Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for February 7, 2023

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Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for February 7, 2023

On February 7, 1733, the first Georgia colonists had been here a week and they finished building a hand-operated crane to move heavy supplies and livestock from their boats to the top of the forty-foot high bluff where they were building a settlement.

On February 7, 1962, President John F. Kennedy issued an Executive Order embargoing Cuba.

On February 7, 1990, the Communist Party Central Committee of the Soviet Union agreed to a proposal by Prime Minister Mikhail Gorbachev that is should give up its political monopoly.

The response from the United States was surprise and cautious optimism. One State Department official commented that, “The whole Soviet world is going down the drainpipe with astonishing speed. It’s mind-boggling.” Former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger indicated that he was “personally gratified and astonished that anyone would have the chance to say such things in Moscow without being shot.” President George Bush was more circumspect, merely congratulating President Gorbachev for his “restraint and finesse.”

Ironically, the fact that the Communist Party was willing to accept political challenges to its authority indicated how desperately it was trying to maintain its weakening power over the country. The measures were little help, however–President Gorbachev resigned on December 25, 1991 and the Soviet Union officially ceased to exist on December 31, 1991.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Under the Gold Dome Today

TBD Senate Rules Committee: Upon Adjournment – 450 CAP
7:30 AM Senate Appropriations: Criminal Justice/Public Safety Sub – 450 CAP
7:30 AM Senate Appropriations: Government Operations Sub – 307 CLOB
8:00 AM HOUSE MOTOR VEHICLES – 606 CLOB
9:00 AM HOUSE RULES – 341 CAP
10:00 AM HOUSE FLOOR SESSION (LD 14) – House Chamber
10:00 AM Senate Floor Session (LD 14) – Senate Chamber
1:00 PM HOUSE JUDICIARY (CIVIL) – 132 CAP
1:00 PM HOUSE PUBLIC HEALTH – 606 CLOB
1:00 PM HOUSE MARTOC – 515 CLOB
1:00 PM HOUSE Governmental Affairs Elections Sub – 415 CLOB
1:00 PM Cancelled- Senate Children & Families – 307 CLOB
1:00 PM Senate Appropriations: Health & Human Development Sub – 341 CAP
2:00 PM HOUSE JUVENILE JUSTICE – 506 CLOB
2:00 PM HOUSE Governmental Affairs State & Local Govt Sub – 415 CLOB
2:00 PM Senate Veterans, Military, & Homeland Security – 125 CAP
2:30 PM Senate Joint Education & Higher Ed – 450 CAP
3:00 PM HOUSE ENERGY, UTILITIES & TELECOM – 403 CAP
3:00 PM HOUSE Regulated Industries Occupational / Professional Licensing Sub – 606 CLOB HYBRID
3:00 PM Senate Appropriations: Judicial Sub – Mezz 1 CAP
4:00 PM Senate Regulated Industries & Utilities – 450 CAP

 

The State House passed the $32.6 billion dollar Amended Budget for the current fiscal year, according to the Capitol Beat News Service via the Albany Herald.

The mid-year budget, which covers state spending through June 30, sailed through the House 170-1 and now moves to the Georgia Senate. With the state sitting atop a $6.6 billion revenue surplus, the mid-year budget would increase spending by 7.8% over the Fiscal 2023 budget the General Assembly adopted last spring.

“This budget and $2 billion in new revenue go a long way toward meeting the needs of Georgians,” House Appropriations Committee Chairman Matt Hatchett, R-Dublin, told his legislative colleagues shortly before the House vote.

House budget writers found other uses for the surplus besides property tax relief. The mid-year budget also includes $1.1 billion to fill the revenue gap caused by the temporary suspension of the state’s gasoline tax Gov. Brian Kemp ordered last March, which wasn’t lifted until last month.

The spending plan provides $73.1 million to the Technical College System of Georgia’s Quick Start program to build training facilities in Bryan and Newton counties to train workers for two electric-vehicle manufacturing plants being built near Covington and Savannah.

A couple of House lawmakers questioned how the $1 billion property tax rebate would affect the coffers of local governments, which rely heavily on property taxes.

Hatchett said the tax relief would be funded out of state surplus revenue.

“The state is funding that discount,” he said. “There is no effect on cities and counties.”

Senate Bill 44 by Sen. Bo Hatchett (R-Cornelia) and backed by Gov. Brian Kemp would enhance penalties for some gang activities, according to the Associated Press via WSAV.

Senate Bill 44, which is being pushed by Gov. Brian Kemp as part of his continued focus on fighting gangs, passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on a 6-3 party-line vote, with Republicans voting for it. It moves next to the full Senate for more debate.

The bill cuts against a decade of state lawmakers reducing mandatory sentences or refusing to add new ones, with those seeking to reduce long prison sentences arguing judges should have discretion.

“More must be done to keep our children away from a life of crime and keep our communities safe,” said Sen. Bo Hatchett, a Cornelia Republican who introduced the bill as one of Kemp’s floor leaders.

The measure would require that anyone convicted under Georgia’s sweeping anti-gang law serve at least five years in state prison on top of any other sentence, restricting judges’ ability to reduce sentences and giving prosecutors an unusual right to appeal lesser sentences.

“In communities across our state, gangs are actively recruiting children as young as elementary school students into a life of crime,” Kemp said in his State of the State speech last month. “They are targeting the most innocent among us, pulling them down a dark path that too often leads to either a prison cell or the cemetery.”

There’s already an enhancement of five to 20 years for gang convictions in Georgia, but judges can give probation instead of prison. Now, to go below the five-year minimum, a prosecutor could seek leniency in cases where a defendant aids an investigation.

From the AJC:

An effort to increase mandatory penalties for those who recruit gang members passed a Senate panel on a party-line vote.

Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 6-3 to pass the bill, with Republicans voting in favor of the legislation.

“I’m not always for mandatory minimums, but in this case, you’re talking about a group of individuals that are targeting children and trying to recruit them into a criminal enterprise,” [Senator] Hatchett said. “And you’re taking away their innocence, you’re taking them away from their chance at life, and not only that, you’re taking them away from their parents. And that, in my opinion, is something that is worthy of a mandatory-minimum (sentence).”

Two state House bills would raise taxes on cigarettes and vaping products, according to 13WMAZ.

If you smoke cigarettes or vape, your cost could go up. A bill in the General Assembly would raise the state tax and use the proceeds to improve health care.

Introduced by House Representative Ron Stephens, two bills in the contention could make the tax possible.

House bills 191 [cigarettes] and 192 [vaping products] have the same language but their numbers are different. Bill 191 states a $0.57 tax per pack of 20 cigarettes and a $0.05 per fluid milliliter for vapor products in a closed system. For an open system, it would be a 7% tax on the wholesale cost price.

Bill 192 states a $0.37 tax per pack of 20 cigarettes and a 15% on vapor products at the wholesale cost.

While the bill doesn’t specify which health programs the money would fund, the Georgia Department of Community Health has several health programs, like disease prevention and eliminating the disparity in health care. One of their targets: smoking cigarettes can cause diabetes, lung cancer, and heart disease.

As of 2019, the Georgia Department of Public Health identified 42 cases of vaping-related illness including 6 deaths. Cases range from 14 to 68 years of age, and 62% of all cases are men. Also in 2019, the CDC reported 21% of all Georgia high school youth reported using a tobacco product.

Senate Bill 51 by State Senator Nabilah Islam (D-Gwinnett) would exempt menstrual products from the state sales tax, according to WALB.

Senate Bill 51 would eliminate the 4% state sales taxes on menstrual products like pads and tampons.

Most medically necessary items are exempt from state sales taxes in Georgia.

According to the National Organization of Women, the average woman spends $20 on feminine products per menstrual cycle and that amount can change depending on a single woman’s menstrual flow. Georgia is 1 out of 22 states that currently charge sales tax on menstrual products.

House Bill 196 by State Rep. Alan Powell (R-Hartwell) would de-cloak operations of the Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission, according to the Georgia Recorder via the Albany Herald.

For months, rival companies that want to produce low-THC cannabis oil for medical purposes in Georgia have not been able to pry open the black box of the state’s 2019 Hope Act to see how six firms — out of 69 bidders — were awarded licenses to dispense the marijuana extract to patients across the state.

Georgia state Rep. Alan Powell, a Hartwell Republican, has scalded the Hope Act as inefficient and poorly written. This month Powell introduced HB 196, which he says will make the workings of the Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission more subject to oversight, more efficient, and subject to the state’s Open Records Act provisions, but still protect trade secrets of companies bidding for the lucrative licenses.

“I think it will do all those things,” Powell said. “The Administrative Procedures Act is a set of rules that are standard for state government oversight and for openness. And if they (commission) are part of that, then they have to adhere to those rules. That’s a state law. They can’t be behind closed doors. They have to be open to the public.”

“The problem is that the language that he’s leaving in also protects the commission from the Open Records Act,” [Georgia First Amendment Foundation attorney Joy] Ramsingh said in an email. “For the commission to be subject to the Open Records Act at all, the language in 16-12-220 has to be modified. Right now, any document produced by the commission is secret per that section, and his new bill doesn’t change that.”

After 21 losing bidders filed protests, an administrative law judge used a partial exemption to the Open Records Act granted by the Hope Act to rule that all commission documents be sealed.

The biggest threat to legalizing low-THC oil now, Powell says, may be the performance of the commission itself. Thursday night, the commission had to rescind rules it passed Jan. 25 that governed testing, inspections, and distribution of the controlled substance.

Senate Bill 84 by State Senator Chuck Hufstetler (R-Rome) would help protect seniors against scams, according to the Capitol Beat News Service via the Athens Banner Herald.

Senate Bill 84, sponsored by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome, would authorize financial advisors to delay transactions involving their elderly or disabled clients if they suspect fraud.

Raffensperger said the rate of financial exploitation of seniors has doubled across the country since the start of the pandemic, with COVID-related scams accounting for more than $100 million in losses.

Senate Bill 84 is designed to avoid financial exploitation by letting financial advisors who spot something amiss in a pending transaction to head it off.

“This bill will give financial institutions the tools to be preemptive instead of waiting until after the fact when the money may be gone,” Hufstetler said. “There’s many horror stories of that out there, and we want to take care of them.”

The bill’s cosponsors include Republican Sens. Mike Dugan of Carrollton, Kay Kirkpatrick of Marietta, Ben Watson of Savannah, and Rick Williams of Milledgeville, and Democratic Sen. Jason Esteves of Atlanta.

House Bill 227 by State Rep. Rob Leverett (R-Elberton) would create an offense of “interfering with critical infrastructure,” according to the Capitol Beat News Service via the Athens Banner Herald.

House Bill 227, sponsored by Rep. Rob Leverett, R-Elberton, was prompted by a rash of attacks in recent months by gunmen on utility substations. The most widely publicized was an attack on two Duke Energy substations in Moore County, N.C., in December that left about 45,000 customers without power for days.

Under the legislation, critical infrastructure includes electricity, water, sewers, telecommunications, internet, public transportation and public transit systems, hospitals, ambulances, emergency medical and rescue services, the military, police, Coast Guard, and prison and fire services.

“People need electricity — and other critical infrastructure — in their jobs, schools and homes for cooking, heating, communicating and even supporting medical treatments,” Georgia EMC spokesman Walter Jones said. “Would-be bad actors need to know that Georgia protects its citizens.”

The measure provides penalties of up to 20 years in prison for the most serious offenders, those who intentionally damage a form of critical infrastructure with the intention of disrupting service.Intentionally interfering with the “proper operation” of a form of critical infrastructure is a lesser offense punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

State Rep. Dale Washburn (R-Macon) may introduce legislation to curb some local zoning powers, according to the Georgia Recorder.

Rep. Dale Washburn, a Republican from Macon, plans to introduce a bill soon to reduce some of the control of local governments to regulate housing design standards, which critics say can add to the cost. Local government organizations, however, oppose the controversial plan that they argue unfairly takes away local control while not resolving a demand for housing that greatly exceeds the supply.

Washburn said his legislation will change the state building code to lower minimum lot sizes and square footage requirements, as well as some of the costs associated with sewer and water installation.

As Georgia’s population grows and more manufacturing and other jobs open up, it’s important to fill a widening homeownership gap so that generations of families can prosper, he said.

“I am all about freedom for Georgians to choose whether they want to buy or to lease,” Washburn said. “But I am also in favor of having the freedom to be able to buy a house at a certain price rather than be closed out of the home ownership market because of larger square foot requirements or concerns about construction design standards that go beyond health and safety.”

Clint Mueller, executive director of the Association County Commissioners of Georgia, said the design standards shouldn’t be relaxed to allow builders to build cheap housing that doesn’t stand the test of time.

“We don’t want them just building it, selling it off and all of a sudden two or three years later, it’s being rented out by some institutional investor that bought it at an affordable rate,” Mueller said. “We’d like there to be some claw-back provisions in these zones where it says OK, if we allow for certain governmental incentives, tax incentives and other things then we expect the project to be built to meet our definition for affordable housing and stay for a period of time.”

The debate about housing and zoning should be handled on a local level by city and county officials who are closest to their residents, he said.

“You can’t have that discussion or debate here at the state level because anything that the state does, it’s got to be a one size fits all statewide,” Mueller said.

House Bill 155 by State Rep. Chuck Martin (R-Alpharetta) would ease state occupational licensing for some new Georgians, according to the Center Square.

House Bill 155 would provide a pathway for the spouses of firefighters, health care providers and law enforcement officers who move to Georgia to immediately secure an occupational license if they hold a license in their previous state of residence and are in good standing.

Meanwhile, House Bill 212, the “Niche-Beauty Services Opportunity Act,” would reduce the requirements for those offering “niche beauty services,” including make-up artistry, eyebrow threading and blow-dry styling. It would distinguish between those providing “niche” services and similar offerings requiring licenses, such as cosmetologists and barbers.

Lieutenant Governor Burt Jones (R) and Senate President Pro Tem John Kennedy (R-Macon) seek an investigation of an overseas junket by their predecessors, according to the AJC.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Sunday that just before their terms ended, then-Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan and Senate President Pro Tem Butch Miller led a 14-person delegation to Germany and England.

Duncan didn’t run for reelection and Miller lost in the Republican lieutenant governor’s primary to Jones. By the time the mid-November trip took place, voters had already selected their replacements.

“The recent AJC article about last fall’s study committee raises serious concerns about the use and purpose of Senate administrative funds in paying for travel expenses associated with this study committee,” Jones and Kennedy said in a joint statement. “Recent developments have brought to light that proper protocol may not have been followed in the budget approval process for this trip.

“We believe that transparency and ensuring that any travel paid using taxpayer dollars should have a direct connection to the legislature or bringing businesses and work into Georgia. We are taking this issue very seriously and our offices will investigate this process and ensure the most transparency for hardworking Georgians.”

Camden County Commissioners continue mucking about with the proposed spaceport, according to The Brunswick News.

The county is being sued for an alleged breach of the Georgia Open Records Act for its refusal to release spaceport related records to the public Goodman wants released.

Commission Chairman Ben Casey wants the records to remain confidential and wants new rules on how meeting agendas are set. Goodman said Casey wants at least three commissioners to approve any agenda item.

Athens lawyer Kevin Lang, whose family owns property on Little Cumberland Island, said there are two “very significant” problems with the county’s position.

“There is no longer a pending real estate transaction, as the Union Carbide option agreement has expired and Union Carbide has publicly stated that it has no intention of selling its property to Camden County,” Lang said. “Even if there were a pending real estate transaction, the exception to Georgia Open Records Act (GORA) is only meant to protect certain limited information, which, if made public, would put the county at a competitive disadvantage in negotiating the transaction, like what they are willing to pay for the property. The county has absolutely abused this exception to GORA for eight years now, and the result is over $12 million being wasted on a project that was never commercially viable.”

Goodman also said he plans to contact state ethics officials to request an investigation into himself in an effort to expose the county’s wrongdoing.

“I’m going to self-report to get someone to look at this,” he said.

He is also asking commissioners to be more aggressive in asking for district attorneys in three different judicial circuits to file criminal charges against former Camden County Public Service Authority members who were fired for allegedly stealing millions in taxpayer money but still have not been charged.

“I’m going to insist the PSA directors move before the statute of limitations runs out,” he said. “The guilty parties need to face up.”

Tybee Island will consider the issue of ship wakes disturbing beachgoers, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Frequent north end beachgoers are familiar with the violent currents and waves caused by the wake of passing cargo ships. What many call “mini tsunamis,” the waves are caused by Port of Savannah-bound vessels entering and leaving the Savannah River channel north of the island.

For those in the wrong place at the wrong time, the waves can be dangerous and even deadly, say city officials.

The ship-borne waves prompted the City of Tybee Island partnered with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) on a study to better understand the effects of these vessel-generated wakes. Results from that study, which was luanched in 2021, were presented to city council last month and provide a path forward on how to mitigate the impacts of these huge waves on visitors in the future.

“It’s well known that large commercial vessels transiting the Savannah navigation channel intermittently create a large surge on the beach, but not every large vessel generates a surge,” said Richard Styles, a research oceanographer with the USACE. “So, we looked at vessel operations and environmental conditions that lead to these larger waves.”

Researchers confirmed the expected: that larger vessels – container ships and vehicle carriers – traveling at faster speeds (over 12 knots) generally produced the largest waves that send sunbathers scrambling for higher ground. Tybee didn’t have this granular data before.

The study is a first step toward mapping potential solutions and predicting when these large wakes occur, especially as vessels grow bigger and more frequent with the Georgia Ports Authority’s (GPA) continued expansion.

Savannah City Council is considering changing its own pay and term limiting members, according to WTOC.

Council will decide on the future salaries for aldermen and the mayor. With cost of living adjustments, the new mayor’s salary would be $65,000 a year, and all aldermen would receive $35,000 a year for their service. If approved, those changes would go into effect on January 1, 2024 after the elections this year.

Another change that could start with the elections this year is term limits for alderman. Right now, the mayor is limited to two consecutive terms that are 4 years but there is no limit for aldermen. Council will vote to limit aldermen to serving a total of three terms that are 4 years long in any seat.

If approved, it would go to the Georgia Legislature to get signed off on and would go into effect this election year, but any service as an alderman would not be counted before this election.

 

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