Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for March 30, 2017


Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for March 30, 2017

On March 31, 1776, future First Lady Abigail Adams wrote her husband, John Adams, suggesting that a greater role for women be considered in the fight for Independence and establishment of the United States.

“I long to hear that you have declared an independency. And, by the way, in the new code of laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make, I desire you would remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands. Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.”

On March 31, 1889, Gustave Eiffel led a group of government officials and press to the top of the Eiffel Tower by foot. It would open to the public nine days later.

On March 31, 1976, the Georgia General Assembly adopted a joint resolution proposing a new Constitution of Georgia, which would be placed on the ballot for voter referendum on November 2, 1976.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

The House Rules Committee meets at 9 AM in Room 341 of the Georgia State Capitol.

Click here for  legislation tabled on Day 39 and available today in the Senate.

Today is Sine Die, the 40th and final day of the Georgia legislative session. It may go past midnight.

The Marietta Daily Journal has a chart of where some of the major legislation stands going into today’s session.

TERRORISM LAWThe House tried for a vote twice Tuesday, and both times they failed to meet the threshold of 91 votes required for passage. Both Democrats and Republicans voted against the measure.

The top Republican in the Senate, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, criticized the House for not passing a bill that would greatly expand Georgia’s definition of domestic terrorism. The proposal was a top priority for the Senate.

Speaker David Ralston, a Republican from Blue Ridge, said House members “knew the bill had problems” and tried to address those.

“Members voted their conscience and it came up short twice,” he said. “We gave it a try and the votes just weren’t there.”

The House and Senate remain far apart on changes to income taxes.

Senators backed legislation cutting some income taxes while committing to collecting more sales taxes from out-of-state online business.

But the House originally proposed a flat tax of 5.4 percent.

The Senate also tacked on language from a separate bill that requires online retailers with at least $250,000 or 200 sales to collect and pay state taxes.

The AJC discusses bills to watch today.

Still in the balance are bills that would expand the state’s medical marijuana law, change how campus sexual assault is prosecuted, protect water supplies from fracking, as well as a host of measures dealing with taxes. After working until midnight Tuesday, lawmakers have a choice for their finale: pester and bicker or make deals and pass laws.

Campus sexual assault: The House stripped Senate Bill 71, dealing with health savings accounts, of all its language and substituted the text of the campus rape bill (House Bill 51) instead. Designed to provide better due process protections to those accused of sexual assault at Georgia colleges, it is opposed by rape survivors who have lobbied against the bill almost daily at the state Capitol. The House version is now back before the Senate.

Medical marijuana: Most everyone expects this to go smoothly. The House on Tuesday voted to approve a compromise bill, Senate Bill 16, that would expand the list of disorders that qualify for the state’s medical cannabis program. All the Senate has to do is vote to “agree” to the House changes. This bill is expected to be kept out of whatever House-Senate fighting goes on.

Fracking: The key bill from powerful House Rules Committee Chairman John Meadows, R-Calhoun, House Bill 205 would greatly strengthen state regulations on natural gas exploration. The Senate, however, added a new fee structure for landfills, a change to which Meadows objected. The House on Tuesday stripped out the Senate amendment and sent the bill back to the other chamber, which is expected to insist on the amendment and request a conference committee to negotiate a compromise.

Guns: House Bill 280 would allow weapons permit holders to carry concealed weapons on most parts of public college and university campuses. The Senate passed an amended version Tuesday, and the House must now decide whether to agree to those changes or insist on its own version. Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed a similar bill last year.

Legislation updating Georgia’s adoption laws passed the House, but became the subject of a “religious liberty” amendment in the Senate on Day 39.

Adoption attorneys worked with Rep. Bert Reeves, R-Marietta, for two years to craft the bill. House members unanimously approved it in February.

A late amendment, though, quickly turned the bill into another milestone in Georgia’s yearslong debate over whether to give people whose religious beliefs clash with state and local laws additional legal protection. Republican senators amended the bill letting adoption agencies refuse placements based on religious belief or other priorities, which led to it being tabled by the Senate.

“My belief is that the questions and the issues weren’t about the substance of my bill, it was about the nature of the amendment that was offered by Sen. (William) Ligon,” Reeves told the MDJ on Wednesday.

Gov. Nathan Deal and House leaders called for the Senate to act on a clean bill, to no avail.

From the Associated Press:

Conservative lawmakers added a “religious freedom” provision for private adoption agencies two weeks ago, forcing last-minute legislative maneuvers that could still send the bill to Gov. Nathan Deal’s desk.

Seemingly fed up on Tuesday, House members hastily added the original text of the adoption bill to another proposal dealing with juvenile courts around 11 p.m., circumventing the religious freedom aspect. Leaders lifted a chamber rule giving members one hour to review such changes.

A unanimous House vote sent the new bill directly to the Senate floor, reviving its chance to pass today.

House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, said he hopes the move will “take politics out of this.”

“This is not about politics, this is not about posturing,” Ralston said. “This is about doing the right thing by children.”

Legislation raising the cap on tax credits for contributions to private scholarships passed both chambers, but in different forms.

State Reps. John Carson, R-northeast Cobb, Earl Ehrhart, R-Powder Springs, and Sam Teasley, R-Marietta, are sponsoring House Bill 217, which would increase the amount of state income tax credits for people who donate to student scholarship organizations from $58 million to $65 million.

The Senate voted 34 to 18, with three senators not voting, to pass a revised version of the bill after 9 p.m. Tuesday. The updated bill will now return to the House, Carson said.

Since 2008, taxpayers and corporations have been able to receive dollar-for-dollar income tax credits for donating to scholarship organizations that help children pay for private school, said [Georgia School Boards Association director of policy and legislative services Angela] Palm.

The General Assembly passed House Bill 338 to reform failing schools and sent it to the Governor for his signature.

“With this we can move this to the governor’s desk and hopefully start the business of improving low-performing schools,” said state Rep. Kevin Tanner, R-Dawsonville, on the state House floor, tying a ribbon on weeks of debate over his House Bill 338. The bill creates a state “chief turnaround officer” who would lead efforts to help pull up schools that are at the bottom of rankings.

The bill that the state House and Senate agreed to is slightly different from a House version that Deal said in March he looked forward to signing. His signature would make the bill a law.

State Sen. Lindsey Tippins, R-Marietta, sponsored the bill in the state Senate. Speaking from the floor last week, he tried to reassure folks like Morton.

“This is not the state coming in to make major, sweeping changes that they’re gonna be managing. This will be a local effort made in collaboration with the state by the local people,” Tippins said.

Changes to petroleum pipeline permitting continue through the legislative process.

On Tuesday night the Senate added protections for private landowners to House Bill 413. The bill provides that a pipeline company would have to first obtain permits from the Environmental Protection Division and the Department of Transportation regardless of whether it will use eminent domain to seize private property. Current law requires a less thorough environmental review, making it necessary only where the petroleum pipeline company intends to exercise any power of eminent domain.

he bill also allows both those permits to be challenged in court. Current law allows for an appeal of the DOT permit only when it’s denied. The Senate sent the bill back to the house for reconciliation Tuesday.

“Today the Georgia State Senate spoke loud and clear by passing two bills: one which greatly strengthens limits on the use of eminent domain for petroleum pipelines, and another extending the moratorium on new pipelines to 2020,” said Tonya Bonitatibus, the Savannah Riverkeeper. “We applaud our lawmakers for making a strong statement to protect our citizens’ property rights over oil profits. We urge our Representatives to follow suit and maintain the language during reconciliation.”

The pipeline additions to H.B. 413 — initially a public utility bill — came after the senate’s original pipeline bill, S.B. 191, was stripped of its landowner and environmental protections in a house subcommittee.

Improving the rural healthcare tax credit remains alive today.

A proposal to expand a program seen as a lifeline for rural hospitals is one of the many bills awaiting legislators on the final day of the session.

The bill that was voted out of the House of Representatives this week would sweeten a tax credit for donors and raise the population requirement, which could open the program up to six or more hospitals.

It now moves to the Senate. Thursday is the last day of the legislative session.

“Hopefully, we will see something come of this and help our hospital,” said Rep. Rick Williams, R-Milledgeville.

Lawmakers passed a measure last year offering a tax break to donors to rural hospitals, costing the state as much as $180 million over three years. Donors can now get back 70 percent of their contributions.

But the program hasn’t taken off as quickly as lawmakers and local hospital administrators had hoped. About $1.2 million in tax credits had been claimed in the first two months – well below the $50 million limit for the first year.

An earlier proposal to increase the tax credit to 90 percent stalled in the House earlier in the session but was later attached to a Senate bill sponsored by Sen. Dean Burke, R-Bainbridge.

As it is now, the bill would also raise the limit for how much donors can give. Individuals would have the credit applied to $5,000. A couple would get back most of $10,000 donated.

Legislation to require titles for boats will be delayed until 2018.

“We still need some additional work on the bill,” said Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, on Wednesday. “We should hold the bill in committee, work with all interested parties and bring it back next year.”

The bill, sponsored by Miller in the Senate and Rep. Ron Stephens, R-Savannah, in the House, says “no person shall operate or give permission for the operation” of any vessel unless it is properly titled.

Boat titles would help deter theft and “create equity and fairness for the selling of vessels by dealers, brokers, agents, private parties and manufacturers,” the bill says.

The bill has been in the works for several years, pushed by Gainesville-based Lake Lanier Association.

Savannah International Trade and Convention Center will remain a local agency, rather than converting to a state agency, as House Bill 354 appears “mostly dead” for the year.

Local Government

Marietta voters endorsed term limits for Mayor and City Council by 80% but legislation to allow it will not pass the General Assembly.

[State Rep. Bert] Reeves said the approved language never made it to the Georgia General Assembly because he was unable to obtain the minimum number of signatures needed by representatives in the Cobb Legislative Delegation. He said he received the bill on the 30th day of the Legislature’s 40-day session, which left him little time to get Cobb representatives’ signatures ahead of the 34th day of the session — a deadline for legislators to file local legislation.

“In order to move forward on local legislation, the bill has to be drafted by the team of lawyers who work for the General Assembly — legislative counsel. In January, I authorized legislative counsel to work directly with Marietta City Attorney Doug Haynie and Mayor (Steve) Tumlin, so that they could achieve exactly what they wanted the bill to say,” Reeves said in a statement to the MDJ. “In the middle of the process, it was decided that some additional changes were requested by the city, which had to be voted on by the council. This resulted in a delay in getting a final bill in my hands.”

Reeves said the proposed legislation, in order to make it to the General Assembly, needed to earn approval of at least eight of Cobb’s 15 representatives. But before that can happen, it had to earn signatures from a three-member majority of the five representatives whose districts include the city of Marietta.

A Gwinnett County ethics panel will meet Friday in the first step of hearing a complaint against Commissioner Tommy Hunter.

Gwinnett County officials said the ethics panel will hold its first meeting at 10 a.m. in Conference Room A of the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center, 75 Langley Drive in Lawrenceville.

“The ethics board could choose to do anything they want to once they’re organized, but we had to call an organizational meeting for them to select a (chairman) and to set times for their meetings,” Chairwoman Charlotte Nash said on Tuesday night.

But whether Hunter challenges the panel’s validity and authority to recommend sanctions against him in court remains to be seen.

Newnan City Council passed an ordinance that will allow sidewalk sales of alcoholic beverages.

Language was recently added to the ordinance that would restrict alcohol sales and consumption to cafe seating areas, as well as on city streets and sidewalks during certain city-sanctioned events.

Speaking to Newnan City Council on Tuesday, Assistant City Manager Hasco Craver said the added language only pertained to the “café seating” section of the ordinance amendment and emphasized the ordinance is not a free pass for open container alcohol consumption in the city.

According to the revised language, alcohol beverage sales could only be made to persons sitting around furniture pieces or tables or benches or chairs within the boundaries of the city’s central business district.

Suwanee City Council voted to allow locally-purchased alcohol outdoors at Suwanee Town Center Park.

Patrons at Suwanee’s Town Center Park can now have alcohol out in the park on any day of the year — instead of special occasions, like festivals — though it must be purchased from a local business or vendor.

City council members unanimously approved the update Tuesday night at the city council voting session, according to Marty Allen, city manager.

The rule does not, nor will it ever, apply for “BYOB” (bring your own beer) in Town Center Park, Allen said. There are no plans to allow for “BYOB” at any point.

“We want to support the local businesses, and allow the businesses to manage the sale of alcohol to individuals,” Allen said.

Formerly, patrons could only have alcohol outside within the park on certain days, which created confusion for all parties involved, including law enforcement.

Lowndes County Commissioners voted to delay deciding whether to join a regional Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax for Transportation (T-SPLOST).

Lowndes County Commission decided to delay its T-SPLOST vote due to misunderstandings from the community on how the one-penny tax and its approval process would work, Chairman Bill Slaughter said Tuesday during the meeting.

Slaughter said the Valdosta-Lowndes County Chamber of Commerce had contacted him about the vote just before the meeting, and he said there seemed to be some confusion concerning the special tax.

He asked the vote be tabled until the commission’s next meeting April 11. The commission agreed and voted to delay its decision on whether or not to support a one-penny tax across the region devoted solely to transportation needs.

Floyd County Commission is considering building a double hangar at Richard B. Russell Regional Airport.

Augusta Commissioners raised concerns about whether city government should be involved in developing apartments.

Columbus City Council delayed continues working on a new ordinance to ban smoking.

Sixth District

Karen Handel has a new 30-second TV spot out.

The White House said President Trump will “help the team” in GA-6 if necessary.

President Trump is willing to help the GOP in April’s nationally watched Georgia special election “if needed,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Wednesday.

But Spicer stayed noncommittal about whether Trump would actually campaign or offer other concrete support on the high-profile race to fill the House seat last held by Tom Price, now Trump’s secretary of Health and Human Services.

“Honestly, I have not even thought about it,” Spicer said at a press briefing.

“I think that, if needed, the president has always been very clear that he wants to support the team and help the team. I have not looked into the race in Georgia,” he continued, referring reporters to the national party or House GOP’s campaign arm for the Republican view of the race.

All 18 candidates in the Sixth Congressional District met yesterday in a forum at the Cobb Energy Centre.

The leading Republican candidates backed proposals ranging from reducing corporate income tax to a dream of eliminating all taxes. And Democrats in the April 18 special election voiced support for tax breaks that would help startups and smaller businesses.

The BrandBank forum was the first major gathering of all the candidates in the race, and it underscored how jumbled the contest is. Eleven Republicans, five Democrats and two independents will all share the same ballot, and they’re scrambling to land what would likely be a single spot on the ballot in a runoff against Democrat Jon Ossoff.

The district, spanning from east Cobb County to north DeKalb County, has been in Republican hands since Jimmy Carter’s presidency. But Trump barely carried the district in November, and the special election to replace Tom Price in the U.S. House is an early test of the president’s popularity and his efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Ossoff, who sat in the middle of the extended stage, has given Democrats hope he can flip the district with his “Make Trump Furious” campaign. He’s raised more than $3.5 million for his bid, and as his lead in the polls has solidified, Republicans have spent more than $2 million to cast him as inexperienced.

Meanwhile, Trump spokesman Sean Spicer said Wednesday that the president would be willing to “support the team and help the team” if his campaign muscle is needed in Georgia.

Don’t say “Meltdown”

Westinghouse, the lead contractor for construction of two new nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle, filed for reorganization in a New York bankruptcy court.

Representatives from both Georgia Power and SCANA, the primary owners of Plant Vogtle in Waynesboro and VC Summer near Jenkinsville, S.C., said the companies are working together to prevent work stoppages and to complete the projects.

“Georgia Power and the project’s other Georgia-based co-owners have been preparing for the possibility of a Westinghouse bankruptcy filing,” said Jacob Hawkins, spokesperson for Georgia Power. “While we are working with Westinghouse to maintain momentum at the site, we are also currently conducting a full-scale schedule and cost-to-complete assessment to determine what impact Westinghouse’s bankruptcy will have on the project.”

In both states, costs could be passed on to ratepayers, but those depend on negotiations with the Public Service Commission in each state. Georgia Public Service Commission Vice Chair Tim Echols told The Augusta Chronicle that Georgia Power will take every measure possible to get consensus from the commission in order to reclaim as much cost as possible.

Georgia Public Service Commission Chairman Stan Wise spoke to the AJC about moving forward with construction.

“This is a real blow to Georgia,” said Stan Wise, chairman of the Georgia Public Service Commission, which regulates Plant Vogtle operator Georgia Power. Wise has been a vocal supporter of the expansion at Vogtle, where two new reactors are being added. The project represented the first new nuclear construction in the U.S. in three decades.

Wise, in an interview with the AJC on Tuesday, said the financial upset means more “time and money” will be needed to finish the work and get the reactors on line.

“If Westinghouse abandons the construction effort, which they’ve said they will, then all bets are off,” said Wise.

The “best outcome,” said Wise, would be for Georgia Power to take over construction management. But if Westinghouse used the bankruptcy process to exit the project, the PSC would be obligated to re-examine its approval of the Vogtle project, Wise said.

If Georgia Power takes over the project, “the company will have to come up for re-certification” of the project, he said.

Wise also spoke to WABE:

“It’s a real hit and a real blow to something that we felt like was going to be the very best possible energy choice for Georgia maybe even into the next century,” he said.

The energy landscape has changed since the Vogtle plan was initially approved, with natural gas getting very cheap, and technologies like solar power and batteries improving.

“If I’d known any of this a decade ago we would have gone a different way,” Wise said.

Georgia Power is continuing work at the site for the time being, according to WRDW.

Work continues on plant 3 and 4 at Plant Vogtle Wednesday despite the contractor Westinghouse announcing they are filing Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Georgia Public Service Commissioner Stan Wise says they’ve known about the move for the last week or so.

“It’s just the shoe dropping,” said Commissioner Wise.

Westinghouse posted this to their website saying “The Company has reached an agreement with each owner of the U.S. AP1000 projects to continue these projects during an initial assessment period.”

The assessment period will last 30 days for Plant Vogtle and V.C. Summer.

“I will say part of the filing they’ve acknowledged by Westinghouse that they are working with the company to keep the labor force on the ground,” said Wise. “We hope that the commitment is lived up to that we will have the completion of Vogtle 3 and 4 that we originally agreed to over a decade ago.”

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