lined up $250,000 in financial commitments to run in the state’s 6th Congressional District, and has the support of his former boss, as well as civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis.

The suburban district north of Atlanta has been strong for Republicans in the past: In 2012, Mitt Romney won it by more than 20 points. But in 2016, Trump won by just over one point, a result that has piqued the interest of House Democrats.

“We should unite behind Jon and send a clear message that Donald Trump doesn’t represent our values,” Lewis said in a statement.

The AJC Political Insider writes about the rest of the Democrats in the special election.

Ossoff joins three other Democrats: Former state Sen. Ron Slotin, former state Rep. Sally Harrell and attorney Josh McLaurin. A relative unknown in the state party, McLaurin said this week he’s raised more than $39,000 and will chip in another $6,000 to his campaign. Harrell enjoys the support of local Democrats, including state Rep. Scott Holcomb and state Sen. Elena Parent.

So that makes four announced Democrats. On the GOP side, Judson Hill has announced, Karen Handel is looking at the race, and former State Senator Dan Moody is rumored to be looking at a run. State Rep. Chuck Martin has said he’d run, but I haven’t heard anything else lately.

Yesterday included a round of fundraisers held by incumbent members of the General Assembly. At one fundraiser for Republican members of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, Dr. Kay Kirkpatrick , an announced candidate for Judson Hill’s Senate seat was sighted. A couple hours later, Gus Makris, who is also running for Hill’s Senate seat, attended a fundraiser in the next building over for Senate GOP leadership.

Speaking of fundraisers, here’s a note from Chris Joyner of the AJC:

In the last election, HCA, a hospital company which has a number of small hospitals around Georgia, gave $50,000 to Georgia Leads, a 501(c)4 group run by Gov. Nathan Deal’s former campaign manager Tom Willis, that supported Deal’s proposed state takeover plan for failing school.

What does HCA care about Deal’s opportunity school district plan? Nothing, probably. They do care about the re-authorization of the hospital “bed tax” in this coming session, a fee imposed by the state to draw down more Medicaid funding, which is redistributed to hospitals.

Along with supporting Gov. Deal’s education initiative, HCA contributed $25,000 each to the state Democratic Party and the House GOP Trust. The hospital company also sent $25,000 to Ralston’s Conservative Leadership Fund and another $10,000 to Georgia Next, a PAC run by House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams, D-Atlanta.

HCA topped off their giving with $2,500 contributions to top Republicans and Democrats in both the House and Senate, including chairmen of both of the Rules committees, who determine which bills move to a floor vote. Legislative leaders in both parties have said re-authorization of the fee is a top priority.

HCA’s strategy is not unique.

Maggie Lee of the Macon Telegraph spoke to mid-Georgia legislators about their priorities for the session.

Start with health care. The new GOP majority in Washington is looking to repeal at least part of the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare. Millions of low-income Americans have gotten health insurance under Obamacare, but its critics say the system is flawed.

Federal policy and cash will impact how many Georgians show up to hospitals without insurance and how the state might help bankroll the care they will get there.

The Obamacare upheaval comes as rural hospitals are especially squeezed by problems, including a relatively high caseload of patients who can’t pay for care.

“Health care could break us,” said state Sen. David Lucas, D-Macon, putting it at the top of his list of important issues that the state must address.

Republican-run Georgia has been officialy skeptical of Obamacare and did not expand Medicaid eligibility under the law, as some states have done. But until it’s clear how Washington will untangle the law, Georgia is in a bit of a wait-and-see position. One possibility is that federal funds could come in a block to each state, and each state will decide how to administer health care insurance for low-income residents.

Legislators also point out that a fee worth more than $880 million to Georgians’ health care is about to expire. Known as the “bed tax,” Georgia’s hospital provider fee is collected from hospitals. With matching federal funds, it helps pay for Medicaid.

Plenty of legislative leaders on both sides of the aisle want to extend the fee in some form, though there is a chance tax hawks might object.

State Sen. Larry Walker, R-Perry, said he would like to change the provider fee formula so that it’s more favorable to smaller hospitals that are struggling.


Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for January 5, 2017

Georgia and American History

On January 5, 1734, the Trustees of Georgia ordered the return of 42 Jewish settlers who had come in 1733, primarily from Portugal, without the knowledge or approval of the Trustees. The Brits who sponsored the Jewish settlers refused and Georgia is home to the oldest Jewish settlement in the United States.

On January 5, 1781, traitor Benedict Arnold and 1600 British troops captured Richmond, Virginia.

On January 5, 1978, the British band the Sex Pistols started their American tour at the Great Southeast Music Hall in Atlanta, GA. The AJC has a photo gallery from the show, including the young promoter, Alex Cooley, who would become legendary.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

The 55th Annual Wild Hog Supper, benefiting the Georgia Food Bank Association, will be held Sunday, January 8, 2017 at the Georgia Freight Depot by the State Capitol. You can buy your tickets online for $25 each or at the door for $30.

In Senate District 54, where Republican Chuck Payne is running against Democrat Debby Peppers, early voting has surpassed December in both in-person and mailed ballots.

Early votes cast in December 2016

mail in person
52 1070

Early votes cast as of yesterday:

mail in person
164 1148

A third candidate has joined the field in the Special Election for Roswell City Council Post 4.Continue Reading..


Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for January 4, 2017

Georgia and American History

Utah was admitted as the 45th state on January 4, 1896. Alaska became the 49th state on January 3, 1959.

On January 4, 1965, shortly after the assassination of President Kennedy, Lyndon Baines Johnson delivered the State of the Union and outlined his plan for a “Great Society.”

“He requested ‘doubling the war against poverty this year’ and called for new emphasis on area redevelopment, further efforts at retraining unskilled workers, an improvement in the unemployment compensation system and an extension of the minimum wage floor to two million workers now unprotected by it. … He called for new, improved or bigger programs in attacking physical and mental disease, urban blight, water and air pollution, and crime and delinquency.”

The Great Society legislation included “War on Poverty” programs, many created under the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964, which established jobs and youth volunteer programs as well as Head Start, which provided pre-school education for poor children. Johnson’s social welfare legislation also consisted of the formation of Medicare and Medicaid, which offered health care services for citizens over 65 and low-income citizens, respectively. In addition, the Great Society included the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Voting Rights Act of 1968.

On Jnuary 4, 1974, President Richard M. Nixon refused to turn over tapes recorded in the Oval Office to the Senate Watergate Committee.

Georgia Congressman Newt Gingrich was elected Speaker of the House on January 4, 1995, the third Georgian to wield the gavel. This marked the first time in more than forty years that Republicans controlled the House of Representatives.

On January 4, 1999, in DeKalb County, State Court Judge Al Wong became the first Asian-American judge in Georgia and the Southeast.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Early voting continues in Senate District 54 in the upper left-hand corner of Georgia in a Special Runoff Election.

Early votes cast in December 2016

mail in person
52 1070

Early votes cast as of yesterday:

mail in person
159 941

Today, legislative committees will meet at the state capitol.

9:30 AM Senate Emergency Cardiac Care Centers 450 CAP
9:45 AM Opiod Abuse Senate Study Committee 450 CAP

Governor Nathan Deal appointed three replacement members to the Dooly County Board of Education. Deal previously suspended all five members of the Dooly BOE.

Rev. F. Thomas (Tommy) Mason Jr.
Mason is a retired United Methodist minister. He is serving the Methodist church in Leslie at the request of his district superintendent. While an active minister, Mason served a number of large congregations, was Macon District Superintendent and held positions in the South Georgia Conference that required financial management and oversight of conference assets and benefit programs. Prior to entering the ministry, he operated an insurance agency in Vienna and Cordele. Mason is a graduate of the Dooly County school system, Georgia Tech and Emory University. He resides in Vienna.

Dr. Wanda Parker-Jackson
Parker-Jackson is a retired educator with 34 years of experience. She previously served as director of elementary education and professional learning in Sumter County and managed the district preschool program. Parker-Jackson has also worked as a school principal, assistant principal and speech-language pathologist. She also has experience as a faculty member as several institutes of higher education. Parker-Jackson is a graduate of Florida A&M Developmental Research High School, Florida A&M University, Valdosta State University, Troy State University and Walden University. She lives in Vienna.

Michael Bowens
Bowens is the city manager for the City of Vienna. He previously worked with Georgia Pacific. Bowens previously served on the Dooly County Board of Education (1991-2002) and the board of the directors for the Dooly County Chamber of Commerce. He sits on the boards of directors for the Southwest Georgia United Empowerment Zone and the Certified Literate Community. Bowens is a member of the Dooly County Industrial Development Authority and the Upper Flint Regional Water Planning Council. He is a graduate of Georgia Southwestern State University and resides in Vienna.

Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle appointed former Forsyth County Commissioner Brian Tam to the reconstituted Judicial Qualifications Commission.

Under legislation passed last year that took effect Jan. 1, the lieutenant governor—for the first time in the JQC’s history—was given two appointees to the seven-member commission, which investigates the state’s judges for ethics infractions and recommends disciplinary action when warranted. His second appointment must be a member of the State Bar of Georgia and can be drawn from a list of recommendations proposed by the bar. Cagle spokesman Adam Sweat said the lieutenant governor, who is also president of the state Senate, has not yet made that appointment.

The new law also for the first time gives the House speaker two appointments and allows the governor to appoint the JQC chairman, who must be a lawyer and a member of the Georgia bar.

Cagle in a news release called Tam “one of Forsyth County’s most successful small business owners” and “a dedicated public servant committed to advancing the interests of his state” who will be “a great asset for Georgia as we work to ensure our judicial system upholds the highest ethical and moral standards.”

Tam’s appointment must be approved by the state Senate under the new constitutional amendment.

The Georgia Ports Authority is investing in a $128 million project to enhance rail connectivity with the Norfolk Southern and CSX railroad.

The arc project will double rail capacity in Savannah and improve its link to Atlanta and cities in the Midwest.

The Mid-American Arc project will improve connections at the Port of Savannah and allow for the construction of 10,000-foot long trains, about 50 percent longer than your average freight train.

The project is funded in part by a $44 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Georgia Ports Authority executive director Griff Lynch says this will mean it can move goods from ships that arrive in Savannah to places like Atlanta even faster.

Fulton Superior Court Chief Judge Gail Tusan ruled that the Georgia Board of Regents must use federal standards in determining a student’s eligibility for in-state tuition.

Georgia residents who have received a special reprieve from deportation from the Obama administration may begin paying in-state tuition here under a state court ruling released Tuesday. At issue is the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, which grants work permits and temporary deportation deferrals to immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children without authorization.

University System of Georgia officials, [Judge Tusan] wrote, are “hereby compelled to perform their duty in applying the federal definition of lawful presence as it relates to students who are DACA recipients and to grant them in-state tuition status.”

“Defendants have refused to accept the federally established lawful presence of plaintiffs and many other similarly situated students — students who are Georgia taxpayers, workers, and graduates of

Georgia public high schools pursuing an affordable option for higher education,” Tusan wrote in her decision, which was issued Friday. “Such refusal of a faithful performance of their duties is unreasonable and creates a defect of legal justice that has already negatively impacted thousands of Georgia students.”

State Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon) intends to move forward and introduce a Constitutional Amendment to allow some form of cannabis production in Georgia, subject to a statewide vote.

State Rep. Allen Peake said he is going to ask fellow lawmakers for a 2018 referendum that would allow growing cannabis for medicinal purposes. He said he plans to file legislation at the state Capitol on the proposed referendum as early as next week.

“We would let the citizens of the state decide whether to go down this path or not,” Peake said.

Peake has championed the in-state growth of cannabis plants and the manufacture of some products for sale to Georgia patients. He said the liquid has worked for people who need it.

But opposition to in-state growth has been strong, notably from Gov. Nathan Deal, a fellow Republican, and from law enforcement agencies.

Peake said he’s optimistic that he can get the votes of the two-thirds of legislators that the idea needs before the question can appear on Georgia’s ballots.

Peake said he is working on another piece of legislation, one that would expand the list of diagnoses for which a patient could possess medical cannabis. He’s looking at opening the medical cannabis registry to people who have autism, AIDS, intractable pain, post-traumatic stress disorder or Tourette’s syndrome.

Gwinnett County Commissioners approved a $1.56 billion dollar FY 2017 budget for county government.

Houston County voters will go to the polls on March 21, 2017 to vote on a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST).

The tax referendum, which is up for a vote March 21, includes $10 million for a new State Court building. That would also give some much-needed new space to the sheriff’s department, the tax commissioner’s office and other departments, officials say.

The new State Court would be built on the north end of the main Houston County courthouse in Perry. It would give the court about twice the size of its current 10,216 square feet, including room for the clerk of court, solicitors office and probation office. It would also mean that prisoners would no longer have to be transported from the county jail, which is in the rear of the Perry courthouse.

Augusta Mayor Hardie Davis voted to break a 5-5 tie between City Commissioners.

Augusta ambulance provider Gold Cross lost another round Tuesday when Mayor Hardie Davis broke a tie against restoring $520,000 cut from the firm’s city subsidy in the 2017 budget.

His motion to restore the funds tied 5-5 with Mayor Pro Tem Mary Davis and commissioners Sean Frantom, Grady Smith and Marion Williams joining him in voting yes.

The mayor didn’t comment before or after his vote but earlier distributed notebooks to each commissioner detailing the city’s history with Gold Cross, dating to its bid award and $1.3 million subsidy in 2005 and steps Gold Cross took to win the zone. It also noted the overlap of certain personnel between the city, Gold Cross and the Region 6 EMS Council, which made the zone decision.

Warner Robins City Council voted to extend the wait period before new employees can be promoted.

Chatham County Commissioners were sworn in for new terms this week. Two new judges were also sworn in.

Chatham County Probate Judge Harris Lewis and Superior Court Clerk Dan Masseystepped aside as attorney Tom Bordeaux Jr. and Tammie Mosley took their oaths of office before being quickly followed by Sheriff John Wilcher, District Attorney Meg Heap and Tax Commissioner Danny Powers.

Incumbent Superior Court judges James F. Bass Jr., Penny Haas Freesemann and John E. Morse Jr. also took new oaths of office.


Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for January 3, 2016

Georgia & American History

On January 1, 1751, the law prohibiting slavery in Georgia was repealed after an act passed by the Georgia Trustees the previous year.

On January 2, 1766, some Sons of Liberty marched on the Royal Governor’s Mansion in Savannah to “discuss” the Stamp Act, which required the use of stamped paper for all printing as a means of taxing the colonies. They were met by a pistol-toting Governor Wright. The next day, January 3, 1766, the Royal Stamp Master arrived at Tybee Island and was taken to the Governor’s Mansion. On that day, Georgia became the first and only colony in which the stamp tax was actually collected.

Georgia became the fourth state to ratify the United States Constitution on January 2, 1788.

Timothy Pickering of Massachusetts became the first United States Senator to be censured by the body on January 2, 1811.

Delaware, technically at the time a slave state, rejected a proposal to secede from the United States on January 3, 1861.

The Emancipation Proclamation by President Abraham Lincoln went into effect in eleven Southern states on January 1, 1863, though parts of Virginia and Louisiana were exempt.

On January 3, 1973, Andrew Young was sworn in as the first African-American Congressman from Georgia since 1871.

Remains of a ship believed to date to the 1800s were found on a beach at Cumberland Island.

A wooden ship from the mid-1800s, possibly a Civil War blockade runner, recently has been discovered along the beach at Cumberland Island — a previously unreported find that locals, archaeologists and parks officials believe could be a major historical discovery.

The unknown vessel lay in the shallow waters of Cumberland, a barrier island off Georgia’s southeastern coast. Officials surmise a December storm shifted enough sand to make visible the ship’s bones — its wooden gunnel, or midsection, lying exposed like the ribs of a dead cow.

[National Park Service archaeologist Michael] Seibert estimated the ship had lain untouched and covered by sand for at least 50 years. Sheltered from the sun and the wind, the vessel’s remains — one timber measures 80 feet in length, suggesting the ship was at least 100 feet long — are in relatively fine condition.

“There was an awful lot of Civil War military traffic along the coast (with) many smaller vessels that were all about stealth and speed,” said Chris McCabe, the deputy archaeologist for the state of Georgia. “We can’t say definitively that it’s a blockade runner, and we may never be able to say definitively, but it’s an absolute possibility.”

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Former Governor Sonny Perdue appears to be the leading candidate for Secretary of Agriculture in the Trump Administration.

Drew Ferguson (R-LaGrange) will be sworn in as the Congressman from the Third District today in Washington, DC.

“I’m excited for the work ahead and honored to be going to Washington, D.C. to serve the people,” Ferguson said Saturday. “I’m optimistic for the district, for Georgia and for the nation. America has a lot of work to do. People expect Congress to start getting it right. I believe we will.”

It’s been a time of big changes for Ferguson prior to today’s event. He sold his dental practice, per House ethics rules. He and his wife Buffy sold their house and moved closer to West Point’s reenergized downtown, where just about any restaurant of your choosing is within walking distance.

He knows who he’ll represent when he begins his term today. He knows transportation issues around here mean finding ways for people to get to work and improving routes from West Georgia to the coast. Uber is not a pressing issue. Neither are driverless cars, unless someone invents an automatic pulpwood truck.

“I’d like to work myself into a position where I can do something about poverty and the entitlement programs and bring in some real-world ideas,” he said. “We can’t get rid of entitlement programs, but we do have to make them more effective. This government has kept people in poverty.”

In the meantime, he’s hoping to land a spot on the House transportation committee or the energy and commerce committee in his first term. Transportation issues are vital to Georgia and the district, he said.

“We’ve got the interstate. We’ve got the automotive manufacturing industry. We’ve got something as forward-thinking as the Ray,” he said. The Ray is the stretch of interstate near West Point called the Ray C. Anderson Memorial Highway with a series of initiatives planned to improve safety and environmental standards in transportation.

State Senator Elect Matt Brass (R-Coweta) spoke to the Newnan Times-Herald about his priorities for the legislative session.

“There are so many different areas where we have been able to help people. That is probably the most rewarding part of public service for me,” Brass said.

Work to get a law passed may not show results for years. But the evidence of constituent service is immediate.

“When you help a veteran get the benefits that he deserves, that’s instant gratification for him and for yourself,” he said.

Legislators typically get assigned to four committees. Freshman apply for eight that they would like to serve on.

Two large electrical plants, Yates and Wansley, are in the district, so Brass has asked for Regulated Industries and Utilities. He’d like to serve on Health and Human Services because Coweta is becoming a health care destination.

He’s asked for Natural Resources and Environment, and Education and Youth, as well as Veteran’s Affairs. Working with Westmoreland’s office, Brass had a lot of interaction with the U.S. Veteran’s Administration and local veterans.

“For me, as a conservative, pro-life Republican, if I’m going to fight to keep children alive, I want to make sure they’re living well while they are here,” he said.

State Representative Elect Josh Bonner (R) joins Brass as a freshman in the state legislature.

Though he won’t know which committees he’s will be assigned to until probably the end of the first week of the session, he is hoping for the Veteran’s Affairs, Economic Development and Tourism and Utilities and Telecommunications committees. He’s also put education and small business committees on his wish list.

Bonner said he thinks the area of government where he can make the biggest impact is workforce development. He and his brother run Southeast Properties, a commercial real estate and property management company started by their father and a partner.

“In every industry I have spoken with there has been this shortfall in a viable workforce,” Bonner said. “There are a lot of good things going on in Georgia with technical schools and internships and job training programs, including Coweta’s German-style apprenticeship and the Central Educational Center. There’s the Georgia Film Academy program at Pinewood Studios in Fayette and Piedmont-Fayette has a program for high school students,” he said.

“We need to try to get a little more attention to those and really look at what jobs can be filled by people in Georgia,” Bonner continued.

The AJC characterizes the 2017 Session of the Georgia General Assembly as one of uncertainty.

[L]awmakers face more uncertainty than at any time in recent years when they head into the 2017 session on Jan. 9. The election of the entirely unconventional Donald Trump as president, and a GOP Congress itching to make major changes in how government programs operate and are funded, have seen to that.

Nowhere might the impact show up more quickly than in the state’s budget, which is heavily padded with federal funding and is the financial lifeblood for millions of Georgians who rely on public money for education, health care, transportation and policing.

Will the new Congress quickly pass a stimulus plan that sends a torrent of money to the state for road and bridge projects? Will it change the formula for funding programs by sending “block grants,” chunks of money with fewer strings attached? Will tax laws be changed, making an impact on the state’s bottom line, and will complicated, big-money health care programs such as Medicaid for the poor and elderly be rewritten?

None of that may occur anytime soon. Or all of it could affect the General Assembly enough over the next few months that lawmakers call a temporary halt to the session or hold a special session later in the year to deal with any changes Congress makes.

I think that last paragraph hits something I’ve been talking about a lot lately – will the Session be extended to end later in the year or is a special session a real possibility?

I believe that the 2017 legislative session is likely to adjourn sine die before the end of March, but I can’t for the life of me think of how the state writes a budget consisting of roughly half federal dollars without knowing how the Trump administration will change Medicare, Medicaid, Obamacare, and infrastructure funding.

Back to that AJC story:

“Budget writers are always nervous about uncertainty,” said Carolyn Bourdeaux, the director of Georgia State University’s Center for State and Local Finance and a former Georgia Senate budget director.

As House Appropriations Chairman Terry England, R-Auburn, said, “We really have no clue.

“I personally think we go in and we see whether or not Trump’s 100-day agenda looks like it’s on the rails and is actually going to happen,” he said. “Then we have to consider what to do if it is.”

I think the only way for the legislature to “consider what to do” after the first 100 days of the Trump administration is in a special session devoted to budgetary changes and any substantive changes that accompany a budget update.

Georgia’s Republican National Committeeman Randy Evans, apparently channeling President-elect Trump’s social media voice, thinks it’s the AJC that’s gone off the rails, posting on Facebook:

The clueless AJC – actually the single most dominant dynamic for the next Ga. session is the beginning of the 2018 election cycle as legislators in both parties start positioning for their spot as the musical chairs begin with term limited Gov. Deal’s departure.

The only thing missing is a closing exclamation. Sad!

State Senator Josh McKoon (R-Columbus) told the AJC that religious liberty is likely to be an issue in the session.

“I’m coordinating with the House members and Senate members to see who’s going to introduce legislation and see where everyone is on it,” said state Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus, who has become the most public face of the effort over the past three years. “You’ll see religious freedom bills introduced in both chambers.”

McKoon might find some of his colleagues are less interested in reliving the battles of the past few years. McKoon himself is expected to lose his chairmanship of the Senate Judiciary Committee (a direct result of his outspoken support for religious liberty bills), and Republican leaders in the Senate, who have publicly supported past years’ efforts, have indicated that “religious liberty” is not among their top priorities for 2017.

“The Metro Atlanta Chamber wants to work with the General Assembly and Governor Deal to advocate for policies that will strengthen Georgia’s reputation as the No. 1 state in the nation for business,” said Katie Kirkpatrick, the chamber’s chief policy officer. “That means a great education for the workforce of tomorrow, continuing to support additional transportation options and working to ensure that Georgia remains a welcoming place for all people.”

Late in November, the outgoing chairman of the chamber’s board, SunTrust Banks Executive Vice President Jenner Wood, said the group would fight “religious liberty” bills again. The conversation alone over the legislation, which critics deride as discriminatory toward lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, is damaging to the state’s reputation of tolerance and inclusion, Wood said.

“We are not supportive of any bill that in any way would discriminate against any person,” Wood said in a media briefing ahead of the chamber’s annual meeting in November.

Former Republican State Rep. Roger Hines writes in the Marietta Daily Journal about religious liberty legislation.

The deplorable-elite divide has another context besides the Trump-Clinton presidential race. That context is the religious freedom and transgender issue that still simmers across the heartland. The 80 percent of evangelicals who voted for Trump are sure to be emailing and ringing up their state legislators in a matter of days. They still believe it’s indecorous and dangerous for a man to enter a women’s restroom simply because he “identifies” as a woman.

The elites in the religious freedom and transgender debate are, among others, the Chamber of Commerce, corporate heads, the National Football League, the National Basketball Association, and The National Collegiate Athletic Association. The deplorables are ordinary citizens who believe pastors should not be punished for preaching what they believe Scripture teaches — that pastors, bakers and florists shouldn’t be required to violate their religious convictions by participating in homosexual weddings, and that parents and husbands shouldn’t have to be fearful when their daughters or wives are in a public restroom.

Time is not on the side of those who oppose the legislature’s religious freedom bills. Ordinary people are emboldened. As in America, the populist movement is upending Britain, France, Germany and, most recently, Italy. Moral, fiscal and immigration issues are all involved in the emerging populism. Joe Lunch Box, Eli the electrician, and Paul the plumber are registering to vote across America and Europe. They want common sense and freedom from the intelligentsia so long in power.

Georgia legislators know this. I predict they will stand with McKoon and Teasley and withstand the bullying corporations and sports titans. If so, then bully for them.

Gas prices will rise as part of a restructured sales tax comes online.

In 2015, with bipartisan support, state lawmakers passed HB 170 to change the way Georgia taxes gasoline.

Georgia’s increase, a fraction of a penny, will not have a huge impact on what consumers pay. The revenue, however, will greatly increase the number of roadway improvement projects.

“We’ve already begun to see orange barrels and cones all around the state,” said Seth Millican. “The state DOT has begun to do more work and you’ll continue to see more of that.”

Millican is the head of the Georgia Transportation Alliance, he says that unlike other statewide problems, transportation is an easy fix – it just needs more money.

“You are paying a little bit more at the pump when you buy gas,” Millican said, “but you’re also going to see a lot more work and a lot more progress on roads and bridges that may have gone unrepaired for quite some time.”


Arguably, the biggest issues in the 2017 General Assembly will involve healthcare. Medicaid and Medicare funding and any changes in eligibility are almost certainly shelved until we have a better idea what the federal programs look like under the Trump administration and incoming Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price.

Cancer Treatment Centers of America will seek changes to the state program that requires some new healthcare facilities receive a Certificate of Need before opening.

Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA) Southeastern is airing radio and television commercials in an effort to spur grassroots support for change or repeal of Georgia’s law that allows state officials to decide if there is a need for a proposed medical facility. Without a certificate of need from the Georgia Department of Community Health, no hospital or clinic can open or add on.

“The campaign, known as SpeakNowGeorgia is ongoing,” explained spokesperson Roland Alonzi. “The coalition is dedicated to continuing in 2017 in an effort to educate and raise awareness of the certificate-of-need laws that we are looking to revise.”

CTCA is known, however, for big-budget advertisements, according to BenefitsPro, a website and magazine geared toward benefits and retirement professionals. A recent article indicated that the chain of health care facilities, which includes a network of five hospitals in the U.S., budgets more than $100 million annually for advertising.

Contention stems from Kent’s claim that the board’s request for reclassification is simply to “have the same rules apply,” to CTCA. According to Georgia Hospital Association Senior Vice President of Government Relations, Ethan James, the facility has another objective in mind.

“If given the opportunity, CTCA will cherry-pick patients based on those who have the ‘best’ insurance,” James said, noting that the association has long suspected the for-profit cancer facility of turning away patients with no insurance and low incomes.

“CTCA does not comply with the law to disclose data regarding indigent care,” James said. “There is no data indicating the hospital meets requirements.”

James noted that if CTCA expands and continues to discriminate against uninsured sufferers, all cancer patients will subsequently be affected. Nonprofit cancer treatment centers like those found in nearby hospitals and those located across the state, will ultimately lose money if left with only the uninsured to treat.

“Those hospitals may then be forced to cut back on various lines of services offered,” he said. “It could hinder cancer and other specialty care in local hospitals.”

Jerry Fulks, CEO of WellStar West Georgia Medical Center, writes about the need for the Certificate of Need program to stabilize existing hospitals.

In emergency medicine, the “golden hour” immediately after a traumatic event like a car accident or a heart attack is the time in which the patient’s chance of surviving can be most improved by access to skilled medical care. Today, Georgia’s healthcare system faces a “golden hour” in which legislative action is required to ensure the long-term survival of the local hospitals that protect our families, our communities, and provide high-quality healthcare and well-paying jobs.

Simply put, our statewide hospital network requires immediate stabilization to ensure that no more communities lose access to healthcare.

The first measure to stabilize our hospitals is renewal of the Medicaid provider fee, which helps fill in a financial hole left by the federal system. Some call it a “bed tax,” though no tax is levied on patients or on hospital beds. Without legislative renewal, the provider fee will expire on June 30, 2017, and Georgia will lose hundreds of millions of dollars of our own federal tax dollars.

Georgia’s certificate of need law was put into place nearly 40 years ago to ensure that all citizens would have access to care – no matter where they live, what their income level or how serious their condition. These laws require that any new medical facility or hospital expansion meet a true unfilled need.

Why is this important? Because hospitals, especially not-for-profit facilities, rely upon a delicate balance of services, patient mix and reimbursement levels to maintain their financial viability. Requiring proposed expansions or new facilities to go through the certificate of need process helps to safeguard that critical balance while expanding medical care where it is needed the most.

Proposed changes to the certificate of need law will be among many health care issues our legislators debate this coming year, but few will be more important given the potential impact on local communities throughout our state. In some cases, those decisions could mean the difference between a hospital staying open or closing; in others, difficult choices about what services to provide or eliminate. No one should ever lose a loved one or suffer more than necessary because they did not have timely access to quality care.

[Disclaimer: I am currently working with the Georgia Alliance of Community Hospitals as a communications consultant. The author of the above piece in the LaGrange News is Chairman of the Board for the Alliance.]