Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for March 10, 2020

10
Mar

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for March 10, 2020

On March 10, 1734, a group of German immigrants reached the mouth of the Savannah River, from where they would proceed on to Savannah. Today, the Georgia Salzburgers Society works to preserve the Salzburger heritage and traditions in Georgia.

On March 10, 1866, Governor Charles Jones Jenkins signed legislation allowing women to have bank accounts separate from their husbands as long as the balance was less than $2000; an earlier act set the limit at $1000.

On March 10, 1876, Alexander Graham Bell transmitted the first speech over his new invention, the telephone.

Thomas B. Murphy was born on March 10, 1924 in Bremen, Georgia and would first be elected to office in the 1950s, winning a seat on the Bremen Board of Education. In 1960, Murphy ran for the State House facing no opposition and was sworn in in 1961. In 1973, he became Speaker Murphy and would hold the post until Bill Heath, a Republican, beat him in the November 2002 General Election.

Murphy held the top House seat for longer than anyone in any American state legislature. He died on December 17, 2007.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Fulton County Schools are shut down today because a teacher tested positive for Coronavirus. From CBS46:

Dr. Mike Looney, Superintendent of Fulton County Schools, said the person was an itinerant teacher at Bear Creek Middle School and Woodland Middle School. The teacher fell ill during their shift at Bear Creek Middle School last Friday and 911 was called. The employee is currently hospitalized. According to Looney, the teacher had “a lot of contact with students they serve and with additional staff members.”

The district said it will work with the Department of Health to help identify the names and contact information of everyone in which the teacher had contact. The district immediately closed three schools on Monday — Bear Creek Middle School, Woodland Middle School and Creekside High School. Creekside was closed because of its proximity to the middle schools, because the schools often share staff members, and since families often have students in both schools.

Looney added that closing all schools on Tuesday will give them time to pause to assess the situation and take extra precautions and cleanings. A decision on whether all schools will remain closed beyond Tuesday will be announced by 5 p.m. [Tuesday].

From the AJC:

In a sign of just how seriously officials are taking the threat of the spreading coronavirus, Fulton County opted to close all of its more than 100 schools Tuesday after a teacher was found to be infected.

That decision by Superintendent Mike Looney will leave 5% of the state’s 1.8 million students at home. The teacher, whom the superintendent did not identify, had contact with students at two middle schools in the county’s south side, Looney said.

This is the first closure of an entire school district in Georgia — the fourth largest behind Gwinnett, Cobb and DeKalb counties, and the largest governmental closure in the state thus far. The Fulton school system enrolls about 94,000 students, and employed about 10,500 full-time personnel last school year.

More Georgia cases were announced over the weekend. On Monday, Atlanta Public Schools banned all out-of-state field trips, telling would-be travelers to seek refunds or credits. DeKalb schools also canceled out-of-state travel. Atlanta’s field trips in Georgia are still permitted, but are being reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

KIPP Metro Atlanta posted Monday night on Twitter that it was closing its 10 schools, which serve 4,600 students, Tuesday due to coronavirus “out of an abundance of caution.” They promised more information by 6 p.m. Tuesday.

The Fulton students will be taking the equivalent of a snow day. The district has an online learning protocol that will not be triggered unless students are out at least three days, Looney said.

Governor Brian Kemp held a press conference to discuss the current state of preparedness. From WSB-TV:

Gov. Brian Kemp says Georgia has at least six confirmed cases of COVID-19, the coronavirus, and at least 11 other presumptive positive cases that have yet to be confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“As the cases become more numerous across the country, we are definitely going to see more cases here in Georgia,” Kemp said Friday. “We are ready.”

PRESUMPTIVE CASES:

Fulton County: 2
Cobb County: 3
Fayette County: 1
DeKalb County: 2
Gwinnett County: 2
Cherokee County: 1

The governor also spoke about the state’s move to ready Hard Labor Creek State Park in Morgan County for potential use of isolating and monitoring patients.

The move is being made “out of an abundance of caution,” the governor said.

Officials have already delivered and installed seven emergency trailers at the park.

“To prevent the disruption of ongoing operations, access to this specific part of Hard Labor Creek State Park is strictly limited to official use,” the governor’s office said in a release.

Kemp Tweet Coronavirus 03102020

I take editorial note that it appears Gov. Kemp was assisted by a sign language interpreter in this press conference. That’s awesome.

Gov. Kemp and state health officials also suggested that vulnerable people avoid large crowds, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

As part of a press conference on Monday, Kemp and Georgia Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Kathleen Toomey addressed what people should do if they feel sick, or are part of vulnerable populations, such as senior citizens or people with chronic health issues.

That included attending events where large crowds may gather.

“If you’re sick, do not go to work (and) do not attend large public events,” Kemp said. “You will put others at risk. If you’re elderly, or having underlying chronic conditions, avoid large events and stay away from loved ones and friends who are sick.”

Toomey said the virus seems to be hitting seniors and people with chronic health conditions harder, based on what the state’s health officials have seen with the cases in Georgia so far.

“That’s one of reasons why the recommendation has come from the federal government, as the governor noted, that we need to ensure we are protecting the older people in Georgia as well as those with chronic health conditions (and) advise them not to go out into crowds,” Toomey said.

Georgia’s health public health commissioner also encouraged residents to have someone else pick up items they need from the store if they are feeling sick, in an effort to minimize their exposure to other people.

Georgia state colleges and universities are preparing to address coronavirus outbreaks, according to the Savannah Morning News.

“If social distancing becomes necessary, it is possible we would need to close the university for a period of time. To ensure that instruction continues, all faculty must be prepared to teach courses remotely from home. We know that some of you have never taught online and will find this daunting. We are committed to providing the support you need to be successful,” according to a post by Georgia State University Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Wendy Hensel.

Georgia College and State University has also announced plans to cope with a possible campus closure, instructing its faculty to familiarize them with available tools for teaching online in the college’s learning management system.

Coastal Georgia is seeing little impact on tourism, according to The Brunswick News.

It is so far, so good for tourism officials in Glynn and Camden counties when it comes the virus.

Growing coronavirus concerns have not affected tourism in the Golden Isles — at this time.

The main advantage Glynn County has when it comes to attracting tourists is most arrive by vehicle, said Scott McQuade, president and CEO of the Golden Isles Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Only about 20 percent of visitors here arrive by plane, he said.

The Ledger-Enquirer looks at state preparations to quarantine people at Hard Labor State Park.

According to a release from Gov. Brian Kemp’s office, the Departments of Public Health, Public Safety and Natural Resources identified an area in Hard Labor Creek State Park in Morgan County as a location for the “isolation and monitoring of patients.” No patients are currently scheduled to be transported to the park, and the governor’s office said the site was identified “out of an abundance of caution.”

“Currently, the Governor’s Office and state officials are working together to prepare the site for the placement of patients,” according to the release. “Officials have already delivered and installed seven emergency trailers at the park, and related materials are en route for future use. Once established, the Department of Public Safety will provide security for this location.”

The Department of Public Health would provide medical care for patients.

Nursing homes may receive extra scrutiny as elderly people are most susceptible to coronavirus, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

US. Rep. Rick Allen, R-Ga., said Vice President Mike Pence, who is heading the federal government’s efforts to address the virus, asked members of Congress to inform their districts about efforts to address and slow the spread of the virus and find out local needs. That included a conference call with nursing homes in the Augusta area about new standards the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is going to implement, he said.

“Obviously, the elderly are the most vulnerable,” as well as those with compromised immune systems, Allen said.

That sentiment was echoed by Dr. Nancy Messonnier of the CDC, who pointed out that about 80% of cases in China were mild and that the more severe cases tended to be among the elderly, “and the risk increases with age.”

Of the 19 deaths in the U.S. as of Monday, 16 were in one nursing home in Seattle, Life Care Center, according to Public Health-Seattle & King County.

As a result of those outbreaks, “they are going to ramp up inspections,” Allen said, and that includes an increased emphasis on infection control and cleaning in those facilities.

Disinfectants are in short supply in the Augusta area, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

Congressman Doug Collins (R-Gainesville), who was first elected to the State House in 2002 and to Congress in 2012, has self-quarantined after exposure to someone who was later diagnosed with coronavirus, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

We’re praying for Congressman Collins.

Also on our prayer list is the son of U.S. Rep. Tom Graves (R-Ranger), who was in a bicycle accident, according to the Gainesville Times.

The Republican congressman said on Twitter on Monday that his son John was injured during a cycling event in Calhoun, Georgia and airlifted to a trauma center, where he remains in intensive care.

“He’s a strong boy and is showing signs of responsiveness,” Graves said.

Under the Gold Dome Today – Legislative Day 27

8:00 AM HIGHER EDUCATION 606 CLOB

8:00 AM MOTOR VEHICLES 515 CLOB

8:00 AM GOVERNMENTAL AFFAIRS 406 CLOB

9:00 AM RULES 341 CAP

10:00 AM FLOOR SESSION (LD 27) House Chamber

TBD RULES UPON ADJOURNMENT 450 CAP

2:00 PM JUDICIARY 132 CAP

2:00 PM HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES 606 CLOB

2:00 PM RETIREMENT 515 CLOB

2:00 PM REGULATED INDUSTRIES 506 CLOB

2:00 PM GAME, FISH AND PARKS 403 CAP

3:00 PM ENERGY, UTILITIES AND TELECOMMUNICATIONS 403 CAP

4:00 PM Academic Support Subcommittee of Education 406 CLOB

5:00 PM EDUCATION 406 CLOB

SENATE RULES CALENDAR

SB 386 – Georgia Special Needs Scholarship Act; prior school year requirement; revise (Substitute)(ED&Y-45th)

SB 415 – Civil Practice and Litigation; several titles of the O.C.G.A.; amend and revise (Substitute)(I&L-51st)

SB 482 – Office of Health Strategy and Coordination; state all-payer claims database; establishment ofan advisory committee; provide(Substitute)(H&HS-11th)

SB 358 – State Symbols; muscadine grape as the official state grape; designate (AG&CA-7th)

SB 337 – Invasion of Privacy; prohibition against the transmission of photography depicting nudity; include falsely created videographic or still images (Substitute)(S&T-14th)

SR 194 – Joint Study Committee on Transferring Oversight of Developmental Disabilities to the Department of Community Health; create (Substitute)(RULES-13th)

SB 473 – Conservation and Natural Resources; duties, powers, and responsibilities relative to historic preservation; from Department of Natural Resources to the Department of Community Affairs; transfer (NR&E-7th)

SB 474 – Department of Natural Resources; construct, operate, maintain, and supply informational materials at welcome centers assigned to it by the Governor; provide (Substitute)(NR&E-7th)

SB 445 – Soil Erosion and Sedimentation; water and sewer authorities to be designated as local issuing authorities for land-disturbing activity permits; authorize (NR&E-18th)

SB 338 – Animal Protection; annual license fees; provide (Substitute)(AG&CA-32nd)

SB 430 – “Quality Basic Education Act”; home study students and private school students to take courses at a college and career academy; authorize(Substitute)(ED&Y-3rd)

SB 381 – “Georgia Food Act”; certain information obtained by the Department of Agriculture from the federal Food and Drug Administration; confidential and not subject to disclosure; provide (AG&CA-32nd)

SB 468 – Dogs; animal shelters to accept registration of veterans’ service dogs; require (AG&CA-45th)

SB 483 – “Behavioral Rehabilitation and Stability Services Act”; certain Medicaid reimbursement; enact (Substitute)(H&HS-28th)

SB 405 – Superior Courts of the Cobb Judicial Circuit;eleventh judge; provide (JUDY-37th)

SB 417 – Physicians, Assistants, and Others; criminal background checks for certain healthcare professionals and others; provisions; revise (H&HS-32nd)

SB 321 – Physician Assistants; relating to the number a physician can authorize and supervise at any one time; provisions; revise (Substitute)(H&HS-52nd)

SB 443 – Garnishment Proceedings; revise; uniform procedures for garnishment actions; provide (Substitute)(JUDY-23rd)

SB 447 – Work Based Learning Programs; definitions regarding work based learning and related positions and programs; provide(Substitute)(ED&Y-9th)

SB 466 – “Quality Basic Education Act”; employment; needs improvement rating; group of performance evaluation ratings; remove (Substitute)(ED&Y-9th)

SR 833 – Joint Study Committee on Preparing Our Future Workforce; create (RULES-9th)

SR 793 – Joint Private Financing of Infrastructure Study Committee; create (RULES-21st)

SB 28 – Insurance; imposing a copayment, coinsurance, or office visit charge in an amount greater than charges imposed for physician; prohibit(Substitute)(H&HS-2nd)

SB 387 – State-wide School Lunch Program; State Board of Education to promulgate rules and regulations; authorize; course of instruction; preparation of food (ED&Y-6th)

HOUSE RULES CALENDAR

Modified Open Rule

HB 216 – Special license plates; Georgia Tennis Foundation; establish (Substitute)(MotV-Anulewicz-42nd)

HB 793 – General appropriations; State Fiscal Year July 1, 2020 -June 30, 2021 (App-Ralston-7th)(Substitute)

Modified Structured Rule

HB 244 – Electric membership corporations; comply with certain requirements in determining the rates for attachments to utility poles by communications service providers; require(Substitute)(ED&T-Stephens-164th)

HB 245 – Peace Officers’ Annuity Fund; require certain benefits payable to a surviving spouse to terminate if such surviving spouse remarries; remove a provision (Ret-Buckner-137th)

HB 791 – Pharmacists; dispense up to a 90 day supply of a maintenance medication under certain conditions; authorize (Substitute)(H&HS-Stephens-164th)

HB 913 – Domestic relations; protection of children; strengthen, clarify, and update provisions (Substitute)(JuvJ-Reeves-34th)

HB 952 – Pharmacies; prohibit corporations that own and operate multiple pharmacies from implementing policies and procedures that restrict the quantity of controlled substances dispensed or restrict the prescriber (SCQHC-Cooper-43rd)

HB 1082 – Motor vehicles; notification letter for retrieving a motor vehicle held by a towing and storage firm, repair facility, or salvage dealer; provide (MotV-Powell-32nd)

Structured Rule

HB 807 – Revenue and taxation; allow businesses to provide affidavits of certified public accountants in lieu of tax returns (Substitute)(W&M-Momtahan-17th)

HB 879 – Alcoholic beverages; legislative intent of the General Assembly to exercise strict regulatory control over the three-tier system; provide (Substitute)(RegI-Harrell-106th)

HB 1111 – Public officers and employees; certain provisions related to homeowner tax relief grants; remove (Substitute)(B&FAO-Welch-110th)

HB 1112 – Public officers and employees; Office of Planning and Budget; repeal certain duties (Substitute)(B&FAO-Pirkle-155th)

The Georgia House Appropriations Committee passed their version of the FY 2021 budget, revising Gov. Kemp’s proposal. From the AJC:

Georgia House leaders pushed back hard on Gov. Brian Kemp’s spending cuts Monday, backing a $28 billion budget that ignores many of his proposed reductions and slashes his plan for a $2,000 teacher pay raise in half.

The House Appropriations Committee on Monday approved the budget plan for fiscal 2021, which starts July 1.

The chamber’s leaders added 2% pay raises for state employees and an additional 2%-5% in several areas where low salaries have made it difficult to keep staffers, from food safety inspectors and prison guards to mental health workers.

“I am proud that the House budget maintains critical services and rewards the hard work of all of our public employees in Georgia,” said House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge.

Teachers would get a $1,000 pay raise, under the House plan, rather than the $2,000 Kemp proposed.

Rep. Butch Parrish, R-Swainsboro, the House health care budget chairman, said, “Many of the changes (in the House budget) have been to restore cuts to programs the House and Senate have worked hard on over the last several years to build up with a goal that all Georgians share access to quality health care.”

The House also added money to pay to expand Medicaid from two to six months following the birth of a child for low-income women. It added money for more assisted living inspectors following an Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation that found numerous problems with the state’s system of making sure seniors living in assisted living homes are safe.

House members also put more money into the Georgia Bureau of Investigation crime labs to make sure rape kit and DNA testing aren’t delayed.

From the Capitol Beat News Service via the Macon Telegraph.

Budget writers in the Georgia House of Representatives Monday cut in half the teacher pay raise Gov. Brian Kemp proposed in January.

Reducing the salary hike from $2,000 per teacher to $1,000 would allow lawmakers to restore spending cuts the governor recommended in other areas of his $28.1 billion fiscal 2021 budget plan, including funding for programs that affect education, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Terry England said.

“To teachers, it’s not all about the money,” said England, R-Auburn. “It’s support services and wraparound services, not only in the classroom but in the community.”

England said Georgia teachers still would be getting an 11.7% pay increase over two years despite losing $1,000 from next year’s raise. Kemp and the General Assembly approved $3,000 increases for teachers in this year’s spending plan.

England said the House is committed to revisiting teacher pay when it takes up the fiscal 2022 budget next year.

The full House is due to vote on the fiscal 2021 budget on Tuesday.

House leaders also unveiled a proposal for a flat state income tax rate, according to the Gainesville Times.

Georgia House Speaker David Ralston is backing a legislative proposal unveiled Monday to set the state’s personal income tax at a flat rate of 5.375%.

The General Assembly voted to cut the state’s top income tax rate from 6% to 5.75% in 2018, and a further cut to 5.5% was planned for this year.

“In 2018, we promised Georgians meaningful tax relief, and this is the second step in delivering on that promise,” Ralston, a Republican from Blue Ridge, said in a statement.

The proposal would institute a new income tax credit for families meant to offset the flattening of Georgia’s tax brackets, according to the statement. It would also triple the adoption tax credit from $2,000 to $6,000, a plan earlier proposed by Republican Gov. Brian Kemp.

From the Capitol Beat News Service via the Savannah Morning News:

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bret Harrell introduced legislation to reduce Georgia’s personal income tax rate from the current 5.75% to 5.375%. Heading into this year’s legislative session, House GOP leaders were expected to propose cutting the tax rate to 5.5%.

“We will keep the promise we made to Georgians in 2018 and more,” House Speaker David Ralston said Monday during a luncheon speech at the Capital City Club in Atlanta sponsored by the Atlanta Press Club.

Legislative Democrats and some Republicans in the state Senate have warned against a further tax cut while the state struggles to bring in enough revenue to provide vital services. Tax collections have been coming in well below expectations for most of the past year, in part because of the 2018 tax cut, which reduced the income tax rate from 6.0% to 5.75%.

But Harrell, R-Snellville, said some new revenue increases would help offset the $250 million to $270 million impact of the tax cut, including collecting taxes on sales through third-party “marketplace facilitators” including Amazon and Google the legislature passed in January and a bill that would prohibit taxpayers from deducting federal income tax payments from their state income taxes.

“When people sit down and look at how state [revenues] are actually performing … it will reduce any likelihood of [pushback],” Harrell said.

Ralston also unveiled during Monday’s speech the introduction of two bills aimed at asserting the House’s authority as a co-equal branch of state government with the governor’s office.

The measures would limit the ability of the executive branch to withhold funds appropriated by the General Assembly and require executive branch agencies to provide budget-related information to the state House and Senate at the same time it is provided to the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget (OPB).

I’d say Speaker Ralston has done a heck of a job of asserting the State House’s authority this session.

The Georgia Senate has banned lying, according to the AJC.

Senate Rules Chairman Jeff Mullis, a Chickamauga Republican, said the goal of the legislation is to allow committee chairmen the option to “most strongly request” members of the public to be truthful.

“Don’t you think it’s important for us to have the truth when we’re trying to put good laws together so we have the right information?” Mullis said.

Senate Resolution 459 would only apply to Senate proceedings. It does not apply to lawmakers. Mullis said their speech is constitutionally protected.

Senate Bill 318 by Sen. William Ligon will prohibit state higher learning institutions from restricting free speech geographically, according to the AJC.

The legislation passed 32-21 on a party-line vote.

“This bill is protecting three things: what students can speak, where they speak and whom they speak with,” said state Sen. William Ligon, the Brunswick Republican who sponsored the bill.

The bill would allow school officials to determine “reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions” for campus speakers. Schools found by a court to have violated the rules would be subject to a fine of at least $5,000.

The Athens-Clarke County Board of Education announced it will suppress the votes of locals change some voting locations, according to the Athens Banner Herald.

The board also approved with little discussion several changes in polling places, meaning thousands of Athens-Clarke County voters will be casting ballots at new locations in the upcoming May 19 nonpartisan and party primary elections.

The changes won’t affect polling places in the Presidential Preference Primary later this month, said Athens-Clarke County Director of Elections and Voter Registration Charlotte Sosebee. Early voting is already under way in that March 24 election at the Board of Elections office downtown, and other early voting places are scheduled to open beginning Saturday.

Two of the changes the elections board approved will unbundle polling places that had been combined when a polling place was lost because of school construction projects at Barnett Shoals Elementary School and Oglethorpe Avenue Elementary.

Georgia hit an all-time record for employment, according to The Brunswick News.

State Labor Commissioner Mark Buter said there are nearly five million jobs in Georgia, according to January labor statistics.

“Significantly outpacing last year’s numbers, January 2020 labor statistics are reporting record data across the board,” Butler said. “The number of Georgians employed is the highest ever, the number of unemployed is the lowest since 2001, and EmployGeorgia.com is now listing over 101,000 on-line jobs available for Georgians today.”

The all-time record unemployment rate remained unchanged at 3.1 percent, but it is 0.7 percentage points lower than a year ago. According to labor department statistics, the state had a record high 4.987 million employed residents to start the year. January showed an increase of 12,060 new jobs, an increase of 89,900 jobs since January 2019.

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