Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for February 6, 2024

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Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for February 6, 2024

The House of Assembly, Georgia’s legislative body, held its second meeting after statehood on February 6, 1788 in Savannah.

Ronald Wilson Reagan was born on February 6, 1911 in Tampico, Illinois. In 1980, Reagan would be elected President of the United States, beating incumbent Jimmy Carter. When he was born, his father said, “he looks like a fat little Dutchman.  But who knows, he might grow up to be president some day.”

On February 6, 1952, Governor Herman Talmadge signed resolutions of the General Assembly that included:

A resolution calling on Congress to call a convention to propose a constitutional amendment to repeal the Sixteenth Amendment and instead allow a maximum rate of 25 percent on any federal income, transfer, gift, or inheritance tax.

A resolution urging U.S. Senator Richard B. Russell to run for the presidency.

On February 6, 1956, Governor Marvin Griffin addressed a joint session of  the Georgia General Assembly, asking their support for House Resolution 1185, which introduced the idea of “interposition,” in which the State of Georgia would declare the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 and 1955 Brown v. Board of Education decisions “null and void” in Georgia. That day Griffin also signed a raft of legislation for his “massive resistance” agenda against integration of state schools.

On February 6, 1985, Reagan gave the State of the Union. During the speech he announced what would be known as the “Reagan Doctrine.”

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

The voter registration deadline for Georgia’s Presidential Preference Primary approaches, according to WALB.

The last day residents in the Peach State can register for the March 12 primary is Monday, February 12.

To check your registration status, early-in person polling locations and other important information, log into your “My Voter Page” by clicking HERE.

As a reminder, early in-person voting begins on February 19.

Vice President Kamala Harris speaks in Savannah at the Savannah Civic Center today, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Vice President Kamala Harris is expected to visit Savannah on Tuesday, according to a White House release.

The stop is the third leg of her “Fight for Reproductive Freedoms” tour. It is her 11th visit to Georgia since being sworn in, according to the release.

“The vice president will highlight the harm caused by extreme abortion bans and share stories of those who have been impacted in Georgia and across the country,” the release said.

From WTOC:

This will be the Vice President’s 11th visit to Georgia since taking office in 2021 and she’ll be visiting to discuss abortion bans in the state.

Detric Leggett, a City of Savannah Alderman, says that he’s excited for Vice President Harris’ visit, saying that everyone is doing their part to make sure it goes smoothly.

“We know that we’ll have an opportunity to get close. But between our police department, the local government, secret service, they’re doing a lot of work to make sure that everything is safe, everything around the area that she’ll be, they’ll let us know. And we’ll have an opportunity to say a couple of things to her,” said Alderman Leggett.

Dr. Shabazz says that she believes the Vice President’s visit to Savannah is a testament to the work that’s being put in in this area.

“This is a huge moment for Savannah. We continue to impress and attract the highest level federal officers and officials, and this is a testament to the work that our Mayor, Mayor Van Johnson, along with our city council, along with Team Savannah are doing on the ground here to make our city the best it can be. We share a desire with the Vice President,” said Dr. Shabazz.

Under the Gold Dome Today

TBD Senate Rules Committee: Upon Adj – 450 CAP
8:00 AM HOUSE Insurance Sub Life and Health – 415 CLOB
8:00 AM HOUSE JUDICIARY NON-CIVIL – 132 CAP
8:00 AM HOUSE Ways and Means Sub Income Tax – 403 CAP
8:00 AM HOUSE MOTOR VEHICLES – 606 CLOB
8:15 AM HOUSE Ways and Means Sub Ad Valorem – 403 CAP
9:00 AM Appropriations Subcommittees – 341 CAP
10:00 AM Senate Floor Session (LD 15) – Senate Chamber
10:30 AM HOUSE APPROPRIATIONS – 341 CAP
11:00 AM HOUSE RULES – 341 CAP
1:00 PM HOUSE FLOOR SESSION (LD15) – House Chamber
1:00 PM Senate State & Local Govtal Ops– 125 CAP
1:00 PM Senate Judiciary– 307 CLOB
2:00 PM HOUSE PUBLIC HEALTH – 606 CLOB
2:00 PM UPON ADJ – HOUSE Reg Ind Sub Alcohol-Tobacco – 506 CLOB
2:30 PM CANCELED – HOUSE STATE PLAN & COMM AFF – 506 CLOB
3:00 PM HOUSE ENERGY, UTILITIES AND TELECOM – 403 CAP
3:00 PM HOUSE Govtal Affairs Sub State & Local Govt – 415 CLOB
3:00 PM HOUSE Insurance Sub Property and Casualty – 515 CLOB
3:30 PM HOUSE Govtal Affairs Sub Elections – 415 CLOB
3:30 PM Senate Regulated Industries – 450 CAP
4:00 PM HOUSE INTRAGOVTAL COORD – 341 CAP
4:00 PM Cancelled – Science & Tech – 310 CLOB
5:00 PM Senate Ethics – 307 CLOB

The funeral for the late Georgia State House Rules Committee Chair Richard Smith (R-Columbus) was held yesterday in Columbus, according to the AJC.

A Republican who was first elected to the Georgia House in 2004, Smith wasn’t instantly recognizable to even political junkies. But he was one of the state’s most influential leaders, forging important bonds and serving the past four years as head of one of the Legislature’s most powerful committees.

He was remembered for many roles at his funeral, where so many attendees packed the pews Monday that roads outside the Columbus church had to be cordoned off: Doting father and husband. Capable administrator. Morgan County High School football hero. Devoted friend.

During a series of eulogies, another portrait of Smith also emerged: a leader who relentlessly fought to improve life in west Georgia.

A former member of the Columbus City Council, Smith was the interim city manager before launching an unsuccessful bid for mayor in 2002. Two years later, he won a Georgia House seat — “God decided he needed a bigger stage,” quipped Skip Henderson, the city’s current mayor.

Gov. Brian Kemp praised him for standing by his side during the toughest of political times, even when he risked criticism from “angry corners” of the state.

“In all of those years, in the good and the bad, Richard was a true and honest friend,” Kemp said, adding that “he also wasn’t afraid to call it like he saw it.”

(One example Kemp shared with a smile: Smith happily told House lawmakers that first lady Marty Kemp’s press to crack down on human trafficking would speedily win approval in that chamber while the governor’s own priorities sometimes languished.)

House Speaker Jon Burns called Smith a “benevolent” chair of the Rules Committee, which has the final say on which proposals reach a vote and which wither on the vine. Many of the dozens of lawmakers gathered in the pews nodded in silent agreement.

Proponents of House Bill 71 by State Rep. Darlene Taylor (R-Thomasville), which would prohibit mining near the Okefenokee Swamp, are working to move the legislation out of the House Committee to which it was assigned, according to GPB News.

Opponents of the mining proposal are trying to ramp up pressure on lawmakers to pass a measure that some see as the best shot at protecting the ridge from mining. They recently held a press conference at the state Capitol that featured swamp-dwelling pitcher plants and two people dressed in alligator costumes.

The House bill, sponsored by Thomasville Republican Rep. Darlene Taylor, would not stop the 582-acre demonstration proposal that is still pending with the state Environmental Protection Division. But it would block any expansion of that project or any future mining proposals at Trail Ridge.

Taylor has said she wants to protect the Okefenokee Swamp – where she visited regularly as a child –  from the kind of deterioration seen at the Florida Everglades.

“If the mine is permitted, it is likely to lead to additional mining along the ridge,” Taylor said.

Taylor’s bill has garnered 94 signatures from a bipartisan collection of lawmakers since it was first filed last year. A bill needs 91 votes to pass the House, suggesting her measure might clear the House with a few votes to spare if given the opportunity.

But the bill has been stuck in committee, where a post-Crossover Day hearing was held last year but no vote was allowed. Taylor, who as chair of a House budget subcommittee holds a leadership role in the House, said she’s hoping for more progress this year.

“The people want it. It will pass the House when it comes to the floor,” Taylor said at the recent press conference. “And I ask that our General Assembly use this opportunity to save the Okefenokee for everyone.”

Rep. Lynn Smith, a Newnan Republican who chairs the House Natural Resources and Environment Committee, declined to comment on the bill’s future in her committee Thursday, other than to say there is a lot of interest on both sides of the issue.

House Bill 986 and House Bill 988, both by State Rep. Brad Thomas, (R-Holly Springs) and Rep. Todd Jones, (R-Cumming) both address our robot overlords SkyNet artificial intelligence, according to the Cherokee Tribune and Ledger News.

HB 986, also known as the “AI Transparency and Protection Act” would create criminal felony offenses of election interference by use of deep fakes. HB 988 would require the Georgia Technology Authority to audit all artificial intelligence usage by state agencies.

“Artificial intelligence continues to be a growing concern for many Georgians, and in the world of AI, transparency and protection are crucial,” Thomas said in a statement. “The AI Transparency and Protection Act sets the standard by making election interference with deep fakes a felony. Legislation of this kind is imperative to secure our digital space, guarantee trust and safeguard the integrity of our democratic process. I look forward to partnering with my legislative colleague Rep. Todd Jones to address this rising concern in Georgia’s election system.”

“As artificial intelligence takes center stage in Georgia, growing concerns highlight the need for protective measures,” Jones said. “With House Bill 988, requiring the Georgia Technology Authority to audit all artificial intelligence usage stands as a crucial step in addressing and mitigating the need surrounding AI within the Georgia state government. By establishing a robust framework for oversight, Georgia can ensure the responsible development and deployment of AI technologies, fostering trust and accountability in the evolving landscape of artificial intelligence.”

The “AI Transparency and Protection Act,” would establish felony offenses of election interference with a deep fake and solicitation of election interference with a deep fake. The bill defines deep fake as a video recording, video file, sound recording, sound file, electronic image or photograph that is created through technological means, rather than through the ability of another person to physically or verbally impersonate such person and appears to depict a real person’s speech or conduct that did not occur in reality.

Under HB 986, a person convicted of election interference through creation and transmission of a deep fake would be sentenced to between one and five years in prison and be subject to a fine up to $50,000.

“As artificial intelligence becomes more prevalent in Georgians’ daily lives, the Georgia House is working proactively to create a regulatory framework that protects our consumers while also supporting innovation,” said House Speaker Jon Burns, R-Newington. “I applaud the work of Representatives Thomas and Jones to audit artificial intelligence in our state, strengthen transparency around this evolving technology, and safeguard our elections from deep fakes and other bad actors. I am confident these proposed measures will be a great first step toward addressing an extremely important emerging technology and ensure artificial intelligence will be a net positive for Georgia families, businesses, and communities.”

House Bill 1035 by House Health Committee Chair Sharon Cooper (R-Cobb County) and House Public Health Committee Chair Lee Hawkins (R-Gainesville) would allow greater availability of Narcan, according to GPB News.

Vending machines carrying opioid-overdose reversal drugs are the center of a bill moving through the Georgia House that aims to make more drugs available to combat deaths from overdose.

House Bill 1035 aims to change Georgia’s law on the sale and distribution of drugs like opioid antagonists, which can be lifesaving during an opioid overdose. That’s important, considering deaths from synthetic opioids such as fentanyl have skyrocketed over the past few years and continue to rise nationally.

In Georgia, through 2022, the proportion of overdose deaths involving fentanyl have tripled.

Narcan, the most popular brand of naloxone, is free at multiple locations across the state, mostly from addiction and recovery groups but also local public health departments. The Federal Drug Administration made naloxone nasal spray available over the counter last spring.

But State Rep. Sharon Cooper, sponsor of HB 1035, said she wants to make opioid overdose reversal drugs, and not just Narcan, even more widely available. Cooper chairs the House Public Health Committee and is a member of the House Special Committee on Healthcare and Regulated Industries Committee.

As Georgia law stands, pharmacists can face misdemeanor charges if they distribute drugs like Narcan through vending machines. Cooper’s bill would protect pharmacists against these charges.

“Once we update this law, I think you will find probably vending machines on all our college campuses,” Cooper said.

House Bill 1035 received unanimous favorable votes from committee members.

Cooper said her bill would also give Georgia’s public health commissioner the go ahead to approve similar drugs over the counter, like the lesser-known nalmefene and naltrexone, by changing language in Georgia’s code to green-light the distribution and use of “any opioid antagonist.”

House Bill 1079 by State Rep. Jesse Petrea (R-Savannah) would allow local governments to sue promoters of unpermitted public events, according to WSAV.

In 2023, the City of Tybee Island spent over $187,000 on support from outside resources to maintain the crowd and traffic that came along with events on back-to-back weekends last spring.

If passed, this bill would allow the city to sue the event promoters for those services. These events bring thousands of college kids to the island, but Mayor West said Tybee and the county just can’t handle events like these.

“This particular event does no good for Tybee,” West said. “We want people to come to town. We want them to have a good time. But, whenever the events become destructive and it’s unsafe for the people that live there, then we can’t tolerate that.”

This annual event has caused concern for residents here because of the sheer volume of people it attracts. Some local businesses even chose to close their doors to avoid past experiences.

“I’m working with our state officials and state police to find out how we keep [Highway 80] from getting jammed and from getting blocked so that we can get off the island if we need to,” West said.

Atlanta City Council adopted an ordinance codifying the process for referenda, according to the AJC.

Atlanta City Council members passed on Monday legislation that codifies the petition verification process. The final legislation was a stripped-down version of a bill that was supported by organizers of the petition against the city’s public safety training center.

The ordinance was altered so much that, ultimately, its author Liliana Bakhtiari voted against it. Much of the opposition to the amended bill was that language in the legislation could leave room for verifiers to use signature-matching — a practice widely condemned by both Democrats and Republicans as a method that disenfranchised voters.

The city of Atlanta is currently caught in a first-of-its-kind referendum battle that aims to put the future public safety training center on the ballot for voters to decide.

The referendum process outlined in state code is unclear about the steps a municipality must take to review submitted citizen-led referendum petitions. While it outlines the number of signers required to get the issue on the ballot and the timeline for signature collection and verification, it leaves out crucial details including to what lengths reviewers should go to validate names, and it does not explain whether there is an opportunity for a curing process for questionable signers.

Bakhtiari worked with petitioners and voting rights advocates to introduce legislation that would fill those gaps after the process the city chose to verify signatures was met with concern from high-profile Democrats.

The City of Valdosta is accepting applications for their “Government 101” class, according to the Valdosta Daily Times.

This initiative, spearheaded by the Valdosta Mayor and City Council, offers a unique opportunity for community members to delve into the workings of municipal governance.

Former Dougherty County Administrator Michael McCoy filed a complaint over his 2023 firing, according to WALB.

In a 31-page complaint filed Monday, Feb. 5, McCoy lists out several claims wanted in a jury trial civil suit. The parties named in the complaint were McCoy as the plaintiff, and the defendants were Dougherty County, Dougherty County Commission Chairman Lorenzo Heard, District 2 Commissioner Victor Edwards, District 3 Commissioner Clinton Johnson and District 5 Commissioner Gloria Gaines.

The complaint lists several accusations for each commissioner and the chairman including “unlawful discrimination and retaliation…conspired with others to terminate Plaintiff/Petitioner from the position of County Administrator…participated in the retaliation against Plaintiff for engaging in protected activity and for engaging in conduct as a whistleblower,” and others.

Burke County Sheriff Alfonzo Williams and Richmond County Sheriff Richard Roundtree traded accusatory press releases, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

Burke County Sheriff Alfonzo Williams on Monday issued a press release accusing Richmond County Sheriff Richard Roundtree of turning away help in an active missing persons case. Hours later, Roundtree fired back, noting the bordering agency’s “ongoing internal concerns.”

Investigators from the Burke County Sheriff’s Office volunteered and were on the scene Monday helping to search for Kendall Brown, a missing endangered person, according to Williams’ news release.

“Despite the collaborative spirit commonly seen in such situations, Sheriff [Richard] Roundtree unexpectedly instructed a member of his command staff to have the Burke County Investigators leave the scene, expressing a reluctance to accept external assistance,” Williams wrote in the release. “The decision to decline the support of skilled investigators raises concerns within the community.”

About two hours after Williams’ release was sent to the media, Roundtree released a lengthy statement giving more details about the situation.

“While many local law enforcement agencies participate in what is called ‘mutual aid,’ as it relates to major incidents, it is extremely unprofessional for any agency to merely show up unsolicited in another jurisdiction and insert themselves into an ongoing active investigation,” RCSO wrote in the release. “While the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office appreciates any agency who would offer their assistance; however, without having all the privileged information associated with this investigation, it could greatly jeopardize the outcome of the investigation.”

Roundtree went on to fire back at the Burke County Sheriff’s Office, mentioning “ongoing internal concerns.”

“At this time, it would be more prudent for Sheriff Alfonzo Williams and the Burke County Sheriff’s Office to focus on some of their ongoing internal concerns rather than expressing their unjustified criticisms to the media,” RCSO wrote in the release. “Sheriff Roundtree is happy to accept assistance from outside agencies upon request so an organized search can be conducted.”

Bob Duncan announced he will run for the open seat representing District 2 on the Glynn County Commission, according to The Brunswick News.

Former Brunswick-Glynn County Joint Water and Sewer Commission member Bob Duncan announced he is running for the open District 2 seat on the Glynn County Commission.

District 2 covers St. Simons Island and Sea Island. Incumbent District 2 Commissioner Cap Fendig told The News he’d committed to serving one term when elected in 2020. He’s planning on keeping his word and is not seeking reelection.

Amy Abbott is also running for the seat as a Republican. If both qualify in March, they will face off against any other challengers in the Republican primary in May.

In 2018, Duncan was elected to the Brunswick-Glynn Joint Water and Sewer Commission. He served as vice chair of the commission and chair of the finance committee. Last year, Duncan was appointed to the board of the Georgia Department of Community Affairs by Gov. Brian Kemp.

Audrey Gibbons announced she is running for reelection to the Glynn County Board of Education District 5, according to The Brunswick News.

Gibbons, the only African American member of the school board and one of two women, says improving diversity in the classroom is critical and will be among her top focuses if she is reelected.

“The simple fact is that more than 56% of our students are either Black, Latino, (Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders), Native American or some combination, but the vast majority of our teachers are White,” Gibbons said. “That’s not just troubling. It’s insulting. We must do better not just for our children, but for our entire community.”

Qualification for the 2024 general election is March 4-8. The deadline to register for the general primary is April 21 and early voting runs from April 29 to May 17. Primary Election Day is May 21. The deadline to register for the general election is Oct. 7 and early voting runs from Oct. 15 to Nov. 1. Election Day is Nov. 5.

Henry “Tre” Lewis III announced he is joining the race for Jefferson County Sheriff, according to WRDW.

Wrens Police Chief John Maynard also announced his intent to run against current Jefferson County Sheriff Gary Hutchins.

Hutchins has been the sheriff of Jefferson County for 32 years and announced on Facebook that he will be seeking another term.

The election for Jefferson County Sheriff will be on May 21.

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