Category: Georgia Politics

11
Jan

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for January 11, 2018

On January 11, 1765, Francis Salvador of South Carolina became the first Jewish elected official in America when he took a seat in the South Carolina Provincial Congress. Salvador’s grandfather was one of 42 Jews who emigrated to Georgia in 1733. Salvador later became the first Jewish soldier to die in the American Revolution.

On January 11, 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt declared the Grand Canyon a national monument.

“Let this great wonder of nature remain as it now is,” he declared. “You cannot improve on it. But what you can do is keep it for your children, your children’s children, and all who come after you, as the one great sight which every American should see.”

Marvin Griffin of Bainbridge was inaugurated as Governor of Georgia on January 11, 1955.

Marvin Griffin Monument

The first inauguration of Governor Joe Frank Harris was held on January 11, 1983.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Governor Nathan Deal yesterday spoke to the Georgia Chamber’s “Eggs and Issues” breakfast, delivering a speech titled, “Nothin’ Lame about this Duck.” Here’s the money quote.

A major brand we hope to welcome to Georgia in the coming year is, of course, Amazon with its forthcoming HQ2 announcement. Like everyone else in this room and under the Gold Dome, I am excited by this prospect. Rest assured that we have made a strong, highly competitive offer that highlights all that makes us unique and truly the best place for any company to do business – our skilled workforce, our strengthening infrastructure, our business-friendly policies and our connection to the global market.

Given the nature of Amazon’s announcement and the frenzied publicity it has generated, many people suddenly have a lot of advice about what we should do. Do not listen to those voices!

It may be months before Amazon makes a decision or even narrows their choices, and we have many important issues to consider in the interim during this legislative session. We cannot waste valuable time, energy and effort when what we should be doing is focusing on enhancing those issues which have already made us an attractive candidate to Amazon.

We have opportunities over the next few months to strengthen our education system, improve the health and safety of our youngest citizens and invest in our network of transportation infrastructure. We cannot allow those opportunities to pass us by as we wait on another.

Until such a time as we are given notice that we are on the shortlist of candidates, it would be very unwise for this session of the General Assembly to consume valuable time trying to guess what Amazon is going to do. Such speculation may in fact do us more harm than good.

To those who believe we should instead spend that time passing Amazon-specific legislation, let me assure you that if Georgia makes the list of final three contenders for HQ2, I will call a special session so that we can make whatever statutory changes are required to accommodate a business opportunity of this magnitude. To do so before we know where we stand would be presumptuous on our part and premature.

As we know, there is a time and a season for all things; and when the right time comes, we will focus our full attention and efforts on the success Amazon can enjoy by bringing their second headquarters to Georgia.

From the Gainesville Times:

But the announcement has also prompted hand-wringing from lawmakers and lobbyists worried about laws (especially those dealing with social issues and taxes) that might push Amazon away from their state.

On Wednesday, Deal asked the chamber audience to get their lawmakers on board with constitutional changes to the court system that would create a business court open to “provide an efficient and dependable forum to litigants in every corner of the state for the resolution of complex matters,” Deal said.

A business court would resolve complex legal questions affecting businesses and corporations in Georgia, but the constitutional amendment requires supermajority support from the General Assembly and popular support through a ballot measure.

From the Gwinnett Daily Post:

He outlined some initiatives he wants to undertake in his final year as governor, such as upgrading 11 regional airports in mostly rural counties, putting $35 million in the state budget for the Savannah port deepening project and implementing recommendations from his Court Reform Council.

The airports that Deal is targeting for upgrades are located in Burke, Colquitt, Cook, Coweta, Macon, Morgan, Newton, Polk, Seminole, Washington and Wilkes counties.

The improvements at the airports in Burke, Colquitt, Cook, Macon, Morgan, Polk, Seminole, Washington and Wilkes counties are intended to spur economic development in those rural areas.

“Many of the towns and cities in these counties lack direct access to our interstate highway system and are unlikely to have such access in the foreseeable future,” the governor said. “Their airports provide the best option for job creators interested in viewing their resources.

“Therefore, these upgraded airports will provide rural Georgia with a competitive advantage and a strong boost in their efforts to attract new companies.”

Meanwhile, the improvements at the airports in Coweta and Newton counties are intended to relieve demand on other regional airports in metro Atlanta.

The governor said the improvements at all 11 airports should have economic development benefits.

Governor Deal will deliver the State of the State Address today at 11 AM in the House Chamber. Click here to watch the live stream.

Both Chambers convene this morning at 10 AM.

The House and Senate Joint Transportation Committee meets today at Noon in 506 CLOB.

The Georgia Senate Retirement Committee meets today at 3 PM in 310 CLOB.

The Georgia Senate Judiciary Committee adopted an amended version of the House adoption bill yesterday.

A bill to make adoptions in Georgia faster and easier passed a state Senate committee Wednesday, without controversial “religious liberty” provisions that stalled the legislation last year.

But senators changed the adoption legislation, House Bill 159, in other ways that could hurt its chances of becoming law.

The amended version of the bill includes a proposal Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed last year, limits expense payments to birth mothers and partially reinstates waiting periods before adoptions can be finalized.

The version that passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on an 8-2 vote Wednesday could receive a vote by the full Senate by the end of next week. It would then return to the House, which unanimously approved its version of the bill last year.

Both Deal and Ralston demanded a “clean” version of the bill this year, stripped of discriminatory language. It’s unclear whether the Senate’s revisions will be satisfactory when the bill returns to the House.

State Sen. Josh McKoon said senators decided to focus on adoptions and deal with religious protections later.

“Modernizing the adoption code is more important than dealing with that issue within this bill,” said McKoon, R-Columbus. “It’s disappointing to me that we have people engaged in this process for whom it’s evidently more important for them to get their way on the bill than to provide common-sense protections for faith-based adoption agencies.”

From The Valdosta Daily Times:

State representatives are urging their Senate colleagues to pass an adoption bill that stalled last year after a religious liberty amendment was added.

“It’s great to be a Georgia bulldog, but it’s not great to be a Georgia orphan or a Georgia family seeking adoption,” Rep. Christian Coomer, R-Cartersville, said in the House Chamber Tuesday, which was the second day of the new session.

State Senator Bruce Thompson (R-White) introduced Senate Bill 315 to criminalize any unauthorized use of a computer.

Attorney General Chris Carr said Georgia is one of only three states in the nation where it’s not illegal to access a computer as long as nothing is disrupted or stolen.

“This doesn’t make any sense. Unlawfully accessing any computer in Georgia should be a crime, and we must fix this loophole,” Carr said in a statement. “This bill will help us more effectively fight cybercrime in our state.”

Any equipment used to access a computer without permission would be considered contraband, subject to forfeiture to the state, according to the legislation.

From the Daily Report:

Thompson dropped the bill in the first hours of the 2018 legislative session Monday, Carr said. Co-sponsors include Republican Sens. John Albers of Alpharetta, Bill Cowsert of Athens, Butch Miller of Gainesville, Renee Unterman of Buford and Jeff Mullis of Chickamauga. The bill would create the new crime of unauthorized computer access and make it punishable as a misdemeanor of a “high and aggravated nature.”

“Unlawfully accessing any computer in Georgia should be a crime, and we must fix this loophole,” Carr said. “By adding greater protections and penalties against unauthorized computer access, we believe this bill will help us more effectively fight cybercrime in our state.”

House Bill 51 by State Rep. Earl Ehrhart (R-Powder Springs) addressing college treatment of sexual assault claims, may have a second chance in the Senate, according to the Athens Banner-Herald.

On the second day of the 2018 session, the state Senate voted without debate to move House Bill 51 to a new committee after the Senate Judiciary Committee left it in legislative limbo without a vote last year.

The measure’s sponsor, Republican Rep. Earl Ehrhart of Powder Springs, has said safeguards are needed to prevent campus disciplinary proceedings from tarnishing the reputations of students accused of rapes and assaults while denying them due process.

Opponents argue Ehrhart’s bill would discourage some victims from seeking help on campus by requiring schools to report felonies, including sexual assaults, to police.

The House approved the measure last year before it ran into problems in the Senate Judiciary Committee. The full Senate on Tuesday agreed to move the bill to the chamber’s Higher Education Committee.

State Rep. Patty James Bentley (D-Butler) introduced House Bill 667, which would have the effect of requiring instant replay in high school football playoffs and championships.

State Rep. Patty James Bentley said she filed the bill because of what happened with the Peach County High School football team back in December. That was when a controversial call cost Peach County a late-game touchdown in the state 3A football championship.

“Technology is so advanced now, there’s no reason they should not have this already in place,” she said, referring to the Georgia High School Association, which organizes public high school sports.

“It should not be that expensive, so they shouldn’t have to pass a huge financial burden onto schools that are members of the association,” said Bentley.

Bentley, a Democrat, represents part of Peach County. Republican Robert Dickey, who represents the other part, also signed House Bill 667.

State Rep. John Carson (R-Cobb) introduced House Bill 673, designed to limit distracted driving.

While it is already against state law to text while driving, police are required to prove motorists have sent a message from behind the wheel, which police say makes the law virtually unenforceable.

“Public safety personnel made it very clear to us that the texting law is ineffective,” Carson said at a press conference called on the second floor of the Gold Dome. “They simply don’t know whether a driver is texting.”

The number of motorists killed on Georgia’s roads has increased in recent years and Carson said he hopes to reduce the number of deaths by changing driver behavior. There were more than 1,500 motor vehicle fatalities in the state in each of the last two years, according to the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety.

House Bill 673, the hands-free bill introduced Wednesday, would allow motorists to touch their phones once to initiate a call or their navigation apps, but that’s it. Fifteen states and Washington D.C. have similar laws on the books aimed at keeping phones out of drivers’ hands.

Carson’s bill would also increase the fines and penalties assessed on drivers caught using their phones behind the wheel, from a $150 fine and one point on a motorist’s driving record to a $300 to $450 fine on first offenses and a three-point penalty.

Georgia State Patrol Col. Mark McDonough said today’s society has an addiction to electronic devices.

“The fact of the matter is crashes are increasing because of that addictive response to this,” he said, holding up his phone to the reporters gathered under the rotunda. “We have to change behavior … If your eyes are on a cellphone they can’t be on the roadway in front of you.”

Senator Matt Brass (R-Newnan) will Chair the Senate Reapportionment and Redistricting Committee.

“It’s an honor to be appointed to serve as Chairman of the Reapportionment and Redistricting Committee for the 2018 session,” said Sen. Brass.

Congressman Buddy Carter (R-Pooler) is asking for federal hearings on a proposal to allow offshore oil drilling.

“While I applaud the Trump administration for moving forward with a plan to increase America’s energy independence, I am committed to ensuring any moves are made in the best interest of the First District,” U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter said in a press release. “This starts with having an open and honest discussion here on the coast where Coastal Georgians can ask questions and let their voices be heard. I will absolutely be helping to facilitate this meeting and I will stay in contact with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management until it happens.”

The Trump Administration last week announced plans to consider almost all of the U.S. coast, more than 90 percent of the offshore continental shelf, for exploration and drilling. The current plan, by comparison, puts only 6 percent on the table. Gone also is the 50-mile buffer previously included in the Obama administration’s five-year plan. The new draft plan from BOEM proposes three lease sales in the South Atlantic planning area that includes Georgia. There have been no sales in the Atlantic since 1983 and there are no existing leases.

The current schedule of BOEM meetings includes one in each coastal state, at the state’s capital. The Atlanta meeting is the last one, scheduled for Feb. 28. At about a 200-mile distance from the coast, the meeting will be farther away from Savannah than future oil rigs could be.

Carter, R-Ga., continues to support what he calls an “all of the above” energy strategy that includes offshore drilling and exploration.

Former Dawsonville Mayor James Grogan qualified for the Special Election to retake the Mayor’s Office from which he was removed last yeat by a vote of City Council.

Grogan, 75, is seeking to finish a term that he started on Jan. 1, 2016 that was unceremoniously cut short by a vote of city council last year.

If elected during the March 20 special election, Grogan would be working with two city council members who voted for his removal in May of 2016, Caleb Phillips and Jason Power. One of the council members who voted to remove him, Angie Smith, and another who did not, Mike Sosebee,  were defeated in the November election by newcomers Mark French and Stephen Tolson, who took office Jan. 1.

Grogan said Jan. 2 that if elected, he would be ready to work with the new council and move forward.

Grogan served on the city council from 2010 to 2012, and was appointed acting mayor in April 2012 after the death of Joe Lane Cox. He won the July 31, 2012 special election and was re-elected in 2015 for a four-year term.

The elected mayor will serve the remainder of Grogan’s unexpired term, until Dec. 31, 2019.

Lowndes County Commission voted against granting a church a property tax refund on property that is not exempt.

 In a 3-2 vote Tuesday, the county denied a church’s claim that a daycare center it operates qualified as a place of religious worship, making it exempt from property taxes.

Union Cathedral Church requested a refund of taxes from the county on property the church uses as a daycare, which is not exempt like churches. The property is located at 1903 N. Forrest St.

The Lowndes County Commission voted against the request, with Chairman Bill Slaughter being required to vote in order to break a tie.

Commissioners Clay Griner and Scott Orenstein voted in favor of denying the claim and commissioners Mark Wisenbaker and Joyce Evans voted against it.

Commissioner Demarcus Marshall recused himself from voting as his daughter attends the daycare center in question.

Brandon Garrett announced he will run for Augusta Commission District 8.

Brandon Garrett, an account executive for Lamar Advertising, said he wants to bring energy and unity to the commission.

District 8 is the largest and most rural of Augusta’s eight regular commission districts. It includes most of Fort Gordon and the municipalities of Hephzibah and Blythe and stretches east along the southern boundary of Augusta-Richmond County to the Savannah River.

Commissioner Wayne Guilfoyle is completing his second term on the commission representing District 8 and is term-limited. Elections for nonpartisan commission seats are May 22.

Garrett, who serves on Augusta’s planning commission, said he realized almost immediately that building an arena at the vacant Regency Mall site was a bad idea and his neighbors mostly agree.

Navicent Health in middle Georgia is restricting visitors under age 12 due to flu concerns.

The new visitation policy applies to the Medical Center, Navicent Health Baldwin, the Medical Center of Peach County and Navicent Health and Rehabilitation Hospital.

“Our policies and actions are designed to protect those at greatest risk during the flu season,” Dr. Chris Hendry, Navicent Health’s executive vice president and chief operating officer, said in the news release.

Georgia is one of 46 states to report widespread cases of the flu this year, according to the CDC website.

Don’t be offended if I don’t shake your hand – I cannot afford under any circumstance to get sick. Thank you.

Mary Susan Powers and Vanessa Hope Weeks qualified for a special election on March 20, 2018 to Hoschton City Council.

[City Clerk Wendy] Wilson said city leaders are anticipating a second special election later this year, with Councilwoman Tracy Jordan expected to step down in May to make a run for Georgia Insurance Commissioner.

Floyd County Sheriff Tim Burkhalter announced he will not run for reelection in 2020.

Sheriff Tim Burkhalter said he isn’t running for sheriff again in 2020 on Wednesday, and current Chief of Operations Tom Caldwell announced his candidacy.

“I am pleased to announce my candidacy for sheriff to succeed my long-time friend and one of the best to ever hold the position,” Caldwell said.

Sheriff Tim Burkhalter’s term expires in 2020 at the end of his fourth term in that post. Burkhalter said while it’s still several years down the road, the prospect of doing something a little different sounds good after thirty plus years at the FCSO.

“Transparency in our operations, a more modern and professional sheriff’s office with a strong commitment to community involvement have made the foundation for our successes,” Caldwell said. “My experience over these 13 years as chief of operations gives me the unique insight to understand the critical operations and constitutional duties of this office. I believe this will ensure a smooth transition so that we can continue to improve as an agency and dispense a better delivery of services to the community.”

Caldwell is going to run for the office as a Republican.

Newnan Mayor Keith Brady was sworn-in for a new term.

The Newnan Planning Commission approved a proposal to regulate short-term rentals like AirBNB.

The commission met Tuesday night and heard a proposal from City Planner Dean Smith. Smith outlined rules that would limit the number of guests, require notice to neighboring property owners and set up a grievance process.

After discussion, the planning board approved Smith’s proposal and added rules relating to parking. The proposal now goes to the Newnan City Council.

Technically, the concept is illegal in Newnan. Boarding houses, which allow people to rent rooms for short periods, are allowed only in locations grandfathered in because they were in business before a major zoning overhaul in 2000.

“We have the option of just saying this is a prohibited use,” Smith advised the commission. He told them some city residents have stayed in Air B&B spaces in other places and would like to see people have that experience in Newnan.

General Beauregard Lee, Gwinnett County’s most-famous rodent, has moved from the now-closed Yellow River Game Ranch to Butts County.

The groundhog is now housed at Dauset Trails Nature Center, which will carry on the Groundhog Day tradition with a ceremony on Feb. 2.

The Yellow River Game Ranch closed suddenly in mid-December after 62 years in operation as a home to injured and neglected animals, including some wild game animals that couldn’t be released into the wild. It also let the public come in and interact with the animals in a petting zoo format.

“Since they had to close, we offered to transfer some animals to Dauset Trails, including Gen. Lee,” said Gordon Respess, a naturalist at Dauset Trails Nature Center near Jackson.

Respess said the workers there are still finishing the exhibit where the general will live, so he is not yet on public display. Respess said Lee will make his debut during the Groundhog Day celebration, which will be held at sunrise, around 7:30 a.m.

10
Jan

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for January 10, 2018

On January 10, 1868, the Georgia Equal Rights Association was formed in Augusta.

On January 10, 1870, the Georgia General Assembly convened and seated African-American legislators who had been expelled in 1868.

Eugene Talmadge was sworn-in to his first term as Governor of Georgia on January 10, 1933.

Talmadge fired elected officials who resisted his authority. Others were thrown out of their offices. Literally.

After Julian Bond’s election to the Georgia House of Representatives in 1965, the chamber voted against seating him ostensibly because he had publicly state his opposition to the war in Vietnam. On January 10, 1967, after the United States Supreme Court held the legislature had denied Bond his right to free speech, he was seated as a member of the State House.

Georgia Native James Brown was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Shame Fame on January 10, 1997.

Governor Nathan Deal was sworn-in as the 82d Governor of Georgia on January 10, 2011 while snow shut down the planned public Inaugural.

Under the Gold Dome

The Senate Judiciary Committee meets today at 4 PM in Room 307 of the Coverdell Legislative Office Building.

The House Ways and Means Committee meets today at 1 PM in Room 406 of the Coverdell Legislative Office Building.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Former State Rep.  Brian Strickland (R-McDonough) was elected yesterday to State Senate District 17, winning nearly 62% of votes among a field of four.

From HenryHerald.com:

Republican Brian Strickland of McDonough, who served the last five years as the House District 111 representative, will move into the vacated Senate District 17 post following his win in a special election Tuesday. Strickland, an attorney, is replacing fellow Republican Rick Jeffares, who resigned his post earlier this year to concentrate on his run for lieutenant governor.

Of the 133,001 registered voters in Senate District 17, only 9,060 cast ballots in the special election, a paltry 6.82 percent of the voters.

Republican Geoffrey Cauble (R-McDonough) was elected to the House District 111 seat vacated by Strickland, garnering just over 51% among four candidates.

Cauble said he was excited about his win and what he could do for Henry County.

“We want to continue to grow and diversify the economy,” Cauble said Tuesday night. “I’m all about workforce education, economic growth and infrastructure. We have a delegation focused on building the foundation for Henry County’s future success.

“I love Henry County and the people here,” Cauble continued. “The future is bright and I’m excited to be a part of that.”

Cauble is a general contractor and currently serves as the chairman of the Henry County Development Authority.

The AJC Political Insider writes that Rep. Rich Golick’s decision not to run for reelection opens the door for a possible Democratic pickup.

House District 40, which runs east-west along the intersection of I-75 and I-285, has become increasingly competitive. The timeline has been relentless:

– In 2012, Golick ran unopposed.

– In 2014, a Democratic opponent, Erick Allen, made his first appearance and pulled 40 percent of the vote. (Allen is a former division director with the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Development Disabilities.)

– In 2016, Allen again challenged Golick, this time getting more than 46 percent of the vote. Worse, Allen spent $26,159 in his bid. The incumbent Republican spent nearly seven times that.

Other measurements: House District 40 went for Republican David Perdue (52 percent) over Democrat Michelle Nunn in the 2014 race for U.S. Senate, but went for Hillary Clinton (54 percent) over Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential contest. U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, a Republican, barely carried it in his 2016 re-election bid.

Given that 2018 is likely to be a backlash year for Republicans, the seat could be a hard one to hold — not unlike the Senate District Six seat lost by Republicans in a special election last year. The two districts have significant overlap.

State Rep. Clay Cox (R-Lilburn) was named Vice Chair of the House Juvenile Justice Committee.

“As state leaders, it is essential that we protect our state’s most vulnerable citizens — our children and youth,” Cox said in a statement. “The Juvenile Justice Committee plays a critical role in ensuring all of our state’s children are taken care of, and it is an honor to serve in this new leadership role.

“I look forward to working diligently on behalf of Georgia’s children as vice chairman of the Juvenile Justice Committee.”

Cox is in his second stint in the House of Representatives. He previously served in the chamber from 2005-11. He was re-elected to the chamber by voters in 2016.

State legislators are unlikely to seek a Medicaid waiver this year.

“Everybody wants to talk about waivers,” Sen. Dean Burke, R-Bainbridge, said Monday at the final meeting of the Senate’s Health Care Reform Task Force, which has been meeting for the last year.

“Waivers – at this point in my mind – is kind of getting the cart before the horse because they’re highly, highly technical,” Burke said.

The task force’s report, which was released Monday, noted two different waiver options: One lets a state experiment with restructuring its health-care market. Another allows a state to try different approaches to Medicaid, such as adding work requirements.

Burke said afterwards that it would be difficult to pursue a waiver this legislative session, which started Monday. Rather, the panel sees an opportunity to possibly tee up the issue for next year, he said.

“I think we need to know what our goals are before we start writing waivers,” Burke said at the meeting.

“In our mind, this has got to be driven from the executive branch,” said Burke, who is carrying the measure and who serves on the task force. “This has got to be a priority of the state.”

Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle campaigned in Columbus last night.

Cagle, a Republican candidate for governor to fill the office held by Gov. Nathan Deal, was the featured speaker for about 70 supporters during the Muscogee County Republican Party’s monthly meeting at the DoubleTree Hotel on Sidney Simons Boulevard. He faces a crowded field for the Republican nomination with Secretary of State Brian Kemp, former state Sen. Hunter Hill and Sen. Michael Williams.

After attending a fundraiser in downtown Columbus on Thursday, Cagle returned to the city to focus on planning for a state projected to grow by 4.5 million people, expanding broadband connections, allowing choice in education and improving the infrastructure.

“Georgia is expected to grow by 4.5 million people so we have to be ready to plan in what that growth is going to look like,” he said.

A top priority is to build the infrastructure in road and bridges to support the growth. “We’ve got to be willing to have a 10-year strategic plan to think out of the box to go under, over and around things of that nature,” he said before the meeting.

Alton Russell, chairman of the Muscogee County Republican Party, said about 100 people were expected for the event. Other candidates attending the event included attorney Josh McKoon , a candidate for Secretary of State, and Vance Smith, who is seeking a House seat.

Gwinnett County Commission Chair Charlotte Nash will deliver the State of the County on February 14 at 11:30 at Infinite Energy Center.

Lawyers for Glynn County moved to dismiss a lawsuit over short-term rentals.

Glynn County’s attorneys want a lawsuit filed last year dismissed because they say the zoning ordinance doesn’t prohibit vacation rentals in certain neighborhoods on St. Simons Island.

Catherine Kyker, a resident of the King City neighborhood near the Pier Village, filed a complaint for a writ of mandamus in Glynn County Superior Court in November. A writ of mandamus is a legal ruling requiring a government entity to fulfill a legally required duty if a court finds it was not doing so.

The court filing claims short-term vacation rentals are not allowed in residential areas zoned R-6. An R-6 lot is one smaller than 6,000 square feet.

In the motion to dismiss, the county’s lawyers state, among other things, that the Glynn County zoning ordinance doesn’t prohibit vacation rentals in R-6 neighborhoods.

Kyker’s initial court filing cited section 302 of the zoning ordinance, which reads “The term dwelling shall not be deemed to include a hotel, motel, rooming house, hospital or other accommodations used for more or less transient (purposes).”

Kyker’s lawyer argued that the definition of dwelling precludes short-term rentals from being a permitted use in residential areas.

9
Jan

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for January 9, 2018

The first modern circus was held in London on January 9, 1768.

Thomas Paine published a pamphlet titled, “Common Sense” on January 9, 1776. The pamphlet is considered to have united colonists to the cause of American independence.

Herman Talmadge was sworn-in to his second term as Governor of Georgia on January 9, 1951.

Segregated seating on Atlanta buses was held unconstitutional by a federal court on January 9, 1959.

Hamilton Holmes and Charlayne Hunter arrived in Athens to register at the University of Georgia on January 9, 1961.

Steve Jobs, Apple CEO, debuted the iPhone on January 9, 2007.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

The United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments yesterday in the dispute between Georgia and Florida over water from the Chattahoochee and Flint Rivers.

Supreme Court justices on Monday seemed sympathetic to Florida officials who complain that their neighbors to the north in Georgia are hogging water in a way that endangers a sensitive Sunshine State estuary.

But while the court seemed to think “common sense” and maybe even physics favored Florida, the powerful U.S. Army Corps of Engineers does not — it favors Georgia, and even the Supreme Court’s clout might not be enough to overcome that.

“There’s nothing common-sense about the operations of this basin,” said Craig S. Primis, a Washington lawyer representing the state of Georgia, who spent much of his time at the lectern during oral arguments fighting questions about why capping Georgia’s consumption of river water would not necessarily result in more water downstream.

“It is incredibly complicated,” he said.

Florida has sued to impose consumption caps on Georgia, saying the reduced flow of the water, especially during droughts, has harmed its ecosystem.

Ralph I. Lancaster Jr., a special master appointed by the Supreme Court to study the issue, agreed Florida had been harmed. But he ruled that the Corps really controls the flow of water and that Florida had not met its obligation to show that the caps it would impose in Georgia would actually benefit Florida.

Governor Nathan Deal will speak at the Georgia Chamber of Commerce Eggs and Issues breakfast on Wednesday at 8 AM at the Georgia World Congress Center. On Thursday, he will deliver the State of the State at 11 AM in the House Chamber. At 2 PM on Wednesday, Chief of Staff Chris Riley and Office of Planning and Budget Director Teresa MacCartney will deliver a press briefing on the Governor’s budget proposal.

Gov. Deal announced last week that state revenues were up 10 percent in December over the same month a year before.

Georgia’s net tax collections for December totaled $2.26 billion, for an increase of $206.1 million, or 10 percent, compared to last year when net tax collections totaled nearly $2.06 billion. Year-to-date, net tax collections totaled $11.3 billion, for an increase of $444.7 million, or 4.1 percent, over December 2016, when net tax revenues totaled roughly $10.86 billion six months into the fiscal year.

Individual Income Tax collections for the month totaled $1.26 billion, up from approximately $1.11 billion in December 2016, for an increase of approximately $146 million, or 13.1 percent.

Georgia State Senator Butch Miller (R-Gainesville) was formally elected President Pro Tempore in the opening minutes of yesterday’s first legislative day of the 2018 Session. From the Gainesville Times:

A significant moment came before noon in the Senate when Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, was officially voted in as Senate president pro tem — making him the second-in-command of the Senate. Miller is now second only to Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, president of the Senate.

An often-discussed issue around the legislature Monday, and in the days leading up to the session, has been the 2017 adoption reform bill that died in the final hours of the previous session. Both Gov. Nathan Deal and House Speaker David Ralston have called for a “clean” version of the bill to be passed by lawmakers early in the session.

Miller told The Times on Monday that the bill was “an important bill for Georgia, and it’s an even more important bill for families.” He said lawmakers had a responsibility to make adoption “as seamless as possible” in Georgia, and that a bill would be coming in the first weeks of the session.
Miller noted those issues and a few others as being on the legislative agenda this year: economic development and reform of criminal and juvenile justice — including additional changes to law enforcement pay in the state.

The senator also said he intends to continue reforms to the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services.

“We’ve made great progress in the DFCS area, but there’s a lot to be done,” Miller said, noting that he aimed to get a bill through that makes changes to “staffing levels” and “credentialing” of employees to get the “right people in the right positions and (help) the agencies — and agencies in general — find the right people and attract the right kind of talent.”

He said he would have a better grasp of legislative priorities in the Senate by the end of the week.

State Senator David Shafer (R-Duluth) gave his last speech as Senate President Pro Tem, as he runs for Lieutenant Governor.

Shafer recalled joining the Senate midway through the 2002 session. At the time, Republicans held 21 seats in the Senate and were therefore the chamber’s minority party. Shafer’s seat mate in the Senate was then-Sen. Casey Cagle.

“Most of us believed that we would eventually become the majority party, but none of us realistically thought that moment was only months away,” Shafer said.

“While I cannot say that I have enjoyed every minute of my time in the legislature, as I survey the last seventeen years, I feel immense gratitude at the opportunity to be part of what we have accomplished together.”

Shafer also told the Senate that he is proud of some of the things that have come from the chamber over the years including a shift toward zero-based budgeting and amending the state Constitution to cap the state income tax.

“And I am very grateful for the opportunities I have had to participate in the work of this body,” he said. “I am especially grateful for the opportunity to serve as your president pro tem.”

State Representative Rich Golick (R-Smyrna) announced he will not run for reelection this year.

Golick, one of Cobb’s longest-tenured legislators, was first elected to the State House of Representatives in 1998.

“… After 20 years of service, I will be retiring from the State House at the end of this term. Over the holidays, I took a hard look at the calendar, and the fact is my younger son will be heading off to college in less than four years. When I was growing up, it was just my mother and myself, and I remember very clearly how difficult that was for me. I promised myself many years ago that I would be a fully engaged father to my two sons — especially during the all-important teenage years — but there’s just no way for me to keep that promise completely if I’m running a time-consuming campaign this summer and fall — in addition to fulfilling my private sector job responsibilities — and then serving an additional two years in the State House on top of that. The choice was clear and obvious.

State Senate District 17 and House District 111 are up for grabs today, as voters go to the polls.

Sen. Rick Jeffares, R-McDonough, resigned to focus on his bid for lieutenant governor. Rep. Brian Strickland, R-McDonough, resigned the House District 111 seat to run for the seat Jeffares ceded.

Candidates for the District 17 Senate seat are Conyers pastor Phyllis Hatcher; McDonough business owner Nelva Lee; Strickland, a McDonough attorney; and retired civil engineer Ed Toney, of Hampton.

Hatcher is a Democrat while Lee, Strickland and Toney are Republicans.

Senate District 17 includes southern and eastern Newton County and splits Covington. Jeffares served the district since 2011.

House District 111 includes part of Henry County, and its candidates also have been invited to Thursday’s forum. Running for the House seat are Democrats Tarji Leonard Dunn, a real estate broker, and El-Mahdi Holly, a substitute teacher from Stockbrige, as well as Republicans Geoffrey Cauble, a general contractor from Locust Grove, and Larry K. Morey, a real estate developer from McDonough.

In both races, all four candidates will appear on the same ballot. If no candidate receives more than half the votes, the top two vote-getters will meet in a runoff on Feb. 6.

Three State Senators received new committee chair assignments. Senator Ben Watson (R-Savannah) was named Chair of the Georgia Senate Veterans, Military and Homeland Security Committee. Senator John Albers (R-Roswell) will chair the Senate Public Safety Committee. Senator Greg Kirk (R-Americus) will chair the Senate State and Local Government Operations Committee.

Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle’s Health Care Reform Task Force issued its recommendations.

The Senate Health Care Reform Task Force’s steps may eventually lead to big solutions. It recommended the formation of two groups to research the state’s health care needs, form a strategic plan and make their own recommendations.

They would be called the Health Coordination and Innovation Council and the Health System Innovation Center. They would be formed without requiring new money from the state budget, Cagle said.

State Sen. Chuck Huftstetler, a task force member and a Rome Republican, has voiced support for covering more poor Georgians through what is called a Medicaid “waiver.” He said he was not disappointed by the outcome.

“I think we’ve got some great legislation that’s going to look at the person as a whole” — integrating data that is currently dispersed into a more coherent picture, Hufstetler said. Then the lawmakers could use the whole picture to make better decisions, he said.

From Georgia Health News:

The task force held five meetings across the state last year, talking to local residents about the problems their communities were facing.

State Sen. Dean Burke said the Senate is developing legislation to create the two proposed centers.

“I think we need to know what are goals are’’ prior to developing federal ‘’waiver’’ applications to improve health care, said Burke, a Bainbridge Republican.

The Health Coordination and Innovation Council, the report said, would provide a platform for stakeholders to identify and unite behind policy priorities, promote innovation, and oversee the implementation of a strategic plan for the future of health care statewide.

Meanwhile, the Health System Innovation Center would develop the technical expertise of the state’s academic, health policy, data, and workforce resources. The Center will also provide technical assistance to support rural providers in leading a transformation that improves access to quality, affordable care, the report said.

State Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford) said that she hoped these initiatives would help address the state’s deficits in mental health care, as well as the opioid problem in the state.

From the Rome Tribune:

“It’s time for Georgia to act, and take ownership over the federal government, on healthcare,” said Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, who convened the task force last year to address rising costs and lack of access.

Four main areas of attack are identified: rural healthcare, the opioid cri-sis, mental health and promoting primary and preventative care.

Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome, is one of the seven members of the task force, which unanimously adopted the final report. An anesthetist at Redmond Regional Medical Center, he came out strongly in favor of preventative care.

“I think that’s where the biggest savings are,” Hufstetler said. “I’m in the operating room where I see, after the fact, the failure of not having preventative care and the multiple costs that could have been avoided.”

Unterman said she plans to drop an omnibus bill addressing the opioid epidemic, likely on Jan. 22, and another on children’s mental health.

A plus in the task force’s report, she said, is that it recognizes behavioral health issues are on a par with physical health when it comes to quality of life and economic vitality in the state.

She also emphasized the task force’s focus on collaboration and cooperation among public and private sectors.

“It doesn’t just touch on one agency. What the innovation center has is the ability to bring all these agencies together to work collectively,” Unterman said.

Cagle said the task force would remain intact and continue working through 2018.

Broadband expansion remains a hot topic at the General Assembly.

The lack of access to broadband connectivity was identified as an issue both legislators see as critical to continued economic growth across the state. “I think we will see the HRDC address this issue during the 2018 session,” said Nix. “Exploring new technology and incentives to suppliers are just two ideas that could help.”

“One of the toughest calls I receive from constituents is when a parent lets me know their students can’t do their homework due to the lack of connectivity,” Trammell said.

Seeing no quick solutions, Trammell said he recognizes access to broadband continues to divide communities across the state and acknowledges the General Assembly has an important role in developing solutions through expanded infrastructure.

The Girl Scouts of Historic Georgia suggest renaming Savannah’s Talmadge Bridge after their founder.

On Thursday, Girl Scout representatives informed the Savannah City Council of their intention to ask state legislators to rename the bridge into the city after the organization’s founder and Savannah native, Juliette Gordon Low.

The Girl Scouts adopted the name change as a national policy at their convention in October, said Amy Hughes, with Hughes Public Affairs. The bridge is one of the first things people see when they come into the city, Hughes said.

“It should be a symbol of inclusivity like the Girl Scouts,” she said.

The Girl Scout’s effort comes after the City Council approved a resolution in September for Georgia legislators to rename the state bridge to make the structure more representative of the community. Mayor Eddie DeLoach also proposed the change in response to the violence that had recently occurred in Charlottesville, Va., when white supremacists marched to protest the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

Stephe Koontz was sworn in as a member of the Doraville City Council, becoming Georgia’s only transgender elected official.

Emory University will receive a $400 million dollar gift from the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation.

The Robert W. Woodruff Foundation Jan. 8 announced it has pledged $400 million to Emory University’s medical facilities to find new cures for disease, develop innovative patient care models and improve lives while enhancing the health of individuals in need.

The transformational gift, the largest ever received by Emory, will change the lives of patients and their families. Through a new Winship Cancer Institute Tower in Midtown and a new Health Sciences Research Building on Emory’s Druid Hills campus, the foundation’s generosity will help advance new solutions for some of medicine’s most challenging diagnoses, even changing the meaning of what it means to receive those diagnoses for future generations.

“This is an extraordinary gift at an extraordinary time in Atlanta’s history,” Emory President Claire E. Sterk, PhD., said in a news release. “We are grateful and honored to be the recipients of the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation’s stalwart trust in our mission. The legacy of Mr. Woodruff lives on, and even today, his spirit of generosity is creating hope for those facing the most difficult days of their lives.”

“This gift will allow us to accelerate the scientific discoveries needed for breakthroughs in patient care and to extend our reach in reducing the burden of disease for patients and their families,” Jonathan S. Lewin, MD, Emory’s executive vice president for health affairs and CEO of Emory Healthcare, said in a news release.

The Winship Cancer Institute Tower in Midtown will provide urgently needed infusion facilities, operating rooms, clinical examination rooms, spaces for rehabilitation, imaging technology and clinical research capacity. In April, the institute became Georgia’s first and only National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, joining an elite group, the top 1 percent of cancer centers nationwide.

Tom Cobb resigned as Mayor of Blythe after winning reelection but before being sworn-in.

The newly-elected mayor of Blythe tendered his resignation Friday prior to being sworn in.

Tom Cobb cited health issues and personal reasons and asked for “continual prayers” in a Friday letter, obtained by The Augusta Chronicle, in which he declines the mayor’s position.

Cobb, who previously served as Blythe mayor from 2000-2010, was unopposed for election in November. The term of current mayor Brent Weir, who did not run for reelection, expired Dec. 31, according to Blythe City Clerk Loriann Chancey. Weir succeeded former Blythe mayor Patricia Cole.

The agenda for a Blythe city council meeting Monday includes a call for a special election March 20 to fill the vacancy. Other agenda items include oath-of-office ceremonies for incoming council members Cynthia Parham and Daisy Price, the annual rehiring of city staff and approving two signers for city bank accounts.

Rome City Commissioners elected fellow member Jamie Doss as Mayor.

The Rome City Commission re-elected Jamie Doss to serve as mayor for another year Monday and chose Commissioner Bill Collins as mayor pro tem.

The unanimous votes — during the board’s first meeting of 2018 — followed a ceremony in which Superior Court Chief Judge Tami Colston administered the oaths of office to the three Ward II commissioners who won four-year terms in November.

This will be Collins’ first year as mayor pro tem, the commissioner designated to handle mayoral duties when the mayor is not available. Doss has been awarded the gavel annually since 2014.

Habersham County Commissioners elected Commissioner Victor Anderson as Chair and Natalie Crawford as Vice Chair.

“I appreciate the support that my fellow commissioners put in me to be chairman,” Anderson said. “We’ve got a lot of projects going on right now, some construction projects and some other matters that are underway that I really would like to see completed as chairman, so I hope we’re able to do that in this next year.”

Crawford said she is pleased to be returning to a leadership position in the five-member group.

“I appreciate the confidence of my peers on the commission,” Crawford said. “The role of vice chair is to support the chair, first and foremost, and the policies of this commission. I’m looking forward to another successful year for the Habersham County Commission and continue to work on those projects that we have in the works right now with our administration building; the conversation that we have ongoing with the hospital and trying to get it on sure and secure footing. There are a lot of important projects ahead of us, and this is a commission with an eye to the future and we’ll continue to do that and keep our nose to the grindstone.”

Cobb County Commission Chair Mike Boyce is considering option for addressing a budget gap.

Cobb Chairman Mike Boyce is not ruling out a property tax increase, cuts in county services or a combination thereof as options for filling a projected $30 million gap in Cobb’s fiscal 2019 budget.

In a sit-down interview with the MDJ on Friday, Boyce would not directly commit to his preferred method of addressing the next fiscal year’s budget, but said that the current property tax rate could not cover county services at their current levels.

“We’re in a situation where that millage rate is unsustainable if you want to keep the quality of life as we know it in Cobb County,” Boyce said.

“If the taxpayers decide they want to stick with the current millage rate, which generates about $403 million, what in the (desired) column do you want to give up?” Boyce said.

Beyond a millage increase, Boyce said some variation of Weatherford’s proposal to raise Cobb’s sales tax from 6 to 7 cents on the dollar to fund public safety or on other areas, which would free general fund dollars to cover other costs, is also on the table. A penny tax in Cobb collects about $130 million a year.

But Boyce on Friday was largely noncommittal to any of the four potential options on the table — a millage increase, cuts in services, a combination of the two or Weatherford’s proposed new tax — citing a desire not to detract from Weatherford’s efforts.

Former Democratic Congressman John Barrow, who is running for Secretary of State, indicated on Twitter that he expects State Senator Josh McKoon to be the Republican nominee.

John Barrow Twitter Josh McKoon

And from the Atlanta Journal Constitution and yours truly:

Todd Rehm Hangover Tuesday

AJC Hangover Tuesday2

8
Jan

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for January 8, 2018

Lyman Hall, one of three Georgians who signed the Declaration of Independence, was elected Governor on January 8, 1783.

On January 8, 2007, R.E.M. was announced as an inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Here’s REM at their induction into the Rock Hall.

On January 8, 2014, Atlanta Braves pitchers Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux were announced as incoming members of the Baseball Hall of Fame, along with Columbus, Georgia native Frank Thomas, a long-time Chicago White Sox outfielder.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Governor Nathan Deal, who previously announced that state government would close early today, has closed non-essential state offices today.

“Out of an abundance of caution, we are closing non-essential agencies to ensure our employees’ safety as well as ensure the Georgia Department of Transportation’s ability to maintain and treat our roads,” said Deal. “This closure will run from Columbus across to Augusta and northward. The Capitol will remain open, however, so that the Legislature may gavel into the 2018 session as constitutionally required.”

The Georgia General Assembly gavels in the 2018 session today, with the House convening at 10 AM. I would expect a very short session today, and adoption of an adjournment resolution setting at least the next legislative day.

The Senate’s Georgia Health Care Reform Task Force is scheduled to meet at 1 PM in Room 450 of the State Capitol. Click here to watch the livestream of the committee meeting.

The House Appropriations Committee (Full) meeting scheduled for Tuesday is currently listed as cancelled, but I’d check back later today and in the morning to see if it stays cancelled.

The next state budget is expected to top $26 billion dollars, once the Appropriations Committees begin meeting in earnest.

[T]he state budget — which will be about $26 billion in state revenue and around $50 billion with federal funding included — touches the lives of millions of Georgians.

Gov. Nathan Deal will present his spending plan to lawmakers this week, and then it will be up to them to decide what makes the cut and what doesn’t.

In addition, Deal’s office won’t find out until the first week of the session what impact the federal tax law Congress passed in December will have on the state budget because number-crunching wasn’t completed over the holidays.

“It is going to be one of those years that you are not going to see a lot of new and exciting things,” predicted House Appropriations Chairman Terry England, R-Auburn.

Many states are taking a conservative approach to spending as they see revenue — tax collections — slowing and worry about the uncertain effect of federal tax and spending policy. Also, some officials are concerned that after one of the longest expansion periods in modern history following the Great Recession, the U.S. economy is due for a downturn.

Georgia Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Hill, R-Reidsville, is bullish on the state’s economy. He said Georgia is growing at a faster clip than much of the rest of the country.

“I am really pretty optimistic about this next year,” Hill said. “There are some unknowns. I have tried to look around the corner and see what could go wrong, but I don’t see the negative.”

Deal has traditionally been conservative in his predictions of growth, and despite optimism among his fellow Republicans in Washington about the tax plan, he can’t be sure when the business cycle of expansion and retraction will turn down. Many lawmakers were around a decade ago when the Great Recession brought widespread budget cutting and teacher furloughs.

The governor’s conservative nature on finances is why he’s unlikely to jump on the bandwagon some legislative leaders have gotten rolling to reduce the state income tax rate.

 The Federal Bureau of Investigation warns against flying drones near the National Championship game tonight.

Any aircraft, drones included, are prohibited from flying near the venues used during the championship weekend and game day, including Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Centennial Olympic Park and the Georgia World Congress Center.

Violators would face prosecution under federal law for “flying drones in restricted space,” FBI spokesman Kevin Rowson said Sunday. “Temporary flight restrictions” are in effect.

State Senator Josh McKoon (R-Columbus) pre-filed legislation to open public access to recordings of court sessions.

A bill prefiled in the Georgia Senate would expand public access to records and recordings of judicial proceedings, including court reporters’ recordings that the Georgia Supreme Court recently declared off-limits unless they had been entered into the court record.

Sen. Josh MccKoon, R-Columbus, who filed the bill Dec. 19, said it is in direct response to that ruling.

The opinion ”is a great concern for me from a transparency point of view,” he said. “I think it’s important that the public have access to these documents and records.”

The legislation—Senate Bill 311—would apply to the proceedings of any “tribunal in the state that is vested with powers of a judicial nature” and mandates that access to the records “shall not be exempted by order of a court of this state or by law” unless specifically exempted by the new law.

State Rep. Bubber Epps (R-Dry Branch) proposed a Constitutional Amendment to allow an an education local option sales tax (E-LOST).

Currently, only Colquitt County and nine other rural school districts have been approved for what is known as an education local option sales tax. The tax is different from the sales tax districts ask voters to approve for new high school buildings and other capital projects.

“It’s been working for those districts,” Bleckley County Schools Superintendent Steve Smith told lawmakers, speaking on behalf of several middle Georgia districts that want access to the additional one percent sales tax.

Bleckley County’s neighbor, Houston County, is one of the 10 districts with the tax. That district has been able to pay its starting teachers more than Bleckley County does, which puts his district at a disadvantage, Smith said.

“Being rural and very limited retail-based and very limited industry, it’s a real challenge for us to compete with a Houston County,” he said.

Rep. Bubber Epps, R-Dry Branch, is sponsoring the constitutional amendment, which would let school districts go to voters for a one percent sales tax to fund maintenance and operational expenses for up to five years. Districts would have to present a specific list of projects, just as they do now with capital projects.

“We want to help you help yourselves,” Epps said during a hearing called Thursday on the measure before the House Education Committee.

Georgia Democratic state legislators have released their priorities for the session.

Georgia Democrats lack political power to pass their state legislative agenda this year, but incoming House Minority Leader Bob Trammell says they’ll keep talking about health care, livable wages and education funding.

“We need to use the 40-day legislative session to focus on the big issues that face our state,” said Trammell, who replaces former Minority Leader Stacey Abrams, who resigned to run for governor. “If we can agree to have a conversation on something like Medicaid expansion, we’ll be in a good position this legislative session.”

Many Republicans oppose expansion of Medicaid — the state-federal health care program for the poor and disabled — but they’re considering federal Medicaid waivers that could allow greater flexibility in state health care funding.

Trammell said Medicaid expansion could help insure 600,000 more Georgians.

He also wants a debate on how to increase stagnant employee pay despite low unemployment rates.

State Senator David Shafer (R-Duluth) released a new list of endorsements in his campaign for Lieutenant Governor.

The list includes a few Gwinnett County names, including former representative and current county Commissioner John Heard, Sen. P.K. Martin, Reps. Joyce Chandler, Clay Cox, Brett Harrell, Scott Hilton and Chuck Efstration, former Sen. Clint Day and former Reps. Tom Phillips, Gene Callaway, Ron Crews, Scott Dix, Melvin Everson, Phyllis Miller, Emory Morsberger, Mike Muntean, Tom Rice, Donna Sheldon, Jeff Williams and Valerie Clark.

Sen. Fran Millar, R-Atlanta, and Rep. Tom Kirby, R-Loganville, whose districts reach into Gwinnett County, were also on the list.

The state legislators join a long list of officials and groups that have endorsed Shafer in the race. Other backers include U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, former Sen. Rick Santorum, Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush, former U.S. Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, former Congressmen Bob Barr, John Linder, Ben Blackburn and Fletcher Thompson, philanthropist and Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus, GOPAC, the Georgia Republican Assembly and Republican Liberty Caucus.

Dawsonville and Hoschton will hold special elections to fill vacancies.

Qualifying begins Monday for a special mayoral election in Dawsonville and a city council election in Hoschton.

The Dawsonville election is being held to fill the unexpred term of James Grogan, which ends Dec. 31, 2019. Grogan was removed from office by the city council last year.

[T]he Hoschton election is to fill the post vacated by Scott Butler, who resigned in December.

Both elections will be held March 20.

Rome City Commissioners will meet tonight and elect a Mayor from among their members.

Voters returned Jamie Doss and Wendy Davis to the board in the November election, along with newcomer Randy Davis. City Clerk Joe Smith said Superior Court Chief Judge Tammi Colston is scheduled to administer the oaths.

“Then the city attorney will hold the gavel for the election of the mayor,” Smith added.

Rome’s charter calls for the nine sitting commissioners to elect a mayor each year to preside over the board. Doss has been the choice each year since 2014.

Commissioners are slated to hold their caucus at 5 p.m. and start their regular meeting at 6:30 p.m. in City Hall, 601 Broad St. Both sessions are public.

The agenda is light and several officials have said they want to be home before 8 p.m. to see the Georgia Bulldogs face Alabama’s Crimson Tide for the College Football National Championship.

A first reading is scheduled for a proposed amendment to the city’s alcohol ordinance, with a public hearing and vote slated for the board’s Jan. 22 session.

The change would allow venues that serve liquor to meet the 50/50 food-to-drink sales ratio with food sold from an onsite food truck.

Three members of the Effingham County Commission traveled to Washington last month.

Vera Jones, Phil Kieffer and Reggie Loper were among 100 county leaders from Georgia who took part in the trip sponsored by the National Association of Counties and the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia.

In addition to Pence, they met with Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, Sen. David Perdue and U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter. They heard from federal departments and agencies, including the Small Business Administration, Energy, Transportation, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security and Housing and Urban Development.

They discussed how federal policies impact Georgia counties and residents. Topics included the opioid epidemic, workforce housing, infrastructure, natural disaster preparations and health care reform, along with the latest developments at Plant Vogtle and the Georgia Ports expansion.

5
Jan

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Election for January 5, 2018

Georgia and American History

On January 5, 1734, the Trustees of Georgia ordered the return of 42 Jewish settlers who had come in 1733, primarily from Portugal, without the knowledge or approval of the Trustees. The Brits who sponsored the Jewish settlers refused and Georgia is home to the oldest Jewish settlement in the United States.

On January 5, 1781, traitor Benedict Arnold and 1600 British troops captured Richmond, Virginia.

Samuel Elbert was elected Governor of Georgia for a one-year term on January 6, 1785. Elbert was an early participant in Patriot meetings at Tondee’s Tavern, a Lt. Colonel in the first group of troops raised in Georgia, and a prisoner of war, exchanged for a British General, and eventually promoted to Brigadier General reporting to Gen. George Washington. As Governor, Elbert oversaw the charter of the University of Georgia and afterward, he served briefly as Sheriff of Chatham County.

Georgia voted for George Washington for President on January 7, 1789. Technically, they elected Presidential Electors who would later meet in Augusta and cast their ballots for Washington.

On January 7, 1795, Georgia Governor George Matthews signed the Yazoo Act, passed after four land companies bribed members of the General Assembly to vote for legislation selling more than 35 million acres of land for less than 2 cents per acre.

On January 6, 1961, United States District Court Judge William Bootle ordered the University of Georgia to enroll Hamilton Holmes and Charlayne Hunter, ending the segregation of UGA.

On January 5, 1978, the British band the Sex Pistols started their American tour at the Great Southeast Music Hall in Atlanta, GA. The AJC has a photo gallery from the show, including the young promoter, Alex Cooley, who would become legendary.

On January 6, 1988, the United States Postal Service released a stamp commemorating the bicentennial of Georgia’s ratification of the U.S. Constitution in 1788.

Georgia Congressman Newt Gingrich (R) was re-elected Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives on January 7, 1997. In the election for a second term, nine Republicans voted against the incumbent Speaker.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Governor Nathan Deal announced that the City of Atlanta and State of Georgia governments will close early on Monday, January 8, 2018.

In light of several factors, Gov. Nathan Deal, along with Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and Fulton County government officials, announced early closures for state and local government in metro Atlanta on Monday, January 8. The City of Atlanta will close at 2:30 p.m. Fulton County and state government will close at 3 p.m.

Agencies are also encouraged to allow employees with the ability to telecommute to do so. Employees and visitors are also encouraged to use MARTA to travel on Monday.

Finally, state and local governments will continue monitoring weather and will send additional guidance to employees as necessary.

Governor Deal also proclaimed January 5, 2018 as “UGA Football Day.”

Gov Deal Jan 5 2018

And the Capitol groundskeepers got into the act as well.

Liberty Plaza G

Then the groundskeepers got back to addressing the rodent problem.

SmCaddyshack

Greg Bluestein of the AJC got a copy of Governor Deal’s proclamation.

On Monday, January 8, our Georgia Bulldogs will take on the Alabama Crimson Tide for the College Football National Championship at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta; and

Following this historic season under the leadership of former All-SEC Georgia defensive back and current coach Kirby Smart, I hope to join UGA alumni, students, and fans across the nation to celebrate UGA’s first National Championship since the 1981 Sugar Bowl. This season has been most memorable, with UGA punching a ticket home after a win in double overtime against Oklahoma, perhaps the most exciting football game ever played; and

This season, UGA fans have travelled far and wide to “see the Dawgs play” as they filled up Notre Dame Stadium in Indiana, took over EverBank Field in Jacksonville, overwhelmed Auburn at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in the SEC Championship, and turned the City of Pasadena and the Rose Bowl Stadium red; and

Led by 31 seniors, including Nick Chubb and Sony Michel – the most prolific running back duo in FBS history, Lorenzo Carter – who forever earned a place in UGA lore by blocking a field goal attempt in the second overtime of the Rose Bowl, Davin Bellamy – who forced turnovers at some of the season’s most pivotal moments, as well as Dominick Sanders – UGA’s co-record holder for interceptions, the Dawgs are ready to make history for the university and the State of Georgia; and

With the nation’s best linebacker – Roquan Smith – anchoring this tough SEC defense, Jake Fromm – a Warner Robins native who has impressed us all – leading a potent offense, and Rodrigo Blankenship – who now holds the record for the longest field goal in Rose Bowl history, the Dawgs will be called to, in the timeless words of Larry Munson, “Hunker it down one more time;” and

There is just a little more wood to chop in this special season. I, therefore, call upon UGA fans in every corner of the state and those living across our nation and around the world to join me in cheering on the Dawgs as they once again take the field to kick off the 2018 College Football National Championship; now

I, NATHAN DEAL, Governor of the State of Georgia, do hereby proclaim January 5, 2018, as UGA FOOTBALL FRIDAY in Georgia and encourage all 103,706 state employees and UGA fans across our state to dress accordingly in red and black attire.

Senator Johnny Isakson committed to the G on the floor of the United States Senate.

The Georgia State House will convene the first day of the 2018 Session on Monday, January 8th at 10 AM. The House Appropriations Committee will hold its first public hearing on Tuesday, January 9, 2018 at 11 AM, though I guess weather may change that.

Gov. Deal signed a Writ of Election to fill the vacancy in House District 175 created when State Rep. Amy Carter (R-Valdosta) resigned. From the Valdosta Daily Times:

Carter resigned Nov. 15, 2017 to take on the position of executive director of advancement for the Technical College System of Georgia.

According to an announcement from the Lowndes County Board of Elections, qualifying dates are as follows: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Wednesday, Jan. 10-11 and 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. Friday, Jan. 12 at the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office, 214 State Capitol in Atlanta.

The qualifying fee is $400.

Republican John LaHood, president and CEO of Fellowship Senior Living, is running for the Georgia State House District 175 seat, as confirmed in November 2017.

Early voting for this special election will be held 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Jan. 22-26  and Jan. 29-Feb. 2, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Feb. 3 and 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Feb. 5-9.

The election date for the special election is 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Tuesday, Feb. 13.

State Rep. Howard Maxwell (R-Dallas) will retire from the legislature after this year’s session.

Maxwell said that after 30 years of public service to the county and state, he will depart the General Assembly at the conclusion of his current term in December.

He has represented parts of Paulding County since his election to the House in 2002.

“I’ve been blessed to serve my neighbors, my community and this state as a member of the House,” Maxwell said in a prepared release. “It has been the honor of a lifetime, and I am tremendously grateful to the residents of Paulding County who trusted me to represent them.”

House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, said Maxwell “is as good a man as you can find.”

“While I’m sad to see him leave the General Assembly, he has certainly earned the pleasure of spending more time with his friends and family. He is a trusted member of our House leadership team, and he will leave some big shoes to fill,” Ralston said.

Martin Momtahan has become the first candidate to throw his hat into the ring for the house seat being vacated by Rep. Maxwell. From a campaign press release:

Paulding County businessman Martin Momtahan formally announced his intention to run for House District 17 in the Georgia House of Representatives. Momtahan’s announcement comes on the news that Rep. Howard Maxwell will not seek re-election to a ninth term.

“I have operated successful businesses in Paulding County for over a decade, and I know the burden that over-regulating bureaucrats add to how we work, where we live and how we provide for our families” Momtahan said. “The American dream doesn’t require a bureaucrat making sure you check every box, but it does require our elected officials to fight to protect our rights, our values, and our moral convictions.”

Momtahan said he intends to campaign on the issues of regulatory and tax reform, infrastructure investment, and defending the core conservative values that make Paulding County our home. He specifically wants to see a scale back to the growing number burdensome regulations that affect small businesses in the state, a gradual transition away from an income tax to a consumption based tax, and investment in roads, bridges and 21st century infrastructure that help move people, goods and data through Georgia. In the area of critical infrastructure investment from the state, he believes that Paulding County has been ignored for long enough.

“People who live in Paulding County want to have little to do with the bureaucrats working in downtown Atlanta. They want to be able to have a good job, provide for their family and raise their children with as little interference as possible from their government. It’s not in the American spirit to ask for permission to innovate or to become an entrepreneur, but the expanding bureaucracy is set on taking every opportunity away from the great, taxpaying citizens of Paulding.”

“I’m ready to run, and fight, for the hard-working people of District 17 who want to have their piece of the American dream,” Momtahan said.

Martin Momtahan is a successful businessman in Paulding County with over 30 employees at West Metro Driving School, which he has operated for the last 11 years. A graduate of Paulding County High School and Kennesaw State University, he has grown his business and family locally.

Martin has been married to his wife Stephanie for 9 years, and has two children. His parents have also lived in District 17 for the last 18 years.

Martin has been active in the community throughout his business and personal life, participating and donating annually in events that benefit local schools, the Paulding Education Foundation, Paulding Public Safety Appreciation Foundation and the Dallas Christmas Parade that supports local community initiatives and food banks.

Qualifying for a seat on the Colquitt County Commission opens next week to fill the seat vacated by the late Luke Strong, Jr.

Strong’s seat, which he had held since 1987, has been unfilled since his death in September. The election in March will determine who will serve for the remaining year.

After Strong’s death in late September, the March 20 date was the first date on the calendar for which the state allows elections to be held that realistically could be met.

“This will get our year started early,” said Colquitt County Probate Judge Wes Lewis, whose office oversees elections. “I know the voters in District 1 will have a lot of interest.”

Qualifying for the special election will run from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. on Monday and Tuesday and 9 a.m.-noon on Wednesday at the Colquitt County Courthouse. The qualifying fee is $126, which represents 3 percent of the annual salary for the office.

Early voting begins three weeks prior to the March 20 election and will be held at Colquitt County Courthouse Annex. Only voters in District 1, which includes Moultrie and Shaw voter precincts, will participate.

With that out of the way, the election year will move on to May 22 primary elections in which candidates can vie for a full four-year term in District 1 that will begin on Jan. 1, 2019.

“In reality, you will have two qualifying terms” for that seat, Lewis said, “one for the unexpired term and then another one for the full term later in the year.”

Congressman Drew Ferguson (R-West Point) has endorsed Republican Randy Robertson in the election for State House District 29, which is being vacated by Sen. Josh McKoon, who is running for Secretary of State in the GOP Primary.

“Randy is the right choice to be the next Senator from Georgia’s 29th District,” Ferguson said in the post to Robertson’s Facebook page. “He will work to reform our criminal justice system, maintain our high standard of education and continue to keep Georgia as the number one State for business. Having him at the State Capitol is great for the 29th District and I am honored to support his candidacy.”

Robertson, a Republican, announced his intention to seek the office in March of last year, a full year before qualifying, which will be held March 5-9 of this year. The Republican Primary is on May 22, 2018 and the General Election is in November.

Virginia Republican David Yancey won reelection to the House of Delegates yesterday when his name was drawn from a bowl.

A Virginia elections official reached into an artsy bowl, pulled out a name and named Republican David E. Yan­cey the winner of a House of Delegates race that could determine which political party controls the chamber.

With that race in limbo and Democrats suing over another disputed Republican win, the GOP’s hold on a chamber it has dominated since 2000 remains tenuous. In a hearing Friday in federal court in Alexandria, Democrats will ask a judge to order a new election for a Fredericksburg-area House seat because nearly 150 voters were given the wrong ballots.

Thursday’s dramatic and rare election lottery, carried live on CNN, drew national attention as an odd way to decide a highly consequential contest. Simonds and a crowd of about 100 state officials, journalists and politicos crowded into the West Reading Room of the Patrick Henry Building for the event. Yancey was not present, although he sent a representative.

Yancey will not be seated if a recount is pending, said House Majority Leader M. Kirkland Cox (R-Colonial Heights), who is in line to become speaker if Republicans control the chamber.

But even without Yancey, the GOP would enjoy a 50-49 majority on the first day, when delegates pick a speaker for the next two years.

Talking to reporters outside the House chamber just 90 minutes after the lottery, Cox was direct: “We will be in the majority on the first day.”

Republicans boasted a seemingly insurmountable 66-34 majority heading into November elections. But as Democrats swept statewide offices for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general, they also picked up at least 15 House seats in a blue wave widely viewed as a rebuke to President Trump.

Paul Bennecke, the Georgian who serves as Executive Director of the Republican Governors Association noted on Facebook that Yancey is a Georgia Bulldog, having graduated from UGA in 1995. Yancey’s Democratic opponent, Shelly Simonds, has a daughter named Georgia.

2018 Session [still under construction]

Here are the issues I’ll be watching in the 2018 General Assembly.

Budget & Taxes – The state budget – actually two budgets, the “little budget” that trues up the current year spending and the “big budget” for the next fiscal year – is the only legislation the General Assembly is required to pass. I suspect that this will be a little more complicated this year than has recently been the case. Federal tax reform passed in December will have two main effects on Georgia’s budget process. First is that to the extent that it determines federal spending going forward, and federal spending makes up roughly 50% of state revenues, federal tax reform and (crossing my fingers) a federal budget will have ramifications for the state. Second, because state income tax calculations rely on federal provisions, changes in federal tax law will have effects on Georgia taxpayers that can be estimated, but when taxpayers change their behavior based on federal tax rules, it can be difficult to estimate state tax proceeds. Because income taxes are the largest single source of state revenue, estimating the effects of federal reforms becomes complex. We may not know yet how much of a change this represents for the state budget process, but if it’s dramatic, that may cause the budget process to be more drawn out than usual.

Healthcare and Opioids – An article in today’s Atlanta Journal Constitution summarizes some of the challenges facing the legislature on healthcare and opioid abuse.

Slices of Georgia are in a full-on health care crisis: Premiums higher than a mortgage payment. Insurance networks for 2018 that suddenly exclude all of a family’s doctors. An opioid epidemic; rural hospitals going bankrupt; the uninsured poor; their unpaid emergency room bills.

Legislators from both the House and the Senate spent much of the past year running committees devoted to issues surrounding health care, including the rural-urban divide. Their findings include the need for broadband access in underserved areas to facilitate “telehealth” service.

One issue that may cross chamber and election lines is money to deal with the opioid crisis.

The chairwomen of the Legislature’s two health committees, Sen. Renee Unterman, R-Buford, and Rep. Sharon Cooper, R-Marietta, have suggested a need to support funding for behavioral health programs to deal with the addiction epidemic ravaging the state.

“I don’t do the budget,” Cooper said, “but I think anything we can do to help with finding more options would be a plus.”

The state’s health care problems and gaps usually have an impact on each other, like a collection of dominoes that knock each other down. Addicts who can’t afford treatment may burden the emergency and hospital systems with unpaid health scares. Then hospitals wind up deeper in debt.

Washington hasn’t helped the provision of health care here: No one knows whether hundreds of millions of dollars in delayed funding for Georgia’s poor kids, their hospitals and clinics is actually going to come, or when, or whether it might fall victim to federal infighting.

Some are hoping the Legislature will step in to fill the federal funding gaps to pay for uncompensated patient care. Many are hoping that one way or another, the Legislature this year will lay the groundwork for the governor to work with the Trump administration to get medical coverage to allow more of the state’s poorest adults to pay their bills.

Any uncertainty in what state revenues will look like after federal tax reform further complicate the question of paying for healthcare and opioid treatment.

Transit – There is widespread affirmation from many lawmakers that transit funding should be a priority for the legislature. The details of what that look like will give new meaning to the phrase, “the devil is in the details.” From Maggie Lee with the Macon Telegraph:

Another House group is looking at the possibility of state spending on the local agencies that run buses, streetcars and Atlanta’s subway. But metro Atlanta is not the only focus, said state Rep. Calvin Smyre, D-Columbus, who sits on the state House Transit Governance and Funding Commission. He said the state has gone without funding transit for too long.

“Our goal is to not only to look at … the regional aspect of Atlanta, but also try to provide funding, some mechanism for transit around the state to participate in funding … the Macons, the Augustas, Columbus, Savannah,” said Smyre.

The state did make a landmark transit spend of $75 million in 2016 when they awarded grants to several transit systems, including those in Atlanta, Albany and Athens-Clarke County.

However, for every new expense, legislators either have to bring in more money to pay for it, or cut spending on something else.

“I think the budget will be maybe tighter than you might think, with the money we have to put in the teacher retirement system … [and] we’ve got to put more money into the Medicaid program,” said State Sen. Larry Walker III, R-Perry.

Notably, Gwinnett County, long an anti-MARTA bastion, appears to be getting serious about transit, but the county appears to be prepared to spend some time on deciding exactly what that will look like and where county funding could come from.

Partisan Points – I expect to see legislators from both party introducing legislation designed to make a partisan political points or to score points in reelection campaigns.

AirBNB – I’ve been saying for months that I think the General Assembly will take steps to either provide a statewide regulatory framework for short-term rentals or simply pre-empt local regulations on the burgeoning markets.

Rep. Matt Dollar, R-Marietta, introduced legislation earlier this year that would keep local governments from banning the businesses.

At a recent hearing on the bill, Georgia Hotel and Lodging Association Executive Director Jim Sprouse told Dollar that it would be unfair if businesses such as Airbnb went unregulated.

“Often these companies are seeking to operate illegal hotels in Georgia and do not pay taxes or are subject to regulations while their profits surge,” Sprouse said.

Brandon Hatton, a lobbyist for Airbnb, spoke in support of Dollar’s legislation.

Hatton said officials are working with local jurisdictions to ensure that hosts pay taxes on their income from the company. Hatton rejected the idea that hosts use the website to operate pseudo-hotels

Distracted Driving – With Smyrna passing an ordinance aimed at reducing distracted driving, and other cities aggressively enforcing existing laws against distracted driving, this seems ripe for a statewide approach.

Sexual Misconduct – With all the news reports about sexual misconduct within the entertainment industry and Washington, DC, I anticipate two major phenomena under this heading. State Rep. Jan Jones, the chamber’s second-most powerful member, chairs a committee considering new rules for legislators’ conduct.

The chair of a special committee tasked with reviewing sexual harassment policies at the Georgia statehouse said Wednesday any changes should include mandatory training and new avenues for lawmakers, staff and even lobbyists to file complaints.

But Republican Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones, the second-ranking member of the House, said details need to be worked out as the committee meets in the coming weeks and hears the recommendations of employment lawyer Tashwanda Pinchback Dixon, whose services it has retained.

Democratic state Sen. Elena Parent filed legislation in December that would require mandatory sexual harassment training for members and employees of the General Assembly. Democratic state Rep. Dar’shun Kendrick said she plans to file similar legislation.

Jones said some training should be required, but wasn’t sure how it would be carried out.

“I haven’t drawn a conclusion yet as to how frequently that will be, and it might be different kinds of training depending on your relationship to the Capitol. Do you work here? Do you visit here?” Jones said.

Additionally, the news media nationwide seems interested in what could be considered either rooting out abusive practices by politicians, or salacious gossip. Expect rumors and innuendoes and maybe eventually cameras chasing legislators. It won’t be pretty, fun, or dignified.

Rural Georgia – The attention being lavished on rural Georgia and proposals to help beleaguered parts of the state face one major challenge – everything I’ve seen proposed, from increased broadband access, to telehealth for underserved communities, to economic incentives, to increases in Medicare and Medicaid funding, every one of those will require large amounts of tax dollars, which may or may not be available. Until we have a handle on how the state’s budget will fare, it will be hard to say whether any given measure to help rural Georgia will be feasible.

 

4
Jan

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for January 4, 2018

Utah was admitted as the 45th state on January 4, 1896.

On January 4, 1965, shortly after the assassination of President Kennedy, Lyndon Baines Johnson delivered the State of the Union and outlined his plan for a “Great Society.”

“He requested ‘doubling the war against poverty this year’ and called for new emphasis on area redevelopment, further efforts at retraining unskilled workers, an improvement in the unemployment compensation system and an extension of the minimum wage floor to two million workers now unprotected by it. … He called for new, improved or bigger programs in attacking physical and mental disease, urban blight, water and air pollution, and crime and delinquency.”

The Great Society legislation included “War on Poverty” programs, many created under the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964, which established jobs and youth volunteer programs as well as Head Start, which provided pre-school education for poor children. Johnson’s social welfare legislation also consisted of the formation of Medicare and Medicaid, which offered health care services for citizens over 65 and low-income citizens, respectively. In addition, the Great Society included the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Voting Rights Act of 1968.

On January 4, 1974, President Richard M. Nixon refused to turn over tapes recorded in the Oval Office to the Senate Watergate Committee.

Georgia Congressman Newt Gingrich was elected Speaker of the House on January 4, 1995, the third Georgian to wield the gavel. This marked the first time in more than forty years that Republicans controlled the House of Representatives.

On January 4, 1999, in DeKalb County, State Court Judge Al Wong became the first Asian-American judge in Georgia and the Southeast.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Coastal Georgia received as much as four inches of snow yesterday.

An early morning of light rain and bitter cold in Chatham, Bryan and Effingham counties turned into beautiful blankets of snow like many have never seen on Wednesday.

From Bloomingdale to Pooler, Rincon to Tybee and Pembroke to the heart of Forsyth Park, residents experienced a winter wonderland with only a few problems.

Total snowfall ranged from 2 to 4 inches, according to weather and emergency management officials.

Bridges and some roads closed early in the day, with police departments reporting few major incidences. Savannah Fire responded to one blaze, with one person displaced.

The Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport had to shut down, too.

Click here for the Savannah Morning News photos of the bomb cyclone.

An Amtrak passenger train derailed as it entered the Savannah station.

Georgia Power has dispatched crews to areas with power outages.

As a cold front moved through the area late Tuesday night, we began experiencing outages early Wednesday due to sleet accumulation on trees and limbs. As temperatures plummeted the remainder of Wednesday, our crews began recovery for over 23,000 customers region wide. Currently we have approximately 11,500 outages, primarily in the Brunswick area.

In addition to our local crews and contractors, we will receive support from company personnel and tree crews from across the state tomorrow.

In the Savannah area, we have approximately 27 line crews working 16 hour shifts. All will begin work again tomorrow at 5 a.m. We hope to have service in Savannah restored by Thursday afternoon.

Restoration to Brunswick, St. Simons and Kingsland will likely continue into Thursday evening.

If you’re on the roads in these areas, keep an eye out for crews working to restore power.

President Donald Trump will visit Atlanta for the National Championship game between UGA and Alabama.Continue Reading..

3
Jan

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for January 3, 2018

On January 1, 1751, the law prohibiting slavery in Georgia was repealed after an act passed by the Georgia Trustees the previous year.

On January 2, 1766, some Sons of Liberty marched on the Royal Governor’s Mansion in Savannah to “discuss” the Stamp Act, which required the use of stamped paper for all printing as a means of taxing the colonies. They were met by a pistol-toting Governor Wright. The next day, January 3, 1766, the Royal Stamp Master arrived at Tybee Island and was taken to the Governor’s Mansion. On that day, Georgia became the first and only colony in which the stamp tax was actually collected.

Georgia became the fourth state to ratify the United States Constitution on January 2, 1788.

Timothy Pickering of Massachusetts became the first United States Senator to be censured by the body on January 2, 1811.

Delaware, technically at the time a slave state, rejected a proposal to secede from the United States on January 3, 1861.

The Emancipation Proclamation by President Abraham Lincoln went into effect in eleven Southern states on January 1, 1863, though parts of Virginia and Louisiana were exempt.

On January 3, 1973, Andrew Young was sworn in as the first African-American Congressman from Georgia since 1871.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

United States Senator David Perdue (R-Sea Island) writes that 2017 was a successful year for President Trump.

When President Donald J. Trump was elected, he outlined his top goals: confirming a conservative Justice to the Supreme Court, rolling back onerous regulations, fixing our health care system, and changing our archaic tax code.

We have begun to do that, and we are already seeing the economy start to move. Trump’s agenda is starting to work and this has been a year of significant accomplishments.

In addition to Justice Neil Gorsuch being confirmed to the United States Supreme Court, 145 federal judges will be confirmed, including 12 circuit judges, compared to only three in former President Barack Obama’s first year.

Look, I come from the business world where results matter. These results are fantastic for any president’s first year.

President Trump is an outsider and business guy who is listening to the American people. He is continuing to move at a business pace, not a bureaucratic pace, and as a result our economy is on the cusp of a turnaround.

Overall, it is estimated that these tax changes will create nearly 1 million new jobs and increase wages anywhere from $4,000-9,000.

Ultimately, these efforts will generate much-needed economic growth that is a crucial part of solving our national debt crisis, which is still my No. 1 objective in the U.S. Senate.

Georgians sent me to the Senate for the same reason they sent President Trump to the White House: To get results. I am proud of what we have accomplished in 2017, and in 2018 I am committed to doing all I can to continue changing the direction of our country.

Governor Nathan Deal appointed Alisha Adams Johnson as the new Solicitor General for the Rockdale Judicial Circuit, succeeding Richard Read. Read announced his resignation in October 2017 and it became effective just before the New Year.

Gov. Deal will attend a groundbreaking ceremony today at the Hull McKnight Georgia Cyber Center for Innovation and Training in Augusta.

Deal yesterday declared a state of emergency for 28 counties in advance of winter storms.

The emergency declaration will take effect immediately and extend through Jan. 5 at midnight.

“The state has begun preparations for potential winter weather in the 28 counties, including sending all Georgia Department of Transportation brine trucks and 75 additional plows to the impacted areas,” said Deal. “The emergency declaration ensures all state resources are available if necessary. We will continue monitoring the weather and provide updates as needed. I encourage all Georgians in the potentially impacted areas to stay informed, get prepared and be safe.” The counties include: Appling, Atkinson, Bacon, Brantley, Bryan, Bulloch, Camden, Candler, Coffee, Charlton, Chatham, Clinch, Echols, Effingham, Evans, Glynn, Jeff Davis, Lanier, Lowndes, Liberty, Long, McIntosh, Pierce, Screven, Tattnall, Toombs, Ware and Wayne.

Gwinnett County Commissioner Tommy Hunter was hospitalized after a heart attack but attended the Commission meeting by phone.

Hunter was one of two commissioners who participated in the meeting, where the county’s 2018 budget was approved, by telephone. Commissioner Jace Brooks also called into the meeting, but he explained he was recovering from foot surgery which had taken place Friday.

Hunter said the heart attack happened Saturday and he was recovering at the Ronnie Green Heart Center at Northeast Georgia Medical Center.

“I had to have a [stent] placed in a major artery, but the doctor said it did well and that recovery will be quick,” Hunter said. “Hopefully we can go home (Wednesday) so I just wanted to thank everybody for your prayers and for standing with us as we go through this and I hope to be back to see you all shortly.”

Despite being in a hospital bed, Hunter cast votes as usual on items that came up for a decision. Among his votes was one against the county’s proposed 2018 budget, the only vote cast against it.

Gwinnett Commissioners approved a 2018 budget of $1.67 billion dollars.

The budget was approved on a 4-1 vote, with Commissioner Tommy Hunter casting the lone vote against it. Chief Financial Officer Maria Woods told commissioners the budget was crafted around goals the board set for the county nearly a year ago.

“This proposed budget authorizes 152 new positions and supports the priorities established at your strategic planning session in March,” Woods said before the vote.

Among the budget’s many items are 65 new police officer positions, plus one civilian position in the police department, funding to staff two new ambulance units and one ladder truck unit for the fire department, bilingual staff for the Board of Elections and Registration and expanded advance voting and the addition of Sunday voting for the November general election.

The money for expanded advance voting, and Sunday voting, days will be put in reserve pending the county’s ability to recruit enough poll workers to staff that expansion.

The budget also includes a 4 percent pay for performance raise and one-time longevity pay.

Cobb County seniors face higher fees at county centers.

County commissioners in mid-November approved a slate of fee increases related to programs offered by the county’s senior services department, the library system and parks facilities. Among them were higher hourly rates for art, computer and exercise classes offered by senior services, with nonresidents paying one-and-a-half times the proposed resident rates.

Also in the approved measure was the establishment of several new fees. Though seniors had previously paid no membership fee to use county senior centers, the county starting Feb. 1 will begin charging county residents $60 a year should they wish to use those facilities, while non-residents will pay $90 annually. Included in the yearly membership are free, evidence-based health programs, access to workout facilities and free coffee.

Cobb Chairman Mike Boyce and county staff have scheduled five town hall-style meetings at senior centers across the county to discuss the fees.

“We hear you and we heard you over the last month that this was not properly advertised, and I accept that as a valid comment, which is why we’re waiting to implement the fees for the seniors,” Boyce told Clements following the comments he made at the Dec. 12 commission meeting.

Since then, “I’ve decided that I’m going to take this show on the road to tell them what we’re doing and why we’re doing it,” Boyce said of the meetings, the first set for 10 a.m. Jan. 12 at the East Cobb Senior Center on Sandy Plains Road in Marietta.

State Rep. Scott Hilton (R-Peachtree Corners) was appointed a Deputy Whip.

The state House of Representatives announced House Majority Whip Christian Coomer, R-Cartersville, has picked Hilton to serve as deputy whip in the chamber. Hilton was elected last year to replace the retiring Tom Rice as the House District 95 representative.

“Rep. Hilton will be a great addition to our Whip Team,” Coomer said in a statement. “I’m thankful for Rep. Hilton’s willingness to serve the House in this new leadership role, and I look forward to collaborating with him as we work to pass meaningful legislation for the citizens of Georgia.”

Deputy whips serve a key role in the House of Representatives because they are tasked with keeping an eye on legislation that is moving through both the House and the Senate. They are also tasked with making sure their fellow representatives know and understand details contained in bills and resolutions that are moving through the General Assembly.

“It is an honor to serve my Majority Caucus colleagues as a Deputy Whip,” Hilton said. “I am grateful for the trust and confidence Republican House leadership and Chairman Coomer have placed in me to support our Caucus. I look forward to facilitating public policy that will benefit families in our district and across Georgia.”

State Rep. Meagan Hanson (R-Brookhaven) will introduce hate crime legislation in the upcoming session.

The proposed law would add enhanced punishments for crimes committed against protected classes of people based on race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, mental disability and physical disability, Hanson said. Those are the same classes protected under the federal hate crimes law passed in 2010, she said. The final bill is still being tweaked, she said, and complete details are not yet available.

“It is an interesting political time right now … in the midst of what happened in Charlottesville,” Hanson said in an interview on why she decided to sponsor the bill.

Hanson said she was convinced it was time to sponsor a bill after meeting and working with local leaders of the Anti-Defamation League, a national advocacy group pushing for state hate crimes legislation. She said she has also talked to prosecutors and to Georgia Bureau of Investigation Director Vernon Keenan who support such a bill.

“It’s shocking that Georgia doesn’t have this [hate crimes legislation] on the books,” she said.

At one time, Georgia had a hate crimes law. In 2000, the General Assembly passed a bill calling for enhanced punishment for crimes committed due to “bias or prejudice.” The state Supreme Court in 2004 threw the law out, however, calling it “unconstitutionally vague” for not specifying biases, such as a crime committed against someone because of their religion or sexual orientation.

“I believe both sides of the aisle find this to be a partisan issue,” she said. “To me, it’s good policy and should be non-partisan. It saddens me a little bit that this is a partisan issue.” She said state Rep. Wendell Willard (R-Sandy Springs) has said he will sign on to her bill.

Senate District 17 voters will elect a new state legislator on January 9, 2018.

Two of the four candidates for the Georgia Senate District 17 seat said last week that they would support legislation to create Board of Commissioners districts in Rockdale County.

The BOC districts issue is just one of the local topics that candidates Brian Strickland and Nelva Lee, both Republicans, spoke on during a forum at Emmanuel Community Church on Ga. Highway 212 in Newton County Thursday night.

District 17 includes parts of Rockdale, Newton and Henry counties. The candidates are running in a special election set for Jan. 9 to succeed Rick Jeffares, who resigned last month to focus on his bid for lieutenant governor.

Jeffares introduced legislation in last year’s session of the General Assembly that would establish four commission districts with a chairman elected at-large.

Lee said that she would “definitely support” the legislation. However, she qualified her answer, saying that she would also solicit local input.

“I would definitely choose to work with (local officials) first and ensure that that is definitely something that the local officials and the local voters are interested in,” she said. “… It sounds, in theory, like a great idea to expand the number of elected officials. I would definitely have to study that a little more.”

Strickland, who resigned as the House District 111 representative to run for the Senate seat, said he understands the issue is important to Rockdale voters.

“I’ve already heard in campaigning from a lot of citizens that complain, especially in southern Rockdale,” he said. “Right now, with the at-large system, with three people elected at-large, all the power can go to one part of the county, and those who don’t live in the middle of the county aren’t represented at the county level.”

Municipalities

Keisha Lance Bottoms has been sworn in as Mayor of Atlanta.

Bottoms stood on a stage before 2,500 people at Morehouse College’s Martin Luther King Jr. International Chapel and declared that “Atlanta magic” could be just as real as the “black girl magic” that helped her beat fellow Atlanta City Councilwoman Mary Norwood in the Dec. 5 runoff.

But the city needs to unify before it can realize its true potential, she said.

“It’s no secret that we have economic disparity in Atlanta,” Bottoms said. “That’s why the theme of my campaign was ‘Keep Atlanta moving forward, leaving no one behind.’”

Craig Newton took the oath of office as the new Mayor of Norcross.

As Newton — the first black person to serve as mayor in any Gwinnett city — and new Norcross Councilmen Chuck Paul and Dan Watch took their oaths, the focus was on the city itself. Summerour Middle School students did make a presentation to mark the milestone, but the new mayor said that while the significance isn’t lost on him, he was less focused on making history.

Serving the city is more important to him.

“I do respect the historical nature of my election,” Newton said. “There are a lot of people who came before me that fought hard to ensure the rights of all Americans, and I certainly appreciate that, but my focus is not just being first; my focus is on being the best — the best mayor that Norcross, Gwinnett County and the region has seen. That’s my focus: being the best for Norcross.”

The event had two focuses. One was to swear in the new city officials, who received the oath of office from Georgia Supreme Court Justice Robert Benham, the first black person appointed to the state’s high court. The other was to recognize retiring Mayor Bucky Johnson and retiring Councilman Pierre Levy.

Warner Robins also broke new ground, electing two African-American city council members.

The council had a new member as Daron Lee was sworn in. He is the first black council member elected citywide, and for the first time the council has two black members. The other is Councilman Clifford Holmes, who was sworn in for another term. He did not face opposition in the Nov. 7 election.

“This would not be possible without everyone,” Lee said. “It took more than one race, it took more than one gender, it took more than one (religious) belief to make this possible today. I will tell you, I pray that as long as you all are holding me up, I will never fall and will never let you down.”

Smyrna City Council adopted the state’s first ordinance regulating the use of handheld electronics by drivers.

The ordinance, which the city describes as “a temporary and experimental regulation” is scheduled to go into effect April 2 and last for two years, after which the city may decide to extend it. During the first 45 days of that time, police will only hand out warnings to drivers using the devices.

In a nutshell, drivers may not use a cellphone or other electronic device with their hands while operating a vehicle, but mounting the phone to the dashboard and talking on speakerphone or using voice commands to operate a GPS app is allowed.

The vote to ban the devices came down to the wire after Councilman Ron Fennel abstained from voting. He said he personally supports the plan, but would not vote on it because he works for TEAM Georgia, which advocates for road safety measures.

That put the council in a 3-3 tie, with Councilmen Derek Norton, Charles Welch and Doug Stoner in favor and Councilwomen Andrea Bluestein, Maryline Blackburn and Susan Wilkinson opposed.

State Rep. John Carson, R-Marietta, created the House Study Committee on Distracted Driving, of which he is the chair, during last year’s legislative session. Last month, he released the results of a statewide survey which found 72.4 percent of Georgia Republican voters and 64.5 percent of Georgia Democrat voters say they would support a statewide hands-free driving law, but it is not yet clear whether such a law would be considered or pass in the upcoming legislative session.

In casting the tie-breaking vote, Mayor Max Bacon said he does not trust the state to do the right thing and hopes Smyrna will be an example to them and to other cities.

Sandy Springs City Council is considering further regulation of short term rentals like AirBNB.

“With our new comprehensive code, we now allow short-term rentals. We now allow them with some restrictions in some residential areas,” Assistant City Manager Jim Tolbert said in a presentation regarding the city amending its code to further regulate short-term rentals at the Sandy Springs City Council’s meeting Jan. 2 at City Hall.

The city is considering hiring Host Compliance, a San Francisco-based company that would charge Sandy Springs $21,000 a year to keep track of all the city’s short-term rentals and ensure landlords would comply with its code by registering and paying its fees. In turn, the city is expected to make thousands of dollars in annual revenue.

Though no action was taken by the council, Tolbert said it could vote on the issue as early as its next meeting Jan. 16, but it likely won’t be on the agenda for a vote until the Feb. 6 meeting.

In Sandy Springs, Tolbert said, Host Compliance identified 211 addresses in the city that were short-term rentals. While these types of rentals can be positive, they can also cause problems. In metro Atlanta, there have been reports of party houses, homes advertised as places where individuals rent homes and host parties that raise the ire of neighbors.

“They can replace long-term tenants. They can raise parking, noise, safety and trash concerns if allowed to go unchecked in the community. Essentially, without proper enforcement, we may not know of one in 10 out there,” Tolbert said, referring to stats provided by Host Compliance and iCompass. “They will continue to take advantage of us if we don’t keep it in check.”

Roswell Mayor Jere Wood has left office and is running for State House District 48.

Wood made the announcement for his future intentions, to run for the Georgia House District 48 Seat, at the Hagan-Wood Christmas Party in December.

He will run against Betty Price, incumbent.

“Now that I am getting ready to run a campaign, I haven’t slowed down at all. My Christmas break has been spent working on my House 48 campaign,” said Wood.

He compared it to his time in law school, when a holiday break just meant time away from class, not a time to stop working.

“No time off for me, I am back involved [in politics] more than ever and I enjoy it,” he said.

“It’s like catching a wave, when the opportunity comes, you have to take it. You can’t sleep late or you might miss the swell,” said the avid outdoorsman.

Kennesaw City Council has three new members, making a majority of new members.

When the new council holds its first meeting next year, the city will welcome business development manager Pat Ferris, Georgia Tech senior research engineer Chris Henderson and Kennesaw State University materials management professional David Blinkhorn to the seats for Posts 3, 4 and 5 respectively.

Tybee Island City Council has two new members.

City Clerk Jan LeViner administered the oath of office to new and returning councilmen John Branigin and Monty Parks during a brief ceremony in the City Council chambers Tuesday morning. Another new councilman, Jackson Butler, was not in attendance at the ceremony, but was sworn in by the clerk later in the day.

Branigin, Butler and Parks now join Mayor Jason Buelterman and sitting council members Barry Brown, Wanda Doyle and Julie Livingston as members of Tybee Island’s newest elected administration. Parks was the only incumbent to run for another term during the 2017 municipal elections on Tybee, leaving the seats formerly occupied by former councilmen Bill Garbett and John Major up for grabs.

With the new and returning members now seated, the Tybee City Council will convene for its first meeting of the year on Jan. 11.

Columbus Government Center will be closed today because of a broken heating system.

Georgia Municipal Association Executive Director Larry Hanson was named to Georgia Trend’s “100 Most Influential Georgians.”

GMA is an Atlanta-based voluntary, non-profit organization that provides its 521 members with legislative advocacy, educational, employee benefit and technical consulting services, the release stated.

“It is an honor to be recognized by Georgia Trend as an influential Georgian,” Hanson said in a statement. “There are many men and women on this list whom I admire and have great respect for. To be included among them is quite an honor, and is a reflection of the work done by so many others who also share in this accomplishment.”

Hanson has also recently served as the vice chairman of the board of the Department of Community Affairs and is a current member of the Federal Communications Commission’s Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee, the release stated.

Former State Rep. Tom Dickson takes the reins as the new Mayor of Varnell.

Following a tumultuous 2017 that saw two council members resign and the mayor and another council member not run for re-election, the new mayor, Tom Dickson, a former state legislator, wants a more orderly and less controversial council running the affairs of Varnell.

“The paper obviously knows that we have had some controversy over the last year, so we are looking forward to actually keeping our names out of the paper for awhile,” Dickson said. “I think we have an excellent group of people on the City Council, and they are of a like mind. We are here to keep the city moving forward and to do that in an honorable and orderly manner.”

New council members Bill Caylor, Bob Roche and Clyde Williams — all of whom ran unopposed — were sworn in along with Dickson by the city’s Municipal Court judge, Allen Hammontree. Council members also began the process of the 2018 budget with a first reading with $954,000 in expenditures and $954,000 in revenues.

Gone from the council that started 2017 are Sheldon Fowler, who resigned after an incident at his home that resulted in his arrest for simple assault, simple battery against a law enforcement officer and disorderly conduct, and Andrea Gordy, who resigned after questions of her residency were brought to the forefront during controversy surrounding the council’s vote last summer to disband the city’s police department. Also gone are former mayor Anthony Hulsey, who vetoed the police department vote, and former council member Jan Pourquoi. They did not qualify for re-election.

The Cities of Lula and Helen swore in some of the oldest elected officials in Georgia.

In Lula, incumbent Councilman Mordecai Wilson, 92, was sworn in to begin his fifth term of service to the residents of that city.

Roughly 30 miles away, Geneva S. Elwell, 90, took her oath to return to city government for the first time in years. Elwell joined new city commissioners Steve Fowler and Lee Landress in taking their oaths prior to Tuesday’s meeting.

Elwell was elected in November and takes office a month before her 91st birthday.

The two are believed to be the oldest municipal elected officials in the state, according to the Georgia Municipal Association.

 

21
Dec

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for December 21, 2017

On December 25, 1776, Continental forces under General George Washington began crossing the Delaware River and the next day launched a suprise attack on Hessian soldiers at Trenton, New Jersey.

800px-Emanuel_Leutze-_Washington_Crossing_the_Delaware_-_Google_Art_Project

On December 21, 1829, Georgia Governor George Gilmer signed legislation outlawing the teaching of African-Americans to read or write. One year later to the day, he signed legislation claiming for the state all territory occupied by the Cherokee tribe.

On December 21, 1835, Oglethorpe University was incorporated near Macon, later moving to Atlanta.

Wesleyan College in Macon was chartered on December 23, 1836, becoming the first college chartered specifically to grant degrees to women.

On December 21, 1863, the Confederate government selected a site in Sumter County for construction of Camp Sumter, which would be better known by the name Andersonville Prison.

General William Tecumseh Sherman received the surrender of Savannah, Georgia on December 21, 1864.

On December 22, 1864, General Sherman wrote to President Lincoln,

“I beg to present you as a Christmas gift, the city of Savannah, with one hundred and fifty heavy guns and plenty of ammunition, and also about twenty-five thousand bales of cotton.”

On December 23, 1864, the Georgia General Assembly passed a resolution specifying that the Senate chamber should be lit by electricity for the next Session. That is the last time the legislature sought enlightenment before passing laws.

President Calvin Coolidge lit the first National Christmas Tree on the White House grounds on December 24, 1923.

U.S.S. Atlanta was commissioned on December 24, 1941 at the New York Navy Yard as the lead ship of a new class of Light Cruisers. USS Atlanta (CL-51) was sponsored by Margaret Mitchell, author of Gone With the Wind.

Margaret_Mitchell_1941_on_USS_Atlanta_(CL-51)

Mikhail Gorbachev resigned as President of the USSR on December 25, 1991, signalling the end of the Godless Communist regime.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Mary Norwood has conceded the election for Mayor of Atlanta and will not continue to challenge the results.

Norwood announced her decision in a statement Wednesday night. She says it is time to move on “although there were some irregularities with the election.”

Results in the runoff were certified Saturday, making the numbers official in Keisha Lance Bottoms’ victory over Norwood.

Norwood had requested a recount after the results showed Bottoms winning the Dec. 5 runoff by a margin of less than 1 percent.

In the recount, Norwood picked up five votes and Bottoms lost six in Fulton County. DeKalb results remained the same, so no new certification was necessary.

Governor Nathan Deal announced some changes in senior administration staff.

Governor’s Office of Student Achievement (GOSA) Executive Director Martha Ann Todd will serve as Deputy Commissioner of the Technical College System of Georgia (TCSG) following the appointment of Matt Arthur as TCSG Commissioner. Following Todd’s departure, Deal appointed GOSA Deputy Director of Innovation and Academic Strategy Cayanna Good, Ph.D., to fill the position of GOSA Executive Director. Both changes are effective Jan. 2, 2018.

“Education is the gateway to a better life, and we have no greater responsibility than ensuring that every student has access to a supportive learning environment,” said Deal. “Martha Ann has demonstrated an unwavering commitment to Georgia’s students and her efforts at GOSA have proven instrumental in identifying and addressing the challenges facing our education system. Under her guidance, GOSA has invested in the classrooms of today to prepare the workforce of tomorrow.”

“Just as early childhood education provides a solid foundation for academic success, TCSG strengthens the classroom-to-career pipeline by introducing students to high-demand fields later in the process. Through TCSG, we are advancing workforce development initiatives and ensuring that Georgians can develop the skills needed to secure meaningful employment. I am confident that Dr. Good will continue GOSA’s critical work and that Martha Ann will continue to be an effective leader in her new role with TCSG.”

Gov. Deal also announced several appointments to local judicial and law enforcement offices.

Gov. Nathan Deal today announced the appointments of Jennifer E. Carver as Solicitor General of Bacon County and Robert M. Thomas as Solicitor General of Miller County. Deal also appointed Alisa Adams Johnson as District Attorney of the Rockdale Judicial Circuit.​​

Deal announced the appointment of Kathryn L. Powers to the Superior Court judgeship within the Clayton Judicial Circuit and Shalonda Jones-Parker to the State Court judgeship created by the appointment of Judge Powers to the Superior Court bench. Deal also appointed John A. “Trea” Pipkin III, Clint Bearden, Howard C. Kaufold, Jr. and T. Craig Earnest to Superior Court judgeships within the Flint, Northeastern, Oconee and Pataula Judicial Circuits, respectively.

Deal also appointed five members of the Board of Regents, two being re-appointments, and three new members. From the AJC:

The new members include Erin Hames, who has worked closely with Deal, albeit with some controversy.

Hames, the governor’s former deputy chief of staff, authored Deal’s Opportunity School District plan, which would have given the state the authority to take schools deemed to be “chronically failing” from the control of local school boards. Georgia voters rejected the proposal last year. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported in 2015 that Hames was going to make $30,000 over the next year consulting Deal on education policy while drawing $96,000 on a no-bid consulting contract with Atlanta Public Schools. Hames is on the Southern Regional Education Board and has been involved with several education advocacy organizations.

Deal spokeswoman Jen Talaber Ryan defended Hames’ appointment.

“Erin Hames is eminently qualified to serve, given her vast experience in Georgia’s education system,” she said. “As a former classroom teacher, attorney, education policy adviser and adjunct professor, Erin’s insight and perspective will be invaluable to our university system and its students.”

In addition to Hames, Deal appointed Barbara Rivera Holmes, president and chief executive officer of the Albany Area Chamber of Commerce, and W. Allen Gudenrath, a senior vice president of Morgan Stanley’s wealth management division. They replace Larry Walker, who recently announced he’s retiring, and Rusty Griffin Jr. and Doreen Stiles Poitevint, whose terms expire on New Year’s Day. Deal reappointed C. Thomas Hopkins and Don L. Waters.

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources extended the trawling season for shrimp through January 15, 2018.

Lindsay Aubart, a marine biologist with the DNR’s Coastal Resources Division, said there are enough shrimp to extend the season.

“Our coast-wide trawl survey showed shrimp abundance in the coastal waters of Georgia to be only slightly below the long-term average,” Aubart said.

The decision to recommend the extension was based on the survey and consultation with the Shrimp Advisory Panel, Aubart said.

Such extensions beyond the Dec. 31 closing date are common. Unless there is abnormally cold weather or the number of shrimp is below normal, the season goes on. Thus far, water temperatures and other conditions in Georgia’s estuaries are within the long term averages, the DNR said.

Reuters writes about the “battle of the Staceys” – Abrams and Evans – in the  2018 Democratic Primary for Governor.

Stacey Abrams, 44, wants to become the first African American female governor in the United States by mobilizing solidly Democratic black voters, who vote sporadically in elections, to form a winning coalition with white liberals.

Stacey Evans, 39, thinks the math does not add up without also appealing to white moderates, many of them outside urban areas, who voted for President Donald Trump last November. She is highlighting her crossover appeal as a white suburban mother with country roots.

As the party prepares for the 2018 congressional elections, there is disagreement over which voters to spend more time and money on – minority voters who are a fast-growing share of the electorate but do not reliably cast ballots, or blue-collar and suburban whites who swing between parties.

At the Abrams campaign headquarters, a poster titled “How We Win” points out that Democrats in Georgia have lost recent elections by some 200,000 votes. More than 1 million black voters did not cast ballots during the last governor’s race in 2014, state data shows.

“They don’t vote because we don’t ask, and this is a campaign that is going to keep asking,” Abrams said, speaking on a recent evening to an audience of three dozen volunteers.

A State Senate Task Force is considering increasing state funding to raise pay for local law enforcement.

A task force spearheaded by Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle wants local governments to rethink law-enforcement wages, but the panel did not endorse a call for the state to set a minimum pay for police officers and deputies.The panel also recommended in a report released Wednesday that the state allocate at least $7 million every year for grants to help governments and sheriff’s offices boost salaries, particularly those agencies that are financially distressed.

And the group also floated the idea of putting up to a 1 percent tax on all auto insurance policies issued in Georgia, with the revenue going to the Peace Officers’ Annuity and Benefit Fund.

“We will continue to work until every law-enforcement officer in the state of Georgia is appropriately compensated for the work they do – no matter which city, county or region of our state they call home,” Cagle, who is running for governor, said in a statement included with the report.

Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle campaigned in Valdosta this week.

“My campaign is really about greater economic prosperity for the state, where no one is left behind,” Cagle said. “I want to see greater economic growth happen particularly in South Georgia, where we are seeing many areas losing population instead of gaining population.”

For South Georgia to see these and other benefits, he said there is no silver bullet to solve all of the problems but he would work to improve education and infrastructure. Broadband is a key infrastructure need for South Georgia, he said.

“We’re no longer bound by bricks and mortar,” he said. “We can do business anywhere in the world from any corner in our state if we have the connectivity to that super highway.”

Gwinnett County Commissioners approved replacing a crashed Sheriff’s Department helicopter.

County commissioners approved a request from the police department Tuesday to buy a new MD 530F helicopter from MD Helicopters Inc. for $2.8 million and avionics installation from Rotor Resources LLC for just under $1.1 million.

Insurance from the crashed helicopter will cover nearly $2.25 million while the remaining nearly $1.7 million will come from the Police Tax Contingency Fund.

“This request is to replace the helicopter that was destroyed in the crash on Sept. 1, 2017,” Police Chief Butch Ayers told commissioners.

The crash on Sept. 1 left Cpl. Michael Duncan paralyzed from the waist down. Officer George McLain was also severely injured in the crash but was not paralyzed.

Some newly elected State Representatives have received their committee assignments for 2018.

Rep. Kim Schofield – House Health & Human Services, Interstate Cooperation and Small Business Development

Rep. Teri Anulewicz – House Code Revision, Intragovernmental Coordination and Transportation

Rep. Deborah Gonzalez – House Code Revision, Intragovernmental Coordination and Judiciary Non-Civil

Rep. Kasey Carpenter – House Industry and Labor, Information and Audits, and Transportation

The Albany Herald looks at how some Georgia Members of Congress voted on the tax reform bill.

Both of Georgia’s U.S. senators — David Perdue, R-Sea Island, and Johnny Isakson, R-Marietta — supported passage of the bill in a 51-48 vote, with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., not voting. No Democrats or independents supported the bill, and no Republicans voted against it.

In the House, U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Albany, joined Democratic lawmakers from Georgia in opposing the bill, both in the initial vote and in Wednesday’s vote to approve the Senate-amended version. U.S. Rep. Austin Scott, R-Tifton, supported the measure in both votes with the state’s other GOP lawmakers.

No House Democrats supported the measure, which picked up opposition from a dozen Republican representatives Wednesday. Three Republicans and four Democrats did not vote.

“When you take a risk, at the end of that rainbow is a reward,” Isakson, who sits on the Senate Committee on Finance with jurisdiction over tax reform, said. “And in the case of risking lower taxes, the greater reward is more jobs, more opportunity, and a better America for our children and our grandchildren.”

“For the last eight years, America has suffered under big government bureaucrats’ vision of an America where the new norm is 2 percent economic growth,” Perdue said early Wednesday morning after the Senate vote. “Today Republicans said that’s not good enough.

“President Trump has been working tirelessly this year making it a priority to provide regulatory relief, unleash our energy potential, and change our tax code for one reason and one reason only: to get our economy growing again.”

“I have stated numerous times that I do support tax relief for Georgia families,” [Rep. Sanford] Bishop said. “However, it needs to be fair, balanced, and fiscally responsible both in the short and the long term. The benefits must be shared among Georgians of all income levels rather than just concentrated at the top. The tax legislation approved by the U.S. House of Representatives today fails this test.

Nuclear Fallout

The Georgia Public Service Commission today voted 5-0 to move forward with construction of two new nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle.

Thursday’s unanimous decision by the state’s Public Service Commission will shape the future of the nation’s nuclear industry, partly because the reactors at Plant Vogtle were the first new ones to be licensed and to begin construction in the U.S. since 1978.

The project, co-owned by Georgia Power, Oglethorpe Power, MEAG Power and Dalton Utilities, has been plagued by delays and spiraling costs, compounded when the main contractor filed for bankruptcy. Westinghouse Electric Co., the U.S. nuclear unit of Japan’s Toshiba Corp., filed for bankruptcy in March.

In a statement, Georgia Power chairman, president and CEO Paul Bowers said the PSC “recognized that the Vogtle expansion is key to ensuring that our state has affordable and reliable energy today that will support economic growth now and for generations to come.”

Georgia Power spokesman Craig Bell said in an email that the projected peak rate impact to the utility’s retail customers is approximately 10 percent, with 5 percent related to the project already factored in the rates – well below original projections of approximately 12 percent.

From the Augusta Chronicle:

Vice Chair Tim Echols made the lengthy motion to approve the capital cost of the project at $7.3 billion, the company’s request minus a $1.7 billion payment Georgia Power received through the former contractor on the project. But the motion also reduced what the company can collect from ratepayers for the project beginning 2021 that amounts to about $1.7 billion.

Georgia Power attorney Kevin Greene said the company would accept that and other conditions imposed by Echols’ motion. That motion also assumed Congress would pass an extension of nuclear production tax credits that were stripped out of the tax reform bill, which amount to about $800 million, and the commission can revisit its decision if that does not happen. Wise said he has assurances from both of Georgia’s U.S. senators as well as congressional leadership that it will be taken up in January.

“Georgians will look back and be as grateful for (this decision) as we are for the decision to complete (the first two),” [Commissioner Tim Echols] said.

Commissioner Chuck Eaton called the first two reactors “the crown jewels” of the state’s energy production.

“I still believe nuclear needs to be part of a diversified mix,” he said.

The news was welcomed by Augusta Technical College, whose nuclear engineering technology program was created seven years ago to help supply workers to Vogtle 3 and 4 as well as the existing two units and the neighboring Savannah River Site, a nuclear-intensive Department of Energy installation.

Jim Price, the college’s dean of industrial and engineering technology, said moving forward on 3 and 4 reinforces the need for the two-year program, which enables graduates to obtain mechanical, electrical and pre-operator jobs at nuclear plants throughout the Southeast.

“It gives it better credibility,” Price said Thursday. “This is good for Georgia and good for the country.”

Rep. Rick Allen, whose 12th congressional district encompasses the Vogtle site, said in a statement Thursday he was pleased to hear the project will move forward.

“Employing nearly 6,000 people in my district and continuing our dominance in the global nuclear industry, the importance of the Plant Vogtle project cannot be overstated,” he said in prepared remarks. “I believe this project is vital to our district, our state and America’s nuclear energy future.”

He said it is still “critical” that Congress modify the Nuclear Production Tax Credit to extend the 2020 sunset date, which is expected to be discussed early next year.

Governor Nathan Deal lauded the PSC’s decision:

“I commend the Public Service Commission for its vision and foresight in approving continuation of the Plant Vogtle expansion while holding the owners accountable to ratepayers,” said Deal. “Investing in clean, sustainable energy infrastructure is a worthwhile endeavor that will have a positive economic impact as well. Plant Vogtle Units 3 and 4 will provide affordable energy to Georgians for more than 60 years while creating 6,000 jobs during project construction and 800 well-paying, permanent ones after. It is important that we stay the course.”

PSC Members Tim Echols and Chuck Eaton wrote about their decision in the Atlanta Business Chronicle.

One thing was clear to most who know us. We wanted to finish this new nuclear plant — the only one of its kind in North America. We believe that nuclear energy makes sense in a day when baseload coal plants are disappearing due to early retirements and increased regulations.  We also know that the United States must maintain nuclear superiority in an age when Russia and China are building dozens of reactors and exporting their technology. Georgia consumers benefit from the affordable and reliable energy made available from the diverse fuel mix we have throughout our state.

Let’s be honest. It was the bankruptcy of Westinghouse, the prime Vogtle project contractor and reactor designer, that has put us in the pickle we are in. All the protections we had built into their contract were made null and void by their self-serving action to walk away from their contract with Georgia Power. However, it is important to note that Toshiba, Westinghouse’s parent company, has paid a significant penalty for Westinghouse’s failure – $3.68 billion or 40 percent of the original contract price. This payment will reduce the cost of the project and that benefits customers. That payment made a difficult vote a little better.

We have appreciated the feedback from many in the communities we represent urging us to complete this important project. Doing so will help Georgia continue to be the best place to do business in America.

From the AJC:

Commission chair Stan Wise said the decision came down to the importance of fuel diversity and the long term benefits the projecct would have on Georgians.

Georgia utility regulators on Thursday conditioned their approval of the Vogtle nuclear project on no small caveat: that Congress approves roughly $800 million worth of tax credits.

As part of its decision allowing Georgia Power and its partners to pass more project costs onto ratepayers, the Public Service Commission unanimously approved language that would allow the five-member body to reconsider if federal lawmakers do not greenlight the tax credits.

“My motion to go forward is based on the assumption that these (tax credits) will, in fact, be extended,” the PSC stated in an approved provision authored by Commission member Tim Echols. “But, if they are not, or if other conditions change and assumptions upon which the Company’s (Vogtle construction monitoring report) are based are either proven or disproven, the Commission may reconsider the decision to go forward.”

The U.S. Senate Finance Committee is considering legislation that would guarantee the $800 million tax credits in question.

The language, which Georgia’s congressional delegation has been lobbying hard for this year, would end the 2021 sunset date for the previously-promised nuclear production tax credits. Vogtle’s operators would receive the credits only after the new units go fully into operation.

The extension was needed since the project is not scheduled to be complete until 2022.

It is still unclear when both chambers of Congress will consider the legislation. Nuclear industry lobbyists have been pushing for lawmakers to consider the language as part of a must-pass government spending agreement later this week, but time on Capitol Hill is in short supply before the holiday break. U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson suggested Tuesday that Congress could wait until January and then make the credits retroactive.

“I encourage my Senate colleagues to act quickly to prevent tax increases that could hamper America’s energy security,” Isakson said in a statement Wednesday.

“I remain committed to doing whatever I can to ensure that the Plant Vogtle project stays on track for completion,” he added.

Kristi Swartz reports that PSC Chairman Stan Wise emailed fellow commissioners to say that Speaker Paul Ryan gave assurances Congress will take up the tax credits for Vogtle.

PSC Chairman Stan Wise sent an email to the other utility regulators Friday, saying he received phone calls from the offices of Ryan and Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.). E&E News obtained the email this morning through the Georgia Open Records Act.

“I received a call from Speaker Ryan’s office a moment ago assuring me that both houses of Congress have agreed to take up the issue of PTC’s early next year (Jan.),” Wise wrote. “The call came from Senator Isakson, speaker Ryan and [Senate] Majority leader [Mitch] McConnell in agreement.”

He said, “I would caution all from getting your news from rumor mongers, reliable or not. I was asked to share with you, but not to release publicly.”

Officials from Ryan’s and Isakson’s offices did not respond to E&E News in time for publication.

The nuclear credit passed the House this summer as a stand-alone bill and was later folded into that chamber’s tax overhaul.

However, it was dropped in conference talks with the Senate, which wanted to avoid the annual skirmishing over extending energy tax breaks in the broader tax reform push.

20
Dec

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for December 20, 2017

On December 20, 1860, a secession convention in Charleston, South Carolina passed a Secession Ordinance, removing the Palmetto State from the United States.

south-carolina-independence-card

On December 20, 1864, Confederate forces in Savannah retreated ahead of Sherman’s army, crossing over into South Carolina, four years to the day after South Carolina’s secession.

Happy Birthday to former Governor Sonny Perdue, who was born on December 20, 1946.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Georgia State House Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) announced committee chair changes due to members leaving office.

• Code Revision Committee: Rep. Timothy Barr (R-Lawrenceville)
• Appropriations Subcommittee on General Government: Rep. Chad Nimmer (R-Blackshear)
• Industry & Labor Committee: Rep. Bill Werkheiser (R-Glennville)
• Small Business Development Committee: Rep. Sam Watson (R-Moultrie)

Augusta Judicial Circuit Chief Superior Court Judge Carl C. Brown convened a task force to consider reuse of a former law enforcement center for juvenile justice.

Augusta Judicial Circuit District Attorney Natalie Paine filed an injunction seeking to prevent development of a current park into residential properties.

Chatham Area Transit will purchase two new trolleys for use as downtown shuttles.

Savannah City Council is asking for nominations to the boards for Civil Service, Downtown Savannah Authority, Ethics, Historic District Authority of Review, Housing Authority of Savannah, Savannah Hospitality Authority, and Savannah Zoning Board of Appeals.

Rome will receive nearly 80 acres of greenspace as a donation.

Mayor Jamie Doss said there are no immediate plans for the property but it would not be developed.

“It could be used for recreational trails. Our partners will be brought back to the table,” he said, referencing Coosa River Basin Initiative and TRED, a trails advocacy group.

Under a draft agreement unveiled by the city commission Monday, the Ledbetters plan to donate the whole property back as greenspace.

“This was a wonderful thing for them to do,” Shaw said. “But we couldn’t have done it without commissioners like Sue Lee and the people of Rome and Floyd County who came out every time.”

The donation agreement abates $111,669.62 in city and school property taxes owed for 2017. City Manager Sammy Rich said the company would still pay the county and state taxes that are due.

There’s also an issue of preservation to be worked out. The agreement calls for the property to be used, in perpetuity, as public greenspace — with the exception of the existing city public works facility. Rich said they’re discussing a sunset provision that could potentially allow some development in the future.

“Fast-forward to a hypothetical 50 years from now,” he said. “Is the commission going to be sitting around a table wondering, ‘What were they thinking?’”

The Rome Redevelopment Agency voted to create a Tax Allocation District (TAD) surrounding the Mount Berry mall.

Helen Mayor Helen Wilkins presided over her final meeting after twenty years in office.

“It’s just too many things to think about and talk about,” Wilkins said. “I barely remember from 1997 when I was first elected, but I’ve learned so much and I highly recommend being an elected official, running for public office to anyone because it’s a wonderful way to get to know people in your community, to understand more about how city government works – and government period. It’s not just being a politician. I feel like I’ve been a cheerleader and an ambassador for our town, and I’ve worked with so many, many good people through to years to help make the decisions – good, wise decisions. We’ve all worked together so hard to build our town and keep it going as one of the top three tourist attractions in the state of Georgia, and to keep our wonderful quality of life to the high standards that we have here. I’m so fortunate and blessed to have had this opportunity.”

Lula Mayor Milton Turner also retires after more than 20 years in local office.

Gwinnett County will ask their local legislative delegation for a higher hotel-motel tax in the 2018 Session.

Officials said the additional tax money could also provide more funding for the long-planned expansion of the county’s Infinite Energy Center campus.

“There’s just a lot going on in the tourism field,” Gwinnett Commission Chairman Charlotte Nash said Tuesday, “and this will be one mechanism to provide some additional funding without having to touch the property tax dollars in Gwinnett.”

Gwinnett officials are asking legislators to raise the county’s hotel-motel tax, the proceeds of which feed into a multimillion dollar fund that helps promote local tourism.

Officials said the additional tax money could also provide more funding for the long-planned expansion of the county’s Infinite Energy Center campus.

“There’s just a lot going on in the tourism field,” Gwinnett Commission Chairman Charlotte Nash said Tuesday, “and this will be one mechanism to provide some additional funding without having to touch the property tax dollars in Gwinnett.”

State law allows for local governments to collect up to an 8 percent excise tax from hotel and motel users. Gwinnett currently taxes those users at 7 percent. The county’s Board of Commissioners approved Tuesday a resolution that asked Gwinnett’s legislative delegation to introduce and support legislation to raise the county’s tax that final percentage point.

Raising the hotel-motel tax rate would require local legislation presented by and voted upon by Gwinnett’s delegation at the state capitol and then signed by Gov. Nathan Deal. The new legislative session begins Jan. 8.

The DeKalb County Public School System will challenge the annexation of Emory University and the CDC into the City of Atlanta.

In a letter to officials, DeKalb Superintendent Stephen Green says the agreement shouldn’t include the Atlanta Public Schools.

The annexation plan had been in the works for a while. Originally, the proposal didn’t include expanding the Atlanta Public Schools. That changed a few days before Atlanta’s City Council approved the annexation.

Only 10 DeKalb students would be re-zoned to APS, but Atlanta would gain more than $2 million in property tax revenue. DeKalb would lose that same amount. That doesn’t sit well with Green. In a letter to officials, he said he’s prepared to take legal action if officials don’t renegotiate the deal.

Marietta Board of Education is moving forward to issue up to $30 million in bonds for construction projects.

The money would be financed through bonds issued by the Downtown Marietta Development Authority and used for the construction of a new Park Street Elementary and a $12 million college and career academy at Marietta High. If approved early next year, the bonds would be paid back using revenue collected through a one-cent education sales tax approved by Marietta voters back in March. The $9 million approved by voters for the career academy’s construction in the latest SPLOST will be paired with a $3 million grant awarded to the district by the Technical College System of Georgia two weeks ago.

The bonds would allow the district to begin construction on the projects sooner instead of waiting until 2019 when the latest SPLOST funding starts rolling in. If all goes according to plan, construction on the career academy would begin next summer and work on the Park Street replacement school would begin in the winter of ‘18.

The Georgia Chamber of Commerce will host the 2018 Eggs & Issues Breakfast at the Georgia World Congress Center on Wednesday, January 10 from 7:30 to 9:30 AM.

Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr‘s office has approved the sale of Memorial University Medical Center in Savannah to Hospital Corporation of America.

A state hearing officer on Tuesday gave a thumbs up to the proposed sale of assets of the parent corporation of Memorial University Medical Center to a for-profit health care provider.

Deputy Attorney General W. Wright Banks Jr. concluded, based on the public record and state law, the deal with Nashville-based Hospital Corporation of America is “appropriate in light of” legal requirements.

HCA has agreed to pay $434 million to buy all assets of the nonprofit Memorial in a sale that carries the assets and commitment to stabilize the financially struggling local system.

Included in the proposed sale are HCA’s commitment to acquire the 612-bed safety net hospital and maintain such services as the Level 1 Trauma Center, Level 3 Neo- Natal Care Unit, Dwaine & Cynthia Willett Children’s Hospital and the Mercer University School of Medicine Savannah Campus at Memorial.

Savannah City Council will consider a $408 million budget for 2018 on Thursday.

Macon-Bibb County Commissioners are asking for a sales tax increase that would be on the 2018 ballot.

The County Commission approved a resolution asking the local state legislative delegation with help on introducing measures related to the other local option sales tax, or OLOST. Details surrounding the penny-on-the-dollar sales tax would still need to be OK’s by commissioners before legislation is introduced in the state assembly.

Implementing the OLOST would result in a millage rate rollback and an annual cap on residential property value increases.

The resolution was approved with a 6-3 vote Tuesday. Commissioners Bert Bivins, Joe Allen and Elaine Lucas voted against it.

Gwinnett County Commissioners adopted an update to the county’s Comprehensive Transportation Plan.

The new transportation plan is expected to guide Gwinnett County’s transportation planning for the next two decades, going through 2040. One of the major developments to come out of the update was the county’s transit development study that is currently underway, but Transportation Director Alan Chapman said there was more to the plan than just that.

“It really looked at all modes (of transportation), including transit, including roads and bridges, including what we need to invest to operate our system and keep it in a good state of repair as well as sidewalks and trails,” Chapman said. “So it really was an overall look at what we need to do over the next 20 to 25 years.”

The transportation plan will cover a key time in Gwinnett County’s growth, during which it is expected to become the most populous county in Georgia with about 1.5 million residents. For that reason, officials included short term, mid-term and long term projects that can take place as the county approached the middle of the 21st century.

Chapman said information gathered as part of the update was also presented to the county’s Citizens Project Selection Committee which decided what transportation projects were the highest priorities for funding by the 2017 special purpose local option sales tax.

The SPLOST schedule for setting up the SPLOST and identifying important projects to fund with the special sales tax dollars was part of why it took so long for the transportation plan to be finalized and approved, Chapman said.

20
Dec

Adoptable (Official) Georgia Dogs for December 20, 2017

Fulton Fee Waived

Fulton County Animal Services and DeKalb County Animal Services will waive adoption fees for ALL animals on December 29 and 30.

Ginger Fulton

Ginger is a 6-year old female Shepherd mix who is available for adoption from Fulton County Animal Services.

Not only is she the BIGGEST cuddle bug on the face of the Earth but she’s also crate trained, house trained & leash trained. As her foster mom, the best birthday present in the WHOLE. WIDE. WORLD would be to find her a forever home. We love her so much (maybe a little too much) so if you or someone you know is interested in adopting this precious angel, email [email protected]s.com!”

Cubert is a 4-year old mixed breed male who is available for adoption from DeKalb County Animal Services.

This lovable pup can’t wait to shower you with kisses! Along with his adorable squishy faces, comes a love for all people and a perfect sit command! Cubert isn’t enjoying shelter life and needs to find a foster or forever home ASAP.

Rico

Rico is an adult male mixed breed dog who is available for adoption from Fulton County Animal Services.