Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for March 19, 2019

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Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for March 19, 2019

On February 19, 1807, Aaron Burr was arrested in the Mississippi Territory, in what is now Alabama. Burr had served as Vice President during the first term of President Thomas Jefferson, leaving the administration after the 1804 election; later Jefferson issued a warrant accusing Burr of treason. Burr spent part of his time on the lam in Georgia.

On March 19, 1916, the first American military air combat mission began in support of an incursion into Mexico under President Woodrow Wilson.

On March 19, 1947, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled in Thompson v. Talmadge on the “Three Governors Affair.” The Court held that the Georgia General Assembly lacked authority to elect Herman Talmadge as Governor, and that because of the death of Eugene Talmadge before he took office, no successor to Gov. Ellis Arnall was in place until the newly-elected Lt. Governor Melvin Johnson was sworn in and became Governor, succeeding Arnall.

On March 19, 2003, President George W. Bush announced the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom in order to depose Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and eliminate the country’s ability to produce weapons of mass destruction.

March 19, 2014 was “Bo Callaway Day” in Georgia and flags flew at half-staff in honor of the late Georgia Congressman and former Secretary of the Army.

“Few individuals throughout our history can match the legacy that Bo Callaway left on Georgia politics,” Deal said. “Bo blazed a trail that led to the dramatic growth of the Georgia GOP, which went from virtually nonexistent when he ran for governor to holding every statewide elected office today. Bo stood up for what he believed in even when the odds and the political system were stacked against him. Georgians are all the better for it. Sandra and I send our deepest sympathies to the Callaway family.”

March 19, 2014 was also the first time I wrote about the lack of an “Official State Dog of Georgia.”

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

HOUSE RESOLUTION 135 by State Rep. Chuck Efstration (R-Dacula) passed the House, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

State Rep. Chuck Efstration (R-Dacula) sponsored House Resolution 135, which encourages Congress to eliminate the five-month waiting period for disability insurance benefits after patients are diagnosed with ALS, which is currently federal law.

ALS, which is commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a progressive and fatal neuromuscular disease. Each year, Efstration said, approximately 6,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with ALS, and most patients die within two to five years of receiving a diagnosis.

“I am proud of this bipartisan measure to help those suffering from ALS,” Efstration said. “After diagnosis, patients and their families often face immediate financial strain, made worse by an arbitrary five-month waiting period for disability support.”

HR 135 passed the Georgia House by a vote of 166 to 0, something conservative pundit Todd Rehm said was unique.

“I didn’t think there was such a thing as unanimous passage by the House any more, but HR 135 by Chuck Efstration…passed without opposition,” Rehm said.

Whitfield County voters go to the polls today to decide a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) referendum, according to the Valdosta Daily Times.

A current four-year SPLOST expires on June 30 and is on track to collect $64 million. The proposed SPLOST if approved would begin collections on July 1.

Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

A SPLOST is a 1 percent sales tax on most goods purchased in the county and can only fund certain defined projects and items, it can’t be used for general governmental operations.

Supporters say a SPLOST helps keep property taxes down while also being partly paid by individuals from out of town who stop and shop in the county or stay in the county for an extended period of time, such as for a softball tournament or other event, or to visit. The pro-SPLOST Citizens for SPLOST, spearheaded by the Greater Dalton Chamber of Commerce, also believes the 1 percent tax is valuable because of the quality of life projects it would fund that could help lure young professionals to live here, and contends it would continue what the chamber sees as an “undeniable” momentum “with new restaurants, shops and things to do,” as chamber president and CEO Rob Bradham has written.

Opponents, which include a group called Engaged Citizens for Georgia, say many of the SPLOST projects are not needed, that the argument for out-of-town participation has been overstated and that a county that has seen its median household income decline dramatically in recent years can’t afford to have $100 million or a large part of it taken out of its citizens’ pockets through another government tax. They say a SPLOST does not necessarily mean property taxes will stay the same or decrease, as larger buildings often require additional upkeep.

Columbia County votes today on a SPLOST referendum, and some Augusta voters will go to the polls to choose a new Augusta Commissioner, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

Advance voting was heavy in Columbia County, with 2,522 people casting early ballots in the referendum. Last week, Board of Elections Executive Director Nancy Gay called the advance turnout “outstanding” for a special election.

In Richmond County, 125 people voted early in the District 5 election out of 16,572 registered voters, according to Board of Elections Executive Director Lynn Bailey. She said she expects overall turnout in the single-district election to be between 8 and 12 percent.

Gwinnett County votes today on the MARTA referendum, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

From 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday, voters will go to their local polling locations to cast ballots for or against a contract between MARTA and Gwinnett County. Passage of the MARTA referendum would mean the regional transit system would take over the provision of transit in the county and the levying of a 1 percent sales tax in the county to pay for that service.

Gwinnett’s Democratic legislators, who have endorsed passage of the referendum, held a press conference in Atlanta on Monday to urge voters to show up to the polls en masse on election day.

County records show 32,182 people cast advance in person ballots at the elections office or one of seven satellite early voting sites from Feb. 25 to this past Friday.

After the release of a digital ad featuring former gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams on Saturday, the Go Gwinnett pro-MARTA group began transitioning to a “get out the vote” mode focused on canvasing, text messaging and calling voters to encourage them to head to the polls on Tuesday.

“We left it all on the field,” Go Gwinnett spokesman Brian Robinson said.

“I think there’s going to be a lot of votes, significantly more votes on Tuesday than there has been in early voting,” Robinson said. “As I’ve always said — I don’t get too cute about this, about what the chances are — ‘Small electorate is good for the ‘Nos’, big electorate is good for the ‘Yes’ (camp).’”

According to GeorgiaVotes.com, data from the Secretary of State’s office showed 60 percent of the early voters were white and 75 percent of the voters were 50 or older. Newton said that works to the anti-MARTA coalition’s side.

Cave Springs voters will decide today whether to allow liquor sales, according to the Rome News Tribune.

Plans for a micro-distillery downtown hang in the balance.

Elections Supervisor Judy Dickinson, who’s also the clerk, said she’s expecting a relatively strong turnout at the precinct in City Hall, 10 Georgia Ave.

There are four questions on the ballot.

One asks about sales of distilled spirits by the drink. One asks about package sales. Those each cover Monday through Saturday. The other two questions ask about liquor by the drink and by the package on Sundays from 12:30 p.m. in the afternoon to 11:30 p.m. at night.

Only residents of Cave Spring are eligible to vote in today’s election. Dickinson said there are just over 600 on the active list.

Under the Gold Dome Today

8:00 AM HOUSE MOTOR VEHICLES 515 CLOB

9:00 AM SENATE NATURAL RESOURCES & ENVIRONMENT 310 CLOB

9:30 AM SENATE VETERANS, MILITARY & HOMELAND SECURITY 307 CLOB

10:00 AM HOUSE Academic Support Subcommittee of Education 506 CLOB

11:00 AM SENATE FINANCE- INCOME TAX SUBCOMMITTEE 318 CLOB

11:00 AM HOUSE Welch Subcommittee of Judiciary 132 CAP

12:00 PM HOUSE REGULATED INDUSTRIES – Upon Adjournment 506 CLOB

1:00 PM SENATE FINANCE- PUBLIC POLICY SUBCOMMITTEE 122 CAP

1:00 PM SENATE ETHICS 307 CLOB

1:00 PM HOUSE RULES 341 CAP

2:00 PM SENATE STATE & LOCAL GOVERNMENTAL OPERATIONS MEZZ 1

2:00 PM SENATE REGULATED INDUSTRIES & UTILITIES 450 CAP

2:00 PM HOUSE HEALTH & HUMAN SERVICES 606 CLOB

2:00 PM HOUSE JUDICIARY (CIVIL) 132 CAP

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

2:00 PM HOUSE Special Subcommittee of Regulated Industries 506 CLOB

2:00 PM HOUSE GAME, FISH AND PARKS 403 CAP

2:30 PM HOUSE RETIREMENT 515 CLOB

3:00 PM SENATE BANKING & FINANCIAL INSTITUTIONS MEZZ 1

3:00 PM HOUSE ENERGY, UTILITIES AND TELECOMMUNICATIONS 403 CAP

4:00 PM SENATE AGRICULTURE & CONSUMER AFFAIRS 450 CAP

4:00 PM SENATE TRANSPORTATION 310 CLOB

5:00 PM SENATE SPECIAL JUDICIARY 307 CLOB

Governor Brian Kemp appointed Rebecca Jackson as Solicitor General of the State Court of Carroll County.

The Georgia State Ethics Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission voted to hire David Emadi, Douglas County Chief Assistant District Attorney, as its new Executive Director, according to the AJC.

Emadi, who also worked briefly as an aide to Georgia House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, was offered a $125,000 salary by the commission, which voted 3-1 to hire him.

Commission Chairman Jake Evans said Emadi’s experience as both a prosecutor and former legislative aide helped persuade the panel to offer him the job.

“We wanted some energy, we wanted some experience both on the legislative side and the prosecutorial side,” Evans said. “David is going to come in with that youth, that energy, that inspiration.”

House Bill 481, the fetal heartbeat bill, passed out of the Senate Science & Technology Committee, chaired by Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford), according to The Brunswick News.

House Bill 481 would confer legal personhood on a fetus with a detectable heartbeat, essentially outlawing most abortions in Georgia after six weeks. The bill also provides for fetuses to count as people in population surveys and as dependents for tax purposes. Further, health records would be made available to the local district attorney where the abortion occurs or where the woman resides, among other specifications.

H.B. 481 went to the Senate Science and Technology Committee, which is one of the smallest committees in the chamber. With Committee Chairwoman Renee Unterman, R-Buford, not voting, Republican leadership used the power of the lieutenant governor to put a thumb on the scales. Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan subsequently appointed state Sen. William Ligon, R-White Oak, to the panel as an ex-officio member to game the vote, which the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported in its Morning Jolt post Wednesday.

The vote Monday came after a marathon public comment session Thursday that lasted around four hours. Jordan tweeted, following the meeting, to expect the Senate to take up H.B. 481 before the end of the week.

Should the bill make it all the way, a court challenge is expected. Friday, a federal district judge in Kentucky halted the enforcement of that state’s six-week abortion law the day the governor signed it, writing in the temporary restraining order that the plaintiffs demonstrated a strong likelihood of success on the merits of their 14th Amendment due process challenge to the law, which passed the legislature as Senate Bill 9.

From the Gainesville Times:

The Senate Science and Technology Committee approved the bill on a party-line vote of 3 to 2. The legislation, backed by Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, has passed the House and now could go quickly to the floor of the GOP-controlled Senate.

Republicans are moving to enact tough abortion restrictions in the state legislatures they control, even though they’re certain to be challenged in court. Similar “heartbeat” bills just passed the Ohio Senate and the Tennessee House, and are advancing in Mississippi, Florida, and South Carolina.

They’re hoping the U.S. Supreme Court — with new Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh — will uphold state laws that undermine the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling establishing the right of women to abort a fetus that can’t survive outside the womb.

The Georgia bill makes exceptions in the case of rape and incest — but only when the woman files a police report first — and to save the life of the mother. It also allows for abortions when a fetus is determined to be not compatible with life due to serious medical issues.

House Bill 501, the oyster industry bill, passed the Georgia Senate yesterday, according to the Savannah Morning News.

With a vote of 35-19 in the senate, H.B. 501, which passed the house last week, now goes to the desk of Gov. Brian Kemp.

The bill sets up a framework for a fledgling oyster farming industry, giving the state Department of Natural Resources final say in when oysters can be harvested and where oyster seed comes from. Neighboring states already farm oysters year-round but in Georgia, oysters are wild harvested only. The bill also provides for a lottery to allot leases to qualified farmers.

From The Brunswick News:

Barring an unlikely veto by the governor, Georgia will have a new coastal industry by this time next year, despite continued opposition by people who would be expected to grow that industry. The state Senate approved House Bill 501 on oyster mariculture Monday by a vote of 35-19. That comes a little more than two weeks since the chamber passed identical legislation, Senate Bill 182, by a 54-0 vote.

The growth in opposition is thanks to an alliance of those in the seafood industry and environmental advocates who argued for more specifics and less regulation, with a major sticking point being year-round harvesting.

Ligon added that it’s prudent to have some extra oversight at the beginning of an industry to make sure everything’s done right, and once oyster mariculture gets underway, legislators and regulators can revisit the issue to see what needs adjusting.

“There will be an advisory committee where members of the industry will be on that committee, they will provide input to the department on rulemaking,” Ligon said. “This has been very productive for our shrimping and crab and finfish industries in Georgia, so let’s follow that same model with this, let’s see how it goes. If we need to make adjustments, we will, but let’s err on the side of public safety.”

House Bill 217 by State Rep. Houston Gaines (R-Athens) passed the Senate Health & Human Services Committee yesterday, according to AccessWDUN.

Programs that give drug users clean needles in exchange for used ones would become legal in Georgia, under a proposal that cleared a Senate committee Monday.

The Senate Committee on Health and Human Services unanimously approved the bill, sending it to the full Senate. The measure has already cleared the state House.

Republican Rep. Houston Gaines of Athens, the bill’s author, said the proposal will “save lives and money.”

“We don’t want anyone, including those who inject drugs, to contract these infections,” Gaines said, adding that President Donald Trump has said dealing with the HIV epidemic is a priority in his State of the Union speech.

State Rep. John LaHood (R-Valdosta) introduced House Resolution 533, calling for the creation of a House Study Committee on Innovative Financial Options for Senior Living, according to the Albany Herald.

“Rep. John LaHood’s resolution addresses a big worry,” Vicki Vaughn Johnson, chairwoman of the Georgia Council on Aging, said. “Currently, there’s not enough affordable housing for our seniors. But what’s going to happen in the not-too-distant future, when Georgia’s 65-and-older population is expected to double?”

The resolution from LaHood, the secretary of the House Health and Human Services Committee, calls for the creation of the House Study Committee on Innovative Financial Options for Senior Living. The committee would comprise five House members selected by Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, and have until December to complete its work.

LaHood’s resolution states that the problem is a lack of affordable independent living options for seniors who require services and can no longer live in their homes.

Georgia’s 65-and-over population was 1.3 million in 2016 and is expected to rise to 2.9 million by 2040, with the greatest rate of growth in the 85-and-older category, LaHood’s resolution said.

Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold Melton sat for a Q&A with Georgia Trend.

GT: How do those work experiences inform your work at the state Supreme Court?

Melton: I learned to practice law in the attorney general’s office. I learned how to go into the office, close the door, get the books out and study. There’s no substitute for that. That foundation was there.
I went to the governor’s office not really knowing much about the governor personally. So there was some uncertainty, but that was too much of an opportunity to pass up. That was an opportunity to sit at the table when decisions impacting the state were being discussed, to learn and to grow and to have input in that area. Turns out it was a great move. I enjoyed working with the governor and enjoyed working with the staff he put together.

GT: Is the court political?

Melton: There is some aspect of that. Of course what we try to do is to take the politics out of what we do. We run for re-election, and there is some awareness that we have to get votes to keep our job; but we use that awareness as a calling, as a charge to make sure that even though we have to get votes to keep our jobs, we don’t want to make decisions on that basis. We work hard not to be motivated by politics or personal philosophies or anything along those lines. Just as important, we work hard to convince the bar and the public that we are really trying to call balls and strikes fairly and squarely.

The Muscogee County School District has hired its first police chief, according to the Ledger-Enquirer.

In a 8-0 vote during Monday night’s monthly meeting, the nine-member board confirmed Superintendent David Lewis’ choice to lead MCSD’s new agency: Grep Arp, the chief investigator for the district attorney’s office in the Appalachian Judicial Circuit for the past six years.

The MCSD police chief’s position has been vacant for the 10 months since the board established the police agency.

In May 2018, the board upgraded Lewis’ recommendation to establish the police agency. He had recommended boosting MCSD’s current security staff from 17 part-time officers to 10 full-time officers, including one for each high school, seven part-time officers and three additional positions. The board’s majority expanded that recommendation, calling for a full-time officer at each middle school. So the board approved adding $1,692,467, including $892,467 in start-up costs, to MCSD’s current $2,133,871 budget for security.

But no officers have been hired because the department’s police chief hadn’t been hired, Tessin said.

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