Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for January 17, 2020

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Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for January 17, 2020

On January 17, 1733, Georgia’s Trustees in London voted to ban Jews from the colony.

On January 18, 1776, James Wright, Royal Governor of Georgia, was arrested by John Habersham, a member of the Provincial Congress.

Robert E. Lee was born on January 19, 1807 at his family home, Stratford Hall, Virginia.

Delegates to the Secession Convention in Milledgeville voted 208-89 in favor of seceding from the United States on January 19, 1861.

On January 19, 1871, Savannah, Georgia became the first city to recognize Robert E. Lee’s Birthday as a public holiday.

L.Q.C. Lamar, born near Eatonton, Georgia, was sworn in as an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court on January 18, 1888.

On January 16, 1919, the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, prohibiting alcoholic beverages, when Nebraska became the 36th of the 48 states then in the Union to ratify the Amendment.

Martin Luther King, Jr. began the Chicago civil rights campaign on January 17, 1966.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Click here for the text of the State of the State address.

From the AP/US News:

ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp said raising teacher pay is one of his top goals as he gave his second annual State of the State address Thursday, a stance that could put him on a collision course with legislative leaders who want to cut income taxes.

The Republican governor announced that his budget proposal includes a $2,000 pay raise for public school teachers, at a projected cost of more than $380 million. It’s the second part of a campaign promise for a $5,000 teacher pay raise, after Kemp was able to secure a $3,000 raise for educators last year. He also wants a $1,000 pay raise for other state employees making less than $40,000 a year, at a cost of $45 million.

In his budget proposal, also released Thursday, Kemp projects strong growth in the income tax in the year beginning July 1. A spokesman didn’t immediately answer whether that means Kemp isn’t planning for the tax cut to happen.

Kemp called not only for a teacher pay raise, but for lawmakers to continue fully funding Georgia’s public school funding formula, which suffered a long period of reduced funding coming out of the recession, leading to teacher layoffs and furloughs.

Kemp also announced a plan to triple the adoption tax credit from $2,000 to $6,000, lower the minimum age for a person to adopt a child from 25 to 21 and launch a commission focused on the operation of the state’s foster care system.

Kemp honored former Gov. Nathan Deal and former U.S. Sen Johnny Isakson in his speech, suggesting a call for Republican unity as Democratic competition rises in the state. He also mentioned his appointment of GOP Sen. Kelly Loeffler to replace Isakson, saying she will do an “incredible job” representing the state and its best interests.

The governor also announced that the University of Georgia will create a faculty position to research treatments for Parkinson’s disease. Isakson has the disease, which helped prompt his retirement.

From WTOC:

Governor Kemp, during his speech highlighted, the unemployment rate that is just 3.3 percent, the lowest in Georgia history. He says in the past 12 months the state has added 64,000 private sector jobs and of the 371 economic development projects announced in 2019, 79 percent were outside of Atlanta. Governor Kemp says he feels the State of the State is strong and it’s only just beginning.

From the AJC’s Greg Bluestein:

SURPRISE MEDICAL BILLS

Decrying a “rigged” system, Kemp backed legislation that would bring more transparency in healthcare billing and combat “surprise” bills that have fast become a target of lawmakers. A Senate plan unveiled this week designed to curb patients’ risk of facing unexpected charges could be the framework.

“Families are living on a prayer because the system is rigged against them,” said Kemp. “This year, we will implement long overdue reforms that put our families first.”

GANG VIOLENCE

The governor invoked the story of Deborah Rider, whose 10-year-old son Nicholas was killed a decade ago in a drive-by shooting, as he outlined legislation to “empower” law enforcement and prosecutors to better combat gang violence.

He offered scant details on the proposal, though he’s recently said he would boost funding for an anti-gang task force he launched last year and a promised database to track gang members.

From the AJC’s James Salzer:

The $2,000 raise [for teachers] in the upcoming fiscal year — which begins July 1 — would cost the state about $350 million. If approved by the General Assembly, how much teachers receive will depend on whether school districts pass along the raise. Most did last year.

The governor’s $28 billion budget plan for fiscal 2021 does not account for the huge hit state finances would take if lawmakers vote to cut the top state income tax rate from 5.75% to 5.5%. Lawmakers reduced the rate in 2018 and set up a possible vote on another cut this year.

Reducing the rate again would cost the state — and save taxpayers — about $550 million. If lawmakers vote to cut the rate again, they will have to cut the budget or find another way to raise money.

Kemp’s spending plan includes nearly $2 million for seven new positions in the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s Gang Task Force and resources to set up the statewide gang database.

From another story by the AJC’s Greg Bluestein:

The Republican’s State of the State address Thursday was not targeted at his conservative base. It seemed tailor-made, instead, to appeal to another audience: suburban voters, particularly women, whose recent exodus threatens GOP control of Georgia’s Statehouse in 2020.

Kemp’s narrow election victory two years ago, squeezed tight by Democratic gains in the General Assembly from across metro Atlanta’s suburbs, seemed firmly on his mind as he unveiled his legislative agenda to a crowd of hundreds of lawmakers and state officials packed into the House chamber.

Absent from his address was mention of measures that would promote “religious liberty,” curb illegal immigration or expand gun rights — campaign promises sure to fire up his conservative base but risk alienating moderate voters.

From the Savannah Morning News and Capitol Beat News Service:

Gov. Brian Kemp unveiled a $28.1 billion budget proposal Thursday that would set a new record for state spending in fiscal 2021 despite the air of fiscal uncertainty surrounding this year’s General Assembly session.

While the spending plan would surpass the then-record $27.5 billion fiscal 2020 budget lawmakers passed last spring, the increase would be far less than the $1.3 billion spending hike the legislature adopted a year ago.

Just keeping up with enrollment growth in Georgia’s public schools is a big budget driver. Kemp is asking for $257.2 million to cover enrollment growth in the schools.

A commission the General Assembly created last year to oversee Georgia’s new medical cannabis program would receive $354,577. Supporters of expanding the availability of cannabis oil in Georgia to treat a number of diseases have been complaining about the program’s slow start due to a lack of funding.

Another $316,461 would go toward increasing election security as the state switches over to new voting machines that feature both electronic touch screens and paper ballot backups.

From the Valdosta Daily Times:

Health care initiatives on the horizon

During the State of the State address, Kemp defended his highly criticized health-care waiver proposals. He said the waivers “shake up the status quo and put patients first, not special interests.”

In additional health-care legislation, Kemp pushed lawmakers to address “surprised billing” which Senate leaders noted early on it’s on their list and already filed legislation.

“Surprise” or balance[] billing is when patients receive bills following medical treatment for doctors and staff that are independent contractors of a hospital, but not covered by the patient’s insurance.

“We will demand transparency, embrace empathy and insist on fairness,” Kemp said.

The Savannah Convention Center could receive $70 million dollars in bond financing under Governor Kemp’s budget, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Governor Brian Kemp is recommending $70 million in bond funding to keep the planned expansion of the Savannah Convention Center on Hutchinson Island on track in his Amended Fiscal Year 2020 and Fiscal Year 2021 Governor’s Budget Report, which was released Thursday, Jan. 16.

During the 2019 State Legislative Session the Center’s governing board, then known as the Georgia International Maritime Trade Center Authority, requested $234 million for the expansion, which would be among numerous statewide projects funded through revenue public bonds underwritten by the state, which typically issues more than $1 billion in bonds each year.

House Bill 276, addressing sales tax collections, passed the House and Senate after a conference committee proposed a compromise bill. From the AJC:

The House and Senate agreed Thursday to legislation aimed at forcing “marketplace facilitators” whose websites or apps are used to sell goods or services, provided by someone else, to collect and remit sales taxes. It would go into effect April 1.

Different versions of the bill passed the chambers last session, but the two sides couldn’t strike a deal.

“This money is owed. There hasn’t been an efficient way to collect it,” said Senate Finance Chairman Chuck Hufstetler R-Rome.

House Ways and Means Chairman Brett Harrell, R-Snellville, the measure’s sponsor, and Hufstetler said the bill, if signed into law by Gov. Brian Kemp as expected, would put internet- and app-based companies on par with Georgia stores that have always charged sales taxes for their goods.

From the Dalton Daily Citizen News:

Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, asked legislators to vote in favor of House Bill 276 to speed up the bill adoption process, so the law could go into effect April 1 and taxes could be collected.Both Hufstetler and Brett Harrell, R-Snellville, the House lead on the bill, were quick to tell colleagues the measure does not impose new taxes “on anybody” but only collects taxes already owed.

“Georgia has a tax on transportation services,” Harrell told reporters after the vote. “Our traditional transportation services, taxis and limos, have been paying a sales tax for years and years and years in the state of Georgia.”

“If you are a private owner of a property that you make available on the VRBO, this does two things that should be an advantage to us as private property owner,” he said. “Number one, it puts the responsibility on the platform, that entity, to collect and remit. Number two, it relieves you of the responsibility and the liability for collecting it.”

From the Cherokee Tribune & Ledger News:

Both chambers in the Georgia General Assembly passed the bill Thursday afternoon. It now heads to Gov. Brian Kemp’s desk. If signed, tax collections would begin on April 1.

Along with retail giants Amazon, Google, and Walmart, the tax would apply to sales made on mobile apps run by Uber. Earlier versions of Thursday’s compromise bill stalled last year in the legislature when Uber sought an exemption to the tax.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome, said the compromise bill nixes exemptions across the board. It would set up a structure to recoup taxes that Hufstetler said the Georgia Department of Revenue are already owed under state law, but are not being collected.

“There’s no special breaks for anybody in it,” he said.

Some lawmakers like Sen. Renee Unterman voted against the bill on grounds that it seemed too close to a tax increase to stomach. Unterman, R-Buford, said she would have backed the compromise bill if she felt more certain that lawmakers would also pass an income tax decrease later this session.

“I’m just concerned about it being a tax increase,” Unterman said of the bill after Thursday’s floor vote.

House Resolution 882, praising the killing of Qassem Soleimani, passed the State House, according to the AJC.

House Defense and Veterans Affairs Chairman Heath Clark, R-Warner Robins, said Thursday he introduced the resolution as a way to laud the death of Qassem Soleimani, the leader of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ elite Quds Force.

“It was a way to show our support for the men and women of the intelligence community, the men and women of our armed forces that carried out the mission and the commander-in-chief of the military for giving the order for the mission to be executed,” Clark said.

House Resolution 882 says the members of the chamber “urge the American people to support” Trump and the military for the successful killing of Soleimani.

Only one Republican — Tiger Republican state Rep. Matt Gurtler — crossed party lines to vote against the resolution, which passed 93-68. Gurtler, who votes “no” more than any other legislator, is known for voting against nearly every proposal that passes through the chamber.

Wes Wolfe of The Brunswick News receives the GaPundit award for best opening line of a story about state legislation.

If House Resolution 882 were to pass through the state House of Representatives any faster than it did this week, it’d have to be attached to a greased pig.

But with extensive talk about the time needed to address budget cutbacks this session and the limited time to do so, the House took more than 30 minutes after the governor’s State of the State address to talk about the killing of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani.

State Rep. Heath Clark. R-Warner Robins and chairman of the House Defense & Veterans Affairs Committee, spoke on the resolution to the House.

“This resolution we have today is simple, and it’s to urge the support of and commend the intelligence agencies that gathered the information, the brave men and women of the United States armed forces, and the commander-in-chief, President Trump, for this successful mission,” Clark said. “A mission that resulted in the loss of zero innocent civilian life because of the precision and the excellence of our men and women in the armed forces and the intelligence community that gathered the information to carry out this successful mission.”

H.R. 882 passed the House with just a few votes more than the majority needed, 93-68. Along with Sainz, St. Simons Island Republican state Reps. Jeff Jones and Don Hogan voted yes.

New State House Rules Chairman Richard Smith (R-Columbus) discussed how his committee will run this year, according to The Brunswick News.

State Rep. Richard Smith, R-Columbus, took over chairmanship of the committee from former state Rep. Jay Powell, R-Camilla, who died in November.

“Somebody asked me the other day why we weren’t meeting at 8 o’clock, and I said, ‘That’s too early for me to have a meeting,’” Smith said at the outset of the meeting. “I used to be harassed a lot about my 8 o’clock meetings.”

Among the guidelines he set down were that if the meetings were scheduled at a certain time, they would begin at that time so as not to waste others’ time.

“Also, this is not a place for debate,” Smith said. “This is a place to evaluate a piece of legislation to see if it’s good enough to make it to the House floor for a vote. In regard to that, it’s the place to ask legitimate questions about a bill, or a piece of legislation, not to debate it.”

He said legislators introducing bills would get about a minute and a half to explain themselves, and there would only be four questions allowed per bill.

“Four questions,” Smith said. “Not, ‘If I ask one, can I get a second?’ It’s going to be a total of four questions. So, when the time comes for you to ask your questions, push a button (to activate your microphone) and we’ll proceed from there.”

Georgia continues delivery of new voting systems to local governments, according to the AJC.

It’s the largest rollout of elections equipment in U.S. history, with more than 75,000 computers and printers destined for 2,600 voting precincts across Georgia.

State election officials say they’re ahead of schedule. About 88% of voting touchscreens have been received and passed acceptance testing at the state’s warehouse.

About 37% of counties had received their voting equipment as of Tuesday, a number that’s expected to rise to 70% by Jan. 23, according to the secretary of state’s office.

All voting equipment is scheduled for delivery to counties by mid-February, in time for early voting to begin March 2.

The Lowndes County Board of Elections met and discussed rollout of new voting machines and budget changes, according to the Valdosta Daily Times.

The Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles commuted the death sentence of Jimmy Fletcher Meders, according to AccessWDUN.

Jimmy Fletcher Meders, 58, had been scheduled to receive a lethal injection at 7 p.m. Thursday at the state prison in Jackson. But the State Board of Pardons and Paroles released its decision granting him clemency around 1 p.m.

The board held a closed-door clemency hearing for Meders on Wednesday.

Meders is only the sixth Georgia death row inmate to have a sentence commuted by the parole board since 2002. The last to have a sentence commuted was Tommy Lee Waldrip, who was spared execution on July 9, 2014.

Meders was sentenced to death in 1989, four years before a change in the law that allowed a sentence of life without the possibility of parole for capital cases. In the clemency application submitted to the parole board, his lawyers argued that it was clear that the jury wanted that option.

The application cited a note the jurors sent to the judge after 20 minutes of deliberations: “If the Jury recommends that the accused be sentence to life imprisonment, can the Jury recommend that the sentence be carried out without Parole??”

Meders’ lawyers also gathered sworn statements from the six jurors who are still alive and able to remember the deliberations. They all said they would have chosen life without parole if it had been an option and supported clemency for Meders.

University of Georgia Terry College of Business Dean Ben Ayers discussed the state of the economy, according to The Brunswick News.

The economic outlook for 2020 is a “good news forecast,” according to the state forecast by Ben Ayers, dean of the University of Georgia Terry College of Business. Ayers was the keynote speaker Thursday at the Georgia Economic Outlook luncheon at the Jekyll Island Convention Center.

The good news is Georgia’s economy is expected to expand this year, though not as much as 2019. Geopolitical risks could slow down the state’s growth, however.

“We have a greater exposure to the trade war than the average state, especially in rural Georgia,” Ayers said. “At this point, we’re not expecting a recession.”

More new companies will move to Georgia, adding a 1 percent increase in the job market, but rural areas could struggle with a “minor recession,” Ayers said.

The region’s 2.7 percent unemployment rate is “truly extraordinary,” he said.

“We’re not the only local economy doing well, which makes it difficult to attract workers,” he said. “Each county is growing.”

Savannah City Council approved a legislative agenda, according to the Savannah Morning News.

the council voted unanimously to adopt the 2020 City of Savannah Legislative Agenda. This document of legislative priorities was given some last-minute amendments after concerns were raised on some proposals during the pre-meeting workshop, including one about requesting sovereign immunity to limit the city’s liability when trees on public property cause damages.

The City Council is expected to further discuss the 2020 legislative agenda at their next regular meeting.

Ogeechee Technical College professor Michele Fiorelli-Rupar will run for Bulloch County Coroner as a Democrat, according to the Statesboro Herald.

Hall County Tax Commissioner Darla Eden announced she will run for reelection, according to the Gainesville Times.

An injured Right Whale calf off the coast of Georgia and Florida received antibiotics in an attempt to help it survive injuries, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Wildlife officials on Wednesday administered antibiotics to a newborn right whale calf seriously injured by the propeller of a vessel.

Two teams in Zodiac boats relocated Derecha and her injured calf off Fernandina Beach Wednesday Jan. 15. Once the aerial team confirmed it was the correct pair and re-assessed the baby, an on-site veterinarian determined antibiotics would benefit the calf.

The boat-based team administered the drugs with the hopes of preventing infection.

The calf received nearly 50 ml of the long-acting antibiotic Excede delivered by dart launched from about 7 meters away, said Barb Zoodsma, who oversees the right whale recovery program in the U.S. Southeast for NOAA Fisheries.

Both mother and calf remained calm throughout the procedure, Zoodsma said.

From The Brunswick News:

The mother, Derecha, is around 27 years old, having been first spotted in December 1993. She’s calved three other times, with the last time being 2010. The 10-year gap in calving is one of many factors putting North Atlantic right whales on a path toward extinction. With around 400 whales or less in existence — and only around 100 or so of those are calving-age females — each calving cycle counts.

Right whales only give birth to one calf per cycle, and these cycles used to occur every three or four years. Calving females have to build up a significant amount of blubber on which to sustain themselves and their calf before traveling south to calve, returning north. However, warming oceans is causing their main food source, zooplankton, to move north, which causes issues with finding food and with making the trip south and back a longer one.

As a result, in the last several years, these calving cycles lengthened, as seen with Derecha.

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