Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for June 18, 2020

18
Jun

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for June 18, 2020

British forces under General Sir Henry Clinton left Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on June 18, 1778 after occupying the former capital for nine months.

On June 18, 1807, commissioners from Georgia and North Carolina agreed to recognize the 35th parallel as the boundary between the two states. North Carolina conducted a survey that placed the boundary further South than the 35th parallel, though Georgia never accepted the survey and continues to argue that the 35th is the proper boundary against both North Carolina and Tennessee.

The War of 1812 began on June 18, 1812, as President James Madison signed a declaration of war against Great Britain passed by the House and Senate.

On June 18, 1873, Susan B. Anthony was fined $100 for illegally voting in Rochester, New York. At the conclusion of her trial, the judge read a statement that, “The Fourteenth Amendment gives no right to a woman to vote, and the voting by Miss Anthony was in violation of the law,” and directed the jury to convict her. Anthony responded,

“Yes, your honor, I have many things to say; for in your ordered verdict of guilty, you have trampled underfoot every vital principle of our government,” Anthony said. “My natural rights, my civil rights, my political rights, my judicial rights, are all alike ignored. Robbed of the fundamental privilege of citizenship, I am degraded from the status of a citizen to that of a subject; and not only myself individually, but all of my sex, are, by your honor’s verdict, doomed to political subjection under this, so-called, form of government.”

The Southern Railway Company was organized on June 18, 1894 and through predecessor railroads traces its heritage to the nation’s first regularly-scheduled railroad service, The Best Friend of Charleston. Samuel Spencer, of Columbus, Georgia, was the first President of the Southern. In the 1980s, the Southern merged with Norfolk & Western Railway to form Norfolk Southern.

An Augusta Jewish Museum may open as early as December, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

Plans to convert a historic synagogue and court building built in the 1860s into the Augusta Jewish Museum are moving along, with a first phase expected to open by December.

Historic Augusta and the Augusta Jewish Museum Board commemorated the start of construction Wednesday to convert the former Richmond County Court of Ordinary building into Phase 1 of the museum.

Subjects to be covered at the museum include early Jewish history in Augusta, the holocaust, Jewish traditions and heritage and Israel, museum board member Robyn Wittenberg Dudley said.

In coming months, the museum will expand into the adjacent former Congregation Children of Israel Synagogue. Built in 1869, the Greek Revival-style temple is the oldest standing synagogue in Georgia.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

The Georgia Secretary of State is seeking broader powers in the wake of an election meltdown, according to the AJC.

Calls for monumental changes to Georgia’s elections arrived Wednesday, with elected officials from both parties demanding more voting locations, shorter lines and a management overhaul in Fulton County, where voters experienced the longest waits.

In separate events, Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and Democratic legislators from Fulton heaped blame Wednesday on the county’s elections office. Fulton voters crammed into precincts with few voting machines and a shortage of trained poll workers.

Other parts of the state also had problems, especially in densely populated areas with high turnout, but 70% of the problems statewide occurred in Fulton, Raffensperger said.

“This is about accountability,” Raffensperger said, making his first public comments since election day in Piedmont Park, where voters waited three hours or more to vote at Park Tavern. “Fulton didn’t execute the way we wanted and that voters deserved. I know this: Every person involved in elections wants to get it right, even those in Fulton.”

Raffensperger said he’ll push legislation to give the State Election Board, where he’s the chairman, the power to intervene in county elections management. Raffensperger’s office didn’t provide details about how his office would manage local elections.

From the Associated Press via the Athens Banner Herald:

Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger could not provide specifics about how the process would work or what criteria would be used to deem a county’s elections in need of a takeover.

“We would be looking for that to come through the state election board and really have a deep discussion on that to make sure it’s the proper method to go forward,” Raffensperger said. “It’s not something that we’d ever take lightly.”

Raffensperger also reiterated that mail ballot applications won’t be sent out to all Georgia voters for August runoffs or for Election Day in November, as was done for the recent primaries. He cited the costs of that program and said his office instead wants to open a centralized portal where voters can apply for an absentee ballot online.

Raffensperger said his proposal, a draft of which is expected to be released soon, would be introduced as an amendment to Senate Bill 463, a Republican-backed voting measure passed by the state Senate in March. That bill’s current proposed election law changes include letting county election officials decide how many voting machines they’ll need for certain elections. The state legislature resumed session on Monday after a three month delay caused by the coronavirus.

LEGISLATIVE COMMITTEE MEETINGS

8:00 AM Senate Economic Development & Tourism 450 CAP

8:00 AM Senate Veterans, Military Affairs & Homeland Security 310 CLOB

8:00 AM HOUSE NATURAL RESOURCES 506 CLOB

8:00 AM HOUSE JUDICIARY NON CIVIL 132 CAP

9:00 AM HOUSE RULES 341 CAP

10:00 AM HOUSE FLOOR SESSION (LD 33) House Chamber

11:30 AM HOUSE JUDICIARY 132 CAP

TBD Senate Rules upon Adjournment 450 CAP

12:00 PM HOUSE Public Finance and Policy Subcommittee of Ways and Means 506 CLOB

1:00 PM Senate Government Oversight Mezz 1

1:00 PM Senate Higher Education 450 CAP

1:15 PM HOUSE WAYS AND MEANS 506 CLOB

2:00 PM HOUSE INSURANCE 341 CAP

2:00 PM HOUSE SPECIAL COMMITTEE ON ACCESS TO QUALITY HEALTH CARE 406 CLOB

2:00 PM HOUSE CODE REVISION 403 CAP

2:00 PM HOUSE TRANSPORTATION 506 CLOB

2:15 PM Senate Finance 450 CAP

2:15 PM Senate Insurance & Labor 307 CLOB

3:00 PM HOUSE GOVERNMENTAL AFFAIRS 506 CLOB

3:30 PM Senate Regulated Industries 450 CAP

3:30 PM Senate Science & Technology Mezz 1

4:00 PM HOUSE SPECIAL COMMITTEE ON ACCESS TO THE CIVIL JUSTICE SYSTEM 132 CAP

4:45 PM Senate Transportation 450 CAP

4:45 PM Senate Judiciary 307 CLOB

The Georgia Senate Appropriations Committee voted out a FY21 budget, according to the AP via the Athens Banner Herald.

The Senate Appropriations Committee on Wednesday voted to advance House Bill 793, the state budget for the year beginning July 1. It now moves to the full Senate for more debate.

Under the plan, the state would spend less than $26 billion in state money, down from $28 billion originally projected. With federal funding, spending would be nearly double, including a boost in Medicaid funding that will help preserve the state-federal insurance program for the poor and disabled without cuts.

Although the measure is less severe than the 14% reductions Kemp and top lawmakers originally were preparing, it will still mean service cuts, unpaid furloughs and layoffs across state government, K-12 schools and state colleges and universities.

“Due to the current predicament, there will be less. There’s no need to sugar-coat that,” Tillery said. “Our state’s budget must balance. We don’t hold the keys to a printing press.”

The state is on track to spend $1 billion or more from the $2.7 billion rainy day fund to close this year’s budget gap. Some money will come back when Georgia collects state income taxes in July after delaying them from April. Tillery said that money will be placed into the budget year ending June 30, reducing the deficit.

Tillery said senators worked to limit unpaid days off to one per month. Some large agencies had proposed two per month.

From the Capitol Beat News Service via the Albany Herald.

Tillery said the Department of Agriculture would get enough funding to launch the state commission that will oversee the new hemp cultivation program the General Assembly approved last year. Also, farm markets in Cordele and Thomasville that were facing closure would be funded, he said.

The committee’s budget also leaves intact a healthy bond package of $990 million for capital projects, including $342 million for K-12 school construction.

Lawmakers are prepared to take part in the sacrifices. The committee’s budget would reduce senators’ annual salaries by 11% from the current $17,000, and Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan’s salary of about $91,600 a year would be cut by 14%.

The full Senate is expected to take up the budget later this week.

From the Valdosta Daily Times:

“You don’t reduce funds by 11% or $2.6 billion without somehow affecting every budget area and correspondingly every corner of the state,” Tillery said. “This was not a task this committee tackled haphazardly or halfheartedly.”

From the AJC:

The pandemic brought record unemployment, and thousands of businesses either closed or struggle to remain open. That, in turn, has sent state tax collections — mostly for income and sales taxes — plummeting.

Because lawmakers expect less revenue, they face cutting funding for everything from k-12 schools and universities to the Georgia State Patrol, food safety inspections, highway construction, mental health and substance abuse programs, and county health departments.

Under budget plans that agencies submitted last month, more than 1,000 filled jobs would be eliminated and tens of thousands of state employees would be furloughed.

Georgia’s Transportation Department would see funding cut more than $200 million for construction and maintenance programs. A long list of mental health, substance abuse treatment and health care programs would see funding reduced, including programs to train more doctors at the Morehouse School of Medicine and Mercer University’s medical school. County health departments would receive $14 million less next year, public libraries $3.2 million less for materials. The GBI would freeze dozens of positions for investigators, scientists and lab technicians.

Lieutenant Governor Geoff Duncan announced new hate-crimes legislation yesterday, according to a Press Release from his office:

Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan today introduced hate crimes legislation that empowers communities by giving them the ability to seek a hate crimes charge from a grand jury if local prosecutors don’t. The bill would also create a separate offense for “bias-motivated intimidation” for alleged hate crimes, which satisfies the constitutional protections of due process by requiring an indictment.

“As a man of faith, I believe we are called to treat others as we’d want to be treated, but to also stand up for the vulnerable, to comfort the afflicted and welcome the ostracized,” Duncan said. “I believe this legislation answers that call, and I will work hand in hand with legislators in both parties and in both houses to ensure we get this over the finish line. The eyes of the nation are upon us, and we need to do more than check the box; we must deliver a strong, meaningful bill that leaves no doubt that Georgians will not tolerate hate.

“The tragic murder of Ahmaud Arbery in Brunswick has brought the need for this change to the forefront of Georgians’ minds. When the shooter stood over the body of an unarmed man and called him a racial slur, that’s clear evidence, to me and to all Georgians, of a hate crime. And we have to stand up and say, that’s unacceptable in our state. In that case, despite the horrifying video evidence, the prosecutor in the case decided that no crime was committed. If it were not for the public seeing the video, the killers of Ahmaud would have escaped justice. A hate crimes law that allows for only prosecutors to press hate crimes charges would not have worked in that case. That’s why this version of the bill creates a new avenue for victims to seek a hate crimes charge.”

Duncan’s hate crimes measure goes further than simply enhancing the sentence of a violator. By establishing a separate offense for bias-motivated crimes this legislation expands access to justice for victims and ensures due process for those accused. This legislation also broadens the classes of victims protected to ensure equality, while providing an avenue for victims to seek civil penalties and recover damages. Mandating that officers submit reports in cases of hate crimes will ensure accurate tracking of critical data. This component brings transparency to the process and will provide a comprehensive statewide report.

“I greatly appreciate the leadership that the House has shown on this issue,” Duncan said, “and I think we need to build on that because so much has happened in our state to change hearts and minds since that bill passed the House. We’re going to get this done, we’re going to show the rest of the nation who we are and we’re going to make Georgians proud.”

Apparently no bill number has been assigned. I’m guessing maybe they’re going to find a vehicle to gut and stuff.

From the Valdosta Daily Times:

The Senate legislation is vastly different from the bill that came from the other side of the chamber, which Duncan called a “solid start.”

The proposal would make a hate crime a stand-alone charge rather than an enhancement to another crime.

Like the House bill, it would impose new penalties for crimes motivated by age, gender, ethnicity, race and sexual orientation. Duncan’s legislation, however, expands to include “culture,” “exercise of religious beliefs” and “exercising rights guaranteed by the First Amendment.”

“This issue is way too important for 11 million Georgians and we must get it right,” Duncan said Wednesday. “We must put policy over politics.”

The bill would allow charges to be brought by a grand jury for a hate crime charge if a prosecutor didn’t choose to do so. Charges would carry a penalty of one to five years.

From the Savannah Morning News:

Duncan’s iteration of hate-crimes legislation drew immediate pushback from Georgia House lawmakers who have long pushed bills to criminalize acts of hate in Georgia, one of five states that currently do not have a hate-crimes law on the books.

Critics pressed Senate lawmakers to move forward with a different bill, House Bill 426, that cleared the Georgia House of Representatives last year, rather than pivot to new legislation so late in the 2020 legislative session.

Duncan defended his Senate bill Wednesday, highlighting how it would set stronger penalties and broader restitution rights than Efstration’s House bill.

He pointed out his bill would make hate crimes a separate charge instead of just an enhancement to another charge, as Efstration’s bill would do, and that it would increase prison time from two years to five.

“This issue is way too important for 11 million Georgians and we must get it right. We must put policy over politics,” Duncan said Wednesday morning at a news conference.

On Wednesday, members of the Georgia House Democratic Caucus accused Duncan of bad-faith politicking to push out his bill so late in the session, particularly as Efstration’s hate-crimes bill has languished in the Senate without a committee hearing for nearly 430 days.

“It’s an insult to our intelligence for this man to say he had a change of conscience,” said House Minority Leader James Beverly, D-Macon. “Do the right thing, lieutenant governor.”

House Bill 888 on surprise medical billing has been sent to Governor Kemp for his signature or veto, according to the AJC.

“This bill is here because about half of Americans have experienced a surprise bill … it’s the number one cause of bankruptcy in Georgia,” Hufstetler said.

If a patient is rushed to the emergency room for surgery, they may not know what kind of insurance the anesthesiologist that’s putting them under takes until they get a bill. HB 888 would require patients to pay no more than their deductible, copay or other in-network payment level determined by their plan.

Providers can request arbitration for additional payment through the state insurance commissioner under this bill. Significantly, at that point the patient is out of the fight once he or she has paid their deductible or co-pay. Only the care provider and health insurance company remain in the dispute.

“The governor in his state of the state address said we’re going to get surprise billing done this year, and we are getting surprise billing done this year,” Hufstelter said.

Former Congressmen Bob Barr (R-Cobb) and Tom Price (R-Roswell) are supporting United States Senator Kelly Loeffler (R-Atlanta), according to the AJC.

Tom Price, who was briefly President Donald Trump’s health secretary, and Bob Barr, who ran for president as a Libertarian in 2008, both said Wednesday they were backing the incumbent’s campaign.

“At a time when radical liberals are attacking our values and unhinged progressives are bringing chaos to our communities, America simply cannot afford another career politician,” said Barr, who represented a Cobb-based district from 1995 to 2003.

Price, a six-term congressman appointed by Trump shortly after his election, cited Loeffler’s work on the president’s coronavirus task force and her conservative stances on abortion, gun rights and other flashpoints.

“In her short time in Washington, she’s been a champion for our conservative cause by sponsoring legislation to defend the sanctity of life, protect our 2nd Amendment rights, and secure our borders,” said Price[.]

Augusta City Commissioners received a budget update, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

As of April, sales tax revenues were down nearly $2 million over last year, with almost half likely due to the Masters Tournament being postponed, she said. Masters Week is now set to begin Nov. 9, with tournament play Nov. 12-15.

Year-to-date, hotel and motel tax revenue is down approximately $1.5 million, she said.

Athens-Clarke County Commission budget hearing drew citizens on both sides of the defunding issue, according to the Athens Banner Herald.

Most came to speak in favor of a proposed “50/10 Plan to Reimagine Public Safety” floated by two Athens Clarke commissioners, many of them part of an organized effort. The plan aims to change the way policing is conducted here, halving the size of the police force over a 10-year period, replacing officers carrying guns with social workers and others who could better respond to the many police calls dealing with mentally ill people.

Many also spoke against reducing the size of the police force in Wednesday’s public hearing, including Black residents of neighborhoods they say are safer because of police. Some speakers also called on the commission to lower rapidly rising property taxes in the public hearing on Mayor Kelly Girtz’s proposed 2020-21 budget.

Outside, two groups of protesters gathered in front of City Hall: one there to support police and oppose the 50/10 plan, others to support the 50/10 plan and its call for changing how police do their job in Athens.

Local accountability courts face deep budget cuts, according to the Rome News Tribune.

The courts are intensive, specialized programs for low level offenders who suffer from drug addiction or mental health issues. Or, in the case of the parental court, those enrolled have financial issues and haven’t paid their child support.

“We operate primarily on a state grant,” said [Floyd County Superior Court Judge Jack] Niedrach, who oversees the mental health court. “We’re expected to match 10% of that grant as well, through local funds.”

Last year the county’s accountability courts were budgeted $187,000 through the state’s Criminal Justice Coordinating Council. This year they had sought $205,000 but were only awarded $177,000.

“Like every other state agency, we’re looking at how we can do more with less,” Niedrach told those involved in a NAMI Rome forum on Tuesday.

Brunswick City Commissioners will form a committee to consider what to do with a Confederate monument, according to The Brunswick News.

A Confederate monument was vandalized in Macon, according to the Macon Telegraph.

Athens is considering moving a Confederate monument to a new locaiton close to a Civil War battle site, according to the Athens Banner Herald.

The plan would also involve closing off College Square to vehicle traffic for six months and possibly permanently, Mayor Kelly Girtz told Athens-Clarke commission members in an agenda-setting meeting Tuesday night.

The commission did not vote on the plan, which calls for the Confederate monument to be moved to the end of Timothy Place near the site of the Civil War’s Battle of Barber Creek. Timothy Place is a short street off Macon Highway near the Clarke-Oconee County border.

“The monument at the current site has experienced graffiti, vandalism and people climbing onto it at their risk; has become a lightning rod of friction among citizens; is a potential catastrophe that could happen at an time if individuals attempt to forcibly remove or destroy it to the extent that the monument has become a public nuisance,” according to an agenda report on the project prepared by Athens-Clarke County staff.

Protesters in Gainesville called for the removal of a Confederate monunment, according to the Gainesville Times.

The group of about 85 people called on the Hall County Board of Commissioners to revoke a lease it has with Old Joe’s owner, the United Daughters of the Confederacy, that was renewed in 2008 and lasts until 2033.

“I want a commitment from the Hall County commissioners to remove this statue and replace it with something that fosters a united community where all are welcome,” Christine Osasu told the crowd.

She said the statue — a Spanish-American War soldier modified and placed as a Confederate monument in 1909 — “honors a people, a society and a government that enslaved our black brothers and sisters and kept them as forced laborers, tortured them, raped them.”

The Richmond County Board of Education is surveying students, families, and employees on reopening in the fall, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

Flowery Branch City Council votes tonight at 6 PM on a proposed budget and property tax rate for the next fiscal year, according to the Gainesville Times.

Gainesville City Council approved an FY2021 budget and full rollback millage rate, according to the Gainseville Times.

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