Category: Georgia Politics


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

On January 28, 1733, Georgia’s first colonists celebrated a day of thanksgiving for their safe arrival in Savannah and Chief Tomochichi’s granting them permission to settle on the Yamacraw Bluff.

On January 28, 1943, Governor Ellis Arnall signed a joint resolution of the Georgia House and Senate amending the Georgia Constitution to make the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia a constitutional board and reduce the power of the Governor over the Regents.

The movement to a constitutional board came after the loss of accreditation of all Georgia state higher education institutions for white people. The previous Governor, Eugene Talmadge, had engineered the firing of UGA’s Dean of the College of Education; after the Board of Regents initially refused to fire the Dean, Talmadge dismissed three members, and replaced them with new appointees who voted for the firing. Talmadge lost the 1942 election to Arnall.

On January 28, 1986, the space shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds after liftoff as many Americans watched on live television. President Ronald Reagan addressed the loss of seven astronauts.

Reagan had originally been scheduled to give his State of the Union that evening, but cancelled the speech. His address on the Challenger disaster was written by Peggy Noonan. The speech written by Noonan and delivered by Reagan is ranked as one of the top ten political speeches of the 20th Century.

Happy birthday today to Northwestern University (1851), Yale Daily News (1878), the first daily college newspaper in the country, the United States Coast Guard (1915), and the Lego brick, which was patented on January 28, 1958.

Elvis Presley made his first appearance on television on January 28, 1956 on the Stage Show on CBS.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Under the Gold Dome Today – LD6



8:00 AM CANCELLED Georgia Commission on Freight and Logistics 506 CLOB

10:00 AM FLOOR SESSION (LD 6) House Chamber





1:30 PM HOUSE Reeves Subcommittee of Judiciary Non-Civil 132 CAP






2:00 PM HOUSE Public Finance and Policy Subcommittee of Ways and Means 133 CAP

2:30 PM HOUSE Setzler Subcommittee of Judiciary Non-Civil 132 CAP









Governor Brian Kemp made clear that changes to House Bill 757, legislation on qualifying for the “Jungle Primary” Senate election would not be viewed favorably, according to the AJC.

 At 3 p.m. [Mondy], a lowly House subcommittee will take up House Bill 757, a measure intended to clarify the right of the secretary of state to set an early March qualifying date for candidates — Democrats and Republicans — who want to challenge U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler in the November special election.

Late Sunday, Gov. Brian Kemp sent word that the bill is not to be tinkered with. In essence, the governor confirmed the existence of rebellious GOP sentiment in the state Capitol to challenge his December appointment of Loeffler to the seat vacated by the retiring Johnny Isakson.

Last week, we were the first to tell you that House Minority Leader Bob Trammell, D-Luthersville, was searching for Republican partners to amend HB 757, so that the all-comers special election would be converted to the more traditional cycle of a May primary, followed by a November general election.

Kemp has promised a veto of the measure if it becomes an attack on Loeffler. But in their public opposition, aides aren’t admitting any vulnerability on the new senator’s part. Rather, they argue that a change in the calendar risks voter confusion and more court challenges from voting rights groups already seeking vast changes to the election system.

The House Governmental Affairs Elections Subcommittee took the bait, according to the AJC.

A panel of Georgia representatives voted Monday in favor of creating a partisan primary in the state’s upcoming U.S. Senate election, introducing a new challenge to Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler’s candidacy despite Gov. Brian Kemp’s veto threat.

The coalition of Republicans and Democrats on an elections subcommittee voted 8-2 to approve the fast-moving legislation before this year’s elections. The bill could receive a committee vote Tuesday as it races toward the full House.

Under current Georgia law, both Republicans and Democrats would meet in a free-for-all election in November. The measure that advanced Monday, House Bill 757, would require a special primary May 19, the same date as regularly scheduled primary elections for offices besides the president. Georgia’s presidential primary is March 24.

“It boils down to whether you believe in the party process and whether you believe those voices should be heard,” said House Governmental Affairs Chairman Shaw Blackmon, a Republican from Bonaire, speaking in support of the bill pending before his committee. “It benefits Georgians. It benefits the party process, which is an integral part of our elections process.”

Kemp sent a message Sunday that the legislation for a special primary election is dead on arrival if it reaches his desk.

“You don’t change the rules at halftime to benefit one team over another,” said Candice Broce, Kemp’s spokeswoman. “People are sick and tired of it. The governor will veto any bill that attempts to undermine the rule of law for perceived political gain.”

From the Gwinnett Daily Post:

House Minority Leader Robert Trammell, D-Luthersville, said eliminating the jungle primary would make the special election less confusing for voters.

“Anytime you have a general election with one candidate for each party, it provides voters with a clear opportunity to evaluate the candidates and a clear contrast between the candidates,” he said.

Speaking of which, Rep. Doug Collins is expected to announce his campaign for the Isakson Senate seat, according to the New York Times.

Representative Doug Collins, one of the faces of President Trump’s impeachment defense, plans to challenge Senator Kelly Loeffler in this fall’s special election for one of Georgia’s Senate seats, people familiar with his intentions said on Monday.

Mr. Collins’s long-expected decision sets the stage for a brutal Republican-on-Republican fight that will put a prominent House conservative known for his defenses of Mr. Trump against a wealthy businesswoman appointed in recent weeks to fill the state’s vacant Senate seat. Democrats also see the contest as a potential opportunity to pick up a seat in November.

Mr. Collins is expected to announce his campaign on Tuesday, according to the people familiar with his plans, who were not authorized to discuss it publicly.

Mr. Collins’s decision to abandon his House seat will also have implications in that chamber. Two close allies of Mr. Trump, Representatives Jim Jordan of Ohio and John Ratcliffe of Texas, are the leading contenders to replace him as the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, a coveted post. Both men helped lead Mr. Trump’s impeachment defense in the House.

From the Hill:

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution first reported the news.

The development could make it tougher for the GOP to hold onto the traditionally red Senate seat in 2020. The pair of Republicans will now be spending millions of dollars bashing each other in a state that recently has become a key battleground.

In 2018, Republican Brian Kemp narrowly edged out Democrat Stacey Abrams in the Georgia governor’s race 50.2 percent to 48.8 percent.

From WSB-TV:

Collins, who is set to be at the Georgia Statehouse on Tuesday, has started to line up campaign staff and call politicians and supporters to inform them of his decision to enter the race, according to several people who received the calls but requested anonymity to discuss private conversations.

With Collins’ decision, Kemp’s hopes of unifying Republicans behind his Senate appointment are dashed at a time when the GOP can’t afford much discord. Democrats have circled Georgia as a top 2020 target, eager to flip Georgia’s two Senate seats and upend the GOP’s 53-47 control of the chamber.

The prospect of multiple well-funded Republicans slicing into each other’s base on a November ballot raises the likelihood of a January 2021 runoff if no candidate gets a majority of the vote – and the possibility that a Democrat who consolidates party support can win the contest outright.

From the AJC:

Another U.S. House seat in Georgia will be up for grabs now that Rep. Doug Collins is preparing to challenge Sen. Kelly Loeffler, and an eclectic cast of characters will soon be jockeying for the deeply-conservative seat he’s held since his 2012 election.

Among the possible contenders for the north Georgia district are a well-known radio host, a few powerful state lawmakers and a former congressman who once unsuccessfully challenged Collins.

One of the more likely candidates is former U.S. Rep. Paul Broun, who once represented portions of the district in Congress before redistricting in 2012. Broun ran unsuccessfully for Senate in 2014 and was trounced by Collins in a 2016 primary.

Another former Collins rival, radio commentator Martha Zoller, could also seek the seat. After she was defeated by Collins in a 2012 runoff, Zoller has worked for both U.S. Sen. David Perdue and Gov. Brian Kemp, and recently launched a new Gainesville-based radio show.

It’s the third open U.S. House seat in Georgia on the November ballot. U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall said he wouldn’t stand for another term after winning the tightest House race in the nation in 2018, and more than a dozen candidates from both parties are running for his Gwinnet-based seat.

And U.S. Rep. Tom Graves, the senior-most Republican in the state’s delegation, announced his retirement late last year, triggering a wide-open race to represent the solidly Republican district.

Governor Brian Kemp‘s administration is asking for new legislation to combat criminal gangs, according to the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Georgia Bureau of Investigation Director Vic Reynolds, Attorney General Chris Carr and others told a House-Senate panel Monday that gangs are a serious problem needing further action.

GBI wants to strengthen a state law it already touts as the nation’s strongest. Perhaps most controversially, GBI wants the power to begin investigating gang crimes without an invitation from local officials, as is needed now. Reynolds told The Associated Press that he anticipates “open discussions” with sheriffs and others who might be hesitant over that authority.

Reynolds said he also wants changes that would clarify that each separate act listed in the state’s 2010 anti-gang law could be prosecuted as a separate offense, allowing prosecutors to load up charges with hefty potential prison sentences for gang members.

Kemp and his officials have called for a gang database that investigators could use to share information. They’ve also proposed a public gang registry that would function like the current public sex offender registry, publicizing the names and residences of convicted offenders. Officials want to enshrine Georgia’s current gang task force in law, and allow prosecutors to consolidate criminal cases across county lines, instead of prosecuting individual offenses separately in individual counties.

Georgia and Florida have 45 days to reply to a ruling in the decades-long water lawsuit, according to the Gainesville Times.

The U.S. Supreme Court is giving Georgia and Florida 45 days to file briefs responding to a Dec. 11 report issued by a special master who ruled against Florida.

The court’s notice is indicated on a docket listing proceedings and orders in the case dating to September 2013.

In the latest litigation, Florida has claimed it has suffered economic and ecological harm from Georgia’s “overconsumption of water” in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin, which straddles Georgia, Florida and Alabama and has Lake Lanier as its headwaters.

In his 81-page ruling, U.S. Circuit Judge Paul J. Kelly Jr. recommended that the Supreme Court not grant Florida’s request for an equitable apportioning of waters in the ACF.

The Supreme Court will decide whether to accept Kelly’s recommendation.

The Gwinnett County Ethics Board ruled on a complaint by D.A. King against County Commissioner Marlene Fosque, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

A Gwinnett County ethics board assembled to hear Dustin Inman Society founder D.A. King’s ethics complaint against county Commissioner Marlene Fosque decided Monday that she did commit two of the six allegations made against her and is recommending she receive a written warning from her colleagues.

“While the overwhelming majority of Commissioner Fosque’s actions in conceiving, planning, salvaging and conducting the forum are highly commendable and reflect a welcomed commitment to the county and its residents, her (Aug. 6, 2019) comments fall short of the ‘earnest effort and best thought’ required by (the ethics code’s) Section 54-24(4) and amount to ‘conduct … unbecoming to a member [of the Board of Commissioners]‘ within the meaning of Section 54-24(11),” the ethics board said in its decision.

The complaint itself was over Fosque’s remarks at the Aug. 6 Board of Commissioners meeting, in which she said “I rebuke, denounce, deplore, and condemn” King’s participation in the 287(g) forum.

Whitfield County Commissioners may consider declaring the county a Second Amendment Sanctuary, according to the Dalton Daily Citizen News.

During their work session Monday, commissioners heard from Whitfield County resident Tyler Martin, who started a petition asking commissioners to commit to the Second Amendment sanctuary movement. The petition had more than 2,600 signatures Monday night.

Some members of the commission said they believe they will take action on Martin’s request.

“It’s my understanding that (County Administrator) Mark Gibson and (County Attorney) Robert Smalley are looking into this,” said Commissioner Barry Robbins. “I’ll have to see the final proposal, but it certainly sounds reasonable.”

“I think we’ll support the Second Amendment,” said Commissioner Greg Jones.

Commissioner Roger Crossen also expressed support for the idea.

More than 200 counties across the United States have declared themselves to be Second Amendment sanctuaries in the last two months, spurred by controversial gun control measures passed by the Virginia state legislature, according to The Hill website.

The Whitfield County Commission voted to put a $66 million dollar Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) on the November ballot, according to the Dalton Daily Citizen News.

The county Board of Commissioners voted 4-0 on Monday to approve an intergovernmental agreement with the City of Dalton that will determine how the SPLOST dollars are spent as well as a referendum to place the measure on the May ballot. The Dalton City Council voted last week to approve the intergovernmental agreement.

“We don’t need an intergovernmental agreement, but it’s better if we do,” said board Chairman Lynn Laughter. “It makes for a more orderly process.”

County Attorney Robert Smalley said one of the advantages of the agreement is that it allows the smaller cities of Cohutta, Tunnel Hill and Varnell to get their share of the SPLOST “towards the front” rather than get a small share each month of the SPLOST.

A SPLOST is a 1% tax on most goods sold in the county that can be used for capital projects and some other items but not operating expenses.

Democrat Stacey Abrams will speak to the Brooks County NAACP Branch #5173 at their 10th annual Freedom Fund Banquet next month, according to ValdostaToday.


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

On January 27, 1785, a charter was approved by the Georgia legislature for the first publicly-supported state university in America.

On January 27, 1941, Delta Air Lines announced it would move its headquarters from Monroe, Louisiana to Atlanta, Georgia. It was an interesting case of public-money-fueled economic development.

In 1940, the city of Atlanta and Delta had signed an agreement whereby the city agreed to contribute $50,000 for construction of a new hanger and office building for Delta if it would move its headquarters to Atlanta. In turn, Delta agreed to pay the remaining construction costs and then assume a 20-year lease for the new facilities. On Jan. 16, 1941, Delta had secured a $500,000 loan from Atlanta’s Trust Company of Georgia, thus allowing it to make a public announcement of the move.

On January 27, 1965, the Shelby GT 350 was unveiled.

Otis Redding’s “Dock of the Bay” was released on January 27, 1965, seven weeks after his death.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Governor Brian Kemp will speak at the 11th Annual Addiction Recovery Awareness Day Program and Rally 4 Recovery.


Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2020

10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. Program

Governor Brian Kemp speaks at 10:00 AM in the Freight Depot                    

1:00 – 2:00 p.m. Rally in Capitol


Program at The Georgia Freight Depot, 65 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive SW, Atlanta, GA  30303

Recovery Rally at Georgia State Capitol Building, South Steps


•  An estimated 22 million Americans are in recovery from alcohol or drug addictions
•  There are more than 800,000 Georgians living in recovery
•  The program and rally will celebrate the power of recovery in the lives of everyday Georgians and demonstrate that Georgia’s leadership stands united in support for the Georgia Recovery Community
•  The Georgia Recovery Community supports initiatives which promote prevention and early intervention, increase opportunities and resources for treatment, and support pro-recovery policies that increase the likelihood of sustained, long-term recoveryWHAT ELSE:

•  At the rally on the south steps of the State Capitol, State Representative Erick Allen (D-Smyrna) willintroduce the design of the Georgia Recovers license plate. House Bill 326 would create a special state license plate to honor people in recovery from addiction and mental health challenges, their allies and professionals who have dedicated themselves to help improve lives and communities.

•  The program will feature: Narcan training, recovery language training, personal recovery stories from people in recovery, remarks from state Constitutional Officers and Members of the General Assembly

•  Program speakers include Governor Brian Kemp, Attorney General Chris Carr, Senator Renee Unterman, Senator Kay Kirkpatrick, Representative Sharon Cooper, Representative Erick Allen, Commissioner Judy Fitzgerald, and Neil Campbell, Executive Director of the Georgia Council on Substance Abuse.

•  The Rally will feature speakers including members of the Georgia General Assembly and state Constitutional Officers as well as Georgian’s in Recovery.WHO:

The program is jointly organized by the Georgia recovery Community, a collaborative network of addiction treatment and recovery stakeholders and advocates, including:

Georgia Council on Substance Abuse (GCSA), Georgia Addiction Counselors Association (GACA), Georgia Association of Recovery Residences (GARR), STAND, Inc., Georgia Association of Community Service Boards (GACSB), Penfield Christian Homes, Alcohol and Drug Abuse Certification of Georgia (ADACB/GA), Georgia Overdose Prevention, Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, and the Kennesaw State University Center for Young Adult Addiction and Recovery.

Under the Gold Dome Today – LD5

10:00 AM FLOOR SESSION (LD 5) House Chamber








2:00 PM HOUSE Kelley Sub Judiciary 132 CAP

2:00 PM HOUSE Governmental Affairs State and Local Sub 606 CLOB


3:00 PM HOUSE Governmental Affairs Elections Sube 606 CLOB


The Georgia General Assembly will be occupied with budget issues for the foreseeable future, according to the Capitol Beat News Service.

Georgia House Speaker David Ralston has warned his legislative colleagues repeatedly this month the need for painful spending cuts means the 2020 General Assembly session likely will last longer than usual.

Three days of hearings Jan. 21-23 on Gov. Brian Kemp’s proposed mid-year budget adjustments for this fiscal year and his $28.1 billion fiscal 2021 budget plan dramatically demonstrated Ralston’s point.

While some of the budget austerity results from slower economic growth in Georgia, a major culprit is the tax cut the General Assembly passed two years ago. Lawmakers reduced the state’s income tax rate for the first time since 1937 from 6% to 5.75%.

Then-Gov. Nathan Deal steered the tax cut through the legislature to make sure taxpayers received the benefit of a revenue windfall the state was expecting as a result of the federal tax reforms Congress passed late in 2017.

The 2018 bill called for a two-part tax cut, with lawmakers due to vote this year whether to roll back the income tax rate again to 5.5%.

But Kemp has been cool to the idea, citing the tight budget climate. Passing the second phase of the tax cut this year would cost about $500 million.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Hufstetler, said the state can’t afford that kind of revenue hit this year.

“We’re looking at some severe budget cuts,” Hufstetler said Friday. “I don’t see the math there right now.”

From the AJC:

Hufstetler and his colleagues have been working on measures to increase tax collections and he voiced support for increasing the state’s tobacco taxes.

Two Democrats on the panel Friday, House Minority Caucus Chairman James Beverly, D-Macon, and Rep. David Dreyer, D-Atlanta, also voiced opposition to another income tax cut.

“In a word, no,” Beverly responded when asked whether the General Assembly should consider it.

State Economist Jeffrey Dorfman suggested a further state income tax rate reduction is not necessary for continued economic growth, according to The Covington News.

Georgia lawmakers reduced the state’s income tax two years ago from 6% to 5.75%, the first change in the rate since the 1930s. The 2018 bill called for the legislature to vote again this year whether to reduce the tax rate again to 5.5%.

But with employment in Georgia and the state’s unemployment rate already at record highs, cutting taxes again would not be an effective way to increase economic activity by luring other businesses to the Peach State, Dorfman told members of the state House and Senate Appropriations committees at the start of three days of budget hearings.

“A quarter percent one way or the other just doesn’t move the bar,” Dorfman said.

The $28.1 billion fiscal 2021 state budget plan Gov. Brian Kemp unveiled last week does not take into account the $500 million revenue hit the state would absorb if the General Assembly follows through with the additional .25% tax cut.

Governor Brian Kemp has proposed $900 million dollars in state borrowing in the coming budget, according to the AP via the Daily Inter Lake.

Key projects in the Republican governor’s plan include $70 million to expand the state-owned convention center in Savannah and $55 million to build a new headquarters for the Department of Public Safety in Atlanta.

Lawmakers authorized borrowing of nearly $1.1 billion last year. The agency that forecasts Georgia’s borrowing said the state could issue up to $1.2 billion in bonds this year.

In one shift, Kemp wants to move more funding to aid school construction from districts statewide to those that have small property tax bases. Kemp would borrow $155 million for construction in such low-wealth districts, up from $44 million this year. But the amount to buy new school buses would fall to $12.5 million from $20 million this year, if lawmakers don’t change it. A new school bus can cost more than $100,000, depending on the model.

Kemp also proposes:

— $48 million for a new science and engineering research building and equipment at the University of Georgia in Athens. — $35 million to renovate and expand a building at Gwinnett Technical College in Lawrenceville.

— $30.7 million for a new building for Georgia Tech in Atlanta.

— $19.5 million for a new business building at the University of North Georgia in Dahlonega.

— $6 million for a new conference center at Lake Lanier.

— $2 million for a new driver’s services office in Dalton.

Proposed state budget cuts are being scrutinized for their effect on rural Georgia, according to the AJC.

Lawmakers have spent the past few years making it a priority to boost rural Georgia, pouring millions of dollars into efforts to help a part of the state that voted overwhelmingly for Kemp for governor in 2018.

Now they are wondering what will become of their work after much of what they championed was slated by Kemp and agency heads to be trimmed back as the governor tries to balance a shaky state budget and keep his campaign promise to raise teacher pay.

“Rural Georgia is going to feel the pain of this,” said state Rep. James Beverly, D-Macon, a member of the House Appropriations Committee. “Rural Georgia is going to get killed.”

“Many of the programs the General Assembly has worked on over the last several years in trying to address the (health care) workforce shortage in rural Georgia … all of them seem to be offered up for cuts,” said House Appropriations Chairman Terry England, R-Auburn. “It seems like these are things that are taking the brunt of the cuts.”

“Governor Kemp is committed to keeping rural Georgia strong by using innovative ways to spur economic growth, improve educational opportunities, and ensure bright futures for Georgia families,” said his spokeswoman, Candice Broce.

Clarkston Mayor Ted Terry has dropped out of the race for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate seat held by Republican David Perdue, according to the AJC.

Democrat Ted Terry dropped out of the crowded race against U.S. Sen. David Perdue on Sunday to run for an open DeKalb County commission seat, leaving three top rivals competing to challenge the Republican in the nationally-watched contest.

The Clarkston mayor told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that his fundraising struggles – his latest disclosure showed him with roughly $60,000 in campaign cash – contributed to his decision to abandon a race expected to set new spending records.

He’ll take that donor list to his race for the seat held by long-time DeKalb Commissioner Kathie Gannon, who announced last week she will not seek another term. She represents Super District 6, which covers the western half of the heavily-Democratic county.

At least two other candidates are already in that contest: Democrat Robert Murphy, a local realtor, has already filed paperwork. And community activist Emily Halevy announced her own campaign last week with Gannon’s support.

Gov. Kemp visited a Porsche factory during a trade trip to Germany, according to Global Atlanta.

When Gov. Brian Kemp visited Porsche’s new electric vehicle plant in Stuttgart, the sports car maker made a thoughtful choice for his tour guide.

The governor walked the production line of the brand new Taycan Turbo all-electric sports car with Detlev von Platen, an executive who led Porsche Cars North America’s Atlanta operation for seven years. He presided over a selection process that considered 73 sites but ultimately landed Porsche on a 53-acre complex with a test track near the Atlanta airport.

Mr. Von Platen, who was succeeded here as president and CEO by Klaus Zellmer in 2015, is now a member of the Porsche AG executive board for sales and marketing.

He showed off the Taycan, which launched in December with a six-figure starting price, at an opportune moment: Mr. Kemp was fresh off announcing a new foreign investment to supply a $1.7 billion vehicle battery factory in Jackson County. In a news release, he noted a desire to see a hub for future-facing vehicles continue growing in Georgia, already an automotive magnet.

Analysis by the AJC found shockingly that the highest numbers of voter registration cancellations were in the four most populous counties.

The AJC analyzed the state’s list of voter registration cancellations to find out who in the metro Atlanta area had their registrations removed. Election officials last month canceled the registrations of voters who moved away or failed to participate in elections for several years.

More than a third of voters removed statewide came from four metro Atlanta counties: Fulton, DeKalb, Gwinnett and Cobb. Of the 286,790 voter registrations canceled across Georgia, 107,711 or 38% came from the four metro counties — Georgia’s four most populous counties.

The rate of voter registration cancellations in the metro area counties was slightly higher than in the rest of the state. About 4.2% of all registered voters in the four counties were canceled compared to 3.9% statewide.

Of those metro voters removed, more than half were canceled because voters submitted change of address forms, indicating they had moved and were no longer eligible to vote at their previous precincts. Voters were also removed because they hadn’t participated in elections since before 2012, or their elections mail was returned as undeliverable.

Chatham County will see an unusual number of new judges this year, according to the Savannah Morning News.

a new Superior Court judge, two of the three State Court positions and as many as two Juvenile Court judgeships could be fresh faces when 2021 begins. With those shifts will be some veteran judgeships being filled by younger talent.

The only similar numbers in Chatham County changes occurred in May 1995 when then-Gov. Zell Miller appointed judges Penny Haas Freesemann, John E. Morse Jr. and James F. Bass Jr. to Superior Court and H. Gregory Fowler and Ronald Ginsberg to State Court.

Several Gwinnett County municipalities are deploying automated speeding ticket cameras in school zones, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

In July 2019, the Lilburn City Council approved an agreement with RedSpeed USA to install school zone cameras. This came after House Bill 978 passed in 2018, which allowed for automated enforcement in school zones.

“Once the HB was passed into law we decided to conduct our own speed studies at all seven schools inside our city,” Lilburn Police Chief Bruce Hedley said. “All studies showed we had a speeding problem, but we decided on Arcado and Trickum because of the high volume of pedestrian traffic, especially during drop off and pick up times. Safety is a priority and the goal is that the program will encourage drivers to slow down and obey the speed limit.”

The city of Norcross also plans to install cameras in the school zones at Beaver Ridge Elementary School, Baldwin Elementary School, Norcross Elementary School and Summerour Middle School. During a special called meeting on Oct. 21, Norcross Mayor Craig Newton and the City Council approved a contract with RedSpeed to monitor and enforce school zone speed within the city limits of Norcross.

Sgt. Eric Butynski with the Norcross Police Department said the city had not set an exact date to deploy those cameras, but it could be as early as one month away. The department met with RedSpeed on Thursday to learn the ins and outs of the new system.

A Snellville municipal ordinance regulating extended stay hotels might affect homelessness, according to the AJC.

Snellville’s new city ordinance, which is already in effect, includes a limit on how long guests can stay — no more than 30 days straight or 60 days total within three months. Before the ordinance’s passage, there was no time restriction for hotel residents. The city also requires hotel residents to have a car and register it with the hotel.

In addition, the ordinance bans hourly room rentals and prohibits air-drying of clothes on clotheslines, balconies or outdoor railings. Hotels that violate the ordinance can be declared a public nuisance and forced to close.

The ordinance is intended to prevent crime and promote public safety, said Councilman Dave Emanuel. The ordinance cites research from the U.S. Department of Justice that found extended stay hotels can become hubs for crimes including sex trafficking, prostitution, and drug manufacturing and sales.

The Gwinnett County Solicitor General’s Office recently cited similar concerns about crime at extended stay hotels. Five Gwinnett County hotels, all in the Norcross area, were the source of 300 misdemeanors between September 2018 and September 2019, according to the solicitor’s office.

The Gainesville Times looks at how the embattled film tax credit has affected the local area.

“If Georgia were to cancel the film tax credit, we would very likely see projects like this go elsewhere to film,” [Lake Lanier Convention & Visitors Bureau President Stacey Dickson] said.

The popular but expensive state tax credit, which has come under scrutiny after a state audit showed lax oversight, has emerged as a hot topic in this year’s legislative session, which got underway Jan. 13.

The audit, conducted by the Georgia Department of Audits and Accounts and released earlier this month, “brought to light some very serious issues that we need to take a look at, no doubt,” said state Rep. Timothy Barr, R-Lawrenceville, who represents part of South Hall and is a member of the House Working Group on Creative Arts & Entertainment.

The tax credits have grown from $141 million in 2010 to an estimated $870 million in 2019.

Georgia requires companies to provide less documentation than any of the 31 other states with a film tax incentive, auditors wrote. Hundreds of projects annually receive the credits.

“If the state continues the film tax credit program and refines the process by which eligible projects receive tax credits, I hope they will consider a mechanism to be able to share data with local communities,” Dickson said.

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources is warning about an online scam involving fishing licenses, according to the Gainesville Times.

Perry Lamb will run for Chairman of the Walker County Commission, according to the Chattanoogan.

Perry Lamb, who was second in the 2016 general election for sole commissioner of Walker County, announced that he is running for chairman of the county’s new five-member board. He will run as a Republican.

He noted that in the 2016 race he became the first candidate in the history of Walker County to gather enough signatures to appear on the ballot as an Independent.


Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for January 24, 2020

Georgia History

The Supreme Court of Georgia held its first meeting on January 26, 1846 at Talbotton, Georgia.

John Sammons Bell was born on January 26, 1914 in Macon, Georgia. He would go on to serve as Chairman of the Democratic Party of Georgia, as a Judge on the Georgia Court of Appeals, and as chief judge of the appellate court. He is today best known as the designer of the state flag featuring the Confederate battle flag, which was adopted by the General Assembly in 1956.

Jekyll Island

On January 24, 1915, the first transcontinental telephone call was placed from Jekyll Island, Georgia

Emory Window 628

On January 25, 1915, a charter was issued in DeKalb County Superior Court to Emory University.

January 24, 1933 saw the first sales tax in Georgia proposed to fund schools and aid for farmers.

On January 25, 1943, Georgia Gov. Ellis Arnall signed legislation eliminating the governor as an ex officio member of the State Board of Education, State Board of Regents, Department of Public Safety, and State Housing Authority, as part of a proposal to reduce the Governor’s power over education.

On January 24, 1960, Martin Luther King, Jr. became co-pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, sharing the pulpit with his father.

On January 24, 1987, some 12,000 to 20,000 civil rights protesters marched in Forsyth County, a week after a smaller protest. From the New York Times reporting:

CUMMING, Ga., Jan. 24— This small town in Forsyth County was overwhelmed today by civil rights marchers, members of the Ku Klux Klan and their sympathizers and an army of National Guardsmen and law-enforcement officers who kept the opposing groups separated.

Guarded by what a spokesman for the Governor’s office called ”the greatest show of force the state has ever marshalled,” a crowd of marchers estimated at 12,000 to 20,000 funneled slowly into Cumming, where a week earlier counterdemonstrators, throwing stones and bottles, disrupted an interracial ”walk for brotherhood” prompted by the all-white county’s racist legacy.

As the marchers headed into Cumming, which has a little more than 2,000 people, they found waiting for them, behind a stern-faced force of 2,300 guardsmen and police officers, a group of hundreds if not thousands of white, mainly young, rural men and women, repeatedly shouting, “N***er, go home!”

Whatever the final figure, the march was one of the largest civil rights demonstrations since a 1965 rally that followed a march from Selma, Ala. to Montgomery. The rally, led by Dr. King, drew 25,000 people.

Seriously, read the Times report.

On January 24, 2001, the Georgia House of Representatives approved legislation changing the state flag to the Barnes design with the state seal on a blue background and a banner depicting five previous flags that flew over Georgia.


On January 26, 2001 a new state flag, first designed by Atlanta architect Cecil Alexander, passed out of committee in the General Assembly by a 4-3 vote and would be voted on later that week. Click here to view the floor debate from 2001.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Voters in House District 171 will go to the polls Tuesday in a Special Election, according to The McDuffie Progress.

The seat became vacant Nov. 25, 2019, after Jay Powell (R) passed away. A runoff election, if necessary, is scheduled for February 25, 2020.

Jewell Howard (D), Tommy Akridge (R), and Joe Campbell (R) will face off in the special election. Powell was first elected to District 71 in 2008. He was unopposed in his 2014, 2016, and 2018 re-election bids. In 2012, Powell was opposed by Howard (D), whom he defeated with 59% of the vote.

Republicans have a 104-74 majority with two vacancies in the state House. Georgia has a Republican trifecta. A state government trifecta exists when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and both state legislative chambers.

Governor Brian Kemp continues his economic development trip to Germany, according to the Athens Banner Herald.

Kemp left on Tuesday, accompanied by First Lady Marty Kemp and Pat Wilson, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Economic Development. They will return to Georgia on Saturday.

The trip will be highlighted by the opening of the economic development agency’s new Europe office in Munich, which is relocating from its old digs into a larger space. The delegation also will visit with large and small German companies with a Georgia presence, including manufacturers with operations in the Peach State.

“Marty and I are honored to travel to Germany – Georgia’s fourth largest export market … to reaffirm our strategic partnership and strengthen business ties across multiple industry sectors,” Kemp said.

Georgia exports to Germany in 2018 were valued at $2.29 billion, while Georgia imported $9.8 billion in goods from Germany that year, making Germany Georgia’s No.-2 source of imports.

Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget Director Kelly Farr spoke at Joint Budget Hearings this week, according to The Brunswick News.

State Rep. David Knight, R-Griffin and chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Higher Education, questioned Farr on whether or when the governor would take into account expected revenue by the recently-passed online sales tax legislation. The state estimate is it should bring in around $150 million annually.

“We haven’t talked to him about it and I certainly can’t speak for what the governor would do, but if he asked my advice, the one thing I would caution him on is using estimates to change anything,” Farr said. “That’s kind of maybe why we’re in the challenge we’re in now, is because a lot of people relied on the estimate from when the 25 basis-point reduction was made last time. And it didn’t quite perform like we had hoped.

“And so, I think it would be prudent, if the governor asked my opinion, to wait and see what the performance actually was for marketplace facilitator legislation before making any changes to the revenue estimate.”

Some state legislative leaders are questioning additional raises for teachers, according to AccessWDUN.

Both Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Jack Hill and House Appropriations Committee Chairman Terry England said Thursday that more than $200 million in budget cuts are hard to swallow when the Republican Kemp wants to spend $376 million to give $2,000 raises to K-12 and preschool teachers. That’s the back end of a $5,000 raise Kemp promised when running for governor. He also seeks $45 million for a $1,000 pay increase for state employees now earning less than $40,000 a year.

“It would be easy to explain the cuts if we weren’t turning around and spending it on raises,” said Hill, a Reidsville Republican. England echoed that in a separate interview, with the Auburn Republican saying, “There’s a lot of truth to that.”

The focus now turns to the House, which is likely to pass an amended budget for 2020, and then a spending plan for the 2021 year beginning July 1. England said he is particularly worried about proposed cuts to mental health, county health departments, university agricultural and research programs and the state Department of Agriculture.

“Members are concerned about the cuts, which is to be expected when you put a face to it,” Hill said.

Bartow County‘s state house delegation is busy, according to the Cartersville Daily Tribune News.

The lone piece of legislation, as of Wednesday, sponsored by all three of Bartow’s State representatives is House Bill 737, which would allow the Bartow County Board of Education to “change the definition of the education districts.”

The only other bill District 15 State Rep. Matthew Gambill (R, Cartersville) has sponsored in the 2020 Legislative session to date is House Bill 765, a bill which looks to increase the minimum compensation for Georgia’s chief magistrates and “to provide for the calculation of future increases in the minimum compensation for chief magistrates.”

The legislation was also sponsored by District 14 State Rep. Mitchell Scoggins (R, Cartersville.) In addition to sponsoring HB 737 and HB 765, he also sponsored House Bill 538, a bill that was withdrawn by the House and recommitted on Jan. 14.

Of Bartow’s three House lawmakers, District 16 State Rep. Trey Kelley (R, Cedartown) has sponsored the most bills thus far, lending his signature to seven pieces of legislation since the General Assembly reconvened on Jan. 13.

That includes House Bill 276, a piece of legislation that seeks to amend State Code relating to sales and uses of taxes. In particular, it adds a section defining a “marketplace facilitator,” describing such individuals as those who “contract with a seller in exchange for any form of consideration to make available or facilitate a retail sale that is taxable under this chapter.”

Bartow County state Senators are also busy with legislation, according to the Daily Tribune News.

District 52 State Sen. Chuck Hufstetler (R, Rome) is the primary sponsor of Senate Bill 293, also known as the “Balance Billing Consumer Protection Act.”

The proposed legislation would add a new chapter to the Georgia Code section pertaining to insurance practices, with an emphasis on addressing “surprise bills” — i.e., unanticipated health care costs stemming from insured patients “inadvertently” receiving services from an out-of-network provider.

Hufstetler has also sponsored House Bill 276, a piece of legislation that would, essentially, reclassify Georgia’s “marketplace facilitators” as dealers for taxation purposes.

“A marketplace seller shall not be obligated to collect and remit or be liable for the taxes levied or imposed by this chapter on any retail sale for which its marketplace facilitator is obligated and liable,” the bill text reads.

To date, District 14 State Sen. Bruce Thompson (R, White) has sponsored three bills in the 2020 Legislative session, two of which were prefiled in the Senate on Jan. 6.

Senate Bill 285 would amend Georgia Code to allow “military spouses licensed in other states to practice certain professions and occupations without being required to obtain a license” in Georgia. Among other changes, the bill would address reciprocal licenses for Class I electrical contractors, journey plumbers, Class I conditioned air contractors and utility foremen.

Senate Bill 282 by Sen. Brandon Beach (R-Alpharetta) would require that 90% of early admissions to some Georgia universities be to in-state students, according to The Brunswick News.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Brandon Beach, would require the university system to make sure at least 90% of early-action admissions to the University of Georgia, Georgia Tech, Georgia State University and Augusta University are offered to in-state students.

“In my eight years in the Senate, the most calls I get are from parents who say, ‘Can you help my daughter or son get in Georgia or Georgia Tech?’ ” said Beach, R-Alpharetta. “I want to take care of our parents, who are hardworking taxpayers, and our students.”

With growing demand for admission, colleges have been setting higher standards for incoming students. It’s not uncommon for high school students carrying a 4.0 grade-point average or better with high standardized test scores to be denied admission.

At the same time, Beach said, slots at Georgia’s top-tier schools are going increasingly to high-achieving out-of-state students.

Dallas Mayor Boyd Austin will run for the State Senate District 31 seat being vacated by the retirement of Sen. Bill Heath, according to the AJC.

Austin was first elected to lead the Paulding County city in 1995, and he’s the presumed front-runner in the race to represent the west Georgia district.

He would also have been a formidable U.S. House candidate, but his calculations may have changed when Ben Bullock, the real estate investor, decided to enter the race. Their families have long been close.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is working to reduce a backlog of cases, according to the Dalton Daily Citizen News.

As of Jan. 1, the crime lab operated by the GBI were backlogged with 44,020 cases, up from 37,000 cases in February of 2019.

“We did a lot of work in 2019 on the issue of gangs and we have more work to do there,” [GBI Director Vic] Reynolds said, “but there is no issue to me any more important today than addressing the issues of this crime lab … I give you my word I will do the very best I can to make sure those issues are looked at from top to bottom.”

Of the backlogged cases, 77% require forensic biology, including processes such as DNA testing, and chemistry (drug identification).

House Bill 470 that passed during last year’s session and became effective in April of 2019 sent for the first time DNA collection and analysis for first offenders to the GBI. The change added about 8,000 cases to the GBI’s list, Reynolds said.

Of the backlogged cases, 46% range from 31 to 180 days old, the ideal shelf life of a case. A total of 70% fall under a two-year shelf life. But out of the remaining cases, 13% are between three to six years old.

The Port Wentworth City Council remains stalled as two members missed a second meeting, preventing a quorum, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Port Wentworth council members Thomas Barbee and Mark Stephens were no-shows Tuesday night (Jan. 21) for the second council meeting in a row.

The deliberate move to avoid having a quorum of members Tuesday was made clear by an email sent by Stephens to the mayor and council on Tuesday morning.

“Thomas and I will not attend a meeting and you will not have a quorum until we have an opportunity to discuss the future of this city where you, Linda and Pig show some respect to the needs of the northside,” Stephens wrote. Stephens was referring to council members Linda Smith and Glen “Pig” Jones in the email.

Hall County Commissioner Billy Powell announced he will run for reelection, according to the Gainesville Times.

Billy Powell has represented District 2 for nearly sixteen years. He says he still has some things he hopes to accomplish while a commissioner, but singled out one particular project he hopes to see begin: the Sardis Connector linking Dawsonville Highway (SR53) with Thompson Bridge Road (SR60).

“One major project planned for the near future is the Sardis Connector,” Powell said during the commission meeting, “which I would thoroughly enjoy seeing ground-breaking for that project before I leave office.”

Powell’s name will appear on the May 19th ballot for the general primary. (Currently no other Republicans have announced an intention to seek the District 2 seat.) He will then be on the ballot November 3rd for the general election along with the candidate chosen to represent the Democratic Party. (No one has been named as of this writing.)

The Richmond County Board of Elections will hire high school students as poll workers, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

Board of Elections executive director Lynn Bailey said the Student Poll Worker Program will accommodate the introduction of a new voting system and hopefully give students a unique experience at the same time.

“Georgia has a new voting system coming in this year, and in anticipation of that, and the big election year in general, the Board of Elections was seeking ways to beef up the number of poll workers we have, and we immediately thought of bringing more young people into the mix, knowing that young people, generally speaking, have a fairly good technical background,” Bailey said. “We felt like it was a perfect fit for our purposes, and also, we believe, it’s a great opportunity for students to have this experience and this opportunity for public service.”

Student poll workers will be paid $60 per shift and an additional $20 for attending training. Shifts are from 5:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. or from 1 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Students will also learn how elections are conducted and work closely with existing poll officers.

Augusta City Commissioners are considering ending curbside recycling pickup, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

Citing the program’s operating loss, Commissioner Sammie Sias called for ending the program last month, but commissioners decided to hold off until they could conduct a workshop, which happened Thursday.

The program, attached to city garbage pickup, is underused. Of Augusta Environmental Services’ nearly 63,000 residential customers, 38 percent or around 24,000 have a recycling cart, but only around 4,800 or 20 percent put the cart on the curb each week, interim deputy Environmental Services Director Becky Padgett told commissioners.

Since China quit accepting foreign recyclables due to contamination, prices for them have collapsed, Padgett said.

The low prices have helped push the recycling program’s annual operating loss to around $380,000, Padgett said. Some $100,000 of that is to supply or replace damaged $50 carts used for recycling, she later added.


Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for January 23, 2020

On January 22, 1733, James Oglethorpe arrived at Yamacraw Bluff, where the colony of Georgia would be founded.

On January 23, 1775, the Georgia Commons House elected three delegates to the Second Continental Congress.

On January 22, 1861, following the passage of Georgia’s Secession Resolution, six delegates, including both from Gwinnett County, signed a statement protesting the decision to secede.

On January 23, 1861, Georgia’s members of the United States House of Representatives resigned following passage of the Secession Ordinance; her Senators had resigned earlier. The next day, the secession convention in Milledgeville elected ten delegates to a conference of Southern states in Montgomery, Alabama.

On January 22, 1866, Georgia Governor Charles Jenkins signed a resolution by the legislature asking for federal troops to be removed from Georgia.

On January 23, 1923, Georgia ratified the Twentieth Amendment to the US Constitution, which ended Presidential terms on January 20th following an election and those of Congress to January 3d.

On January 22, 1959, Atlanta buses were integrated after a federal court decision.

On January 22, 1973, the United States Supreme Court issued its 7-2 decision in the case known as Roe v. Wade.

On January 23, 1973, President Richard M. Nixon announced that terms had been reached to settle the Vietnam War, a document known as the “Paris Peace Accords.”

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

United States Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas will speak at the dedication of the Nathan Deal Judicial Center, according to the Gainesville Times.

Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold Melton announced Wednesday, Jan. 22, that Thomas will be on hand for the Feb. 11 dedication of Georgia’s new judicial center. The new building is near the state Capitol building.

Thomas is a Georgia native having been born in the Pin Point community near Savannah. He has served on the nation’s highest court for 28 years.

The new building is devoted entirely to the judiciary. The Supreme Court of Georgia and the Georgia Court of Appeals moved into the building last month. A new statewide business court will also be housed there.


1:00 PM Joint Block Grant Hearings 341 CAP

Governor Brian Kemp announced that Amazon will open a new fulfillment center in Newnan, creating 500 new jobs.

Governor Brian P. Kemp [on Wednesday] announced that Amazon will expand its Georgia presence by launching a new fulfillment center in Newnan. Starting on day one, the e-commerce retail company will create 500 new, full-time jobs with industry-leading pay and comprehensive benefits at the new facility.

“I am excited to welcome yet another expansion of Amazon’s operations here in Georgia,” said Governor Kemp. “Our logistics infrastructure, top-ranked workforce, and nationally recognized business climate have earned us the distinction of No. 1 State for Business seven years in a row, and Amazon’s investments in the Peach State are a testament to that record of success. I am grateful for their continued partnership and looking forward to the opportunities this facility will create for hardworking Georgians and their families in Coweta County.”

“Amazon is proud to serve customers across Georgia and throughout the southeast region of the U.S.,” Alicia Boler Davis, vice president of global customer fulfillment, Amazon. “Georgia has been integral to Amazon’s ability to provide the great selection, competitive prices, and super-fast Prime shipping speeds we know our customers love. We are excited to add an additional 500 full-time jobs, industry-leading pay, and benefits starting for employees on day one, to the 3,500 Georgians already working for the company across the state.”

Amazon will lease a more than 1-million-square-foot facility at The Cubes at Bridgeport in Coweta County. The company considered multiple locations before settling on the site in Newnan.

“We are excited that Amazon, one of the world’s largest e-commerce companies, has chosen to locate in Coweta County,” said Trae Westmoreland, president of the Coweta County Development Authority. “Their significant capital investment will strengthen our local economy, and the addition of good jobs will create economic opportunity for our residents and neighboring communities. We look forward to having Amazon as a valued corporate citizen as Coweta continues to thrive.”

Amazon employees at the new facility will pick, pack, and ship customer orders.

Georgia Department of Economic Development (GDEcD) Assistant Director Hank Evans represented the Global Commerce Division in partnership with Georgia EMC and the Coweta County Development Authority.

“Georgia has become a magnet for investment from top brands like Amazon, and we are thrilled they continue to grow and create jobs in our state,” said GDEcD Commissioner Pat Wilson. “We are proud to work with our incredible economic development partners in Coweta County and throughout the state to continue churning out exciting announcements like this one as we begin the new year.”

Governor Kemp also announced Georgia will receive an $11.2 million dollar grant for education, according to the Coosa Valley News.

Georgia has received a three-year, $11.2-million Preschool Development Renewal Grant (PDG) from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Education.

Georgia is one of only 20 states to receive this grant that will allow the state to expand efforts to help families access high quality early childhood services statewide. This funding builds on an initial $2.9 million PDG planning grant the state received in January 2019.

“Georgia’s success in receiving this grant demonstrates the state’s continued leadership in early education,” Governor Kemp said. “High quality early education is foundational for children and families, and this grant will enable the state to develop and implement innovative strategies to better prepare Georgia’s children for success in school and in life.”

Gov. Kemp is in Germany on an economic development trip, according to WGXA.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp is visiting Germany on an economic development mission for his second official trip abroad.

The Republican governor departed on Tuesday and plans to return this weekend. One of Kemp’s first planned stops is a ribbon cutting at the state’s new European office in Munich.

Kemp also plans to visit several German companies with a presence in Georgia.

Governor Brian Kemp and First Lady Marty Kemp announced legislation to further combat human trafficking, according to WABE.

The proposals will include a provision making it easier for victims of human trafficking to restrict access to their criminal records and another allowing the state to permanently revoke a person’s commercial driver’s license if they’re convicted of trafficking and used their commercial vehicle to commit the crime. It would add several felonies to the list of crimes that require registration as a sex offender, including keeping a place of prostitution when the victim is less than 18.

The legislation will also seek to close what Marty Kemp called a “loophole” in current state law that allows for a guardian to engage in a sexual relationship with a foster child over the age of 16.

“Together we have made great strides to raise awareness and tackle this issue head on. But there’s still more work to be done,” Marty Kemp said. “We must strengthen our laws to hold bad actors accountable and aid our survivors in the path to healing.”

From the Gwinnett Daily Post:

The bills Kemp plans to introduce during the coming days would:

• Allow victims of human trafficking to restrict access to their criminal records. Victims caught up in prostitution networks formed by traffickers often have trouble finding jobs and/or places to live.

• Close a loophole in the state’s sex offender registry law that does not require Georgians convicted of a felony for keeping a place of prostitution, pimping and pandering to register as a sex offender. The legislation also would criminalize improper sexual contact by a foster parent .

• Allow the state to revoke the commercial driver’s license of anyone convicted of trafficking an individual for labor servitude or sexual servitude, in accordance with a new federal rule.

State Budget

Governor Kemp spoke to the Joint Budget Committee to discuss his priorities in the state’s budget cycle. From Fox5Atlanta:

The state has experienced falling tax revenues in recent months. In addition, Kemp pledged to make state government leaner and more efficient while running for governor back in 2018 and cuts in some areas will make room for him to spend money on his priorities in other areas, specifically education and public safety.

Under his budget proposal, the state’s public school teachers would get an additional $2,000 raise next year – the second portion of his $5,000 campaign promise. Kemp has also included $45 million in the budget for a $1,000 raise for full-time state employees who make less than $40,000 per year.

“I’m proud of the common sense savings included in this budget,” Kemp told lawmakers. “I believe that we’ve shown taxpayers that we’re good stewards of their hard-earned money and with this blueprint, we will continue to build a state that Georgia will be proud to call home.”

Budget hearings are scheduled through Thursday at the State Capitol.

From the (Chattanooga) Times Free Press:

Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, speaking to lawmakers Tuesday about his proposed budget, focused on efforts to cut spending without harming state services as well as his spending priorities — including $376 million for additional $2,000 raises for K-12 and preschool teachers.

“Even in this positive economic climate, to fully support our students and teachers and care for our most vulnerable Georgians and strengthen our economic development efforts, we must prioritize our existing financial resources,” Kemp said. “It means reducing costs to government while continuing to deliver excellent service for our citizens.”

Kemp left the speech without taking questions from reporters and his office didn’t immediately respond to an Associated Press inquiry about why his spending proposal doesn’t include a plan to cut the state’s top income tax rate from 5.75% to 5.5%, which had been envisioned when lawmakers cut the top rate from 6% in 2019.

But state economist Jeffrey Dorfman told a joint House-Senate budget committee hearing that Kemp’s budget omits the additional cut. Dorfman told lawmakers that changes in income taxes had been meant to avoid a state windfall because of changes in federal tax law but appear to have overshot the mark.

Kemp is seeking midyear budget cuts this year and further cuts next year because of a slowdown in state revenue. Tax receipts were barely above last year through December, although Kemp projected growth of more than $800 million through June 30. Growth from income tax receipts tanked after the tax cut, and sales tax growth also slowed.

But agency directors who spoke after Kemp on Tuesday told lawmakers that cuts would curtail services.

Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black was the most blunt. A Republican elected statewide, Black isn’t appointed by Kemp and told lawmakers the budget presents “challenges.” He said his department has eliminated 18 full-time and seven part-time vacancies, plus laid off six regular and four contract employees. Black said that, with fewer employees, his department will conduct fewer food safety, animal, gas pump and scale inspections.

“This is uncomfortable information,” Black said. ““It is of no comfort to me to present it, but it is truthful and accurate.”

From the Dalton Daily Citizen News:

Black noted his confusion of budget cuts to lawmakers Tuesday during the joint budget hearing, saying he’s never seen a perfect piece of legislation or a perfect budget — but he’s never seen “across the board cuts as a method of implementing strategic planning.”

On top of the mandated 4% and 6% cuts, the Department of Agriculture saw an additional $300,000 budget cut, which Black said he “will be seeking clarity” during committee meetings, because he hasn’t received any clarification on it.

“The challenges this budget presents [are] as follows,” Black said, “over the next 18 months there will be fewer food safety inspections. There’ll be fewer animal industry inspections. The span between fuel pump and scale inspections will grow. And the growing demand for meat inspection will have to be shifted to our federal partners.”

The Department of Agriculture will not compromise any of its emergency management abilities, Black said.

In Kemp’s budget proposal, the Department of Agriculture is set to be cut more than $1.8 million for fiscal year 2020 and more than $6.5 million in fiscal year 2021.

The department cut $161,000 of support for the Georgia Grown Program — a marketing program that promotes purchasing locally grown products. Half-a-million in vehicle cuts were in the governor’s proposal that were not in the original budget recommendations from the department, Black said.

From the Albany Herald and Capitol Beat News Service:

Georgia Commissioner of Agriculture Gary Black warned job losses in his department could seriously hamper the state’s No.1 industry.

On the first day of hearings on Kemp’s $28.1 billion fiscal 2021 budget plan, Black said he has been forced to eliminate 18 full-time vacancies, four part-time vacancies, phase out six employees and cut loose four call-center workers by not renewing their contract.

“These critical positions in food safety, animal industry, meat inspection and marketing were not held in reserve on the books,” Black told members of the Georgia House and Senate Appropriations Committees. “These were vacant positions we would have tried to fill, but due to a competitive job market, we have been unable to find qualified applicants.”

The agriculture department also needs $1 million to jump-start the growth of industrial hemp in Georgia, a lucrative crop the General Assembly voted to legalize last year.

Kemp’s budget proposes giving the new Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission $200,000 this fiscal year and just under $155,000 for fiscal 2021. Part of Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s office, the commission is the oversight arm of Georgia’s fledgling medical cannabis sector.

But those funding amounts “may be inadequate” to run the cannabis commission full-steam, Raffensperger said Tuesday, noting his staff wants a budget closer to $500,000.

From the Capitol Beat News Service:

Georgia lawmakers on both sides of the aisle showed hesitation Wednesday to sign off on budget cuts Gov. Brian Kemp has proposed for criminal justice and public safety agencies through July 2021.

“I think we all have a responsibility to reduce the fat, but we need to be careful not to be overzealous and cut into the muscle of the criminal justice system,” said Sen. Randy Robertson, R-Cataula, a retired major with the Muscogee County Sheriff’s Office.

Those cuts and others discussed Wednesday gave Rep. Al Williams pause. He said a much closer look is needed to avoid creating unexpected costs elsewhere in Georgia’s criminal justice system.

“Whether you end up paying on the front end or the back end, it’s going to cost you,” said Williams, D-Midway. “It’s a difficult time.”’

The feeling was mutual for Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold Melton. He highlighted cuts totaling about $3.5 million to the state’s accountability courts, a popular program created under former Gov. Nathan Deal that provides alternative sentencing for thousands of inmates.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Terry England also singled out the accountability courts, noting lawmakers may want to tread cautiously with a program many criminal justice advocates feel is working.

“We certainly want to take a closer look at that,” said England, R-Auburn. “We put a lot of time and energy into that over the years.”

Rep. Darlene Taylor, R-Thomasville, traced a lack of mental health services to instances of repeat crimes that she said are cropping up especially in rural parts of Georgia.

“I’m pleased that we’re looking for ways to be more efficient,” Taylor said, “But I am concerned about health care and mental health.”

Proposed changes to funding for district attorneys and public defenders has drawn scrutiny, according to The Appeal.

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp has unveiled his proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year, which will begin on July 1, 2020. In it, he asks lawmakers to slash the funds available to state public defenders by more than $3 million—and to increase the funds available to prosecutors by about the same amount.

More than $2 million of the anticipated savings would come from freezing positions that have been vacant since January 2019—in other words, from ensuring that there are no incoming public defenders to provide current public defenders with some measure of relief.

“The Public Defender Council has been under pretty much constant pressure to cut expenses, even though these cuts are already to the bone,” says Sara Totonchi, Executive Director of the Southern Center for Human Rights. “What we’re looking at is a system that is going to be reduced to the point where constitutionally-required representation is simply not going to be delivered.”

The $3 million reduction is separate from the more than $1.2 million in cuts to public defender funding that the governor recommended for the current fiscal year, which runs through June 30. Nearly all of those savings in the amended budget, too, would be attributable to a freeze on filling open positions.

On the other side of the ledger, Kemp’s fiscal year 2021 proposal would allocate $2 million for “recruitment and retention for assistant district attorneys,” and $1.2 million to hire a dozen new assistant district attorneys to work in Georgia’s Juvenile Courts. Legislators will consider Kemp’s budget in a series of hearings in Atlanta this week.

From the AJC Political Insider:

The governor’s people have quickly informed us that while the proposed cut to public defenders was their doing, the proposed increased funding for district attorneys was a decision made by the judicial branch — over which they have no control.

The Georgia State Elections Board approved changes to voting rules, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Georgia’s elections board on Wednesday approved a set of rule changes to govern the use of new voting machines that are being rushed out statewide for the state’s fast-approaching presidential primaries in March.

State Election Board members acknowledged some of the newly adopted rules may need further fine tuning. They were approved regardless because of the tight deadline for rolling out the new machines.

“Because of the timeline … what seems to work best is that we actually would implement the rules that have already been posted,” said Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, the state board’s chairman. “Then we would consider amending those rules further, to further tweak this and hone down the rules as we want them.”

Georgia’s presidential primaries are set for March 24, but advance voting begins three weeks earlier on March 2. The state is racing to distribute more than 33,000 new machines, which combine touchscreen voting with printed ballots, to Georgia’s 159 counties.

Many of the changes adopted Wednesday updated rules by replacing references to the old voting system with references to the new one. One rule, for example, specifies how the new machines are to be stored, transported and tested, as well as and how polling places are to be set up.

Former candidate for Governor Stacey Abrams had some advice for losers of elections, according to the Washington Free Beacon.

Failed Democratic Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams is urging Democrats to move beyond past elections and focus on the future.

Abrams’s Wednesday remarks to a crowd of University of New England students came despite her refusal to concede to Republican governor Brian Kemp and continued insistence that she actually won the race. Abrams struck a different tone when asked about the current 2020 Democratic presidential field.

“We have to stop re-litigating past elections and have to start planning for future elections,” she said, according to an Associated Press report. She called on Democrats to fight voter ID laws and efforts to purge voter rolls.

A Washington Free Beacon analysis found that Abrams had publicly stated she won the gubernatorial election a dozen times within six months of losing. Abrams, a former state representative, told the New York Times “I won” and argued on MSNBC that the election was “stolen” by Georgia Republicans.

Republican Public Service Commissioner Chuck Eaton was elected Chair of the Public Service Commission by his colleagues, according to PV Magazine.

Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler noted record employment numbers set through 2019, according to AccessWDUN.

Butler said in his monthly report for December the year-end numbers in all three categories were record highs. At the same time, the December unemployment rate was another record low.

“Georgia closed out 2019 on a very high note,” Butler said. “We set records right across the board on all the major indicators. It’s kind of hard to have any better year than Georgia had.”

The unemployment rate settled at 3.2 percent as 2019 came to a close. That’s down from 3.7 percent a year ago. Georgia has now set a new record low two months in a row after first tying the old record in October.

Georgia ended 2019 with a record-high 4.97 million employed residents, an increase of nearly 47,000 over the past 12 months. The number also climbed by more than 12,000 in December.

Butler said Georgia’s labor force continued to grow but struggled to keep pace with job creation and employment numbers.

“We do need our labor force to expand at a faster pace,” Butler said. “Right now, we are growing jobs three times as fast.”

For the year, unemployment insurance claims also went down. There were 291,962 unemployment claims filed in 2019 – down 6 percent from the number filed in 2018. For the month of December, however, claims rose about 78 percent.

State Rep. Kevin Cooke (R-Carrollton) announced he will run for the Fourteenth Congressional District seat being vacated by Rep. Tom Graves, according to the Rome News Tribune.

State Rep. Kevin Cooke, who is also the assistant athletic director at Shorter University, made his announcement Wednesday morning via his campaign website. He’s now the sixth Republican who has stated they’ll run for the seat.

Cooke, who has represented Georgia House District 18 — primarily Haralson and Carroll counties — since 2011, will not be stepping down from his post for the U.S. congressional run.

“Representing the people of Haralson and Carroll counties in Atlanta has been an honor, but the last nine years have not always been easy,” Cooke stated in his release. “Being in the majority taught me that political party alone is not an accurate way to measure a person’s principles and beliefs in limited government.”

He also makes the third candidate to enter the race from outside the 14th District, Floyd County Republican chair Luke Martin said.

“I’m sure they have well-thought-out reasons for why they’re running in our district instead of their own,” Martin said. “I look forward to hearing from them at our meeting this Thursday and our debate scheduled for April 17.”

 The Gwinnett County Commission approved an $800,000 study of bus rapid transit running parallel to I-85, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

 Gwinnett County commissioners approved an $800,000 contract with Kimley-Horn and Associates Inc. on Tuesday to conduct the corridor study. The county is working with the Atlanta Regional Commission as well as the Gateway85, Gwinnett Place and Sugarloaf Community Improvement Districts to pay for the study.

Funding from the ARC will cover 50% of the cost of the study while the CIDs are collectively contributing 9.4%.

“The study will establish recommendations for premium, high-capacity bus service in its own dedicated lane as well as associated complimentary land uses,” Gwinnett Transportation Director Alan Chapman said. ““The study area will include corridors just west of I-85, between Jimmy Carter Boulevard and Sugarloaf Parkway at the Infinite Energy Center.”

Rome hosted the first two of five roundtable discussions on transit service, according to the Rome News Tribune.

The firm was brought on board in November to help Rome “rebrand” its transit system after the city lost its Tripper service for public schools. It began by collecting data from riders and other community members through anonymous surveys both online and on board Main Line and Paratransit buses.

Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta and the CDC will begin screening some international arrivees for coronavirus, according to WSB-TV.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed the first U.S. case of a deadly virus that’s been spreading in Asia.

The news comes just a day after health officials confirmed the first human-to-human transmissions, which means the disease may spread more rapidly. Hundreds of people have been sickened by the virus in China and at least six people have died.

The CDC said the patient is a man in his 30s and he is in good condition. The man returned to the Seattle area Jan. 15 after traveling to the Wuhan area of China, where the outbreak began.

Officials in Atlanta said in a statement Tuesday that Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport will begin screening passengers from affected areas for the virus.

“In the wake of the coronavirus outbreak in China, Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport (ATL) is working with partners at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to mitigate the spread of all passengers and employees at ATL is of paramount concern.”

“Currently, ATL has two direct flights to Asia — to Shanghai, China and Seoul, South Korea. The CDC will be onsite at ATL’s International Terminal to process any passengers who exhibit severe symptoms or who may have come in contact with the disease.”

Lula Mayor Jim Grier gave his State of the City address and three council members were sworn in to new terms, according to the Gainesville Times.


Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for January 21, 2020

On January 20, 1788, the First African Baptist Church was established in Savannah, Georgia, one of the first black churches in the United States.

John Marshall was nominated as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States by President John Adams on January 20, 1801.

Lieutenant William T. Sherman was ordered to Georgia for the first time in his military career on January 21, 1844.

On January 20, 1920, DeForest Kelley was born in Atlanta and he grew up in Conyers. Kelley sang in the choir of his father’s church and appeared on WSB radio; he graduated from Decatur Boys High School and served in the United States Navy. Kelley became famous as Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy in the original Star Trek series.

On January 20, 1928, Franklin Delano Roosevelt visited Warm Springs, Georgia for the tenth time, staying through February 11th. During the visit, he spoke to the Chamber of Commerce of Americus and Sumter County, telling them

“In Georgia the movement towards the cities is growing by leaps and bounds and this means the abandonment of the farms or those farms that are not suited to the uses of agriculture. It means that we will have vacant lands but these can and should be used in growing timber.”

January 20th became Inaugural Day in 1937; when the date falls on a Sunday, a private inauguration of the President is held, with a public ceremony the following day. The Twentieth Amendment moved inauguration day from March 4 to January 20. Imagine six additional weeks of a lame duck President.

Roosevelt was sworn-in to a fourth term as President on Jauary 20, 1945 and died in Warm Springs on April 12, 1945.

On January 20, 1939, Paul D. Coverdell was born in Des Moines, Iowa. Coverdell was one of the key figures in the development of the Georgia Republican Party.

United States Senator and former Georgia House Speaker and Governor Richard B. Russell, Jr. died on January 21, 1971.

On January 20, 1977, former Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter was inaugurated as the 39th President of the United States.

On January 21, 1977, President Jimmy Carter pardoned draft resistors from the Vietnam War era and urged Americans to conserve energy.

On January 21, 1978, the Bee Gees Saturday Night Live album hit #1 on the sales charts, where it would stay for 24 weeks.

On January 20, 1981, Ronald Wilson Reagan was inaugurated 40th President of the United States.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

9:00 AM Joint Budget Hearings 341 CAP

Governor Brian Kemp won’t answer hypothetical questions from the AJC that a federal lawsuit made moot. From the AJC:

Gov. Brian Kemp won’t say whether Georgia will keep the door open to refugees days after a federal judge temporarily blocked a Trump administration order that gave state and local officials discretion over their resettlement.

The court’s ruling halted a policy by President Donald Trump that required resettlement agencies to obtain written consent from mayors, county leaders and governors by Tuesday, when they were set to submit federal funding requests.

Kemp has not commented on the plan, aside from suggesting he has more flexibility with his timeline. His aides indicate he’s not likely to decide until the legal challenge is settled.

Congressman Doug Collins (R-Gainesville) was named among the eight members who will assist the President’s team in the impeachment trial, according to the AJC.

It does not appear that Collins, who lives in Gainesville, or the other members will actively participant in arguing the case before the Senate. Earlier in the weekend, Trump announced the team of lawyers who will handle that job.

However, Monday’s announcement says these GOP representatives have already been providing guidance as attorneys prepare for trial. “The President looks forward to their continued participation and is confident that the Members will help expeditiously end this brazen political vendetta on behalf of the American people,” the release said.

Nearly 57 percent of respondents told an AJC poll that voters should decide in 2020 whether President Trump stays in office, according to the AJC.

The poll of 1,025 registered Georgia voters shows the state’s electorate remains divided over the Democratic-led push to impeach Trump, which enters a new phase of fraught debate and bitter legal wrangling as the Senate readies to hear testimony. Half of Georgia voters say the president has not committed an impeachable offense; 45% say he has.

But it found voters were far more settled about whether Trump should be sent packing at the trial’s end. About 57% of respondents said voters should decide his fate in the 2020 election, including a majority of independents and roughly one-quarter of Democrats.

The survey was conducted Jan. 6-15 and has a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points.

Also notable in the poll results was a 58 percent approval rating for Governor Brian Kemp.

Republican Ben Bullock is withdrawing from the campaign for the 7th Congressional District and will now run for the 14th, according to the AJC.

The U.S. Air Force veteran told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Tuesday that he made his decision after U.S. Rep. Tom Graves announced he wouldn’t stand for another term. Though he lives in Gwinnett County, Bullock’s family has deep roots in Paulding County – part of Graves’ sprawling district.

“For over 200 years, my family has lived, served in both the military and elected office, farmed and operated small businesses in the 14th District,” he said. “To continue that legacy is a dream come true, and moving in that direction is where I truly believe that God is leading this campaign team.”

He said he plans to base his campaign out of his family’s store in Dallas, the seat of Paulding County, which would make him the fifth generation of his family to use the building for business.

His decision leaves the GOP race to several other Republican rivals including state Sen. Renee Unterman, former Home Depot executive Lynne Homrich, businessman Mark Gonsalves and emergency room doctor Richard McCormick.

The Rome News Tribune writes about additional candidates for the 14th District.

On Monday, the number of announced candidates for the seat increased to four. Kyle Perkins, a Dallas Republican, announced he’s running for the seat in Congress.

In his announcement letter, Perkins — the lone black candidate in the race so far — voiced his support for President Donald Trump as well as accusing current candidates of attempting to purchase the election.

An announcement is expected soon from Georgia state Rep. Kevin Cooke, R-Carrollton, who has represented the 18th District since 2011. He’s also employed locally by Shorter University as their assistant athletic director.

Three other Republican candidates have previously stepped up to run for the seat to be vacated by current U.S. Rep. Tom Graves:

Senate Bill 291, the “Georgia Death with Dignity Act,” would allow some physician-assisted suicides, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Under Senate Bill 291, dubbed the “Georgia Death with Dignity Act,” patients given a prognosis of six months or less to live would qualify to request aid-in-dying medication that they may take themselves.

Several requests and assessments from at least two physicians would be required before the person could receive the medication, which supporters say would reduce the risk for abuse.

If passed, doctors or loved ones who help the terminally ill end their lives would not longer be subject to criminal prosecution. Currently, the practice is a felony under the state’s assisted-suicide law that can result in a prison sentence.

The bill is poised for pushback from religious groups. The Georgia Baptist Missionary Board passed a resolution in 2017 opposing life-ending medication. The conservative Faith and Freedom Coalition also rejects it.

Senate Bill 298 by Senator Renee Unterman would increase regulation of vaping, according to the Valdosta Daily Times.

A new bill would raise the minimum age to purchase vapor products to 21 from the current age of 18 and toughen penalties for selling tobacco, nicotine and vaping products to minors. It also sets penalties for marketing of vaping products that is specifically designed to be “attractive to minors.”

Sen. Renee Unterman, R-Buford, introduced the legislation last week that would also require schools to teach about the risks of vaping and smoking as part of their curriculum.

Unterman told The Valdosta Daily Times she learned about the problem from roundtables with youth.

“The main thing that’s in the bill is about education, because that’s what I’ve learned from these kids, the main part of prevention is education,” she said. “This particular bill which is not anything to do with the federal order is requiring the state board of education and individual counties and cities to incorporate vaping into their current drug and alcohol awareness.”

The legislation comes after the the state Department of Public Health issued a health advisory on vaping in October, following the second vaping-related death in Georgia.

State Rep. Emory Dunahoo (R-Gainesville) announced he will run for reelection, according to the Gainesville Times.

“I have a record of being a strong conservative voice for my constituents. Georgia Democrats are fighting to turn Georgia into a purple state,” Dunahoo said in a statement. “Under no circumstances can we allow them the opportunity to undo all of the great work, prosperity, and accomplishments our state has enjoyed in recent years.”

“As we enter a crucial election cycle, it is now more important than ever that the people of this district have a strong, unapologetic, experienced conservative voice speaking for them in the House of Representatives,” he said.

Gwinnett County should begin receiving its new voting equipment beginning this week, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

Gwinnett County Communications Director Joe Sorenson said the old equipment was picked up Jan. 6. The delivery of the new equipment is expected to take several days, beginning Jan. 24.

Along with 220 polling place scanners, one central scanning device, 543 poll pads, one election management system and four mobile ballot printers, Gwinnett County will also get 188 more new electronic voting machines than were purchased by the state in the original request for proposals, according to the latest numbers from the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office.

“A review of the purchases that our office is making for elections equipment shows a cumulative cost of approximately $100 million,” Raffensperger said. “If each county had made these purchases individually, the total cost would have been closer to $160 million … Had your county individually purchased the elections equipment, the cost would have been $11,621,917.89.”

The Secretary of State’s Office has called this is the largest single implementation of a new voting system in U.S. history, with GPB News reporting 31,826 ballot-marking devices are slated to be delivered to counties ahead of the March 24 presidential preference primary.

Georgia Right to Life will hold their annual March for Life on Wednesday, January 22, 2020 at the State Capitol, beginning at 11:30 AM. Click here for more information.

Macon-Bibb County ran a $13.5 million dollar surplus for FY 2019, according to the Macon Telegraph.

Macon-Bibb County Public Affairs Director Chris Floore explained that in Fiscal Year 2019, which ended June 30, the county budgeted 1 percent under their own projections and took in 3 percent more revenue than expected.


Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for January 17, 2020

On January 17, 1733, Georgia’s Trustees in London voted to ban Jews from the colony.

On January 18, 1776, James Wright, Royal Governor of Georgia, was arrested by John Habersham, a member of the Provincial Congress.

Robert E. Lee was born on January 19, 1807 at his family home, Stratford Hall, Virginia.

Delegates to the Secession Convention in Milledgeville voted 208-89 in favor of seceding from the United States on January 19, 1861.

On January 19, 1871, Savannah, Georgia became the first city to recognize Robert E. Lee’s Birthday as a public holiday.

L.Q.C. Lamar, born near Eatonton, Georgia, was sworn in as an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court on January 18, 1888.

On January 16, 1919, the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, prohibiting alcoholic beverages, when Nebraska became the 36th of the 48 states then in the Union to ratify the Amendment.

Martin Luther King, Jr. began the Chicago civil rights campaign on January 17, 1966.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Click here for the text of the State of the State address.

From the AP/US News:

ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp said raising teacher pay is one of his top goals as he gave his second annual State of the State address Thursday, a stance that could put him on a collision course with legislative leaders who want to cut income taxes.

The Republican governor announced that his budget proposal includes a $2,000 pay raise for public school teachers, at a projected cost of more than $380 million. It’s the second part of a campaign promise for a $5,000 teacher pay raise, after Kemp was able to secure a $3,000 raise for educators last year. He also wants a $1,000 pay raise for other state employees making less than $40,000 a year, at a cost of $45 million.

In his budget proposal, also released Thursday, Kemp projects strong growth in the income tax in the year beginning July 1. A spokesman didn’t immediately answer whether that means Kemp isn’t planning for the tax cut to happen.

Kemp called not only for a teacher pay raise, but for lawmakers to continue fully funding Georgia’s public school funding formula, which suffered a long period of reduced funding coming out of the recession, leading to teacher layoffs and furloughs.

Kemp also announced a plan to triple the adoption tax credit from $2,000 to $6,000, lower the minimum age for a person to adopt a child from 25 to 21 and launch a commission focused on the operation of the state’s foster care system.

Kemp honored former Gov. Nathan Deal and former U.S. Sen Johnny Isakson in his speech, suggesting a call for Republican unity as Democratic competition rises in the state. He also mentioned his appointment of GOP Sen. Kelly Loeffler to replace Isakson, saying she will do an “incredible job” representing the state and its best interests.

The governor also announced that the University of Georgia will create a faculty position to research treatments for Parkinson’s disease. Isakson has the disease, which helped prompt his retirement.

From WTOC:

Governor Kemp, during his speech highlighted, the unemployment rate that is just 3.3 percent, the lowest in Georgia history. He says in the past 12 months the state has added 64,000 private sector jobs and of the 371 economic development projects announced in 2019, 79 percent were outside of Atlanta. Governor Kemp says he feels the State of the State is strong and it’s only just beginning.

From the AJC’s Greg Bluestein:


Decrying a “rigged” system, Kemp backed legislation that would bring more transparency in healthcare billing and combat “surprise” bills that have fast become a target of lawmakers. A Senate plan unveiled this week designed to curb patients’ risk of facing unexpected charges could be the framework.

“Families are living on a prayer because the system is rigged against them,” said Kemp. “This year, we will implement long overdue reforms that put our families first.”


The governor invoked the story of Deborah Rider, whose 10-year-old son Nicholas was killed a decade ago in a drive-by shooting, as he outlined legislation to “empower” law enforcement and prosecutors to better combat gang violence.

He offered scant details on the proposal, though he’s recently said he would boost funding for an anti-gang task force he launched last year and a promised database to track gang members.

From the AJC’s James Salzer:

The $2,000 raise [for teachers] in the upcoming fiscal year — which begins July 1 — would cost the state about $350 million. If approved by the General Assembly, how much teachers receive will depend on whether school districts pass along the raise. Most did last year.

The governor’s $28 billion budget plan for fiscal 2021 does not account for the huge hit state finances would take if lawmakers vote to cut the top state income tax rate from 5.75% to 5.5%. Lawmakers reduced the rate in 2018 and set up a possible vote on another cut this year.

Reducing the rate again would cost the state — and save taxpayers — about $550 million. If lawmakers vote to cut the rate again, they will have to cut the budget or find another way to raise money.

Kemp’s spending plan includes nearly $2 million for seven new positions in the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s Gang Task Force and resources to set up the statewide gang database.

From another story by the AJC’s Greg Bluestein:

The Republican’s State of the State address Thursday was not targeted at his conservative base. It seemed tailor-made, instead, to appeal to another audience: suburban voters, particularly women, whose recent exodus threatens GOP control of Georgia’s Statehouse in 2020.

Kemp’s narrow election victory two years ago, squeezed tight by Democratic gains in the General Assembly from across metro Atlanta’s suburbs, seemed firmly on his mind as he unveiled his legislative agenda to a crowd of hundreds of lawmakers and state officials packed into the House chamber.

Absent from his address was mention of measures that would promote “religious liberty,” curb illegal immigration or expand gun rights — campaign promises sure to fire up his conservative base but risk alienating moderate voters.

From the Savannah Morning News and Capitol Beat News Service:

Gov. Brian Kemp unveiled a $28.1 billion budget proposal Thursday that would set a new record for state spending in fiscal 2021 despite the air of fiscal uncertainty surrounding this year’s General Assembly session.

While the spending plan would surpass the then-record $27.5 billion fiscal 2020 budget lawmakers passed last spring, the increase would be far less than the $1.3 billion spending hike the legislature adopted a year ago.

Just keeping up with enrollment growth in Georgia’s public schools is a big budget driver. Kemp is asking for $257.2 million to cover enrollment growth in the schools.

A commission the General Assembly created last year to oversee Georgia’s new medical cannabis program would receive $354,577. Supporters of expanding the availability of cannabis oil in Georgia to treat a number of diseases have been complaining about the program’s slow start due to a lack of funding.

Another $316,461 would go toward increasing election security as the state switches over to new voting machines that feature both electronic touch screens and paper ballot backups.

From the Valdosta Daily Times:

Health care initiatives on the horizon

During the State of the State address, Kemp defended his highly criticized health-care waiver proposals. He said the waivers “shake up the status quo and put patients first, not special interests.”

In additional health-care legislation, Kemp pushed lawmakers to address “surprised billing” which Senate leaders noted early on it’s on their list and already filed legislation.

“Surprise” or balance[] billing is when patients receive bills following medical treatment for doctors and staff that are independent contractors of a hospital, but not covered by the patient’s insurance.

“We will demand transparency, embrace empathy and insist on fairness,” Kemp said.

The Savannah Convention Center could receive $70 million dollars in bond financing under Governor Kemp’s budget, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Governor Brian Kemp is recommending $70 million in bond funding to keep the planned expansion of the Savannah Convention Center on Hutchinson Island on track in his Amended Fiscal Year 2020 and Fiscal Year 2021 Governor’s Budget Report, which was released Thursday, Jan. 16.

During the 2019 State Legislative Session the Center’s governing board, then known as the Georgia International Maritime Trade Center Authority, requested $234 million for the expansion, which would be among numerous statewide projects funded through revenue public bonds underwritten by the state, which typically issues more than $1 billion in bonds each year.

House Bill 276, addressing sales tax collections, passed the House and Senate after a conference committee proposed a compromise bill. From the AJC:

The House and Senate agreed Thursday to legislation aimed at forcing “marketplace facilitators” whose websites or apps are used to sell goods or services, provided by someone else, to collect and remit sales taxes. It would go into effect April 1.

Different versions of the bill passed the chambers last session, but the two sides couldn’t strike a deal.

“This money is owed. There hasn’t been an efficient way to collect it,” said Senate Finance Chairman Chuck Hufstetler R-Rome.

House Ways and Means Chairman Brett Harrell, R-Snellville, the measure’s sponsor, and Hufstetler said the bill, if signed into law by Gov. Brian Kemp as expected, would put internet- and app-based companies on par with Georgia stores that have always charged sales taxes for their goods.

From the Dalton Daily Citizen News:

Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, asked legislators to vote in favor of House Bill 276 to speed up the bill adoption process, so the law could go into effect April 1 and taxes could be collected.Both Hufstetler and Brett Harrell, R-Snellville, the House lead on the bill, were quick to tell colleagues the measure does not impose new taxes “on anybody” but only collects taxes already owed.

“Georgia has a tax on transportation services,” Harrell told reporters after the vote. “Our traditional transportation services, taxis and limos, have been paying a sales tax for years and years and years in the state of Georgia.”

“If you are a private owner of a property that you make available on the VRBO, this does two things that should be an advantage to us as private property owner,” he said. “Number one, it puts the responsibility on the platform, that entity, to collect and remit. Number two, it relieves you of the responsibility and the liability for collecting it.”

From the Cherokee Tribune & Ledger News:

Both chambers in the Georgia General Assembly passed the bill Thursday afternoon. It now heads to Gov. Brian Kemp’s desk. If signed, tax collections would begin on April 1.

Along with retail giants Amazon, Google, and Walmart, the tax would apply to sales made on mobile apps run by Uber. Earlier versions of Thursday’s compromise bill stalled last year in the legislature when Uber sought an exemption to the tax.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome, said the compromise bill nixes exemptions across the board. It would set up a structure to recoup taxes that Hufstetler said the Georgia Department of Revenue are already owed under state law, but are not being collected.

“There’s no special breaks for anybody in it,” he said.

Some lawmakers like Sen. Renee Unterman voted against the bill on grounds that it seemed too close to a tax increase to stomach. Unterman, R-Buford, said she would have backed the compromise bill if she felt more certain that lawmakers would also pass an income tax decrease later this session.

“I’m just concerned about it being a tax increase,” Unterman said of the bill after Thursday’s floor vote.

House Resolution 882, praising the killing of Qassem Soleimani, passed the State House, according to the AJC.

House Defense and Veterans Affairs Chairman Heath Clark, R-Warner Robins, said Thursday he introduced the resolution as a way to laud the death of Qassem Soleimani, the leader of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ elite Quds Force.

“It was a way to show our support for the men and women of the intelligence community, the men and women of our armed forces that carried out the mission and the commander-in-chief of the military for giving the order for the mission to be executed,” Clark said.

House Resolution 882 says the members of the chamber “urge the American people to support” Trump and the military for the successful killing of Soleimani.

Only one Republican — Tiger Republican state Rep. Matt Gurtler — crossed party lines to vote against the resolution, which passed 93-68. Gurtler, who votes “no” more than any other legislator, is known for voting against nearly every proposal that passes through the chamber.

Wes Wolfe of The Brunswick News receives the GaPundit award for best opening line of a story about state legislation.

If House Resolution 882 were to pass through the state House of Representatives any faster than it did this week, it’d have to be attached to a greased pig.

But with extensive talk about the time needed to address budget cutbacks this session and the limited time to do so, the House took more than 30 minutes after the governor’s State of the State address to talk about the killing of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani.

State Rep. Heath Clark. R-Warner Robins and chairman of the House Defense & Veterans Affairs Committee, spoke on the resolution to the House.

“This resolution we have today is simple, and it’s to urge the support of and commend the intelligence agencies that gathered the information, the brave men and women of the United States armed forces, and the commander-in-chief, President Trump, for this successful mission,” Clark said. “A mission that resulted in the loss of zero innocent civilian life because of the precision and the excellence of our men and women in the armed forces and the intelligence community that gathered the information to carry out this successful mission.”

H.R. 882 passed the House with just a few votes more than the majority needed, 93-68. Along with Sainz, St. Simons Island Republican state Reps. Jeff Jones and Don Hogan voted yes.

New State House Rules Chairman Richard Smith (R-Columbus) discussed how his committee will run this year, according to The Brunswick News.

State Rep. Richard Smith, R-Columbus, took over chairmanship of the committee from former state Rep. Jay Powell, R-Camilla, who died in November.

“Somebody asked me the other day why we weren’t meeting at 8 o’clock, and I said, ‘That’s too early for me to have a meeting,’” Smith said at the outset of the meeting. “I used to be harassed a lot about my 8 o’clock meetings.”

Among the guidelines he set down were that if the meetings were scheduled at a certain time, they would begin at that time so as not to waste others’ time.

“Also, this is not a place for debate,” Smith said. “This is a place to evaluate a piece of legislation to see if it’s good enough to make it to the House floor for a vote. In regard to that, it’s the place to ask legitimate questions about a bill, or a piece of legislation, not to debate it.”

He said legislators introducing bills would get about a minute and a half to explain themselves, and there would only be four questions allowed per bill.

“Four questions,” Smith said. “Not, ‘If I ask one, can I get a second?’ It’s going to be a total of four questions. So, when the time comes for you to ask your questions, push a button (to activate your microphone) and we’ll proceed from there.”

Georgia continues delivery of new voting systems to local governments, according to the AJC.

It’s the largest rollout of elections equipment in U.S. history, with more than 75,000 computers and printers destined for 2,600 voting precincts across Georgia.

State election officials say they’re ahead of schedule. About 88% of voting touchscreens have been received and passed acceptance testing at the state’s warehouse.

About 37% of counties had received their voting equipment as of Tuesday, a number that’s expected to rise to 70% by Jan. 23, according to the secretary of state’s office.

All voting equipment is scheduled for delivery to counties by mid-February, in time for early voting to begin March 2.

The Lowndes County Board of Elections met and discussed rollout of new voting machines and budget changes, according to the Valdosta Daily Times.

The Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles commuted the death sentence of Jimmy Fletcher Meders, according to AccessWDUN.

Jimmy Fletcher Meders, 58, had been scheduled to receive a lethal injection at 7 p.m. Thursday at the state prison in Jackson. But the State Board of Pardons and Paroles released its decision granting him clemency around 1 p.m.

The board held a closed-door clemency hearing for Meders on Wednesday.

Meders is only the sixth Georgia death row inmate to have a sentence commuted by the parole board since 2002. The last to have a sentence commuted was Tommy Lee Waldrip, who was spared execution on July 9, 2014.

Meders was sentenced to death in 1989, four years before a change in the law that allowed a sentence of life without the possibility of parole for capital cases. In the clemency application submitted to the parole board, his lawyers argued that it was clear that the jury wanted that option.

The application cited a note the jurors sent to the judge after 20 minutes of deliberations: “If the Jury recommends that the accused be sentence to life imprisonment, can the Jury recommend that the sentence be carried out without Parole??”

Meders’ lawyers also gathered sworn statements from the six jurors who are still alive and able to remember the deliberations. They all said they would have chosen life without parole if it had been an option and supported clemency for Meders.

University of Georgia Terry College of Business Dean Ben Ayers discussed the state of the economy, according to The Brunswick News.

The economic outlook for 2020 is a “good news forecast,” according to the state forecast by Ben Ayers, dean of the University of Georgia Terry College of Business. Ayers was the keynote speaker Thursday at the Georgia Economic Outlook luncheon at the Jekyll Island Convention Center.

The good news is Georgia’s economy is expected to expand this year, though not as much as 2019. Geopolitical risks could slow down the state’s growth, however.

“We have a greater exposure to the trade war than the average state, especially in rural Georgia,” Ayers said. “At this point, we’re not expecting a recession.”

More new companies will move to Georgia, adding a 1 percent increase in the job market, but rural areas could struggle with a “minor recession,” Ayers said.

The region’s 2.7 percent unemployment rate is “truly extraordinary,” he said.

“We’re not the only local economy doing well, which makes it difficult to attract workers,” he said. “Each county is growing.”

Savannah City Council approved a legislative agenda, according to the Savannah Morning News.

the council voted unanimously to adopt the 2020 City of Savannah Legislative Agenda. This document of legislative priorities was given some last-minute amendments after concerns were raised on some proposals during the pre-meeting workshop, including one about requesting sovereign immunity to limit the city’s liability when trees on public property cause damages.

The City Council is expected to further discuss the 2020 legislative agenda at their next regular meeting.

Ogeechee Technical College professor Michele Fiorelli-Rupar will run for Bulloch County Coroner as a Democrat, according to the Statesboro Herald.

Hall County Tax Commissioner Darla Eden announced she will run for reelection, according to the Gainesville Times.

An injured Right Whale calf off the coast of Georgia and Florida received antibiotics in an attempt to help it survive injuries, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Wildlife officials on Wednesday administered antibiotics to a newborn right whale calf seriously injured by the propeller of a vessel.

Two teams in Zodiac boats relocated Derecha and her injured calf off Fernandina Beach Wednesday Jan. 15. Once the aerial team confirmed it was the correct pair and re-assessed the baby, an on-site veterinarian determined antibiotics would benefit the calf.

The boat-based team administered the drugs with the hopes of preventing infection.

The calf received nearly 50 ml of the long-acting antibiotic Excede delivered by dart launched from about 7 meters away, said Barb Zoodsma, who oversees the right whale recovery program in the U.S. Southeast for NOAA Fisheries.

Both mother and calf remained calm throughout the procedure, Zoodsma said.

From The Brunswick News:

The mother, Derecha, is around 27 years old, having been first spotted in December 1993. She’s calved three other times, with the last time being 2010. The 10-year gap in calving is one of many factors putting North Atlantic right whales on a path toward extinction. With around 400 whales or less in existence — and only around 100 or so of those are calving-age females — each calving cycle counts.

Right whales only give birth to one calf per cycle, and these cycles used to occur every three or four years. Calving females have to build up a significant amount of blubber on which to sustain themselves and their calf before traveling south to calve, returning north. However, warming oceans is causing their main food source, zooplankton, to move north, which causes issues with finding food and with making the trip south and back a longer one.

As a result, in the last several years, these calving cycles lengthened, as seen with Derecha.


Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for January 16, 2020

On January 16, 1786, the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, drafted by Thomas Jefferson, was adopted by the Virginia General Assembly.

On January 16, 1919, the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, prohibiting alcoholic beverages, when Nebraska became the 36th of the 48 states then in the Union to ratify the Amendment.

At 4:30 PM on January 16, 1991, the Persian Gulf War began as air attacks against Iraq launched from US and British aircraft carriers, beginning Operation Desert Storm.

On January 16, 1997, a bomb exploded in a Sandy Springs abortion clinic, later determined to be the work of Eric Rudolph, who also bombed Centennial Olympic Park in 1996, a lesbian bar in Atlanta in February 1997, and a Birmingham abortion clinic in 1998.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Under the Gold Dome Today – LD4











Governor Brian Kemp will deliver the State of the State address today, according to the Albany Herald.

“Tomorrow, I will outline my blueprint for a stronger, safer and more prosperous Georgia to the people of our state,” Kemp posted on his Twitter account. “But for today, let’s focus on a historic 2019.”

Georgia House Speaker David Ralston warned the 2020 session is likely to be a long one, as lawmakers grapple with decisions on the spending cuts Kemp will recommend to adjust for a sluggish revenue outlook.

“Georgia is a big, growing, dynamic state,” said Ralston, R-Blue Ridge. “Budget decisions that impact the people of this state are too important to be influenced by a legislative calendar. We’ll take the time necessary to get the work done.”

A foster care system overhaul is expected to be part of today’s address, according to the AJC.

Gov. Brian Kemp will unveil an overhaul of Georgia’s adoption and foster care system on Thursday that will triple a tax incentive for some adoptive parents and reduce the minimum age for unmarried people to adopt children.

The Republican is set to unveil the legislation at his State of the State address, where he will cast the proposal as part of “incredible progress” in recent years to make it easier for families to adopt children.

“Our goal is simple: to keep our kids safe, to encourage adoption and to ensure that every young Georgian — no matter where they live — has the opportunity to live in a safe, happy, loving home,” Kemp said in prepared remarks.

The legislation would increase the tax credit for adoptions out of the state foster care system from $2,000 to $6,000 for the first five years. The incentive would then drop back down to $2,000 a year until the child turns 18.

Governor Kemp appointed new members of the State Board of Education, according to AccessWDUN.

WDUN radio host Martha Zoller was one of three people appointed Tuesday to the Georgia state Board of Education by Gov. Brian Kemp.

Kemp also appointed Phenna Rene Petty to represent the 14th Congressional District in northwest Georgia, and Sally Lynn Nabors to represent that 13th Congressional District in the southern and western suburbs of Atlanta.

He reappointed Lisa Kinnemore of the 4th Congressional District in the eastern suburbs of Atlanta and Jason Downey of the 8th Congressional District in central and south Georgia.

Gov. Kemp also nominated Jannine Miller as the new Planning Director for the Georgia Department of Transportation, according to the AJC.

Jannine Miller is senior advisor to U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and former advisor to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. If approved by the state Senate and House transportation committees, she’ll become Kemp’s point person at GDOT, which is otherwise independent. She’ll replace Jay Roberts, who left the post last September to join a lobbying firm.

As GDOT’s planning director, Miller will have a big say in which highway projects become priorities for funding.

“This role is vitally important to our state’s economic success, and there is no better candidate for this job than Jannine Miller,” Kemp in a statement announcing her nomination. “Jannine’s experience in transportation policy, budgetary analysis and planning, and big-picture infrastructure development is truly unparalleled, and I look forward to working with her in the years ahead.”

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger wants to change the date of qualifying for the United States Senate seat currently held by Senator Kelly Loeffler (R), according to the Gainesville Times.

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger wants to hold candidate qualifying for Loeffler’s Senate seat during the first week of March, spokesman Walter Jones said Wednesday. That’s the same window that candidates in other 2020 Georgia races must officially declare to get on the ballot.

But before Raffensperger sets that deadline, he’s asking the legislature to amend a state law dealing with special elections to specify that his office has discretion to decide the qualifying dates. He said he’s trying to avoid potential lawsuits at a time when Georgia courts are already busy with litigation challenging the fairness and security of the state’s elections.

“This is about providing Georgia voters certainty and order by putting into law what has been the practice for over 30 years,” Raffensperger, a Republican, said in a statement. “The last thing voters need now is another frivolous politically motivated lawsuit based on muddled legal reasoning.”

Georgia law says candidates in special elections to fill vacancies in the U.S. Senate and U.S. House can’t qualify to run before the election is officially called and must sign up no later than 60 days before the election. That window doesn’t close until early September.

From the AJC:

The legislation, House Bill 757, would give the secretary of state authority to set the candidate qualifying period for the November election. Raffensperger’s spokesman said he wants to hold candidate qualifying during the first week in March, the same time that candidates in other races will file their intention to run.

If that [existing] law were interpreted to mean candidate qualifying must remain open until September, candidates could have potentially sought to run in two Senate races this year. A candidate who lost a primary election in May for the seat held by Republican U.S. Sen. David Perdue could have then jumped into the race against Loeffler.

Lieutenant Governor Geoff Duncan (R-Pitcher’s Mound) will appoint an advisory committee to develop proposals to foster the tech industry in Georgia, according to the AJC.

Duncan appointed a panel that includes retired U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, former Georgia Tech president G.P. “Bud” Peterson and 10 others to advise him on developing policy or legislation that could accelerate the growth.

Georgia Tech has been a major driver of tech-business development in Georgia. Companies moving to Georgia — mostly to Atlanta — often cite the research and deep pool of talent the university provides.

The Georgia Innovates Task Force will hold a first meeting this month.

“I want Georgia to be a national leader in technology research, development and implementation and allow for growth and evolution across all parts of Georgia,” Duncan said in a press release. Atlanta has become a center for tech companies that facilitate financial payment.

Senate Bill 293, addressing surprise medical billing, could pass the General Assembly soon according to the Rome News Tribune.

Georgia Senate leaders have targeted surprise billing early in the 2020 legislative session, which started on Monday. At a news conference Monday, Hufstetler said he has backing for legislation to curb the practice from both Gov. Brian Kemp and influential House members like House Rules Committee Chairman Richard Smith, R-Columbus.

“We’re going to finally this session get the consumer out of the middle of this issue and leave it between the health-care provider and the insurer to take care of,” Hufstetler said.

Hufstetler’s latest bill calls for patients receiving medical services at an in-network facility to be charged the same amount regardless of whether the work was performed by an in-network or out-of-network provider. That arrangement would apply for all health plans contracted as of July 1, 2021.

The bill leaves it to medical providers and insurance companies to work out the cost difference. Any disputes between the two parties would be resolved through arbitration overseen by the Georgia Insurance Commissioner’s office.

House Bill 444 by State Rep. Bert Reeves (R-Marietta) would change dual enrollment rules for high school students, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

Changes to Georgia’s dual enrollment program could be in the offing that would nix free college-level classes for freshman high schoolers.

Costs for the program allowing high-school students to take post-secondary classes have swelled from around $23 million in 2015 to around $140 million projected for the 2021 fiscal year. A revised bill presented to a state Senate committee Wednesday would cap enrollment enough to keep the program within its roughly $100 million budget for this year, Georgia Student Finance Commission President Caylee Noggle said.

Sponsored by state Rep. Bert Reeves, R-Marietta, the bill aims to keep growing enrollment in the program from overwhelming its budget. It has the backing of Gov. Brian Kemp. On Wednesday, Reeves said the program’s taxpayer-funded offerings have evolved beyond their original intent, noting some students can now enroll in exercise classes like Zumba.

Reeves will carry the legislation as a substitute to a bill he introduced last year on dual enrollment. His original bill largely mirrors the replacement legislation, which was crafted with staff from Kemp’s office.

State Rep. Terry Rogers (R-Clarkesville) was appointed Chair of the Georgia Film, Music, and Digital Entertainment Commission, according to NowHabersham.

Rogers was appointed to the post this week. He’s served on the commission for several years, since first being appointed by former governor Nathan Deal. Gov. Kemp reappointed Rogers to the panel last November.

The 18-member commission serves as an advisory committee to the governor on matters relating to the state’s entertainment industry.

Augusta has a shortage of census workers for this year, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

A bill introduced Tuesday in the Georgia House by Judiciary Chairman Barry Fleming, R-Harlem, would add language that candidates will sign up “during a period designated by the Secretary of State” of at least 2 1/2 days during the wider window prescribed by the current law.

The Lowndes County Board of Education is considering purchasing a crisis alert system, according to the Valdosta Daily Times.

Steve Coleman, Lowndes County school safety coordinator, presented the proposal to the board. Both Dewar elementary and Hahira elementary schools received state security grants for $30,000 each and three different systems made a bid.

The Hall County Board of Elections is adding early voting locations for the March 24 Presidential Preference Primary and the May 21 Primary, according to the Gainesville Times.

Both elections will have three weeks of early voting as usual, but for the third week of early voting, the county will have three additional locations open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the North Hall Community Center, East Hall Community Center and Spout Springs Library. The Hall County Government Center, the main early voting location, will also be open.

The additional cost for the new locations is $22,400, Elections Director Lori Wurtz said. The change was unanimously approved by the Hall County Board of Elections on Tuesday.

After the March and May elections, the board will spend time at its June meeting looking at turnout and discussing feedback from poll workers and may adjust the early voting plan if needed.

Oconee County discussed security of voting equipment, according to the Oconee Enterprise.

During a Board of Commissioners Town Hall, Oconee Elections Director Fran Leathers assured voters that Oconee’s new 119 ballot devices and corresponding printers, as well as 17 precinct scanners, are safe and secure.

“Security is at a much higher level with the paper back-up used for auditing purposes or a recount,” Leathers told The Oconee Enterprise.

During a presentation of the new equipment, however, Watkinsville City Councilman Dan Matthews told a representative of the Secretary of State’s Office that he was not confident the state has tested for every possible scenario.

The precinct for North High Shoals has moved from the fire station to the new Town Hall within the town park. Malcom Bridge Middle School will no longer serve as a polling site due to security reasons, said Leathers, explaining that the precinct will move to Philothea Greek Orthodox Church, located at 3761 Mars Hill Road.

The county has also closed the Government Annex precinct, leaving City Hall as the sole voting place for Watkinsville residents.

Leathers said that in addition to signage explaining those changes, the Elections Office will assign poll workers to the defunct precincts at peak hour in order to redirect voters to the correct polling site.

Gainesville will spend $2.1 million on upgrading the county administration building, according to the Gainesville Times.

An injured Right Whale calf spotted off Georgia is not expected to survive, according to The Brunswick News.

The then-week-old calf and its mother, nicknamed Derecha, were first spotted Wednesday, Jan. 8, off Georgia’s Altamaha Sound by biologists with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Photographs revealed the calf has deep gashes on either side of its head.

Two days later aerial and on-water surveys with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources re-spotted the pair Friday afternoon about 12 miles south off St. Simons Island.

Most worrisome is the gash on the left side of the calf’s mouth, which appears deep enough to have exposed bone and injure the underlying structure that produces baleen.


Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for January 15, 2020

An elected Provincial Assembly first convened in Georgia on January 15, 1751. The Assembly did not have the power to tax or spend money, but was to advise the Trustees.

The state of New Connecticut declared its independence of both Britain and New York on January 15, 1777. In June of that year they would decide on the name Vermont. Vermont would be considered part of New York for a number of years, finally being admitted as the 14th state in 1791.

The donkey was first used as a symbol for the Democratic Party on January 15, 1870 by cartoonist Thomas Nash.


Martin Luther King, Jr. was born on January 15, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Under the Gold Dome Today – LD 3









3:00 PM SENATE HEALTH & HS- Canceled 450 CAP




House Bill 276 by State Rep. Brett Harrell (R-Suburbia) appears headed to be the first bill passed this Session. From the Valdosta Daily Times:

On the House side, HB 276, sponsored by House Ways and Means Chairman Brett Harrell, R-Snellville, collects taxes from “marketplace facilitators” whose websites are used to sell goods and products produced by a separate company.

Senate leaders are also pushing for third-party sellers to charge a sales tax on online purchases. The Senate moved on the first day of the session to insist on their version of the bill, sending it back to the House. On Tuesday, the House insisted on its own bill.

The next step, a temporary conference committee made up of three House and three Senate members will form. The House has already appointed its three members: Reps. Harrell, Bruce Williamson, R-Monroe and Matt Dollar, R-Marietta.

Harrell told CNHI that the General Assembly is looking to get this legislation passed “as quickly as possible.”

“I think both the House, the Senate and the administration, all three, are in agreement that this is an issue that, quite frankly, we probably should have accomplished last year,” Harrell said.

From the Associated Press via the Gainesville Times:

EBay and Etsy are among the marketplaces targeted by the bill, but it remains to be seen what other companies could be affected.

“I think the House and the Senate are pretty much in alignment” House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Brett Harrell, a Snellville Republican, told The Associated Press on Tuesday. “I think that’s also true of the administration.”

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Hufstetler, a Rome Republican, said Monday that he hopes the measure could take effect as early as April 1, which could boost tax collections for the state’s current budget year. Harrell said he wants to ensure that the Georgia Department of Revenue and smaller retailers could accommodate a start before the July 1 beginning of the next budget year.

State officials estimate that tightening marketplace rules could bring in $78 million for the state and $65 million for local governments in the first year. Other estimates have suggested much greater revenue gains.So far, 38 states and the District of Columbia require online platforms to collect taxes for third-party sellers, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Owners of brick-and-mortar stores strongly support it.

“We think this is a great way to bring parity for retailers in the state of Georgia as the business of retailing and customer behavior evolves,” said Thomas Buesse, executive director of the Georgia Retail Association.

State Senator Ben Watson (R-Savannah) is optimistic that legislation will pass to address “surprise billing,” according to Georgia Health News.

Sen. Ben Watson (R-Savannah), who chairs the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, told a breakfast gathering that the Governor’s Office has been involved in crafting legislation on the billing issue.

What’s known as surprise billing refers to instances in which consumers have procedures or visit ERs at hospitals in their insurance network, then receive separate bills from non-network doctors involved in their care. These unexpected charges can amount to hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

“I think we’ll get it done,” said Watson, a physician. If the Legislature fails to act on surprise billing, he added, it would not be a successful legislative session.

The issue is very complicated, said Rep. Jodi Lott, an Evans Republican who serves as House floor leader for the governor. She added, “I think we’re ready to pass something.”

From the AJC:

Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome, one of the key legislators on the surprise billing issue, introduced legislation Tuesday that would curb patients’ risk of getting a surprise bill. He emphasizes it’s just a draft and negotiations are still in process. But in the proposal, Hufstetler, a doctor, takes a step toward the position of insurance companies — doctors’ opponents on surprise billing. The legislation is Senate Bill 293.

Senate Bill 293 would base the price list on what insurance companies have already negotiated in their other contracts. Doctors have traditionally opposed that. The state Department of Insurance would create the price database, and there would be additional options for independent arbitration.

Hufstetler and Rep. Richard Smith, R-Columbus, have been key opponents on the surprise billing issue, but recently they’ve been meeting and trying to hash it out. Smith chairs the House Rules Committee but was until recently chairman of the House Insurance Committee. He was seen as an advocate for insurance companies’ position on surprise billing.

Smith said he and Hufstetler had come to agreement on a lot of the sticking points.

House Bill 756 by State Rep. Bob Trammell and a number of his Democratic colleagues would require more stringent measures for coal ash ponds, according to The Brunswick News.

A bill filed Monday, the first day of the 2020 legislative session would force Georgia Power Co. to install impervious lining around every site where coal ash is stored, including ash ponds set for permanent closure in the coming years. The measure aims to keep the ash from leaching into nearby drinking wells and underground aquifers.

“We have to be protective of our groundwater,” said Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver, D-Decatur, one of the bill’s six Democratic co-sponsors. “The possibility of toxic coal ash seeping into the water is very real.”

Georgia Power spokeswoman Holly Crawford said the company is reviewing the bill. She said 10 of the 29 ponds will be sealed in place “using proven engineering methods and closure technologies,” and that the closures meet state and federal regulations. Company representatives also tout the economic benefits of recycling coal ash into materials like concrete.

The bill’s backers expect pushback from the bill to center on how much it would cost Georgia Power to install new liners. The company is set to collect $525 million from customers through 2022 to clean up coal ash under a rate increase request the Georgia Public Service Commission approved last month.

State Rep. Gerald Greene (R-Cuthbert) announced a $1.5 million grant to fight feral pigs, according to the Albany Herald.

Representative Gerald Greene reported on the opening day of the 2020 General Assembly that $1.5 million has been granted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to the Flint River Soil and Water Conservation District to pilot an eradication program for feral swine. The program will address the destructive menace in Calhoun, Dougherty and Terrell counties.

Greene is working with the State Agriculture Department and the Department of Natural Resources to create a balance in the wild hog population. “By working together with our state and national partners, our hope is to control this invasive species, to protect crops and farming areas, while protecting our national resources for the future,” he said.

Ivanka Trump visited Atlanta yesterday and discussed human trafficking, according to the AJC.

Trump said her father’s administration is “committed to bringing the full force and weight of the U.S. government to solve the horrific problem of trafficking in persons.” The governor and Georgia’s first lady, Marty Kemp, also pledged their efforts, which will include legislation increasing penalties for those convicted of sex trafficking.

Despite the star power of the event, it was the stories of the victims that riveted a small audience that included U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr and GBI Director Vic Reynolds.

“You really represent resilience and strength on a level we will never know,” Trump told the women who testified.

Federal and state officials pledged their help. Trump cited bipartisan legislation her father has signed over the past three years. Later this month the White House will host a summit of government officials, employers and others seeking solutions to modern slavery.

The Kemps have also made trafficking a priority. On Monday, the first day of the legislative session, Marty Kemp unveiled a new training program to help identify sex trafficking victims.

“You are very brave to tell your story,” the governor told the victims who spoke Tuesday. “People are listening now. Your fellow Georgians are listening.”

The Daily Beast covered what Ivanka Trump wore.

Ivanka Trump absolutely wowed when she stepped out Tuesday in a jaw-dropping black and white print blazer and pants combo during a trip to Atlanta.

The first daughter looked just as stunning as ever in pictures/clips in the long sleeve jacket and matching print trousers as she joined Georgia Governor Brian Kemp and other government officials at Atlanta’s Safe Haven Survivors of Human Trafficking.

She completed the truly stunning look with a matching print top, loose hair and black high heels. To say it was the perfect winter look would be a serious understatement.

Hall County hosted a public session with the state’s new voting equipment, according to AccessWDUN.

About 50 people attended the first session, where representatives from the Secretary of State’s office demonstrated the new system, then allowed those in attendance to actual use the machines to cast pretend ballots.

Hall County elections officials, who hosted the event, were pleased with the turnout.

“I think this is an indication that the public is listening, and they are very interested in seeing these new machine, and coming in and learning everything they can,” Elections Director Lori Wurtz said. “I think this says we’re going to have a smooth election day.”

But Wurtz said she knows holding the demonstrations during business hours means some people cannot attend because they are at work.

“So people can drop by our office anytime during the day and we have some machines set up,” she said. “We’ll be happy to help people get familiar with the machines.”

Wurtz said groups of people can also be accommodated, but she asked the groups call the Elections Office to schedule an appointment. She also said the office would schedule night and weekend demonstrations if enough voters requested it.

“I think it’s great, but I think it’s going to be slower, Susan Joninas, one of the county’s poll managers, said. “Slower moving, maybe not next year, but certainly this year.”

Gwinnett County will hold a public session with the new voting machines, according to the AJC.

Gwinnett county elections officials will demonstrate the state’s new voting machines at 10 a.m. Feb. 1 at Pinckneyville Community Center, 4650 Peachtree Industrial Blvd. in Berkeley Lake.

Voters using the new system will present their driver’s license or other identification card for scanning, then proceed to a touchscreen voting machine. Once completing their election choices, the new equipment will print out a paper ballot for review. Once reviewed by the voter, the paper ballot is then scanned for tabulation.

The Glynn County Board of Elections is addressing budget issues associated with the new voting machines, according to The Brunswick News.

Because the new machines involve paper ballots, the board will have to spend more money on toner and paper, said Elections and Registration Supervisor Chris Channell.

While the Georgia Secretary of State’s office has yet to release the official rules for operating the new machines, Channell said it’s likely that ballot paper will have to be purchased from Dominion Voting, which manufactures the machines, at a higher cost than from third-party providers.

He also said the board is looking for new poll workers. The board would prefer to have more than necessary for its first time using the new voting machines.

Five candidates have applied for a seat on the Clarke County Board of Education, according to the Athens Banner Herald.

The names of the five who submitted an application to fill the seat are Mary P. Bagby, Alia Ghosheh, Giovanna McDavid, Rafaela Delgado Marin and Antwon Stephens.

School officials released the names Tuesday, but as of Tuesday afternoon had not yet released their applications and supporting materials each candidate submitted by a Friday deadline.

The board is scheduled to choose a new member during a Thursday meeting after hearing briefly from each candidate and any of their supporters who sign up to speak to the board before Thursday at 4 p.m.

Under Georgia law, school boards are responsible for picking a new member when someone steps down before completing his or her term.

Stephen Bradley, current District Attorney for the Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit (Baldwin, Jones, Hancock, Wilkinson, Putnam, Jasper, Greene, and Morgan Counties) announced he will run for Superior Court Judge, according to 13WMAZ.

Bradley took over the office in 2015 after the District Attorney at that time, Fred Bright, stepped down because of health issues.

With eight counties, the Ocmulgee Circuit covers more courthouses than any other judicial circuit in the state. The election is May 19.

Charles Olson withdrew his candidacy for Mayor of Macon-Bibb County, according to WGXA-TV.

Election day for the new Macon-Bibb mayor along with new commissioners will take place in May.

Johnny Crist announced he will resign as Mayor of Lilburn to run as a Republican for State House District 108, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

Lilburn voters will have to choose a new mayor and councilman in a special election this year after Mayor Johnny Crist has turned in his resignation to run for a seat in the Georgia General Assembly, city officials announced Tuesday.

Crist confirmed he is running as a “conservative Republican” for the Georgia House of Representatives District 108 seat, prompting him to step down, effective later this spring. The seat is held by Rep. Jasmine Clark, D-Lilburn, who was one of several Democrats who flipped seats in Gwinnett’s legislative delegation in the 2018 elections.

The seat’s former occupant, former state Rep. Clay Cox, had previously announced plans to run for the seat again as a Republican, but backed out at Thanksgiving.

Crist’s resignation has, in turn, created a domino effect, leading to Councilman Tim Dunn, who has been the mayor pro tem, stepping down from his council seat so he can run for mayor. Dunn’s and Crist’s resignations will be effective March 1.

The special election to fill the mayor’s seat and Dunn’s Post 4 council seat will be held May 19.

Dr. John Cowan announced he will run for the 14th Congressional District seat being vacated by Republican Tom Graves (R-Ranger), according to the Rome News Tribune.

“I’m running now because I believe I have the necessary skills and training to address the nation’s deepest needs,” he said. “The values and freedoms that Americans hold dear are imperiled by our nation’s unsustainable healthcare spending. We spend more on healthcare than any developed nation yet have declining life expectancy and worse health. Healing a broken healthcare system will go a long way toward putting us back on the right path. This can’t happen without physicians in Congress. It’s time to make a House call.”

“I grew up on a cattle farm in Northwest Georgia, where my family has lived for a century now,” Cowan said in the release. “My community has invested in me and given me unbelievable opportunity. I want to represent our conservative values in Congress because we continually need a new supply of business and civic leaders who don’t come from the career political class. We need creative new ideas, rooted in traditional values.”

Luke Martin, the Floyd County GOP chair, said they’re happy to have a local candidate enter the race.

“Floyd County Republicans are excited at the chance to elect one of our own to Congress,” Martin said. “We have three strong pro-Trump, pro-gun and pro-life candidates in the race right now and I’m excited to see who the voters elect this summer.”

Clayton Fuller, an Air Force veteran from Lookout Mountain, and Marjorie Greene, a wealthy businesswoman from Alpharetta who shifted her campaign here from the District 6 race, have also been campaigning locally.

Dalton City Council remains at loggerheads with Whitfield County Commissioners over service delivery strategy. From the Dalton Daily News Citizen:

Mandatory mediation of the service delivery agreement among the Whitfield County Board of Commissioners, the Dalton City Council and the city councils of Cohutta, Tunnel Hill and Varnell ended without a deal. And on Thursday, Dalton City Council members are scheduled to meet with the city’s attorneys to discuss how they will go forward.

“I don’t know what our next step is,” said Dalton Mayor David Pennington. “I won’t know that until after we have had a chance to talk to our attorneys about what our options are.”

State law requires cities and counties to negotiate a new service delivery agreement every 10 years, spelling out which services the governments will provide and how they will be funded. The agreements are aimed at reducing duplication of services. The Whitfield County service delivery agreement — actually 39 separate agreements — covers items ranging from ambulance service to historic preservation to zoning.

Glynn County Commissioners will put a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) on the November ballot, instead of the previously considerd May election, according to The Brunswick News.

At a meeting Tuesday, Glynn County commissioners committed to building a new animal control shelter at the county’s public safety complex and pushed the vote on Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax 2020 from the May primary ballot to the November general election ballot.

In light of the new commitment, Brunson suggested moving the SPLOST 2020 referendum from the May primary ballot to November to work on completing more SPLOST 2016 projects before putting it before the voters.

Also, he said there were many questions about a planned $19 million-plus courthouse expansion project that the commission should get answered before putting SPLOST 2020 to a vote.

“We still have a lot of moving parts as it relates to SPLOST 2016, the animal control facility not the least of them,” Brunson said. “I think we need to get down the road, that project needs to be shovel-ready at least by the time we take this to the voters again.

Hall County Public Schools will hold public sessions to discuss a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax for Education (E-SPLOST) on the March ballot, according to the Gainesville Times.

Before the March 24 vote, community members will have several chances to ask questions about the sixth round of the education special purpose local option sales tax and the general obligation bond referendum.

Hall County Schools invites people to attend any of its seven informational meetings, which will take place at 6:30 p.m. every Monday, from Jan. 27 through March 9.

The bonds will allow Hall to begin work on its school renovations and building products. The system will pay back the bonds with revenues from the 1-cent sales tax.


Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for January 14, 2020

Representatives of three cities in Connecticut adopted the “Fundamental Orders,” the first written Constitution in an American colony and one of the first founding document to cite the authority of “the free consent of the people.”

On January 14, 1733, James Oglethorpe and the rest of the first colonists departed Charles Town harbor for what would become Savannah, and the State of Georgia.

The Continental Congress ratified the Treaty of Paris to end the Revolutionary War on January 14, 1784. The Treaty was negotiated by John Adams, who would later serve as President, and the delegates voting to ratify it included future Presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe.

On January 14, 1835, James M. Wayne took the oath of office as an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court. A Savannah native, Wayne had previously served in the Georgia House of Represestatives, as Mayor of Savannah, on the Supreme Court of Georgia, and in Congress. His sister was the great-grandmother of Juliette Gordon Low, founder of the Girl Scouts, and his home is now known as the Juliette Gordon Low house. When Georgia seceded from the Union, Wayne remained on the Supreme Court.

On January 14, 1860, the Committee of Thirty-Three introduced a proposed Constitutional Amendment to allow slavery in the areas it then existed.

Julian Bond was born on January 14, 1940 in Nashville, Tennessee, and was one of eleven African-American Georgians elected to the Georgia House of Representatives in 1965. After his election, on January 10, 1966, the State House voted 184-12 not to seat him because of his publicly-stated opposition to the Vietnam War. After his federal lawsuit was rejected by a three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, the United States Supreme Court ordered Bond seated.

True story: Julian Bond was the first Georgia State Senator I ever met, when I was in ninth grade and visited the state Capitol.

On January 14, 1942, Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Presidential Proclamation No. 2537, requiring Japanese-Americans, including American-born citizens of Japanese ancestry, as well as Italians and Germans to register with the federal Department of Justice. The next month, Roosevelt would have Japanese-Americans interned in concentration camps in the western United States.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Under the Gold Dome Today

Today is Legislative Day 2 in the Second Session of the 155th General Assembly. Here’s the schedule for the rest of the month, as adopted yesterday by both chambers:

Tuesday, January 14 – Day 2
Wednesday, January 15 – Day 3
Thursday, January 16 – Day 4

January 20-24 will be Budget Hearings

Monday, January 27 – Day 5
Tuesday, January 28 – Day 6
Wednesday, January 29 – Day 7
Thursday, January 30 – Day 8
Friday, January 31 – Day 9

Monday, February 3 – Day 10
Tuesday, February 4 – Day 11
Wednesday, February 5 – Day 12
Thursday, February 6 – Day 13

Monday, February 10 – Day 14


1:00 PM SENATE ETHICS- Canceled 307 CLOB








Governor Brian Kemp‘s office released December tax revenue numbers.

The State of Georgia’s December net tax collections totaled nearly $2.23 billion for an increase of $65.8 million, or 3 percent, compared to the previous fiscal year when net tax collections totaled roughly $2.16 billion. Year-to-date, net tax collections totaled $11.85 billion for an increase of roughly $32.3 million, or 0.3 percent, compared to FY 2019 when net tax revenues totaled almost $11.82 billion.

Individual Income Tax: Individual Income Tax collections totaled nearly $1.16 billion, for an increase of $14.4 million, or 1.3 percent, compared to December 2018 when Income Tax collections totaled $1.14 billion.

• Individual Income Tax refunds issued (net of voided checks) increased by $41.4 million or 167.4 percent.
• Individual Withholding payments for December were up $36.7 million, or 3.4 percent, over last year.
• Individual Income Tax Estimated payments for the month were up $4.6 million, or 11 percent.
• All other Individual Tax categories, including Non-Resident Return payments, were up a combined $14.5 million.

Sales and Use Tax: Gross Sales and Use Tax collections increased by $15.4 million, or 1.5 percent, up from a total of $1.04 billion in FY 2019. Net Sales and Use Tax increased by approximately $0.2 million compared to last year when net sales tax totaled $526.1 million. The adjusted Sales Tax distribution to local governments totaled $524.1 million for an increase of $21.2 million, or 4.2 percent, while Sales Tax Refunds fell by roughly $6 million, or -53.3 percent, from a total of $11.2 million in FY 2019.

Corporate Income Tax: Corporate Income Tax collections increased by nearly $66.5 million, or 36.9 percent, compared to FY 2019 when Corporate Tax collections totaled approximately $180 million for December.

• Corporate Income Tax refunds issued (net of voids) were up $16.9 million or 142.1 percent.
• Corporate Estimated Tax payments for the month increased by $67.9 million or 43.7 percent.
• Corporate Income Tax Return payments were up $16.1 million, or 67.7 percent, over last year.
• All other Corporate Tax categories, including Corporate S-Corp payments, were down a combined $0.6 million.

Motor Fuel Taxes: Motor Fuel Tax collections increased by nearly $0.7 million, or 0.5 percent, compared to FY 2019.

Motor Vehicle – Tag & Title Fees: Motor Vehicle Tag & Title Fees decreased by $0.5 million, or -2 percent, compared to last year, while Title Ad Valorem Tax (TAVT) collections declined by almost $19 million, or -28.5 percent.

From the Augusta Chronicle and Dave Williams with Capitol Beat News Service:

Georgia lawmakers got some good news on tax revenues Monday but not enough to avoid painful cuts in state spending as the 2020 General Assembly session unfolds.

State tax collections last month rose 3% or $65.8 million compared with December of last year, the Georgia Department of Revenue reported Monday.

The governor is expected to release his spending recommendations to the Legislature by the end of this week. The state House and Senate appropriations committees will hold three days of joint hearings on the proposed budget next week.

The Georgians for Refuge, Action, Compassion, and Education (GRACE) Commission, headed by First Lady Marty Kemp, announced an initiative with the Department of Administrative Services to make anti-human trafficking training available for state employees, according to a press release.

As public servants, state employees are uniquely positioned to safeguard the well-being of our citizens. Proper human trafficking awareness training will empower them to meet that call to action by imploring them to learn the signs of sex trafficking and how to report suspicious activity.

“I want to thank Commissioner Atwood and his team at the Department of Administrative Services for their dedicated work to develop this human trafficking awareness training program,” said First Lady Marty Kemp. “By educating individuals on the issue, we are creating an army of trained eyes which will literally have the ability to save lives.”

“I am incredibly proud of Marty, the Department of Administrative Services, and everyone involved in crafting this training module,” said Governor Brian Kemp. “I challenge all state employees to take this training. Together, we can stand up to protect our state’s most vulnerable and dismantle this criminal enterprise for good.”

“I am proud of the work that the Department of Administrative Services has done with our partners – collaborating with the First Lady and the GRACE Commission – to deliver a quality training for more than 78,000 state employees,” said Commissioner Alex Atwood. “We believe the training, along with the resources available through our website, will pay big dividends in helping create awareness across the state.”

In conjunction with this important training, First Lady Marty Kemp announced that she will partner with the Georgia Public Safety Training Center to host two self-defense classes on January 30, 2020. Both classes are open to the public, but registration is required.

Any individuals interested in attending the 9 AM class should register here, and all wishing to attend the 1:30 PM class should register here.

From WABE:

Kemp said he will mandate that all members of his staff take the training and said he will encourage the heads of state agencies to mandate it for almost 80,000 state employees.

“That’s 80,000 boots on the ground ready to help a victim if needed,” Marty Kemp told supporters at the state Capitol.

The half-hour video course is also available to the general public, and Kemp said she hoped churches, civic groups and others would encourage their members to view it.

Marty Kemp said her husband also planned legislative proposals to combat human trafficking but didn’t give details. The Republican governor has been talking about the issue as one of his top priorities for this year, saying he would toughen laws to stop people from being exploited.

From the Savannah Morning News:

The GRACE Commission is co-chaired by Marty Kemp; Georgia House Speaker Pro Tempore Jan Jones, R-Milton; and Vic Reynolds, director of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

“There are terrible people out there who control [victims’] every move and force them to do unspeakable things,” she said. “Education and awareness is the way to fight against human trafficking.”

“This will be a tough battle against a ruthless enemy,” DOAS Commissioner Alex Atwood said. “But it’s one we can win if we work together.”

Governor Kemp discussed his legislative priorities with WMAZ.

“Well, I’m excited to build off, quite honestly, a great year we had last year. I think we got a lot more done than most people thought coming out of an election year,” says Kemp.

“We’re continuing to look at ways that we can go after street gangs and put some more teeth in our laws to help our local prosecutors and law enforcement,” says Kemp. “And also to really hone in on sex trafficking, on those that are committing these evil acts, but also, how can we help the victims.”

The Habersham County Commission voted to name itself a Second Amendment Sanctuary, according to AccessWDUN.

“Whereas, it is the desire of the Habersham County Board of Commissioners to declare its support of the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution and to the provisions of the Constitution of the State of Georgia that protect Habersham County citizens’ induvial, inalienable rights to keep and bear arms,” the resolution reads in part.

The resolution states no agent, employee or official of the county, or any corporation providing services to the county, shall provide material support or participate in any way with the implementation of federal acts, orders, rules, laws or regulations in violation of the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution.

Prior to the vote on the matter, Commission Chairman Stacy Hall read a letter from 10th District State Rep. Terry Rogers and delivered a prepared statement.

“It is of paramount importance that we the people remind these legislators that their simple dislike of a constitutional amendment makes it no less constitutional and that we will not give those rights up easily,” Hall said. “The Constitution is not an aging, irrelevant document with increasing insignificance over time. Quite the contrary; it is the very fabric that this great country has woven together. It is a living, breathing document that protects us all from an overreaching and overbearing government.”

Georgia State Senator Bill Heath (R-Bremen) announced that he will not seek reelection this year, according to the Rome News Tribune.

Fighting back tears, Heath said he wants to spend more time with his wife.

“There is more to life than politics. I’m convinced of that,” he said.

Heath was elected to the Georgia Senate in 2005 after serving one term in the House of Representatives. He unseated then-House speaker Tom Murphy, a towering figure in Georgia politics who was among the longest-serving state House speakers in the country, serving from 1973 to 2002.

Senate District 31 covers Polk County, Haralson County and part of Paulding County.

Much of the opening day business surrounded honors for Rep. Jay Powell of Camilla who died unexpectedly at 67 in November, and the late Sen. Greg Kirk of Americus, who died in December after a battle with cancer.

From the Dalton Daily Citizen News:

[State Rep. Jay] Powell loved the Georgia House of Representatives, [Speaker] Ralston said.

“He regarded it as a place where good, sound policy was formulated, not a place to be burned down,” he said on the House floor. “For members who sincerely wanted to understand the legislative process, there was not a better member of this body.”

Ralston said that Powell was “truly a son of Southwest Georgia” and worked hard to revitalize rural areas across the state.

“As a founder of the House Rural Development Council back in 2017, he brought an intense passion and unrivaled work ethic to the goals of they already see,” Ralston said. “And I want to tell you today that because of Jay Powell’s leadership, Southwest Georgia, and particularly future generations of young people there, will have greater opportunities and a better quality of life.”

From the Savannah Morning News:

A special election to choose Powell’s successor in House District 171 will be held Jan. 28. The district includes all of Mitchell County and part of Decatur County.

On the Senate side of the Capitol, lawmakers paid tribute to the late Sen. Greg Kirk, R-Americus, who died last month of cancer. Flowers were laid on his vacant desk in the Senate chambers and kind words came from Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, who presides over the Senate, and other senators.

“Senator Kirk was a true statesman and a distinguished member of this body,” said Duncan. “He will be missed by all of us.”

“There really are no words that can express our remorse,” said Sen. Renee Unterman, R-Buford.

Lieutenant Governor Geoff Duncan (R-Forsyth County) and Senate Republicans are not prioritizing legalization of gambling, according to the Valdosta Daily Times.

“I’ve not had a line of senators over the last nine months outside that office trying to take the door off the hinges to talk about gambling,” Duncan said during a pre-session press conference. “I just haven’t seen that overwhelming push for gambling here in the state of Georgia — I certainly haven’t heard it out as I’ve traveled around the state.”

In the same press conference, Duncan talked strategy for his first session as lieutenant governor. Health care — a main priority of Duncan’s when he served in the House — will again make the top of his list, he said.

“The federal government is in a place where they’re leaning more on the states and we want to be a state that creates solutions,” Duncan said. “Some of the things you’ll see from us in health care will be price transparency and also the right to shop. We’re going to continue to work in ways that allow us to really build a system in this state that allows consumers or patients to know how much their health-care costs — well before they get home from the hospital.”

When asked if he had concerns about the governor’s budget cuts stalling legislation — which has drawn criticism on the House side — Duncan said he is “certain” there is wasteful spending that can be cut.

“We have 40 legislative days to work through the budget and the two things I’ll guarantee you is: we will pass a budget and it will be balanced, and I look forward to working with the governor and his staff on the budget process,” he said.

State legislators appear to have come to an agreement to close a sales tax loophole, according to the AJC.

Senate Finance Chairman Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome, said he has worked with House colleagues since last session on an agreement that would close a loophole that allows many online retailers to skip sending in taxes on their sales.

Hufstetler said an agreement on the measure — which could mean hundreds of millions of dollars a year for the state — could come this week, the first of the 2020 General Assembly session. The measure’s original sponsor last year, House Ways and Means Chairman Brett Harrell, R-Snellville, said he, too, hopes a deal can be reached quickly.

Hufstetler told reporters Monday: “We’ve got a revenue issue. But bigger than that, we have a collection issue. We need to be collecting money that is owed Georgia so that those that are paying their fair taxes don’t have to pay more.”

Senate Majority Leader Mike Dugan, R-Carrollton, said: “We are planning on being able to collect that money really quickly from out-of-state entities that has been due to our state for a while now. If it’s owed, it needs to come in.”

Different versions of the measure passed the chambers last session, but the two sides couldn’t strike a deal.

Hufstetler said another measure would spur the Department of Revenue to use data analytics to ferret out potential fraud or people not paying taxes. If the state can get a large chunk of the money that’s due but not being collected, it could raise hundreds of millions of dollars more, he said.

From The Brunswick News:

Among the bill’s details, it would require sales taxes for use of ride share apps, and an online marketplace facilitator would be obligated to pay taxes for retail sales, not the marketplace seller. A marketplace facilitator, as defined in the bill, is someone who “contracts with a seller in exchange for any form of consideration to make available or facilitate a retail sale that is taxable under this chapter on behalf of such seller directly or through any agreement with another person….”

Retail sales will be assumed to be made in Georgia “if it is to be held for pickup, used, consumed, distributed, stored for use or consumption or rendered as a service within this state.”

Columbus will enjoy a higher profile under the Gold Dome this year, according to WRBL.

Republican Richard Smith moves into that key leadership position as he takes over over the powerful House Rules Committee. That makes him one of Speaker David Ralston’s top lieutenants.

“I heard somebody say that it is a very powerful position in the state that nobody knows,” Smith said. “So, I think that’s one of the things that makes this job intriguing, you do have a say-so on what happens.”

Smith has taken over the committee after the death of Jay Powell of Camillia.

Legislators representing Glynn County are considering a referendum on the role of the county police department, according to The Brunswick News.

State legislators are considering local legislation to let Glynn County voters choose whether or not to leave the Golden Isles’ law enforcement in the hands of the Glynn County Police Department or to fold it into the Glynn County Sheriff’s Office.

“We’re still talking about it,” said state Rep. Don Hogan, R-St. Simons Island. “I think the voters ought to have a right to vote on almost anything.”

Former State Rep. Jonathan Wallace announced he will run for the seat held by Republican Marcus Wiedower (R-Watkinsville), according to the Red and Black.

Wallace is challenging Republican incumbent Rep. Marcus Wiedower for District 119, which includes areas of Clarke and Oconee counties.

Wallace won the seat in 2017 in a special election, flipping the district from Republican to Democratic.

Wiedower defeated Wallace in the Nov. 2018 general election with 52.8% of the vote. Wallace will run as a Democrat again for the 2020 election, according to his ActBlue page.

Weston Stroud announced he will run for Bibb County Commission District 2, according to WGXA.

“One of the biggest things we can change is just access to opportunity. We have ample opportunities here in Macon, but accessing it is always the key. There are various hurtles that are between opportunity that we have to think about as a local agency,” says Stroud.


Bulloch County Sheriff Noel Brown announced he will run for reelection, according to the Statesboro Herald.

Brown seeks to expand the Bulloch County Jail, administrative space, inmate intake areas and training space, he told the Statesbnoro Herald. During his first term, construction has already begun on buildings that will house a new training room, clinical areas, office space and a larger evidence room. He has been pitching for new jail pods as well, citing overcrowding in the current space.

“If taxes have to be raised, so be it,” he said. “My priority is the protection and safety of Bulloch County citizens. As sheriff, I am mandated by law to keep peace and safety in this county.”

There are problems with the core infrastructure in Bulloch County’s public safety system, and improvements are vital to the ability of the Sheriff’s Office to meet the challenges of a swiftly growing county, he said.

“This is not a want, it is a need,” he said. “We have to grow in place.”



The Whitfield County Commission tabled a vote on whether to put a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax on the 2020 ballot, according to the Dalton Daily Citizen News.

Members of the Whitfield County Board of Commissioners say they still plan to vote on a resolution to place a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) on the May general primary ballot by the end of January.

But on Monday, commissioners voted 4-0 to postpone that vote as well as a vote on an intergovernmental agreement with the cities of Dalton, Cohutta, Tunnel Hill and Varnell that would determine how the proposed four-year, $66 million SPLOST would be spent.

Members of the Dalton City Council tabled a vote on the intergovernmental agreement last week, saying they needed more time to study the agreement and also to see what impact mediation with the county over the service delivery agreement, which spells out which services each government will provide and how they will be funded, might have on the SPLOST projects.

If the two sides cannot reach an agreement, commissioners could still place a SPLOST on the ballot. The Tier 1 projects would be funded first, and the rest of the money would be split among the county and the cities based on their share of the population.

The Brunswick News profiles announced candidates for Glynn County Commission.

The Richmond County Board of Elections has revised three voting locations, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

The Richmond County Board of Elections has announced three polling place changes going into effect for the March 24 presidential primary and referendum on extending the 1% transportation sales tax.

After accessibility concerns arose last year, polling places at Augusta University’s Christenberry Fieldhouse and Crawford Avenue Baptist Church will no longer be used.

All four affected precincts lean heavily Democratic. Each supported Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams by 75% or more in the 2018 race for governor.

Valdosta Mayor Scott James Matheson will host a paddle on the Withlacoochee River, according to

Since before Scott James Matheson was officially sworn in last Thursday as Valdosta’s new mayor, he had already been dedicated to seeing the city through its worst sewage spill on record.

When WWALS Watershed Coalition, Inc.’s John S. Quarterman talked to him about the spill after it first happened, Mayor Matheson did not shrink away from what was to become the first, and perhaps his ultimate legacy, of his mayoral tenure. Matheson asked Quarterman to schedule a paddle, call it the “Mayor’s Paddle,” and the two projected that it would be held Saturday, Jan. 18, 2020.

“We’ll paddle by the site of the projected Troupville River Camp, supported by Valdosta and Lowndes County, Georgia, and Madison and Hamilton Counties, Florida,” said Suwannee Riverkeeper John S. Quarterman. “We’ll also pass the outflow from Valdosta’s Withlacoochee Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP), which did not spill, although it is in a stretch of the river that was contaminated by Valdosta’s December 2019 record raw sewage spill.”

“The only way to dispell the stigma of sewage spills that affects the entire Suwannee River Basin, is frequent, regular, water quality sampling with published results,” added Quarterman. “The dozen-county Florida Rivers Task Force to deal with Valdosta sewage wants to promote cross-state-line eco-tourism. We should all be marketing our rivers. We are, with this paddle, and with Troupville River Camp. But we need a solid foundation of testing so we can say when the rivers are clean, and the few (we hope) times when they are not.”

“Meanwhile, the recent rains have provided plenty of water in the river, several feet more than when we paddled the same route with 300 people in Paddle Georgia in June 2019, so we should have smooth sailing,” Quarterman said.

That’s a pretty cool thing to do for the Mayor and the Riverkeeper, and if I weren’t already scheduled for the weekend, I’d love to do that.

The Bulloch County public schools sex ed curriculum for sixth to ninth grade students will not address gender identity in the current school year, according to the Statesboro Herald.

The plan for the current year, which administrators said could be put into use in April, does not include the “sexual orientation and gender identity” and “undoing gender stereotypes” lessons that were part of a plan unveiled last summer for a three-year rollout. Even in that original version, those topics were not for sixth grade and would not have been taught this school year. But they would have been introduced in the ninth grade next school year and in the seventh and eighth grades in 2021-22.

However, the committee that reviewed and revised the curriculum from late October to early December was asked to focus on a single-year plan, said Assistant Superintendent for School Improvement Teresa Phillips. That short-term focus bypassed the question of whether the gender identity topics will be reintroduced in the future.

Rome City Commissioners elected their Mayor, according to the Rome News Tribune.

….Rome City Commissioners and city officials witnessed the swearing in of six newly-elected board members and Mayor Bill Collins was re-elected to his position by a unanimous vote of his colleagues.

Collins is Rome’s first black mayor, elected for the first time in 2019. Before he resumed his seat after the undisputed vote of confidence, he paused to catch his breath.

“It’s not been an easy road, but I appreciate the fine citizens of this here county and thank the commissioners for their trust in me,” Collins told the crowd that spilled into the hallway outside chambers. “I want my grandson here to know it takes dedication and integrity and everything that goes along with making sure you hold yourself accountable.”

…Commissioner Jamie Doss nominated Commissioner Craig McDaniel as mayor pro tem.

As was the case for mayor, no other names were presented for pro tem and McDaniel was elected to be Collins’ right-hand man by a 9 to 0 vote.

The Hall County Board of Education elected Craig Herrington as Chair, according to AccessWDUN.

The Savannah Chatham County Board of Education issued an RFP to sell its administrative building, according to the Savannah Morning News.

The Berry College Bald Eagles produced their first egg of the year, according to the Rome News Tribune.

Multiple cameras that focused on the nest, at, went offline during the storm. Sometime after those cameras came back online, the female eagle moved to change position and the egg was visible.

In past years a second egg usually followed the first within a few days. When eagles lay multiple eggs, they are generally a minimum of three days apart.

Once eggs are laid, both adults will take turns incubating them for approximately 35 days before they hatch.

The pair of eagles at Berry has had two eggs every year since 2013. Last year, both eggs hatched but neither of the nestlings survived their first week. The year before, one of the two nestlings fell out of the tree and died. In another year, 2014, one of the eggs failed to hatch.

The nest behind the Cage Center athletic complex was first discovered in the spring of 2012 and the pair produced their first two eaglets in 2013.

Those two, if they have survived, are now at the point where they could be reproducing. It takes bald eagles five years to become sexually mature.


Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for January 13, 2020

On January 13, 1733, the ship Ann (sometimes spelled “Anne”) sailed into Charles Town harbor and was met by South Carolina Governor Robert Johnson and the Speaker of the Commons House of Assembly. Aboard the ship were James Oglethorpe and the first 114 colonists of what would become Georgia. Later that year they would land at a high bluff on the Savannah River and found the city of Savannah.

On January 13, 1959, Ernest Vandiver was inaugurated as Governor of Georgia.

On January 13, 1966, President Lyndon Baines Johnson appointed Robert C. Weaver head of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), making Weaver the first African-American cabinet secretary in U.S. History.

On January 13, 1982, Hank Aaron was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.

January 13, 1987 saw the inauguration of Governor Joe Frank Harris to his second term in office.

On January 13, 1998, Governor Zell Miller presented his $12.5 billion FY1999 budget to the Georgia General Assembly, including $105,000 to provide CDs of classical music for every baby born in the state. According to the New York Times,

“No one questions that listening to music at a very early age affects the spatial, temporal reasoning that underlies math and engineering and even chess,” the Governor said[]. “Having that infant listen to soothing music helps those trillions of brain connections to develop.”

Mr. Miller said he became intrigued by the connection between music and child development at a series of recent seminars sponsored by the Education Commission of the States. As a great-grandfather and the author of “They Hear Georgia Singing” (Mercer University Press, 1983), an encyclopedia of the state’s musical history, Mr. Miller said his fascination came naturally.

He said that he had a stack of research on the subject, but also that his experiences growing up in the mountains of north Georgia had proved convincing.

“Musicians were folks that not only could play a fiddle but they also were good mechanics,” he said. “They could fix your car.”

Legislators, as is their wont, have ideas of their own.

“I asked about the possibility of some Charlie Daniels or something like that,” said Representative Homer M. (Buddy) DeLoach, a Republican from Hinesville, “but they said they thought the classical music has a greater positive impact.”

“Having never studied those impacts too much,” Mr. DeLoach added, “I guess I’ll just have to take their word for that at the moment.”

In 2003, on January 13 at the Georgia Dome, Sonny Perdue took the oath of office as Georgia’s second Republican Governor, the first since Reconstruction.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

The 155th Georgia General Assembly convenes today in its second session.

Budget issues will drive much of the session, including whether they adjourn before or after the March 24 Presidential Preference Primary. From NewsChannel9:

The state’s flagging revenues are likely to take center stage during the first week, as Republican Gov. Brian Kemp sets an estimate of revenues and a proposal for spending in the 2021 budget year beginning July 1.

Crucially, lawmakers must decide if they’re going ahead with a previously announced plan to further cut Georgia’s top income tax rate to 5.5% from 5.75%. Revenues from income taxes have flagged since a 2019 cut from 6% to the current rate, and a fresh cut could cost state government $550 million in the next budget if lawmakers make it retroactive to Jan. 1 of this year. House Speaker David Ralston, a Blue Ridge Republican, announced support for going forward with the tax cut last week.

Kemp has also promised teachers a further $2,000 pay increase, after lawmakers provided a $3,000 raise last year at his behest. Expectations among teacher groups for a raise this year have clearly fallen, given the tight budget outlook. But the governor hasn’t said whether he wants to go forward with the tax cuts and pay raise this year. Kemp is likely to clear up those questions when he gives his State of the State speech and releases his budget proposal on Thursday.

From The Brunswick News and Dave Williams of Capitol Beat News Service:

The only constitutional requirement Georgia lawmakers must fulfill each year is passing a state budget.

While the legislature grapples with issues including whether to legalize gambling in Georgia, increase the availability of public transit in rural communities and take control of Atlanta’s airport from the city, the top priority will be reducing spending while protecting vital government programs and services.

“I don’t think you can take a blanket approach,” said Georgia House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge. “The budget is about more than numbers and percentages. The budget touches people’s lives.”

Gov. Brian Kemp set the stage last summer for what promises to be a budget-cutting legislative session. With tax revenues running well below projections, the first-year governor ordered most state agencies to reduce spending by 4% during the current fiscal year and 6% in fiscal 2021, which starts July 1.

The General Assembly voted in 2018 to reduce Georgia’s income tax rate for the first time since the 1930s from 6% to 5.75%. This year, lawmakers are due to decide whether to cut the tax rate again to 5.5%.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Jack Hill said the state can’t afford the revenue hit another tax cut would bring.

“One of the reasons we passed this tax cut is we were told there would be a revenue bump from the federal tax cut,” said Hill, R-Reidsville. “I can’t tell that we ever had that bump. … Nobody’s against a tax cut, but we really need to be cautious.”

From the Associated Press:

Faced with a budget shortfall this year, lawmakers may be more willing than in years past to take a hard look at ways to increase revenue, including allowing sports betting, horse racing, casino gambling or some combination of the three.

Expanding gambling would require a state constitutional amendment. Two-thirds of each chamber of the General Assembly must approve, followed by voters in a referendum. Georgia could also allow each county’s voters a separate referendum on local gambling.

House Speaker David Ralston indicated in a news conference Thursday that he favored putting the question to voters for a referendum.

“We’ve talked about this issue here for years, and one of these days we’re either going to have to say ‘we’re going to quit talking and we’re going to vote it, however it comes out is the way it comes out,” said Ralston, a Blue Ridge Republican.

“At some point, I think it is appropriate to let the people of Georgia have the final word,” he said.

From the Gainesville Times:

“Back in 2008, when I was in the Senate, we cut things pretty much to the bone. There’s been some buildup,” State Rep. Lee Hawkins, R-Gainesville, said. “But I can tell you this governor and this legislature are committed to doing cuts, but not cuts where we would reduce services for Georgia citizens.”

One reason behind declining revenues now is the lingering effects of Hurricane Michael, which destroyed crops in south Georgia’s agricultural communities in 2018.

“The cotton crop alone was three quarters of a billion dollars beaten down to the ground. We lost half a billion dollars in vegetables. Over 100 chicken houses were destroyed and 2 million chickens,” Hawkins said. “79,000 acres of timber land was lost. … You don’t plant pecan trees and get pecans the next year. It’s 15 to 20 years.”

State Rep. Matt Dubnik, R-Gainesville, said he thinks it is wiser to make cuts now, when the economy is still doing relatively well.

“The time to really take a look at a budget of any kind is during the good times, not the tough times,” he said. “I’m very much supportive — I’m a fiscal conservative, and I believe in looking anywhere that we can trim fat.”

“The budget cuts are a necessity because revenues aren’t keeping up with expenses,” said state Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville. “We’re going to be cutting fat — not necessary, vital services. In fact, (Georgians) will see an expansion of useful, beneficial, practical government services.”

Budget questions will make it difficult to fund measures recommended by the State House Study Committee on Maternal Mortality, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

As lawmakers gather this week to begin the session, the House Study Committee on Maternal Mortality is providing a number of recommendations to help address the problem in Georgia, which has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the nation.

Georgia currently provides special Medicaid coverage for pregnant women until two months after giving birth for uninsured women with income up to 200% of the federal poverty level. The committee recommended extending that to one year, but the duration of that extension is already being debated in a year when many state agencies are being asked to prepare budget cuts.

“In a year where we are being extra cautious about taxpayer funds, any expansion will be looked at and weighed against any expenditures that are less important or less timely,” said Dr. Mark Newton, R-Augusta, who co-chaired the study committee. “There’s discussions about, is that a step we need to take all at once or can we take incremental steps to try and make some improvements? So I know those are some things that are on the table.”

The Associated Press thinks social issues may be sidelined in this session:

This year, Republican leaders have indicated that there may be less willingness to take on hot-button social issues.

“Last year was a tough session,” House Speaker David Ralston said during a news conference Thursday. “What I would like for us to do is what I think Georgians want us to do, which is to focus on continuing to create the kind of climate where businesses can grow jobs and folks can get up in the morning and send their kids to good schools, that are safe schools, and deal with transportation issues. And so that is where my focus is going to be frankly.”

One possible vehicle for discord could be legislation around adoption reform, which Kemp has identified as a priority this year. A bill seeking to update Georgia’s adoption laws in 2017 died after a Republican senator added an amendment letting private adoption agencies choose not to place children with LGBT parents because of religious concerns. Critics worry similar legislation could be introduced this session.

The Gainesville Times spoke to local legislators about priorities for the 2020 session.

Rep. Lee Hawkins, R-Gainesville, said “the cost of drugs has just skyrocketed,” an issue he hopes to address by regulating pharmacy benefit managers who contract with insurance companies to handle their prescription drug plans.

“They make deals with the drug manufacturers with rebates, with employer groups. We’ve uncovered quite a bit of shenanigans going on,” Hawkins said. “Patients are being charged enormous amounts for a drug that doesn’t cost near what they’re having to pay. That money is being backpedaled to the PBM companies.”

Rep. Emory Dunahoo, R-Gillsville, outlined some other health care issues that he thinks will come up. He sees the mortality rate of mothers at childbirth, rural health care, mental health care and Medicaid expansion as possible issues in the legislature.

One key issue is “balance billing” or “surprise billing,” when patients get a bill from a provider who turns out to be out of network with their insurance company — such as one who performed part of a procedure at a hospital.

Mental health issues also need to be examined, especially in light of the closure of regional hospitals in recent years, Hawkins said.

“You can’t fill a hospital up with the mentally ill and then have nowhere to move them,” Hawkins said. “A lot of these folks, especially young folks … are sitting in jail cells. I’m really sensitive to that.”

The Rome News Tribune also spoke to local legislators headed to the session.

Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome, will be part of a noon press conference spelling out his caucus’ priorities for the coming weeks. The chairman of the Senate Finance Committee said two important pieces of legislation will set the stage for budget discussions.

“I don’t think we have a revenue problem. We have a collection problem,” he said.

A bill enabling sales tax collection from third-party sellers such as Amazon, eBay and Etsy — marketplace facilitators — could bring in at least $150 million more a year, he said.

Hufstetler’s also been working with House Rep. Richard Smith, R-Columbus, on addressing so-called surprise medical billing.

Rep. Katie Dempsey, R-Rome, said she’s going to focus on three recommendations from the Infant and Toddler Social and Emotional Health study committee she chaired this fall.

Democrat Michael Bloomberg spoke to a summit hosted by Stacey Abrams in Atlanta, according to The Grio.

Those unaware of the history between Bloomberg and Abrams might raise an eyebrow at their alliance. Bloomberg, however, has been a long time and an early financial supporter of Abrams. She shared that history as she introduced him to the attendees. According to Abrahams, when she launched the New Georgia Project in 2014 intending to register 800,000 unregistered voters in the state by 2024, Bloomberg was a generous donor. Then in 2018, when Abrams dared to run for governor of Georgia, a feat that would have made her the first Black woman to hold that position in this country, Bloomberg donated significantly to her campaign.

In December 2019, the former New York City Mayor donated $5 million to her Fair Fight 2020, which the Spelman and Yale Law School alum launched months earlier in August to focus on voter protection in 20 battleground states for the 2020 election cycle. Among those states is Georgia, where voter suppression was alleged in Abrams’s slim loss to Republican Brian Kemp, who also served as Secretary of State monitoring that same election. In closing, she presented Bloomberg as “our friend” and “a friend of America” to the group.

At the podium, Bloomberg initially floundered when he spoke of the Atlanta Falcons while referencing his first Georgia visit with Mayor Hardie Davis, Jr. in December. When he turned the focus on voter suppression, he finally gained traction with the group.

“I think it’s fair to say that we all wish that we didn’t have to have this conference,” he told attendees. “If voter suppression wasn’t such a big problem, Stacey wouldn’t have started Fair Fight; she would be in the governor’s mansion.” Continuing he said, “Unfortunately, voter suppression is one of our most urgent challenges. And the right to vote is a fundamental right that protects all others. And it’s under attack around this country.”

From The Chattanooga Times Free Press:

Abrams has met with several White House hopefuls and given no indication that she will endorse anyone. Bloomberg’s moves nonetheless underscore the unusual path he is hoping to carve out to the White House as he bypasses the four early voting states and uses his vast personal fortune to build out a national campaign in the states that follow.

“Our campaign is going to stay here until November,” Bloomberg promised as he officially launched his operation in the state Friday after meeting with Abrams.

Georgia’s primary is March 24, three weeks after a Super Tuesday slate that Bloomberg hopes establishes him as more than a billionaire spoiler.

He lauded Abrams, who would have been the first black woman to lead a U.S. state, and Democratic Rep. John Lewis, the Atlanta civil rights icon who recently announced a dire cancer diagnosis. Bloomberg told the mostly white audience that he’d just come from lunch at Paschal’s, one of the city’s famous black-owned restaurants where Martin Luther King Jr. and his contemporaries often dined and made plans during the civil rights era.

The Georgia Council on Substance Abuse hosted a Bartow County forum, according to the Cartersville Daily Tribune News.

The event began with introductory remarks from District 15 State Rep. Matthew Gambill (R-Cartersville.)

“It is tremendous work that’s very important to all of us who are here today and to those of us here in Bartow County,” he said. “This is an issue that we continue to hear about at the State level … every community is dealing with this.”

Gambill told the attendees he didn’t have any “silver bullets or quick fixes” to remedy Georgia’s substance abuse crisis.

“This is probably going to be more of a crockpot opportunity than a microwave opportunity,” he said. “But the people that are in this room today are all blessed with the knowledge and the ability that we need to continue to provide and to figure out what we need to be doing here in Bartow County to address this issue.”

For Bartow, the next step is a GCSA recovery symposium.

“Individuals in the community come together, we foster these collaborative relationships, we see so many different great organizations that are supporting people, but sometimes we lack that connection,” he said. “At that symposium, we not only hear stories that are powerful from individuals … we get to ask the community some strategic questions that the planning committee has decided upon that are important for that community.”

The local GCSA symposium is scheduled for Feb. 13 at 6:30 p.m. at First Presbyterian Church of Cartersville, located at 183 West Main St.

The Glynn County Board of Elections is preparing to implement new voting machines, according to The Brunswick News.

According to Gabriel Sterling, chief operations officer for the Georgia Secretary of State’s office, Glynn County’s machines will arrive around Jan. 22.

An increase from the 224 machines the county currently has, the state is supplying a total of 255 touchscreen ballot-marking devices, as well as the associated printers, power supplies, privacy screens and carrying cases.

Another 26 scanners, 52 poll books, a central scanner and mobile ballot printer for absentee and provisional, amounts to several hundred new pieces of equipment, Sterling said.

Glynn County was slated to get less, but the state has made it a mission to make sure every county has at least one voting machine for every 225 registered voters. Every county gets exactly as many new machines as it had old machines, while those with fewer get as many more machines as they need to reach that 1-to-225 ratio, Sterling said.

In total, the state is sending out 32,000 touchscreens and around 110,000 pieces of equipment. As of Friday, Sterling said around 70 percent of it had been delivered.

On the local side, Elections and Registration Supervisor Chris Channell said the elections board is preparing for big changes in security, staffing and equipment storage and transport.

“The fact is we’re dealing with paper ballots now, which have to be secured and brought down (from polling places to the elections office),” said Patty Gibson, board chair.

The Glynn County Board of Education is beginning planning for the FY 2021 budget, according to The Brunswick News.

The Dalton Daily Citizen News profiles new Dalton Board of Education members Jody McClurg and Sam Sanders.

Rome will swear in three new City Commissioners, and then a Mayor will be elected by the commission, according to the Rome News Tribune.

For Ward 1, newcomers Jim Bojo and Mark Cochran will join veteran Sundai Stevenson as they are sworn in by Superior Court Chief Judge Bryant Durham at the start of the meeting.

Durham also will swear in Ward 3 newcomer Bonny Askew and veterans Bill Collins and Craig McDaniel. The terms are for four years.

City Attorney Andy Davis will preside over the election of this year’s mayor and pro tem mayor. One year ago, Bill Collins narrowly won the mayoral seat over sitting mayor Jamie Doss.

An injured baby Right Whale has been spotted off the Georgia coast, according to the Savannah Morning News.

A newborn right whale spotted off the coast of Georgia was suffering from deep cuts on either side of its head, dismaying conservationists who closely monitor the southeast U.S. coast during winter for births among the critically endangered species.

The S-shaped gashes, roughly 2 feet (0.6 meters) apart, were likely inflicted by the propeller of a boat, said Barb Zoodsma, who oversees the right whale recovery program in the U.S. Southeast for the National Marine Fisheries Service.

“If this was a human baby, this calf would be in the NICU right now,” Zoodsma said, referring to a hospital’s intensive care unit for babies. ”… And it’s highly unlikely that we can fix this animal.”

Scientists estimate only about 450 North Atlantic right whales survive. Each winter, female right whales migrate south to the shallow, warmer Atlantic waters off Georgia and Florida to have their babies.