Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for February 13, 2017

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Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for February 13, 2017

On February 13, 1941, Gov. Eugene Talmadge signed legislation that proposed a Constitutional Amendment changing the 2-year terms for Governor and other statewide Constitutional Officers to 4-year.

On February 13, 1956, Gov. Marvin Griffin signed legislation adopting a new state flag incorporating the Confederate battle flag.

On February 13, 2007, United States Congressman Charlie Norwood (R-Augusta) died at home.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Voters in State House District 175 go to the polls today in a Special Election to fill the now-vacant seat.

Candidates are:

• Treva Gear, Democrat, Valdosta, educator.

• John LaHood, Republican, Valdosta, business owner.

• Bruce Phelps, Republican, Lowndes County, who lists his occupation as emergency medical technician.

• Coy Reaves, Republican, Quitman, self-employed.

The district represents part of Lowndes and Thomas counties and all of Brooks County.

The district was represented in the Statehouse for several years by Carter. She resigned at the end of 2017 to take a position as the executive director of advancement for the Technical College System of Georgia. She began her tenure as a Democrat who later switched to the Republican Party.

Governor Nathan Deal released a statement about the inclusion of $49 million for the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project in President Trump’s proposed budget.

“I am encouraged to see that SHEP was President Trump’s top priority when it comes to port investments,” said Deal. “The expansion of the Port of Savannah is the single most important infrastructure project not only for Georgia, but for the Southeast as a whole, and deepening it is necessary to allow larger ships like the Neo-Panamax to navigate through our ports more quickly and ensure that a greater volume of goods will be able to move through our state. On top of President Trump’s budget, we are looking forward to investment from the Army Corps of Engineers work plan to supplement this amount. Finally, I am grateful for members of Georgia’s Congressional delegation and call upon them to redouble their advocacy for federal funding during the appropriations process. To date, Georgia taxpayers have already invested the state’s full local share to SHEP, amounting to roughly $266 million, and the state’s FY 2019 budget includes an additional $35 million to ensure its completion by 2021. A timely completion of this effort will ensure resources are allocated efficiently and taxpayer dollars are spent appropriately, while making a major step forward for our national infrastructure as more, larger ships will be able to navigate through the Port of Savannah and more quickly move goods through our nation.”

From the Savannah Morning News:

“It’s very good news,” Jamie McCurry, chief administrative officer for the ports said. “We are glad to see Savannah given the highest priority based on dollars of any expansion projects.”

Once the omnibus bill is passed in March, appropriations can move forward, officials with Georgia Sen. David Perdue’s office said. An omnibus spending bill allows appropriations bills to be combined into one bill that can be passed with one vote in each legislative house.

McCurry said the FY 2018 and FY2019 funding will help towards the $88-$100 million needed each year for the project.

“We are certainly thankful for the $49 million,” [Congressman Buddy] Carter said. “We all know we need more money to avoid any interruptions in this project. That’s our goal — not to have any interruptions.”

Under the Gold Dome

The House and Senate each convenes at 10 AM today for Legislative Day 20, the halfway point in the legislative session. It’s a doozy of a day for committee meetings.

LEGISLATIVE COMMITTEE MEETING SCHEDULE.

8:00 AM SENATE STATE & LOCAL GOVT OPS 307 CLOB

8:00 AM SENATE APPROPRIATIONS 341 CAP

8:00 AM House Envtal Qual Subc  Natl Res & Envt 403 CAP

8:00 AM HOUSE MILITARY AFFAIRS WORKING GROUP 415 CLOB

9:00 AM HOUSE RULES 341 CAP

Upon Adjournment SENATE RULES – UPON ADJOURNMENT 450 CAP

1:00 PM SENATE ECON DEV & TOURISM – CANCELED 125 CAP

1:00 PM SENATE HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES 450 CAP

1:00 PM House Setzler Sub Judy (Non-Civil) 506 CLOB

1:00 PM HOUSE APPROP PUBLIC SAFETY 415 CLOB

1:00 PM HOUSE APPROP TRANSPORTATION 406 CLOB

2:00 PM SENATE RETIREMENT MEZZ 1

2:00 PM SENATE SCIENCE AND TECH 307 CLOB

2:00 PM DOT ELECTIONS -DISTRICT 2 SENATE CHAMBER

2:00 PM SENATE NATL RES & ENVT 310 CLOB

2:00 PM HOUSE APPROPRIATIONS HIGHER ED 341 CAP

2:00 PM HOUSE JUDY (CIVIL) 132 CAP

2:00 PM HOUSE APPRO GENL GOVT 403 CAP

2:00 PM HOUSE REGULATED IND 415 CLOB

2:00 PM HOUSE BANKS AND BANKING 515 CLOB

2:00 PM HOUSE HEALTH & HUMAN SERVICES 606 CLOB

3:00 PM SENATE HIGHER ED 307 CLOB

3:00 PM SENATE REG IND & UTILS 450 CAP

3:00 PM DOT ELECTIONS -DISTRICT 5 Senate Chamber

3:00 PM DOT ELECTIONS-DISTRICT 13 Senate Chamber

3:00 PM HOUSE MEDICAL CANNABIS WORKING GROUP 406 CLOB

3:00 PM HOUSE SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY 506 CLOB

4:00 PM SENATE STATE INST & PROP 450 CAP

4:00 PM SENATE BANKING AND FIN INST – CANCELED MEZZ 1

4:00 PM HOUSE Govt Affairs Special Sub Voting Tech 506 CLOB

The Senate Health and Human Services Committee today will hear testimony on Senate Bill 351 by Chair Renee Unterman (R-Buford), which would allow a greater scope of practice for Advanced Practice Registered Nurses in rural parts of Georgia. From Jill Nolin at CNHI:

Unterman, who chairs the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, has introduced a measure that would empower the nurses to practice to the fullest extent of their training.

“I just think it’s a shame that, here at the General Assembly, they’ve been held back and repressed for so long,” Unterman said during an interview at the state Capitol.

Georgia has one of the most restrictive laws for nurse practitioners. Nationally, 22 states and the District of Columbia grant them what is known as full-practice authority.

Proponents argue expanding the scope of practice for nurse practitioners could help fill in the health-care gaps in a growing state with increasing needs, especially with primary care. Nurse practitioners can also specialize in certain areas, such as pediatric care or mental health treatment.

“Everybody says, ‘Oh, it’s anti-doctor,’” Unterman said of her proposal. “It has nothing to do with that. It’s about access to care, and if you have a ready, willing and able workforce out there that’s willing to fill in the gap, I say let them have it.”

 

House Bill 865 by Rep. Miriam Paris (D-Macon) would reduce possession of small amounts of marijuana to a misdemeanor. From the Macon Telegraph:

[Rep. Paris] says the bill is not about legalizing marijuana, but about an appropriate punishment for a nonviolent crime.“It is just making it where we’re not sending people to jail, where they have to go and sit just because they can’t make bail or for it,” she said. Her bill says that a possession of up to a half-ounce of marijuana would be punishable by a maximum $300 fine.

Right now, possession of less than an ounce of marijuana is a misdemeanor and subject to up to a year’s imprisonment and up to a $1,000 fine. An ounce or more of marijuana is a felony.

Her bill moves the felony line up to two ounces or more of marijuana. Her bill is identical to Senate Bill 105, which state Sen. Harold Jones II, D-Augusta, carried to state Senate Judiciary Committee approval last year.

House Bill 678 by State Rep. Richard Smith (R-Columbus) addresses surprise medical billing passed out of the House Insurance Committee by substitute. From the Rome News-Tribune:

“Two out of three of you will get a surprise bill within the next two years,” Rep. Richard H. Smith, R-Columbus, said before his House Bill 678 passed in a vote of 164 to 1.

Surprise or balance bills come when a service is performed at an in-network hospital by a contract provider and the patient is billed for the difference between what his insurance company covers and the contractor’s fee.

“You’ve done everything right, or so you believe … (But) some healthcare providers are not in the insurance network and they can charge you whatever they want,” Smith said. “In some cases it’s 10 to 12 times higher than in-network.”

HB 678 offers protections for scheduled procedures.

House Bill 887 by State Rep. Jay Powell (R-Camilla) could be the opposite of “Netflix and chill.” From the Valdosta Daily Times:

Sticking a tax on Netflix, e-books and other digital services that currently go untaxed in Georgia would help pay for upgrades to internet connections in neglected corners of the state.

“We tax books but not Kindle downloads,” Rep. Jay Powell, R-Camilla, said in an interview Thursday. “We used to buy movie tickets and go to Blockbuster – all of which were taxed – but now we videostream from Netflix.

Powell, who heads the House Ways and Means Committee, co-chaired the House Rural Development Council. The broadband bill, which was filed Thursday, is the most ambitious measure to come so far from that panel’s yearlong work. About 16 percent of Georgians lack internet access.

Powell’s measure would replace that lost revenue with a broader tax base, imposing a sales tax on music downloads, streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu, and other digital purchases.

Another tax would expand to all communications services, including those not currently taxed such as satellite TV.

Governor Deal’s  Commission on Children’s Mental Health recommended the increased use of telemedicine for providing services in rural areas. From the Gainesville Times:

Telemedicine, also called telehealth, is becoming a growing part of rural Americans’ health care consumption. Faced with few providers or high-deductible insurance (or no insurance at all), patients are turning to less expensive webcam consultations with a specialist.

Much of the almost $23 million for children’s mental health programs requested by the governor’s office and the commission is intended to “connect kids to services where they are everyday, and that’s schools,” Sitkoff said. “Where we’ve seen great success in tele-mental health is where these school-based health centers leverage telehealth equipment to get kids access to behavioral health providers.”

Tucked into the budget recommendations are two line items totaling $482,500 for telemedicine services and infrastructure — money that will help fund the cameras, computers and training needed to coordinate and carry out telehealth programs through public schools, the state and public-private health care providers.

Sitkoff held up the Tanner Health System in the West Georgia town of Carrollton as an example for its tele-mental health services, which include providing telehealth services in local schools. The system also does regular “mental health first aid” classes that teach people how to identify someone struggling with mental illness and how to approach them about it.

Dade County Commissioners are considering putting a sales tax referendum on the May 2018 ballot. From the Times Free Press:

The county commissioners are holding a special called meeting Thursday at 5 p.m. to decide whether to put a referendum on the May 22 ballot, asking whether people support a transportation special purpose local option sales tax. The 1 percent burden at the cash register would be earmarked for work on roads, bridges and other transportation projects.

If the commissioners put it on a ballot, this will be the second election in six months on the issue. In November, 55 percent of voters rejected it.

But County Executive Ted Rumley believes the referendum has a better chance to pass this time. With only Trenton, Ga., races on the ballot in November, just 911 people came to the polls.

The Coweta County Board of Commissioners will hold a public hearing tonight to discuss the county’s “rural integrity.”

Coweta County public safety agencies are launching a new emergency notification system that works via smartphone app.

Macon-Bibb County already has at least two candidates for the next Mayoral election in 2020. From the Macon Telegraph:

Macon-Bibb County Commissioner Larry Schlesinger and Bibb County school board President Lester Miller have filed paperwork to begin raising funds for a mayoral bid. The election will be held in May 2020.

The Macon-Bibb mayor is limited to two consecutive terms under the consolidation charter, meaning that [Mayor Robert] Reichert will not be able to run again in 2020. That could open up the field to what might be a large group of candidates.

“When everyone knows the incumbent … does not have the option to run again and it’s going to be a wide open seat, I think it’s a natural progression for interested candidates” to begin their mayoral campaigns earlier than usual, said Cox, a former Georgia secretary of state.

Neighborhood activist Betty C. Reece filed paperwork to run against Augusta District 4 Commissioner Sammy Sias.

Lee County Coroner Bill Harris announced he will run for reelection.

Savannah Mayor Eddie DeLoach delivered his State of the City address, promising to continue to prioritize public safety while improving infrastructure.

Chatham County Probate Court is struggling to keep up with an increasing number of applications for concealed weapons permits. From the Savannah Morning News:

Deputy Clerk Jennifer Fogle recently handled 180 applications for weapons carry licenses in one day in Chatham County Probate Court.

About 60 of those required background checks, a time-consuming process that sometimes requires follow-ups that have contributed to a current five-month timeframe to complete the process.

For Fogle, it is a daily challenge to satisfy legal requirements and the patience of members of the public who might not understand the process or court staff who must satisfy both.

Chatham County commissioners on Friday granted an emergency request by court officials and transferred $25,000 from contingency fund to cover overtime and equipment funding to help deal with backlogs.

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