Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for February 18, 2019

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Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for February 18, 2019

Alexander Stephens, who was born in Crawfordville, Taliaferro County, Georgia, was inaugurated as Vice President of the Confederate States of America on February 18, 1861. Stephens graduated from Franklin College, later known as the University of Georgia, and served in the Georgia legislature. Stephens opposed Georgia’s secession. One year later, Georgia’s delegation to the Confederate Congress, numbering ten members, was sworn in.

Ina Dillard was born on February 18, 1868 in Oglethorpe County Georgia. She married Richard Russell, who served on the Georgia Court of Appeals and as Chief Justice of the Georgia Supreme Court. Their son, Richard B. Russell, Jr., would be elected to the Georgia House of Representatives, where he served as Speaker and became the youngest Governor of Georgia in the 20th Century. In 1932 he ran for United States Senate and was elected.

In 1936, Russell was elected to his first full term in the Senate over former Governor Eugene Talmadge. In 1952, Russell ran for the Democratic nomination for President and he was an early mentor for Lyndon B. Johnson, who later served as President. Russell served on the Warren Commission that investigated the assassination of President Kennedy.

Russell served as Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee for many years. Russell was an acknowledged leader within the Senate, and especially among Southern members, and he led much of the opposition to civil rights legislation and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The municipal powder magazine in Savannah, built in 1898, may be restored, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Historic Savannah Foundation credits the internet for bringing the building to their attention again.

Carey says the small grant will facilitate a conditions assessment and integrity report for the building, which will yield some important information.

“It will tell us what the existing conditions are, what kind of shape the building is in, but also what are the priority areas that need repair and what order, what things we need to take care of first, and also some sense of the cost associated with the restoration, repair and rehabilitation of the building,” Carey said. “It’ll be a roadmap that the city can use when it plans for the eventual restoration of the building.”

Carey said it would take several months to get a completed assessment report for the building, which will help inform their decisions going forward.

Bret Bell, assistant to the Savannah city manager, said the roof will likely need to be replaced, but for the most part, the building itself was made to be extra sturdy — its 3-foot-thick brick walls were literally built to stand up to explosions.

Bell said City Manager Rob Hernandez is behind the project as well.

“His position on the powder magazine is it’s a city building, a historic city structure, and it’s the city’s responsibility to preserve the structure so it lasts, and that’s what we’re going to do,” Bell said. “What it will be, well, we’ll figure that out as we go along.

A replica of the Santa Maria will dock in Brunswick next month, according to The Brunswick News.

The Nao Santa Maria was built in Spain in 2017 by the Nao Victoria Foundation. The ship crossed the Atlantic and is making its first visit to the United States. Brunswick is the ship’s only stop in Georgia. After it leaves the Golden Isles, he ship will sail to St. Augustine. Later this year, the Santa Maria will make an appearance in the Great Lakes for the 2019 Tall Ship Festival.

The Santa Maria will be in Brunswick from April 8 to 15 at the marina’s Dock One. Dockside deck tours will be offered to the public. Advance tickets are available online at naosantamaria.org or go to the link at stmarystallshipalliance.org. The tours are also open to local schools.

Two days after the Santa Maria departs, another tall ship, Privateer Lynx, will sail into the Brunswick Landing Marina. The ship will be in town from April 17 to 28 and daily public sailings lasting 2.5 hours will be offered, as well as free dockside tours and an educational program. Ticket prices for the public sailings at 3 to 5:30 p.m. are $55 for adults and $25 for youths under 16 years old Ticket prices for the sailing from 6 to 8:30 p.m. are $65.

Crawford said the Lynx was in Brunswick last year and all 13 sailing tours sold out in one day. This time, the Lynx will be in town for 10 days to accommodate the demand for the sailing tours.

The Lynx is described as an “interpretation” of a privateer named Lynx that was built in 1812.

A plane that served as Air Force One occasionally for President Lyndon B. Johnson, is on display at the Museum of Aviation in Warner Robins, according to the Macon Telegraph.

The Lockheed VC-140B Jetstar ferried President Lyndon B. Johnson on short trips while he was in office from 1963 to 1969. The plane was often used to transport Johnson to his Texas ranch, where unlike the big Air Force One, it could land on the short runway there. Johnson flew on it hundreds of times, said Mike Rowland, the museum curator.

It’s likely that on the plane, intense discussions were held about the raging war in Vietnam, the investigation into President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, the civil rights movement and the war on poverty, among other things.

Rowland said there are plans to restore it but he isn’t sure when that will happen. The restoration will include a new paint job to make it correct to the Air Force One color scheme when it flew, which currently is not the case. The plane is blue on the bottom and white on the top, but that is supposed to be the other way around. The restoration also would add the presidential seal and other markings that are now missing.

There were other VC-140s that served as Air Force One during Johnson’s presidency, Rowland said, but the one at the museum was Johnson’s favorite and was the one he used the most often.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

The State Senate Finance Committee is scheduled to meet at 1 PM today at Mezzanine 1 in the State Capitol.

United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) campaigned in Lawrenceville for the 2020 Democratic nomination for President, according to WSB-TV.

 The Democratic presidential candidate made a stop at Central Gwinnett High School in Lawrenceville, where she fired up voters at her first rally in Georgia.

A spokeswoman for Warren’s campaign said 1,100 people came to hear the senator speak.

She also spoke out about racial issues by pointing out the gap between white and black home ownership.

“It is time to say that race matters,” Warren said. “We’ve got to call it out, and we’ve got to make real change.”

In an interview after her stump speech, Klaus asked Warren about identifying as a Native American in the past.

“I shouldn’t have done it. I am not a person of color,” Warren said. “I am not a tribal citizen, and I’ve apologized.”

From the Gwinnett Daily Post:

[Warren] was introduced by two Gwinnett Democrats including Duluth City Councilman Kirkland Carden and Gwinnett Democratic Party Chairwoman Bianca Keaton.

“This county is the future,” Warren said after the rally. “This is where it all comes together. This is where people are understand that Democracy is up to us. Democracy is not an abstract. Democracy is not just something you do on election day. Democracy is something you get out there and work for every single day.”

Carden said the fact that Warren came to Gwinnett is sign of how important the county is becoming to Democrats, coming on the heels of another possible presidential candidate, U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell’s, D-Cali., swing through the county last month.

“I think that’s indicative of where the county is at and I think it’s going to be very competitive (in Gwinnett) next year,” Carden said.

At one point, a young supporter asked Warren how she expected to win in Georgia, which has been traditionally a Republican “red state” for decades. Gwinnett itself used to a Republican stronghold but Democrats have made big gains in the county in recent election cycles, particularly during last year’s state and local elections.

Warren said the Republican grip on Georgia can be broken if Democrats can get supporters to turn out in elections.

“Far be it from me to argue with somebody from Georgia, but I don’t think you guys are going to be so reliably red,” she said.

From AccessWDUN:

Though Georgia’s presidential primary date has not been set, Warren visited the Atlanta area on Saturday, stopping in Gwinnett County. Gwinnett, until recent elections, had been a Republican stronghold but the county was in the Hillary Clinton column in the 2016 presidential election. Fifty-one percent of the vote went to Clinton, 45 percent to Donald Trump. Gwinnett also sided with Democrat Stacy Abrams in last year’s gubernatorial election,   Abrams got 56percent of the vote to 42 percent for Republican, and eventual winner, Brian Kemp.

Meanwhile, the head of the Georgia Republican Party, John Watson, issued a statement Saturday afternoon, declaring “(Warren’s) delusional perception of voters in Georgia make it clear that her time was wasted.”

Watson added, “Elizabeth Warren’s actions and her support of dangerous policies show just how disconnected she is from our state.”

From Newsweek:

Senator Elizabeth Warren was interrupted at a Georgia campaign event by a protester who heckled the presidential candidate with the words, “Why did you lie?”

Footage from CBS46 appears to show the man shouting the phrase before being dragged off with a “Warren 1/2020” sign in tow. The “1/2020th” slogan is a jab at the Massachusetts senator’s claims to Native American ancestry.

Warren said, “Be easy, be easy… It’s okay, it’s okay,” in response to the disruption, before the crowd launched into a chant of, “Warren, Warren,” as the man was removed from the event.

From the Washington Free Beacon:

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) agrees with other Democrats who think last year’s Georgia governor’s race was stolen from Democrat Stacey Abrams, saying Saturday it’s what the “evidence seems to suggest.”

Warren supported Abrams in her unsuccessful gubernatorial bid last year against Republican Brian Kemp. After a campaign event at a metro Atlanta high school, Warren said votes that should have gone for Abrams “didn’t get counted.”

“I think that’s what the evidence seems to suggest,” she told the Washington Free Beacon, when asked if she agreed with Democrats who feel the race was stolen. “I came to Georgia for Stacey because I just think the world of her, and I think that the whole notion that she fired up people, she got them to the polls, and somehow those votes didn’t get counted, I don’t think that’s how democracy is supposed to work.”

Democrat Carolyn Bordeaux has raised more than $100,000 dollars for her campaign in the 7th Congressional District, which is being vacated by Rep. Rob Woodall, according to TheHill.com.

She narrowly lost her 2018 bid for the suburban Atlanta district to Rep. Rob Woodall (R-Ga.), but only after an intense legal fight over absentee ballots and a recount.

Bourdeaux raised more than $2.9 million during the 2018 cycle.

Bourdeaux announced last week that she would run for the seat again next year. That same day, Woodall, a five-term congressman, said that he would not seek reelection in 2020.

The district is among nearly three dozen that Democrats are planning to target in 2020, as the party looks to expand its newly-gained House majority.

“Hundreds of individuals and families have contributed over the past few days, and I am honored that so many people have engaged so quickly,” Bourdeaux said in a statement.

Governor Brian Kemp has published an op-ed on healthcare in the AJC.

Designated as the “Best State for Business” six years in a row, Georgia is experiencing unmatched economic growth, investment, and prosperity. While the Peach State tops most lists, we still have our challenges.

Multiple studies rank Georgia’s healthcare system as one of the worst in the nation. With high infant mortality rates, a medical provider shortage in rural Georgia, and lackluster healthcare outcomes, we cannot ignore the obvious.

To keep Georgia moving in the right direction, we have to address our shortcomings. To ensure a bright future for all Georgians – regardless of zip code – we have to put patients ahead of the status quo.

This week, we took a small – but important – step towards crafting a Georgia-centric healthcare system by introducing Senate Bill 106.

The Patients First Act, carried by my Floor Leader, Sen. Blake Tillery, paves the way for state leaders to craft innovative flexibility options within Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act to lower healthcare premiums, enhance accessibility, and ensure quality outcomes in every part of our state.

Governor Kemp also signed his first legislation since taking office, according to the AJC.

Gov. Brian Kemp signed legislation that fixes a flaw in Georgia law that allowed drivers on some highways to keep moving even when a school bus is boarding or releasing students.

It is the first measure the Republican signs into law since he was sworn in as governor, and he held a signing ceremony surrounded by legislators and public safety officials.

The updated version of the legislation requires drivers in oncoming lanes to stop for school buses unless there’s a highway divided by a median. It speedily passed both chambers of the Legislature with no dissent, and was fast-tracked to Kemp’s desk.

The Georgia Supreme Court has overruled part of the state law against DUI, according to the AJC:

The Georgia Supreme Court on Monday delivered a blow to DUI prosecutions, saying a driver’s refusal to have their breath tested for alcohol cannot be used against them at trial.

The high court unanimously found that part of the state’s DUI law violates the U.S. Constitution’s protections against self-incrimination. The ruling sets the stage for a re-write of the law by the state legislators.

House Bill 182 by State Rep. Brett Harrell (R-Snellville) would add more online retailers to Georgia’s sales tax rolls, according to the AJC.

During the 2018 session, state lawmakers passed legislation — which went into effect this year — saying online retailers that make at least $250,000 in sales or 200 individual sales a year in Georgia must either collect and remit sales taxes on purchases or send “tax due” notices each year to customers who spend at least $500 on their sites.

The new measure, House Bill 182, sponsored by House Ways and Means Chairman Brett Harrell, R-Snellville, would lower the threshold for retailers having to collect and remit the taxes from those making at least $250,000 in sales to $100,000. That means more retailers will have to collect the taxes. The bill also would remove the option that companies send tax notices to customers in lieu of collecting the taxes. Under the bill, they’d just have to collect the taxes.

HB 182 won approval from Harrell’s committee Thursday and could be on the House floor for a vote next week.

The changes would mean about $16 million in additional revenue from online retailer sales taxes for state and local governments in fiscal 2021 and $22 million by 2024.

House Bill 109 by State Rep. Tommy Benton (R-Jefferson) would change the Teachers Retirement System, according to the Macon Telegraph.

“If we don’t do something now, it’s going become more of a burden on the state and pretty soon it’s going get to the point where it’s not sustainable,” said state Rep. Tommy Benton, R-Jefferson, speaking of TRS, the Georgia pension program that covers most K-12 teachers, as well as some university employees.

At a committee hearing this week, Benton said the point of his House Bill 109 is to do things that would help benefit the retirement plan, and ensure that educators still get benefits.

Georgia put about $2 billion in TRS in the year that ended in July, 2018. But the “employer share” of an employee’s salary that Georgia puts into TRS has grown and is more than double what it was about 10 years ago.

Benton’s proposal doesn’t cover anyone who is already teaching, or who is already a retiree. The ideas in the bill would only apply to people hired after July 1, 2019.

For those new folks, their pension would be based on a lower number than the law now states: the average of their last five years’ salary, not counting any more than two raises at in the last five years at work. Right now, pensions are based on the average of the employee’s last two years’ salary.

House Bill 316 by State Rep. Barry Fleming (R-Harlem) would revamp voting, according to the Statesboro Herald.

The House bill, filed Thursday, addresses some aspects of election law criticized during Republican Gov. Brian Kemp’s successful race against Democrat Stacey Abrams last year. It tweaks the state’s strict standard for verifying voter registration and clarifies when polling places can be closed or moved.

The voting machine change follows the recommendations of a commission formed by Kemp, but disregards advice from cybersecurity experts and voting integrity activists who say hand-marked paper ballots would be the cheapest and most secure option.

Systems using electronic ballot markers include touchscreen computers where voters make their selections, then print a paper ballot that’s counted after being scanned. Under the legislation the paper ballot printout would have to include a human readable list of a voter’s selections. Cost estimates approach $150 million for these types of systems, the same amount included in bond funding in Kemp’s 2020 budget proposal. Initial costs for hand-marked paper ballots would be closer to $30 million.

The legislation, which could see some amendments, also requires the board of registrars to review any voter registration applications held for failing to pass the state’s “exact match” verification process for “data entry error or other fault of the board.”

From the AJC:

The legislation, House Bill 316, follows the recommendations of a voting commission created by Gov. Brian Kemp last year when he was secretary of state. The commission favored the touchscreens, called ballot-marking devices, over paper ballots filled out with a pen or pencil.

Election integrity advocates and cybersecurity experts say paper ballots filled out by hand are more secure from potential tampering because they don’t rely on computers to print them correctly.

But supporters of ballot-marking devices, including many of Georgia’s election officials, say they’re easier to use and more likely to accurately record votes because they help avoid human errors. Ballot-marking devices print ballots that are then counted by optical scanning machines.

House Bill 234 by State Rep. Chuck Efstration (R-Dacula) would strengthen law enforcement’s response to human trafficking, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

Among the Anti-Human Trafficking Protective Response Act’s provisions are measures to let the Department of Family and Children Services offer child victims of human trafficking additional care and supervision. Penalties for human trafficking and prohibitions against trafficking would also be increased, among other measures.

“HB 234 gives law enforcement tools to investigate and prosecute those who enable human trafficking by expanding Georgia’s criminal and nuisance laws,” Efstration said in a statement. “The bill also provides that rescued child victims should receive trauma-informed treatment rather than being subjected to arrest and treatment as a criminal.”

Senate Bill 32 by Sen. Kay Kirkpatrick (R-Marietta) would eliminate civil liability for some rescuers of dogs trapped in cars, according to AccessWDUN.

Kirkpatrick is adding language to an existing law protecting people who rescue children from hot cars, she said. It was passed after the 2015 death of 22-month-old Cooper Harris.

While researching current laws, “I started noticing that there was nothing in there for someone trying to rescue an animal in distress,” she said.

In her bill, anyone who breaks a window to rescue an animal in distress must also call 911 to be immune from civil liability, the Atlanta newspaper reported.

State Sen. Michael “Doc’” Rhett, D-Marietta, has proposed similar legislation. That bill would make law enforcement officers not liable for breaking a vehicle window to save a person or pet.

State House Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) is under fire from the Democratic Party of Georgia, according to the AJC.

As lawmakers convened last week in the wake of the report, there were no calls for reprimands or demands for his ouster by high-profile legislators. But others outside the Gold Dome seized on the investigation to accuse Ralston of using his office to thwart justice and benefit his private practice.

“These revelations show that Speaker Ralston has abused his power as a public servant to delay and deny justice for crime victims,” said Maggie Chambers of the Democratic Party of Georgia. “As a legislator who has been given the trust of his constituents, he needs to remember his duty and put the needs of Georgia families before his own self-interest.”

The investigation found that Ralston asked judges to reschedule court proceedings 57 times over a two-year period, using a law dating to 1905 requiring the judiciary to defer to legislative duties. It resulted in delays, sometimes for years, for clients charged with child molestation, child cruelty, assault, terroristic threats, drunk driving and other crimes.

Ralston said in a statement that he’s no different than other lawyer-legislators in the General Assembly who use the “provision outside of the legislative session, when necessary, to attend to my legislative duties as both a state representative and Speaker of the House.”

Congressman Austin Scott (R-Tifton) spoke about the importance of rural broadband, according to the Newnan Times-Herald.

Studies are increasingly showing that internet service – high quality, high-speed internet – is seen as a quality-of-life issue. That trend has the potential for wide economic reverberations. For example, similar housing in the same region may come to have widely different prices based on whether high-speed internet is available.

A way needs to be found so that when all Georgians “flip that computer switch on, we’re going to have internet speeds that are useful,” Scott said.

Without the internet, “it’s virtually impossible to run a business today,” Scott said.

Schools now often expect students to be able to use the internet for homework, and government agencies also use the internet.

“We’ve got to have high-speed internet access. You can’t run a gas station without it. You can’t run a machine shop without it,” Scott said.

Augusta area officials are considering how to pay for changes at the New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

The Corps’ preferred plan is to remove the lock and dam and build a 500-foot rock weir at the site of the current dam to allow endangered shortnose and Atlantic surgeon to pass through on their way to historic spawning grounds in the Augusta shoals. It would also mean a significant flood plain that would pass through the current Lock and Dam Park, allowing high flows to pass around the structure.

The river level would drop about three feet at the lock and dam and just under two feet at the Fifth Street Bridge but would be maintained for water supply and recreation, as required by federal law. The cost in that draft report would initially be more than $87 million and, with an annual operation and maintenance cost of $45,000 over the 100-year life of the plan, would exceed $91 million.

Another option would be to repair the lock and dam and put in a fish passage on the Georgia side, an option preferred by Augusta, North Augusta and other local leaders. That cost would initially be around $80 million, but the Corps maintains it would need a replacement in about 50 years, at a cost of $91.5 million, which drives up its overall cost and makes annual maintenance and operation cost $915,000 a year. The rationale for why it would need to be replaced halfway through the 100-year life cycle was among the information missing initially from the report posted Friday.

The option local leaders want and the Corps’ preference both have the same score, but not the same result in terms of maintaining the pool of water in the river, which became apparent last week as the Corps began lowering the level to where the rock weir would maintain it. The Corps insists the water level would be three feet lower at the lock and dam and less than two feet lower at Fifth Street Bridge, on average, although last week it appeared to be several feet lower downtown. The drawdown exposed large mud flats on the North Augusta side, dropped docks to the ground and stranded boats.

If a local option can accomplish that same fish passage function as well or better than the Corps’ preference, it would have to be requested by the non-federal sponsor of the harbor project, which is the Georgia Ports Authority and the Georgia Department of Transportation. The authority did not return calls seeking comment last week, and the Georgia DOT did not have a comment, a regional spokesman said.

The non-federal partners and whoever wanted the local option would have to make up the cost difference, Wicke said. Davis said that is not true because it was one of the options the Corps was considering and should be paid for by the federal government.

Gainesville government agencies and nonprofits are fighting homelessness, according to the Gainesville Times.

The growing number of homeless individuals in Hall County has caught the attention of state officials, and more resources and services are now being applied locally to assist men and women in need of mental health treatment and permanent housing.

Among the changes is the arrival this month of HOPE Atlanta, which has shifted some of its resources from Cobb County to Hall County in the face of a growing challenge.

A recent homeless count in Hall County taken between Jan. 28 and Feb. 3 documented 56 unsheltered homeless individuals, versus just 45 in 2017.

Moreover, in 2017, more than 120 homeless individuals were counted compared with approximately 50 in 2015.

And those numbers likely do not capture the full breadth or scale of the homeless population in Hall County, according to local mission directors and community activists, considering many homeless reside in hotels at times or live in unknown encampments.

Savannah Mayor Eddie DeLoach will deliver the State of the City Address on Tuesday evening, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Downtown Macon could gain free wifi service, according to the Macon Telegraph.

Middle Georgia State University would use a $39,848 grant to install the wireless internet network that would be available to the public for at least 18 months. The target Wi-Fi network will be installed in Poplar Street Park with a signal strong enough to go down Poplar Street and reach Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

“There will be times (service) expands further depending on weather conditions and other factors,” said Kevin Floyd, associate dean of the School of Information Technology at Middle Georgia State.

Commissioners are expected to sign-off Tuesday on allowing the university to install the Wi-Fi. A Downtown Challenge Grant from the Community Foundation of Central Georgia is funding the project that requires no government money.

“The worst thing that can happen is after 18 months we turn if off,” County Commissioner Larry Schlesinger said.

The Glynn County citizens’ committee for the 2016 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax will heard project updates, according to The Brunswick News.

The committee will hear updates on SPLOST-funded projects from Glynn County, the city of Brunswick and Brunswick-Glynn County Joint Water and Sewer Commission before presenting its draft report.

Brunswick City Council will consider revising the alcohol ordinance, according to The Brunswick News.

The proposed changes include an 22-cent per-liter excise tax on the sale on the sale of distilled spirits by licensed wholesalers. A proportional rate will be levied at like rates on any fractional part of a liter. Fortified wine is excluded from the fee.

Tap and draft beer sold in or from a barrel or bulk container will have a $6 fee imposed for containers no larger than 15.5 gallons or a proportional tax at the same rate on all fractional parts of 15.5 gallons.

A 22-cent tax will also be charged on the first sale or use of wine per liter or a proportional tax on any fractional part of a liter.

The taxes will be paid by the licensed wholesale dealer monthly. Licensees are responsible for paying the tax and to file a monthly report with the city finance department itemizing the exact quantities of alcoholic beverages sold by size and type of containers sold each month.

A proposed 3 percent tax, or pour tax, will be charged on alcoholic beverages consumed on premises. The tax will be imposed upon and paid by the licensed retail dealer of distilled spirits by the drink.

 

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