Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for January 18, 2023

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Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for January 18, 2023

On January 18, 1776, James Wright, Royal Governor of Georgia, was arrested by John Habersham, a member of the Provincial Congress.

On January 18, 1803, President Thomas Jefferson requested funding from Congress for the Lewis & Clark expedition.

L.Q.C. Lamar, born near Eatonton, Georgia, was sworn in as an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court on January 18, 1888.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

President Joe Biden approved an emergency declaration for parts of Georgia, according to WALB.

FEMA announced Tuesday that federal disaster assistance has been made available to the state of Georgia to supplement state and local recovery efforts in the areas affected by severe storms, straight-line winds and tornadoes on Jan. 12.

The president’s action makes federal funding available to affected individuals in Butts, Henry, Jasper, Meriwether, Newton, Spalding and Troup counties.

Troup County is among the areas eligible for federal assistance, according to WTVM.

Troup Co. is now eligible for both FEMA Individual Assistance (for individuals and households) and FEMA Public Assistance (for emergency work and the repair or replacement of disaster-damaged facilities).

Local officials worked tirelessly to collect initial damage estimates so that State and Federal Joint Preliminary Damage Assessments (PDAs) could be conducted. Upon completion of these assessments, Governor Brian Kemp submitted the Disaster Declaration Request to President Biden through the FEMA Regional Office, who then determined to send the request through to the president for a final decision.

“Although this is not a replacement for insurance, it can assist with basic needs to start an individual’s or business’ recovery. Examples include assistance to make basic home repairs, find a temporary place to stay, and repair or replace certain household items,” said the City of LaGrange.

Georgia State Fiscal Economist Jeffrey Dorfman warned of a coming downtick in capital gains tax revenue, according to the Capitol Beat News Service via the Dalton Daily Citizen News.

More than half of the state’s record $6.6 billion surplus was built on a huge increase in capital gains tax payments not likely to be repeated, Jeffrey Dorfman told members of the Georgia House and Senate Appropriations committees at the start of three days of hearings on Kemp’s spending recommendations.

“If they don’t make as much money, that spigot shuts off very quickly,” he said.

The expected loss of capital gains taxes due to last year’s drop in the stock market and likely decrease of corporate income taxes are largely responsible for Dorfman setting a revenue estimate for the current fiscal year that is significantly below what the state brought in last year.

Still, Georgia’s economy remains strong just more than halfway through fiscal 2023, which ends June 30, Dorfman told the lawmakers.

Georgians are still saving 2% to 4% of their incomes, even though post-pandemic spending is on the rise, Dorfman said.

“So far, the consumer is not running out of money,” he said. “The consumer is still handling their debt quite well.”

Dorfman said Georgia’s workforce has risen by 167,000 jobs despite the impacts the pandemic had on the economy.

“The (job) sectors that have grown the most pay more (in taxes),” he said. “The Georgia employment picture still looks strong.”

While Dorfman is projecting capital gains taxes to all but disappear and corporate sales tax payments to shrink this year and next, he said he expects a 3.5% increase in personal income taxes during the current fiscal year and a slight rise in sales taxes.

Governor Brian Kemp’s budget proposal was built on the goal of continued economic development, according to the Associated Press via Access WDUN.

Gov. Brian Kemp told Georgia lawmakers Tuesday that his plans to give raises to teachers, pay more tuition for many college students and invest in new housing are all designed to keep the state’s workforce growing and meet the needs of employers.

“The most valuable in-demand resource in our state right now is our people,” the Republican governor said. “We need to keep them, and the pipeline of skilled workers, wide open to keep up with that demand.”

Kemp spoke to lawmakers remotely from Davos, Switzerland, where he’s attending the World Economic Forum. Kemp defended his attendance at a meeting that some conservatives lampoon as a haven of global elitists.

“For anyone wondering why I’m here, I’ll be happy to tell everyone how others can benefit from hearing about our conservative principles and our approach both to budgeting and to job creation, to take the path that we’ve been on in our state,” Kemp said by video.

The governor proposes increasing spending in the current budget year by $2.4 billion, largely to pay for a pair of billion-dollar tax givebacks, and then to maintain spending in next year’s budget, funding $2,000 pay increases for all state and university employees and public school teachers.

Kemp would also end the two-tier system of HOPE Scholarships starting next fall, paying full college tuition for every high school graduate with a B average. Now, regular HOPE recipients get 90% of tuition. Kemp said restoring full eligibility would cost $61 million more in lottery proceeds.

Georgia saw state revenues spike to $36.6 billion in the year ending June 30. Revenues had originally been projected to fall back to $30.2 billion this year. But through December, the halfway point of the 2023 budget year, tax receipts are running nearly $1 billion above that projection.

State economist Jeffrey Dorfman told lawmakers last year’s spike was due largely to capital gains taxes paid on investment gains, and said he projects those gains will evaporate this year. He said corporate income tax collections remain surprisingly strong, but he projects they will fall in the second half of the budget year. Sales taxes, though, are being collected on inflated prices and are likely to stay strong.

The state now projects it will collect $32.6 billion this year, a surplus of $2.4 billion.

From the AJC:

Republican Gov. Brian Kemp unveiled a spending plan that would boost funding for the scholarship and end the two-tier award system that she and other Democrats vowed to eliminate.

“I’m elated. This helps students, families, and our workforce,” [State Rep. Stacey Evans (D-Atlanta) said. “I know personally the impact this will have because I know what a difference HOPE made for me, allowing me to go to UGA and change my life in ways I never could have imagined.”

Kemp’s plan is no permanent fix. Unless legislators revise the 2011 law, the governor or his successors could slash funding in future spending blueprints. And there’s still no consensus on how to finance a needs-based scholarship that Democrats have long sought.

“These HOPE changes help a lot, and I’m so grateful for them,” Evans said, “but there is more we can do to leverage the $1.3 billion in unrestricted lottery reserve funds currently available.”

Speaker of the Georgia State House Jon Burns (R-Newington) appointed a new Special Committee on Healthcare, according to a Press Release.

Speaker Jon Burns (R-Newington) appointed a House Special Committee on Healthcare to be chaired by Rep. Butch Parrish (R-Swainsboro). This committee will oversee and coordinate the House’s healthcare policy – both legislative and budgetary.

“Chairman Parrish has years of experience working on healthcare issues as both a legislator and pharmacist, and I trust him to lead our important work on healthcare policy,” said Speaker Burns. “Healthcare is a key component of quality of life, and we are committed to ensuring Georgians have access to quality, affordable healthcare in every corner of this state.”

Speaker Burns has named the chairmen of the House’s several health policy and budget committees as members of the Special Committee on Healthcare as follows:

Rep. Sharon Cooper (R-Marietta), Chairman – Public Health
Rep. Katie Dempsey (R-Rome), Chairman – Human Services (Appropriations)
Rep. Lee Hawkins (R-Gainesville), Chairman – Health
Rep. Jesse Petrea (R-Savannah), Chairman – Human Relations & Aging
Rep. Darlene Taylor (R-Thomasville), Chairman – Health (Appropriations)

The State House now has a full slate of Committee Chairs and members, according to the Capitol Beat News Service.

The Georgia House Committee on Assignments filled out its list of committee leadership appointments Tuesday.

Many key committees will be headed by returning chairs. The powerful Rules Committee, which controls the flow of legislation on the House floor, will continue to be led by Rep. Richard Smith, R-Columbus.

Rep. Robert Dickey, R-Musella, is back as chairman of the Agriculture & Consumer Affairs Committee. The Transportation Committee will continue to be headed by Rep. Rick Jasperse, R-Jasper.

Rep. Chuck Martin, R-Alpharetta, returns as chairman of the House Higher Education Committee. Longtime Natural Resource & Environment Committee chair Rep. Lynn Smith, R-Newnan, returns in that capacity.

Rep. Shaw Blackmon, R-Bonaire, once again will head the House Ways and Means Committee, which handles tax legislation.

Some major committees will get new chairs. Rep. Chris Erwin, R-Homer, will be the new chairman of the House Education Committee, succeeding Rep. Matt Dubnik, R-Gainesville. Dubnik will chair the House Appropriations Committee’s Education Subcommittee.

The House Judiciary Committee (Non-civil) will be headed by Rep. Tyler Paul Smith, R-Bremen. Smith takes over for Rep. Chuck Efstration, R-Dacula, the new House majority leader.

The new Health Committee chairman is Rep. Lee Hawkins, R-Gainesville. The committee’s former chair, Rep. Sharon Cooper, R-Marietta, is moving over to chair the newly created House Public Health Committee.

Georgia State Rep. Ron Stephens (R-Savannah) is considering again introducing legislation to legalize gambling, according to WTOC.

Stephens has expressed, however, that he’s hoping to reintroduce something this legislative session that would make betting on sports legal here.

The push to legalize sports betting has been popular since a 2018 Supreme Court ruling opened the option for states to allow it.

One of the main talking points for supporters: Georgia would benefit from the tax money made from sports betting.

Aside from individual people, there’s also an advocacy group dedicated to legalizing sports betting in all 50 states called the Sports Betting Alliance.

They represent companies like FanDuel and Draft Kings.

They sent the statement below:

“We look forward to working with the legislature to establish a safe and responsible online sports betting market in Georgia. In over half the country, legal online sports betting platforms are providing fans a safe and responsible way to place bets — all while generating significant revenue for state and local priorities. Currently, Georgians can only place bets with illegal offshore sports betting websites — unsafe and illicit enterprises that do not offer consumer protections and provide no benefit to Georgia communities. Georgia residents deserve a safe, responsible and legal sports betting market.”

State Rep. Dexter Sharper (D-Valdosta) wants to address a housing shortage, according to WALB.

Affordable housing has been plaguing Lowndes County and Valdosta since inflation began in 2022. Dexter Sharper, the Georgia representative for District 177 which covers Valdosta, says there was a backlog with the Georgia Department of Community Affairs that contributed to raised rent prices. Now, state leaders are looking for solutions in the state legislature.

“You have two and three people in one home that should be a single-family home, but it’s just the pricing is so outrageous and we’re trying to work in good energy with property owners and landlords to work with some of the people that need help. And the requirements are killing a lot people. They’re having to have three times the amount of rent and in this area that we live in, a lot of people are not making that on their own,” Rep. Sharper said.

Sharper says financial education will help the housing crisis in Valdosta as housing issues are a big priority right now in the state capital.

“So, there’s a lot of things that we’re really working on at the state capital for affordable housing and also home ownership, so it is a big priority you know at the state capital and we’re in session now, working on those things. Financial literacy, financial awareness, we need to get it back as young as middle school. We just passed a law that in 2023, in the state of Georgia, it’s mandatory for them to take personal finances in high school so that’s a big step,” Sharper said.

“I just hope that everybody would understand the importance of financial literacy in all of our communities,” Sharper said.

The financial literacy law calls for all students in either 11th or 12th grade to take a half-credit course in financial topics such as budgeting and credit management.

Mental health funding and staffing were discussed in budget hearings Tuesday, according to the Capitol Beat News Service.

Candice Broce, director of the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS), told lawmakers about the problem of “hoteling,” which refers to boarding foster-care children and youth in hotels or offices because appropriate placements cannot be found for them, usually due to complicated behavioral health issues.

“On any given night in Georgia, roughly 50 to 70 children in foster care with complex needs will sleep in a local office or hotel,” Broce said. She called the practice “heartbreaking,” adding that the practice cost the state more than $28 million in fiscal year 2022.

“Since joining this agency, we have been hell-bent on ending hoteling,” Broce said.

Broce also said DFCS has developed draft legislation to address the hoteling problem for lawmakers to consider this session. The issue has emerged as a top concern for lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, including Sen. Blake Tillery, R- Vidalia, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver, D-Decatur, a leader in the state’s mental health reform efforts.

Kevin Tanner, a former state representative who took over as commissioner of the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD) last month, outlined several steps his agency is taking to help stem the flow of children into foster care in the first place. He noted that the Multi-Agency Treatment for Children (MATCH) Committee – created by last year’s mental-health-reform law – began meeting last month to work on child-welfare issues like hoteling.

Tanner also said his agency works with DFCS and local community-service boards to provide residential treatment to mothers who are experiencing substance abuse or behavioral health issues. The programs allow children to stay with their mothers during treatment and help prevent the fracturing of families, Tanner said.

“I look forward to … [making] sure every family at risk of foster care because of a parent’s substance abuse has access to the program in the future,” Tanner told lawmakers.

State agencies across the board are struggling to hire and retain the workers necessary to provide the social services Georgians need. Kemp’s proposed budget includes a $2,000 pay raise for all state employees.

Statewide, the turnover rate is around 25%, a historic high, said Rebecca Sullivan, commissioner of the state Department of Administrative Services. The high turnover rates come with increased financial costs as well as intangible hits, such as the loss of institutional knowledge, Sullivan said.

Tanner said his agency has been unable to fill positions at the five state psychiatric hospitals, forcing them to rely on Jackson Healthcare, a staffing agency, to fill more than 450 jobs.

In good news, Commissioner Caylee Noggle of the Georgia Department of Community Health explained how new funding strategies and increased federal funds will increase resources for hospitals across the state, both rural and urban. The goal, she said, is to eliminate the burden of uncompensated care that small, rural hospitals must shoulder for uninsured and low-income patients.

The state’s health-care agencies are collaborating to staff up and prepare for what is known as “the great unwinding,” which will take place in April, when the federal government will relax pandemic-era regulations that prevented states from disenrolling people from Medicaid. Georgia will need to re-examine the eligibility of more than 2 million people now enrolled in the Medicaid insurance program.

The health-care administrators said they have developed plans for what will be a complicated cross-agency operation. Kemp’s budget includes funding for the staffing and technology upgrades necessary for the big change.

From the AJC:

Broce, in a presentation to the Joint Appropriations Committee, said her department will soon present legislation that was “carefully crafted” over months by a coalition of veteran Juvenile Court Judges, child welfare attorneys, and child welfare staff. The bills are backed by Gov. Brian Kemp, she said.

“This session we will offer legislation to fix statutory loopholes, ambiguous definitions and contradictory terms to better serve vulnerable families, keep more families safely intact and bolster our efforts to eliminate hoteling,” Broce said to lawmakers. “If we want to end hoteling in this state, we desperately need these changes in state law.”

On Monday night, there were 63 children in hotels across the state, Broce said. In order to solve hoteling, Broce said the state must address the pipeline of children who should never have entered DFCS custody in the first place. She estimated that of those 63 children who were in hotels Monday night, one-third never should have even entered foster care.

DFCS spends an average of $1,500 dollars a night to hotel a foster child. This cost covers the child’s room, contracted behavioral aides for supervision, food and transportation and any property damage. In fiscal year 2022, DFCS spent $28 million in hoteling costs. In the 2023 fiscal year, which started in July, DFCS has already spent $15 million.

U.S. Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Extreme Northwest Georgia) has been assigned to House committees, according to the Rome News Tribune.

Greene won plum assignments on both the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability and the House Committee on Homeland Security, for the 118th Congress.

In a statement released Tuesday evening, she said oversight is one of the key agenda items for the Republican majority.

“We will return the role of the Oversight Committee to investigating waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement of the federal government, which is exactly what the American people are fed up with,” she said.

“Our Southern border is being invaded by millions of illegal aliens, criminals, and potential terrorists. Our people are being murdered by Chinese fentanyl flooding in from the cartels. Our Border Patrol and ICE agents have their hands tied and have been turned into a welcoming committee by the Biden administration. Cyber attacks continue on our nation’s people and businesses along with many more threats to our homeland,” Greene said.

Former United States Senator Kelly Loeffler (R-Atlanta) says Georgia is still a red state, according to the Capitol Beat News Service via the Albany Herald.

“Despite national media narratives, 2022 was a record-breaking year for Georgia Republicans,” Loeffler wrote in a news release. “Thanks to sustained and dedicated work on the ground, a commitment to growing the conservative movement, and proven Republican leaders, Georgia is a red state.”

Loeffler’s words ring true when looking at last year’s election results in Georgia. While Democratic U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., won a full six-year term over Republican challenger Herschel Walker, the GOP captured all eight statewide constitutional offices.

The incumbent-heavy Republican ticket included Gov. Brian Kemp, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, and Attorney General Chris Carr.

Loeffler attributed the Republicans’ success to a ground campaign that included direct contact with voters via telephone, text messages, targeted digital ads and direct mail. The GOP reached millions more though television and radio ads.

Republicans worked to diversify the conservative movement, holding more than 100 voter registration drives at colleges, churches, grocery stores, and gas stations. Outreach events were held with women, young voters, and with the Hispanic, Asian and Black communities.

Nearly 340,000 “disenfranchised conservatives” had stayed home during the January 2021 runoff that elected Democrats Warnock and Jon Ossoff to the U.S. Senate because of concerns over election integrity, according to the report.

The state is changing – economically, demographically, and politically — but that change is positive as long as conservatives put in the work,” Loeffler wrote. “If we continuously adapt to this dynamic environment, then conservatives will have the infrastructure and mobilization needed to succeed in even greater numbers in 2024 and beyond.”

From the AJC:

If you didn’t know better, Loeffler’s printed-and-bound 30-page presentation could be mistaken for the kind of wide-ranging, data-driven product a state Republican party would produce.

Kemp, too, stood up his own stand-alone ground game ahead of his 2022 reelection outside of the state party apparatus. His aides say it was a strategic decision to make sure the job got done.

In an interview in her Buckhead offices, Loeffler described losing her 2021 runoff election and feeling compelled not to dismantle the multi-million operation she’d just built. She said she wanted to focus on outreach to minority and women voters, along with the Republicans who stayed home during the runoffs, because those were the gaps she struggled with in her own race.

“I knew no one was doing that by seeing the work just needed to be done,” she said.

She said she doesn’t see her two groups, Greater Georgia and Citizens for a Greater Georgia, as competing with the state GOP, which she got involved with more than a dozen years ago. Instead, she says she’s complementing its work.

“It is very necessary that we have a mechanism, whether that’s us or the state party or the governor’s operation, it doesn’t matter who does it,” she said. “It’s not about who gets credit for it, but that we have different avenues to bring people in.”

“We have Citizens United, which fundamentally changed state parties. Leadership committees in Georgia have fundamentally changed that dynamic, too,” she said. “So whether you’re the governor or the state Senate, you now have different capabilities and resources at your disposal, like unlimited fundraising and coordination with the campaigns.”

Ed Lindsey, an Atlanta Republican and longtime party leader called Loeffler’s work “pivotal to the success of the party and reversing the trend that we saw in the 2020 election.”

“We could not have had the clean sweep of all state constitutional offices and held the state House and state Senate without organizations like Kelly’s, who worked hand-in-glove with the governor’s organization to get out the vote and energize the Republican base,” Lindsey said.

A staffer for the former Herschel Walker campaign filed a lawsuit against Matt Schlapp, according to WSAV.

A staffer who worked for Herschel Walker’s Republican Senate campaign filed a lawsuit against prominent conservative activist Matt Schlapp on Tuesday, accusing Schlapp of groping him during a car ride in Georgia before last year’s midterm election.

Schlapp denies the allegation, and his lawyer says they are considering a countersuit.

The staffer’s battery and defamation lawsuit was filed in Alexandria Circuit Court in Virginia, where Schlapp lives, and seeks more than $9 million in damages.

The staffer filed the lawsuit anonymously as “John Doe,” citing his status as an alleged sexual assault victim and fearing backlash from supporters of Schlapp, a longtime adviser to former President Donald Trump and chair of the American Conservative Union, which organizes the Conservative Political Action Conference.

The lawsuit also accuses Schlapp and his wife, Mercedes, who served in Trump’s White House as director of strategic communications, of defamation and conspiracy, citing Matt Schlapp’s repeated denials of the claims and alleged attempts by both to discredit the staffer.

Georgia Ports continue growing their throughput capacity, according to the Capitol Beat News Service via the Statesboro Herald.

The Georgia Ports Authority handled a record 5.9 million twenty-foot equivalent container units (TEUs) of cargo during the last calendar year, an increase of 5% over 2021.

The Port of Savannah achieved four of its top five months for container volume during the year, peaking in August with an all-time high of 575,500 TEUs.

“It was a challenging year, but collaborative effort across Georgia’s supply chain ensured cargo movement remained fluid,” said Griff Lynch, the authority’s executive director. “I want to thank our board for approving new infrastructure that allowed us to handle more cargo.”

Capacity at the Port of Savannah is expected to increase to 7.5 million TEUs this year and 9 million by 2025 due to the renovation of Berth 1 at the Garden City Terminal, the 90-acre Garden City Terminal West expansion, and the planned transition of Ocean Terminal to an all-container facility.

“We’re excited about the possibilities ahead,” authority board Chairman Joel Wooten said Tuesday. “We’re bringing to market faster vessel service, quicker turn times for trucks, and more room to grow business.”

Clayton County will hold a Special Election for Sheriff, after the removal of former Sheriff Victor Hill, according to the AJC.

A special election to fill the remainder of Hill’s term has been set for March 21 and qualifying will be held between January 23 and January 27. To qualify, the Clayton Office of Elections and Registration set the fee for candidates at $4,317 and commissioners passed a resolution Tuesday agreeing to the cost.

A federal jury in October convicted Hill, Clayton’s longtime sheriff, on six of seven charges that he violated the civil rights of detainees at the Clayton County jail by strapping them into restraint chairs as punishment.

Port Wentworth Council Member Jo Smith resigned ahead of a hearing scheduled on an ethics complaint filed against her by fellow council members, according to the Savannah Morning News.

In the letter, Smith cited a “time-consuming business obligations and extensive travel schedule” for her decision.

In an interview with the Savannah Morning News, she stated that work had “become very busy and my business obligations have grown and so have my travel.”

“I want someone who isn’t consumed so much by work to serve the constituents,” she said.

The complaint alleged Smith had tried to influence the council into contracting with a family member’s grant acquisition company and misused her government-issued purchasing credit card. The members also claimed Smith does not reside in the City of Port Wentworth as is required for elected city officials.

The now former council member used stronger language, calling the ethics complaint “all baloney .. it was 100% baloney.”

Smith’s resignation renders the complaint moot and the matter has been dismissed, according to municipal court documents.

According to Port Wentworth’s city charter, a special election will be held to find Smith’s replacement, as there is more than 24 months left in the unexpired term. Port Wentworth city council members serve four-year terms and elections are staggered.

Blythe City Council called a Special Election for Mayor after Curtis St. Germaine resigned, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

The special election is set for March 21 and the winner will serve as mayor until what was supposed to be the end of St. Germaine’s term, December 31, 2025.

Qualifying for the special election runs 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday and Tuesday, and 8 a.m. to noon Wednesday. The fee is $108.

This election is tentative until officially signed off on by Richmond County Board of Elections Director Travis Doss. If approved, Blythe’s special election would fall on the same day as the special vote for Richmond County Board of Education’s District 6 seat.

Savannah-Chatham County School Superintendent Dr. Ann Levett will retire at the end of June 2023, according to WTOC.

Augusta Commissioners failed to reach an agreement for ambulance service, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

Gold Cross has been serving as Augusta’s EMS provider under an MOU agreement, but the Commission is considering entering into a formal contract with the company.

On Tuesday, the commission was presented with a proposed contract that gave Gold Cross, among other things, an annual subsidy of $1.95 million for five years. But it failed to win enough votes.

One of the more prominent speakers against the contract was Commissioner Bobby Williams, who was heavily critical of giving Gold Cross such a large amount of money, particularly because of reportedly slow response times.

The contract potentially creates accountability by setting response time standards, which is something that attracted the supporters, but this did not ease Williams’ mind.

The nomination of former Savannah Police Chief Roy Minter as U.S. Marshal was returned to President Biden after the last Congress took no action, according to WTOC.

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