Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for February 3, 2021

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Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for February 3, 2021

On February 3, 1870, the Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified, 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 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.

https://youtu.be/NN2L84dvoag

Jimi Hendrix recorded Purple Haze on this date in 1967.

https://youtu.be/SHdlSolwktU

The Boyhood Home of President Woodrow Wilson in Augusta will offer tours for Presidents’ Day, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

Reservations are available for guided tours on the hour from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Groups are limited to six people from the same party and masks must be worn throughout the tour.

Tickets are $5 for adults, $4 for seniors and $3 for students K-12.

Wilson lived in the classical revival house at 419 Seventh St. during his formative years in Augusta in the 1860s. Built in 1859, the home’s first occupants were The Wilsons after the Trustees of First Presbyterian Church purchased it in 1860 as their Manse where Wilson’s father served as their minister.

Aside from the Presidents’ Day tours, the museum is open for tours Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays on the hour from 10 a.m. through 4 p.m. by appointment. Call Historic Augusta, Inc. at (706) 722-9828, or visit www.wilsonboyhoodhome.org.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Under the Gold Dome Today – LD 11

8:00 AM HOUSE INSURANCE (House) 606 CLOB
8:00 AM HOUSE AGRICULTURE AND CONSUMER AFFAIRS – 406 CLOB
8:00 AM HOUSE SPECIAL RULES – 506 CLOB
10:00 AM Senate FLOOR SESSION (LD11) – Senate Chamber
10:00 AM HOUSE FLOOR SESSION (LD11) – House Chamber
12:00 PM Senate Rules – 450 CAP
12:30 PM HOUSE BANKS AND BANKING – 341 CAP
1:00 PM Senate Health and Human Services – 450 CAP
1:00 PM Senate Natural Resources and Environment- canceled – 307 CLOB
1:00 PM HOUSE HIGHER EDUCATION – 606 CLOB
1:00 PM HOUSE Ways and Means Income Tax Subcommittee – 403 CAP
1:30 PM HOUSE JUDICIARY – 132 CAP
2:00 PM HOUSE GOVERNMENTAL AFFAIRS – 406 CLOB
2:15 PM Senate Education and Youth – 307 CLOB
2:15 PM Senate Retirement – 450 CAP
3:00 PM HOUSE HUMAN RELATIONS AND AGING – 341 CAP
3:00 PM HOUSE SPECIAL COMMITTEE ON ACCESS TO THE CIVIL JUSTICE SYSTEM – 132 CAP
3:00 PM HOUSE INDUSTRY AND LABOR – 506 CLOB
3:30 PM Senate Finance – 450 CAP
3:30 PM HOUSE SPECIAL COMMITTEE ON ELECTION INTEGRITY – 606 CLOB
3:30 PM HOUSE GAME, FISH AND PARKS – 406 CLOB
3:30 PM HOUSE STATE PROPERTIES – 403 CAP
4:00 PM Senate State Institutions and Property – Mezz 1 CAP
4:45 PM Senate Judiciary – 307 CLOB

Governor Brian Kemp yesterday unveiled a legislative package to improve education, according to the Capitol Beat News Service via the Augusta Chronicle.

Tops among the governor-backed bills is a measure allowing retired teachers to return to work at full pay while they continue drawing retirement benefits. Returning teachers would be slotted into vacant positions in “high-needs areas” picked by regional education officials, according to Kemp’s office.

“These hard-working men and women have a wealth of experience and knowledge with decades spent raising up the next generation of leaders,” Kemp said at a news conference. “This initiative will help our retirees, retirement systems and education as a whole.”

Other bills would give military veterans with certain degree and testing requirements better access to teacher certificates; boost training, resources and mentorships for new teachers; and require the state Professional Standards Commission to work with historically Black colleges and universities to increase the number of minority teachers in Georgia schools.

The bills – dubbed the “Teacher Pipeline Package” – will be carried by state Rep. Dominic LaRiccia, R-Douglas, and state Sen. Russ Goodman, R-Homerville, both of whom are floor leaders for Kemp in their respective chambers during the 2021 legislative session.

From the Associated Press via AccessWDUN:

Kemp has made teachers a cornerstone of his governorship. He’s delivered teachers $3,000 of a $5,000 yearly pay raise that he has promised, and is working with the state Board of Education to pay all education employees a $1,000 bonus this year out of federal coronavirus relief money. He also wants to use better-than-expected state revenues to restore more than half of what was cut last year from Georgia’s K-12 funding formula.

Currently, teachers can return to work and collect up to 49% of the salary they are entitled to while still collecting retirement. Under Kemp’s measure, a teacher would be able to teach at that 49% level for one year, then return to full salary.

The measure is unlikely to become law before 2022, at the earliest, due to legislative requirements that it undergo a financial study to determine whether it would financially harm the Teachers Retirement System. [Teachers Retirement System Executive Director Buster] Evans said it was unlikely to hurt the fund.

From the AJC:

The legislation would also ease alternative teacher credentialing of military veterans, require that school districts using rules that allow them to put less time into job reviews invest the time saved into mentoring teachers, place the state teacher of the year as an advisor to the governor’s state education board, work with colleges to improve teacher training, and work with historically Black colleges and universities to recruit more Black college students into teacher preparation programs.

There was no estimated cost, if any, of the legislative package. Leaders from the state Senate and House predicted it would pass both chambers.

The two largest teacher advocacy groups, the Professional Association of Georgia Educators and the Georgia Association of Educators, embraced the measures.

“It’s a tough time to be an educator and we applaud Gov. Kemp’s effort to enhance the Georgia teacher pipeline,” said Margaret Ciccarelli, the director of legislative services for PAGE.

Eight bills have been filed in the State Senate to change voting laws, according to the Capitol Beat News Service via the Savannah Morning News.

The bills especially target absentee voting in Georgia after all three major elections in the 2020 cycle saw more than 1 million mail-in ballots cast amid the COVID-19 pandemic, helping Democrats carry Georgia in the 2020 presidential election and flip both of the state’s U.S. Senate seats.

Democratic lawmakers quickly cried foul, slamming the move by Republicans as attempts at voter suppression seeking to halt Democrats’ momentum in statewide elections that are likely to be close for the next several years.

Three of the bills focus on absentee voting by requiring a driver’s license or other form of ID to request an absentee ballot; banning the mail-in drop boxes voters used often in the 2020 elections; and ending registered Georgia voters’ ability to vote by mail for any reason.

No-excuse absentee voting was installed by Republican lawmakers under then-Gov. Sonny Perdue and touted by Raffensperger as proof against claims of voter suppression, particularly after Democratic candidate Stacey Abrams’ loss to Kemp in the 2018 gubernatorial election.

Five other bills filed on Monday propose:

– ending automatic voter registration for Georgians who receive new or renewed driver’s licenses;

– prohibiting anyone except state and local elections officials and candidates from sending voters applications for mail-in ballots;

– blocking people from casting ballots in congressional or U.S. Senate runoffs after voting in general elections in a different state;

– requiring county coroners to share monthly data on local deaths with county elections officials to prevent illegal ballots from dead voters;

– allowing poll watchers to monitor vote tabulations more closely.

From the Associated Press via AccessWDUN:

Senate Bill 67 would require that a voter provide either their driver’s license number or personal ID card number or provide a photocopy of their ID when applying for an absentee ballot. That’s slightly more forgiving than a proposal introduced in the Senate last week that would require a person to provide photocopies of their ID, both when they apply for an absentee ballot and when they return it.

Senate Bill 71 would limit who is allowed to vote absentee by mail, a method currently available to any Georgian without needing an excuse. The bill would only allow absentee voting under particular circumstances, including for voters who are 75 or older, have a physical disability or will be absent from their precinct on the date of the election. The bill doesn’t mention global pandemics as a blanket excuse.

State Sen. Butch Miller, a Republican from Gainesville, is co-sponsoring the bills.

“I want every legal vote counted, and I want better access for all voters. Accusing our reform efforts of suppression is a political tactic, pure and simple,” Miller said in a statement. “Even those of us who never claimed that the election was stolen recognize that the electorate has lost confidence in the legitimacy of the system.”

The Georgia State House Economic Development and Tourism Committee voted yesterday to recommend passage of House Bill 86, to legalize some sports betting, according to the Valdosta Daily Times.

The measure would mandate that the Georgia Lottery Corp. give at least six licenses to companies that want to offer sports betting in Georgia. After the companies pay out bettors’ winnings, the state would tax the remaining proceeds at a 14% rate. Committee Chair Ron Stephens, a Savannah Republican, estimates that at even a 10% tax rate, that would bring in $42 million to increase funds available for HOPE college scholarships and state subsidies for prekindergarten classes and child care.

In addition, each operator would have to pay a $900,000-a-year license fee.

Atlanta’s four major league professional sports teams are seeking the bill. Stephens cited their “massive economic power,” saying teams that haven’t been able to fill stadiums.

“It’s for fan participation,” Stephens told the committee. “As I said earlier, the stands are empty. … They believe that fan engagement is what sports betting is all about.”

Stephens, citing an American Gaming Association study, said millions of Georgians place billions of dollars of sports bets each year illegally.

“We can legitimize it, if you will, through the lottery,” Stephens said. “If you’re going to do it offshore, why don’t we collect the revenue here in Georgia?”

The bill proposes allowing people 21 and older to bet. It would not allow betting on college or high school sports, and would prohibit betting on certain events such as injuries.

Opponents, though, say state-sponsored gambling encourages addiction and other social harms. They also don’t want to open the door beyond Georgia’s already massive lottery, saying they’re trying to avoid legislative support for a constitutional amendment allowing casinos.

“They should think this is terrible because it’s going to accentuate everything that’s negative about predatory gambling,” said Mike Griffin of the Georgia Baptist Mission Board, which lobbies for the state’s largest Christian denomination.

From the AJC:

The [Committee] vote wasn’t a surprise since the bill’s sponsor is the committee’s chairman, state Rep. Ron Stephens.

“This is an opportunity for us to add a small amount of revenue — $40 million — into the current mechanism that we use to fund the HOPE scholarship,” the Savannah Republican said.

Stephens has also filed legislation that would put a question on an upcoming ballot asking Georgia voters to support allowing casinos in the state.

HB 86 is backed by the Georgia Professional Sports Integrity Alliance, a coalition of four professional franchises — the Atlanta Braves, Atlanta Falcons, Atlanta Hawks and Atlanta United.

Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler (R-Carrollton) disputes accounts that the department’s handling of information requests will jeopardize the state’s credit rating, according to the Center Square via the Gwinnett Daily Post.

Sen. Steve Gooch, R-Dahlonega, said the state could be at risk of losing its AAA rating if the state auditor doesn’t receive additional documents from the Georgia Department of Labor (GDOL) to complete the state’s end-of-year comprehensive financial report.

GDOL Commissioner Mark Butler said the agency completed the last-minute request for additional information Friday and called the public outcry a “smear campaign.”

GDOL spokesperson Kersha Cartwright said State Auditor Greg Griffin’s office had confirmed receipt of the documents as of Tuesday. She told The Center Square that Griffin’s request was not only unexpected but also came at a time when the agency already was facing a heavy workload.

Butler said the GDOL submitted the same documents they submit each year to the auditor in the fall, but he received an additional request Dec. 23, right before the holiday break, with only seven days to complete it. Butler said he and Griffin agreed to a 45-day deadline, and the GDOL submitted the reports in 30 days.

State Rep. Tommy Benton (R-Jefferson) filed House Bill 222 to revoke the charter of the city of Pendergrass, according to AccessWDUN.

Nashville (Georgia) Mayor Taylor Scarbrough was indicted by a Berrien County Grand Jury, according to the Valdosta Daily Times.

Taylor Scarbrough, 56, was indicted by the Berrien County Grand Jury in its first meeting in almost a year, Alapaha District Attorney Dick Perryman said in a statement. The COVID-19 pandemic forced a shutdown of many judicial functions statewide in 2020.

The mayor was indicted on charges of theft by conversion and theft by deception, Perryman said.

On Aug. 17, deputies were dispatched to Scarbrough’s home; a man claimed the mayor had taken and used his excavator without permission and had caused significant damage to the machinery, a Georgia Bureau of Investigation statement said.

Brunswick saw a reduction in serious crime in 2020, according to The Brunswick News.

Brunswick experienced a 14 percent drop in the number of serious crimes in 2020, Brunswick Police Department statistics show.

Overall, the 1,115 serious crimes that were reported in 2020 amounted to a decrease of 189 incidents from a year ago. There were 1,304 serious crimes reported in the city in 2019.

Statesboro City Council adopted an ordinance allowing food trucks, according to the Statesboro Herald.

Statesboro City Council completed the steps Tuesday for regulating retail food trucks, setting the annual business license fee at $200 per truck and the location permit fee at $25 for each site at which the operator does business directly with the public.

The council had unanimously approved the Mobile Food Service Ordinance on a final, second reading Jan. 19 after approving a revised first reading Jan. 5. An earlier draft of the new city law would have allowed food trucks and pushcarts to operate with property owner permission almost anywhere in the city limits, except within 200 feet of the main door of any restaurant without its owner’s permission.

But the final version, now in effect, limits food trucks and pushcarts to commercial zones, with some exceptions.

Gainesville City Council adopted revisions to the alcohol code, according to AccessWDUN.

ncluded in the new regulation is a provision allowing for home delivery of alcoholic beverages and modifications to the regulations governing outdoor service of alcohol. “We’re modifying some our local regulations to assist our local restaurants as they’ve had to adjust in this world of COVID, trying to help them with the outdoor dining,” Gainesville City Manager Bryan Lackey told city council members.

“A lot of our restaurants in town have tried to go to outdoor dining…so there’s a few changes there to make it easier for them,” Lackey said.

“We tend to have to touch the alcoholic beverage ordinance once every year or so,” Lackey added. To reduce the frequency with which the city has to amend local alcohol ordinances to reflect changes in state policy and hold any required public hearings, Lackey told council the new ordinance will reference state law instead. “We’re just going to reference state law…so in the future if the state tweaks or changes (the state alcohol regulations), as long as we are referencing state law those changes will become automatic.”

The Gwinnett County Commission approved the issuance of bonds to finance the purchase of Gwinnett Place Mall, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

Commissioners voted Tuesday to approve the issuance of Urban Redevelopment Authority bonds to pay for the purchase in both their capacities as the Board of Commissioners and as the Urban Redevelopment Agency board in two back-to-back meetings. The county commission initially voted in December to buy the mall, which has been struggling for years and only has about a dozen tenants, for $23 million and Tuesday’s vote was the next step in going forward with the purchase.

The parameters commissioners set on the bonds include stipulations that they will not exceed $25 million and that the interest rate capped at 6%. Commissioners also set the annual debt service at $1.85 million with the maturity date set at 20 years.

Lin Wood

The Georgia Secretary of State‘s office is investigating whether lawyer Lin Wood cast a ballot illegally after allegedly moving out of Georgia, according to CNN.

Wood, a staunch supporter of former President Donald Trump, was one of the lawyers who unsuccessfully pushed a handful of lawsuits to block Georgia’s election results after alleging fraud. The cases were rapidly dismissed by the courts and described as disinformation by state election officials.

Wood said in a statement to CNN, “I have been a resident of the State of Georgia since 1955. I have changed my residency to South Carolina yesterday.”

“This is pure harassment by the Georgia Secretary of State,” he added before pushing more baseless voter fraud allegations.

Earlier Tuesday, Wood told Justin Gray of WSB-TV that he had moved out of Georgia and “been domiciled in South Carolina for several months after purchasing property in the state in April.” Gray tweeted that those comments “caught the eye of investigators.”

“I have not been ‘domiciled’ in South Carolina for several months,” Wood told CNN. “I have spent time at my homes in Georgia and South Carolina. I considered myself to be domiciled and a resident of Georgia until yesterday when I made the decision to become a resident of South Carolina. Now I expect to be domiciled in South Carolina too. I will still frequently visit Georgia.”

The State Bar of Georgia is also discussing Lin Wood, according to the Associated Press via the Valdosta Daily Times.

The State Bar of Georgia “is proceeding with an inquiry” under the bar rule that has to do with mental incapacity or substance abuse “to the extent of impairing competency as a lawyer,” chief operating officer Sarah Coole confirmed in an email Friday. The bar’s investigative process is confidential, but Coole said she could confirm it because Wood himself had “made this matter public.”

Reached by text message Friday, Wood said he had not received any written communication or a telephone call from the state bar. Asked how the licensing body communicated an intent to demand a mental health exam, Wood said to ask the state bar.

Posting again on Telegram Friday, Wood wrote: “IF the State Bar of Georgia formally requests that I submit to a mental health examination in order to maintain my license to practice law, I will respectfully decline to do so. I am of sound mind and I have not violated any rule of professional conduct.”

MTG

The United States House Rules Committee will hear a resolution to remove Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Extreme Northwest Georgia) from two committees, according to the Rome News Tribune.

The U.S. House Committee on Rules is scheduled to meet at 3 p.m. Wednesday to consider a resolution to strip Northwest Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of her committee assignments.

A Tuesday post on her Twitter feed reads: “Who should be removed from those committees? Me — brand new to Congress? OR The career politicians who’ve enslaved Americans to nearly $30 trillion in debt, puts up walls to protect themselves but no wall to protect you, and murdered babies with your tax dollars?”

Greene brushed aside her party leaders as well on her Tuesday Twitter: “Too bad a few Republican Senators are obsessing over me, instead of preparing to defend President Trump from the rabid radical left. Focus on ending the witch hunt. Do your job!”

Deliberations during Wednesday’s Committee on Rules meeting on House Resolution 72 can be viewed online at rules.house.gov.

United States House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) met with MTG, according to the Associated Press via AccessWDUN.

Aides to McCarthy and Greene offered no immediate comment after the two spent around 90 minutes together in his Capitol office. Their session came as the GOP faced unrest from opposing ends of the party’s spectrum over Greene and Rep. Liz Cheney, whom far-right lawmakers want to oust from her leadership post after she voted to impeach former President Donald Trump.

“At the very moment that Joe Biden is lurching to the left is the moment that the Republican Party is lurching out of existence,” GOP pollster Frank Luntz said of the new Democratic president, who is preparing to try muscling a mammoth COVID-19 relief package through the narrowly divided Congress.

Republicans appointed Greene to the education committee, a decision that drew harsh criticism because of her suggestions that school shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, and Parkland, Florida, could be hoaxes. A House vote on removing her from the committee could be politically difficult for some Republicans.

Republicans have said that GOP members would unite against a Democratic move to remove Greene from her committee assignments and that such an effort would help Greene cast herself as a victim of partisan Democrats.

As if to illustrate that point, Greene herself tweeted fundraising appeals Tuesday that said, “With your support, the Democrat mob can’t cancel me,” beneath a picture of herself standing with Trump.

But Democrats said they think some Republicans will support ousting Green from committees and that a House vote will make McCarthy look weak and further erode GOP support among moderate suburban voters.

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