Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for April 4, 2019

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Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for April 4, 2019

On April 4, 1776, General George Washington began marching his troops from Cambridge, Massachusetts to New York, in anticipation of an invasion by the British.

President William Henry Harrison died in office on April 4, 1841, a month after his inauguration.

At the inauguration of America’s first Whig president, on March 4, 1841, a bitterly cold day, Harrison declined to wear a jacket or hat, made a two-hour speech, and attended three inauguration balls. Soon afterward, he developed pneumonia. On April 4, President Harrison died in Washington, and Vice President John Tyler ascended to the presidency, becoming the first individual in U.S. history to reach the office through the death of a president.

On April 4, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln toured Richmond, Virginia the day after the Confederate Capitol fell to Union forces.

On April 4, 1968 Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot in Memphis. James Earl Ray would later be arrested and plead guilty to the assassination.

On April 4, 1974, Hank Aaron hit home run 714, tying Babe Ruth’s record.

On April 4, 1988, the Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly was recognized as the official state butterfly of Georgia.

The Atlanta Braves played their first game in Turner Field on April 4, 1997, defeating the Chicago Cubs 5-4. Denny Neagle started on the mound for the Braves and Mark Wohlers earned a save. Atlanta’s Michael Tucker hit the first homerun in the new stadium.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Democrat Stacey Abrams said she will decide this month whether to challenge U.S. Senator David Perdue, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams said Thursday that she wants to make a decision this month about running for a U.S. Senate seat from her home state and thinks she could hold off on making a decision about running for president until this fall.

Abrams, who narrowly lost her race for Georgia governor last year, has been publicly mulling her options for next year.

“My first responsibility is to decide whether a Senate run is right for me,” Abrams said during an appearance Thursday on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” adding that she is trying to determine if the Senate is “the right job that I need to hold.”

If she forgoes the Senate race, Abrams said she thinks she could wait until September to enter the race for the White House.

Abrams also has some salty words for Governor Brian Kemp, who whipped won the 2018 election, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams called Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp a “cartoon villain” and said her former opponent from the 2018 midterm elections is an “architect of voter suppression.”

In her remarks at the National Action Network Convention in New York, Abrams said that, because Kemp was the Georgia secretary of state during the race, he was “the referee, the contestant and the score keeper” for the 2018 gubernatorial election.

“I’m a good lawyer, and I understand that the law of the land said that Brian Kemp became the governor that day. And I acknowledge that,” Abrams said. “But you can’t trick me into saying it was right. And you can’t shame me into saying what happened should’ve happened because in the state of Georgia black people faced hours long lines of up to four hours waiting to cast their ballots.”

“While I haven’t decided what I’m running for next, our experiment proves that identity politics works,” Abrams said, referring to her 2018 campaign.

Governor Kemp signed House Bill 316, to replace Georgia’s voting machines, according to the AJC.

His office said in a notice posted on his website Wednesday that Kemp inked the bill, along with 20 lower-profile measures, on Tuesday during the last day of the legislative session.

The overhaul was introduced with Kemp’s blessing after his narrow election victory over Democrat Stacey Abrams, who cast the Republican as an “architect of voter suppression” and accused him of creating barriers to ballot access.

Kemp and other Republicans supported the new system as a more accurate way to count votes, saying they’re easy to use and provide a paper record to verify vote counts. They were also strongly supported by government workers experienced in running elections.

The measure passed the House and Senate mostly on a party line vote and approved in time to allow the system to be in place for next year’s presidential election, when the state’s 7 million registered voters will be eligible to cast their ballots.

House Bill 353 by State Rep. Kasey Carpenter (R-Dalton) passed when the House agreed to the Senate Substitute and creates a new crime, according to the Valdosta Daily Times.

Rep. Kasey Carpenter, a Republican from Dalton, says the proposed changes are an attempt to keep rising auto insurance rates in check in Georgia. The bill would make it a felony offense to either intentionally cause an automobile collision or attempt to manufacture evidence for a wreck that never happened.

“This is an important piece to deter this crime,” Carpenter said to his colleagues Tuesday, which was the last day of this year’s legislative session.

Staging a wreck and cashing in on the insurance payout has become a problem for rental companies in particular. U-Haul, for one, has flagged Georgia as the state with the second most incidents reported within the company.

But several lawmakers were hesitant to send someone to prison for five to 20 years for a staged wreck involving any injury. That was dialed back to two to 10 years, and the injury would have to be serious. Offenses without an injury could yield a prison sentence of one to five years.

Dalton Utilities failed to receive an exemption from requirements for a referendum before incurring bonded debt, according to the Dalton Daily Citizen.

That version initially cleared the House late Tuesday night by a single vote, only for it to lose minutes later by seven votes after Rep. Jason Ridley, a Republican from Chatsworth, pressed for a redo. Ridley has long objected to the proposal, comparing it to giving the city-run utility a blank check for Plant Vogtle.

Dalton Utilities owns a 1.6 percent stake in the ongoing expansion of the nuclear power plant, which is billions of dollars over budget and years behind schedule. The utility has said it does not plan to borrow money to cover its share of the work.

“While (the bill) was not specific to Georgia Power or the Vogtle project, the legislation would have benefitted our other utility partners in Georgia,” the company said in a statement Wednesday.

Proponents have argued that the change would level the playing field with other utilities that do not have to hold a public referendum before borrowing money for electric-related projects. Dalton Utilities, they noted often, also does not have to call a public vote on other types of borrowing.

“Needless to say we are very disappointed in the outcome of this important legislative measure to Dalton Utilities and our customers,” [Dalton Utility's CEO Tom] Bundros said in a statement. “The defeated legislation would have placed Dalton Utilities on parity with all of the electric providers in the state of Georgia that do NOT have to seek a voter referendum to issue revenue bonds to acquire electric generating and transmission assets to serve their customers.”

House Bille 445, revamping shore protection laws, passed the House and Senate, according to The Brunswick News.

House Bill 445 — a Shore Protection Act revision years in the making — barely cleared its last hurdle Tuesday in the state House of Representatives, with a 93-75 vote.

Earlier in the day, it had to pass the Senate, where it was introduced by state Sen. Ben Watson, R-Savannah.

“This law, when passed in 1979, established the presence of a 20-foot-tall tree, or a building older than 1979, to determine the jurisdictional area used to protect dunes,” Watson said. “However, as times has gone on, with storms and other factors, the use of the 20-foot-tall tree simply does not work anymore. You have trees that are particularly far inland….that require property owners to be in regulation who have no impact on the dune system, and for the (state Department of Natural Resources) to administer this, they literally visit every site with a 20-foot-tall stick to measure trees.

“House Bill 445 fixes this flawed methodology by removing the use of the tree and instead using the features of our coast to determine what is and what is not in jurisdiction. This is a much more consistent method that makes it easier for the department to administer this law and makes it easier for the property owners to understand where they are regulated or not, while still offering our coast protection.”

State Sen. William Ligon, R-White Oak, said state governments could still use zoning laws to express their will. He also took exception with some of the criticism of dune crossovers as they would be permitted.

“Crosswalks can actually protect the dunes because you’re walking over them,” Ligon said. “When you don’t have a crosswalk, people walk and they trample them down and then that dune system is actually damaged. To do what we’ve been asked to do on this minority report is actually detrimental to our sand dune system.”

The Senate gave its OK with a vote of 35-21.

From the Savannah Morning News:

If signed as expected by Gov. Brian Kemp, H.B. 445 would create a 25-foot regulated zone between private beachfront development and the landward reach of the sand dune or from the high tide line on beaches without dunes. The 25-foot line would be measured from a functional seawall or bulkhead where those exist.

Environmentalists lobbied for a wider regulated zone to protect the publicly owned beach as well as the private property owners.

The bill also makes it easier for beachfront property owners to build “minor” projects such as patios, landscaping and dune crossovers by allowing the Department of Natural Resources commissioner to approve such projects without the public review previously required.

The successful version of the bill also did not include the original version’s exemption for Sea Island, where developers are planning to build luxury homes on a thin stretch of the island called the Spit, which is so vulnerable to storms and erosion that it does not qualify for federal flood insurance. That exemption was removed from the bill after a report in the Brunswick News made it clear Sea Island Company was involved in writing the exemption.

House Bill 734 would create a state censorship journalism ethics board, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

Six Republicans in the Georgia House of Representatives, including one from Gwinnett County, filed legislation to create a board that would oversee journalists across the state as legislators closed out this year’s legislative session Tuesday.

The “Ethics in Journalism Act,” officially known as House Bill 734, would create a “Journalism Ethics Board” and mandate journalists and news outlets make copies of their notes and recordings from interviews, as well as their photographs, available free of cost upon request by the person interviewed.

The bill was filed Tuesday by state Rep. Andy Welch, R-McDonough, who announced the same day that he would resign from office after the General Assembly wrapped up its 2019 legislative session — which ended Tuesday.

Co-sponsors on the bill include: state Reps. Timothy Barr, R-Lawrenceville; Ron Stephens, R – Savannah; Mark Newton, R – Augusta; Rick Jasperse, R – Jasper; and Mike Cheokas, R – Americus.

The board would also be authorized to create a voluntary accreditation process in which journalists and news organizations would have to “demonstrate compliance with the highest levels of professionalism and integrity in journalism” to gain accreditation. The board would also have the authority to investigate and sanction accredited journalists or news organizations if it feels they have acted unethically.

Punishments could include probation, public reprimand, private reprimand and loss or suspension of accreditation.

House Bill 324, the marijuana cultivation bill, will be signed by Governor Kemp, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

Cody Hall, a spokesman for Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, said Wednesday morning he’ll sign the bill into law.

The legislation, HB 324, closes loopholes created from a 2015 act that legalized the use of low-THC cannabis oil for certain medical conditions but did not allow for the growing, selling or possession of the oil in the state.

The new bill would allow for the “production, manufacturing, and dispensing” as well as the possession of low-THC cannabis oil in Georgia. It would also set up a state commission to oversee the industry and license universities and private companies that could produce the oil. The bill would also allow the state to license pharmacies and private companies that would sell low-THC cannabis oil to medical marijuana patients.

An amendment limiting Gwinnett County’s ability to call for a re-do on the MARTA referendum was pulled from consideration, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

The proposal from the six Republicans in Gwinnett’s majority-Democrat House Delegation would have barred county leaders from calling for another vote on MARTA until after Jan. 1, 2026. It was the Republicans’ response to the defeat of a MARTA referendum held in Gwinnett on March 19.

Amid several changes designed to add new stuff to the legislation, the section dealing with Gwinnett was taken out, according to state Rep. Chuck Efstration, R-Dacula.

“There are many components to Senate Bill 200 right now, but the language with respect to Gwinnett is not in the bill,” Efstration said.

“At this point in time, it appears that the commission will make a decision as to whether to call for another voter, and I am hopeful that the commission will respect the voice of the voters as demonstrated March 19 in the referendum,” Efstration said.

The City of Gainesville will take over the Olympic rowing venue under legislation passed by the General Assembly, according to the Gainesville Times.

The state legislature has approved the city of Gainesville’s requests to annex Lake Lanier Olympic Park and to increase the city’s hotel-motel tax from 6% to 8%.

The Senate approved the proposals late Tuesday, the last day of the legislative session. The House of Representatives had approved the park annexation on March 28 and the tax increase on March 26.

All of Hall’s state representatives supported both measures. State Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, voted in favor of both, while State Sen. John Wilkinson, R-Toccoa, who represents part of Hall, did not vote either time.

Gainesville hopes to use the additional revenue from the hotel-motel tax increase to fund improvements at the park, including new restrooms, a pavilion and renovations at the boathouse.

Seniors may receive assistance in staying in their homes under a program included in the state budget, according to the Rome News Tribune.

Advocates for Georgia seniors said Wednesday the 2019 legislative session was a big win, with an additional $5.6 million committed to services that protect the safety and independence of the elderly.

“Every extra dollar of money that was approved is so appreciated and so needed,” said Lynne Reeves, director of the Northwest Georgia Area Agency on Aging.

“Many of our seniors need just a small helping hand and, no doubt, thousands of them will be better off under the 2020 state budget.”

Some of the new money will go to boost home- and community-based care. There also are earmarks for home-delivered meals, assistive technology and a resource network connecting aging adults to local resources and support.

Money also was added to hire 22 additional caseworkers to address elder abuse complaints and to advocate for older adults without guardians.

Vicki Vaughn Johnson, chair of the Georgia Council on Aging, issued a statement thanking Gov. Brian Kemp and lawmakers for addressing the needs of the state’s 1.3 million seniors.

House Resolution 48 opposes some offshore energy exploration techniques, according to The Brunswick News.

Language in resolutions against seismic airgun testing and offshore drilling, despite not having any force of law, nevertheless took nearly two whole sessions of the state legislature before it got a vote in either chamber. That changed Tuesday, the last day of the 2019 session, when the state House of Representatives passed House Resolution 48 by a vote of 125-36.

State Rep. Ron Stephens, R-Savannah, in presenting the bill, said to Rules Chairman Jay Powell, R-Camilla, “Mr. Chairman, H.R. 48 is the most comprehensive anti-drilling and anti-seismic-testing resolution that we’ve had to date, and we’ve got the coastal delegation — those that are here — to sign that.”

State Rep. Carl Wayne Gilliard, D-Savannah — the lead sponsor of the resolution — introduced it on the House floor. He said it’s meant to show the intention of the coastal delegation to protect around 1.1 billion jobs involved in fisheries, tourism and related industries.

“We’re just standing united for Georgia’s coast, urging that there are no efforts of seismic testing or offshore drilling,” Gilliard said.

The Rome News Tribune writes about education legislation that passed the Georgia legislature.

[B]ills that have been passed by the house and senate include a $3,000 state-wide raise for teachers, mandatory recess for elementary students in kindergarten as well as first- through fifth-grades and required computer science classes for middle and high schools.

The $3,000 pay raise was called a down payment by Kemp, who promised a $5,000 raise across the board once he was elected. The standing governor announced the raise on Jan. 17 along with $30,000 to each school to be used for security purposes. The budget containing these two items has been passed by the house and senate and await Kemp’s signature.

Beginning in the 2019-2020 school year, state schools will be required to give kindergarten through fifth-grade students a daily recess providing around 30 minutes of outdoor time. Schools are not required to give students recess if they have physical education or other activities scheduled for the day according to the bill. The bill calls for local school boards to create their own policies regarding recess time for elementary school students.

The Georgia General Assembly also passed Senate Bill 108 which will now require middle and high schools to incorporate a computer science class into the curriculum. According to the bill less 0.5% of high school students take a computer science course. The bill says there is a growing number of computer science jobs in the state of Georgia, and the logical thinking taught in these classes has become valuable.

Congressman Buddy Carter (R-Pooler) has requested that Georgia be excluded from offshore energy development, according to the Savannah Morning News.

In a letter to Acting Secretary of the Department of the Interior David Bernhardt, Carter wrote, “As the representative of the First District of Georgia, I was elected to represent the entire coast of our state and to be their voice in Washington.”

“As you know, the issue of offshore energy exploration off the Atlantic Coast has been raised, first by the Obama administration and now by the Trump administration. This is of great interest to the residents in the First District of Georgia as proposed plans have included opening the waters off our coast for possible energy exploration and development.”

“I understand the benefits that have been realized for local economies and tourism industries on the Gulf Coast due to offshore energy. I also understand the importance of offshore energy to an all-of-the-above energy strategy that is critical for our national defense as well as in our efforts to lower energy costs for Americans.”

“While I will continue to be an ardent supporter of American energy independence, I believe that the will of our state and local communities must be respected in a decision of this magnitude. That is why I want to bring to your attention a resolution that overwhelmingly passed in the Georgia House of Representatives this week opposing offshore energy development off Georgia’s coast. The resolution passed in the legislature this week was preceded by the approval of resolutions opposing offshore energy development by several municipalities.”

“Elected representatives of Georgia have voted, and I believe that the federal government should respect the people of Georgia to make this critical decision for themselves. That is why I write today to request that Georgia be excluded from offshore energy plans until the concerns of the legislature are addressed.”

Anthony Oliver, an announced candidate for Mayor of Savannah, was arrested and charged with stalking, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Anthony Oliver, who has declared his intent to run in the November election to be Savannah’s next mayor, was arrested Tuesday by Pooler police on aggravated stalking charges.

The arrest comes after a protective order against Oliver was issued in Effingham County Superior Court in September that prohibited him from contacting the petitioner or approaching her within 500 yards.

A restraining order had previously been issued against Oliver in California in 2004, according to the September order.

In June 2017, Oliver pleaded guilty in California Superior Court in San Diego to driving under the influence within 10 years of a previous DUI conviction and driving with a suspended license. His guilty plea stemmed from an incident that occurred Feb. 27, 2016, according to the court documents.

Macon-Bibb County declined an application by a movie theater for a license to sell alcohol, according to the Macon Telegraph.

The outcome of Tuesday night’s alcohol license vote means the company that operates the AmStar 16 Macon theater can appeal by requesting that a hearing be held. A special master would then issue a report that would come back to the County Commission for a decision.

Tuesday’s vote was 5-3 against granting the license. Commissioners Mallory Jones, Elaine Lucas, Joe Allen, Bert Bivins and Valerie Wynn opposed the license.

Mayor Robert Reichert told commissioners on different occasions that if a business meets the legal requirements for an alcohol license but it’s not approved, then “we could be opening ourselves up to a lawsuit,” said Chris Floore, assistant to the county manager for public affairs.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, by early 2017 alcohol was already being sold at more than 400 locations of three largest movie chains in the U.S.

Columbus High School received one of six inaugural Military Flagship School Awards from the Georgia Department of Education, according to the Ledger-Enquirer.

CHS principal Marvin Crumbs estimated 10 percent to 15 percent of the school’s 1,262 students have a parent on active duty in the military.

“When you travel from school to school, you want to feel safe,” Crumbs said. “We want to actually provide a home-like feeling while you’re at school. So we welcome them in, we meet their needs, and anything they need while they’re here we try to go above and beyond in making those things happen.”

The state awards reflect the important economic role that the military plays in Georgia. Rep. Dave Belton, Chair of the Military Affairs Working Group in the Georgia House, noted the military provides the state an average of an estimated $28 billion in annual economic impact.

“The Pentagon has repeatedly told us that education is their number-one issue when looking at bases,” Belton said in the GaDOEs news release. “That’s why I’m so excited about this Military Flagship program. This emphasis on military children will go a long way toward making Georgia the most military-friendly state in the nation. But most of all, it’s the right thing to do for the men and women who sacrifice their lives for our freedoms.”

Cleveland City Council placed a “brunch bill” referendum on the November 5 ballot, according to AccessWDUN.

Mayor Shan Ash read aloud the content of the ballot question:

“Shall the governing authority of the city of Cleveland, Georgia be authorized to permit and regulate Sunday sales of distilled spirits or alcoholic beverages, for the beverages purposes by the drink from 11 a.m. until 11:30 p.m.”

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