Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for February 18, 2021


Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for February 18, 2021

Alexander Stephens, who was born in Crawfordville, Taliaferro County, Georgia, was inaugurated as Vice President of the Confederate States of America on February 18, 1861. Stephens graduated from Franklin College, later known as the University of Georgia, and served in the Georgia legislature. Stephens opposed Georgia’s secession. One year later, Georgia’s delegation to the Confederate Congress, numbering ten members, was sworn in.

Ina Dillard was born on February 18, 1868 in Oglethorpe County Georgia. She married Richard Russell, who served on the Georgia Court of Appeals and as Chief Justice of the Georgia Supreme Court. Their son, Richard B. Russell, Jr., would be elected to the Georgia House of Representatives, where he served as Speaker and became the youngest Governor of Georgia in the 20th Century. In 1932 he ran for United States Senate and was elected.

In 1936, Russell was elected to his first full term in the Senate over former Governor Eugene Talmadge. In 1952, Russell ran for the Democratic nomination for President and he was an early mentor for Lyndon B. Johnson, who later served as President. Russell served on the Warren Commission that investigated the assassination of President Kennedy.

Russell served as Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee for many years. Russell was an acknowledged leader within the Senate, and especially among Southern members, and he led much of the opposition to civil rights legislation and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Under the Gold Dome Today – Legislative Day 19

7:00 AM Senate Ethics – 307 CLOB
8:00 AM HOUSE Education Academic Support Subcommittee – 506 CLOB
10:00 AM Senate Floor Session (LD 19) – Senate Chamber
10:00 AM HOUSE FLOOR SESSION (LD19) – House Chamber
11:30 AM HOUSE Judiciary NON Civil Reeves Subcommittee – 132 CAP
11:30 AM HOUSE Public Safety and Homeland Security Subcommittee A – 506 CLOB
12ish Senate Rules Upon Adjournment – 450 CAP
12:30 PM HOUSE Regulated Industries Alcohol and Tobacco Subcommittee – 606 CLOB
1:00 PM Senate Public Safety – canceled – Mezz 1
1:00 PM Senate Judiciary Subcommittee B – 307 CLOB
1:00 PM HOUSE Energy, Utilities and Telecommunications Energy Subcommittee – 515 CLOB
1:30 PM HOUSE Regulated Industries Regulatory Subcommittee – 415 CLOB
2:15 PM Senate Agriculture and Consumer Affairs – Mezz 1
2:15 PM Senate Transportation – 450 CAP
3:30 PM Senate Regulated Industries – 450 CAP
4:45 PM Senate Government Oversight- canceled – 450 CAP


SB 46 – Health; certain medical personnel to administer vaccines during public health emergencies under certain conditions; authorize (Substitute)(H&HS-11th)


Modified Structured Rule

HB 111 – Financial institutions; clarify and remove superfluous language; provisions (B&B-Williamson-115th)

HB 165 – Motor vehicles; use of mounts on windshields for the support of wireless telecommunications devices and stand-alone electronic devices under certain circumstances; allow (MotV-Barr-103rd)

HB 168 – Penal institutions; certain information within inmate files of the Department of Corrections shall not be classified as confidential state secrets when requested by the district attorney; provide (JudyNC-Petrea-166th)

HB 169 – Motor vehicles; commercial driver’s license; provide requirements for issuance (MotV-Corbett-174th)

HB 212 – Health; order not to resuscitate; revise parental requirement for consent (Substitute)(Judy-Carpenter-4th)

HB 353 – Motor vehicles; clarify what constitutes an obstruction for purposes of exceptions to when a vehicle is to drive on the right side of roadway (Substitute)(MotV-Jones-25th)

Four bills to change voting procedures cleared a State Senate committee, according to the Capitol Beat News Service via the Albany Herald.

The four bills, which passed by party-line votes out of two separate Senate Ethics Committee subcommittees, marked the first push by top Republican state lawmakers to move a slate of election bills focused on changes to absentee voting.

The most far-reaching measure would halt registered Georgia voters’ ability to vote by mail without providing a reason, ending a practice widely used in the 2020 election cycle by millions of voters wary of exposure to COVID-19 at in-person polling places.

Another bill that passed Wednesday seeks to boost voter ID requirements for requesting and casting absentee ballots, marking changes favored by top-ranking Georgia Republicans including Gov. Brian Kemp and House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge.

The bill would require registered voters to provide their date of birth, driver’s license number or other ID card number to request an absentee ballot, overhauling the state’s current system of verifying voter signatures on absentee request forms and ballot envelopes.

Two other measures that cleared Wednesday’s subcommittees would create a new state elections supervisor in charge of training local elections officials and restrict mobile polling places for use only when regular voting sites have lost power or been damaged.

State Senator Brandon Beach (R-Alpharetta) made the case for legalizing horse racing in a committee hearing, according to the Capitol Beat News Service via the Albany Herald.

Beach, R-Alpharetta, pitched a proposed constitutional amendment calling for a statewide referendum on horse racing and a separate bill specifying how the industry would operate in Georgia at a hearing held by the Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities Committee. Bringing horse racing to Georgia would produce an economic impact of more than $1 billion a year, not only from racetracks but from breeding racehorses, Beach said.

“When we first got into the movie business, a lot of people thought we weren’t going to be successful,” he said. “I think we can do the same thing in the equine industry.”

The legislation calls for the construction of up to three mixed-use developments featuring a racetrack, hotels and restaurants. The facilities also could include convention space, entertainment venues and retail shopping.

One of the racetrack complexes would have to be located within 50 miles of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and require an investment of at least $250 million. The other two facilities would be outside the metro region and require a smaller investment of at least $125 million.

Portions of the betting proceeds would go toward education, health care, rural development and to efforts to address problem gambling and promote the horse racing and breeding industries in Georgia.

Horse racing would generate revenue from three sources: pari-mutuel betting during at least 60 days of live racing, betting on simulcast races conducted at tracks in other locations, and betting on historic racing machines, similar to slot machines, located at the racetracks.

Senate Bill 51 by State Senator Bruce Thompson (R-White) would allow some home-schooled students to play sports at public schools, according to AccessWDUN.

“It’s time for us to move in this direction,” Georgia High School Association Executive Director Robin Hines told the Senate Education and Youth Committee on Wednesday. “I believe that’s where we are; I believe that’s where our association is heading. At our core we are about providing opportunities for young people.”

The committee voted 7-2 for Senate Bill 51 on Wednesday, sending it to the Senate for more debate. The bill lets students in grades 6-12 take part in sports or other extracurricular activities such as band, drama or school clubs when they take at least one online course facilitated by the local public school system.

Hines said that with so many traditional public school students taking virtual classes because of the pandemic “it’s not a far leap from the way things are happening now.”

More than 25 states allow home-schooled students to participate in sports and activities. Such laws are typically called Tim Tebow bills, named for the University of Florida football star who was a home-schooler when he made his mark playing football for a public high school in Florida.

Georgia schools have been resistant to such a plan, citing concerns about costs, the ability to discipline someone who’s not a student and taking places away from other students. But requiring the student to take at least one course gives schools the ability to require students meet their code of conduct.

Two state Senate Resolutions would call for a federal Constitutional Convention, according to AccessWDUN.

The Senate Governmental Affairs Committee on Wednesday approved a resolution calling for a convention of states to propose balanced budget and term limits amendments. It would be at least the fourth time that Georgia has called for a convention to consider a balanced budget and at least the second time it’s called for a convention to consider term limits.

“These are two amendments that it is extremely unlikely that the United States Congress will propose, because they are both limits on Congress’ powers,” said Sen. Bill Cowsert, an Athens Republican who is sponsoring Senate Resolution 28 and Senate Resolution 29. Both passed the committee on 4-3 votes, sending them to the Senate for more debate.

Georgia first called for a balanced budget in 1976, but revoked all previous calls for amendments in 2008. Then Cowsert supported another call for a balanced budget in 2014, but it expired last year. Georgia also called for both a balanced budget and term limits when it approved a resolution calling for a multi-purpose convention of states in 2014.

Georgia’s term limits resolution does not specify how many terms House members and senators should be limited to, and its balanced budged resolution does not specify what the rules should be.

“That should be decided by the convention of states,” Cowsert said, saying the resolutions and Georgia law allowing recall of delegates would prevent fears of a runaway convention that might make other changes. Some experts dispute whether those safeguards will hold.

Senate Bill 100 by State Sen. Ben Watson (R-Savannah) would put Georgia on standard time year round, according to the Capitol Beat News Service via the Gwinnett Daily Post.

Senate Bill 100 would do away with the current practice of switching back and forth between standard time and daylight saving time every six months.

“Most people want to stay on the same time all year,” Sen. Ben Watson, R-Savannah, the bill’s chief sponsor, told members of the Senate Government Oversight Committee.

Watson said his bill calls for going on standard time permanently only because federal law prohibits states from unilaterally going on daylight saving time all year.

He said most people would rather be on daylight time permanently if given the choice.

As a result, he has amended his original bill to provide that Georgia would observe standard time all year until Congress acts to allow states to switch to daylight time permanently. If and when that happens, the substitute version of the legislation the committee approved on Wednesday would move Georgia to daylight time all year.

Senate Bill 148 by Sen. Chuck Hufstetler would establish periodic reviews of tax expenditures, and passed the Senate Finance Committee, according to the Rome News Tribune.

Sponsored by state Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome, the bill proposes a joint House-Senate council tasked with assessing the revenue and tax structure this year and submitting recommendations in early 2022.

It would also separately create a joint committee that would bring legislation based on the council’s recommendations to propose revenue-structure changes during the 2022 legislative session.

The committee voted unanimously to send the bill to the Senate floor.

“If we want to continue to be the No. 1 place to do business … I think a bill like this makes a lot of sense for us to be fiscally responsible and investigate opportunities around that,” said Sen. Bruce Thompson, R-White.

Hufstetler’s bill follows other legislation by Sen. John Albers, R-Roswell, to curb wasteful loopholes in the state’s tax structure by auditing up to five tax-credit programs each year. That bill passed out of the full Senate Feb. 1 and is awaiting consideration in the state House of Representatives.

House Bill 358 by State Rep. Ed Setzler (R-Cobb County) would require legislative approvals of any extensions of an state of emergency declared by the Governor, according to the AJC.

House Science and Technology Chairman Ed Setzler, R-Acworth, said he did not introduce the bill because of issues with Kemp’s use of his authority under the emergency order Georgia lawmakers approved nearly a year ago in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The broader issue is what legislative oversight and what legislative involvement there is in the terms of the duration of an emergency power declaration and how legislators might be able to prescribe a more limited scope for a more limited emergency,” Setzler said Wednesday while presenting his bill to a House panel.

House Bill 358 would have legislators reconvene 30 days after approving expanded emergency powers for a governor if they wanted to extend them. If the General Assembly did not meet, the powers would expire. Legislators could choose to extend the emergency powers for up to an additional 90 days, at which point they would have to meet again if they wanted to grant another extension.

Lawmakers also would have the ability to shrink or broaden the types of powers the governor could assume during an emergency each time they approved any extension.

Some of Setzler’s colleagues questioned the mechanics of reconvening in person during a state of emergency. Many noted that if they had to come back 30 days after initially granting Kemp powers in March to extend his authority to navigate the pandemic, most lawmakers would not have returned to the Capitol.

State House legislation on distracted driving, according to the AJC.

On Wednesday, the House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee approved House Bill 247, which would eliminate a loophole that allows thousands of first offenders to avoid fines for violating the state’s distracted driving law.

On Thursday, the full House is set to consider House Bill 165, which would allow motorists to mount a cellphone or other electronic device on their windshield. Currently, it’s against the law to attach anything to the windshield except clear stickers.

[The 2018 “Hands Free Georgia Act”] includes a provision that requires judges to dismiss charges against first offenders who bring a receipt for a dash mount or other hands-free device to court. The “get out of jail free” provision allows motorists to demonstrate they intended to comply with the law in the future.

HB 247 would eliminate that provision. It also would tweak the fines for distracted driving violations. Under existing law, a first offense costs up to $50, but judges can set lower fines. The new bill would impose a flat $50 fine for a first offense.

A grand jury indicted Paulding County District Attorney Donald Richard “Dick” Donovan, according to the AJC.

Paulding County District Attorney Donald Richard “Dick” Donovan was indicted Wednesday on four felony charges, including bribery, false swearing and two counts of violation of oath by public officer, state Attorney General Chris Carr said.

Donovan, first elected Paulding district attorney in 2010 and re-elected in 2014 and 2018, became the subject of a GBI investigation in 2019 after one of his senior staff members said Donovan sexually harassed her. Prosecutors from Carr’s office presented the case Wednesday to the grand jury.

According to the indictment, Donovan bribed a prosecutor in a neighboring county to drop criminal charges against one of his employees. The indictment also alleges Donovan made false statements in a sworn affidavit when he denied ever having said that he wanted to have sex with this same employee of his office.

Donovan denied any wrongdoing.

Wednesday afternoon, state Sen. Jason Anavitarte, a freshman Republican from Dallas, called on Donovan to step down.

“Dick should resign,” Anavitarte posted on Twitter.

Muscogee County demand for the Covid vaccine outstripped supply, according to the Ledger-Enquirer.

In Muscogee County, 41 providers have requested 104,900 doses, according to vaccine order data released weekly by the state health department. 30,825 doses have been allocated to the county so far, and 17,180 doses have been put into the arms of Muscogee residents, as of Monday.

“It’s really frustrating… we have a lot of older people calling us every day,” said Dr. Jacqueline Owusu of Renew Health Clinic in Columbus, a vaccine provider currently without any vaccines. “I’m taking their name and number and telling them, ‘as soon as we get it, I’ll call you back.’”

Over six million vaccine doses have been requested for Georgians. Just over 2,100,000 have been designated for Georgia from the federal government and 1,945,425 vaccine doses have been shipped to medical facilities, as of Monday.

“It really starts at the top with the federal government and the production of the vaccine. From there, what we need as a state is more doses allocated to us,” said Piedmont Healthcare’s Chief Consumer Officer Katie Logan.

Demand for the coronavirus vaccine is “overwhelming,” according to Pam Kirkland, a spokesperson for the Georgia Department of Public Health’s West Central Health District based in Columbus.

Gainesville and Hall County may need up to $300 million in transportation funding, according to the Gainesville Times.

Fixing future road congestion between downtown Gainesville and the planned inland port in northeast Hall County could cost about $300 million, according to a study presented at a Hall area transportation planning meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 17.

A study of potential traffic through 2050 suggests fixes through intersection improvements and numerous road projects, such as widening Jesse Jewell Parkway to six lanes at Interstate 985. One of the biggest projects would be widening Limestone Parkway to six lanes, estimated at $35 million.

“Due to high growth, several signals and unsignalized approaches are expected to experience poor levels of service by year 2050,” the report says.

The study was recommended for approval Wednesday by the Gainesville-Hall Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Technical Coordinating Committee, a group of engineers, planners and other city and county officials. The MPO is Hall’s lead transportation planning agency.

The study goes now to the Policy Committee, made up of top elected officials in the area, for final approval. The committee is set to meet March 9.

Augusta could receive up to $40 million in federal Covid relief funds, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

In the bill passed by the House Oversight Committee, Georgia is estimated to receive $8.3 billion in the package, with $3.6 billion of it going to local governments. The bill is unlike prior CARES Act allocations in that jurisdictions of all sizes will get direct federal payments and may use the funds to replace lost revenue.

In estimates provided by the committee, Augusta-Richmond County would receive $40 million. Columbia County is designated $31 million and Aiken County $33 million. Small cities everywhere – from Blythe to Harlem – all get a cut.

According to the bill, the funds may be used to mitigate the public health emergency, cover its costs, replace lost revenue and address the negative economic impact of the emergency, giving cities many options for spending it. Augusta dipped into reserves to cover a $2.5 million projected revenue shortfall in this year’s budget.

“We’re on track if the plan goes through as presented to receive about $40 million through the Biden program allocation,” Donald said Tuesday.

Bibb County public school students are headed back to in-person classes, according to the Ledger-Enquirer.

Teachers and staff returned to classrooms last week to prepare for students to return Feb. 18. Bibb schools had previously planned for an early February return, but the rate of COVID-19 spread in the community led school leaders to amend their plans.

Masks are required and students and teachers will observe social distancing guidelines when possible. Teachers will be provided with handheld devices to take students’ temperatures as they enter the classroom. Classes have been limited to 20 students per classroom. School visitations will be monitored.

Bus services will be available, and students are encouraged to socially distance at stops and while riding the bus, according to school officials.


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