Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for January 23, 2020

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Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for January 23, 2020

On January 22, 1733, James Oglethorpe arrived at Yamacraw Bluff, where the colony of Georgia would be founded.

On January 23, 1775, the Georgia Commons House elected three delegates to the Second Continental Congress.

On January 22, 1861, following the passage of Georgia’s Secession Resolution, six delegates, including both from Gwinnett County, signed a statement protesting the decision to secede.

On January 23, 1861, Georgia’s members of the United States House of Representatives resigned following passage of the Secession Ordinance; her Senators had resigned earlier. The next day, the secession convention in Milledgeville elected ten delegates to a conference of Southern states in Montgomery, Alabama.

On January 22, 1866, Georgia Governor Charles Jenkins signed a resolution by the legislature asking for federal troops to be removed from Georgia.

On January 23, 1923, Georgia ratified the Twentieth Amendment to the US Constitution, which ended Presidential terms on January 20th following an election and those of Congress to January 3d.

On January 22, 1959, Atlanta buses were integrated after a federal court decision.

On January 22, 1973, the United States Supreme Court issued its 7-2 decision in the case known as Roe v. Wade.

On January 23, 1973, President Richard M. Nixon announced that terms had been reached to settle the Vietnam War, a document known as the “Paris Peace Accords.”

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

United States Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas will speak at the dedication of the Nathan Deal Judicial Center, according to the Gainesville Times.

Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold Melton announced Wednesday, Jan. 22, that Thomas will be on hand for the Feb. 11 dedication of Georgia’s new judicial center. The new building is near the state Capitol building.

Thomas is a Georgia native having been born in the Pin Point community near Savannah. He has served on the nation’s highest court for 28 years.

The new building is devoted entirely to the judiciary. The Supreme Court of Georgia and the Georgia Court of Appeals moved into the building last month. A new statewide business court will also be housed there.

8:30 AM JOINT HOUSE AND SENATE BUDGET HEARINGS 341 CAP

1:00 PM Joint Block Grant Hearings 341 CAP

Governor Brian Kemp announced that Amazon will open a new fulfillment center in Newnan, creating 500 new jobs.

Governor Brian P. Kemp [on Wednesday] announced that Amazon will expand its Georgia presence by launching a new fulfillment center in Newnan. Starting on day one, the e-commerce retail company will create 500 new, full-time jobs with industry-leading pay and comprehensive benefits at the new facility.

“I am excited to welcome yet another expansion of Amazon’s operations here in Georgia,” said Governor Kemp. “Our logistics infrastructure, top-ranked workforce, and nationally recognized business climate have earned us the distinction of No. 1 State for Business seven years in a row, and Amazon’s investments in the Peach State are a testament to that record of success. I am grateful for their continued partnership and looking forward to the opportunities this facility will create for hardworking Georgians and their families in Coweta County.”

“Amazon is proud to serve customers across Georgia and throughout the southeast region of the U.S.,” Alicia Boler Davis, vice president of global customer fulfillment, Amazon. “Georgia has been integral to Amazon’s ability to provide the great selection, competitive prices, and super-fast Prime shipping speeds we know our customers love. We are excited to add an additional 500 full-time jobs, industry-leading pay, and benefits starting for employees on day one, to the 3,500 Georgians already working for the company across the state.”

Amazon will lease a more than 1-million-square-foot facility at The Cubes at Bridgeport in Coweta County. The company considered multiple locations before settling on the site in Newnan.

“We are excited that Amazon, one of the world’s largest e-commerce companies, has chosen to locate in Coweta County,” said Trae Westmoreland, president of the Coweta County Development Authority. “Their significant capital investment will strengthen our local economy, and the addition of good jobs will create economic opportunity for our residents and neighboring communities. We look forward to having Amazon as a valued corporate citizen as Coweta continues to thrive.”

Amazon employees at the new facility will pick, pack, and ship customer orders.

Georgia Department of Economic Development (GDEcD) Assistant Director Hank Evans represented the Global Commerce Division in partnership with Georgia EMC and the Coweta County Development Authority.

“Georgia has become a magnet for investment from top brands like Amazon, and we are thrilled they continue to grow and create jobs in our state,” said GDEcD Commissioner Pat Wilson. “We are proud to work with our incredible economic development partners in Coweta County and throughout the state to continue churning out exciting announcements like this one as we begin the new year.”

Governor Kemp also announced Georgia will receive an $11.2 million dollar grant for education, according to the Coosa Valley News.

Georgia has received a three-year, $11.2-million Preschool Development Renewal Grant (PDG) from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Education.

Georgia is one of only 20 states to receive this grant that will allow the state to expand efforts to help families access high quality early childhood services statewide. This funding builds on an initial $2.9 million PDG planning grant the state received in January 2019.

“Georgia’s success in receiving this grant demonstrates the state’s continued leadership in early education,” Governor Kemp said. “High quality early education is foundational for children and families, and this grant will enable the state to develop and implement innovative strategies to better prepare Georgia’s children for success in school and in life.”

Gov. Kemp is in Germany on an economic development trip, according to WGXA.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp is visiting Germany on an economic development mission for his second official trip abroad.

The Republican governor departed on Tuesday and plans to return this weekend. One of Kemp’s first planned stops is a ribbon cutting at the state’s new European office in Munich.

Kemp also plans to visit several German companies with a presence in Georgia.

Governor Brian Kemp and First Lady Marty Kemp announced legislation to further combat human trafficking, according to WABE.

The proposals will include a provision making it easier for victims of human trafficking to restrict access to their criminal records and another allowing the state to permanently revoke a person’s commercial driver’s license if they’re convicted of trafficking and used their commercial vehicle to commit the crime. It would add several felonies to the list of crimes that require registration as a sex offender, including keeping a place of prostitution when the victim is less than 18.

The legislation will also seek to close what Marty Kemp called a “loophole” in current state law that allows for a guardian to engage in a sexual relationship with a foster child over the age of 16.

“Together we have made great strides to raise awareness and tackle this issue head on. But there’s still more work to be done,” Marty Kemp said. “We must strengthen our laws to hold bad actors accountable and aid our survivors in the path to healing.”

From the Gwinnett Daily Post:

The bills Kemp plans to introduce during the coming days would:

• Allow victims of human trafficking to restrict access to their criminal records. Victims caught up in prostitution networks formed by traffickers often have trouble finding jobs and/or places to live.

• Close a loophole in the state’s sex offender registry law that does not require Georgians convicted of a felony for keeping a place of prostitution, pimping and pandering to register as a sex offender. The legislation also would criminalize improper sexual contact by a foster parent .

• Allow the state to revoke the commercial driver’s license of anyone convicted of trafficking an individual for labor servitude or sexual servitude, in accordance with a new federal rule.

State Budget

Governor Kemp spoke to the Joint Budget Committee to discuss his priorities in the state’s budget cycle. From Fox5Atlanta:

The state has experienced falling tax revenues in recent months. In addition, Kemp pledged to make state government leaner and more efficient while running for governor back in 2018 and cuts in some areas will make room for him to spend money on his priorities in other areas, specifically education and public safety.

Under his budget proposal, the state’s public school teachers would get an additional $2,000 raise next year – the second portion of his $5,000 campaign promise. Kemp has also included $45 million in the budget for a $1,000 raise for full-time state employees who make less than $40,000 per year.

“I’m proud of the common sense savings included in this budget,” Kemp told lawmakers. “I believe that we’ve shown taxpayers that we’re good stewards of their hard-earned money and with this blueprint, we will continue to build a state that Georgia will be proud to call home.”

Budget hearings are scheduled through Thursday at the State Capitol.

From the (Chattanooga) Times Free Press:

Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, speaking to lawmakers Tuesday about his proposed budget, focused on efforts to cut spending without harming state services as well as his spending priorities — including $376 million for additional $2,000 raises for K-12 and preschool teachers.

“Even in this positive economic climate, to fully support our students and teachers and care for our most vulnerable Georgians and strengthen our economic development efforts, we must prioritize our existing financial resources,” Kemp said. “It means reducing costs to government while continuing to deliver excellent service for our citizens.”

Kemp left the speech without taking questions from reporters and his office didn’t immediately respond to an Associated Press inquiry about why his spending proposal doesn’t include a plan to cut the state’s top income tax rate from 5.75% to 5.5%, which had been envisioned when lawmakers cut the top rate from 6% in 2019.

But state economist Jeffrey Dorfman told a joint House-Senate budget committee hearing that Kemp’s budget omits the additional cut. Dorfman told lawmakers that changes in income taxes had been meant to avoid a state windfall because of changes in federal tax law but appear to have overshot the mark.

Kemp is seeking midyear budget cuts this year and further cuts next year because of a slowdown in state revenue. Tax receipts were barely above last year through December, although Kemp projected growth of more than $800 million through June 30. Growth from income tax receipts tanked after the tax cut, and sales tax growth also slowed.

But agency directors who spoke after Kemp on Tuesday told lawmakers that cuts would curtail services.

Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black was the most blunt. A Republican elected statewide, Black isn’t appointed by Kemp and told lawmakers the budget presents “challenges.” He said his department has eliminated 18 full-time and seven part-time vacancies, plus laid off six regular and four contract employees. Black said that, with fewer employees, his department will conduct fewer food safety, animal, gas pump and scale inspections.

“This is uncomfortable information,” Black said. ““It is of no comfort to me to present it, but it is truthful and accurate.”

From the Dalton Daily Citizen News:

Black noted his confusion of budget cuts to lawmakers Tuesday during the joint budget hearing, saying he’s never seen a perfect piece of legislation or a perfect budget — but he’s never seen “across the board cuts as a method of implementing strategic planning.”

On top of the mandated 4% and 6% cuts, the Department of Agriculture saw an additional $300,000 budget cut, which Black said he “will be seeking clarity” during committee meetings, because he hasn’t received any clarification on it.

“The challenges this budget presents [are] as follows,” Black said, “over the next 18 months there will be fewer food safety inspections. There’ll be fewer animal industry inspections. The span between fuel pump and scale inspections will grow. And the growing demand for meat inspection will have to be shifted to our federal partners.”

The Department of Agriculture will not compromise any of its emergency management abilities, Black said.

In Kemp’s budget proposal, the Department of Agriculture is set to be cut more than $1.8 million for fiscal year 2020 and more than $6.5 million in fiscal year 2021.

The department cut $161,000 of support for the Georgia Grown Program — a marketing program that promotes purchasing locally grown products. Half-a-million in vehicle cuts were in the governor’s proposal that were not in the original budget recommendations from the department, Black said.

From the Albany Herald and Capitol Beat News Service:

Georgia Commissioner of Agriculture Gary Black warned job losses in his department could seriously hamper the state’s No.1 industry.

On the first day of hearings on Kemp’s $28.1 billion fiscal 2021 budget plan, Black said he has been forced to eliminate 18 full-time vacancies, four part-time vacancies, phase out six employees and cut loose four call-center workers by not renewing their contract.

“These critical positions in food safety, animal industry, meat inspection and marketing were not held in reserve on the books,” Black told members of the Georgia House and Senate Appropriations Committees. “These were vacant positions we would have tried to fill, but due to a competitive job market, we have been unable to find qualified applicants.”

The agriculture department also needs $1 million to jump-start the growth of industrial hemp in Georgia, a lucrative crop the General Assembly voted to legalize last year.

Kemp’s budget proposes giving the new Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission $200,000 this fiscal year and just under $155,000 for fiscal 2021. Part of Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s office, the commission is the oversight arm of Georgia’s fledgling medical cannabis sector.

But those funding amounts “may be inadequate” to run the cannabis commission full-steam, Raffensperger said Tuesday, noting his staff wants a budget closer to $500,000.

From the Capitol Beat News Service:

Georgia lawmakers on both sides of the aisle showed hesitation Wednesday to sign off on budget cuts Gov. Brian Kemp has proposed for criminal justice and public safety agencies through July 2021.

“I think we all have a responsibility to reduce the fat, but we need to be careful not to be overzealous and cut into the muscle of the criminal justice system,” said Sen. Randy Robertson, R-Cataula, a retired major with the Muscogee County Sheriff’s Office.

Those cuts and others discussed Wednesday gave Rep. Al Williams pause. He said a much closer look is needed to avoid creating unexpected costs elsewhere in Georgia’s criminal justice system.

“Whether you end up paying on the front end or the back end, it’s going to cost you,” said Williams, D-Midway. “It’s a difficult time.”’

The feeling was mutual for Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold Melton. He highlighted cuts totaling about $3.5 million to the state’s accountability courts, a popular program created under former Gov. Nathan Deal that provides alternative sentencing for thousands of inmates.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Terry England also singled out the accountability courts, noting lawmakers may want to tread cautiously with a program many criminal justice advocates feel is working.

“We certainly want to take a closer look at that,” said England, R-Auburn. “We put a lot of time and energy into that over the years.”

Rep. Darlene Taylor, R-Thomasville, traced a lack of mental health services to instances of repeat crimes that she said are cropping up especially in rural parts of Georgia.

“I’m pleased that we’re looking for ways to be more efficient,” Taylor said, “But I am concerned about health care and mental health.”

Proposed changes to funding for district attorneys and public defenders has drawn scrutiny, according to The Appeal.

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp has unveiled his proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year, which will begin on July 1, 2020. In it, he asks lawmakers to slash the funds available to state public defenders by more than $3 million—and to increase the funds available to prosecutors by about the same amount.

More than $2 million of the anticipated savings would come from freezing positions that have been vacant since January 2019—in other words, from ensuring that there are no incoming public defenders to provide current public defenders with some measure of relief.

“The Public Defender Council has been under pretty much constant pressure to cut expenses, even though these cuts are already to the bone,” says Sara Totonchi, Executive Director of the Southern Center for Human Rights. “What we’re looking at is a system that is going to be reduced to the point where constitutionally-required representation is simply not going to be delivered.”

The $3 million reduction is separate from the more than $1.2 million in cuts to public defender funding that the governor recommended for the current fiscal year, which runs through June 30. Nearly all of those savings in the amended budget, too, would be attributable to a freeze on filling open positions.

On the other side of the ledger, Kemp’s fiscal year 2021 proposal would allocate $2 million for “recruitment and retention for assistant district attorneys,” and $1.2 million to hire a dozen new assistant district attorneys to work in Georgia’s Juvenile Courts. Legislators will consider Kemp’s budget in a series of hearings in Atlanta this week.

From the AJC Political Insider:

The governor’s people have quickly informed us that while the proposed cut to public defenders was their doing, the proposed increased funding for district attorneys was a decision made by the judicial branch — over which they have no control.

The Georgia State Elections Board approved changes to voting rules, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Georgia’s elections board on Wednesday approved a set of rule changes to govern the use of new voting machines that are being rushed out statewide for the state’s fast-approaching presidential primaries in March.

State Election Board members acknowledged some of the newly adopted rules may need further fine tuning. They were approved regardless because of the tight deadline for rolling out the new machines.

“Because of the timeline … what seems to work best is that we actually would implement the rules that have already been posted,” said Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, the state board’s chairman. “Then we would consider amending those rules further, to further tweak this and hone down the rules as we want them.”

Georgia’s presidential primaries are set for March 24, but advance voting begins three weeks earlier on March 2. The state is racing to distribute more than 33,000 new machines, which combine touchscreen voting with printed ballots, to Georgia’s 159 counties.

Many of the changes adopted Wednesday updated rules by replacing references to the old voting system with references to the new one. One rule, for example, specifies how the new machines are to be stored, transported and tested, as well as and how polling places are to be set up.

Former candidate for Governor Stacey Abrams had some advice for losers of elections, according to the Washington Free Beacon.

Failed Democratic Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams is urging Democrats to move beyond past elections and focus on the future.

Abrams’s Wednesday remarks to a crowd of University of New England students came despite her refusal to concede to Republican governor Brian Kemp and continued insistence that she actually won the race. Abrams struck a different tone when asked about the current 2020 Democratic presidential field.

“We have to stop re-litigating past elections and have to start planning for future elections,” she said, according to an Associated Press report. She called on Democrats to fight voter ID laws and efforts to purge voter rolls.

A Washington Free Beacon analysis found that Abrams had publicly stated she won the gubernatorial election a dozen times within six months of losing. Abrams, a former state representative, told the New York Times “I won” and argued on MSNBC that the election was “stolen” by Georgia Republicans.

Republican Public Service Commissioner Chuck Eaton was elected Chair of the Public Service Commission by his colleagues, according to PV Magazine.

Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler noted record employment numbers set through 2019, according to AccessWDUN.

Butler said in his monthly report for December the year-end numbers in all three categories were record highs. At the same time, the December unemployment rate was another record low.

“Georgia closed out 2019 on a very high note,” Butler said. “We set records right across the board on all the major indicators. It’s kind of hard to have any better year than Georgia had.”

The unemployment rate settled at 3.2 percent as 2019 came to a close. That’s down from 3.7 percent a year ago. Georgia has now set a new record low two months in a row after first tying the old record in October.

Georgia ended 2019 with a record-high 4.97 million employed residents, an increase of nearly 47,000 over the past 12 months. The number also climbed by more than 12,000 in December.

Butler said Georgia’s labor force continued to grow but struggled to keep pace with job creation and employment numbers.

“We do need our labor force to expand at a faster pace,” Butler said. “Right now, we are growing jobs three times as fast.”

For the year, unemployment insurance claims also went down. There were 291,962 unemployment claims filed in 2019 – down 6 percent from the number filed in 2018. For the month of December, however, claims rose about 78 percent.

State Rep. Kevin Cooke (R-Carrollton) announced he will run for the Fourteenth Congressional District seat being vacated by Rep. Tom Graves, according to the Rome News Tribune.

State Rep. Kevin Cooke, who is also the assistant athletic director at Shorter University, made his announcement Wednesday morning via his campaign website. He’s now the sixth Republican who has stated they’ll run for the seat.

Cooke, who has represented Georgia House District 18 — primarily Haralson and Carroll counties — since 2011, will not be stepping down from his post for the U.S. congressional run.

“Representing the people of Haralson and Carroll counties in Atlanta has been an honor, but the last nine years have not always been easy,” Cooke stated in his release. “Being in the majority taught me that political party alone is not an accurate way to measure a person’s principles and beliefs in limited government.”

He also makes the third candidate to enter the race from outside the 14th District, Floyd County Republican chair Luke Martin said.

“I’m sure they have well-thought-out reasons for why they’re running in our district instead of their own,” Martin said. “I look forward to hearing from them at our meeting this Thursday and our debate scheduled for April 17.”

 The Gwinnett County Commission approved an $800,000 study of bus rapid transit running parallel to I-85, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

 Gwinnett County commissioners approved an $800,000 contract with Kimley-Horn and Associates Inc. on Tuesday to conduct the corridor study. The county is working with the Atlanta Regional Commission as well as the Gateway85, Gwinnett Place and Sugarloaf Community Improvement Districts to pay for the study.

Funding from the ARC will cover 50% of the cost of the study while the CIDs are collectively contributing 9.4%.

“The study will establish recommendations for premium, high-capacity bus service in its own dedicated lane as well as associated complimentary land uses,” Gwinnett Transportation Director Alan Chapman said. ““The study area will include corridors just west of I-85, between Jimmy Carter Boulevard and Sugarloaf Parkway at the Infinite Energy Center.”

Rome hosted the first two of five roundtable discussions on transit service, according to the Rome News Tribune.

The firm was brought on board in November to help Rome “rebrand” its transit system after the city lost its Tripper service for public schools. It began by collecting data from riders and other community members through anonymous surveys both online and on board Main Line and Paratransit buses.

Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta and the CDC will begin screening some international arrivees for coronavirus, according to WSB-TV.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed the first U.S. case of a deadly virus that’s been spreading in Asia.

The news comes just a day after health officials confirmed the first human-to-human transmissions, which means the disease may spread more rapidly. Hundreds of people have been sickened by the virus in China and at least six people have died.

The CDC said the patient is a man in his 30s and he is in good condition. The man returned to the Seattle area Jan. 15 after traveling to the Wuhan area of China, where the outbreak began.

Officials in Atlanta said in a statement Tuesday that Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport will begin screening passengers from affected areas for the virus.

“In the wake of the coronavirus outbreak in China, Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport (ATL) is working with partners at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to mitigate the spread of all passengers and employees at ATL is of paramount concern.”

“Currently, ATL has two direct flights to Asia — to Shanghai, China and Seoul, South Korea. The CDC will be onsite at ATL’s International Terminal to process any passengers who exhibit severe symptoms or who may have come in contact with the disease.”

Lula Mayor Jim Grier gave his State of the City address and three council members were sworn in to new terms, according to the Gainesville Times.

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