Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for March 10, 2015


Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for March 10, 2015

On March 10, 1734, a group of German immigrants reached the mouth of the Savannah River, from where they would proceed on to Savannah. Today, the Georgia Salzburgers Society works to preserve the Salzburger heritage and traditions in Georgia.

On March 10, 1866, Governor Charles Jones Jenkins signed legislation allowing women to have bank accounts separate from their husbands as long as the balance was less than $2000; an earlier act set the limit at $1000.

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 10, 1876, Alexander Graham Bell transmitted the first speech over his new invention, the telephone.

Thomas B. Murphy was born on March 10, 1924 in Bremen, Georgia and would first be elected to office in the 1950s, winning a seat on the Bremen Board of Education. In 1960, Murphy ran for the State House facing no opposition and was sworn in in 1961. In 1973, he became Speaker Murphy and would hold the post until Bill Heath, a Republican, beat him in the November 2002 General Election.

Murphy held the top House seat for longer than anyone in any American state legislature. He died on December 17, 2007.

Under the Gold Dome Today

8:00am – 9:00am House Game, Fish, & Parks – 403 cap
9:00am – 10:00am House State Plan. & Comm. Affairs – 403 cap
9:00am – 10:00am House Local Gov’t Sub of Gov’tal Affairs – 133 cap
10:30am – 11:30am House Reg. Ind. Sub of Regulated Industries – 514 clob
11:00am – 11:30am House Alcohol & Tobacco Sub RI – 506 clob
11:00am – 12:00pm House Insurance Committee – 606 clob
11:30am – 12:30pm House Regulated Industries – 506 clob
1:00pm – 2:00pm Senate Interstate Cooperation – 123 cap
1:00pm – 2:00pm Senate Science & Tech. – Canceled – 310 clob
2:00pm – 3:00pm House Energy, Utilities, & Telecom. – 403 cap
2:00pm – 3:00pm House Higher Education – 515 clob
2:00pm – 3:00pm Senate Urban Affairs – Canceled – 328 clob
2:00pm – 4:00pm House Juvenile Justice – 406 clob
3:00pm – 4:00pm Senate Nat’l Resources & Env’t – Canceled – 450 cap
3:00pm – 5:00pm House State Govt Sub of Gov’tal Affairs – 415 clob

The House Ways & Means Committee voted to recommend passage of HB 243 by State Rep. Mark Hamilton (R-Forsyth), which would allow parents to use some of the state dollars that would otherwise go to public schools toward alternatives for educating their children. According to the AJC:

The House Ways & Means Committee voted largely along party lines for House Bill 243 by Rep. Mark Hamilton, R-Cumming, which would let parents take what the state now pays for a child’s public school education and put it into a “savings account.” That $3,500 to $5,000 annually, Hamilton said, could be used to pay for private school tuition or other alternatives to public schooling.

School and teacher groups have argued that Hamilton’s bill is nothing more than a private school voucher that would siphon money from public schools. Democrats on the committee largely opposed it.

Hamilton called it “parental choice.”

“We are giving a menu of choices to parents,” Hamilton said. “This is not an anti-public school system bill.”

The Georgia Senate passed SB 134 by Sen. Jesse Stone (R-Waynesboro) to regulate alleged “speed traps.”

Senate Bill 134 makes it easier to win in court if given a ticket by law-enforcement agency that gets more than 40 percent of its revenue from traffic citations. Drivers already can fight tickets in those places, but current law has an exception that doesn’t count tickets for speeding more than 17 miles per hour above the limit.

Several agencies instruct officers not to issue tickets below 17 mph over the limit so that none of its citations will count toward that 40 percent.

State Rep. Heath Clark introduced two gun carry bills that aren’t likely going anywhere this session.

Clark’s first bill says anyone who is eligible to get a concealed-carry permit could buy a legal firearm without getting a license from the state. The gun seller would perform the necessary background check.

“It doesn’t change who or where you can carry,” Clark said of his House Bill 543. But “you wouldn’t have to pay (for a license) or ask the state permission to do so.”

The second, House Bill 544, would allow legal carriers to take their firearms onto public university and college campuses. Private schools would get the option, as private properties, to ban them.

“What it’s looking after is the people … that work during the day and go to class at night that they’ll be able to defend themselves,” Clark said.

With the annual legislative session nearly three-quarters finished, no action should be expected until next year, said Jerry Henry, executive director of Georgia Carry.Org, a Second Amendment advocacy group.

State Senator Burt Jones and 21 co-sponsors have introduced Senate Resolution 451 to study a state takeover of Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson Airport. According to the Macon Telegraph,

“A lot of the transportation issues … the problems we have talked about in this state, are metro Atlanta issues, and I feel like we need to talk about metro Atlanta solutions,” said state Sen. Burt Jones, R-Jackson.

“It’s always been operated by the city of Atlanta. … We need to look at a mechanism, I think, similar to what we do with the World Congress Center Authority as well as the Georgia Ports Authority,” he said.

But the airport idea is only half the resolution, which also proposes reviewing all of Georgia’s tax breaks. There are a few hundred tax breaks, counting income and sales taxes which are further broken down by individuals and corporations.

Jones wants to compare “which ones are of value to the state” and which could sunset.

Polls and Transportation Freedom

Last week, we ran an online poll of our readers on several legislative issues – click here to see the actual questionsclick here to see the full results.

What strikes me at the outset is a set of questions regarding transportation issues.

Do you support or oppose House Bill 122, which would repeal the $5000 state tax credit for purchases of electric vehicles and which will cost taxpayers $45 million dollars this year?

Support 76.81% 212
Oppose 17.39% 48
Undecided 5.80% 16
Unanswered 1
Total 276


Do you support or oppose allowing Tesla Motors to sell up to 1500 all-electric vehicles directly to consumers without going through a franchised auto dealer?

Support 84.67% 232
Undecided 9.49% 26
Oppose 5.84% 16
Unanswered 3
Total 274


Do you support or oppose legislation to restrict the ability of ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft to compete against traditional taxi companies?

Oppose 76.92% 200
Support 13.46% 35
Undecided 9.62% 25
Unanswered 17
Total 260

First, I will note that the Uber/Lyft question was added after responses started, which accounts for the higher rate of unanswered questions.

Yesterday, Jeremy Berry tweeted noting the interesting apparent dichotomy of voters favoring direct sales by Tesla Motors while also wanting to repeal the state’s $5000 tax credit for electric vehicles. To me, it’s simple: a market exists for electric vehicles that no longer requires government subsidies.

In any case, yesterday, the House Motor Vehicles Committee recommended passage of House Bill 393 by Chuck Martin (R-Alpharetta), which would further open the door to Tesla sales in Georgia. From the Atlanta Business Chronicle,

Compromise legislation that would let California-based Tesla sell an unlimited number of its all-electric sedans in Georgia at five locations cleared a legislative committee Monday.

The Georgia House of Representatives’ Motor Vehicles Committee signed off on an agreement worked out between the bill’s chief sponsor, Rep. Chuck Martin, and lobbyists representing Tesla and the Georgia Automotive Dealers Association.

Unlike the rest of the auto industry, Tesla (Nasdaq: TSLA) sells its Model S sedan directly to customers, bypassing franchised dealer networks. Tesla, which argues its hands-on model offers better control on the buying experience and eliminates middleman costs, is battling dealership-friendly laws in several states, including Texas, New Jersey and Arizona.

What Would Brett Harrell Do?

I rarely find myself asking that question, but the answer is almost always “smoke a cigar and try to further open up Georgia’s alcoholic beverage restrictions.” But in this case, it’s a real question, as it involved the State Rep’s day job – proudly listed on the state legislative site as “garbageman.”

A garbage collector in Sandy Springs was ordered to serve 30 days in jail for the heinous crime of showing up to work too early, though the sentence has been reduced due to public questioning of its harshness.

The Sandy Springs Municipal Court has amended its sentence against a Waste Management garbage man after people complained about the punishment on social media.

Kevin McGill was cited Feb. 5 for violating the city’s noise ordinance, running his route at 5 a.m. The ordinance prohibits collecting prior to 7 a.m. He appeared in Municipal Court with his employer Feb 20. His employer told the solicitor McGill had been suspended for violating the ordinance, which is against company practice. McGill agreed to a plea deal, which included a 30-day prison sentence, which he could serve on the weekends.

In a statement Monday, the Sandy Springs Solicitors Office and its Municipal Court announced it is reducing the sentence to time served and probation because this was a first offense. McGill has already served two weekends in jail as part of his sentence.

“There are times when taking a step back provides the opportunity for better perspective,” the statement read. “In retrospect, the actions of the court with regards to Mr. McGill’s sentence for violating the city’s noise laws, was disproportionate to a first-time offense. As such, the court has amended its sentence to time served and further probation suspended.

Earlier stories noted that, “911 lights up when trash haulers come before 7 AM.” Here’s an idea: how about jailing folks who call 911 to report that trash is being picked up too early?

Fighting Minor Sex Trafficking

The AJC Political Insider notes:

It seems like the plot of a bad episode of CSI: A conservative state Public Service Commissioner takes a busload of legislators on a drive through a gritty red light district.

Tim Echols has already led one “unholy tour” of Atlanta’s sketchy dark side back in January. He’s planning a second venture on Tuesday and his bus is already booked solid – with a growing waiting list.

The tours are borrowed from a technique used by English abolitionist William Wilberforce to give politicians a first-hand look at the worst part of their culture. They’re aimed at shedding a spotlight on sex trafficking, prostitution and other crimes that lawmakers want to halt.

Outside Metro Atlanta

Occasionally, I have to remind myself that there is life outside Atlanta and the Gold Dome.

On Thursday, a meeting will be held to discuss the planned merger of Georgia Perimeter College and Georgia State University.

The meeting, hosted by Pride Rings in Stone Mountain (PRISM) and Rep. Michele Henson, D-Stone Mountain, will be held at 7 p.m. on Thursday at St. Timothy’s United Methodist Church at 5365 Memorial Drive in Stone Mountain.

In Augusta, candidates for the District 7 Commission seat met in a forum ahead of the March 17 special election.

The candidates are retired Army Lt. Col. and businessman Sonny Pittman, Ronald McDonald House Development Director Sean Frantom and insurance agent and interim District 7 Commissioner Louis “Hap” Harris. They took questions from a West Augusta Alliance audience, moderator Jorge Lopez and each other.

On Mayor Hardie Davis’ recent push for more power, Pittman said he favored the changes – increased power, and whether to give it to a sitting mayor – being put before voters to decide. He’d vote yes on the first and no on the second, Pittman said.

Harris said he’d “immediately stood up” and opposed Davis’ request for a larger budget last year.

“I’m more inclined to think the power should go to Mrs. (Janice Allen) Jackson,” the city administrator, Harris said. “Take the power away from us and give it to her.”

The Augusta Commission is considering putting a SPLOST on the November ballot this year after last year’s attempt was voted down.

“Misappropriating a state bed” is about the least-romantic thing I’ve ever heard of, but former Augusta Commissioner Donnie Smith is accused of just that and more.

The Savannah-Chatham County Elections Board can agree that they disagree – and are unable to name a chairman, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Now that the elections board has acknowledged it will be unable to reach a decision, the county’s delegation to the Georgia General Assembly will be required to present a list of five potential candidates to the county commission. The commission will select the next chairman from that list.

The position has been vacant since the end of last year when the four-year term of former chairman Joe Steffen came to a close. The elections board in January advertised the post and on Feb. 3, they interviewed the four applicants for the position: Steffen, Wendy Hall, Tom Mahoney and Frank Murray.

The City of Byron is seeking a $500k block grant from the Georgia Department of Community Affairs for improvements to their water system.

The Muscogee County Public School Board is considering addressing “salary compression” for employees.

A combination of state budget cuts from the Great Recession and market conditions increasing the compensation package to attract some new employees, Tessin said, has resulted in no raises for many employees during the past nine years, some veteran employees earning less than new hires in the same job and some employees earning less than the staff they supervise.

Drama’s not just for DeKalb – a City Council meeting in Stockbridge nearly erupted in fisticuffs and may yet break out in lawsuits.

Mayor Pro Tem Alphonso Thomas said he is planning to take legal action against Mayor Tim Thompson regarding an incident during Thursday’s executive session.

Thomas filed a police report with the Henry County Police Department Friday at the city hall alleging that Thompson threatened him during the closed session.

According to the report, Thompson threatened Thomas by telling him he will “take him to the parking lot and beat his (expletive).”

The report indicated that while having a discussion, Thompson began screaming and shouting and pointing his finger. Thompson later walked out of executive session screaming “he is tired of this (expletive),” and “he is not taking this (expletive) anymore,” according to the report.

The report also alleges that Thompson threw a water bottle and had to be restrained by three or four people.

Cherokee County foreclosures are down 64 percent against the figures for a year ago, according to the Cherokee Tribune.

In February, 71 properties were advertised in the Cherokee Tribune, the county’s legal organ. Compared to the 196 foreclosed properties in 2014, it marks a 64 percent decrease over last year.

The continuous drop so far this year may be showing a stronger economy not only in Cherokee, but across the nation. An 80 percent drop in foreclosures was reported in January compared to last year.

More economic good news: according to Gov. Nathan Deal, state revenues were up 12.6% in February over 2014 numbers.

A report by Value Penguin cited Holly Springs as the safest city in Georgia.

Parking enforcement in downtown Canton is becoming a hot issue.

Councilman Farris Yawn gave an update on the downtown parking problem, but told council there’s only two options: full enforcement or none at all.

Yawn and Councilman Bill Grant, who was absent Thursday, were commissioned by Mayor Gene Hobgood to find a solution for the two-hour parking limit downtown merchants said was driving away customers.

Are you surprised that Rome Police will spend more resources on DUI enforcement around the St. Patrick’s Day holiday?

Congratulations to Georgia Gwinnett College senior Jose Gutierrez, who has been selected as a White House intern.

The City of Bainbridge and Decatur County will begin mediation today of a dispute over service delivery.

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