Category: Georgia Politics

14
Jan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Under the Gold Dome Today

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

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

January 20-24 will be Budget Hearings

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

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

Monday, February 10 – Day 14

COMMITTEE MEETINGS TODAY

1:00 PM SENATE ETHICS- Canceled 307 CLOB

2:00 PM SENATE STATE & LOCAL GOVERNMENT 307 CLOB

2:00 PM SENATE REGULATED INDUSTRIES & UTILITIES 450 CAP

2:00 PM HOUSE RETIREMENT 515 CLOB

3:00 PM SENATE NATURAL RESOURCES & ENVIRONMENT 310 CLOB

3:00 PM SENATE BANKING & FINANCIAL INSTITUTIONS MEZZ 1

4:00 PM SENATE AGRICULTURE & CONSUMER AFFAIRS – Canceled 450 CAP

4:00 PM SENATE TRANSPORTATION- Canceled 310 CLOB

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From WABE:

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

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

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

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

From the Savannah Morning News:

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

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

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

Governor Kemp discussed his legislative priorities with WMAZ.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the Dalton Daily Citizen News:

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

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

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

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

From the Savannah Morning News:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From The Brunswick News:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

The Brunswick News profiles announced candidates for Glynn County Commission.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…Commissioner Jamie Doss nominated Commissioner Craig McDaniel as mayor pro tem.

As was the case for mayor, no other names were presented for pro tem and McDaniel was elected to be Collins’ right-hand man by a 9 to 0 vote.

The Hall County Board of Education elected Craig Herrington as Chair, according to AccessWDUN.

The Savannah Chatham County Board of Education issued an RFP to sell its administrative building, according to the Savannah Morning News.

The Berry College Bald Eagles produced their first egg of the year, according to the Rome News Tribune.

Multiple cameras that focused on the nest, at www.berry.edu/eaglecam, went offline during the storm. Sometime after those cameras came back online, the female eagle moved to change position and the egg was visible.

In past years a second egg usually followed the first within a few days. When eagles lay multiple eggs, they are generally a minimum of three days apart.

Once eggs are laid, both adults will take turns incubating them for approximately 35 days before they hatch.

The pair of eagles at Berry has had two eggs every year since 2013. Last year, both eggs hatched but neither of the nestlings survived their first week. The year before, one of the two nestlings fell out of the tree and died. In another year, 2014, one of the eggs failed to hatch.

The nest behind the Cage Center athletic complex was first discovered in the spring of 2012 and the pair produced their first two eaglets in 2013.

Those two, if they have survived, are now at the point where they could be reproducing. It takes bald eagles five years to become sexually mature.

13
Jan

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for January 13, 2020

On January 13, 1733, the ship Ann (sometimes spelled “Anne”) sailed into Charles Town harbor and was met by South Carolina Governor Robert Johnson and the Speaker of the Commons House of Assembly. Aboard the ship were James Oglethorpe and the first 114 colonists of what would become Georgia. Later that year they would land at a high bluff on the Savannah River and found the city of Savannah.

On January 13, 1959, Ernest Vandiver was inaugurated as Governor of Georgia.

On January 13, 1966, President Lyndon Baines Johnson appointed Robert C. Weaver head of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), making Weaver the first African-American cabinet secretary in U.S. History.

On January 13, 1982, Hank Aaron was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.

January 13, 1987 saw the inauguration of Governor Joe Frank Harris to his second term in office.

On January 13, 1998, Governor Zell Miller presented his $12.5 billion FY1999 budget to the Georgia General Assembly, including $105,000 to provide CDs of classical music for every baby born in the state. According to the New York Times,

“No one questions that listening to music at a very early age affects the spatial, temporal reasoning that underlies math and engineering and even chess,” the Governor said[]. “Having that infant listen to soothing music helps those trillions of brain connections to develop.”

Mr. Miller said he became intrigued by the connection between music and child development at a series of recent seminars sponsored by the Education Commission of the States. As a great-grandfather and the author of “They Hear Georgia Singing” (Mercer University Press, 1983), an encyclopedia of the state’s musical history, Mr. Miller said his fascination came naturally.

He said that he had a stack of research on the subject, but also that his experiences growing up in the mountains of north Georgia had proved convincing.

“Musicians were folks that not only could play a fiddle but they also were good mechanics,” he said. “They could fix your car.”

Legislators, as is their wont, have ideas of their own.

“I asked about the possibility of some Charlie Daniels or something like that,” said Representative Homer M. (Buddy) DeLoach, a Republican from Hinesville, “but they said they thought the classical music has a greater positive impact.”

“Having never studied those impacts too much,” Mr. DeLoach added, “I guess I’ll just have to take their word for that at the moment.”

In 2003, on January 13 at the Georgia Dome, Sonny Perdue took the oath of office as Georgia’s second Republican Governor, the first since Reconstruction.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

The 155th Georgia General Assembly convenes today in its second session.

Budget issues will drive much of the session, including whether they adjourn before or after the March 24 Presidential Preference Primary. From NewsChannel9:

The state’s flagging revenues are likely to take center stage during the first week, as Republican Gov. Brian Kemp sets an estimate of revenues and a proposal for spending in the 2021 budget year beginning July 1.

Crucially, lawmakers must decide if they’re going ahead with a previously announced plan to further cut Georgia’s top income tax rate to 5.5% from 5.75%. Revenues from income taxes have flagged since a 2019 cut from 6% to the current rate, and a fresh cut could cost state government $550 million in the next budget if lawmakers make it retroactive to Jan. 1 of this year. House Speaker David Ralston, a Blue Ridge Republican, announced support for going forward with the tax cut last week.

Kemp has also promised teachers a further $2,000 pay increase, after lawmakers provided a $3,000 raise last year at his behest. Expectations among teacher groups for a raise this year have clearly fallen, given the tight budget outlook. But the governor hasn’t said whether he wants to go forward with the tax cuts and pay raise this year. Kemp is likely to clear up those questions when he gives his State of the State speech and releases his budget proposal on Thursday.

From The Brunswick News and Dave Williams of Capitol Beat News Service:

The only constitutional requirement Georgia lawmakers must fulfill each year is passing a state budget.

While the legislature grapples with issues including whether to legalize gambling in Georgia, increase the availability of public transit in rural communities and take control of Atlanta’s airport from the city, the top priority will be reducing spending while protecting vital government programs and services.

“I don’t think you can take a blanket approach,” said Georgia House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge. “The budget is about more than numbers and percentages. The budget touches people’s lives.”

Gov. Brian Kemp set the stage last summer for what promises to be a budget-cutting legislative session. With tax revenues running well below projections, the first-year governor ordered most state agencies to reduce spending by 4% during the current fiscal year and 6% in fiscal 2021, which starts July 1.

The General Assembly voted in 2018 to reduce Georgia’s income tax rate for the first time since the 1930s from 6% to 5.75%. This year, lawmakers are due to decide whether to cut the tax rate again to 5.5%.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Jack Hill said the state can’t afford the revenue hit another tax cut would bring.

“One of the reasons we passed this tax cut is we were told there would be a revenue bump from the federal tax cut,” said Hill, R-Reidsville. “I can’t tell that we ever had that bump. … Nobody’s against a tax cut, but we really need to be cautious.”

From the Associated Press:

Faced with a budget shortfall this year, lawmakers may be more willing than in years past to take a hard look at ways to increase revenue, including allowing sports betting, horse racing, casino gambling or some combination of the three.

Expanding gambling would require a state constitutional amendment. Two-thirds of each chamber of the General Assembly must approve, followed by voters in a referendum. Georgia could also allow each county’s voters a separate referendum on local gambling.

House Speaker David Ralston indicated in a news conference Thursday that he favored putting the question to voters for a referendum.

“We’ve talked about this issue here for years, and one of these days we’re either going to have to say ‘we’re going to quit talking and we’re going to vote it, however it comes out is the way it comes out,” said Ralston, a Blue Ridge Republican.

“At some point, I think it is appropriate to let the people of Georgia have the final word,” he said.

From the Gainesville Times:

“Back in 2008, when I was in the Senate, we cut things pretty much to the bone. There’s been some buildup,” State Rep. Lee Hawkins, R-Gainesville, said. “But I can tell you this governor and this legislature are committed to doing cuts, but not cuts where we would reduce services for Georgia citizens.”

One reason behind declining revenues now is the lingering effects of Hurricane Michael, which destroyed crops in south Georgia’s agricultural communities in 2018.

“The cotton crop alone was three quarters of a billion dollars beaten down to the ground. We lost half a billion dollars in vegetables. Over 100 chicken houses were destroyed and 2 million chickens,” Hawkins said. “79,000 acres of timber land was lost. … You don’t plant pecan trees and get pecans the next year. It’s 15 to 20 years.”

State Rep. Matt Dubnik, R-Gainesville, said he thinks it is wiser to make cuts now, when the economy is still doing relatively well.

“The time to really take a look at a budget of any kind is during the good times, not the tough times,” he said. “I’m very much supportive — I’m a fiscal conservative, and I believe in looking anywhere that we can trim fat.”

“The budget cuts are a necessity because revenues aren’t keeping up with expenses,” said state Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville. “We’re going to be cutting fat — not necessary, vital services. In fact, (Georgians) will see an expansion of useful, beneficial, practical government services.”

Budget questions will make it difficult to fund measures recommended by the State House Study Committee on Maternal Mortality, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

As lawmakers gather this week to begin the session, the House Study Committee on Maternal Mortality is providing a number of recommendations to help address the problem in Georgia, which has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the nation.

Georgia currently provides special Medicaid coverage for pregnant women until two months after giving birth for uninsured women with income up to 200% of the federal poverty level. The committee recommended extending that to one year, but the duration of that extension is already being debated in a year when many state agencies are being asked to prepare budget cuts.

“In a year where we are being extra cautious about taxpayer funds, any expansion will be looked at and weighed against any expenditures that are less important or less timely,” said Dr. Mark Newton, R-Augusta, who co-chaired the study committee. “There’s discussions about, is that a step we need to take all at once or can we take incremental steps to try and make some improvements? So I know those are some things that are on the table.”

The Associated Press thinks social issues may be sidelined in this session:

This year, Republican leaders have indicated that there may be less willingness to take on hot-button social issues.

“Last year was a tough session,” House Speaker David Ralston said during a news conference Thursday. “What I would like for us to do is what I think Georgians want us to do, which is to focus on continuing to create the kind of climate where businesses can grow jobs and folks can get up in the morning and send their kids to good schools, that are safe schools, and deal with transportation issues. And so that is where my focus is going to be frankly.”

One possible vehicle for discord could be legislation around adoption reform, which Kemp has identified as a priority this year. A bill seeking to update Georgia’s adoption laws in 2017 died after a Republican senator added an amendment letting private adoption agencies choose not to place children with LGBT parents because of religious concerns. Critics worry similar legislation could be introduced this session.

The Gainesville Times spoke to local legislators about priorities for the 2020 session.

Rep. Lee Hawkins, R-Gainesville, said “the cost of drugs has just skyrocketed,” an issue he hopes to address by regulating pharmacy benefit managers who contract with insurance companies to handle their prescription drug plans.

“They make deals with the drug manufacturers with rebates, with employer groups. We’ve uncovered quite a bit of shenanigans going on,” Hawkins said. “Patients are being charged enormous amounts for a drug that doesn’t cost near what they’re having to pay. That money is being backpedaled to the PBM companies.”

Rep. Emory Dunahoo, R-Gillsville, outlined some other health care issues that he thinks will come up. He sees the mortality rate of mothers at childbirth, rural health care, mental health care and Medicaid expansion as possible issues in the legislature.

One key issue is “balance billing” or “surprise billing,” when patients get a bill from a provider who turns out to be out of network with their insurance company — such as one who performed part of a procedure at a hospital.

Mental health issues also need to be examined, especially in light of the closure of regional hospitals in recent years, Hawkins said.

“You can’t fill a hospital up with the mentally ill and then have nowhere to move them,” Hawkins said. “A lot of these folks, especially young folks … are sitting in jail cells. I’m really sensitive to that.”

The Rome News Tribune also spoke to local legislators headed to the session.

Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome, will be part of a noon press conference spelling out his caucus’ priorities for the coming weeks. The chairman of the Senate Finance Committee said two important pieces of legislation will set the stage for budget discussions.

“I don’t think we have a revenue problem. We have a collection problem,” he said.

A bill enabling sales tax collection from third-party sellers such as Amazon, eBay and Etsy — marketplace facilitators — could bring in at least $150 million more a year, he said.

Hufstetler’s also been working with House Rep. Richard Smith, R-Columbus, on addressing so-called surprise medical billing.

Rep. Katie Dempsey, R-Rome, said she’s going to focus on three recommendations from the Infant and Toddler Social and Emotional Health study committee she chaired this fall.

Democrat Michael Bloomberg spoke to a summit hosted by Stacey Abrams in Atlanta, according to The Grio.

Those unaware of the history between Bloomberg and Abrams might raise an eyebrow at their alliance. Bloomberg, however, has been a long time and an early financial supporter of Abrams. She shared that history as she introduced him to the attendees. According to Abrahams, when she launched the New Georgia Project in 2014 intending to register 800,000 unregistered voters in the state by 2024, Bloomberg was a generous donor. Then in 2018, when Abrams dared to run for governor of Georgia, a feat that would have made her the first Black woman to hold that position in this country, Bloomberg donated significantly to her campaign.

In December 2019, the former New York City Mayor donated $5 million to her Fair Fight 2020, which the Spelman and Yale Law School alum launched months earlier in August to focus on voter protection in 20 battleground states for the 2020 election cycle. Among those states is Georgia, where voter suppression was alleged in Abrams’s slim loss to Republican Brian Kemp, who also served as Secretary of State monitoring that same election. In closing, she presented Bloomberg as “our friend” and “a friend of America” to the group.

At the podium, Bloomberg initially floundered when he spoke of the Atlanta Falcons while referencing his first Georgia visit with Mayor Hardie Davis, Jr. in December. When he turned the focus on voter suppression, he finally gained traction with the group.

“I think it’s fair to say that we all wish that we didn’t have to have this conference,” he told attendees. “If voter suppression wasn’t such a big problem, Stacey wouldn’t have started Fair Fight; she would be in the governor’s mansion.” Continuing he said, “Unfortunately, voter suppression is one of our most urgent challenges. And the right to vote is a fundamental right that protects all others. And it’s under attack around this country.”

From The Chattanooga Times Free Press:

Abrams has met with several White House hopefuls and given no indication that she will endorse anyone. Bloomberg’s moves nonetheless underscore the unusual path he is hoping to carve out to the White House as he bypasses the four early voting states and uses his vast personal fortune to build out a national campaign in the states that follow.

“Our campaign is going to stay here until November,” Bloomberg promised as he officially launched his operation in the state Friday after meeting with Abrams.

Georgia’s primary is March 24, three weeks after a Super Tuesday slate that Bloomberg hopes establishes him as more than a billionaire spoiler.

He lauded Abrams, who would have been the first black woman to lead a U.S. state, and Democratic Rep. John Lewis, the Atlanta civil rights icon who recently announced a dire cancer diagnosis. Bloomberg told the mostly white audience that he’d just come from lunch at Paschal’s, one of the city’s famous black-owned restaurants where Martin Luther King Jr. and his contemporaries often dined and made plans during the civil rights era.

The Georgia Council on Substance Abuse hosted a Bartow County forum, according to the Cartersville Daily Tribune News.

The event began with introductory remarks from District 15 State Rep. Matthew Gambill (R-Cartersville.)

“It is tremendous work that’s very important to all of us who are here today and to those of us here in Bartow County,” he said. “This is an issue that we continue to hear about at the State level … every community is dealing with this.”

Gambill told the attendees he didn’t have any “silver bullets or quick fixes” to remedy Georgia’s substance abuse crisis.

“This is probably going to be more of a crockpot opportunity than a microwave opportunity,” he said. “But the people that are in this room today are all blessed with the knowledge and the ability that we need to continue to provide and to figure out what we need to be doing here in Bartow County to address this issue.”

For Bartow, the next step is a GCSA recovery symposium.

“Individuals in the community come together, we foster these collaborative relationships, we see so many different great organizations that are supporting people, but sometimes we lack that connection,” he said. “At that symposium, we not only hear stories that are powerful from individuals … we get to ask the community some strategic questions that the planning committee has decided upon that are important for that community.”

The local GCSA symposium is scheduled for Feb. 13 at 6:30 p.m. at First Presbyterian Church of Cartersville, located at 183 West Main St.

The Glynn County Board of Elections is preparing to implement new voting machines, according to The Brunswick News.

According to Gabriel Sterling, chief operations officer for the Georgia Secretary of State’s office, Glynn County’s machines will arrive around Jan. 22.

An increase from the 224 machines the county currently has, the state is supplying a total of 255 touchscreen ballot-marking devices, as well as the associated printers, power supplies, privacy screens and carrying cases.

Another 26 scanners, 52 poll books, a central scanner and mobile ballot printer for absentee and provisional, amounts to several hundred new pieces of equipment, Sterling said.

Glynn County was slated to get less, but the state has made it a mission to make sure every county has at least one voting machine for every 225 registered voters. Every county gets exactly as many new machines as it had old machines, while those with fewer get as many more machines as they need to reach that 1-to-225 ratio, Sterling said.

In total, the state is sending out 32,000 touchscreens and around 110,000 pieces of equipment. As of Friday, Sterling said around 70 percent of it had been delivered.

On the local side, Elections and Registration Supervisor Chris Channell said the elections board is preparing for big changes in security, staffing and equipment storage and transport.

“The fact is we’re dealing with paper ballots now, which have to be secured and brought down (from polling places to the elections office),” said Patty Gibson, board chair.

The Glynn County Board of Education is beginning planning for the FY 2021 budget, according to The Brunswick News.

The Dalton Daily Citizen News profiles new Dalton Board of Education members Jody McClurg and Sam Sanders.

Rome will swear in three new City Commissioners, and then a Mayor will be elected by the commission, according to the Rome News Tribune.

For Ward 1, newcomers Jim Bojo and Mark Cochran will join veteran Sundai Stevenson as they are sworn in by Superior Court Chief Judge Bryant Durham at the start of the meeting.

Durham also will swear in Ward 3 newcomer Bonny Askew and veterans Bill Collins and Craig McDaniel. The terms are for four years.

City Attorney Andy Davis will preside over the election of this year’s mayor and pro tem mayor. One year ago, Bill Collins narrowly won the mayoral seat over sitting mayor Jamie Doss.

An injured baby Right Whale has been spotted off the Georgia coast, according to the Savannah Morning News.

A newborn right whale spotted off the coast of Georgia was suffering from deep cuts on either side of its head, dismaying conservationists who closely monitor the southeast U.S. coast during winter for births among the critically endangered species.

The S-shaped gashes, roughly 2 feet (0.6 meters) apart, were likely inflicted by the propeller of a boat, said Barb Zoodsma, who oversees the right whale recovery program in the U.S. Southeast for the National Marine Fisheries Service.

“If this was a human baby, this calf would be in the NICU right now,” Zoodsma said, referring to a hospital’s intensive care unit for babies. ”… And it’s highly unlikely that we can fix this animal.”

Scientists estimate only about 450 North Atlantic right whales survive. Each winter, female right whales migrate south to the shallow, warmer Atlantic waters off Georgia and Florida to have their babies.

10
Jan

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for January 10, 2020

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 12, 1775, St. Andrews Parish on the Georgia coast passed a series of resolutions that included approving the actions of patriots in Massachusetts, three resolutions critical of British government actions, and a renunciation of slavery. The resolutions also appointed delegates to a provincial legislature at Savannah and urging that Georgia send two delegates to the Continental Congress to be held in Philadelphia the next year.

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.

On January 12, 1906, the American Intercollegiate Football Rules Committee legalized the forward pass. Some credit Georgia Tech coach John Heisman as having popularized the idea of making the forward pass legal after seeing it in a game between Georgia and North Carolina.

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.”

Kenesaw Mountain Landis was elected the first Commissioner of Baseball on January 12, 1921. Judge Landis was named after the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain, where his father was wounded fighting for the Union.

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.

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

Marvin Griffin Monument

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.

Jimmy Carter was inaugurated as Governor of Georgia on January 12, 1971.

The first inauguration of Governor Joe Frank Harris was held on January 11, 1983; his second inauguration was January 13, 1987.

Six years ago, on January 10, 2014, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution released a poll of the Georgia Governor’s race that showed Nathan Deal with 47 percent to 38 percent for Jason Carter. The nine-point Deal advantage was as close as the AJC polling firm would come all year to correctly predicting the point spread in the General Election.

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

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Governor Brian Kemp may be challenged to fulfill the rest of his promise of a $5000 raise for teachers, according to the Statesboro Herald.

Gov. Brian Kemp has promised Georgia public school teachers another $2,000 in pay raises, after the legislature provided funding for $3,000 last year.

But even the strongest advocates of raises say they may not happen this year, in part because of flagging tax revenues that led the Republican to order budget cuts.

“It may not come this year,” said Charlotte Booker, president of the Georgia Association of Educators, an affiliate of the National Education Association. “It may come next year. But I’m hopeful he will live up to his word and give at least $1,000 or more this year.”

Kemp has said he stands by his promise, but won’t say whether he’ll push for any money this year. The remaining $2,000 could cost $325 million. Observers say that it’s possible that lawmakers could still give the $1,000 Booker referenced, in part because they are up for re-election.

Georgia House Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) discussed how the budget will affect the length of the session, according to WABE.

“People that haven’t been around for a budget-cutting session are going to be in for a real surprise,” he said.

Speaking to media Thursday, Ralston was cautious about promising too many new items in the state budget, given the governor’s request that most state agencies cut their budgets.

He had a similar answer related to a recent proposal to address the state’s high maternal mortality rate by extending Medicaid coverage to mothers up to one year postpartum.

“Obviously the budget kind of constrains what we can do in that regard,” he said of the idea. “The question becomes, is this the year we can do that, and I think that remains to be seen because, as I said earlier, we can’t do everything.”

“We always have to keep in mind the budget is about more than numbers and percentages. Those programs that are important to people,” he said.

Speaker Ralston favors an income tax cut, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

Lawmakers voted two years ago to reduce Georgia’s income tax rate for the first time since the 1930s, from 6% to 5.75%. The 2018 legislation called for another vote in 2020 on cutting the tax rate further to 5.5%

“The income tax cut was a commitment we made to the people of Georgia,” House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, said Thursday. “I hope we do that.”

Ralston’s determination to follow through with the rest of the promised tax cut sets up a likely debate among majority Republicans during the session that starts next week.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Jack Hill warned this week that 2020 may not be the right time to be making additional tax cuts. Hill, R-Reidsville, pointed to state tax revenues that are running well below projections, a trend likely to create a budget gap the legislature will have to fill.

While Ralston supported cutting state income taxes again, he was less enthusiastic over giving Georgia teachers the remaining $2,000 of a $5,000 pay raise the governor promised on the campaign trail in 2018. Lawmakers approved the first $3,000 of the raise last year.

“That was not my campaign promise, even though it’s a laudable goal,” Ralston said.

 From Maggie Lee’s story in the Saporta Report:

Georgia House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, is not joining any move to completely get rid of the state’s film tax credit or to take over the Atlanta airport.

“If we need to make some changes [in the tax credit program], I’m happy to have some discussion about that, but I think it’s important that we come into this process being very clear that we’re going to continue that” [tax credit] Ralston said.

As for Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Ralston said he still has yet to see any case for the state trying to take over the city-owned asset.

“A separate question is: ’Is there a proper role for legislative oversight of operations of the airport?’” Ralston said. “That’s something I think we can have a discussion about.”

The Dalton Daily Citizen News writes about local legislators on state budget issues.

“I think any bills that call for new spending are going to have a tough sell,” said state Rep. Jason Ridley, R-Chatsworth, in an interview.

Members of the Whitfield County delegation spoke at a breakfast hosted by the Greater Dalton Chamber of Commerce on Thursday at the Dalton Convention Center. The General Assembly’s 2020 session starts on Monday.

Gov. Brian Kemp, who has been advised by state economists that a mild recession is likely later this year, has asked lawmakers to cut 4% from spending in the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, and 6% in fiscal 2021.

“The budget cuts will really only be to about 35% or 40% of the budget,” said state Rep. Kasey Carpenter, R-Dalton, in an interview.

Georgia Recorder looks at the candidates in the Special Election for State Senate District 17.

Carden Summers of Cordele and Jim Quinn of Leesburg will run as Republicans, and Mary Egler of Leesburg is the lone Democrat in the special contest set for Feb. 4, according to the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office website.

The trio will compete to replace the late state Sen. Greg Kirk, who died just days before Christmas after a six-month battle with bile duct cancer. The conservative district is expected to stay in Republican hands.

All the candidates will be familiar to voters after past campaigns for public office, with Quinn and Egler running in last year’s special election to replace former state Rep. Ed Rynders.

If needed, a runoff will be held March 3. Thursday, Jan. 9 is the last day to register to vote.

From the Albany Herald:

The district includes Crisp, Dodge, Dooly, Lee, Tift, Turner and Worth counties and parts of Sumter and Wilcox counties.

Quinn, the former Leesburg mayor, finished first in the special election to fill the House District 152 seat with nearly 42 percent of the vote, but lost in the Dec. 3 runoff to former Sylvester Mayor Bill Yearta.

Egler, a Democrat, said a big part of the reason she is running is to encourage citizen participation in the political process.

She has sought political office on several occasions. She finished third in the first round of the District 152 contest.

State Rep. Mark Newton (R-Augusta) will take the chair of the House Special Committee on Access to Quality Healthcare, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

“This committee is doing important work examining the state’s regulatory role in health care and exploring how we can increase access to health care while decreasing costs,” Ralston said.

“Lowering costs, empowering patients and improving outcomes are the overarching goals which this group has been tasked to achieve,” Newton said.

Newton, R-123, was first elected in 2016 when Rep. Barbara Sims retired. Now chief deputy whip of the Majority Caucus, Newton replaces committee chair Rep. Richard Smith, who was named chairman of the House Rules Committee.

Angela Duncan was sworn in as a Gwinnett County Superior Court Judge, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

Duncan’s seat on the bench is a newly created position that was established by the Georgia General Assembly last year, and she joins the bench as its 11th member.

It was a history-making moment because Duncan is Gwinnett County’s first openly gay Superior Court judge. Her wife, Michele Tainter, held the Bible that Duncan laid her hand upon as Kemp administered the oath of office.

The couple’s sons Brody and Alex Tainter watched from the audience, alongside other family members.

[T]he judge said a friend asked her what relevance her sexual orientation had to her qualifications.

“The reality is it doesn’t; however, it is extremely important that other people have an example to follow,” Duncan said. “I had examples like that. Ellen DeGeneres had the courage to come out. I have been open in Gwinnett County … for my entire practice there, and it is a stronghold for the Republican Party, and I am proud to be a part of that community, and I have been accepted with open arms.”

“So, why does it matter? It matters because there might be people similarly situated that don’t have the courage or maybe think ‘I can’t,’ so if I have an opportunity to be an example, then I am honored to have that opportunity.”

[Her] background includes service as an Army and Operation Desert Shield veteran, her work as a private practice attorney, her time as a municipal judge in multiple cities and her 20 years as a judge, including work as a municipal judge in multiple cities and her time as a Gwinnett County Magistrate Court judge.

“Judge Duncan clearly stood out (as a candidate for the position) because of her work ethic and her experience,” Kemp said during the swearing in ceremony. “She has some impeccable credentials and, quite honestly, the right expertise to serve the people of Gwinnett County.

State Court Judge Carla Brown, a longtime friend of Duncan, introduced her before the oath of office was administered.

“Judge Duncan has presided over numerous civil and criminal trials and shows true compassion to those who come before her,” Brown said. “She has a sharp wit, incredible insight and enjoys finding uniquely appropriate solutions to the cases that she encounters.

“Gov. Kemp, it is obvious from all of the accolades and qualifications that Judge Duncan was a solid and strong choice to be Gwinnett County’s 11th Superior Court judge. Thank you for your wisdom and for leading Gwinnett County, Georgia into 2020 by having the courage to appoint Gwinnett County’s first openly gay Superior Court judge.”

Some Bibb County schools are using yoga and meditation to encourage better student behavior, according to the Macon Telegraph.

[Guided breathing exercise] is part of a pilot program at two Bibb County schools that Andrade hopes to bring into more area classrooms. The program is relatively simple — four deep-breathing techniques that take about four minutes with an aim of doing it for at least 40 days.

“Forty days is what research has shown it takes to create a habit,” [breathing instructor Maria Andrade] said. “So we ask teachers to do it for 40 days to basically create a new habit.”

This Saturday, teachers, school officials, parents and students will gather at Georgia State University for an On the Same Breath Summit focused on teaching some of the breathing techniques. Andrade, who attended a similar program in August, was inspired to bring the training to Macon.

“The feedback I’m getting is that it really calms the students, that they are starting to ask for it because they enjoy taking that four minutes for themselves during the day,” Andrade said. “And some of the younger students, when they really start crying hysterically, the teachers have used that to calm them down.”

Schools in places like Baltimore and Chicago have seen positive results from implementing time for mindfulness exercises into their curriculum. A 2019 analysis of research published in the journal of “Aggression and Violent Behavior” suggested “mindfulness practices may offer low-cost intervention to reduce stress and violence in the community. … There is ample support that mindfulness can reduce stress and aggressive behavior.”

Chatham County kicked off its campaign in support of the 2020 Census, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Scott James Matheson was sworn in as Mayor of Valdosta, according to the Valdosta Daily Times.

Jennifer Gibbs announced she will run for Hall County Clerk of Courts, according to AccessWDUN.

The Rome News Tribune spoke to three Rome City Commissioners about their 2020 priorities.

9
Jan

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for January 9, 2020

The first modern circus was held in London on January 9, 1768. The next one kicks off on Monday in the big building downtown with a gold dome.

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

Georgia  Governor Brian Kemp has an editorial in the Augusta Chronicle.

In January 2019, I took the oath of office to officially became Georgia’s 83rd governor. Since then, I have worked around the clock to make good on campaign promises and keep Georgia moving in the right direction.

As a father of three, my top priority will always be public safety. That’s why – working with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Attorney General Chris Carr and our dedicated U.S. Attorneys – we have doubled down on our efforts to stop and dismantle street gangs and drug cartels. As you know, ruthless criminals are flooding our communities with drugs, weapons, violence and fear. Nearly every county has reported a rise in gang activity with membership levels climbing to 71,000. We are under siege with no time to waste.

Under Georgia Bureau of Investigation Director Vic Reynolds, the new anti-gang task force is taking the fight to these criminals and working with local law enforcement officials across our state to put them behind bars. During this legislative session, I look forward to working with the General Assembly to strengthen anti-gang laws and give law enforcement greater tools to shut down illegal operations.

Another alarming public safety concern – made worse by organized crime – is human trafficking. Every day, innocent children are sold for sex in Georgia. It is a disturbing, profit-driven industry threatening families and communities in every corner of our state. Last January, my family and I attended Street Grace’s Stop Traffick event in Atlanta that illustrated the evil that we face; 72 school buses drove in rush-hour traffic to represent the 3,600 children sold into modern-day slavery in Georgia every year. This visual called my family to action. We could not remain on the sidelines of this fight….

During the upcoming legislative session, we will continue to value life by championing reforms to our state’s foster care and adoption laws. We will invest in education, strengthen our anti-gang and human trafficking laws, and spur economic growth by eliminating red tape for job creators. We will continue to budget conservatively, save for a rainy day, and be good stewards of taxpayer funds.

Above all, we will continue to put hardworking Georgians first in 2020. We will stand with our farmers, support our veterans, defend our conservative values, and always protect the most vulnerable among us.

I am honored to serve as your governor and look forward to working together in the new year to build a safer, stronger Georgia!

Governor Kemp is considering whether Georgia will continue accepting federal resettlement of refugees, according to the AJC.

[An] executive order by President Donald Trump requires state and local governments to provide written consent to the federal government if they want to accept refugees, giving state officials new powers to block them.

Kemp’s decision could affect as many as 1,052 people who are fleeing persecution in their home countries and who could be brought to Georgia this fiscal year, according to the Coalition of Refugee Service Agencies. But Kemp has stayed largely silent on the issue, aside from suggesting he has some flexibility with his timeline. He said in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that it “seems like a lot of what’s been reported on deadlines and what needs to be done is not correct,” though he and his office didn’t elaborate.

Forty-two states — many led by Republican governors — have either issued such letters or have indicated they will do so, according to Church World Service, a refugee resettlement agency. Dozens of cities and counties across the nation have done the same. Kemp is among a handful of state leaders who has not yet taken a stance.

A Special Election for DeKalb County Sheriff drew nine candidates during qualifying, according to the Champion.

Voters in the March 24 special election for DeKalb County sheriff will see nine candidates on the ballot.

Qualifying for the seat began Jan. 6 at 9 a.m. and ended at noon Jan. 8.  Melody Maddox has been serving in the role since Dec. 1 after former sheriff Jeffrey Mann announced Nov. 13 that he would retire on Nov. 30. As required per the DeKalb County code, Maddox, the former DCSO chief deputy was appointed to serve in the sheriff’s position until the position is filled through an election.

Those who qualified as candidates for the sheriff’s position are:

Geraldine Champion, retired homicide detective

Harold Dennis, former DeKalb County reserve lieutenant

Adam Gardner, law enforcement

Ted Golden, retired special agent for DEA

Antonio Johnson, retired marshal

Kyle Keith Jones, retired law enforcement

Melody Maddox, DeKalb County sheriff

Carl Mobley, retired DeKalb County officer

Ruth Stringer, retired law enforcement

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger announced his office will work with Augusta University and the Georgia Cyber Center, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

Election security must be a “first priority,” Raffensperger said in a statement.

“In this challenging environment, Georgia is fortunate to have national-caliber expertise to help stay ahead of the bad actors,”  said. “This association is another way Georgians can be confident that their vote will be accurate and secure.”

The Augusta experts will examine the state’s systems — which is receiving new equipment this year — and the environment in which they are employed to look for potential vulnerabilities, [Dr. Alex Schwarzmann, dean of the School of Computer and Cyber Sciences] said. The center will get a replica of the real systems deployed to help with that evaluation, he said.

“We’ll be evaluating the equipment, identifying any potential security vulnerabilities and advising the state on how to make sure these vulnerabilities do not become a risk in terms of official elections in the state,” Schwarzmann said. “We’re looking at the entire environment in which the collection of equipment can be used safely.”

The Georgia-Florida water lawsuit is headed for the United States Supreme Court, according to WABE.

For three decades, Georgia and Florida have been battling over how to share a precious resource: water. Georgia has it, and Florida, which is downstream, says it’s not getting its fair share. The dispute is once again headed to the U.S. Supreme Court, where Florida wants the justices to cap Georgia’s water use. But a court-appointed special master recently rejected that idea.

After two decades of talks and lawsuits, Florida finally went to the Supreme Court in 2013, asking it to limit how much water Georgia could use.

State Rep. Richard Smith (R-Columbus) is preparing to take over as Chair of the House Rules Committee, according to the Georgia Recorder.

The Columbus Republican and retired University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service director was sworn into the state Legislature Jan. 10, 2005. For about eight of the last 15 years, he chaired the state House Insurance Committee. So, he’s heard his share of testimony about the price Georgians pay for health care.

When Smith is sitting in the Rules chair, he’ll give preference to bills that he says meet common litmus tests.

“Will it create jobs, will it improve health care, the road system, fund the state?” Smith said.

Smith said he intends to approach the job with objectivity. He’s looking for a satisfactory answer to several questions, like why a bill is being proposed, whether it has unintended consequences and how it would benefit the state.

“Then you say ‘OK, maybe that needs to make it to the House floor for a vote,’” Smith said.

The Valdosta Daily Times looks at the work of the Joint Special Committee on Access to Health Care and Insurance.

Independent pharmacies in Georgia are saying big pharmaceutical management companies are running them out of business, and lawmakers are struggling with what they can do to even the playing field.

A Joint Special Committee on Access to Health Care and Insurance convened within days of the first session to hear testimony from Georgia pharmacists, patients and physicians on how pharmacy benefit managers — third-party drug providers such as CVS and Express Scripts — and Medicaid managed care organizations “rig the system” to profit from patient’s drug needs.

“Calling this meeting so close to the session hasn’t been taken lightly,” Rep. Eddie Lumsden, R-Armuchee, chairman of the House insurance committee, said. “It’s being convened because we believe that it’s necessary.”

Last session, Rep. David Knight, the Griffin Republican, led legislation that passed with almost unanimous bipartisan support to prevent large pharmacy benefit managers from steering patients away from independent pharmacies to often more expensive drugs with unreliable prescription services.

The House Majority Caucus announced in the hours following the meeting that Knight will spearhead additional legislation this session “closing loopholes in existing laws” and bringing oversight to pharmaceutical management companies and Medicaid managed care organizations contracted with the state. The legislation will carve out prescription drug benefits from Medicaid managed care — intended to save money while compensating local pharmacies equally.

The Georgia Recorder writes about the State House Maternal Mortality Committee.

A push to ensure low-income new mothers have a year of health care coverage through Medicaid – as opposed to cutting off access for many of them two months after they give birth – is among the raft of proposed legislative fixes coming out of the study committees that met this fall.

The proposal from a panel focused on the state’s high rate of maternal deaths, which routinely places Georgia among the worst in the nation. It was packed into a report released Monday that also recommended mandating autopsies for women who die during or after pregnancy and leaning more on local health departments to provide care to pregnant women and new moms.

Rep. Sharon Cooper, a Marietta Republican who chaired the maternal mortality study committee, says she has been pressing the governor’s office to fund the Medicaid extension even as Gov. Brian Kemp calls for budget cuts in response to unsteady state revenues.

Georgia Health News looks at some of the challenges for rural Georgia healthcare.

Taliaferro (pronounced “Tolliver”) is the least populous county in Georgia, with fewer than 1,800 inhabitants. But its people have more than their share of problems. They suffer from a higher obesity rate than Georgia’s average, and County Health Rankings show the county has a higher rate of physical inactivity as well as a lack of access to exercise opportunities. There is also a higher rate of poverty among children, which adds to the difficulty in maintaining a public health standard for the upcoming generation.

The needs are obvious. But the difficulty that Twilley experienced shows how hard the problems can be to address. Here and in other parts of rural America, many organizations face big challenges when they try to improve public health. Even when new projects are introduced, the efforts may not be sustainable if the funding runs out.

Whitfield County Commissioners will not vote on placing a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) on the ballot until Dalton signs off on an agreement, according to the Dalton Daily Citizen News.

The Whitfield County Board of Commissioners had planned to vote this coming Monday on an intergovernmental agreement that would spell out how a four-year, $66 million Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) would be spent.

But with the Dalton City Council tabling action on that agreement this past Monday, Board of Commissioners Chairman Lynn Laughter said commissioners probably won’t vote on the matter.

“We can’t vote until they sign off on it,” she said. “We’ll probably leave it on the agenda in case they sign it at the last minute, and table it if they don’t.”

Statesboro swore in three new City Council members, according to the Statesboro Herald.

District 2 Councilwoman Paulette Chavers, was then voted mayor pro tempore by the rest of the council.

Separately and in series, Chavers, District 3 Councilwoman Venus Mack and District 5 Councilwoman Shari Barr each raised her right hand and was administered the oath of office by Bulloch County Probate Court Judge Lorna DeLoach.

State Rep. Lynn Smith (R-Newnan) spoke to the Newnan Times-Herald about the upcoming legislative session.

Ethylene oxide, coal ash and the Golden Ray – as well as health care legislation, rural broadband, and gambling – are among the issues Rep. Lynn Smith expects to deal with this legislative session.

Smith, R-Newnan, is chairwoman of the House Natural Resources and Environment Committee, and her committee hears most bills dealing with environmental issues.

Another issue Smith said she is working on involves the way property tax values are calculated for land that has streams or wetlands on it. The state requires a 50-foot buffer on each side of a stream, and that buffer can add up to a significant amount of land that can only be used in a limited way. Smith said she wants to make sure that is taken into account when property values are calculated.

Sam Pardue announced his resignation as  Dean of the University of Georgia’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, according to the Athens Banner Herald.

Floyd County Commissioner Allison Watters announced she will run for reelection, according to the Rome News Tribune.

8
Jan

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for January 8, 2020

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

 The Hill looks at one of Kelly Loeffler’s committee assignments in the Senate.

Georgia’s newest senator, Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R), will join the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and fill a spot left open with the retirement of Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.).

“I welcome Senator Kelly Loeffler to the Senate and look forward to working with her to lower what Americans pay out of their own pockets for health care and to make a college education worth students’ time and money,” said Health Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who is retiring from Congress at the end of this term.

One of Alexander’s goals during his final year in Congress is passing legislation to end the “surprise bills” some patients get from providers after receiving medical care.

Senator Loeffler also takes a seat on the Senate Agriculture Committee, according to Agri-Pulse.

Georgia’s newest member of the Senate, Kelly Loeffler, will have a spot on the Senate Agriculture Committee, taking the place of Georgia Sen. David Perdue, who shifted to another panel.

In a statement, she cited her Illinois farm upbringing and said she looked forward to being on the Ag committee.

“Growing up on the family farm, I understand the vital importance of agriculture to our state, and the issues facing rural communities and local businesses firsthand,” she said. “On the Senate Agriculture Committee, I will stand with our farmers, advance pro-growth policies, and proudly promote our Georgia Grown products. I will work around the clock to keep America growing.”

She will also be a member of the Health Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which oversees the Food and Drug Administration.

“Georgia is leading the way on agriculture nationally with Secretary Perdue at the helm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Historically, Georgia has also had strong representation on the Senate Agriculture Committee, and that will not change,” said Sen. Perdue, the agriculture secretary’s cousin. “Kelly Loeffler and I will work closely with Georgia’s farmers and producers to ensure their voices are heard in the United States Senate. Together, we will continue to fight for farm families and rural communities.”

FiveThirtyEight looks at Loeffler’s reelection bid.

On Monday, Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler of Georgia took office, which means she’ll now have to run in a special election in November to keep her seat — and with a possible GOP challenger, it could be an action-packed race. Republican Gov. Brian Kemp picked Loeffler, a businesswoman and co-owner of the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream, to take over for GOP Sen. Johnny Isakson, who resigned at the end of 2019, but Loeffler was not a consensus pick.

President Trump had wanted Kemp to appoint Rep. Doug Collins, the ranking member on the House Judiciary Committee, who was front and center during the impeachment hearings defending the president. Collins has fueled speculation that he might mount a bid against Loeffler in November, but hasn’t yet decided on whether he will.

Loeffler has also promised to spend $20 million of her own money on the race, which could scare off opponents like Collins or other Republicans from running.

Whether Collins runs, the special election next November will be a jungle primary, which means all candidates, regardless of party, run at the same time. If no candidate wins a majority of the vote, a runoff between the top two will take place on Jan. 5, 2021. At this point, the only notable Democrat running is Matt Lieberman, son of former Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, although a number of better-known Georgia Democrats are running for the party’s nomination in the contest for the state’s other Senate seat, which is also up in 2020. Election handicappers favor the GOP to hold onto both seats in 2020.

Loeffler‘s office announced some staff picks as well, according to the AJC.

U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler’s office is starting to take shape. Today, she announced some key staff decisions, including hiring one Johnny Isakson’s former chief of staff.

Joan Carr now holds the same position in Loeffler’s office, which is operating out of temporary space in the basement of one of the Senate’s office buildings. Carr also served as chief of staff for U.S. Sen. Zell Miller, who unlike Loeffler and Isakson was a Democrat.

Other hires announced today include Chad Yelinski, who will serve as legislative director, and Kerry Rom, Loeffler’s communications director.

Yelinski held the same role in the office of U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows, a Republican from North Carolina. Rom arrives from the office of U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw of Texas.

Stacey Abrams‘s vanity voting rights project will hold a summit in Atlanta on Friday, according to the AJC.

The invite-only Fair Fight 2020 event will be headlined by Abrams and include representatives from the Democratic National Committee, labor union leaders and state Sen. Nikema Williams, the chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Georgia.

Abrams launched Fair Fight shortly after her 2018 election loss to Gov. Brian Kemp, and last year she expanded the group’s work to 20 competitive states to promote ballot access and expand voting rights.

Former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg will be at the Abrams event, according to the AJC.

The billionaire mayor was invited because he’s a major financial contributor to Abrams’ Fair Fight organization. He announced in December a $5 million donation to the group, which expanded last year to promote voting rights in 20 states.

Abrams, seen as a potential running-mate, has not endorsed Bloomberg or any other 2020 candidate. But each of the top contenders have courted her, and she’s urged them to make ballot access a key part of their campaign platform.

It will be Bloomberg’s second visit to Georgia since announcing his run for president in November, following a stop in Augusta a month ago where he appeared with Mayor Hardie Davis, who endorsed his campaign.

Early voting continues in State House District 171, giving a  preview of new voting systems, according to the Albany Herald.

As three southwest Georgia counties unroll a new voting system in House District 171, voters taking advantage of the early voting period in two of them also are using new voting equipment for the first time.

During the three weeks of early voting in Colquitt County, officials have an opportunity to address any issues that arise, Moultrie Probate Court Judge Wes Lewis, whose office oversees elections in the county, said. Eight precincts in the county will be open during the Jan. 28 special election.

The death of state Rep. Jay Powell, R-Camilla, made a special election necessary in the district that includes all of Mitchell County and a portion of both Colquitt and Decatur counties.

“We really are encouraging people to come to the event station,” Lewis said. “It really will be a chance while we have the tech staff on site. It will give us the opportunity, if there are any issues, to deal with it.”

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger visited Moultrie on Monday, the first day of early voting in the election, to check on the new voting machines.

“I commend the secretary,” Lewis said. “With all the chatter and naysayers, I really give his staff credit. I do believe that once the voter, the citizen, uses this, they’re going to like it. The state really did a good job about training for the new system.”

Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter will seek reelection as a Republican, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

In a statement issued from the Gwinnett County District Attorney’s Office on Tuesday, Porter officially announced he would run as a Republican, though he emphasized the bipartisan nature of his job.

“Over the past 27 years, I have enjoyed bipartisan support from the voters as a Republican candidate and intend to run again as a Republican,” Porter said in a statement. “I look forward to presenting my record of innovation, accomplishment and experience in the areas of victims’ rights, criminal justice reform, and innovative prosecution strategies in comparison to the ideas and record of the announced Democratic candidate.”

Porter has run as a Republican since he was elected in 1992. Porter said he decided it would be disingenuous to change parties after running as a Republican for 27 years. He felt he would be hard pressed to convince Democratic voters that changing parties was anything other that an expedient way to get reelected.

“I’ve never been one to put expediency over principles,” he said.

“I don’t want to argue about whose the best Democratic candidate is, I want to argue about who’s the best District Attorney,” Porter said.

“I have always trusted all voters in Gwinnett County to make the wise choice when it comes to the safety of their families and their communities,” Porter’s statement said. “I will gladly present my qualifications to voters of both parties and I am confident that they will see that I am the best choice to lead the District Attorney’s Office for four more years.”

Porter reiterated, if reelected in 2020, he has no plan to seek reelection in 2024.

From the AJC:

While he reiterated his belief that the district attorney’s job should be nonpartisan, he said running as a Democrat would have been “disingenuous.”

Being a 27-year incumbent certainly comes with advantages. But Gwinnett’s recent political history suggests Porter will nonetheless have an uphill battle to reelection.

In the 2018 Georgia governor’s race, Democrat Stacey Abrams won Gwinnett by a significant margin. The same election cycle saw Democrats seize control of Gwinnett’s delegation to the state legislature and win their first seats on the county commission since the 1980s.

Gwinnett’s current solicitor general is an upstart Democrat who ousted a longtime Republican incumbent in 2018.

“Republicans have lost in Gwinnett and will continue to do so,” Gwinnett Democratic Party chair Bianca Keaton said.

Porter, meanwhile, will rely on his track record to try and appeal to voters from both parties. Pointing to his office’s participation in diversion programs and accountability courts, he said he’s never fit the mold of a stereotypical, “lock ‘em up and throw away the key” Republican prosecutor and is capable of having broad appeal.

The Georgia State House Special Committee on Access to Quality Health Care proposed legislation aimed at promoting transparency in healthcare, according to The Brunswick News.

“For all the good work that’s been done, many of the (pharmacy benefit managers) themselves have proceeded to ignore and make every effort to find loopholes in our laws, while at the same time other practices harmful to patients continue to grow and spread across the prescription drug landscape,” said House Majority Caucus Chairman Matt Hatchett, R-Dublin.

State Rep. David Knight, who will be leading the push on this legislation, said the system as it stands now prevents freedom of patient choice of pharmacy, obscures prescription drug prices with complex methodologies, leads to refusing coverage for cheaper generics and reimbursing PBMs and managed care organization-affiliated pharmacies with far more money than retail independents.

Using the leukemia drug imatinib as an example, the reimbursement fee per pill for an independent pharmacy was $34.50, while an MCO affiliate pharmacy received $279 and a PBM affiliate received $302. For the cancer drug capecitabane, a clinic pharmacy received $4.39 per pill, as opposed to $27.63 for an MCO affiliate.

“The unifying theme that you will hear throughout today’s testimony is that patients and providers are being harmed by huge corporate interests that put their profitability over the lives of Georgians,” Knight, R-Griffin, said at Tuesday’s hearing.

“We’re going to seek a carve-out of prescription drug benefits for Medicaid managed care,” Knight said. “West Virginia did this and in ’18, an actuarial study showed that the carveout saved over $50 million, while at the same time paying community pharmacies fairly.”

The State House Study Committee on Maternal Mortality will recommend changes to address Georgia’s high rate of maternal deaths, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

Low-income pregnant women in Georgia should receive Medicaid coverage for one year after giving birth, a legislative study committee is recommending.

The proposal to expand Medicaid coverage for eligible women from the current limit of two months postpartum highlights a 14-page report issued by the state House of Representatives Study Committee on Maternal Mortality.

Besides extending Medicaid coverage for pregnant women to one year, the study committee recommended the General Assembly pass legislation requiring an autopsy following any woman’s death during pregnancy or up to one year after giving birth.

The study committee suggested the state encourage hospitals and medical societies to provide training in racial sensitivity for physicians, nurses and other health-care workers.

To address geographic disparities in pregnancy outcomes, the panel suggested the state continue to fund and support efforts to increase Georgia’s rural health-care workforce and expand the availability of telemedicine services by providing incentives that prevent telemedicine from being a money-loser for providers.

From the AJC:

“We are in a tight budget,” said state Rep. Sharon Cooper, R-Marietta, a co-chairwoman of the committee. However, she said, “If they find a program that’s working, maybe the money needs to be sought. … If the estimate was $17 million, then they might be able to fund it.”

Estimates vary widely, up to $70 million in state money, and she said state officials told her they would figure out the discrepancy to understand the real cost.

House Appropriations Chairman Terry England is interested. “I think we certainly have to take a look at it,” he said.

Many pregnant women and caregivers don’t know, for example, that the majority of maternal deaths happen in the year following birth, not during birth. Or that things such as changes in vision can be a warning sign for heart and blood problems that so often kill pregnant women or new moms.

The Georgia Department of Audits and Accounts alleged that some film tax credits may have been misallocated, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

“Due to control weaknesses, companies have received credits for which they are not eligible and credits that are higher than earned,” the report stated in its opening paragraph. “The issues can be attributed to limited requirements and clarity in state law, inadequately designed procedures, insufficient resources and/or agency interpretations of law that differ from our own.”

According to the audit, the state delivered more than $3 billion in credits from 2013 through 2017. The numbers grew steadily during that period, from more than $667 million in 2016 to more than $915 million in 2017.

Despite granting more credits than any other state, the audit found that Georgia requires film companies to provide less documentation than any of the 31 other states offering film tax credits. Georgia is among only three state that do not require an audit by the state or a third party.

While the state Department of Revenue does require limited documentation to receive the credit, the audit found many production companies failed to provide the documentation yet still received the credit.

The Cordele Dispatch profiles Carden Summers, who is running for State Senate District 13 in the Special Election.

Local business owner and former county commissioner Carden Summers will be on the ballot in the February 4 special election to fill the state senate seat vacated by the untimely passing of incumbent Greg Kirk, who died Dec. 22, 2019. Early voting in the race begins on Monday, Jan. 13.

Summers, a conservative Republican, is hardly a new face to Georgia’s political scene. He ran for the same state senate seat in 2002, narrowly losing to the late Rooney Bowen, who held the seat for some 25 years. Prior to that run, Summers had served a six-year term on the Crisp County Board of Commissioners, where he gained a reputation as a proactive worker sensitive to taxpayer concerns.

The 13th District is comprised of  [sic] Crisp, Dodge, Dooly, Lee, Sumter, Tift, Turner, Wilcox, and Worth counties.

“This special election is going to be one of the shortest elections in history,” Summers said, “and I would appreciate all the support I can get.”

Summers and Janis, his wife of 38 years, plus their two grown children Weston and Jade, invite voters to contact them at his 13th Avenue business office. Early voting in Crisp County begins on Monday, Jan. 13 at 8 a.m. at the elections office in the county government building at 210 South 7th St. Voters can cast an early ballot there Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. up until January 31st and on Saturday, January 25 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Bianca Motley Broom took the oath of office as the first new Mayor of College Park in over two decades, according to the AJC.

Bianca Motley Broom defeated six-term mayor Jack Longino in a December runoff, making her the first new leader of College Park and its 15,000 residents in 24 years.

A new and an incumbent College Park councilman were also sworn in, but Motley Broom garnered the most applause.

In College Park’s nearly 130-year history, Motley Broom is the first woman and the first African-American person to become mayor. The 42-year-old is a mediator, arbitrator and former Fulton County magistrate judge — but this was her first run for office.

Longino attended the event Monday and told the AJC that he wishes her the best. When asked about the loss, the 66-year-old businessman: “The citizens wanted a change.”

Joseph Geierman was sworn in as Mayor of Doraville, according to ProjectQ.

John Borrow was sworn in as Mayor of Cornelia, according to AccessWDUN.

Braselton will swear in two new council members on Thursday, according to the Gainesville Times.

Jim Joedecke is set to be sworn in Thursday, Jan. 9, as the newest member of the Braselton Town Council.

Also being sworn in Thursday is Becky Richardson, who was elected to her second four-year term after a Dec. 3 runoff.

Joedecke defeated three-term incumbent Tony Funari on Nov. 5, getting nearly 82 percent of the vote to Funari’s 18 percent.

Port Wentworth City Council member Shari Dyal resigned her seat representing District 1, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Council member Linda Smith said Dyal has moved to Effingham County. Dyal lived in the Rice Creek subdivision.

Dyal represented District 1, which includes the Rice Hope and Rice Creek areas. She was serving her first term on the Port Wentworth council.

Kim Simonds was appointed Demorest City Manager, according to AccessWDUN.

Lowndes County Commissioners will meet this week to discuss service delivery strategies, according to the Valdosta Daily Times.

The Lowndes County Board of Commissioners will hold a special called meeting 10 a.m. Wednesday, Jan. 8, in the commission chambers. The meeting was called to consider a new SDS agreement, according to a statement from Lowndes County Clerk Paige Dukes.

When asked whether Mayor John Gayle or Mayor-elect Scott James Matheson negotiated the new agreement, Dukes said only commissioners and city council members participated in the new version.

Whitfield County and the City of Dalton remain at loggerheads over service delivery agreements, according to the Dalton Daily Citizen News.

About two dozen people filled a meeting room Tuesday at the Dalton Convention Center hoping to listen in to at least part of a mandatory mediation between the Whitfield County Board of Commissioners, the Dalton City Council and the city councils of Cohutta, Tunnel Hill and Varnell regarding their service delivery agreement, which spells out which services each government will provide and how they will be funded.

But their hopes were quickly dashed when Adele Grubbs, a senior judge with the Cobb County Superior Court overseeing the mediation, said that Supreme Court of Georgia rules for mandatory mediation require that the discussions be confidential and they can not be opened to the public and can not be discussed by participants outside of the mediation. The mediation, which lasted more than eight hours, ended without an agreement.

The City of Dalton filed a lawsuit on Nov. 5 against Whitfield County and the other cities, in Whitfield County Superior Court, seeking mandatory mediation of the agreement, noting that if the governments fail to reach an agreement during the mediation, “Dalton will petition the court to resolve all remaining items in dispute.”

The Golden Isles Development Authority adopted a new logo as part of a rebranding, according to The Brunswick News.

The Unified Command has chosen a salvage company to removed the capsized M/V Golden Ray from waters off St. Simons Island, according to The Brunswick News.

Texas-based T&T Salvage LLC has been hired to remove the wreck that has sat overturned in the sound between St. Simons and Jekyll island for four months. T&T Salvage was chosen from among six bidders, which included DonJon-SMIT, the maritime emergency contractor that originally responded to the Golden Ray crisis. With the contract awarded to T&T Salvage, DonJon-SMIT has completed its involvement with the Golden Ray operation, said Chris Graff of Gallagher Marine Systems. Gallagher Marine Systems represents the Golden Ray and its insurers in Unified Command, which also consists of the Coast Guard and the state Department of Natural Resources.

Unified Command is still trying to determine the best type of barrier to build around the ship before demolition begins, a measure intended to prevent mitigate pollution and environmental damage. Once that is decided, Unified Command said it will release a timeline for the ship’s removal and other details about the process.

Brunswick City Commission voted to approve a $15.8 million dollar project list for an upcoming Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) referendum, according to The Brunswick News.

Commissioners voted unanimously to approve the SPLOST budget, which will be submitted to the Glynn County Commission on Jan. 13.

City officials also approved a resolution that will enable them to apply for federal funding for planning, infrastructure and potential operations of a public transit system.

The Floyd County Republican Women heard from candidates for Sheriff, according to the Rome News Tribune.

Albany area elected officials toured the Radium Springs area, according to the Albany Herald.

State Sen. Freddie Powell Sims, D-Dawson, and state Rep. CaMia Hopson, D-Albany, toured a historic bridge located a short distance from the more familiar blue hole and site of the demolished Radium Springs Casino building.

Dougherty County Commission Chairman Chris Cohilas and Commissioners Victor Edwards, Russell Gray and Anthony Jones were among the local delegation that gave the lawmakers a tour of the bridge. The site is adjacent to a trailhead under development at a former golf course on land owned by the county. The bridge is on property owned by the state, as is the blue hole and the majority of land around it.

The county has started the development of a trail that eventually will link to downtown Albany. A separate project would extend the trail system from Albany to Sasser.

On Monday, county commissioners approved the first of three phases of development in the area. That project includes restrooms at the trailhead, which was where officials gathered before heading to the bridge on Tuesday.

“Dougherty County is putting its money on the other side,” County Attorney Spencer Lee said “We’re asking the state to put its money here on (Department of Natural Resources) property.”

7
Jan

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for January 7, 2020

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.

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 Brian Kemp is open to working with legislators on changes to the film industry tax incentives, according to the AJC.

In an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Gov. Brian Kemp refused to rule out legislation that could seek changes with the lucrative credits, which cost the state an estimated $870 million in revenue in 2019.

“Legislators passed the film tax credit to start with, so if there are some that want to review it or have reservations about it or want to add to it, this certainly is their prerogative and we’ll be glad to work with them,” he said.

The governor was responding to buzz about a Georgia Tech study on the impact of the film tax credit that’s already set tongues wagging under the Gold Dome. State Sen. Lindsey Tippins, R-Marietta, is one of several influential Republicans looking at reducing the credits this year to avoid steeper budget cuts.

In the interview, Kemp said he would “hold judgment” on those ideas until the report is released. And he chuckled at the idea of pre-emptively telling Tippins or other Republicans to steer clear of the credits.

“Well, I don’t know if I told them that, if they would listen,” he said, adding. “I guess probably said more than I needed to have how supportive I’ve been of the industry. It’s kind of hard to weigh in on something I haven’t seen. I’ve been around long enough to know there’s agenda-driven reports.”

Governor Kemp spoke to WABE about the state budget.

“I think, you know, we’re in a little bit of a dramatic situation, if you will, with our revenues just flattening out. We haven’t seen the growth that we have in years past. …The facts are we just don’t have as much money coming in as we’ve had in our budget. Every year has growth in it from the new kids coming into the educational system, new people that are coming into the health care system because of our state’s growing. And then we have other, you know, government programs that have been implemented over the years that, you know, we have to deal with.

“And so for us to be able to continue to fund our priorities in state government, we had to reduce the budget. And so I’ve ordered the executive branch agencies to do that. And I’ll tell you, it’s been a great exercise. I campaigned on making government smaller and more efficient. So we’ve used this opportunity to get rid of things that we don’t need to be doing to make agencies more efficient, to really take a hard look at, you know, how many telephone lines we have, how many cellphone lines, how many computers, you know, renegotiate and contract, just really creative things that agencies have come up with to meet the cuts. And I think taxpayers can be very proud of that. Because of that work, we’re going to balance our budget again. But we’ll also be able to continue to fund our priorities, like fully fund the education formula, being able to fund public safety and higher education and our health care programs and make sure we’re providing the services that we need to in our state.”

Why Are State Revenues Down?

“I think it’s a lot of different things. We have more to pay for now, too, with the existing revenues that we have, when you look at the holes to fill, because we’ve had the full implementation of the tax cut, which was about a half a billion dollars. We had a change in the TVAT tax, which has I think, cost the state $150 to $200 million of revenue that’s now going to the counties. We’ve certainly got the Hurricane Michael damage on the agriculture economy in southwest Georgia.

“Certainly the trade issues that we have had been very helpful for some Georgia companies and, you know, have been tough on others Even though I think we need to be fighting that fight, I think we’re going to be better off in the long run, I think there may have been some short term repercussions of that, especially in commodity prices. That seems to be turning now, which I think is good for our state.

“So, I mean, those are a few of the things, but even though we’re at record unemployment, a record number of people working in our state, we’re not seeing as many new jobs coming as we have in years past. And I think it’s just because we’re basically at almost full employment.

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger went to South Georgia to observe the first day of early voting – using new voting machines – in State House District 171, according to the Albany Herald.

“The first day of early voting, I wanted to make sure everything is working smoothly,” Raffensperger said during a telephone interview after he left the Colquitt County Courthouse Annex building, site of early voting in the county. “Everything is going smoothly.”

“We (also) can do physical recounts and they can do audits,” the secretary of state said.

The first use of the machines in fall 2019 included six counties, including Decatur and Lowndes. Decatur County residents are among those voting in the House District 171 special election to replace state Rep. Jay Powell, R-Camilla, who died in November.

The district also includes Mitchell County and a portion of Colquitt County.

The special election will be held on Jan. 28, and the winner will serve out the remaining year of Powell’s term. A runoff, if necessary, would be held on Feb. 25.

Three candidates qualified in the Special Election for State Senate District 13, according to the Secretary of State’s website.

Mary Egler, Democrat, Leesburg

Jim Quinn, Republican, Leesburg

Carden H. Summers, Republican, Cordele

Former Governor Roy Barnes became the second prominent Democrat to switch endorsements in the 7th Congressional District, according to the AJC.

Former Gov. Roy Barnes flipped his endorsement Tuesday in Georgia’s 7th District to Democrat Zahra Karinshak, making him the second high-profile politician to back the state senator’s bid for the Gwinnett-based seat.

Barnes was an early supporter of Carolyn Bourdeaux, a public policy professor who was narrowly defeated in a 2018 bid for the seat. But he said he decided to back Karinshak because of her “conviction, fearlessness and fighting spirit” when she served as his deputy executive counsel.

“Zahra is a no-nonsense get-things-done kind of leader who can move our state and country forward,” he said in a statement.

The flip comes days after former U.S. Sen. Max Cleland had a similar change of heart, rescinding his endorsement in favor of Karinshak, who entered the race in August.

Savannah Mayor Van Johnson said a proposed move of the “Waving Girl” statue will be put on hold, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Johnson said the newly sworn-in council will evaluate all the plans and make a final determination at a regularly scheduled council meeting.

The monument was installed in 1972 at the east end of River Street at Morrell Park. It was commissioned by the Altrusa Club and designed by sculptor Felix De Weldon, best known for his Iwo Jima monument in Arlington, Virginia.

Dalton City Council tabled a vote on putting a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) on the ballot to gain leverage see what happens in talks with Whitfield County on Inter-Governmental Agreements, according to the Dalton Daily Citizen News.

Members of the Dalton City Council said Monday night that mediation planned for Tuesday concerning the service delivery agreement could have an impact on a potential Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) vote later this year.

The council voted 4-0 Monday to table an intergovernmental agreement that would spell out how a four-year, $66 million SPLOST would be spent. Mayor David Pennington typically votes only in the event of a tie.

“We need more time to study this agreement,” said council member Gary Crews. “And we also need to see if the mediation will have any effect on any of the projects the SPLOST would fund.”

Officials have been looking at putting a SPLOST referendum on the May general primary ballot.

David Pennington was sworn in again as Mayor of Dalton, according to the Dalton Daily Citizen News.

Rebecca Benton was sworn in as Mayor of Pooler, the first woman to serve in that position, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Juli Clay will be sworn in as a new member of Gainesville City Council today, according to the Gainesville Times.

6
Jan

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for January 6, 2019

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.

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

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 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.

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 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

Kelly Loeffler will be sworn in to the United States Senate today, according to the AJC.

Vice President Mike Pence, in his role as the Senate’s president, will administer the oath of office around 5 p.m. Loeffler will carry a family Bible that she will use to swear upon.

Because Senate rules prohibit photography inside the chambers, members always re-enact the ceremony in the Old Senate Chambers. So, any pictures you see of Loeffler taking the oath with her family by her side will be of that re-enactment.

Governor Brian Kemp discussed his priorities for the 2020 legislative session with the AJC.

The governor told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution his leading priorities include a call for tougher penalties for violent offenders, more resources to crack down on gangs and changes to make it easier for families to adopt foster care children.

And he plans to devote much of his focus to steering budget cuts of $200 million this fiscal year and $300 million next year, a refashioning of state finances that he hopes will force agencies to pare down excesses and embrace innovation but that critics warn would hobble essential services.

“My commitments are the same. My campaign promises are the same. Nothing has changed. But you have to have a certain amount of votes to be able to get something passed, and people’s agendas are different,” he said.

“We got a lot done last year, but it’s an election year this year,” he added. “People are going to get like Elvis and want to exit the building quickly. How much we can get done this year will remain to be seen.”

Kemp told the AJC he wanted to “put some more teeth” into state laws that increase penalties for those convicted of human trafficking and boost state funding for an anti-gang task force he launched last year. He also said he would beef up funding for a promised database to track gang members.

The budget is set to dominate the 40-day session, which starts in January and typically runs through late March. As some lawmakers fear his cost-cutting mandate will slice into essential services, Kemp cast them as a needed overhaul to “make government more efficient, to get rid of waste and streamline.”

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger continues to roll out the new voting machine system, according to the Savannah Morning News.

The machines will be paid for by the state, Georgia Elections Director Chris Harvey said, but individual counties will have to foot the bill for some of the additional costs — privacy screens and tables.

“There’s no cost for the equipment. Now, counties will certainly have to adjust certain things they do,” Harvey said. “For example, their storage needs are going to be a little bit different than the previous system.”

House Bill 316, signed into law in April, denotes that the state must allocate one voting machine for every 250 registered voters per precinct. Harvey said the state has more than enough.

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said the state has ordered 33,100 machines for the first year of the new system — that’s one machine for every 224 registered voters.

So far, the machines have been tested in pilot counties during municipal elections in November. They’ll also be used in late January in Decatur, Mitchell and Colquitt counties during an election to replace Rep. Jay Powell, who died after collapsing at a lawmaker retreat Nov. 26.

Bulloch County has received the first two of 188 new voting machines, according to the Statesboro Herald.

“It’s no longer one machine,” said Bulloch County Election Supervisor Patricia Lanier Jones. “It’s now a screen and a printer and a ballot box, or I should say the correct name is a polling place scanner.”

As of Friday, the Bulloch County Board of Elections and Registration office had just two examples each of the touchscreen and printer setup, called a BMD, for “ballot marking device” and the scanner and ballot box unit, called a PPS, for “polling place scanner.”

To supply all of its 16 Election Day precincts, Bulloch County is expected to receive a total of 188 BMD’s and 25 PPS’s.

Jones had received no word yet from the state or its equipment manufacturer on when the rest of the machines will be delivered. The old machines are supposed to be collected first, she said, and that hasn’t happened yet.

Of the two new machines, voters will spend much more time with the BMD, which includes the touchscreen, so the number of these needed corresponds roughly to the number of the old voting machines. One difference, Jones noted, is that the BMD screen will display the choices for only a single office or question at a time instead of multiple ballot items.

Each polling place will need at least one PPS, where the voter inserts the ballot, which is scanned and falls into a locked box. Bulloch’s largest precincts will get two of these units, Jones said. The PPS both records a photo-like image of the ballot and counts the encoded votes.

The Georgia Department of Public Safety reported the lowest holiday death toll in more than a decade, according to the Albany Herald.

With an abbreviated, midweek travel period, traffic fatalities on Georgia roadways plummeted to two people for the just-completed New Year’s holiday, the Georgia Department of Public Safety reported.

That is the lowest number of traffic deaths in the state for a New Year’s holiday period in more than a decade, according to archives on the DPS website. There were 18 deaths in the lengthier 2018-19 travel period.

That brings the death total for the year-end holidays travel periods — Christmas and New Year’s — to 16, compared to 44 for the combined year-end holidays of 2018-19.

Valdosta will swear in the Mayor and Council members on Thursday, according to Valdosta Today.

The City of Valdosta will swear in the Mayor and four City Councilmembers during the first City Council meeting of the New Year, on Thursday, Jan. 9, beginning at 5:30 p.m.

Those taking office include Mayor-Elect Scott James Matheson, who begins his first term as the City of Valdosta Mayor; City Councilman Ben Norton, re-elected to serve At-Large; City Councilman Vivian Miller-Cody, District 1; City Councilman Joseph “Sonny” Vickers, District 3; and City Councilman Tim Carroll, District 5; who will each retain their seats representing their respective districts.

UGA professor Richard Winfield announced he will run for the U.S. Senate, according to The Red and Black.

The progressive Democrat said he’s looking forward to November as an election that could change the political leadership in the nation and in Georgia, and he hopes to be a part of the shift.

“The tide is now turning where Democrats can finally win,” Winfield told a group of people protesting a potential war in Iran on Jan. 4.

Winfield is running in the special election for former Sen. Johnny Isakson’s seat. Isakson resigned at the end of 2019 due to health issues. Gov. Brian Kemp appointed Republican businesswoman Kelly Loeffler to fill the seat until a November special election. The winner of that election will complete the two years remaining in Isakson’s term.

“I want to show the public how we can’t really have the Green New Deal we need unless we ensure that everyone whose livelihood may be jeopardized by shutting down fossil fuel production and consumption will have a guaranteed job with fair wages waiting for them,” Winfield said.

The Ledger-Enquirer looks at 2020 elections at the state and local levels.

The presidential preference primary and special election will be held on March 24.

The Muscogee County School District is also scheduled to hold an Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax referendum on the same day. It’s expected to raise $189 million over five years to fund capital projects for the school system.

The general primary election and nonpartisan general election will be held May 19, with a runoff set for July 21.

The general election will be Nov. 3, with a runoff date of Dec. 1.

Also on the general election ballot, Columbus Council is expecting to hold a special purpose local option sales tax referendum, which could raise $350 million over a 10-year-period for capital projects including a new Government Center.

If both this tax and the ESPLOST are approved, taxpayers would see a 9% sales tax starting in April 2021, the highest ever for Columbus and one of the highest rates in the state.

The Gainesville Times writes about projects remaining from the last Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax.

The $2.35 million [Hog Mountain / Cash Road] improvement is one of Hall County’s remaining special purpose local option sales tax projects before SPLOST VIII, approved by voters in November, kicks in July 1.

The county still has about $33.5 million in unfinished projects from SPLOST VII, ranging from road work to fire stations and park renovations. The projects are either underway or in various planning stages.

SPLOST, which became a taxing method for governments through a state law passed in 1985, is a 1% sales tax, or a penny on the dollar, with proceeds divided between the county and its cities. The money can only be used for capital projects, not for funding operations.

SPLOST VII was approved by voters in March 2015, and collections started that summer. It was projected to generate $158 million. As of Nov. 30, $141.6 million had been collected; collections continue until June 30.

Former Chatham County Commission Chair Billy Hair will run for a chance to return to the commission, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Hair called the commission chairmanship the job he held for eight years, before being term-limited out, and said his experience is needed to run a government with 1,600 employees and a budget of $230 million.

“If there was ever a time for experienced leadership, it’s now,” Hair said. “Why now? My experience matches up with the job perfectly.”

And he said he sold his last business in April and has the time it will take to be chairman, which he called a full time job.

“I don’t think we need to raise the millage (rate),” he said. “We all have to stay within our budgets so why shouldn’t the government stay within its budget?

Shalena Cook Jones announced she will run for Chatham County District Attorney, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Jones began her professional career in the DeKalb County District Attorney’s office as a third-year law student in 2001-04. In the 17 years since ,she has practiced with two prominent insurance defense firms in Atlanta, as a private practitioner, as an assistant U.S. attorney and has successfully prosecuted Special Victims Unit cases in the Chatham County District Attorney’s office where she started in 2010. She left in 2014 to open her own firm.

District Attorney Meg Heap said she intends to seek re-election and plans a formal announcement by mid-January. Attorney Zena McClain has filed paperwork with the state and plans to formally announce for the position within the coming weeks.

The Gwinnett Daily Post profiles Wesley Person and Patsy Austin-Gatson, both Democrats running for District Attorney.

Three candidates have announced so far for the Cobb County Board of Education seat currently held by Republican David Banks, according to the AJC.

Shelley O’Malley, Rob Madayag and Matt Harper have all launched bids to challenge incumbent David Banks for the Post 5 seat, which is in east Cobb and includes some of the schools that feed into the Pope and Lassiter high school boundaries. Banks, who has been in office since January 2009, has not formally announced if he’s running for re-election.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms will run for reelection in 2021, according to the AJC.

Floyd County Superior Court candidate Bryan Johnson heads into 2020 with $50k on-hand, according to the Rome News Tribune.

Bryan Johnson, who’s seeking the seat being vacated by Chief Judge Bryant Durham, filed his report with the State Ethics Commission Jan. 2. It lists contributions and expenditures through Dec. 31.

Johnson reported a total of $51,032 in donations and $899 in expenses, giving him a balance of $50,133.

Superior Court Judge Jack Niedrach’s seat will be on the nonpartisan ballot with Durham’s in May. Niedrach reported $46.43 in his campaign account as of June 30, 2019 — typical for local judges who rarely face a challenger. Durham, who is retiring at the end of the year, reported no money in his account as of June 30.

District Attorney Leigh Patterson’s four-year term is also ending this year. The longtime prosecutor reported $522 in her campaign chest as of June 30.

United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) is hiring senior staff in Georgia for her Presidential campaign, according to the AJC.

The Massachusetts Democrat’s new hires will initially focus on metro Atlanta and Columbus, the campaign said, though it plans to open offices or place staffers in Savannah, Augusta and Athens ahead of Georgia’s March 24 primary.

The team will be led by Anthony Davis Jr., who worked for U.S. Sen. Doug Jones’ 2017 campaign in Alabama and Bobby Kaple’s 6th District run in 2018.

The campaign tapped Edima Ufot, a veteran of the New Georgia Project voter registration initiative, as its community organizing director.

And it hired two veterans of Stacey Abrams’ run for governor for key roles: Jasmine Talley will oversee Warren’s outreach efforts in north Georgia, and Bev Jackson will coordinate Warren’s push to reach churches.

Floyd County Public Schools expects to take a $2.5 million dollar annual budget hit from a power plant closing, according to the Rome News Tribune.

School systems are funded by property taxes, and Plant Hammond, according to Floyd County Tax Commissioner Kevin Payne, was the county’s largest taxpayer prior to closing.

With the plant no longer operating, the property value will go down significantly, affecting school budgets.

“There’s no way to replace that (tax revenue),” Payne said previously. “They are our largest taxpayer and there’s nobody close.”

It’s also likely that Rome City Schools will lose some money due to the closure of the power plant. It may not be as substantial as what the county is facing since most public utilities are used by the county and not the city.

The Albany Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast is scheduled for February 6, according to the Albany Herald.

Dave Williams of Capitol Beat News Service looks at legislative attempts to corral e-scooters.

A state Senate study committee has released a report recently on how to approach the issue that is expected to become the starting point for a bill lawmakers will consider during the 2020 session that kicks off Jan. 13.

The panel’s recommendations seek to balance concerns for public safety driven by an explosion of e-scooters in Atlanta and its suburbs with a desire to encourage an industry with potential to help alleviate the metro region’s chronic traffic woes.

“I’m not against some common-sense regulations,” said Sen. Steve Gooch, R-Dahlonega, the study committee’s chairman. “But we need to create innovation. … There’s an opportunity here for Georgia to offer a private-sector solution to a problem that’s been around for years.”

Georgia cities’ reactions to the sudden proliferation of e-scooters reflects the uncertainty surrounding the technology. While Atlanta, Brookhaven and Decatur allow scooters, 12 cities have either banned them outright or imposed a temporary moratorium on scooters while elected officials consider how to regulate them.

State Rep. Katie Dempsey (R-Rome) warned local elected officials that a statewide preemption bill addressing building codes may be resurrected this session, according to the Rome News Tribune.

The [Rome] city commission passed a resolution last February that helped stall House Bill 302. But Rep. Katie Dempsey, R-Rome, told them they might want to think about submitting another resolution this year to join other cities combating a strong lobbying effort for the bill.

The legislation — said to champion affordable housing — would apply to both single-family homes and duplexes outside historic districts. It would bar local governments from enacting standards on building color, cladding material such as vinyl siding, architectural ornamentation, the location of doors, windows, garages and other design elements.

“HB 302 would severely erode the ability of all 538 Georgia cities and 159 counties to address unique and community-specific quality of life issues,” last year’s resolution stated.

State Rep. Jason Ridley (R-Chatsworth) writes about issues that might arise during the 2020 legislative session, in the Dalton Daily Citizen News.

Given the upcoming election cycle, with primaries in May, we expect a quick but productive 40 legislative days in Atlanta.

3
Jan

Adoptable (Official) Georgia Dogs for January 3, 2019

All adoptions on Fridays in January are free at the Gwinnett County Animal Shelter in Lawrenceville, Georgia.

From the Gwinnett Daily Post:

“We have many dogs at Gwinnett Animal Welfare that are perfect workout partners to help you start the year right and achieve your fitness goals,” said Alan Davis, director at Gwinnett Animal Welfare.

“We have dogs of all sizes, ages and energy levels just waiting to find the right running buddy or the perfect human to guide them through a nice walk at a park. We also have some senior dogs and beautiful cats for adoption for those whose goals include a slower pace.”

Shelter officials said the pets have already been vaccinated, neutered and microchipped.

Becky Gwinnett

Becky is an 8-month old female Labrador Retriever puppy who is available for adoption from the Gwinnett County Animal Shelter in Lawrenceville, GA.

Manny Gwinnett

Manny is a 4-month old male Labrador Retriever puppy who is available for adoption from the Gwinnett County Animal Shelter in Lawrenceville, GA.

Nora Moon Gwinnett

Nora Moon is an 11-month old female Labrador Retriever puppy who is available for adoption from the Gwinnett County Animal Shelter in Lawrenceville, GA.

Gwinnett @GaFirstLady

So, follow the First Lady’s advice, and if you’re interested in adopting a pet, consider those available at the Gwinnett County Animal Shelter.

That dog in the lower left hand corner is funny-looking. I wonder what breed it is.

3
Jan

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for January 3, 2019

On January 3, 1766, after passage of the “stamp act,” 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.

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

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

The sarcophagus containing the mummy of King Tatankhamen was discovered on January 3, 1925.

On January 3, 1990, Panamanian General Manuel Antonio Noriega surrendered to American forces in Panama.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Kelly Loeffler will be sworn in on Monday as the junior United States Senator from Georgia. From the AJC:

U.S. Sen. David Perdue will escort Loeffler down the aisle, adhering to the tradition of the senior senator leading his her counterpart down the aisle.

Vice President Mike Pence, in his role as the Senate’s president, will administer the oath of office around 5 p.m. Loeffler will carry a family bible that she will use to swear upon.

Because Senate rules prohibit photography inside the chambers, members always re-enact the ceremony in the Old Senate Chambers. So, any pictures you see of Loeffler taking the oath with her family by her side will be of that re-enactment.

You can watch the swearing in on the C-SPAN website, which has a live feed of all Senate proceedings.

Loeffler visited the Georgia Ports Authority, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Georgia Senator-designate Kelly Loeffler paid a visit to Georgia Ports Authority on Thursday, where she spoke highly of the port expansion project and said she would give a ‘no’ vote during President Donald Trump’s impeachment hearing.

Loeffler, who will be sworn in on Jan. 6, got a tour of the facilities, where she said she met with GPA leadership and learned more about the port expansion project.

“I don’t think that there was due process followed in the House proceedings, and so it would be very difficult to understand how that would not be the conclusion,” she said. “So yes, I would support a ‘no’ vote on impeachment.”

She said her experience with running a business helped her understand the workings of the port, and said she was impressed by the local leadership.

“There’s quite a bit of linkage in terms of running a good business and the way this port is being managed financially, operationally. I think it speaks volumes about the ability of this facility to grow and be really a leader in our country,” Loeffler said. “I think that the good management is a huge part of that for sure.”

From WTOC:

The senator-designate came to town to meet Representative Buddy Carter and other area business and city leaders. She has big plans for her new role.

Loeffler will join four committees once she takes office. Her top priorities are to serve veterans, work on healthcare and agriculture.

“The business community coming together to do the right thing for Savannah and for the state and I think that really signals a really strong and healthy dynamic so that we can have good communication,” said Kelly Loeffler, Senator-Designate. “My goal is to be very connected to the state of Georgia to not become a Washington politician. I want to stay very close to the needs here and I can rely on this community to give me that feedback.”

“The governors made an outstanding choice,” said Representative Buddy Carter. “Kelly Loeffler is going to be a great senator her values reflect the values of Georgia citizens and we’re excited about having her. Not only is she a businessperson someone who has signed the front of a paycheck she understands it. She gets it.”

“If she continues down the path that Senator Isakson and Senator Purdue have been on which is supporting business, supporting development and industry that will be great and that’s what we’re looking for,” said Griff Lynch, Executive Director of the Georgia Port Authority.

From 11Alive:

Since the public announcement of her appointment in December nearly a month ago, the businesswoman’s rollout as the state’s newest US Senator has been very closely guarded.

She has quietly traveled the state, documenting on social media her visits with friendly gatherings in Augusta, in the south Georgia town of Homerville, and this week in Carrollton – mostly sidestepping her hometown of Atlanta and much of its media scrutiny.

Governor Brian Kemp appointed James Prine to a seat on the Superior Court for the Southern Judicial Circuit, which serves Brooks, Colquitt, Echols, Lowndes, and Thomas Counties. From the Press Release:

Prine will replace the Honorable Harry Jay Altman II following Altman’s retirement.

“Given Jim’s extensive background with the Southern Judicial Circuit, I am confident that he is the right man for this job,” stated Governor Kemp. “As a judge, he will prioritize the business of the court and uphold justice, fairness, and proper decorum.”

James L. Prine earned his bachelor’s degree from Georgia Southern University and law degree from the Georgia State University College of Law. Since 2002, Prine has served as the Senior Assistant District Attorney of the Southern Judicial Court. He is active with the Thomasville Kiwanis Club, and he is a member of the South Georgia Intelligence Network Law Enforcement Group and Thomas County Bar Association. Prine earned the Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Robert Mueller Recognition for Outstanding Record in the Prosecution of Offenders in 2006, and he was named the Georgia State Arson Control Board Prosecutor of the Year in 2014. He and his family reside in Thomasville.

Governor Kemp announced the kickoff of the state’s effort to encourage compliance with this year’s census, according to GPB News.

The aim of “Every. One. Counts” is to encourage all Georgia residents to respond to the questionnaire.

The campaign is lead by the state’s complete count committee, a group of politicians, civic leaders and nonprofit partners from across the state. The committee is working with the U.S. Census Bureau and local partners in Georgia to get the word out and secure strong participation in the 2020 census.

“This campaign will work closely with census-focused organizations at the state, local, and federal levels to ensure Georgia is best prepared for the next decade,” Kemp said in his announcement.

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger‘s office has more information on the Special Election for Senate District 13, which was vacated by the death of Senator Greg Kirk.

The special election will be Feb. 4 for the district, which includes parts of Crisp, Dodge, Dooly, Lee, Sumter, Tift, Worth, Turner, and Wilcox counties. A run-off, if needed, will be March 3.

Qualifying for the special election will be in the Elections Division of the Office of Secretary of State in Atlanta on Jan. 2 and 3 from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. and Jan. 6 from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. The qualifying fee is $400.

Jan. 9 is the last day to register to vote in the special election.

From Georgia Recorder:

As of early Thursday afternoon, one person had qualified. Carden Summers, a Cordele Republican who ran for the seat in 2004, is the lone candidate so far. Qualifying ends at 1 p.m. Monday. The victor must immediately campaign for reelection later this year.

Former State Rep. Tom Buck (D-Columbus) has died, according to WRBL.

Buck served 38 years in the Georgia General Assembly, exiting in 2004. He was a hardcore Georgia Democrat when Democrats controlled the state. Buck worked his way into powerful committee chairmanships under longtime Speaker Tom Murphy.

Buck graduated from Columbus High School in 1955. And attended Emory University for his undergraduate degree and Emory Law School, graduating in 1962.

Buck first won election to the House in 1966, Buck was first elected to the statehouse in 1966 when he was persuaded to run for a seat held by Jack Brinkley, who ran successfully for Congress.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp called it a loss for the state. He was coming into the General Assembly as Buck was getting ready to leave at the turn of the century.

“Tom Buck treated me so well my first year up here,” Kemp said Thursday in his Capitol office. “A lot of people don’t realize this but he was good friends with my wife’s dad, Bob Argo. They served together for a long time in the House. We have sort of a family connection there. He was a great friend, a great colleague that I had the opportunity to serve with.”

Kemp said he got to spend some time with him back in the early 2000s.

“He’s just a great Georgian,” the governor said. “And served that area very, very well. Good Man.”

Current Georgia House Speaker David Ralston echoed those sentiments.

“Tom Buck was truly one of the finest leaders to serve in the Georgia House of Representatives,” Ralston said in a statement. “His knowledge of state government, particularly the budget, was unrivaled. He brought a strong appreciation of our state’s history to his work. I will always consider his integrity, honesty, and love of public service to a model of legislative leadership.”

From the Ledger-Enquirer:

“Tom Buck was a wonderful person,” state Rep. Calvin Smyre, D-Columbus, told the Ledger-Enquirer. “I considered him a friend. His contributions are widely spread all over Columbus. He had a significant amount of influence in the legislature.”

As chairman of the Georgia House Ways and Means Committee, Buck played a part in funding major public facilities that have contributed to the growth of Columbus, such as the RiverCenter for the Performing Arts, the Columbus Convention & Trade Center and the Columbus Civic Center, Smyre said.

The civic center’s funding through a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax was possible because Buck helped change the law that allows such revenue to be used for capital projects, state Rep. Debbie Buckner, D-Junction City, told the L-E.

Sales tax on cars will be charged at a lower rate this year, according to Georgia Recorder.

The car sales tax rate has been reduced from 7 percent to 6.6 percent because of the passing of Senate Bill 65, which became law on Jan. 1.

The bill sponsored by Sen.Tyler Harper, R–Ocilla, also changes how tax value is determined for used vehicles.

Used cars will be taxed based on their sales price instead of their fair market value, as in previous years.

Cars sold through used-car dealers who finance the sale are exempted from the rule.

State Senator Chuck Hufstetler (R-Rome) said a tax on vaping supplies might come before the legislature this year, according to the Rome News Tribune.

Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome, said during the Rome City Commission’s annual Hometown Connection Delegation Breakfast that they should expect to see legislation this year for a 5-cent-per-fluid-milliliter excise tax on consumable vapor products containing nicotine.

“I talked a lot about this a year ago,” Hufstetler said, adding that he also supports raising the minimum age to buy tobacco and vaping products to 21. “(The vaping industry) is creating instant addicts out of our college and high school kids.”

[Georgia Municipal Association] Charlotte Davis said that in addition to the tax, the GMA would like to see Rome and other cities expand the prohibition of smoking into outdoor facilities such as public parks.

“About 36 cities have set local ordinances trying to regulate vaping products similarly to how they regulate tobacco products,” Davis said. “What we’ve seen so far is treating vaping products like tobacco products through Georgia’s Smokefree Air Act, which does have a local control piece, but vaping is not part of that.”

Savannah Mayor Van Johnson and city council members were formally sworn in, according to the Savannah Morning News.

The Johnny Mercer Theatre was filled to capacity Thursday night as new Savannah Mayor Van Johnson and an almost all new slate of council members took their oaths of office at inauguration ceremonies.

Taking the oath of office as aldermen were Kesha Gibson-Carter, At-Large; Alicia Miller Blakely, Post 2, At-Large; Bernetta B. Lanier, District 1; Detric Leggett, District 2; Linda Wilder-Bryan, District 3; Nick Palumbo, District 4 and Kurtis Purtee, District 6.

This council is a first for the city, in that five of its members are African-American women.

Current council member for District 5, Estella Edwards Shabazz was sworn in for her third term as an alderman.

Advanced Politics – Running Out the Clock

Earlier this week, in the City of South Fulton, a municipal version of impeachment proceedings played out. From the AJC story published Monday:

A Monday hearing that could lead to the removal of a mayor and council member in the city of South Fulton was often raucous and unwieldy, but it ended with the fate of the two elected officials still unclear.

The hearing, to remove Mayor Bill Edwards and Councilwoman Helen Zenobia Willis, lasted more than nine hours as council members heard testimony from six people, including the city attorney, the city’s economic development director and a representative of Halperns’ Steak and Seafood Co. — the company at the heart of a development deal that led to the hearing.

Council members adjourned at 6:30 p.m. without taking a vote, and they could not say whether they would reconvene the hearing. The adjournment happened with no discussion after one council member left and Edwards cast the deciding vote.

Monday was December 30th, and the council adjourned without another meeting set for the next day. Here’s an excerpt from yesterday’s story from the AJC:

Since the hearing, the council term of one member who was pushing for the investigations has ended. Another council member, Khalid Kamau, said he didn’t think he had the votes to move forward with the removal proceedings and would not push for them to continue.

“I think it’s over,” he said.

The hearing ended Monday after an attorney representing the city, John Mrosek, rested his case without calling either Willis or Edwards to testify about their actions or intent. One councilwoman, Naeema Gilyard, had left the city break room where the proceedings were taking place.At the end of Mrosek’s arguments, with Gilyard absent, Edwards broke a 3-3 tie to adjourn the meeting and the elected officials left without discussing what they heard or voting to take any action.

Carmalitha Gumbs, a member of city council who voted to adjourn the hearing, said the continued investigations have put council members in a “very uncomfortable place.” She said barring criminal activity, it would be up to voters to decide to remove elected officials from office — not their colleagues.

“Maybe we need therapy, or to bring someone in to help,” she said. “I’m just praying we’re able to heal this as a community and move forward. We’re really divided. This has caused a lot of heartache.”

So, once the clock struck midnight, and the year began, a member who might have supported removing the Mayor and council member from office had their own term in office expire. The Mayor ran out the clock.

2
Jan

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

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.

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.

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.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Governor Brian Kemp issued a Writ of Election for a Special Election to State Senate District 13, comprising Crisp, Dodge, Dooly, Lee, Tift, Turner, Worth and parts of Sumter and Wilcox Counites, to be held on Tuesday, February 4, 2020. A Special Election for House District 171 will be held January 21, 2020, with a runoff, if needed, on February 25, 2020.

Two candidates have announced so far for the 14th Congressional District seat being vacated by Rep. Tom Graves (R-Ranger), who announced he will not run for reelection this year, according to the Rome News Tribune.

Clayton Fuller has announced his intention to seek the Republican nomination for Georgia’s 14th Congressional District, making him the second candidate to declare for the seat currently held by Tom Graves, R-Ranger.

A native of the 14th District, Fuller and his wife Kate live in Lookout Mountain with their two young children.

Appointed by President Donald Trump as a White House Fellow, Fuller recently worked in the office of the Vice President, assisting Second Lady Karen Pence with various projects.

Also on Wednesday, Paulding County School Board member Jason R. Anavitarte announced he would not be seeking the District 14 seat.

Early last month, wealthy Alpharetta businesswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene switched from challenging U.S. Rep. Karen Handel in the District 6 race, becoming the first to enter the District 14 contest following the announcement by Graves that he wouldn’t seek reelection in 2020.

From the AJC:

Another name to keep an eye on: Dallas Mayor Boyd Austin, the former president of the Georgia Municipal Association.

State Rep. Richard Smith (R-Columbus) will chair the House Rules Committee in the coming session, according to the AJC.

Smith will take over the Rules Committee after its previous chairman, state Rep. Jay Powell, died during a retreat of Republican legislative leaders in November.

“Richard Smith has earned the trust and respect of every member of our House of Representatives,” said Ralston, a Republican from Blue Ridge. “He is a wise and thoughtful leader who always puts the interests of this state and its citizens first.”

Since 2011, Smith has served as the chairman of the Insurance Committee. Before he was elected to the House in 2004, Smith was a member of the Columbus City Council.

State Rep. Eddie Lumsden (R-Rome) will serve as Chair of the House Insurance Committee, while State Rep. Bonnie Rich (R-Duluth) takes the reins as Chair of the Legislative & Congressional Reapportionment Committee.

Dougherty County and Albany are looking to work together for continued economic growth, according to the Albany Herald.

Dougherty County Commissioner Anthony Jones said … [t]he county should continue working with the city of Albany to keep the momentum going, Jones said during an interview about what he would like to see local governments focus on in 2020.

“I’d like to see the county and city work together,” he said. “I’d like to see downtown development continue to move forward. I really think it’s important the city and county continue to work together to carry out the goals and ambitions of the citizens of this community.”

The Georgia Capitol main outside staircases will be renovated, according to the Albany Herald.

The historic limestone and granite steps at the north and south entrances of the Georgia Capitol will get a makeover this year.

The Georgia State Financing and Investment Commission has released a request for qualifications seeking a contractor for the $1.5 million project.

Bids on the project are due Jan. 15. The work will begin at the end of the 2020 General Assembly session, likely in early April, with completion expected within 210 days.

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Resources Division has issued its 2020 revised sport fishing regulations, according to the Albany Herald.

The 2020 Georgia Sport Fishing Regulations Guide provides information such as a color fish identification chart for both freshwater and saltwater fish, license purchasing information, contact information for Wildlife Resources Division and Coastal Resources Division fisheries management offices, DNR Law Enforcement offices, trout stream listings, public fishing area information, state record fish listings, fishing regulations for Georgia and more.

The 2020 Georgia Sport Fishing Regulations may be found online at www.eregulations.com/georgia/fishing/, or through the Outdoors GA app (free app for iPhone or Android users). Anglers also can pick up a printed copy at any Wildlife Resources Division fisheries management or DNR Law Enforcement office, or at fishing license vendors throughout Georgia.

Van Johnson has been sworn in as Mayor of Savannah, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Savannah Mayor-elect Van Johnson II on Wednesday became mayor before a church full of celebrants gathered for the 157th Annual Emancipation Proclamation Celebration of President Abraham Lincoln’s edict ending slavery in the Confederate states.

“I’m becoming your mayor in front of you right now,” Johnson told the audience from the pulpit of historic St. Philip AME Church on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard before taking the oath of office in what he said fulfilled a legal obligation to have a mayor in office on Jan. 1.

And Chatham County Commission Chairman Al Scott challenged the worshipers, telling them that have an opportunity in 2020 to make history and urging them to make a New Year’s resolution “to take your city back.”

He said that with the 2020 census it was “absolutely important that you participate.”

Scott said the actions of the Trump Administration to undo the work of the 44th president, Barack Obama, in what he called, “2016 may have been the start of the new reconstruction.”

Formal inauguration of Mayor Johnson and city council will be held tonight, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Mayor-elect Van Johnson and members of the city council will be sworn in at inauguration ceremonies tonight, Thursday, Jan. 2.

The event will begin at 6:30 p.m. and is being held in the Johnny Mercer Theater at the Savannah Civic Center.

Newly elected Mayor Johnson will take the oath of office along with all members of council.

For Johnson it will be his second time taking the oath of office.

Council-elect members are Kesha Gibson-Carter, Post 1, At-Large; Alicia Miller Blakely, Post 2, At-Large; Bernetta B. Lanier, District 1; Detric Leggett, District 2; Linda Wilder-Bryan, District 3; Nick Palumbo, District 4 and Kurtis Purtee, District 6.

Current council member for District 5, Estella Edwards Shabazz will be sworn in for her third term as an alderman.

Statesboro City Council will have a majority of new members, according to the Statesboro Herald.

Three new members of Statesboro City Council — the first women elected by districts to the council in its history — will be sworn in at 9 a.m. Tuesday in the City Hall council chambers at the start of their first official meeting.

They are Paulette Chavers of District 2, Venus Mack of District 3, and Shari Barr of District 5. Another woman who holds elected local office, Judge Lorna DeLoach of the Bulloch County Probate Court, is slated to administer the oath of office.

Gwinnett County Senior Magistrate Judge Emily Powell died after being hit by a truck while crossing the street, according to AccessWDUN.

The police department said in a news release that Judge Powell was one of the original Gwinnett County magistrates where she served the court for over 20 years She attended the Walter F. George School of Law at Mercer. Based on her experience, she was routinely tasked with helping train and mentor new judges in Gwinnett County. Judge Powell was also a graduate of Leadership Gwinnett and active with Gwinnett Senior Leadership. She leaves behind a husband and two children.

From the AJC:

Because of her experience, she was routinely tasked with training and mentoring Gwinnett’s newest judges.

“Thank you Emily for being you,” one of those judges, Angela Duncan, wrote on Facebook this week. “Thank you for your love, support, mentorship. Thank you for being one of the strongest, (most) beautiful women I know so filled with grace.”

Powell leaves behind her husband, Tony — a well-known local attorney and former Lawrenceville city councilman — and their two children.