Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for February 25, 2019

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Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for February 25, 2019

The first prisoners of war were moved to Andersonville on February 25, 1864.

The United States Congress pass the Legal Tender Act on February 25, 1862, allowing the government to pay its bills with paper money it printed.

On February 25, 1870, Hiram Rhoades Revels (R-Missippi) was sworn in as the first African-American Congressman in history.

In 1867, the first Reconstruction Act was passed by a Republican-dominated U.S. Congress, dividing the South into five military districts and granting suffrage to all male citizens, regardless of race. A politically mobilized African American community joined with white allies in the Southern states to elect the Republican party to power, which in turn brought about radical changes across the South. By 1870, all the former Confederate states had been readmitted to the Union, and most were controlled by the Republican Party, thanks in large part to the support of African American voters.

On January 20, 1870, Hiram R. Revels was elected by the Mississippi legislature to fill the Senate seat once held by Jefferson Davis, the former president of the Confederacy. On February 25, two days after Mississippi was granted representation in Congress for the first time since it seceded in 1861, Revels was sworn in.

On February 25, 1876, the first Georgia state law against abortion was passed.

On February 25, 1999, Johnny Isakson was sworn into Congress from the Sixth District, a seat vacated by the resignation of then-Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

National Democrats are targeting elections in Georgia and other Southern states, according to USAToday.

Of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s 2020 target list, 36 percent of the seats are in Southern states, including Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Texas. That’s up from 24 percent in 2018.

“We are pushing into once-deep Republican country,” said Cole Leiter, a campaign committee spokesman.

Some Southern voters, particularly in Texas, have drifted away from Republican candidates because of a lack of enthusiasm for Trump, said Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

“I think the hope for Democrats is that maybe with more resources from the national party – and potentially a national environment where the president may be something of a drag in those districts – that the Democrats can make further inroads in Texas,” said Kondik, citing Democrat Beto O’Rourke’s unsuccessful but close effort to unseat Republican Sen. Ted Cruz in the state last year.

Of the 33 seats on the Democrats’ target list, 21 are in districts Republicans won by 5 percentage points or less in 2018. Only three were won by Clinton in 2016.

Under the Gold Dome – Legislative Day 21

8:00 AM HOUSE SPECIAL COMMITTEE ON ACCESS TO QUALITY HEALTH CARE 341 CAP

9:00 AM HOUSE RULES 341 CAP

10:00 AM HOUSE FLOOR SESSION (LD 21) House Chamber

12:00 PM SENATE RULES UPON ADJOURNMENT 450 CAP

1:00 PM SENATE FINANCE MEZZ 1

1:00 PM SENATE INSURANCE & LABOR 310 CLOB

1:00 PM HOUSE PUBLIC SAFETY & HOMELAND SECURITY 606 CLOB

1:00 PM HOUSE Resource Management Subcommittee of Natural Resources & Environment 506 CLOB

1:00 PM HOUSE JUDICIARY (NON-CIVIL) 403 CAP

1:30 PM HOUSE Ways and Means Subcommittee on Tax Expenditure 133 CAP

1:30 PM HOUSE Kelley Subcommittee of Judiciary 133 CAP

2:00 PM SENATE EDUCATION & YOUTH 307 CLOB

2:00 PM SENATE PUBLIC SAFETY MEZZ 1

2:00 PM HOUSE Ways & Means on Public Finance and Policy 133 CAP

2:00 PM HOUSE HUMAN RELATIONS & AGING 506 CLOB

2:00 PM HOUSE Academic Support Subcommittee of House Education 406 CLOB

2:00 PM HOUSE STATE PLANNING AND COMMUNITY AFFAIRS 403 CAP

3:00 PM SENATE HEALTH & HUMAN SERVICES 450 CAP

3:00 PM HOUSE Life & Health Subcommittee of Insurance 506 CLOB

3:00 PM HOUSE Setzler Subcommittee of Judiciary (Non-Civil) 132 CAP

3:00 PM HOUSE CREATIVE ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT 403 CAP

3:00 PM HOUSE SPECIAL RULES 606 CLOB

3:30 PM HOUSE Regulated Industries Regulatory Subcommittee 605 CLOB

4:00 PM SENATE URBAN AFFAIRS 125 CAP

4:00 PM SENATE JUDICIARY 307 CLOB

4:00 PM HOUSE Reeves Subcommittee of Judiciary (Non-Civil) 132 CAP

SENATE RULES CALENDAR

SB 43 – Revenue Bonds; definition of the term “undertaking” asit relates to electric systems; revise (RI&U-54th)

SB 68 – Local School Systems; financial management; strengthen provisions (ED&Y-12th)

SB 73 – Peace Officers’ Annuity and Benefit Fund; fees collected in criminal and quasi-criminal cases prior to adjudication of guilt; provide (RET-7th)

SB 66 – “Streamlining Wireless Facilities and Antennas Act” (Substitute)(RI&U-51st)

Senate Bill 56 by State Senator Chuck Hufstetler (R-Rome) aims to eliminate “surprise” medical billing, according to the Statesboro Herald.

“Consumers purchase health insurance as much to protect their finances as they do to protect their health, and when they receive surprise out-of-network medical bills, it feels like an unfair deal — and often it is,” says Laura Colbert of the advocacy group Georgians for a Healthy Future. “Commonly, consumers who receive surprise bills had no choice or control over their health provider and no way to find out ahead of time who would be treating them and if they were in network.”

Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, a Rome Republican, told the Senate Insurance and Labor Committee on Thursday that his proposal, Senate Bill 56, aims “to get the consumers out of the middle” of such pay disagreements.

Hufstetler told the Senate panel that Georgia is considered the leading state for having narrow networks, defined as health plans that offer a limited choice of health care providers in exchange for lower premiums.

While the legislation promotes transparency, it mainly focuses on bills generated by emergency room care. It would calculate insurers’ payment to non-network medical providers using a formula that would include a “benchmarking” database as a reference point.

But officials representing insurers criticized the database payment provision. Allan Hayes of the America’s Health Insurance Plans, a national trade group, said the reimbursement formula would increase health care costs by using a baseline of physicians’ billed charges. No state has passed a similar structure, Hayes said.

House Bill 302 by State Rep. Vance Smith (R-Pine Mountain) would preempt many local zoning regulations for single and two-family homes, according to The Brunswick News.

House Bill 302, championed by homebuilders and property developers, would prohibit localities from mandating a list of aspects about one- and two-family dwellings, including exterior color, type or style of exterior cladding material, style or materials of roof structures or porches, exterior nonstructural architectural ornamentation, location and styling of windows and doors including garage doors, number and types of rooms, interior layout of rooms and types of foundation structures approved under state minimum standard codes.

The bill passed out of the House Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee by a tight 6-5 vote Wednesday. State Rep. Vance Smith, R-Pine Mountain, is the lead sponsor of the bill. He said he’s been hearing from people about restrictive requirements by cities and counties, and how they’re hamstrung in pursuing what they want in the residence they seek to build.

“And hearing these comments on these additional restrictions, I asked myself, ‘How far do we go,’ I guess, is the big question,” Smith said at the committee meeting Wednesday. “And when do we stop with additional restrictions? How many more will there be? How are they affecting the private citizen and private property rights, is the way I’m looking at it.”

Smith said he understands the need for codes and guidelines for soundness and safety, but that localities shouldn’t take away the decision-making ability of people in building their residences.

“Five years ago, Gov. Deal — former Gov. Deal — invited all 450 mayors of the state of Georgia to his Governor’s Mansion for lunch,” Lilburn Mayor Johnny Crist said. “He was on a quest, at that point, to make Georgia the No. 1 place in which to do business. He challenged all of us, as mayors of our cities, to work with the state to develop a significant No. 1 state. He firmly tasked us with the idea of building our cities, and that included all of the design standards that were in our local covenants.

“I serve on the board of (Gwinnett Municipal Association) — we have 16 cities in the county of Gwinnett, I think we’re the largest number of cities per county of any of the 20 counties in the greater Atlanta area, and I serve on the board of that organization. As I polled our mayors, and there is strong circulation petitions going around about this bill, the No. 1 response from the mayors is, ‘You’ve got to be kidding.’ The reason our cities are the places you want to live is because of design standards.”

From the Gainesville Times:

“I don’t think we need more rules,” Lula City Councilman Garnett Smith said at a Feb. 18 City Council meeting.

The council voted unanimously to oppose House Bill 302, which would prohibit local governments from adopting or enforcing ordinances or regulations relating to building design elements on single-family homes or duplexes.

Oakwood Mayor Lamar Scroggs has sent letters to state Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, and Rep. Emory Dunahoo, R-Gainesville, saying the city “firmly believes that appropriate local design standards and land use policies create a diverse, stable, profitable and sustainable residential development landscape.

“HB 302 erodes the ability of local community to make decisions about the look and feel of their communities, which fosters economic development, preserves the character of communities, and utilizes design standards to ensure that the property values of surrounding property owners remain protected from incompatible development.”

When asked about the bill, state Rep. Lee Hawkins, R-Gainesville, told The Times that he hadn’t fully studied the bill, but that “my position has always been more local control and less state and federal control.”

The bill also has drawn opposition from the Georgia Municipal Association.

“Put simply, this bill takes power away from citizens to decide the look and feel of our communities,” the group says. “It is a serious threat to home rule and local citizens’ control, but a boon to homebuilders and real estate developers.”

House Bill 281 by State Rep. Teri Anulewicz (D-Smyrna) would increase penalties for subsequent convictions for pimping, according to The Brunswick News.

As it stands in current law, there are no increasing penalties for someone convicted of pimping. It’s considered a misdemeanor “of a high and aggravated nature” each time. Legislation that received unanimous approval Friday in the state House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee would make subsequent offenses into felonies with a mandatory minimum of one year in prison, up to 10 years.

“Right now, the way it typically plays out is, if you’re arrested for pimping, for example, you do spend 24 hours in jail, and that is really the origin that led to the inception of my taking on this legislation,” Anulewicz said. “I was speaking with the FBI (Metro Atlanta Child Exploitation) Task Force that does a lot of work in Cobb County and throughout Metro Atlanta to bust up some of these prostitution rings, and they said that it’s really been a hindrance to them, because pimping is a misdemeanor no matter how many times you pimp.”

“Unlike other offenses like shoplifting, for example, where you do reach a point where it becomes a felony, pimping is constantly a misdemeanor. We have pimps — and actually, I had Detective Meredith Holt here from the Smyrna Police Department, who works with the FBI Match Task Force, who talked about pimps she’d arrested who said, ‘We view this as a cost of doing business.’”

“And so I think the intent is to eliminate that aspect of our current law being an inconvenience to these pimps, and really putting something that has teeth in it, so No. 1, we are actually addressing this issue, but No. 2, we’re not constantly diverting resources, law enforcement resources, that need to be given toward other things, especially human trafficking.”

House Resolution 1, naming the new state judicial building after former Governor Nathan Deal, passed the Senate and will be sent to Gov. Kemp for his signature or veto, according to the AJC.

The Georgia Senate voted 32-2 to approve House Resolution 1, which would name the nearly completed state appellate court complex the “Nathan Deal Judicial Center.”

State Sen. Larry Walker, a Perry Republican, said he believed Deal would be remembered as “one of our greatest governors.”

“He is truly a statesman who has given his life to serving the country and to serving the state,” Walker said.

Republican Sens. Marty Harbin of Tyrone and Bill Heath of Bremen voted against the resolution. Two Republican representatives also voted against the move earlier this month.

The University System of Georgia allegedly shorted the state pension system, according to the AJC.

A new audit says the University System of Georgia stopped making some legally required payments to the state pension system, shortchanging the retirement program $600 million to $660 million over a decade.

The state audit, which was released Friday, said the money wasn’t paid into the Teachers Retirement System between 2008 and 2018. The General Assembly has had to pour about $600 million extra into the TRS the past two years to make it more financially stable.

University System officials have strongly denied that they owe the retirement program anything. They cite a 1999 TRS actuary’s report recommending that the college system no longer be required to make the payments because the retirement program was at or near full funding.

Congressman Drew Ferguson (R-West Point) spoke to LaGrange College this weekend, according to the LaGrange Daily News.

“He was elected mayor of West Point in 2008 and set out with several guiding principles,” [former LaGrange Mayor Jeff] Lukken said. “I worked with him some in politics and he was a true leader and visionary. Drew wanted to make sure that he improved the education system in West Point, that he cut taxes, redevelop the downtown and he wanted to do as much as he could to end the cycle of poverty in West Point. He brought those same principles with him when he was elected and went to Washington.”

“When you get to D.C., it is very different than you might imagine it to be,” Ferguson said. “The conversations that we have in the House of Representatives are very different than a lot of what you see on TV. I bet your impression is that we walk onto the house floor and a WWF match breaks out. It’s not like that.”

Ferguson noted that more bi-partisan bills were signed into law last year than in any of the last 50 years.

Ferguson said one of the areas of focus for the House this year will be a bi-partisan focus on lowering the cost of prescription drugs.

“Everybody now recognizes that the cost of that final product is entirely too high,” Ferguson said. “We’ve got to drive that down.”

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers completed installation of two oxygen injectors on the Savannah River, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

The Army Corps of Engineers has finished the first of two large oxygen-injection stations on the river. The machines are the agency’s $100 million solution to help fish breathe along a 27-mile stretch linking the Port of Savannah to the Atlantic Ocean. Otherwise, the waterway is expected to lose oxygen toward the bottom as it’s deepened by 5 feet to make room for larger cargo ships.

If the machines fail to boost oxygen levels in the river sufficiently, it could jam up the whole $973 million harbor expansion project with dredging only halfway done. That’s because a 2013 court settlement between the Army Corps, conservation groups and state officials in South Carolina hinges on proof that the injectors work as promised.

Once both injection stations are finished, the river will have 12 of the cone-shaped oxygen machines that function like giant versions of the bubblers in home aquariums. The machines are intended to compensate for a small expected drop in dissolved oxygen near the river bottom that’s home to blue crabs, striped bass and endangered shortnose sturgeon.

Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold D. Melton announced a new “Ad Hoc Committee to Prevent Sexual Harassment in the Judicial Branch of Government,” to address sexual harrassment issues within the justice system, according to the Albany Herald.

Augusta area trial courts have reported on how swiftly cases are moving to the appellate courts, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

In a ruling last fall on a case that had lagged 20 years before reaching the Georgia Supreme Court, the justices had had enough. They directed the state’s trial court judges to fix what had made Georgia’s criminal justice system appear unfair and grossly inefficient.

The long delays between a trial conviction and appeal stemmed from the first step of the appellate process – a motion for a new trial before the trial court. The state’s highest court told the Superior Court judges to devise a system to move cases faster to the appellate courts.

As part of the new rules, Chief Judge Carl C. Brown Jr. earlier this month certified the first report about all cases pending appeal in each of the Augusta Judicial Circuit counties to the Supreme Court.

Richmond, Columbia and Burke counties have a total of 148 cases pending appeal. Ten have been in limbo a decade or more, and one that sat for more than 18 years wasn’t included on the list.

Gwinnett County voters will decide on whether to expand transit in a March 19, 2019 referendum, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

With voters set to visit the polls that day to decide whether the county should institute a 1 percent sales tax to join MARTA, the metro Atlanta transit system that is either loved or hated depending on who is asked, a lot is riding on whatever decision shakes out.

Georgia’s second most populous county, which has more than 900,000 residents, could either become a member of the regional transit system, or its leaders could be sent back to the drawing board to start over from scratch.

“I believe that transit expansion is the biggest decision currently facing Gwinnett, as important to the future of the county as the past decisions about water, sewer and roads have been to the county,” [Gwinnett County Commission Chair Charlotte] Nash said.

Nash said transit will also play a key role in how Gwinnett addresses anticipated population growth as well if the referendum passes. The county is expected to add somewhere between 400,000 and 600,000 additional residents over the next 20 years and become Georgia’s most populous county.

“With 500,000 more people expected to call Gwinnett home in 20 to 25 years and the increase in business traffic that is anticipated, I cannot imagine what traffic will be like then if we fail to expand both transit and roads,” she said. “We are going to need all possible options to continue to be a successful community.”

Early voting begins today in the Gwinnett County MARTA referendum, according to the AJC.

“Due to the high profile for this special election,” Gwinnett elections director Lynn Ledford said, “we are treating it the same as we would a mid-term.”

It may be a long shot for turnout for the March 19 MARTA election to match the 60 percent mark Gwinnett voters hit during November’s mid-term elections, even with the three weeks of advance in-person voting that starts at 7 a.m. Monday. But the numbers are likely to surpass the typical turnout for a special election and may be more on par with the roughly 20 percent of Gwinnett voters that cast ballots in the December runoff election for two statewide races.

Ledford said that, as of Thursday afternoon, the county had received more than 650 applications for absentee ballots.

Early voting will be held at the Gwinnett elections office (455 Grayson Highway in Lawrenceville) from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day until March 15. That includes weekends.

Between March 4 and 15, early voting will also be available at seven satellite locations throughout the county. Those locations can be found here.

All four candidates for an open seat representing Augusta Commission District 5 have had run-ins with the legal system, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

Macon-Bibb County District 8 commissioner Virgil Watkins was arrested and charged with DUI, according to the Macon Telegraph.

Virgil Watkins, 34, who was elected in 2013 to represent District 8 on the new consolidated government commission, was booked into the Bibb County law enforcement center, sheriff’s public affairs Lt. Sean DeFoe said.

Georgia State Patrol Trooper First Class 2 Michael Brock stopped Watkins shortly after 1 a.m. after he allegedly almost ran a red light at Poplar and Fifth streets not far from Terminal Station, according to a GSP report obtained by The Telegraph.

“Once I have an understanding of what’s happened, I will talk to you or issue a statement,” Watkins said while returning a Telegraph reporter’s call shortly after getting out of jail. “This is my first time dealing with something like this and I’m not sure of the protocol.”

Whitfield County voters head to the polls for early voting in the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) vote starting today, according to the Dalton Daily Citizen.

Early voting for the proposed six-year, $100 million Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) kicks off today in the Board of Elections office at the Whitfield County Courthouse and continues through Friday, March 15. You can vote weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The special election is Tuesday, March 19. Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

If approved, the SPLOST would begin on July 1. The proposed 1 percent sales tax would fund a number of projects throughout Whitfield County and the cities of Cohutta, Dalton, Tunnel Hill and Varnell.

The City of Rome will begin inspecting municipally-owned dams, according to the Rome News Tribune.

The Forsyth County Republican Party hosted a meeting for conservative Chinese-Americans, according to the Forsyth News.

“Since 2016, there’s a group of Chinese, Republican conservatives that basically started a movement to not only get Asian-Americans in their circle to be politically aware but also in hopes of making them politically active,” said Johns Creek City Councilman Jay Lin.

Lin, who came to Georgia from Taiwan in 1999 and owns home and remodeling business Pacific Ventures with his wife, Mimi, said the number of Chinese supporters in metro Atlanta has increased significantly since the group started.

“Over the last two years that were actually seeing a tremendous movement in the field,” Lin said. “Just based on the voters’ participation, there’s a huge optic on the number of voters that actually haven’t voted before but in 2016 and the most recent 2018 election, they have become active and primarily there’s a core group of roughly about 700 Chinese-American Republicans essentially in the metro area out of north Fulton to Cobb County and Gwinnett County.”

Lin said reasons for supporting the party differ from person to person but noted that “Asian families are fiscally conservative and also socially conservative, and it’s a natural fit for the culture.” He said there were some exceptions with those who put social justice above traditions.

The Walker County Republican Party wrapped-up an eventful 2018 and moves into an active 2019, according to Mike Cameron, County GOP Chair, in the Rome News Tribune.

One thing that sticks out in 2018 was the number of candidates for statewide office who paid visits to Walker County. During the year, candidates who paid at least one but sometimes multiple visits were future Governor Brian Kemp, future Lt. Governor Geoff Duncan, Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr, State Schools Superintendent Richard Woods, Public Service Commissioner Tricia Pridemore, Secretary of State candidates Josh McKoon, David Bel Isle and Buzz Brockway along with Agriculture Secretary Gary Black. Walker County became an important destination for those seeking statewide office.

The fall campaign season proved to be a super busy time for the Party. During this time, the Walker County Republican Party became known as a regional, not just county party. We provided assistance to multiple statewide candidates running for office during the general election. Our county office was open most days of the week and visitors were aplenty. Managed by GOP Secretary Nancy Burton, visitors were warmly greeted, given campaign literature on our candidates and we obtained contact information which can be used for future GOP activities.

Also, volunteers in our office made over 100,000 calls on behalf of the Brian Kemp campaign. Thousands more calls were made on behalf of Lt. Governor candidate Geoff Duncan. Over 7000 candidate comparison door knockers from the Faith and Freedom Coalition were distributed through local businesses and churches.

The year 2019 will be a year of transition for the Walker County GOP. On March 9th at the Rossville Civic Center, the Walker County Republican Party will hold its biannual convention. New Party Officers will be elected for the 2019-2021 term, including a new chairman as I am not seeking another term. April will mark the district convention in Dalton and the state convention will be in Savannah in May. By June, the Party will be focusing on the 2020 elections. The Party going forward must focus on registering new voters but also getting voters both interested and committed to voting in the 2020 elections. This is essential for both the re-election of President Trump but also for Senator David Purdue as well. It will also be interesting to watch the races for the new Walker County Board of Commissioners as well. In my opinion, all races including the one for full time chairman are wide open.

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