Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for March 6, 2019

6
Mar

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for March 6, 2019

On March 6, 1857, the United States Supreme Court published its opinion in Sanford v. Dred Scott.

the Court held that African Americans, whether slave or free, could not be American citizens and therefore had no standing to sue in federal court,and that the federal government had no power to regulate slavery in the federal territories acquired after the creation of the United States. Dred Scott, an African American slave who had been taken by his owners to free states and territories, attempted to sue for his freedom. In a 7–2 decision written by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, the Court denied Scott’s request and in doing so, ruled an Act of Congress in this case—the Missouri Compromise of 1820 which prohibited slavery north of the parallel 36°30′ north—to be unconstitutional for the second time in its history.

The decision would prove to be an indirect catalyst for the American Civil War and was functionally superseded by the post-war Reconstruction Amendments. It is now widely regarded as the worst decision ever made by the Supreme Court.

One member of the Court that decided Dred Scott was Associate Justice James M Wayne, who was born in Savannah and served in Congress from Georgia from 1829 to 1835.

On March 6, 1946, the Fifth Circuit United States Court of Appeals ruled in King v. Chapman that Georgia’s all white Democratic Primary violated the 14th, 15th, and 17th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Primus E. King of Columbus, Georgia brought the lawsuit against the Muscogee County Democratic Party Executive Committee Chair Joseph E. Chapman.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Under the Gold Dome Today

8:00 AM HOUSE INSURANCE 606 CLOB

8:00 AM HOUSE AGRICULTURE AND CONSUMER AFFAIRS 403 CAP

9:00 AM DOT BOARD ELECTIONS- DISTRICT 6 SENATE CHAMBER

9:00 AM HOUSE Reeves Subcommittee of Judiciary (Non-Civil) 415 CLOB

10:00 AM SENATE ETHICS 307 CLOB

10:00 AM HOUSE Setzler Subcommittee of Judiciary (Non-Civil) 415 CLOB

1:00 PM SENATE PUBLIC SAFETY – CANCELED MEZZ 1

1:00 AM HOUSE JUDICIARY (NON-CIVIL) 415 CLOB

1:00 PM HOUSE RULES 341 CAP

2:00 PM SENATE EDUCATION & YOUTH – CANCELED 307 CLOB

2:30 PM HOUSE JUVENILE JUSTICE 515 CLOB

3:00 PM SENATE ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT & TOURISM – CANCELED 125 CAP

3:00 PM SENATE HEALTH & HUMAN SERVICES- CANCELED 450 CAP

3:00 PM HOUSE HEALTH & HUMAN SERVICES 606 CLOB

3:00 PM HOUSE INDUSTRY AND LABOR 506 CLOB

4:00 PM SENATE RETIREMENT – CANCELED MEZZ 1

4:00 PM SENATE JUDICIARY – CANCELED 307 CLOB

Georgia Insurance Commissioner Jim Beck is asking the insurance industry to exercise leniency for policyholders affected by storms in south Georgia, according to the Albany Herald.

Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner Jim Beck has issued a directive to all licensed insurance companies in the state of Georgia, urging them to exercise leniency to Georgia policyholders who are late with their premium payments due to disruption of services resulting from the severe weather in Grady, Harris and Talbot counties on Sunday.

In addition, Beck urged insurers to consider the nature of Act of God claims when renewing impacted policies.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with those in Georgia, as well as our great neighbors in Alabama, who were hit Sunday night by these storms,” Beck said in a news release. “As we recover, it is essential that we show patience and understanding to those impacted by this tragedy. I urge all insurance companies in Georgia to factor in the circumstances of this severe weather event when processing any tardy premium payments.”

Senate Bill 56 by Sen. Chuck Hufstetler (R-Rome) aims to reduce “surprise medical billing” by insurance companies, and passed the Senate, according to the Rome News Tribune.

Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome, said his SB 56 is designed to keep the consumer out of the mix when there is a price dispute between an insurance company and an out-of-network medical service provider. Currently, the balance is charged to the patient, who could end up thousands of dollars in debt.

“What this bill does is, it gives transparency to consumers,” he said Tuesday in presenting the legislation on the Senate floor.

Hufstetler said 90 percent of surprise bills stem from emergency care — for a trauma or sudden onset of a medical condition that appears to require immediate treatment. A formula in the bill would determine what the insurer must pay the provider, with the patient’s share limited to the in-network cost.

“For those (instances) that aren’t part of emergency situations, it sets up a dispute resolution process,” he explained.

The Georgia State House passed House Bill 324 by State Rep. Micah Gravley (R-Paulding), by a 123-40 vote, according to the Valdosta Daily Times.

Medical cannabis could be grown and produced in Georgia under a measure that cleared the House in spite of stiff opposition from sheriffs and some in the faith community who decried the move as a step toward recreational use.

The proposal would allow 10 companies to grow and produce medical cannabis oil and as many as 60 dispensaries across the state to sell it. It passed Tuesday with a vote of 123 to 40.

The measure, which would prohibit the oil from being vaped, also calls for a tracking system that follows the product from the time it’s planted to the time it’s sold.

“I’m not asking for this state to endeavor for anything more than to give the people in this state – those who are registered – a safe oil,” the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Micah Gravley, who is a Republican from Douglasville, said to his colleagues Tuesday.

“These aren’t people who are seeking a recreational high,” he said. “These aren’t people who are seeking to use illicit drugs. These are people who have tried and failed with opioids. These are people who simply want their children to experience less seizures, a loved one to be eased in the pain of cancer.”

From the AJC:

“It was hypocritical to me to pass bills to let this substance be available to the sickest folks that needed it, the worst, and yet we didn’t give them the access to get it,” said Regulated Industries Chairman Alan Powell, a Republican from Hartwell. “There’s nothing in this bill that will encourage recreational use.”

This year’s legislation proposes that the state license a total of 60 medical marijuana dispensaries, split between large growers and distributors, smaller-scale companies and stand-alone retailers.

Initial licenses would cost $150,000 for large companies, $37,500 for smaller companies and $30,000 for retailers. Businesses would also have to pay annual license renewal fees ranging from $10,000 to $50,000.

Licenses would be approved by Jan. 1, and state-sanctioned medical marijuana products would be available to patients within 12 months of the license date.

The oyster industry and environmentalists raised issues with House Bill 501 by Rep. Jesse Petrea (R-Savannah) and Senate Bill 182 by Sen. William Ligon (R-Brunswick), according to the Savannah Morning News.

[G]rowers say neighboring states manage to comply with less interference from regulators.

Scott Stradley is a managing member of the Great Georgia Oyster Co., a business formed by four military veterans based in Georgia but working at oyster farms in South Carolina. He and his colleagues are frustrated with what they see as unnecessary hurdles in the bills, including a lottery for leases on the state-owned waters to be farmed.

“The lottery is horrible,” he said. “How many businesses start off with a lottery? By the time you get thousands of dollars of licenses and certificates to apply for the lottery, you’re still not certain you’re going to get it.”

Another showstopper for Stradley is that the bills, developed by the Coastal Resources Division of the DNR, don’t guarantee a 12-month harvest that farmers need to be profitable, instead leaving summer harvest at the discretion of the DNR.

“A 12-month harvest is a huge thing,” said Stradley, who spoke at a house committee meeting on the subject Thursday. “There’s already a system in place for public safety with time and cooling requirements in the summer months.”

The house passed H.B. 501 on Tuesday.

The senate passed S.B. 182 on Friday and the house gave it a first read Monday.

From The Brunswick News:

“This bill creates an entire new industry in Georgia — the mariculture of shellfish, or, the farming of oysters,” said state Rep. Jesse Petrea, R-Savannah, the bill’s lead sponsor. “In Georgia we have about a $1.7 million industry today in wild harvest of oysters and clams, but we do not have the ability today to farm oysters. This bill, very simply, creates the ability for people to farm oysters in the subtidal zones of our estuaries in cages that they will float off the bottom in leased areas off our estuaries that will be determined by the department. It allows a lottery system, where we approve of vetted individuals that will compete for those leases to grow oysters.”

Petrea said the leases would go through a lottery system to make sure Georgia residents and those who already have experience have the opportunity and access to the farming, and that it’s not dominated by large companies from out of state that could outbid local people.

“I can say unequivocally that the bill, H.B. 501, and its companion coming out of the Senate, S.B. 182, do not have industry support,” [State Rep. Jeff] Jones said. “Those two bills do not have the support of the environmental community. Those bills are not good bills, and in fact if we pass that — what I call bad legislation, with so many problems inherent to that legislation — the opportunity for us to open up that code section at a later date is going to be very, very difficult.”

Jones filed H.B. 565 Monday, which he said contains the specifics that should have been in H.B. 501, and was told by people in the industry that they’d rather not see anything pass this year — if it was to be H.B. 501 or S.B. 182 — and instead take another look and pursue a different path with better legislation at another time.

House Bill 346 by State Rep. Sharon Cooper (R-Marietta) would protect tenants who report complaints about property owners, according to the Athens Banner Herald.

The problem is slum lords, negligent owners who fail to maintain decent conditions in their rental properties, Cooper said. Tenants who face unhealthy conditions often don’t have the money to go to a lawyer. And eventually, the landlord can move another family into the hazardous home, she added.

Susan Reif, an attorney with Georgia Legal Services Program, told lawmakers, “We tell clients that you have to weigh the risk of calling code enforcement, against the possibility of eviction.″

Under House Bill 346, if a tenant were to complain about unsafe conditions, and suffer a rental increase or eviction as a consequence, a retaliatory eviction could be halted, and the landlord could face civil penalties.

The State Senate and House passed separate measures to fix an issue with the “implied consent” provisions of DUI law, according to the AJC.

The Senate voted 46-4 to approve changes to the state “implied consent” DUI law that would allow law enforcement to use a person’s refusal to submit to a blood or urine test against them as evidence at a trial.

The state Supreme Court ruled that a driver’s refusal to take a breathalyzer test cannot be held against them in criminal court.

The Georgia House on Tuesday passed similar legislation, House Bill 471, which would also apply to people accused of hunting or operating a boat under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

The City of Gainesville wants to annex Lake Lanier Olympic Park and take over operations, according to the Gainesville Times.

Mayor Danny Dunagan said Tuesday that the city is willing to take on a greater role in park operations while the county steps back. The park must be annexed in to the city for the city to take on this role, and the state legislature must approve that annexation, he said.

If the annexation is approved, Lake Lanier Olympic Park would become a city park. Dunagan said the Lake Lanier Olympic Park Foundation has developed a master plan that includes several updates to the park, which was built for the 1996 Olympics. The park is north of the city off Clarks Bridge Road.

County spokeswoman Katie Crumley told The Times in an email: “Hall County is working with the City of Gainesville to do what is in the best interest of the future of the Lake Lanier Olympic Rowing venue, which includes annexing the property into the City of Gainesville.”

The Lowndes County Board of Education registered its opposition to House Bill 301, according to the Valdosta Daily Times.

The board is even calling its representatives and sending a letter stating its position on Georgia House Bill 301, which is an “education scholarship account” that would provide state funds for children to attend private schools or do homeschooling.

It is like a “voucher,” which other states are using. It was introduced Feb. 13.

“(Parents) would be able to access that money for private school tuition or to purchase homeschool curriculum,” Lowndes County School Superintendent Wes Taylor said.

“The money carries over from one year to the next. Upon graduation, if it hasn’t been expended, they could even apply it to college tuition.”

The biggest issue, Taylor said, is it would take away from public school funding.

According to the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, public school districts would lose out on more than $5,500 — what the state pays on average for each general education student — per voucher student.

Lowndes County has a rising homeless population, according to the Valdosta Daily Times.

Whitfield County Chief Magistrate Haynes Townsend is resigning at the end of the month, according to the Dalton Daily Citizen.

Townsend’s resignation will open up a second vacancy in April on the four-person court. Judge Shana Vinyard has been on “voluntary paid leave” since October of last year and recently submitted her resignation to Gov. Brian Kemp, effective April 1.

Vinyard had been under investigation by the state’s Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC), and Townsend said her resignation effectively ends that investigation. Even though he is the chief judge of the court, Townsend has no authority to remove Vinyard from office. The state Supreme Court can remove, suspend, censure or enforce retirement on a judge based on recommendations from the JQC.

The selection of new judges to fill the terms of Townsend and Vinyard rests upon a majority decision of the four Superior Court judges: Chief Judge William T. Boyett, Scott Minter, Cindy Morris and Jim Wilbanks. Court Administrator Brad Butler said his office is accepting résumés through March 15 at 5 p.m.

The only qualifications to serve as a magistrate judge are at least one year of residency in the county, the individual must be at least 25 years old and must have a high school diploma or its equivalent.

John Wagner has been named acting police chief for Warner Robins, according to the Macon Telegraph.

Warner Robins police assistant chief John Wagner was named Tuesday as the agency’s acting chief in the wake of the sudden retirement of Brett Evans.

Mayor Randy Toms said he exercised his authority as mayor to make the appointment, which he expects will be followed by a vote of council and Wagner serving as both assistant and acting chief for six months.

Evans, who has served the Warner Robins Police Department for more than 30 years, is on paid administrative leave until his official retirement date of April 19. Evans could not be reached for comment.

Rob Lewis will serve as Interim Police Chief for Harlem, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

The City of Savannah is working toward a cleaner St. Patrick’s Day, according to the Savannah Morning News.

The city is banning Styrofoam coolers, as well as tables and tents, in an attempt to reduce littering and underage drinking at the square, where such issues have been a problem during past parades.

“Throughout the city, we are asking people to step back and say, ‘Is this what we really want our community and event to look like?’ and I don’t think anyone would say yes,” Special Events, Film & Tourism Director Susan Broker said during a press conference Tuesday.

“The sanitation department is going to have 60 to 70 employees out here at 3 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday [March 16-17],” said John Denion of the city’s sanitation department. “We’re also urging people this year to bring your own trash bags and clean up after yourselves, whether you’re on the parade route, in Chippewa Square or any of the squares.”

“Our main focus this year is to make sure our businesses are in compliance with local ordinances, state and federal laws,” [Savannah Police Lieutenant Shanita Young] said. “We will have help from our Georgia tobacco and alcohol division. Those agents will be coming down from Atlanta and surrounding counties in order to assist the Savannah Police Department.”

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