Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for July 27, 2022

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Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for July 27, 2022

On July 27, 1974, the United States House of Representatives Judiciary Committee approved the first impeachment article against President Richard M. Nixon.

The first such impeachment recommendation in more than a century, it charge[d] President Nixon with unlawful activities that formed a “course of conduct or plan” to obstruct the investigation of the Watergate break-in and to cover up other unlawful activities.

The vote was 27 to 11, with 6 of the committee’s 17 Republicans joining all 21 Democrats in voting to send the article to the House.

The majority included three conservative Southern Democrats and three conservative Republicans.

A bomb exploded at a free concert in Centennial Park in Atlanta on July 27, 1996.

Police were warned of the bombing in advance, but the bomb exploded before the anonymous caller said it would, leading authorities to suspect that the law enforcement officers who descended on the park were indirectly targeted.

Within a few days, Richard Jewell, a security guard at the concert, was charged with the crime. However, evidence against him was dubious at best, and in October he was fully cleared of all responsibility in the bombing.

Former Georgia Governor Zell Miller took the oath of office as United States Senator on July 27, 2000. Miller would go on to win a special election for the remainder of the term in November 2000.

On July 27, 2014, former Braves manager Bobby Cox and pitchers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine were inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, along with former White Sox player Frank Thomas, who was born in Columbus, Georgia.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

The deal for Hyundai to build a new manufacturing plant in Bryan County has been inked, according to the Savannah Morning News.

The contract was finalized Friday, just three months after the automaker made the announcement that it would build a manufacturing facility at the megasite in Bryan County.

As part of the agreement, Hyundai will receive $1.8 billion in incentives and tax breaks from the state along with Savannah’s area joint development authority, known as the Savannah JDA.

The tri-party agreement between Hyundai Motors, the JDA and the state secured the auto manufacturers first dedicated EV plant in the U.S. with the deal being the largest economic development project in state history.

Tennessee, South Carolina and Virginia were all in contention with Georgia to secure the Hyundai plant, but the location of the megasite and the state’s workforce is what convinced Hyundai that Bryan County would be a good location.

The facility will span 17 million feet to include the battery plant. Aside from the $5.5 billion investment by Hyundai, an additional $1 billion will be invested by non-affiliated Hyundai suppliers related with the project in various locations.

Hyundai will receive a 26-year tax abatement, paying more than $357 million in lieu of taxes through 2023. More than $427 million in property tax breaks have also been agreed upon by the automotive company and the JDA.

Per the agreement, annual compliance reports are required as repayment of the total property, state property, state land improvements and estimated real and personal property tax savings could be triggered if the combined job and investment performance fall below 80% of the commitments agreed upon.

The state will put up an estimated $62,500,000 for the Quick Start Training Center and cover training services for up to five years. The Georgia Department of Economic Development is also seeking addition funding for the existing Quick Start center at 1500 Pine Meadow Dr. in Savannah to accommodate the training needs required for the project.

Cargo ships once again are lined up off the Georgia coast waiting for an unloading berth as freight is diverted from West Coast ports, according to the AJC.

About 40 ships are at anchor off the coast — roughly as many as during the worst of the supply chain backups last year — as workers on the dock hectically move containers, loading and unloading ships, said Griff Lynch, executive director of the Georgia Ports Authority.

“The demand we are seeing is completely unprecedented,” he told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We are seeing more ships and bigger ships. And the ships are full.”

However, seeing the trade as a parallel to the overall economy is iffy, since much of the recent surge is fueled by a labor dispute that has shifted shipping patterns. While tens of thousands of West Coast workers continued working after the July 1 expiration of their contract, the situation has been precarious enough to persuade many shippers to find alternatives.

“A lot of the cargo has been diverted to the East Coast, and not just Savannah,” Lynch said.

The federal trial of suspended Augusta Commissioner Sammy Sias has begun, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

The two-term commissioner is on trial this week in U.S. District Court, accused of destroying hundreds of records connected to a grand jury investigation of the misuse of public funds and subsequently lying to a federal investigator about it.

During jury selection and opening arguments, Rhodes and fellow Assistant U.S. Attorney Tara Lyons said upcoming witnesses may include the heads of Augusta’s Finance, Recreation and Law departments, former Sandridge treasurers and current and former commissioners.

The only witness to testify Tuesday was FBI forensic examiner Charles McStotts, who examined Sias’ computers, phone and thumb drives. Questioned by Lyons, McStotts detailed the processes he used to find traces of deleted files and recently emptied memory where the files had been, using queries such as “SPLOST,” “invoice,” or “Jamestown.”

McStott said he was able to determine when the files were deleted, and it was between Aug. 5, 2019, the day Sias learned of the investigation, and Aug. 9, 2019, when he spoke to FBI agents about it.

Sias has been suspended from office since August 2021 but continues to receive his commissioner salary. The Augusta Commission named his predecessor, Alvin Mason, as interim commissioner until Sias’ case is disposed or his term ends.

U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green (R-Extreme NW GA) chalked a legal victory yesterday on the way to her resounding reelection on November 8, 2022. From the Associated Press via AccessWDUN:

A judge in Atlanta has rejected an appeal by a group of voters and affirmed the Georgia secretary of state’s decision that U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene is eligible to run for reelection.

The five voters from Greene’s district sought to have her removed from the ballot, saying that she played a significant role in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol that disrupted Congress’ certification of Biden’s presidential victory. That was a violation of a rarely invoked provision in the 14th Amendment against insurrection or rebellion, they argued.

Greene was questioned extensively during a daylong hearing in April before Georgia Administrative Law Judge Charles Beaudrot, who ruled on May 6 that Greene should not be disqualified. Raffensperger immediately affirmed the decision.

The voters appealed in Fulton County Superior Court, where Chief Judge Christopher Brasher affirmed Raffensperger’s adoption on Monday.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed suit in Fulton County Superior Court against Georgia, contending the heartbeat bill is unconstitutional, according to the Macon Telegraph.

“This abortion ban sends the distrubing message that Georgia is closed to women seeking equal opportunity and basic rights to make private decisions about their future,” said Andrea Young, executive director of the ACLU of Georgia, in a news release from the Center for Reproductive Rights.

The ACLU argues in the lawsuit that HB 481 was void from the start because it violated federal constitutional precedent when enacted in 2019, and a change in federal law can’t revive it. The challenge also states that the law violates Georgians’ rights to privacy under the state constitution that prohibits interference with their life, body and health.

The lawsuit argues that the state constitution’s right to privacy “inherently encompasses an individual’s decision whether to carry a pregnancy to term.”

The ACLU also included a state constitutional challenge to a provision of Georgia law, which was expanded by HB 481, that grants district attorneys access to the medical files of anyone who seeks an abortion without a subpoena.

From the Augusta Chronicle via the Savannah Morning News:

“Forcing women to carry a pregnancy against their will has many life-altering consequences,” said Andrea Young, executive director of the ACLU in Georgia, during a news conference held Tuesday. “Gov. (Brian) Kemp’s abortion ban must be stopped.”

“We are currently reviewing this filing and we will uphold our constitutional duty, as we do with all lawsuits against the state,” wrote Kara Richardson, spokeswoman for Attorney General Chris Carr’s office, in a statement.

“This lawsuit is grounded in more than a century of Georgia Supreme Court precedent establishing that the Georgia constitution is highly protective of an individual’s right to be free of political interference with their body, health and life,” [ACLU staff attorney Julia] Kaye said.

“Since taking effect on July 20 and prohibiting most abortions in Georgia, the Six-Week Ban has already caused irreparable harm — with more devastation promised every day it is in effect,” the lawsuit reads. “Already, Plaintiffs (who include abortion providers) have had to send patients home from waiting rooms in tears and cancel hundreds of upcoming appointments — with some patients forced to travel hundreds or thousands of miles out of state at great cost, and others desperately pleading that if they cannot get an abortion past six weeks in Georgia, they will not be able to get one at all.”

From the AJC:

The American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia, representing abortion rights advocates and providers, said the new law violates the state right to privacy by giving prosecutors “virtually unfettered access to the medical files of anyone who seeks an abortion, without a subpoena.”

Democrat Stacey Abrams announced a plan to address affordable housing by prosecuting owners, according to the AJC.

Abrams’ proposal would give local code inspectors more power to go after out-of-state hedge funds and Silicon Valley firms that have been gobbling up cities’ housing and apartment stock, raising rents to luxury price points, then forcing tenants to live in dilapidated structures with little power to fight back.

“We have so many units that are dilapidated, that are unsafe,” Abrams said. “And because of the conflation of state laws that say you have to do one thing, but don’t give anyone the ability to enforce it, what happens is we end up in this endless cycle of dilapidated housing and families that are put in unsafe conditions.”

Abrams also blasted Gov. Brian Kemp, her Republican opponent, for not taking more aggressive action to curb housing inequality.

And she said she’d push legislation that would create a statewide certification of habitability, which would set minimum housing quality standards.

A recent AJC investigation identified more than 250 complexes across metro Atlanta where violent crime and dangerous living conditions combine to make apartments all but uninhabitable.

The investigation found that at least three-fourths of the region’s most dangerous complexes belong to private equity firms and other remote investors, many of whom, in the absence of robust governmental oversight, prioritize earnings over their tenants’ well-being.

Kemp spokesman Tate Mitchell said the governor has allocated $100 million in the last year to support nonprofits that provide affordable housing and help people who are homeless.

“If Stacey Abrams wants to blame anyone for economic instability, she should start with Joe Biden and her own party,” he said. “Joe Biden, Stacey Abrams and the Democrats have championed the disastrous economic policies that created 40-year-high inflation and brought the nation to the brink of recession.”

Chatham County District Attorney Shalena Cook Jones adopted a document prioritizing cases to clear a backlog, according to the Savannah Morning News.

When the Chatham County District Attorney’s proposed guidelines for prosecutions was leaked online last month, critics were quick to raise concerns, fearing the Chatham County DA would go the way of other large cities where more relaxed prosecution approaches has allegedly led to increases in crime.

The four-page State Court Resolution Rubric provides a peak into how Chatham DA Shalena Cook Jones is prioritizing cases to clear the many-thousand backlog the court system has experienced since before the start of the pandemic, including DUIs and misdemeanors. The rubric also listed potential changes to how the office will prosecute marijuana, traffic, shoplifting and other quality-of-life crimes.

“The DA is legally authorized and required to make such decisions particularly when resources like staff, time, space and money are as limited as they are now due to Covid,” Chatham County DA spokesman Nathaneal Wright wrote in response to one of the newspaper’s questions.

“It streamlines the process internally for the district attorney’s office, and it sends a clear message to their partners, local police or other law enforcement agencies: ‘Don’t bring me these cases because I’m not going to do anything with them anyway,’” [formed federal prosecutor Page] Pate said.

Behavioral health advocates announced their wish list for the 2023 Session of the Georgia General Assembly. From the Georgia Recorder via the Albany Herald:

This year’s bipartisan mental health law took effect early this month and is still being implemented, and advocacy groups are calling for additional changes that they argue will help make sure insurers are not discriminating against Georgians with behavioral health needs.

An insurance company’s network adequacy — or the availability of in-network providers — is the “beating heart” of behavioral health parity, said Peter Nunn, a board member with the Georgia chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

To illustrate the lingering problem, state Sen. Sally Harrell said she has struggled to access timely care for her own family. The Atlanta Democrat said she was told it would take two to three months for an appointment and another two to three weeks for follow-up appointments.

The advocacy groups held a news conference at the state Capitol to outline their updated “unified vision” for overhauling mental health and substance use care in Georgia. The coalition was influential in helping to push through this year’s bill even when far-right activists tried to derail Republican House Speaker David Ralston’s top priority for the year.

The groups are advocating for funds to be set aside for a marketing campaign that would educate consumers about their parity rights and the state’s complaint process.

They are also pushing for an independent process that allows Medicaid enrollees to search for and schedule appointments online with an in-network behavioral health professional. Failures to identify a provider on the proposed website within the managed care organization’s time and distance requirements would trigger a notice first to the organization and later to the state if not resolved.

From the Capitol Beat News Service:

The Georgia Mental Health Policy Partnership, a coalition of more than 50 groups, released a new set of policy recommendations during a news conference at the state Capitol.

The recommendations outline nine “foundational elements” of Georgia’s behavioral health system, including early intervention, community care, equity and a continued emphasis on parity.

Along with systemic factors, stigma often stops Georgians from getting behavioral health care, said Jeff Breedlove, chief of communications and policy for the Georgia Council on Substance Abuse.

“We’ve got to get away from [thinking] if a child is getting treatment for a mental health condition, it’s somehow bad,” Breedlove said.

Weston Burleson, communications director for the Georgia Department of Insurance, said Georgians can report suspected parity violations at the agency’s consumer complaint portal.

The insurance department also plans to hire a mental health parity officer, a position created under this year’s mental health law.

Athens-Clarke County police will team with the Western Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s Office in attempting to address rising fentanyl overdoses, according to the Athens Banner Herald.

Athens-Clarke police Lt. Shaun Barnett said Monday that from Jan. 1 through July 15 this year, there have been 35 suspected drug overdose deaths. The autopsy toxicology tests have now confirmed 18 were due to an overdose and of that number, 12 were linked to the dangerous drug fentanyl.

To address the problem, Interim Police Chief Jerry Saulters and District Attorney Deborah Gonzalez announced the joint formation of SAFE, or Strategically Addressing the Fentanyl Epidemic.

“We cannot arrest our way out of this,” Saulters said in a statement released with Gonzalez, who said, “This epidemic impacts the community at large, we must work together to create effective and attainable solutions.”

Athens-Clarke police by policy carry the opioid-reversal medication Narcan, which can save lives for those suffering an opioid overdose, according to Barnett. Those receiving Narcan are typically unresponsive and have low pulse rates when police arrive.

This year from Jan. 1 through July 15, there were 66 deployments of Narcan, while in that same time period in 2021 there were 26 deployments, Barnett said. In total for 2021, there were 71. Sometimes, a person requires more than one dosage of the medication, he added.

Unable to fill vacancies, the City of Statesboro is outsourcing inspections, according to the Statesboro Herald.

After reported difficulties hiring building inspectors to fill its two vacancies, the city of Statesboro is contracting out the service for one year to a company called SAFEbuilt Georgia for fees not to exceed $100,000.

That is less than the $161,460 that Planning and Development Director Kathy Field cited as the cost of employing two building inspectors on regular city salaries plus their benefits for one year.

However, at least one City Council member and some local building and development professionals expressed skepticism about contracting out this service, and City Manager Charles Penny called it a “temporary solution.” Council approved on a 3-1 vote last week with one member absent.

“The city has advertised extensively to fill these positions,” [Planning and Development Director Kathy] Field wrote. “However, due to the heavy activity within the construction industry, it has become difficult to find qualified candidates with the required certifications.”

Gwinnett County voters will decide in November whether to continue a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST), according to the AJC.

If renewed, the special purpose local option sales tax (SPLOST) is expected to generate $1.35 billion over six years. Based on population, three-quarters would go to the county government and the remainder would be distributed among the 16 cities partially or wholly in Gwinnett.

Voters have consistently renewed SPLOST since 1985. The current tax is set to expire in April.

“I’m excited about the next SPLOST referendum and all that it will potentially help us do in the future,” County Commission Chairwoman Nicole Love Hendrickson said last week at a meeting.

If I were in charge of any campaign to increase a local sales tax, I’d be worried about the economic headwinds.

Macon-Bibb Mayor Lester Miller recommends the county adopt a partial rollback of the property tax millage rate, according to 13WMAZ.

Now, because many property values are rising in the county, that doesn’t necessarily mean lower tax bills.

Depending on the value of your home, you may pay more in property taxes or about the same.

Commissioners are scheduled to discuss the millage rate next Tuesday at 6 p.m. at the Macon-Bibb Government Center.

Floyd County Commissioners adopted a partial rollback of the property tax millage rate, according to the Rome News Tribune.

Before the change, the millage rate stood at 9.678 mills for maintenance and operations. However, property values have risen in the past year and county commissioners stated they did not want to raise taxes.

Commissioners voted on Tuesday to do a 50% rollback on this year’s millage rate, setting it at 9.414 mills.

By doing so, county property taxes will decrease by 2.7% based on the current rate. For a home with a fair market value of $175,000, property owners would pay $46 less.

It’s not clear whether the RN-T means to state that the county will still collect more property tax revenue than it did in the previous year.

The Hall County Board of Education finalized its budget and property tax millage rate for the coming fiscal year, according to the Gainesville Times.

The school system lowered its millage rate July 25 to 15.99 for the 2022-23 fiscal year, down from 16.485 the year before. It is the lowest millage rate since 2005, but it is not a full rollback.

At that millage rate, the school system will take in $15.6 million more in tax revenue than it did last year, a 15.81% increase.

“Our families in Hall County are going to have a very hard time making ends meet,” Derek Moore said. “What we have to realize, too, is that everybody else’s budget based on inflation is also going up.”

Chuck Whitehead, who has a child in the school system, also objected to the increased taxes. He suggested the school board has been out of touch with the concerns of residents who have struggled during the pandemic, and he feels as though they have been making decisions from an “ivory tower.”

The Glynn County Commission took two votes to move forward with a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax on the November ballot, according to The Brunswick News.

The first resolution was to approve an intergovernmental agreement between the county and the city of Brunswick. The agreement determines the share of proceeds between the two municipalities during the six years the 1-cent tax is collected.

Before the vote, County Attorney Aaron Mumford explained the tier system that prioritizes Tier 1 projects over Tier 2 projects. All Tier 1 projects must be funded before any Tier 2 projects can be started in case the money projected to be generated by the tax falls short of projections.

Glynn County, the city of Brunswick, the Brunswick-Glynn County Joint Water and Sewer Commission, Jekyll Island Authority, Brunswick-Glynn Economic Development Authority and Glynn County Airport Commission would each get a cut of the proposed tax that generate between $130 million to $170 million.

The second resolution establishes when the Glynn County Board of Elections and Registration schedules the election.

Georgia Ports Authority set new records as they closed out their fiscal year, according to the Capitol Beat News Service.

The Georgia Ports Authority handled a record 5.76 million twenty-foot equivalent container units (TEUs) during the last fiscal year, up 8% over fiscal 2021, the agency reported Tuesday.

“Despite the record volumes, the Port of Savannah remains fluid,” Lynch said. “Several factors have contributed to our growing container capacity, including expedited infrastructure projects, our inland pop-up yards, and an influx of truck drivers moving to the Southeast.”

To keep up with the growth in traffic, the authority added 166 workers during the last fiscal year, bringing the agency’s payroll to 1,647.

The authority’s board approved the purchase of a dozen new rubber-tired gantry cranes and other container handling equipment this month. The Port of Savannah already boasts 198 cranes, with an additional 24 on order.

Lynch said the main reason behind the rapid growth in breakbulk cargo was its relatively low cost compared to rates for containerized cargo.

Tattnall County Chief Magistrate Judge Eddie Anderson must have one powerful hankering for a tomato sandwich. From WSAV:

The Georgia Burea of Investigation (GBI) charged Chief Magistrate Judge Eddie Anderson with one count of terroristic threats and one count of violation of oath by public officer.

GBI said Anderson trespassed into the person’s garden and took produce without permission. The person then called Anderson to discuss it. GBI said witnesses heard Anderson threaten the person with violence.

GBI arrested the 70-year-old judge on Monday after he turned himself in. Tattnall County Sheriff Kyle Sapp asked the GBI to investigate the incident.

From WTOC:

Eddie Anderson served 14 years as Tattnall County’s magistrate judge. But the charges he’s facing stem from a situation miles from the courthouse…in a neighbor’s garden.

Investigators say Anderson, age 70, went on a neighbor’s property and picked produce from the neighbor’s garden. A second neighbor saw it on a security camera and called out Anderson on social media.

Investigators say Anderson admits threatening to assault that neighbor. While the threat is a misdemeanor, it qualifies as a violation of oath of office, which itself is felony.

Anderson resigned as judge effective today. This morning, the county swore in deputy magistrate judge John Mock as the interim.

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