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

15
Sep

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

On September 15, 1831, Dr. Samuel Worcester and Dr. Elizur Butler – missionaries – were tried in a Lawrenceville courtroom for living as white people among the Cherokee and refusing to take an oath of loyalty to Georgia, convicted and sentenced to hard labor. Some historians refer to this case, which went to the United States Supreme Court on appeal, as the beginning of the events that led to the forced removal of the Cherokee people from Georgia on the “Trail of Tears.”

HMS Beagle, carrying Charles Darwin, arrived at the Gallapagos Islands on September 15, 1835.

On September 15, 1904, Wilbur Wright made the first in-flight turn in an airplane.

Early on the morning of September 15, 1963, a bomb exploded in the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, killing four young girls.

On September 15, 1996, the Texas Rangers retired #34 in honor of the most dominant pitcher in professional baseball history, Nolan Ryan.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

From Fort Oglethorpe in Extreme Northwest Georgia, brought to you by the modern miracle of Twitter.

The United States Department of Justice announced an investigation into Georgia state prisons, according to the Valdosta Daily Times.

According to a press release from the DOJ, the investigation will examine whether Georgia’s 35 Georgia Department of Corrections facilities provide prisoners reasonable protection from physical harm at the hands of other prisoners. The department also will continue its existing investigation into whether Georgia provides lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex prisoners reasonable protection from sexual abuse by other prisoners and by staff, the statement said.

“Ensuring the inherent human dignity and worth of everyone, including people who are incarcerated inside our nation’s jails and prisons, is a top priority,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “The Justice Department’s investigations into prison conditions have been successful at identifying systemic constitutional violations and their causes, fixing those causes and  stopping the violations. We are investigating prison violence and abuse in Georgia’s prisons to determine whether Constitutional violations exist, and if so, how to stop them.”

The investigation comes following a slew of complaints from groups expressing concerns about jail conditions. Ga. Sen. Jon Ossoff is one lawmaker who urged DOJ earlier this year to investigate jail conditions, particularly after complaining about conditions at South Fulton Jail.

In an emailed statement following the announcement of the DOJ investigation, Ossoff recalled a lawsuit brought against the South Fulton Jail that stated the cells were covered in bodily fluids, rust and mold. The conditions cause inmates to deteriorate, “leaving them incoherent, screaming unintelligibly, laying catatonic, banging their heads against walls and repeatedly attempting suicide,” Ossoff quoted from court documents.

From the Associated Press via the Savannah Morning News:

Understaffing is a particularly devastating problem, said Clarke, noting that it can lead to inadequate supervision and violence. It can also keep people from being able to get necessary medical and mental health care, she said.

The Justice Department’s investigation was prompted by an extensive review of publicly available data and other information, Clarke said. She pointed out that at least 26 people died in Georgia prisons by confirmed or suspected homicide, and there have been a reported 18 homicides so far this year in Georgia prisons. She said there have also been reports of other violent acts, including stabbings and beatings.

The Georgia Department of Community Affairs will select companies to help manage the state’s Medicaid program, according to Georgia Health News via the Gwinnett Daily Post.

Georgia pays three insurance companies — CareSource, Peach State Health Plan and Amerigroup — more than $4 billion in total each year to run the federal-state health insurance program for low-income residents and people with disabilities. As a group, the state’s insurers averaged $189 million per year in combined profits in 2019 and 2020, according to insurer filings recorded by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. Yet Georgia lacks some of the financial guardrails used by other states.

Georgia is among more than 40 states that have turned to managed-care companies to control Medicaid costs. These contracts are typically among the biggest in these states, with billions of government dollars going to insurance companies. Insurers assume the financial risk and administrative burden of providing services to members in exchange for a set monthly fee paid for each member.

“The transition to managed care was supposed to save states money, but it’s not clear that it did,” said Katherine Hempstead, a senior policy adviser at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. (KHN receives funding support from the foundation.)

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released a report on the accident that led to the M/V Golden Ray capsizing in St Simons Sound, according to WTOC.

It has been more than two years since a massive ship overturned off the Georgia Coast.

The National Transportation Safety Board released its findings from the years-long investigation. According to the report from the National Transportation Safety Board, the Chief Officer had the wrong calculations. Thinking the ship was more stable than it actually was.

“The NTSB determined the probable cause of the capsizing of the Golden Ray was the chief officer’s error entering ballast quantities into the stability calculation program.”

According to the agency that wrong calculation made the vessel less stable and prevented crews from righting it as made a sharp turn leaving the Port of Brunswick.

According to the report, 4,067 vehicles were on the Golden Ray. Total costs for the vessel are estimated to cost $62.5 million. Costs for loss of cargo are estimated at $142 million.

Georgia State Epidemiologist Dr. Cherie Drenzek told the Department of Public Health Board yesterday that 60 percent of outbreaks are related to schools, according to the Capitol Beat News Service via the Macon Telegraph.

“The delta variant began spreading in Georgia around July 4,” Drenzek told a virtual meeting of the state’s Board of Public Health. “There has been an exponential increase in cases, hospitalizations and deaths over the last 60 days.”

According to Monday’s COVID totals provided by the state Department of Public Health, more than 1.1 million Georgians have contracted coronavirus since the pandemic began in March 2020. A total of 20,705 Georgians have died, and there have been more than 76,000 hospitalizations.

According to data provided by Drenzek to the board, there has been a 20-fold increase in cases; a 13-fold increase in hospitalizations; and a 17-fold increase in COVID deaths since July 1.

Asked by Capitol Beat if Gov. Brian Kemp has any plans for such an initiative, the governor’s office referred to Kemp’s Aug. 24, authorization of 105 Georgia National Guard personnel to 10 hospitals around the state.

“This Georgia National Guard mission is in addition to the 2,800 state-supported staff and 450 new beds brought online, at a total state investment of $625 million through December of this year,” Kemp said.

We note additionally that Gov. Kemp later in Augusta authorized an additional 2500 National Guard members to be assigned to Georgia hospitals for non-medical duties.

From the AJC:

At a Georgia Department of Public Health board meeting Tuesday, state epidemiologist Dr. Cherie Drenzek said that about 60% of all COVID-19 outbreaks in Georgia now take place in K-12 schools, with more than 100 school outbreaks so far.

Compared to previous surges of the pandemic, cases among school-age children have increased seven-fold, she said as she updated the board on hospitalizations, deaths, and the overall trendline of the pandemic.

“There has been a tremendous impact on school-aged children over the past six weeks,” she said.

Severe illness from COVID-19 is still uncommon in children. However, enough kids have become infected that pediatric hospitals have been filling up. Federal health data show 381 Georgians under age 18 were hospitalized for COVID-19 in the seven days that ended Sept. 11. That is more than double the number of admissions from the same period a month earlier and nearly 15 times the number hospitalized in the week after the July 4 holiday.

Drenzek noted an encouraging slight dip in infections and hospitalizations but said it was too early to know whether the downward trend line will take hold.

Children under 12 are not yet eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine. But in her presentation, Drenzek pointed out that most of the hospitalized children are between the ages of 5 to 17. Many of those children, she said, likely were eligible to be vaccinated and therefore, “hospitalization could have potentially been prevented.”

Chatham County voters will decide on an extension of the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax for Education (E-SPLOST) in November, according to the Savannah Morning News.

The Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (ESPLOST) has generated more than $1 billion for the Savannah Chatham County public schools over the last 14 years, money the district has used to eliminate bond debt, repair and modernize existing school facilities, purchase technology and school buses, and build modern buildings to replace aging ones.

Chatham County residents will vote on whether to extend the penny sales tax agreement in a Nov. 2 election. The measure’s approval would mean five more years of funding for capital projects; failure would lead to the expiration of the tax on Dec. 31.

According to state law, ESPLOST funds can be used only for capital projects — construction, technology, transportation, learning equipment/resources, and bond debt reduction. Penny sales tax dollars are not to be used for personnel recruiting or staff salaries or benefits.

According to a summary posted on the district website at sccpss.com, without ESPLOST, property taxes would potentially be higher as the School Board would need to raise the millage rate to fund capital improvements.

Proponents of ESPLOST tout the penny sales tax as a preferable revenue-raising method because non-Chatham Countians contribute to the funds. They include residents of nearby counties who shop in Chatham County, tourists who visit Savannah annually and travelers along Interstate 95 who make a pit stop within the county.

Muscogee County voters will decide on a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) during November’s elections, according to WTVM.

Voters in Muscogee County will head to the polls for a special election on November 2.

Residents will vote on whether to approve a 1% increase on their sales taxes to fund local projects.

Columbus Deputy City Manager Pam Hodge says citizens will vote on whether they support a $400M special purpose local option sales tax or SPLOST.

“That presentation is available on the city’s website, as well as the call for the election, which lists all of the projects for the citizens to review and determine if they’re in favor of supporting the SPLOST,” Hodge said.

Some Glynn County parents told the Board of Education they want the school mask mandate lifted, according to The Brunswick News.

Some Bulloch County parents told the Board of Education they want more COVID protections, including a mask mandate, according to the Statesboro Herald.

The Columbia County Board of Education heard from parents on the mask mandate, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

Ten parents and Columbia County residents stood before the school district’s board of education Tuesday and most were focused on the hot topic among school boards across the country – masks.

During the meeting, Laura Ann Shipp shared the effect wearing masks has had on her second grade daughter who has an autism diagnosis. The mandate, she said, has taken away parents’ ability to make the best decisions for their children.

“We have worked continually over the last seven years to see her progress, to get back her smile, awareness and personality that we lost,” she said through tears. “She is now a gentle child that thrives on physical contact – hugs, smiles and facial cues. I will not sit back quietly and let that be taken from her or other children.”

Only one participant spoke in support of the mandate: Kevin Kilburn followed Shipp’s address with a pro-mask stance and called those who disagree with masks “buffoons,” “ignorant” and “anti-intellectuals.”

“Not everyone will agree on the mitigation efforts we have in place which come from local, state and national health experts; however, I will remind us all that these mitigation efforts are allowing us to promote the safety of students and staff members and allow us to maximize the number of students and staff in the building participating in in-learning teaching,” [Superintendent Dr. Steven Flynt] said.

Because name-calling is the hallmark of a true intellectual.

Bibb County schools will return to in-person instruction beginning September 20, according to 13WMAZ.

Fifty protesters at Georgia Southern University called for stricter COVID measures, according to the Statesboro Herald.

Led by Georgia Southern’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors, the group plans to hold a protest at the Rotunda outside the Student Union every day this week.

“We know that COVID is raging right now throughout the state, particularly in Bulloch and Chatham Counties,” Michelle Haberland, president of the GS chapter, told the George-Anne student newspaper. “We’re at record numbers, and we’re not following CDC guidelines.”

In addition to Georgia Southern, protests took place Monday on university system campuses in Atlanta, Albany, Augusta, Athens, Savannah, Columbus and other locations. Like Georgia Southern, protests are planned all week.

Following guidelines set by the Regents, masks are encouraged to be worn inside all buildings and classrooms at Georgia Southern, but are only required when riding on university buses or inside the student health care center.

The Athens Banner Herald has coverage of the local protest at UGA.

Jury selection was halted in a Grady County murder trial, according to the Macon Telegraph.

Proceedings were halted Thursday after an attorney tested positive for COVID-19 during jury selection in the death penalty trial of a Georgia prison inmate accused of murdering two corrections officers on a prison bus during a harrowing escape in 2017.

The process of qualifying 57 potential jurors began Aug. 30 in Grady County in south Georgia, a venue chosen because of pretrial publicity in the midstate where the shootings happened.

Cobb County will give additional paid time off for employee vaccinations, according to the AJC.

The Board of Commissioners voted Tuesday to temporarily change the county’s policy on paid administrative leave. Full-time staff members who’ve been fully vaccinated will get an additional 80 hours of paid time off for COVID-19 related issues should they need it.

Cobb County does not have a vaccine mandate. About 50% of its employees have been fully vaccinated, according to county officials, who said the latest measure is meant to incentivize unvaccinated workers to become inoculated against the virus as a way to reduce the spread of the delta variant.

The policy change passed by a vote of 4-1. It takes effect Sunday and will be in place through the end of the year. The county will use $750,000 in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) money to cover the additional leave costs.

Commissioner Keli Gambrill, who cast the lone dissenting vote, described it as “political posturing.” She bristled at the notion of unvaccinated employees being treated differently than those who’ve taken the shot and accused her fellow board members of “using COVID as a red herring and justification to take away personal choice.”

United States Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Upper Left Hand Corner of GA) will be opposed in the GOP Primary by Jennifer Strahan, according to the Rome News Tribune.

Jennifer Strahan said Tuesday she is concerned about the direction the country is headed under President Joe Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — and she wants to represent the district on committees that help steer. She referenced the freshman Greene being stripped of her committee assignments due to her controversial behavior.

“It’s not about being a celebrity, it’s about bringing results back to the district,” Strahan said. “Marjorie Taylor Greene has no influence in the halls of Congress so … by virtue of that, our district has no voice in the policies.”

Strahan is president and CEO of J. Osley & Co., a national advisory firm she started that specializes in healthcare. She said she and her husband, Bowen, and their 5-year-old son live on the border of Paulding and Cobb counties.

Four Democrats are seeking their party’s nomination: Rome City Commissioner Wendy Davis; Marcus Flowers, a Bremen veteran; Holly McCormack of Paulding County; and Lateefah Conner of Dallas.

The district covers the counties of Floyd, Gordon, Polk, Chattooga, Walker, Catoosa, Dade, Whitfield, Haralson, Murray and Paulding, and part of Pickens. It is one of the most heavily Republican districts in the state, although the Georgia General Assembly is slated to redraw the voting maps this fall.

Muscogee County public schools will pay employee bonuses to attract and retain teachers and other workers, according to the Ledger-Enquirer.

Full-time employees as of Sept. 15 will receive $500. Then full-time employees as of Jan. 15, 2022, will receive $500. The pay schedule is the same for part-time employees, but the amount of each installment is $250.

In total, employees who were hired as of Sept. 15 and remain active employees at least through Jan. 15 will receive bonuses amounting to $1,000 if they are full-time or $500 if they are part-time.

MCSD will use money from the $13.2 billion federal Elementary and Second School Emergency Relief Fund to pay the stipends for employee recruitment and retention, [MCSD communications director Alicia] Lawrence said.

“There is currently a nationwide teacher shortage,” she said. “In addition, like other sectors of the economy, the pandemic has further intensified a shortage of teachers and support staff alike. Therefore, the Board of Education unanimously approved the superintendent’s recommendation to provide this incentive to thank our current employees and also welcome our new hires.”

Glynn County Commissioners will consider a ban on alcohol at beaches for the Georgia-Florida game weekend, according to The Brunswick News.

The Glynn County Commission will consider a beach control ordinance at Thursday’s meeting that will ban the consumption or possession of alcoholic beverages on St. Simons Island beaches Oct. 29-30.

The intent of the alcohol ban the Friday and Saturday preceding the annual Georgia-Florida football game is to reduce the burden of county resources during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Crowds that typically gather on the beach create the need for extra police, fire, emergency medical care, hospital services, and litter pickup and control.

Gwinnett County is working on a Smart Corridor Deployment Program with Georgia DOT, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

The county is partnering with the Georgia Department of Transportation on a Smart Corridor Deployment Program that will allow county-owned vehicles to use onboard units that can send signals to smart technology-enabled traffic lights. Those signals will tell the traffic lights to turn green for the approaching vehicles, particularly for law enforcement and fire services vehicles.

This follows on a previous decision by the county commissioners to install roadside smart corridor units at 387 intersections starting in 2022 as part of a statewide regional connected vehicle program.

“The Connected Vehicle Technology targets improved traffic safety by providing information on current road conditions and allowing for better traffic management,” county officials said in an announcement about the partnership. “The goal is to improve mobility, and safety for all road users whether they are drivers, transit riders, first responders or pedestrians.”

Columbus City Council approved plans to spend $39.2 million dollars of federal COVID relief funds, according to WTVM.

Glynn County Commissioners will hear plans by the Board of Elections for a new office space, according to The Brunswick News.

Plans have been drawn in anticipation county commissioners will approve the purchase of the old CVS pharmacy building on Gloucester Street and convert it into a new office. The space is needed because of a state mandate for the county to buy more voting machines and create viewing spaces for the public to watch votes being delivered and counted.

Elections supervisor Christopher Channell said it’s likely the move into the new location won’t happen until 2023, though it could be sooner.

Brunswick mayoral and city council candidates will meet voters in a forum September 25th, according to The Brunswick News.

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