Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for January 25, 2018

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Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for January 25, 2018

On January 25, 1776, the Continental Congress authorized the first national momument commemorating the Revolutionary War.

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On January 25, 1915, a charter was issued in DeKalb County Superior Court to Emory University.

On January 25, 1943, Georgia Gov. Ellis Arnall signed legislation eliminating the governor as an ex officio member of the State Board of Education, State Board of Regents, Department of Public Safety, and State Housing Authority, as part of a proposal to reduce the Governor’s power over education.

On January 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy held the first live televised press conference.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

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“Let Trump Be Trump” authors Corey Lewandowski and David Bossie will appear at the Marietta Fish Market on February 15, 2018 from 5:30 to 7:30 PM in support of their New York Times best-selling book. General Admission tickets are free. For $25 you can get a signed book and $45 gets you a book and photo op.

Governor Nathan Deal appointed John Herbert Cranford Jr. as the new District Attorney for the Coweta Judicial Circuit. The Coweta Circuit comprises Carroll, Troup, Meriwether. & Coweta Counties. Pete Skandalakis retired as Coweta Circuit District Attorney effective January 4, and Monique Kirby served as interim D.A. until Cranford was appointed.

The Senate and House convene today at 10 AM for Legislative Day 10.

LEGISLATIVE COMMITTEE MEETINGS

8:00 AM /HOUSE NAT’L RES & ENV’T 606 CLOB

9:00 AM HOUSE RULES 341 CAP

11:00 AM House Tags and Titles Sub of Motor Veh. 510 CLOB – Upon Adjournment

UPON ADJOURNMENT SENATE RULES 450 CAP

1:30 PM HOUSE JUVENILE JUSTICE 406 CLOB

2:00 PM SENATE AGRICULTURE 125 CAP

2:00 PM JOINT EDUCATION & YOUTH 606 CLOB

2:00 PM< SENATE STATE AND LOCAL GOV’T OPS – CANCELLED

3:00 PM SENATE ETHICS – CANCELED 307 CLOB

3:00 PM SENATE RETIREMENT – CANCELED 310 CLOB

3:00 PM SENATE GOV’T OVERSIGHT 125 CAP

3:00 PM HOUSE WAYS & MEANS 406 CLOB

4:00 PM SENATE JUDICIARY – CANCELED 307 CLOB

Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle is supporting a move from electronic ballots to some form of paper ballots.

“I think it is important that we have a paper ballot trail that ensures that accuracy is there, and that there are no games that potentially could be played,” Cagle, a Republican candidate for governor, said in an interview with WABE.

Georgia is one of just a few states that exclusively use voting machines without a paper trail. Cybersecurity experts agree it exposes the system to potential doubt, hacks and glitches.

“I’m super excited to have Lt. Gov. Cagle on board,” said Republican Rep. Scot Turner, the lead sponsor of a bi-partisan bill in the House that would require the state move to a paper ballot system, which could be audited.

State Sen. Bruce Thompson, chair of that chamber’s Science and Technology Committee, will sponsor a bill similar to Turner’s.

“It will not be identical to the one that’s in the House, but very, very similar,” Thompson said.

Cagle’s support of Thompson’s legislation means it’s likely to pass the Senate.

“The fact of the matter is our elections are very, very vulnerable,” Thompson said.  “This is our state, we should be able to protect our voting and our process.”

Rome City Commission is urging legislators to ensure that funding source created for a specific purpose are actually dedicated to funding that purpose.

The Rome City Commission is getting behind a push to force state lawmakers to spend specialized fees on the programs they were intended to fund.

Levies such as the $1 tire replacement fee — meant to clean up illegal tire dumps — and super-speeder fines for trauma centers, are often diverted to pay for other services.

Mayor Jamie Doss said the board intends to formally urge passage of House Resolution 158, which would ban the practice except in the case of a financial emergency. The Georgia Municipal Association is asking all its members to do the same.

“It sets up a vote on a constitutional amendment, so fees earmarked for a specific purpose are used for that purpose and don’t go into the general fund,” Doss said.

Rome-based Coosa River Basin Initiative and other members of the Georgia Water Coalition also have renewed their support of the legislation. HR 158 was introduced last year by Rep. Jay Powell, R-Camilla, and co-sponsored by Republican Rep. John Meadows of Calhoun.

It was poised to pass the House in 2017 but supporters couldn’t round up the 120 votes needed by Crossover Day, the deadline for bills to get through at least one chamber or be tabled. This is the final year of the two-year session, however, and if it doesn’t pass this time it will die.

The Senate Rules Committee passed Senate Resolution 587 by Sen. Josh McKoon, which would create a referendum to Amend the Georgia Constitution and designate English as the official language of state government.

By a non-unanimous voice vote, the Senate Rules Committee on Wednesday approved Sen. Joshua McKoon’s proposed constitutional amendment to name English as the state’s “official language.” State law already contains that designation, but McKoon, a Columbus Republican, said the law is not being properly enforced and the issue needs to be cleared up by revising the state constitution.

More than 30 states have designated English as their first language, McKoon has said. But only about a third of those states have amended their constitutions to make English their official language.

Constitutional amendments require two-thirds approval in both chambers and voters’ approval in a statewide election.

An identical measure passed the Senate in 2016 but died in the House.

The Georgia State House Medical Cannabis Working Group voted to recommend passage of House Bill 645 by Working Group Chair Allen Peake (R-Macon). From the Macon Telegraph:

Macon Republican state Rep. Allen Peake wants the state to issue up to two licenses to grow cannabis and manufacture a liquid from it. State law allows Georgians who have a doctor’s recommendation and a state medical marijuana card to possess that oil for the treatment of symptoms of any of several diagnoses, including late-stage cancer.

“What we’ve attempted to do in House Bill 645 is do what 30 other states have done, which is enact infrastructure for growing of marijuana for medicinal purposes only,” said Peake, so that the roughly 3,400 Georgians who are registered can get it.

In a unanimous voice vote on Wednesday, the House Medical Cannabis Working Group sent HB 645 to the state House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee. Hearings and approval from that committee would be the next step toward a full floor vote.

House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, has endorsed medical marijuana cultivation. But this January, ahead of the session, he recommended a federal strategy.

“I’ve been supportive of the initiatives that have gotten us to this point,” Ralston said, “but at some point we have to sort of confront the realty that as long as federal law is what federal law is, that there’s only so far that we can go. So I’ve encouraged the proponents of medical cannabis oil that maybe it’s time that the emphasis be put on Washington as opposed to the state level and hopefully they will do that.”

House Bill 731 by State Rep. Debbie Buckner (D-Junction City) would exempt feminine hygiene products from sales taxes.

The advocacy group, Georgia Women (And Those Who Stand With Us), estimates that the tax paid on those products adds up to $10 million a year.

The bill spells out some of the products to be exempted as “tampons, menstrual pads” and others.

The legislation, House Bill 731, was proposed by Rep. Debbie Buckner, D-Junction City. Four of her first five co-sponsors are Republicans, members of the majority party in the General Assembly.

Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, said he signed on because the products should have been exempted years ago along with groceries and medical devices.

“I think there’s a valid argument that it’s a medical necessity,” Peake said. “There were some constituents of mine who approached me about it, some ladies in my area. The more they explained to me, the more it made sense.”

State legislators are working on a transit bill for Metro Atlanta.

The next “big lift” for the state in terms of transportation is mobility and transit, said state Rep. Kevin Tanner, R-Dawsonville, speaking to the Georgia Chamber of Commerce’s State of Transportation breakfast Wednesday.

Tanner is chairing the House Commission on Transit Governance and Funding, a closely watched panel put together by House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, last year. Ralston has cited a strong economic development argument for efficient transit and possibly state funding toward it.

Tanner said in the next few weeks, he anticipates rollout of major legislation for a regional governance structure for transit, along with “innovative ideas” for local governments to raise money in new ways, and new funding options from the state. Now, the state spends vanishingly little on transit, save a $75 million in bonded projects awarded in 2016.

“I’m also hopeful that we can for the first time in a long time have a significant expansion of our rail service into some other counties in the state,” Tanner said.

The transit commission will work for at least two years, but this session they’ll focus on metro Atlanta, rather than other areas.

From the Dalton Daily Citizen:

“The state traditionally has been probably about fifth lowest in the country for funding transit services in metro areas. We want to change that,” Tanner said to elected officials and business leaders who gathered Wednesday for a panel discussion sponsored by the Georgia Transportation Alliance, which is affiliated with the Georgia Chamber of Commerce.

The north Georgia lawmaker said a proposal will likely include bonds to pay for transit projects, as well as a push for better coordination among existing transit operators so riders can have a smoother experience.

“One of the things that is important for us is to get away from is silo mentality,” he said, referring to the 11 separate transit systems that exist now in 13 metro Atlanta counties.

But Tanner was mum on other details Wednesday, such as what the cost would be to expand transit and make other improvements.

State Senator Chuck Hufstetler (R-Rome) is introducing legislation to limit costs borne for construction at Plant Vogtle.

State Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, a Republican, introduced what he calls a “reasonable” solution to ease some of the burden customers have felt from the troubled project, which has been delayed by at least five years and could potentially double its initially estimated cost of $14.3 billion.

“This is a very fair bill,” Hufstetler said. “It doesn’t stop Plant Vogtle. It doesn’t stop the overruns from being paid. But it does set some limits on it. I’m hoping that it will be looked at reasonably.”

The proposed legislation, Senate Bill 355, would cause Georgia Power to change the formula it uses to bill customers, which builds in an automatic profit, Hufstetler said. Ratepayers would continue to pay for cost overages, but none of that money could be used to create a profit for the energy company.

“The way things are set up now, the more (Georgia Power is) over budget, the more profit they make,” he said.

Seventeen Georgia Mayors visited the White House to discuss infrastructure, urban development and the opioid crisis.

The mayors of 17 Georgia cities, including Atlanta, Sandy Springs and Loganville were on hand for various outreach events with Trump administration officials throughout the day.

It all culminated in a 15-minute speech from President Donald Trump in the East Wing. Trump previewed his administration’s upcoming infrastructure plan and said his wanted to empower local governments.

“You bring safety, prosperity and hope to our citizens,” Trump said. “My administration will always support local government and listen to leaders who know their communities best, and you know your community best.”

Metro Atlanta mayors who were slated to attend the day’s events included: Boyd Austin of Dallas; Michael Bodker of Johns Creek; Steven Edwards of Sugar Hill; Keisha Lance Bottoms of Atlanta; Rey Martinez of Loganville; Rusty Paul of Sandy Springs; Vanessa Rogers-Fleisch of Peachtree City; and Vince Williams of Union City.

Cherokee County Superior Court Chief Judge Jackson Harris announced he will not run for reelection this year.

Harris, who sat down with Patch Wednesday afternoon in his office at the Cherokee County Justice Center, said he felt it was time to focus on traveling, visiting the country’s National Parks and spending time with his children.

““I knew I would be coming up for re-election this year, so I’ve been pondering the decision,” Judge Harris said when asked why he chose to step aside. “I guess it just came together recently…that this is probably a better path for me. I’ve enjoyed my time here.”

“Everybody who comes to court is here because they really don’t want to be and I think if we treat them all as individuals and not just case numbers, then we are doing our job,” he said. “I’ve also enjoyed working with the people here in the county and in the courthouse.”

One of the most striking changes Harris reflected on is how Cherokee has transitioned from a “rural/suburban court to a suburban/urban court,” a movement that has no signs of slowing down due to the growth. That change, he added, doesn’t particularly show up in the number of cases coming through the system, but in the type of crimes judges and prosecutors are tasked with adjudicating.

Rhonda Barnes, who serves as Executive Legal Assistant to Gov. Deal, will run for Spalding County Clerk of Superior Court.

She’s seeking a post vacated by Marcia Norris, who was suspended by Deal after a state probe found she was “willfully not fulfilling her duties.”

Barnes is a familiar figure under the Gold Dome. She’s been an executive legal assistant for the governor’s office since 2005, and has been the go-to for organizing and processing executive orders and coordinating key records in the office for all of Deal’s tenure.

She kept a tally of the paperwork she’s handled in 13 years in the office: More than 200 judicial appointments, nearly 6,000 executive orders and nearly 1,000 Open Records Act requests handled expeditiously.

Barnes said she’ll bring those skills to the clerk’s office, with plans to clear lengthy backlogs and modernize the county’s outdated computer systems.

“I truly believe that the experience I have gained while working in the Office of the Governor has prepared me to operate the clerk’s office in a manner that will make my friends, family and the citizens of Spalding County proud,” she said in a statement.

Coastal Georgia waters are now closed to shrimping because of low temperatures.

The shrimp harvest means a lot for the economy of the Golden Isles and Coastal Georgia, but the recent record cold had its impact on area shrimp, so officials ordered federal waters off the Georgia coast closed for shrimp trawling.

The state Department of Natural Resources’ Coastal Resources Division sent out a notice late Tuesday afternoon announcing trawling for brown, pink or white shrimp was no longer allowed in federal waters as of 8:45 a.m. Wednesday.

State waters, which were set to close at the end of 2017, were allowed to remain open through Jan. 15. State waters typically reopen between May 15 and early June, while federal waters tend to remain open all year unless something happens.

The closure, according to officials, was necessary to protect shrimp spawning, and in this case, specifically the white variety.

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