On January 17, 1733, Georgia’s Trustees in London voted to ban Jews from the colony.
On January 18, 1776, James Wright, Royal Governor of Georgia, was arrested by John Habersham, a member of the Provincial Congress.
Robert E. Lee was born on January 19, 1807 at his family home, Stratford Hall, Virginia.
Delegates to the Secession Convention in Milledgeville voted 208-89 in favor of seceding from the United States on January 19, 1861.
L.Q.C. Lamar, born near Eatonton, Georgia, was sworn in as an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court on January 18, 1888.
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.
ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp said raising teacher pay is one of his top goals as he gave his second annual State of the State address Thursday, a stance that could put him on a collision course with legislative leaders who want to cut income taxes.
The Republican governor announced that his budget proposal includes a $2,000 pay raise for public school teachers, at a projected cost of more than $380 million. It’s the second part of a campaign promise for a $5,000 teacher pay raise, after Kemp was able to secure a $3,000 raise for educators last year. He also wants a $1,000 pay raise for other state employees making less than $40,000 a year, at a cost of $45 million.
In his budget proposal, also released Thursday, Kemp projects strong growth in the income tax in the year beginning July 1. A spokesman didn’t immediately answer whether that means Kemp isn’t planning for the tax cut to happen.
Kemp called not only for a teacher pay raise, but for lawmakers to continue fully funding Georgia’s public school funding formula, which suffered a long period of reduced funding coming out of the recession, leading to teacher layoffs and furloughs.
Kemp also announced a plan to triple the adoption tax credit from $2,000 to $6,000, lower the minimum age for a person to adopt a child from 25 to 21 and launch a commission focused on the operation of the state’s foster care system.
Kemp honored former Gov. Nathan Deal and former U.S. Sen Johnny Isakson in his speech, suggesting a call for Republican unity as Democratic competition rises in the state. He also mentioned his appointment of GOP Sen. Kelly Loeffler to replace Isakson, saying she will do an “incredible job” representing the state and its best interests.
The governor also announced that the University of Georgia will create a faculty position to research treatments for Parkinson’s disease. Isakson has the disease, which helped prompt his retirement.
Governor Kemp, during his speech highlighted, the unemployment rate that is just 3.3 percent, the lowest in Georgia history. He says in the past 12 months the state has added 64,000 private sector jobs and of the 371 economic development projects announced in 2019, 79 percent were outside of Atlanta. Governor Kemp says he feels the State of the State is strong and it’s only just beginning.
SURPRISE MEDICAL BILLS
Decrying a “rigged” system, Kemp backed legislation that would bring more transparency in healthcare billing and combat “surprise” bills that have fast become a target of lawmakers. A Senate plan unveiled this week designed to curb patients’ risk of facing unexpected charges could be the framework.
“Families are living on a prayer because the system is rigged against them,” said Kemp. “This year, we will implement long overdue reforms that put our families first.”
The governor invoked the story of Deborah Rider, whose 10-year-old son Nicholas was killed a decade ago in a drive-by shooting, as he outlined legislation to “empower” law enforcement and prosecutors to better combat gang violence.
He offered scant details on the proposal, though he’s recently said he would boost funding for an anti-gang task force he launched last year and a promised database to track gang members.
The $2,000 raise [for teachers] in the upcoming fiscal year — which begins July 1 — would cost the state about $350 million. If approved by the General Assembly, how much teachers receive will depend on whether school districts pass along the raise. Most did last year.
The governor’s $28 billion budget plan for fiscal 2021 does not account for the huge hit state finances would take if lawmakers vote to cut the top state income tax rate from 5.75% to 5.5%. Lawmakers reduced the rate in 2018 and set up a possible vote on another cut this year.
Reducing the rate again would cost the state — and save taxpayers — about $550 million. If lawmakers vote to cut the rate again, they will have to cut the budget or find another way to raise money.
Kemp’s spending plan includes nearly $2 million for seven new positions in the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s Gang Task Force and resources to set up the statewide gang database.
The Republican’s State of the State address Thursday was not targeted at his conservative base. It seemed tailor-made, instead, to appeal to another audience: suburban voters, particularly women, whose recent exodus threatens GOP control of Georgia’s Statehouse in 2020.
Kemp’s narrow election victory two years ago, squeezed tight by Democratic gains in the General Assembly from across metro Atlanta’s suburbs, seemed firmly on his mind as he unveiled his legislative agenda to a crowd of hundreds of lawmakers and state officials packed into the House chamber.
Absent from his address was mention of measures that would promote “religious liberty,” curb illegal immigration or expand gun rights — campaign promises sure to fire up his conservative base but risk alienating moderate voters.
Gov. Brian Kemp unveiled a $28.1 billion budget proposal Thursday that would set a new record for state spending in fiscal 2021 despite the air of fiscal uncertainty surrounding this year’s General Assembly session.
While the spending plan would surpass the then-record $27.5 billion fiscal 2020 budget lawmakers passed last spring, the increase would be far less than the $1.3 billion spending hike the legislature adopted a year ago.
Just keeping up with enrollment growth in Georgia’s public schools is a big budget driver. Kemp is asking for $257.2 million to cover enrollment growth in the schools.
A commission the General Assembly created last year to oversee Georgia’s new medical cannabis program would receive $354,577. Supporters of expanding the availability of cannabis oil in Georgia to treat a number of diseases have been complaining about the program’s slow start due to a lack of funding.
Another $316,461 would go toward increasing election security as the state switches over to new voting machines that feature both electronic touch screens and paper ballot backups.
Health care initiatives on the horizon
During the State of the State address, Kemp defended his highly criticized health-care waiver proposals. He said the waivers “shake up the status quo and put patients first, not special interests.”
In additional health-care legislation, Kemp pushed lawmakers to address “surprised billing” which Senate leaders noted early on it’s on their list and already filed legislation.
“Surprise” or balance billing is when patients receive bills following medical treatment for doctors and staff that are independent contractors of a hospital, but not covered by the patient’s insurance.
“We will demand transparency, embrace empathy and insist on fairness,” Kemp said.
The Savannah Convention Center could receive $70 million dollars in bond financing under Governor Kemp’s budget, according to the Savannah Morning News.
Governor Brian Kemp is recommending $70 million in bond funding to keep the planned expansion of the Savannah Convention Center on Hutchinson Island on track in his Amended Fiscal Year 2020 and Fiscal Year 2021 Governor’s Budget Report, which was released Thursday, Jan. 16.
During the 2019 State Legislative Session the Center’s governing board, then known as the Georgia International Maritime Trade Center Authority, requested $234 million for the expansion, which would be among numerous statewide projects funded through revenue public bonds underwritten by the state, which typically issues more than $1 billion in bonds each year.
The House and Senate agreed Thursday to legislation aimed at forcing “marketplace facilitators” whose websites or apps are used to sell goods or services, provided by someone else, to collect and remit sales taxes. It would go into effect April 1.
Different versions of the bill passed the chambers last session, but the two sides couldn’t strike a deal.
“This money is owed. There hasn’t been an efficient way to collect it,” said Senate Finance Chairman Chuck Hufstetler R-Rome.
House Ways and Means Chairman Brett Harrell, R-Snellville, the measure’s sponsor, and Hufstetler said the bill, if signed into law by Gov. Brian Kemp as expected, would put internet- and app-based companies on par with Georgia stores that have always charged sales taxes for their goods.
Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, asked legislators to vote in favor of House Bill 276 to speed up the bill adoption process, so the law could go into effect April 1 and taxes could be collected.Both Hufstetler and Brett Harrell, R-Snellville, the House lead on the bill, were quick to tell colleagues the measure does not impose new taxes “on anybody” but only collects taxes already owed.
“Georgia has a tax on transportation services,” Harrell told reporters after the vote. “Our traditional transportation services, taxis and limos, have been paying a sales tax for years and years and years in the state of Georgia.”
“If you are a private owner of a property that you make available on the VRBO, this does two things that should be an advantage to us as private property owner,” he said. “Number one, it puts the responsibility on the platform, that entity, to collect and remit. Number two, it relieves you of the responsibility and the liability for collecting it.”
Both chambers in the Georgia General Assembly passed the bill Thursday afternoon. It now heads to Gov. Brian Kemp’s desk. If signed, tax collections would begin on April 1.
Along with retail giants Amazon, Google, and Walmart, the tax would apply to sales made on mobile apps run by Uber. Earlier versions of Thursday’s compromise bill stalled last year in the legislature when Uber sought an exemption to the tax.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome, said the compromise bill nixes exemptions across the board. It would set up a structure to recoup taxes that Hufstetler said the Georgia Department of Revenue are already owed under state law, but are not being collected.
“There’s no special breaks for anybody in it,” he said.
Some lawmakers like Sen. Renee Unterman voted against the bill on grounds that it seemed too close to a tax increase to stomach. Unterman, R-Buford, said she would have backed the compromise bill if she felt more certain that lawmakers would also pass an income tax decrease later this session.
“I’m just concerned about it being a tax increase,” Unterman said of the bill after Thursday’s floor vote.
House Defense and Veterans Affairs Chairman Heath Clark, R-Warner Robins, said Thursday he introduced the resolution as a way to laud the death of Qassem Soleimani, the leader of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ elite Quds Force.
“It was a way to show our support for the men and women of the intelligence community, the men and women of our armed forces that carried out the mission and the commander-in-chief of the military for giving the order for the mission to be executed,” Clark said.
House Resolution 882 says the members of the chamber “urge the American people to support” Trump and the military for the successful killing of Soleimani.
Only one Republican — Tiger Republican state Rep. Matt Gurtler — crossed party lines to vote against the resolution, which passed 93-68. Gurtler, who votes “no” more than any other legislator, is known for voting against nearly every proposal that passes through the chamber.
Wes Wolfe of The Brunswick News receives the GaPundit award for best opening line of a story about state legislation.
If House Resolution 882 were to pass through the state House of Representatives any faster than it did this week, it’d have to be attached to a greased pig.
But with extensive talk about the time needed to address budget cutbacks this session and the limited time to do so, the House took more than 30 minutes after the governor’s State of the State address to talk about the killing of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani.
State Rep. Heath Clark. R-Warner Robins and chairman of the House Defense & Veterans Affairs Committee, spoke on the resolution to the House.
“This resolution we have today is simple, and it’s to urge the support of and commend the intelligence agencies that gathered the information, the brave men and women of the United States armed forces, and the commander-in-chief, President Trump, for this successful mission,” Clark said. “A mission that resulted in the loss of zero innocent civilian life because of the precision and the excellence of our men and women in the armed forces and the intelligence community that gathered the information to carry out this successful mission.”
H.R. 882 passed the House with just a few votes more than the majority needed, 93-68. Along with Sainz, St. Simons Island Republican state Reps. Jeff Jones and Don Hogan voted yes.
New State House Rules Chairman Richard Smith (R-Columbus) discussed how his committee will run this year, according to The Brunswick News.
State Rep. Richard Smith, R-Columbus, took over chairmanship of the committee from former state Rep. Jay Powell, R-Camilla, who died in November.
“Somebody asked me the other day why we weren’t meeting at 8 o’clock, and I said, ‘That’s too early for me to have a meeting,’” Smith said at the outset of the meeting. “I used to be harassed a lot about my 8 o’clock meetings.”
Among the guidelines he set down were that if the meetings were scheduled at a certain time, they would begin at that time so as not to waste others’ time.
“Also, this is not a place for debate,” Smith said. “This is a place to evaluate a piece of legislation to see if it’s good enough to make it to the House floor for a vote. In regard to that, it’s the place to ask legitimate questions about a bill, or a piece of legislation, not to debate it.”
He said legislators introducing bills would get about a minute and a half to explain themselves, and there would only be four questions allowed per bill.
“Four questions,” Smith said. “Not, ‘If I ask one, can I get a second?’ It’s going to be a total of four questions. So, when the time comes for you to ask your questions, push a button (to activate your microphone) and we’ll proceed from there.”
Georgia continues delivery of new voting systems to local governments, according to the AJC.
It’s the largest rollout of elections equipment in U.S. history, with more than 75,000 computers and printers destined for 2,600 voting precincts across Georgia.
State election officials say they’re ahead of schedule. About 88% of voting touchscreens have been received and passed acceptance testing at the state’s warehouse.
About 37% of counties had received their voting equipment as of Tuesday, a number that’s expected to rise to 70% by Jan. 23, according to the secretary of state’s office.
All voting equipment is scheduled for delivery to counties by mid-February, in time for early voting to begin March 2.
The Lowndes County Board of Elections met and discussed rollout of new voting machines and budget changes, according to the Valdosta Daily Times.
The Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles commuted the death sentence of Jimmy Fletcher Meders, according to AccessWDUN.
Jimmy Fletcher Meders, 58, had been scheduled to receive a lethal injection at 7 p.m. Thursday at the state prison in Jackson. But the State Board of Pardons and Paroles released its decision granting him clemency around 1 p.m.
The board held a closed-door clemency hearing for Meders on Wednesday.
Meders is only the sixth Georgia death row inmate to have a sentence commuted by the parole board since 2002. The last to have a sentence commuted was Tommy Lee Waldrip, who was spared execution on July 9, 2014.
Meders was sentenced to death in 1989, four years before a change in the law that allowed a sentence of life without the possibility of parole for capital cases. In the clemency application submitted to the parole board, his lawyers argued that it was clear that the jury wanted that option.
The application cited a note the jurors sent to the judge after 20 minutes of deliberations: “If the Jury recommends that the accused be sentence to life imprisonment, can the Jury recommend that the sentence be carried out without Parole??”
Meders’ lawyers also gathered sworn statements from the six jurors who are still alive and able to remember the deliberations. They all said they would have chosen life without parole if it had been an option and supported clemency for Meders.
University of Georgia Terry College of Business Dean Ben Ayers discussed the state of the economy, according to The Brunswick News.
The economic outlook for 2020 is a “good news forecast,” according to the state forecast by Ben Ayers, dean of the University of Georgia Terry College of Business. Ayers was the keynote speaker Thursday at the Georgia Economic Outlook luncheon at the Jekyll Island Convention Center.
The good news is Georgia’s economy is expected to expand this year, though not as much as 2019. Geopolitical risks could slow down the state’s growth, however.
“We have a greater exposure to the trade war than the average state, especially in rural Georgia,” Ayers said. “At this point, we’re not expecting a recession.”
More new companies will move to Georgia, adding a 1 percent increase in the job market, but rural areas could struggle with a “minor recession,” Ayers said.
The region’s 2.7 percent unemployment rate is “truly extraordinary,” he said.
“We’re not the only local economy doing well, which makes it difficult to attract workers,” he said. “Each county is growing.”
Savannah City Council approved a legislative agenda, according to the Savannah Morning News.
the council voted unanimously to adopt the 2020 City of Savannah Legislative Agenda. This document of legislative priorities was given some last-minute amendments after concerns were raised on some proposals during the pre-meeting workshop, including one about requesting sovereign immunity to limit the city’s liability when trees on public property cause damages.
The City Council is expected to further discuss the 2020 legislative agenda at their next regular meeting.
Ogeechee Technical College professor Michele Fiorelli-Rupar will run for Bulloch County Coroner as a Democrat, according to the Statesboro Herald.
Hall County Tax Commissioner Darla Eden announced she will run for reelection, according to the Gainesville Times.
An injured Right Whale calf off the coast of Georgia and Florida received antibiotics in an attempt to help it survive injuries, according to the Savannah Morning News.
Wildlife officials on Wednesday administered antibiotics to a newborn right whale calf seriously injured by the propeller of a vessel.
Two teams in Zodiac boats relocated Derecha and her injured calf off Fernandina Beach Wednesday Jan. 15. Once the aerial team confirmed it was the correct pair and re-assessed the baby, an on-site veterinarian determined antibiotics would benefit the calf.
The boat-based team administered the drugs with the hopes of preventing infection.
The calf received nearly 50 ml of the long-acting antibiotic Excede delivered by dart launched from about 7 meters away, said Barb Zoodsma, who oversees the right whale recovery program in the U.S. Southeast for NOAA Fisheries.
Both mother and calf remained calm throughout the procedure, Zoodsma said.
The mother, Derecha, is around 27 years old, having been first spotted in December 1993. She’s calved three other times, with the last time being 2010. The 10-year gap in calving is one of many factors putting North Atlantic right whales on a path toward extinction. With around 400 whales or less in existence — and only around 100 or so of those are calving-age females — each calving cycle counts.
Right whales only give birth to one calf per cycle, and these cycles used to occur every three or four years. Calving females have to build up a significant amount of blubber on which to sustain themselves and their calf before traveling south to calve, returning north. However, warming oceans is causing their main food source, zooplankton, to move north, which causes issues with finding food and with making the trip south and back a longer one.
As a result, in the last several years, these calving cycles lengthened, as seen with Derecha.
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.
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.
COMMITTEE MEETING SCHEDULE
8:00 AM HB 276 – CONFERENCE COMMITTEE MEETING 133 CAP
9:00 AM HOUSE RULES 341 CAP
1:00 PM SENATE GOVERNMENT OVERSIGHT- Canceled 125 CAP
1:00 PM SENATE HIGHER EDUCATION 450 CAP
2:00 PM SENATE FINANCE- Canceled MEZZ 1 3:00 PM SENATE REGULATED INDUSTRIES & UTILITIES- Canceled 450 CAP 3:00 PM SENATE SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY- Canceled MEZZ 1 4:00 PM SENATE TRANSPORTATION- Canceled 310 CLOB
4:00 PM SENATE JUDICIARY 307 CLOB
Governor Brian Kemp will deliver the State of the State address today, according to the Albany Herald.
“Tomorrow, I will outline my blueprint for a stronger, safer and more prosperous Georgia to the people of our state,” Kemp posted on his Twitter account. “But for today, let’s focus on a historic 2019.”
Georgia House Speaker David Ralston warned the 2020 session is likely to be a long one, as lawmakers grapple with decisions on the spending cuts Kemp will recommend to adjust for a sluggish revenue outlook.
“Georgia is a big, growing, dynamic state,” said Ralston, R-Blue Ridge. “Budget decisions that impact the people of this state are too important to be influenced by a legislative calendar. We’ll take the time necessary to get the work done.”
A foster care system overhaul is expected to be part of today’s address, according to the AJC.
Gov. Brian Kemp will unveil an overhaul of Georgia’s adoption and foster care system on Thursday that will triple a tax incentive for some adoptive parents and reduce the minimum age for unmarried people to adopt children.
The Republican is set to unveil the legislation at his State of the State address, where he will cast the proposal as part of “incredible progress” in recent years to make it easier for families to adopt children.
“Our goal is simple: to keep our kids safe, to encourage adoption and to ensure that every young Georgian — no matter where they live — has the opportunity to live in a safe, happy, loving home,” Kemp said in prepared remarks.
The legislation would increase the tax credit for adoptions out of the state foster care system from $2,000 to $6,000 for the first five years. The incentive would then drop back down to $2,000 a year until the child turns 18.
Governor Kemp appointed new members of the State Board of Education, according to AccessWDUN.
WDUN radio host Martha Zoller was one of three people appointed Tuesday to the Georgia state Board of Education by Gov. Brian Kemp.
Kemp also appointed Phenna Rene Petty to represent the 14th Congressional District in northwest Georgia, and Sally Lynn Nabors to represent that 13th Congressional District in the southern and western suburbs of Atlanta.
He reappointed Lisa Kinnemore of the 4th Congressional District in the eastern suburbs of Atlanta and Jason Downey of the 8th Congressional District in central and south Georgia.
Gov. Kemp also nominated Jannine Miller as the new Planning Director for the Georgia Department of Transportation, according to the AJC.
Jannine Miller is senior advisor to U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and former advisor to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. If approved by the state Senate and House transportation committees, she’ll become Kemp’s point person at GDOT, which is otherwise independent. She’ll replace Jay Roberts, who left the post last September to join a lobbying firm.
As GDOT’s planning director, Miller will have a big say in which highway projects become priorities for funding.
“This role is vitally important to our state’s economic success, and there is no better candidate for this job than Jannine Miller,” Kemp in a statement announcing her nomination. “Jannine’s experience in transportation policy, budgetary analysis and planning, and big-picture infrastructure development is truly unparalleled, and I look forward to working with her in the years ahead.”
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger wants to change the date of qualifying for the United States Senate seat currently held by Senator Kelly Loeffler (R), according to the Gainesville Times.
Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger wants to hold candidate qualifying for Loeffler’s Senate seat during the first week of March, spokesman Walter Jones said Wednesday. That’s the same window that candidates in other 2020 Georgia races must officially declare to get on the ballot.
But before Raffensperger sets that deadline, he’s asking the legislature to amend a state law dealing with special elections to specify that his office has discretion to decide the qualifying dates. He said he’s trying to avoid potential lawsuits at a time when Georgia courts are already busy with litigation challenging the fairness and security of the state’s elections.
“This is about providing Georgia voters certainty and order by putting into law what has been the practice for over 30 years,” Raffensperger, a Republican, said in a statement. “The last thing voters need now is another frivolous politically motivated lawsuit based on muddled legal reasoning.”
Georgia law says candidates in special elections to fill vacancies in the U.S. Senate and U.S. House can’t qualify to run before the election is officially called and must sign up no later than 60 days before the election. That window doesn’t close until early September.
The legislation, House Bill 757, would give the secretary of state authority to set the candidate qualifying period for the November election. Raffensperger’s spokesman said he wants to hold candidate qualifying during the first week in March, the same time that candidates in other races will file their intention to run.
If that [existing] law were interpreted to mean candidate qualifying must remain open until September, candidates could have potentially sought to run in two Senate races this year. A candidate who lost a primary election in May for the seat held by Republican U.S. Sen. David Perdue could have then jumped into the race against Loeffler.
Lieutenant Governor Geoff Duncan (R-Pitcher’s Mound) will appoint an advisory committee to develop proposals to foster the tech industry in Georgia, according to the AJC.
Duncan appointed a panel that includes retired U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, former Georgia Tech president G.P. “Bud” Peterson and 10 others to advise him on developing policy or legislation that could accelerate the growth.
Georgia Tech has been a major driver of tech-business development in Georgia. Companies moving to Georgia — mostly to Atlanta — often cite the research and deep pool of talent the university provides.
The Georgia Innovates Task Force will hold a first meeting this month.
“I want Georgia to be a national leader in technology research, development and implementation and allow for growth and evolution across all parts of Georgia,” Duncan said in a press release. Atlanta has become a center for tech companies that facilitate financial payment.
Georgia Senate leaders have targeted surprise billing early in the 2020 legislative session, which started on Monday. At a news conference Monday, Hufstetler said he has backing for legislation to curb the practice from both Gov. Brian Kemp and influential House members like House Rules Committee Chairman Richard Smith, R-Columbus.
“We’re going to finally this session get the consumer out of the middle of this issue and leave it between the health-care provider and the insurer to take care of,” Hufstetler said.
Hufstetler’s latest bill calls for patients receiving medical services at an in-network facility to be charged the same amount regardless of whether the work was performed by an in-network or out-of-network provider. That arrangement would apply for all health plans contracted as of July 1, 2021.
The bill leaves it to medical providers and insurance companies to work out the cost difference. Any disputes between the two parties would be resolved through arbitration overseen by the Georgia Insurance Commissioner’s office.
Changes to Georgia’s dual enrollment program could be in the offing that would nix free college-level classes for freshman high schoolers.
Costs for the program allowing high-school students to take post-secondary classes have swelled from around $23 million in 2015 to around $140 million projected for the 2021 fiscal year. A revised bill presented to a state Senate committee Wednesday would cap enrollment enough to keep the program within its roughly $100 million budget for this year, Georgia Student Finance Commission President Caylee Noggle said.
Sponsored by state Rep. Bert Reeves, R-Marietta, the bill aims to keep growing enrollment in the program from overwhelming its budget. It has the backing of Gov. Brian Kemp. On Wednesday, Reeves said the program’s taxpayer-funded offerings have evolved beyond their original intent, noting some students can now enroll in exercise classes like Zumba.
Reeves will carry the legislation as a substitute to a bill he introduced last year on dual enrollment. His original bill largely mirrors the replacement legislation, which was crafted with staff from Kemp’s office.
State Rep. Terry Rogers (R-Clarkesville) was appointed Chair of the Georgia Film, Music, and Digital Entertainment Commission, according to NowHabersham.
Rogers was appointed to the post this week. He’s served on the commission for several years, since first being appointed by former governor Nathan Deal. Gov. Kemp reappointed Rogers to the panel last November.
The 18-member commission serves as an advisory committee to the governor on matters relating to the state’s entertainment industry.
Augusta has a shortage of census workers for this year, according to the Augusta Chronicle.
A bill introduced Tuesday in the Georgia House by Judiciary Chairman Barry Fleming, R-Harlem, would add language that candidates will sign up “during a period designated by the Secretary of State” of at least 2 1/2 days during the wider window prescribed by the current law.
The Lowndes County Board of Education is considering purchasing a crisis alert system, according to the Valdosta Daily Times.
Steve Coleman, Lowndes County school safety coordinator, presented the proposal to the board. Both Dewar elementary and Hahira elementary schools received state security grants for $30,000 each and three different systems made a bid.
The Hall County Board of Elections is adding early voting locations for the March 24 Presidential Preference Primary and the May 21 Primary, according to the Gainesville Times.
Both elections will have three weeks of early voting as usual, but for the third week of early voting, the county will have three additional locations open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the North Hall Community Center, East Hall Community Center and Spout Springs Library. The Hall County Government Center, the main early voting location, will also be open.
The additional cost for the new locations is $22,400, Elections Director Lori Wurtz said. The change was unanimously approved by the Hall County Board of Elections on Tuesday.
After the March and May elections, the board will spend time at its June meeting looking at turnout and discussing feedback from poll workers and may adjust the early voting plan if needed.
Oconee County discussed security of voting equipment, according to the Oconee Enterprise.
During a Board of Commissioners Town Hall, Oconee Elections Director Fran Leathers assured voters that Oconee’s new 119 ballot devices and corresponding printers, as well as 17 precinct scanners, are safe and secure.
“Security is at a much higher level with the paper back-up used for auditing purposes or a recount,” Leathers told The Oconee Enterprise.
During a presentation of the new equipment, however, Watkinsville City Councilman Dan Matthews told a representative of the Secretary of State’s Office that he was not confident the state has tested for every possible scenario.
The precinct for North High Shoals has moved from the fire station to the new Town Hall within the town park. Malcom Bridge Middle School will no longer serve as a polling site due to security reasons, said Leathers, explaining that the precinct will move to Philothea Greek Orthodox Church, located at 3761 Mars Hill Road.
The county has also closed the Government Annex precinct, leaving City Hall as the sole voting place for Watkinsville residents.
Leathers said that in addition to signage explaining those changes, the Elections Office will assign poll workers to the defunct precincts at peak hour in order to redirect voters to the correct polling site.
Gainesville will spend $2.1 million on upgrading the county administration building, according to the Gainesville Times.
An injured Right Whale calf spotted off Georgia is not expected to survive, according to The Brunswick News.
The then-week-old calf and its mother, nicknamed Derecha, were first spotted Wednesday, Jan. 8, off Georgia’s Altamaha Sound by biologists with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Photographs revealed the calf has deep gashes on either side of its head.
Two days later aerial and on-water surveys with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources re-spotted the pair Friday afternoon about 12 miles south off St. Simons Island.
Most worrisome is the gash on the left side of the calf’s mouth, which appears deep enough to have exposed bone and injure the underlying structure that produces baleen.
Cornbread was surrendered by a family unable to keep her. She is a darling girl with a beautiful red coat. She is a “dainty”49 pounds, so if you don’t want her in your lap, make space on the couch! At 2 years of age, she would love to share her love with people for several more years. Come visit Cornbread and see if she could be a staple in your life.
Annie has a beautiful tricolor coat that you would expect to see in this breed. Her colors are distinctive and sharp. Annie was picked up just after Thanksgiving, but never claimed. She has adjusted very well to being here, but of course wants nothing more than to have a family to love. Annie is spayed, microchipped, current on core vaccines and has tested negative for heartworms. Start your new year off right….come meet this stunning little girl.
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 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.
COMMITTEE MEETING SCHEDULE
1:00 PM SENATE PUBLIC SAFETY- Canceled MEZZ 1
1:00 PM HOUSE HIGHER EDUCATION 606 CLOB
1:30 PM SENATE HIGHER ED 450 CAP
2:00 PM SENATE EDUCATION & YOUTH- CANCELLED 307 CLOB
2:00 PM HOUSE DEFENSE AND VETERANS AFFAIRS 415 CLOB
2:00 PM HOUSE STATE PROPERTIES 403 CAP
3:00 PM SENATE ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT & TOURISM- Canceled 125 CAP 3:00 PM SENATE HEALTH & HS- Canceled 450 CAP
3:00 PM HOUSE INDUSTRY AND LABOR 506 CLOB
4:00 PM SENATE RETIREMENT- Canceled MEZZ 1
4:00 PM SENATE JUDICIARY 307 CLOB
On the House side, HB 276, sponsored by House Ways and Means Chairman Brett Harrell, R-Snellville, collects taxes from “marketplace facilitators” whose websites are used to sell goods and products produced by a separate company.
Senate leaders are also pushing for third-party sellers to charge a sales tax on online purchases. The Senate moved on the first day of the session to insist on their version of the bill, sending it back to the House. On Tuesday, the House insisted on its own bill.
The next step, a temporary conference committee made up of three House and three Senate members will form. The House has already appointed its three members: Reps. Harrell, Bruce Williamson, R-Monroe and Matt Dollar, R-Marietta.
Harrell told CNHI that the General Assembly is looking to get this legislation passed “as quickly as possible.”
“I think both the House, the Senate and the administration, all three, are in agreement that this is an issue that, quite frankly, we probably should have accomplished last year,” Harrell said.
EBay and Etsy are among the marketplaces targeted by the bill, but it remains to be seen what other companies could be affected.
“I think the House and the Senate are pretty much in alignment” House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Brett Harrell, a Snellville Republican, told The Associated Press on Tuesday. “I think that’s also true of the administration.”
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Hufstetler, a Rome Republican, said Monday that he hopes the measure could take effect as early as April 1, which could boost tax collections for the state’s current budget year. Harrell said he wants to ensure that the Georgia Department of Revenue and smaller retailers could accommodate a start before the July 1 beginning of the next budget year.
State officials estimate that tightening marketplace rules could bring in $78 million for the state and $65 million for local governments in the first year. Other estimates have suggested much greater revenue gains.So far, 38 states and the District of Columbia require online platforms to collect taxes for third-party sellers, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Owners of brick-and-mortar stores strongly support it.
“We think this is a great way to bring parity for retailers in the state of Georgia as the business of retailing and customer behavior evolves,” said Thomas Buesse, executive director of the Georgia Retail Association.
State Senator Ben Watson (R-Savannah) is optimistic that legislation will pass to address “surprise billing,” according to Georgia Health News.
Sen. Ben Watson (R-Savannah), who chairs the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, told a breakfast gathering that the Governor’s Office has been involved in crafting legislation on the billing issue.
What’s known as surprise billing refers to instances in which consumers have procedures or visit ERs at hospitals in their insurance network, then receive separate bills from non-network doctors involved in their care. These unexpected charges can amount to hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
“I think we’ll get it done,” said Watson, a physician. If the Legislature fails to act on surprise billing, he added, it would not be a successful legislative session.
The issue is very complicated, said Rep. Jodi Lott, an Evans Republican who serves as House floor leader for the governor. She added, “I think we’re ready to pass something.”
Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome, one of the key legislators on the surprise billing issue, introduced legislation Tuesday that would curb patients’ risk of getting a surprise bill. He emphasizes it’s just a draft and negotiations are still in process. But in the proposal, Hufstetler, a doctor, takes a step toward the position of insurance companies — doctors’ opponents on surprise billing. The legislation is Senate Bill 293.
Senate Bill 293 would base the price list on what insurance companies have already negotiated in their other contracts. Doctors have traditionally opposed that. The state Department of Insurance would create the price database, and there would be additional options for independent arbitration.
Hufstetler and Rep. Richard Smith, R-Columbus, have been key opponents on the surprise billing issue, but recently they’ve been meeting and trying to hash it out. Smith chairs the House Rules Committee but was until recently chairman of the House Insurance Committee. He was seen as an advocate for insurance companies’ position on surprise billing.
Smith said he and Hufstetler had come to agreement on a lot of the sticking points.
A bill filed Monday, the first day of the 2020 legislative session would force Georgia Power Co. to install impervious lining around every site where coal ash is stored, including ash ponds set for permanent closure in the coming years. The measure aims to keep the ash from leaching into nearby drinking wells and underground aquifers.
“We have to be protective of our groundwater,” said Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver, D-Decatur, one of the bill’s six Democratic co-sponsors. “The possibility of toxic coal ash seeping into the water is very real.”
Georgia Power spokeswoman Holly Crawford said the company is reviewing the bill. She said 10 of the 29 ponds will be sealed in place “using proven engineering methods and closure technologies,” and that the closures meet state and federal regulations. Company representatives also tout the economic benefits of recycling coal ash into materials like concrete.
The bill’s backers expect pushback from the bill to center on how much it would cost Georgia Power to install new liners. The company is set to collect $525 million from customers through 2022 to clean up coal ash under a rate increase request the Georgia Public Service Commission approved last month.
State Rep. Gerald Greene (R-Cuthbert) announced a $1.5 million grant to fight feral pigs, according to the Albany Herald.
Representative Gerald Greene reported on the opening day of the 2020 General Assembly that $1.5 million has been granted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to the Flint River Soil and Water Conservation District to pilot an eradication program for feral swine. The program will address the destructive menace in Calhoun, Dougherty and Terrell counties.
Greene is working with the State Agriculture Department and the Department of Natural Resources to create a balance in the wild hog population. “By working together with our state and national partners, our hope is to control this invasive species, to protect crops and farming areas, while protecting our national resources for the future,” he said.
Ivanka Trump visited Atlanta yesterday and discussed human trafficking, according to the AJC.
Trump said her father’s administration is “committed to bringing the full force and weight of the U.S. government to solve the horrific problem of trafficking in persons.” The governor and Georgia’s first lady, Marty Kemp, also pledged their efforts, which will include legislation increasing penalties for those convicted of sex trafficking.
Despite the star power of the event, it was the stories of the victims that riveted a small audience that included U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr and GBI Director Vic Reynolds.
“You really represent resilience and strength on a level we will never know,” Trump told the women who testified.
Federal and state officials pledged their help. Trump cited bipartisan legislation her father has signed over the past three years. Later this month the White House will host a summit of government officials, employers and others seeking solutions to modern slavery.
The Kemps have also made trafficking a priority. On Monday, the first day of the legislative session, Marty Kemp unveiled a new training program to help identify sex trafficking victims.
“You are very brave to tell your story,” the governor told the victims who spoke Tuesday. “People are listening now. Your fellow Georgians are listening.”
The Daily Beast covered what Ivanka Trump wore.
Ivanka Trump absolutely wowed when she stepped out Tuesday in a jaw-dropping black and white print blazer and pants combo during a trip to Atlanta.
The first daughter looked just as stunning as ever in pictures/clips in the long sleeve jacket and matching print trousers as she joined Georgia Governor Brian Kemp and other government officials at Atlanta’s Safe Haven Survivors of Human Trafficking.
She completed the truly stunning look with a matching print top, loose hair and black high heels. To say it was the perfect winter look would be a serious understatement.
Hall County hosted a public session with the state’s new voting equipment, according to AccessWDUN.
About 50 people attended the first session, where representatives from the Secretary of State’s office demonstrated the new system, then allowed those in attendance to actual use the machines to cast pretend ballots.
Hall County elections officials, who hosted the event, were pleased with the turnout.
“I think this is an indication that the public is listening, and they are very interested in seeing these new machine, and coming in and learning everything they can,” Elections Director Lori Wurtz said. “I think this says we’re going to have a smooth election day.”
But Wurtz said she knows holding the demonstrations during business hours means some people cannot attend because they are at work.
“So people can drop by our office anytime during the day and we have some machines set up,” she said. “We’ll be happy to help people get familiar with the machines.”
Wurtz said groups of people can also be accommodated, but she asked the groups call the Elections Office to schedule an appointment. She also said the office would schedule night and weekend demonstrations if enough voters requested it.
“I think it’s great, but I think it’s going to be slower, Susan Joninas, one of the county’s poll managers, said. “Slower moving, maybe not next year, but certainly this year.”
Gwinnett County will hold a public session with the new voting machines, according to the AJC.
Gwinnett county elections officials will demonstrate the state’s new voting machines at 10 a.m. Feb. 1 at Pinckneyville Community Center, 4650 Peachtree Industrial Blvd. in Berkeley Lake.
Voters using the new system will present their driver’s license or other identification card for scanning, then proceed to a touchscreen voting machine. Once completing their election choices, the new equipment will print out a paper ballot for review. Once reviewed by the voter, the paper ballot is then scanned for tabulation.
The Glynn County Board of Elections is addressing budget issues associated with the new voting machines, according to The Brunswick News.
Because the new machines involve paper ballots, the board will have to spend more money on toner and paper, said Elections and Registration Supervisor Chris Channell.
While the Georgia Secretary of State’s office has yet to release the official rules for operating the new machines, Channell said it’s likely that ballot paper will have to be purchased from Dominion Voting, which manufactures the machines, at a higher cost than from third-party providers.
He also said the board is looking for new poll workers. The board would prefer to have more than necessary for its first time using the new voting machines.
Five candidates have applied for a seat on the Clarke County Board of Education, according to the Athens Banner Herald.
The names of the five who submitted an application to fill the seat are Mary P. Bagby, Alia Ghosheh, Giovanna McDavid, Rafaela Delgado Marin and Antwon Stephens.
School officials released the names Tuesday, but as of Tuesday afternoon had not yet released their applications and supporting materials each candidate submitted by a Friday deadline.
The board is scheduled to choose a new member during a Thursday meeting after hearing briefly from each candidate and any of their supporters who sign up to speak to the board before Thursday at 4 p.m.
Under Georgia law, school boards are responsible for picking a new member when someone steps down before completing his or her term.
Stephen Bradley, current District Attorney for the Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit (Baldwin, Jones, Hancock, Wilkinson, Putnam, Jasper, Greene, and Morgan Counties) announced he will run for Superior Court Judge, according to 13WMAZ.
Bradley took over the office in 2015 after the District Attorney at that time, Fred Bright, stepped down because of health issues.
With eight counties, the Ocmulgee Circuit covers more courthouses than any other judicial circuit in the state. The election is May 19.
Charles Olson withdrew his candidacy for Mayor of Macon-Bibb County, according to WGXA-TV.
Election day for the new Macon-Bibb mayor along with new commissioners will take place in May.
Johnny Crist announced he will resign as Mayor of Lilburn to run as a Republican for State House District 108, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.
Lilburn voters will have to choose a new mayor and councilman in a special election this year after Mayor Johnny Crist has turned in his resignation to run for a seat in the Georgia General Assembly, city officials announced Tuesday.
Crist confirmed he is running as a “conservative Republican” for the Georgia House of Representatives District 108 seat, prompting him to step down, effective later this spring. The seat is held by Rep. Jasmine Clark, D-Lilburn, who was one of several Democrats who flipped seats in Gwinnett’s legislative delegation in the 2018 elections.
The seat’s former occupant, former state Rep. Clay Cox, had previously announced plans to run for the seat again as a Republican, but backed out at Thanksgiving.
Crist’s resignation has, in turn, created a domino effect, leading to Councilman Tim Dunn, who has been the mayor pro tem, stepping down from his council seat so he can run for mayor. Dunn’s and Crist’s resignations will be effective March 1.
The special election to fill the mayor’s seat and Dunn’s Post 4 council seat will be held May 19.
Dr. John Cowan announced he will run for the 14th Congressional District seat being vacated by Republican Tom Graves (R-Ranger), according to the Rome News Tribune.
“I’m running now because I believe I have the necessary skills and training to address the nation’s deepest needs,” he said. “The values and freedoms that Americans hold dear are imperiled by our nation’s unsustainable healthcare spending. We spend more on healthcare than any developed nation yet have declining life expectancy and worse health. Healing a broken healthcare system will go a long way toward putting us back on the right path. This can’t happen without physicians in Congress. It’s time to make a House call.”
“I grew up on a cattle farm in Northwest Georgia, where my family has lived for a century now,” Cowan said in the release. “My community has invested in me and given me unbelievable opportunity. I want to represent our conservative values in Congress because we continually need a new supply of business and civic leaders who don’t come from the career political class. We need creative new ideas, rooted in traditional values.”
Luke Martin, the Floyd County GOP chair, said they’re happy to have a local candidate enter the race.
“Floyd County Republicans are excited at the chance to elect one of our own to Congress,” Martin said. “We have three strong pro-Trump, pro-gun and pro-life candidates in the race right now and I’m excited to see who the voters elect this summer.”
Clayton Fuller, an Air Force veteran from Lookout Mountain, and Marjorie Greene, a wealthy businesswoman from Alpharetta who shifted her campaign here from the District 6 race, have also been campaigning locally.
Dalton City Council remains at loggerheads with Whitfield County Commissioners over service delivery strategy. From the Dalton Daily News Citizen:
Mandatory mediation of the service delivery agreement among the Whitfield County Board of Commissioners, the Dalton City Council and the city councils of Cohutta, Tunnel Hill and Varnell ended without a deal. And on Thursday, Dalton City Council members are scheduled to meet with the city’s attorneys to discuss how they will go forward.
“I don’t know what our next step is,” said Dalton Mayor David Pennington. “I won’t know that until after we have had a chance to talk to our attorneys about what our options are.”
State law requires cities and counties to negotiate a new service delivery agreement every 10 years, spelling out which services the governments will provide and how they will be funded. The agreements are aimed at reducing duplication of services. The Whitfield County service delivery agreement — actually 39 separate agreements — covers items ranging from ambulance service to historic preservation to zoning.
Glynn County Commissioners will put a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) on the November ballot, instead of the previously considerd May election, according to The Brunswick News.
At a meeting Tuesday, Glynn County commissioners committed to building a new animal control shelter at the county’s public safety complex and pushed the vote on Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax 2020 from the May primary ballot to the November general election ballot.
In light of the new commitment, Brunson suggested moving the SPLOST 2020 referendum from the May primary ballot to November to work on completing more SPLOST 2016 projects before putting it before the voters.
Also, he said there were many questions about a planned $19 million-plus courthouse expansion project that the commission should get answered before putting SPLOST 2020 to a vote.
“We still have a lot of moving parts as it relates to SPLOST 2016, the animal control facility not the least of them,” Brunson said. “I think we need to get down the road, that project needs to be shovel-ready at least by the time we take this to the voters again.
Hall County Public Schools will hold public sessions to discuss a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax for Education (E-SPLOST) on the March ballot, according to the Gainesville Times.
Before the March 24 vote, community members will have several chances to ask questions about the sixth round of the education special purpose local option sales tax and the general obligation bond referendum.
Hall County Schools invites people to attend any of its seven informational meetings, which will take place at 6:30 p.m. every Monday, from Jan. 27 through March 9.
The bonds will allow Hall to begin work on its school renovations and building products. The system will pay back the bonds with revenues from the 1-cent sales tax.
the pompatus of love a young male Hound and Labrador Retriever mix who is available for adoption from the Habersham County Animal Shelter in Clarkesville, GA.
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 14, 1733, James Oglethorpe and the rest of the first colonists departed Charles Town harbor for what would become Savannah, and the State of Georgia.
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 Committee of Thirty-Three introduced a proposed Constitutional Amendment to allow slavery in the areas it then existed.
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. After his election, on January 10, 1966, the State House voted 184-12 not to seat him because of his publicly-stated opposition to the Vietnam War. After his federal lawsuit was rejected by a three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, the United States Supreme Court ordered Bond seated.
True story: Julian Bond was the first Georgia State Senator I ever met, when I was in ninth grade and visited the state Capitol.
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 interned in concentration camps in the western United States.
Today is Legislative Day 2 in the Second Session of the 155th General Assembly. Here’s the schedule for the rest of the month, as adopted yesterday by both chambers:
Tuesday, January 14 – Day 2
Wednesday, January 15 – Day 3
Thursday, January 16 – Day 4
January 20-24 will be Budget Hearings
Monday, January 27 – Day 5
Tuesday, January 28 – Day 6
Wednesday, January 29 – Day 7
Thursday, January 30 – Day 8
Friday, January 31 – Day 9
Monday, February 3 – Day 10
Tuesday, February 4 – Day 11
Wednesday, February 5 – Day 12
Thursday, February 6 – Day 13
Monday, February 10 – Day 14
COMMITTEE MEETINGS TODAY
1:00 PM SENATE ETHICS- Canceled 307 CLOB
2:00 PM SENATE STATE & LOCAL GOVERNMENT 307 CLOB
2:00 PM SENATE REGULATED INDUSTRIES & UTILITIES 450 CAP
2:00 PM HOUSE RETIREMENT 515 CLOB
3:00 PM SENATE NATURAL RESOURCES & ENVIRONMENT 310 CLOB
3:00 PM SENATE BANKING & FINANCIAL INSTITUTIONS MEZZ 1
4:00 PM SENATE AGRICULTURE & CONSUMER AFFAIRS – Canceled 450 CAP 4:00 PM SENATE TRANSPORTATION- Canceled 310 CLOB
Governor Brian Kemp‘s office released December tax revenue numbers.
The State of Georgia’s December net tax collections totaled nearly $2.23 billion for an increase of $65.8 million, or 3 percent, compared to the previous fiscal year when net tax collections totaled roughly $2.16 billion. Year-to-date, net tax collections totaled $11.85 billion for an increase of roughly $32.3 million, or 0.3 percent, compared to FY 2019 when net tax revenues totaled almost $11.82 billion.
Individual Income Tax: Individual Income Tax collections totaled nearly $1.16 billion, for an increase of $14.4 million, or 1.3 percent, compared to December 2018 when Income Tax collections totaled $1.14 billion.
• Individual Income Tax refunds issued (net of voided checks) increased by $41.4 million or 167.4 percent.
• Individual Withholding payments for December were up $36.7 million, or 3.4 percent, over last year.
• Individual Income Tax Estimated payments for the month were up $4.6 million, or 11 percent.
• All other Individual Tax categories, including Non-Resident Return payments, were up a combined $14.5 million.
Sales and Use Tax: Gross Sales and Use Tax collections increased by $15.4 million, or 1.5 percent, up from a total of $1.04 billion in FY 2019. Net Sales and Use Tax increased by approximately $0.2 million compared to last year when net sales tax totaled $526.1 million. The adjusted Sales Tax distribution to local governments totaled $524.1 million for an increase of $21.2 million, or 4.2 percent, while Sales Tax Refunds fell by roughly $6 million, or -53.3 percent, from a total of $11.2 million in FY 2019.
Corporate Income Tax: Corporate Income Tax collections increased by nearly $66.5 million, or 36.9 percent, compared to FY 2019 when Corporate Tax collections totaled approximately $180 million for December.
• Corporate Income Tax refunds issued (net of voids) were up $16.9 million or 142.1 percent.
• Corporate Estimated Tax payments for the month increased by $67.9 million or 43.7 percent.
• Corporate Income Tax Return payments were up $16.1 million, or 67.7 percent, over last year.
• All other Corporate Tax categories, including Corporate S-Corp payments, were down a combined $0.6 million.
Motor Fuel Taxes: Motor Fuel Tax collections increased by nearly $0.7 million, or 0.5 percent, compared to FY 2019.
Motor Vehicle – Tag & Title Fees: Motor Vehicle Tag & Title Fees decreased by $0.5 million, or -2 percent, compared to last year, while Title Ad Valorem Tax (TAVT) collections declined by almost $19 million, or -28.5 percent.
Georgia lawmakers got some good news on tax revenues Monday but not enough to avoid painful cuts in state spending as the 2020 General Assembly session unfolds.
State tax collections last month rose 3% or $65.8 million compared with December of last year, the Georgia Department of Revenue reported Monday.
The governor is expected to release his spending recommendations to the Legislature by the end of this week. The state House and Senate appropriations committees will hold three days of joint hearings on the proposed budget next week.
The Georgians for Refuge, Action, Compassion, and Education (GRACE) Commission, headed by First Lady Marty Kemp, announced an initiative with the Department of Administrative Services to make anti-human trafficking training available for state employees, according to a press release.
As public servants, state employees are uniquely positioned to safeguard the well-being of our citizens. Proper human trafficking awareness training will empower them to meet that call to action by imploring them to learn the signs of sex trafficking and how to report suspicious activity.
“I want to thank Commissioner Atwood and his team at the Department of Administrative Services for their dedicated work to develop this human trafficking awareness training program,” said First Lady Marty Kemp. “By educating individuals on the issue, we are creating an army of trained eyes which will literally have the ability to save lives.”
“I am incredibly proud of Marty, the Department of Administrative Services, and everyone involved in crafting this training module,” said Governor Brian Kemp. “I challenge all state employees to take this training. Together, we can stand up to protect our state’s most vulnerable and dismantle this criminal enterprise for good.”
“I am proud of the work that the Department of Administrative Services has done with our partners – collaborating with the First Lady and the GRACE Commission – to deliver a quality training for more than 78,000 state employees,” said Commissioner Alex Atwood. “We believe the training, along with the resources available through our website, will pay big dividends in helping create awareness across the state.”
In conjunction with this important training, First Lady Marty Kemp announced that she will partner with the Georgia Public Safety Training Center to host two self-defense classes on January 30, 2020. Both classes are open to the public, but registration is required.
Kemp said he will mandate that all members of his staff take the training and said he will encourage the heads of state agencies to mandate it for almost 80,000 state employees.
“That’s 80,000 boots on the ground ready to help a victim if needed,” Marty Kemp told supporters at the state Capitol.
The half-hour video course is also available to the general public, and Kemp said she hoped churches, civic groups and others would encourage their members to view it.
Marty Kemp said her husband also planned legislative proposals to combat human trafficking but didn’t give details. The Republican governor has been talking about the issue as one of his top priorities for this year, saying he would toughen laws to stop people from being exploited.
The GRACE Commission is co-chaired by Marty Kemp; Georgia House Speaker Pro Tempore Jan Jones, R-Milton; and Vic Reynolds, director of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
“There are terrible people out there who control [victims’] every move and force them to do unspeakable things,” she said. “Education and awareness is the way to fight against human trafficking.”
“This will be a tough battle against a ruthless enemy,” DOAS Commissioner Alex Atwood said. “But it’s one we can win if we work together.”
Governor Kemp discussed his legislative priorities with WMAZ.
“Well, I’m excited to build off, quite honestly, a great year we had last year. I think we got a lot more done than most people thought coming out of an election year,” says Kemp.
“We’re continuing to look at ways that we can go after street gangs and put some more teeth in our laws to help our local prosecutors and law enforcement,” says Kemp. “And also to really hone in on sex trafficking, on those that are committing these evil acts, but also, how can we help the victims.”
The Habersham County Commission voted to name itself a Second Amendment Sanctuary, according to AccessWDUN.
“Whereas, it is the desire of the Habersham County Board of Commissioners to declare its support of the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution and to the provisions of the Constitution of the State of Georgia that protect Habersham County citizens’ induvial, inalienable rights to keep and bear arms,” the resolution reads in part.
The resolution states no agent, employee or official of the county, or any corporation providing services to the county, shall provide material support or participate in any way with the implementation of federal acts, orders, rules, laws or regulations in violation of the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution.
Prior to the vote on the matter, Commission Chairman Stacy Hall read a letter from 10th District State Rep. Terry Rogers and delivered a prepared statement.
“It is of paramount importance that we the people remind these legislators that their simple dislike of a constitutional amendment makes it no less constitutional and that we will not give those rights up easily,” Hall said. “The Constitution is not an aging, irrelevant document with increasing insignificance over time. Quite the contrary; it is the very fabric that this great country has woven together. It is a living, breathing document that protects us all from an overreaching and overbearing government.”
Georgia State Senator Bill Heath (R-Bremen) announced that he will not seek reelection this year, according to the Rome News Tribune.
Fighting back tears, Heath said he wants to spend more time with his wife.
“There is more to life than politics. I’m convinced of that,” he said.
Heath was elected to the Georgia Senate in 2005 after serving one term in the House of Representatives. He unseated then-House speaker Tom Murphy, a towering figure in Georgia politics who was among the longest-serving state House speakers in the country, serving from 1973 to 2002.
Senate District 31 covers Polk County, Haralson County and part of Paulding County.
Much of the opening day business surrounded honors for Rep. Jay Powell of Camilla who died unexpectedly at 67 in November, and the late Sen. Greg Kirk of Americus, who died in December after a battle with cancer.
[State Rep. Jay] Powell loved the Georgia House of Representatives, [Speaker] Ralston said.
“He regarded it as a place where good, sound policy was formulated, not a place to be burned down,” he said on the House floor. “For members who sincerely wanted to understand the legislative process, there was not a better member of this body.”
Ralston said that Powell was “truly a son of Southwest Georgia” and worked hard to revitalize rural areas across the state.
“As a founder of the House Rural Development Council back in 2017, he brought an intense passion and unrivaled work ethic to the goals of they already see,” Ralston said. “And I want to tell you today that because of Jay Powell’s leadership, Southwest Georgia, and particularly future generations of young people there, will have greater opportunities and a better quality of life.”
A special election to choose Powell’s successor in House District 171 will be held Jan. 28. The district includes all of Mitchell County and part of Decatur County.
On the Senate side of the Capitol, lawmakers paid tribute to the late Sen. Greg Kirk, R-Americus, who died last month of cancer. Flowers were laid on his vacant desk in the Senate chambers and kind words came from Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, who presides over the Senate, and other senators.
“Senator Kirk was a true statesman and a distinguished member of this body,” said Duncan. “He will be missed by all of us.”
“There really are no words that can express our remorse,” said Sen. Renee Unterman, R-Buford.
Lieutenant Governor Geoff Duncan (R-Forsyth County) and Senate Republicans are not prioritizing legalization of gambling, according to the Valdosta Daily Times.
“I’ve not had a line of senators over the last nine months outside that office trying to take the door off the hinges to talk about gambling,” Duncan said during a pre-session press conference. “I just haven’t seen that overwhelming push for gambling here in the state of Georgia — I certainly haven’t heard it out as I’ve traveled around the state.”
In the same press conference, Duncan talked strategy for his first session as lieutenant governor. Health care — a main priority of Duncan’s when he served in the House — will again make the top of his list, he said.
“The federal government is in a place where they’re leaning more on the states and we want to be a state that creates solutions,” Duncan said. “Some of the things you’ll see from us in health care will be price transparency and also the right to shop. We’re going to continue to work in ways that allow us to really build a system in this state that allows consumers or patients to know how much their health-care costs — well before they get home from the hospital.”
When asked if he had concerns about the governor’s budget cuts stalling legislation — which has drawn criticism on the House side — Duncan said he is “certain” there is wasteful spending that can be cut.
“We have 40 legislative days to work through the budget and the two things I’ll guarantee you is: we will pass a budget and it will be balanced, and I look forward to working with the governor and his staff on the budget process,” he said.
State legislators appear to have come to an agreement to close a sales tax loophole, according to the AJC.
Senate Finance Chairman Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome, said he has worked with House colleagues since last session on an agreement that would close a loophole that allows many online retailers to skip sending in taxes on their sales.
Hufstetler said an agreement on the measure — which could mean hundreds of millions of dollars a year for the state — could come this week, the first of the 2020 General Assembly session. The measure’s original sponsor last year, House Ways and Means Chairman Brett Harrell, R-Snellville, said he, too, hopes a deal can be reached quickly.
Hufstetler told reporters Monday: “We’ve got a revenue issue. But bigger than that, we have a collection issue. We need to be collecting money that is owed Georgia so that those that are paying their fair taxes don’t have to pay more.”
Senate Majority Leader Mike Dugan, R-Carrollton, said: “We are planning on being able to collect that money really quickly from out-of-state entities that has been due to our state for a while now. If it’s owed, it needs to come in.”
Different versions of the measure passed the chambers last session, but the two sides couldn’t strike a deal.
Hufstetler said another measure would spur the Department of Revenue to use data analytics to ferret out potential fraud or people not paying taxes. If the state can get a large chunk of the money that’s due but not being collected, it could raise hundreds of millions of dollars more, he said.
Among the bill’s details, it would require sales taxes for use of ride share apps, and an online marketplace facilitator would be obligated to pay taxes for retail sales, not the marketplace seller. A marketplace facilitator, as defined in the bill, is someone who “contracts with a seller in exchange for any form of consideration to make available or facilitate a retail sale that is taxable under this chapter on behalf of such seller directly or through any agreement with another person….”
Retail sales will be assumed to be made in Georgia “if it is to be held for pickup, used, consumed, distributed, stored for use or consumption or rendered as a service within this state.”
Columbus will enjoy a higher profile under the Gold Dome this year, according to WRBL.
Republican Richard Smith moves into that key leadership position as he takes over over the powerful House Rules Committee. That makes him one of Speaker David Ralston’s top lieutenants.
“I heard somebody say that it is a very powerful position in the state that nobody knows,” Smith said. “So, I think that’s one of the things that makes this job intriguing, you do have a say-so on what happens.”
Smith has taken over the committee after the death of Jay Powell of Camillia.
Legislators representing Glynn County are considering a referendum on the role of the county police department, according to The Brunswick News.
State legislators are considering local legislation to let Glynn County voters choose whether or not to leave the Golden Isles’ law enforcement in the hands of the Glynn County Police Department or to fold it into the Glynn County Sheriff’s Office.
“We’re still talking about it,” said state Rep. Don Hogan, R-St. Simons Island. “I think the voters ought to have a right to vote on almost anything.”
Former State Rep. Jonathan Wallace announced he will run for the seat held by Republican Marcus Wiedower (R-Watkinsville), according to the Red and Black.
Wallace is challenging Republican incumbent Rep. Marcus Wiedower for District 119, which includes areas of Clarke and Oconee counties.
Wallace won the seat in 2017 in a special election, flipping the district from Republican to Democratic.
Wiedower defeated Wallace in the Nov. 2018 general election with 52.8% of the vote. Wallace will run as a Democrat again for the 2020 election, according to his ActBlue page.
Weston Stroud announced he will run for Bibb County Commission District 2, according to WGXA.
“One of the biggest things we can change is just access to opportunity. We have ample opportunities here in Macon, but accessing it is always the key. There are various hurtles that are between opportunity that we have to think about as a local agency,” says Stroud.
Bulloch County Sheriff Noel Brown announced he will run for reelection, according to the Statesboro Herald.
Brown seeks to expand the Bulloch County Jail, administrative space, inmate intake areas and training space, he told the Statesbnoro Herald. During his first term, construction has already begun on buildings that will house a new training room, clinical areas, office space and a larger evidence room. He has been pitching for new jail pods as well, citing overcrowding in the current space.
“If taxes have to be raised, so be it,” he said. “My priority is the protection and safety of Bulloch County citizens. As sheriff, I am mandated by law to keep peace and safety in this county.”
There are problems with the core infrastructure in Bulloch County’s public safety system, and improvements are vital to the ability of the Sheriff’s Office to meet the challenges of a swiftly growing county, he said.
“This is not a want, it is a need,” he said. “We have to grow in place.”
The Whitfield County Commission tabled a vote on whether to put a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax on the 2020 ballot, according to the Dalton Daily Citizen News.
Members of the Whitfield County Board of Commissioners say they still plan to vote on a resolution to place a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) on the May general primary ballot by the end of January.
But on Monday, commissioners voted 4-0 to postpone that vote as well as a vote on an intergovernmental agreement with the cities of Dalton, Cohutta, Tunnel Hill and Varnell that would determine how the proposed four-year, $66 million SPLOST would be spent.
Members of the Dalton City Council tabled a vote on the intergovernmental agreement last week, saying they needed more time to study the agreement and also to see what impact mediation with the county over the service delivery agreement, which spells out which services each government will provide and how they will be funded, might have on the SPLOST projects.
If the two sides cannot reach an agreement, commissioners could still place a SPLOST on the ballot. The Tier 1 projects would be funded first, and the rest of the money would be split among the county and the cities based on their share of the population.
The Brunswick News profiles announced candidates for Glynn County Commission.
The Richmond County Board of Elections has revised three voting locations, according to the Augusta Chronicle.
The Richmond County Board of Elections has announced three polling place changes going into effect for the March 24 presidential primary and referendum on extending the 1% transportation sales tax.
After accessibility concerns arose last year, polling places at Augusta University’s Christenberry Fieldhouse and Crawford Avenue Baptist Church will no longer be used.
All four affected precincts lean heavily Democratic. Each supported Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams by 75% or more in the 2018 race for governor.
Valdosta Mayor Scott James Matheson will host a paddle on the Withlacoochee River, according to ValdostaToday.com.
Since before Scott James Matheson was officially sworn in last Thursday as Valdosta’s new mayor, he had already been dedicated to seeing the city through its worst sewage spill on record.
When WWALS Watershed Coalition, Inc.’s John S. Quarterman talked to him about the spill after it first happened, Mayor Matheson did not shrink away from what was to become the first, and perhaps his ultimate legacy, of his mayoral tenure. Matheson asked Quarterman to schedule a paddle, call it the “Mayor’s Paddle,” and the two projected that it would be held Saturday, Jan. 18, 2020.
“We’ll paddle by the site of the projected Troupville River Camp, supported by Valdosta and Lowndes County, Georgia, and Madison and Hamilton Counties, Florida,” said Suwannee Riverkeeper John S. Quarterman. “We’ll also pass the outflow from Valdosta’s Withlacoochee Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP), which did not spill, although it is in a stretch of the river that was contaminated by Valdosta’s December 2019 record raw sewage spill.”
“The only way to dispell the stigma of sewage spills that affects the entire Suwannee River Basin, is frequent, regular, water quality sampling with published results,” added Quarterman. “The dozen-county Florida Rivers Task Force to deal with Valdosta sewage wants to promote cross-state-line eco-tourism. We should all be marketing our rivers. We are, with this paddle, and with Troupville River Camp. But we need a solid foundation of testing so we can say when the rivers are clean, and the few (we hope) times when they are not.”
“Meanwhile, the recent rains have provided plenty of water in the river, several feet more than when we paddled the same route with 300 people in Paddle Georgia in June 2019, so we should have smooth sailing,” Quarterman said.
That’s a pretty cool thing to do for the Mayor and the Riverkeeper, and if I weren’t already scheduled for the weekend, I’d love to do that.
The Bulloch County public schools sex ed curriculum for sixth to ninth grade students will not address gender identity in the current school year, according to the Statesboro Herald.
The plan for the current year, which administrators said could be put into use in April, does not include the “sexual orientation and gender identity” and “undoing gender stereotypes” lessons that were part of a plan unveiled last summer for a three-year rollout. Even in that original version, those topics were not for sixth grade and would not have been taught this school year. But they would have been introduced in the ninth grade next school year and in the seventh and eighth grades in 2021-22.
However, the committee that reviewed and revised the curriculum from late October to early December was asked to focus on a single-year plan, said Assistant Superintendent for School Improvement Teresa Phillips. That short-term focus bypassed the question of whether the gender identity topics will be reintroduced in the future.
Rome City Commissioners elected their Mayor, according to the Rome News Tribune.
….Rome City Commissioners and city officials witnessed the swearing in of six newly-elected board members and Mayor Bill Collins was re-elected to his position by a unanimous vote of his colleagues.
Collins is Rome’s first black mayor, elected for the first time in 2019. Before he resumed his seat after the undisputed vote of confidence, he paused to catch his breath.
“It’s not been an easy road, but I appreciate the fine citizens of this here county and thank the commissioners for their trust in me,” Collins told the crowd that spilled into the hallway outside chambers. “I want my grandson here to know it takes dedication and integrity and everything that goes along with making sure you hold yourself accountable.”
…Commissioner Jamie Doss nominated Commissioner Craig McDaniel as mayor pro tem.
As was the case for mayor, no other names were presented for pro tem and McDaniel was elected to be Collins’ right-hand man by a 9 to 0 vote.
The Hall County Board of Education elected Craig Herrington as Chair, according to AccessWDUN.
The Savannah Chatham County Board of Education issued an RFP to sell its administrative building, according to the Savannah Morning News.
The Berry College Bald Eagles produced their first egg of the year, according to the Rome News Tribune.
Multiple cameras that focused on the nest, at www.berry.edu/eaglecam, went offline during the storm. Sometime after those cameras came back online, the female eagle moved to change position and the egg was visible.
In past years a second egg usually followed the first within a few days. When eagles lay multiple eggs, they are generally a minimum of three days apart.
Once eggs are laid, both adults will take turns incubating them for approximately 35 days before they hatch.
The pair of eagles at Berry has had two eggs every year since 2013. Last year, both eggs hatched but neither of the nestlings survived their first week. The year before, one of the two nestlings fell out of the tree and died. In another year, 2014, one of the eggs failed to hatch.
The nest behind the Cage Center athletic complex was first discovered in the spring of 2012 and the pair produced their first two eaglets in 2013.
Those two, if they have survived, are now at the point where they could be reproducing. It takes bald eagles five years to become sexually mature.
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 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.
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.
The 155th Georgia General Assembly convenes today in its second session.
Budget issues will drive much of the session, including whether they adjourn before or after the March 24 Presidential Preference Primary. From NewsChannel9:
The state’s flagging revenues are likely to take center stage during the first week, as Republican Gov. Brian Kemp sets an estimate of revenues and a proposal for spending in the 2021 budget year beginning July 1.
Crucially, lawmakers must decide if they’re going ahead with a previously announced plan to further cut Georgia’s top income tax rate to 5.5% from 5.75%. Revenues from income taxes have flagged since a 2019 cut from 6% to the current rate, and a fresh cut could cost state government $550 million in the next budget if lawmakers make it retroactive to Jan. 1 of this year. House Speaker David Ralston, a Blue Ridge Republican, announced support for going forward with the tax cut last week.
Kemp has also promised teachers a further $2,000 pay increase, after lawmakers provided a $3,000 raise last year at his behest. Expectations among teacher groups for a raise this year have clearly fallen, given the tight budget outlook. But the governor hasn’t said whether he wants to go forward with the tax cuts and pay raise this year. Kemp is likely to clear up those questions when he gives his State of the State speech and releases his budget proposal on Thursday.
The only constitutional requirement Georgia lawmakers must fulfill each year is passing a state budget.
While the legislature grapples with issues including whether to legalize gambling in Georgia, increase the availability of public transit in rural communities and take control of Atlanta’s airport from the city, the top priority will be reducing spending while protecting vital government programs and services.
“I don’t think you can take a blanket approach,” said Georgia House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge. “The budget is about more than numbers and percentages. The budget touches people’s lives.”
Gov. Brian Kemp set the stage last summer for what promises to be a budget-cutting legislative session. With tax revenues running well below projections, the first-year governor ordered most state agencies to reduce spending by 4% during the current fiscal year and 6% in fiscal 2021, which starts July 1.
The General Assembly voted in 2018 to reduce Georgia’s income tax rate for the first time since the 1930s from 6% to 5.75%. This year, lawmakers are due to decide whether to cut the tax rate again to 5.5%.
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Jack Hill said the state can’t afford the revenue hit another tax cut would bring.
“One of the reasons we passed this tax cut is we were told there would be a revenue bump from the federal tax cut,” said Hill, R-Reidsville. “I can’t tell that we ever had that bump. … Nobody’s against a tax cut, but we really need to be cautious.”
Faced with a budget shortfall this year, lawmakers may be more willing than in years past to take a hard look at ways to increase revenue, including allowing sports betting, horse racing, casino gambling or some combination of the three.
Expanding gambling would require a state constitutional amendment. Two-thirds of each chamber of the General Assembly must approve, followed by voters in a referendum. Georgia could also allow each county’s voters a separate referendum on local gambling.
House Speaker David Ralston indicated in a news conference Thursday that he favored putting the question to voters for a referendum.
“We’ve talked about this issue here for years, and one of these days we’re either going to have to say ‘we’re going to quit talking and we’re going to vote it, however it comes out is the way it comes out,” said Ralston, a Blue Ridge Republican.
“At some point, I think it is appropriate to let the people of Georgia have the final word,” he said.
“Back in 2008, when I was in the Senate, we cut things pretty much to the bone. There’s been some buildup,” State Rep. Lee Hawkins, R-Gainesville, said. “But I can tell you this governor and this legislature are committed to doing cuts, but not cuts where we would reduce services for Georgia citizens.”
One reason behind declining revenues now is the lingering effects of Hurricane Michael, which destroyed crops in south Georgia’s agricultural communities in 2018.
“The cotton crop alone was three quarters of a billion dollars beaten down to the ground. We lost half a billion dollars in vegetables. Over 100 chicken houses were destroyed and 2 million chickens,” Hawkins said. “79,000 acres of timber land was lost. … You don’t plant pecan trees and get pecans the next year. It’s 15 to 20 years.”
State Rep. Matt Dubnik, R-Gainesville, said he thinks it is wiser to make cuts now, when the economy is still doing relatively well.
“The time to really take a look at a budget of any kind is during the good times, not the tough times,” he said. “I’m very much supportive — I’m a fiscal conservative, and I believe in looking anywhere that we can trim fat.”
“The budget cuts are a necessity because revenues aren’t keeping up with expenses,” said state Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville. “We’re going to be cutting fat — not necessary, vital services. In fact, (Georgians) will see an expansion of useful, beneficial, practical government services.”
Budget questions will make it difficult to fund measures recommended by the State House Study Committee on Maternal Mortality, according to the Augusta Chronicle.
As lawmakers gather this week to begin the session, the House Study Committee on Maternal Mortality is providing a number of recommendations to help address the problem in Georgia, which has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the nation.
Georgia currently provides special Medicaid coverage for pregnant women until two months after giving birth for uninsured women with income up to 200% of the federal poverty level. The committee recommended extending that to one year, but the duration of that extension is already being debated in a year when many state agencies are being asked to prepare budget cuts.
“In a year where we are being extra cautious about taxpayer funds, any expansion will be looked at and weighed against any expenditures that are less important or less timely,” said Dr. Mark Newton, R-Augusta, who co-chaired the study committee. “There’s discussions about, is that a step we need to take all at once or can we take incremental steps to try and make some improvements? So I know those are some things that are on the table.”
The Associated Press thinks social issues may be sidelined in this session:
This year, Republican leaders have indicated that there may be less willingness to take on hot-button social issues.
“Last year was a tough session,” House Speaker David Ralston said during a news conference Thursday. “What I would like for us to do is what I think Georgians want us to do, which is to focus on continuing to create the kind of climate where businesses can grow jobs and folks can get up in the morning and send their kids to good schools, that are safe schools, and deal with transportation issues. And so that is where my focus is going to be frankly.”
One possible vehicle for discord could be legislation around adoption reform, which Kemp has identified as a priority this year. A bill seeking to update Georgia’s adoption laws in 2017 died after a Republican senator added an amendment letting private adoption agencies choose not to place children with LGBT parents because of religious concerns. Critics worry similar legislation could be introduced this session.
The Gainesville Times spoke to local legislators about priorities for the 2020 session.
Rep. Lee Hawkins, R-Gainesville, said “the cost of drugs has just skyrocketed,” an issue he hopes to address by regulating pharmacy benefit managers who contract with insurance companies to handle their prescription drug plans.
“They make deals with the drug manufacturers with rebates, with employer groups. We’ve uncovered quite a bit of shenanigans going on,” Hawkins said. “Patients are being charged enormous amounts for a drug that doesn’t cost near what they’re having to pay. That money is being backpedaled to the PBM companies.”
Rep. Emory Dunahoo, R-Gillsville, outlined some other health care issues that he thinks will come up. He sees the mortality rate of mothers at childbirth, rural health care, mental health care and Medicaid expansion as possible issues in the legislature.
One key issue is “balance billing” or “surprise billing,” when patients get a bill from a provider who turns out to be out of network with their insurance company — such as one who performed part of a procedure at a hospital.
Mental health issues also need to be examined, especially in light of the closure of regional hospitals in recent years, Hawkins said.
“You can’t fill a hospital up with the mentally ill and then have nowhere to move them,” Hawkins said. “A lot of these folks, especially young folks … are sitting in jail cells. I’m really sensitive to that.”
The Rome News Tribune also spoke to local legislators headed to the session.
Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome, will be part of a noon press conference spelling out his caucus’ priorities for the coming weeks. The chairman of the Senate Finance Committee said two important pieces of legislation will set the stage for budget discussions.
“I don’t think we have a revenue problem. We have a collection problem,” he said.
A bill enabling sales tax collection from third-party sellers such as Amazon, eBay and Etsy — marketplace facilitators — could bring in at least $150 million more a year, he said.
Hufstetler’s also been working with House Rep. Richard Smith, R-Columbus, on addressing so-called surprise medical billing.
Rep. Katie Dempsey, R-Rome, said she’s going to focus on three recommendations from the Infant and Toddler Social and Emotional Health study committee she chaired this fall.
Democrat Michael Bloomberg spoke to a summit hosted by Stacey Abrams in Atlanta, according to The Grio.
Those unaware of the history between Bloomberg and Abrams might raise an eyebrow at their alliance. Bloomberg, however, has been a long time and an early financial supporter of Abrams. She shared that history as she introduced him to the attendees. According to Abrahams, when she launched the New Georgia Project in 2014 intending to register 800,000 unregistered voters in the state by 2024, Bloomberg was a generous donor. Then in 2018, when Abrams dared to run for governor of Georgia, a feat that would have made her the first Black woman to hold that position in this country, Bloomberg donated significantly to her campaign.
In December 2019, the former New York City Mayor donated $5 million to her Fair Fight 2020, which the Spelman and Yale Law School alum launched months earlier in August to focus on voter protection in 20 battleground states for the 2020 election cycle. Among those states is Georgia, where voter suppression was alleged in Abrams’s slim loss to Republican Brian Kemp, who also served as Secretary of State monitoring that same election. In closing, she presented Bloomberg as “our friend” and “a friend of America” to the group.
At the podium, Bloomberg initially floundered when he spoke of the Atlanta Falcons while referencing his first Georgia visit with Mayor Hardie Davis, Jr. in December. When he turned the focus on voter suppression, he finally gained traction with the group.
“I think it’s fair to say that we all wish that we didn’t have to have this conference,” he told attendees. “If voter suppression wasn’t such a big problem, Stacey wouldn’t have started Fair Fight; she would be in the governor’s mansion.” Continuing he said, “Unfortunately, voter suppression is one of our most urgent challenges. And the right to vote is a fundamental right that protects all others. And it’s under attack around this country.”
Abrams has met with several White House hopefuls and given no indication that she will endorse anyone. Bloomberg’s moves nonetheless underscore the unusual path he is hoping to carve out to the White House as he bypasses the four early voting states and uses his vast personal fortune to build out a national campaign in the states that follow.
“Our campaign is going to stay here until November,” Bloomberg promised as he officially launched his operation in the state Friday after meeting with Abrams.
Georgia’s primary is March 24, three weeks after a Super Tuesday slate that Bloomberg hopes establishes him as more than a billionaire spoiler.
He lauded Abrams, who would have been the first black woman to lead a U.S. state, and Democratic Rep. John Lewis, the Atlanta civil rights icon who recently announced a dire cancer diagnosis. Bloomberg told the mostly white audience that he’d just come from lunch at Paschal’s, one of the city’s famous black-owned restaurants where Martin Luther King Jr. and his contemporaries often dined and made plans during the civil rights era.
The Georgia Council on Substance Abuse hosted a Bartow County forum, according to the Cartersville Daily Tribune News.
The event began with introductory remarks from District 15 State Rep. Matthew Gambill (R-Cartersville.)
“It is tremendous work that’s very important to all of us who are here today and to those of us here in Bartow County,” he said. “This is an issue that we continue to hear about at the State level … every community is dealing with this.”
Gambill told the attendees he didn’t have any “silver bullets or quick fixes” to remedy Georgia’s substance abuse crisis.
“This is probably going to be more of a crockpot opportunity than a microwave opportunity,” he said. “But the people that are in this room today are all blessed with the knowledge and the ability that we need to continue to provide and to figure out what we need to be doing here in Bartow County to address this issue.”
For Bartow, the next step is a GCSA recovery symposium.
“Individuals in the community come together, we foster these collaborative relationships, we see so many different great organizations that are supporting people, but sometimes we lack that connection,” he said. “At that symposium, we not only hear stories that are powerful from individuals … we get to ask the community some strategic questions that the planning committee has decided upon that are important for that community.”
The local GCSA symposium is scheduled for Feb. 13 at 6:30 p.m. at First Presbyterian Church of Cartersville, located at 183 West Main St.
The Glynn County Board of Elections is preparing to implement new voting machines, according to The Brunswick News.
According to Gabriel Sterling, chief operations officer for the Georgia Secretary of State’s office, Glynn County’s machines will arrive around Jan. 22.
An increase from the 224 machines the county currently has, the state is supplying a total of 255 touchscreen ballot-marking devices, as well as the associated printers, power supplies, privacy screens and carrying cases.
Another 26 scanners, 52 poll books, a central scanner and mobile ballot printer for absentee and provisional, amounts to several hundred new pieces of equipment, Sterling said.
Glynn County was slated to get less, but the state has made it a mission to make sure every county has at least one voting machine for every 225 registered voters. Every county gets exactly as many new machines as it had old machines, while those with fewer get as many more machines as they need to reach that 1-to-225 ratio, Sterling said.
In total, the state is sending out 32,000 touchscreens and around 110,000 pieces of equipment. As of Friday, Sterling said around 70 percent of it had been delivered.
On the local side, Elections and Registration Supervisor Chris Channell said the elections board is preparing for big changes in security, staffing and equipment storage and transport.
“The fact is we’re dealing with paper ballots now, which have to be secured and brought down (from polling places to the elections office),” said Patty Gibson, board chair.
The Glynn County Board of Education is beginning planning for the FY 2021 budget, according to The Brunswick News.
Rome will swear in three new City Commissioners, and then a Mayor will be elected by the commission, according to the Rome News Tribune.
For Ward 1, newcomers Jim Bojo and Mark Cochran will join veteran Sundai Stevenson as they are sworn in by Superior Court Chief Judge Bryant Durham at the start of the meeting.
Durham also will swear in Ward 3 newcomer Bonny Askew and veterans Bill Collins and Craig McDaniel. The terms are for four years.
City Attorney Andy Davis will preside over the election of this year’s mayor and pro tem mayor. One year ago, Bill Collins narrowly won the mayoral seat over sitting mayor Jamie Doss.
An injured baby Right Whale has been spotted off the Georgia coast, according to the Savannah Morning News.
A newborn right whale spotted off the coast of Georgia was suffering from deep cuts on either side of its head, dismaying conservationists who closely monitor the southeast U.S. coast during winter for births among the critically endangered species.
The S-shaped gashes, roughly 2 feet (0.6 meters) apart, were likely inflicted by the propeller of a boat, said Barb Zoodsma, who oversees the right whale recovery program in the U.S. Southeast for the National Marine Fisheries Service.
“If this was a human baby, this calf would be in the NICU right now,” Zoodsma said, referring to a hospital’s intensive care unit for babies. ”… And it’s highly unlikely that we can fix this animal.”
Scientists estimate only about 450 North Atlantic right whales survive. Each winter, female right whales migrate south to the shallow, warmer Atlantic waters off Georgia and Florida to have their babies.