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

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

August 1 was a big day for Benjamin Mays – he was born on August 1, 1895 and became President of Morehouse College on August 1, 1936.

PT-109, commanded by LTJG John F. Kennedy was sunk on August 1, 1943.

On August 1, 1982, Hank Aaron was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Georgia Power has placed the first order in three decades for nuclear fuel for a new nuclear reactor, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

Georgia Power said Tuesday it has ordered the first nuclear fuel load for its Plant Vogtle unit 3 reactor under construction south of Augusta.

The order is the first for a new U.S. reactor “in more than 30 years,” the company said in a statement.

The 157 uranium fuel assemblies will be loaded into the unit 3 reactor vessel once it begins operating in late 2021. The 14-foot tall assemblies also will eventually be ordered for unit 4, which is expected to come online in 2022.

Total employment at the units 3 and 4 construction site have reached 8,000 workers, making it the largest construction project in the state, the company said. When complete, the new reactors will create 800 permanent jobs.

The unit 3 containment vessel top was placed earlier this year during a visit from U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Gov. Brian Kemp, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and all five members of the Georgia PSC.

Roughly one-third of the reactor fuel in units 3 and 4 will be replaced every 18 months during scheduled refueling and maintenance periods, similar to units 1 and 2.

Georgia Power is the lead owner of the project, which is co-owned by Oglethorpe Power, a supplier of power to electric membership cooperatives; MEAG Power, an electric supplier for city-owned utility companies; and Dalton Utilities, the electric utility for the city of Dalton, Ga.

The AJC writes that Georgia’s hope of a Medicaid waiver has dimmed.

Gov. Brian Kemp is putting together the plan, a “waiver” request to the federal government that might include a limited expansion of Georgia’s Medicaid coverage. A component of that plan had been to request that the federal government fund almost all the cost, 90% of it, as if it were a full Medicaid expansion to all of Georgia’s poor. That’s a big bump from the standard federal funding match of 67% that Georgia normally receives for providing Medicaid coverage.

Georgia had support for the idea at high levels. As late as May, Seema Verma, the administrator of the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, or CMS, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the 90% match for Georgia could be on the table.

The Trump administration this past weekend rejected a conservative proposal for Utah with limits similar to Georgia’s.

“Late Friday the State of Utah received a call from the White House informing state leaders that its most recent Medicaid waiver request, which had yet to be formally submitted, would not be approved,” Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and legislative leaders said in a joint statement. The Utah leaders said they were “deeply disappointed.”

National reports cited anonymous White House sources saying no state, including Georgia, would receive the 90% match for limited Medicaid expansion.

Democratic Socialists of America are convening in Atlanta this week, according to the AJC.

The DSA and its supporters have long been a favorite punching bag for Republicans, though the attacks have taken a sharper edge as Trump and his allies try to turn anti-socialism into an even more potent political weapon in 2020.

But this year democratic socialists are also enjoying a growing movement buoyed by last year’s midterm elections and a leftward tilt among some top 2020 presidential hopefuls who are embracing liberal issues such as Medicare for All and wiping out student debt.

The DSA, founded in 1982, is trying to capitalize on the newfound interest. Membership soared after Trump’s victory, and organizers say they now count 56,000 members nationally and expect as many as 1,000 delegates for the convention in Atlanta, which runs Thursday to Sunday.

There’s a sense of momentum. The organization scored major victories in the 2018 midterms by sending its first two members to Congress — U.S. Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib — and notching wins in lower-level races.

Its highest-profile members in Georgia include Khalid Kamau, a Black Lives Matters organizer who was elected to the South Fulton City Council shortly after Trump’s inauguration. He plans to welcome the delegates Friday with a message focusing on smashing the “electability complex.”

Employees of the Georgia State House of Representatives may soon be eligible for paid family leave, according to the Gainesville Times.

The policy will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2020, and will apply to employees on the occasion of birth, adoption or foster care placement.

“We are committed to a culture of life in Georgia and that includes giving children the best possible start as they are welcomed into their new families,” said Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, said in a statement. “This new policy will also be a valuable employee benefit to help us attract and retain the highest caliber staff to serve Georgia’s citizens. Many of Georgia’s top employers offer similar benefits, and we want to remain competitive in today’s job market.”

Employees need to have worked for the House for at least a year to be eligible and can only take the family leave once a year.

According to a statement from the Georgia Senate, the Senate is also considering changing its policy.

“The Georgia Senate has been vetting its own paid family leave policy, one similar to that which was announced by the House, with a scheduled roll-out planned for January 2020,” the statement reads.

Former Georgia Congressman Lynn Westmoreland (R) has waited nearly 2 years for Senate confirmation of his appointment to the AMTRAK Board, according to the AJC.

former Georgia Congressman Lynn Westmoreland has waited more than 660 days to join Amtrak’s board of directors due in part to a showdown over passenger rail service in Kansas.

The parochial fight isn’t the only factor that’s slowed the Coweta County Republican’s path to the advisory board: a lack of Senate floor time, scrutiny of Westmoreland’s congressional record and broader mistrust over the Trump administration’s commitment to passenger rail service have also played a role.

It’s unclear when Westmoreland will receive a confirmation vote, but there’s some muted hope senators could approve him as part of a batch of nominees before the chamber adjourns for its August recess.

Kansas’ Jerry Moran has placed a hold on Westmoreland and two of President Donald Trump’s other Amtrak board picks for months, which he’s been using to convince Amtrak to continue operation of the Southwest Chief, a Chicago to Los Angeles route that passes through portions of Kansas.

A Gwinnett County meeting to discuss the 287(g) program went off the rails, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

“You’re a white supremacist!” one woman shouted from the back left side of the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center auditorium.

“You’re a coward and a sorry little…” a man yelled several minutes later from the opposite back corner, leaving his sentence unfinished.

The comments, which were directed at two separate panelists, gave voice to tensions that, at times, ran high through GJAC’s auditorium Wednesday night during a “community engagement discussion” about the Gwinnett County Jail’s 287(g) program.

Wednesday’s discussion about 287(g), which was organized by Gwinnett County District 4 Commissioner Marlene Fosque and featured six panelists — three from what Fosque called the “benefits,” or pro-287(g) side, and three from the “impact,” or anti-287(g) side, — was intended to foster a dialogue between the program’s supporters and opponents, the commissioner said.

“Our sheriff’s department has participated in the 287(g) program for about 10 years, yet no one has brought the two sides together to decide what are the benefits of 287(g) and decide what is the impact,” Fosque said. “I’m a newly-elected commissioner, so I’m trying to do new things. I pray at the end of this discussion, (attendees) walk away with a different perspective, or at least a new perspective.”

Suicides in Bibb County have reached a higher number this year than for all of 2018, according to the Macon Telegraph.

Coroner Leon Jones said there have been 16 suicides this year, compared to 14 in all of last year. He previously had last year’s number at 15, but one of those was later determined not to be a suicide.

At the current pace, this year’s suicides would exceed the 24 the county had in 2017, which Jones said is the most the county had in his 29 years with the coroner’s office.

Houston County Coroner Danny Galpin said there have been 13 suicides in the county this year, but that’s compared to 27 last year.

Jones said he has no explanation as to why suicides are up this year in Bibb. Ages range from 27 to 70, and causes vary. But he said the most common factor is domestic issues, usually involving relationships falling apart.

Among the common signs of people who may be at risk of suicide are social withdrawal and loss of interest in things that the person once cared about. But often, mental health experts say, there are no signs.

Anyone struggling with thoughts of suicide can also call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Bibb County school bus cameras led to more than 8000 traffic tickets, according to the Macon Telegraph.

A majority of crashes involving buses are the fault of the other driver, according to data from the Georgia Department of Education.

In 2017, Bibb County contracted with a company that agreed to outfit each of the district’s buses with $10,000 camera systems at no cost to the district. In return, the company, called Force Multiplier Solutions, would keep 70% of revenue from citations. The remaining 30% would be split evenly among the State Court of Bibb County, Bibb schools and the Bibb County Sheriff’s Office.

So far, the camera systems have been installed on only 75 of the district’s 200 buses.

BusPatrol so far has collected $1,269,441 from citations, Jackson said. Citations were $300 until July 1, 2018, when the law changed and reduced them to $250 a piece.

Bibb State Court Solicitor-General Rebecca Grist said about 500 tickets have been contested. If a ticket is unpaid, BusPatrol “has civil remedies it can pursue,” she said.

More than 75 seniors gathered in Statesboro to begin pushing for property tax relief, according to the Statesboro Herald.

Enacting a school property tax exemption for Bulloch County senior citizens will take a while — if the Board of Education first supports it — Rep. Jan Tankersley told interested seniors Monday.

Between 75 and 80 people, most qualifying as seniors, filled the community building at Luetta Moore Park in Statesboro to talk about the topic. It was an organizational meeting as the group prepares to address the Bulloch County Board of Education during its 6:30 p.m. Aug. 8 regular session.

Besides being the state representative whose district includes the largest portion of Bulloch County and the only one who resides in the county, Tankersley, R-Brooklet, chairs the House Intergovernmental Coordination Committee. It handles legislation specific to a county or city.

“My part actually would start if the Board of Education listens to you at your meeting and they make a motion and it passes that they are willing to give senior citizens — whatever age that is determined to be — a tax exemption,” Tankersley said. “From that point, that’s where it comes up to us, and it comes up to the House of Representatives, and it is considered a piece of local legislation.”

Some of the leaders had suggested age 70 as the minimum qualifying age for the proposed exemption. By the end of Monday’s gathering, the thinking had shifted to 65 as the general qualifying age, but with no firm conclusion, Bowen and Branch said Tuesday.

Regulations on oyster farming are still being developed, according to The Brunswick News.

NOAA Sea Grant and the National Sea Grant Law Center — with Georgia Sea Grant and the UGA Carl Vinson Institute of Government — conducted a seminar Wednesday going over new shellfish law. As observers may be aware and no doubt expected, there is a fair amount of permitting involved.

“Until the 1930s, we actually led the country with 13 canneries,” said Shana Jones, director of the Georgia Sea Grant Law program. “That has changed, obviously. Overharvesting and market changes led to a decline. And while the clumped oysters are wonderful to steam and they’re great to eat, and great for canning, tastes have changed. People don’t eat as much canned oysters as they used to, they eat them on the half-shell.”

“This is probably straight-ahead in most places, but first you have to be in approved shellfish water under the National Shellfish Sanitation Program, you have to have a right to harvest those oysters, you have to qualify for a master harvester permit, and then you have a series of licenses to get,” Jones said.

These approved waters are the responsibility of the state Department of Natural Resources’ Coastal Resources Division.

CRD is in the process of detailing the areas of the state where oyster farming will be allowed, and give notice when that occurs. There are legal considerations state regulators must take into account including navigation, fishing, swimming and other recreation.

The City of Hahira is considering a property tax increase, according to the Valdosta Daily Times.

It’s millage season, the City of Hahira is recommending $27,207 in increased property tax collections for the next fiscal year.

Though the digest appreciated and the state calls this a tax increase, Jonathan Sumner, city manager, said the millage rate for Hahira will remain the same at 4.75.

“The digest has increased, according to assessors,” Sumner said.

Two public hearings will be held, one at noon and the next at 6 p.m., Aug. 22. The final and third hearing will be held during a special called meeting at 6 p.m., Aug. 29.

Rome City Schools will pay $1.2 million dollars for a 32-acre parcel of land to use for school bus parking, according to the Rome News-Tribune.

The school system was forced to begin separating from the Rome Transit Department in February of this year after an audit determined the shared use violated Federal Transit Administration grant regulations. City students had been using RTD buses for over 30 years at that time and Rome City Schools did not have a transportation program in place.

After much planning and discussion, the board of education for RCS approved the purchase of 35 new school buses for $3.2 million. The school system has since received word that they will receive a rebate of around $77,000 for one of the school buses through a state program.

After the bus purchase was made, city school officials began to discuss where the buses will be parked.

Since the RTD facility receives federal dollars the system could not use city facilities for their bus storage and had to make other arrangements.

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