Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for August 4, 2021

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Aug

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for August 4, 2021

On August 4, 1753, George Washington became a Master Mason at the Masonic Lodge No. 4 in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

On August 4, 1944, Anne Frank, her family, and two others were found by Nazis in a sealed area in an Amsterdam warehouse. They were sent first to a concentration camp in Holland, then most were sent to Auschwitz. Anne and her sister Margot died from Typhus in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in March of 1945.

On August 4, 1958, a wagon train left Dahlonega, headed to Atlanta to pay tribute to the mighty General Assembly deliver 43 ounces of gold to be used to coat the dome of the State Capitol.

On August 4, 1993, Nolan Ryan, the greatest pitcher in major league baseball history, hit Chicago White Sox third baseman Robin Ventura, and Ventura charged the mound.

 

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger released an updated absentee ballot request form, according to the AJC.

Georgia election officials released a new absentee ballot request form Tuesday that requires voters to submit a driver’s license number or other ID, a change mandated by the state’s voting law.

The updated absentee application, created by Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s office, also adds a warning that voters face imprisonment or fines up to $100,000 if they provide false information.

The ID requirements for remote voting are part of Georgia’s voting law enacted after last year’s presidential election, when Democrat Joe Biden defeated Republican Donald Trump by about 12,000 votes.

The absentee request form includes boxes for voters to fill in their nine-digit driver’s license or state ID numbers. For voters who lack those forms of ID, they would have to provide a copy of a different identification document.

All registered Georgia voters are eligible to vote absentee without having to provide an excuse. Georgia has required photo ID for in-person voting since 2008.

Georgia’s new absentee ballot request form is available on the elections section of the secretary of state’s website at https://sos.ga.gov/.

The United States Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC) issued a new moratorium on evictions, according to the Associated Press via WTOC.

The ban announced Tuesday could help keep millions in their homes as the coronavirus’ delta variant has spread and states have been slow to release federal rental aid. It would temporarily halt evictions in counties with “substantial and high levels” of virus transmissions and would cover areas where 90% of the U.S. population lives.

The announcement was a reversal for the Biden administration, which allowed an earlier moratorium to lapse over the weekend after saying a Supreme Court ruling prevented an extension. That ripped open a dramatic split between the White House and progressive Democrats who insisted the administration do more to prevent some 3.6 million Americans from losing their homes during the COVID-19 crisis.

“The bulk of the constitutional scholarship says that it’s not likely to pass constitutional muster,” Biden said. “But there are several key scholars who think that it may and it’s worth the effort.”

The CDC put the initial eviction ban in place as part of the COVID-19 response when jobs shifted and many workers lost income. The ban was intended to hold back the spread of the virus among people put out on the streets and into shelters, but it also penalized landlords who lost income as a result.

From the AJC:

Right now, about one of every five renters in Georgia is behind on rent payments, according to a survey by the Census Bureau. The pandemic triggered the loss of tens of millions of jobs around the country, and many of them have not returned or have come back with limited hours.

The eviction ban is meant to keep people off the streets and out of homeless shelters and other crowded housing conditions during the public health crisis.

In DeKalb County, 145 writs of eviction were already scheduled to be executed when Superior Court Judge Asha Jackson signed an emergency order Friday that creates a local ban on evictions for another 60 days. Roughly 1,650 more are pending with the marshal’s office there. DeKalb officials say a cyberattack earlier this year dramatically slowed distribution of federal rental assistance.

If the Census Bureau survey paints an accurate picture, more than 400,000 households in metro Atlanta are behind on rent. But no one expects the number of actual evictions to even come close to that. Many tenants strike last-minute deals with landlords, borrow money for rent or raise funds in other ways.

According to Princeton University’s Eviction Lab, racial minorities and women have been disproportionately affected by evictions during the pandemic.

In DeKalb, CEO Michael Thurmond acknowledged that Judge Jackson’s local moratorium would “increase the financial burden and stress on landlords, especially our mom-and-pop owners.” But he said he planned to propose at Tuesday’s county commission meeting that DeKalb’s Tenant-Landlord Assistance Coalition be allowed to pay 100% of all past-due rent up to 12 months and to increase future rent payments to three months.

From the AJC Political Insider:

It temporarily halts evictions in counties with “substantial and high levels” of COVID-19 transmissions; 90% of the U.S. population lives in such areas.

The new threshold means that evictions are banned in most of the state, including all of metro and exurban Atlanta. The new order expires Oct. 3, giving Congress more time to hash out a new rule.

Food stamp use increased during the pandemic, according to the AJC.

The number of households receiving food stamp assistance has held steady for the past year after ballooning by 40% in the first six months after the COVID-19 pandemic hit Georgia.

At the same time, fewer Georgians are receiving welfare benefits this year than last, a downward trend that’s existed for more than a decade as government officials sought to reduce the rolls.

Muscogee County Sheriff’s Office had already begun evictions, according to WTVM.

Muscogee County deputies are busy carrying out evictions just days after the federal eviction moratorium ended.

The Muscogee County Sherriff’s Office says they have had 58 evictions in the last two weeks. With rental assistance hard to come by, there could be a wave of more evictions in the coming weeks and months.

Sgt. Clinton Powell says they already have numerous evictions scheduled to carry out now that the federal eviction moratorium is ending.

Governor Brian Kemp is under pressure to ban local school system mask mandates, according to the AJC.

State Sen. Burt Jones, who is expected to run for lieutenant governor, urged Kemp to call a special legislative session to prohibit mask mandates in school districts and “let Georgia parents – not government bureaucrats – decide what is best for their children.”

Jones outlined his position in a letter to Kemp that argued the government should give parents flexibility to make decisions for their children and “not issuing across the board mandates that will inevitably do more harm than good.”

“The wellbeing of our children – and their short and long-term development and education – are squarely at risk by requiring them to wear a mask for the upcoming school year,” wrote Jones. “It is a decision that could have a generational effect on hundreds of thousands of young Georgians.”

“I trust the local school systems with local control,” the governor said recently. “Our school superintendents have been dealing with this issue for 15 months. They dealt with it all last year. They know how to deal with Covid in their classrooms. I trust them to do that.”

The Kemp Administration is also under pressure from the Biden Administration over federal healthcare waivers, according to the AJC.

Tensions are near a breaking point between the White House and Gov. Brian Kemp over Kemp’s plan to block Georgians’ access to the Affordable Care Act’s federal health insurance shopping website, healthcare.gov.

In a letter last week, the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services told Kemp health aides that Georgia has until August 29 to answer questions that CMS has raised about the plan. Otherwise, it wrote, Georgia will be in violation of the state-federal partnership that underlies the proposal.

In such a case, the letter said, the feds can re-evaluate the “waiver” proposal without the state’s input. If they find the proposal no longer meets the guidelines to qualify as a waiver, they “will take appropriate action.”

With the July 30 letter, Kemp now is in a standoff with Washington, possibly headed to court, over both of his most sweeping health care initiatives. Earlier this summer, the state had to delay rollout of its limited Medicaid expansion after that waiver request also met with skepticism from the Biden administration.

Governor Kemp’s Office directed state agencies to avoid spending increases the next two years, according to the Center Square.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp has instructed state agencies to maintain current spending levels over the next two years.

State agencies must submit their budget requests ahead of the January legislative session, when lawmakers will review the current fiscal year spending plan and construct a budget for next year.

Two budgets are passed through the General Assembly every legislative session. Lawmakers must review and approve spending for the remainder of the current fiscal year, also known as the Amended Fiscal Year (AFY) budget, and approve the budget for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.

Kelly Farr, Kemp’s budget director, has told agency leaders not to increase spending in their amended fiscal year 2022 and fiscal year 2023 budget requests.

The directive comes as state legislative leaders have vowed to spend more money to combat crime and support mental health services. House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, announced a plan last month to spend $75 million on additional personnel and resources for law enforcement and mental health services. Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan said creating a $250 million tax credit for law enforcement donations was the “cornerstone” of his legislative agenda in 2022.

Georgia’s economy is operating at 95% of where it was at the onset of the pandemic, according to Moody’s Analytics and CNN Business’ Back-to-Normal Index.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms lauded other mayors who are implementing mask mandates, according to the Athens Banner Herald.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms gave a shoutout to Athens leadership in a Tuesday press conference about the number of rising COVID-19 cases in Atlanta, among other issues.

“I can say there are mayors throughout the state who are leading, you’ve got Van Johnson in Savannah, Hardie Davis in Augusta, you’ve got Kelly Girtz Athens. So there are many of us who are on the same page, but it’s unfortunate that there’s a lack of leadership at the highest level in our state,” said Bottoms.

The acknowledgment comes hours before Athens commissioners are set to vote on several COVID-19 protections, including an indoor mask mandate and a vaccine requirement for Athens-Clarke County employees.

If the mask mandate passes, Athens will join Atlanta and Savannah as some of the first Georgia cities to re-implement its mask mandate as cases of COVID-19 in Georgia surge due to the Delta variant.

Georgia legislators will begin looking at applications for federal COVID relief funds, according to the Capitol Beat News Service via the Statesboro Herald.

Starting Aug. 1, the state will be accepting applications for $4.8 billion in federal funding earmarked for Georgia in the American Rescue Plan, a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 stimulus bill Congress passed in March. The state will get the money in two installments of $2.4 billion each, one this year and one in 2022.

Three committees of state lawmakers and high-level leaders of executive branch agencies will begin meeting in September to sift through the requests and allocate the money in mid-October.

It promises to be a daunting task, said Georgia House Appropriations Committee Chairman Terry England, who will sit on all three committees.

“We may have literally thousands of applications to look at,” said England, R-Auburn.

The committees will have some help. The Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget (OPB) will review each funding application to make sure it complies with guidelines set by the U.S. Treasury Department, England said.

“The guidelines are out there,” he said. “OPB has a special website set up for [applicants] to look at.”

“Broadband and water and sewer are the only infrastructure [projects] specifically authorized in the federal legislation without strings attached,” said Clint Mueller, legislative director for the Association County Commissioners of Georgia (ACCG).

The legislative redistricting meeting set for Augusta had its date changed, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

The hearing was recently re-scheduled for Aug. 30, after Hurricane Elsa cancelled the first date. The new date, according to a press release from the House of Representatives, is Wednesday, Aug. 11 from 5-7 p.m. It is still going to be held at the Savannah Rapids Pavilion in Martinez.

“The hearing was indeed rescheduled to August 11,” wrote Kaleb McMichen, director of communications for House Speaker David Ralston, in an email. “I don’t have anything on the reason for rescheduling.”

Bibb County Commissioners voted to pay incentives for vaccinated employees, according to 13WMAZ.

Tuesday night’s vote means a full-time employee who is already fully-vaccinated or gets vaccinated by the end of September will get $500. Part-time employees will get $250.

Mayor Lester Miller says it’s all coming from American Rescue Plan funding, and it’s money well-spent. In the end, he says it could save the county some extra cash in the long run.

“This is one small step we’re taking so that we don’t have a government shutdown,” Miller said.

Miller says that’s because county data shows the pandemic cost them $5.2 million with $2 million of that going toward healthcare costs alone.

“Those are real numbers. We are a self-insured government with our health insurance plan, and this is what we pay out-of-pocket,” Miller said.

Some Houston County parents are asking for a mask mandate in county schools, according to 13WMAZ.

Caly Hess, who has two kids, says she’s disappointed with the district.

“Forcing all of these children in person into an unsafe environment in a hotspot where it is known, scientifically-proven this thing is killing people and more and more kids are getting sick,” said Hess.

She has one high-schooler who’s attending school in person. She decided to keep her preschooler home — he’s not getting schooling at the moment.

“We can’t risk him going into the preschool getting sick and being asymptomatic and bringing it to our grandparents. We just can’t,” said Hess.

Statewide candidates from Savannah have challenges, according to the Savannah Morning News.

While there’s plenty of regional politicking to go around in Georgia, most successful runs for statewide posts come from candidates with strong support in the Atlanta area.

Politics can be complicated, but this part is simple: if you want to get elected, you have to campaign where most of the voters are. And for candidates running in Georgia, that means campaigning in Atlanta.

For candidates from other parts of the state, including Savannah, that means fighting an exhausting uphill battle for months on end.

So far, a few Savannah candidates have chosen to contend in the 2022 midterms. Jeanne Seaver is running for Lt. Governor. Buddy Carter said he would run for Senate in 2022 if former UGA football standout Herschel Walker doesn’t run. State Sen. Lester Jackson is running for Labor Commissioner.

“You’ve got to have money, because with all the people in Fulton, Gwinnett, Cobb, Cherokee, Forsyth Counties, you’re never going to make it to all of them. You can’t shake enough hands. You can’t attend enough churches or go to enough barbecues to shake every hand that’s there,” [former Congressman Jack] Kingston said. “So you’ve got to have the money for advertising… You have to be able to raise money, and there again, you’ve got to have a good donor base from politics or from business or from wherever you come from.”

“People south of I-16, they like to meet you. They like to know you. They like to be one or two people away from you: ‘My brother-in-law knows a woman who goes to church with the candidate,’ that sort of thing,” Kingston said. “But in metro Atlanta, that’s not what gets them. It’s gonna be that 30-second sound bite.”

United States Senator Jon Ossoff (D-Atlanta) is supporting legislation designed to increase rooftop solar, according to the Capitol Beat News Service via the Henry Herald.

The RAISE the Roof Act (Revamping Appropriate Incentives for Solar Energy) would expand solar tax credits to cover roof repairs and replacements necessary to accommodate solar panels. It also would help property owners pay for integrated solar roofing systems, a cutting-edge technology that involves making solar panels a part of the roof rather than using brackets to attach them.

“This bill will make it more affordable for all Americans to install rooftop solar panels, saving them money on their electric bills and boosting renewable energy production nationwide,” Ossoff said. “I will continue leading Senate efforts to scale up renewable energy production.”

The rooftop solar bill follows legislation Ossoff introduced in June providing tax credits to U.S. manufacturers of solar panels. Both bills enjoy widespread support across the solar energy industry.

Augusta Mayoral candidate Brian Marcus will continue his campaign after being arrested, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

Candidate Brian Marcus said the July 19 gas station altercation that landed him in jail stemmed from a store clerk overcharging him.

“It’s all from them not allowing me to get gas. I couldn’t go anywhere. I was on ‘E.’ I needed money or gas,” Marcus said Tuesday.

“I paid for the gas and I put it on my cash app card, $12, and when I got to the pump to pump my gas, the lady switched it,” he said. “She switched it to midgrade on purpose to make me pay more money.”

According to a Richmond County incident report, the clerk told police Marcus had paid for his gas, went outside to pump the gas and came back inside accusing them of selecting the wrong grade of fuel and demanding a refund. The clerk told Marcus they can’t select the fuel type.

He called police after the clerks refused to give him a refund.

According to the incident report, Marcus became “belligerent” with the employees, yelling and stating “they don’t know who his family is and that they are in the mob.”

Bibb County is on pace to see a record number of homicides this year, according to 13WMAZ.

In 2020, Macon set a modern day record for homicides with 50, and so far in 2021, the county is on pace to meet or surpass that total.

This year, 40 people have been victims of homicide, including a pair of vehicular homicides as well as the death of a pregnant woman whose unborn child also died.

Augusta Commissioners voted to draft an amendment to the smoking ordinance to allow cigar bars, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

Commissioner Jordan Johnson, who asked for the amendment, said the vote to draft it does not mean the return of smoking sections or smoky venues to Augusta.

To open a cigar bar, an applicant would have to pay a fee and install signs identifying it as such, Planning Director Rob Sherman said.

“It will be a standalone business, with at least 20% of gross annual revenue from the sale of cigars.”

Athens-Clarke County Commissioners are considering where to set up a homeless camp, according to the Athens Banner Herald.

After voting to approve a government-sanctioned homeless encampment, Athens-Clarke County commissioners are scheduled to decide Tuesday where the encampment will be located.

Along with the site selection vote, commissioners will also vote on allocating $250,000 from the government’s general fund to pay for site improvements and an additional $50,000 to fund a strategic plan on homeless services.

That $300,000 will not be all it takes to run the site. Commissioners will not vote Tuesday on total site funding, but a document from ACC.gov notes initial costs could run from $1 million to $1.5 million.

The estimated annual costs to operate the shelter range from $728,000 to $1,147,000, factoring in security costs, staffing, maintenance and more. The cost for annual social services, including food and health service, was not estimated.

Dalton City Council set municipal elections for November 2, 2021, according to the Dalton Daily Citizen News.

Floyd County tax collections under the 2017 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) are running ahead of projections, according to the Rome News Tribune.

Collection of the 2017 special purpose, local option sales tax is slated to run through the end of March 2024 and was budgeted to total $63.8 million. As of the end of July, SPLOST collections totaled $38.3 million, about $9.5 million ahead of budget.

The July amount alone was about half a million dollars ahead of projections, Floyd County Finance Director Susie Gass told members of the Rome Floyd County Joint Services Committee on Tuesday.

“Hopefully we will continue to do well,” Gass said. “We’ve had a (previous) SPLOST that was under-collected and so I think we all have that in the back of our mind. But so far we’re looking good.”

The Glynn County Emergency Management Agency interim director announced he will resign in a month, according to The Brunswick News.

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