Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for February 21, 2024

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Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for February 21, 2024

The Washington Monument was dedicated on February 21, 1885.

John Lewis, was born on February 21, 1940 in Pike County Alabama. In 1963, Lewis became President of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, based in Atlanta. In 1981, Lewis was elected to an at-large seat on the Atlanta City Council, and in 1986, he was elected to Congress, defeating Julian Bond in the Democratic Primary.

On February 21, 1958, Governor Marvin Griffin signed legislation creating the Stone Mountain Memorial Association to oversee construction and operation of a Confederate memorial and public park at the site.

On February 21, 1998, Julian Bond was selected as Chairman of the NAACP. Bond was elected to the Georgia House of Representatives in 1965, but the House initially refused to seat him due to his opposition to the war in Vietnam. The United States Supreme Court eventually ruled against the House and Bond was sworn in on January 9, 1967, serving there until his election to the Georgia State Senate. In 1986, Bond left the Senate to run for Congress.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Under the Gold Dome Today

TBD Senate Rules Committee: Upon Adj – Senate Chamber
8:00 AM HOUSE AGRICULTURE – 606 CLOB
8:00 AM HOUSE INSURANCE – 406 CLOB
8:00 AM HOUSE W&M Sub Income Tax – 403 CAP
8:00 AM Cancelled- Senate Natural Res & Envt – 450 CAP
8:15 AM HOUSE W&M Sub Ad Valorem – 403 CAP
8:30 AM HOUSE W&M Sub Sales Tax – 403 CAP
8:45 AM HOUSE W&M Sub Pub Fin & Policy – 403 CAP
9:00 AM HOUSE RULES – 341 CAP
9:00 AM HOUSE GAME, FISH AND PARKS – 403 CAP
10:00 AM HOUSE FLOOR SESSION (LD24) – House Chamber
10:00 AM Senate Floor Session (LD 24) – Senate Chamber
1:00 PM UPON ADJ- HOUSE PUB SAFETY – 506 CLOB
1:00 PM HOUSE HIGHER EDUCATION – 606 CLOB
1:00 PM HOUSE BANKS AND BANKING – 406 CLOB
1:00 PM Senate Public Safety – 450 CAP
1:30 PM HOUSE Judy Non-Civil Hong Sub – 132 CAP
2:00 PM HOUSE STATE PROPERTIES – 406 CLOB
2:00 PM HOUSE Natl Res & Envt Res Mgmt Sub– 415 CLOB
2:00 PM Senate Higher Education – 307 CLOB
2:00 PM Senate Insurance & Labor – Mezz 1 CAP
3:00 PM HOUSE SMALL BUS DEV – 403 CAP
3:00 PM CANCELED – HOUSE IND & LABOR – 506 CLOB
3:00 PM HOUSE GOVTAL AFFAIRS – 606 CLOB
3:00 PM Senate Health & Human Services – 450 CAP3:00 PM Senate Government Oversight – 307 CLOB
4:00 PM Senate Finance – Mezz 1 CAP
5:00 PM Senate Education & Youth – 450 CAP
6:00 PM Senate Judiciary – 307 CLOB

Boaters are seeking changes to House Bill 1172, which attempts to clarify access rights to Georgia rivers, according to The Brunswick News.

Representatives from Georgia River Network, Georgia Canoeing Association, American Whitewater and American Canoe Association are asking the House Judiciary Committee to amend HB 1172 so that it includes all navigable streams regardless of how narrow or small.

Access to state rivers and streams has become an issue in some areas of the state during the past several decades. Some property owners have closed access to streams that had traditionally been used by boaters, and the courts have sided with them by using the state’s definition of “navigable” streams enacted in 1863 when steamboats and timber rafts regularly navigated Georgia’s rivers.

“You can look long and hard and never find any boats loaded with freight on any of the state’s rivers today,” said Rena Ann Peck, executive director of Georgia River Network. “You will find dozens of canoe and kayak outfitters doing business on these streams.

“You’ll also find recreational boaters in everything from small motorized john boats to tiny kayaks. That definition of navigability shouldn’t play a role in defining where the public has the right to boat in the 21st century.”

The bill was generated by the House Study Committee on Fishing Access to Freshwater Resources which heard testimony at four public hearings last fall following the passage of SB 115 during the 2023 legislative session. SB 115 codified Georgians’ right to boat, fish and hunt on the state’s navigable streams.

“Legislators should act to strengthen this bill by protecting Georgians’ freedom to float all of the state’s streams that support recreational boating,” Peck said.

State Rep. Rick Townsend, R-St. Simons Island, said he is still studying the issue.

“I’m still reviewing the bill,” Townsend said. “If it’s not public property already, I would have a difficult time supporting the bill.

“I need to thoroughly read the bill before I decide how to vote once it reaches the House floor.”

The Senate Appropriations Committee approved their version of the midyear budget revision, according to the AJC.

Georgia Senate leaders on Tuesday largely followed the lead of Gov. Brian Kemp and the House, backing a midyear budget that adds $5 billion in spending, including money for a new medical school at the University of Georgia, roads, rural airports, local water and sewer projects, and rural economic development programs.

The Senate Appropriations Committee backed most of the spending hikes Kemp proposed in January, despite the fact that state tax collections have been slow for much of the past year and are not projected to improve anytime soon.

But with $16 billion in “rainy day” and undesignated reserves, Kemp and lawmakers see the midyear budget — which runs through June 30 — as a chance to allocate money for big construction and infrastructure projects that will both better prepare the state for the future and put more Georgians to work.

“This year’s midyear budget is different than most,” said Senate Appropriations Chairman Blake Tillery, R-Vidalia. “We’ve held our cash close, and it’s served us well.”

The state spent about $26.6 billion — excluding federal funding — in fiscal 2020, the last budget plan approved before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Last year, it was more than $32 billion, and the midyear plan would spend $37.5 billion for fiscal 2024. Of that, $2 billion would come out of “undesignated” reserves.

The Senate panel backed adding $11 million to Kemp’s emergency fund, some of which could go to pay for his recent decision to send more National Guard troops to the southern border to curb illegal crossings.

The full Senate is expected to pass the measure Thursday. Then leaders of both chambers will work to come to an agreement on the plan.

House Bill 987 by State Rep. Chas Cannon (R-Moultrie) would lower the minimum property tax rate required for county Boards of Education to qualify for state funding, according to the Associated Press via WSAV.

Property tax rates could drop in some Georgia school districts under a House plan that would let districts with low property wealth continue to qualify for state aid even if they decrease property tax rates.

The House voted 161-12 on Tuesday for House Bill 987, sending it to the Senate for more debate.

The measure would let districts drop their minimum property tax rate to 10 mills, from the current 14 mills, and still be able to qualify for state equalization funds.

“This bill has the potential to lower property taxes for thousands of Georgia citizens across the state,” said Rep. John Corbett, a Republican from Lake Park.

It’s one in a series of measures that Georgia lawmakers are considering this year to reduce property tax bills. The House also wants to increase the statewide homestead tax exemption, which would cut property tax bills for homeowners in some counties. The Senate, by contrast, is seeking to limit the future increase in homeowner property values, as assessed for tax purposes. Senators believe that move, in turn, could decrease future increases in property tax bills.

Some school districts in recent years have told constituents they can’t decrease tax rates, despite rising property tax values, because they would become ineligible for millions in equalization money.

The equalization program began in 1987 with a minimal tax rate required and the state spending $84 million. But with the cost of the program rising and state tax revenues stagnant, lawmakers rewrote the program to require districts to tax property at 14 mills or greater to participate, beginning in 2019.

That requirement is clashing with another goal of Republican lawmakers, that districts hold total tax receipts level by lowering tax rates when property values rise.

“There are school systems throughout the state, even though they are able to go lower, who are remaining at the required rate of 14 mills because they don’t want to put their equalization at risk,” said Rep. Chas Cannon, the Moultrie Republican sponsoring the bill. “In doing so, they’re passing on sometimes significant property tax increases to their citizens year after year.”

Statistics show overall property tax collections rose 41% from 2018 to 2022 in Georgia. During that same period, total assessed value of property statewide rose by nearly 39%. Those Georgia Department of Revenue figures represent not only existing property but also new buildings. So they don’t clearly state how much valuations rose on existing property.

Senate Bill 365 by State Sen. Greg Dolezal (R-Forsyth County) would require school libraries to inform parents when students check out books, according to the Associated Press via the Valdosta Daily Times.

A proposal that would require school libraries to notify parents of every book their child checks out was advanced by Georgia senators Tuesday, while a proposal to subject school librarians to criminal charges for distributing material containing obscenity waits in the wings.

Opponents say it’s a campaign of censorship meant to block children’s freedom to learn, while scaring teachers and librarians into silence for fear of losing their jobs or worse.

Georgia senators are also considering bills to force all public and school libraries in the state to cut ties with the American Library Association and to restrict school libraries’ ability to hold or acquire any works that depict sexual intercourse or sexual arousal. Neither measure has advanced out of committee ahead of a deadline next week for bills to pass out of their originating chamber.

The state Senate Education and Youth Committee voted 5-4 Tuesday to advance Senate Bill 365 to the full Senate for more debate. The proposal would let parents choose to receive an email any time their child obtains library material.

Sen. Greg Dolezal, the Republican from Cumming sponsoring the bill, said the Forsyth County school district, which has seen years of public fighting over what books students should be able to access, is already sending the emails. Other supporters said it was important to make sure to guarantee the rights of parents to raise their children as they want.

“I can’t understand the resistance of allowing parents to know what their children are seeing, doing and participating in while they’re at school, especially in a public school system,” said Senate Majority Leader Steve Gooch, a Dahlonega Republican.

Opponents said it’s important for students to be able to explore their interests and that the bill could violate students’ First Amendment rights.

The proposal to make school librarians subject to criminal penalties if they violate state obscenity laws, Senate Bill 154, is even more controversial. Current law exempts public librarians, as well as those who work for public schools, colleges and universities, from penalties for distributing material that meets Georgia’s legal definition of “harmful to minors.”

Dolezal argues that school librarians should be subject to such penalties, although he offered an amendment Tuesday that makes librarians subject to penalties only if they “knowingly” give out such material. He argues that Georgia shouldn’t have a double standard where teachers can be prosecuted for obscenity while librarians down the hall cannot. He said his real aim is to drive any such material out of school libraries.

House Bill 1180 by State Rep. Kasey Carpenter (R-Dalton) would revise the criteria for the state’s Film Tax Credit, according to the Capitol Beat News Service.

House Bill 1180, which a House Ways and Means subcommittee approved unanimously, would require film production companies to meet at least four of 10 criteria to qualify for an additional 10% income tax credit on top of the 20% base credit the General Assembly enacted in 2008.

The film tax credit generated $8.55 billion in economic impact in fiscal 2022, according to a study released late last year. At the same time, the credit costs Georgia taxpayers about $1 billion a year in lost tax revenue, making it the most expensive tax incentive on the books in the Peach State.

As introduced earlier this month, the bill listed nine criteria to qualify for the higher tax credit, including requirements that at least half of the crew and vendors working on a film in Georgia be Georgia residents.

A 10th criterion added to the list would allow filmmakers to qualify for the tax credit if they use Georgia-based music productions in their films.

“It’s important to show our support for Georgia musicians and hopefully get them into films … on a more regular basis,” said Rep. Kasey Carpenter, R-Dalton, the bill’s chief sponsor.

Jill Helton of Pigmental Studios, which has a 117-acre film studio under development in St. Marys, said a provision in the bill capping the total amount of sales or transfers of credits within a calendar year at 2.5% of the governor’s revenue estimate for that year would make it nearly impossible for the growing number of independent filmmakers to operate in Georgia.

But Carpenter said a change in the original version of the bill that would restore the amount a production company would have to spend on a single production to qualify for the tax credit to $500,000 would benefit smaller film productions, including independent films. The original measure had proposed doubling that threshold to $1 million.

Subcommittee Chairman Bruce Williamson, R-Monroe, said the impact of the proposed changes to the film tax credit wouldn’t affect film producers immediately because the legislation wouldn’t take effect until 2026.

The bill now moves to the full House Ways and Means Committee.

State Rep. Penny Houston (R-Nashville) announced she will not run for reelection, according to the Capitol Beat News Service.

Longtime state Rep. Penny Houston announced Tuesday that she will not seek reelection this year.Houston, R-Nashville, has served in the Georgia House of Representatives for 26 years under seven House speakers. She told her House colleagues she wants to spend more time with her family.

“I hope I’ve been a voice for the people of rural Georgia and a voice for people who don’t have a voice,” Houston said.

Houston said she plans to contribute to her community in different ways now that she’s leaving the General Assembly. Specifically, she said she will advocate for improved dental care in rural Georgia.

Houston’s House District 170 includes Berrien County and portions of Cook and Tift counties.

Macon-Bibb County’s early voting location may hinder handicapped voters, according to the Macon Telegraph.

Monday’s early voters at the new Macon-Bibb County Board of Elections found out just how far it is to walk to the office from the Macon Mall parking lot — about 175 yards from the nearest handicapped space.

Benches are now in place for people to rest along the corridor, but it’s still a long walk.

“Especially for someone with a walker,” said Mike Barron, who will guide voters as they enter from the Mercer University Drive side entrance.

At last week’s Board of Elections meeting, at-large member Mike Kaplan repeated accessibility concerns that were first raised about a year ago. “There are no handicapped accessible doors,” Kaplan said. “We need some more handicapped spaces in front of our building.”

Elections Supervisor Tom Gillon recommends anyone with mobility challenges should consider voting at the Elaine Lucas Senior Center at Carolyn Crayton Park near downtown or Theron Ussery Park off Wimbish Road.

“As far as convenience of a short walk there, their walks are much shorter,” Gillon said. “And so, we always like to see people here at the office, but we certainly understand if they want to go to one of the other places for their own convenience.” Handicapped spaces are a very short walk from the senior center entrance.

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources Environmental Protection Division will hold a hearing on the impact of new wells to be drilled for the Hyundai plant, according to the Statesboro Herald.

A public meeting the Georgia EPD will hold at Southeast Bulloch High School beginning at 6 p.m. Monday, Feb. 26, is expected to reveal the agency’s prediction of groundwater impacts and details of proposed special conditions for approving four wells to supply the Hyundai Motor Group’s Metaplant America.

Both Bryan and Bulloch have a proposed role in supplying water to the site, and the counties submitted permit applications to the state Environmental Protection Division last fall for a total of four wells. All four would be drilled in southern Bulloch County near the county line, since Bulloch is in a “green zone” for withdrawing water from the Floridan aquifer, while Bryan County is in the inland-coastal counties “yellow zone” for groundwater permit restrictions.

Bulloch County submitted an application to the EPD Watershed Protection Branch for two wells, asking for up to 3.125 million gallons a day on an annual average. Bryan County has submitted an application to EPD for two Floridan aquifer wells that also would be sited in Bulloch County, asking for up to 3.5 mgd on an annual average.

Gwinnett County Commissioners voted to adopt a 2045 Unified Plan, according to AccessWDUN.

Gwinnett County officials said the unified plan sets a vision for the county over the next two decades.

The plan was developed over 11 months by Gwinnett Planning and Development which used stakeholder and community feedback as a catalyst for its recommendations, tackling key issues related to land use, economic development, housing, transportation, sustainable infrastructure and community resources.

“As Gwinnett continues to experience significant population growth, the adopted 2045 Unified Plan embraces innovative ways to maximize land use and guide future development,” Chairwoman Nicole Love Hendrickson said. “Through thoughtful planning and strategic implementation, this blueprint charts a course for sustainable growth but also lays the groundwork for a vibrant and connected future.”

Gwinnett officials said the plan serves as a roadmap for the county which offers tangible steps to accommodate the county’s projected population growth of nearly half a million residents by 2045.

A study by Valdosta State University shows that consolidation of Columbia County and its municipalities is financially feasible, according to WJBF.

Several communities in Columbia County could soon become one. A recent feasibility study by Valdosta State University states the consolidation and incorporation of Columbia County could be in everyone’s best financial interest.

“Because Columbia County is so fiscally strong now, this just adds to it,” said County Manager Scott Johnson. “They did determine there were some revenue streams that Columbia County currently is not tapping into, and we don’t have the opportunity as an unincorporated county to tap into them.”

“They determined that we could essentially, potentially get over eight million dollars in additional revenue if we were a city,” Johnson said. “If we created this city, it would become the sixth largest city in Georgia overnight.”

Unincorporated areas like Evans, Appling, Martinez, Winfield and Leah would become one city. Harlem and Grovetown would still be their own cities with their own local governments.

One concern brought up by Harlem and Grovetown leaders is their ability to expand.

“Geographically they couldn’t grow, but what the report did show us, the city of Harlem and the city of Grovetown have a significant amount of undeveloped land in their cities,” Johnson said. “So they can continue to grow the undeveloped land within their cities.”

As the proposal potentially moves it’s way through different levels of government before reaching the ballots next year, Johnson said there will be many opportunities for residents to give feedback and ask questions about it.

LaGrange City Council voted to hold a Special Election for Mayor, according to WTVM.

The LaGrange City Council held a meeting on Feb. 20 to discuss holding a special election to replace the late Mayor Willie Edmondson, who will be honored on Feb. 21.

City leaders say in order to have the election in three months, the city had to meet tomorrow’s state deadline to get the mayor’s race on the ballot during the May primary.

The council voted 3 to 2 to hold the special election on May 21.

Councilmen Leon Childs and Quay Boddie voted “no” while Councilmen Mark Mitchell, Tom Gore and Nathan Gaskin voted “yes.”

After the vote, Mayor Pro-Tem Jim Arrington resigned and announced he will run for the mayor’s seat. November would be the next time for a special election, which is when Arrington among others prefer to wait.

The Council voted and elected Quay Boddie as Mayor Pro-Tem.

Columbus Mayor Skip Henderson delivered the State of the City address, according to WTVM.

Columbus officials and stakeholders gathered at the Cunningham Center at Columbus State University to hear the mayor outline the city’s growth in 2023, and the vision and priorities in the year ahead.

“I think we’ve got a lot of momentum, a lot of energy in Columbus right now, but we still have some things we got to work on,” he said.

This was the overarching theme Tuesday, Feb. 20 for Mayor Skip Henderson’s State of the City Address.

During his address he mentioned advancements in economic development like minor League Baseball coming to Golden Park, and plans to further develop the area around it.

Republican Sandy Donatucci announced she will run for House District 125, currently held by Democratic State Rep. Farooq Mughal, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

Donatucci announced on Monday that she will run on the Republican ticket for the House District 105 seat currently held by Rep. Farooq Mughal, D-Dacula. Qualifying for this year’s legislative races is set to take place at the beginning of March during the state’s candidate qualifying week for federal, state and local offices.

“I am excited to announce my campaign for State House,” Donatucci said in an announcement. “I love our community and am proud to call it home for the last 23 years. I am running for State House because I am deeply committed to keeping this the best place to raise a family. That is why we desperately need new leadership that represents our district, will stand up for our families and put them first over politics and self-serving agendas.

“Serving our community on the Planning Commission, I have a proven record of being a voice for my neighbors in District 105 and putting their interests first in zoning decisions. I am ready to take that same citizen-first, common-sense approach to the State House to stand up for our families because there is too much at stake and not enough action to solve real problems facing our families.”

This is not the first time that Donatucci, who has been active in the Gwinnett County Republican Party, has run for the House District 105 seat. She ran for the seat two years ago as a replacement candidate for the GOP after it was determined the party’s original candidate for the seat did not live in the district — after the primary election for the seat had already been held.

Shana V. White announced she will join the field in the race to succeed Board of Education member Mary Kay Murphy, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

Shana V. White is one of six candidates running for the open Gwinnett County Board of Education District 3 seat to replace retiring board member Mary Kay Murphy. White has been on the campaign trail for months, but recently formally announced her bid for the seat.
“I am both excited and proud to announce my candidacy for the District 3 Gwinnett County School Board,” White said in an announcement. “As a third-generation public school educator and advocate for equity in public education, I feel deeply committed to serving and want to support the success and well-being of teachers, students, and the community through our schools.”

In addition to White, other candidates running for the District 3 seat include Yanin Cortes, Domonique Cooper, Kirk Buis, Demetrius Nelson and Steven Gasper. Qualifying for the seat will be held in early March and the nonpartisan race will appear on the May 21 general election primary ballot.

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