Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for September 11, 2019

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Sep

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for September 11, 2019

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I was in my car that morning, on the way to my job when I heard on the radio of the first plane hitting. The announcers thought at first that it must be a small plane and likely an accident. Seventeen minutes later all doubt vanished as the second hit. Over the next hour, a third plane hit the Pentagon and a fourth went down in a field in Pennsylvania. We watched on television as the towers burned, then collapsed.

Shortly afterwards, the Family Room opened in a nearby tower to provide a place for loved ones to grieve out of the public eye.

The Family Room opened in April 2002 in space donated by Brookfield Office Properties, the owners of 1 Liberty Plaza, across Church Street from the trade center site. By presenting what was known as a medical examiner’s family identification card, victims’ relatives were admitted during regular workdays and at night, on weekends and on holidays.

On the 20th floor, behind a door marked “The Family Room,” relatives could settle into ample leather couches or stand at windows 15 and 20 feet wide. The room was intended for “quiet contemplation,” said a 2002 notice from the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, which created and maintained the space, just a few doors down from its own headquarters and those of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum at the World Trade Center Foundation.

When the Family Room at 1 Liberty Plaza was replaced this summer by a new private gathering space in the National September 11 Memorial Museum pavilion, the [New York] State Museum and the memorial museum painstakingly documented the older room, and the State Museum acquired what contents family members themselves did not choose to reclaim.

There are materials in the Family Room collection related to about 1,000 victims, Mr. Schaming said, or roughly one-third of all casualties that day. “It is the most singular collection of the faces of people who were killed on 9/11,” he said.

A monument on Long Island to victims of 9-11 will include the names of 582 people who later died of conditions related to the aftermath of the attacks.

A separate plaque will have the names of 582 police officers, firefighters, construction workers, cleanup volunteers and others who spent time in the rubble of the World Trade Center in the days or months after the attacks and, years later, died of a variety of causes that they, their families or their doctors suspected were linked to toxic ash and smoke at the site. There will be room to add more names.

“I think what the town of Hempstead is doing is nothing short of honorable,” said John Feal, a longtime advocate for 9/11 responders with health problems. “People who lost a loved one to illness suffer just like someone lost on that day. Hopefully this will offer some ease and comfort to them.”

In May, officials at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum announced plans to set aside a commemorative space at the World Trade Center to honor rescue and recovery workers.

New York’s police and fire departments also have memorials for personnel who have died of illnesses since Sept. 11. A 9/11 memorial in Staten Island recently added a plaque with the names of residents there who have died of illnesses.

Feal’s charitable organization also maintains a memorial wall to 9/11 responders in Nesconset, New York.

One day after Perry’s victory in the Battle of Lake Erie, American Master Commandant Thomas Macdonough led American forces in the Battle of Plattsburg at Lake Champlain, New York on September 11, 1813.

The Union Army began evacuating civilians from Atlanta via Lovejoy’s Station on September 11, 1864.

Georgia-born Ty Cobb took his last at-bat on September 11, 1928.

After a week-long Presidential campaign swing through ten states, former Governor Jimmy Carter returned to Plains on September 11, 1976.

On September 11, 1985, Pete Rose broke Ty Cobb’s career hit record, notching number 4,192 against the San Diego Padres.

Two years ago today, all 159 counties in Georgia were under an emergency declaration from Hurricane Irma.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Governor Brian Kemp ordered flags on state buildings and grounds flown at half-staff today and a moment of silence at 8:46 AM.

It may take months to move the M/V Golden Ray from where it capsized in the St Simons Sound, according to the Savannah Morning News.

A Coast Guard officer says it could take “weeks, if not months” to remove a cargo ship that overturned while heading to sea from a port on the Georgia coast.

Coast Guard Cmdr. Norm Witt told news reporters Tuesday that marine salvage experts are working on a plan to remove the 656-foot (200 meter) long Golden Ray from St. Simons Sound near the Port of Brunswick. Asked how that would be done, he said: “We don’t have all the answers right now.”

Meanwhile, Witt says the Coast Guard is trying to reopen the port to limited commercial traffic by Thursday — though he called that timeline “aggressive.”

From The Brunswick News:

The priorities of Coast Guard, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and other agencies handing the shipwreck’s aftermath now include combatting water pollutants in nearby waters, removing the behemoth 25,000-ton, 656-foot-long ship from the sound and reopening the shipping lane to the Port of Brunswick — a vital cog in the community’s economy.

The investigation is being headed by the U.S. Coast Guard and the National Transportation Safety Board. It could take a long time before that investigation is completed and shared with the public, officials agree.

The Coast Guard updated Glynn County Commissioners:

Cmdr. Norman Witt took the podium to give the commissioners the latest on the situation.

Once the crew was safely away, the salvage operation began. He told the commissioners he didn’t want to sugarcoat the situation, and that it looked like salvage operations would take a month or more.

“It could go a month or potentially longer. Months, plural,” Witt said.

The Coast Guard established a unified command composed of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, contractor Gallagher Marine Systems and the ship’s owner, Hyundai Glovis, among several others, he said.Along with the members of the command, Witt said “world leaders” in salvage operations have been brought in to assist. Salvage rests in the hands of the unified command, while the investigation into exactly what caused the ship to tip is handled separately.

The command is very cognizant of the risks posed by pollution and loss of business at the Port of Brunswick, he said.

While he said the estimate seems aggressive to him, he told commissioners the channel may be open to commercial traffic by Thursday.

It won’t be open to full operations, however. Precautions will have to be taken to ensure ships coming in don’t destabilize the Golden Ray.

“I don’t want to say there will be no pollution. That’s not realistic,” Witt said.

Containment booms — inflatable barriers used to contain oil spills — have been deployed, he said, but they are less effective in strong currents than they are in calm waters.Commissioner Bill Brunson asked if the salvagers will attempt to pump the fuel tanks out.

Any oil in the water and on the beaches will impact wildlife in some way, Witt said.

The Coast Guard has called in conservation groups and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, to help track the current and mitigate the harm to local wildlife.Witt wrapped up by saying he appreciated how helpful the Golden Isles community has been and offered to meet with the commissioners in the future or hold town halls for the public.

A case of West Nile virus in a human has been reported in Chatham County, according to the Savannah Morning News.

An adult living in Chatham County has been diagnosed with West Nile virus, a potentially serious illness transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected mosquito.

This is the first human case in the eight-county Coastal Health District in 2019, and the fourth human case of West Nile virus in Georgia this year.

Chatham County Mosquito Control first detected and reported West Nile in a sample of local mosquitoes in early July, and the virus quickly spread throughout the mosquito population across the county. Already, 2019 is the second most active year for West Nile virus in Chatham County mosquitoes after 2011. That year 10 people contracted the disease.

“We’ve been telling people all along it’s in mosquitoes,” said Coastal Health Spokeswoman Ginger Heidel. “We let them know it was widespread. It’s not surprising we’re seeing it in a person.”

The State of Georgia has banked a record $3 billion dollars in the rainy day fund, according to the AJC.

Despite some iffy revenue numbers at times during the year, the state ended the recently completed fiscal 2019 with a record nearly $3 billion in its rainy day reserves.

Preliminary figures set the reserves at $2.971 billion for the fiscal year that ended June 30. The reserves are important because they potentially cushion the impact of any economic downturn by helping the state fund everything from schools to health care programs for a quarter of Georgians.

The current reserves equate to funding state government for about a month, which is more than many if not most states have set aside.

Kemp has ordered state agencies to cut 4 percent from their budgets this year and 6 percent next year. He was recently praised by one of the agencies that rates bonds – money the state borrows for construction projects – for being fiscally proactive.

State agency responses to Gov. Kemp’s requested budget cuts include hundreds fewer jobs, according to the AJC.

Hundreds of state jobs would be eliminated and positions frozen — from consumer protection staffers and drivers license workers to school safety coordinators — under plans drawn up to meet Gov. Brian Kemp’s demand to cut spending.

Many state programs would be scaled back or eliminated too, according to documents obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution under the state Open Records Act. Some of the proposed cuts have trickled out in recent weeks as state agencies worked to meet the governor’s demand to reduce spending.

Their submissions are the first step in Kemp’s plan to cut 4 percent from most program budgets this fiscal year and 6 percent next year — which begins July 1 — to both prepare the state in case of an economic downturn and provide the money needed to meet his priorities, such as higher teacher pay.The state is expected to announce Wednesday that tax collections for August fell 2.8 percent, or about $50 million, from August 2018. The state saw up and down revenue collections earlier this year, but the administration was able to increase the state’s rainy day reserves to a record nearly $3 billion when fiscal 2019 ended on June 30.

The Georgia House and Senate are planning budget hearings later this month and officials said the meetings will go forward, despite earlier objections from the Kemp administration, which initially didn’t want to participate. In typical years agencies submit spending proposals to the governor, who reviews them over the fall and makes recommendations to the General Assembly in January.

All at a time when a lot of current economic signs point to Georgia’s economy being in pretty good shape overall.

Some of the agency budget plans submitted to the Office of Planning and Budget are vague and will leave the governor with a lot of questions when he meets with department leaders in coming weeks.

Their submissions are the first step in Kemp’s plan to cut 4 percent from most program budgets this fiscal year and 6 percent next year — which begins July 1 — to both prepare the state in case of an economic downturn and provide the money needed to meet his priorities, such as higher teacher pay.

The state is expected to announce Wednesday that tax collections for August fell 2.8 percent, or about $50 million, from August 2018. The state saw up and down revenue collections earlier this year, but the administration was able to increase the state’s rainy day reserves to a record nearly $3 billion when fiscal 2019 ended on June 30.

The Georgia House and Senate are planning budget hearings later this month and officials said the meetings will go forward, despite earlier objections from the Kemp administration, which initially didn’t want to participate. In typical years agencies submit spending proposals to the governor, who reviews them over the fall and makes recommendations to the General Assembly in January.

Kemp surprised lawmakers, and many agency leaders, by calling for budget cuts in August. Allotments to agencies for most programs will be reduced starting Oct. 1.

Not everything will be cut equally across state government. Some massive enrollment-driven programs — such as K-12 schools, universities and Medicaid, the health care program for the poor and disabled — are exempt.

In all, only about 23% of the state-funded portion of the budget was not exempted. Agencies on the hook for cuts include the departments of Agriculture, Corrections, Driver Services, Public Health, public defenders, the Georgia State Patrol, the GBI, most of the Department of Natural Resources, and the administration of K-12 schools and colleges.

Federal relief money for last year’s Hurricane Michael will start flowing soon, according to the Macon Telegraph.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced Monday that his federal department would begin accepting applications for more than $3 billion in aid that Congress set aside for farmers in a disaster relief package signed into law earlier this summer.

Farmers in roughly 80 Georgia counties that were designated presidential emergency disaster zones in 2018 are eligible for the money, as well as the victims of floods, tornadoes and other natural disasters over the last two years, Perdue said.

That includes Hurricane Dorian, which plowed through the Bahamas and the Southeast coast last week.

The agriculture money is the first major chunk of disaster relief funding to be released since President Donald Trump cleared a $19 billion emergency relief package in June, ending eight months of partisan gamesmanship over Puerto Rico aid.

Yet another federal lawsuit has been filed over Georgia voting procedures, according to the Valdosta Daily Times.

The Coalition for Good Governance, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law and a group of attorneys — including Atlanta attorneys Bruce Brown and Cary Ichter — filed a supplemental complaint challenging the reliability of the state’s new touch-screen voting system, saying it violates constitutional amendments.

The voter advocates filed the complaint after a federal judge ruled last month that Georgia needed to do away with its old voting system. Widely opposing electronic voting, the nonprofit group, the Coalition for Good Governance, was planning to sue over the new system as well.

The suit says the new Dominion Voting System has security flaws similar to the previous DRE system, was not tested and certified properly and, if implemented, violates the First and 14th Amendments protecting voters rights to a transparent and anonymous process.

Tess Hammock, spokeswoman for the Secretary of State’s office, said the new system is separate from the old DRE system being challenged in court.

“The new Ballot Marking Device system is completely different from the DREs which are the subject of the suit,” Hammock wrote in a statement. “It is a different technology, on a different platform, from a different vendor. To try to say they are related somehow is an illogical leap. These machines haven’t even been used yet in Georgia so they aren’t even ripe to be litigated at all.”

New voting machines were on display in Duluth yesterday, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

On Tuesday in Duluth, the Georgia Secretary of State’s office offered a first look at new voting machines that will be used in the 2020 presidential primaries in March, and eventually the 2020 general election in November.

These machines won’t be utilized in Gwinnett County election precincts until March 2020, but a storefront at Duluth’s Paragon Shopping Center was the site of a preview of the new technology on Tuesday. Johns Creek City Councilman Jay Lin introduced officials with the Secretary of State’s office before representatives with the company that will provide new machines conducted a demonstration.

The poll machines are a hybrid touch-screen and paper ballot voting device. The voter inserts a card into a machine with a touch screen to cast their ballot. A paper ballot is printed and delivered to a device that scans and records both the original paper ballot and a digital image of the ballot.

“We really improved the confidence in the elections,” [Georgia Secretary of State Brad] Raffensperger said. “When we do that, I think it really helps take out some of the polarization that we have and some of the concerns that people have. We can drill down and get those answers, then the race is over and we can move on to the next race.”

Starting with fall municipal elections, there will be six pilot counties using the ballot marking device with touch screen technology— Lowndes, Decatur, Carroll, Paulding, Bartow and Catoosa. Raffensperger said there are approximately 2,000 machines that will operate in those counties.

“They’ve not been hacked, but we understand that hackers never sleep, and nor can we,” Raffensperger said. “That’s the advantage of this. When you have a paper ballot, first of all, you can do a physical recount. So when you have a close election that’s within a half percent, we can open up the box and have a paper ballot to count.”

There will also be a hand-marked paper ballot pilot in Cobb County, a test of a system that would be used in the event of a power outage or weather event, as Raffensperger put it, but theoretically also in the event of human or mechanical error.

The Glynn County Board of Elections complained about a lack of information from the state on new voting machines, according to The Brunswick News.

A lack of information from the Georgia Secretary of State’s office may disrupt the Glynn County Board of Elections’ plans to educate the public on the state’s new voting machines.

At the board’s Tuesday meeting, Elections and Registration Supervisor Chris Channell said the secretary of state’s office told local officials they would get a few voting machines early for training and public information purposes. Glynn County will not use the new machines in an election until the March 2020 presidential primary.

Two weeks into September, and he’s received no word on when those machines might arrive.

“This is government inaction,” said board member Tommy Clark. “They told us one thing, and now we’re learning the real story.”

In other business, the board continued discussing plans to move three polling places.

State House District 152 voters will elect a new State Representative (or send two candidates into a runoff) on November 5, 2019, according to the Albany Herald.

[State Rep. Ed] Rynders announced last week that he is stepping down after 17 years in the House because of health issues and a recent move to St. Simons Island, where his wife, Jane, is working as a teacher. Rynders revealed in an interview with The Albany Herald that he suffered a heart attack last June and continues to have health concerns.

“Several have encouraged me to finish my term (the special election will fill the HD 152 unexpired term, which runs through the 2020 session),” Rynders told The Herald last Thursday. “I don’t ever want to be seen as a quitter, but my health and my family’s future have to be my No. 1 priorities.”

In a move that will save the state money, the special HD 152 election will be held in conjunction with the Nov. 5 municipal elections being conducted in the communities that encompass the district, including Leesburg and Sylvester.

As word of Rynders’ decision spread throughout the region, a number of candidates started to express interest — some openly, others behind closed doors — in a run for the seat. Among those who have been mentioned as possible candidates are Lee County Commission Chairman Billy Mathis, Lee Commissioner Rick Muggridge, Leesburg Mayor Jim Quinn, Dennis Roland, Gail Drake, Tyler Johnson, Jim Thurmond and Mary Egler.

Georgia has the nation’s 3d-highest rate of people without health insurance, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

Georgia’s uninsured rate rose slightly in 2018, to 13.7%, the U.S. Census Bureau reported Tuesday.

That gives Georgia the nation’s third-highest rate of people without health insurance. The state trails only Texas and Oklahoma.

Georgia had the fourth-highest percentage in 2017.

The Georgia increase is small enough not to be statistically significant, said Bill Custer, a health insurance expert at Georgia State University. But he added, “We’ve lost ground to other states’’ whose uninsured rates have dropped in recent years.

Custer pointed to several possible factors in the rise in the uninsured rate. They include cuts in federal funding to publicize the ACA’s health insurance exchanges, which offer a way for low-income people to buy coverage. The feds have also cut funding for special counselors, or “navigators,” who assist people in using the exchanges.

State Rep. Katie Dempsey (R-Rome) Chairs the House Study Committee on Infant and Toddler Social and Emotional Health, according to the Rome News Tribune.

Rep. Katie Dempsey will convene on Thursday the first of several meetings examining how – and why – the state can encourage better models for early childhood development.

The Rome Republican chairs the House Study Committee on Infant and Toddler Social and Emotional Health. She said the inaugural session will be from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. in Room 606 of the Coverdell Legislative Office Building in Atlanta.

Among the scheduled speakers is Douglas County Juvenile Court Judge Peggy Walker. She’ll talk about how early intervention in cases of “social-emotional health challenges” can affect the criminal justice system.

Erica Ferner-Sitkoff, executive director of Voices for Georgia’s Children, will talk about the current state of behavior health services for children and several pediatricians will explain how toxic stress and adverse childhood experiences affect brain development.

The committee is tasked with evaluating a range of mental health services and making legislative recommendations on how to best support young children and families. It runs through Nov. 30.

Candidates for Mayor of Valdosta met in a public forum Monday night, according to the Valdosta Daily Times.

Hosted by the Lowndes County Democratic Party, Kevin J. Bussey, Scott James Matheson, J.D. Rice and David Sumner answered questions and each explained why he should be the next mayor of Valdosta. Five people qualified for mayor but candidate Brooks D. Bivins failed to attend the event.

Each of the mayoral candidates took answers from a moderator for about an hour. The event began at 7 p.m. and ended at about 9 p.m.

Before the mayoral candidates forum, three of the four candidates for the at-large Valdosta City Council seat answered questions. Adrian J. Rivers, Jeremy L. Stone and Edgar “Nicky” Tooley attended the event. Incumbent Councilman Ben H. Norton, who qualified for reelection as a candidate, did not attend.

Dr. Debra Tann, who moderated the event, said there will be another debate held for candidates at 7 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 15, Serenity Church, 1619 N. Lee St.

Rome has hired a herd of goats to control vegetation, according to the Rome News Tribune.

Goats are being used to clear overgrowth in order to provide a view of the river to the picnic areas behind State Mutual Stadium.

A crew of 10 Kiko goats was cut loose near one of the picnic areas spaced out on the trail behind the ballpark Tuesday. Rome Public Works Director Chris Jenkins hopes they will have a large area cleared to provide views of the river, perhaps even access to the riverbank for fishermen.

Ashley Lindsay of Glitzy Goats said the goats will clear any of the aggressive vines, briars and privet.

“They don’t eat grass and things like that. They’ll clear it out real well. All of this camouflage and treescape you see will be gone.”

Augusta Technical College will receive a federal grant from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

The school received $150,000 to continue its Nuclear Engineering Technology Workforce Scholars Program. The program aims to further the accomplishments of previously funded projects, to recruit and train students to work in a nuclear environment and provide scholarships to at least 16 students.

NRC awarded 45 grants to 33 academic institutions in 19 states and Puerto Rico for a total of $15 million in the 2019 fiscal year, according to the commission. Congress authorized the funds for scholarships, fellowships and faculty development.

Bulloch County public school students will make up days missed due to Hurricane Dorian in November, according to the Statesboro Herald.

The Bulloch County Schools will add two class days, Nov. 25 and 26, to make up for the two days cancelled during the area’s near miss by Hurricane Dorian, Superintendent Charles Wilson has decided.

Since Sept. 2 was Labor Day and Sept. 3 was a scheduled student-free workday for teachers, the cancellation of classes on Wednesday and Thursday, Sept. 4-5, left students with only Friday as a school day last week.

Nov. 25 and 26 are the Monday and Tuesday before Thanksgiving, which is Nov. 28 this year. Previously, students and school employees would have had the entire week, Nov. 25-29, as holidays. But Nov. 25 and 26 had been designated as potential make-up days since the current school year, 2019-20, calendar was approved by the Board of Education back in January 2018.

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