Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for August 2, 2017

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Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for August 2, 2017

Georgia delegates Button Gwinnett, Lyman Hall, and George Walton signed the Declaration of Independence on August 2, 1776.

On August 2, 1983, the United States House of Representatives voted to observe Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as a federal holiday on the third monday in January.

President Barack Obama visited Georgia on August 2, 2010 – his first trip to Atlanta and second to Georgia after his election in November 2008. The occasion of his 2010 trip, like his trip to Atlanta in 2016, was to deliver a speech to the Disabled American Veterans Conference at the Hyatt Regency. From his 2010 speech:

As a candidate for President, I pledged to bring the war in Iraq to a responsible end.  Shortly after taking office, I announced our new strategy for Iraq and for a transition to full Iraqi responsibility. And I made it clear that by August 31st, 2010, America’s combat mission in Iraq would end. And that is exactly what we are doing — as promised and on schedule….

As agreed to with the Iraqi government, we will maintain a transitional force until we remove all our troops from Iraq by the end of next year.

At the same time, every American who has ever worn the uniform must also know this: Your country is going to take care of you when you come home. Our nation’s commitment to our veterans, to you and your families, is a sacred trust. And to me and my administration, upholding that trust is a moral obligation. It’s not just politics.

That’s why I’ve charged Secretary Shinseki with building a 21st century VA.  And that includes one of the largest percentage increases to the VA budget in the past 30 years. We are going to cut this deficit that we’ve got, and I’ve proposed a freeze on discretionary domestic spending. But what I have not frozen is the spending we need to keep our military strong, our country safe and our veterans secure. So we’re going to keep on making historic commitments to our veterans.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Georgia First Lady Sandra Deal visited new mothers at Hamilton Medical Center in Dalton.

“I just wanted to talk to them about how important it is that we protect our babies and what we can do to protect them,” Deal said. “We talked about putting the baby in a crib and letting it sleep on its back. They used to advise letting them sleep on their tummies, but now we know it’s safer for them to sleep on their back.”

Georgia’s Safe Sleep program says that babies should sleep alone, on their backs and in a crib, with a firm, flat mattress and no toys or other items in the crib. That reduces the risk of sleep-related deaths. Georgia’s First Steps program provides new mothers with a small crib.

“We also talked about the importance of immunizations,” Deal said.

Deal noted that many childhood illnesses such as whooping cough are seeing a resurgence. She said that those illnesses can be fatal and it’s important for children to get their scheduled immunizations and for adults who care for children to also be up-to-date on their immunizations.

“We also talked about how important it is for them (mothers) to talk to their children, to not only teach them vocabulary but also teach them how to listen,” she said.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Session spoke yesterday to the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement (NOBLE) Annual Convention.

Sessions spoke about the Justice Department’s “commitment to support law enforcement and reinforce the rule of law.”

“I’m here on behalf of President Trump and the Department of Justice to say thank you,” Sessions told attendees. “The Department of Justice is proud to stand with you.”

“We have your back, we are in this together. We cannot restore public safety in our country if we are not united,” Sessions said. “We can all agree that you are safer on your rounds when everyone respects law enforcement. The communities you serve are safer if everyone respects law enforcement.”

“It hasn’t been my best week for my relationship with the president,” Sessions told The Associated Press. “But I believe with great confidence that I understand what’s needed in the Department of Justice and what President Trump wants. I share his agenda.”

Freshman State Representative Meagan Hanson spoke about her first year in the General Assembly.

Christopher Wray was confirmed by the Senate as Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

Wray led the Justice Department’s criminal division during the George W. Bush administration before he transitioned to private practice at the Atlanta-based mega-firm King & Spalding, where he built ties with some of Georgia’s largest corporations.

From the New York Times:

The 92-to-5 vote to confirm Mr. Wray, a former federal prosecutor, is likely to be a relief to many agents at the F.B.I. who want a strong director to stave off any attempts by the White House to meddle in its investigations. The deteriorating relationship between Mr. Trump and the previous F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, was widely viewed as harmful to the bureau.

“Now more than ever, the bureau needs a resolute and independent leader,” said Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island and a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “Christopher Wray has assured us he can be that leader.”

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue embarks on a five-state Midwestern tour.

The secretary of agriculture will travel to Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois and Indiana on a Back to our Roots tour to gather feedback on the 2018 farm bill, according to a news release.

Perdue, Georgia’s former governor, will be meeting with farmers, ranchers, foresters and political leaders as he also looks for ways to increase rural prosperity.

Perdue is scheduled to arrive Thursday in Wisconsin, where he will appear with Gov. Scott Walker at the opening of the Wisconsin State Fair and plans to meet later with House Speaker Paul Ryan.

Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul announced he will seek reelection in November.

I want to complete the City Springs project, making sure we stand it up successfully.

Three other goals are: 1) implementing the current transportation initiative approved by voters and push a regional mass transit solution that offers true mobility options for residents; 2) ensuring the land use protections and commitments we’ve made to our residents in The Next Ten project are followed; and 3) gaining more control over the water system serving the City. We pay water rates well above the norm, we have water leaks that go unrepaired for weeks, months and years, while our fire hydrants are often impaired or have low pressure. This is truly a life and death concern.

Joe Musselwhite will run for Mayor of Warner Robins against incumbent Randy Toms.

Musselwhite, 64, said Tuesday that he will make a formal announcement next week that he is seeking the office. Mayor Randy Toms has said he will seek re-election to another term.

Musselwhite made the runoff against Toms in the 2013 election that began with six candidates, but he lost, with Toms getting 3,159 votes to Musselwhite’s 1,662.

Representative Karen Handel spoke to the Georgia Tea Party.

“It’s unfortunate in the world of the media right now. Many outlets now, their compensation package is based on clicks to an article, and that puts intense pressure to have the most salacious things that you can cover,” Handel said. “And I don’t necessarily put that in the lap of the individual reporter as much as I do with the management at a particular media outlet.”

The Roswell Republican made her remarks during a special meeting of the Marietta-based Georgia Tea Party.

On issues closer to home, the congresswoman gave a shoutout to Cobb Commissioners JoAnn Birrell and Bob Ott, both of whom were present, not just for their support, but for voting down a proposed county property tax increase last week.

“They went to bat for Cobb County,” Handel said to applause.

Hall County‘s Service Delivery Strategy with its municipalities was approved by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs.

Madison County Commissioners are considering whether to raise the property tax millage rate in order to boost reserves.

The state recommends that counties Madison County’s size have two to three months of operating budget in reserves for emergencies such as a natural disasters or a government shutdown, something the county had just a few years ago.

This year, new Chairman John Scarborough said reserves are virtually non-existent.

Since 2011, the county has steadily pulled money from reserves each year. In 2011, the amount pulled was $379,000; last year over $1 million was required to cover the deficit.

Finance Department Director Kathy Clark came up with “four scenarios” for how the board might proceed.
Those scenarios ranged from keeping the status quo with the mill rate remaining at 14.266, to increasing it up to two mills.

Scarborough also asked the board to continue to think about things that could be cut in 2018.

Gwinnett County Commissioners approved a deal to allow documentary cameras from an A&E show to follow county police detectives.

Gwinnett County Commissioners approved a request from producers of the A&E network show “The First 48” on Tuesday to give filming crews access to the county’s police department as its detectives investigate murders. The commission had postponed a vote on the request last month because of questions about the agreement.

“I had some reservations related to previous documentary programs that the county had been involved with,” Commissioner John Heard said. “But after discussions with (Police Chief Butch Ayers and County Administrator Glenn Stephens), those reservations are overcome by the fact that we do have a great police department (and) we do have a great homicide investigation team.”

The name of the show refers to the first 48 hours of a homicide investigation, with camera crews following investigators at various law enforcement agencies as they work to develop leads in the early stage of a homicide investigation.

Georgia Public Service Commission Chair Stan Wise wrote about the reactor construction at Plant Vogtle after SCANA in South Carolina abandoned construction of two reactors.

“It is my hope that we do not retreat from nuclear power,” Wise wrote. “It is critical that we keep our fuel mix diversified, especially considering the exodus from coal and the growing reliance on natural gas, the prices of which have fluctuated in extremes during my tenure.”

Wise said renewable energy is important, but not yet reliable enough to be practical. He said nuclear power has high initial costs, but ultimately pays off with cheaper and cleaner energy.

“Today, Vogtle units 1 and 2 are the pride of the Georgia Power fleet and time has proven the critics wrong,” Wise said. “Vogtle is producing a kilowatt hour 2.8 times cheaper than the best natural gas combined cycle, 3.3 times cheaper than the best coal unit, and 6.8 times cheaper than the best gas combustion turbine unit.”

“And yes, it is true consumers have been paying as construction work is in progress, just as we all do with most water systems and other large public infrastructure projects,” Wise wrote. “We all benefit today from the investments made by generations before us. By spreading these costs over time, borrowing costs are lower and consumers are not hit with rate shock when the plants come on line.”

Wise said the similarities between Summer and Vogtle are less significant than they may seem.

He said Georgia Power has three times as many customers as the SCANA affiliate that owns the majority of the South Carolina plant. That means the impact on customers has been lower in Georgia — 5 percent here compared to 18 percent there, he said.

In Georgia, there are four co-owners of the Vogtle plant, compared to just two in South Carolina, he said, and Vogtle is guaranteed more money from Toshiba to reduce the impact on customers than Summers, $3.7 billion compared to $2.2 billion.

From the Augusta Chronicle:

Once the commission receives that report, its staff will begin working on it and Wise said he expects a decision on whether the project should move forward by early December.

One of the outstanding issues that could affect the project, whether to extend production tax credits that could aid the project past its current 2020 expiration date, has been approved by the U.S. House of Representatives but is still awaiting action by the U.S. Senate. That is one of the things that will be included in the analysis, Hawkins said.

But Wise said there is generally a favorable view in Washington, D.C., of the the tax credits and encouraging new nuclear power.

“I believe Congress has continued to be supportive of the extension of the (production tax credits),” he said. “I believe the White House is appropriately supportive of that as well.”

Department of Energy Secretary Rick Perry echoed that at a June news conference.

“This administration believes that nuclear energy development can be a game-changer and an important player in the development of our clean-energy portfolio globally,” he said. “One of the things we want to do at DOE is to make nuclear energy cool again.”

Buford Commissioners are considering adopting a property tax millage rate higher than the rollback rate.

The Buford Board of Commissioners is set to adopt a millage rate of 12.80 mills for 2017, an increase of .580 mills over the rollback rate, which will result in an increase in property taxes of 4.75 percent.

The proposed tax increase for a home with a fair market value of $200,000 is approximately $46.40 and the proposed tax increase for non-homestead property with a fair market value of $550,000 is approximately $127.60.

Congressman Tom Graves (R-Ranger) appeared in Rome yesterday.

He started the morning with a tour of one of the county’s large employers, Redmond Regional Medical Center, then headed to his office for a personal meeting with Kathy Melton of Rockmart and her family. He presented Melton with a set of medals earned by her deceased father, Johnnie Brooks, who served in Africa during World War II, along with a copy of his military records.

“Veterans don’t always share a lot of their stories, and sometimes this is the first time families have ever heard about their service,” he told Melton as she beamed with pride.

Lunch was at Red Lobster, with the Floyd County Republican Women and the 50 or so party stalwarts drawn by the announcement that he’d be their speaker this month.

Graves had the group help him call off the Georgians tapped for important jobs in the Trump Administration — new FBI Director Christopher Wray, Health And Human Services Secretary Tom Price, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and Pence’s chief of staff Nick Ayers, to name a few. Graves’ own former scheduler, Morgan Joyce, is now deputy assistant scheduler for the secretary of state.

“Rex Tillerson stole her,” he laughed.

His reference to Pence drew applause, and he spoke of the locally organized September 2016 rally that Pence headlined in Dalton. The event came up, he said, during a recent flight on Air Force Two he shared with the vice president.

“When he sees me, he thinks of Northwest Georgia,” Graves said. “The rally here was the largest single rally for him in the country. Mike has never forgotten that, so he loves Georgia.”

Healthcare

Rep. Tom Graves spoke about federal healthcare legislation at Redmond Medical Center in Rome.

After close to seven years of talk about the repeal and replacement of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act — also known as Obamacare — Graves said the GOP majority still has not found an alternative that can pass both the U.S. House and Senate.

Graves said the solutions have to be broad-based and the system in place now is missing affordable coverage for families.

“This is where a lot of families were misled in the original debate, the deductible argument was never brought up,” Graves said. He suggested allowing individuals to deduct from taxes the cost of insurance just like businesses do would be a good starting point.

State Senator Dean Burke (R-Bainbridge) spoke about rural healthcare challenges in Georgia.

Sen. Burke stressed the importance of saving the local hospital as it is a necessary tool for economic development to occur.

Speaking of economic development, there is another public area of note. A rural investment tax credit for up to $60,000,000 million dollars, that is state-wide and is for economic development, not health care is considered very controversial. He said most legislators do not like tax credits cause it takes money out of their pocket to spend, “so the less we have to spend, the less influence we have with our constituents. So it is hard to get a tax credit bill through the legislature. That one did win, last minute, by one vote. I am hoping that can be another tool for small towns to use to get businesses to locate in their communities.”

He stated that Georgia rates 49th in most studies of health outcomes. “In other words, we are sicker as a state than most other states in the country.” Most of the problem is no doubt the type of food we enjoy. But the focus is to help people practice better health.

Sen. Burke expressed his thanks to the community, and especially the political leaders who stepped up and supported our local hospital to receive $2.5 million to make necessary improvements.

He said, “We can make Bainbridge great. Atlanta can’t do it, nor can Washington, DC; but Bainbridge will make Bainbridge greater.”

Andy Miller of Georgia Health News looks at a community’s efforts to keep their hospital open.

Elbert County commissioners are holding public hearings this week and next on a proposed one-mill property tax increase for one year to raise about $500,000 to offset the Elberton hospital’s costs for indigent care.

Without the money, the 52-bed hospital will close, officials warn. That would eliminate more than 200 jobs, and residents would have to travel more than 30 miles to the nearest hospital. A closure would jolt the mostly rural county’s economy.

Elbert Memorial lost $1.5 million in its last fiscal year, CEO Jim Yarborough said Tuesday. “Our concern is that charity care and bad debt are trending upward,” he said. Yarborough calls the financial crunch facing many Georgia hospitals “a silent epidemic.”

The hospital’s predicament demonstrates how counties and hospitals depend on each other financially, and how revenue pressure on each is creating an unprecedented squeeze.

Hospitals are facing lower reimbursements from government programs and private health insurers, along with high levels of uninsured and underinsured patients.

But another key issue is Georgia’s decision not to expand Medicaid, hospital execs say.

Reimbursement reductions for hospitals “translate into an unfunded mandate onto the county,” Lewis added. “Rural unemployment rates are so high there’s no millage capacity to support the unfunded mandate.”

Opioid overdoses are taking a toll on Emergency Management Services, according to the Dalton Daily Citizen.

Opioid overdoses in Whitfield County are on the rise this year, says Scott Radeker, director of Hamilton Emergency Medical Services.

So far this year, Hamilton paramedics have administered Narcan, a drug that blocks the effects of opioids, 70 times. By comparison, they used Narcan 85 times in all of 2016 and 95 times in 2015. There have been individuals who have received the drug on more than one occasion but that number is not tracked.

“We are on a pace to almost double last year,” Radeker said.

“This is a problem everywhere, and Dalton isn’t immune,” said state Rep. Bruce Broadrick, R-Dalton, himself a pharmacist.

“If we get to the scene and see powder, we do have to take precautions,” [Radeker] said. “If it become airborne and someone inhales it, it can be quite toxic. We haven’t had to deal with that yet, but I’m afraid it’s just a matter of time.”

Georgia’s 911 Medical Amnesty Law allows people to call 911 for help with overdoses without fear of arrest for drug or alcohol possession.

More than one-third of US Adults were prescribed opioid painkillers in 2015.

Researchers found that more than one third of U.S. adults were prescribed the medications in 2015 and many also misused the drugs.

“A very large proportion and large number of adults use these medications in a given year,” said study author Dr. Wilson Compton, deputy director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse in Bethesda, Maryland. “I was still a bit surprised that 38 percent or about 92 million people used prescription opioids in 2015.”

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