Category: Georgia Politics

5
Jun

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for June 5, 2020

The Battle of Bloody Marsh was fought between Spanish forces and colonists under James Oglethorpe on St Simons Island, Georgia in 1742 on a date that is variously cited as June 9 or June 7, 1742. Thus began the rivalry between Georgia and Florida.

According to “This Day in Georgia History,” on June 5, 1775, the first Liberty Pole in Georgia was raised in Augusta, Georgia. Another account holds that the first Liberty Pole in Georgia was raised June 4, 1775 at Tondee’s Tavern in Savannah. Those who fly the “Appeal to Heaven” flag should know that it has some common history with Liberty Poles.

Richard_Henry_Lee_at_Nat._Portrait_Gallery_IMG_4471

On June 7, 1776, Richard Henry Lee of Virginia introduced a resolution before the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia calling for American independence from Great Britain.

Lee’s resolution declared: “That these United Colonies are, and of right out to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved; that measures should be immediately taken for procuring the assistance of foreign powers, and a Confederation be formed to bind the colonies more closely together.”

“Light Horse Harry” Lee, (aka Henry Lee, III), later the father of Robert E. Lee, led a group of Continental soldiers, South Carolina and Georgia militia as the British surrendered Augusta on June 5, 1781. The capture of Augusta led to Georgia’s inclusion in the United States, though it had previously been so divided between Patriots and Loyalists that Georgia was the only American colony to not participate in the First Continental Congress. Henry Lee, III was a nephew of Richard Henry Lee and served as Governor of Virginia and represented the Commonwealth in Congress.

The expulsion of the Cherokee from Georgia began on June 6, 1838 as 800 members left by riverboat.

The Republican National Convention met in Philadelphia on June 5, 1872, nominating Ulysses S. Grant for President the next day. Twelve years later, on June 5, 1884, William T. Sherman refused the Republican nomination for President, saying, “I will not accept if nominated and will not serve if elected.”

The first successful ascent of Mt. McKinley, also called Denali, in Alaska, the highest mountain in North America, was completed on June 7, 1913.

On June 7, 1942, Japanese troops occupied American territory in the Aleutian Islands off Alaska.

On June 6, 1944, Allied forces under the command of General Dwight D. Eisenhower began the invasion of France, called D-Day.

On the morning of June 5, 1944, U.S. General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the supreme commander of Allied forces in Europe gave the go-ahead for Operation Overlord, the largest amphibious military operation in history. On his orders, 6,000 landing craft, ships and other vessels carrying 176,000 troops began to leave England for the trip to France. That night, 822 aircraft filled with parachutists headed for drop zones in Normandy. An additional 13,000 aircraft were mobilized to provide air cover and support for the invasion.

By dawn on June 6, 18,000 parachutists were already on the ground; the land invasions began at 6:30 a.m. The British and Canadians overcame light opposition to capture Gold, Juno and Sword beaches; so did the Americans at Utah. The task was much tougher at Omaha beach, however, where 2,000 troops were lost and it was only through the tenacity and quick-wittedness of troops on the ground that the objective was achieved. By day’s end, 155,000 Allied troops–Americans, British and Canadians–had successfully stormed Normandy’s beaches.

On June 6, 1949, George Orwell published 1984.

Republican candidate for Governor A. Ed Smith died in a car accident on June 5, 1962.

Ronald Reagan became the Republican nominee for Governor of California on June 7, 1966.

Senator Robert F. Kennedy was shot after winning the California Primary on June 5, 1968 and died the next day.

President Ronald Reagan died on June 5, 2004.

Columbus will celebrate the 75th anniversary of D-Day on Thursday at the National Infantry Museum, according to the Ledger-Enquirer.

June 7, 2016 was declared “Prince Day” in Minnesota under a proclamation issued by Governor Mark Dayton. Prince was born on this day in 1958. Governor Dayton missed his chance to begin a proclamation with “Dearly beloved, we are gathered together today….” The next year, Dayton proclaimed Prince Day on April 21, 2017.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Three protesters are jailed and charged with using Molotov cocktails to try to set fire to police cars in Gwinnett County, according to WSB-TV.

Three protesters are in jail Thursday after being arrested for trying to set police cars on fire with Molotov cocktails.

Police say the vandals tracked those officers down at their homes and tried to torch their cars. Both fires were put out quickly, leaving minor damage to the vehicles.

More than one million ballots have been cast ahead of Tuesday’s Primary elections, according to the Athens Banner Herald.

The overwhelming majority of votes cast so far have come via absentee ballots amid a surge in mail-in voting spurred by the coronavirus pandemic.

Of the more than 1 million votes cast as of Thursday, roughly 80% were absentee ballots sent in the mail or placed in temporary drop-off boxes that county elections officials have installed in recent weeks, [the Secretary of State's] office said.

That amounts to 810,000 absentee ballots cast so far, already dwarfing the roughly 223,000 mail-in votes collected in the high-turnout 2018 gubernatorial election.

Meanwhile, many voters in the state are still waiting to receive absentee ballots after requesting them weeks ago. Elections officials acknowledged Tuesday thousands of voters were still awaiting absentee ballots, particularly in Fulton County.

For instance, Kaleb McMichen, the press secretary for Georgia House Speaker David Ralston, said Thursday on Twitter he had not yet received his absentee ballot after requesting one on April 8.

On Thursday, Rep. David Dreyer, D-Atlanta, urged voters who have not yet mailed in their absentee ballots to put them in a drop-off box that counties have set up to collect those ballots.

Some Georgia faith leaders are advocating for passage of hate crimes legislation when the General Assembly reconvenes, according to Fox5Atlanta.

Georgia’s House of Representatives passed House Bill 426 in March 2019, but the legislation stalled in the Senate. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Chuck Efstration, R-Dacula, would increase penalties for those convicted of crimes where the court “determines beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant intentionally selected any victim or group of victims or any property as the object of the offense because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, mental disability, or physical disability of such victim or group of victims.”

Under the legislation, those found guilty of a misdemeanor would be subject to an additional 3 to 12 months of jail time and a $5,000 fine. Those convicted on a felony charge would receive an extra two years on their sentence.

“The House passed Chairman Efstration’s hate crimes bill last year and it awaits a vote in the Senate,” said Spokesman Kaleb McMichen. “Speaker Ralston supports that legislation, and he has challenged the Senate to pass it with no delay and no amendments when session resumes.”

Lt. Governor Geoff Duncan presides over the state Senate and in a statement to FOX 5, said lawmakers can do more:

“We can’t keep dancing around this important issue with overtones of partisan politics and expect the situation to improve. Now is the time for the Senate to step up and deliver a meaningful piece of legislation that makes it crystal clear that Georgia will be the worst place to commit a crime of hate against anyone. I’m looking forward to leading this aggressive charge in the remaining 11 days of the session.”

“HB 426 is a solid starting point, but it’s only a one-dimensional approach to a complex issue. I believe the Senate is well-positioned to craft a hate crimes bill that affords victims more protections. Meaningful hate crimes legislation must address important things like law enforcement reporting, ensure due process, close potential loopholes, and empower victims to the maximum extent. I’m looking forward to continuing a dialogue with key stakeholders from around the state. I expect the Senate to take action.”

From the Gainesville Times:

The Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police adopted a resolution late last month in support of legislation that “enhances and mandates the criminal sentence” in cases involving hate crimes.“The Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police support the creation of a civil process for victims to seek redress for any injury or damage to his or her property as a result of crimes of this nature,” according to the resolution.

The bill would increase punishments when it is proven in court “beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant intentionally selected any victim or group of victims or any property as the object of the offense because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, mental disability, or physical disability of such victim or group of victims.”

If it’s a misdemeanor, it’s a minimum of three months imprisonment and a maximum $5,000 fine. A felony would require at least two years imprisonment.

Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, said he feels such a bill will require a great deal of patience and cooperation to create legislation that is both passable and enforceable.

“The hate crimes bill will be a delicate process, and it’s not as simple as either side would have you believe. There is no place for racism or injustice in our society or in our government,” he said.

Miller said there are potentially other substitute bills that have been drafted.

“There are many legislators on both sides of the aisle that are very passionate about the issue, and rightfully so. The scenes that we have witnessed in the last few weeks are troubling to say the least,” Miller said.

The defendants in the Ahmaud Arbery case will face murder charges in Superior Court, according to The Brunswick Times.

In opening statements of the probable cause hearing at the Glynn County Courthouse today for the three men charged in Arbery’s killing, Cobb County Deputy Chief Assistant District Attorney Jesse Evans said the 25-year-old “was chased, hunted down and executed.”

After six hours of testimony, Glynn County Magistrate Judge Wallace Harrell bound all three defendants over to Superior Court for trial. Gregory McMichael, 64, and his son Travis McMichael, 34, are charged with felony murder and aggravated assault. William “Roddie” Bryan, 50, is charged with felony murder and criminal intent to commit false imprisonment.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the three men appeared via video from the Glynn County Detention Center. The McMichaels were visible on computer screens inside the courtroom; Bryan’s attorney opted to keep him offscreen.

GBI special agent Richard Dial, the lead investigator in the Arbery case, described a scene in which Arbery was pursued relentlessly, cut off from escape and ultimately shot dead by Travis McMichael. It started after Arbery entered a house under construction on Satilla Drive around 1 p.m.

From the New York Times:

A federal civil rights probe into Mr. Floyd’s death was announced last Friday by Attorney General William P. Barr. Lawyers for Mr. Arbery’s family have said that a federal civil rights probe into the Arbery case is also underway.

In an interview on Thursday, L. Chris Stewart, the lawyer for Mr. Arbery’s mother, said the revelation of the racist language should be enough to trigger indictments under the federal hate crimes statute.

“This is the proof they need to actually bring charges,” he said.

Franklin Hogue, a lawyer for Gregory McMichael, said that while “we might agree” that his client leaving the house with a firearm “may not have been a very good idea,” he had a legitimate reason to want to “intercept” someone he thought may have committed a crime.

Protesters might want to get tested for COVID-19, according to the AJC.

“Those individuals that have partaken in these peaceful protests or have been out protesting, and particularly if they’re in metropolitan areas that really haven’t controlled the outbreak…we really want those individuals to highly consider being evaluated and get tested,” Robert Redfield, director for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told a U.S. House of Representatives committee, Reuters reported.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation found three individuals arrested in recent days have criminal records involving previous protests, according to WSB-TV.

•  A 34-year-old man arrested in Atlanta who they believe had participated in riots in Minneapolis before coming to Atlanta.

•  A Florida resident who had multiple obstruction and assault charges related to civil unrest in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014. The convicted felon live streamed his post-arrest detainment on social media while handcuffed.

•  At least ten individuals were bonded out by one individual who is out-of-state. The GBI says that suggests a coordinated effort.

“At first glance, that would dictate to law enforcement, or indicate to law enforcement that there’s probably some connection there,” GBI Director Vic Reynolds told Channel 2′s Richard Elliot.

Reynolds says its too early to name which groups they believe sparked the violence and if they are left-wing or right-wing groups, or both. Reynolds says more analysis will take place at the federal level.

To be fair, I think something similar could have been said about Congressman John Lewis (D-Atlanta) during his days on the frontlines of the civil rights movement. Rep. Lewis

 

Democrats in the Georgia General Assembly will push for repeal of the state’s laws on citizen’s arrests and stand your ground, according to the AJC.

House Democratic Leader Bob Trammell of Luthersville said the measures will be part of a package of bills they will pursue when lawmakers return to the Capitol on June 15 to complete the legislative session.

Trammell cited the February shooting of Ahmaud Arbery, a black man who was in a Brunswick-area neighborhood when three white men followed, shot and killed him.

“The citizen’s arrest law is a law that was used by a district attorney in Brunswick to justify the non-arrest of the killers of Ahmaud Arbery,” Trammell said. “More distressingly, existence of the citizen’s arrest law confers with some people in our state the notion that they can take the law into their own hands and with, sadly, deadly and tragic consequences.”

Albany City Commissioner B.J. Fletcher has made her first endorsements, and chose one Democrat and one Republican, according to the Albany Herald.

In her more than a decade of political activity, Ward III Albany City Commissioner B.J. Fletcher has made a point of not endorsing political candidates on any level.

So Fletcher’s announcement that she is supporting District 2 U.S. Congressman Sanford Bishop’s re-election campaign and the campaign of current U.S. Senate appointee Kelly Loeffler carries more than a bit of significance.

“As we get ready for this very important election, one of the things that has impressed me about Sanford Bishop is his willingness to cast votes that matter to his constituents, even if it goes against his (Democratic) party,” Fletcher said. “In this day of partisan politics, that’s rare. And Kelly Loeffler, who lives and does business in the heart of Atlanta and is on the board of a hospital there, reached out to our little hospital in southwest Georgia (Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital) and gave $1 million. That shows that she is concerned about the people all over the state, not just metro Atlanta.

“And Kelly is giving her Senate salary to nonprofits in the state, including several in southwest Georgia.”

Chatham County courthouses will be deep-cleaned this weekend, according to the Savannah Morning News.

AccessWDUN profiles the six Republican candidates to replace State Rep. John Wilkinson (R-Toccoa) in Senate District 50.

The Rome Downtown Development Authority favors passage of an ordinance to allow a temporary outdoor drinking area, according to the Rome News Tribune.

Seventy active Bald Eagle nests have been identified in Coastal Georgia, according to the Savannah Morning News.

About a third of those nests – 23 of them – were located in Chatham County, where the islands and hammocks, tall trees and waterways provide exactly the conditions eagle parents desire.

That’s more than in any other county, though Decatur, which sometimes rivals Chatham, was not included in the survey this year.

Checking by helicopter in January, March and early April, the Department of Natural Resources’ survey leader Bob Sargent counted 117 eagle nest territories in three regions of the state: the six coastal counties; a section of east Georgia bounded roughly by Interstates 16 and 85 and the South Carolina line; and the counties north of Atlanta. This year’s survey results also included seven nests monitored in other areas by volunteers or DNR staff.

Considering that the rest of south Georgia, surveyed in alternate years, usually has about 85 occupied nest territories – or active nests – Sargent said the state likely had 200 or more eagle nests for the sixth straight year.

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources is asking people who spot Bald Eagle nests to report them, according to the Gainesville Times.

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Resources Division is encouraging the public to report bald eagle nests to help monitor the species’ population in the state.

On Wednesday, June 3, the agency reported that Georgia’s bald eagle nesting numbers remained strong. However, the successful nest rate dropped 30% lower than average in counties north of Atlanta, including Hall, Rabun, Dade, Bartow, Floyd and others.

Bob Sargent, leader of the 2020 survey, said substantial rainfall from January through March likely contributed to the lower nest productivity in North Georgia.

Peter Gordon, director of education at Elachee Nature Science Center and longtime birder, said if people are looking for eagle nests around Hall, he would recommend traveling north of Don Carter State Park.

Jim Ozier, wildlife biologist with Georgia Power, said large bodies of water like Lake Lanier are prime areas for eagle spotting.

He has a couple of tips, so people don’t confuse eagle nests with osprey nests. While osprey like to raise their young out in the open on dead trees or atop utility poles, he said eagles prefer a more sheltered home like evergreen trees. In North Georgia, he said they typically settle on pine trees.

“I’ve never seen one in an exposed structure,” Ozier said. “They’re usually near a significant amount of water, reservoir or major river. There’s a balance of being next to the water and high up.”

Wassaw Bald Eagle DSCN0812 (1)

4
Jun

Adoptable (Official) Georgia Dogs for June 4, 2020

Cargo Refuge Rescue Woodstock

Cargo is a young male Terrier mix puppy who is available for adoption from Refuge Rescue, Inc. in Woodstock, GA.

Cargo is 8-weeks-old. His was born April 4th and he currently weighs just over 7 pounds.

He was extra happy when we gave him a ball to play with – almost fascinated. He hunches down and wiggles his booty in the air, like a cat about to pounce, when he’s getting ready to initiate play with other dogs. We named him Cargo and we can’t wait to watch him flourish and grow, and to learn how it feels to be an integral part of a loving family. (He may be as large as 40-60 lbs when fully grown.)

Herbie Refuge Rescue Woodstock

Herbie is a young male Terrier mix puppy who is available for adoption from Refuge Rescue, Inc. in Woodstock, GA.

Herbie was rescued, along with over 700 other dogs, from a horrific puppy mill in Nashville, GA. Refuge Rescue took in 15 of these dogs. Herbie’s lack of veterinary care and poor nutrition resulted in the removal of all of his teeth. He is very timid and slow to build trust with new people that he meets.

He is a handsome, chocolate-brown and white long-haired Dachshund mix, weighing approximately 9 lbs. The veterinarian estimates that he is 5 years old. Because he is shy and skittish, Herbie would do best in a family with a confident dog and a fenced yard. If you would like to meet Herbie and make him a part of your family, please fill out an adoption application at RefugeRescue.org.

Dixie Refuge Rescue Woodstock

Dixie is a young female Jack Russell Terrier mix puppy who is available for adoption from Refuge Rescue, Inc. in Woodstock, GA.

Sweet Dixie was owner-surrendered to us along with her 3 puppies Lexa, Roxie and Xena. The puppies have all been adopted. Now it is Dixie’s turn! She has been spayed and is eager to find her forever home. She gets along well with other dogs and is very friendly to both adults and children. Dixie’is 4 years old.

4
Jun

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for June 4, 2020

On June 4, 1785, James Oglethorpe, founder of Georgia, met with John Adams, the first ambassador from the new United States to Great Britain.

On June 4, 1919, Congress passed the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, granting women the right to always be right vote. In August 1920, enough states had ratified the 19th Amendment that it took effect.

The Battle of Midway began on June 4, 1942. During the battle, four Japanese aircraft carriers that had participated in the attack on Pearl Harbor and one cruiser were sunk at the cost of one American carrier and one destroyer.

Today is the 31st Anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre in Beijing, China.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Yesterday’s First GaPundit Lunchapalooza was less of a humiliation than expected a smashing success.

The most important thing I heard was from State Rep. Sheri Gilligan who discussed what happens if you don’t take your mail-in ballot when you go to vote in person.

“I’ll answer your question about what happens if you didn’t receive your [mail-in] ballot or if you don’t take it with you [to vote in person].”

“You can indeed vote and it will not be a provisional ballot. They will still cancel that Absentee by mail Ballot.”

“It’s better if you take it with you, but you can absolutely vote without having that ballot with you, and it’s another way to protect yourself.”

“If somebody took your, you know, you sent your application in, you never received your ballot, there’s a possibility somebody else is trying to vote your ballot. So, go in-person and vote, and that absentee by mail ballot is absolutely voided and canceled at the elections office. That’s according to our elections officials here in Forsyth County, and I am absoutely convinced she is 100% right.”

We heard via email about a GaPundit reader’s experience with the issue:

We had not received the absentee ballots yet and wanted to take my family to vote in person anyway. It could be a long process because the election’s office personnel has to look up the voter’s information. It took our family of 4 about 20 minutes and that’s in Dawson County with no one in line to vote. We got home that night and the ballots were in our mailbox. 

Recommendation-if you have in possession of it, bring to the elections office or expect some wait.

Here’s an excerpt from a publication by the Georgia Secretary of State’s office:

If I request an absentee ballot, can I change my mind and still vote at my regular polling place?

If the ballot has been voted and returned to and received by the board of registrars, then the absentee ballot shall be deemed to have been voted. No other ballot shall be issued.

If you still have the absentee ballot and give it to the poll manager of the precinct in which your name appears on the electors list, then the elector may vote a regular ballot.

If you have not received an absentee ballot, or if you have returned the absentee ballot, but the registrars have not received the ballot, you may cancel the absentee ballot by making a written request to have the ballot marked “cancelled.” The managers of your precinct shall permit you to vote in person at that precinct.

Canceled absentee ballots are handled in the same manner as those returned too late to be cast.

From the AJC on the current voting situation:

Georgians planning to vote in person next week for the June 9 primary could face long wait times — and not just because of the coronavirus.

A surge in the state’s voter rolls over the past decade combined with poll closures or consolidations due to the removal of federal oversight of polling changes is now exacerbated by last-minute poll closures, relocations and social distancing measures.

Next week, there will be nearly 80 fewer places to vote in the greater metro Atlanta area, home to the bulk of the state’s voting population and largest minority communities.

Fulton has approved emergency voting location changes for about a fifth of the 198 polls originally planned for June 9, which will impact about 250,000 voters who could cast their ballots at an unfamiliar location.

During the first day of early voting in Fulton County, wait times topping two hours were reported with around 600 total voters, prompting the county to expand hours and shift to larger spaces within the polling places.

“The longest lines that we’ve seen in Fulton County were at C.T. Martin and South Fulton,” Cindy Battles, program coordinator with nonprofit Common Cause Georgia said. “There were 20 people ahead of me [at C.T. Martin] and I waited in line for an hour to vote.”

Even though nearly 800,000 of the record 1.5 million absentee ballots requested have been returned by voters a week before the primary, Draper said she has heard from hundreds of voters who never received their ballot and will likely have to vote in person.

“Most frustratingly, we anticipated this problem months ago, but the counties and Secretary of State failed to plan,” [Saira Draper, voter protection director with the Democratic Party of Georgia] said. “We need to take action now to ensure enough polling places next week, but also in August and November, and the state needs to take measures to further expand vote by mail access.”

For me personally, I will probably go today to drop my mail-in ballot in one of the county drop boxes. I fear the postal service might be too bogged down to get it there in time otherwise.

Waycross Police Officer Erreka Bennett is a hero after saving a baby by administering CPR, according to a Facebook post by the department.

Georgia Lieutenant Governor Geoff Duncan and Speaker David Ralston announced that the Georgia General Assembly will reconvene in legislative session on June 15. From the Jackson Progress-Argus:

Ralston, who helms the House, initially called for a June 11 restart while Duncan, who presides over the Senate, pushed for May 18. The June 15 date marks a compromise between the two after weeks of disagreement on when to start wrapping up the 11 remaining days of the session’s 40-day schedule.

“I appreciate the Senate recognizing that we should reconvene the session in June as I proposed,” said Ralston. “I believe this will enable us to best serve the people of our great state.”

Duncan pitched the June 15 date after backing off his original May proposal, noting the mid-June timeframe would give lawmakers and the public a few days of breathing room following the state’s June 9 primary election.

“June 15 will give members enough time, after the primary election, to be tested for free at their local health departments, which all Georgians are able to do,” Duncan said.

Lawmakers have not yet settled on the logistics of holding the session in accordance with social distancing practices adopted during the pandemic. A task force set up by Ralston is expected to issue recommendations on measures like remote voting and physical separation inside the Capitol building.

They did, however, offer a preview of some social distancing measures during in-person committee hearings this week and last, at which speakers waited outside meeting rooms for their turn to give testimony and watched proceedings mostly on video monitors installed in the Capitol.

Governor Brian Kemp said state revenues will likely be down 11% due to COVID-19, according to the AJC.

Kemp’s projection means lawmakers will have about $2.6 billion less to spend in fiscal 2021 – which begins July 1 – when they reconvene this month to pass a budget.

“Tough decisions will need to be made in your agencies and under the Gold Dome to balance the budget without compromising our values,” the governor told agency leaders in a video message Wednesday. “This is a challenging moment but one we are prepared to overcome.”

But with healthy state reserves and a tradition of conservative state budgeting, Kemp said that Georgia won’t have to make the “draconian cuts” other states face.

“While near-term state revenue collections are uncertain, we are seeing reassuring signs of fiscal resilience in our state,” he said.

From the Gainesville Times:

Kemp said education, health care and public safety would be budget priorities.

“With the closing of schools, Georgia families have a renewed appreciation for our teachers, counselors, specialists and staff. These men and women are unsung heroes,” he said. “… Now more than ever, we see that access to quality, affordable health care is essential and life-saving. There’s no doubt we owe a huge debt of gratitude to our doctors, nurses and frontline workers and above all, we must continue to put patients first.”

He said addressing human trafficking and gangs was another priority.

“We must reaffirm our commitment to keep all Georgians safe,” he said.

Kemp said he would send an updated revenue estimate to the chairmen of the Georgia House of Representatives and Georgia State Senate’s appropriations committees.

Governor Kemp visited Savannah, where he discussed the pandemic, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Kemp was joined at the America’s Second Harvest of Coastal Georgia by Georgia’s First Lady Marty Kemp, Congressman Buddy Carter, State Sen. Lester Jackson, and Georgia House Rep. Ron Stephens, along with local business leaders. Kemp’s food bank visit followed an alfresco lunch at Tubby’s seafood restaurant and a meeting with members of the local United Way branch.

After Executive Director Mary Jane Crouch welcomed the governor and his fellow dignitaries to the food bank, Kemp spoke briefly with members of the Georgia Army National Guard before touring the facility and speaking about his response to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and its economic impact.

“I’m trying to instill confidence in where we are right now in our fight against COVID-19,” Kemp said, adding that he is currently visiting cities across Georgia to engage with local leaders about the way forward, while defending his decision to reopen businesses earlier than other states. “We could not continue in the posture that we were in six or eight weeks ago.”

Kemp also made a point of thanking the National Guard troops who have been assisting the food bank while performing many other roles during the COVID-19 crisis.

“They have, quite honestly, been heroic, and I hope every Georgian understands how much they have delivered,” Kemp said, while also noting the security role they have played during recent demonstrations in Atlanta that descended into violent conflicts. “We have seen over the last four to five days the great work they have done to support people who would like to peacefully protest.”

Georgia Department of Public Health Commissioner Kathleen Toomey warned that protests could lead to spread of COVID-19, according to the Valdosta Daily Times.

With social distancing nearly impossible in a group of hundreds — although many wear masks — it may not be enough to stop coronavirus from making its way through protesters and law enforcement.

“When you have this many people gathered together in close proximity,” she said, “you run the risk of viral transmission.”

Toomey said the department is in the process of setting up testing sites for protesters and law enforcement to try to identify and mitigate new infections as quickly as possible.

“We want to ensure that the pandemic doesn’t spread because of this,” she said.

The mobilized response of the Georgia National Guard to assist in containment of the protests has pulled guardsmen off testing sites which. Toomey said, will likely cause testing numbers to drop.

Governor Kemp is receiving higher marks for his handling of COVID-19 from survey respondents, according to the AJC.

The [UGA] poll of registered voters showed Georgians are evenly divided over Kemp’s decision to lift much of the shelter-in-place order, with about 40% on either side of the issue. That’s a 16-point improvement from the school’s April poll, which found about 24% supported the move.

About three-quarters of respondents say they’re concerned that they or someone in their family will be exposed to the virus. But the proportion of Georgians who say they’re “very” or “extremely” worried has dropped by 11 points since April.

A majority of voters say fighting the disease is more important than restarting the economy, though they are more sharply divided about other debates. About 42% said k-12 schools should resume in-person classes in the fall, compared with one-third who rejected the idea.

Athens-Clarke County Commissioners are criticizing the local police over the handling of protests, according to the Athens Banner Herald.

Athens-Clarke commissioners are disputing their police department’s account of a Sunday demonstration against police violence that ended with police and National Guardsmen tear-gassing demonstrators and observers — including one commissioner and the son of another.

Commissioners said the police account does not match video they have seen, what they saw themselves, nor accounts they are hearing from constituents, including demonstrators and parents of the mostly young demonstrators at the protest.

Commissioners are also seeking video of the demonstration and tear-gassing, from police and from demonstrators or others who were there.

“We should not be talking like weapons were there (after the Boogalooers left),” [Commissioner Tim] Denson said. “The only violence that occurred during that time was violence instigated by the police and National Guard. The only weapons that were used were used by police and National Guard.”

There might be citizens out there who think tear-gassing politicians is a reasonable first step.

Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler says his agency should not bear the brunt of budget cuts, according to the Capitol Beat News Service via the Gwinnett Daily Post.

Butler told members of a Georgia Senate budget subcommittee the labor department, which had been averaging about 20,000 unemployment claims per month, suddenly was hit with an influx of about 1 million claims when the coronavirus pandemic shut down Georgia’s economy, a number that quickly mounted to some 2 million.

Forced to cope with that soaring workload is an agency of about 1,000 employees, fewer than half as many as were on the payroll during the Great Recession a decade ago, Butler said.

“The good news is we’re getting the payments out,” he said. “We’ve found ways to be more efficient. But asking us to cut more now … I don’t think [would be] fair.”

Butler said the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program has been particularly difficult for labor department employees to handle because it provides unemployment benefits to people not ordinarily eligible for them, including the self-employed, gig workers, independent contractors, or employees of churches or other nonprofits. The agency had to train 500 to 600 employees on how to process PUA claims, he said.

“It has been a very heavy hit because we’ve never done that type of system before,” he said. “We had to build the applications from scratch.”

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation said the number of tips alleging exploitation of minors have increased, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

“It has been steadily increasing every year. There has been a natural increase already anyway and we would have expected to see an increase during this time anyway, but it has increased more than we thought it would,” GBI’s Child Exploitation and Computer Crimes Unit Special Agent in Charge Debbie Garner said. “It’s due to many things, one of which is likely there are more children at home and predators know this.”

In March, the GBI received more than 1,000 cybertips from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and received close to 1,400 in April. Last year, the GBI averaged about 600 cybertips from NCMEC a month.

“(Predators) are very aware that the kids are at home with nothing to do. There is not a lot of places that they can go during quarantine and (predators) are very aware (children) are spending more time online with classes, they are spending more time online on social media, YouTube, watching videos,” she said. “They are just on their computers more and makes it a more target-rich environment.”

“Technology is not going away. Predators are not going to go away,” she said. “Teaching your kids how to be safe, just like you would teach them how to cross the street or, when they are older, how to drive, it’s imperative parents teach their kids how to be safe online.”

The Rome News Tribune reports that nearly 28% of eligible voters have already cast ballot in Tuesday’s election.

County Manager Jamie McCord told members of a Joint Services Committee that more than 9,500 absentee ballots had already been returned to the local office and a little more than 2,000 residents had participated in early voting.

“That’s probably a little higher than a lot of people had estimated,” McCord said.

Through Monday, more than 18,100 Floyd County voters had requested an absentee ballot, so the numbers show that a little more than half of those ballots had been cast.

Chief Elections Clerk Robert Brady said Wednesday that, all things considered, 27.73% of the registered voters in Rome and Floyd County had already cast ballots.

Brady is not expecting much of a physical turnout at the polls Tuesday and is holding to his projection of a turnout in the range of 32%.

A push to bring the Republican National Convention to Georgia is gaining steam, according to the AJC.

Gov. Brian Kemp vowed the state can “safely host” the Republican National Convention amid a rollback of coronavirus regulations. U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler and U.S. Rep. Doug Collins have appealed to President Donald Trump to choose the state.

And on Wednesday, the state’s entire Republican delegation penned Trump a letter extolling the virtues of the Georgia World Congress Center, Atlanta’s busy airport, and the city’s experience hosting other high-profile events.

The Mayor and Commissioners of Athens-Clarke County want to move the city’s memorial to Confederate dead, according to the Athens Banner Herald.

“We want it gone and gone quickly,” Girtz repeated in a Wednesday morning community update meeting coordinated by the Athens Area Chamber of Commerce.

“That monument has got to come down, immediately,” Commissioner Russell Edwards said at Tuesday night’s commission meeting.

The monument is in jeopardy where it is now, said Commissioner Tim Denson, who called for it to be put into storage indefinitely.

Macon-Bibb County District Attorney David Cooke is accused by his opponent of abusing the power of his office, according to WMAZ.

The conflict revolves around coin-operated gaming machines.

Challenger Anita Reynolds Howard argues Cooke’s approach is an overstep.

Howard, in an interview several weeks ago, argued Cooke never should have prosecuted that case.

“The (state) court of appeals and the (state) supreme court has said the district attorney went beyond the scope of the law,” she said.

One of her campaign ads makes that same case, arguing Cooke is “abusing his power.”

Now, a new ad supporting Cooke’s campaign accuses Howard of taking big donations from the gaming industry.

It argues the vast majority, as much as 90%, of Howard’s contributions come from people and businesses associated with the gaming machines.

13WMAZ could not confirm that amount, but campaign finance disclosure forms did show Howard’s campaign has received more than $70,000 from coin-operated gaming machine companies and convenience stores.

A new SuperPAC is supporting Teresa Tomlinson for United States Senate, according to OpenSecrets.

Undivided Purpose has spent $91,000 on ads supporting Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson over her competitors in the extensive Democratic field, which includes former House candidate Jon Ossoff and former lieutenant gubernatorial candidate Sarah Riggs Amico. Those ads cast Tomlinson as the most experienced candidate and the best positioned to challenge incumbent Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) in the November general election.

When Georgia primary voters go to the polls June 9, they won’t know who paid for the ad blitz. That’s because Undivided Purpose didn’t file a pre-primary report with the Federal Election Commission that would have revealed its donors. Some groups avoid filing these reports by launching their election activities within 12 days of election day. Others game reporting deadlines to dodge disclosure by registering to file at a different frequency.

“A loophole in federal disclosure law enables the super PAC to avoid pre-election donor disclosure, depriving voters of important information regarding who is trying to sway their vote on Election Day,” Paul S. Ryan, vice president of policy and litigation at Common Cause, told OpenSecrets.

Undivided Purpose’s operatives and consultants are closely connected to Tomlinson’s campaign. Washington fundraising firm Berger Hirschberg Strategies, which received $166,000 from Tomlinson’s campaign, is also raising money for Undivided Purpose, according to the super PAC’s donation page.

The Stacey Abrams vehicle Fair Count will start a statewide tour, according to the Albany Herald.

Fair Count is launching its first completely virtual bus tour in Dalton Wednesday in an effort to increase participation in the 2020 Census. After having to cancel an in-person bus tour in March due to COVID-19, Fair Count has re-imagined the effort, and its desired impact, and coined the new effort — I Count Bus Tour: Remix.

UVA Political Science Professor Larry Sabato‘s Crystal Ball ranks Georgia Governor Democrat Stacey Abrams as number ten in what they deem, “The Veepstakes.”

[Pros]

•May help minority turnout in states like GA, NC, and beyond
•Young, dynamic on the stump
•Emphasis on voting rights

[Cons]

•No experience in traditional VP feeder positions (governor or Congress)
•May be too much of a lightning rod after failing to concede narrow 2018 loss
•Too overt in wanting the job?

Savannah Mayor Van Johnson is asking local lawyers to help residents facing evictions as the court system comes back online, according to the Savannah Morning News.

“We need our area attorneys to use your affluence and influence,” Johnson said in regards to the “huge backlog in eviction cases” currently awaiting hearings in Chatham’s Magistrate Court. “We need your help to donate your time.”

“Landlords have to pay mortgages. We understand,” Johnson said, while noting that the financial fortunes of tenants may improve as the economy reopens, and they may eventually be able to pay back rent. “Sometimes they just need a little time.”

The Gwinnett County Commission voted to add sexual orientation and gender identity to employee protections against sexual harassment, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

County commissioners voted 3-2 on Tuesday to amend the county’s merit system rules and regulations to specify that sexual orientation and gender identity will now be considered sexual discrimination, and therefore prohibited. Commissioners Jace Brooks and Tommy Hunter voted against the change.

“Specifically, these proposed changes are intended to address inconsistencies in some of these provisions and to ensure the same uniform nondiscrimination language appears throughout the rules,” county attorney Mike Ludwiczak said. “The changes are also intended to clarify that discrimination against an employee because of sexual orientation or gender identity is considered to be a prohibited form of sex discrimination.”

Glynn County Commissioners cut $422,000 from the Sheriff’s budget of more than $14 million, according to The Brunswick News.

The Whitfield County school system is cutting spending in anticipation of budget cuts, according to the Dalton Daily Citizen News.

[T]he Whitfield County Board of Education, which had previously approved roughly $90,000-worth of painting projects for this summer from Rocky Face-based Hackney Painting, cancelled those orders during Monday night’s meeting.

“With budget cuts, I’m afraid we can’t do it this summer,” said Judy Gilreath, Whitfield County Schools superintendent. “It’s just maintenance painting we wanted to do, not anything to do with our new schools.”

Savannah-Chatham County public schools will open registration for its new e-learning academy on July 1, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Athens-Clarke County Commissioner Mariah Parker has tested positive for the coronavirus, according to the Athens Banner Herald.

Parker posted [on Facebook]: “I just tested positive for coronavirus. More in comments.”

Parker, an organizer of Sunday’s protest in downtown Athens, also commented that she is “asymptomatic but infectious. If you spoke on Sunday or were near [Parker] in the crowd, please get tested.”

Parker was seen wearing a cloth mask at the demonstration.

She asked her Facebook followers to comment coronavirus testing resources, and Parker noted that, due to her decision to self-quarantine, she will not be present at a protest planned for Saturday in Athens.

Keep Lowndes/Valdosta Beautiful faces a budget cut from the County Commission, according to the Valdosta Daily Times.

Scratching My Head

A Bibb County Commissioner said police should “shoot to kill,” according to the Macon Telegraph.

A Bibb County commissioner apologized for writing that law enforcement should “shoot to kill” George Floyd protesters in Milwaukee if “they continue to destroy.”

Joe Allen, who represents District 6 in Bibb County, Georgia, wrote the comment on a Facebook live stream from a television outlet reporting on damage near the intersection Dr. Martin Luther King Drive and Center Street in Milwaukee.

“It’s now time to SHOOT to KILL them if they continue to destroy,” Allen posted about three minutes into Fox 6 Milwaukee’s live stream. The comment has since been deleted.

“I regret my choice of words in the online comments and what it means to people,” he [later] said. “It was a poor choice, and I’m sincerely sorry for these hurtful comments. We should be working to help all people and making sure we are together.”

Lowndes County Sheriff Ashley Paulk confronted someone carrying a sign with offensive language, according to the Valdosta Daily Times.

Lowndes County Sheriff Ashley Paulk tussled with a protestor over a sign that had foul language Wednesday evening.

The brief struggle in downtown Valdosta was captured on video and posted on social media.

Paulk said he had an understanding with protestors that there would be no vulgar signs, and when he saw a sign he thought went too far, he went into the crowd to retrieve the sign but a female protestor intervened and the two of them struggled over the sign.

The brief altercation ended with Paulk and the protestors shaking hands.

3
Jun

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for June 3, 2020

On June 3, 1941, Georgia voters ratified a Constitutional Amendment extending the term of office for Governor and the other Constitutional Officers from two years to four. Governor Eugene Talmadge campaigned for the Amendment, hoping to serve a four-year term after the two-year term he currently held, but was defeated in the 1942 Democratic Primary by Ellis Arnall. Remember this phrase: legislation almost always has unintended consequences.

On June 3, 1942, Curtis Mayfield was born in Chicago, Illinois and would later live in Atlanta, dying in Roswell in 1999.

On the morning of June 3, 1962, a plane carrying 106 Georgians crashed on take-off from Orly near Paris, the deadliest crash in aviation to that date.

On June 3, 1980, Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter had amassed enough delegates to assure his nomination in the Democratic Primary for President.

Today is the anniversary of the beginning of the Tiananman Square Massacre in Beijing, China. Pro-democracy protests had begun on April 15, 1989 and on May 20, martial law was declared. The People’s Liberation Army began taking the square back on the evening of June 3d.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Former State Rep. Rusty Kidd (I-Milledgevile) has died, according to the AJC.

Kidd represented the Milledgeville area for eight years until deciding not to seek re-election in 2016 for health reasons.

“There’s certainly a lot of broken hearts,” said state Rep. Rick Williams, a Republican from Milledgeville who succeeded Kidd. “He was the most genuine person you’d ever meet. He was a peacemaker. He did a lot for our community that people never knew.”

Kidd was a Democrat for 40 years before becoming an independent. He supported Republican Donald Trump’s election as president in 2016.

Kidd in 2004 became the chairman of the Brain and Spinal Injury Trust Fund Commission, which provides grants to Georgians for their post-acute care and rehabilitation for traumatic brain and spinal cord injury. A bill pending in the General Assembly this year would provide funding from fines and forfeitures to the trust fund.

“Rusty Kidd was a statesman and community leader who left Milledgeville, Baldwin County and the state of Georgia better off thanks to his years of dedicated service,” Gov. Brian Kemp said.

The late Mrs. GaPundit worked with Rusty Kidd when she was at the Georgia Brain and Spinal Injury Trust Fund Commission. Despite his reputation as a bit of a rascal, Mrs. GaPundit held him in the highest esteem and there is no greater compliment I can think of.

Governor Brian Kemp yesterday spoke about the current state of COVID-19 in Georgia and recent protests.

“Before we get started with our weekly COVID-19 briefing, I wanted to take a few moments to address the protests that we have seen in communities across our nation. As I said over the weekend, this is a deeply emotional time in Georgia and America.”

“Gripped by a global pandemic, COVID-19 has threatened the health and well-being of our families and communities. Here in Georgia, this healthcare crisis has created economic hardship. Unemployment numbers and uncertainty is sky high. And during this unprecedented moment, we have witnessed injustice with our own eyes. Georgians are filled with fear, with anger, and righteous impatience. People are hurting, and we have more questions than answers.”

“I support the right to peacefully protest, to honor the life of George Floyd, to demand action. As the cradle of the Civil Rights movement, this is a place where peaceful protests ultimately shook up the status quo. The birthplace of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., this is a city where his legacy looms, urging us to seek justice, love mercy, and treat each other fairly with kindness and respect.”

“What started as a peaceful protest on Friday ended in violence and destruction. A powerful moment was ultimately corrupted by some with a different agenda.”

“But to be clear, I am also outraged that these Georgians are now in harm’s way because some are using this moment to riot, loot, and compromise the safety of our citizenry. Violence and destruction is unacceptable, and we will continue to do our part – in conjunction with local leaders – to plan, mobilize, and respond appropriately to threats that undermine our safety. We will do what’s necessary to keep the peace. I still have hope that we can emerge from this stronger and more united.”

“This is a moment to unite as Georgians and find solutions to the problems that we face. We can overcome these incredible challenges together.”

“On Thursday in Brunswick, Gregory and Travis McMichael will appear for preliminary hearings following their arrests for the death of Ahmaud Arbery. We will have a strong state law enforcement presence in the region to support local government, including Georgia State Patrol, Department of Natural Resources officers, National Guard troops, GEMA officials, and related state agencies on hand. And we will take appropriate action to hold bad actors accountable if they try to infiltrate peaceful gatherings to cause chaos. Let me be clear: we will not tolerate disruptive, dangerous behavior or criminal conduct. We will put the safety of Georgians first.”

“Before I turn it over to Dr. Toomey, I want to renew some calls to action. Please continue to follow public health advice and mitigate your risk of exposure. We are still battling a pandemic, and we need to stay vigilant. Wear a mask, keep your distance, and wash your hands regularly. We’re starting to see more patients return for regular screenings, but we’re also seeing an increase in more serious diagnoses because people have delayed medical intervention. Don’t skip medical appointments. Prioritize your health.”

“We’re in this fight together – the fight against COVID-19, the fight to revive our economy, and the fight to ensure liberty and justice for all. Please pray for our state and country. Pray for peace and for a better, brighter tomorrow.”

Four Lowndes County voting precincts will be closed for next week’s elections, according to the Valdosta Daily Times.

Due to a lack of poll workers, Trinity Presbyterian (precinct 2), Dasher City Hall (precinct 8), Valdosta State University (precinct 10) and Jaycee Park (precinct 11) will be closed Election Day and be reassigned to the Lowndes Board of Elections for next Tuesday, according to Deb Cox, Lowndes County supervisor of elections.

Reassigned voters from those precincts can also go to any of the seven open precincts in the county and cast a provisional ballot.

Another change for the election Tuesday will be any registered voter can vote at the board of elections without using a provisional ballot. The process will mirror early voting, Cox said.

She said her office is prepared for larger numbers of voters June 9, and due to social distancing measures, residents should expect longer lines if they elect to cast a ballot at the 2808 N Oak St. location.

Whitfield County elections workers will begin processing ballots tomorrow, according to the Dalton Daily Citizen News.

Pursuant to State Election Board Emergency Rule 183-1-14-0.7-.15, workers will open absentee ballots and begin scanning absentee ballots starting at 8 a.m. Thursday in the Board of Elections and Registration office in the Whitfield County Courthouse, 205 N Selvidge St.

The process will be monitored as authorized by the rule. This processing will not include any tallying or tabulation of results; only opening envelopes and ballot scanning.

The Macon NAACP is questioning apparent racial disparities in prosecution by the District Attorney, according to the Macon Telegraph.

At a news conference outside the Bibb County Courthouse, Gwenette Westbrooks, local NAACP president, voiced concerns regarding cases where “we feel … there has been injustice.”

Westbrooks raised questions about a pending rape charge against a black man and the handling of an unrelated case involving a white man who officials have said claimed that a pair of black men carjacked and kidnapped him.

“We feel that the color of a person’s skin should not have any bearing on the way a case is prosecuted. And that’s what we are seeing. There is a lot of disparities in the way these cases are handled,” Westbrooks said.

United States Senator Kelly Loeffler (R-Atlanta) is donating her Senate salary, according to the Albany Herald.

When she first took office, Georgia Sen. Kelly Loeffler pledged to donate her full Senate paycheck to charities and nonprofits across the state. Since January, she’s donated more than $70,000 to about 20 organizations.

Several of Loeffler’s donations went to organizations in the Albany area. So far, she has donated $3,800 apiece to Colquitt Regional Medical Foundation and the (Tift Area) Pregnancy Care Center. This is in addition to the $1 million donation she recently made to Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital in Albany.

Loeffler donated funds to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Foundation that helped with COVID-19 response, and the Second Harvest of South Georgia food bank used the contribution it received to aid with meal distribution for families dealing with the economic fallout of the pandemic.

Congressman Buddy Carter (R-Pooler) thinks his legislative body should stick to in-person voting, according to The Brunswick News.

Carter and other Republicans claim proxy voting is unconstitutional and are challenging the policy by the House leadership in U.S. District Court in Washington.

As far as Carter is concerned, House members who vote by proxy are shirking their duty and are the first Americans to do so in more than two centuries.

“The Constitution directs Congress to assemble – not sit on the sidelines as America faces a global pandemic and Americans lose their jobs,” Carter said.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and other top House Democrats see if differently. They advocated proxy voting because of the COVID-19 pandemic, when Americans everywhere are being advised by health experts to keep six feet apart, limit group sizes to 10 and cover their faces.

“We can all be in Washington voting while following safety guidance,” Carter said. “That is exactly what we are doing. It takes much longer, but we are adapting like the rest of the country is and voting in small groups to ensure social distancing.”

Judges and others who work in the state justice system may face pay cuts, according to the Capitol Beat News Service via the Henry Herald.

With state prosecutors, public defenders and judges facing weeks of furlough, some members of the Senate Appropriations Judicial Subcommittee on Monday floated temporary pay cuts as a way to trim spending without impairing the court system’s ability to speedily process cases.

“We may have to think outside of the box a little bit,” said Sen. William Ligon, R-Brunswick, who chairs the subcommittee. “Would this be better with a salary reduction as opposed to a furlough?”

The General Assembly is set to reconvene later this month and has until July 1 to pass a budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

Proposed furloughs were outlined Monday amounting to between 13 and 44 days for state prosecutors, 40 days for superior court judges and their staff, 13 days for Georgia Supreme Court justices, 18 days for District Attorney Chris Carr’s office and 24 days for the Georgia Public Defender Council.

With those furlough days, judges and attorneys critical to the court system would be forced to take several days off work at a time when cases have piled up and defendants awaiting trial have stayed imprisoned longer amid the coronavirus pandemic, several state agency heads said Monday.

COVID-19 may complicate planning for hurricane evacuations, according to the Statesboro Herald.

Emergency officials in some Georgia coastal counties are nervously bracing for this year’s hurricane season amid new dangers posed by the coronavirus to people who would require help evacuating.

“If we have to evacuate, it’s going to be a nightmare,” said Ty Poppell, director of the Emergency Management Agency in McIntosh County south of Savannah.

Poppell said putting evacuees on a bus and maintaining six feet of space (two meters) around each person to help prevent potential exposure to the virus would be a big problem.

In neighboring Liberty County, emergency management director Larry Logan said he didn’t have enough shelters to maintain social distance in case of a mass evacuation. He was concerned that fear of contracting the virus at a shelter would lead more residents to ignore any evacuation orders.

“This is going to be all new. It’s going to be a trial and error thing,” he said.

The Hall County Commission is considering adopting a full rollback property tax rate for the next fiscal year, according to the Gainesville Times.

The rollback millage rate is the rate an average property owner would need in order to avoid a higher tax bill due to an increased property assessment. Property owners could see higher or lower tax bills, depending on their assessments.

“As the board continues to analyze the effects of COVID-19 on our community, the commission also believes it is prudent to scale back its FY 2021 spending plan in anticipation of a potential reduction in revenues,” Hall County Administrator Jock Connell said in a statement. “The members of the board have worked diligently to achieve a lower millage rate even in the midst of the worldwide coronavirus pandemic.”

Gwinnett County Commissioners approved a $38.48 million dollar bond package for a new mixed-use development near the mall of Georgia, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

Gwinnett County will expand meal delivery for seniors using nearly $307,000 from the Atlanta Regional Commission, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

Augusta University considers how to reopen campus in the face of budget cuts, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

The school has prepared four different scenarios for how it will conduct classes and operations. One is with minimal social distancing of at least six feet and some large classes perhaps split and alternating who attends in person and who attends online to a return to online only classes and instruction.

“The virus will determine most of what we do,” Keel said. There may even be a situation where classes begin in person and then switch “midstream” to online only if there is an outbreak, he said.

But the plan for now is to provide “face to face” experience for students, Keel said.

But AU and every other college and university in the University System of Georgia has been asked to prepare for 14 percent budget cuts that will include mandatory furloughs. At AU, that amounted to $32.9 million, Keel said. Part of that is cutting 69 vacant positions, the furloughs that increase as salary increases, and delaying renovations and eliminating travel, among other items. But all of that will depend on what the Georgia Legislature does when it reconvenes this month to pass a budget for next fiscal year.

The Floyd County Judicial Center will reopen at 9 AM Thursday, according to the Rome News Tribune.

The Ledger-Enquirer published a Q&A with candidates for Harris County Board of Education District Six.

The Savannah Morning News profiles the candidate for the House District 163 primary elections.

2
Jun

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for June 2, 2020

On June 2, 1774, Britain’s Parliament passed the Quartering Act, the last of the Coercive Acts, meant to punish the American colonies and reassert British control. Eventually, the Third Amendment to the United States Constitution would prohibit the forcible quartering of soldiers in private homes.

Confederate General Edmund Kirby Smith, commanding forces west of the Mississippi, surrendered on June 2, 1865, and this date is generally considered the end of the Civil War.

Queen Elizabeth II was crowned on June 2, 1953.

On June 2, 1962, Georgia-born Ray Charles hit #1 on the charts with “I Can’t Stop Loving You.”

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Journalists Haisten Willis and Alyssa Pointer were detained yesterday, according to the Valdosta Daily Times.

Former Society of Professional Journalist Georgia President and freelance reporter Haisten Willis and Atlanta Journal-Constitution photographer Alyssa Pointer were detained by law enforcement despite showing press credentials.

Willis — on a freelance assignment for The Washington Post — was detained and handcuffed by Atlanta police who refused to accept Willis’ digital press credential, according to a press release from the Georgia chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Police then confiscated his phone and reporting supplies.

Pointer — who has been a regular member of the AJC’s team covering the protests — was detained by officers from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. Despite showing her press badge that was displayed, officers did not release her until two other members of the press intervened.

A coalition of media organizations condemned the detainments in a press release Monday. The Georgia Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, the Atlanta Chapter of the Asian American Journalists Association, the Atlanta Association of Black Journalists and the National Association of Black Journalists, signed on the statement.

Next week’s elections continue to be plagued by reports of problems with absentee ballots, according to the AJC.

Tens of thousands of Georgia voters hadn’t yet received their absentee ballots Monday as precincts continued to close, narrowing options for voters to safely cast ballots in the state’s June 9 primary.

The obstacles facing both absentee and in-person voters just eight days before the primary create the potential for long lines on election day and absentee ballots arriving too late to be counted.

Absentee ballots will be counted only if they’re received by county election offices by 7 p.m. June 9.

But in-person voters might face problems as well. Over 10% of the state’s precincts have closed, forcing voters into fewer locations where they’ll have to maintain social distance from each other, likely creating long lines.

About 95% of nearly 1.6 million absentee ballots had been delivered as of Monday, according to postal tracking data, leaving roughly 84,000 still in the mail. Those ballots should reach voters soon because they’re now being mailed from local election offices rather than flown across the country from an Arizona-based ballot processing company, [a state government bureaucrat] said.

Last week, [Fulton] county election officials discovered they hadn’t processed an unknown number of emailed absentee ballot requests. Election officials had sent all ballots to voters who mailed request forms, but forms that voters attached to emails to the county weren’t always recorded.

A spokesman for House Speaker David Ralston, a critic of Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s effort to expand absentee voting during the coronavirus pandemic, said the problems validate his concerns. Rafffensperger sent absentee ballot requests in April to Georgia’s 6.9 million active voters, encouraging them to avoid in-person voting.

“Sadly, this demonstrates that the concerns Speaker Ralston voices to the secretary of state about an impromptu, widespread mail-in voting effort have been proven true,” spokesman Kaleb McMichen said. “Whether to prevent unintentional errors or willful fraud, widespread vote-by-mail efforts require careful planning and stringent oversight.”

Voters can check their ballot status on the state’s My Voter Page at www.mvp.sos.ga.gov. Voters in Fulton whose ballots haven’t been issued can contact the county elections office at 404-612-7060.

Protestors in Dalton met in support of criminal justice reform, according to the Dalton Daily Citizen News.

They filled the south lawn of the Whitfield County Courthouse Monday afternoon — black and white and brown, male and female. Some 300 of them kneeling in support of criminal justice reform.

“This is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen,” said Rashun Mack, a Dalton High School graduate and a board member of the Atlanta-based Southern Advocacy Group, which organized the protest.

“I’m completely satisfied,” he said. “I was in Atlanta this weekend, and on the first night of protests, the police rolled out, hundreds of police officers, before there was even a riot. That set people on edge and escalated the situation. I didn’t want that to happen here. But the officers here, they understand this is going to be very peaceful, and they have been cooperative.”

Since the protest took place in the city of Dalton, the Dalton Police Department had jurisdiction.

“We will do what we can,” Police Chief Cliff Cason told Mack. “We are here to help you.”

“He’s a very nice man,” Cason said to a reporter about Mack. “We are here to support the community. We have officers along the march route to make sure there are no pedestrian-vehicle accidents. It’s easier to do that if we know in advance what the plans are.”

In fact, Cason and police Capt. Jamie Johnson took part in the march, as did Whitfield County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Gary Stephens.

“We are here to show that we support the First Amendment, and we support their right to express themselves,” said Johnson. “We just want to show them we are there for them and want everything to go well. It was difficult because we did not know who the organizer was. Usually, they go through the permitting process, and we sit down with them and get a better idea of what their plans are and we can determine what we need to do and what manpower we will need.”

If you’re looking for a little positive news, it’s an article worth reading in its entirety.

Gwinnett County Sheriff Butch Conway went out to meet protesters in Lawrenceville, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

“The tension was palpable when Sheriff Butch Conway got out of his patrol vehicle, walked directly into the angry crowd and began speaking with them,” sheriff’s office said in a statement on Facebook. “He listened to them, chatted a while and eventually walked with them to their vehicles parked several blocks away. It was the best possible outcome.”

The Sheriff’s Office highlighted the importance of law enforcement listening to the protesters and hearing their concerns, calling listening “vital to communication.” A major part of the protests is anger at the way minorities feel they are mistreated by law enforcement.

“Sheriff Conway and this group of protesters clearly demonstrated the value of setting aside emotion and listening to one another,” the Sheriff’s Office said. “We hope to see more of this interaction as our nation moves forward. Together.”

Columbia County protests remained peaceful, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

Georgia House Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) says he is more resolved to see passage of hate crime legislation, according to the AJC.

Georgia House Speaker David Ralston, who was already pressing the state Senate to approve legislation that cleared his chamber last year, said Saturday that he is “more committed to a hate-crimes law than ever” following Floyd’s death.

“Georgia is better than this, and we aren’t going to be an outlier on this issue,” Ralston said. “It would send such a strong message around the state and around the nation about where our values are.”

Ralston has called on the state Senate to pass House Bill 426 as is — any amendments to the measure could spell doom for the legislation, sending it back to the House where it won approval by a narrow margin.

But Republican Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, the head of the state Senate, said Friday that while he supports passage of a hate-crimes bill, he thinks HB 426 needs work.

“This is an important piece of legislation to get right,” Duncan said. “It is time to make it clear that Georgians will not stand for hate and violence.”

The Georgia Department of Education and Department of Public Health have published guidance for school systems looking toward re-opening in-person instruction, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

The 10-page guideline document released Monday leaves it to school districts whether to close school buildings in the event the virus spreads. It also calls for districts to participate in contact tracing with state health officials, place educational signs on good hygiene in school buildings and decide how to handle students and teachers who show symptoms of the virus.

Additionally, the guidelines note ways for school districts to shift to online learning in the event of an outbreak, as well as to take a “hybrid” approach allowing districts to blend in-person and online learning. If the virus spreads at a “moderate” level, the guidelines advise schools to screen students and staff before they enter buildings and to require students to keep space between each other in cafeterias, classrooms and hallways.

“In partnership with the Georgia Department of Public Health, we created these guidelines to give school districts a blueprint for safe reopening that is realistic in the K-12 setting,” State School Superintendent Richard Woods wrote in the document. “We have a responsibility to keep out students, teachers, school staff and families safe and to provide the best possible education for our children.”

Click here to learn more about the guidance for school systems.

The Gainesville Times considers the impact of upcoming state budget cuts.

“We will try to minimize the impact on quality of life and day-to-day services for Georgia citizens, as much as possible,” state Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville said. “There will be some changes required, clearly.”

He said he is concerned about impacts on tourism, which is especially key in Hall County, with Lake Lanier in its backyard.

“We need to be marketing for drive-time tourism. People don’t want to get on planes right now,” Miller said.

He said he is “adamantly opposed to reducing teacher pay … as well as first responders, state workers or staff. If we got to take these cuts, in which we do, we want them to be in the form of a furlough day, because that does not impact the retirement system as much and it provides for a structure that teachers and others can plan around.”

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers opened some campgrounds, including at Lake Lanier, Lake Allatoona, and Carters Lake, according to the Dalton Daily Citizen News.

Please note that only campgrounds utilizing the Recreation.gov website and smartphone app, and campgrounds with auto-fee machines, will be reopening at the present time. Because there may be specific campgrounds at projects not yet reopening, the public is asked to monitor local Facebook pages to track the status of their desired campgrounds, or call the project resource office to inquire for further information.

All campsites will be 100% reservable with zero-day window. Please be aware that gate attendants are prohibited from completing onsite transactions, so campers are strongly encouraged to complete their reservations prior to arrival to expedite the check-in process.

Please stay healthy, keep practicing safe social distancing as a courtesy to other guests and do consider stocking hand sanitizer for additional safety. Visitors are also asked to please obey posted signage at facilities which limit the number of people that may occupy at one time, in addition to signage posting facility closures.

The Georgia Department of Behavioral Health & Development Disabilities released its 5-year strategic plan for suicide prevention, according to The Brunswick News.

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in Georgia, affecting every racial and age group in urban and rural areas across the state.

Nationwide, suicide rates have risen 30 percent over the past decade, while Georgia’s have risen 16 percent during the same time span.

To put the number of suicides in perspective, in 2018 nearly 1,600 lives were lost to suicide in Georgia — more than the number of homicides, fatal car accidents or opioid deaths.

The data shows older adults, particularly men over 50, are most at risk.

A concern with the ongoing pandemic is the mental health of individuals experiencing social isolation, economic stress, barriers to mental health, illness and medical problems. If they have access to lethal means, they “may be at increased risk,” she said.

Augusta University researchers say rural black-majority counties were hit harder by COVID-19, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

Counties in rural southwest Georgia were hit hardest in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, and they still have some of the highest death rates in the state. Those counties, and now Hancock County, are rural, mostly black, impoverished and lack intensive care resources, researchers at Augusta University found.

Poor, majority black counties with little access to intensive or primary care have suffered the highest death rates from COVID-19, research at Augusta University found. Many of those same counties are in the Stroke Belt of higher death rates and also are more likely to die from other causes such as sepsis, the authors said.

These same places had higher rates of elderly people, people in poverty, few primary care providers and a lack of access to intensive care, Moore said. The lack of intensive care likely means a delay in that critical care when those patients have be transported elsewhere for treatment, the study found.

“Historically speaking, these counties or these areas or places that have similar demographic features have persistently had poorer outcomes,” he said, ” across a spectrum of different diseases, different health outcomes.”

“It’s a cumulative effect of what has been happening to these communities over many, many years,” said Dr. Varghese George, chair of the Department of Population Health sciences at AU and a co-author on the study.

The Savannah Morning News looks at two Democratic primaries for the Georgia Public Service Commission.

In the June 9 primary, Democrats have to choose between two candidates, John Noel and Daniel Blackman for District 4. There’s only one Democrat, Robert G. Bryant, running for District 1. The Republican incumbents Lauren “Bubba” McDonald in District 4 and Jason Shaw for District 1 have no challengers in the primary. Two Libertarians are also running, Elizabeth Melton for District 1 and Nathan Wilson for District 4.

The Macon Telegraph profiles candidate fundraising for Mayor of Macon-Bibb County.

The Brunswick News considers how social distancing has changed campaigning for office.

While the state gradually lifts restrictions imposed to stop the spread of COVID-19, political campaigns continue to shift toward virtual gatherings and social media.

Some businesses are allowed to reopen under strict conditions, but an executive order issued by Gov. Brian Kemp requires people who are unrelated or not from the same household to keep six feet apart and bans gatherings of more than 10 people unless they are distanced.

“Before the virus, I had things set up to where I was going to do that,” [Republican candidate for Glynn County Commission Mike] Haugen said. “But social distancing was such that you could only (talk to the media), or go to social media.”

There’s little evidence that campaigns will return to their pre-COVID roots anytime soon, Haugen said. At least not before next month’s primary election, in which he will face fellow district 2 Republican candidate and former at-large county commissioner Cap Fendig.

“I don’t think anybody who’s ever been a candidate has faced the issues we face now,” Haugen said.

The Floyd County Judicial Center remains closed until Thursday for cleaning after a staff member tested positive for COVID-19, according to the Rome News Tribune.

Dougherty County Courts are considering how to reopen to the public, according to the Albany Herald.

Chief Superior Court Judge Willie E. Lockette told Dougherty County Commission members on Monday that he has submitted a set of guidelines to the various judges in the county and Albany Municipal Court. The guidelines will cover procedures to be put in place, from checking temperatures of people coming into the Judicial Building to social distancing in courtrooms.

“As you know, our courthouse has been closed to the general public for the past couple of months,” Lockette said. “Courts have been open, mostly (through) video and teleconferencing.”

Under his plan, Lockette said he anticipates that courts could re-open for hearings, with the exception of trials, in late June or early July.

“(We) intend to open the courthouse in the safest manner possible on a limited basis,” Lockette said.

Georgia courts may face a backlog of filings as they reopen, according to the AJC.

Indictments have been delayed, defendants have spent months in jail awaiting trial and court cases have been postponed during the pandemic.

“We are at an all-hands-on-deck moment,” said Brian Amero, the chief judge of the Flint Judicial Circuit in Henry County and president of the Council of Superior Court Judges. “The extent to which this avalanche of work is about to hit superior court judges cannot be overstated.”

Sara Doyle, the presiding judge of the Georgia Court of Appeals, set the tone by telling lawmakers that to meet the proposed cuts, the court would have to let go of 17 or 18 staff members and furlough others 22 days in the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.

“The end result is an appellate court that can’t fully function or won’t fully function,” she said.

“Now more than ever, this country and this state need fully functioning courts at all levels and not one working with half the necessary staff on a shortened work year,” she said. “While the cuts being requested are a terrible burden on my court’s ability to function and to those who will lose their livelihood, the impact on the state and the people who live and do business here is much more profound if its court system is crippled.”

The Dougherty County Commission passed legislation requiring masks for people entering county buildings, according to the Albany Herald.

Commissioners unanimously passed the ordinance, planned to be a joint measure with the Albany City Commission, during a meeting in which they also approved equipment to clean the air in the county’s courtrooms.

City commissioners are scheduled to take up the measure during their Tuesday meeting.

County Commission Chairman Chris Cohilas said the requirement is meant to protect county employees, as well as first responders who are frequently inside public buildings, from exposure to the coronavirus. The Dougherty County Sheriff’s Office provides security for the Judicial Building and will be exposed to members of the public entering to conduct court business once it re-opens.

The mask requirement would not be in violation of Gov. Brian Kemp’s coronavirus orders, Cohilas said, as local governments are allowed to issue protective orders that apply to their facilities.

Augusta City Commissioners will also consider a mask requirement, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

Two Augusta measures taken in light of the COVID-19 pandemic — a small business relief program and a mask requirement — go for another commission vote Tuesday.

The [small business relief] program would provide forgivable, no-interest loans of up to $15,000 to small businesses located in Augusta with 10 or fewer employees and $500,000 or less in annual gross income. The businesses must employ low and moderate income people and not be in bankruptcy or owe local, state or federal taxes or fees.

The program is budgeted at $1.06 million and is not yet approved by the U.S. Housing and Urban Development to be reimbursed with federal grant funds.

Augusta’s mask ordinance — which requires they be worn in all city facilities — goes for a second reading Tuesday.

Brookhaven reopened its city hall, with a mask requirement for entrants, according to the AJC.

If a resident coming to City Hall does not have a mask, one will be provided for them, the city said in a statement.

“Wearing a face covering in public places is more than a good preventive measure for personal safety, it is also a best business practice to foster public confidence and restore the local economy,” Brookhaven Mayor John Ernst said in a statement.

The Atlanta Regional Commission will use $1.9 million in federal funds to expand meal delivery for seniors, according to the AJC.

Dredging continues in the Savannah Harbor, according to the Savannah Morning News.

The deepening of the Savannah harbor has set a new precedent with four dredges working simultaneously, the Army Corps of Engineers announced on Monday, June 1.

The entire Savannah Harbor Expansion Project (SHEP) is approximately 62% complete and includes two dredges keeping the channel at its current authorized depth of 42 feet followed by two dredges taking the channel to its new depth of 47 feet.

GPA Executive Director Griff Lynch added that the progress surging ahead on SHEP is good news for port users.

“With the challenges our economy is facing, the savings a deeper harbor will mean for our customers can’t come soon enough,” Lynch said.

“We’re excited to see so much work getting done as the Corps of Engineers coordinates these efforts.”

The Museum of Arts & Sciences in Macon is holding a drive-through mini-zoo. From the Museum’s website:

Join us on Wednesday from 10:30 – noon, for a unique animal encounter. Just drive through the Museum parking lot, roll down your windows, and enjoy meeting the animals that call the MAS home.

This event is free; however, if you are able, the Museum is taking donations. Just follow the link to our website to make a monetary donation, or you can pick an item for the Mini-Zoo from our Amazon Wish list link. We truly appreciate any support you can give, even if it is just your presence and encouraging words.

1
Jun

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for June 1, 2020

Benjamin Franklin became Georgia’s agent in England on June 1, 1768, making him also Georgia’s first lobbyist.

On June 1, 1775, Georgia patriots sent a care package to their brethren in Massachusetts comprising 63 barrels of rice and £122 after the battles at Lexington and Concord.

The court martial of Benedict Arnold convened in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on June 1, 1779.

Arnold negotiated his defection to the British and the subversion of West Point over several months. The British already held control of New York City and believed that by taking West Point they could effectively cut off the American’s New England forces from the rest of the fledgling nation.

In August 1780, Sir Henry Clinton offered Arnold £20,000 for delivering West Point and 3,000 troops. Arnold told General Washington that West Point was adequately prepared for an attack even though he was busy making sure that that it really wasn’t. He even tried to set up General Washington’s capture as a bonus. His plan might have been successful but his message was delivered too late and Washington escaped. The West Point surrender was also foiled when an American colonel ignored Arnold’s order not to fire on an approaching British ship.

Arnold’s defection was revealed to the Americans when British officer John André, acting as a messenger, was robbed by AWOL Americans working as pirates in the woods north of New York City. The notes revealing Arnold’s traitorous agreement were stashed in his boots.

On June 1, 1942, a Polish newspaper first published information about the gassing of Jews at Nazi concentration camps in Poland.

The Beatles released Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band on June 1, 1967. The album is listed as #1 on the Rolling Stone top 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list.

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is the most important rock & roll album ever made, an unsurpassed adventure in concept, sound, songwriting, cover art and studio technology by the greatest rock & roll group of all time. From the title song’s regal blasts of brass and fuzz guitar to the orchestral seizure and long, dying piano chord at the end of “A Day in the Life,” the 13 tracks on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band are the pinnacle of the Beatles’ eight years as recording artists. John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr were never more fearless and unified in their pursuit of magic and transcendence.

Issued in Britain on June 1st, 1967, and a day later in America, Sgt. Pepper is also rock’s ultimate declaration of change. For the Beatles, it was a decisive goodbye to matching suits, world tours and assembly-line record-making. “We were fed up with being Beatles,” McCartney said decades later, in Many Years From Now, Barry Miles’ McCartney biography. “We were not boys, we were men… artists rather than performers.

“It was a peak,” Lennon told Rolling Stone in 1970, describing both the album and his collaborative relationship with McCartney. “Paul and I were definitely working together,” Lennon said….

Rolling Stone should stick to writing about music.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Under the Gold Dome – Legislative Committee Meetings

Monday, June 1 at 10 AM, Senate Appropriations – Judicial Subcommittee, 450 CAP. Livestream here.

Tuesday, June 2 at 9 AM, Senate Appropriations – Fiscal Management Subcommittee, 450 CAP.

Tuesday, June 2 at 9 AM, House Judiciary Non-Civil, virtual meeting. Livestream here.

Tuesday, June 2 at 2 PM, Senate Appropriations – Transportation Subcommittee, 450 CAP.

Wednesday, June 3 at 1:15 PM, Appropriations – Insurance and Labor Subcommittee, 341 CAP. Livestream here.

Friday, June 5 at 10 AM, Appropriations – Community Health Subcommittee, 450 CAP.

Vice President Mike Pence visited Georgia on Friday. From the AJC:

Vice President Mike Pence marked his second visit to Georgia in a week with a fresh endorsement of the state’s aggressive rollback of coronavirus restrictions and a promise that more “help is on the way” for residents and businesses struggling with the pandemic.

Just like his last visit a week ago, Pence flew into Dobbins Air Reserve Base, huddled with Kemp, met with local business executives and honored the memory of the late Ravi Zacharias, the famed evangelist who forged a reputation as a vigorous defender of Christianity.

This time, Pence also addressed the death of George Floyd, a black man who died after a police officer used his knee to restrain Floyd’s neck, and the growing unrest over police violence that triggered violent demonstrations in Minneapolis and protests elsewhere in the nation.

“We have no tolerance for racism in America. We have no tolerance for violence inspired by racism. And as President (Donald) Trump said, justice will be served,” said Pence, who also mentioned the slaying of Ahmaud Arbery, a black jogger who was shot to death near Brunswick in February after a confrontation with several white men who have been charged with his murder.

Pence was unequivocal again Friday as he started a roundtable discussion at Unity National Bank, a minority-owned bank in downtown Atlanta, by heaping compliments on Kemp’s steps to roll back restrictions.

“Georgia’s leading the way in reopening America,” he said. “We want to commend you for the safe and responsible and measured way that you continue to restore not only the economic life but the cultural life of this community.”

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms is taking a turn in the national spotlight after Friday’s rioting, according to CNN.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms stepped into the national spotlight on Friday night, denouncing vandalism in her city as “chaos” after demonstrations over the death of George Floyd, who was pinned down by a Minneapolis police officer now charged with his murder, turned violent and destructive “What I see happening on the streets of Atlanta is not Atlanta. This is not a protest. This is not in the spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr.,” an impassioned Bottoms said at a news conference. “This is chaos.”

As thousands of protesters gathered in more than thirty cities, the Atlanta mayor, whose name has been floated as a possible vice presidential pick for presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden, is facing a high stakes test of her leadership at home. Bottoms was joined at the news conference by local hip hop artists, civil rights leaders, including the Rev. Bernice King, and law enforcement officials, as she mixed empathy with anger and pleaded with protesters to “go home.” Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, said he issued a state of emergency overnight at Bottoms’ request that could send as many as 500 National Guard troops to Fulton County.

Bottoms, a former judge and city council member, was sworn in as mayor in 2018 and has quickly emerged as one of the Democratic Party’s rising stars. On Friday night, amid a swirl of increasingly tense and occasionally violent scenes, she faced the cameras, her constituents — and the country.

In a statement Saturday, Biden campaign national spokesman TJ Ducklo applauded Bottoms’ grace under fire.

“Vice President Biden has been grateful for Mayor Bottoms’ support and counsel since the earliest days of our campaign,” Ducklo said. “Her passion, her empathy and her strong and steady leadership are shining through during this difficult moment, and the city of Atlanta is lucky to have her leading the way.”

From the Athens Banner Herald:

The mayor of Atlanta, one of dozens of U.S. cities hit by massive protests, has a message for demonstrators: “If you were out protesting last night, you probably need to go get a COVID test this week.”

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms warned that “there is still a pandemic in America that’s killing black and brown people at higher numbers.”

From the AJC:

“Obviously, we are the home of the civil rights movement. So, we … have a long history of protest in our city,” Bottoms said. “But our organizers in Atlanta, many of whom don’t agree with me quite often as mayor, were very clear that this, by and large, after things turned violent, was not an Atlanta-based protest. It looked differently racially in our city than our normal protests looked. … So, we don’t know who they were, but many of them were not locally based.”

Atlanta police haven’t identified outside groups and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is seeking more information about those arrested at the protests so far.

Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit District Attorney Candidate Mark Jones is out on bail, fresh out of jail, according to the Ledger-Enquirer.

Columbus district attorney candidate Mark Jones held a rally outside his downtown law office Friday after he was released from jail Thursday night, having been charged with six offenses related to the May 17 filming of a campaign ad.

Jones is challenging incumbent District Attorney Julia Slater in the June 9 Democratic Primary, which will decide the race because no Republican qualified to seek the office in the November General Election. All six counties in the Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit vote in the primary.

During his noon rally Friday, Jones accused Slater of pushing for the case police made against him and two car enthusiasts who cut doughnuts in the Columbus Civic Center parking lot during the video shoot, leaving tire residue on the pavement. The city said the damage would cost $306,000 to repair.

Besides Muscogee, the other counties in the Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit are Harris, Chattahoochee, Marion, Muscogee, Talbot and Taylor.

Voting locations for the June 9 elections are still uncertain in some places, according to the Capitol Beat News Service, via the Augusta Chronicle.

In Savannah, the Chatham County Board of Elections is pushing to open alternative polling places after 12 of the county’s 92 voting sites “were uncertain.” And Fulton County, the state’s most populous, has lost more than 30 voting sites in recent weeks from its nearly 200-site total and is “struggling with Election Day locations,” said the county’s election director, Rick Barron.

“This has been an unprecedented situation for not only Fulton County but also other counties around the state,” Barron said at a recent news conference.

Contact tracers hired by the state to combat COVID-19 are meeting some distrust from citizens, according to the Valdosta Daily Times.

Since the program began, the state has conducted case interviews with more than 6,000 coronavirus-positive patients, and has worked with those cases to identify nearly 15,300 contacts.

The state has also upped its army — rallying a contact tracing team of 1,000 people working to keep up with the virus as it spreads throughout the Peach State; as of Friday the total number of cases passed 45,000 and deaths were near 2,000.

Dr. Kathleen Toomey, commissioner of the Department of Public Health, said the biggest hurdle for contact tracing is “gaining the trust” of the public by making sure Georgians share private information with contact tracers and heed the advice of health officials.

Toomey said the process isn’t meant to be “intrusive” or infringe on “civil liberties” and has made several pleas to the press to help correct any misconceptions.

Nine locations for collecting COVID-19 testing specimens will close, according to AccessWDUN.

“The Georgia Department of Public Health will continue to operate 136 specimen collection sites throughout the state, and encourages Georgians wanting to be tested for COVID-19 to contact their local health department to schedule an appointment,” he said Saturday in a new release sent to local media.

Two Democrats running against Republican Senator David Perdue have written large checks to their campaigns, according to the AJC.

Democrat Jon Ossoff stroked his Senate campaign a $450,000 check, finance records show, fueling speculation about his strategy in an unpredictable June 9 primary to challenge Republican David Perdue.

Democrat Jon Ossoff stroked his Senate campaign a $450,000 check, finance records show, fueling speculation about his strategy in an unpredictable June 9 primary to challenge Republican David Perdue.

Ossoff’s advisers hold out the possibility that he could capture a majority of the vote and avoid an August face-off against Amico or former Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson, though they say the possibility is remote in a 7-candidate race.

Lieutenant Governor Geoff Duncan said he supports hate crimes legislation, according to the Henry Herald.

Duncan, who presides over the Georgia Senate, said Friday lawmakers need to craft legislation that gives victims of hate-motivated crimes “certain tools” to bring civil lawsuits and sets a framework for law enforcement officials “to correctly identify, investigate and prosecute hate crimes.”

“This is an important piece of legislation to get right,” Duncan said in a statement. “It is time to make it clear that Georgians will not stand for hate and violence.”

The measure, sponsored by state Rep. Chuck Efstration, cleared the Georgia House last year but has stalled in the Senate. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have issued calls in recent weeks to pass the bill. Efstration said he plans to push for its passage once the General Assembly resumes the 2020 legislative session in mid-June.

Local first responders will be notified when their responding to a home with a COVID-19 patient, according to the Dalton Daily Citizen News.

The Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency and the Georgia Department of Public Health provide local 911 centers with a list of addresses, but not names, of people with a positive COVID-19 diagnosis.

“I flag the address in my system, and it is made to expire in 21 days from entry,” said Whitfield County Emergency Management Agency Director Claude Craig. “If we dispatch someone to a flagged address, it lets us know that there is a positive at that location and responders prepare accordingly.”

Whitfield County Fire Chief Edward O’Brien said he can’t recall the department responding to a call where firefighters were alerted that the address was the home of a COVID-19 patient.

“If we did have a call, personnel will limit contact by utilizing one employee to make contact with the patient,” he said. “The employee will don a gown, face mask, face shield and gloves to wear while making patient contact. All equipment would be disposed of after the call. The unit would stay out of service and return to the station where they can shower, change uniform and clean equipment and apparatus. The process is documented as an exposure to the virus and tracked for employee safety.”

The Coastal Empire Economic Monitor is focusing on COVID-19 damage to the local economy, according to the Savannah Morning News.

The Monitor is a quarterly publication that provides snapshot of the Savannah Metropolitan Statistical Area economy, including Bryan, Chatham and Effingham counties and is distributed by the Center for Business Analytics and Economic Research at Georgia Southern University.

“The clearest signs of economic decline presented themselves in the tourism and hospitality industry, the data we receive is pretty timely, and while the January and February numbers still looked pretty, good things started declining substantially in March,” [Fuller E. Callaway Professor of Economics at GSU Armstrong Campus Michael] Toma said.

“One example is the occupancy rate in regional hotels, which typically hover around 80 to 85% and are now into the single digits, so basically no one was traveling and that became very clear in March early on.”

The average number of monthly initial unemployment claims saw a sharp increase from 490 in the fourth quarter of 2019 to 2,942 in the first quarter of 2020 — with 7,608 claims being filed in March alone.

Toma said the substantial decline in consumer spending is what will drive both the U.S. and regional economy into a recession.

“A recession is usually defined as two consecutive quarters of economic decline and I don’t think there’s going to be any question that we’ve been slammed into a recession in the U.S. and our regional economy here,” he said.

The Georgia Department of Labor reports falling numbers of initial unemployment claims, according to the Athens Banner Herald.

Initial unemployment claims in Georgia fell last week for the third time in the last four weeks, the state Department of Labor reported Thursday.

However, the agency also released a regional breakdown of April unemployment that showed record highs in many parts of Georgia as the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic deepened.

Record joblessness occurred in Atlanta, coastal Georgia, Northeast Georgia, Northwest Georgia, the River Valley Region surrounding Columbus and the Three Rivers Region southwest of Atlanta.

Savannah Mayor Van Johnson joined a protest on Sunday, according to the Savannah Morning News.

City leaders including Mayor Van Johnson, Alderwoman Estella Shabazz, Alderwoman Bernetta Lanier, Alderwoman Alicia Blakely, Alderman Detric Leggett, Alderman Kurtis Purtee and Alderman Nick Palumbo joined in the racially diverse crowd of protesters who marched from Johnson Square to City Hall.

“We are tired of the mess and we want it to stop now. We stand here as a united community to say that we are standing with George Floyd and his family, because no man should ever have to die like that,” Johnson said. “We stand here united as a community to say that crooked police officers are called criminals. And in jail, they should be.”

One of the points brought up by Johnson in his speech was the formation of a city-led task force that would use data to examine where racial disparity occurs in various aspects of the city, which drew large cheers from the crowd.

“We have been in city hall for 5 months today. We are instituting a task force to look at data examining every single disparity that exists in the city of Savannah, be it economic, be it health, be it social, be it police,” Johnson said. “And we’re gonna let the data drive us to where we need to be.”

Mayor Johnson also imposed an 8:30 PM curfew, according to the Savannah Morning News.

The Floyd County Judicial Center will be closed today after a staff member tested positive for COVID-19, according to the Rome News Tribune.

Statesboro City Hall reopens to the public with limited hours today, according to the Statesboro Herald.

“The city’s buildings will look a little different than they did before the state of emergency was issued for Georgia,” said Statesboro City Manager Charles Penny. “Our staff, following the Centers for Disease Control and Georgia Department of Health’s guidance, has taken considerable measures to ensure the health and safety of our employees and visitors during this reopening.”

Visitors looking to enter City Hall and other city buildings will have to meet certain criteria to be permitted entry. There will be mandatory temperature checks and virus symptom checks at the front door. Also, visitors will be required to wear a protective face mask while inside the building and will be issued a mask if they did not bring one with them. Hours of operation have also been modified for the first two weeks of June. City buildings will be open to visitors from 9-2 p.m. during this time.

Athens-Clarke County continues to reopen government offices, according to the Athens Banner Herald.

Athens-Clarke shut down government offices and most parks in mid-March as the mayor and commission declared a state of emergency and adopted a shelter-in-place ordinance as the COVID-19 pandemic grew. The courthouse remained open, but with limited activities.

Most courthouse activities will remain curtailed until a statewide judicial emergency ends; at this time, that’s scheduled to end June 12.

However, the courthouse property tax office and the tag office on Lexington Road will be open during business hours, with a limited number of people allowed in at any one time.

Visitors are “encouraged” to wear face coverings, and at some locations, face coverings will be provided for those who don’t have their own. Visitors should also stay at least six feet away from others, because the risk of COVID-19 transmission has not disappeared.

Advance voting sites at the Board of Elections Office downtown, the Athens-Clarke County Library on Baxter Street, the Miriam Moore Community Center on McKinley Drive and the Athens-Clarke County Extension Office on Cleveland Road will also be open Monday through Friday; hours are posted on the Board of Elections website, accgov.com/elections.

Delta will increase service at Brunswick Golden Isles Airport beginning July 2, according to The Brunswick News.

Glynn County Commissioners are facing a budget shortfall, according to The Brunswick News.

To stay in the black, commission chairman Mike Browning said the budget would have to be cut by 3.5 to 4 percent. Rather than making any top-down cuts, he suggested putting the responsibility on department heads.

Attempting to reduce the county budget by that amount would cut into personnel salaries. There’s no way around it, Ours said.

Commissioner Allen Booker reminded the commission of its decision May 7 not to furlough employees and to cover any resulting budget shortfall with reserves.

The county has a $30 million rainy day fund and a little over $15 million in undesignated cash reserves — termed the general fund balance.

29
May

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for May 29, 2020

The Treaty of Augusta was signed on May 31, 1783, between the Creek Indians and Georgia Commissioners. A second, identical document would be signed on November 1 of that year.

The first graduation ceremony for the University of Georgia was held on May 31, 1804.

On May 29, 1836, the United States Senate ratified the Treaty of New Echota, which required the movement of all Cherokee out of Georgia and led to the “Trail of Tears.”

Savannah-born John C. Fremont was nominated for President of the United States by the Radical Republicans on May 31, 1864. Fremont had previously been nominated for President by the Republican Party as their first presidential candidate in 1856.

The Capital City Club in Atlanta was chartered on May 31, 1889.

United States Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan certified the 17th Amendment as part of the Constitution on May 31, 1913, authorizing the direct election of United States Senators. Georgia never ratified the Amendment.

On May 30, 1922, Chief Justice of the United States William H. Taft dedicated the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC. Inside the memorial is a seated statue of Lincoln by Daniel Chester French carved from 175 tons of Georgia white marble.

French also created the statue of Jame Oglethorpe that stands in Chippewa Square in Savannah and a seated statue of Samuel Spencer considered to be a prototype of the Lincoln carving. Samuel Spencer was the first President of Southern Railway and was originally located at the rail station in downtown Atlanta before moving to the Southern Railway passenger station in Buckhead in the 1970s and is currently at 1200 Peachtree Street in front of Norfolk Southern.

On May 29, 1942, Adolf Hitler ordered all Jews in Nazi-occupied Paris to wear a yellow Star of David on their coats.

On May 29, 1953, Edmund Hillary of New Zealand and Tenzing Norgay, a Nepalese Sherpa, became the first to summit Mount Everest.

On May 28, Tenzing and Hillary set out, setting up high camp at 27,900 feet. After a freezing, sleepless night, the pair plodded on, reaching the South Summit by 9 a.m. and a steep rocky step, some 40 feet high, about an hour later. Wedging himself in a crack in the face, Hillary inched himself up what was thereafter known as the Hillary Step. Hillary threw down a rope, and Norgay followed. At about 11:30 a.m., the climbers arrived at the top of the world.

News of the success was rushed by runner from the expedition’s base camp to the radio post at Namche Bazar, and then sent by coded message to London, where Queen Elizabeth II learned of the achievement on June 1, the eve of her coronation. The next day, the news broke around the world. Later that year, Hillary and Hunt were knighted by the queen. Norgay, because he was not a citizen of a Commonwealth nation, received the lesser British Empire Medal.

Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter appeared on the cover of Time magazine on May 31, 1971.

Carter Time Cover 1971

A summit between President Ronald Reagan and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev ended on May 31, 1988. Four years later, in 1992, Gorbachev was dancing for dollars in the United States, including the keynote address at Emory University’s graduation.

On this day in 1992, The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion by Georgia-based The Black Crowes reached number one on the Billboard US Album chart.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Governor Brian Kemp yesterday issued Executive Order 05.28.20.01, renewing the Public Health State of Emergency through July 12, 2020.

Governor Kemp also issued Executive Order 05.28.20.02, further lessening legal restrictions during the pandemic.

From a press release by the Governor’s Office:

“On March 14, 2020, I issued an Executive Order declaring a Public Health State of Emergency in Georgia due to the impact of COVID-19. To continue our fight against this dangerous virus and allow for enhanced emergency response efforts, I have twice used my authority to renew the State of Emergency. Today, after consultation with Lieutenant Governor Duncan and Speaker Ralston, I have decided to renew the State of Emergency for a third time through 11:59 PM on July 12, 2020. This declaration plays a critically important role in our battle against COVID-19. It allows for enhanced partnerships between the private and public sectors for our healthcare infrastructure, procurement of supplies, and coordination across all levels of government. As we continue to take measured steps forward, the Public Health State of Emergency provides flexibility for a cohesive response across government and within communities across Georgia.”

“Over the past few months, we have seen frontline workers, law enforcement, teachers, business owners, elected officials, community leaders, and hardworking Georgians from every corner of our state join together in the fight against COVID-19. Now, with enhanced testing capacity and encouraging data, we are seeing a slow, careful transition to a “new normal.” Already, several state agencies have begun to phase into limited, in-person operations, and the Legislature is making plans to return to the State Capitol to resume the legislative session. Across the Peach State, businesses are reopening their doors with robust safety precautions in place, and customers are slowly – but surely – returning. This progress is encouraging as we fight to stop the spread and revive our economy. But the status quo is never acceptable. We cannot rest on our laurels. From Day One of this journey, we have used data, science, and the advice of healthcare professionals like Dr. Toomey to chart our path forward. Our next step – like the ones before – puts the health and well-being of the citizenry first.”

“Today, I signed a new executive order to extend specific safety precautions, outline guidance for overnight summer camps and summer school, and outline important rules for reopening shuttered businesses. The shelter in place order for Georgians who are sixty-five and older or medically fragile will continue through June 12, 2020 with exceptions for necessary activities, including work, medical appointments, grocery shopping, home health services, and related categories. I want to thank all of those who have followed this advice and those who have helped vulnerable loved ones navigate these difficult times.”

“In this executive order, we continue to strongly encourage all Georgians and visitors to wear face coverings in public to mitigate viral spread, and restrictions remain intact for nearly every Georgia business to keep employees and customers safe.”

“For several weeks now, gatherings of more than ten people in a single location have been banned in Georgia unless there is at least six feet between each person. Given favorable data and relying on Dr. Toomey’s advice, we feel comfortable incrementally increasing that number to twenty-five. That means starting June 1, 2020, you can have gatherings of more than twenty-five people in a single location if you have at least six feet between each person.”

“Small weddings, recreational sports, and similar events will be able to resume with a little more flexibility, but we are asking everyone to stay vigilant. Please continue to follow public health advice as you engage in these activities. Wash your hands, keep your distance, wear a mask if possible, and protect the elderly and medically fragile from exposure.”

“At this time, live performance venues will remain closed. I know these closures are tough on business owners, but we will continue to watch the data to ensure the health and safety of our citizens. We are working closely with business owners, associations, and stakeholders to prepare for the future.”

“Starting May 31, 2020, overnight summer camps are permitted in Georgia if they meet thirty-three specific criteria for reopening in addition to the requirements for operating a non-critical infrastructure business. Starting June 1, 2020, bars and nightclubs can decide to reopen if they comply with strict sanitation and social distancing rules, all crafted to reflect industry practices and mitigate health risk. To open their doors, bars and nightclubs must meet thirty-nine mandatory measures to ensure patron well-being. Just to name a few, those include screening workers for illness, limiting the number of people in the building to twenty-five people or thirty-five percent of total occupancy, requiring the facility to be thoroughly and regularly sanitized, only serving drinks to seated patrons or those in designated areas, limiting party size to six people, and preventing patrons from congregating. To provide clarity for banquet facilities, private event facilities, and private reception venues, we are adding them to the same category as restaurants and dine-in services so they have clear directives for operating. This change will be a big help as these facilities reschedule important events for families – especially weddings – in coming weeks.”

“My executive order also specifically addresses the return of amateur and professional sports. Starting June 1, professional sports teams and organizations which engage in practices or other in-person operations must operate by the rules or guidelines of their respective sports league. In addition, all amateur sports that continue in-person operation must follow the guidelines for non-critical infrastructure organizations.”

“Many school districts have reached out for guidance on holding summer school. I want to thank Superintendent Woods and his team for helping us develop appropriate safeguards for educational leaders as they plan for their students’ return. Starting next month, schools and districts can hold summer school for students if they comply with eleven mandatory criteria. That includes screening workers and students for illness to prevent viral spread, enhancing campus sanitation, encouraging regular handwashing and hygiene, and keeping students separated to minimize exposure. We know how important it is for some students to be able to return to campus for in-person instruction, and these measures will accomplish that goal without compromising safety.”

“Operators of amusement park rides, traveling carnivals, water parks, circuses, and other temporary amusement rides shall not begin operation until June 12, 2020. To open at that time, they must comply with thirty-three mandatory requirements in addition to all requirements for non-critical infrastructure businesses. We appreciate the guidance that we have received from stakeholders to develop these rules and prepare for future reopenings.”

“As we have said for many weeks now, one of the most critical battlegrounds in our fight against this virus remains in our long-term care facilities, specifically in nursing homes. Over the last few weeks, the Georgia National Guard has worked closely with public health officials and the Department of Community Health to test nursing home residents and staff. Right now, forty-eight percent of all COVID-19 deaths in Georgia are connected to long-term care facilities. The earlier we test, the earlier we can intervene and try to prevent severe outcomes. As of yesterday afternoon, we have tested sixty-six percent of nursing home residents and thirty-six percent of all staff. That is in addition to nearly 2,000 infection control missions conducted with more than 900 facilities receiving two or more mission visits. This is a top priority for us as we work around the clock to protect our most vulnerable, and we will continue to do everything in our power to keep these Georgians safe. Since we began the rapid increase of our testing capacity in mid-April, we continue to remind the public and those in the media that the more we test, the more cases we will see. That is especially true with our efforts to test high-risk populations like nursing homes.”

“The multiple public-private partnerships around testing that were created in a matter of weeks to fight this pandemic have exponentially increased our testing capacity, but the nature of COVID-19 testing and reporting can sometimes lead to delays and mass reporting of results. Dr. Toomey and her team at Public Health continue to work with our private-sector partners to streamline these new processes and ensure our testing data is timely and accurate. Starting next week, Public Health will move to a daily 3 PM update on the COVID-19 website. This change will give them more time to coordinate with healthcare facilities and providers to verify information and check its accuracy before publication. We remain encouraged by the numbers that we are seeing in testing, hospitalizations, and a wide variety of other data points from across the state. We are also encouraged by the new treatment being rolled out for patients in Georgia in partnership with the Trump administration. This week, the Department of Public Health will distribute over 18,000 vials of remdesivir to eighty-five hospitals across the state. This shipment will enable these facilities to treat roughly 1,670 patients. I greatly appreciate the President and the Vice President – and the rest of the administration – for their continued support with critical supplies like remdesivir as we fight this invisible enemy together.”

“Speaking of the Trump administration, we had a call this week with the Vice President and the nation’s governors to discuss how states are moving safely to reopen their economies and get Americans working again. We also had a very productive call with Admiral Polowczyk and GEMA Director Homer Bryson to ensure Georgia continues to receive critical supplies as we take measured steps forward in our reopening process. And just this afternoon, we received fantastic news from the President. He will be extending full federal funding of National Guard activities through mid-August. That authorization was set to expire next month. The 3,000 men and women currently deployed in the Georgia National Guard have been absolutely vital in our fight against COVID-19. They have helped deliver millions of pounds of foods to students and Georgians in need, they have been the backbone of our testing program, and they have done lifesaving work in our nursing homes and long-term care facilities. Thanks to the President’s support, that work will continue. This is a huge help to our state’s ongoing war against the invisible enemy. As I have said many times before, the level of access and responsiveness from the President, Vice President, and the Trump administration is unprecedented and has been a huge benefit to our state as we combat COVID-19.”

“Before I turn it over for questions, I wanted to mention a couple of important items. First, Georgia continues to lag behind other states in participation for the 2020 Census. The form only takes a few minutes, so please take the time to complete it. This initiative literally shapes the future of our state, so we need as many Georgians taking part as possible, and we have a long way to go. All you have to do is visit my2020Census.gov, call 1-844-330-2020, or mail back the paper form that you receive by mail.”

“Many people have asked for guidance on attending in-person services at places of worship, especially in light of the President’s call to action for governors to reopen churches and religious facilities. Here in Georgia, we never closed places of worship, but we encouraged congregations to hold online or drive-in services to mitigate the risk of exposure. Now, many churches and religious institutions are beginning to reopen their doors for traditional services, and we ask Georgians to continue to heed public health advice if they decide to attend in-person. Please use social distancing, wash your hands, protect the elderly and medically fragile, and prioritize your health. Thank you again to the faith leaders who answered the call and held remote services as we battled the spread of coronavirus. Your leadership saved lives.”

“Finally, we are urging all Georgians not to hold off on important medical appointments. I cannot stress this enough: do not risk a bad health outcome by postponing necessary check-ups, screenings, and procedures. Healthcare systems are having to furlough workers in the middle of a pandemic due to decreased demand for traditional services. Please get these appointments on your calendar, and help us get our healthcare providers back to work. Now, we will take questions.”

You can watch the Governor’s address here on Facebook.

From the AJC:

His remarks come as state figures show an increase in week-to-week cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. It’s unclear, however, whether it’s a statistical blip or represents a significant change.

Pressed on the increase Thursday, Kemp described it as a “backlog” from 15,000 tests recently added to state databases that date to late April.

“We’re not seeing anything that’s concerning,” he said, adding that cases could potentially increase as testing ramps up, particularly among nursing home residents.

“We expect that population’s percent of positives is going to be higher than the normal population, so it’s not unusual that we’re seeing a little bit of flattening of our downward trajectory or perhaps a little increase on a certain day,” Kemp said.

Experts say that an expansion of the state’s diagnostic testing system and a recent, one-time spike in reporting from a commercial lab are unlikely to be the only reasons why week-to-week counts of confirmed cases of COVID-19 jumped 26%.

Infections are likely increasing now that more Georgians are moving around with the partial end of the state’s shelter-in-place order, said Dr. Carlos del Rio, the chairman of the global health department at Emory University.

But he also expressed confidence Georgia can avoid more large-scale infections if people use “good common sense,” practice social distancing and wear a mask.

“If the virus comes back, I don’t see us shutting down our economy anymore,” he told reporters in Columbus. “We’ve got to figure out how to live with the virus. There are some very smart people doing that every day.”

Vice President Mike Pence will return to Atlanta today, according to 11Alive.

Vice President Mike Pence will be in Georgia again on Friday, exactly one week after he was in the state for a lunch and business roundtable.

According to the White House, Pence will arrive at Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Marietta shortly before 10 a.m., and then attend a memorial service for the Christian evangelist Ravi Zacharias, who died earlier this month.

Afterward, Pence will lead a conversation with small business owners on reopening the economy and leave Georgia sometime tomorrow evening.

The principle cause for Pence’s latest visit, Zacharias was highly influential in the world of evangelical philosophy and ministry through nearly a half-century of work. He founded Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Toronto in the early 1980s and eventually moved it to Atlanta.

When he died on May 19, Pence called the Indian-born faith leader a “man of faith who could ‘rightly handle the word of truth’ like few others in our time & he was my friend.”

From the AJC:

The arrival of Vice President Mike Pence on Friday morning will trigger the closure of several Atlanta roadways.

Roads will close as the vice presidential motorcade moves about the city Friday, beginning with I-75 in Cobb County. Air Force Two is expected to touch down at Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Marietta about 10 a.m.

Drivers can expect rolling road closures as the motorcade travels from Marietta to Passion City Church in Buckhead for the memorial service, which is scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. The service is not open to the public and will be streamed live online.

The exact route the vice president will take is unknown, but there could be closures along I-75, I-285 and Ga. 400, as well as surface streets near the church on Garson Drive.

The Georgia Department of Labor yesterday released information on April unemployment numbers.

The Georgia Department of Labor (GDOL) announced today that April’s unemployment numbers for Georgia’s Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs), regions, and counties are at a reported all-time high across all categories. Regional commissions reportedunemployment rates at all-time highs in Atlanta, Coastal Georgia, GA Mountains, Northeast GA, Northwest GA, River Valley and Three Rivers, with Coastal Georgia topping out at 14 percent. Georgia county unemployment documented record highs with the highest unemployment rates in Whitfield County at 20.6 percent, Murray County at 20.1 percent, Clay County at 18.1 percent, Chattooga County at 17.1 percent, Glynn County at 17.0 percent, Chatham County at 16.4 percent, Clayton County at 16.0 percent, Meriwether County at 15.8 percent, Troup County at 15.4 percent, and Heard County at 15.1 percent.

“We are seeing all-time high unemployment rates across a majority of the state,” said Commissioner Mark Butler. “We are continuing to work with employers on effective strategies to get Georgians back to work in both a safe and economically efficient way.”

Weekly regular UI initial claims totaled 165,499, down 12,000 over the previous week. Of the weekly total, 112,910 (69%) were employer filed claims. Initial claims have declined three of the last four weeks. Payments over last week totaled $159,501,356 in regular weekly unemployment benefits, down $28 million over the prior week. This is the first decline in weekly benefits paid since week ending March 21. Since that date, over $1.087 billion has been paid in regular UI benefits, more than the last three years combined ($923 million).

“We are being challenged to pay millions of Georgians in unemployment benefits as quickly as possible while also being expected to verify eligibility,” said Commissioner Butler. “We are relying on our partnerships with state agencies to assist us in meeting this demand accurately and expeditiously.”

That is staggering.

The Georgia Secretary of State is asking again for Georgians to return their absentee ballots, according to the Valdosta Daily Times.

With less than two weeks before the June 9 primary, more than 1.5 million Georgians have requested absentee ballots but only 40% of those voters have returned the ballots to the state while nearly all requested absentee ballots — 90% — have been sent to voters mailboxes, Raffensperger said.

While vote-by-mail has propelled partisan politics, Georgia’s Republican elections chief has maintained a push for as many voters as possible to use the absentee ballot process to reduce risk of coronavirus spread, long lines at polling places and ease the process for disabled voters who must vote in person.

“We have cut through the political rhetoric, ignored the talking heads and put you — the voter — first,” he said during a Thursday press conference. “We have maintained your right to choose in this election. If you want to vote from the safety of your home, you can. If you prefer in-person, you may.”

But early voting hasn’t been without hiccups caused by the pandemic — a number of polling locations across the state have closed and some Fulton County voters are still waiting on ballots after a computer server error caused a backlog of email applications.

Elections results may take longer to be released because of the large number of absentee ballots, he said. The state purchased high-speed scanners to deploy to counties with large numbers of absentee ballots to assist in counting on election night.

Vice President Governor  Democrat Stacey Abrams‘s voting rights groups will be watching the elections, according to CBS News.

Fair Fight PAC, is launching its outreach efforts Thursday, over social media. It will be asking voters who have not received ballots to contact Fair Fight’s voter protection team to talk about their experiences. In a statement to CBS News before the launch, Fair Fight voter protection director Liza Conrad said the primary “has been marred by postponed elections and absentee ballot request forms riddled with errors, causing voter confusion.”

The secretary of state’s office had to re-send 323,000 new absentee ballot request forms to voters who may not have received the forms because they were accidentally sent to incorrect addresses. Some forms listed the wrong return address, and some of the instructions were wrong.

Freelance writer Anjali Enjeti, a Fulton County voter and former Abrams campaign volunteer, told CBS News that she and her husband both submitted their absentee ballot request forms on April 16th to an email address listed on the top of her ballot request form, but over a month later, neither she nor her husband had received their ballots.

“I reached out to the Georgia Democratic Party voter protection team on Saturday, May 23rd.” Enjeti said. “They told me to re-send my application to a different email address at Fulton County.” After sending her application to the different address, she was able to get her absentee ballot issued.

Enjeti is not alone. Other Fulton County voters are facing lengthy waits in receiving their ballots, and they’re taking their concerns to social media. Kaleb McMichen, communications director for Georgia state House Speaker David Ralston, tweeted on May 25th, “Been waiting on my ballot to arrive since April 8. 47 days and counting…” McMichen told CBS News he, too, is a Fulton County voter. According to the state elections office, his ballot application was processed on Monday.

Georgia state legislator David Dreyer, whose district includes Fulton County, blames the vendor for the delays and said the state hasn’t done enough to help the county election offices.

“The secretary of state, pushing absentee voting, not providing additional resources to counties which will need it under any circumstance, much less with COVID, and then requiring that an out-of-state third party vendor mail the ballots, which has also resulted in a delay, has led to a lot of the delays we’ve seen so far now.”

The Chatham County Board of Elections has changed a number of polling locations after the original arrangments were unavailable due to the pandemic, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Soon after Georgia’s secretary of state postponed the March 14 Presidential Preference Primary due to COVID-19 restrictions, Chatham County elections officials began a review of all 92 polling locations in anticipation that some locations might be unavailable.

Chatham officials secured 80 of the county’s usual polling locations, and worked with several entities to obtain the following temporary polls for locations which are unavailable:

Chatham officials continue to seek alternative sites for three polling locations that still need a replacement. Anyone with a facility that may serve as a polling place in the vicinity of the locations listed below are encouraged to contact the Board of Elections at elections@chathamcounty.org, or call 912-201-4375.

Mailed in ballots outpace in-person advance voting in Bulloch County, according to the Statesboro Herald.

Our mail has definitely exceeded the in-person,” said Bulloch County Deputy Registrar Shontay Jones.

The numbers she provided showed that to be putting it mildly. As of about 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, 560 people had cast ballots in person since advanced voting opened May 18. But 4,802 absentee-by-mail ballots had been completed and accepted back at the Bulloch County Board of Elections and Registration office.

That was out of 9,571 previously mailed absentee ballots counted as valid. Actually, 9,853 had been mailed to voters, but 281 of those had been cancelled, such as for voters who requested absentee ballots but then decided to vote in person, and one ballot was listed as “spoiled.”

Glynn County voters can vote in advance Saturday at three in-person locations, according to The Brunswick News.

Georgia Senate President Pro Tem Butch Miller (R-Gainesville) pushed back on the notion of asking teachers to take a pay rate cut, according to the AJC.

While state employees and teachers may still face furloughs because of the coronavirus recession, a top Georgia Senate leader said Thursday that they won’t be asked to work the same hours for less pay.

Senate President Pro Tem Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, dumped cold water on a suggestion that Senate budget writers made Tuesday that pre-k teachers work the same hours for 10% less pay, rather than be furloughed.

Teachers were angered by the idea and by comments made Tuesday by Senate budget writers who questioned the willingness of educators to “sacrifice” for the children they teach.

“As the General Assembly has anticipated, there will be drastic cuts in this year’s budget due to COVID-19,” Miller wrote. “However, educators, first responders, and staffers are incredible assets to the functions of our state.

“Asking them to work the same hours for less pay, as some have suggested, is unacceptable. While furlough days are not ideal, we certainly will not be asking state employees to work without adequate compensation.”

The AJC reports that a majority of survey respondents favor raising the tobacco tax.

Nearly three-quarters of Georgia voters said they support increasing the state tax on tobacco products to help make up for the budget shortfall caused by the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new poll by a group advocating for the increase.

In the poll, respondents were asked, “generally speaking, instead of an income tax increase, would you support or oppose a targeted tax increase of $1.50 per pack on cigarettes that would raise almost $500 million toward balancing the budget?” Of the 500 people contacted for the poll, 373 said they support the tobacco tax increase.

The Ledger-Enquirer looks at what state budget cuts could mean for Columbus State University.

The University of Georgia announced a phased reopening plan, according to the Athens Banner Herald.

The University of Georgia will begin a phased campus reopening June 15.

A three-phased plan for “a carefully planned and measured reopening” that UGA administrators announced Thursday looks ahead to August and a hoped-for return of students and faculty to UGA’s campuses.

The announcement lists no dates for when the second and third phases will begin. UGA classes are scheduled to begin Aug. 20, and as yet, university administrators have announced no changes in that schedule.

In the first phase beginning June 15, primarily essential staff and supervisors will return.

Those workers’ main responsibility will be to make sure the campus is ready for a second wave of returning workers — making sure building systems are working properly and the like.

Gwinnett County Public Schools is delivering free books via bookmobile, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

[G]iven this year’s pandemic situation and concerns about social distancing, instead of allowing kids to check out and return books, the bookmobiles are delivering books through the Books 2 Kids program that students get to keep.

Throughout June and July, the mobile libraries will visit more than 80 school locations and allow children to choose two new books to take home and keep for their personal library.

In addition to individual school events, the bookmobile will visit all GCPS middle schools to ensure students in every cluster have the opportunity to select books for summer reading.

“The mission of the bookmobile is still to get books into children’s hands, and this need is even more critical now,” GCPS’s Director of Media Services Mary Barbee said. “In the current health crisis, we could not safely use our traditional neighborhood checkout model. Instead, Books 2 Kids brings new, popular books to schools and students who come by and pick free books to keep. With this program, we are able to maintain social distancing while giving kids a chance to pick the book they are most likely to read at home.”

Rome City Schools has a tentative budget for the next school year with no tax increase, according to the Rome News Tribune.

A preliminary plan and budget request was unanimously approved by the school board during a special called meeting Thursday. It’s the first step in the process of getting the system’s budget approved by the Rome City Commission.

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic forced the suspension of the state legislature’s annual session in March. The Georgia General Assembly will not reconvene until mid-June and is not expected to pass a state budget until sometime in July.

That will leave local systems a short amount of time to finalize a budget for the 2020-2021 term that starts the first week of August.

Byars said he has spoken to city officials about having a “true up” after the end of the fiscal year next July, because the school system is estimating both its property tax collections and its state funding.

Suwanee will offer business license tax credits due to the pandemic, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

The city council recently voted to offer a business license tax credit to businesses in the city for either their 2020 or 2021 business license, including new businesses that open between now and March 2021. Up to $500 in tax credits can be applied to the license, officials said.

“With citizens practicing social distancing and other restrictions, an enormous economic strain has been placed on our local businesses,” Suwanee Mayor Jimmy Burnette said. “The city council developed this program in hopes of helping businesses make it through these increasing difficult times.”

City officials said they want Suwanee’s businesses to remain successful. The tax credit comes after city officials previously agreed to extend the business license deadline from March 31 to May 29.

“We’ve chosen to undertake this tax credit in order to respond to the economic challenges many are currently facing,” Suwanee City Manager Marty Allen said. “We greatly value our business community and want to support their success. The city will continue to evaluate our options as the situation evolves.”

28
May

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for May 28, 2020

Lt. Colonel George Washington fought French and Indian scouts on May 28, 1754, beginning the Seven Years War.

On May 28, 1830, President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act, requiring all Native Americans to relocate west of the Mississippi River.

The Battle of Dallas, Georgia began on May 28, 1864. Click here to watch Week 6 of the Georgia Public Broadcasting/Atlanta History Center series on the Civil War in Georgia.

Happy Birthday to Gladys Knight, born in Atlanta on May 28, 1944.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Metro Atlanta unemployment hit nearly 13 percent, according to the AJC.

As expected, the monthly jobs report for metro Atlanta was ghastly: The region lost a stunning 293,800 jobs in April as coronavirus-linked closures took their toll, officials said today.

The metro area’s official unemployment rate jumped to a record 12.7%, according to a report issued Thursday by the state Department of Labor.

“We are continuing to work with employers on effective strategies to get Georgians back to work in both a safe and economically efficient way,” said Mark Butler, the state’s labor commissioner in a statement.

And with business openings still tentative and other layoffs – like cuts in public workers — still in process, May’s numbers are expected to be worse.

Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard pocketed nearly two hundred thousand dollars beyond his official salary, according to the AJC.

Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard received an additional $25,000 in salary supplements from the city of Atlanta that he funneled through a nonprofit he heads as CEO, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News have learned.

That means Howard padded his pay with $195,000 of the $250,000 in grant money the city signed over to the DA’s Office in two checks in 2014 and 2016. The final $25,000 in payments were disclosed in a recent letter from the state ethics commission that notified Howard he will face two more allegations of violating state campaign finance laws.

In April, after the AJC and Channel 2 reported the unusual financial arrangement, the Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission filed a dozen allegations against Howard, many for failing to disclose his secondary employment as the CEO for People Partnering for Progress. The nonprofit, set up about a decade ago, says its mission is to reduce youth violence.

The disclosures also led the GBI to conduct a criminal investigation of Howard at the request of Attorney General Chris Carr.

Meanwhile, in Columbus, a candidate for District Attorney was jailed for aiding and abetting donuts. From the Ledger-Enquirer:

Accompanied by his attorney, Christopher Breault, [Democratic candidate for District Attorney Mark] Jones surrendered at the Columbus Public Safety Center on 10th Street at 2:45 p.m. Wednesday.

Like the two men arrested Saturday, he faces charges related to a May 17 video shoot in the Columbus Civic Center parking lot, where drivers were recorded cutting doughnuts, police said.

Cutting doughnuts means leaving rings of tire residue on the pavement while speeding in circles. The city claimed the parking lot damage was estimated at $300,000.

Jones was being held without bond Wednesday evening on charges of attempting to commit reckless conduct, conspiracy to commit reckless conduct, conspiracy to commit interference with government property, conspiracy to commit criminal damage to property, and two counts of attempting to commit interference with government property, according to jail records.

“There was not intentional damage, no defacement of property,” Jones said Wednesday as reporters followed him on his way to police headquarters. “I think the charges are frivolous…. I’m still qualified to run. I’m not going to give up. I’m going to keep running.”

“After closely examining the facts and evidence, it is clear that the charges involved in this case are FABRICATED,” [Jones's attorney] Breault wrote. “A false narrative is being pushed by some in the mainstream media and their friends in the legal community.”

So an incumbent faces campaign finance violations for allegedly pocketing $195,000 in taxpayer money while a candidate is in jail because of rubber scuffs on a parking lot surface. Makes sense to me.

Governor Brian Kemp visited modular COVID-19 units at Navicent Health, according to the Macon Telegraph.

The temporary medical unit was installed to potentially serve patients displaced by a spike in COVID-19 cases in Georgia. The unit has not been used yet. Kemp, who wore a mask before and after delivering a speech, said Georgia purchased the units based on “scary” coronavirus projections.

“The state owns them, so we’re going to have them for a long time,” Kemp said. “If we have… a major storm event, like we experienced during Hurricane Michael, we now have a resource we can quickly deploy. These assets are not only good for today, but for the future.”

“Depending on what model you look at, we’ve passed our peak,” he said. “Our numbers continue to look really good in Georgia, which is why we decided a little over a month ago to reopen our economy… The effects of our economy and the effects of people not coming to get health screenings, treatments and surgeries that they need were starting to outweigh the virus itself.”

“Just be smart. Go to places that are following the guidelines, that have sanitary measures in place, that are taking care of their patrons,” he said. “I’m not saying we’re going to be arresting people on the sidewalk if you walk within six feet of people.”

“We’re not a nanny state here in Georgia. We want people to be responsible and to be smart. I’m trying to lead by example. It’s a good idea to wear a mask, not to protect you but to protect others from you if you happen to have the virus and don’t know it. Not everybody wants to do that, and I get that. I don’t think we need to start pointing fingers at people.”

Governor Kemp‘s next stop was Columbus, according to the Ledger-Enquirer.

Gov. Brian Kemp told reporters in Columbus Wednesday that Georgians must learn to live with the novel coronavirus and a reclosing of the state’s economy would be unlikely.

“It was never to keep our economy shut down until the virus is gone,” he said. “And if the virus comes back, I don’t see us shutting down our economy anymore. We’ve got to figure out how to live with the virus. There are some very smart people doing that every day. …We’re going to figure that out, but we’re definitely not at the point where the virus is in the rearview mirror.”

“We asked people to help us buy some time to build hospital bed capacity, to get our supply network up,” he said. “And that’s what they did.”

Testing nursing home residents and staff members continue to be a top priority for state officials. As of Wednesday, 61% of nursing home residents and 32% staff members have been tested for the novel coronavirus. Increased testing of those populations will result in a higher number of confirmed cases, Kemp said.

“We know that when we do that, we’re going to have a higher rate of positives because that is just a community that has been very hard hit,” he said.

Moving forward, Kemp said the state faces two battles — the battle against the virus itself and the battle to reopen the economy as the pandemic negatively affects businesses and workers trying to make ends meet.

“We have to get people back to work. We can’t continue to survive as a state and a country sheltering-in-place. I think American people and the people of the state are ready for that. …We’re still going to have community spread. What we want is there not to be widespread, community spread.”

The goal is to instill confidence, he said.

“That’s why I’m on the road,” he said. “I believe that as time goes by, people are getting more comfortable with that.”

“Not everybody is ready to go back, and I didn’t order anybody to go back,“ he added.

From the AJC:

Gov. Brian Kemp said Wednesday that he’ll continue to roll back coronavirus restrictions as long as residents abide by safety guidelines, adding that his decision to allow more businesses to reopen is “reinvigorating” the state’s stalled economy.

Asked whether he would lift more regulations, he said he was confident Georgians would “follow the guidance” and let him do so.

“It’s one reason I opened up the state when I did. I felt like our people had learned a lot. They get it. They know what they need to do,” he said. “We can’t keep fighting the virus from our living room.”

“If we continue to drive the numbers down and continue to get further past our peak and take care of that vulnerable population that’s out there, we can continue to lift restrictions,” he said.

Kemp, who donned a face covering for Wednesday’s event, was asked about concerns that masks have become an ideological statement rather than a matter of public health.

“I’m by no means perfect. I almost shook someone’s hand just a second ago, and I keep trying to refrain from doing that,” said Kemp, who didn’t wear a mask during parts of Vice President Mike Pence’s visit last week.

“It’s a good idea to wear a mask: not to protect you, but to protect others from you if you happen to have the virus and don’t know it. Not everybody wants to do that. I get that,” he said. “I don’t think we need to start pointing fingers at people. We just need folks to be smart.”

Northeast Georgia Health System said their region of the state may have passed its COVID-19 peak, according to AccessWDUN.

“We are happy to report that our volumes of COVID-19 patients are declining and we know that is because our community acted quickly and acted fast and helped us to flatten that curve,” Melissa Tymchuk, the health system’s chief of staff, said. “And we are thankful. We’re not declaring victory yet. But it does look like we might be past our peak.”

The health system is treating 61 COVID-19 patients at its facilities across Northeast Georgia, and that number has stayed steady in recent days, said Dr. Supriya Mannepalli, director of the infectious disease unit at NGHS. She also said 687 patients who had been treated have been released from the hospital after recovering.

But Mannepalli cautioned that Hall County has 1,152 cases per 100,000 residents and the county has the fifth highest number of cases in Georgia.

“This is also time not to loosen our guard because if the numbers are declining, they are declining for reason,” she said. “They are declining because we as a community responded the way we should.”

“I don’t think that it’s going to go away,” Michael Covert, the system’s chief operating officer, said. “I think we’re going to see that during the summer with the potential that there may be a surge in the fall, and we want to be prepared in that regard.”

Savannah is issuing citations for establishments not enforcing social distancing, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Mayor Van Johnson said he went along with the Savannah Police Department’s alcohol beverage compliance team over the weekend to see how the state required social distancing guidelines were working.

Several businesses were given warnings and two were given citations, Johnson said.

Johnson said he was both disappointed and impressed at what he witnessed while with the ABC team.

“It was like St. Patrick’s Day,” Johnson said of the crowds. “Some streets were impassable because of the people in them, some sidewalks were impassable.”

Johnson said he was impressed with the professionalism of the ABC team. “Even when they (the team) were not treated with the same dignity and respect,” Johnson said. “It was a mess out there.”

The mayor said he would guess 95% of people — including some employees of businesses visited — weren’t wearing face coverings.

The Macon Telegraph looks at early voting for the June 9 elections.

More than 1,800 people have cast their ballot in Macon-Bibb County during advanced early voting, and two weeks remain for those who would like to vote early in the June 9 election.

Advanced early voting started May 18 with 331 ballots cast that day at the Macon-Bibb Board of Elections office at 2525 Pio Nono Ave., and early voting will continue through June 5, according to a Board of Elections news release.

The polls are open from 8:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Monday-Friday. Every county in Georgia is required to hold one day of early voting on a Saturday, and Macon-Bibb County’s Saturday voting will be held from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. on May 30.

Alternative sentencing arrangements could be limited by state budget cuts, according to the Capitol Beat News Service via the Augusta Chronicle.

Roughly $4.3 million would be cut from the state Criminal Justice Coordinating Council’s budget for local grants to accountability courts, a popular program created by then-Gov. Nathan Deal in 2013 offering alternative sentences to curb recidivism for thousands of Georgia inmates with mental illness or substance-abuse issues.

If implemented, the cuts would likely cause around 1,900 current participants in accountability courts across the state to return to local jails or prisons to complete their sentences, said Hall County Superior Court Chief Judge Kathlene Gosselin, who chairs the state Council of Accountability Court Judges.

“Those people will likely end up either in local jails or prisons if they do not have an opportunity to do this,” Gosselin said at a meeting of the Senate Appropriations Criminal Justice and Public Safety Subcommittee.

A hallmark of state criminal justice reforms, the alternative-sentence accountability courts saw roughly 12,400 participants enrolled in 163 courts statewide last year, of which 9,440 were still enrolled at the start of 2020, according to the council.

Surplus lottery proceeds could be tapped to lessen the need for budget cuts, according to the Statesboro Herald.

[Department of Early Care and Learning Commissioner Amy] Jacobs and Senate Majority Leader Butch Miller, a Gainesville Republican, both suggested lawmakers could tap more than $1 billion in lottery profits held in a special reserve.

There’s unlikely to be such a rescue for K-12 schools, technical colleges and public universities, though. They all face state cuts without being able to fall back on lottery money. Cuts to state aid to local schools alone would equal almost $1.5 billion.

The Metro Atlanta and Georgia Chambers of Commerce are urging the state Senate to pass hate crimes legislation, according to the AJC.

From the Albany Herald:

The two chambers of commerce have helped lead the opposition in recent years to legislative attempts to pass a religious liberty bill in Georgia, arguing it would hurt Georgia’s image as a business-friendly state by fostering same-sex discrimination. Business leaders praised then-Gov. Nathan Deal for vetoing religious liberty legislation that made it through the General Assembly in 2016.

House Bill 426 cleared the House of Representatives last year 96-64, primarily supported by Democrats but with some Republican support, including Efstration and GOP cosponsors Ron Stephens of Savannah and Deborah Silcox of Sandy Springs. The bill allows additional penalties for criminal defendants if it is determined the victim was selected based on his or her “race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, mental disability or physical disability.”

Albany Commissioner Demetrius Young questioned whether alcohol sales permits should be granted in minority neighborhoods, according to the Albany Herald.

Several commissioners have this year questioned whether the city should grant alcohol sale licenses in minority and impoverished neighborhoods and pointed to potentially harmful impacts those sales can have on members of the communities in which they are located.

Commissioner Demetrius Young, who was joined in opposing approval of the license for the convenience store by Commissioners Matt Fuller, Jon Howard, Bob Langstaff and Chad Warbington, pointed to studies he said showed that locations such as the one in question are not a good fit for alcohol sales. The store is in a “high-crime” area, he said.

“(Minority communities are) more prone to juvenile violence, more prone to overall violence, when there are alcohol sales in the neighborhood,” Young said. “Those studies have shown it just leads to other problems in the area.”

Cherokee County Commissioners have approved a plan to return to in-person public meetings, according to the Cherokee Tribune & Ledger News.

Dalton City Council is considering changes to curbside garbage pickup, according to the Dalton Daily Citizen News.

Richmond County Marshal Ramone Lamkin leads his opponent in fundraising, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

Glynn County is creating an impact fee advisory committee as a step toward levying the fees, according to The Brunswick News.

27
May

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for May 27, 2020

On May 27, 1813, Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter to John Adams to let Adams know of the death of a mutual friend.

On May 27, 1863, Chief Justice Roger Taney, sitting as a federal district court judge, issued a decision in Ex parte Merryman, which challenged President Abraham Lincoln’s suspension of the right of habeas corpus. Lincoln ignored the ruling.

Today is the anniversary of the Battle of Pickett’s Mill in Paulding County, Georgia, where Sherman’s forces attacked Johnston’s Confederates on May 27, 1864. Among the combatants on the Union side was Ambrose Bierce, who would later write The Crime at Pickett’s Mill. Pickett’s Mill is the site of annual reenactments.

On May 27, 1864, the Federal Army, having been stopped in its advance on Atlanta two days earlier by the Battle of New Hope Church, attempted to outflank the Confederate position. Some 14,000 Federal troops were selected for the task, and General Howard was given command. After a five-hour march, Howard’s force reached the vicinity of Pickett’s Mill and prepared to attack. Waiting were 10,000 Confederate troops under the command of General Cleburne.

The Federal assault began at 5 p.m. and continued into the night. Daybreak found the Confederates still in possession of the field. The Federals had lost 1,600 men compared to the Confederate loss of 500. The Confederate victory resulted in a one-week delay of the Federal advance on Atlanta.

Here are some photos of the battlefield and links to additional material.

On May 27, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt said the United States was in an unlimited national emergency and laid out conditions under which Germany’s expansionism would constitute an attack on the United States.

On May 27, 1976, former Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter blasted the “Stop Carter” movement in a speech in Cincinnati.

Actor Christopher Reeves was thrown from his horse in an equestrian competition in Culpepper, Virginia on May 27, 1995, becoming quadraplegic.

Six years ago, a poll by Rasmussen showed Democrat Michelle Nunn beating both Jack Kingston and David Perdue in a General Election matchup and Democrat Jason Carter beating Gov. Deal.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

DeKalb County is scrambling to relocate 19 voting locations ahead of the June 9th elections, according to the AJC.

The precincts had to be relocated due to the coronavirus pandemic, officials said, with some venues like retirement communities and churches opting not to host voting on June 9 due to concerns about the virus’ potential spread.

New locations have been identified for 16 of the affected precincts. But new locations are still being sought for three regular voting sites, all in the Decatur area: First Baptist Church of Decatur, Holy Trinity Parish and Oakhurst Baptist Church.

Senator Kelly Loeffler (R-Atlanta) has been cleared of wrongdoing in stock trades, according to the Albany Herald.

The Justice Department has dropped an investigation of stock transactions U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., and two Senate colleagues made following a closed-door briefing in January on the looming coronavirus pandemic, Loeffler’s office confirmed Tuesday.

Loeffler, a wealthy Atlanta businesswoman, and Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., turned over documents to investigators after political opponents and media reports called attention to the buying and selling of millions of dollars in stocks by the three senators shortly after the briefing.

“Today’s clear exoneration by the Department of Justice affirms what Senator Loeffler has said all along – she did nothing wrong,” Loeffler campaign spokesman Stephen Lawson said Tuesday. “This was a politically motivated attack shamelessly promoted by the fake news media and her political opponents.”

Mark Jones, a candidate for District Attorney in Columbus, has gone full outlaw after shooting a rap video for his campaign. From the Ledger-Enquirer:

Mark Jones, 38, is wanted by Columbus police in a May 17 incident that caused “an extensive amount” of damage to the Columbus Civic Center parking lot, according to a press release from the Columbus Police Department.

According to Lieutenant Lance Deaton, Jones is wanted on felony and misdemeanor warrants. He did not specify what the charges are.

The incident reportedly happened while filming a campaign video last weekend. In the footage, a driver is seen performing doughnuts in the parking lot, which left tire marks on the concrete.

Jones is seeking to unseat current district attorney Julia Slater in the June 9 election.

From WRBL:

The warrants are the result of a May 17 incident that police say caused “an extensive amount of damage” to the Civic Center parking lot and that “placed the general public in serious danger.”

Earlier reports say that Jones had not applied or received a permit to film the video. In a video on Facebook, Jones accused current district attorney Julia Slater, his opponent in the election, of using the charges for “voter suppression.” Jones says Slater could get the two men out of jail “with a pen stroke” in the video.

Now, police are searching for Jones. Anyone with information on Jones’s whereabouts is asked to contact the Columbus Police Department at 706-641-5993 or 911.

From the AJC:

[Incumbent District Attorney Julia] Slater and police have denied that she was a part of the investigation against the two men.

“The only decision I have made in this case is that my office has a conflict and will not be prosecuting the case,” Slater said. “I was not consulted about the arrests or the bonds in this matter.”

The Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit serves Chattahoochee, Harris, Marion, Muscogee, Talbot and Taylor Counties.

Here’s the video in question:

And a later video by the suspect candidate:

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation has arrested 15 individuals for allegations related to images of children since Georgia schools shut down, according to the Dalton Daily Citizen News.

Some of those arrested were also charged with the associated crime of child molestation. Consequently, the GBI CEACC Unit has rescued eight children from situations in which they were being sexually abused. Other previous child victims were also identified but the offender no longer had access to the child. Some of the offenders subsequently indicated they had numerous undetected victims. It is possible additional victims will be discovered as more interviews are conducted and digital forensic analysis of digital devices occurs. Additional charges and arrests may be forthcoming.

During the unprecedented COVID-19 quarantine, there has been an understandable concern that abused children will be at home more often with their abusers and without contact with mandatory reporters such as teachers who may normally notice abuse indicators or be available to hear and report an outcry by a child. Additionally, as a result of the COVID-19 quarantine, children have been online using various social media applications, chat rooms and various gaming platforms more often than they were before. Each of these are prime online locations where sexual predators will attempt to solicit conversation with children for the purpose of enticing them for sexual purposes.

Governor Brian Kemp wants to bring the Republican National Convention to Georgia, according to Twitter.

Gov Brian Kemp Twitter RNC

From CBS46:

A day after President Donald Trump called into question whether the Republican National Committee would be held in Charlotte; Georgia Governor Brian Kemp let the president know his state is open for business.

President Trump backed away from the threat later Monday, but that didn’t stop speculation on where the convention could go if the president’s team ultimately decided to change the venue. Trump made the threat against North Carolina’s Democratic governor because the president wants a guarantee that all restrictions on gatherings will be lifted by August 24.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms issued the following statement:

“Like North Carolina, the City of Atlanta is following a phased, data-driven approach to reopening. That plan does not contemplate hosting a large gathering event in August. In fact, several long-standing City-supported and sponsored events have already been canceled in order to comply with CDC guidelines.”

From the AJC:

The RNC is scheduled for scheduled Aug. 24-27. The Democratic National Convention has already been postponed to Aug. 17-20 in Milwaukee.

Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel said the president “is right to ask for assurances from North Carolina” about the convention.

“We want to have it in North Carolina, the president wants to have it in North Carolina,” she told Fox News on Tuesday morning. “It’s just the governor. He has to work with us. Every state we talk to says we want to nominate the president here, but this governor is up for reelection and hasn’t given us the reassurances we need. We need to be able to move forward in a concrete way. We are going to have those discussions.”

David Shafer, chairman of Georgia’s state Republican Party, said in a text message that he spoke to Kemp on Tuesday morning. “We have reached out to Republican National Committee Chairman Ronna Romney to let her know that, if North Carolina falls through, Georgia is ready to help,” Shafer told The Associated Press.

Governor Kemp today visits Navicent Health in Macon, where temporary COVID medical pods are deployed, according to WGXA.

During his visit, Gov. Kemp will also stop by Irving Consumer Products. From there, he will depart Macon for Columbus to visit Global Payments and tour High Performance Product Engineering.

Gov. Kemp spoke to 92.9 The Game about reopening sports venues:

“I’m certainly ready for pro sports,” he said Tuesday. “I’ve talked to all the sports franchises in the metro Atlanta area. They know that we are ready to work with them. How that looks I don’t really know.”

“I don’t want to say ‘Yeah, we’re open for sports,’ not knowing what their plan is,” Kemp told Dukes & Bell. “We’re open to talking to those folks about figuring out how we can get open, not how we stop it, but how we work with them to make it happen.”

“I know the Falcons have got limited operations that have opened back up,” Kemp said. “I’ve continued to be hopeful for the Braves and Major League Baseball, I personally think there’s a way we can make that happen.”

“If we have ample testing, contact tracing, and if people continue to use these good practices, we may not have a second wave,” according to Kemp. “If we don’t have that, we could start looking at ways to put some people in the stands and playing some live sporting events.”

Former Governor Nathan Deal is chairing a committee discussing federal criminal justice reform, according to the AJC.

A criminal justice task force chaired by former Gov. Nathan Deal is recommending sweeping changes to the federal system.

The most notable is a call for the elimination of mandatory-minimum sentences for drug crimes. The task force also asks for the establishment of a “second look” provision that allows people serving lengthy sentences — many of whom are elderly and infirm — to seek sentencing reductions from a federal judge.

The “Next Steps” report, released Wednesday by the Council on Criminal Justice, was submitted by a task force chaired by Deal since June 2019. The bipartisan group’s members include former Deputy U.S. Attorney General Sally Yates; Mark Holden, retired general counsel of Koch Industries; former Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter; and David Safavian of the American Conservative Union.

“As the task force wraps up its work, I am filled with optimism,” Deal wrote in an introductory letter. “The harsh political rhetoric of the past has softened, replaced by possibilities for progress on an issue that once was so divisive. Reform won’t be easy, but we can and must use this pivotal moment in time to work for a more fair and effective federal system that provides safety and justice for all.”

The Georgia Senate Appropriations Criminal Justice and Public Safety Subcommittee meets today at 11 AM at the State Capitol and the Economic Development Subcommittee meets Thursday at 10 AM at the Capitol.

The AJC reports that some members of the Senate Appropriations Committee suggested state employees might be willing to work more hours for less pay.

Georgia Senate Republican budget-writers raised the possibility that instead of furloughing state employees to meet planned spending cuts they might require staffers to work the same number of hours for less pay.

The issue came up Tuesday during the first live committee hearings at the Capitol — conducted by an education subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee — since mid-March. The 2020 session was suspended then because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Sen. Jesse Stone, R-Waynesboro, a member of the subcommittee, raised the idea of pay cuts for teachers rather than furloughing them after the head of the agency that provides pre-kindergarten classes to more than 80,000 4-year-olds said budget reductions would mean fewer slots for children and fewer days of instructions.

By cutting pay rather than furloughing teachers, Stone said, “You are just not penalizing the public. The reduction in compensation is the same regardless of whether it’s furlough days or a temporary reduction in the pay scale.”

Sen. Ellis Black, R-Valdosta, who heads the education subcommittee, suggested a “special deduction” from the salary of pre-kindergarten teachers rather than having them take days off without pay.

“If we follow through on this, they (teachers) are going to get less money and children are going to get less education,” Black said. “The question is, how dedicated are these teachers? Are they willing to make that much of a sacrifice so these kids can get an education?”

I wouldn’t want to be on the record as questioning teachers’ commitment to the education of their students.

State Mental Health officials expressed anxiety over budget cuts, according to Georgia Health News.

“The safety net is stretched to the max.’’

Judy Fitzgerald, commissioner of the agency that oversees mental health and substance abuse services, gave that stark assessment in January to state legislators who were considering budget cuts to her department.

Now, even deeper cuts are on the table.

A Kaiser Family Foundation poll found more than half of Americans — 56 percent — reported that worry or stress related to the outbreak has led to at least one negative mental health effect. Another report, from the Well Being Trust, said the pandemic could lead to 75,000 additional “deaths of despair” from drug and alcohol misuse and suicide due to unemployment, social isolation and fears about the virus. (Here’s a recent GHN article on increased anxiety.)

For people in substance abuse recovery, a range of services will be pared, including residential beds for people in treatment.

“They are Death Star-like blows to the Georgia recovery community which will cost lives, increase crime, hurt families, weaken the workforce and threaten jobs,’’ said Neil Campbell, executive director of the Georgia Council on Substance Abuse.

Isolation is the No. 1 factor that hampers recovery from addiction and mental illness, Campbell said.

“Combined with stress, anxiety, and uncertainty, it is essential Georgia address the inevitable mental illness and [addiction] recovery issues which will grow exponentially as a result of the current pandemic,’’ she added.

“There are over 800,000 people across Georgia in recovery from addiction who can attest to the benefits of the types of services and supports that are apparently on the chopping block.’’

The Athens Banner Herald looks at what the University of Georgia might look like when in-person classes resume.

Single occupancy in dorm rooms. Big inventories of face masks and other “protective personal equipment.” Staggered work shifts. A blend of online and in-person classes, with no classes larger than 30 students and each assigned a seat. Quarantine rooms for students who inevitably contract COVID-19. No magazines in waiting rooms.

And lots and lots of hand sanitzer, social distancing, hand-washing and infection-control education.

Those are some of the college reopening recommendations of a task force of the American College Health Association published earlier this month.

The task force, chaired by Jean Chin, former director of the University of Georgia’s University Health Center, is purposely couched in uncertainty about reopening U.S. college campuses in August or September, given the “highly unlikely existence of a recognized treatment or vaccine by then, and the uncertainty of widespread testing, surveillance and tracking capacity.”

A Poll Worker shortage in Valdosta is creating concerns for the elections office, according to the Valdosta Daily News.

On May 12, Deb Cox, Lowndes County supervisor of elections, described her office as being in desperate need of poll workers to the local board of elections. With only 48 of the necessary 185 people to assist precincts on Election Day June 9, it simply wasn’t enough, but a sudden change in poll worker turnout has provided some optimism.

After contacting both Lowndes and Valdosta high schools, an influx of junior ROTC members and Lowndes baseball players has helped buoy numbers.

“Well I know the (baseball) coach sent it out and we had a bunch of them come in all at once,” Cox said.

Additionally, military veterans and law-enforcement Explorer scouts with the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office have joined the ranks, but her office remained 50 poll workers short Tuesday morning.

“I think we’re looking good. We’ll know more by the end of this week,” she said.

The Lowndes County elections office normally needs 185 poll workers to open all the precincts and staff them, but an additional 15 workers will probably needed, according to Cox, to help with COVID-19 sanitation and enforce social distancing for lines. That would mean approximately 200 poll workers in total.

 

 

 

COVID-19 testing is available with faster results in the South Health District, according to the Valdosta Daily Times.

A second round of Remdesivir to treat COVID-19 patients is being distributed by the Georgia Department of Public Health, according to the Dalton Daily Citizen News.

Bulloch County Sheriff candidates appeared in an online forum, according to the Statesboro Herald.

The City of Statesboro is considering a storm water fee hike and is preparing for a revenue decline due to COVID-19, according to the Statesboro Herald.

Columbus City Council will grant comp time for harzardous duty, according to the Ledger-Enquirer.

Columbus Council approved a resolution Tuesday that will provide 24 hours of “hazardous duty time off” to employees identified by their supervisor as having duties that required ongoing contact with the public daily or direct ongoing supervision of inmates during the period of March 14 to May 17.

That includes law enforcement, public safety and other Columbus Consolidated Government employees, as well as public works and parks and recreation, who continued their duties uninterrupted.

METRA Transit bus operators and 911 responders in the police and fire departments will also receive an additional 16 hours time off. The time off will be granted by the director of public safety or the city manager as applicable, the resolution states.

The time off must be used within 12 months.

“We spoke with the public safety chiefs, we spoke with some department heads and we spoke with a few of the employees on the front line, and it became clear in those discussions that because of taxes and other items that are pulled out of bonuses or short term pay, that time off held the greatest value for them,” [Mayor Skip] Henderson said.

Savannah tourism was up in 2019, according to a report in the Savannah Morning News.

From fine dining to shopping on Broughton Street to visiting Savannah’s many museums and cultural sites, visitors to the city spent a record-breaking $3.1 billion in 2019, up from $3 billion in 2018, according to the annual Visit Savannah Visitor Study compiled by Longwoods International.

“Our number of visitors, our demographics, the average length of stay, all of that stuff has not changed dramatically. You know, little bump-ups here and there, but the story continues to be about spending,” said Visit Savannah President Joseph Marinelli. “The retail segment and the food and beverage segment were both up 6% in their respective categories in spending.”

Just in time for the economic downturn of 2020.

Gwinnett County will meet with local municipalities to discuss transit planning, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

The meeting will take place at 3:30 p.m. Thursday in the auditorium at the Gwinnett Justice & Administration Center, which is located at 75 Langley Drive in Lawrenceville.

“The State Legislature established a new transit sales tax in the 2018 Session that is available to counties in the Atlanta region,” Gwinnett County Commission Chairwoman Charlotte Nash said. “Among the requirements for this new transit tax is that the County hold a meeting with the cities in Gwinnett to discuss potential projects that can be considered.”

“The meeting we have scheduled with the cities on Thursday, May 28 is intended to meet this requirement so that the BOC has the ability to decide to call a referendum related to the new transit sales tax.”

“As we have noted before, BOC has not made a decision regarding whether a referendum on transit will be called this year,” Nash said. “However, we are taking the steps necessary to keep that option open if a majority of the BOC chooses to do so.”

The Gainesville Times hosted a Zoom forum for Hall County Sheriff candidates, and will hold one for Hall Commission Chair candidates tonight.

Richmond County Sheriff Richard Roundtree is back on the beat after testing positive for COVID-19 and subsequently quarantining himself, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

The Dougherty County Commission is seeking applicants for several boards and commissions, according to the Albany Herald.

Rome and Floyd County boards of education are considering how to budget with 14% less in state funding, according to the Rome News Tribune.

One thing that is certain is both Rome City and Floyd County schools are going to have to work with significantly less money — the governor has told all departments within state government to plan for a 14% budget cut.

The Georgia General Assembly will not reconvene until mid-June and is not expected to pass a state budget until sometime in July. That will leave precious little time for the local systems to finalize a budget for the 2020-2021 term that starts the first week of August.

“We’re hoping to get some ideas when (lawmakers) come back. Once we start seeing what they are talking about, then we’ll get a better feel,” Rome City Schools Superintendent Lou Byars said. “All of the districts are having to make some assumptions.”

“It’s a huge challenge right now,” said Jeff Wilson, superintendent of Floyd County Schools.

A Facebook beef turned into a gunfight, according to the Statesboro Herald.

Gunner William Fulton, 21, and William Adam Fulton, 44, both of a Lem Lanier Road, Pembroke address, were booked into the Bulloch County Jail late Wednesday on charges stemming from a fight spawned by “Facebook drama,” said Bulloch County Sheriff’s Capt. Todd Hutchens. The fight took place May 6 in the middle of the highway, between 2395 and 2400 Old Groveland Road, he said.

Three people involved in a fight among about a dozen people were hospitalized after the fight, during which gunshots were fired. Two men who suffered “non-life threatening” gunshot wounds were airlifted to Savannah, while another man was taken to East Georgia Regional Medical Center in Statesboro for possibly broken bones and other serious but noncritical injuries, Hutchens said.

Pro-tip: don’t start beef with someone named “Gunner.”

26
May

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for May 26, 2020

The Constitutional Convention of 1787 convened at Independence Hall in Philadelphia on May 25, 1787.

With George Washington presiding, the Constitutional Convention formally convenes on this day in 1787. The convention faced a daunting task: the peaceful overthrow of the new American government as it had been defined by the Article of Confederation.

The process began with the proposal of James Madison’s Virginia Plan. Madison had dedicated the winter of 1787 to the study of confederacies throughout history and arrived in Philadelphia with a wealth of knowledge and an idea for a new American government. It featured a bicameral legislature, with representation in both houses apportioned to states based upon population; this was seen immediately as giving more power to large states, like Virginia. The two houses would in turn elect the executive and the judiciary and would possess veto power over the state legislatures.

William Patterson soon countered with a plan more attractive to the new nation’s smaller states. It too bore the imprint of America’s British experience. Under the New Jersey Plan, as it became known, each state would have a single vote in Congress as it had been under the Articles of Confederation, to even out power between large and small states.

Alexander Hamilton then put forward to the delegates a third plan, a perfect copy of the British Constitution including an upper house and legislature that would serve on good behavior.

Confronted by three counter-revolutionary options, the representatives of Connecticut finally came up with a workable compromise: a government with an upper house made up of equal numbers of delegates from each state and a lower house with proportional representation based upon population. This idea formed the basis of the new U.S. Constitution, which became the law of the land in 1789.

Georgia Militia under General John Floyd began rounding up Cherokee Indians on May 26, 1838.

General Robert E. Lee wrote a letter dated May 26, 1861 to Georgia Governor Joseph E. Brown asking the state to send any weapons available for Georgia volunteers who arrived in Virginia unarmed.

The Battle of New Hope Church was fought near Dallas, Georgia May 25-26, 1864 between Confederates under General Joseph E. Johnston and Federal troops under General William T. Sherman.

On May 25, 1907, an equine statue of John B. Gordon was unveiled on the grounds of the Georgia State Capitol.

President Calvin Coolidge signed the “Comprehensive Immigration Act” on May 26, 1924.

Many Americans saw the enormous influx of largely unskilled, uneducated immigrants during the early 1900s as causing unfair competition for jobs and land. Under the new law, immigration remained open to those with a college education and/or special skills, but entry was denied to Mexicans, and disproportionately to Eastern and Southern Europeans and Japanese. At the same time, the legislation allowed for more immigration from Northern European nations such as Britain, Ireland and Scandinavian countries. A quota was set that limited immigration to two percent of any given nation’s residents already in the U.S. as of 1890, a provision designed to maintain America’s largely Northern European racial composition. In 1927, the “two percent rule” was eliminated and a cap of 150,000 total immigrants annually was established.

The law particularly angered Japan, which in 1907 had forged with U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt a “Gentlemen’s Agreement,” which included more liberal immigration quotas for Japan. By 1924, strong U.S. agricultural and labor interests–particularly from California, which had already passed its own exclusionary laws against Japanese immigrants–favored the more restrictive legislation signed by Coolidge. The Japanese government viewed the American law as an insult, and protested by declaring May 26 a national day of humiliation in Japan.

Fort Frederica National Monument was established on St Simons Island, Georgia on May 26, 1936.

Fort Frederica National National Monument on St. Simons Island

Fort Frederica National National Monument on St. Simons Island

May 26, 1949 was named Clay Day in Marietta, Georgia in honor of General Lucius Clay, who spoke at the courthouse square.

The United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia held on May 25, 1962 that the Georgia General Assembly was malapportioned and ordered the reapportionment of the State House and Senate.

Star Wars opened on May 25, 1977.

The National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force in Pooler reopened on Memorial Day, according to the Savannah Morning News.

The museum was operating at 25% capacity — only about 75 people at a time — but folks were still wandering through on Monday, May 25, most of them wearing masks.

To help prevent the spread of COVID-19, interior doors were kept open to minimize touching of handles and push plates, and hand-sanitizing stations were placed throughout the museum.

The museum will be operating on its normal schedule now, and will be open every day except for Monday. The Mighty Eighth will be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and from noon to 5 p.m. on Sundays.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Vice President Mike Pence lauded Governor Brian Kemp’s reopening of Georgia, according to the AJC.

Vice President Mike Pence on Friday praised Gov. Brian Kemp and Georgia restaurant owners who have reopened their establishments in recent weeks, lending a high-level dose of support to state leaders who have been criticized for ending pandemic restrictions too soon.

Pence said Georgia is setting “an example to the nation” by being among the first and most aggressive to restart its economy while staying mindful of public health guidelines.

“In a very real sense, I think history will record that Georgia helped lead the way back to a prosperous American economy,” Pence told reporters after a barbecue lunch with the governor and first lady Marty Kemp at Star Cafe near Atlanta’s Westside.

After dining on meatloaf, pulled pork and sweet tea with the Kemps, Pence spoke with local restaurant owners at a socially distanced roundtable at Waffle House’s corporate headquarters in Norcross.

“This isn’t really a choice between the health of our citizens and a growing economy,” said Pence. “It’s a choice between health and health, because a growing economy, which you’re beginning to see come back here in Georgia, contributes to the physical and emotional well-being of the American people.”

Governor Brian Kemp announced he is appointing Newton County District Attorney Layla Zon to a seat on the Superior Court for the Alcovy Circuit, according to the Rockdale-Newton Citizen.

The appointment, announced Thursday, makes Zon the first female to serve as a Superior Court judge in the Alcovy Circuit.

“I am honored to appoint Layla to serve as a Superior Court judge of the Alcovy Judicial Circuit. As a judge, she will prioritize the business of the court and uphold justice, fairness and decorum,” said Kemp.

The Alcovy Judicial Circuit serves Newton and Walton Counties.

NPR reports that the pandemic is slowing voter registration efforts.

No door to door canvassing. Public gatherings are canceled. Motor vehicle offices are closed. Naturalization ceremonies are on hiatus.

Almost every place where Americans usually register to vote has been out of reach since March and it’s led to a big drop in new registrations right before a presidential election that was expected to see record turnout.

The consequences of that decline could reshape the electorate ahead of the November election, although it’s not yet clear how.

Until the pandemic struck, the 2020 presidential election had been on track to see a huge surge in new voters. According to data from the Democratic voter targeting firm TargetSmart, voter registrations in January and February of this year far outpaced those in 2016.

But since the virus hit, new registrations are falling around the country. After a record increase in January, Kentucky Secretary of State Michael Adams was disappointed that registrations in his state almost flat-lined.

Virginia saw 73% fewer registrations last month than it did four years ago. Officials said one reason is the shutdown of Department of Motor Vehicle offices, where voters routinely register. North Carolina had a similar decline and has expanded online registration to pick up some of the slack.

The New York Times looks at whether mail-in voting helps Republicans or Democrats.

Republican opposition seemed driven by the conviction that an increase in mail voting would benefit Democrats, who have tended to use mail ballots less compared with Republicans. But, like a lot of assumptions about voting, the reality is far less clear.

Conventional wisdom in both parties is that a surge of mail ballots, such as what we are likely to see in November, benefits Democrats more than Republicans.

The logic goes like this: Traditionally, most absentee ballots were cast by Republicans, so a big increase would disproportionately help Democratic turnout. And because turnout had always been higher among wealthier, better-educated voters who tilted Republican, anything that made voting easier was bound to benefit Democrats.

But recent demographic shifts in the electorate cast doubt on that: Since Mr. Trump’s election, more educated and wealthier voters have trended Democratic, while Republicans have gained among lower-income voters, especially white people. So conventional wisdom may no longer apply.

A new working paper by the Institute for Economic Policy Research at Stanford University concluded that mail balloting modestly increased voter turnout but that both parties benefited more or less equally from the surge. Other academic studies have reached largely similar conclusions.

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger is asking citizens to return their mail-in ballots, according to AccessWDUN.

“We want to get it off of people’s kitchen tables and back to your county election office,” the Republican said. The June 9 primary is two weeks from Tuesday.

So far, nearly 510,000 people had returned their ballots as of early Friday, while another 61,000 had voted in person during early voting. Voters can still request mail-in ballots through June 5, but are unlikely to have enough time to receive them by mail and return them by mail if they wait that long. Ballots must be returned to county election offices by 7 p.m. on June 9.

Raffensperger warned Monday that voters could face long waits if they attempt to vote in person either early or on election day because of precautions to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 respiratory disease and a shortage of poll workers.

Election officials in Fulton County, Georgia’s most populous, agreed last week to open polls earlier and expand voting sites after lines formed on the first day of early voting.

Fulton County is still running behind on getting absentee ballots mailed. That’s in part because the county is struggling to process more than 27,000 emailed requests.

Two smaller counties saw their in-person voting sites shut last week because of coronavirus infections. Appling County will reopen Tuesday after its office was closed Friday for cleaning after a voter tested positive for COVID-19. Several election workers in McDuffie County tested positive. Raffensperger said Richmond County is sending workers to help McDuffie.

From the Augusta Chronicle:

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger urged more absentee voting Monday in response to coronavirus infections in Appling and McDuffie counties related to voting sites.

“We would really highly encourage people to vote absentee, just because you don’t know what the situation could be,” Raffensperger said during a teleconference. “If this happened in the larger counties, shut down a couple precincts, it could create a much larger disruption.”

From the AJC:

Meanwhile, Fulton County reported Monday that it had nearly cleared a large backlog of absentee ballot requests that had piled up in election office inboxes, including some requests made more than seven weeks ago.

The last 3,500 ballot requests will be completed Tuesday morning, said Elections Director Richard Barron.

Then Fulton voters should receive their absentee ballots in the mail several days later.

“We can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Barron said. “We thank everyone for their patience. I don’t ever want to see us get behind like this again.”

Those voters might not have much time to return their ballots by the state’s election day deadline. A federal lawsuit is asking a judge to rule that ballots should be counted as long as they’re postmarked by election day.

From GPB News:

Nearly an equal number of Republicans and Democrats have requested mail-in ballots for the partisan primary that features the presidential race, a competitive primary for the Democratic nomination for one of Georgia’s U.S. Senate seats and every state and federal lawmaker.

According to voting data from the secretary of state’s office, slightly more Republican absentee ballots have been returned than Democratic ballots, and about 60% of in-person voters requested a Republican ballot last week.

Georgia unemployment claims hit a record high in April, according to the Statesboro Herald.

Georgia set a new all-time high for unemployment in April, with the jobless rate rising to 11.9% as waves of workers lost their jobs due to COVID-19.

The state only in February hit an all-time low of 3.1% unemployment and now has surpassed its previous all-time high of 10.6% set in December 2010. The jobless rate had begun to climb in March as the first effects of coronavirus related shutdowns showed up, rising to 4.2%.

The number of Georgians in the labor force fell from almost 5.2 million in March to less than 4.9 million in April, as many people gave up looking for work. The U.S. Department of Labor has said the actual unemployment rate may be higher because some people who have been furloughed are answering survey questions as if they’re still getting a regular paycheck.

State Labor Commissioner Mark Butler, an elected Republican, expressed hope that Georgia’s rebound would be rapid.

“I have no doubt that we will recover just as quickly and get back to our record lows once again,” Butler said in a statement.

Another 176,000 Georgians filed seeking unemployment benefits last week. That brings the number of Georgians who have sought jobless benefits since the crisis began to more than 2 million. About 786,000 Georgians were getting payments, federal figures show, down by about 27,000 from the week before. The reason behind that drop wasn’t immediately clear.

Some Georgians are not wearing masks in public, according to the Macon Telegraph.

A spot check by a reporter in recent days at stores and restaurants around Macon to see if locals were heeding the advice revealed the many were. At the Bibb County Courthouse, a deputy stationed out front said “it’s about 50-50” whether visitors donned masks.

The general consensus now among health experts is that while a mask may not prevent a wearer from contracting COVID-19, a mask may reduce chances of an infected and possibly asymptomatic wearer spreading the disease.

A Valdosta agency that helps victims of domestic violence says its workload has increased as shelter-in-place is lifted, according to the Valdosta Daily Times.

Now that people are able to move freely, Yawn confirmed The Haven’s call volume has started to rise slightly. The number of clients being served at its shelter has grown, as well.

“I think that this pandemic is something most all of us have never been through before in our lifetime,” she said. “Domestic violence is very strongly about power and control and the fear around that power and control, and I think the fear of the pandemic may have just added on to that.”

“But I think the number of women or victims that would have called did decrease there for a while because I think they just didn’t have access or feel like they were in a safe position to contact us,” [Executive Director Michelle Girtman] said.

Much to his surprise, Lowndes County Sheriff Ashley Paulk said the shelter-in-place order has had no affect on domestic violence cases in the county.

A mobile COVID-19 unit is set up at Gainesville’s Northeast Georgia Medical Center, according to the Gainesville Times.

The unit designated for COVID-19 patients will remain near the center’s north tower for up to the next two years.

It is one of four in the state of Georgia funded by the Georgia Emergency Management Agency, and will serve as a place for NGHS Gainesville to house COVID-19 patients. Matthew Crumpton, emergency preparedness manager for NGHS, said that although the COVID-19 patient count at the facility has decreased from 138 a couple weeks ago to 40 as of Friday afternoon, the mobile unit is still an essential safety net.

“It’s never been a decision to not have it, because of the secondary wave that is still projected by the government,” Crumpton said. “We know that once we open up more elective surgeries and return to normal with our normal volume, we need a release valve for the COVID patients to have a place to keep part of our facility clean from COVID, and then have a place that we can segregate the COVID patients to keep the rest of the patients safe.”

The unit will be used to house COVID-19 patients at some point though — even if NGHS Gainesville does not hit its capacity — in an effort to keep COVID-19 patients segregated from other patients as much as possible.

Coastal Health District officials appeared pessimistic last week about COVID-19, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Dr. Lawton Davis appeared downbeat while providing his assessment of Chatham’s infection rates since Georgia’s “soft reopening about a month ago,” which was ordered by Gov. Brian Kemp days before his own statewide stay-at-home mandate expired April 30. While Davis noted that some increase in COVID-19 case reports can be attributed to increased testing, he emphasized that the overall threat is clearly not abating.

“I would love to be able to tell you that this thing is going away, but a picture paints a thousand words,” Davis said, while presenting the commissioners with charts showing an increasingly steep climb of local COVID-19 cases over the past month. “You can see [in mid-April] we were kind of flat, and if anything, the charts are creeping up in this area.”

“Yesterday [May 21, 2020] was the single largest number of reported positive cases in the district since this thing began. Not in Chatham County, but in the district as a whole,” Davis said. “This most likely reflects the fact that we’ve been taking some pop-up [testing locations] out to some of the other counties that have not had a fixed location, so we’ve probably gotten to some people who’ve not had access to testing.”

“Memorial Day might increase the potential of those being exposed to coronavirus,” [Chatham County Commission Chair Al] Scott said, adding that he sees dangerous trends in local infection rates. “Looking at this information every day, multiple times a day, I really expect the death rate to go up in Chatham County.”

Hall County saw steady turnout for in-person advance voting last week, according to the Gainesville Times.

About 600 people cast their ballots at Gainesville Exploration Academy in the first four days of early voting for the June primary.

The county has about 200 poll workers, less than the usual target of 350 poll workers but above the minimum of 124. Workers are sanitizing machines between voters, and hand sanitizer is provided at the entrance and exit of the polling place. People are required to stay six feet apart.

As of 7 p.m. Thursday, 591 people had voted at Gainesville Exploration Academy in the first four days of early voting. That number is similar to turnout in the first week of early voting in past primaries. In the 2016 primary’s first five days of early voting, 655 people voted, and in 2018, 516 voted in that year’s primary during the first week of early voting.

The Augusta Chronicle looks at fundraising totals in the race for Senate District 23, an open-seat being vacated by Sen. Jesse Stone.

The Hall County School District will continue its meal program for students in June, according to AccessWDUN.

The Floyd County Commission will hold an online meeting at 6 PM today, according to the Rome News Tribune.

The AJC writes that local governments are required to hold some meetings in-person.

Many local governments have moved meetings online since March or encouraged remote public comment or other access to reduce the number of people coming in to the same room throughout the coronavirus pandemic. But public hearings — like the one required to rezone Cagle’s land — must be conducted in person, according to state law. So those have largely been on hold.

But as many of Gov. Brian Kemp’s restrictions have expired, governments are taking steps to return to normal. Some are reopening city halls that were closed or bringing more people back to work. And for the first time since March, many are beginning to schedule public hearings for land-use decisions or budget discussions, potentially bringing residents back into government buildings en masse.

Michael Rich, a political science professor at Emory University, said other states have changed their laws to make public hearings more accessible through the pandemic. In North Carolina, written comments are now allowed for 24 hours after a public hearing is held. Votes are delayed until the comment period is over. In Vermont, the Vermont League of Cities and Towns put out guidance for taking public comment during remote meetings.

Gwinnett zoning meetings often draw crowds, and though commissioners said they would defer some contentious proposals, they still worried that there would be some high-interest cases they didn’t know about in advance, that someone would come to the meeting sick or that someone who falls under Kemp’s order and determined they could not attend would challenge the result.

Federal funds totaling $128 million will be disbursed to Georgia nursing homes for COVID relief, according to the AJC.

Nursing homes across Georgia are getting $128 million in federal dollars to help them fight coronavirus, which has taken a devastating toll on long-term care residents across the nation, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced Friday.

All certified skilled nursing facilities with six or more beds will get a base payment of $50,000 each, plus $2,500 per bed. Marshall said the typical 100-bed nursing home in Georgia will receive about $300,000 through the relief program.

While many Georgia nursing homes have previously gotten federal financial relief through earlier waves of funding for health care providers, Marshall said those dollars were tied to their amount of Medicare revenues and went mostly to larger facilities in metro areas. The payments announced Friday, he said, represent some of the first significant relief for all nursing homes and will provide a big boost to those that primarily serve residents covered by Medicaid, many of them in rural areas. Medicaid is the health care program for low-income people that covers long stays in nursing facilities.

Columbus police arrested two men for the most bizarre thing I’ve heard of in campaign-related mischief. From the Ledger-Enquirer:

Columbus police have arrested two men allegedly recorded spinning their car wheels while cutting doughnuts in the Civic Center parking lot for an online campaign ad for district attorney candidate Mark Jones.

Each is charged with felony interference with government property and first-degree criminal damage to property, plus the misdemeanors of reckless conduct, reckless driving and laying drag, according to records at the Muscogee County Jail, where they were booked Friday night.

[The two men] had a bond hearing Saturday morning in Columbus Recorder’s Court, where they were ordered held without bond for interfering with government property, $200,000 bond for criminal damage, $500 each for reckless driving and reckless conduct, and $100 for laying drag, records show.

The chief Recorder’s Court judge, Julius Hunter, reviewed the bonds later Saturday and reduced them so both suspects could be released. Otherwise they could have remained jailed over Memorial Day weekend, until Hunter returned to work Tuesday.

The “Get Out And Vote” hip hop video ad published on Monday to the “Mark Jones for District Attorney” Facebook page features Jones with a rapper identified as JawGaBoi. It’s about a minute long and ends with an overhead drone shot of a car burning rubber in circles around Jones in the Civic Center parking lot off Veterans Parkway.

Police confirmed the video is what led to the arrests, and said more are anticipated. Slater was not informed of the investigation, they said. The department, which issues permits for public events such as parades and protests, said no permit exists for what’s depicted in the ad.