Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for March 10, 2017


Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for March 10, 2017

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 12, 1739, James Oglethorpe, recognized as the Founder of Georgia, wrote the Georgia Trustees, urging them to continue the ban on slavery in the new colony.

On March 11, 1779, Congress created the United States Army Corps of Engineers.

On March 11, 1861, the Confederate Congress, assembled in Montgomery, Alabama, adopted the Constitution of the Confederate States of America. Today the original signed manuscript of the Confederate Constitution is in the Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library at the University of Georgia Special Collections Libraries.

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.

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

Juliette Gordon Low held the first meeting of the Girl Guides, which would later be renamed the Girl Scouts, in her home in Savannah, Georgia on March 12, 1912.

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.

On March 11, 1942, General Douglas MacArthur obeyed the President’s order dated February 20, 1942, and left the Philippines.

Clarence Thomas, originally from Pin Point, Georgia, was sworn in to the United States Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit on March 12, 1990.

On March 11, 2005, Brian Nichols shot and killed Fulton County Superior Court Judge Rowland Barnes and court reporter Julie Brandau in the Fulton County Courthouse, leading to a lockdown of the state capitol and a number of nearby buildings. Nichols killed two more before taking a young woman hostage in Duluth; that woman, Ashley Smith, would talk Nichols into surrendering the next day. Nichols was eventually convicted for four murders and is serving consecutive life sentences.

R.E.M. was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on March 12, 2007.

Happy Birthday on Saturday to former Governor Roy Barnes, who served from 1999-2003, and lost to Republican Sonny Perdue in 2002, and to current Governor Nathan Deal in 2010.

The last existing copy of the Constitution of the Confederate States of America will be displayed today in Athens, Georgia.

On Friday, the University of Georgia will offer the once-a-year opportunity to see the only remaining copy of the Constitution of the Confederate States of America, in the Richard B. Russell Special Collections Library at 300 Hull Street.

Because the document, which is more than 150 years old, is so fragile, it’s only on display from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Friday. The Confederate Constitution, which will be under a glass case, is a little more than 12 feet long when the animal skin it’s printed on is fully unfurled.

The handwritten document was one of two recovered by a journalist in 1865, according the library’s records. UGA purchased its copy from the DeRenne family in 1939.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections


8:00 AM SENATE FINANCE – Tax Reform Sub 123 CAP






2:30 PM House Small Business Dev Clark’s Sub 403 CAP


HB 183 – Community Affairs, Department of; Georgia Geospatial Advisory Council; recreate (NR&E-28th) Dickey-140th

HB 264 – Georgia World Congress Center Authority; revenue bond capacity; increase (FIN-9th) Efstration-104th


Modified Open Rule
HR 389 – House Rural Development Council; create (ED&T-Watson-172nd)

Modified Structured Rule
SB 102 – Emergency Medical Services; emergency cardiac care centers; designation; Office of Cardiac Care within Department of Public Health; establishment (H&HS-Hawkins-27th) Miller-49th

Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler released the latest jobs numbers yesterday.

[T]he state’s seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate was 5.5 percent in January, unchanged from a revised 5.5 percent in December. Previously, the December rate was reported at 5.4 percent. In January 2016, the unemployment rate was 5.6 percent.

“While the rate was unchanged, our employers continued to create jobs, our labor force continued to grow and more people went to work,” said State Labor Commissioner Mark Butler. “This is a good way to start off a new year.”

The number of jobs increased by 6,500, or 0.1 percent, to 4,442,200. The increase is nearly twice the average December-to-January growth for the previous three years.

Speaker David Ralston‘s comments to the Atlanta Press Club continue to provide journalistic fodder. From Maggie Lee at the Macon Telegraph.

A state House committee has unanimously endorsed an idea to take a close look into how Georgia lawmakers could help struggling rural communities.

The legislation would create the House Rural Development Council, a group of 15 lawmakers to be appointed by Ralston.

Problems in rural communities can include population loss, lack of doctors or hospitals, poor infrastructure, slow or nonexistent internet connections, less educational opportunity, job scarcity and overall lack of growth. Ralston brought to the House Economic Development and Tourism Committee a study from Georgia State University that shows most rural counties had fewer jobs in 2014 than in 2007.

Bobbie Robinson helped create the Rural Studies program at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College, where she is dean of the School of Liberal Arts. She said there is a reality of “two Georgias,” an old political phrase that splits Georgia into two parts: more urban areas that seem to attract the most jobs and growth, and then the rest of the state. She [said] the idea that the lawmakers would conduct forums in rural areas is highly encouraging.

Robinson also named a few issues she sees in rural communities. There’s brain drain — young people leaving rural hometowns to seek the kind of work they want. And another is food deserts: large areas without a good grocery store. And another is wonky, but she said it could have big results: getting groups of as few as two cities or counties to work with each other instead of going it alone when they want to do something, such as deliver a public service.

Ralston’s House Resolution 389 is due for a floor vote in the House of Representatives today.

Speaker Ralston  also voiced concerns about how federal healthcare legislation will affect Georgia.

The Georgia House speaker said Wednesday that while he hasn’t had time to study the new Republican health care plan in Congress, he has initial concerns about it.

David Ralston, a Republican from Blue Ridge, told attendees at the Atlanta Press Club that he has some worry that Georgia, as a state that has not expanded Medicaid, may be hurt under the new plan.

And he said he hopes Republicans won’t rush a plan through Congress, and “will take the time to get it right.”

Ralston continues to support Georgia’s decision not to expand Medicaid eligibility under the ACA. It was a “prudent’’ choice, he said Wednesday. Most states — including several that were initially opposed to the idea — have chosen to expand Medicaid, allowing more low-income people to have health insurance. But Georgia Republican leaders have stood by their position that such a move would be too costly.

The Republican bill in Congress would end extra funding for anyone enrolling under the Medicaid expansion guidelines starting in 2020. But the legislation would let states keep the extra funding that the ACA provided for individuals already in the expansion program who stay enrolled.

The new plan also includes money for Georgia and the other states that have not expanded their Medicaid programs. It would provide $10 billion over 5 years to these “non-expansion” states for safety-net funding.

“Obviously we’ll be watching” the health care plan in Washington from a budget standpoint, he added.

Maria Saporta writes about Ralston’s comments on transit.

Ralston had already made news in January when he proposed setting up a House Commission to study transit. He also made a point that the Commission was not being put together to “take over” any existing transit agency (a point that was welcomed by MARTA officials at the time).

Now the state is well on its way to establishing the transit commission, which Ralston told the Press Club that it would not be another “study committee,” but a “real effort” to advance the development of transit in Georgia.

“It’s my view that the state of Georgia must incorporate transit funding,” Ralston said. “Transit is not just about one system or one metropolitan area. Georgia will embrace a transit system for all the state.”

Ralston said that House Appropriations Committee Chairman Terry England and House Ways & Means Committee Chairman Jay Powell were chairing the transit initiative.

“I want this Commission to look at a broad range of topics,” Ralston said. “I’m comfortable with exploring that. Rail takes many forms. Rail freight is going to be a big part of it. Our future in Georgia is connectivity. I don’t want to put up barriers or fences for them.”

Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle’s Health Care Reform Task Force meets today to discuss the proposed federal changes.

Cagle has tasked Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome, and four others to come up with a plan to bolster the healthcare safety net system in light of the changes.

“The federal government has talked about giving block grants to states,” Hufstetler said. “The opportunity is certainly there for us to set up a program with Tom Price’s blessings that, if successful, could be a model for the whole nation.”

Also on the task force are Republican Sens. Dean Burke of Bainbridge, Ben Watson of Savannah, Renee Unterman of Buford and Jack Hill of Reidsville.

Hufstetler said there’s been a lot of focus on tax credits and deductions, but he believes the preventative care aspect is key to a successful plan.

“We’re not going to see improvements in health or reductions in cost until we get people’s conditions under control,” he said.

“If the federal government does the part where they send block grants to the states, we want to be ready to go with a plan,” he said.

Michael Caputo of Georgia Public Radio has a great piece on rural healthcare and a Monroe County hospital seeking public support.

Johnson lives southeast of Forsyth and she said Monroe County Hospital is the closest emergency room.

“It’s just too far to Macon or Griffin or Thomaston to make it to any other hospital,” said Johnson. “People could die if we lose this hospital.”

But the hospital is in trouble and it’s turning to the community for help. This month residents of Monroe County in Middle Georgia will vote on whether to raise property taxes and keep it open.

Over the last few years the county has spent $300,000 annually to balance the hospital’s books. Last year, the county backed a $2 million line of credit, which the hospital exhausted in December.

“It’s become a crisis,” [Monroe County Commission Chair Greg] Tapley said. “I believe that’s the proper term for it.”

According to Tony Ussery, the chairman of Monroe County Hospital Authority, without the public support and additional help from the county government, “we would have to shut down the hospital immediately.”

Ussery said the vote for a property tax increase would be enough to raise $1.2 million, which would go directly to the hospital’s budget.

House Bill 146 by Rep. Micah Gravley (R- ) will provide insurance coverage for firefighters being treated for some forms of cancer.

Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed a similar bill last year that would have allowed firefighters to file workers compensation claims if diagnosed with certain cancers.

So supporters came back this year with a tweak: Instead of workers comp claims, local governments instead would have to offer private insurance plans paying up to $25,000 upon diagnosis of certain cancers.

Thirty-eight states provide similar coverage for firefighters, said state Sen. John Albers, R-Roswell, who is a volunteer firefighter. For all that firefighters do including rushing into danger to save people, Albers said, “today we can turn the tide and let them know we have their backs. To them it will mean everything in the world, and to their families.”

Rep. Gravley told the Marietta Daily Journal that Douglas County Fire Chief Scott Spencer helped pass the legislation.

A Douglas County firefighter, Sgt. Michael Richardson, died of carcinoma cancer in 2013.

“Chief Spencer has been there since Day 1,” Gravley said.

Spencer noted scientific evidence supports studies that show firefighters have higher rates of cancer than the general public because of chemicals and other hazards to which their work exposes them, he said. A 2016 National Institute for Occupational Safety Health study said the most common forms of cancer for firefighters were digestive, oral, respiratory and urinary.

“Last, but not least, it is the right thing to do,” Spencer said of the legislation.

Georgia Sheriffs continue working on the issue of funding for raises for their employees.

Months after a 20 percent pay hike for state law enforcement officers, county sheriffs are making a major request of the Georgia Legislature: cash for deputies.

“I don’t think that sheriffs are advocating that the state take over the control of local deputies. Normally when you pay the salaries, you have the control mechanism. I don’t think they’re asking for that. We’ll just wait and see what success they have with the legislation that they’re trying to advocate here in the General Assembly,” said Republican Gov. Nathan Deal on Monday.

Terry Norris, executive director of the Georgia Sheriffs’ Association, said that sheriffs have approached their county commissions, but especially in counties without much of a tax base, it’s tough.

“It is a fact that a lot of counties couldn’t afford this,” Norris said.

He also said that sheriffs’ offices are doing state business.

“Everything we do we’ve been told to do for the most part by the General Assembly,” Norris said.

Gordon Henderson, Executive Director of the Georgia Firefighter Standards and Training Council spoke about the issue to the Rome News-Tribune.

“It’s a very real problem, especially with all the synthetics that go into a house now and the different things firefighters respond to,” Henderson said.

Henderson said another big issue is exposure to the diesel exhaust from fire trucks — although more care is being taken today. Recent fire station upgrades and new construction in Floyd County specifically focused on separating the air in the garage from the sleeping quarters.

“When I first came to work, you slept on top of the engines or right next to them,” Henderson said.


House Bill 543 by Rep. Emory Dunahoo (R-Gillsville) would institute a Georgia “FairTax.”

By introducing House Bill 543 this week, Rep. Emory Dunahoo, R-Gillsville, said he’s hoping to build on momentum from previous efforts for a Georgia FairTax Act by explaining the “fairness” of a consumption-based tax system to the general public. He introduced a similar bill in the 2015-16 legislative session.

“We’re building a foundation talking to people all across the state of Georgia of how this would work,” Dunahoo told The Times on Wednesday. “Of the many people we have talked with, 90 percent liked it. They said it’s a no-brainer.”

Dunahoo said the FairTax does away with the 6 percent income tax rate, and 4 percent sales tax, and replaces it “with a broad-based consumption tax.” According to the bill, the person “using or consuming” a taxable property or service would be taxed at a rate of 6.7 percent.

“We’re putting more money into consumers’ pocket,” Dunahoo said.

Two hours after filing the 42-page bill, Dunahoo said 55 House colleagues signed on, including four Democrats. He said his fellow Hall County House members also are on board.

LaGrange Mayor Jim Thornton announced he will run for reelection.

Thornton’s decision came as supporters waited with bated breath to hear whether he would instead choose to run for the Georgia State Senate, but ultimately, he felt that his love and loyalty for LaGrange won out, he said.

“There is no question: LaGrange is what matters to me,” said Thornton. “LaGrange is where my passion is. LaGrange is where my heart is. LaGrange is where I want to be and where I want to serve in some role. I hope the citizens of LaGrange will let me serve as mayor for another four years, but I plan to serve LaGrange regardless of the role.”

“I think this is wonderful news for LaGrange and Troup County because Jim (Thornton) has certainly been a good leader for the city, and what is good for the city is also good for Troup County,” said County Commission Chairman Patrick Crews. “… This is exciting. I know he could have looked at going to Atlanta, but I think his heart truly is in this community and wanting to see all the things that are out there and the future growth. He’s excited about that.”

“I think we have shown a record of achievement,” said Thornton. “The city continues to operate with a balanced budget with no property tax, very limited long-term debt and a large cash reserve. We have seen numerous industrial expansions. Duracell and Jindal are currently undergoing major expansions. We have new retail projects, especially focused around the LaGrange Mall. Construction has begun at (I-85) Exit 13 of the Great Wolf Lodge resort, which is an amazing project in terms of the scope of what it is going to do for the south side of the city. We have announced Sentury Tire, which we are about to break ground on a new high tech tire factory. And just behind me… we have this Courtyard by Marriott hotel and a parking deck right behind it. It is an amazing project that is transforming downtown LaGrange.”

“We focused on improving our infrastructure around town with road projects such as the Bull Street realignment, the Vernon Road connector, the Tom Hall Parkway, the Broad Street roundabout, and we continue to work tirelessly with the Georgia (Department of Transportation) on the Hamilton Road widening – which we anticipate any day now they’ll start acquiring right of way. We keep focusing on that. We know how important the Greenville Street bridge is to the community, and believe me, we focus on that.”

Hall County Commissioners are working to develop a film ordinance that balances residents’ concerns about disruption with the desire to not scare off potential economic development opportunities.

“We want to find a balance where we can still attract film here but also protect our citizens,” said Richard Higgins, Hall County Board of Commissioners chairman. “They do have economic impact, and we don’t want to put something out that will run everybody off.”

The issue, discussed at Thursday night’s commission meeting, came up in response to resident concerns about problems left behind by Hollywood crews — such as property damage — after they’ve wrapped up shooting and left town.

The ordinance sets up fees, such as $500 per day for road closings and $1,500 per day for use of the Hall County Courthouse.

The county doesn’t have an ordinance in place now. Production companies are supposed to get certain permits for filming, but they don’t always — and that’s a key reason for the ordinance, said Susan Rector, the county’s business licenses manager, at Monday’s commissioner work session.

One of the requirements in the ordinance is to hold a “pre-application meeting” between the production company and Hall County to ensure proper filming takes place.

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