Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for January 26, 2015

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Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for January 26, 2015

Georgia History

The Supreme Court of Georgia held its first meeting on January 26, 1846 at Talbotton, Georgia.

John Sammons Bell was born on January 26, 1914 in Macon, Georgia. He would go on to serve as Chairman of the Democratic Party of Georgia, as a Judge on the Georgia Court of Appeals, and as chief judge of the appellate court. He is today best known as the designer of the state flag featuring the Confederate battle flag, which was adopted by the General Assembly in 1956.

On January 26, 2001 a new state flag, first designed by Atlanta architect Cecil Alexander, passed out of committee in the General Assembly by a 4-3 vote and would be voted on later that week. Click here to view the floor debate from 2001.

Georgia Politics

The list of aspirants for two DeKalb County judicial seats – one in State Court, one in Superior court — has been whittled from 72 to 25, and interviews by the Judicial Nominations Committee are expected to begin this week. Notable among the 25:

State Representative Mike Jacobs (R-Brookhaven)

Brookhaven Mayor J. Max Davis

State Senator Ronald Ramsey, Sr. (D-Lithonia)

Former DeKalb County State Court Judge Tony DelCampo

Bob Dallas, who served as Director of the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety under Gov. Sonny Perdue

The Fulton County Daily Report ran an interview with DeKalb County Superior Court Judge Asha Jackson, who discusses her views on accountability courts, the learning curve for a new judge, and diversity on the bench.

The Stone Mountain Judicial Circuit is often the example pointed to by groups who say there should be more diversity among judicial appointees—and those who defend the Deal administration’s recent picks. That’s because the State and Superior courts are among the most diverse in Georgia.

DeKalb County Superior Court has four black female judges, two white female judges, two white male judges, and two black male judges. The circuit also included the state’s first Latino (Tony DelCampo) and Asian-American (Alvin Wong) state court judges. (Delcampo left the State Court bench in 2011 but has applied for reappointment.)

Jackson said she believes diversity on the bench is important. When the makeup of judges reflects the population, there is inherently more trust in the judicial system, she said.

“But that can mean any number of things,” she said. Race. Gender. Socioeconomic status. Even life experience.

Jackson bristles at the suggestion that diversity is a second-tier consideration and not a primary qualification for being a judge.

“I hear people say, ‘I don’t know if we should sacrifice the quality of a candidate to make sure the bench is diverse.’ The very nature of being a diverse candidate is in and of itself a qualification,” she said. “There is a unique experience that comes along with being a woman or an Asian-American or an African-American or a white American.”

As a DeKalb County resident, I would argue that diversity on the bench might be improved with a Jewish member of the bench. After all, Atlanta is home to one of the nation’s largest Jewish communities and DeKalb hosts a number of congregations and a large number of the state’s Jewish citizens. As a constituent and former consultant to State Rep. Jacobs, if anyone asked my opinion, I’d say he would be a great fit for the bench, though I haven’t spoken to him about the current vacancies and haven’t been his consultant for more than a year.

As a bonus, it would open at least one special election, potentially creating a Christmas (or Hanukkah, if you will) in March or June for folks like me.

Georgia General Assembly

Today, the House and Senate convene for Legislative Day Five, and continue each day through Thursday, which marks Legislative Day 8.

 Committee Meetings Today

Mon Jan 26 10:00am – 12:00pm
House Convenes – LD5
12:00pm – 1:00pm
Senate Rules Committee – Upon Adjournment – 450 State Capitol
1:00pm – 2:00pm
Senate Education & Youth – 307 Coverdell Office Building
1:00pm – 2:00pm
House Appropriations Committee – 341 Georgia State Capitol
1:00pm – 2:00pm
Senate Insurance & Labor – 125 State Capitol
2:00pm – 3:00pm
Senate Government Oversight – 123 State Capitol
4:00pm – 5:00pm
Senate Transportation Committee – Senate Mezzanine – State Capitol

 

Savannah’s Mayor and City Council will be in Atlanta this week, speaking to legislators.

During the Georgia Municipal Association’s Mayors’ Day Conference [] through Monday, members of the City Council will attend classes that focus on ethics, economic development, lobbying and environmental sustainability.

In addition, [Mayor Edna] Jackson will attend Visit Savannah’s luncheon for Atlanta-based media representatives Wednesday to help the marketing organization promote the city, said Visit Savannah President Joseph Marinelli.

On Thursday, the mayor and aldermen will get another opportunity to talk with state lawmakers about their priorities for the city during the Savannah Area Chamber of Commerce’s annual Savannah-Chatham Day. The day kicks off with a breakfast that will be followed by legislative meetings and a seafood reception later that afternoon and into the evening.

Throughout the week, Jackson said she will reiterate the council’s legislative agenda to lawmakers.

Among this year’s priorities, the city is seeking state funding for the extension of the Hutchinson Island riverwalk around the harbor east of The Westin Savannah Harbor Golf Resort & Spa. That push is in anticipation of a mixed-use development being built east of the harbor.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is seeking a 12% raise for medical examiners to compete with other employers.

The GBI says the 12 percent pay increase for its forensic pathologists, reported by Morris News Service earlier this week, is needed to remain competitive. The GBI currently has 12 medical examiners – 10 in Decatur and two in Sa­van­nah – but recently lost another to a metro Atlanta county offering higher pay, spokeswoman Sherry Lang said Friday.

She estimates that there are only 450 forensic pathologists qualified to do the work the GBI now expects from its medical examiners, and that current salaries are set below most offered by other agencies.

State records show GBI Chief Med­ical Examiner Kris Sperry earned nearly $184,000 in 2014. The lowest paid examiner, Dr. Douglas Posey Jr., made just over $123,000.

Lang said the salary bump is part of an effort to retain quality pathologists while attracting others to the state. However, Richmond County Coroner Mark Bowen said he thinks Augusta would be better served by bringing another medical examiner to the now-empty autopsy suite at the crime laboratory on Phinizy Road.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has released new guidelines for the use of cannabis derivatives in children.

With virtually no hard proof that medical marijuana benefits sick children, and evidence that it may harm developing brains, the drug should only be used for severely ill kids who have no other treatment option, the nation’s most influential pediatricians group says in a new policy.

Some parents insist that medical marijuana has cured their kids’ troublesome seizures or led to other improvements, but the American Academy of Pediatrics’ new policy says rigorous research is needed to verify those claims.

To make it easier to study and develop marijuana-based treatments, the group recommends removing marijuana from the government’s most restrictive drug category, which includes heroin, LSD and other narcotics with no accepted medical use, and switching it to the category which includes methadone and oxycodone.

The academy’s qualified support may lead more pediatricians to prescribe medical marijuana, but the group says pediatric use should only be considered “for children with life-limiting or severely debilitating conditions and for whom current therapies are inadequate.”

The academy also repeated its previous advice against legalizing marijuana for recreational use by adults, suggesting that may enable easier access for kids. It does not address medical marijuana use in adults.

An editorial masquerading as a news story in the AJC suggests that factionalism within Georgia’s Republican legislative delegation is a “roadblock on [the] path to transportation [infrastructure financing] bill.”

There are 157 Republicans in the 236-member Georgia General Assembly. They have the clout to pass almost anything.

But there’s one big problem. Policywise, Georgia Republicans increasingly don’t get along.

Much like Democrats at the end of their reign late last century, the modern Republican majority is fractious. There are tea party Republicans, liberty Republicans, social conservative Republicans, old-school Republicans and, well, Republicans who are Republicans because they have to get re-elected.

Intraparty fights are inevitable, said Rep. Alan Powell, R-Hartwell.

“Parties are more polarized,” he said. “You have conservative, ultraconservative, down to moderately conservative” Republicans in the Legislature, he said, adding that “we have one or two closeted liberals.”

If legislative leaders are serious about passing true, substantive measures this year that include any tax increase — hint: a $1.5 billion fix for the state’s ailing transportation system — it will require leaders in the House and Senate to cobble together a coalition made up of bits and pieces of all those myriad factions.

Here are my issues with that editorial. First, there is not yet any transportation bill. For there to be a roadblock to a bill, there has to be a bill and today, there isn’t one.

Second, it assumes as fact that a tax increase is needed to fix the transportation system.

Finally, it chalks up to factions within the General Assembly issues that begin with the electorate at large. A poll by Landmark Communications last week showed that nearly 61% of Georgians surveyed oppose raising taxes to pay for transportation needs and that percentage rises to nearly two-thirds among self-identified Republicans.

Those numbers echo findings from a survey conducted for the AJC itself.

[N]early 60 percent of Georgians believe improving transportation is important and nearly 70 percent support new bus and rail lines. Yet only 36 percent of respondents said they’d pay higher taxes to fund any kind of transportation project.

Georgians also have little interest in lowering the state income tax in exchange for paying higher state sales taxes, including any new tax on groceries. A solid 62 percent oppose the idea, compared with 34 percent who supported it.

The AJC poll shows that among self-identified Republicans, only 29% support a higher gasoline tax to pay for transportation. Attempting to buy off voters with a lower state income tax in exchange for a higher sales tax and tax on groceries only nets 15% additional Republican support and actually reduces support among all respondents from 36% to 34%.

This is how representative government works. It’s a feature not a bug. If increased taxes are the price to pay for increased prosperity and better roads and transit, the case must be made to the voters, and at this date it appears they aren’t buying it.

A distillery in Edgefield, South Carolina near Augusta, Georgia is part of a booming business trend in the Palmetto State.

The craft distilling industry across the state of South Carolina has been a booming one since 2009, when South Carolina legislators dropped the biennial license fee to $5,000 for micro-distilleries and allowed on-site retail sales.

Long said when Carolina Moon opened last December, there were only a handful of other businesses like theirs in the state. Now, there are 22 micro-distilleries registered with the South Carolina Department of Revenue, according to spokeswoman Bonnie Swingle.

Georgia has 16 permitted distilleries in the state, according to Jim Harris, head of the Georgia Distillers Association and owner of Moonrise Distillery in Clayton, Ga.

The trend is similar nationally. The American Distilling Institute shows the craft distillery market on a pace that doubles every three years. In 2008, only about 109 craft distillers were in existence in the U.S. By 2013, that number multiplied to 425.

A license allowing Carolina Moon to export liquor into Georgia is pending and could be approved within the next couple of months. But, as with South Carolina, the business partners must find a distributor first before any sales across the state border can take place.

Floyd County Republican Party Chair Layla Shipmen took up the pen to defend Republican Congressman Tom Graves and refute an earlier Letter to the Editor in the Rome News-Tribune.

The premise of Mr. Fuller’s column was that a new rule passed by the House of Representatives, under which the House must now operate, was an assault on Social Security. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The rule that Mr. Fuller attacked simply prevents funds from being transferred between the Social Security and Disability trust funds, which is an accounting trick liberals in Congress have used in the past to cover up existing shortfalls in one trust fund at the expense of the other.

Rep. Graves clearly understands the need to preserve Social Security for current beneficiaries and for future generations. Instead of allowing a deceptive accounting trick to continue, Rep. Graves voted for a House rule that demands honesty in this vital program’s accounting practices and puts pressure on Congress to find sustainable solutions to save Social Security for generations to come.

Genetically-modified mosquitos may be set loose in Florida as a way of combatting some blood-borne diseases. I’m glad that scientists have figured out how to suspend the operation of the Law of Unintended Consequences. I write that as I look out over the nice kudzu patch in my back yard.

Georgia Department of Natural Resources may extend trout season to year-round.

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Resources Division says the changes would remove the “mountain” trout season and would open all trout waters all year long.

The department has two public hearings scheduled so people can offer input on the proposed changes. One is set for Feb. 10 at the Fair Street Neighborhood Center in Gainesville, and the other is to be held Feb. 12 at the Red Top Mountain State Park conference center. Both hearings are scheduled for 7 p.m.

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