Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for June 8, 2021

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Jun

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for June 8, 2021

The first Porsche automobile was completed on June 8, 1948.

Ghostbusters was released on June 8, 1984.

On June 8, 2004, Georgia hosted the G-8 summit meeting of the world’s major industrial democracies, which included representatives from the United States, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, and the United Kingdom, plus a representative from the European Union. The 30th meeting of the G-8 was held at Sea Island at the Cloister.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Governor Brian Kemp spoke at Gwinnett Technical Institute for a groundbreaking, according to the AJC.

Gov. Brian Kemp and a few dozen state and local officials visited Gwinnett Technical College on Monday to celebrate the beginning of a $37.8 million project that aims to educate more students interested in careers in cybersecurity and other emerging technologies as well as some bread-and-butter courses such as welding and physics.

The college broke ground on a computer information systems, cybersecurity and emerging technologies building near the southern end of its Lawrenceville campus. It is also adding 36,000 square feet to an existing building nearby.

“It is going to be a game changer for us and will really help us to continue to sell this state to those who want to expand here or move their business here,” Kemp told the crowd.

The new facility, scheduled to be completed in two years, is the first new building on the campus in 12 years. The entire project will include a new parking lot, renovations to its library, student life center and new chemistry and physics labs. The college is spending about $2 million on the entire project. The rest of the funding will come from state.

Governor Brian Kemp’s administration will move forward under a Medicaid waiver approved by the Trump Administration while the Biden Administration questions the approval, according to Georgia Health News via the Gwinnett Daily Post.

Georgia officials say they’re still working toward a July 1 launch of the waiver plan to add more people to the state’s Medicaid program, despite a harsh initial assessment by the Biden administration.

The conflict with the feds involves the eligibility requirements that Georgia proposed and that the Trump administration approved. President Biden, who took office in January, and his fellow Democrats have sharply different views on Medicaid than do former President Trump and many Republicans.

Georgia’s waiver says that to get Medicaid coverage, a low-income adult is required to put 80 hours a month into a job, an education program, a volunteer organization or another qualifying activity. It is strongly backed by Gov. Brian Kemp, who has called it “a ‘hand up’ for hard-working Georgians in our state who are more than deserving.”

A February letter from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services criticized Georgia’s policies “that condition health care coverage on meeting work or other community engagement requirements.”

The Georgia Department of Community Health, which runs Medicaid here, said that it is “still progressing toward implementing Georgia Pathways to Coverage,’’ the Medicaid waiver plan that is expected eventually to cover 50,000 people.

If the feds reject the waiver requirements, the Kemp administration’s choices include dropping the whole plan or battling the feds over the proposal in the courts, experts say.

Georgia’s legislative redistricting process kicks off next week, according to the Capitol Beat News Service via the Athens Banner Herald.

The state House and Senate committees in charge of redistricting will hold a joint virtual town hall meeting next week to start gathering feedback from Georgia residents.

The June 15 meeting, which will run from 5 p.m. until 7 p.m., will be the first chance for citizens to weigh in on the results they would like to see from the process. The committees are expected to hold additional hearings during the next few months across the state.

By law, states must redraw their congressional and legislative district boundaries every 10 years following the U.S. Census. The process is legally necessary only to accommodate population shifts that have occurred within each state since the last census, so that districts remain as nearly equal in population as possible.

But in reality, redistricting is “the most political activity” in America, said Charles Bullock, a political science professor at the University of Georgia who has written extensively on the subject.

“The majority party invariably comes up with maps to try to maintain its majority status for the next decade,” Bullock said.

From the AJC:

The committees are chaired by state Rep. Bonnie Rich (R-Suwanee) and state Senator John F. Kennedy (R-Macon), who will hold the virtual town hall Tuesday evening from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m..

The Inland Port in North Georgia may be expanded in the near future, according to the Rome News Tribune.

The Appalachian Regional Port north of Chatsworth has been open for a little less than three years and is already a target for expansion by the Georgia Ports Authority.

The Director of Economic and Industrial Development at Georgia Ports Authority, Stacy Watson, said the good news is that the state has enough property around the inland port in Murray County to easily accommodate growth.

The state is making plans for another inland port in Hall County and exploring potential locations in west Georgia for a facility. The Kia plant in West Point will likely be the anchor user.

The Appalachian Regional Port has a direct rail connection to the port in Savannah and is currently served with shipments six days a week.

“We’re very close to capacity (at the Appalachian port),” Watson said. The facility was built to handle about 30,000 containers on an annual basis and the authority is looking to expand that by another 5,000 to 10,000 containers.

The rail served inland port was designed in part to take some truck traffic off the highways. A current shortage of long-haul truck drivers has also been a factor in the increased use of the rail service, according to Watson.

“We’re doing our part to control our destiny and move more freight via rail,” Watson said. “We want to give our customers more options to move freight via rail versus 100% truck.”

A Congressional commission considering whether to rename military bases will visit Georgia, according to the Savannah Morning News.

The Naming Commission was created by the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act to rename any military assets that commemorate the Confederacy or those who served in the Confederacy, including two of Georgia’s army bases – Fort Benning and Fort Gordon.

The commission is lead by Retired Navy Adm. Michelle Howard, who announced in May that the commission has already made significant progress. Through the summer and fall the commission will be focusing on the nine U.S. Army installations with names associated with the Confederacy.

“Fort Benning looks forward to working with the Naming Commission during their visit this July to discuss the process which will include input from local community leaders,” said Maj. Gen. Patrick J. Donahoe, Commanding General of the US Army Maneuver Center of Excellence and Fort Benning, in a statement from the Fort.

“Details have not been finalized, regarding when and if a representative will visit Fort Gordon, but we look forward to working with the Naming Commission,” said Geralyn Smith Noah, director of public affairs at Fort Gordon.

The naming commission will present an update to the Senate and House Armed Services Committee before Oct. 1 and present the committees with a complete list of assets to be renamed, the new names and the cost of renaming by Oct. 1, 2022.

The naming commission is authorized to go beyond bases to examine the names of ships, streets, weapons and anything else – except graves – under Department of Defense control. The bill also authorizes the removal or renaming of “displays, monuments, or paraphernalia.”

According to Amy Tuschen, executive director of the now closed Fort Gordon Historical Museum, the museum included a painting of the fort’s namesake, John Brown Gordon, and an area with information on the naming and on Gordon’s life.

Republican Mike Collins will run again for the Tenth District Congressional seat he lost in a 2014 runoff to incumbent Jody Hice, according to the AJC.

Of all of the state’s congressional races, Georgia’s 10th is packed with the most prominent names. Since incumbent U.S. Rep. Jody Hice announced he will run for secretary of state in 2022, a string of credible candidates have raised their hands.

[T]oday will bring the formal announcement of Mike Collins, one of the more formidable candidates in the ring. Collins, the son of former U.S. Rep. Mac Collins, narrowly lost to Hice in the 2014 GOP runoff for the same seat and has bided his time for a comeback.

“I’m running for Congress because the radical left is out-of-control,” Collins said. “The liberals in Washington, D.C. won’t stop until someone stands up to them, and for hard-working Georgians. I’m pro-Trump, pro-life and will protect our Second Amendment rights. I’m running to fight for the families and small business owners in my community and around the country. I won’t bow to the woke mob’s cancel culture or Nancy Pelosi’s job-killing, gun-grabbing agenda.”

Among the other candidates running in the 10th are former Georgia Revenue Commissioner David Curry; wealthy demolition man Matt Richards; former U.S. Rep. Paul Broun and state Rep. Timothy Barr.

Former State Senator Floyd Griffin is considering a run for Secretary of State, according to Lake Country Today.

Atlanta City Council adopted a Fiscal Year 202 budget, according to the AJC.

The budget goes into effect in July and it does not include tax increases for the 13th consecutive year. Atlanta’s nearly $709 million general fund is a 5.3% increase from 2021.

The mayor’s budget includes $62 million the American Rescue Plan package approved by Congress and signed by President Joe Biden in March. Local governments can use the relief funds to replace lost revenue from the coronavirus pandemic.

The mayor proposed a $707 million general fund budget, and the council voted to include an additional $1.5 million in licensing fees from short term rentals and $500,000 in federal subsidies.

Police funding represents nearly 33% of the budget at $230 million, meaning the police will receive more dollars than any other department in the city. The mayor plans to use some of those funds to hire 250 more officers. The department is 400 officers short of its capacity for up to 2,046 officers.

However, several residents submitted public comments urging the city to divest funds from the city’s police and incarceration departments. The police budget is up 7.1% from last year, and many of the residents who called in said those funds should go into other community services.

Coweta County is jailing more people than pre-COVID, according to the Newnan Times-Herald.

Recently, bookings at the Coweta County Jail have jumped significantly, after an initial slowdown early in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Numbers started to increase last August, but have jumped in the past few months, said Major Warren Campbell, former jail division director.

Prior to COVID-19, the jail booked in about 7,000 inmates a year. If current trends continue, Campbell expects they will hit around 10,000 booked this year.

During the early days of the pandemic, everyone was working to keep as many people out of jail as possible, to reduce the risk of an outbreak. The population was holding at about 210 to 225, Campbell said.

With a lot of empty space in the jail, one dorm was converted to a mental health dorm. Previously, there were only a few spaces for inmates with mental health needs in the infirmary.

The county held around 7,000 inmates per year for several years, said Sheriff Lenn Wood. The inmate population typically increases by about 2 to 2 1/2 percent a year, he said. And that’s a manageable increase.

“But when you go from a 2 1/2 percent increase to a 25 percent increase, the numbers get really staggering, really quickly,” Campbell said.

Hall County is considering what to do with their historic courthouse, according to the Gainesville Times.

The main courthouse now houses Superior Court, State Court and Magistrate Court. The annex, which stands in front of the 1936 courthouse at 116 Spring St. SE, houses Juvenile Court and Probate Court.

“As we go through the process of assessing the county’s needs and the court’s needs throughout the coming months, we’ll be taking the data from this building and plugging it into what is the best use for this building,” [Assistant County Administrator Marty Nix] said.

The old courthouse was used for State Court. Current Chief Superior Court Judge Kathlene Gosselin was a State Court judge from 1987-1998, and Superior Court Judge Bonnie Oliver was appointed to the State Court judgeship in 1998. Gosselin moved to the Superior Court bench in 1998, with Oliver joining her the following year.

“To the best of my knowledge, after we moved into the current courthouse in 2002, there have been no official events in that ‘36 courtroom since,” court administrator Jason Stephenson said. “… That ‘36 courtroom hasn’t been used since May 2002, (as) best I can tell.”

Augusta Commissioner Brandon Garrett is questioning the use of “purchasing cards,” or “P-cards” by government workers, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

“I am trying to find out why there is no accountability policy that covers credit cards issued to some of the departments,” versus a policy for use of purchasing cards or “p-cards,” Commissioner Brandon Garrett said.

Garrett said he’s calling for the changes after recent reports questioning the use of city credit cards, including by Mayor Hardie Davis.

Davis’ credit card spending has drawn commission ire previously, but his monthly spending appears to be on the rise. City payments to his Suntrust bank card account exceeded $10,000 for the first time in March, April and May, with the largest bill for $17,459 paid on April 15.

According to the city check register, his highest bill payment before this year was for $8,063 paid Sept. 18, 2015. That bill included $3,195 for temporary workers plus charges in categories of “education and training” and “economic development – public relations.”

On the card this year were a $6,000 charge under “special events” in March, a $6,669 charge paid in April also called special events, and a $4,500 charge for economic development – public relations in May.

Commissioners have previously said their hands are tied regarding the mayor’s spending. When The Augusta Chronicle discovered in 2017 that Davis was using funds intended for the My Brother’s Keeper youth program to pay a political consultant, commissioners said Davis was free to shift money around within his budget, as long as he stays within it.

Gwinnett County Commissioners voted to approve a contract for traffic cameras in school zones, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

County commissioners recently approved a contract with RedSpeed Georgia LLC to operate speed detection cameras in the county’s school zones to catch people who drive too fast past an elementary, middle or high school.

The cameras will be installed during the 2021-2022 school year. The police department will work with the Gwinnett County Department of Transportation, as well as the school systems to determine where the cameras should be placed.

“By using automated speed enforcement, we hope to leverage technology in a manner that will make school zones safer for both students and motorists.” said Gwinnett Deputy Police Chief J.D. McClure. “This will also allow us to dedicate more time to priority calls and other patrol functions.”

Technically, points won’t go a person’s driver’s license for speeding in the zones, but they may find themselves unable to legally drive their cars once their license plates are up for renewal. That’s because drivers who receive a citation for speeding in a school zone, and don’t pay the fine, will be prohibited from renewing their vehicle registration until the fine is paid. In other words, they will either have to pay the fine, have to start walking everywhere or hitching a ride.

The annual contract awarded to RedSpeed Georgia does not call for the county to pay to have the cameras installed or monitored, but there is a revenue-sharing clause which will let the county get 71.6% of the funds generated from fines.

Warner Robins will no longer require mask use by fully-vaccinated people inside city building, according to 13WMAZ.

Dougherty County Commissioners are working on an FY2022 budget, according to the Albany Herald.

The proposed budget includes no funding for salary increases, but commissioners said during the session that providing a pay hike or one-time payment to employees is a priority.

Much of the discussion centered around federal stimulus payments coming to the county through the American Recovery Act passed by Congress earlier this year. The county has been notified it will receive $17 million, and there could be additional payments made through the legislation.

While capital funding applies to sewer, water and widening broadband internet access, there could be money available for other purposes.

Newsome said that he believes money for first responders, which includes paramedics and police officers, will be part of the package.

“You talk about Public Works … to me that is the backbone of the county,” Commissioner Victor Edwards said. “You talk about police, and we need police. I don’t see how we can leave that out.”

Ed Wall, the county’s financial advisor, said that the consensus during a board retreat earlier this year was that there was no way to include a pay hike in the upcoming budget without enacting a tax increase.

Hall County Commissioners will hear a proposed FY 2022 budget on Thursday, according to AccessWDUN.

Hall County Financial Services Director Dena Bosten told commissioners, “For Thursday’s meeting at 4:00 p.m. I will be presenting the FY2022 budget and we will also hold a public hearing following that presentation.”

Only one public hearing will be necessary this year because the proposed budget includes a full rollback on the millage rate for county taxpayers.

According to county documents the current (FY2021) millage rate of 4.853 mils will drop to 4.636 mils in order to fund the proposed $112.2-million General Fund budget.  The General Fund budget includes major functions of Hall County government ranging from law enforcement to public health to courts, public works, administration and libraries.

The current fiscal year ends June 30th and the FY2022 budget takes effect the next day.

Hall County Public Schools Superintendent Will Schofield previewed the FY 2022 budget he will present to Board of Education members, according to AccessWDUN.

A vote on the Hall County School District budget for Fiscal Year 2022 won’t happen until June 28, but District Superintendent Will Schofield unveiled the spending plan to the public Monday afternoon.

Schofield also released a video earlier in the day, sharing what he said is good news for taxpayers, while at the same time issuing words of caution about the additional $21 million in revenue that the district will have to work with in the new year. The allocation is coming from CARES III funding.

“There is $21 million, and this is temporary money that will be an increase to our revenues in this year’s General Fund,” Schofield said. “We are going to be very careful not to make the mistake of putting mechanisms or salary increases in place that we cannot sustain with this temporary money. We’re going to use it as it was intended and that is to try to mitigate the learning loss that our students have certainly experienced due to the pandemic.”

Alan Mauldin of the Albany Herald wrote the first ever “Lede of the Week” in a story about the Coroner’s budget.

Dougherty County budget writers say there is a body of evidence warranting a cut in the county coroner’s budget after four consecutive years in which spending exceeded the amount earmarked for the office.

The recommended budget contains $10,000 for transporting bodies to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation laboratory in cases where autopsies are required, Fowler said.

Bodies must be transported for all cases of suicide, homicide or suspected drug overdoses, he said, and over the past several years those cases have been well over the number that would be covered by $10,000.

Commissioner Ed Newsome, who chairs the Finance Committee, countered that the $550 transportation cost is excessive. He pointed to Lee County, where he said the cost was $150 per body. The committee checked with a number of coroner’s offices around the state and none had costs that high for transporting bodies.

“There’s your savings,” he said. “That’s taking your transportation costs back to where they should be.”

The coroner said that his office worked diligently during the COVID-19 pandemic to document the deaths of residents in the county from the disease, taking blood for analysis from each patient, which is something that was done by few coroners in the state.

“As Gov. (Brian) Kemp said, I was the hardest-working coroner in the state of Georgia,” Fowler said. “I put my life on the line. I went in those houses with gear on, hoping I didn’t catch it.”

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