Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for February 7, 2017


Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for February 7, 2017

On February 7, 1733, the first Georgia colonists had been here a week and they finished building a hand-operated crane to move heavy supplies and livestock from their boats to the top of the forty-foot high bluff where they were building a settlement.

In December 2016, the Port of Savannah moved 292,172 twenty-foot equivalent units of freight.

The newest cranes at the Port of Savannah, delivered in December 2016, are 295 feet high and each weighs 1,388 tons and measures 433 feet wide.

On February 7, 1990, the Communist Party Central Committee of the Soviet Union agreed to a proposal by Prime Minister Mikhail Gorbachev that is should give up its political monopoly.

The response from the United States was surprise and cautious optimism. One State Department official commented that, “The whole Soviet world is going down the drainpipe with astonishing speed. It’s mind-boggling.” Former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger indicated that he was “personally gratified and astonished that anyone would have the chance to say such things in Moscow without being shot.” President George Bush was more circumspect, merely congratulating President Gorbachev for his “restraint and finesse.”

Ironically, the fact that the Communist Party was willing to accept political challenges to its authority indicated how desperately it was trying to maintain its weakening power over the country. The measures were little help, however–President Gorbachev resigned on December 25, 1991 and the Soviet Union officially ceased to exist on December 31, 1991.

Men who are married or in a relationship: this is your seven day warning to make plans for Valentine’s Day before it is too late. You are welcome.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Gainesville lawyer and former Hall County Commissioner Ashley Bell was sworn in as Special Assistant to the Secretary of State.

Bell will be working in public affairs, making sure foreign policy that is led by President Donald Trump and executed by Secretary Rex Tillerson is clear and accurate to citizens, Bell said. He will work with maybe two or three other Special Assistants specifically in public affairs. Bell is also back on as a government employee Monday for the first time since he was on Hall County Commission.

“I haven’t actually been in government since I was on the Hall County Commission, but I can say that I learned a lot of lessons there – how to make government work, understanding that government closest to the people is the most important and we’re going to make sure that what ever we do is clearly and effectively communicated to the people on the ground, who actually have to carry out the policy,” said Bell. “That’s a valuable lesson I learned in Gainesville and I look forward to expounding on that knowledge here in Washington D.C.”

Bell was appointed by President Trump for the position. ““It’s an incredible opportunity to be appointed by a president in any role but this one in particular is something I’m very excited about,” Bell told AccessWDUN. “Being able to work closely with the new administration to continue to build out the state department with the people who are going to make sure that foreign policy is communicated effectively around the world with clarity and I’m excited about being a part of that team.”

Legislative Committee Meetings


8:00 AM Reeves Sub House Jud’y Non-Civil 403 CAP




12:00 PM SENATE RULES – Upon adjournment 450 CAP



1:00 PM HOUSE Ways & Means Ad Valorem Sub 133 CAP






2:00 PM HOUSE Ways & Means Sales Tax Sub 133 CAP

2:30 PM Kelly Sub of House Jud’y (Civil) Comm 132 CAP




3:00 PM Setzler Sub of House Jud’y Non-Civil 506 CLOB


4:00 PM SENATE JUD’Y Group A Sub 307 CLOB


SB 4 – “Enhancing Mental Health Treatment in Georgia Act”; Georgia Mental Health Treatment Task Force; establish (Substitute) (H&HS-Unterman, 45th)

SB 14 – State Income Taxes; rural hospitals income tax credit; clarify the amount of an exemption for certain entities under the contributions (Substitute) (FIN-Burke, 11th)


Modified Open Rule
HB 14 – Courts; sheriff to collect and deposit certain fees; provide (Judy-Jones-167th)
HB 88 – Superior courts; qualifications for judges; revise (Substitute) (Judy-Fleming-121st)

Modified Structured Rule
HB 146 – Fire departments; purchase and maintain certain insurance coverage for firefighters; require (Substitute)(Ins-Gravley-67th)(AM 25 1388)

The state “little” budget and hospital provider fee bills are both on track for likely passage this week, according to Dave Williams of the Atlanta Business Chronicle.

Gov. Nathan Deal’s $24.3 billion mid-year budget request will go before the Senate Appropriations Committee on Tuesday, having already cleared the House of Representatives. The House made few changes to the governor’s recommendations, and the Senate is likely to follow suit.

The mid-year budget, which covers state spending through June 30, represents a 2.5 percent increase over the fiscal 2017 budget the legislature adopted last spring, or $606.2 million.

While the Senate deals with the mid-year budget, the House likely will act on legislation renewing the “bed” tax on Georgia hospitals for another three years. The General Assembly first levied the tax in 2010 to shore up the Medicaid program, then renewed it three years later.

The tax would raise $311 million a year in state revenue, which would be used to draw down another $600 million in federal funds.

After a day off on Monday, the legislature will pick up with Day 13 of the 40-day session on Tuesday.

Surprise Medical Billing will take center stage today in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee meeting at 2 PM. From the AJC:

Nationwide, more than one in five insured patients were hit by a surprise bill when they went to the emergency room, even though the hospital was in their network, Yale University researchers reported last year.

The problem got so bad that it has a name: “surprise billing,” and Georgia legislators are now proposing laws to deal with it.

“If we don’t solve the problem, it’s going to get worse. It’s not going to get better,” Sen. Renee Unterman, a Buford Republican and chairwoman of the Health and Human Services Committee, said at a legislative breakfast with consumer advocates last month.

She spoke of people getting emergency care or young couples getting started and then having babies in neonatal care and finding themselves with surprise bills.

“They can’t afford that,” Unterman said.

In Georgia, Rep. Richard Smith, R-Columbus, chairman of the House Insurance Committee, has proposed House Bill 71; in the Senate, Unterman is pushing Senate Bill 8, which is similar to a proposal she made last year. Unterman’s committee is expected to meet Tuesday afternoon, and she said she expects to propose new ideas then.

House Bill 134 by Rep. Bubber Epps (R-Dry Branch) and others would increase transportation and transit funding.

the proposed legislation would confirm that counties such as Chatham could begin voting on a new transportation sales tax as early as this year’s general election. A local co-sponsor of HB 134, Rep. Ron Stephens, R-Savannah, said he thinks the current version of the T-SPLOST has a better opportunity for passage than an earlier version.

He pointed to the results of a regional vote on the transportation sales tax in his district in 2012. While voters in Bryan County supported a sales tax to fund transportation projects, he said, the other counties in the region — Chatham and Liberty — turned the tax down, effectively killing the T-SPLOST for all.

After the bulk of Georgia’s counties turned down that first, regional incarnation of the T-SPLOST that year, the law was amended in 2015 to allow for single counties to put forth a new, five-year tax levy for transportation in .05 percent increments up to 1 percent. This year’s proposal confirms that option and amends it even further to provide for counties to simultaneously levy a 20-year sales tax for local transit projects.

A major backer of the measure, the Association County Commissioners of Georgia, argues the change would provide more funding options for transportation in areas that previously turned down the T-SPLOST.

Senators Elena Parent (D-DeKalb) and Tyler Harper (R-Ocilla) teamed up on gun legislation.

“It has something in it for everybody, which is why it’s been a bipartisan, successful bill,” said Democratic state Senator Elena Parent from northern DeKalb County, the bill’s lead sponsor.

Under current law, Georgians who have been involuntarily committed to mental hospitals are added to a federal background check database, the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, which prevents them from being able to purchase guns in gun shops.

To buy a gun, the bill sponsored by Parent would require someone involuntarily committed to a mental hospital prove in court that they are mentally fit. They could petition the court a year after being released from a mental facility.

Tyler Harper, a Republican co-sponsor of the bill, said he likes that the bill would give Georgians a chance to quickly restore their right to purchase a gun.

“I’m a big Second-Amendment guy,” he said.

Columbus would not get a casino under legislation pending in both chambers.

Two bills in the General Assembly would put the legalization of gaming to a statewide vote. Senate Bill 79 was introduced a week ago by Sen. Brandon Beach, an Alpharetta Republican. House Bill 158, with similar language, was introduced by Rep. Ron Stephens, R-Savannah, and the first co-signer was Rep. Calvin Smyre, D-Columbus.

Last year, a variety of bills never made it to a vote. This time, the legislation is specific. Called the Destination Resort Act, there would be two casino licenses issued in Georgia.

The first would be to a county with a population of more than 900,000 people — only Atlanta and Fulton County would qualify. That license would require an investment of at least $2 billion.

The second license would go to a county with a population in excess of 250,000 people, but not more than 900,000 people. That would favor Savannah and Chatham County with a population of 278,000.

Muscogee County and Richmond County have about 200,000 people each and Bibb County is about 150,000 people.

If I were looking to increase support for casinos, I’d probably open the possibility to more locations, especially when an area, like Columbus, has had local government ask for one. The second would be to broaden funding to programs likely to increase support – I’m thinking specifically of mental health and addition treatments, but other subjects might work as well.

State Rep. Jeff Jones (R-St Simons) and Senator William Ligon (R-St Simons) are each preparing legislation to require stricter standards for coal ash disposal.

Senator Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta) is shaping up as a top-tier candidate for Mayor of Atlanta in this year’s election. An assist from Bernie Sanders helped Fort stash away considerable funds for the campaign.

State Sen. Vincent Fort has raised nearly $250,000 in the six weeks since he announced his Atlanta mayoral bid, thanks in part to support from Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders.

The Atlanta Democrat will report Tuesday that more than 6,300 donors contributed to his campaign, which netted more than $100,000 of those donations after Sanders endorsed Fort’s mayoral bid.

He is among a dozen or so candidates for mayor who face a deadline this week to report their campaign cash. But Fort’s fundraising is restricted during the legislative session; as a sitting state lawmaker, he can’t raise any campaign cash during the 40-day period.

Conservation advocates from the Georgia coast will take a bus to the Capitol next week to advocate for their cause.

President Trump is expected to fill three vacancies for the Middle District of Georgia.

Three vacancies — a District Court judge, U.S. attorney and U.S. marshal — in the federal Middle District of Georgia are set to be filled by Trump. The Middle District stretches from Georgia’s southwestern corner through Albany, Macon and Athens to the South Carolina border.

Monday is the deadline for nominations for the judgeship to fill the vacancy created by Judge Ashley Royal, who took senior status Sept. 1, 2016. Senior status is a form of semiretirement for federal judges, who are appointed for life.

A screening committee is set to interview candidates on a date yet to be released.

The committee is made up of Statesboro attorney James B. Franklin, Marietta attorney Robert D. Ingram, University of Georgia law professor Ronald L. Carlson, Atlanta attorney Josh Belinfante, retired Atlanta attorney Dwight Davis, and Michael J. Long, who served 36 years as Houston County’s attorney.

After conducting the interviews, the committee will prepare a short list of candidates and submit the names to Georgia’s U.S. senators, Johnny Isakson and David Perdue, Belinfante said.

The senators then will submit their recommendation to the White House.

Crime rates, and homicides in particular, are down in Macon for 2016.

Warner Robins City Council voted against a proposal for maternity leave for employees.

Columbus Pro-Life advocates will rally to defund Planned Parenthood next week.

Former DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis will not face retrial on public corruption charges.

Former DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis was finally freed of corruption charges Monday after a four-year saga that included two trials, an eight-month prison sentence and a successful appeal.

DeKalb District Attorney Sherry Boston said she won’t seek yet another trial against Ellis after the Georgia Supreme Court threw out his convictions Nov. 30.

She said Ellis had done his time, and another trial would be costly for a county government trying to move beyond its corruption problems.

“Considering that Mr. Ellis did serve the jail time that he was sentenced to in this matter and released, we have to examine what more there would be to gain in the pursuit of a third prosecution,” Boston said during a press conference Monday.

Gwinnett County Commissioner Tommy Hunter (R) faces ethics charges over Facebook posts.

Embattled Gwinnett County Commissioner Tommy Hunter has faced calls for his resignation for weeks after he called U.S. Rep. John Lewis a “racist pig” on Facebook, but now he’s facing an ethics complaint as well.

Attorney Helen Ho said she and fellow lawyer Christine Anne Koehler filed the ethics complaint with County Attorney Bill Linkous on Monday morning on behalf of Nancie Turner. The complaint alleges Hunter committed three violations of the county’s ethics policy with his Facebook comments, which also included calling Democrats “Demonrats” and “Libtards.”

They also want Solicitor General Rosanna Szabo to investigate whether Hunter’s comments constituted misdemeanor violations of the law.

Hunter has so far resisted the calls for his resignation.

Qualifying for an open Chatsworth City Council seat will begin this week.

Qualifying to fill the seat on the Chatsworth City Council once held by Brad Rowe, who died in October, begins Wednesday.

The special election is scheduled for Tuesday, March 21, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at City Hall, 400 N. Third Ave. Qualifying is on Wednesday and Thursday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Friday from 8:30 a.m. to noon at City Hall.

The qualifying fee is $144 and the person must be a resident of Chatsworth.

Early and absentee voting will be on weekdays from March 6-17 from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at City Hall.

Lawrenceville Mayor Judy Jordan gave the “State of the City” address last night.

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