Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for February 11, 2021

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Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for February 11, 2021

On February 11, 1733, the first military formation in Georgia was held, as male colonists assembled with their muskets.

On February 11, 1776, Georgia Royal Governor Sir James Wright escaped from house arrest in Savannah to a waiting British warship HMS Scarborough.

Burt Reynolds was born on February 11, 1936 in Lansing, Michigan, though some accounts say Waycross, Georgia. Beginning with Deliverance, filmed along the Chattooga River in North Georgia in 1972, Georgia rose to number three in the nation for film production while Reynolds’s star rose to prominence. Other Reynolds movies filmed in Georgia include The Longest Yard, Gator, Smokey and the Bandit, Cannonball Run, and Sharky’s Machine.

https://youtu.be/CNDDxVkTELc

https://youtu.be/YkXgnqtH7tY

https://youtu.be/qWG9ROB_2Zk

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Under the Gold Dome Today

8:00 AM Senate Health and Workman’s Comp Subcommittee of Insurance and Labor – 450 CAP
8:00 AM Senate Ethics – 307 CLOB
8:00 AM HOUSE EDUCATION – 506 CLOB
8:00 AM HOUSE NATURAL RESOURCES AND ENVIRONMENT – 606 CLOB
8:00 AM HOUSE APPROPRIATIONS EDUCATION SUBCOMMITTEE – 341 CAP
8:30 AM HOUSE WAYS AND MEANS – 406 CLOB
9:00 AM HOUSE RULES – 341 CAP
9:30 AM HOUSE FLOOR SESSION (LD16) – House Chamber
10:00 AM Senate FLOOR SESSION (LD 16) – Senate Chamber
11:30 AM HOUSE Special Committee on Election Integrity Rich Subcommittee – 406 CLOB
TBD Senate Rules Upon Adjournment – 450 CAP
1:00 PM Senate Subcommittee B of Judiciary – 450 CAP
1:00 PM Senate Public Safety – canceled – Mezz 1
1:00 PM HOUSE APPROPRIATIONS ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT SUBCOMMITTEE – 341 CAP
1:00 PM HOUSE Regulated Industries Alcohol Subcommittee – 506 CLOB
1:00 PM HOUSE Regulated Industries Regulatory Subcommittee – 515 CLOB
2:00 PM HOUSE Judiciary Non Civil Setzler Subcommittee – 406 CLOB
2:15 PM Senate Transportation – canceled – 450 CAP
2:15 PM Senate Agriculture and Consumer Affairs – canceled – Mezz 1
2:30 PM HOUSE Regulated Industries Low THC Subcommittee – 515 CLOB
3:30 PM Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities – Mezz 1
4:45 PM Senate Government Oversight – canceled – 450 CAP

SENATE RULES CALENDAR

SB 49 – Buildings and Housing; procedures for alternative plan review, permitting, and inspection by private professional providers; provide(Substitute)(SLGO(G)-45th)
SB 86 – “Fair Business Practices Act of 1975”; requirements for solicitations of services for corporate filings required by the Secretary of State; provide (AG&CA-20th)
SB 33 – Torts; cause of action against perpetrators for victims of human trafficking; provide (JUDY-45th)
SB 32 – Public Disclosure; certain personal records of state and federal employees; exempt (Substitute)(JUDY-28th)
SB 34 – Domestic Relations; name change; victims of human trafficking may petition; provide (JUDY-45th)

HOUSE RULES CALENDAR

Modified Open Rule
HB 208 – State holidays; second Wednesday of February of each year as National Swearing-in Day in Georgia; provide (Substitute)(SP&CA-Cheokas-138th)

Modified Structured Rule
HB 67 – State government; public property; extend automatic repeals of certain provisions (HEd-Martin-49th)
HB 129 – Sheriffs; compensation; modify certain provisions (PS&HS-Watson-172nd)
HB 246 – Motor vehicles; issuance of replacement licenses and permits; increase fee (MotV-Watson-172nd)

Governor Brian Kemp announced $1000 dollar bonuses for many state workers, according to WALB.

On Wednesday, Gov. Brian Kemp along with Lt. Governor Geoff Duncan and several other state leaders announced that the amended 2021 fiscal year budget for Georgia will include a one-time bonus of $1,000 to state employees making less than $80,000 per year.

“I want to thank Lt. Governor Duncan, Speaker Ralston, Chairmen England and Tillery, and OPB Director Kelly Farr for their leadership and hard work on the amended FY21 budget,” said Gov. Kemp. “Despite a deadly, global pandemic, our state employees have gone above and beyond to continue delivering essential services to our most vulnerable, help keep businesses open and deliver financial assistance to those who were tempted to lose hope. Like so many hardworking Georgians, they juggled jobs, school, and navigating the new normal. With a $1,000 supplement for state employees who make less than $80,000 a year, we can do our part as state leaders to say ‘thank you’ and prioritize the people who make it possible for Georgia to be the top state for business and who have done the hard work to ensure Georgia’s best days are still to come.”

House Bill 265 by Rep. David Knight (R-Griffin), the annual bill to reconcile Georgia code references to changing federal tax law, passed out of the State House by a 166-0 vote, according to the Center Square via the Albany Herald.

The measure, House Bill 265, makes an annual update to the state’s revenue code to extend tax deductions for medical expenses, charitable contributions and business meals.

One of the bill’s sponsors, Rep. David Knight, R-Griffin, said local accountants and tax preparers are waiting on the changes in the bill to file income taxes for 2020.

Most of the provisions in the bill were drafted to conform with the tax relief measures granted by the federal government through coronavirus relief legislation. Lawmakers said the measure could cost the state nearly $255 million in tax revenue over the next five years. Georgians could hold on to about $49 million of tax revenue in fiscal year 2021 and $82 million in fiscal year 2022.

The PPP was launched through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act in March. The program provides loans to businesses to keep their workforce employed and cover expenses such as rent and payroll during the pandemic. The latest round of aid was made available in January.

Under SB 265, businesses eligible for PPP loan forgiveness would not be required to pay state taxes on the loans, even though they count as income. The measure also lets those business owners claim tax deductions on the loans.

Senate Bill 148 by Sen. Chuck Hufstetler (R-Rome) would create the 2021 Special Council on Tax Reform and Fairness for Georgians and the Special Joint Committee on Georgia Revenue Structure. From the Rome News-Tribune:

The five-page bill would create two entities: the 2021 Special Council on Tax Reform and Fairness for Georgians and the Special Joint Committee on Georgia Revenue Structure.

The Council would spend this year on the study and submit a report with recommended legislative action by Jan. 10, 2022. Any proposed legislation would be assigned to the special committee, with the idea that whatever it sent for a floor vote could not be amended.

“An up or down vote,” Hufstetler said. “The intent is, before special interests nibble away at it, to say this is the preference.”

The 11 member council would have a seat for Gov. Brian Kemp as well as three economists appointed by the governor, lieutenant governor and Speaker of the House.

The special committee would have 12 members, all lawmakers — from both the House and the Senate.

“We want to have a diverse tax structure in case something happens to one sector … At the same time, we’re too dependent on income tax. We need to broaden that out,” he said.

Democratic Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis is investigating President Trump’s call to the Georgia Secretary of State, according to the New York Times.

On Wednesday, Fani Willis, the recently elected Democratic prosecutor in Fulton County, sent a letter to numerous officials in state government, including Mr. Raffensperger, requesting that they preserve documents related to Mr. Trump’s call, according to a state official with knowledge of the letter. The letter explicitly stated that the request was part of a criminal investigation, said the official, who insisted on anonymity to discuss internal matters.

The Fulton County investigation comes on the heels of a decision on Monday by Mr. Raffensperger’s office to open an administrative inquiry.

Ms. Willis has been weighing for several weeks whether to open an inquiry, after Mr. Trump’s phone call to Mr. Raffensperger on Jan. 2 alarmed election experts who called it an extraordinary intervention into a state’s electoral process.

Former prosecutors said Mr. Trump’s calls might run afoul of at least three state laws. One is criminal solicitation to commit election fraud, which can be either a felony or a misdemeanor; as a felony, it is punishable by at least a year in prison. There is also a related conspiracy charge, which can be prosecuted either as a misdemeanor or a felony. A third law, a misdemeanor offense, bars “intentional interference” with another person’s “performance of election duties.”

From the Associated Press via the Valdosta Daily Times:

Willis spokesman Jeff DiSantis told The Associated Press that while he could not name the subjects under investigation, he confirmed that Trump’s call to Raffensperger was “part of it” and said “the matters reported on over the last several weeks are the matters being investigated.” In her letters, Willis also remarks that officials “have no reason to believe that any Georgia official is a target of this investigation.”

The letters, sent to Raffensperger, Gov. Brian Kemp, Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan and Attorney General Chris Carr, instruct the four Republican officials to preserve all records related to the election, particularly those that may contain evidence of attempts to influence elections officials.

“Let’s be clear — we know Trump and his cronies’ attacks on our elections were the direct result of Black and brown voters making their voices heard,” Williams said in a statement. “Now, it is the responsibility of every leader of this state, regardless of party, to put protecting the rights of Georgia voters above letting Donald Trump get away with his crimes.”

David Shafer, chair of the state Republican Party, did not immediately respond to a text or phone call seeking comment.

Willis’ letters note the investigation is looking into “potential violations of Georgia law prohibiting the solicitation of election fraud, the making of false statements to state and local government bodies, conspiracy, racketeering, violation of oath of office and any involvement in violence or threats related to the election’s administration.”

The district attorney added that she will request subpoenas for the investigation in March when the next Fulton County grand jury is set to meet.

From the AJC:

Willis told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Wednesday that her office was best suited to handle the investigation since all other relevant state investigative agencies have conflicts. In her letter, Willis said her office “is the one agency with jurisdiction that is not a witness to the conduct that is the subject of the investigation.”

“I don’t have any predetermined opinions” about whether a prosecution will even occur, she said. Willis would not say whether anyone else besides the former president is under investigation.

Calling it a “matter of high priority,” Willis said the next Fulton County grand jury is set to convene in March and added “this office will begin requesting grand jury subpoenas as necessary at that time.” She said investigators have no “reason to believe that any Georgia official is a target of this investigation.”

The Floyd County Board of Elections will hire a full-time Chief Clerk, according to the Rome News Tribune.

Hiring a new chief elections clerk is the first step in a long-term process to do a complete modernization and overhaul of the Floyd County Elections Office.

With the new generation of voting machines, [Board Chair Melanie] Conrad felt that the job description needs to be more modern and technology-focused. She went on to say the new proposed salary for the position will be “more competitive” than the previous salary range of $34,405 to $37,925.

To change the Floyd County elections system, it would take a vote from the Georgia General Assembly. And before that, the new legislation would have to be approved by the County Commission and brought to the state House by one of the local legislators: Rep. Katie Dempsey, Rep. Eddie Lumsden or Rep. Mitchell Scoggins.

The Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission received nearly 70 applications for production licenses, according to the Albany Herald.

The Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission announced Wednesday that nearly 70 businesses submitted competitive application proposals in response to the Commission’s Class 1 and Class 2 production license request for proposals to manufacture low-THC cannabis oil for medical use in the state of Georgia. Approximately 14,000 registered patients who are residents of Georgia, many with debilitating and incurable conditions, will be able to receive the help they need and increase their quality of life.

“For the past eight months, the commission worked to build all of the components needed to launch this process and keep stakeholders informed and involved,” Andrew Turnage, executive director of the GMCC, said. “Today is a great day for patients who need access to low-THC oil, and economic development for minority-, women-, and veteran-owned businesses. Help is on the way for patients in Georgia.”

The commission is in the process of reviewing the production license proposals. While details and information about the applicants is confidential by law, Georgians can feel confident that the applicants are outstanding and will produce high-quality low-THC oil for the patients of Georgia, the board said.

The State Elections Board voted to refer allegations against (now U.S. Senator) Raphael Warnock related to the New Georgia Project to the Attorney General, according to the AJC.

The State Election Board voted Wednesday to move forward with a case against U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock and the New Georgia Project based on an allegation that the organization was slow to deliver over 1,200 voter registration applications to election officials in 2019.

The board referred the case to the attorney general’s office for further investigation and potential prosecution.

Warnock, a Democrat elected last month to the U.S. Senate, is named as a respondent in the case because he was listed as the CEO for the New Georgia Project at the time. The organization has said its corporate document filings with the state misidentified Warnock as its CEO when his actual position was board chairman.

Representatives of the New Georgia Project hand-delivered 1,268 voter registration applications to the Gwinnett County elections office beyond the time allowed, according to an investigator for Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.

Murray County public schools announced they will continue to offer online learning after the pandemic, according to the Dalton Daily Citizen News.

Virtual education “is not as good as face to face — nobody would ever tell you that it is — but there is a pocket out there” of students who want it, and if Murray County Schools doesn’t offer it, “someone else will” fill that niche, Superintendent Steve Loughridge said Thursday during a Murray County Board of Education meeting. That could eventually lead to an exodus of students, and since school systems receive funding based on the number of students, it could leave the system in a dire financial predicament.

“It would not be sustainable to have traditional school as we know it,” Loughridge said. “The prudent thing is to get into this game so we can fight off the competition.”

“We need to get better at it, and we need to commit to it, because it’s like a business,” he said. “If we don’t give customers what they want, somebody else will.”

Virtual learning suits several types of students, said Maria Bradley, principal of North Murray High School. Some have anxiety, which can be exacerbated by crowds, while others need to work during the day, balance high school and college courses, or want to accelerate graduation.

Meanwhile, Murray County students remain in the hybrid model for the time being, according to the Dalton Daily Citizen News.

Superintendent Steve Loughridge hopes to resume full in-person education on the first day after winter break, Feb. 22.

“Everybody wants to, (so) that is the goal, but we need to keep people here once they’re back, not get in worse trouble once we come back,” Loughridge said Thursday during a Murray County Board of Education work session. “We want to get back and stay back.”

Murray County Schools returned from winter break last month with complete virtual learning for all grades due to a high number of positive COVID-19 tests and quarantines among students and staff that led middle and high school students to conduct distance learning from Dec. 3 until the start of the holiday break in the middle of December. Elementary schools continued conventional instruction in December, but they, too, moved to remote learning after the break. After that week of total distance learning, all students moved to a hybrid model, where ‘A’ group students attend in-person classes Monday and Wednesday, ‘B’ group students do so Tuesday and Thursday, and all students learn virtually on Friday.

The hybrid model is “a mitigation effort to keep people in school,” rather than quarantined due to positive tests or possible exposures, Loughridge said. “We’ve had fewer in quarantine” since going to a hybrid system.

Chatham Area Transit (CAT) CEO and Executive Director Bacarra Mauldi, recently fired by the CAT Boar, has sued the agency, according to the Savannah Morning News.

The suit was filed in Chatham County Superior Court on Tuesday night by Edward Buckley, of Buckley Beal, and alleges Mauldin’s firing was unlawful and retaliatory and violates the Georgia Whistleblower Protection Act (GWPA).

The suit also alleges that former Chatham County Commissioner Tabitha Odell, who seconded the motion to fire Mauldin and cast one of the supporting votes for Mauldin’s removal, was not a lawfully appointed member of CAT’s board of directors at the time.

Last week, Chatham County Attorney Jonathan Hart, in response to a previous inquiry by the Georgia Attorney General’s Office, stated that the appointment of Odell to the board did not take place during the Jan. 15 Chatham Commission meeting as previously thought.

The Glynn County Board of Elections is considering how to handle absentee voting for residents in nursing homes, according to The Brunswick News.

Delivering absentee ballots to patients in such facilities is not usually difficult, but during the COVID-19 pandemic, it became a serious grey area in the ballots’ chain of custody. Due to heightened security measures, mail could not be delivered directly and family members who requested ballots on their disabled relatives’ behalf could not take them to the voter.

State law allows a member of a voter’s family to request a ballot for them if the voter is disabled.

“They should request one to the nursing home, but usually they request one to (go to) the person’s permanent residence and try to carry it to them,” Redden said. “There were a couple of places that I ended up having to hand-deliver ballots, even though we aren’t supposed to, because they were not letting ballots through to patients.”

Redden said not allowing the delivery of ballots was “robbing them of their right to vote.”

She proposed giving nursing homes the same treatment jails and hospitals get. High-ranking election officials, as recognized officials of the state, can hand-deliver ballots to the voters. This would only be in effect for nursing homes during a state- or county-mandated state of emergency.

It’s not explicitly allowed in election law, but Redden said she doubted any authority would consider someone “convalescing in her hospital bed at the nursing home” to fall outside the intent of the law.

Muscogee County Board of Education member Mike Edmondson died, according to the Ledger-Enquirer.

The Berry College Eagles have a new baby hatched yesterday, according to the Rome News Tribune.

Wednesday morning, the first of two eggs laid in early January hatched and tiny B14 popped its downy head out from under one of the adults on the nest.

Berry College Director of Environmental Compliance and Sustainability Eddie Elsberry said the college designates the young as B, for Berry, and the sequential number of successful hatches, thus B14.

The two adults are known as M12 for male, first observed in the fall of 2012, and NF20, for new female observed in 2020.

The previous female eagle, with a badly damaged left talon, was last seen in the area in late November. Observers feel pretty confident the male in the nest is the same one since 2012.

Bob Sargent with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources said he suspects the new female got into a territorial battle with the original female and the original female simply couldn’t hang on to her space, possibly because of the bad talon.

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