Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for February 2, 2024

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Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for February 2, 2024

On February 4, 1789, George Washington was unanimously elected by the Electoral College as the first President of the United States; Washington’s runner-up John Adams served as Vice President. Washington would repeat the feat four years later on February 4, 1793.

On February 4, 1801, John Marshall took office as Chief Justice of the United States. Marshall continued to hold the post of Secretary of State until March 4th. In one of American history’s rich ironies, Marshall, who served at the same time in the judicial and legislative branches of the federal government, would write the Court’s opinion in Marbury v. Madison, establishing the supremacy of the Supreme Court in matters of applying the Constitution through judicial review and establishing the doctrine of separation of powers. Marshall would serve during the terms of six Presidents.

The first recorded reference to Groundhog Day was in 1841; the first Punxsutawney observance was in 1870.

The first recorded reference to Groundhog Day was in 1841; the first Punxsutawney observance was in 1870.

Atlanta City Council met for the first time on February 2, 1848.

On February 4, 1861, the Provisional Confederate Congress convened in Montgomery, Alabama, where it would draft a Constitution for the Confederate States of America, beginning with a near-verbatim copy of the United States Constitution.

On February 2, 1870, the Georgia General Assembly ratified the 15th Amendment to the United States Constitution, which states, “the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

On February 3, 1870, the Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified by Iowa, reaching the Constitutional threshold, and prohibiting racial discrimination in voting.

On February 3, 1887, Congress adopted the Electoral Count Act to clarify how Congress was to count electoral votes.

Electoral vote counting is the oldest activity of the national government and among the oldest questions of constitutional law. It was Congress’s first task when a quorum appeared in the nation’s new legislature on April 6, 1789. It has happened every four years since then. Yet, electoral vote counting remains one of the least understood aspects of our constitutional order.

The Electoral Count Act of 1887 (ECA) lies at the heart of this confusion. In enacting the ECA, Congress drew on lessons learned from its twenty-five previous electoral counts; it sorted through innumerable proposals floated before and after the disastrous presidential election of 1876; and it thrashed out the ECA’s specific provisions over fourteen years of sustained debate. Still, the law invites misinterpretation. The ECA is turgid and repetitious. Its central provisions seem contradictory. Many of its substantive rules are set out in a single sentence that is 275 words long. Proponents of the law admitted it was “not perfect.” Contemporary commentators were less charitable. John Burgess, a leading political scientist in the late nineteenth century, pronounced the law unwise, incomplete, premised on contradictory principles, and expressed in language that was “very confused, almost unintelligible.” At least he thought the law was constitutional; others did not.

Over the nearly 120 years since the ECA’s adoption, the criticisms faded, only to be renewed whenever there was a close presidential election. Our ability to misunderstand the ECA has grown over time. During the 2000 presidential election dispute, politicians, lawyers, commentators, and Supreme Court justices seemed prone to misstate or misinterpret the provisions of the law, even those provisions which were clear to the generation that wrote them. The Supreme Court, for example, mistakenly believed that the Supreme Court of Florida’s erroneous construction of its election code would deny Florida’s electors the ECA’s “safe harbor” protection; Florida Governor Jeb Bush’s hasty submission of his state’s Certificate of Ascertainment was untimely under the Act; and Democratic members of Congress framed their objections to accepting Florida’s electoral vote on the wrong grounds. Even Al Gore, the presidential candidate contesting the election’s outcome, misread the federal deadline for seating Florida’s electors.

Only the United States Congress could so obfuscate a matter as seemingly simple as counting that its Act remained undecipherable for more than one hundred years.

The Sixteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified by Delaware on February 3, 1913, giving the Amendment the requisite Constitutional supermajority of three-fourths of the states. The text of the Amendment reads, in its entirety,

The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration.

President Woodrow Wilson died on February 3, 1924 in Washington, DC. Wilson was born in Staunton, Virginia (pronounced Stan-ton) and spent most of his youth to age 14 in Augusta, Georgia. Wilson started practicing law in Atlanta, Georgia in 1882, leaving the next year to pursue a Ph.D. at Johns Hopkins University. His wife, Ellen Louise Axson, was from Savannah, and they married in Rome, Ga in 1885.

On February 2, 1932, Al Capone was sent to federal prison in Atlanta.

On February 3, 1959, a chartered Beechcraft Bonanza carrying Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson crashed near Mason City, Iowa, killing all aboard.

Jimi Hendrix recorded Purple Haze on February 3, 1967.

On February 4, 1976, the Georgia Senate approved a resolution previously passed by the State House proposing a Constitutional Amendment to allow Governors of Georgia to serve two consecutive terms and voters approved in November 1976. Then-Governor George Busbee won reelection in November 1978, and since then Democrat Roy Barnes is the only Georgia Governor to not win reelection.

On February 2, 1988, the Georgia Senate ratified the 22d Amendment to the United States Constitution, which provides that pay raises for Members of Congress shall not go into effect until the next term.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Early voting continues in Special Elections for Senate District 30 and House District 125. Gabriel Sterling, Chief Operating Officer for the Secretary of State’s Office, tweeted the following:

With 9 days early voting in 2 special elections in Georgia this is the turnout so far:

Senate 30:
Carroll 318
Douglas 147
Haralson 176
Paulding 67

House 125:
Columbia 379
McDuffie 97

Early voting continues through Friday, Feb 9. Election Day will be Tuesday, Feb 13.

Former Governor Nathan Deal read to students at two elementary schools in Hall County, according to AccessWDUN.

Deal read to students at both White Sulphur and Riverbend elementary schools near Gainesville. He made the visits on what would have been the birthday of his late wife, Sandra Deal.

White Sulphur and Riverbend elementary schools are set to be consolidated next school year into a new school that will be named in the former First Lady of Georgia’s honor.

“We thought this would be a good way to celebrate her birthday,” Deal said Thursday. “Sandra was always insistent that literacy was one of the most important ingredients that a child could have in their life. That was her theme and motto and she actually taught school here in the (Hall County Schools) system.”

“Just to see their excitement…to see their reaction to reading a book to them. We’ve been very fortunate, we’ve had some real great experiences,” Deal said.

Hall County Schools Superintendent Will Schofield spoke about having the former governor in the classrooms Thursday.

“We are just so blessed and honored to have the former Governor, his family, and his close friends visit these two schools today,” Schofield said. “Sandra’s legacy will endure in the lives of those she influenced with her advocacy, compassion, and love. She was an example to us all. I can’t help but think that the teacher in her must be smiling this morning as she watches the eyes of these students lighting during reading time.”

The Hall County Board of Elections released information on early voting, according to AccessWDUN.

Hall County voters will have seven locations to choose from ahead of the Mar. 12 Presidential Preference Primary and the City of Oakwood special election beginning Monday, Feb. 19 through Friday, March 8.

Hall County officials said ballots could be cast on weekdays from 8 a.m.- 5 p.m. from Feb. 19- Mar. 1. Extended hours will be provided Mar. 4- 8 from 7 a.m. – 7 p.m. and on Saturdays from 9 a.m.- 5 p.m.

The Georgia General Assembly revised their schedule for next week to allow members to attend the funeral of Rules Committee Chair Richard Smith. The House passed House Resolution 978 to revise the adjournment schedule and the Senate adopted the measure, under which Monday, February 5 will be a recess day, and a Legislative Session Day will be added on Friday, February 16. The late Chairman’s funeral will be held Monday, February 5, 2024 at First Baptist Church in Columbus.

Monday, February 5 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Recess Day
Tuesday, February 6 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .convene for legislative day 15
Wednesday, February 7 . . . . . . . . . . . . . convene for legislative day 16
Thursday, February 8. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . convene for legislative day 17
Friday, February 9 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . convene for legislative day 18

Rep. Smith’s funeral will be streamed online, according to the Ledger-Enquirer.

The service is to start at 11 a.m. in the main sanctuary of the church at 212 12th St. where Smith regularly attended, and church staff anticipate an overflow crowd, said Pastor Jimmy Elder. If the sanctuary fills up, those attending may watch the service live-streamed in the church’s chapel or its fellowship hall, he said.

Those who’d rather watch online from home or work can find the live stream at www.columbuschurchvideo.com, or click on the “Watch Us Live” link at www.firstbaptistcolumbusga.com. It’s also on YouTube at www.youtube.com/@firstbaptist1735.

Allen McMullen of McMullen Funeral Home, which is handling the arrangements, said Governor Brian Kemp, lieutenant governor, and house speaker are expected. Smith will have an honor guard from the Georgia State Patrol, he said.

Gov. Kemp will call a special election later this year to fill Smith’s seat, said Nancy Boren, Columbus’ elections director.

House Bill 30 by State Rep. John Carson (R-Cobb County) and others was signed by Governor Brian Kemp yesterday, according to a Press Release.

Governor Brian P. Kemp, joined by First Lady Marty Kemp, Lieutenant Governor Burt Jones, Speaker Jon Burns, state elected officials, members of the General Assembly and community and religious leaders signed HB 30 [Thursday] at a ceremony at the State Capitol.

The governor’s remarks can be found below:

Good afternoon and thank you all for joining us as we sign this historic piece of legislation.

Nearly four years ago, I stood in this exact spot and signed House Bill 426, which was a significant piece of Hate Crime legislation passed following the tragic murder of Ahmaud Arbery.

I said then that the legislation did not right every wrong, but it was an important step.

Today, it is an honor to stand with each of you – legislators, community leaders, and fellow Georgians – as we take another step on that path, reaffirming our commitment to a Georgia where all people can live, learn, and prosper in safety. Because there is no place for hate in our state.

I want to start by thanking the Lieutenant Governor and Speaker for being here today and for their partnership.

I also want to give special recognition to Representatives Esther Panitch and John Carson, whose leadership on this issue is a reminder of what we can accomplish when we work together to address the needs and concerns of those we serve.

I also want to thank President Pro Tem John Kennedy and Minority Leader Gloria Butler who helped move it quickly through the Senate this session and all the legislators behind us who supported the bill.

Marty and I are also honored to be here with representatives from the faith community, local leaders, and a valued friend – both to our family and the State of Georgia – Consul General Anat Sultan-Dadon.

We are also joined by a very special guest: Jenny Sividya, who is a survivor of the October 7 terrorist attacks in Israel. Thank you for being here, we are honored by your presence.

I also want to thank Attorney General Chris Carr and Commissioner John King for being here.

There has been a troubling rise in antisemitism across our nation in recent years, especially following the horrific terrorist attacks in Isarel on October 7 that claimed the lives of over 1,200 Israelis.

These acts of hatred have taken on many forms, including harassment, intimidation, and even violence.

Georgia has not been immune to that horrible reality.

Our Jewish citizens have experienced hate in the form of antisemitic flyers spread across neighborhoods, messages on social media calling for the death of Jews in Israel and around the world and even hateful gatherings outside synagogues.

So, we are all thankful for the perseverance and dedication shown in getting this bill across the finish line as we work together to send a clear, unified message.

In Georgia, we proudly stand with our Jewish brothers and sisters – today, and everyday!

With that, I’ll now sign HB 30 into law.

President Joe Biden announced his Administration will suspend review of proposals to export additional natural gas, affecting the Southern LNG facility in Savannah, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Southern LNG, situated on Elba Island in a bend of the Savannah River, is one of just two East Coast exporters of liquified natural gas. The facility is authorized by the U.S. Department of Energy to send more than 300 billion cubic feet of LNG annually on ships to foreign markets.

Some 182.5 billion cubic feet of that total can go to 20 countries with which the U.S. has official free trade agreements. Another 130 billion cubic feet is permitted for non-FTA nations.

Last year, Southern LNG asked federal regulators for approval to significantly increase exports to non-FTA countries.

But on Jan. 26, President Joe Biden announced that the Department of Energy would suspend reviews of such requests while it reassessed the environmental and economic impacts of natural gas, effectively putting Southern LNG’s request on hold indefinitely.

“This pause on new LNG approvals sees the climate crisis for what it is: the existential threat of our time,” Biden said in announcing the review. “While MAGA Republicans willfully deny the urgency of the climate crisis, condemning the American people to a dangerous future, my administration will not be complacent. We will not cede to special interests.”

Republican U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter, whose coastal Georgia district includes the Southern LNG facility, argued that the pause “threatens our nation’s global leadership” and plays into the hands of Russian President Vladimir Putin by potentially increasing demand for that country’s natural gas, which he then can use to “weaponize access for political gain.”

The United States has clean, affordable and reliable LNG,” Carter added. “If President Biden is concerned about global emissions, he should increase domestic production, as we have some of the cleanest LNG in the world right here at home.”

Vice President Kamala Harris will visit Savannah, according to the AJC.

Vice President Kamala Harris has announced she’ll be back in Georgia next week. She’ll visit Savannah on Tuesday for the latest stop on a nationwide tour to protest Republican-passed restrictions on abortion rights.

A source tells us Harris could stay in the state and appear in a second city on Wednesday.

The trip is Harris’ 11th Georgia visit as VP and should be considered the start of Democrats’ intense and concerted efforts to make abortion a top issue for more voters in 2024.

In a media advisory, Harris’ office noted that “extremists in states like Georgia” have pushed for abortion bans, including the state’s six-week ban. A Quinnipiac poll this week showed President Joe Biden with a 22-point advantage among female voters over former President Donald Trump, although abortion was the top issue for just 7% of those voters.

United States District Court Judge Amy Totenberg (ND-GA) will decide a case challenging Georgia’s use of touchscreen voting machines, according to the AJC.

The case over whether voting touchscreens are vulnerable is now in the hands of U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg, who didn’t immediately rule on whether the election equipment creates an unconstitutional danger to voting rights.

Attorneys for Georgia election officials said the case failed to show any actual violation of voting rights because voting machines haven’t been hacked or altered during an election.

The possibility of election hacking doesn’t justify changing the voting system used by 94% of Georgia voters who cast ballots either during early voting or on election day in the 2022 midterms, lawyers representing the state said. About 6% of voters used absentee ballots filled out by hand.

“This is the most battle-tested and stress-tested voting system in the country, without a doubt,” said Carey Miller, an attorney for the state. “The outlandish nature of the claims have taken on a life of their own.”

“They have no evidence that any vote on a ballot marking device hasn’t been counted,” said Bryan Tyson, an attorney for state election officials. “Plaintiffs have only shown speculative fears of hypothetical future flaws.”

Earlier in the trial, University of Michigan computer science professor Alex Halderman, an expert witness for the plaintiffs, used a pen to reach a button inside a voting machine to put it in “safe mode” and then altered its programming.

But defenders of Georgia’s voting system said Halderman’s demonstration was unrealistic because a wrongdoer would be caught by poll workers, and that kind of hack would only affect one voting machine at a time.

The plaintiffs asked Totenberg to bar further use of touchscreens in Georgia, which would require voters to instead rely on paper ballots filled out by hand.

They also suggested that Totenberg could order election officials to create a paper-ballot backup plan in case there are problems with voting machines, or she could allow counties to decide to use paper ballots.

Meanwhile in the Georgia General Assembly, legislators are considering bills that would remove computer coding from printed-out ballots and instead count votes directly from text on ballots or filled-in bubbles. The Senate plans to vote on that bill Tuesday.

Totenberg, who invalidated Georgia’s previous all-electronic voting machines in 2019, didn’t give an indication of when or how she would rule.

“The underlying parties have strong concerns,” said Totenberg, an appointee of Democratic President Barack Obama. “It’s what makes this case so hard.”

Senate Bill 386 by Sen. Clint Dixon (R-Buford), passed the Senate yesterday, according to the Associated Press via 13WMAZ.

The Senate voted 35-15 to pass Senate Bill 386, sending it to the House for more debate. But 34 senators went against the sponsor’s wishes by attaching the requirement for the amendment in a separate vote. That would necessitate an additional constitutional amendment, which would need support from at least 38 senators.

Supporters of passing a bill without an amendment say sports betting can be authorized under the Georgia Lottery. Voters approved the lottery in a statewide referendum on a constitutional amendment in 1992.

Backers said the real question is whether Georgia should tax sports betting they say is already happening in the state. By making sports betting part of the Georgia lottery, they say those proceeds can add a hundred million dollars annually for pre-K and HOPE scholarships. That would mean that proceeds would be legally earmarked to prekindergarten classes and HOPE Scholarships for students who achieve at least a “B” average in high school.

Sen. Clint Dixon, a Buford Republican, said more money for both programs is “much needed,” saying sports betting could generate $100 million or more in state tax revenue each year. Dixon’s bill would also require the lottery to gradually spend down a substantial part of its $2 billion in reserves, which would further increase funding.

But many who voted for the bill also supported the constitutional amendment, which would allow the proceeds of sports gambling to be directed to other purposes, such as need-based scholarships.

Others support a constitutional amendment because they argue Georgia voters never intended sports betting to be included when they passed a lottery in 1992. Sen. Bill Cowsert, an Athens Republican, is a leading proponent of that stance. He called denying a statewide vote “sneaky” and suggested that a court challenge would defeat any law that passed without an accompanying constitutional amendment.

“My counsel would be don’t go spend this million dollars and start investing in this until you know this is constitutional,” Cowsert said. “There will be plenty of challenges.”

Critics of the bill say state-sponsored gambling would increase gambling addiction, destroying families. They say legalization would encourage Georgians to gamble even more on sports than they already do illegally.  Republican Marty Harbin (R-Tyrone) said it would damage college sports.

Critics also said the bill needed a constitutional amendment, which would allow voters to have the final say. An effort to pass a constitutional amendment flopped last year when it won 30 votes, a majority of senators but short of the 38 needed.

A different Senate committee earlier this session passed a bill that would require a constitutional amendment, but there’s been no further movement on that measure.

“To pass this bill without making it contingent upon the voters of this state being allowed to weigh in and approve it is disingenuous at best and just sneaky,” state Sen. Bill Cowsert (R-Athens) told lawmakers.

From Georgia Recorder:

Senate Bill 386 heads to the House chamber after receiving a favorable 35-15 vote, a large enough margin to meet the two-thirds majority required by the Legislature for legislation that amends the Georgia Constitution through a ballot referendum. The bill’s sponsor Republican Sen. Clint Dixon was among several lawmakers who on Thursday opposed adding the amendment clause, instead relying on the legal opinion of former Georgia Supreme Court Justice Harold Melton, who last year wrote as a partner in a private law firm that the state didn’t need a ballot referendum if sports gambling was operated like a lottery game.

The bill’s passage in the Senate marked a significant milestone for legalized sports betting in Georgia after several years of unsuccessful attempts to legalize sports betting, horse racing, and casinos in conjunction or individually.

In a statement, Lt. Gov Burt Jones, a Republican from Butts County, praised senators for bringing sports betting to a successful vote in the Senate.

“I was proud of the bi-partisan effort in the Senate today,” Jones said. “We are one step closer to providing tens of millions of dollars to education funding for the next generations of Georgia. I look forward to continued discussions to get this done.”

Under Dixon’s bill, the Georgia Lottery would oversee a sports gambling industry that pays a 20% tax on revenue to help fund higher education HOPE scholarships and pre-K programs.

On Thursday, more than 30 Democratic and GOP lawmakers joined forces to add the constitutional amendment language proposed by Athens Republican Sen. Bill Cowsert.

The bill proposes that the state issue 16 licenses that cost $100,000 to apply for and require companies to pay a $1 million annual fee, as well as a 20% tax on the revenue made off sports gambling.

A bidding process would be conducted by the Georgia Lottery to award seven licenses to sports gambling companies. The other licenses would be distributed among Atlanta’s five major professional sports franchises, NASCAR, Georgia Lottery, PGA and Augusta National.

Sen. Harold Jones, an Augusta Democrat, said the state’s projected $100 million collected annually in sports betting revenue is likely a conservative estimate. There are several thousand children on the waiting list for pre-K, a number that could be alleviated by tapping into an additional money, he said.

Jones said prior to Thursday’s vote, “We are leaving a source of funding on the table.”

On Thursday, several legislators expressed strong opposition to the bill because they argued it does not go far enough to separate the gambling industry from Georgia’s professional sports teams.

Roswell Republican Sen. John  Albers said there should be stronger ethical standards in place instead of allowing teams to directly profit from people betting on their games.  Albers failed to get an amendment added to the bill that would ban teams from having as much as a 25% ownership stake in a sports gambling business.

“All this does is put the ethical protections in place and make sure that the foxes aren’t in the henhouse,” Albers said about his proposal.

Senate Bill 333 by Senator Clint Dixon (R-Buford) would allow incorporation of a new City of Mulberry in Gwinnett County, and passed the Senate, according to AccessWDUN.

Senate Bill 333 seeks to incorporate the city of Mulberry and was sponsored by District 45 Senator Clint Dixon (R-Buford) and District 49 Senator Shawn Still (R-Norcross). It passed by substitute in the Senate by a 30-18 vote Thursday afternoon.

If the bill passes the state house, it would then go to Governor Brian Kemp’s desk. If approved there, residents in the area proposed to become Mulberry would vote on the measure during the May primary election.

House Majority Leader Chuck Efstration (R-Auburn) has been one of the leaders of a push in the state legislature to create a new city. He said he was happy to see the Senate bill pass.

“I want to thank Senator Dixon for his tireless efforts to get this legislation across the finish line in the Senate,” said Majority Leader Efstration. “Our constituents are now one step closer to gaining local control over the future of our community without having to pay city property taxes.”

Senator Dixon spoke the day prior to the vote on WDUN’s “The Drive at 5” and said the push to create Mulberry started with concerns from area residents about high-density zonings being created by the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners.

“Commissioners that do not represent that area, from other parts of the county were actually out-voting (District 4 Commissioner Matthew Holtkamp) and approving those zonings,” Dixon said. “Leader Efstration and I got involved and the community asked what could be done. From a legislative perspective, it would be to get more local control by creating a city.”

In the week prior to the Senate vote, Gwinnett commissioners approved a resolution urging lawmakers to consider the potential negative consequences of creating the city. Commission Chairwoman Nicole Hendrickson also sent a letter to the Gwinnett delegation of the state legislature outlining the potential negative impacts from the city’s creation.

Among those, county officials said Mulberry’s creation could cost the county over $9 million in revenue. Senator Dixon said he believes the county’s losses would not be that significant.

“There would be an intergovernmental agreement, a service provider agreement between the county and the city. That can’t be done until the city is formed and the city council is elected. Once that happens, they could negotiate those terms and they would pay for services…I would argue (the county’s losses) would be substantially lower than the $9 million that the county’s projecting,” Dixon said. “The budget for Gwinnett County is $2.5 billion. We’re talking about $9 million, you’re talking about less than one percent.”

Dixon said the city’s current charter would create a five-member city council with districts representing 7,000 to 9,000 residents each. He also said no additional taxes would be levied against residents of Mulberry.

Senate Bill 63 by State Sen. Randy Robertson (R-Cataula) passed the Senate by a 30-17 vote margin and would require cash bail for an additional 30 felonies and misdemeanors, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

Legislators in the Georgia Senate commemorated National Freedom Day hours before approving a bill to add 30 additional felony and misdemeanor crimes to the list of bail-restricted offenses, meaning that those accused of crimes would be required to post cash bail.

Senate Bill 63 also prevents any individual or organization from posting cash bail more than three times each year.

Only 14 crimes — mainly violent offenses — mandate bail under current Georgia law. However, under SB63, crimes such as unlawful assembly, failing to appear in court for a traffic violation, and possession of marijuana would be added to the list.

SB63 comes as a sharp rebuke to more than two decades of criminal justice reform in Georgia, including a 2018 law championed by former governor Nathan Deal that sought to make the legal system more equitable for those accused of nonviolent misdemeanors.

Proponents of the bill, which was first introduced in 2023, say that the measure is necessary to deter crime in the state. However, the bill was voted down last session, and underwent several revisions before reaching the version that passed in the Senate. The most recent version of the bill notably excludes a provision that would have made domestic terrorism a “serious violent felony” in Georgia.

“Through hard work and compromise on both sides, I think what we’ve come up with is a good piece of legislation,” said state Sen. Randy Robertson (R-Cataula), who authored the bill.

From the Capitol Beat News Service:

Senate Bill 63, which passed 30-17 along party lines, would prohibit judges from ordering no-cash bail unless the accused has been charged with a crime that does not carry a jail or prison sentence.

The ban on no-cash bail would apply to a long list of violent and non-violent crimes, from murder and rape to possession of marijuana with intent to distribute and such white-collar crimes as forgery and financial transaction card fraud.

Senate Majority Whip Randy Robertson, R-Cataula, the legislation’s chief sponsor, said getting rid of no-cash bail would “make our communities safer” at a time violent crime is on the rise.

But Sen. Josh McLaurin, D-Sandy Springs, cited FBI statistics showing crime in the United States has declined in recent years. For example, property crime is at its lowest level since 1961, McLaurin said.

“This bill is a ‘solution’ to a problem that doesn’t exist,” he said.

McLaurin also argued that expanding the ban on no-cash bail in Georgia would worsen jail overcrowding by taking away the discretion judges enjoy under current law to release criminal suspects who they believe are not a threat to public safety or a flight risk.

“Instead of giving judges the tools they need, we’re squeezing judges … forcing them to put more people behind bars,” he said.

Two state bills would , according to 11Alive.

First, SB390 would loosen restrictions on librarian certification and cut funding to any programs tied to the American Library Association. Twenty-two GOP state senators are behind the bill. The ALA is the only group that can accredit librarians in the state of Georgia, according to the Secretary of State’s Office.

Supporters of SB390 say ALA’s leadership believes in “Marxist” ideology and taxpayers should not have to support them. Another portion of the bill states ALA has used its certification process to promote its political beliefs.

Another bill, SB394, would require the state board of education to establish standards for school books, as well as define what material might be construed as “harmful to minors, restricted materials, and sexually explicit.” The bill calls for a ratings system to be implemented to determine how explicit a book may be. These standards would be updated on an annual basis if the bill passes.

State Sen. John F. Kennedy is a sponsor of both bills. Earlier this week, he addressed media at the state Capitol on some of the legislation Republicans would promote in the weeks ahead.

“Our priorities reflect the issues that Georgians are focused on,” Kennedy said. “Our members are committed to delivering on good, common-sense policies for Georgia families. We will tackle what matters to Georgians, kitchen table issues, with an aim to keep Georgia on track to be the best state to live, work and raise a family.”

The Georgia Composite Medical Board will return to the pre-pandemic ban on telehealth-only prescriptions of some drugs, according to the AJC.

Starting May 1, the Georgia Composite Medical Board will reinstate a pre-pandemic ban on using only virtual patient visits to prescribe controlled drugs — prescriptions that can be dangerous or prone to addiction.

For those drugs, patients will have to return to in-person visits either part or all of the time, depending on the type of drug.

Dr. William Bostock, the board’s chair, told a reporter Thursday that such rules are important “To protect the citizens of Georgia from dangerous medication which requires direct provider supervision to help prevent diversion (for illegal use) and unnecessary prescribing.”

Until May 1, Georgia patients and doctors will continue to have the flexibility for virtual prescribing that they’ve had under the federal pandemic emergency declarations. On May 1, Georgia’s longstanding rules restricting controlled substances will resume, with added statements from the board to clarify what they mean.

The pre-pandemic rules ban the prescribing of the controlled substances “based solely on a consultation via electronic means.” Those rules say that doctors can prescribe “a dangerous drug for a patient pursuant to a valid physician-patient relationship in accordance with” the law. What that meant in detail was not spelled out.

Macon elected officials and community leaders visited the Capitol, according to 13WMAZ.

Thursday marked day 14 of the legislative session in Georgia, and it was also Macon Day at the state capitol.

Business and government leaders made their way to the state capitol from Macon early in the morning. The goal was simple: to make sure Macon is on their minds during the session.

In a conversation led by Mayor Lester Miller, lawmakers discussed education, tourism and affordable housing. Healthcare, a large industry in Central Georgia, dominated the discussion.

“There are significantly increasing discussions about alternatives to Medicaid expansion,” said state Sen. John Kennedy.
Gov. Brian Kemp created a limited waiver program to help the disabled and elderly.  State Rep. Dale Washburn says it hasn’t worked like lawmakers hoped.

“Just a little we are not getting as many subscribers as we would like to have,” he said.

State Rep. Robert Dickey says Republicans want to expand but have concerns.

“Just a little concerned about the expansion and more government to pay for more and more healthcare,” Dickey said.

He and Washburn both want to make sure that there isn’t too much government control over healthcare.

With a new pickleball stadium and amphitheater, a big focus in Macon is tourism. Kennedy says they help by pushing economic development across all of Georgia.

“82% of the new economic projects being brought to Georgia have been put in rural Georgia,” Kennedy said.

Coastal Georgia leaders also visited the State Capitol, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Leaders from across the Coastal Empire sat for presentations from state agencies on economic development, education and transportation.

First up, was Department of Community Affairs (DCA) Commissioner Christopher Nunn, who said a key to the boom of economic development in the region was housing. Nunn, echoing a chorus of leaders in Chatham County, said the region needs a boost in housing supply. He touted state tax credits focused on workforce housing as a solution driving change.

“DCA over the last four or five years has financed construction across the state of about 35,000 homes through the housing tax credits program,” Nunn said. “which ensures that your rent is controlled at a level that is affordable to those folks who are at the entry level of the workforce.”

“These conversations continue throughout the legislative session, but we’re off to a good start in 2024,” said Chamber of Commerce President Bert Brantley.

The transportation listening session brought an update to cable maintenance on the Talmadge Bridge that potentially will raise the bridge’s height. The idea is that while replacing the cables, the deck of the bridge could be raised.

The Georgia Ports Authority has called for raising the bridge to allow for larger capacity ships into the Port of Savannah. The GPA needs about 20 more feet of clearance to meet its needs, said GPA President and CEO Griff Lynch in a recent interview.

Chancellor of the Georgia University System Sonny Perdue spoke briefly about the addition of both a medical school and a dental school to the Georgia Southern University Armstrong campus.

The new campus of Augusta University’s Medical College of Georgia has already enrolled 40 medical students there, according to Perdue, and will expand in the future. Earlier this month, Gov. Brian Kemp announced a budget proposal that included $178 million for the construction of a dental school at Georgia Southern.

Glynn County Commissioners discussed their priorities with department heads, according to The Brunswick News.

The morning session focused on the wants and desires of each commissioner while the afternoon session focused on operations in different departments.

Commissioner Sammy Tostensen said he wants Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax projects to move faster than in the past. He said that was his No. 1 priority when he ran for office four years ago.

“I do not want to lag on these projects,” he said. “I want them to move.”

Commission Chairman Wayne Neal agreed, saying he wants to create a greater sense of urgency in completing SPLOST projects.

“We’ve made great strides, but we need to be more efficient,” he said. “We need to get that sense of urgency.”

Neal suggested performance standards should be established to hold contractors accountable.

“It doesn’t have to move as slow as it does,” he said. “People have to know we’re responsible.”

County Manager Bill Fallon said SPLOST projects now have start and end dates with milestones posted online as work progresses. There will be no changes in the projected completion dates.

“If it’s not complete, we will explain why,” he said. “We want to see these things work quickly, as well.” Jason Hanson, the county’s project manager for SPLOST projects, said updates posted online are designed to be transparent and show the progress of the work.

Macon-Bibb County recently spent nearly $2 million dollars on retention bonuses for government employees, according to the Macon Telegraph.

A total of 108 employees with 10-14 years of service received $2,500 each totaling $270,000; 133 employees with 15-19 years of service received $4,000 each totaling $532,000, and 198 with 20 or more years of service received $5,500 each totaling $1,089,000.

Miller said incentives like these are important to attract and retain essential safety team members.

“Our public safety team members are extremely essential to our community and we want them to know how much they mean to us,” he said. “It’s important for us to invest in attracting and retaining the best people and providing them with the best equipment.”

Fire Chief Shane Edwards voiced his gratitude for making the incentives possible.

“Fire departments nationally have challenges with retention, but we are grateful to the mayor and the commission for making these incentives possible,” he said. “It’s helping with morale because our firefighters feel more valued, and we know it has helped some make the decision to stay and continue protecting the community they love.”

Bibb County Sheriff David Davis echoed that sentiment, saying the incentives are a great way to recognize and reward the loyalty of employees.

“The Bibb County Sheriff’s Office, like the entire nation, has seen a decline in people joining law enforcement, which makes the retention of current officers and staff even more vital.

“This incentive demonstrates the appreciation that our community has for their service and sacrifice, and I believe it has been instrumental in helping us to retain these valued employees,” Davis said.

The incentives are paid to public safety employees in their paycheck of the first full pay period each January.

In January 2023, the payout total was $1,861,000 and in January 2022, the incentive payout totaled $1,902,500.

Fair Fight, an election group founded by former State Rep. Stacey Abrams, is under water financially, according to the AJC.

Fair Fight, the political and advocacy organization that Democrat Stacey Abrams founded in the days after her 2018 defeat in the governor’s race, owes $2.5 million but has only $1.9 million in the bank.

About three-quarters of its staff — a total of 20 employees — will soon be out of work, and the organization is scaling back its mission during an election year when it could have been a force in one of the nation’s key battleground states working at the grassroots level and registering voters.

Now, Fair Fight is headed for a “restructuring,”

Lauren Groh-Wargo, who left Fair Fight in 2021 to manage Abrams’ campaign for governor, is returning as the interim chief executive. Abrams, who stepped down as board chair before launching her second bid for governor, is also likely to play some still undetermined role in the overhaul.

Fair Fight still benefits from thousands of small, reoccurring contributions from donors — but the money isn’t coming in like it once did.

Where did all that cash go?

Legal expenses consumed a big chunk of it. A Politico investigation found that, just over 2021 and 2022, Fair Fight spent more than $25 million on legal fees.

But it reaped little from those legal expenses, losing a number of court battles. Just last month, a federal judge ruled against the group, determining that mass challenges of Georgia voters’ eligibility under a 2021 state law didn’t amount to illegal voter intimidation.

Fulton County Commissioner Natalie Hall cost the county more than $900,000 dollars in a sexual harrassment case, according to the AJC.

Fulton County taxpayers will pay $902,487 to compensate for Commissioner Natalie Hall’s sexual harassment of her former chief of staff, Calvin Brock.

That was the ruling by Judge Jason Patil, who presided over the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission hearing in August.

“Hall tried to force Brock to remain in an exclusive sexual relationship with her, stalked him for months, and ultimately fired him,” the judge wrote.

As Hall is an elected official and Brock was a county employee, that makes Fulton County liable for damages, according to the ruling. The county is also required to give Hall “training in the duties and responsibilities of a supervisor,” and post notice that the county discriminated against an employee.

County commissioners voted 5-1 Wednesday to comply with the verdict and not appeal Patil’s decision. Commissioner Marvin Arrington Jr. cast the only dissenting vote ,and Hall did not participate.

“Even if the relationship began mutually, it did not remain consensual for long because Hall initiated a dizzying array of deceptions designed to monitor and control his interaction with other women,” the judge wrote.

Key in Patil’s decision were three tracking devices Brock discovered in his vehicles. The judge noted that Hall used her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination more than 150 times — whenever she was asked about the devices.

Taking the Fifth in a civil case “does not forbid adverse inferences against parties,” Patil wrote. Hall was informed of that risk the first time she did so.

Patil ruled that Brock is entitled to about $460,000 and interest in back pay, plus $143,392 in pay for “the duration of Hall’s current term as commissioner” through the end of the year.

Brock should also receive about $184,000 in attorneys’ fees and costs, the ruling says.

Fulton Commission Chair Robb Pitts said he thinks recouping the money from Hall is “probably not on the table.”

Fulton County commissioners voted 5-0 on Sept. 6 to censure Hall. She and Commissioner Marvin Arrington Jr. did not vote.

Bibb County Sheriff David Davis announced his campaign for a fourth term, according to 13WMAZ.

Sheriff David Davis is trying for his fourth term in office since his election in 2012. This time, Davis’ slogan is, “Together, Stronger.”

The sheriff says his campaign launch at the Marriott City Center on Coliseum Drive embodied that.

Davis acknowledged struggles over his last term, like October’s jail escape and ongoing staffing shortages. He points to falling violent crime numbers and more job applications flowing into his office as successes.

“All of those challenges, we have faced together as a community, and we have become stronger for it. The proof is in the pudding. We’re seeing violent crime numbers go down. We’re seeing people wanting to come and work for the sheriff’s office now,” Davis said.

From high-tech solutions like cameras to a tutoring service, Davis hopes new initiatives will help his deputies fight crime and win him another term.

“We’re seeing new programs that we’re putting out there, and that’s what this is all about: to be listening to our community and responsive to their needs. That’s what I’ve done throughout my terms as sheriff,” he said.

Davis says he’s eager for the possibility of another term with opportunities like helping design a new Bibb County jail.

Davis faces four challengers, like long-time patrol officer Christopher Paul. He started at the Macon Police Department in 1999 and moved over to the Bibb County Sheriff’s Office in 2014 with consolidation.

DeAndre Hall is a violent crimes investigator at the Bibb Sheriff’s Office. He also wants to boost youth programs and plans to enhance jail conditions.

Marshall Hughes, a graduate of Northeast High School, has nearly 10 years of experience with the Bibb County Sheriff’s Office. At his first campaign event last month, he thanked people for supporting him.

Before Thursday, Ron Rodgers was the latest to announce his campaign. According to his LinkedIn profile, he’s a former Centerville police chief. Rodgers has 30 years of law enforcement experience. He plans to improve relationships between deputies and Maconites.

The primary is set for May 21 and the general election is Nov. 5.

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