Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for December 15, 2014

On December 15, 1791, Virginia ratified the Bill of Rights, giving the first ten Amendments a three-quarter majority required to become law.

President George Washington died at Mount Vernon on December 14, 1799. Here’s an article about the nation’s mourning for our first President.

The Congress, in session at the capital of Philadelphia when Washington’s death was announced, immediately adjourned. The House of Representatives assembled the next day and resolved to shroud the Speaker’s chair in black and have members wear black during the remainder of the session. On December 23, John Marshall speaking for the joint committee of both houses, presented five points that became the foundation for the United States’ first “state” funeral. Resolutions structured mourning events around public commemorations that fostered unity and a sense of national identity among grieving Americans.

On December 15, 1859, Georgia Governor Joseph Brown signed legislation outlawing public execution of criminals. The previous day he signed legislation prohibiting slave owners from freeing their slaves on the owner’s death.

President William McKinley addressed the Georgia General Assembly on December 14, 1898.

McKinley_at_Atlanta2 McKinley Atlanta SM

On December 14, 1939, a parade was held through downtown Atlanta with stars from Gone With the Wind and the Junior League held a ball that night. The next day, December 15, 1939, Gone With the Wind held its world premiere at Loew’s Grand Theater in Atlanta.

President Jimmy Carter announced on December 15, 1978 that U.S. diplomatic recognition of the People’s Republic of China would begin on January 1, 1979.

The United States House of Representatives Judiciary Committee released a report on Dcember 15, 1998 that recommended impeachment against President Bill Clinton and introduced H.Res. 611.

Georgia Politics

The Macon-Bibb County Commission is like a spurned suitor, unable to understand that no means no, voting to ask the legislative delegation to reduce required budget cuts from 20 percent to 10.

The resolution asks the Macon-Bibb legislative delegation to reduce the budget cut mandated in the consolidation charter from 20 percent to 10 percent. It passed with no opposition. Commissioner Virgil Watkins was absent.

But Tuesday morning commissioners received a letter from state Rep. Bubber Epps, a Dry Branch Republican who is chairman of the Macon-Bibb delegation, saying the delegation won’t act on the request because commissioners can get around the budget cut themselves with a 6-3 vote.

Epps quoted the city-county charter, which says commissioners can exceed the budget limit by up to 25 percent if there are public safety needs or “extreme economic circumstances.”

(more…)

GA senator wants immunity for human trafficking victims | savannahnow.com

ATLANTA — A prominent Republican lawmaker wants child victims of human trafficking to be immune from prosecution in Georgia, building on the state’s 2011 crackdown on prostitution and other sexual crimes.

State Sen. Renee Unterman of Buford pre-filed the legislation on Thursday before joining about 50 supporters for a candlelight vigil for victims of sex trafficking at an Atlanta church. Unterman said she’s working with prosecutors and other groups to line up support for the bill.

Supporters said they expect claims from some opponents that the bill legalizes child prostitution — an argument that has killed similar legislation in recent years.

Jennifer Swain, executive director of youthSpark, said prosecuting a victim serves no purpose. The organization works with at-risk girls and teenagers in Fulton County and intervenes to prevent them from becoming victims of child prostitution, she said.

“This is just adding another layer of protection so that those victims who have been prostituted are not treated as criminals on any part of their journey,” Swain said.

The bill is paired with a constitutional amendment to create a fund helping children who are victims of trafficking pay for health care, housing and other services. A governor-appointed commission would manage that effort, funded by higher fines against people convicted of sex trafficking and related crimes.

Chuck Spahos, executive director of the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia, said the organization has been in touch with Unterman as she prepared the bill. Spahos said they have no objection to the main objective but want to make sure the bill isn’t too broad.

via GA senator wants immunity for human trafficking victims | savannahnow.com.

Adoptable Georgia Dogs for December 15, 2014

2014-12-011

Number 2014-12-011 is a friendly male Lab mix who is in urgent need of a new home and available for adoption at Barrow County Animal Shelter in Winder, Ga.

Opal

“Opal” is a 3-year old Pit mix who weighs 42.6 pounds and loves kids and people equally. Opal is available for adoption from Barrow County Animal Shelter in Winder, Ga.

2014-12-055

Number 2014-12-055 is a 3-5 year old male Lab mix who is friendly and available for adoption from Barrow County Animal Shelter in Winder, Ga.

2014_12-043

This sweet and friendly girl is a 9-year old Lab mix who weighs 51.6 pounds and was surrendered by her owner. She is available for adoption from Barrow County Animal Shelter in Winder, Ga.

BayLee

BayLee is a young and petite 1-year old, 26-pound Beagle mix female who is friendly and available for adoption from Barrow County Animal Shelter in Winder, Ga.

Immunity proposed for child sex trafficking victims in Georgia | www.myajc.com

Child sex trafficking victims in Georgia would be immune from prosecution and receive increased medical treatment and counseling under “safe harbor” legislation filed Thursday by Senate Health and Human Services Committee Chairwoman Renee Unterman, R-Buford.

Senate Bill 8 aims to build upon the work of lawmakers in 2011, upped the prison sentences for criminals who deal in underage prostitution and trafficking from one year to between 10 and 20 years, with fines up to $100,000. If the person trafficked is younger than 18 and coerced, the sentence jumps to 25 to 50 years.

Unterman, however, said minors too often get swept up in the criminal charges without proper consideration for their ordeal. She has also proposed Senate Resolution 7, a constitutional amendment to create a dedicated state account for child victims’ medical services. It would be funded through increased fines of convicted pimps and traffickers.

Unterman has worked on the legislation with the assistance of several advocacy groups including Street Grace, Wellspring Living and youthSpark. A candlelight vigil acknowledging the legislation’s filing is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday at North Avenue Presbyterian Church in Atlanta.

via Immunity proposed for child sex trafficking victims in Georgia | www.myajc.com.

Gridlock Guy: Here’s what the $10 HOT rate means | www.ajc.com

The infamous Interstate 85 HOT Express lanes have been both groundbreaking and controversial in their three-year existence. They hit a new milestone last week, as the full southbound trip on I-85 took $10 from Old Peachtree Road to Shallowford Road for the first time.

SRTA has found the need to increase prices in the HOT lanes to at least $10 at the worst times of morning drive on I-85/southbound, meaning that demand for those lanes is likely more than ever. That is yet another indicator that traffic these days is as bad or worse than it ever has been in Atlanta. So keeping those HOT lanes moving at a reasonable speed is harder and harder.

We fly over those lanes every weekday and examine them on traffic cameras – they often are not much faster than the free lanes. But enough people are buying (literally) into the idea that they are and paying dollars to shave precious minutes off of their commutes.

Georgia’s transportation funding conundrum is another big reason the HOT rates continue to increase. SRTA and the GDOT added those lanes on I-85 to, yes, try and alleviate traffic, by making the HOV lane accessible to anyone willing to pay. But the bigger reason is because they need the money for Georgia’s roads.

Transportation funding is a huge question for Georgia’s future and GDOT and Georgia lawmakers need answers quickly. They have made no secret that managed toll lanes on major highways are a big step into to trying to make up for the budget money lost to declining revenue from the gas tax (more fuel efficient cars) and the ever-eroding transportation budget.

via Gridlock Guy: Here’s what the $10 HOT rate means | www.ajc.com.

Ex-judge convicted of planting drugs on woman | www.ajc.com

A former North Georgia judge was convicted Thursday of conspiring to plant methamphetamine on a woman shortly after she publicly accused him of propositioning her in his chambers.

Bryant Cochran, once the chief judge of Murray County’s Magistrate Court, also was found guilty of witness tampering, conspiring to distribute a controlled substance and a federal civil rights charge that accused him of sexually assaulting a court employee. Cochran, who faces almost certain prison time, is to be sentenced Feb. 20 by U.S. District Judge Harold Murphy in Rome.

via Ex-judge convicted of planting drugs on woman | www.ajc.com.

Georgia police agencies top $70 million in surplus military gear | www.myajc.com

For the first time, the federal government has released data allowing Americans to see what kind of military hardware is in the hands of their local police departments and government agencies.

In Georgia, the surplus military gear ranges from the harmless — an ice cream machine for the Department of Revenue — to deadly weapons from the field of war.

Here in metro Atlanta, the list of weapons and hardware includes:

  • Two Humvees for the Fulton County Schools Police Department;
  • Thirty M14 and M16 machine guns for the Clayton County Police Department;
  • A grenade launcher for the Douglasville Police Department.

The full list includes dozens of up-armored vehicles, including mine-resistant military personnel carriers that look more like tanks than police vehicles. It also includes grenade launchers, dozens of bayonets, riot gear and more than 2,800 automatic rifles. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has provided readers a searchable database of the gear at myAJC.com.

via Georgia police agencies top $70 million in surplus military gear | www.myajc.com.

Fulton budget assumes another tax hike | www.myajc.com

Thousands of Fulton County residents could see their property tax bills increase next year under a proposed budget that the Board of Commissioners will consider Wednesday.

Georgia’s largest county would keep its countywide tax rate at 11.781 mills under the proposed 2015 budget. But with property values expected to rise 2 percent, homeowners from Milton to Chattahoochee Hills may see bigger tax bills. This year, residents saw a 17 percent property tax hike.

Library hours, cut this year to save money, would be restored under the proposed budget, and the county will increase spending on other programs and give employees a 4 percent raise.

The board is expected to make a slew of changes before final approval of a budget in January. Fulton officials say this year’s tax increase has improved the county’s financial position. But they say keeping the tax rate the same — instead of rolling it back to offset rising property values — is necessary to support popular services.

“We made the right decision, in terms of the millage rate increase,” said County Commission Chairman John Eaves. “The monies are coming in now and we’re better positioned to provide the services our citizens want.”

Thousands of Fulton County residents could see their property tax bills increase next year under a proposed budget that the Board of Commissioners will consider Wednesday.

Georgia’s largest county would keep its countywide tax rate at 11.781 mills under the proposed 2015 budget. But with property values expected to rise 2 percent, homeowners from Milton to Chattahoochee Hills may see bigger tax bills. This year, residents saw a 17 percent property tax hike.

Library hours, cut this year to save money, would be restored under the proposed budget, and the county will increase spending on other programs and give employees a 4 percent raise.

The board is expected to make a slew of changes before final approval of a budget in January. Fulton officials say this year’s tax increase has improved the county’s financial position. But they say keeping the tax rate the same — instead of rolling it back to offset rising property valuesis necessary to support popular services.

“We made the right decision, in terms of the millage rate increase,” said County Commission Chairman John Eaves. “The monies are coming in now and we’re better positioned to provide the services our citizens want.”

Critics say Fulton should focus more on cutting costs than raising and spending money. Former state Rep. Ed Lindsey, one of several lawmakers who have sued to overturn this year’s tax hike, said more than 90 percent of county residents live in cities, but county government continues to grow.

“It has been said many times that that the closest thing on Earth to eternal life is government,” Lindsey said. “We must change course.”

via Fulton budget assumes another tax hike | www.myajc.com.

Democrats try to get on the same page at the Georgia Legislature | www.myajc.com

Raising the minimum wage. Preventing racial profiling. Strengthening the state’s ethics agency. Even legalizing the recreational use of marijuana.

Georgia Democrats’ stinging defeat at the ballot box last month appears to have only galvanized rank-and-file members ahead of the Jan. 12 legislative session. But while the flurry of proposals may energize their base, it has yet to bridge a strategic divide among Democratic leaders in the House and Senate that could ruin their chance at playing spoiler.

That matters because Democrats more than ever this year have a chance to influence policy on some of the state’s most pressing issues. Expected votes on raising money to repair and replace Georgia’s aging transportation network, for example, could cause some conservative lawmakers to balk because of expected tax or fee increases, giving the minority party leverage to ensure passage.

“We do believe as an opposition party that we have a role to play to hold the majority party accountable,” said Senate Minority Whip Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta.

Georgia Senate Democrats will pursue an agenda this year that would, among other issues:

• Raise the state’s minimum wage to $10.10 an hour.

• Allow same-day voter registration.

• Independently appoint state ethics commission members.

• Strengthen Georgia’s whistleblower statute.

• Restrict “no knock” police warrants.

• Require all police departments to use body cameras and “dash cams.”

via Democrats try to get on the same page at the Georgia Legislature | www.myajc.com.

School-shooting report plays in legislative arguments | www.myajc.com

A report on school shootings in Georgia has become ammunition in the battle over gun legislation. Some state lawmakers and advocates for gun restrictions are using it to call for tougher laws to keep firearms from children and the mentally ill.

The report, by Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun-restriction group whose reporting methodology has drawn some critics, found there have been 12 school shootings in Georgia since a mentally ill 20-year-old man fatally wounded 20 children and six adults in Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. on Dec. 14, 2012. Florida and Tennessee were tied for second on its list, with eight school shootings each.

A report on school shootings in Georgia has become ammunition in the battle over gun legislation. Some state lawmakers and advocates for gun restrictions are using it to call for tougher laws to keep firearms from children and the mentally ill.

The report, by Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun-restriction group whose reporting methodology has drawn some critics, found there have been 12 school shootings in Georgia since a mentally ill 20-year-old man fatally wounded 20 children and six adults in Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. on Dec. 14, 2012. Florida and Tennessee were tied for second on its list, with eight school shootings each.

“It was a startling reality of what’s going on” in Georgia, said Wendy Wittmayer, a Cherokee County parent who got involved with Moms Demand Action after Sandy Hook.

Georgia state Sen. Nan Orrock, D-Atlanta, said fellow Democrats will submit legislation requiring background checks for anyone who tries to purchase a firearm at a gun show. Orrock, who said there will be a “full-throated effort” by Democrats in January to toughen gun laws, added there’s discussion of requiring parents to purchase lock boxes for their handguns. Wittmayer said her group and supporters will push for similar state and federal legislation.

Georgia passed legislation earlier this year, however, that eased some gun restrictions. Republicans control both chambers of the state Legislature and the governor’s mansion and have not shown interest in passing any tougher gun legislation.

via School-shooting report plays in legislative arguments | www.myajc.com.