Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for March 9, 2015


Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for March 9, 2015

March 8, 1862 saw the Confederate ironclad CSS Virginia at Hampton Roads, VA, take ninety-eight hits from Union warships without sinking. Virginia sank USS Cumberland after ramming it, blew up USS Congress, and ran USS Minnesota aground. It was the worst day in US Naval history at that time. On the next day, March 9, 1862, Virginia and USS Monitor, a Union ironclad, fought to a draw in the Chesapeake Bay.

On March 9, 1866, Governor Charles Jones Jenkins signed two pieces of legislation dealing with African-Americans, one recognized their marriages, the other legitimized children born to African-American couples prior to the act and required parents to maintain their children in the same way white were required.

Bobby Fischer, the Eleventh World Champion of Chess, was born on March 9, 1943 and is considered by many the greatest player of all time.

Governor Ellis Arnall signed two important pieces of legislation on March 9, 1945. The first created the Georgia Ports Authority, with its first project being the expansion of the Port of Savannah. The second authorized the placement of a referendum to adopt a new state Constitution (in the form of a single Amendment to the Constitution of 1877) on the ballot in a Special Election to be held August 7, 1945.

On March 8, 1946, a conference convened on Wilmington Island, near Savannah, that would lead to the creation of the International Monetary Fund and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, commonly called the World Bank.

On March 8, 1946, a special train arrived at Savannah’s Union Station from Washington, holding nearly 300 delegates, government officials, technical experts and reporters from 35 nations. Thousands of Savannahians watched as a 100-car motorcade rolled along flag-bedecked streets to the General Oglethorpe Hotel on Wilmington Island.

Treasury Secretary Fred M. Vinson headed the American delegation; the British were led by John Maynard Keynes, “the father of modern macroeconomics.”

The stakes were enormous.

Two years earlier, as World War II neared its murderous end, the winning Allies pondered the nature of the postwar global economy. The United States was emerging as the leader of the free world, largely supplanting the British Empire, gravely weakened by the war.

The IMF and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (better known as the World Bank) were born at a July 1944 conference in Bretton Woods, N.H., where 44 countries established rules for the global monetary system.

The IMF was intended to promote international economic cooperation and secure global financial stability, providing countries with short-term loans. The World Bank would offer long-term loans to assist developing countries in building dams, roads and other physical capital.

The Bretton Woods agreements were ratified internationally by December 1945. Vinson, seeking a site for the new organizations’ inaugural meetings, sent Treasury agents around the country. “They made some fine reports on Savannah,” he later told the Morning News. He had never visited the city.

On March 9, 1970, Governor Lester Maddox signed legislation setting the Georgia minimum wage at $1.25 per hour.

On March 8, 1982, President Ronald Reagan called the Soviet Union “an evil empire” for the second time, in an address to the National Association of Evangelicals.

On Friday, March 6, 2015, former Fulton County Commissioner Tom Lowe died, having served more than 40 years in office from his election in 1974 as the first Republican member of the Commission until this past December.

Famously cantankerous, Lowe carried a pistol to meetings in the mid-1980s after he learned a fellow commissioner was also packing heat. He said at the time he would “be damned if I’m going to be overgunned.”

After earning a civil engineering degree at Auburn University, Lowe worked in heavy construction, building highways, railroads and dams. In 1957, he founded Lowe Engineers Inc., a civil engineering firm. He later developed commercial and industrial properties in metro Atlanta.

The Tom and Bettye Lowe Lobby and Grand Foyer at Auburn University’s Shelby Center for Engineering Technology was named in recognition of the Lowes’ support of the Samuel Ginn School of Engineering.

Would anyone care to join me at the Tom Lowe Shooting Grounds for a memorial round of skeet or trap in his honor?

Under the Gold Dome Today

Today is the 28th Legislative Day of the 2015 Session of the Georgia General Assembly. Day 30, called Crossover Day, will be Friday.

To maintain a chance of becoming law, bills must be approved by the chamber they originated in by midnight Friday. Yes, that’s Friday, March 13. No, legislative leaders say, that’s not symbolic.

Alan Riquelmy of the Rome News-Tribune writes of the pace as we hurtle toward Crossover Day.

Crossover Day is the 30th day of the legislative session. This year it falls on Friday. Lawmakers from across the state will push, pray and plead to get their bills to a vote by this day. Otherwise their legislation must wait until next year’s session.

“We’ll be hearing these bills all day long,” said state Rep. Eddie Lumsden, R-Armuchee. “It will be very intense.”

It’s the same on the other side of the Gold Dome.

“Crossover Day is always a busy time,” said state Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome. “I think we’ll be there late on Friday, as everyone tries to get their bills through.”

8:00am – 9:00am Senate Transportation Committee – 125 cap
8:00am – 9:00am Senate Nat’l Res & Env Upon Adj of Transportation – 125 cap
8:30am – 9:30am Senate Veterans, Military, & Homeland Security – 123 cap
8:30am – 9:30am Senate Finance Committee – 450 cap
8:30am – 10:00am House Pak Sub of Judiciary Non-Civil – 132 cap
9:00am – 10:00am House Rules Committee – 341 cap
12:00pm – 1:00pm Senate Rules – Upon Adjournment – 450 cap
1:00pm – 2:00pm House Life & Health Sub of Insurance – 506 clob
1:30pm – 3:30pm House Judiciary Non Civil Committee – 132 cap
2:00pm – 3:00pm House Game, Fish, & Parks Committee – 403 cap
2:00pm – 3:00pm Senate Appropriations Bonds Sub – 341 cap
2:00pm – 3:00pm House Motor Vehicles Committee – 606 clob
2:00pm – 3:00pm House Juvenile Justice Committee – 506 clob
2:00pm – 3:00pm House Fleming Sub of Judiciary Civil – 216 cap
2:00pm – 4:00pm House Legis & Cong Reapportionment – 415 clob
3:00pm – 4:00pm House Agriculture – Cancelled – 403 cap
3:00pm – 4:00pm House Energy, Utilities, & Telecomm – 506 clob
3:00pm – 5:00pm House Judiciary Civil Committee – 515 clob
3:00pm – 5:00pm House Health & Human Svcs Committee – 606 clob
3:30pm – 4:30pm House Education Committee – 406 clob
4:00pm – 5:00pm House Ways & Means Committee – 506 clob
4:00pm – 5:00pm Senate Judiciary Non Civil Committee – 307 clob
4:00pm – 5:00pm Senate Interstate Cooperation – 125 cap

Senate Rules Calendar

HB 90 – Code Revision Commission; repeal portions of said Code, or Acts; provisions (As Passed House) (JUDY-29th) Willard-51st

SB 132 – “Quality Basic Education Act”; program for high school students to attend postsecondary institutions; provisions; ‘Move on When Ready Act’ (As Introduced) (ED&Y-30th)

SB 69 – State Defense Force; remove restrictions; rights of public officers and employees to be absent for service; reemployment rights (As Introduced) (VM&HS-32nd)

SB 134 – Speed Detection Devices; provide for a rebuttable presumption for law enforcement agencies’ use of speed detection devices (As Introduced) (PUB SAF-23rd)

SB 156 – State Charter Schools Commission; authorize to establish a nonprofit foundation (As Introduced) (ED&Y-37th)

SB 168 – State Symbols; designate the Old Governor’s Mansion as the official state historic house (As Introduced) (H ED-25th)

SB 175 – Animal Protection; require inspection of certain animals entering into the state (As Introduced) (AG&CA-8th)

SR 296 – Senator Lawrence (Bud) Stumbaugh Bridge; DeKalb County; dedicate (As Introduced) (Substitute) (TRANS-41st)

House Rules Calendar

Modified Open Rule

HB 385 Health records; determining annual cost adjustment for providing medical records from Office of Planning and Budget to Department of Community Health; move responsibility (GAff-Nimmer-178th)

HB 386 Georgia Coordinating Committee for Rural and Human Services Transportation; Chapter 12 of Title 32; repeal (GAff-Nimmer-178th)

Modified Structured Rule

HB 110 Fireworks; provide for sale of consumer fireworks; provisions (Substitute)(RegI-Roberts-155th)

HB 212 Pain management clinics; health care professionals who must be on-site for the clinics to provide medical treatment or services; revise a provision (Substitute)(H&HS-Weldon-3rd)

HB 296 Scholarship program; special needs students; expand eligibility (Substitute)(Ed-Nix-69th)

HB 353 Nonpublic postsecondary educational institutions; revise definitions; revise provisions (Substitute)(HEd-Rogers-29th)

HB 397 State Soil and Water Conservation Commission; revise provisions; provisions (Substitute)(A&CA-Knight-130th)

Structured Rule

HB 492 Crimes and offenses; carrying in unauthorized locations; revise provisions (Substitute)(PS&HS-Jasperse-11th)

Rachel’s Law in Subcommittee Today

House Bill 244 by State Rep. Chuck Efstration, a version of “Rachel’s Law” to strengthen Georgia’s resources against Sex Trafficking of Minors, will be presented in the Pak Subcommittee of the House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee at 8:30 this morning.

Medical Marijuana advances in Senate

In the Senate, SB 185 by Sen. Lindsey Tippins (R-Marietta) passed out of the Health and Human Services Committee last week.

The Senate bill would expand clinical trials of cannabis oil in Georgia for those under 18 with seizure disorders. Sen. Lindsey Tippins, R-Marietta, says his bill wouldn’t make the state do anything illegal under federal law.

“I’m concerned about the liability side of some of the other options that have been forward,” Tippins said.

Those legislative options were passed by the House. They would decriminalize cannabis oil for Georgians with nine medical conditions including cancer and Crohn’s disease.

Supporters of the broad version, including its sponsor Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, say the Senate bill wouldn’t help enough Georgians. This week, Peake held a rally to push for an expanded version.

The full Senate could vote on its medical marijuana bill next week. The vote depends on whether the Senate rules committee puts the bill on the Senate’s agenda.

Sarah Fay Campbell of the Newnan Times-Herald has more on the two bills.

Coweta Sen. Mike Crane, R-Newnan, is one of many co-sponsors of HB 185. Crane said he wants to help families, and he doesn’t want to keep people from a medicine that can help them, but the state needs to do it the right way.

And that has to start at the federal level – with the reclassification of marijuana. Currently, marijuana is considered a “Schedule 1” drug. Schedule I drugs are defined by the Drug Enforcement Agency as drugs with “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.”

According to the DEA, “Schedule I drugs are the most dangerous drugs of all the drug schedules with potentially severe psychological or physical dependence.”

With marijuana as a Schedule I drug, “for HB 1 and even, technically, for SB 185, we’re thumbing our nose at federal law,” Crane said. “Am I not someone who has sworn to uphold the law? We want to do it right. If we could get cannabis removed from Schedule I to Schedule II, that’s where all the effort needs to be made. That just frees up everything and creates a true legal framework to deal with this for us as a state.”

It wouldn’t take much to make that change. “If cocaine can be Schedule II, don’t you think with a little bit of effort, given the current political climate, that marijuana could be moved?” Crane said.

“You only need two people in Washington to make this happen: a leader in the Senate and a leader in the House,” Crane said. Once that happens, “we can create a quick framework that the private sector can work legally in.”

Crane said a big question with CBD treatment is how the Department of Family and Children’s Services would respond if parents start treating their children with the marijuana derivative.

“I’m hoping we can get them in front of a committee so they can weigh in on how they are going to treat families that are dealing with this kind of thing,” Crane said. “If you can create that environment where parents feel comfortable getting what they need for their kids.” Crane said he doesn’t think anybody wants to stop parents from doing the right thing for their children.

Though he’s worried about HB 1, “I encourage parents to do whatever they need to do for their children,” Crane said.

“I’m looking for the best way forward that is legal, where we are right now, to provide relief for as many of these folks as we can.”

“People just jump over that bill as if it is the demon bill,” Crane said. The state is already sponsoring a study of Epidiolex, a CBD-based seizure medicine from British company GW Pharmaceuticals.

“SB 185 opens it up much broader” and will hopefully get treatment to more children, he said.

“I try to encourage people – when you have a framework that is opening the door, don’t just shout it down. Then you get nowhere. At least move this forward. If we create this, let the evidence build on your side, let the real data come in” to support claims of CDB’s effectiveness, Crane said.

I really appreciate the Times-Herald’s longer take on the complexities of medical cannabis.

Maggie Lee, writing for The Macon Telegraph notes that it doesn’t have to come down to one or the other of the two medical marijuana bills.

[Senate Health and Human Services Committee Chair Renee] Unterman said she envisions blending the House and Senate bills. Peake said the two need not be mutually exclusive.

How did I miss this part of the Transportation Finance Act?

Somehow I had either noticed and forgotten, or I hadn’t noticed, but this weekend, Michael Graham reminded me: part of the Transportation Finance Act, which sets Georgia’s gas tax at a 29.2 cent per gallon excise tax, is linking future values to the fuel efficiency of new vehicles.

This excise tax will be adjusted annually based on Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards and the National Highway Construction Cost Index.

For those of you who would like to see for yourselves, it’s on Page 15 of House Bill 170, beginning at line 442.

(B) Using 2014 as a base year, the department shall determine the average miles per gallon of all new vehicles registered in this state pursuant to Code Section 48-5C-1 using the average of combined miles per gallon published in the United States Department of Energy Fuel Economy Guide. Beginning on July 1, 2016, and each year thereafter, the department shall calculate the average miles per gallon of all new vehicles registered in this state in the previous year. The excise tax rate shall be multiplied by the percentage increase or decrease in fuel efficiency from the previous year, and the resulting increase or decrease shall be added to the excise tax rate to determine the preliminary excise tax rate.

(C) Once the preliminary excise tax rate is established, it shall be multiplied by the annual percentage of increase or decrease in highway construction costs as measured by the National Highway Construction Cost Index published by the Office of Highway Policy Information of the Federal Highway Administration. The resulting calculation shall be added to the preliminary excise tax rate, and the result of such calculation shall be the new excise tax rate for motor fuels for the next calendar year.

Part B means that if fuel efficiency increases, the excise tax on gasoline will increase, while Part C means that if the cost of building highways increases, the excise tax on gasoline will increase.

I had a conversation this weekend with a legislator, who noted that there is no natural constituency to argue publicly for prioritizing transportation funds, whereas other major funding issues have plenty of “faces.” That dynamic also makes it easy to short maintenance, as no one may notice until infrastructure is crumbling.

The Macon Telegraph spotlights some of the problems with delayed maintenance of transportation infrastructure.

Across Georgia, bridge maintenance isn’t a high priority, mainly because it’s such an invisible issue. Generally, the public and political leaders pay attention to a bridge only if it’s part of a major problem. Otherwise, more pressing priorities tend to draw limited tax dollars.

Across Georgia, there are 6,671 state-owned bridges and 8,004 locally owned ones. The state spends about $154 million per year on bridge projects (construction, maintenance or repair), far below the estimated $610 million [GDOT Deputy Commissioner Todd]  Long said the state needs for bridge work.

Long said 1,622 state bridges need to be replaced over the next 20 years, which would cost the state about $322 million per year.

“We should be replacing 89 structures a year to maintain a 75-year life cycle,” he said.

In 2014, though, the DOT replaced 60 bridges.

For locally owned bridges, cities and counties need to replace about 107 bridges per year over the next 20 years, at a cost of about $240 million per year. More than 200 bridges in Middle Georgia are considered deficient, according to the National Bridge Inventory.

“It’s a huge issue on local government,” Long said. “Local governments don’t have a lot of money in general. We can post (load-limit) signs accordingly, but it doesn’t solve the problem.”

I think it’s pretty clear that as a country, we’ve spent a lot of money building stuff,” [Macon-Bibb County engineer David] Fortson said. “We do a good job of building stuff, but we don’t do a good job of maintaining stuff because maintaining stuff doesn’t get a lot of attention. It doesn’t get you a lot of political points. … Part of it is a human nature thing. They like to build stuff, they don’t like to maintain. But they need to maintain.”

Legislation to ease restrictions on a Newnan facility of Cancer Treatment Centers of America is also among those racing toward Crossover Day.

The proposed House Bill 482 would eliminate the cancer hospital’s current requirement that 65 percent of patients come from out of state and lift the 50 inpatient bed cap. Currently, only 35 percent of its patients can come from Georgia.

Piedmont Hospital, which is with Georgia Hospital Association and has its Newnan facility operating within three miles of CTCA, opposes the proposed amendment.

“We want a fair playing field, we don’t want the rules to bend in favor of a for-profit, out-of-state hospital,” said Matt Gove, chief consumer officer of Piedmont Healthcare.

Piedmont Newnan is a not-for-profit hospital, while CTCA is a for-profit one.

But Newnan CTCA Chief Operating Officer David Kent says the proposal isn’t about cornering a market or favorable legislature, but about patient choice to receive the best health care available.

“State law is too restrictive in Georgia. We (CTCA and other specialized destination care hospitals) need to be able to say yes to more in-state patients,” said Kent. “Certificate of Need is vital to protect not-for-profit hospitals, not patients.”

Gov. Deal

On Friday, Gov. Deal attended a groundbreaking at Gwinnett Tech, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post,

While invitations for the event still labeled it a groundbreaking, the governor had a different name for the gathering that was postponed from six months ago because of weather.

“We’re not having a groundbreaking today, we’re having a mud stirring today,” Gov. Nathan Deal said. “In looking at the facility that’s coming up out of the ground, it is very impressive the amount of work that’s been done in a relatively short amount of time.”

Deal spoke on Friday morning from a heated tent steps away from ongoing construction for the new Alpharetta campus of Gwinnett Technical College. The campus is located at Old Milton Parkway and Ga. 400 across from the Avalon shopping center.

Joshua Silavent of The Gainesville Times interviewed Governor Deal,

[A]sked during a sit-down interview last week with The Times if his legacy is something he thinks about, Deal responded, “No. I just try to make sure that every day we try to advance the state of Georgia.”

Failing schools degrade the workforce and grow the prison population, Deal said.

“That [Opportunity School District] constitutional amendment is one of the primary pieces of legislation we are focused on,” Deal said.

Lawmakers are also working on changes to the funding formula for public schools. But whenever money is at stake, a dogfight is likely.

Deal also said growth in higher education is critical to address.

“I think in Hall County, we’re at a point where we need to look to see if we need a relocation of our technical college in order to attract more students and expand needs,” he said.

The root of the problem, Deal said, lies in mentality. Failing schools have become an “accepted reality.”

The interview is worth reading in  its entirety.

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