Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for December 18, 2017

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Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for December 18, 2017

The British ship Mayflower landed at what is now Plymouth, Massachusetts on December 18, 1620.

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Charles Wesley, brother of John Wesley who founded Methodism, and one of the great hymn-writers, was born on December 18, 1707. Wesley accompanied James Oglethorpe to Georgia in 1736.

The first national day of thanksgiving was observed on December 18, 1777 commemorating the American victory over the British at Saratoga the previous month.

Congress wrote, “It is therefore recommended to the Legislative or executive Powers of these UNITED STATES, to set apart THURSDAY, the eighteenth Day of December next, for solemn THANKSGIVING and PRAISE; That at one Time and with one Voice the good People may express the grateful Feelings of their Hearts, and consecrate themselves to the Service of their Divine Benefactor”.

On December 18, 1834, Governor William Lumpkin signed legislation chartering the Georgia Methodists Conference Manual Labor School at Oxford, Georgia, which would later become Emory College in 1836 and Emory University in 1915.

On December 18, 1865, U.S. Secretary of State William Seward issued a statement verifying the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which outlawed slavery in the United States.

The office of Superintendent of Public Education and Georgia Schools was created on December 18, 1866 when Gov. Charles Jenkins signed legislation passed by the General Assembly; on December 18, 1894, Gov. William Atkinson approved a resolution for a Constitutional Amendment to make the State School Commissioner elected statewide.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Governor Nathan Deal suspended Spalding County Clerk of Superior and State Courts Marcia Norris after an investigation concluded she had failed to fulfill her duties.

Former New Jersey Governor and EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman will speak at Berry College on January 25, 2018.

Former governor of New Jersey Christine Todd Whitman will speak at 7 p.m., Jan. 25, 2018, as part of the Berry College Cecil B. Wright III Integrity in Leadership lecture series.

Her lecture “Women, Leadership, Power and Politics: Overcoming Obstacles,” will be in the Krannert Ballroom and is free and open to the public.

Whitman served in the cabinet of President George W. Bush as Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency from January of 2001 until June of 2003. She was the 50th Governor of the State of New Jersey, serving as its first woman governor from 1994 until 2001.

U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia Bobby Christine spoke to the Savannah Morning News about the coastal city’s rash of gun crime.

“My agenda is to make the Southern District of Georgia safer,” the 48-year-old Augusta native said as he works his way into his new offices overlooking Savannah’s Ellis Square. “We are not where we need to be or how safe the district can be.”

He pledged to combine federal resources with those of state and local agencies, including Chatham County District Attorney Meg Heap, to combat what he sees as the evil created by a small number of people.

“I believe that the vast majority of our crime is committed by a tiny percentage of our population,” Christine said. “We’re going to lay the glove on that tiny percentage.”

And he concedes part of his challenge it to get those committing the crimes to understand the ground rules.

“I’m not certain they know where the red line is,”he said. “The red line is violence.. We don’t tolerate it and we’re not going to permit it.

“We’re going to be getting after doing that. We’re not going to sit by when neighborhoods are reporting hundreds and hundreds of shootings. We’re not going to sit by when that happens.”

He emphasized that while his office can do more to combat crime, it cannot do so without the partnership with state and local law enforcement agencies, which he said represent more than 85 percent of the law enforcement component.

“We have to be leveraging partnerships with these folks,” Christine said. “We don’t win this if we don’t fight side by side.”

Federal inaction to renew the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) funding may hit Georgia healthcare providers soon.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Dr. Ninfa Saunders, who oversees hospitals and clinics in Macon and other parts of Middle Georgia as the CEO of Navicent Health. Saunders is used to high-wire acts over government funding, but not so many programs at one time. And she did not expect this one to keep playing out so extraordinarily long.

“I never did. Never, never did,” she said. “I really thought when you look at the vulnerable populations, the children, I really thought this would pivot quicker.

“I always thought, I know how to navigate this. When you start dodging too many bullets, one of them is going to hit you and be fatal. You just don’t know which one it’s going to be.”

That program covers more than 130,000 Georgia children at any given time, and over the course of a year more than 200,000 Georgia kids benefit. It also covers pregnant mothers. The cut to Georgia in the first year is expected to be $427 million, according to the Georgia Hospital Association.

Other programs that expired include the Disproportionate Share Hospital funding program, which goes to hospitals that treat a disproportionate share of the community’s poor. That cut is set to take place unless it’s stopped: a reduction of $36 million in the first year, rising to $145 million within a decade.

Dr. Robert Geller, the chief of pediatrics for Emory University at Grady and Hughes Spalding hospitals, said their no-show rate for child patients had suddenly started to rise after the programs expired, and it is now one-quarter to one-third higher than normal. There’s no proof why, he said, but it’s reasonable to think parents are wary they’re going to have medical bills they can’t pay.

“My personal feeling is that many of these kids are children of hardworking parents that are underinsured, relatively low-income, who don’t have or can’t afford insurance who want to do right by their kids,” Geller said. He stresses that parents waiting until the kid is sick enough to hospitalize is not only tragic but costs more, as well as taking the parent out of the workplace to accompany the kid: “This is not a wise place,” he said.

State Rep. Tom McCall (R-Elberton) will renew his push for legislation that might withhold state tax refunds for people who owe hospital bills.

“The pushback that I have heard is, ‘Well, people depend on their tax refund to pay their bills.’ A hospital bill is not a bill?” said Rep. Tom McCall, a Republican from Elberton who is sponsoring the proposal. “You went and got the services, and you are expected to pay.”

McCall said the bill would not apply to people who are making some effort toward paying off their debt.

“If you’re making $10 a month payments, you’re not on that list,” he said.

McCall’s bill was filed during the 2017 legislative session, but it languished in committee. It was not included in the House panel’s recent report, but co-chair Jay Powell, R-Camilla, said Wednesday that the council is not opposed to it.

McCall said this week that he’s spent the legislative break sharpening his argument for the new session that starts Jan. 8. He said he’s carrying the measure on behalf of his local hospital, which is struggling to hang on.

“The only way we’re going to be able to get out from underneath this is if they allow us some mechanism to collect money from people who could pay it,” said Chris Kubas, who sits on the hospital foundation board.

“What gets lost, what gets forgotten, is why we’re doing this,” [Elbert Memorial Hospital Board of Directors Chairman Daniel Graves] told lawmakers at a Senate Rural Georgia Study Committee meeting held Tuesday in Elberton. “If rural health care disappears, people die. People in Elbert County will die unnecessarily if we can’t find a solution to this problem.”

Graves urged lawmakers to consider tasking the revenue department with recouping the money owed to health care facilities run by hospital authorities. He said the hospital loses about $3 million to bad debt every year. Collecting just $500,000 of that, he said, will put the hospital in the black.

“I understand people will be mad about getting their tax refund intercepted, but quite frankly, I’m mad that we provide the service and we’re not getting compensated,” he said.

State Rep. Darrell Ealum (R-Albany) said that a tax credit program benefiting rural hospitals is not getting many takers.

Governor Nathan Deal signed a law in 2016 allowing $180 million in tax credits through 2019.

49 hospitals, including several in Southwest Georgia, can get up to $4 million in donations that get paid back to the donor in tax credits.

However, State Representative Darrel Ealum said not many people have been taking advantage of the tax credit.

“In our rural areas, we don’t have the tax-base that many people or the larger number of people need the tax credits,” said Ealum.

Sand dune protection legislation in the legislature will likely be abandoned for 2018.

“I’m through with House Bill 271,” said state Rep. Don Hogan, R-St. Simons Island. “That bill jumped on me right out of the (House) Natural Resources Committee, and we discussed it. (Then-director) Spud (Woodward) from down here at (the) Coastal (Resources Division) and the rest of the (CRD staff) came up and did testimony after testimony before our committee.

“I thought it was a good bill when it got started out. The problem we ran into was trying to identify what some of the starting points … like the Johnson rocks … and sand dunes, trying to identify what a sand dune is. And when Irma got through with us, I don’t know if we had a sand dune left out there.”

When state Rep. Jesse Petrea, R-Savannah, pulled the bill from consideration in March, people including One Hundred Miles executive director Megan Desrosiers said the intervening months could provide the opportunity to properly rework the bill and produce legislation that could both pass the General Assembly and do the job intended. But there will not be movement on the bill in the coming term that begins in January.

Hogan said as he understood it, the bill was dead in the Senate and he would not support it, regardless.

“It is not going to be moving, according to the (Senate Natural Resources Committee) chairman,” state Sen. William Ligon, R-St. Simons Island, said. “There’s a lack of agreement — no one’s happy with it, so I think it’s going back to the drawing board. You may see a study committee that comes out of the Senate — probably have a joint committee with the House — to look at that issue and see what can be done and maybe we can arrive at a consensus on some of it.”

Religious liberty language will not likely be added to the adoption reform bill heading through the legislature this year, according to the Brunswick Times.

One bill that will be moving is the massive state adoption overhaul that also came to a sudden stop earlier this year. Ligon, in the Senate Judiciary Committee and close to the end of session, placed a provision in the bill that, in practice, would allow adoption agencies to refuse service to same-sex couples on religious grounds.

That amendment ended up causing some controversy within the committee and later the entire General Assembly, as a bipartisan group of state representatives rose to speak in the House against the amendment and the perception it threatened to derail around two years of hard work to completely restructure the adoption process to better serve children and families.

Those issues appear to have been worked out. As state Rep. Jeff Jones, R-St. Simons Island, spoke about the bill, Ligon’s body language remained placid.

“The adoption bill will come back this year — that’s H.B. 159 — and I understand that the objections that were raised in the Senate when that bill moved over have been resolved,” Jones said. “I don’t have personal, absolute knowledge of that, but I understand (those) issues have been resolved, so we’re moving ahead with the adoption bill.”

Middle Georgia voters will decide on an 11-county Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax in the May 22, 2018 election.

The transportation special purpose local option sales tax, or T-SPLOST, referendum will be on the May 22 ballot as part of the general election primary throughout an 11-county region. The 1 percent sales tax is projected to generate about $637 million in revenue over a 10-year period, according to the Middle Georgia Regional Commission.

If voters give the green light, collections would begin in the fall of 2018. The region includes: Macon-Bibb, Houston, Monroe, Jones, Crawford, Putnam, Twiggs, Peach, Baldwin, Wilkinson and Pulaski counties.

Seventy-five percent of the transportation sales tax proceeds would be used to pay for the current list of projects. The remaining 25 percent, roughly $159 million, would be divided up by local governments for officials there to decide how best to use on transportation investments, said Laura Mathis, executive director of the Middle Georgia Regional Commission.

There’s been a different vibe in this year’s T-SPLOST roundtable meetings compared to 2012 when the measure failed to pass, Mathis said.

At that time, the majority of voters in Houston, Putnam, Monroe and Twiggs counties opposed the measures. But with local leaders having more flexibility this year because the proposal was not mandated by state law, the discussions moved at a pace in which the government representatives felt comfortable, Mathis said.

“I think they really focused on having really good, solid projects on the list,” she said. “(There was a) collaborative, cooperative understanding of the needs of communities being different, but also being sure that each community has something that fits them.”

Lee County Commissioners are preparing for a likely vote on a six-year Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST VII).

SPLOST funding is derived from a 1 percent special-purpose local-option sales tax that must be adopted by the Board of County Commissioners as a referendum and approved by county voters. A specific timeline and prescribed steps must be followed before bringing the matter to a public vote.

Officials in the municipalities that are located within the county are invited to meet with county commissioners to discuss SPLOST projects. The meeting must take place at least 30 days prior to the special SPLOST election. During that time period, the County Commission must adopt a resolution calling for imposition of the SPLOST. The resolution must include a list and estimated cost of each SPLOST project.

Gwinnett County kicked off the bicentennial year celebration that will culminate in the 200th anniversary of the county on December 15, 2018.

“Thank you so much to the historical society for this great kickoff for what I know is going to be a wonderful year,” County Commission Chairwoman Charlotte Nash said during the event. “The look and the feel of many of the events as we go through the year is going to be different as we pull in the different threads of this rich, rich tapestry that is Gwinnett now.

“I’m just excited for us to be able to have a chance to highlight to the entire area, just what Gwinnett County today is all about, because it is not the same as it was in the past and it is not the same as it will be in the future.”

The kickoff event was the first of two major bicentennial-related events that took place in Gwinnett this weekend. The Duluth historical Society held another event Saturday at the Southeastern Railway Museum where the New Dawn Theater group staged a production based on the life of county namesake Button Gwinnett.

Nash and Lawrenceville Mayor Judy Jordan Johnson also unveiled a bicentennial torch that will be used in a yearlong, Olympic torch-inspired run around the county. The difference between the bicentennial torch and its Olympic counterpart, however, is that Gwinnett’s torch is lit with LED lights instead of an actual flame.

The torch run will begin at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday when it is carried on foot by high school track and cross country athletes, representing each of the county’s high schools, from the historical courthouse to the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center.

Thousands of jobs at Plant Vogtle will disappear quickly if construction is halted, according to The Augusta Chronicle.

And it would be a long time before people in metro Augusta stopped lamenting the loss of the “nuclear renaissance” going on 20 miles south of town in Burke County.

“It would be a substantial detriment to the building of new nuclear across the country if we don’t build Vogtle,” said Brydon Ross, Southeast director for the Consumer Energy Alliance. “It’s our last best chance to build new nuclear in the U.S. If we don’t build Vogtle, we’re not going to be building new nuclear for a long, long time.”

Georgia’s five Public Service Commissioners are expected to decide in Atlanta on Thursday if Georgia Power and its co-investors should cancel the long-delayed project ratepayers have been funding since 2011. The new reactors were supposed to be finished this year for $14 billion but aren’t projected to go operational until 2022 at an estimated $25 billion.

The loss of those jobs would send a shock wave through the community, said Andy Crosson, executive director of the CSRA Regional Commission, a 13-county planning and economic development agency.

“It would have a major impact in an immediate sense,” he said. “In a long-term sense, we would lose those potential jobs and the indirect jobs that would come with those jobs.”

Crosson said each nuclear job supports 1.6 jobs in other industries. Based on his multipliers, abandoning units 3 and 4 would rob the economy of 800 direct jobs, 528 additional jobs and more than $33 million in annual payroll.

The loss of construction jobs would have the effect of pulling $115 million in annual payroll from the regional economy. That figure doesn’t count the hundreds of temporary contractors brought in every 18 months to refuel the reactors and perform scheduled maintenance. With a total of four operating units at one site, operators would constantly be preparing for the next maintenance and refueling period, known in the power industry as an “outage.”

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1579 in Augusta supplies the site with nearly 500 electricians. Barring a shutdown, that number would climb to 1,200 in March, when the most intense electrical work begins.

The Muscogee County Sheriffs Office is collecting gift donations for children in the Twin Cedars group homes.

Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson see a bright future for Georgia Democrats after last week’s Alabama Senate election.

“There’s been interesting dialogue over the last many years that Georgia was never as red as some people thought it was,” she said on the show. “What few consultants have realized … is we have this very large Black Belt that runs through the state of Georgia. It spans through Columbus, Ga., which is deeply blue, through Macon, Augusta, (and) Athens is in there as well.”

“You have the opportunity to think about the state of Georgia by certainly maximizing turnout in your urban areas where you have a high volume of voters, but also edging off some of these rural red states by maximizing your vote in the Black Belt, and that’s exactly what they did in Alabama.”

“There are a lot of African American voters, but the point is, a lot of time people say ‘rural America,’ ‘rural Alabama,’ and we assume that it’s white. But (it means) agricultural communities, and there are large minority voters absolutely, but there’s just a lot of folks who think certain ways about what government’s role is,” the mayor said.

“When you have competitive races between strong Democrat and Republican candidates, you are going to have better government. So quit it with this one-party system. Balance and good government, that’s all I’m saying.”

Former Macon Mayor Jack Ellis called current Mayor Robert Reichert, “the Grinch.”

Reichert has ordered homeless people to vacate the park by Monday, warning them that the city is “going to pick all of your stuff up,” he said. The mayor offered no suggestions for where the tent-dwellers along the Ocmulgee River might go instead.

“What I’m saying is … we have a place for them to go,” Ellis said, standing in front of the old Virgil Powers School at Hawthorne and Second streets. “We all know the story of the Grinch who stole Christmas … We have a man sitting at 700 Poplar St. who, at this Christmas season, is emulating old brother Grinch by taking homeless … and telling them they must leave … without having a place for them to go.”

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