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

23
Jun

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

On June 23, 903 AD, the Icelandic Parliament, the Althing or Althingi, was established and is the world’s oldest.

In honor of the Icelandic Parliament, here’s the greatest Icelandic band ever, the Sugarcubes, playing at Auburn in 1988.

Off the coast of Charleston, South Carolina, British Commodore Sir Peter Parker spent June 23, 1776 preparing to land the next day, charged with supporting loyalists to the British crown.

On June 23, 1819, Texas declared its independence from Spain.

On June 23, 1862, General Robert E. Lee met with his commanders in preparation for what would be known as the Seven Days’ Battles.

On June 23, 1865, Georgia-born Cherokee Stand Watie became the last Confederate general to surrender.

On June 23, 1888, Frederick Douglass became the first African-American nominated for President, receiving one vote from Kentucky at the Republican National Convention in Chicago, Illinois.

Former Atlanta mayor Maynard H. Jackson, Jr. died on June 23, 2003.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Yourethecure

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms is being vetted as a potential Vice Presidential candidate, according to the AJC.

Bottoms is one of a handful of potential picks undergoing vetting from Biden’s campaign, which has reached out to several Bottoms associates, according to multiple people in the state Democratic Party.

Backgrounding vice presidential candidates is highly confidential, requiring extensive financial disclosures and lengthy interviews. The party sources asked The Atlanta Journal-Constitution for anonymity because they are not authorized to talk about the process.

No Georgia Democrat has played a more prominent role promoting Biden’s campaign than Bottoms, a first-term mayor who endorsed him in July, campaigned for him in Iowa before, and worked on his behalf in spin rooms after Democrat debates.

“I want Vice President Biden to choose the person who he thinks will help him best beat Donald Trump in November, and so if it’s me, I would be honored,” Bottoms told National Public Radio in April. “But if it’s a green martian that helps him get over the finish line, then I think that’s who he needs to go with.”

“She brings the gender, racial, regional and generational balance to the ticket,” said Tharon Johnson, a long-time Bottoms adviser. “The Biden campaign has to look at it through a non-traditional lens to not just appeal to the base but also to disaffected college-educated women. And she can do that.”

LEGISLATIVE COMMITTEE MEETINGS

8:00 AM Senate Retirement Mezz 1

8:00 AM HOUSE JUDICIARY NON CIVIL 132 CAP

8:30 AM Senate SLOGO 310 CLOB

8:30 AM Senate Insurance & Labor 307 CLOB

9:00 AM HOUSE RULES 341 CAP

10:00 AM HOUSE FLOOR SESSION (LD 37) House Chamber

1:00 PM Senate Ethics- Canceled 450 CAP

1:00 PM Senate Education & Youth 307 CLOB

2:00 PM SPECIAL COMMITTEE ON ACCESS TO THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM 132 CAP

2:00 PM HOUSE REGULATED INDUSTRIES 506 CLOB

2:00 PM HOUSE JUVENILE JUSTICE 406 CLOB

2:15 PM Senate Regulated Industries & Utilities- CANCELED 450 CAP

3:00 PM HOUSE GOVERNMENTAL AFFAIRS 606 CLOB

3:30 PM Senate Banking & Financial Institutions – CANCELED Mezz 1

3:30 PM Senate Natural Resources & Environment- Canceled 307 CLOB

4:00 PM HOUSE HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES 406 CLOB

4:30 PM HOUSE JUDICIARY 132 CAP

4:45 PM Senate Transportation- Canceled 307 CLOB

4:45 PM Senate Agriculture & Consumer Affairs – CANCELED 450 CAP

TBD Senate Veterans, Military & Homeland Security- Upon adjournment of Rules Mezz 1

TBD Senate Rules Upon Adjournment 450 CAP

Governor Brian Kemp‘s office has released new revenue estimates, according to the AJC.

Kemp’s new revenue estimate comes as state lawmakers are racing to pass a spending plan for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins July 1. The General Assembly concludes its 2020 session — delayed by the coronavirus pandemic — on Friday.

Based on Kemp’s earlier estimates, the Georgia Senate last week approved a budget that cut about $2.6 billion in spending — including more than $1 billion for k-12 schools.

Kemp is still projecting that the state will see a dramatic economic impact from the coronavirus recession, but his latest estimate calls for a $2.2 billion decline in revenue next year, with the budget propped up by $250 million from the state reserve.

The governor recommended dropping the reduction to basic school funding by $53 million and having university and technical colleges take a 10% cut instead of 11%, as they’d expected. The same is true for the rest of state government.

To keep Georgia moving in the right direction and minimize the long-term impact of COVID-19 on our classrooms, I strongly recommend that we continue to prioritize public school education and find ways to support our educators as they continue to serve in communities throughout Georgia,” Kemp said.

“We must remember that Georgia’s future hinges on the safety and security of our citizens,” he said. “During this health care crisis, we have seen law enforcement officers play a vital role in the fight against COVID-19. We must stand with law enforcement now — just like they stood with us during the pandemic.”

Hate crimes legislation currently in the State Senate has been revised, according to the AJC.

The Georgia Senate reversed course on hate-crimes legislation Monday, removing special protections for police officers that Republicans inserted last week in a move that infuriated backers of the bill.

State Sen. Bill Cowsert, the Athens Republican who authored the change last week, announced the reversal during a Senate Rules Committee hearing late Monday.

“We’re very hopeful that the House will be satisfied that these are changes that have brought bipartisan support and did not in any way undermine the initial purposes,” he said.

Cowsert’s amendments also changed the sentencing guidelines for someone who is convicted of a hate crime. If his version of the bill passes, someone convicted of a hate crime would face an additional six to 12 months for a misdemeanor or at least two years for a felony. They would also face a fine of up to $5,000.

Instead, protections for police and other first responders were amended into House Bill 838. Under that legislation, anyone who is found guilty of targeting a first responder — defined as a firefighter, police officer or paramedic — could face between one and five years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000.

“We’re equally committed to passing meaningful hate-crime law and also to protecting law enforcement from unnecessary harassment, intimidation, threats and physical injury by citizens,” Cowsert said.

Both bills will be debated on the Senate floor on Tuesday. If approved, both would have to be approved by the House later this week before they could become law.

From the Associated Press via AccessWDUN:

First responders were removed as a protected class from the bill by the Senate Rules Committee after lawmakers said they struck a deal between parties.

“We’ve had ongoing discussions with the minority party for the large part of two days and within our own Republican caucus and we’ve reached a compromise that I think everybody will be pleased with,” said Sen. Bill Cowsert of Athens, who introduced the change.

“I believe we’ll be recommending the bill to our caucus,” Senate Minority Leader Steve Henson, a Democrat from Stone Mountain, said during the committee meeting Monday after first responders were removed.

“I don’t want for a second to convey that I would support this as is on the floor by not opposing it here in this committee,” said Senate Majority Leader Mike Dugan, a Republican from Carrollton. “I do have some questions and concerns about it.”

The Georgia House Regulated Industries Committee recommended passage of legislation setting a statewide gambling referendum, according to the Capitol Beat News Service via the Augusta Chronicle.

A proposal asking Georgia voters whether to legalize casinos, horse racing and sports betting in the Peach State is back on the table in the General Assembly.

The House Regulated Industries Committee approved a resolution Monday calling for a statewide referendum on all three forms of legalized gambling. The same panel approved a gambling vote in March, but it failed to reach the House floor for a vote before lawmakers took a three-month break to discourage the spread of coronavirus.

While that seemed to doom the measure for this year, it’s back up for debate during the final week of the 2020 legislative session because supporters inserted it into another proposed constitutional amendment identical to legislation that already had gained final passage.

“Whether you’re for or against the bill, allow the people to vote,” Rep. Ron Stephens, R-Savannah, a leading supporter of legalized gambling, told committee members Monday.

The state needs a boost to its economy, particularly in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has forced businesses across Georgia to close their doors, he said.

From the AJC:

Members of the House Regulated Industries Committee voted 13-3 to approve the measure, now Senate Resolution 841. The panel passed a similar resolution in March, but it failed to make it to the floor for a vote.

If passed, the new SR 841 would ask voters in November whether the Georgia Constitution should be amended to allow parimutuel betting, casino gambling and sports betting. If voters approve the amendment, each county would have to hold a local referendum to see whether residents wanted to allow gambling in their community.

According to the proposed legislation, the Georgia Lottery and casinos would run sports betting. Money generated by sports betting through the Georgia Lottery would be dedicated to the HOPE scholarship.

Revenue from non-lottery run sports betting, casinos and horse racing would go to three different pots.

Initial proceeds would go to a new emergency fund until it reached the equivalent of 10% of the state’s budget. Stephens called that fund a “lock box” that would complement the state’s rainy day account.

Remaining proceeds would be split evenly between the state’s general fund and an “opportunity fund,” defined as needs-based money that would help families pay for pre-kindergarten and post-secondary education.

Other gambling legislation advanced in the State Senate, according to the Capitol Beat News Service via the Savannah Morning News.

Legislation to permit sports betting in Georgia made a comeback Friday in the state Senate as lawmakers scramble to drum up new revenues to plug the state’s coronavirus-ravaged budget.

A measure by Sen. Burt Jones, R-Jackson, that would legalize sports betting and hand management responsibilities to the Georgia Lottery Corporation was tacked onto a separate bill dealing with traffic tickets.

It would allow online betting platforms like FanDuel and Draft Kings to operate legally, so long as they secure licenses from the lottery. People who are 21-years and older in Georgia could place bets.

Revenues from sports betting, which Jones pegged at a “conservative estimate” of $60 million annually, would go to fund Georgia’s HOPE scholarships for state university students and preschool programs.

“This right here, the online betting program, is I think an answer to adding significant revenue dollars to a system [that] moving down the road will continue to need more dollars,” Jones said Friday. “And you’re taking an activity that is currently going on right now.”

It passed out of the Senate Special Judiciary Committee in a vote early Friday morning and now heads to the full Senate. The committee, chaired by Sen. Jen Jordan, D-Atlanta, is composed entirely of Democratic lawmakers.

A physician group is supporting a tobacco tax hike, according to Fox 31.

A bill that has been voted on several times in the past years, but never went through, was approved by the Senate Finance Committee on Friday.

The tax increase on cigarettes would go from just $0.37 a pack to $1.35.

If passed, doctors are saying the increase could help the medical field tremendously and call it a “win-win” for Georgians.

The Patient-Centered Physician’s Coalition of Georgia released the following statement on the topic:

“With our state budget under so much stress due to revenue loss because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and with so many cuts proposed that will impact people across Georgia, raising taxes on cigarettes and vaping products is a win-win. The majority of Georgians, not just those of us in healthcare, know it.”

Senate Bill 504, authorizing a referendum on eliminating the Glynn County Police Department, passed the House and heads to Gov. Kemp’s desk, according to the Valdosta Daily Times.

The legislation would move the duties of the eliminated police department to the authority of the county sheriff’s office. In Georgia counties with two law enforcement agencies, the police department enforces laws within a specific municipality or region while the sheriff’s office enforces laws throughout the county and oversees the jail.

The shooting death of [Ahmaud] Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man, sparked criticism of the Glynn County Police Department’s actions in both that case and past cases.

From The Brunswick News:

Rep. Don Hogan, R-St. Simons Island, sponsored the bill plus another related to the future of the police department.

“The two questions on it are ‘Would the people recommend to abolish the Glynn County Police Department and consolidate its resources under the Glynn County Sheriff’s [Office]?’ or ‘Would they retain the Glynn County Police Department while making the necessary reforms and resolve all issues identified by the Glynn County grand jury?’” Hogan told fellow lawmakers.

Georgia House lawmakers will vote today on whether a similar but binding referendum will also appear on the ballot. The bill, SB 509, was unanimously approved by the House Rules Committee on Monday.

House Bill 244 governing utility pole attachment fees passed the Senate, according to the Valdosta Daily Times.

In an 31-22 vote Monday, the Senate OK’d a bill that would mandate the Public Service Commission make the decision on the rate EMCs can charge for pole attachments beginning July 1.

Sen. John Kennedy, R-Macon, said because of the costly prices, cable companies cannot afford to expand internet to rural areas that host EMC poles.

“If it wasn’t clear that so much of our state needs broadband before COVID-19, I hope it’s clear to you now,” Kennedy said. “Did anybody envision before January of this year the value of telemedicine to our citizens, of what it can do when the only access some of our folks have to a physician is to get online? But if you can’t get online, you don’t have it.”

Sen. Steve Gooch, R-Dahlonega, said a change in rates would decrease EMC revenues drastically, and since EMCs are nonprofit cooperatives owned by residents, they should not be treated the same as private companies that make a much larger profit.

“We’ve never regulated the internet in the United States and we’re moving in that direction,” he said.

“This bill is not a silver bullet to take care of and solve all of broadband problems in Georgia,” Kennedy said. “It is not the panacea to make sure that rural Georgia gets fiber.”

House Bill 847 to license hemp producers, passed the State Senate, according to the Capitol Beat News Service via the Albany Herald.

House Bill 847 requires anyone cultivating, transporting or selling hemp to hold a license just like for other agricultural products. Anyone caught with hemp who does not have a proper license would face the same penalties as for marijuana possession in Georgia.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. John Corbett, R-Lake Park, follows passage last year of a measure that legalized the growing, processing and transport of hemp. It cleared the state Senate on Monday by a 34-13 vote with several Democratic lawmakers voting against it.

The hemp measure now heads to Gov. Brian Kemp’s desk for his signature.

Corbett’s bill aims to clear up concerns over expensive testing of hemp during traffic stops by requiring official paperwork rather than forcing law enforcement agencies to test for THC, the chemical that produces a high that legally must be below a .3% content amount.

From the AJC:

The legislation would require hemp farmers and processors to obtain licenses, allow hemp sales to out-of-state businesses and raise the annual processing fee to $50,000 a year, up from a $10,000 fee set last year. The fee for growing hemp would remain at $50 per acre, up to a $5,000 maximum.

“This is going to be a phenomenal industry for our state. This is a way to get it off the ground,” said Sen. Tyler Harper, a Republican from Ocilla.

House Bill 791 by Rep. Ron Stephens (R-Savannah) passed the State Senate and will allow pharmacists to fill some prescriptions with 90 day supplies in case of a state emergency or hurricane, according to the Capitol Beat News Service via the Augusta Chronicle.

House Bill 791, sponsored by Rep. Ron Stephens, R-Savannah, would allow health-care insurers to waive the “refill too soon” rules if the governor has issued an emergency declaration or the National Weather Service has sent out a hurricane warning.

Waiving those rules would allow pharmacists to dispense up to 90 days-worth of maintenance medications for patients with chronic illnesses who reside in areas where an emergency has been declared or a hurricane warning issued.

Pharmacists would still be allowed to withhold refilling a prescription if it involves a controlled substance, is an initial refill or if a doctor has specified that the medication should not be refilled.

The measure passed unanimously out of the Senate on Monday. It heads back to the House for final passage.

House Bill 1114 on maternal mortality, was amended in the Senate before passage and heads back across the rotunda, according to the AJC.

Georgia senators unanimously approved a bill Monday designed to cut back on the state’s stubbornly high maternal mortality rate.

The measure, which senators cleared 48-0, would extend Medicaid for low-income mothers from two to six months following the birth of a child. And it would give the Georgia Department of Community Health the authority to seek a federal waiver to do so if necessary.

But the effort is largely a symbolic one for now. The budget crunch created by the coronavirus means that the Legislature will need to find the funding for it later.

“Although our budget crisis is affecting all our programs, this bill moves us in a better direction to cover our new moms and babies during a vulnerable period in their lives,” said state Sen. Kay Kirkpatrick, R-Marietta, the bill’s sponsor. “This should pay dividends for the state in years to come.”

Lori Myles, a candidate for Augusta Commission District Three, filed a complaint against the Richmond County Board of Elections alleging civil rights violations, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

A runoff election in Columbus City Council District 4 may be canceled after one candidates withdraws, according to the Ledger-Enquirer.

Whitfield County Commissioners delayed a decision on 3% pay raises for county employees, according to the Dalton Daily Citizen News.

Springfield may raise property taxes 30% after COVID-19 hit their revenue base, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Rome City Commission will rebate some alcohol license fees paid during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Rome News Tribune.

COVID-19 hospitalizations rose broadly, according to the Statesboro Herald.

The number of people hospitalized in Georgia because of COVID-19 rose to 1,000 Monday, erasing a month’s worth of progress and showing that an accompanying increase in confirmed infections is leading to serious illness.

Coronavirus infections have been rising throughout June and are now at the highest level since the pandemic began. Georgia has averaged 1,073 infections reported daily over the last seven days, according to figures kept by The Associated Press. Since Friday, the average has been higher than the previous peak of 857 set on April 13.

Almost 66,000 Georgians have now been infected since the start of the outbreak, the Georgia Department of Public Health reported, and 2,648 people have died statewide.

Savannah Mayor Van Johnson said Monday he’s so alarmed by the rapid increase in infections that he wants to require people to wear masks in public places. He asked the city’s attorney to begin drawing up an emergency order to make face coverings mandatory.

From the Savannah Morning News:

Savannah Mayor Van Johnson called an emergency city council meeting Monday to update both council members and the public with the latest information.

Johnson said the daily double-digit increases the area is currently seeing are concerning.

Dr. Lawton Davis, director of the Coastal Health District, told council members an increase had been expected following the Memorial Day crowds and other public gatherings.

“We are seeing that increase,” Davis said. “The daily average of cases is higher than it’s ever been.”

Johnson asked City Attorney Bates Lovett to research issuing an emergency directive from the mayor that would require face coverings in public.

Lovett said despite Gov. Brian Kemp’s executive orders taking local control away on COVID-19 regulations, he thinks the city can proceed.

“I believe you have the authority to do that,” Lovett said.

From GPB News:

Most of the cases in Georgia were reported in and around the metro Atlanta area, but experts said rural communities where people live and work in crowded conditions were most at risk.

Emory University and the Georgia Department of Public Health found the highest per capita rates are showing up in rural parts of the state among agricultural workers, such as poultry processors and migrant crop pickers.

Jodie Guest, an epidemiologist with Emory University, said 25% of those working in poultry plants are testing positive, and other agriculture workers — like those picking crops in South Georgia — are being hit much harder at rates of 70% and higher.

“Staggering rates of positivity in some really high-risk populations,” Guest said.

Safety Fire Commissioner John King previously said while touring parts of Hall County, which is home to a large portion of Georgia’s poultry industry, that these workers are crucial to the economy.

“If those workers don’t go to work, America goes hungry,” King said. “They’re truly essential members of our of our economy and of our society.”

COVID-19 is also causing problems for water systems, as used masks, wipes, and gloves clog filters, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

The City of Thomasville announced plans for reopening city facilities, according to the Albany Herald.

 

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