Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for June 29, 2020

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Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for June 29, 2020

On June 29, 1565, Pedro Menéndez de Avilés sailed from Cadiz, Spain to invade Florida.

Johan De Kalb was born on June 29, 1721 in Germany. In 1777, De Kalb joined the Marquis de Lafayette in supporting the Americans against British forces, dying in Camden, South Carolina in 1780. In 1822, the Georgia General Assembly created DeKalb County.

On June 29, 1767, the British Parliament passed the Townshend Acts, levying a tax on glass, paint, oil, lead, paper, and tea in order to raise funds from the colonies.

The United States Supreme Court released its 5-4 opinion in Furman v. Georgia on June 29, 1972, holding that the death penalty violated the Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

On June 29, 1993, Governor Zell Miller bought the first ticket in the Georgia Lottery.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

HB 426 Hate Crimes Signed

Governor Brian Kemp on Friday signed House Bill 426, hate crime legislation. From the Capitol Beat News Service via the Gwinnett Daily Post:

Under legislation Kemp signed Friday, prison time could be meted out for those who terrorize or physically harm others based on their race, color, religion, nationality, sexual orientation, sex, gender, or whether they have a physical or mental disability.

The added penalties would be tacked onto charges for felony crimes and certain misdemeanors like assault or theft. The most severe offenses could add up to two years extra behind bars, plus fines.

At a signing ceremony Friday afternoon, Kemp said the bill’s passage came as a “silver lining” at a time of social unrest and fears over coronavirus in Georgia. It would not solve all the state’s lingering problems with racism but marked “a powerful step forward,” he said.

“Today as we sign this bill into law, we also reaffirm our desire to put progress ahead of politics,” Kemp said. “We must do our part to ensure that our state is a place where all people, no matter their skin color, can live, work and prosper.”

Governor Kemp also toured a COVID-19 testing site in Gwinnett County on Friday, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

Gov. Brian Kemp acknowledged that Georgia is seeing an increase in cases of the COVID-19 novel coronavirus as he toured a testing site in Lilburn on Friday, but he resisted calling for new restrictions or measures to contain the disease.

“We’re seeing an uptick in cases and we continue to monitor that literally hourly,” Kemp told reporters on Friday. “I’ve done three or four hospital CEO calls in the last two days. We’re going to continue doing that the rest of the week to make sure we’re staying up-to-speed on what’s happening in the real world like we’re doing today at (this) testing location.”

He also said mandating the state’s residents wear face masks in public, a move some other states have been taking with their residents, is not something he’s looking at doing right now.

“Look, I have said, (and) I’m trying to demonstrate myself, that it is a good idea if you’re going to be going out to public places where you’re going to be around people for an extended period of time, or be around people in a close environment, it’s a good idea to wear a mask,” Kemp said.

“Mandating that is a bridge too far for me right now. We have to have the public buy-in. Over the last several months, the public has done that.”

Governor Kemp said he doesn’t plan any additional restrictions as COVID rates appear to rise, according to the Statesboro Herald.

The Republican governor said during a news conference Friday, after touring a drive-through testing site, that “we’re not letting our guard down. We’ve got to continue to fight hard every day, continue to jump on the hot spots, and that’s what we’re seeing a lot of in the state right now.”

Kemp cited a nursing home issue in Troop County, tied “mainly to workers in the flooring industry” and a flare-up among farm workers in south Georgia. He said he’s not considering requiring people to wear masks in public or imposing any other new restrictions, saying the ones in place are sufficient.

The state’s largest school system, Gwinnett County, announced Thursday that parents should choose at-home or remote instruction by July 10 for classes resuming Aug. 5. People will be able to change their decision after the first quarter of the school year, and the 180,000-student system could reconsider the arrangement after December.

The Georgia General Assembly approved an FY 21 budget, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

Georgia lawmakers agreed Friday to a budget that promises sharp cuts but is supposed to avoid unpaid employee furloughs and layoffs in one of the closing acts of the 2020 session of the General Assembly.

The final vote by the House on the $25.9 billion budget passed 104-62, with Democrats again arguing Republicans were overly focused on cuts and weren’t doing enough to maintain or raise tax revenue for needed programs.

House Bill 793 went to Gov. Brian Kemp for his signature with fewer than five days before the 2021 budget year begins Wednesday.

“In light of the drastic downturn in the economy and the drastic downturn in the revenues, I think we’ve got a much better budget than anybody thought we’d have, you know, a month and a half ago,” the Republican Kemp told reporters Friday.

A tax credit for manufacturers of some COVID-19 equipment passed the legislature, according to the Rome News Tribune.

Georgia businesses making personal protective equipment like gloves, masks, gowns and hand sanitizer will be eligible for a new tax credit under legislation that passed the General Assembly Friday.

The credit was touted by Gov. Brian Kemp as a show of support for businesses that have switched their operations over to producing important protective supplies since March amid the coronavirus pandemic.

House Bill 846 also includes changes to an existing state tax-credit program benefitting job creators that will let companies use their pre-coronavirus employment numbers to qualify for the credit.

Chatham County Board of Elections is preparing for the August 11 runoff elections, according to the Savannah Morning News.

The races in the runoff are entirely on the Democratic ballot, including the race for U.S. House District 1, Georgia State House District 163, coroner and Chatham County Commission Districts 2 and 5.

The two Democratic Chatham County Commission races resulted in results so narrow, a recount has been called. In District 2, second and third place were separated by a mere eight votes.

“We’ve already been working on it for over a week. So we’re already in the midst of this Aug. 11 runoff,” [Board of Elections Chairman Tom] Mahoney said. “It’s not something in the future for us. It’s something that we’ve already been working on implementing. And we just don’t have a lot of time.”

“It’s gonna be difficult, this challenge. I think that this is gonna be another opportunity to see the systems and touch the systems and get better acquainted with the systems ahead of the November election, where there’ll be huge turnout, but we don’t have a lot of time to prepare for this August 11 runoff,” Mahoney added.

“We had a huge voter turnout. People were able to vote, more than the last primary. They were able to do that on a new system in a pandemic. And all those votes were counted and are being recounted now,” Mahoney said. “And, you know, that’s a success. And the point is, is it’s a success due to the tireless efforts of hundreds of election workers and our staff and the Secretary of State’s office.”

The Habersham County Board of Elections found 19 ballots stuck in scanner bins and will recount votes, according to AccessWDUN.

The board met for more than five hours Saturday afternoon, hand counting each batch of ballots cast from each advance voting location in each bin from early voting in office, Habersham North and Habersham South.

Because of discrepancies from Election Day scanners, after arriving at a total number of advance ballots cast, the board traveled to the Habersham County Courthouse, where those units are stored.

As Elections Supervisor Laurel Ellison checked the bin inside each scanner, she located 19 ballots that were not included in the District 4 recount.

Ellison stressed those ballots were counted on Election Day, but not in the recount earlier in the week.

Georgia’s lawyers in water litigation against Florida are asking the U.S. Suprement Cout to deny relief to the jean-shorts state, according to the Gainesville Times.

“After more than six years of litigation, it is now clear that Florida’s case was built on rhetoric and not on facts,” Georgia’s lawyers stated in a document Friday, June 26.

The filing is in response to Florida asking the court in April to reject a Dec. 11 report by a special master who recommended that justices not grant Florida’s request for an equitable apportioning of waters in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin, or the ACF Basin.

[Special Master U.S. Circuit Judge Paul J.] Kelly said in his 81-page report, “The evidence has shown that Georgia’s water use is reasonable, and the evidence has not shown that the benefits of apportionment would substantially outweigh the potential harms.”

The Supreme Court will now decide whether to accept Kelly’s recommendation as the water battle is sure to linger into a fourth decade, as other lawsuits dating to 1990 have come and gone.

Glynn County Commissioners are threatening to sue the state in order to suppress the right of citizens of the county to vote over the constitutionality of legislation recently passed, according to the Brunswick News.

“In our opinion, it’s unconstitutional,” said Glynn County Commission Chairman Mike Browning. “If (Gov. Brian Kemp) does sign it, we would mount a defense in court on those grounds.”

Sen. William Ligon, R-White Oak, told The News the process of allowing voters to decide the future of the county police department required three bills, all of which the General Assembly approved the last two weeks it was in session.

County officials have argued the bill violates the state Constitution’s home rule statute and the Constitutional power granted to counties to create police departments.

While the county supports the right of citizens to vote on important issues, Browning said citizens should not vote on every issue. The representative form of government the county operates under requires that some decisions be handled by elected officials.

“To think that the entire voting population can and should vote on everything that comes up, it just doesn’t work that way,” Browning said.

Chatham County Commissioners adopted an FY 2021 budget, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Because of the ongoing economic turbulence caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Chatham’s new budget calls for cost-cutting measures — including a hiring freeze and a pause in most new capital-improvement expenditures — in what County Manager Lee Smith characterized as a “cautious approach for the next fiscal year.” The county’s FY 2021 spans from July 1, 2020, to June 30.

Totaling just over $205 million, Chatham’s FY 2021 General Fund Management and Operations budget was passed without increasing the previous year’s millage rate of 11.543, although for this budget item county officials declined to apply the rollback rate applicable under Georgia state law as an option for local governments to adjust property taxes to account for inflation.

Following requests from several commissioners, the county’s $40.5 million FY 2021 Special Service District (SSD) budget — applicable only to residents of the county’s unincorporated areas to fund the Chatham County Police Department, public works and other services typically provided by municipalities — did include a millage-rate rollback from 4.911 to 4.801.

The Albany Area Chamber of Commerce held a virtual fly-in with their Congressional delegation, according to the Albany Herald.

The local delegation had virtual meetings with U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop of Albany and Rep. Austin Scott of Tifton, along with Georgia Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler. During the call with Perdue, the Albany Area Chamber partnered with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Georgia Chamber of Commerce to recognize the senator’s receipt of the U.S. Chamber’s Spirit of Enterprise Award, given in recognition of his support for pro-growth policies in the second session of the 115th Congress.

A key priority of the Albany Area Chamber is supporting the mission and capabilities of Marine Corps Logistics Base-Albany and its major tenant, Headquarters Marine Corps Logistics Command. The fly-in’s meeting with U.S. Marine Corps leadership at the Pentagon, which included Lt. Gen. Charles Chiarotti, deputy commandant of Marine Corps Installations and Logistics, allowed for discussion of key areas including utilization of 5G technology aboard the installation to support the modernization of the industrial base and enhance mission-readiness capabilities such as talent development; 3D printing and micro manufacturing; and advanced weapons systems maintenance, storage and sustainment.

Gwinnett County Solicitor General Brian Whiteside (D) is jumping on the latest bandwagon and asking county commissioners to remove a Confederate monunment, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

Statesboro City Hall is temporarily closed to the public after an employee tested positive for COVID-19, according to the Statesboro Herald.

Athens-Clarke County Commissioners declined to defund the county police in the FY 21 budget, according to the Athens Banner Herald.

Brunswick may consider zoning changes to allow a village of tiny houses to provide transitional housing for some homeless veterans, according to the Brunswick News.

Dalton City Council is considering adding CBD to their drug ban for employees, according to the Dalton Daily Citizen News.

[L]ow THC isn’t no THC, said City of Dalton Human Resources Director Greg Batts. Use of such oils could potentially trigger a positive results in drug tests. He noted that marijuana remains illegal under federal and state law.

“But if an employee tests positive on a drug screen (for marijuana), he could say ‘Oh, that’s my CBD oil.’ And we would have no way to differentiate,” Batts said.

Batts suggested to the City Council at their Thursday Finance Committee meeting that they add CBD oil to the list of banned substances under its drug policy.

“Would this mean we can’t hire them?” asked Mayor David Pennington.

“You can hire them as long as they don’t test positive for THC,” Batts said.

Batts said that under federal law drivers can lose their commercial driver’s license if they test positive for THC whether that positive test is the result of marijuana use or CBD oil use.

But council member Annalee Harlan said she was concerned that city policy allows people to use painkillers and drugs such as Xanax that are used to treat anxiety disorders and depression if they are prescribed by a doctor but might not allow them to use CBD oil that is prescribed.

Bloomingdale Mayor Ben Rozier is embattled but still in office after Facebook posts, according to the Savannah Morning News.

For the second weekend in a row, a small group of demonstrators gathered Saturday in front of Bloomingdale City Hall demanding the resignation of Mayor Ben Rozier, whose controversial June 16 Facebook comments about “privilege” prompted widespread backlash and national media attention.

In the incident’s aftermath, on June 18 the entire Bloomingdale City Council officially requested Rozier to “tender his resignation immediately.” While this request was posted on Bloomingdale’s municipal website, as of Saturday evening, that site still recognizes Rozier as the city’s mayor.

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