Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for March 4, 2020


Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for March 4, 2020

On March 4, 1762, legislation was passed by the Georgia General Assembly requiring church attendance on Sundays.

The first Session of the United States Congress was held on March 4, 1789 at Federal Hall in New York City. Congress would not have a quorum for another month.

On March 4, 1861, Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated as President of the United States.

In his inaugural address, Lincoln promised not to interfere with the institution of slavery where it existed, and pledged to suspend the activities of the federal government temporarily in areas of hostility. However, he also took a firm stance against secession and the seizure of federal property. The government, insisted Lincoln, would “hold, occupy, and possess” its property and collect its taxes. He closed his remarks with an eloquent reminder of the nation’s common heritage:

“In your hand, my fellow countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The government will not assail you. You can have no conflict without being yourselves the aggressors. You have no oath in Heaven to destroy the government, while I shall have the most solemn one to preserve, protect, and defend it… We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

Also on March 4, 1861, the Confederate Congress adopted a first national flag.

Confederate 1st National Flag 1

This flag is depicted with varying numbers of stars – originally adopted with seven stars, by December 1861, a version with thirteen stars was flying.

Confederate 1st National Flag 2

Ronald Reagan and Nancy Davis were married on March 4, 1952 in Los Angeles, California.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Early Voting has begun across Georgia, according to the Dalton Daily Citizen News.

In Whitfield County, early voting can be done in the Board of Elections office in the courthouse weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Friday, March 20. Saturday voting is on March 14 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

In Murray County, early voting is at the Murray County Recreation Center (651 Hyden Tyler Road) weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday voting is March 14 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Early voting was moved to the recreation center due to the size of the new voting machines, Murray County Chief Registrar Larry Sampson said.

The Athens-Clarke County Board of Elections voted to require hand-marked paper ballots instead of using the new state voting system, according to AccessWDUN.

The Athens-Clarke County Board of Elections voted 3-2 Tuesday to have voters mark their selections by hand on paper ballots that will be tallied by a scanner for the presidential primary election, board Chair Jesse Evans confirmed to The Associated Press in a statement sent by text message late Tuesday.

The board found it “impracticable to use the new electronic voting system to meet the state and federal legal requirements” that it “protect absolute ballot secrecy while allowing sufficient monitoring of the ballot marking devices in use,” Evans wrote.

State law allows county election officials to opt for hand-marked paper ballots when using electronic voting machines becomes “impossible or impracticable.”

The primary is the first time Georgia’s new voting machines and election management system are being used statewide. Early voting began Monday for the March 24 contest.

From the AJC:

Elections Board Chairman Jesse Evans said the new voting system can’t comply with state and federal requirements for voters to be able to vote in private.

“The Athens-Clarke County Board of Elections is not legally permitted to use an electronic ballot marker that does not permit voting in absolute secrecy so that no person can see or know any other elector’s votes, except when he or she has assisted the elector in voting,” Evans said in a statement.

State election officials didn’t comment on the Athens vote.

Athens voters will bubble in their choices for president on a paper ballot, then feed it into the new voting system’s optical scanners, which can read both hand-marked and computer-printed ballots.

Incorrect ballots that show voters an election they are not qualified to vote in will have that question disregarded, according to AccessWDUN.

A mistake on the March 24 ballot has voters in Gainesville and Buford voting on a question they are not eligible to decide, but officials insisted Tuesday the error would not affect the integrity of the vote.

At issue is the vote on the extension of the education special purpose local option sales tax – or ESPLOST. Voters in both cities have a question on their ballots about the $258 million bond referendum being requested by Hall County. But only residents of unincorporated Hall County should be able to vote on that issue.

Early voting started Monday for the March 24 election, which is also the presidential preference primary in Georgia.

Nothing is missing from any of the ballots, officials said. But Gainesville and Buford voters will see an extra question. Votes on that question will not be counted.

Two lawyers seeking to run for Georgia Supreme Court were turned away from qualifying, according to the AJC.

Former U.S. Rep. John Barrow and ex-state Rep. Beth Beskin both were barred from submitting paperwork to qualify for the seat held by Justice Keith Blackwell, who last month announced plans to resign in late November.

The Secretary of State’s office cites state law that requires elections to be canceled if the governor makes an appointment within six months of an election. The vote for this seat was set to be held in May, when party primaries are scheduled.

But this situation is unusual because Blackwell announced he wouldn’t step down until Nov. 18, weeks after the Nov. 3 general election. Blackwell will still sit on the bench until then, drawing a paycheck and drafting opinions.

“It’s my legal opinion that the position isn’t vacant,” said Beskin, who tried to qualify on Tuesday but said she was told by elections officials the seat wasn’t eligible.

Under the Gold Dome Today – Legislative Day 24





10:00 AM HOUSE FLOOR SESSION (LD 24) House Chamber



1:00 PM HOUSE Reeves Subcommittee of Judiciary Non-Civil 515 CLOB




2:00 PM HOUSE Occupational Professional Licensing Subcommittee of Regulated Industries 406 CLOB










3:00 PM HOUSE State and Local Subcommittee of Governmental Affairs 403 CAP

3:00 PM HOUSE Environmental Quality Subcommittee of Natural Resources and Environment 515 CLOB



4:00 PM HOUSE Elections Subcommittee of Governmental Affairs 403 CAP


SB 323 – Professions and Businesses; patient protection measures; undergoing sedation in certain settings; provide (Substitute)(H&HS-32nd)

SB 372 – Public Health; provisions; modernize, clarify, and update; certain councils and committees; eliminate (Substitute)(H&HS-19th)

HB 792 – Supplemental appropriations; State Fiscal Year July 1, 2019 -June 30,2020 (Substitute)(APPROP-4th) Ralston-7th

SB 395 – County and Municipal Hospital Authorities; standard of indigency; proceeds from the sale or lease of a hospital by a hospital authority; revise (H&HS-1st)

SB 407 – Forest Resources and Other Plant Life; harvest and sale of palmetto berries; regulate (Substitute)(NR&E-7th)

SB 429 – Code Revision Commission; statutory portion of said Code; revise, modernize, correct errors or omissions in, and reenact(Substitute)(JUDY-3rd)

HB 105 – Income tax; certain income received by taxpayers as payments from a disaster relief or assistance program administered by the United States Department of Agriculture in connection with Hurricane Michael; exempt (Substitute)(FIN-51st) Watson-172nd


Modified Structured Rule

HB 897 – State Forestry Commission; create a standing timber notification website; require (A&CA-Burchett-176th)

HB 918 – Pharmacies; various provisions relating to the practice of pharmacy; revise (Substitute)(SCQHC-Cooper-43rd)

HB 946 – Insurance; extensive revisions regarding pharmacy benefits managers; provide (Substitute)(SCQHC-Knight-130th)

HB 947 – Community Health, Department of; engage an actuary to conduct a study of the fiscal impact of carving out pharmacy benefits from the state’s current Medicaid care management organizations; require (SCQHC-Knight-130th)

HB 969 – Housing; certain provisions pertaining to unlawful practices in selling or renting dwellings and the procedures, remedies, and judicial review related thereto; change (Judy-Efstration-104th)

Structured Rule

HB 882 – Sales and use tax; exemption for the sale of food and foodingredients to qualified food banks; eliminate sunset period (W&M-Houston-170th)

Georgia officials don’t expect coronavirus to interrupt voting in the Presidential Preference Primary, according to the Valdosta Daily Times.

Because of the high number of interactions with voting equipment, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has outlined steps voters should take to protect themselves while casting their votes.

“At this time, we do not anticipate any disruption to Georgia’s Presidential Primary due to coronavirus,” Walter Jones, spokesman for the Secretary of State’s office said in a statement. “We are monitoring developments carefully with our local, state and federal partners as we plan for record turnout during the May statewide primary and the November general elections.”

Under Georgia’s election emergency statutes, if an emergency occurs within 10 days of an election the county superintendent may move the polls to another location whether inside or outside the precinct. Code also states that provisional ballots may be used to cast votes if an emergency renders machines unusable — it is unclear if the statutes would apply to a public health emergency.

Some polling places are more equipped to handle crowds than others, the CDC recommends poll workers double-check bathroom soap dispensers to make sure there is enough for the estimated number of voters. Poll workers should provide alcohol-based hand sanitizer to use before or after contact with voting machines.

Health officials suggest disinfecting voting equipment regularly. Based on current evidence, according to the CDC, the novel coronavirus may remain contractable for hours to days on surfaces of many materials.

Georgia state schools have suspended overseas programs in three countries due to coronavirus, according to the AJC.

The University of Georgia sent notice to 84 students Friday in its study abroad program in Italy that the program has been suspended and those in Italy are being brought home. The UGA students in Italy cannot return to campus in Athens until conducting a two-week self-quarantine, it said in a message to those students. Georgia State and Kennesaw State universities said Monday they are asking students who had been in South Korea, another nation struggling with the virus, to act similarly upon their return.

About 50 Georgia Tech students in a study abroad program in France, many of whom recently traveled to Italy, are under a two-week quarantine. Georgia Tech said in a statement Monday the self-quarantine is being done “out of an abundance of caution and at the direction of French and international health agencies.”

Some Georgia schools are considering halting all study abroad trips, which has been recommended by the CDC. Morehouse College, a private, historically black college in Atlanta, on Friday suspended upcoming study abroad programs to Ghana and Senegal because flight connections were in areas in which cases of the coronavirus disease have been reported. To date, no Georgia students have been diagnosed with the deadly virus.

Camden County Schools issued advice for parents on coronavirus, according to The Brunswick News.

The school district has posted instructions on its website with recommendations on how parents should respond to children showing flu-like symptoms.

They are asking parents to keep their children at home if they are too sick to be comfortable at school or if they might spread a contagious disease.

School officials said they are working closely with the Georgia Department of Public Health to remain proactive and take all proper precautions to prevent the spread of infection in all schools and buildings.

“We will follow the directions given by the Georgia Department of Public Health and the Centers of Disease Control, and will keep you updated as new information becomes available,” according to the school district’s website.

Hall County also released new guidelines related to coronavirus, according to AccessWDUN.

According to a press statement issued Tuesday afternoon, the district is now requiring the following:

Parents or guardians of current students and registering new students who have traveled outside of the United States in the past 14 days must call their respective schools for guidance regarding COVID-19. Parents should call prior to their child coming to school or attending any school activity – before, during or after school. This also includes students who have had family members or individuals living at home who have traveled outside of the United States in the past 14 days.

Hall County School District team members who have traveled outside of the United States in the past 14 days should contact their principal or direct supervisor prior to coming to work or to any school campus activity – before, during or after school hours. This also includes school volunteers, community coaches and all team members who have had family members or individuals living at home who have traveled outside of the United States in the past 14 days.

The Georgia State House Regulated Industries Committee recommended passage of HB 879, according to the AJC.

Almost a decade after the General Assembly approved Sunday alcohol sales by stores, lawmakers may be moving to allow them to deliver beer and wine to Georgians.

The measure’s sponsor, Rep. Brett Harrell, R-Snellville, the chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, said it’s a matter of convenience for Georgians who are increasingly getting groceries delivered.

House Bill 879 won approval Tuesday from the House Regulated Industries Committee and now heads to the full chamber for a vote.

House Bill 44 by State Rep. Bert Reeves (R-Cobb) would limit eligibility for Dual Enrollment programs, according to the Capitol Beat News Service.

Reeves, R-Marietta, has pointed out costs for the program allowing high-school students to take post-secondary classes have swelled from around $23 million in 2015 to as high as around $140 million projected for the 2021 fiscal year.

Reeves’ bill would cap dual enrollment at 30 hours per year for most students and scrap several course offerings that do not deal with core subjects, such as aerobics classes.

College-level classes would also be nixed for freshman high schoolers and 10th graders would be limited to courses at technical schools only unless they qualify for the state’s Zell Miller scholarship, which requires students to maintain a 3.7 grade point average or better.

Only upper-class students in the 11th and 12th grades could take classes at college and universities in Georgia.

The State House passed two bills aiming to bring greater certainty to medical billing for patients, according to The Center Square.

HB 888 has been dubbed the Surprise Billing Act by its authors. The bill was proposed by state Rep. Lee Hawkins, R-Gainesville, and it protects patients who have plans that fall under the jurisdiction of the Georgia Department of Insurance.

“I hope that you all will vote for this bill, so when you go home you can look at your friends and your family, and say, ‘We, together, solved this problem, and you will no longer get a surprise from them,’ ” said Hawkins, who added that he has been working on the bill for five years.

If the Surprise Billing Act becomes law, when a patient goes to an in-network emergency room for treatment and he or she is seen by an out-of-network physician, the patient would not be subject to any surprise charges. The act prohibits the medical provider from billing the patient.

The legislation mirrors Senate Bill 359, which was approved by the Georgia Senate last week.

HB 789 would require the Department of Insurance to create an online surprise-bill rating database. Every health plan would be given marks based on the chances of receiving an unexpected bill for seeing a select list of specialists.

The State Senate will vote today on the House version of the budget reconciliation bill for the current fiscal year, according to the Georgia Recorder.

“What we tried to do was to look at service reductions and where we could, restore services that directly affected children, the elderly, the disabled and essential public safety needs,” said Georgia state Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Jack Hill, just before his committee unanimously approved amendments to the state budget for the year that’s now eight months old.

The total budget still comes to $27.4 billion because the governor sets revenue projections. But Hill said the Senate found savings the governor didn’t with things like later starting dates for new employees, spending trends that indicate surpluses anticipated by the end of the year or other efficiencies.

With the amended 2020 budget negotiation nearly wrapped up, the state House and Senate can turn more attention to the 2021 $28.1 billion spending plan.

The House and Senate will work out their differences on both budgets in conference committees and send consensus budgets to the governor for his review. House Speaker David Ralston has warned that the 2021 budget negotiations could drag well into April.

The Georgia Senate voted to place a nonbinding question about Daylight Savings Time on the November ballot, according to the Gainesville Times.

The bill, which passed 53-0, would add a nonbinding referendum question to ballots during this year’s November general election. Voters would be asked if the state should keep things as they are today, switch to year-round standard time or switch to year-round daylight saving time, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

The outcome of the nonbinding vote wouldn’t result in any immediate change, but would be used to draft future legislation.

Savannah City Council wants to be able to destroy seized firearms, according to the Savannah Morning News.

This year’s agenda included requesting legislation that would allow local law enforcement the option to destroy confiscated firearms.

Currently the state requires that firearms be sold.

State Sen. Lester Jackson, D-Savannah, has introduced Senate Bill 39, which would allow cities to destroy guns used in a crime after they are no longer needed for evidence in court.

Other gun-related measures introduced this year include bills that would restrict access to guns for those with mental illness; restricting those that can sell guns at guns shows to dealers; outlawing carrying guns into government buildings; repeal of campus carry; restrict producing guns with 3D printers; restricting guns for people convicted of domestic violence crimes; a reinstatement of fingerprint requirements for background checks on gun license renewals; ban of bumpstocks and classification as a machine guns; training requirements to obtain a weapons license and background checks for any firearm sold in the state.

Meanwhile, some legislators want to repeal the prohibition on brandishing guns, according to the Union Recorder.

Sen. Tyler Harper, R-Ocilla, introduced the legislation that would make it legal for gun owners to show their firearms during an argument as long as they don’t “aim it offensively” at another person.

The bill passed the Senate Judiciary Committee in a 5-3 party-line vote, in a committee meeting that went late into the evening Monday.

Harper said the purpose of the legislation is to “decriminalize” displaying a firearm and allow firearms to be brandished when attempting to deescalate a situation.

Currently in Georgia, gun owners can be charged with felony aggravated assault and face up to 20 years in prison if they draw their firearm during a dispute.

The legislation revises definitions that would allow weapons to be carried in churches and in courts that aren’t holding judicial proceedings or officers of the court aren’t conducting business.

“My argument is, just because I have a weapon on my person and I show that weapon, that I should not be charged with a felony — a 20 year felony at that,” Harper said in committee, “for simply brandishing my firearm in my attempt to deescalate what I consider a situation where I feel threatened.”

Thomas Weaver, a gun rights activist, said that under current law if you shoot someone in self defense and it is upheld in court as such, you get off “scot-free.” But if you show someone your weapon and don’t fire it, he said, that can be aggravated assault.

“It’s actually easier to just go ahead and shoot somebody if they’re threatening you,” he said.

Speaker David Ralston and State Rep. Houston Gaines (R-Athens) introduced legislation to extend paid parental leave to state employees, according to the AJC.

Georgia House GOP leaders unveiled a bill Tuesday that would grant three weeks of paid parental leave to nearly 250,000 state employees, extending the popular benefit to k-12 teachers, University System of Georgia staffers and other new parents for the first time in the state’s history.

Rep. Houston Gaines, R-Athens, announced House Bill 1094 during a press conference with Speaker David Ralston and roughly a dozen Republican House committee chairmen.

“We must remain competitive with the private sector and keep our best and brightest employees,” Gaines said.

Currently, state employees qualify for 12 weeks of unpaid leave, as required under federal law.

“This legislation is going to directly impact the lives of so many constituents who are starting families in my district,” said Gaines, who represents a competitive district near the University of Georgia that’s flipped twice since 2017.

Whitfield County Republicans will have at least two candidates for a Commission seat, according to the Dalton Daily Citizen News.

Republican Dan Lewallen of Rocky Face qualified for the Whitfield County Board of Commissioners District 4 seat. A retired member of law enforcement, he’s now a cattle farmer and small business owner. Republican Greg Jones, the incumbent from District 4, qualified on Monday. Jones, a lifelong Whitfield County resident, was first elected to the Board of Commissioners in a 2007 special election.

A fifth Republican, Ben Bullock, qualified on Tuesday for the U.S. House of Representatives seat from the 14th Congressional District, which includes Whitfield and Murray counties. The incumbent, Republican Tom Graves of Ranger, announced last year he would not seek another term.

Bullock, an Air Force veteran and small businessman, joins Republicans Kevin Cooke, a state representative from Carrollton who is the associate athletic director at Shorter University and who has been a member of the legislature since 2011; John Cowan, a neurosurgeon at Rome’s Harbin Clinic; Dalton’s Clayton Fuller, an attorney; and Rome’s Marjorie Taylor Greene, co-owner of Taylor Commercial Inc., in the race.

From the Rome News Tribune:

As qualifying continues through noon on Friday, four of the congressional candidates were in Rome Tuesday to speak at the Floyd County Republican Women’s Luncheon.

Fuller, Greene, Cowan and Bill Hembree all touched on topics of healthcare, student loans, term limits and immigration at the luncheon.

Hembree has yet to formally qualify for the race.

Congressman Buddy Carter (R-Pooler) drew a Republican challenger, according to The Brunswick News.

Danny Merritt qualified for the First District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives and will face incumbent Buddy Carter, who qualified Monday, in the May primary. Democratic challenger Joyce Griggs also qualified for the seat on Monday.

The Statesboro Herald looks at local qualifying after two days.

After two days of candidate qualifying for the upcoming party primaries and nonpartisan general election in Bulloch County, contests are confirmed for sheriff, State Court solicitor, coroner and three Board of Education seats.

Keith Howard, who had announced his intentions last year, qualified Tuesday as a candidate for sheriff. Sheriff Noel Brown had qualified Monday to seek a second term, and both he and Howard signed up as Republicans, so they will face off in the May 19 Republican primary.

Three Republican candidates qualified Monday to run for the position of state court solicitor-general, vacated by Gov. Brian Kemp’s appointment of Joseph Cushner as state court judge. Those three are the current assistant solicitor general, Mark A. Lanier, and Ogeechee Judicial Circuit assistant district attorneys Catherine Sumner Findley and Ben Edwards.

The Ledger-Enquirer writes about candidate qualifying for local Columbus-area elections.

The Floyd County Sheriff’s Office will host a public meeting to discuss the federal 287(g) partnership, according to the Rome News Tribune.

“The main purpose of this meeting is to provide the public with an opportunity to come in and learn more about the program,” FCSO Maj. Bob Sapp said.

He said the meeting is also an opportunity for the other law enforcement agencies in the area to learn about the ICE partnership program.

The meeting will start at 9 a.m. at the new Floyd County Jail Training Center at 2526 New Calhoun Highway.

The sheriff’s office partnered with ICE in 2018 to enact a 287(g) partnership program in Floyd County. The program allows the county to perform limited immigration law enforcement functions.

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