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

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Mar

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

The British Parliament closed the Port of Boston on March 25, 1774, passing the Boston Port Act in retaliation for the destruction of $1 million worth of tea in the Boston Tea Party.

Horton Smith won the first Masters tournament on March 25, 1934.

On March 25, 1937, Governor E.D. Rivers signed legislation creating the Georgia Department of Labor; in 1945, the Commissioner of Labor was upgraded from statutory office to Constitutional.

Atlanta Braves Pitcher and member of the Baseball Hall of Fame Tom Glavine celebrates his 53d Birthday today.

Flannery O’Connor was born on March 25, 1925 in Savannah, Georgia. She would come to be recognized as one of the greatest American fiction writers. O’Connor graduated from the Georgia State College for Women, now called Georgia College and State University. She returned to Milledgeville in 1951, living at the family farm, called Andalusia, until her death at age 39 in 1964.

At GCSU, the Flannery O’Connor Room is located in the GC Museum, the Flannery O’Connor Collection includes manuscripts, and the College includes a program in Flannery O’Connor Studies.

O’Connor died of Lupus, which also killed her father.

Savannah’s Flannery O’Connor Childhood Home and Museum held its seventh annual Parade and Street Fair this weekend, honoring O’Connor, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Building a border wall could affect some military construction projects in Georgia, according to the Ledger-Enquirer.

Seven construction projects across the state were included on a $12.9 billion list by Department of Defense officials that identified potential funding sources for the border projects. The list includes construction projects abroad, at Fort Benning, Robins Air Force Base and in nearly every state of the union that were unawarded at the end of 2018.

That list, however, could change as a set of conditions and stipulations spelled out by the Department of Defense could protect most, if not all, funding for those Georgia projects.

No construction projects that have already been awarded will be affected by the declaration, and no military housing, barracks or dormitory project funds will be reallocated. Funding from construction projects with award dates after Sept. 30, 2019, are the only ones that could be diverted for barriers.

None of the nation’s military construction projects may be affected. The Department of Defense reported in its list that if their 2020 budget is enacted on time, no military construction project would be delayed or canceled even if funds were diverted to fund border work.

Both of Georgia’s Republican U.S. Senators, Johnny Isakson and David Perdue, voted against a measure that would have blocked Trump’s emergency declaration.

Isakson, who has been critical of Trump’s recent attacks on former Sen. John McCain, said in a statement that he’s pleased that no funds meant for military housing will be diverted to the barrier projects.

“The president has done great work to restore power and lethality to our military, and a great deal has been invested in our capabilities from cyber security and beyond,” Isakson said. “I will be monitoring this very closely to ensure that our gains in military readiness and lethality are not eroded by the transfer of funds from certain (construction) projects.

United States Secretary of Energy Rick Perry announced an additional $3.7 billion dollars in loan guarantees for the two new nuclear reactors being built at Plant Vogtle, according to the Statesboro Herald.

Perry said the administration is determined to see the project finished despite the setbacks. He spoke Friday from the construction site in Waynesboro as a crane lowered a giant dome atop the containment building for housing one of the new reactors.

“The message that gets sent on this plant: America is back in the nuclear energy industry, folks,” Perry told a crowd of workers in hardhats. “We are back. We’re going to be leading the world.”

President Donald Trump has singled out both the country’s nuclear and coal industries for support from his administration, although the more politically influential coal sector has gotten most of the regulatory breaks so far.

The new financial support brings to $12 billion the government’s total loan guarantees for Plant Vogtle, with the initial assistance approved under President Barack Obama. The guarantees make the federal government responsible for covering unpaid debt if the electrical utilities in charge of the project default.

Georgia Power CEO Paul Bowers said the first reactor, which had its 1.5 million pound (0.68 million kilogram) containment cap lowered into place Friday, will be 90 percent complete by the end of the year and ready to load nuclear fuel in 2020.

The Augusta Chronicle has photos from the event.

United States Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) was in Atlanta this weekend, according to the AJC.

U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris became one of the first Democratic presidential candidates to hold a major public campaign event in metro Atlanta, making stops at two historic African-American institutions this weekend: Ebenezer Baptist Church and Morehouse College.

Harris also received her first endorsement from a Georgia elected official, with freshman state Rep. Erick Allen, D-Vinings, putting his support behind her.

Harris began her day sharing a pew with Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms at Ebenezer Baptist Church, where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once preached. Rev. Raphael G. Warnock, the church’s senior pastor, called Harris’ candidacy “the realization of our ancestors’ wildest dreams.”

At Morehouse’s Forbes Arena-McAfee Court, all three scoreboards had 20-20 scores glowing in neon to note the year of the presidential election ahead. After enthusiastic introductions from local politicians and officials including U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, former congressional candidate Jon Ossoff and Gwinnett County Board of Education member Everton Blair, Harris took the stage with a hearty “What’s up, Atlanta?” She was greeted by the crowd of about 3,000 with applause, cheers and stomps.

From GPB:

Former candidate for Georgia’s 6th Congressional District Jon Ossoff told the enthusiastic crowd of 3,000 that Harris was in Georgia because she knows Georgia can help elect a Democrat in 2020.

“Georgia has the power to throw Donald Trump out of the White House,” Ossoff said. “Because if we win Georgia, we win it all, folks!”

Democrat Stacey Abrams launched another new fundraising scheme nonprofit focused on the 2020 census, according to the AJC.

The organization, Fair Count, will focus on minorities, non-English speakers, renters and others who are more likely to be skipped in the once-a-decade headcount of the U.S. population. In Georgia, the group said, that could include as much as 20 percent of the state’s population spanning parts of 86 counties.

“Georgians risk missing out on critical federal dollars, business opportunities and may suffer unfair or inaccurate redistricting if we don’t get this count done correctly,” said state Rep. Carolyn Hugley, a close Abrams ally who chairs the new group’s board.

The stakes are high: The data collected from the once-a-decade count of every person living in the U.S. will determine each state’s share of representatives in Congress and nearly $900 billion in federal funding for healthcare, education and other public services.

It’s the latest public policy initiative by Abrams, a potential 2020 candidate who founded the group. Since her narrow defeat in November to Gov. Brian Kemp, she has worked to raise the profile of Fair Fight, a voting rights group she started that has challenged Georgia’s electoral policies in court.

Fair Count will be led by Rebecca DeHart, the former executive director of the Democratic Party of Georgia. Jeanine Abrams McLean, an evolutionary biologist and Abrams’ sister, will be the group’s program director.

Along with Hugley, other board members include DuBose Porter, the former lawmaker and chair of the Democratic state party, and Sachin Varghese, a well-known Atlanta attorney and party activist.

Stacey Abrams met with Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer in New York, according to the Washington Post.

Stacey Abrams, the Georgia Democrat who narrowly lost her race for governor in 2018, met Friday with Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, who is trying to recruit her to run for the Senate next year, according to two people with knowledge of the meeting.

Georgia has been a reliably Republican state, but shifting demographics there have convinced Democrats that they have a chance of winning a Senate seat. Schumer sees the seat, held by first-term Republican Sen. David Perdue, as a prime opportunity if Abrams were the Democratic candidate.

Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Abrams met in New York City, according to the two people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to freely discuss the session.

The Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust (FACT) filed a complaint alleging Abrams’s Fair Fight Action violates the law, according to the Patch.

FACT said Fair Fight Action has engaged in overtly political activities to promote Abrams, including:

•  Accepting donations from a “Stacey Abrams Fundraiser”;
•  Bankrolling Abrams’ statewide speaking tour where she told audiences: “I am running for office again.”;
•  Hosted two dozen watch parties, some in early presidential primary voting states, for supporters to “cheer Abrams on” as she delivered the Democrats’ response to President Trump’s State of the Union address;
•  Buying social media ads alleging now-Gov. Brian Kemp “robbed” Abrams of election victory and others simply promoting Abrams;
•  Buying commercial airtime during Super Bowl LII in Atlanta to showcase Abrams to Georgia voters.FACT’s complaint maintains that “by providing support for an individual’s personal political activities, Fair Fight Action is in violation of the requirement that a social welfare organization serve general community purposes rather than provide a private benefit to an individual or political group. The IRS has previously determined that an organization that serves to promote a single individual and that individual’s ‘agenda and platforms’ does not qualify for Section 501(c)(4) tax-exempt status.”

Under the Gold Dome Today

8:30 AM SENATE RULES 450 CAP
9:00 AM HOUSE RULES 341 CAP
10:00 AM HOUSE FLOOR SESSION (LD 36) House Chamber
TBD SENATE RULES UPON ADJOURNMENT 450 CAP
1:00 PM SENATE INSURANCE & LABOR 310 CLOB
1:00 PM SENATE FINANCE MEZZ 1
1:00 PM HOUSE Academic Support Subcommittee of Education 406 CLOB
1:30 PM HOUSE HUMAN RELATIONS & AGING 506 CLOB
2:00 PM SENATE EDUCATION & YOUTH 307 CLOB
2:00 PM SENATE PUBLIC SAFETY MEZZ 1
2:00 PM HOUSE Academic Achievement Subcommittee of Education 406 CLOB
3:00 PM SENATE HEALTH & HUMAN SERVICES 450 CAP
3:00 PM HOUSE Regulated Industries – Occupational/Professional Licensing Subcommittee 606 CLOB
4:00 PM SENATE JUDICIARY 307 CLOB

SENATE RULES CALENDAR

HB 512 – Agricultural Commodity Commission for Propane; provide (Substitute)(AG&CA-20th) Watson-172nd

HB 31 – General appropriations; State Fiscal Year July 1, 2019 -June 30, 2020(Substitute)(APPROP-4th) Ralston-7th

HB 287 – Income tax; certain physicians serving as community basedfaculty physicians; delete deduction (FIN-52nd) Dubnik-29th

HB 483 – Controlled substances; Schedules I, IV, and V; change certain provisions (H&HS-11th) Stephens-164th

SR 24 – United States Congress; amend the allocation of funds collected through federal motor fuel taxes; urge (TRANS-21st)

HB 25 – Contracts; provide military service members civil relief concerning certain contractual obligations due to circumstances of active duty (Substitute)(VM&HS-14th) Belton-112th

HB 63 – Insurance; health benefit plans to establish step therapy protocols; require (Substitute)(I&L-32nd) Cooper-43rd

HB 64 – Parent and child; require child welfare agencies to make efforts to determine whether a parent or guardian of a child who is the subject of abuse allegations is on active duty in the military (JUDY-42nd) Prince-127th

HB 130 – StateBoard of Education; authorize the Georgia Foundation for Public Education to establish a nonprofit corporation to qualify as a public foundation; authorize (ED&Y-8th) Nix-69th

HB 217 – Crimes and offenses; employees and agents of syringe services programs are not subject to certain offenses relating to hypodermic syringes and needles; provide (H&HS-32nd) Gaines-117th

HB 221 – Geo. L. Smith II Georgia World Congress Center; limit on indebtedness; increase (FIN-19th) Rogers-10th

HB 227 – Insurance; discrimination against victims of family violence to include victims of sexual assault; expand prohibitions (I&L-28th) Frye-118th

HB 311 – State government; waiver of sovereign immunity as to actions ex contractu and state tort claims; provisions (Substitute)(JUDY-18th) Welch-110th

The Georgia State Senate passed HB 481, the fetal heartbeat bill, on Friday, according to the LaGrange Daily News.

The bill, backed by Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, will now go back to the House to approve Senate changes.

Women in Georgia can currently seek an abortion during the first 20 weeks of a pregnancy. A heartbeat can be detected in an embryo as early as six weeks into pregnancy, before many women know they’re pregnant.

Georgia lawmakers and GOP-led legislatures in several other states have pushed anti-abortion measures in hopes of getting a case before the U.S. Supreme Court to challenge the court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion nationwide. The push comes amid rising optimism among conservatives that the restrictions might prevail in the reconfigured Supreme Court that includes President Donald Trump’s appointees, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.

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.

If signed, the law would take effect January 1, 2020.

From the Newnan Times-Herald:

HB 481 passed the Senate by a vote of 34 to 18 on a party-line vote, and now heads back to the House, because the Senate made several changes to the language of the bill.

The changes to the bill’s language were extensive, including adding a section of definitions and rewording the sections of the bill dealing with the life or health of the mother, but the abortion restrictions and exemptions are essentially the same in both bills.

The Senate version of the bill removed language that required that any abortion performed for a medical emergency or in the case of incest or rape be performed in a manner which provides the best chance for the unborn child to survive.

The House can either agree to the Senate changes, disagree with the Senate changes, or make more changes and send the bill back to the Senate.

From the AJC:

Gov. Brian Kemp is expected to sign the legislation if it wins final passage. He vowed during his 2018 campaign to sign the strictest abortion laws in the country.

In a statement shortly after the vote, Kemp said the Senate “affirmed Georgia’s commitment to life.”

“I applaud the members who supported the heartbeat bill’s passage for protecting the vulnerable and giving a voice to those who cannot yet speak for themselves,” Kemp said.

House Bill 324 to permit production of medical cannabis in Georgia has stalled, according to the Newnan Times-Herald.

Though House Bill 324 passed the Georgia House of Representatives by an overwhelming margin – 123-40 – officials on the Senate side are considering vastly different options.

According to multiple sources, senators and Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan are looking at other options for providing access to cannabis oil. One of those options is setting up agreements with Colorado or other states so that the medical oil could be shipped from Colorado to Georgia for distribution to Georgia patients. The other is putting universities in charge of growing and producing the oil.

HB 324, which followed recommendations made by the Joint Study Commission on Low THC Oil Access, would set up a system of 10 production licenses and 10 distribution licenses. Producers would be authorized to run two dispensaries each, and each distribution license holder could have up to 10 for a total of 60 retail dispensaries in the state.

On Thursday, representatives from the Georgia Sheriff’s Association expressed their opposition to the bill, as did the Faith and Freedom Coalition and Let’s Get Clear Georgia.

The Faith and Freedom Coalition has been sending out postcards asking Georgians to urge their senators to vote against bringing cannabis cultivation to Georgia. Georgia’s Hope, an organization working to advocate for cannabis oil, showed some of the postcards on its Facebook page.

The cards state “Stop Georgia from Going to Pot” and say that the House of Representatives was “prodded by the pot lobby” to pass HB 324. It says the bill will allow the state government to “set up special ‘pot stores’ and choose who can grow marijuana” and that the plan is “an open invitation for corruption, crony capitalism and crime.”

House Bill 445 on shore protection exempted the Sea Island Company at the company’s request, according to the Brunswick News.

Indeed, the Sea Island carve-out, presently listed in lines 84-89, wasn’t part of the bill as it was envisioned at the beginning of the 2019 session.

Documents obtained by The News include a legislation worksheet and emails detailing that staff within DNR’s Coastal Resources Division didn’t intend on putting forward an SPA revision bill like H.B. 271, legislation that died in the Senate in 2018.

[CRD Assistant Director Karl] Burgess analogized the specificity to changes made to the Shore Protection Act’s regulatory sibling, the Coastal Marshlands Protection Act. There’s a section of the CMPA now regarding reclamation of manmade boat slips, which Burgess stated was specific to Hutchinson Island. Hutchinson Island, in the Savannah River, is the location of the Savannah International Trade and Convention Center, a Westin resort, a golf course, residential development and other attractions.

Friday, [DNR public affairs director Wes] Robinson said this sort of process is how things go regarding certain bills.

“It’s not our place to necessarily say if it’s good, bad or indifferent,” Robinson said. “It’s a matter of if we can administer it or not, and that’s one of those ones that we would be able to. But, when it’s not an agency bill, they could put whatever (in the legislation).”

The Bulloch County Board of Education will meet Tuesday to discuss the school system’s strategic plan and address capacity issues, according to the Statesboro Herald.

Hall County and plaintiffs suing the county have spent more than $350,000 in a lawsuit over the pension fund, according to the Gainesville Times.

[Plaintiff and Hall County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Brad] Rounds said the plaintiffs have spent more than $33,000 so far in legal fees that have been crowdfunded from employees.

Hall County spokeswoman Katie Crumley said the county has paid $330,400 in legal fees since January 2017, when the case was opened.

The Hall County Board of Commissioners was served with the lawsuit Jan. 12, 2017, in which Rounds and other employees in a proposed class claimed they’d been deprived of millions in retirement benefits.

The plaintiffs filed an open records request for the minutes showing a “properly-called meeting” July 1, 1998, when the board resolution freezing the pension plan was adopted.

“No such minutes were produced by defendant Hall County,” according to the lawsuit.

The plaintiffs claim the freeze was not properly voted on and that the board resolution “was not a matter of public record disclosed to any plaintiff.”

Those who retired between July 1, 1998, and July 1, 2008 received fully accrued pension benefits without the freeze.

According to the lawsuit’s calculation, Rounds would receive $2,567 monthly without the freeze on his benefits. With the freeze in place, he would receive $389 per month.

A new inland port in Hall County could affect local traffic, according to the Gainesville Times.

Officials estimate 150,000 containers per year could pour into the 104-acre port by way of Norfolk Southern railroad, which cuts through Gateway.

Also adding to the growth is the opening of Lanier Technical College off Howard Road at Ga. 365. The school had been located next to the University of North Georgia’s Gainesville campus in Oakwood.

The Gainesville-Hall Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Policy Committee, the decision-making arm of the transportation planning agency, voted in February to seek federal money for a traffic study of the area between New Holland and the planned inland port.

“There’s been some great things happening up the Ga. 365 corridor … and we really feel a traffic impact study for this area would be very beneficial and forward-thinking,” said Chris Rotalsky, Gainesville’s public works director.

Congressman Rob Woodall (R-Gwinnett and Forsyth) discussed transportation funding with the Gwinnett Daily Post.

A heavy rail extension was a key part of plans to bring MARTA into Gwinnett, but U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall, R-Ga., said that may not have had much success with federal officials who dole out grants for transit projects.

Woodall told the Daily Post on Friday that the anticipated time frame for extending rail from MARTA’s Doraville station to Jimmy Carter Boulevard would have hurt its chances in Washington. Woodall is a member of committees that deal with transit and money: the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the House Budget Committee.

“That’s not something that’s going to be in Gwinnett County by next year, even if the vote had passed,” Woodall said. “That’s something that wouldn’t be in Gwinnett County for 15 years, or 20 years or 30 years. There is a lower appetite (in Washington) for those heavy rail systems that take so long to implement.”

Woodall brought up light rail as a possible alternative to heavy rail. He called it the “sweet spot for rail” while he said heavy rail would be “absolutely a hard sell.”

“That heavy rail model, which of course dates back 150 years, is so expensive and so time consuming that the federal government ends up having to choose ‘Are we going to do one heavy rail New Starts or are we going to do five light rail New Starts? Or are we going to do 100 bus rapid transit New Starts?’” Woodall said.

The Federal Transit Administration defines New Starts projects as ones that cost more than $300 million and where more than $100 million in federal funding is being sought. Some examples listed by the FTA include commuter rail, light rail and fixed guideway BRT routes.

Gwinnett County Public Schools‘ proposed FY 2020 budget includes raises for some employees, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

There are three ways that pay increases are expected to be doled out during fiscal year 2020. The first is an expected flat increase in the state’s teacher salary schedule, which covers teachers, media specialists, counselors and local school technology coordinators. State lawmakers are expected to put the raise, which will be for all teachers in the state, in Georgia’s upcoming budget.

Another way is a planned locally funded step increase for all Gwinnett school employees who are on the teacher salary schedule.

The third way is a 2 percent cost-of-living salary increase for employees who are not on the teacher salary schedule, including janitors, administrators and bus drivers.

The pay increases are a big part of GCPS’ proposed $2.31 billion fiscal year 2020 budget. The proposed budget was presented to the board for review Saturday, and tentative adoption is set for April 9, when the board holds its second budget work session at Central Gwinnett High School.

The fiscal year 2020 budget, if adopted by the school board, will be 2.7 percent larger than the current year’s budget. Two public hearings are currently scheduled for May 9 and 16, with final adoption of the budget expected to happen at the May 16 hearing.

Rome City Commission will consider issuing bonds to pay for covered tennis courts for the 2020 ACC Championship, according to the Rome News Tribune.

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