Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for December 6, 2016

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Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for December 6, 2016

On December 6, 1847, Dr. William White spoke to a group of Atlanta residents about a proposal to move the state capital to Atlanta and was met with cheers.

The Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified on December 6, 1865, when Georgia ratified the Amendment outlawing slavery.

“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

The Washington Monument was completed on December 6, 1884.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Muscogee County voters go to the polls today to choose between two candidates for Sheriff in a runoff election.

All of Muscogee County’s neighborhood voting precincts will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday for the runoff between Independent incumbent John Darr and his Democratic challenger Donna Tompkins, a retired sheriff’s captain.

The official results on Nov. 8 left Tompkins with 29,866 votes to Darr’s 21,608, or 44.3 to 32 percent. With Republican Mark LaJoye taking 20.2 percent and write-in candidate Brown drawing 3.4 percent, neither of the top two had the majority needed to win outright.

Runoffs are also being held in Henry County for Commission Chair, in Oconee County, and in DeKalb County Commission District 7.

Speaker David Ralston reiterated his desire to avoid revisiting religious liberty legislation in 2017.

“I’m content letting Congress have a go at it,” Rep. Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) said Thursday at a pre-legislative conference at the University of Georgia.

Ralston says a vigorous Republican majority in Congress ought to be able to pass a law that provides for religious freedom in Georgia and the rest of America.

“Let’s see if they can fix whatever defect there might be in the current federal law,” Ralston said, before addressing a question about religious freedom “fatigue” in the legislature.

“Well, I don’t know that I would call it fatigue,” Ralston said.  “But we’ve debated the bill for three sessions.”

“This is a priority for a lot of us,” said state Sen Josh McKoon (R-Columbus), a vocal backer of religious freedom.  He says he expects another full-throated religious freedom debate at the Capitol starting in January.

“I certainly intend to prosecute the case for this vigorously in this legislative session,” McKoon said. “And if we don’t get anything done in 2017, my goal is that any candidate for governor of this state, I hope one of the first questions people…ask them is, what’s your position on religious freedom?”

Legislators at the Biennial Institute in Athens heard about how economic development works with the various public agencies.

The institute is jointly sponsored by the university’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government and the leadership of the Georgia General Assembly. It is designed to give newly elected state lawmakers some background on the legislature, which convenes on the second Monday in January, and to help both new and old legislators explore a number of public policy areas.

The state’s economic development efforts extend beyond the high-profile, high-technology stories like Axion BioSystems, lawmakers learned Thursday from Josh Walton, director of the Macon office of the University of Georgia’s Small Business Development Center, a network of 17 offices across the state providing training, consulting services and research assistance to the state’s smaller businesses.

For 2015, Walton told lawmakers, the SBDC assisted more than 4,100 clients, hosting more than 21,000 counseling sessions, and the center is on pace to at least meet those numbers this year. Over the last five years, Walton said, the SBDC has been involved with starting more than 1,600 new businesses employing almost 12,500 people.

Among the businesspeople who received assistance from the SBDC, and continue to rely on it, is Hawkinsville-based Hardy Farms Peanuts. Brad Hardy, president of the company, told lawmakers Monday about how his family began selling peanuts straight from the field from the back of a truck, and is now working out of a 45,000-square-foot processing facility.

In its first year, Hardy said, the business sold 10,00o pounds of peanuts; today, the company is selling 5 million pounds of peanuts.

Georgia legislators are also considering how to address failing schools after voters rejected Amendment 1.

At the legislative biennial conference in Athens, House Education Committee Chairman Brooks Coleman said Monday there will be legislation outlining a “six-step” plan to give the state more power to address the schools.

He wouldn’t talk specifics, referring questions to state Rep. Kevin Tanner, a Dawsonville Republican who will be championing the measure. Tanner was tight-lipped, too, but said he’s already met with state School Superintendent Richard Woods, educators groups and state administrators to lay the groundwork. Deal’s office has also been consulted.

“We want to brief some other folks on this before we talk publicly. We want to work within the existing system we already have, working with the state board of education and the school superintendent,” he said. “We’re not creating a new bureaucracy, it doesn’t require a constitutional amendment.”

He indicated the measure would give the State Board of Education – whose members are appointed by the governor – more power to intervene.

He also said it would avoid the constitutional questions raised by the 2011 Georgia Supreme Court ruling that concluded that only county and area school boards have the explicit authority to create and maintain charter schools. Deal has said that ruling is why he pushed for a constitutional amendment rather than the simpler route of a legislative change.

“We feel like we’d be on good constitutional ground,” said Tanner, a member of the House education committee. “We think there’s a route.”

Floyd County Hospital officials spoke to the Rome News-Tribune about the future of healthcare as the federal government prepares for turnover in the executive branch.

“Both of these individuals have markedly different philosophies toward health reform than what’s in the (Affordable Care Act),” said Kurt Stuenkel, president and CEO of Floyd Medical Center.

Republicans in Congress say they are gearing up to quickly repeal and replace the ACA, known as Obamacare, but Stuenkel said it’s too early to do more than keep an eye on the proposals floating around.

He and Redmond Regional Medical Center CEO John Quinlivan both touted the current law’s provisions that gave coverage to about 20 million formerly uninsured Americans.

“Our biggest concern under a repeal and replace scenario is that the expanded health insurance coverage accomplished under the ACA be continued in some form,” Quinlivan said. “If we don’t do this, millions of citizens who’ve gained coverage will find themselves once again uninsured.”

Trump has said he favors making block grants to the states, and that could provide the flexibility Georgia needs, Stuenkel said.

“We’re a large Medicaid provider and would like to see more coverage there,” Stuenkel said. “The Georgia Chamber of Commerce had proposals we had hoped would be considered this year. Now, we’ll have to wait to see how that unfolds.”

Judy Fitzgerald was sworn in as Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD).

The Marietta Daily Journal takes a look at how Tom Price’s appointment as Secretary of HHS could affect local elected offices.

Last week, state Sen. Judson Hill, R-east Cobb, announced he’ll seek Price’s 6th District seat. On Monday, orthopedic surgeon Dr. Kay Kirkpatrick, a 30-year Cobb resident, announced she’ll run for Hill’s state Senate seat.

Kirkpatrick, a Republican, is former president of Resurgens Orthopeadics. She and her husband, Thomas, an emergency physician, have two adult children, live in the Ashebrooke subdivision and attend East Cobb United Methodist Church.

Kerwin Swint, a political science professor at Kennesaw State University, expects five or six candidates to enter the congressional race.

“It’s open, and it’s a special election, so it’s a shorter campaign. It favors people with name ID and money, normally,” Swint said.

Wouldn’t it be nice if the special election to fill Price’s seat could be held with the March 21 SPLOST vote already on the books? While that would save taxpayer money and resources, Eveler says it’s unlikely. There’s simply not enough time between an expected confirmation and the March election. While it’s mathematically possible, Eveler doubts the political machine can move that quickly.

Atlanta taxi owners have sued the state over allowing Uber to compete without the same regulatory burden.

The taxi companies told the Georgia Supreme Court Monday they spent tens of thousands of dollars to buy exclusive certificates needed to offer rides in the city, only to see lawmakers undermine that investment when they opened the door to ride-sharing services last year. The state said the taxi owners should have known the regulations could change.

In 2015 Georgia lawmakers approved House Bill 225 to regulate ride-sharing services. Among other things, HB 225 required drivers to pass background checks and said the companies must pay taxes and fees and carry insurance on their drivers.

Taxi owners say the bill also opened them up to less-regulated competition and undermined their business.

Under state law, taxicab drivers have long had to buy a special certificate – dubbed a “medallion” – to operate in Atlanta. The city capped the number of medallions at 1,600.

State law also allows drivers to sell or lease the medallions, to give them as gifts and even use them as collateral to secure a loan. On Monday attorney William Pannell told the Supreme Court his clients paid up to $80,000 for medallions.

But after HB 225 allowed the new ride-share services to compete, Pannell said the value of medallions plummeted to as little as $2,000.

Matt Kempner of the AJC does a good job of describing the cab owners’ plight.

One of the plaintiffs I spoke with is a cabby with a economics degree from Georgia State University and a minor in public policy.

Mohamed Hussein said he’s not complaining about market forces. He assured me he’s a big believer in capitalism. He’s owned a restaurant, a cell phone store and a phone-card business in the past. Recently, he started a tax service firm to make up for the diminished money in taxi driving.

“If I lose the business fair and square, I’m OK with that,” Hussein told me.

But Hussein and his fellow plaintiffs contend that by letting Uber and Lyft skirt costly regulations they slashed the market value of a government certificate, known as a medallion. Atlanta taxicab drivers are required to have them. Ride-sharing drivers are not.

“It was an investment for me, for my kids,” he said. He stuffed it in a bank security box.

“They told us you need to buy this to work in the city. Now, let them keep their word or let them reduce our money.”

“This idea of medallions, to me that was an impediment to the free enterprise system,” [State Rep. Alan] Powell, the state legislator, [said]. “If their medallions lost value, it is because of an outdated system.”

The issues at play in the Uber v. Taxi cabs market are the same that confront many Georgia industries when a traditionally regulated industry faces deregulation. This is occuring in healthcare, alcohol sales, and utilities. If there’s an app for that, there’s an upcoming economic fight.

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