Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for July 13, 2021

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Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for July 13, 2021

On July 13, 1787, Congress enacted the Northwest Ordinance, in which states ceded some claims to the west, and a process was set up for admitting new states.

On July 13, 1865, James Johnson as provisional Governor of Georgia, issued a proclamation freeing slaves and calling an election in October of that year to elect delegates to a state Consitutional Convention. Johnson had previously opposed Georgia’s secession and after the war was appointed Governor by President Andrew Johnson.

Savannah, Georgia-born John C. Fremont, who was the first Presidential nominee of the Republican Party in 1856, died in New York City on July 13, 1890.

On July 13, 2013, the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter first appeared on Facebook.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Our personal condolences today for the friends and family of Gene Callaway, a former Georgia State Representative and community activist. From the AJC:

Gene Callaway, 55, was a longtime presence within Georgia Republican politics, from representing Gwinnett County’s District 81 from 1998 to 2002 to serving as the party’s sergeant in arms.

In June, he was in Jekyll Island for the Georgia GOP convention, but weeks later, he suffered a medical episode, was found unresponsive and was briefly placed into a coma, his family said. Callaway died last Wednesday morning. No further information on his cause of death was provided.

“Everybody in the Republican party all know him from all over the state,” [BJ] Van Gundy said. “His loss has been devastating to a lot in the state of Georgia.”

Callaway, a father of two who ran a jewelry store in Tucker, also volunteered as a reserve police officer and the public information officer for Doraville police since 2008, according to police Chief Charles D. Atkinson. He received no pay during his years as a volunteer.

“Callaway not only helped the police department as an officer, but he was a friend to many outside of the department assisting them with whatever issue they had,” Atkinson said. “I ask everyone to continue to pray for his family as they work through his tragic and untimely death.”

Chatham County is number one in Georgia for Bald Eagle nests, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Chatham is once again the top county for bald eagles in Georgia with 26 nests counted here this year.

And the birds are getting more citified. The latest nest count featured increased signs of eagles nesting in the midst of extensive development, said Georgia Department of Natural Resources Eagle Survey Leader Bob Sargent.

The survey of six coastal counties by helicopter in the winter and spring recorded the locations of 71 nests, the DNR reported. Another 12 nests in southwest Georgia were monitored on foot, but COVID factors nixed the flights there. (The coast – the state’s eagle-nesting hotspot – is flown each year, while surveys of the Coastal Plain and Piedmont and the mountains alternate years.)

The coastal counties tallied nesting totals almost identical to 2020 and in line with annual averages. All told, the 83 territories monitored this year fledged 94 young, or 1.5 young per nest, which is right at the long-term average in Georgia. Sargent said six new occupied nest territories were found on the coast, plus three elsewhere in the state.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates there are 316,000 bald eagles in the lower 48 states, a fourfold increase since 2009. Georgia nest totals grew from about 100 in 2007 to 200-plus in 2015.

In the six coastal counties: 71 occupied nest territories, with 55 fledging at least one eaglet (78 percent success rate, which is average), 81 young fledged (1.5 per successful nest – average) and 1.1 young fledged per occupied nest territory (average). Six new occupied nest territories found.

Cobb County Superior Court Senior Judge Adele P. Grubbs ruled that the legislative split of the Augusta Judicial Circuit may be implemented, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

Senior Judge Adele P. Grubbs found that the new law did not run counter to the state or U.S. Constitution, and the judicial circuit can split as soon as Friday, she said. A restraining order issued by another judge remains in effect until Thursday.

Attorneys for Willie Saunders and Black Voters Matter contended the law creating a separate judicial circuit for Columbia County, leaving Richmond and Burke counties behind, voids every vote in Columbia County for the first Black district attorney in the Augusta Judicial Circuit.

The lawsuits sought a declaration that the creation of a separate judicial circuit for Columbia County violates the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the separation of powers of the three branches of government, and would deprive residents of effective and efficient access to the courts.

The defendants in the lawsuits – Gov. Brian Kemp, the state and the counties that now comprise the Augusta Judicial Circuit – contended that the law, which had been set to go into effect July 1, is lawful and proper.

I’m issuing five demerits for the Chronicle and its writer for incorrect use of the word “comprise.”

The Kemp Administration released June 2021 state revenue figures. From the press release:

The State of Georgia’s June net tax collections totaled $2.5 billion for an increase of $563.1 million, or 29.1 percent, compared to June 2020 when net tax collections totaled nearly $1.94 billion as of June 30, 2020. For the year-ended June 30, 2021, net tax collections totaled almost $26.90 billion for an increase approaching $3.2 billion, or 13.5 percent, compared to Fiscal Year 2020 (FY ’20), when the final net tax revenues – adjusted as of August 7, 2020, to include deferred FY ’20 related tax deadline payments received in July of FY ’21 – totaled $23.7 billion.

“Thanks to our work alongside the General Assembly to budget conservatively and protect both lives and livelihoods throughout a global pandemic, Georgia remains on solid financial footing,” said Governor Kemp. “The COVID-19 crisis highlighted the importance of states living within their means, and Georgia did so without widespread layoffs, tax hikes, furloughs, or drastic cuts to essential services. During the last two legislative sessions, state leaders worked together to fund our priorities of education, healthcare, and public safety – all while cutting taxes for hardworking Georgians. Georgia is the top state for businesses for the eighth year in a row, our rainy day fund remains strong, and we are leading the nation in economic recovery!”

FY ’20 net collection revenues were adjusted to include a total of $952.7 million – $703.8 million in net Individual Tax payments and $248.9 million in net Corporate Tax payments – in tax filing deadline payments that were received in July 2020, but specifically identified as applicable to FY ’20. The initial year-end reporting of FY ’20 net collections (as of June 30) was not final due to the deferral of the state tax filing deadline in accordance with federal tax filing guidelines that shifted the 2019 individual and corporate tax year payment deadlines to July 15, 2020. The state’s concurrence with last year’s payment deadline shift substantiated a one-time revenue accrual of FY ’20 related tax filing receipts received after the traditional close of the fiscal year. This ensured proper revenue recognition for the purpose of providing an appropriate successive year financial comparison with both FY ’19 (presented August 7, 2020) and the recently completed FY ’21, as of June 30 (July 12, 2021 press release).

Individual Income Tax: Net Individual Income Tax collections for June totaled roughly $1.30 billion, for an increase of $256.8 million, or 24.7 percent, compared to FY ’20 when net Individual Tax revenues totaled nearly $1.04 billion.

The following notable components within Individual Income Tax combine for the net increase:

• Individual Income Tax refunds issued (net of voided checks) declined by $0.6 million, or -0.4 percent.
• Individual Withholding payments increased by nearly $101.6 million, or 10.1 percent, from FY ’20.
• Individual Income Tax Estimated payments were up $124.3 million, or 226 percent, over last year.
• All other categories, including Income Tax Return payments, were up a combined $30.3 million.

Sales and Use Tax: Gross Sales and Use Tax collections increased by roughly $248.9 million, or 23.9 percent, to a total of almost $1.29 billion in FY ’21. Net Sales and Use Tax increased by $127.4 million, or 24.6 percent, compared to last year’s total of $517.5 million. The Sales Tax distribution to local governments totaled roughly $629.6 million for an increase of $115.9 million, or 22.6 percent, while Sales Tax Refunds increased by $5.6 million from FY ’20.

Corporate Income Tax: Net Corporate Income Tax collections for the month totaled $325.8 million, which was an increase of $227.5 million, or 231.6 percent, over last year when net Corporate Tax revenues totaled $98.3 million.

The following notable components within Corporate Income Tax make up the net increase:

• Corporate Income Tax refunds (net of voids) were down $20.4 million, or -64.4 percent, from FY ’20.
• Corporate Income Tax Estimated payments increased by $194.5 million, or 194.4 percent, over last year.
• Corporate Income Tax Return payments were up $13.6 million, or 70.9 percent, compared to FY ’20.
• All other Corporate Tax categories, including S-Corp tax payments, were down a combined $1 million.

Motor Fuel Taxes: Motor Fuel Tax collections were down $82.8 million, or -59.2 percent, compared to last year when motor fuel tax collections totaled nearly $140 million. The significant reduction in the number of taxable motor fuel gallons sold was the result of a supply crunch caused by the May 7 cyberattack on critical fuel line infrastructure across the Southeast. In reaction to the severe fuel supply shortage, the Governor’s State of Emergency Executive Order directed the temporary suspension of the collection of the Motor Fuel Excise Tax on both gasoline and diesel for a period of roughly three weeks beginning May 10 and ending June 2, 2021.

Motor Vehicle – Tag & Title Fees: Motor Vehicle Tag & Title Fees increased by $1.4 million, or 4.6 percent, in June, while Title Ad Valorem Tax (TAVT) collections increased by roughly $24.6 million, or 56.3 percent, over FY ’20.

Governor Kemp said he will not attempt to require COVID vaccinations for Georgia residents, according to WTVM.

Gov. Kemp says he believes it would be a wrong approach during a time in which there is mixed messages about COVID-19 and vaccines from Washington, D.C.

Kemp recommends Georgians talk with their medical providers if they are not comfortable with getting vaccinated.

“Talk to your doctor, talk to the folks at your hospital, ask them, of COVID patients that are coming in now – Are they vaccinated or not? Do you think the vaccine is helping? Ask your doctor that. Ask your local pharmacy that. Ask your family members that have been vaccinated or your faith leaders or other people,” Kemp said.

Kemp added that although private employers can make the decision of mandating coronavirus vaccines, he doesn’t agree with it.

The Piedmont Healthcare system will require employee vaccination, according to Georgia Health News.

The Piedmont Healthcare system will require doctors, hospital leaders and new employees to get vaccinated for COVID-19 by Sept. 1, the Atlanta-based nonprofit organization said Monday.

Other employees at Piedmont facilities will be required to get COVID shots “in the near future,’’ Piedmont said in a statement.

“It’s important to consider that vaccination is a leading factor in patients and team members feeling safe within a health care setting, as shown by research we conducted,’’ said the statement from Piedmont, a fast-growing system with 11 hospitals in the state. “Moreover, it is in keeping with our peers from other leading health systems throughout the United States.’’

While Piedmont’s size and geographic reach magnify the impact of its decision, it is not the first system operating in Georgia to take the step of requiring employee immunizations.

Hospitals nationally have begun to mandate the shots since a federal court rejected a lawsuit by employees who challenged the vaccination requirement at Houston Methodist Hospital in Texas.

First Lady Jill Biden made a surprise stop in Savannah to the Green Truck Neighborhood Pub, according to the Savannah Morning News.

After her visit to Beach High School to urge residents to get vaccinated against COVID-19, Biden made an unscheduled stop at the Habersham Street restaurant after a recommendation from Sen. Raphael Warnock, a Savannah native.

The surprise visit was significant timing as the staff of Green Truck had recently celebrated being fully vaccinated. Fortunately, no one on staff got sick during the pandemic which Yates credits to their cautiousness. Having everyone vaccinated has been an incredible relief and experience given the stress of the past year, she said.

Biden purchased two pecan pies made from scratch, a buy that holds some importance. Every pecan Green Truck sells comes from Farmer Joe’s Clark & Sons Organics at the Forsyth Farmers Market. A huge part of Green Truck’s mission is to help create local jobs, so every dollar Biden spent purchasing the pies was a boost to the local economy.

Fort Valley City Council member and Mayor Pro Tem Jimmy Barnes was arrested on allegations of threats, according to 13WMAZ.

According to a news release, the Peach County Sheriff’s Office was requested by Fort Valley Police on July 3 for an incident involving Jimmy Barnes.

The sheriff’s office investigated the incident and consulted with the Macon DA’s office before arresting and charging Barnes with aggravated assault and terroristic threats.

Rape victims will be able to track their rape kits under a new state law, according to WTVM.

A new law in Georgia will help survivors of sexual assault keep track of their rape kit.

Its called the Sexual Assault Reform Act. It went into effect July 1.

Not only will it allow survivors to keep track of rape kits, the law also establishes a sexual assault protocol committee, requiring law enforcement agencies that investigate rape allegations, and other sexual crimes to submit information into an FBI database.

It works like this, people will be able to see the status of the kit from when it’s manufactured, when it’s in the hands of law enforcement, sexual assault center, or hospital to when it’s processed and completed.

Back in May, the GBI told us one of the reasons for the backlog [in processing rape kits] is because there’s not enough forensic scientists. The agency says it takes between one to two years to train new ones.

Former Governor Nathan Deal (R-Gainesville) endorsed Commissioner of Agriculture Gary Black for United States Senate, according to the Capitol Beat News Service via the Albany Herald.

“I’ve known Gary for over 20 years. We worked together for the entire time that I was governor,” said Deal, who served as Georgia’s chief executive from 2011 until the beginning of 2019. “He’s done a great job representing everyone in our state. That’s the kind of leadership we need in Washington.”

Black, like Deal, hails from northeastern Georgia. He has a long background in farming, including a stint as president of the Georgia Agribusiness Council before running for agriculture commissioner.

Republican lawyer Jake Evans announced he will join the gaggle of GOP candidates in the Sixth Congressional District, according to the AJC.

Jake Evans said in an interview he joined the contest because “the radical left is seeking to erase our culture, our values and our American identity” and Republicans needed a new catalyst to energize voters in once-reliably conservative territory.

“I’m a fighter for the people and I deliver results for the people,” said Evans. “We’re going to run an unafraid conservative campaign because America needs fighters who will stand up for the Constitution and not for political opportunism.”

He’s the second well-known Republican in as many days to announce a campaign for the 6th District. Former state Rep. Meagan Hanson launched her bid on Monday. Other candidates include U.S. Army veteran Harold Earls and activist Suzi Voyles.

Just what the district will look like next year is still unclear. The candidates entering the race are taking something of a gamble, since none can be certain how the political lines are redrawn by the Republican-controlled state Legislature later this year.

It now stretches from east Cobb to north DeKalb along Atlanta’s Northern Arc, though the shape can change drastically if GOP leaders decide to incorporate more exurban territory to make it more competitive.

Columbus City Council member Glenn Davis wants to waive garbage fees for September, according to the Ledger-Enquirer.

A Columbus councilor wants the city to waive residential waste collection fees for one month, citing longstanding delays and pick-up issues.

Councilor Glenn Davis will introduce an ordinance at Tuesday’s 9 a.m. council meeting to amend the 2022 fiscal year budget’s integrated waste fund to allow fund reserves to cover the fees. The Columbus Water Works would issue a fee waiver to each residential customer for solid waste collection for the month of September 2021, according to the ordinance.

The monthly residential fee is $18. Low-income households pay a reduced rate.

“I think it’s the right thing to do,” he said. “There’s a certain level of tolerance and patience. But when you’re talking four, five, six, seven, eight weeks, that’s just unacceptable. … A lot of what the government does is customer service, and if you can’t meet customer satisfaction, you’ve got to make the adjustments.”

A career state government lawyer is seeking payment from the state, alleging she was fired for protected “whistleblower” activity, according to the AJC.

In a letter seeking compensation under the state’s whistleblower protection law, Dalton alleges she was unlawfully fired in retaliation for questioning a $14 million, eight-month contract for scheduling COVID-19 vaccinations, awarded without competitive bidding to a company represented by a lobbyist whose family apparently is close to Toomey.

Dalton’s letter also says she faced reprisals for releasing emails that became the basis for a critical story in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution about Gov. Brian Kemp’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Redacting the emails, as Dalton claims she was asked to do, would have violated the state’s Open Records Act, she says.

Toomey fired Dalton four days after that story was published, immediately ejecting her from the agency’s downtown Atlanta headquarters.

Dalton spent 23 years in the state attorney general’s office, working in both Democratic and Republican administrations, before joining the Department of Public Health last October.

A lawsuit against the State claims that gender reassignment surgery should be covered by Medicaid, according to the AJC.

Two Georgians have filed a lawsuit saying their constitutional rights were violated when the state Medicaid program declined to cover the gender-affirming surgeries they say they need to live a full life.

At issue is whether the reconstructive or plastic surgeries sought by Shon Thomas and Gwendolyn Cheney are a matter of medical necessity.

Georgia Medicaid guidelines “incorrectly characterizes their gender-confirming health care needs as ‘cosmetic’ and/or ‘experimental or investigational,’ when the medical community recognizes that they are effective treatments for gender dysphoria,” attorneys for the American Civil Liberties Union said in suit filed on behalf of the transgender women.

The ACLU is arguing that, by not covering those procedures, Georgia’s Medicaid program is violating the U.S. Constitution, the Affordable Care Act and the Medicaid Act.

Around a dozen states explicitly ban coverage of gender-affirming care under Medicaid, a program that offers assistance to people who can’t afford to pay for medical care. Georgia’s ban is focused on gender-affirming surgeries. Hormone treatments and psychological services are covered, said ACLU staff attorney Taylor Brown, who is taking the lead in the case.

Gwinnett County Commissioners adopted a moratorium on new applications for billboard permits, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

The commissioners approved a resolution setting the moratorium, which is expected to last at least two months, during a public hearing held to hear residents feedback on the county’s proposed millage rate on Monday morning.

The language of the resolution targets “oversized signs,” which county attorney Mike Ludwiczak clarified does effectively mean billboards.

The placement of large signs, such as billboards, are governed by the county’s sign ordinance as well as its Unified Development Ordinance, which instituted restrictions on where such signs can be placed. “Oversized signs” are defined in county laws as signs that are at least 30 feet tall or have 300 square feet of sign surface area, the county’s attorney said.

Ludwiczak said there is a claim that the rules regarding “oversized signs” are inconsistent between the UDO and the county’s sign ordinance.

The Northeastern Judicial Circuit, comprising Dawson and Hall Counties, celebrated their accountability courts, according to AccessWDUN.

Hall County Drug Court, the circuit’s first accountability court, marked 20 years in operation while Dawson County Treatment Court and Hall County Family Treatment Court celebrated 15 years and Hall County Parental Accountability Court celebrated 10 years.

Judge Jason Deal, who oversees Drug Court, [] loves to see people come into the program, take advantage of it and come our on the other side as better people.

“I think that’s one of the most amazing things about Drug Court is you never know who is going to be successful,” Deal said in an interview on WDUN’s Newsroom. “You never know who this program is going to click for. You don’t know when the miracle is going to happen.”

“Drug Court’s an opportunity to see some people at their best, at very little risk to the community with a great payoff at the end if these people take advantage of the opportunity,” Deal said.

Sen. Butch Miller opened the ceremony by presenting the courts with official proclamations outlining numerous accomplishments over the past two decades.

Deal and other presiding judges – Kathlene F. Gosselin, Bonnie C. Oliver, Clint G. Bearden, and Alison Toller – also spoke during the ceremony and shared their passion for this work.

The Georgia Mental Health Policy Partnership and Substance Use Disorder Community is asking for additional state funding from federal COVID relief money, according to the Capitol Beat News Service via the Albany Herald.

The coalition is asking Gov. Brian Kemp and the General Assembly to make a series of policy changes taking advantage of $170 million in federal coronavirus relief funding allocated to Georgia since last year.

“The unified vision sets out a transformational roadmap that will significantly improve the lives of Georgians with mental health and substance abuse disorders,” Jeff Breedlove, chief of communications and policy for the Georgia Council on Substance Abuse, said during a news conference at the state Capitol.

This year, the General Assembly unanimously passed legislation aimed at increasing the delivery of care via telemedicine. Among other things, the bill prohibits requiring patients to receive in-person medical consultation before getting telemedicine services and prohibits separate insurance deductibles for telemedicine care.

The measure was sponsored by Rep. Sharon Cooper, R-Marietta, chairman of the House Health and Human Services Committee, who has written two textbooks on psychiatric nursing. Cooper said Monday her late mother and sister have suffered from mental illness.

The coalition’s unified vision makes a series of recommendations, including addressing a severe shortage of mental health care workers and improving access to mental health care by improving broadband service.

The coalition also is recommending that the state put greater emphasis on early identification of people suffering mental illness or substance abuse issues and require insurance companies to treat patients with mental illness the same as those with a physical illness.

From the Georgia Recorder:

Mental health advocates are warning of a coming mental health and substance abuse crisis on the heels of a pandemic that brought isolation to many and heartache to those who lost loved ones to COVID-19.

Georgia now ranks last in the nation for access to mental health care, according to a report from Mental Health America that looks at access to insurance and treatment, quality, the cost of insurance and other factors.

Jeff Breedlove, chief of communications and policy at the Georgia Council on Substance Abuse, called the recent rise in substance use “the epidemic within the pandemic.”

“We are asking our legislators, our local leaders, our leaders in our companies and communities to vote for mental health in the legislative 2022 session,” said Kim Jones, executive director of the Georgia chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Health. “It is the year to make something happen.”

The looming end of the eviction moratorium later this month could bring fresh economic hardships to those hanging on the edge. Jobless Georgians are also no longer receiving the extra $300 a week in federal unemployment over concerns it was a disincentive for people to go back to work.

“I have worried about how many will become homeless when that edict is lifted because of the loss of income,” state Rep. Sharon Cooper said at Monday’s press conference. “But even if they have survived and they find they can go back to their job and they don’t get evicted – you know, worry just tears all of us apart.”

Cooper said Monday she is meeting with stakeholders to iron out plans for next session. But she did point to a bill she filed this year that would empower law enforcement to help connect someone in distress with a physician for an emergency examination without having to charge them with a crime.

“If someone is obviously mentally ill, why do they have to be charged with a crime so that when they do get help, and they get back on their feet, they are now dealing with a criminal charge?” Cooper said.

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