Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for July 18, 2018

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Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for July 18, 2018

The greatest political journalist to ever put pen to paper, Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, was born on July 18, 1929. That makes today “Gonzo Day.” You have been warned.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt was nominated for a third term at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago on July 18, 1940.

President Harry S. Truman signed the second Presidential Succession Act on July 18, 1947

The original succession act designated the Senate president pro tempore as the first in line to succeed the president should he and the vice president die unexpectedly while in office. If he for some reason could not take over the duties, the speaker of the house was placed next in the line of succession. In 1886, during Grover Cleveland‘s administration, Congress removed both the Senate president and the speaker of the house from the line of succession. From that time until 1947, two cabinet officials, (their order in line depended on the order in which the agencies were created) became the next in line to succeed a president should the vice president also become incapacitated or die. The decision was controversial. Many members of Congress felt that those in a position to succeed the president should be elected officials and not, as cabinet members were, political appointees, thereby giving both Republican and Democratic parties a chance at controlling the White House.

In 1945, then-Vice President Truman assumed the presidency after Franklin Roosevelt died of a stroke during his fourth term. As president, Truman advanced the view that the speaker of the house, as an elected official, should be next in line to be president after the vice president. On July 18, 1947, he signed an act that resurrected the original 1792 law, but placed the speaker ahead of the Senate president pro tempore in the hierarchy.

On July 18, 1988, the Democratic National Convention opened at the Omni in Atlanta. That night, actor Rob Lowe would shoot a videotape in a hotel with two hairdressers, one 22 and one 16. Several weeks later, the era of the celebrity sex tape began.

On July 18, 2000, United States Senator Paul Coverdell died of a cerebral hemorrhage. I remember where I was when I heard the news.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Tom Crawford has died of cancer, according to the AJC.

Tom Crawford, the dean of state Capitol journalists who documented Georgia politics over more than three decades, has died. He was 67.

And he pioneered a business model in Georgia that delivered news to two distinct audiences: An online subscription serviced geared largely to Gold Dome insiders and a weekly column featuring unvarnished analysis of state politics that was syndicated to mostly smaller and medium-sized newspapers.

The subscription service instantly made a mark, catering to an underserved audience of lobbyists, lawyers and politicos that offered readers an incisive, detail-oriented window into the inner workings of legislators from his perch under the Gold Dome.

He also aimed for a more general audience with a weekly political column that ran in more than three dozen newspapers across the state. Many of those news outlets relied solely on Crawford to inform their readers of the happenings in state government, and he delivered with exacting precision.

“The Georgia Report was aimed at lobbyists and those with a stake in legislation that went before the General Assembly, so details were important to Tom,” said Jim Galloway, political columnist for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “But then, through that weekly column that went out to dozens of newspapers, he used these large brushstrokes to convey what was happening to tens of thousands of readers. He’ll be greatly missed.”

Godspeed, my friend.

Two felons were allowed to vote in May due to backlogs in the Georgia Secretary of State’s office, according to the AJC.

At least two felons were allowed to vote illegally in May primaries thanks to a backlog of felon lists overseen by the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office, an Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation has found.

With less than a week until the primary runoff, that backlog has left some county elections offices across the state scrambling to process unusually large lists of felons that need to be purged from voter rolls.

Sending felon lists to county elections offices is one of the duties of Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who is facing Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle in the Republican primary runoff for governor. The state office gathers information on convictions from other state agencies and sends monthly lists of felons who have lost their right to vote to county elections offices.

One felon was allowed to illegally vote in the May primary in Cherokee County. Another individual illegally voted in Paulding County, elections supervisor Deidre Holden said. Both incidents are under investigation by the state, and Broce said the Secretary of State’s Office plans to work with Georgia’s attorney general to bring charges before the state elections board.

Former State Senator Don Balfour is being accused of bankrolling attacks against LG candidate David Shafer, according to the AJC.

William Perry said he plans to file the complaints Wednesday, a little less than a week before Shafer, a state senator, faces former state Rep. Geoff Duncan in the July 24 Republican runoff for lieutenant governor.

Perry, who runs Georgia Ethics Watchdogs, alleges that former state Sen. Don Balfour of Snellville cycled funds through a dark-money political action committee to run attack ads against Shafer, a longtime state senator.

Perry accuses Balfour of providing money to Citizens for a Working America, which has been, in turn, funding the Washington-based Hometown Freedom Action Network.

Balfour told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution he doesn’t know anything about the groups mentioned in Perry’s complaints.

Gwinnett County Commissioners adopted a 30-year transportation plan calling for passenger heavy rail, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

The commission’s adoption of the Connect Gwinnett Transit Plan means heavy rail will come to at least Jimmy Carter Boulevard — and maybe eventually Gwinnett Place Mall — as well as bus rapid transit, rapid bus routes, more paratransit, express and local bus services — they are all officially on the table for current and future county leaders to consider.

“I think it’s a great plan and it just allows us to really have some options in the future for transit improvements,” Gwinnett County Director of Transportation Alan Chapman said.

One of the big items in the plan is an extension of heavy rail from the Doraville MARTA station to a planned multi-modal hub that will be located somewhere on the Jimmy Carter Boulevard corridor. That is part of the long-range transit plans for the county.

If Gwinnett holds a transportation special purpose local option sales tax to fund projects in its transit plan, residents would likely have to wait 15 to 20 years before they see the rail line up and running.

A long-range phase II part of the plan — projects that would likely take more than 30 years to complete — includes an extension of heavy rail form Jimmy Carter to Gwinnett Place.

The Gwinnett County Commission also voted to rollback the property tax millage rate, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

Gwinnett County residents will see their property tax rate — or at least the part of the rate levied by their county government — go down this year.

Gwinnett County commissioners rolled back the county’s millage rate Tuesday, setting the general fund rate at 7.209 mills. The general fund rate is one part of the county’s overall millage rate, which also includes rates for police, fire and emergency services, development code enforcement and recreation funds.

The overall rate will be 13.315 mills. That is down from last year’s rate of 13.51 mills.

County commission Chairwoman Charlotte Nash attributed the ability to roll back the rate to a level that keeps revenues flat with last year to a rebounding local economy and tax base.

The Gwinnett County Board of Education also lowered the property tax millage rate for school taxes but not enough to avoid having to advertise a tax increase, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

The Gwinnett County Board of Education voted to lower the school system’s millage rate for the first time in six years Monday, but property owners can still expect to pay more for the schools-related portion of their taxes.

School board members unanimously opted to decrease the debt-service port of the overall rate, which is used to determine how much property owners pay in taxes to support Gwinnett County Public Schools, by 0.1 mills. That means the debt-service millage rate will go from 2.05 mills to 1.95 mills.

The school system’s maintenance and operations millage rate is going to remain at 19.8 mills. The maintenance and operations and debt-service rates combine to make up the district’s overall millage rate.

Although the overall millage rate went down due to the decrease in the debt-service rate, the school board was required by state law to hold a series of open forums since it was not enough of a decrease to reach the revenue-neutral rollback level.

The Glynn County Commission is considering how to regulate short term rentals, according to The Brunswick News.

Peter Murphy, Glynn County Commissioner for St. Simons, Jekyll and Sea islands, said he’s heard many complaints from his constituents about short-term rentals. Some have said they’ve seen busses dropping off 12 or more people at single-family residences, Murphy said.

There’s also the issue of an “uneven playing field,” Murphy said. Short-term rentals compete with hotels and motels, but don’t have to adhere to the same regulations. Many of them duck paying the lodging tax as well, Murphy said.

A Chatham County Superior Court Judge ruled against a challenge to the regulation of short term rentals, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Chatham County Superior Court Judge James F. Bass Jr. issued an injunction late Tuesday that rejected the Belzers’ argument that as “devout people of faith” they were acting in accordance with their Jewish scripture and tradition of hospitality and could use their home at 34 Washington Ave. despite the local ordinance ban. He ruled the zoning ordinance was “not a substantial burden on the (Belzers’) religious freedom.”

He also barred them from listing the property on Airbnb.com or similar websites during the same time period and required them to comply with the city’s short-term vacation rental ordinance.

The ruling ends, at least temporarily, litigation the city began in 2014 as an enforcement action in Chatham County Recorder’s Court to enforce the city’s ban on short-term vacation rentals in the Ardsley Park zone. The injunction will remain in place until a final order is entered in the case.

Savannah city attorney Brooks Stillwell said Friday the city was “pleased with the judge’s ruling.”

“We feel he applied the applicable law,” Stillwell said. “This will allow us to continue to enforce the short-term rental ordinances.”

The Macon-Bibb County Planning & Zoning Commission continues looking at raising fees to cover a budget shortfall, according to the Macon Telegraph.

The Macon-Bibb County Planning & Zoning Commission held a special called meeting to discuss a fee schedule increase in response to the county cutting its financing of $800,000 from the budget. The county subsequently reinstated the funds contingent on increasing property taxes 4.1 mills. The money from the county is half of the zoning commission’s total budget. The county considers P&Z as an outside agency.

Executive Director Jim Thomas said he had been in touch with the mayor’s office, but he still didn’t know what the county is going to do.

“They need six votes to raise the millage rate,” he said. That vote would take place next month.

“I don’t want to raise fees,” Thomas said. “We’ve made cuts (to personnel). We are in bad shape. … If (the county) is going to defund us, what do they expect us to do? What services do we give up?”

Hogansville Mayor Bill Stankiewicz vetoed a rezoning by City Council, according to the LaGrange Daily News.

The Columbia County Commission voted in favor of two rezonings for new solar farms, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

The Columbia County Board of Commissioners voted to grant rezoning requests that would allow Atlanta renewable-energy development company Beltline Energy to erect more than 20,000 solar panels on farms in the northern part of the county.

The property in question is in Columbia County’s largely rural District 4, and its commissioner, Bill Morris, expressed concerns about the solar farms’ environmental impact.

Commissioners unanimously approved a rezoning request March 20 on Parham Road property south of Grovetown to construct 5,238 solar modules on about 15 acres of land. The energy company erecting that farm is Atlanta-based SolAmerica.

Chatham County‘s proposed parking fee hike by the county courthouse is creating pushback, according to the Savannah Morning News.

The turmoil apparently was prompted by a June 12 email from the county to employees that rate increases and restructure of parking spaces “which were approved” by the Chatham County Board of Commission” will go into effect Aug. 1.

The proposed rate for the reduced 20 reserved spaces, with unlimited access, were set at $180 a month for county employees, and $250 a month for non-county employees, the email said. That is an increase from $65 and $90 respectively.

Non-reserved spaces, limited access, will be $57 and $85 per month, respectively, according to the email. That is an increase from $47 and $75 respectively.

But a petition floating around the Chatham County District Attorney’s office contends county employees “have been misinformed and under-informed about the proposed changes.”

Gainesville City Council voted to put an earlier Sunday alcohol sales (“Brunch Bill”) on the November ballot, according to AccessWDUN.

The vote by city council Tuesday evening to add a referendum question to the ballot was not unanimous but on November 6th residents of Gainesville will be asked:

“Shall the governing authority of the City of Gainesville, Georgia, be authorized to permit and regulate Sunday sales of distilled spirits or alcoholic beverages for beverage purposes by the drink from 11:00 A.M. to 12:30 P.M.?”

“This is to turn it over to the people so the people can decide what to do,” Councilman Zach Thompson said.

Thompson was referring to the city’s decision to follow the guidelines of Georgia Senate Bill 17, commonly known as the Brunch Bill, signed into law by Governor Nathan Deal on May 8th.

The Food and Drug Administration has approved the first cannabis-based drug for human use, according to the Rome News-Tribune.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the use of Epidiolex for two rare and severe forms of childhood-onset epilepsy: Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome.

Its active ingredient is cannabidiol, a chemical component of the marijuana plant that doesn’t produce the high that comes from THC.

“This is a great first step,” said state Rep. Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome, “It shows the FDA is finally recognizing there is some value in cannabis and it will make it easier to advance its use in other situations.”

The manufacturer of Epidiolex — GW Pharmaceuticals of Britain — says in a press release it expects the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to reclassify cannabidiol as a prescription drug by October.

State Rep. Katie Dempsey, R-Rome, who serves on the House Medical Cannabis Working Group, said it’s an issue that’s still being studied.

“The whole manufacturing process is our challenge,” she said. “A pure supply is the stumbling block.”

Hufstetler said the rescheduling of Epidiolex will open the door for more research on medical marijuana in Georgia, and he could support making it in the state if conditions are right.

“The real answer is for the federal government to change the designation of marijuana to a Schedule II drug,” Hufstetler said. “Barring that, we do need to look at manufacturing it in Georgia.”

WTOC looks at the race for President of the Savannah-Chatham County Board of Education.

Joe Buck or Betty Morgan will be the next Savannah-Chatham County Public School board president after Tuesday’s runoff election, and both say they hope to restore unity among and public trust in the school board.

Buck is a former eight-year SCCPSS board president who was first elected as the school board was coming off probation. He served then with seven of the nine current board members and knows the two new members elected in May.  Buck previously worked as the vice president of student affairs at Armstrong State University and retired after 38 years of employment. He also served in the U.S. Navy.

Morgan is a former educator with nearly 40 years of experience, mostly teaching middle school, and was the State Command Chief of the Georgia Air National Guard. As the highest enlisted person in the Georgia Air National Guard, she oversaw 35,000 enlisted personnel and is the only African American to ever hold that position.

Georgia Democrats will vote for a candidate for State School Superintendent, according to the AJC.

Sid Chapman, a former teacher, turned state teacher advocate is competing against Otha Thornton, a former national parents’ advocate. The pair emerged from a three-way primary election in May. The winner on July 24 will face incumbent Republican Richard Woods, a former teacher and school administrator concluding his first term as superintendent.

The Medial Association of Georgia is suing Blue Cross Blue Shield of Georgia over the insurer’s new emergency room policy, according to Georgia Health News.

The parent company, Indianapolis-based Anthem, has pursued a new policy over the past year in Georgia and five other states, reviewing customers’ ER visits and limiting or denying payment for those it deems not to have been true emergencies.

A similar lawsuit was filed by Piedmont Healthcare hospitals earlier this year. That suit, though, ended when Piedmont and Blue Cross reached a new reimbursement contract in April.

The physicians groups say Blue Cross’ policy violates the “prudent layperson’’ standard, a federal law requiring insurers to cover the costs of emergency care based on a patient’s symptoms, not on the final diagnosis.

“We can’t possibly expect people with no medical expertise to know the difference between something minor or something life-threatening, such as an ovarian cyst versus a burst appendix,”  Dr. Paul Kivela, president of the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP), said in a statement Tuesday. He said his group and MAG “have tried multiple times to work with Anthem to express these concerns and urge them to reverse this policy, and they have refused. We felt we had no choice but to take action to protect our patients.’’

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