Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for April 1, 2019

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Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for April 1, 2019

In perhaps the most fitting historical tidbit ever, the United States House of Representatives first met on April 1, 1789 in New York City. Frederick Augustus Conrad Muhlenberg of Pennsylvania was elected the first Speaker of the House. Georgia’s first Members of Congress were James Jackson, Abraham Baldwin, and George Mathews.

On April 1, 1870, Robert E. Lee, President of Washington College in Lexington, Virginia, arrived in Savannah, Georgia. Lee’s career in the United States Army began with his first assignment at Cockspur Island near Savannah. While in Savannah for the 1870 trip, Lee was photographed with former General Joseph E. Johnston, who was in the insurance business there.

Happy Birthday to Phil Niekro, who turns 80 today. Niekro pitched for the Milwaukee and Atlanta Braves for twenty years, earning five trips to the All-Star Game, five gold gloves, led the league in wins twice, and came in second in balloting for the Cy Young award in 1969. In 1997, he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Democrat Stacey Abrams called the Georgia legislature’s heartbeat bill “evil,” according to the Times Free Press.

DALTON, Ga. — While she continues to weigh campaigns for the U.S. Senate and the White House, Stacey Abrams said Sunday afternoon she is motivated for another run at the governor’s mansion after Republicans passed a controversial abortion bill last week.

“It is dangerous,” she said after a rally at the Dalton Convention Center. “I think it is scientifically insupportable. I know it will cause harm to women, especially to those women who face the highest rate of maternal mortality already. We know that we will lose doctors. We will lose jobs. And I believe it is purely a craven exercise designed to fulfill a political promise.”

She said legislation like the abortion bill could lead her to challenge Kemp in 2022.

“It tells doctors you could go to jail for doing your job. And it tells women you could be criminalized for taking care of yourself and your family. HB 481 is evil. And it exists because it was a campaign promise. It exists because it was a political stunt. And it exists because votes were not counted in 2018.”

Congressman John Lewis (D-Atlanta) wants Abrams to run against Senator David Perdue next year, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

The civil rights icon and Georgia Democrat told CNN on Thursday that Abrams ““would be a great senator.”

“She’d be a great voice and a great leader in the Senate,”” he added.

In the interview, Lewis said that another gubernatorial run is a “long time” from now. When asked if he thought that Abrams should run for Senate, Lewis said “yes.”

“She would be a great leader for voting rights,” said Lewis. “She would add so much to the politics of Georgia and Washington.”

Politico writes about Abrams’s activities since losing the Gubernatorial race.

[T]he Democrat has mounted a nationwide, largely below-the-radar effort to expand her donor and political network that will make her an instant force whatever she decides.

Abrams has traversed the country meeting with top Democrats since her narrow loss in the Georgia governor’s race. She’s met with every leading candidate for president, and become a regular draw on the big-ticket fundraising circuit, donors and fundraisers told POLITICO. Abrams headlined major donor events for the Democratic National Committee, the progressive donor collaborative Way to Win and former Sen. Barbara Boxer in recent months, and has discussed her political future with top Democratic donors.

At the reception for Abrams hosted by Boxer, held at a five-star Beverly Hills hotel in late February, local Democratic leaders and entertainment industry donors heard her talk about her work against voter suppression and about her brother’s struggle with addiction. After the event, she was mobbed by attendees.

Abrams started to assemble a national network ahead of her run for governor through the New Georgia Project, a nonprofit she formed that’s focused on voter registration and engagement. She courted donors, including George Soros, who aided her campaign for governor.

In December, Abrams was a keynote speaker at a conference hosted by Way to Win, a collective of progressive donors focused on turning Southern states blue that spent $22 million last cycle. Two hundred people attended the event in Manhattan Beach, Calif.

“As best I can tell she’s waiting on one more position to come open, emperor, and see if that fits her taste,” said Georgia Republican Party Chairman John Watson. “Stacey is on the national circuit. If that’s the game she wants to play, that’s up to her. We’re focused on Georgia priorities, Georgia people, getting our grassroots and fundraising up to pace.”

House Bill 324, the cannabis legislation, will head to conference committee after the Senate amended the House bill, according to the Newnan Times-Herald.

Though House Bill 324, allowing for a tightly regulated system of in-state production of the oil – officially known as Low THC Medical Oil – passed the state House by an overwhelming margin – 123 to 40 – it underwent drastic changes in the Senate.

Both sides insisted on their positions Friday, and a conference committee was appointed to come up with a final version – known as a conference committee report –  that will have to be approved by the House and Senate.

The committee, consisting of three senators and three state representatives, has to work quickly – Tuesday is the final day of the 2019 session, and if the bill doesn’t pass both sides by the end of the night, it’s dead until next year.

[Sen. Matt] Brass (R-Newnan) is also on the conference committee, along with Sen. Brian Strickland, R-McDonough, who serves as one of the governor’s floor leaders, and Sen. Bill Cowsert, R-Athens, who chairs the Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities Committee, which heard the bill in the Senate.

On the House side, conferees are Rep. Micah Gravley, R-Douglasville, the other study commission co-chair and author of HB 324, Rep. Calvin Smyre, D-Columbus, and Rep. Mark Newton, R-Augusta, an emergency room physician and founder of a group of urgent care centers.

From the Gainesville Times:

The bill still closes a loophole created by the state’s 2015 medical marijuana law that allows patients to possess the drug but provides them no legal avenue to obtain it.

Supporters say patients need access to a crucial medicine without breaking the law. Critics worry that legalizing medical marijuana could lead to legalizing recreational marijuana, which Gravley disputes.

The original bill granted 10 growing licenses to private companies — five for smaller organizations and five for larger organizations — and allowed for up to 60 retail locations.

The updated bill grants only two growing licenses to private companies — one for a smaller organization and one for a larger organization — and allows for up to 28 retail locations.

The number of places that sell the oil could rise under the new proposal because it also grants permission for independent pharmacies to sell the drug. Gravley was already interested in the idea of involving pharmacies but mentioned that he was not sure if doing so may jeopardize their DEA license.

The Rome News Tribune looks at bills by local legislators as tomorrow’s final day arrives.

Rep. Katie Dempsey, R-Rome, saw her HB 553 expanded to 13 pages from 1 page in the House and the Senate tabled a vote on it Friday, possibly to line up amendments from the floor.

The bill was initially aimed at removing an obsolete entity from membership on the State Victim Services Commission. It now also dissolves a number of quasi-governmental entities ranging from the Georgia Tobacco Community Development Board to the Commission on Men’s Health and the Georgia Silver-Haired Legislature.

Dempsey’s HB 187, establishing obesity-treatment coverage for state employees, cleared the Senate Friday.

She, Lumsden and Rep. Mitchell Scoggins, R-Cartersville, also passed resolutions in the House Friday commending the STAR students and teachers in Rome and Floyd County public and private schools.

Scoggins is awaiting votes in the Senate on bills that would provide homestead exemptions from Bartow and Cartersville school taxes for residents of those districts who are age 65 and older.

The Gainesville Times Editorial Board writes about the General Assembly’s FY 2020 budget.

While high profile issues such as abortion and voting machines have garnered much of the public’s attention, lawmakers also have deliberated on dozens of other pieces of state business, some relatively inconsequential, others of great magnitude.

But one piece of business is mandatory — they must approve a balanced budget for the upcoming state fiscal year.

That task was completed Thursday when final approval was given the 2020 budget and the final $27.5 billion spending proposal forwarded on to Gov. Brian Kemp for his signature. Given that the approved budget reflects many of the governor’s own spending priorities and has his blessing, approval is assured.

The 2020 spending plan reflects realistic growth without being overly optimistic about future revenues. Not that many years ago we were in the midst of a recession and cutting state spending wherever it could be cut; remembering those days with a conservative plan for spending is a wise approach.

There are certain words in the governor’s appraisal of the final product that we wish lawmakers in Washington could take to heart. Can you imagine how good it would be to hear the terms “balanced,” “bipartisan” and “conservative” applied to the federal spending process?

Gwinnett County state representatives tried to limit the county’s ability to call a new transit referendum, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

Gwinnett’s remaining Republican representatives in the Georgia House are not in a rush to see another vote on joining MARTA anytime soon and are seeking a legislative method to keep it off the ballot in 2020.

The amendment has been attached to Senate Bill 200 and would kick the earliest date for another MARTA vote back to 2026, giving it what state Rep. Chuck Efstration, R-Dacula, called a “cooling-off period.” The bill that the amendment is being attached to deals with Georgia Department of Transportation contracts.

“Local officials should not call for repeated ballot questions until their desired outcome is realized,” Efstration said.

“That limits our flexibility by removing one option for a period of time,” Gwinnett Commission Chairwoman Charlotte Nash said. “It’s going to take some time to really think through what that means for us. We were already in the process of having to look at and process all of the options. You know me, I always prefer more options rather than less.”

The amendment is being pushed by Efstration and state Reps. Brett Harrell, R-Snellville; Tom Kirby, R-Loganville; David Clark-R-Buford; Timothy Barr, R-Lawrenceville; and Bonnie Rich, R-Suwanee.

Legislation to allow incorporation of the Chatham County Islands was introduced, according to the Savannah Morning News.

The placeholder filing is required in the first year of a two-year legislative session before any further incorporation steps can be taken. The one-year delay in taking legislative action puts the responsibility on residents to hold inclusive meetings on incorporation between now and January. Islands involved are Oatland, Whitemarsh, Wilmington and Talahi.

Rep. Jesse Petrea (R-District 166) and state Sen. Ben Watson (R-District 1) said they are neutral on this issue.

“We are taking no side in this,” Petrea said of he and Watson. “We are doing what the law requires and following the letter of the law.”

Petrea and Watson said they had received 900 letters in favor on islands incorporation and since the recent referendum failure of incorporation of Skidaway, they’ve received 800 letters opposed to the move.

Congressman Buddy Carter (R-Pooler) spoke about legislation to improve maternal mortality, according to The Brunswick News.

“I serve on the Health Subcommittee, and we had a hearing in the Health Subcommittee on maternal mortality, and I was shocked,” Carter said. “I had dealt with it when I served on Health and Human Services in the state Senate, and I was vice-chair of that committee, and I knew that we had a problem in the country and we had a problem in Georgia. But when we brought in the witnesses and they testified, two things really raised my concern.”

“First of all, how high it was in our country — for a developed country like America, to be that high, it was just alarming to me. And I guess I knew it, but I didn’t recognize it and i just didn’t realize it.”

According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Georgia is No. 2 in the country in maternal mortality, with 46.2 deaths per 100,000 people. That’s more than double the nationwide average. Also, the mortality rate among black mothers is 66.6 in Georgia, compared to white mothers at 43.2. However both of these statistics are also significantly above the national averages.

Gwinnett County Commissioners discussed alternative ways forward after the defeat of the MARTA referendum, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

With the defeat of Gwinnett’s MARTA referendum earlier this month fresh on their minds, county leaders spent some of the second day of their strategic planning retreat in Athens talking about revisiting some of their plans for expanding transit on Friday.

The discussions on how to implement county priorities in the 2020 budget did not rise to the level of a full post-mortem on the MARTA vote, but transit came up immediately during discussions on mobility. Among the first transit-related items discussed was a possible update of the Connect Gwinnett Transit Development Plan and a need to make decisions on transit funding.

Despite the defeat of the MARTA referendum on March 19, county leaders haven’t given up on trying to do something to expand transit in Gwinnett. There has been some talk about doing another transit vote, whether that be another referendum on joining MARTA or a 30-year transportation-related special purpose local option sales tax vote allowed under legislation that established the Atlanta Transit Link Authority, also known as The ATL.

The City of Rome‘s ban on outdoor smoking in downtown goes into effect today, according to the Rome News Tribune.

In February the Rome City Commission voted overwhelmingly to pass the ordinance. The measure prohibits smoking in the publicly owned outdoor areas of Broad Street between East First Avenue and East Eighth Avenue, including the side streets and alleyways for one block off Broad Street. This area encompasses the Broad Street District, Town Green, all downtown parking decks and Bridgepoint Plaza. Smoking is prohibited within a distance of 25 feet from a public entrance to a public place or place of employment.

Cigars, pipes, e-cigarettes, vaping devices, JUULs and hookah pipes have the same restrictions as cigarettes under this ordinance.

Brunswick City Commission will consider a resolution asking for safety measures on the Sidney Lanier Bridge, according to The Brunswick News.

The Brunswick City Commission will consider approving a resolution during Wednesday’s meeting asking state officials for suicide prevention measures on the Sidney Lanier Bridge.

There has been growing support for suicide prevention measures on the bridge in response to people plunging to their deaths since it was built in 2003. Community leaders have asked elected officials to support asking the state for help in response to the most recent suicide on Feb. 20 by a woman who jumped off the 185-foot bridge.

Another reason the city is being asked to approve the resolution is because the jurisdiction is divided between the city and county. The split jurisdiction sometimes creates debates between which side of the bridge the victims jump from to determine who investigates the death.

Security is another potential concern on the bridge. The channel is vulnerable, and there are no security cameras on or under the bridge where terroristic activities could be conducted.

Dr. Kyle Marrero began work today as the new President of Georgia Southern University, according to the Statesboro Herald.

Macon‘s Cherry Blossom Festival has an annual impact of $10 million to $12 million dollars, according to the Macon Telegraph.

Savannah Alderman Van Johnson apologized for attending a meeting that allowed only African-American media, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Johnson said during the press conference that while he has a responsibility for the people at the meeting, he also has a responsibility to the people who were barred from coming in.

“I know certainly that if this was an event that was held and excluded other folks, then I know I would be one of the first ones to be outraged about it,” he said. “And this outrage would be understandable and it would be justified.”

Mayor Eddie DeLoach said in a statement issued later that Johnson’s apology came two days after his opponent had initially defended his attendance. Since then, it has become a national embarrassment, DeLoach said.

“For all those that have called, emailed, and texted my office from all walks of life, I want to assure you this is not who we are in Savannah,” he said. “We will continue to be open to everyone and I will not sacrifice my principles for political gain.”

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