Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for July 1, 2020

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Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for July 1, 2020

The Second Continental Congress met in Philadelphia on July 1, 1776 to debate a resolution by Richard Henry Lee that the colonies declare their independence of Britain.

The first U.S. Postage stamps were issued on July 1, 1847 in New York City.

The Battle of Gettysburg began on July 1, 1863. July 2, 1863 saw day 2 of the Battle of Gettysburg, with Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia attacking Meade’s Army of the Potomac.

Theodore Roosevelt and the Rough Riders charged San Juan Hill in Cuba during the Spanish-American War on July 1, 1898.

Coca-Cola marketed its current formula for the first time on July 1, 1916.

On July 1, 1956, a new Georgia flag bearing the state seal and a version of the Confederate Battle Flag became effective after being adopted by the Georgia General Assembly in the 1956 Session.

The current Georgia Constitution became effective on July 1, 1983 after its approval in a referendum during the November 1982 General Election.

Georgia native Clarence Thomas was nominated to the United States Supreme Court by President George H.W. Bush on July 1, 1991.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

The text of Governor Kemp’s speech:

“Six months ago, we gathered under this Gold Dome to kick off the 2020 Legislative Session. Excitement was high, and the expectations were even higher. Little did we know, the unthinkable was right around the corner. COVID-19 put our plans and progress on pause as it spread across the world, threatening the lives of Georgians far and wide. In its wake, this deadly virus spurred an economic recession, impacting every industry in every corner of our great state.”

“To be honest, today is bittersweet. Yes, this budget reflects our values as a state. It funds core services and protects the vital mission of our state agencies. This budget prioritizes education, healthcare, and public safety. It puts people over politics and helps ensure a safer, stronger tomorrow for all Georgians. But this budget speaks to some of the hard choices made by state leaders to streamline and innovate. While we were able to avoid draconian cuts, getting this budget to balance was hard. These are challenging times, and the budget reflects that reality.”

“While much has changed over the last several months, my priorities as Georgia’s governor have remained the same. With the closing of schools, Georgia families have a renewed appreciation for our teachers, counselors, specialists, and staff. These men and women are unsung heroes, and we appreciate their efforts during the pandemic to adapt, educate, and inspire students in every part of our state. To keep Georgia moving in the right direction and minimize the long-term impact of COVID-19 on our classrooms, this budget fully funds enrollment growth and training for public school education. It recognizes a 7.8% increase in enrollment at state charter schools, and this budget provides $55 million in additional lottery funds for the HOPE Scholarship to meet projected demand. With 53% of the 2021 budget dedicated to education, we continue to put students first.”

“The pandemic has targeted the most vulnerable populations in our state, highlighting the healthcare disparities that exist. Now, more than ever, we see that access to quality, affordable healthcare – in every zip code – is essential and lifesaving. This budget fully funds projected growth in Medicaid and Peach Care, which is nearly $270 million. It also includes $19 million in new funding to offer six months of postpartum Medicaid coverage for Georgia mothers, effective upon approval by the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services. These big investments with help us enhance health outcomes. This budget will ensure a healthier tomorrow for all Georgians.”

“Finally, we know that Georgia’s potential as a state is directly tied to public safety. Our future hinges on the safety and security of our citizens. During this healthcare crisis, we have seen law enforcement officers play a vital role in the fight against COVID-19. Moving forward, we must continue to support efforts to crack down on sex trafficking, dismantle street gangs, protect communities from violence, and pursue justice. We must stand with law enforcement now – just like they stood with us during our most difficult days. In this budget, we have included resources to expand the GBI Gang Task Force, fund a 50-person trooper school, and support personal services and operating expenses for motor carrier officers in the Ports Corridor. These public safety dollars will pay huge dividends as we emerge from this healthcare and economic crisis. We will keep our neighborhoods, communities, and families safe and secure.”

“The fundamentals of our economy remain strong, and I have incredible confidence in job creators across all sectors. As these men and women lead Georgia’s economic revival, we will do our part to leverage opportunities for economic stimulus through our capital spending programs. This budget includes a $1.1 billion bond package that will spur growth and opportunity through numerous construction activities. $340 million of the total package is for major repairs and renovations of state-owned facilities and transportation infrastructure. There’s $70 million in bond funds for the expansion of the convention center at the Savannah-Georgia Convention Center Authority, $12 million in bond funds for facility repairs and improvements at the Georgia World Congress Center Authority, and $115 million in bond funds for the repair, replacement, and renovation of roads and bridges statewide through the Georgia Department of Transportation. This bond package will Georgia regain its competitive advantage. We will not let coronavirus undermine our progress.”

“The legislature has but one constitutional requirement, and that’s to pass a balanced budget. I want to commend Chairman England, Chairman Tillery, their colleagues, and staff for working so hard to fulfill their duty, even during these unprecedented times. I also want to pause and thank Georgia’s 82nd Governor, Nathan Deal, for his bold leadership and conservative planning. Thanks to the resources that he allocated to the Rainy-Day Fund, we are able to balance the budget without furloughs to state employees. We are grateful for his wisdom and service. Finally, I want to thank President Trump, Vice President Pence, and our congressional delegation for securing funds for Georgia through the CARES Act. These resources will help state and local governments minimize the impact of COVID-19 on those we are honored to serve.”

“In the fight against coronavirus, we are seeing encouraging signs. The case fatality rate continues to decline as testing nears one million. Our hospitals have surge capacity, and thanks to GEMA, we are providing PPE to people and places that need it most. On the economic side, we are seeing positive momentum. Businesses are slowly – and safely – reopening, and several companies have announced relocation projects and expansions in the Peach State. But look, we’re not out of the woods yet. There’s still more work to be done to protect the lives – and livelihoods – of all Georgians. We have to remain vigilant in the days ahead. We have to hunker down and keep choppin’. I am confident that if we continue to work together, we will see better days. I know that we can build a safer, stronger, healthier, and more prosperous Georgia for generations to come. Again, thank you to Chairman England, Chairman Tillery, and those who are gathered here today. May God bless you and the great state of Georgia!”

From the AJC:

A day before the start of the new fiscal year, Gov. Brian Kemp on Tuesday signed a $26 billion budget that cuts $2.2 billion in spending amid an uncertain financial future for the state.

“To be honest, today is bittersweet,” Kemp said before signing the spending plan. “Yes, this budget reflects our values of this state. This budget emphasizes education, health care and public safety.”

Despite the cuts lawmakers made in passing the spending plan last week, the budget Kemp signed was a good bit better than state officials expected a month ago.

The recession brought on by the pandemic — which produced record unemployment and closed thousands of businesses — has meant a huge drop in tax collections for governments. But unlike cities, counties and school districts, the state doesn’t collect property taxes — relying heavily on income and sales taxes that can plummet quickly when the economy tanks.

Kemp noted that 53% of the budget will go to education. Lottery-funded programs, such as the HOPE scholarship and pre-kindergarten classes for 4-year-olds, were not reduced.

Kemp began the year with about $2.8 billion in the state’s “rainy day” reserve. However, he allocated $100 million to fight the pandemic in March. With what was used to fill holes in state spending during the final three months of fiscal 2020 and the allocation for fiscal 2021, nearly half of the reserve will be gone by this time next year.

That’s not unusual. The state went through its reserve quickly during the Great Recession — which started to hit the government’s coffers in 2008 and lasted for several years.

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

Legislative Democrats, most of whom voted against the budget, took majority Republicans to task for not allowing revenue raising proposals – including a tobacco tax increase and legislation reining in state tax credits – to reach the floor of either the House or Senate for a vote.

Kemp was flanked throughout Tuesday’s signing ceremony by House Appropriations Committee Chairman Terry England, R-Auburn, and his Senate counterpart, Blake Tillery, R-Vidalia.

The governor bumped fists with both men after signing the budget, which takes effect on Wednesday.

From the Capitol Beat News Service via the Albany Herald:

Rusk Roam, the state Department of Education’s chief financial officer, noted the budget cuts were tough but not quite as dire as initially expected. He added the state will be able to fully fund $726 million for financially struggling schools.

Local school districts will be left to determine how to swallow cuts for their schools in terms of whether to furlough teachers or reduce the number of classroom days for the 2020-21 school year.

Teacher salaries will not change despite the budget cuts, officials said Tuesday.

School funding has been propped up by roughly $457 million in funds from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

Georgia’s Department of Education will spend more on online teaching in the new fiscal year, according to the AJC.

Georgia will spend up to $1.2 million to hire online teachers for an expected swell in enrollment in the state’s virtual school offerings this fall, while adding several million for temporary expansions of internet access.

With COVID-19 affecting schools across the state, enrollment in the Georgia Virtual School has already risen 30% and officials think it could go much higher, overwhelming the 250 teachers. The state-run school provides supplemental courses for middle school and high school students, whether they are enrolled in a public school, a private one or are schooling at home.

The board also approved using $4 million in Georgia’s allotment of federal CARES Act COVID-19 relief funding to pay for internet connectivity devices. Most of it, $3 million, will be added to what the state has dubbed its “Wi-Fi Ranger” program, which outfits school buses with internet hotspots. The buses park in neighborhoods, giving students nearby a way to get online. The remaining $1 million will go to libraries to acquire and distribute personal internet hotspots to students.

Governor Kemp also signed House Bill 987 by State Rep. Sharon Cooper (R-Marietta) to provide additional protections to seniors in assisted living, according to the AJC.

Under the new law, administrators of assisted living and large personal care homes for the first time will be required to pass a test and be licensed. Memory care units will now have to be certified. Nurses will be required in assisted living and memory care, and overall staffing and training requirements will increase. Homes will also have to prove they have the financial means to operate before they get a license and will have to disclose any financial problems that come up after they open.

In addition, those caught breaking the rules will now face bigger fines. Under the old law, the typical penalty for the worst violations was $601. Now, the state must impose a fine of at least $5,000 for a violation which causes a resident to be seriously harmed or to die.

Most of the new law relates to assisted living communities and personal care homes of 25 beds or more, but a section on COVID-19 also applies to the state’s nursing homes, and it will require testing, planning and preparedness for a pandemic

“This bill addresses an urgent need, that was brought to my attention, to dramatically reform our standards for elder care in Georgia,” Cooper said at the Capitol on Tuesday. “I am proud of the work we have done and thank Gov. Kemp for signing this measure into law.”

Gwinnett County hosts an August 11 runoff election for the Democratic nomination for County Commission Chair, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

Nearly a month after the June 9 primary election, Democrats in Gwinnett County finally learned on Tuesday what their runoff matchup for county commission chairman will be.

A recount that wrapped up Tuesday showed Lee Thompson edged out Curt Thompson for a chance to face Nicole Love Hendrickson in the Aug. 11 Democratic Party runoff for the commission chairman’s race. Lee Thompson had been ahead of Curt Thompson after the initial count, but only 20 votes separated them.

While the recount confirmed the two Thompsons were in the right order following the original count, Lee Thompson’s lead shrank from 20 votes to just 13 votes.

Savannah Mayor Van Johnson has ordered the use of masks in public spaces, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Savannah Mayor Van Johnson issued an emergency order Tuesday mandating the wearing of face masks when out in public spaces and inside commercial establishments within the city limits. The mandate begins at 8 a.m. on Wednesday and runs until further notice.

“Frankly, and honestly, I do not believe we have any other choice,” Johnson said during his weekly briefing Tuesday morning at City Hall recapping the recent increase in COVID-19 cases across the county.

In addition to face coverings required in public spaces, they must also be worn in commercial establishments, including restaurants, retail stores, salons, grocery stores and pharmacies in the city of Savannah. Face coverings are not required in religious establishments, although they are encouraged, Johnson said.

Face coverings are not required for those under the age of 10, any person who is unable to safely wear face covering due to age or an underlying health condition, or anyone who is unable to remove the mask covering without assistance.

From the Ledger-Enquirer:

Everyone in the popular coastal city will be required to wear a face covering in public places and can face a civil infraction that comes with a fine of up to $500 if they don’t, Mayor Van Johnson announced in a media briefing.

From the AJC:

Gov. Brian Kemp didn’t rule out taking legal action to block Savannah’s new mask mandate but said Wednesday that Georgians shouldn’t need a legal requirement to wear face coverings to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

“I wouldn’t be able to speak about any state action, because I haven’t had time to really discuss the matter,” Kemp said at the launch of a statewide flyaround tour. “But regardless of any legal action that may or may not happen, you shouldn’t need a mask mandate for people to do the right thing.”

But it sets up a potential legal showdown with Kemp, a Republican who signed a statewide order that said Georgians are “strongly encouraged” but not required to use masks. Kemp has said he believes a requirement to don face coverings is a “bridge too far” and instead prefers a softer approach.

His order was designed to prevent local governments from enacting more stringent or lenient rules, and it has infuriated some mayors and county commissioners who argued it was too lenient or too draconian since an early version took effect in April.

Athens-Carke County is also considering a mask ordinance, according to the Athens Banner Herald.

The Athens-Clarke County Commission is set to vote on an ordinance requiring face coverings, still under development, at its monthly meeting Tuesday, July 7.

“Members of the Athens-Clarke County Commission are very eager to have an ordinance in place,” said Mayor Kelly Girtz. “I expect there to be vote on Tuesday.”

The Bulloch County Department of Health said COVID-19 is in “substantial spread” in the county, according to the Statesboro Herald.

Media reports from other parts of Georgia suggest that community spread determinations for school opening decisions may be based on the number of new cases per capita in a 14-day period, rather than the cumulative total. But at this point, Bulloch would also far surpass that mark.

Bulloch County public schools are hosting two online forums on reopening schools, according to the Statesboro Herald.

As of last Thursday evening, the Board of Education tabled a motion from two of its members to delay the start of the 2020-21 school year from the long-planned Aug. 3 first day of classes to Sept. 8, the day after Labor Day. Another board then member suggested an unspecified shorter delay, and Monday night’s media release mentioned a possible two-week, rather than a full month’s, postponement.

“The plan is for all students to resume school using the school district’s virtual learning program,” states the release provided by Hayley Greene, the school system’s public relations director. “It is possible that we will experience a delayed start (potentially August 17) to allow schools time to prepare for this delivery method.”

[O]n Friday, Bulloch County Public Safety and Emergency Management Agency Director Ted Wynn revealed that the Georgia Department of Public Health had placed Bulloch County in the category of “substantial spread” of the coronavirus, the “red” zone. The school system’s plans already called for keeping buildings closed and providing distance-learning for all students if the concern was raised to that level.

“When Bulloch County is reclassified to a lower spread category, the school district will allow students (those who choose to do so) to return to a traditional, face-to-face school setting,” Greene wrote in Monday’s release announcing the forums.

Richmond County Schools announced reopening plans, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

The school system sent out surveys to families and staff to get their input on what should be done for the start of the school year. The results showed 35.15 percent of families wanted online learning and 34.54 percent wanted face-to-face learning. Nearly half of the staff asked for a blended learning model.

As a result, the school system is offering parents a choice:

– A blended/hybrid model in which students take in-person classes Monday through Thursday and have Friday reserved for remote learning.

– A completely virtual learning model.

Parents can register students for online classes starting Wednesday on the Richmond County School System’s website under the ‘Students’ tab by clicking ‘Online Academy.’ The deadline for registration is July 20.

Oconee County Schools will also offer choices in how to return to school, according to the Athens Banner Herald.

Oconee County students can attend in-person classes when school starts again August 5, or students can instead choose to stay at home for online learning under a reopening plan the school district announced Tuesday.

At school, “social distancing will occur when possible.”

Staff will be required to wear masks “when other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain,” while students will be “encouraged” to wear masks, except when they’re riding a school bus where masks will be required. The school district in the meantime is asking families to complete a non-binding survey on their transportation and instructional preferences. On July 7, the school district will ask them to commit to in-person or virtual instruction.

Some students and faculty at UGA are concerned with the lack of a mask mandate, according to the Red and Black.

UGA students and faculty have raised concerns about the lack of a mandatory rule. The university is spending around $300,000 to provide two cloth face masks for every student, faculty and staff member, but some say without a requirement to wear one on campus, it isn’t enough.

Frick and other UGA faculty members compiled a spreadsheet of public universities’ mask policies, including institutions that are UGA’s “comparator and aspirational peers,” according to UGA’s Office of Institutional Research. The University of Florida and University of Virginia are among those requiring students, faculty and staff wear face masks in indoor areas on campus.

UGA students have taken to social media to express support for a mandatory mask requirement. A Change.org petition asking the USG Board of Regents, which is in charge of the university system, to implement a mask rule has garnered more than 3,000 signatures as of Wednesday.

An online petition is urging a mask requirement and other specific distancing measures for Fulton County schools when they return to classrooms, according to Patch.com.

As Fulton County reopens schools for students, masks are NOT required and enforced in students. Crowded hallways and tight classrooms do NOT ALLOW for social distancing.

The Rome Judicial Circuit Public Defender’s Officeis reopening after a temporary closure due to a positive COVID test on staff, according to the Rome News Tribune.

Lee County sales tax receipts were unexpectedly up, according to the Albany Herald.

“We got the numbers last Friday, and I was shocked,” Lee Commission Chairman Billy Mathis said. “The numbers we got Friday were for last month. The month of the shutdowns. The T-SPLOST revenues In Lee County have averaged around $200,000 a month. Last month they were $352,860. Our SPLOST revenue averages around $300,000 a month, and last month it was $423,656.

“This is interesting news. Everybody has been a little scared about what was going to happen with sales tax revenue with the virus situation. I told our staff last month, ‘The next three months are going to be very interesting. A couple of things affected this, I think. The biggest is the internet sales tax bill kicked in in April. A lot of people stayed home, bought groceries, went to the local liquor store, the home improvement store. These numbers are incredible. I would have never guessed we would have this. I was shocked at how good the numbers were. I was worried they might have gone the other way.”

Georgia DOT will minimize construction-related traffic disruptions for the July 4 weekend, according to the Dalton Daily Citizen News.

To alleviate Fourth of July weekend traffic congestion, the Georgia Department of Transportation is suspending construction-related lane closures on interstate highways and limiting lane closures on state routes that directly serve major tourist and recreation centers from noon Thursday through 10 p.m. Sunday.

“As people head to holiday festivities or vacation destinations on this long weekend, we expect heavier than normal traffic,” said John Hancock, DOT state construction engineer. “By restricting lane closures, we hope drivers will encounter fewer delays and less stress.”

Although Georgia welcome centers are not currently open, rest area and welcome center restrooms are open and regularly deep cleaned. However, from time to time a rest area facility may be closed temporarily for service. When stopping in public spaces, be cognizant of social distancing and public health guidelines, as well as act courteously to fellow travelers.

Embattled Bloomingdale Mayor Ben Rozier says he plans to stay in office despite City Council calling for his resignation, according to the Savannah Morning News.

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