Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for September 13, 2022

13
Sep

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for September 13, 2022

The Second Continental Congress opened in Philadelphia on September 13, 1775; Georgia was represented by Archibald Bulloch, Lyman Hall,  John Houstoun, and John Zubly.

On September 13, 1788, the Confederation Congress voted to implement the Constitution and authorized states to elect Senators and Representatives and called the first Presidential election, with selection of presidential electors in the states to be held on January 7, 1789, and February 4, 1789 as the day electors would cast their ballots.

The first two women to enter the Georgia General Assembly, Viola Ross Napier of Bibb County and Atlanta Constitution reporter Bessie Kempton of Fulton County, were elected on September 13, 1922.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Georgia ranks 37th in the nation for life expecatancy in a new report by the CDC, according to the Center Square via the Gwinnett Daily Post.

Georgia’s life expectancy in 2020 stood at 75.6 years — 72.8 years for men and 78.3 years for women. That is down from a life expectancy of 77.4 years in 2019.

The Peach State ranks in the middle of the pack of neighboring states. Florida (No. 19) performed the best, followed by North Carolina (35), South Carolina (42), Tennessee (46) and Alabama (48).

“Overall, life expectancy in the United States declined by 1.8 years from 2019 to 2020, mostly due to the COVID-19 pandemic and increases in unintentional injuries,” the report found. It characterizes “unintentional injuries” as “mainly drug overdose deaths.”

According to state officials, drug overdose deaths in the state increased by 55.9% from 2019 to 2021. Officials say opioids — mainly fentanyl — are behind the increase, as fentanyl-involved overdose deaths increased by 218.4%.

In May, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed Senate Bill 500, a measure that opens the door to $636 million for state and local governments to strengthen their opioid treatment and prevention efforts. The money is part of a $26 billion multistate opioid settlement with the nation’s three major pharmaceutical distributors — Cardinal, McKesson and AmerisourceBergen — and opioid manufacturer and marketer Johnson & Johnson.

No word on how frequently the phrase “hold my beer, y’all watch this,” was heard before “unintentional injuries.”

Governor Brian Kemp announced funding to address pandemic learning losses, according to the AJC.

Gov. Brian Kemp outlined a second-term education agenda Monday with an additional $65 million to address “learning loss,” recruit more counselors and help school staffers become full-fledged teachers.

The first $25 million would be an amendment in the current budget to help elementary school students still struggling from pandemic-related school closures, specifically rising fourth graders who read below grade level.

“We’ve targeted it after 44,000 children, not every child in the classroom,” Kemp said at a press conference outside Dove Creek Elementary School in Oconee County, where his daughter taught last year.

Eligible schools would compete for the grants, which could pay for tutoring services, more staff or other programs.

If Kemp wins reelection in November, he said he will propose $25 million in next year’s budget to help schools recruit more counselors. Another $15 million would give thousands of paraprofessionals $3,000 in reimbursable grants to offset the cost of becoming certified teachers.

The Republican also addressed safety, saying he would establish “intruder alert drills” and voluntary anti-gang training.

Kemp framed his call for a new “learning loss” grant as a response to school districts that played “pandemic politics” by delaying a return to in-person classwork. In 2019, 73% of third-grade students were reading at or above grade level, a number that dropped to 63% this year.

He said he would propose the $25 million to hire more school counselors, because he thinks they are “undeniably a critical asset to the overall health, well-being and long-term success of our future leaders.” He said educators tell him student mental health is among their top concerns.

From the Associated Press via US News & World Report:

“We have more work to do to address pandemic learning loss, bring more educators and counselors into our schools, and keep our students and staff safe,” Kemp said at Dove Creek Elementary School in Statham, just outside Athens.

Kemp made a $5,000 pay raise for teachers a centerpiece of his agenda when he was running in 2018 and delivered the final chunk of the money this year, but he didn’t propose a pay raise for his second term on Monday, although in response to reporter questions, he said he would “continue to work support all state employees to make the pay scale competitive in the future.”

“By working with our local school systems and providing targeted funding to bring these kids back up to grade level, I am confident we can lend a helping hand to the students who need it most,” Kemp said.

From the Capitol Beat News Service via the Albany Herald:

Just 63% of third graders are reading at or above grade level this year, down from 73% in 2019, the year before the outbreak of COVID-19 prompted schools to close their doors and switch to online instruction, Kemp said.

Most of the school safety initiatives Kemp announced Monday would involve providing more training for school resource officers and teachers interested in developing school safety and gang prevention skills.

Also, the school safety plans schools currently must submit to local emergency management and law enforcement agencies would go instead to the Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency.

Governor Kemp was asked about Georgia’s abortion law while campaigning, according to GPB.

“The Supreme Court threw the decision making back to the states, and I think they got the ruling right from a strict textualist view of the Constitution,” he said. “As you all know, we passed a bill, our heartbeat legislation in 2019 that Georgians have known about for over three years now.”

Kemp pointed to the state’s efforts to bolster the foster care system, create protections for human trafficking victims and pass sweeping legislation to address the dire state of mental health.

“We have been on the forefront of fighting for life,” he said. “And I think most Georgians agree with that, even if they may disagree with when you should make an abortion illegal or not.”

According to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll, more than half of Georgia voters oppose the law. But it is unclear what impact that will have on the ballot box.

Georgia State House Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) spoke about his 2023 legislative agenda, according to the AJC.

In a speech to the Savannah Rotary Club, he laid out an agenda focused on economic development and infrastructure.

He made no mention of dicey cultural issues such as revisiting Georgia’s anti-abortion law, a new effort to expand gun rights or a revival of religious liberty legislation that sparked deep divides in past legislative sessions.

Ralston also said lawmakers must prepare the state for the “demands of an automobile market that is becoming ever more reliant on electric charging capability.” Groups are also working on measures involving rural development, mental health and affordable housing.

“So, if there’s something you want to talk to me about for next year’s General Assembly, be sure you frame how it will impact opportunity in this state,” Ralston said.

“Will it provide our children a better education? Will it expand access to health care? Will it improve our infrastructure and make us more competitive? Those are the questions I’m going to be asking. That’s where my focus will be next legislative session.”

The State House Governmental Affairs Local Service Delivery Subcommittee heard about issues with the state’s public health system, according to the Capitol Beat News Service.

Local public health departments play an important role in delivering preventive care, said R. Chris Rustin, public health administrator for the Chatham County Health Department.

The 159 county boards of health, which serve 10.8 million Georgians, can provide routine vaccinations and many other basic services, he said.

But different county public health departments have different resources. Rustin compared the robust complement of services offered in Chatham with the nearby – but much smaller – McIntosh County Health Department. Both are part of the same public health district but vary widely in what they can offer.

When it comes to COVID, Chatham County can provide vaccination services five days a week, while McIntosh only offers the service one day a week by appointment, Rustin said.

Another important part of Georgia’s health care infrastructure is the federally qualified primary health clinics – or FQHCs.

The doctors said rural Georgia communities need emergency services, even if the community cannot support a full hospital. A lack of emergency services puts pressure on both patients and health care providers from the emergency service technicians who respond to 911 calls to doctors in distant hospitals who have to treat patients who have waited a long time for care.

The doctors said they believed Medicaid expansion would benefit Georgia.

Hospital administrators also described challenges their facilities face, including staffing and transportation.

Julie Windom, vice president of government relations for Atrium Health, said her company’s two urban hospitals in Macon and Rome are often fully occupied.

The emergency rooms face serious challenges and are almost always full, Windom said.

Although Navicent Macon is the second-largest hospital in Georgia (after Atlanta’s Grady Memorial) with more than 600 beds, it usually has to close 90 to 120 beds a day because of staffing shortages, Windom said.

Steve Whatley, former mayor of Cuthbert, said the rural Southwest Georgia community hopes to resurrect the town’s recently shuttered hospital.

“We have one fully staffed ambulance,” he said. “People have died in our county waiting on our ambulance.”

Randolph County and the surrounding counties need at least a freestanding emergency room, Whatley said. The community will apply for a $25 million federal loan to build an emergency room and five hospital beds to accompany it.

“The loss of the hospital was very hurtful,” Whatley said. “But the biggest loss to us was our emergency room.”

State officials are also working to develop a financial aid package to support Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, according to the AJC.

State officials are discussing a one-time aid package of nearly $200 million for Grady Health System, made up of federal relief dollars and tens of millions lined up through private philanthropies, according to three officials with knowledge of the talks.

Gov. Brian Kemp, Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens, DeKalb chief executive Michael Thurmond and Fulton County Commission chair Rob Pitts met Monday to discuss the rescue package weeks after the unexpected announcement from Wellstar Health System that it will shutter Atlanta Medical Center in November.

The final dollars are in flux, but it’s expected to include more than $100 million from money that Georgia was allocated through the American Rescue Plan Act, a federal coronavirus relief package. As the governor, Kemp has the unilateral authority to do with those funds as he pleases.

The influx of funding could add nearly 200 beds to Grady Memorial Hospital, according to one official with direct knowledge. Grady would be the city’s only high-level trauma center after the century-old Atlanta Medical Center, a 460-bed hospital known as AMC, closes in less than two months.

John Haupert, CEO of Grady Health System, told the AJC in July that Grady’s finances were in the red, with the cost of temporary nurses largely to blame for a deficit of about $50 million. At the time, Haupert said the budget issues “are almost entirely related to labor cost.”

Chatham County Elections Supervisor Billy Wooten discussed election changes required due to state law, according to WTOC.

One of the main topics covered by Chatham County Elections Supervisor Billy Wooten were the challenges Senate Bill 202 will present to elections offices state-wide, particularly in larger counties like Chatham, when it comes to the audit process between Election Day and a likely runoff election.

SB 202 changed that window from nine weeks, to only four, giving elections office workers less time to certify the election and prepare early voting for the runoff.

“The compressed timeframe puts a tremendous amount of pressure on our processes, on our procedures and on our people,” said Wooten.

Wooten says he’s anticipating a similar turnout on Election Day this year compared to 2018, around 60,000 voters or more, highlighting the importance for people to read their sample ballots ahead of time…especially the six questions on this year’s ballot.

“We want to do everything we can to educate the public about those six questions and what they mean. How do they impact residents of Chatham. And the best thing to do is read them.”

These are the proposed constitutional amendments, state-wide referendums and special elections questions that you’ll see on the ballot this November here in Chatham county.

The elections office is canvassing the county, handing these out at community meetings and even at the office, for anyone who wants to read up.

The Fulton County Board of Elections will hold a closed meeting to discuss personnel issues, according to the AJC.

The Savannah Alumnae Chapter (SAC) of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority will host a voting rally, according to WSAV.

The nonpartisan event will include meaningful voter education, engagement, and empowerment relevant to voter inclusion. Citizens will have an opportunity to meet the candidates who are on the Nov. General Election ballot and learn more about their platforms prior to the election.

The afternoon will culminate with The Final Impact, a burial ceremony to celebrate the demise of voter suppression.

Dublin schools more than doubled the number of metal detectors deployed, according to 13WMAZ.

Since Dublin City Schools hired their former police chief as safety director, they decided to beef up security at the schools. They bought eight new metal detectors — that’s on top of the six they have already.

According to Tim Chatman, Dublin City Schools’ safety director, they’ll place metal detectors at all school entrances and athletic events.

The district also increased their number of school resource officers. Now, there is one at each school. The school already has surveillance cameras and safety buttons for staff.

Chatman says there wasn’t any incident at the Dublin campuses that prompted the added security. He says in the wake of the Uvalde school shooting and others, schools across the country evaluated their safety procedures again.

The Rome Board of Education approved the purchase of a “weapon detection system,” according to the Rome News Tribune.

The Rome school board unanimously approved moving forward with the purchase of the Evolv weapon detection systems during a called meeting on Aug. 13.

The portable systems can be set up in a school but are able to be easily taken down and set up at athletic events. The total four-year cost — if the cost is paid up front — for the Evolv system is $375,506.25.

During the Aug. 13 called meeting, RCS Director of Safety and Security Jason Self said the Evolv system is used at Disney World and scans several thousand people each day.

The scanners would be placed in entrances and, once students are in class, the system would be moved to the front office to clear visitors to the school throughout the day.

Bulloch County is looking for outside money to pay for improvements needed to serve new homes and the Hyundai plant announced earlier this year, according to the Statesboro Herald.

Bulloch County officials are currently seeking more than $12 million from “outside” sources towards an estimated $22.6 million in infrastructure spending for supplying water and sewer service to future homes in southeastern Bulloch as well as the announced Hyundai electric vehicle factory in northern Bryan County.

“This growth, this initial surge of growth, is going to have to be at the same pace that the Hyundai facility is going up,” Couch told the committee. “Our infrastructure, initial infrastructure, has to be put in at the same time, you know, we’ve got to have our plans and our ordinances in place, and to steal a phrase from the state, ‘speed to market.’”

Construction is slated to begin in late 2022 or early 2023 on the manufacturing complex at the 2,284-acre Mega Site in the Black Creek area of northern Bryan County, a little over five miles from the Bulloch County line. The complex, announced to include both a vehicle assembly plant and a battery factory, is projected to employ about 8,100 people. Hyundai Motor Group originally predicted that it will be in operation in January 2025.

Couch cited projections that the mega-plant will bring Bulloch County about 5,000 additional residents by 2030 above the “normal growth,” expected from census trends and that this will create demand for 2,000 more housing units in southeastern part of the county.

Forsyth County will raise pay for public safety employees, according to AccessWDUN.

Forsyth County is set to provide one of the highest salaries in the state for its public safety employees after the county’s Board of Commissioners approved a 16% salary increase.

Those employed with the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office, the Fire Department or the E-911 Department will receive a 4% Cost Of Living Adjustment starting Sept. 26. Another salary boost up to 12 percent will kick in on Jan. 1, 2023 for these certified public safety employees.

Tucker will host community meetings ahead of a referendum on whether to take over road services from DeKalb County, according to the AJC.

If Tucker voters approve the Nov. 8 referendum is approved, the city would take over roads and maintenance responsibilities, as well as stormwater services, from DeKalb County.

“The city of Tucker was formed to provide residents with more local control, including accountability for how our tax dollars are utilized in our community,” Mayor Frank Auman said in a new release.

“After reviewing current public works service levels provided by DeKalb County, we voted as an elected body to put forth a referendum that, if approved, would keep tax dollars for these services within the city, substantially improve service delivery and better align efforts with our ongoing improvements.”

According to the press release, a homeowner with a property valued at $328,000 would see an average tax bill increase of about $94 if the referendum is approved. An affirmative vote would authorize the city to charge up to 3 mills — or $3 for every $1,000 of a property’s assessed value — to cover roads, maintenance and stormwater services.

The city is hosting three in-person community meetings ahead of the referendum. They will be held at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 21; 10 a.m. on Tuesday Oct. 18; and 7 p.m. on Wednesday Oct. 26.

All meetings will be held at City Hall, 1975 Lakeside Parkway in Tucker. They will also be accessible online at tuckerga.gov/pwmeeting.

Glynn County Manager Bill Fallon spoke about the proposed Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) on the November ballot, according to The Brunswick News.

Fallon said one of the selling points for the tax is a recent University of Georgia study that determined 43.6% of the revenue generated by the 1% sales tax comes from visitors living outside the Golden Isles — a number that cannot be ignored.

Fallon estimated the tax will generate anywhere from $1.8 million to $2.4 million a month, depending on the economy. The money will help pay for a wide variety of capital projects.

If voters approve the referendum in the November general election, the city of Brunswick will get 27% of the money generated. Brunswick-Glynn Joint Water and Sewer Commission will get $13 million, the Golden Isles Development Authority will get $3 million, Jekyll Island Authority will get $3.1 million and the airports will get $6.1 million.

Suspended Chatham County Manager Lee Smith continues to negotiate his severance with the county, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Brent Savage of Savannah-based Savage Turner Pinckney Savage & Sprouse law firm said Smith received the initial severance agreement sent by the county on Thursday, Aug. 25. Savage sent it back to the county with Smith’s signature on the dotted line.

But county leaders didn’t accept the agreement, and instead reneged on their own offer, Savage said.

Since July 21, Smith has been on administrative leave, and in the month and a half since then, Chatham officials have yet to give a reason — even to Smith himself.

The county has denied two records requests for Smith’s personnel file, communications and others documents made under the Georgia Open Records Act since Smith’s suspension was first reported on July 22.

“The documents you have requested are currently part of an investigation and are unable to be reproduced until an action has been decided,” an email from Chatham County Attorney Jonathan Hart dated July 26 read in part.

Tybee Island council will consider additional restrictions on golf cars, according to WTOC.

The city of Tybee Island says they are not going to ban them on the island but come up with some additional rules for those golf carts.

[E]arlier this year Tybee Island changed the ordinance to require a registration and annual inspection of the golf carts.

Now, the city is going back to add additional details – looking at making a shift to all electric carts.

“Some want to see it go towards all electric rental but then we had a discussion that maybe some of the new gas golf carts could be just as quiet and as fuel efficient, limiting the emissions, so there is some leeway there, but we have some work to do and bring it back to them next week with what we found,” said City Manager Shawn Gillen.

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