Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for June 25, 2020

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Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for June 25, 2020

Yourethecure

On June 25, 1788, the Commonwealth of Virginia became the tenth state to vote for ratification of the United States Constitution by a vote of 89 to 79. A committee was appointed to be chaired by George Wythe to draft a proposed Bill of Rights.

On June 25, 1868, the United States Congress provisionally readmitted Georgia to the Union following the Civil War with the requirements that they ratify the Fourteenth Amendment and never deprive any citizens of voting rights.

On June 25, 1876, Indians under the leadership of Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse defeated the U.S. Army 7th Cavalry under Lt. Colonel George Custer at the Battle of Little Big Horn.

On June 25, 1888, the Republican National Convention nominated Benjamin Harrison for President of the United States; Harrison’s grandfather was WIlliam Henry Harrison, ninth President of the United States.

On June 25, 1990, the United States Supreme Court released its opinion in Georgia v. South Carolina, a boundary dispute. From Wikipedia:

A… 1922 Supreme Court decision, also called Georgia v. South Carolina, 257 U. S. 516, also held that all islands in the river belong to Georgia, but that the border should be in the middle of the river between the two shores, with the border half way between any island and the South Carolina shore.

Since the 1922 case, a number of new islands were created in the river between the city of Savannah and the ocean, due to the deposit of dredging spoilage or the natural deposit of sediments. In some cases, the new islands were on the South Carolina side of the previously drawn boundary, and Georgia claimed that once a new island emerged, the border should be moved to the midpoint between the new island and the South Carolina shore of the river. In some cases, the state of South Carolina had been collecting property tax from the land owners and policing the land in question for a number of years.

When an island causes the border to leave the middle of the river, it raises the question as to how the border line should return to the middle of the river at each end of the island. South Carolina advocated a right angle bend at each tip of the island, while Georgia advocated a “triequidistant” method which kept the border an equal distance between the two shores and the tip of the island (resulting in a smooth curve).

Richmond Hill‘s statue of Robert E. Lee will not be removed for now, according to the Savannah Morning News.

The statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee will remain in the J.F. Gregory Park in Richmond Hill only because Georgia state law prohibits the relocation of war monuments, according to the statement released Tuesday by the city.

Mayor Russ Carpenter said Wednesday that city council is working to build a committee of African Americans and historians. He wants citizens involved in discussing the statue’s future.

A contextual marker might be added to the Lee statue, but there was no word on what that marker will include.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Governor Brian Kemp yesterday did an update on COVID-19.

From WABE:

“We cannot grow complacent. This virus is deadly and remains a threat to our great state,” he said. “Let’s stay vigilant in the fight to stop the spread of COVID-19.”

Kemp said people should consider wearing masks and should practice social distancing.

Numbers released Wednesday show that the number of people hospitalized with coronavirus infections rose to 1,124. That’s the highest number since May 12 and a 44% increase since the number of hospitalized people bottomed out on June 7.

From 11Alive:

He said there have been nearly 840,000 tests performed across the state at 150 testing sites. This includes 100 percent of nursing home patients – those who are at most risk.

The governor added that Georgia’s rate for COVID-19 positive tests is at 8 percent, down from 13 percent on June 1.

He encouraged residents to stay vigilant in order to stop the spread of the virus.

“Wear a mask, practice social distancing and continue to follow guidance from public health officials.”

From News4Jax.com:

Kemp’s remarks came as Democrats in the legislature asked whether Kemp would extend his emergency powers and the state’s public universities continue to announce plans to resume in-person instruction.

The Democrats asked Kemp to make clear what additional orders he may issue after lawmakers adjourn on Friday.

“We want to return to normal state governmental operations as soon as possible,” Sen. Steve Henson of Stone Mountain and Rep. Bob Trammell of Luthersville, the Democratic leaders in each chamber, said in a statement. “Leaving the legislative session without addressing the status of the Governor’s emergency powers would be irresponsible.”

Kemp’s office didn’t immediately respond to the Democrats’ statement.

Morehouse School of Medicine announced a partnership with the feds to address COVID in minority communities.

The Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta will partner with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to fight COVID-19 among racial and ethnic minority groups.

The agency announced a $40 million award to the historically-Black school Tuesday.

It will fund a three-year program to help some of those hardest hit by the pandemic by better connecting minority communities with information about COVID-19 and how to get treated for it.

“This specific award is to have Morehouse lead a consortium of organizations to really focus on the specific educational, testing, and linkage to care needs of underserved minorities and some of those also in the rural population,” said Adm. Brett Giroir, Assistant Secretary of Health for HHS, as he testified before a Congressional committee Tuesday.

“Underlying social determinants of health and disparate burdens of chronic medical conditions are contributing to worse COVID-19-related outcomes in minority and socially vulnerable communities, and this partnership with Morehouse School of Medicine is essential to improving our overall response,” Adm. Giroir said in a release.

Muscogee County reported its largest 24-hour increase in COVID-19 cases, according to the Ledger-Enquirer.

Muscogee County reported 128 new coronavirus cases Tuesday — the largest 24-hour increase since the beginning of the pandemic, according to data analyzed by the Ledger-Enquirer.

Tuesday’s increase is more than double the previous high of 60 new cases reported on June 9. As of June 23, 1,341 coronavirus cases and 39 COVID-19 related deaths have been confirmed in Muscogee County.

From the AJC:

As reported cases of the coronavirus continue to surge in Georgia, an Atlanta Journal-Constitution analysis shows adults under 30 make up the fastest growing group of new infections.

The spike in cases overall and among people aged 18 to 29 in Georgia mirrors other Southern states, including in Florida, which have also begun reopening their economies. Adults under 30 now make up Georgia’s largest cohort of cases.

People 18 to 29 made up about 29% of the new cases so far in June, up from 21% in May and 13% in April, the AJC analysis shows. New cases among older adults have declined, public health experts said, reflecting stepped up efforts to protect vulnerable populations.

GPB News reports that overdoses are suspected to have risen during the pandemic.

Dr. Kathleen Toomey, the state commissioner of the Department of Public Health, outlined the rise in suspected drug overdoses in a June 19 memo. She said the agency was alerting its “partners to be vigilant about any unusual drug overdose activity” and that the department “needs your help to determine if an increase in drug overdoses is truly occurring.”

“Over the past several weeks, our syndromic surveillance system has picked up increasing drug-overdose involved Emergency Department visits throughout Georgia,” Toomey said.

The increase of suspected overdoses comes as lawmakers are considering drastic budget cuts due to the pandemic crippling the state’s economy. Advocates of addiction recovery say now is not the time to gut mental and behavioral health services.

“People get services which keep them out of jail, out of hospital emergency rooms, while working and paying taxes,” [Georgia Council on Substance Abuse spokesman Jeff] Breedlove said. “Eliminating these transformational recovery community organizations will wreak havoc in towns and cities across Georgia.”

The Office of National Drug Control Policy’s Overdose Data Mapping Application Program showed a 16.6% increase in suspected overdose submissions from January to April this year as compared to the same period in 2019, according to a May 13 ODMAP report. The nationwide and state data suggest the pandemic spurred increased drug use and overdose.

The Chatham County Board of Elections is recounting votes in the Commission District 2 Democratic Primary with only 8 votes separating second and third places, according to the Savannah Morning News.

According to Chatham County’s complete Democratic primary election results issued on June 19, Clinton Edminster emerged as the top vote getter with a turnout of 36.68% (2,099 votes), while Tony B. Riley bested Michael J. Hamilton, Sr. by eight votes — Riley’s total was 31.73% (1,816 votes) while Hamilton garnered 31.59% (1,808 votes).

With no candidate earning a majority vote share in the race to represent District 2, which primarily encompasses central Savannah, the two best-performing Democrats will conclude the primary in Georgia’s runoff elections, scheduled for August 11.

On Wednesday afternoon, Hamilton stated in an e-mail that he requested the recount. Chatham Board of Elections Assistant Supervisor Lynn Trabue confirmed that this recount was launched on Wednesday morning, but could not provide further details about the procedure.

A grand jury indicted Travis McMichael, Greg McMichael and William “Roddie” Bryan Jr. in the Ahmaud Arbery killing, according to the Valdosta Daily Times.

“This is another positive step, another great step for finding justice for Ahmaud, for finding justice for this family and the community beyond,” [Prosecutor Joyette] Holmes said at a news conference outside the Glynn County courthouse in Brunswick that was streamed online by news outlets.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation took over the case after the video surfaced. The state attorney general appointed Holmes, who’s the district attorney in Cobb County near Atlanta, to prosecute after the local district attorney recused herself because Greg McMichael had worked for her — and two other outside prosecutors also stepped aside.

In addition to malice murder and felony murder charges, the McMichaels and Bryan each are charged with two counts of aggravated assault and one count each of false imprisonment and criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment.

Even if Gov. Brian Kemp signs the state hate crimes legislation passed this week, it couldn’t be applied retroactively to this case, Holmes told reporters. The U.S. Department of Justice has said it’s assessing whether federal hate crimes charges are appropriate.

The State House and Senate appear to disagree over raising tobacco taxes, according to the AJC.

A key House panel on Wednesday approved a 7% excise tax on vaping devices and products but didn’t take up an increase in cigarette taxes.

House Ways & Means Chairman Brett Harrell, R-Snellville, indicated that adding a cigarette tax hike to the vaping bill – Senate Bill 375 – would doom its chances.

The Senate Finance Committee last week approved raising the cigarette tax rate from 37 cents per pack to $1.35.

State officials said earlier this year that the tax and licensing fees would raise between $9.6 million and $14.5 million in the upcoming fiscal year, which begins next Wednesday.

The cigarette tax increase approved by the Senate committee would raise more than $400 million a year.

Senate Bill 416 will cut legislators’ pay by 10 percent and passed the State House, according to AccessWDUN.

After a lengthy debate, the House voted 106-51 in favor of Senate Bill 416, sending it back to the Senate for consideration of House changes.

The bill would cut lawmakers’ yearly salary of more than $17,350 by 10% in the budget year beginning July 1. Lawmakers would still get their full daily expense pay. Republican Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan’s pay of nearly $92,000 a year would be cut by 14%, a cut he has volunteered for.

The Senate on Tuesday approved an 11% cut for lawmakers in a different bill.

“As elected officials, this is an important step, an important message,” said Rep. Houston Gaines, a Republican from Athens who introduced the bill.

Senate Bill 463 has been amended to prevent a future mailing of absentee ballot applications, according to the Gainesville Times.

Senate Bill 463 proposes several changes to Georgia election law, including giving county election officials leeway in deciding how many voting machines they’ll need for certain elections. It was amended Wednesday morning in the House Governmental Affairs Committee to include language that would block Raffensperger’s office as well as counties from proactively mailing out absentee ballot applications.

Raffensperger pushed back in a statement Wednesday afternoon, saying that “By a wide margin, voters on both sides of the political spectrum agree that sending absentee applications to all active voters was the safest and best thing our office could do to protect our voters at the peak of COVID-19. Some seem to be saying that our office should have ignored the wave of absentee voting that was clearly coming.”

Republican Rep. Shaw Blackmon, chairman of the committee, said the change is meant to help county election officials avoid being flooded with absentee ballot applications, as happened in some counties before the June 9 primary.

“There’s no attempt in any way to remove the ability to request or vote in this particular manner,” Blackmon said. “It just is a capacity issue.”

From the Capitol Beat News Service via the Albany Herald:

The House Governmental Affairs Committee tacked the proposal onto a measure, Senate Bill 463, that aims to curb wait times at polling places by splitting up large precincts into smaller ones and establishing less restrictive rules for signatures to match what is shown on a voter’s ID card.

The bill was also amended Wednesday to allow poll workers to work in precincts outside the county in which they live and raise the age for moving elderly voters to the front of the line at polling places from 70 to 75 years old.

An amendment to Senate Bill 463 brought in the House committee would prevent elections officials from sending out “unsolicited absentee ballot applications.”

From the AJC:

“This does not in any way prevent anyone from asking for an absentee ballot or voting absentee,” said House Governmental Affairs Chairman Shaw Blackmon, a Republican from Bonaire. “All this says is that we’re not going to flood … this with unsolicited absentee ballots so that we actually create some problems for our counties.”

Voters would have to download an absentee ballot request form and return it to their county election offices, or they could apply through an absentee ballot request website that Raffensperger is creating. The committee also passed a requirement in the bill to create that absentee ballot website.

Senate Bill 408 will allow the continuation of some unemployment benefits and passed both chambers, according to the Capitol Beat News Service via the Albany Herald.

Amid the pandemic, those who qualified for unemployment benefits were granted leeway to collect payments for up to 26 weeks instead of the usual 14 weeks, and enjoyed a boost in the allowance rate that let them keep up to $300 per week in wages earned – instead of the usual $50 – on top of their benefits.

Those expanded benefits are set to expire once Gov. Brian Kemp ends the state’s public health emergency, which currently runs through June.

“Those provisions are temporary and they will end,” Jeffrey Babcock, the labor department’s legal services manager, told state lawmakers last week.

But language added to the bill by Strickland, R-McDonough, would let the state labor commissioner keep those expanded benefits largely in place, depending on the state’s jobless rate.

“The purpose of this bill is to get some more permanence to that,” Babcock said.

The number of weeks would increase incrementally from 14 weeks when the state’s jobless rate is 4.5% up to 26 weeks when the jobless rate is 10% or higher. The labor commissioner would also have authority to set the weekly deductible threshold at between $50 and $300.

House Bill 987 by Rep. Sharon Cooper (R-Marietta) will add protections for some senior living patients and passed the Senate, according to the AJC.

The House unanimously signed off on the Senate’s version of the bill, which added requirements for handling COVID-19 to the bill’s reforms of the senior care industry.

“I am so proud of Georgia’s House and Senate for making the necessary changes to ensure the safety of our seniors who choose to live in assisted living facilities,” said Rep. Sharon Cooper, R-Marietta, the lead sponsor of the bill.

Kemp has said he strongly supports the legislation, which will bring dramatic changes to the state’s assisted living communities and large personal care homes. Memory care units would have to get certified and have more staff, directors would have to be licensed and homes that break the rules would face higher fines. Assisted living homes would be required to have nurse staffing. Homes would also have to disclose financial problems to residents and families.

Plus, senior care homes must plan for a pandemic, have a short-term supply of personal protective gear, test residents and staff and notify residents and families of an outbreak.

Macon Judicial Circuit District Attorney David Cooke is accepting applications to restrict conviction records from employment searches, according to the Macon Telegraph.

Georgia law provides for the restriction of certain criminal history records for non-criminal justice purposes, such as employment, when approved by a prosecuting attorney, according to Cooke’s office. Eligible individuals include people whose cases were disposed of without a conviction, who successfully completed a pre-trial intervention or diversion program or who were convicted of certain misdemeanors under age 21.

“Eligible individuals can now submit applications from the convenience of a computer or smartphone, and without a fee,” Cooke announced in May. “I believe in second chances, and this service will give many people opportunities that were previously out of reach.”

Senate Bill 288 would allow the removal of minor offenses from criminal record checks, and passed the state Senate, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

The measure by Sen. Tonya Anderson, D-Lithonia, aims to give people with first-time misdemeanor and non-violent felony convictions in Georgia the ability to petition superior courts to have those records shielded from public view.

Senate Bill 288 cleared the state Senate by a unanimous vote Wednesday afternoon after gaining passage in the House earlier in the day. It now heads to Gov. Brian Kemp’s desk for his signature.

“This bill is intended to give people a second chance, have their records restricted and position them for reemployment, for housing and to go back to school,” Anderson said from the Senate floor Wednesday.

If signed into law, Anderson’s bill would require qualified ex-offenders to wait until four years after completing their sentences before filing a petition. They would have to keep a clean record during that time.

The Judicial Nomination Commission sent a short list to Governor Kemp for the remainder of the term of office of the late Richmond County Chief Magistrate Judge William D. Jennings III, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

Dalton and Whitfield County are studying efficiencies in providing fire services but disagree over whether they’re interested in considering consolidation, according to the Dalton Daily Citizen News.

Brunswick City Commissioners passed an FY21 budget with 7.5% less spending, according to The Brunswick News.

Albany City Commissioners passed a $289 million dollar FY 21 budget, according to the Albany Herald.

Richmond County public schools adopted a tentative budget including five furlough days, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

The Early College Program will also be discontinued due to House Bill 444, also known as the ‘Dual Enrollment Act,’ which reduced state funding and limited the number of hours a student can dual enroll to 30.

“Prior to House Bill 444, it was unlimited…that’s why we had the Early College Program to help facilitate that,” Jacobs said. “When they reduced that to 30 hours as the max that students can take, having a separate early college program is just not a sustainable model anymore.”

Nevertheless, students will still be able to take dual enrollment courses.

In addition, Quality Basic Education funding has been cut by 14 percent, which equates to $24,538,485. However, Jacobs said because the district received $10 million in CARES Act funding, it comes out to more of a $14 million cut.

Clarke County public schools will require masks when school reopens in the fall, according to the Athens Banner Herald.

Clarke County schools will require students, teachers and other school workers to wear face coverings when classes begin in August.

Anyone entering a school building will also be required to take a temperature check, the school district announced in a recent update of its plans for reopening after this spring’s closure because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Like most other school districts, Clarke has not settled on a final plan as the pandemic continues with the number of cases and hospitalizations on the rise again statewide.

Buford City Schools will provide Chromebooks to all students, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

“In March, when our schools had to abruptly close, we became keenly aware of the digital divide within our district,” Downs said. “In response to this need, our Curriculum and Technology Departments quickly expedited a plan to provide devices for each K-12 student in the fall. With the next several months being so uncertain, this helps ensure all students have equitable access for their education.”

The Chromebooks are expected to be distributed to students at the beginning of the school year. School system officials saying that the chances of spreading viruses to each will be reduced because they will not be sharing computers.

While the rules school systems are putting in place will allow middle and high school students to carry their computers between school and their homes, elementary school students will have to leave their Chromebooks in their classrooms, according to the district.

School system officials said the “1:1 initiative” is being partially funded with money from the CARES Act Relief Fund to ensure it’s feasible before the school year begins.

Clayton County public schools will return in fall on an alternating schedule, according to the Clayton News-Daily.

Students will be divided into two groups — A and B. Group A students will attend classes in their school buildings on Monday and Wednesday. Those in Group B will attend school on Tuesday and Thursday. All students will participate in virtual learning days on Fridays.

The Floyd County Public Defender’s Office is temporarily shut after an employee tested positive for COVID-19, according to the Rome News Tribune.

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