Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for August 1, 2017

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Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for August 1, 2017

August 1 was a big day for Benjamin Mays – he was born on August 1, 1895 and became President of Morehouse College on August 1, 1936.

PT-109, commanded by LTJG John F. Kennedy was sunk on August 1, 1943.

On August 1, 1982, Hank Aaron was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Governor Nathan Deal yesterday announced the creation of the Georgia Defense Exchange, an interactive business development platform designed to assist Georgia businesses in finding new opportunities in Department of Defense (DOD) contracting.

“From the Bell Bomber Plant during WWII to the NSA and U.S. Army Cyber Command in Augusta today, Georgia enterprises enjoy a storied history of fulfilling contracts for national defense,” said Deal. “Last year alone, defense contracts executed in Georgia were valued at $6.4 billion. These contracts provide significant opportunities for Georgia businesses and drive new development in local communities across the state. The GDX platform will allow us to equip companies with the tools they need to be competitive in acquiring DOD contracts while ensuring that this long-standing tradition continues in Georgia.”

“We pride ourselves on maintaining the best business environment in the nation, and providing top-notch resources for our citizens,” said Georgia Department of Economic Development (GDEcD) Commissioner Pat Wilson. “GDX levels the playing field, giving small businesses in Georgia the chance to know about and respond to the many defense contracting opportunities that are available. I am confident that all Georgia companies will benefit tremendously from GDX, and that our state will increase its competitive advantage in this sector.”

Secretary of State Brian Kemp’s office performed maintenance on the Georgia voter registration file, pruning it of over 500,000 registrants. From Kemp’s office:

Overnight starting on Friday, July 28, 2017, the Secretary of State’s office conducted statutory list maintenance, resulting in the cancellation of 591,548 voter records. All of the affected records were inactive as a result of returned mail, National Change of Address, and “no contact” list maintenance procedures. The cut-off date was September 16, 2014 to account for the early voting period leading up to the November 4, 2014 General Election. Affected voters have not made contact with county officials since September 16, 2014 or earlier.

Georgia code section 21-2-235 (b) requires the SOS to remove inactive voters after a statutory period.

“An elector placed on the inactive list of electors shall remain on such list until the day after the second November general election held after the elector is placed on the inactive list of electors. If the elector makes no contact, as defined in Code Section 21-2-234, during that period, the elector shall be removed from the inactive list of electors.”

“No contact” means that the individual has not filed an updated voter registration card; filed a change of name or address; signed a petition; signed a voter’s certificate; or confirmed their residence at the address on file during the preceding three calendar years.

Kemp also announced that professional licensing boards are processing applications faster.

“Technology continues to improve within the agency as we implement innovative solutions for Georgia’s workforce,” said Kemp, who is running for the Republican nomination for governor next year. “The less time you have to worry about paperwork, the more time that you have to focus on earning your livelihood in this great state.”

At the beginning of this year, Kemp’s office rolled out a new feature for individuals to upload documentation for licensure applications. This option has resulted in significantly improved processing times. In June, the division also announced a new online verification system where individuals can request and obtain proof of licensure in Georgia, resulting in faster turnaround for individuals trying to transfer their licenses to other states.

Almost all of the 182 license types offered through the agency are now renewable online.

The Secretary of State’s Office provides administrative support to 41 professional licensing boards and advisory groups. Currently, the office licenses nearly 500,000 individuals and entities.

Georgia Senate President Pro Tem David Shafer will deliver the commencement address to summer graduates of Georgia Gwinnett College.

The college announced on Friday that Senate President Pro Tempore David Shafer, R-Duluth, will address the college’s summer commencement, which will be held at 10 a.m. on Aug. 8.

Shafer has served in the state Senate since 2002, rising to its No. 2 position as president pro tempore. He announced earlier this year that he will run for lieutenant governor in 2018.

Before he was a senator, Shafer was the Georgia Republican Party’s executive director in the early 1990’s.

United States Representative Karen Handel sat for a Q&A with the Marietta Daily Journal.

Q: The president at some point will be bringing an infrastructure package, as he’s talked about. We don’t know what it is yet. What would you like to see in it, particularly for Georgia?

A: Well, what I want to see is legislation that recognizes the actual process that local governments have to go through to move infrastructure through because the shovel-ready bill that came under President (Barack) Obama didn’t do anything appreciable. It didn’t help with jobs, and it certainly didn’t help really build anything that was going to be impactful to relieving congestion and moving people from one place to the next, so I’m going to really be looking at that. At this point, really, I think there’s been a one-pager and that didn’t say very much, so what I will do as soon as we have something more concrete is pull together a couple of the local elected officials, some from GDOT, really get some good input on it so we can make sure it’s a really solid bill that’s going to be impactful for congestion relief. And secondly, that some of the really onerous regulatory requirements in there are rolled back. And we saw really what can happen when we put our minds to it with the rebuild of the (Interstate) 85 bridge. And I think that can be a model for where we need to go.

Q: Do you favor a bipartisan solution to health care reform or should Republicans keep pressing their advantage to get their own plan in?

A: If it goes to conference, then I think it will by virtue of its being in conference be a little bit more bipartisan. What I will say is that on really significant pieces of policy, it’s really hard to get the buy-in that you need for it if you don’t have some bipartisan involvement. But I will also say the following: To achieve a bipartisan solution requires both sides to come to the table, and one side of this, the Democrats, haven’t really been willing to be at the table.

Kennesaw Mayor Derek Easterling rode a Harley-Davidson, dressed as a viking, for the first day of class at Awtrey Middle School, where he will teach social studies.

A “floating homestead exemption” protects most Cobb County homeowners from increasing property taxes due to rising value assessments.

Here’s how it works: When the government comes to collect your property tax, they calculate it using the value of your home as determined by county assessors and a number called a millage rate. A millage rate is set by the city, county and school district you live in and determines how much money you must pay per $1,000 worth of property.

If your house is worth $100,000 and your city’s tax rate is 1 mill, you will owe $100 dollars in taxes to your city.

If the value of your home goes up, say to $150,000, with the same millage rate, you would typically owe $150, but not in Cobb County.

That’s where the floating exemption comes in. Because of the act, homeowners are locked in to the fair market value of their home when they bought it for the purposes of property tax.

“Back in 2001, if your home was valued at $70,000 and today it’s valued at $150,000, you’re still paying taxes on that $70,000 fair market value,” [Smyrna accounting coordinator Michael] Hickenbottom said. “The only time your fair market value will change is if you do some work onto your home, do some major improvements like finish a basement, add a swimming pool or add onto the house, that could increase the fair market value. But if it’s just normal maintenance to the home, your fair market value isn’t going to change.”

Augusta Commissioners discussed pulling control over the local probation office from under the control of the chief State Court judge.

The Bibb County Board of Education lowered the property tax millage rate from last year’s, in order to account for rising property values.

Chatham Area Transit is test-driving an electric bus.

SCANA announced it will not complete two new nuclear reactors in South Carolina that are nearly identical to the two reactors being built in Georgia at Plant Vogtle.

The plug is being pulled on a South Carolina nuclear project that is Plant Vogtle’s near-twin, because it would be “prohibitively expensive” to finish, the partners said.

The partners in the South Carolina project, SCANA and a supplier to electric cooperatives, Santee Cooper, said Monday that they made the decision because of rising costs of the $14 billion project, falling demand for electricity, construction delays and the bankruptcy of a key contractor.

Friday, Georgia Power said in a filing to state utility regulators that it planned to include the company’s recommendation on whether to complete the project or not in its regular rate case filing at the end of August.

Those cases typically go through months of filings, meetings and hearings before the Georgia Public Service Commission makes a decision.

The head of the Georgia PSC said Monday that differences between the two projects may point to a different outcome for Vogtle.

“The dissimilarities of these projects should be recognized before making any suppositions on whether construction will continue at Plant Vogtle based on decisions made in South Carolina,” said Stan Wise, chairman of the Georgia Public Service Commission.

He argued that the Georgia project’s customer base is over three times larger than that in South Carolina, and that differing financial factors may make it easier for Plant Vogtle’s construction to continue.

A spokesman for Georgia Power also said the two projects are “unique and different in many ways,” without elaborating.

Healthcare

Federal health care reform appears to be back-burnered at best.

Several GOP leaders said Monday that at least for now, they saw no clear route to the 50 votes they’d need to get something — anything — recasting President Barack Obama’s health care statute through the Senate. Their drive crashed with three disastrous Senate votes last week, and their mood didn’t improve after a weekend of tweets by President Donald Trump saying they “look like fools” and White House budget chief Mick Mulvaney using TV appearances to say they should continue voting.

“It’s time to move onto something else, come back to health care when we’ve had more time to get beyond the moment we’re in,” said Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, another member of the GOP leadership. Asked about threats by conservative groups to attack GOP lawmakers who abandon the fight, Blunt said, “Lots of threats.”

Hoping to find some way forward, health secretary Tom Price met with governors and Louisiana Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy. Among those attending was Republican Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, who’s been trying to defend his state’s expansion of Medicaid, the health insurance program for poor people, against proposed GOP cuts.

Cassidy and Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Dean Heller, R-Nev., have proposed converting the $110 billion they estimate Obama’s law spends yearly for health insurance into broad grants to states.

Georgia Republican state legislators are talking about Medicaid waivers as a way of addressing Washington’s failure to act on health care.

Two prominent state lawmakers say that after the federal solutions failed, Georgia can take steps to improve the health system here.

“I think the states can be innovators,’’ said state Sen. Renee Unterman, R-Buford, chairman of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.

“We’ve been sitting and waiting’’ during the debate in Congress, she said. The demise of the Senate bill, she added, “sets us free. It gives the states the ability to say what’s next.”

State Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, a Rome Republican, said Monday that a health care task force formed by Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle has discussed a broadening of telemedicine in the state and extending primary care services to more Georgians.

“I think there’s a lot of money that can be saved – and make people healthier’’ while keeping them out of hospital emergency rooms, Hufstetler said.

Hufstetler also mentioned proposed waivers being on the table.

“I think it can be up to states to put plans forward,” he said.

Unterman sees the Legislature taking up more limited programs, tackling such problems as rural health care, mental health services and maternal mortality.

“It needs to be targeted,” she said. The General Assembly doesn’t have to wait till a new governor is elected next year, Unterman added.

A spokeswoman for Gov. Nathan Deal said the state Legislature has to approve any changes to Medicaid. “The governor will also continue to monitor any proposals or legislation at the federal level,’’ said the spokeswoman, Jen Ryan.

From the AJC Political Insider:

Influential conservatives in the state are already preparing for a debate next year over how to craft waivers to seek what could be vast changes to the state’s Medicaid program.

They cast the waivers as a conservative effort to shave the state’s costs by imposing new standards on recipients. They note that state officials would turn to a familiar figure to sign off on the changes: former Georgia U.S. Rep. Tom Price, now Trump’s health secretary. And they steer well clear of the E-word — expansion — to describe how they might work.

“It’s a good thing that Congress has finally played their hand — they’re inept and cannot do anything — and now it’s time to turn our hand over and play our cards,” said state Sen. Renee Unterman, the chairwoman of the chamber’s Health and Human Services Committee.

“I don’t see how you can solve these problems without waivers,” the Gwinnett Republican said. “We have to use every tool in the toolbox. And if you don’t, it’s going to get worse.”

“What we need is flexibility to be able to adapt to the needs of Georgians while balancing fiscal restraint,” said state Rep. Allen Peake, a Macon Republican. “That’s the crucial piece of the puzzle we’ve got to have.”

“If there is a waiver program that will increase efficiency and access and does not amount to the expansion of the Medicaid, we will be foolish not to do so,” said Powell, a Camilla Republican. “What we have now is not working. And with the gridlock in Washington, we can’t expect them to solve it for us.”

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe (D) said the most-illuminating thing I’ve read on the opioid crisis:

Part of the challenge for public officials is that “the opioid epidemic” is really a fight on two very separate fronts: the increased use of heroin in young adults in urban and suburban areas, and older adults abusing prescription drugs like Oxycontin in more rural areas.

“You can cut the state of Virginia in half,” Gov. McAuliffe said at the Maryland conference. “On the East Coast, around Virginia Beach, it’s all heroin and now the more potent fentanyl. Then I can drive eight hours to Abingdon in the southwest corner of the state, and I can tell you there are no heroin problems there. It’s all prescription drugs.”

Northwest Georgia methadone clinics are drawing clients from across state lines, according to the AJC.

Northwest Georgia, along the Tennessee and Alabama borders, is prime territory for narcotics treatment centers, commonly known as methadone clinics, where there are more such facilities per person than any other region of the state.

The four-county region has five clinics compared with just 12 in the entire state of Tennessee and 20 in all of Alabama. Georgia is home to 72 clinics in all — the easier access drawing addicts from out of state on a daily basis, usually before dawn, for methadone treatment. That’s particularly true in the northwest where officials say two out of three patients are from out of state.

“The laws in Georgia were much more lax than surrounding states and the location of our county put us close to Tennessee and Alabama,” said Ringgold Mayor Nick Millwood. “That made us a key spot and it was becoming a problem. … They are selling something that is just as addictive as something they are trying to get folks off of.”

A new law that took effect in May aims to change that by dividing the state into 49 regions and limiting each to no more than four methadone clinics.

“At the time when we did the research, we had only two clinics (in Gwinnett County),” said Sen. Renee Unterman, R-Buford, one of the law’s sponsors, adding that more clinics began moving in after they found out the state would be cracking down.

The new law targeted at reining in the explosion of methadone clinics in Georgia may have technically gone into effect in May, but it may be months longer until it actually gets enforced.

The Department of Community Health is still “finalizing the rules” with an eye toward “open enrollment” for new clinics in December, spokeswoman Fiona Roberts said. The agency is also still looking at staffing needs.

2018 Elections

Senator David Shafer’s campaign for Lieutenant Governor received another boost, with the endorsement of former Congressman Bob Barr.

“David Shafer has a proven track record of advancing conservative ideals.  He wrote the state’s zero based budgeting law.  He authored the constitutional amendment capping the state income tax.  He is a staunch defender of the Second Amendment and the only candidate for Lieutenant Governor rated A+ by the National Rifle Association.  I judge politicians based on their accomplishments, not their promises.  David Shafer is the clear choice for Lieutenant Governor and I am proud to endorse him.”

Senator Shafer expressed his appreciation for Barr’s endorsement: “I am grateful to Congressman Bob Barr for his endorsement and support.”

Bob Barr is one of three Georgians to serve on the Board of Directors of the National Rifle Association.

Senator Hunter Hill spoke to the Gwinnett Daily Post about his campaign for Governor.

The main pieces of his platform include limiting the scope of the state’s government, eliminating the state income tax for at least most residents and giving parents more choices about where their children will be educated.

“I feel like I’m the limited government candidate in the race,” Hill said. “I feel like we’re a jack of all trades and a master of none because we try to be all things to all people in government. We spend billions of dollars on low-return activities and what it does is two things: No. 1, it’s not delivering results for the people we’re trying to help, but more importantly, it’s underfunding the core competencies of government.

“Things like transportation, education and public safety. These are the areas, the constitutional mandates, that I want to focus on, so you can call that budget reform.”

The biggest pieces of platform, or at least the most eye-catching piece, is his plan to get rid of the state’s income tax. He said one way to do that could be the implementation of a $75,000 income tax exemption, which he said would totally cover the incomes of about 90 percent of Georgia residents. He also said Georgia’s sales tax would have to be addressed.

“We have a 4 percent sales tax, a 6 percent income tax and a 6 percent corporate tax,” he said. “We have essentially shot buckshot through our sales tax code, exemptions here, tax credits over here and so that’s rendered the sale tax less effective at bringing in the requisite amount of revenue. So we have to shore up the sales tax code.

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