Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for February 15, 2021

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Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for February 15, 2021

On February 15, 1796, Georgia Governor Jared Irwin and legislators gathered with a crowd for the burning of the “Yazoo Act.”

On February 15, 1898, the battleship U.S.S. Maine exploded in Havana harbor, Cuba.

On February 15, 1952 Gov. Herman Talmadge signed a joint resolution directing the purchase of Stone Mountain for development as a Confederate Memorial.

On February 15, 2011, Georgia Congressman John Lewis was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his work in the civil rights movement.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Under the Gold Dome Today

2:00 PM HOUSE APPROPRIATIONS HUMAN RESOURCES SUBCOMMITTEE 341 CAP

The Georgia General Assembly convenes again on Tuesday, February 16, 2021 for Legislative Day 17.

Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold Melton announced last week that he will retire from the Court, according to the AJC.

“I do not now know what my next move will be,” Melton, 54, said in a written statement. “With this announcement, I can begin the search process in earnest.”

“July 31 will mark my 30th year working in state government, 16 years with the Court,” Melton wrote in his statement. “Now is the best time for me to explore opportunities for the next season of life that will allow me to best serve our legal community and my extended family.”

2020 was a stressful year, and Melton received plaudits across the board for his handling of the pandemic. He declared 12 emergency orders that suspended jury trials but allowed courts to maintain, through technology, essential proceedings. Through video conferences, Melton was able to keep the Supreme Court on schedule.

In his statement, Melton referenced that, starting in the fall, all three of his children will be in college. A move to more lucrative private practice would be seamless, said Stephen Dillard, presiding judge of the Georgia Court of Appeals.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a bidding war for his services,” Dillard said. “Before he was a judge he was an exceptional lawyer.”

Melton was serving as Gov. Sonny Perdue’s executive counsel in 2005 when an opening arose on the high courts.

“I cannot identify in my life a more fair-minded person than Harold Melton,” Perdue, most recently Trump’s U.S. agriculture secretary, said at a 2018 ceremony marking Melton’s ascension to chief justice. “There’s no drama. There’s just the integrity of a thought process.”

“Georgians in every community have benefited from his steadfast commitment to the rule of law and public service, and I know he will continue to pursue those passions in the days ahead,” Gov. Brian Kemp said in a statement. The governor will appoint Melton’s replacement.

Governor Brian Kemp and Georgia Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Kathleen Toomey will be in Gainesville today, according to WDUN.

An announcement from the governor’s office said Kemp and other state officials will sit down with local community leaders to talk about vaccine hesitancy and equity in the Latino population.

The meeting will be held at the Gainesville Ballroom on Atlanta Highway.

Joining Kemp will be Georgia Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Kathleen Toomey and Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner John King.

The Biden Administration put a hold on federal approval of a healthcare waiver for Georgia, according to the AJC.

The Biden administration pulled back approval of Gov. Brian Kemp’s plan to provide Medicaid coverage to thousands of low-income and uninsured adults in Georgia who meet a work or activity requirement because the still-raging coronavirus pandemic makes meeting some of the key guidelines “unfeasible.”

Federal health officials said Friday the state’s Medicaid overhaul proposal was switched from “approved” to “pending” over concerns that it’s “unreasonably difficult or impossible for many individuals to meet the community engagement requirement” in the plan in the midst of a global coronavirus outbreak.

“Taking into account the totality of circumstances, CMS has preliminarily determined that allowing work and other community engagement requirements to take effect in Georgia would not promote the objectives of the Medicaid program,” according to a letter sent to state officials by Elizabeth Richter, the acting administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Kemp’s office said Saturday it was reviewing the decision by President Joe Biden’s administration, which throws into doubt the fate of his plan to allow perhaps as many as 50,000 poor and uninsured adults be added to the Medicaid rolls within two years. Kemp’s health deputies have 30 days to respond.

From Georgia Health News:

The state plan at issue was approved under a waiver granted by the Trump administration. Such federal waivers are necessary for states to alter certain health care programs.

The federal agency, in the Friday letter to DCH Commissioner Frank Berry, cited Georgia’s policies ‘’that condition health care coverage on meeting work or other community engagement requirements.’’

For a qualified person to get Medicaid coverage under Georgia’s 1115 waiver, it’s required that the person put 80 hours a month into a job, an education program, a volunteer organization or another qualifying activity. The waiver was expected to add an estimated 50,000 low-income Georgia adults to the Medicaid program.

The CMS letter, from acting Administrator Elizabeth Richter, said the pandemic has “greatly increased the risk that it would be unreasonably difficult or impossible for many individuals to meet the community engagement requirement approved in this [waiver], which would significantly compromise the [waiver’s] effectiveness in promoting coverage for its intended beneficiaries.’’

A federal rejection of the eligibility requirements could provide momentum for Georgia to pursue a full Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, which 38 states have done.

Republican political leaders in Georgia, though, are expected to push back against the full expansion idea, as they have done in the past.

The Kemp administration could drop the work requirements and keep the rest of the Medicaid enrollment changes, which would increase eligibility for uninsured single adults with incomes up to 100 percent of poverty, about $12,000 annually.

Georgia state legislators are working on proposals to ban citizens’ arrest, according to the Capitol Beat News Service via the Statesboro Herald.

Revisions to the state’s citizen’s arrest law look most likely to gain passage in the General Assembly, Beverly said. The measure stems from the shooting death last year of Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man killed near Brunswick in a confrontation with two white men who tried to detain him while he was jogging.

Proposals for changing the citizen’s arrest law have drawn “potential bipartisan support” so far, [House Minority Leader James] Beverly said. Whether Democrats back a bill soon to be sponsored by state Rep. Bert Reeves, R-Marietta, will depend on what degree Georgia citizens could still detain criminal suspects in certain situations.

Reeves, who is one of Gov. Brian Kemp’s floor leaders in the House, declined to comment on his upcoming bill but said details would be announced Feb. 16.

Democrats are also pushing Kemp and Republican lawmakers to join them in backing legislation to ban no-knock warrants, a controversial police tactic that was involved in the death of Breonna Taylor, a Black woman from Louisville, Ky., who was killed in an apartment raid last year.

Senate Bill 65 by State Sen. Steve Gooch (R-Dahlonega) would redirect some current landline subsidies into broadband, according to the Capitol Beat News Service.

Senate Bill 65 would convert a portion of a state fund that now subsidizes land-line service provided by rural telephone companies into a pot of money to be used for broadband projects. That portion of the Universal Access Fund (UAF) is due to expire later this year, a decade after the fund was created.

Funds from the UAF would supplement the $20 million Gov. Brian Kemp set aside for broadband in the $26.5 billion mid-year budget the General Assembly passed on Thursday, said Sen. Steve Gooch, R-Dahlonega, the bill’s chief sponsor.

“Twenty million dollars … is a good start,” Gooch told members of the Senate Regulated Industries Committee Thursday. “But we need to put more money into this year after year until the problem is fixed.”

Committee Chairman Bill Cowsert, R-Athens, wondered whether the rural phone companies would raise their rates after the UAF expires and they’re no longer receiving subsidies from it.

“[Are] poor people in rural areas who already don’t have broadband going to get their phone rates jacked up?” Cowsert asked.

Sen. Lindsey Tippins, R-Marietta, said converting a portion of the UAF to a broadband fund might not raise much money because many Georgians are getting rid of their land-lines telephones in favor of cellphones.

“You’re talking about a decreasing pool of revenue,” Tippins said.

U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene retains strong support from within her district, according to Reuters.

Reuters this month interviewed three dozen Republican-leaning voters in Georgia’s 14th district, the primarily rural and blue-collar region that sent Greene to Washington. The majority said they endorse her view that Democrats are taking the country down a dangerous path towards socialism. Like Greene, they believe Trump’s false claims that the election was stolen. The former president, they contend, was unfairly impeached for inciting the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection by a pro-Trump mob at the U.S. Capitol, and they are rooting for his acquittal in the Senate.

Of those interviewed, just four said they hadn’t voted for her in November. Most said they would support her again.

“She speaks her mind. I like her style,” said Michael Pace, a 26-year-old manager at a gift boutique in Dallas, Georgia.

Like Trump, Greene understands that her supporters prize combativeness over compromise or policy successes, said David Jolly, a former Republican congressman from Florida who left the party over Trump. Jolly believes Greene’s newfound political celebrity – the 46-year-old’s national profile has grown dramatically over the last month – could imperil other Republicans running in competitive races in next year’s midterm elections.

The trend worries Jay Williams, a Republican operative in Georgia. He pointed to two recent U.S. Senate contests – both won by Democrats in surprise upsets over pro-Trump Republicans – as a preview of what lies ahead if the Republican Party continues to repel moderate voters.

The Trump wing of the party, he said, has to “learn to play with other people or they are going to keep losing.”

Her district is overwhelmingly white – about 85% – and has a college graduation rate of just 18%, far below the national average of about 34%. Manufacturing and retail jobs dominate the local economy.

On a recent morning, six men sitting around a plastic table took turns railing against various perceived injustices perpetrated by Democrats. Among their beefs was Democrats’ condemnation of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol by Trump supporters, a rampage that left five dead. Why hadn’t Democrats spoken out just as forcefully about violence at Black Lives Matter protests last summer, the Committee wondered.

“She is radical, no doubt,” said Mike Lester, a 53-year old automotive repair teacher. “But she is there to support me, radical or not.”

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis will look at U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham’s post-election call to Georgia Secretary of State in addition to former President Trump’s call, according to the AJC.

Prosecutors are expected to scrutinize the call between the Republican senator and Raffensperger, who previously said Graham contacted him days after the Nov. 3 election to question whether he had the power to reject more legally cast absentee ballots to help Trump narrow his deficit in Georgia.

Graham, a staunch ally of Trump, has denied that allegation.

The inquiry is part of a broader probe that centers on Trump’s demand that Raffensperger “find” enough votes to overturn the election, said the official, who stressed that it was a routine part of the investigation and may yield little new information.

In an interview Wednesday with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Willis would not say if any Trump associates might also be under investigation. Willis said she launched the probe because the Fulton DA’s office was “the one agency with jurisdiction that is not a witness to the conduct that is the subject of the investigation.”

Evictions are down in Augusta, but still ongoing despite a moratorium on proceedings, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

The Richmond County Marshal’s Office served 2,357 households with eviction papers during 2020 in every month except April, according to Col. Bill Probus with the office.

“You’ve got people that are suffering financial hardships due to this pandemic; the loss of a job or a cutback of hours or you might have a two-income family but only one is working,” Probus said.

But the number of evictions is down 47% from 2019, when 4,442 were evicted, in part due to the CDC moratorium that remains in effect. Probus said 1,919 evictions couldn’t be executed last year probably because renters filed a form showing they qualified for the moratorium.

Augusta evictions peaked as COVID-19 peaked in July, with 275, and remained between 213-266 the last five months of the year, according to marshal’s office data.

Evictions for Augusta Housing Authority are down by 75% due to the federal moratorium recently extended through March 31, said Jacob Oglesby, executive director for the authority.

The Glynn County Commission will consider whether to allow alcohol delivery, according to The Brunswick News.

District 2 Commissioner Cap Fendig, who represents St. Simons Island, said the proposal comes at the request of local restaurants.

The state government passed a law in 2020 authorizing local governments to pass their own alcohol delivery ordinances.

It comes with some restrictions, however. Grocery stores and gas stations, along with restaurants, bars and establishments that sell for on-premise consumption, can only deliver beer and wine, according to the Georgia Department of Revenue. Package stores, on the other hand, can deliver beer, wine and distilled spirits.

Commissioners are expected to discuss the issue during a meeting 2 p.m. Tuesday on the second floor of the Old Glynn County Courthouse, 701 G St. in Brunswick. It will be broadcast live to the county’s YouTube and Facebook pages.

In Rome, the Alcohol Control Commission will consider allowing delivery of alcohol, according to the Rome News Tribune.

The two-part ordinance also would allow the ACC to deny — or pull — an alcohol pouring or package permit for anyone with an outstanding debt to the city.

The ACC will meet for the first time since October at 5 p.m. Monday in City Hall, 601 Broad St. Ordinances recommended by the citizen board are passed along to the full City Commission for action.

Gov. Brian Kemp signed legislation last year to allow home delivery of alcohol if a local city or county approves.

Retailers with licenses to sell beer, wine or liquor for off-premises consumption would be able to deliver the products upon enactment. Those with pouring permits for on-premises consumption would have to notify the city in writing at least 10 days before they start deliveries.

The Gwinnett County Board of Education met online with members of the legislative delegation to hear about returning to school next year, according to AccessWDUN.

The Board ordered 32,000 new Chromebooks to distribute to students, according to the AJC.

More than 177,000 students are enrolled in the Gwinnett school district, which distributed about 70,000 Chromebooks last year to students. The school district also bought 16,000 wireless hotspots for students who lacked internet access at home, Wilbanks said.

About 45% of Gwinnett students are learning virtually this semester.

“As far as we know, every single family that did not have internet access was given or loaned a hotspot, and that loan is probably a permanent loan,” Wilbanks said Friday. “Hopefully, with that and the purchase of the additional Chromebooks, then there will be no one that really doesn’t have access.”

Families without computer or internet access for virtual learners should let their schools know, Wilbanks said.

“We’ll try to make sure that is taken care of,” he said.

Clarke County Board of Education discussed reopening in-person learning, according to the Athens Banner Herald.

School board member Greg Davis presented a resolution to be sent to Gov. Brian Kemp — which passed — requesting that vaccinations for school employees be moved into the first phase of vaccinations now being offered.

The school district plans to bring back in-person instruction beginning Monday, for students with special needs and those requiring special services.

All other students will continue with remote learning until returning to class in phases, according to the school district.

On March 1, students in pre-K through second grade return for four days a week of in-person learning. On March 15, third-, fourth- and fifth-grade students return four days a week, with some high school students also phased in. On March 22, middle school and all high school students return for four days a week of in-class instruction.

Floyd County began construction on facilities for inmates with mental health issues, according to the Rome News Tribune.

Carroll Daniel Construction crews have completely gutted block W10 in Side Five and are working on creating beds for the severely mentally ill. In that block, there will be six male beds and six female beds, all suicide resistant.

There will be another block for less severe mental health cases, which will be a total of 16 beds in block W9.

[Jail Administrator Maj. Allen] Pledger said there will be another set of beds dedicated to those who are arrested under the influence of alcohol or another drug. They would first be put in these beds and then eventually moved to general population after they sober up.

The first phase, which was completed at the end of 2020, cost about $3.9 million of the over $7 million special purpose local option sales tax funded projects.

The renovations and expansion has all been a part of the county’s efforts to reduce the number of mentally ill inmates at the jail, which has increased exponentially over the years after Northwest Georgia Regional Hospital closed in 2011. County residents voted for the two projects in the 2017 SPLOST.

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