Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for January 26, 2024

26
Jan

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for January 26, 2024

On January 28, 1733, Georgia’s first colonists celebrated a day of thanksgiving for their safe arrival in Savannah and Chief Tomochichi’s granting them permission to settle on the Yamacraw Bluff.

On January 29, 1779, British forces captured Augusta, Georgia.

On January 27, 1785, a charter was approved by the Georgia legislature for the first publicly-supported state university in America.

The Supreme Court of Georgia held its first meeting on January 26, 1846 at Talbotton, Georgia.

John Sammons Bell was born on January 26, 1914 in Macon, Georgia. He would go on to serve as Chairman of the Democratic Party of Georgia, as a Judge on the Georgia Court of Appeals, and as chief judge of the appellate court. He is today best known as the designer of the state flag featuring the Confederate battle flag, which was adopted by the General Assembly in 1956.

Emory Window 628

On January 25, 1915, a charter was issued in DeKalb County Superior Court to Emory University.

On January 27, 1941, Delta Air Lines announced it would move its headquarters from Monroe, Louisiana to Atlanta, Georgia. It was an interesting case of public-money-fueled economic development.

In 1940, the city of Atlanta and Delta had signed an agreement whereby the city agreed to contribute $50,000 for construction of a new hanger and office building for Delta if it would move its headquarters to Atlanta. In turn, Delta agreed to pay the remaining construction costs and then assume a 20-year lease for the new facilities. On Jan. 16, 1941, Delta had secured a $500,000 loan from Atlanta’s Trust Company of Georgia, thus allowing it to make a public announcement of the move.

 

On January 25, 1943, Georgia Gov. Ellis Arnall signed legislation eliminating the governor as an ex officio member of the State Board of Education, State Board of Regents, Department of Public Safety, and State Housing Authority, as part of a proposal to reduce the Governor’s power over education.

On January 28, 1943, Governor Ellis Arnall signed a joint resolution of the Georgia House and Senate amending the Georgia Constitution to make the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia a constitutional board and reduce the power of the Governor over the Regents.

The movement to a constitutional board came after the loss of accreditation of all Georgia state higher education institutions for white people. The previous Governor, Eugene Talmadge, had engineered the firing of UGA’s Dean of the College of Education; after the Board of Regents initially refused to fire the Dean, Talmadge dismissed three members, and replaced them with new appointees who voted for the firing. Talmadge lost the 1942 election to Arnall.

On January 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy held the first live televised press conference.

Elvis Presley made his first appearance on television on January 28, 1956 on the Stage Show on CBS.

On January 27, 1965, the Shelby GT 350 was unveiled.

Otis Redding’s “Dock of the Bay” was released on January 27, 1965, seven weeks after his death.

On January 28, 1986, the space shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds after liftoff as many Americans watched on live television. President Ronald Reagan addressed the loss of seven astronauts.

Reagan had originally been scheduled to give his State of the Union that evening, but cancelled the speech. His address on the Challenger disaster was written by Peggy Noonan. The speech written by Noonan and delivered by Reagan is ranked as one of the top ten political speeches of the 20th Century.

On January 26, 2001 a new state flag, first designed by Atlanta architect Cecil Alexander, passed out of committee in the General Assembly by a 4-3 vote and would be voted on later that week. Click here to view the floor debate from 2001.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Under the Gold Dome Today

TBD     Senate Rules: Upon Adj – 450 CAP
9:00 AM          House FLOOR SESSION (LD10) – House Chamber
9:00 AM          Senate Floor Session (LD 10) – Senate Chamber
11:00 AM        HOUSE INTRAGOVTAL COORD – 341 CAP
1:00 PM          Canceled- Senate Joint Higher Ed, Ed & Youth – 450 CAP

Attorneys for former President Donald Trump joined the motion of a co-defendant to remove Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis from the prosecution, according to Atlanta News First via WALB.

Donald Trump has joined a motion in Fulton County court to dismiss District Attorney Fani Willis and special prosecutor Nathan Wade from the election interference case and drop all charges against him.

The motion was first filed by co-defendant Michael Roman on Jan. 8, alleging that Willis and Wade had “an improper intimate personal relationship” prior to Willis hiring Wade as a special prosecutor.

Roman’s court filing claims Willis and Wade took lavish vacations together and that Wade used part of his salary from the district attorney’s office to travel with Willis. Trump’s filing alleges that Wade was paid more than $650,000.

Trump’s filing also accused Willis of playing “the race card” after Willis gave a speech at the Big Bethel AME Church. The filing claimed the speech “wrongfully [inserted] racial animus into this case to publicly denounce and rebuke the defendants.”

The filing claims that comments made during the speech break the Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct.

Donald Trump’s lead attorney, Steve Sadow, released the following statement.

“The motion filed today on behalf of President Trump seeks to hold District Attorney Willis legally accountable both for her misconduct alleged in a motion filed by Mr. Roman as well as her extrajudicial public statements falsely and intentionally injecting race into this case. In doing so, DA Willis violated her Special Responsibilities of a Prosecutor under the Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct. Her attempt to foment racial animus and prejudice against the defendants in order to divert and deflect attention away from her alleged improprieties calls out for the sanctions of dismissal and disqualification.”

–Steve Sadow

From the Associated Press via AccessWDUN:

“These assertions by the DA engender a great likelihood of substantial prejudice towards the defendants in the eyes of the public in general, and prospective jurors in Fulton County in particular,” Sadow and Little wrote. “Moreover, the DA’s self-serving comments came with the added, sought after, benefit of garnering racially based sympathy for her self-inflicted quagmire.”

In her speech at the church, Willis noted that she had three outside lawyers working as special prosecutors in the election case — a white man, a white woman and a Black man. She noted that people have only questioned the qualifications of Wade, the Black man.

Trump’s lawyers wrote in their motion that Willis’ comments “constitute a glaring, flagrant, and calculated effort to foment racial bias into this case by publicly denouncing the defendants for somehow daring to question her decision to hire a Black man (without also mentioning that she is alleged to have had a workplace affair with the same man) to be a special prosecutor.”

“The DA’s provocative and inflammatory extrajudicial racial comments, made in a widely publicized speech at a historical Black church in Atlanta, and cloaked in repeated references to God, reinforce and amplify the ‘appearance of impropriety’ in her judgment and prosecutorial conduct,” Sadow and Little wrote in their filing.

State Senators voted to appoint former Sen. Rick Jeffares (R-Henry County) to the State Election Board and confirmed Gov. Kemp’s appointment as Chair of the Board, according to the Savannah Morning News.

During the ninth legislative day, the Senate passed SR 443, which appointed former state Sen. Rick Jeffares to the five-member State Election Board, citing his long history of public service in the Georgia legislature, as well as in local government. The vote passed 32-17.

The Senate also overwhelmingly confirmed Waffle House executive John Fervier with a 48-1 vote. Fervier was nominated to lead the Election Board by Gov. Brian Kemp to replace the former chair, William Duffey Jr.

“I am grateful for John’s willingness to serve our state in this role,” Kemp said in a press release shortly after appointing Fervier earlier this month. “His dedication to the well-being of Georgia and its people will be a great asset in this role in the days ahead. I am confident that under his leadership, Georgians will be able to trust in the integrity of one of our great responsibilities as citizens — the right to vote.

Georgia’s Secretary of State referred 17 cases of alleged voter fraud to local authorities, according to the Savannah Morning News.

State officials discovered the cases thanks to Georgia’s membership in the Electronic Registration Information Center. The ERIC network allows states to share data to improve the accuracy of voter rolls and prevent instances of fraudulent voting.

The Secretary of State’s Office this month announced that it was referring 17 cases of possible double voting to local district attorneys. These individuals are suspected of voting once in Georgia and casting a second ballot in another state.

The district attorneys will evaluate each case and potentially pursue indictments of the suspects. Those found guilty of knowingly voting twice could face up to 10 years in prison and to pay up to a $100,000 fine.

Participation in ERIC is becoming rarer in red-leaning states. Until recently, ERIC operated as a silent and trusted elections partner for a bipartisan group of states. But as misinformation about the network began to gain traction in conservative groups, the makeup of which states share voter data has shifted.

The data is pulled from election offices, the Department of Motor Vehicles, and the Social Security Administration.

Clean voter rolls are especially important for cross-checking alleged voting in two states, as is the case with the 17 Georgians who appear to have voted twice.

“In our office, it’s very important that voters understand that we’re going to have fair, honest, and accurate elections,” Raffensperger said in a press conference announcing the alleged voter fraud. It remains to be seen whether that promise will be compromised as some states abandon ERIC, which Raffensperger considers to be “the best and only group capable of detecting double voting across state lines.”

House Bill 30 by State Rep. John Carson (R-Cobb County) defines “antisemitism” in state law for purposes of enhanced sentencing, according to the Savannah Morning News.

House Bill 30, which was first introduced in 2023, will now be sent to Gov. Brian Kemp’s desk to be signed into law.

The bill calls for Georgia to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, but notably, the definition itself does not appear in the text of the bill.

The organization currently defines antisemitism as “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews.” The definition also includes “rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism” that are directed at individuals, property and Jewish religious and community institutions. HB30 failed to pass last year after a controversial amendment that would put Georgia’s definition out of alignment with other governing bodies in the U.S. was added to the measure.

Proponents of the bill argue that codifying the definition into law will help the state identify and prosecute instances of anti-Semitic hate. Senate Republicans cited rising rates of antisemitism against Jewish individuals and community groups, urging their colleagues to pass the bill.

President Pro Tempore, state Sen. John F. Kennedy, who sponsored the bill in the Senate, assured his colleagues that the bill would be not be used to silence critiques of Israel.

“Let me be clear, this legislation is not about stifling free speech, nor does it result in the government stopping someone from sharing their views,” he said. “It is about safeguarding the dignity and the safety of our Jewish friends and neighbors, and most importantly, standing up to hate.”

“Discourse about Israel is not and should not be governed by the IHRA definition,” said Sen. Nikki Merritt (D-Grayson). “Here in this great state of Georgia, discourse is governed by the First Amendment that many in this body claim to believe in.”

Merritt proposed an amendment to the bill that would ensure “criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic,” but the motion was defeated in the Senate.

State Sen. Kim Jackson (D-Stone Mountain) also took a stand to oppose the bill, announcing support and solidarity with the Jewish community while expressing concerns that the wording of the bill could be used to quash criticism of the Israeli government.

“I will be voting ‘no’ on HB 30 today, because I personally know what it is to be a minority voice within a minority group,” Jackson said. “It’s not a coincidence that the community of people who support my vote today are minorities within minorities. They are Jews of color, they are queer, they are trans, they are Palestinian, they are Muslim, they are people who have often been ostracized by their own communities.”

From Atlanta News First via WTOC:

“Today we can fight a pervasive and escalating threat in our state and fight it together,” said Senate President Pro Tem John Kennedy, a Macon Republican who guided the bill to Senate passage by a 44-6 vote.

The measure had stalled in a Senate committee in 2023.

But in an unusually rapid turnaround Thursday, the bill made its way through both the state Senate and House within hours, and will now be on the desk of Governor Brian Kemp, who indicated on Thursday he will sign it.

“Thanks to the General Assembly’s careful deliberation and passage, I will soon be able to sign this important piece of legislation that builds on our commitment to protect Georgians from criminal acts, including those based on hate,” he said in a statement.

“This bill will target pro-Palestine advocates and we have seen it applied already across the state,” said Azka Mahmood, executive director of the Center for American-Islamic Relations. “In the state of Georgia we are seeing a dangerous rise in the conflation of anti Isr[ae]l speech with antisemitism before this bill is even passed, and it is creating real harm and real danger for advocates of Palestine.”

“If you want to go out and say you hate Israel after this bill is passed than you may absolutely do that,” said Sen. Kennedy.

“You can say the nastiest antisemitic things you want, and people tell me all the time,” said Rep. Panitch. “Totally protected. It’s First Amendment. What’s not protected is harming somebody because they’re Jewish.”

In 2020, the state passed a hate crimes law that allowed additional penalties for crimes motivated by race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender, or disability.

If passed by the Georgia House of Representatives, House Bill 30 would incorporate the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism into the Georgia legal code, opening the door for state prosecutors to use the definition in legal proceedings.

33 other states and the federal government have similar laws that adopted the same definition of antisemitism.

From the Associated Press via AccessWDUN:

Some opponents said Thursday that the bill feels like choosing sides in the Israel-Hamas war.

“We can mourn the loss of both Israeli and Palestinian lives,” said Sen. Kim Jackson, a Stone Mountain Democrat. “We can both condemn the unacceptable acts of antisemitism that are plaguing the Jewish community around our state and acknowledge that our citizens have the right to voice their dissent about the tremendous harm being visited upon Palestinian civilians.”

Some Democrats said that if Georgia moves to define antisemitism, then it should also define what prejudice against Muslims, African Americans or LGBTQ+ people looks like.

“If we’re going to define antisemitism in the law, then there a lot of other groups that experience racism, and they should also have definitions and explanations of what racism looks like,” said Sen. Sally Harrell, an Atlanta Democrat who didn’t vote on the bill.

But other Democrats said they wanted to support their Jewish constituents and allies, with some recalling the historic support of Jewish people for Black civil rights. An Atlanta synagogue was bombed in 1958 by racists striking out against a rabbi’s opposition to segregation.

“The Jewish community stood hand-in-hand with us,” said Senate Minority Gloria Butler, a Stone Mountain Democrat. “Today I return their favor and stand with them.”

From the Capitol Beat News Service:

Kennedy cited the spreading of antisemitic flyers in Jewish neighborhoods by what he described as “outside agitators” and the hanging in effigy of a Jew outside a synagogue in Macon.

“The Oct. 7 attack on the Jewish state and our ally … highlighted the nearly nonstop threat our Jewish brothers and sisters face,” Kennedy said. “This is the antithesis of what our great state and our great nation are all about.”

“Certain things rise above politics,” added Rep. John Carson, R-Marietta, who sponsored the bill in the House. “It’s time to get this done.”

While only one Republican – Sen. Colton Moore of Trenton – voted against the legislation in the Senate, it split the Senate Democratic Caucus.

Sen. Nikki Merritt, D-Grayson, tried unsuccessfully to amend the bill to clarify that criticism of Israel may not be deemed antisemitic.

“This is not an anti-hate bill,” Merritt said. “This is an anti-speech bill.”

But Sen. Brian Strickland, R-McDonough, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which unanimously approved the bill on Monday, said it is not aimed at speech. He cited a portion of the legislation that specifically states it is not to be construed as infringing on free speech rights.

“You can continue to say anything you want in this state. This bill protects that,” Strickland said. “(But) you can’t go and hit somebody in the face because you don’t like what the country they identify with is doing.”

Sen. Harold Jones, D-Augusta, said the bill is guilty of “picking and choosing” because it singles out Jews for protection but does not address violence motivated by Islamophobia or hatred of other immigrant groups.

But Kennedy said Jews in Georgia have been particularly vulnerable to hate-motivated violence.

“The Jewish community in our state is crying out for this,” he said. “This bill is needed.”

The Senate Ethics Committee also voted to recommend passage of Senate Bill 355 to prohibit ranked choice runoff voting, according to the AJC.

Ranked-choice voting didn’t have the votes in the state Senate Ethics Committee.

The panel backed Senate Bill 355, which would prohibit the use of ranked-choice voting statewide — except as allowed by federal law for military and overseas voters.

Under ranked-choice voting, voters would fill out their ballots by choosing their second-choice candidate along with their top pick. Then, if a voter’s first choice doesn’t finish among the top two candidates, the vote for the second-choice candidate would be counted, avoiding the need for another election.

Supporters say ranked-choice voting eliminates expensive runoff elections and increases voter participation. Critics say it’s a confusing system that has allowed candidates with low initial vote totals to ultimately prevail.

Republican state legislators appear hesitant to back greater Medicaid expansion, according to the AJC.

The politics behind extending government-funded health care to the state’s uninsured poor means the GOP-dominated General Assembly is not rushing to commit to a vote — either for or against — despite more than a decade of groundwork from advocates since the passage of the Affordable Care Act.

However, in interviews with more than a dozen Republican leaders and rank-and-file members across the state Senate and state House, two points are evident.

First, most would favor a waiver program that has been tested in Arkansas, where the state used federal expansion dollars to buy plans for people with lower incomes on the Health Insurance Marketplace.

Second, some are interested in trading a vote for expansion in exchange for easing rules that govern the establishment of new hospitals, called certificate of need or CON.

Several lawmakers interviewed said they were looking for signals from Gov. Brian Kemp, who has opposed Medicaid expansion and campaigned on an alternative called Georgia Pathways to Coverage, which has so far attracted fewer than 3,000 people out of an estimated 370,000 eligible for the program. Pathways offers Medicaid to working-age adults who work at least 80 hours a month, attend a technical college, or comply with another state-approved activity.

State Rep. Sharon Cooper, chair of the House Public Health Committee, said she would not support traditional Medicaid expansion. However, she said she would be open to extending access to private health care plans “if the governor was willing to champion a change to a different program.”

In a statement to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Lt. Gov Burt Jones said he “will prioritize expanding access to quality health care and removing barriers like the antiquated CON laws currently in place.”

Similarly, Senate Majority Whip Randy Robertson added that, “once I digest it and how it relates to CON, I’ll figure out what the best situation is.”

Jones did not directly address whether he would support Medicaid expansion without getting CON rules eased in exchange, saying he would “look at whatever the House puts forward.”

But there is no consensus on such a swap. Cooper said extending health care coverage “should be considered on merit, not linked as bait.”

State Senate Majority Leader Steve Gooch said “people are asking questions,” and he’s “looking at options closely.”

Republicans have been friendlier toward the method from Arkansas, which was developed by a Republican-led Statehouse, partly because they view it as easier to sell to conservative constituents.

State Sen. Ben Watson, who chairs the Health and Human Services Committee, said he would favor the Arkansas method because more providers accept private insurance plans, giving patients more options for care.

Practically speaking, there is little difference in the health outcomes achieved by traditional expansion compared with Arkansas’ method, said Robin Rudowitz, vice president and director for program on Medicaid and the uninsured at KFF, a nonprofit health policy organization. Studies have found that in both approaches, more people in the state are enrolled in health insurance and benefit from preventive care, Rudowitz said.

The main difference between implementation plans is that in traditional expansion, most states administer Medicaid through private managed care plans while the Arkansas method uses the money received from the federal government to buy private plans in the health care marketplace. Often there is more politics than substance in how states have chosen to address expanding health care access.

Only two lawmakers were willing to endorse a health insurance expansion plan. Senate Finance Committee Chair Chuck Hufstetler, a Republican whose support dates to 2014, said the state should look at Medicaid expansion.

“It takes federal dollars and gets people preventative care that will keep them from much more expensive care,” he said.

A measure would also have a vote of confidence from Sen. Billy Hickman, who said that “in rural Georgia, we have people that need health care support.”

Some lawmakers privately worry their support could hurt them in primaries, but others have inched toward the measure following pressure from Democrats, who have long supported Medicaid expansion, during general elections in vulnerable districts.

Only one lawmaker — Senate Appropriations Chair Blake Tillery — flatly said “no.”

“I have not been convinced by the arguments I’ve heard so far,” the Vidalia Republican said.

The Tide Pod Eaters Future Caucus of state legislators who identify as Millennial or GenZ and younger than 45 announced their legislative priorities, according to Atlanta News First via WRDW.

About 21% of Georgia’s General Assembly are millennials or Gen Z. Georgia is one of 33 states that has a Future Caucus in its legislature.

“We believe that the next generation of leaders can build a better future can build a more healthy democracy and can build a culture of pluralism,” said Layla Zaidane, the national Future Caucus president and CEO. “Young lawmakers that are a part of the Georgia Future Caucus and are a part of the Future Caucus network will one day be the chairs of powerful committees, they will be speaker of the house, governor, you name it.”

“The younger legislators across the country are really driving this bipartisanship,” said Rep. Jasmine Clark (D-Lilburn), the caucus’ Democrat chair. “We will not agree on everything but, the Georgia Future Caucus will work together, both sides of the isle, hand-in-hand.”

The presence of bipartisanship, the caucus co-chairs said, is especially important in what is sure to be a contentious election year. Already, the caucus has thrown its support behind a bill regulating artificial intelligence in Georgia elections and another regulating its use in state agencies.

“Younger Georgians need an inspiring place to work, they need workforce solutions, they need safe communities and safe schools that they can take their young children to,” said Rep. Steven Sainz (R-Saint Mary’s), the caucus’ Republican chair.

Senate Bill 189 by State Sen. Max Burns (R-Sylvania) passed out of the State Ethics Committee on Thursday, according to the Associated Press via WRDW.

Georgia’s state House and Senate are pursuing separate bills to remove barcodes from most of the state’s ballots, part of a continuing Republican pushback against Georgia’s voting machines.

The Senate Ethics Committee voted 8-2 on Thursday to advance Senate Bill 189 to the full Senate. It’s aimed at requiring new optical scanners that would read the printed text on ballots, rather than a QR code, a type of barcode. A House committee is considering a separate measure that has not yet advanced.

Both bills, as currently drafted, would take effect July 1, although Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger has repeatedly said it would be impossible to alter the state’s electronic voting system before the November presidential election.

“I’d love to see it in November ‘24,” Senate Ethics Committee Chairman Max Burns, a Sylvania Republican, said Thursday. “Is that realistic? Probably not, I concede that.”

Burns said his plan would require the state to buy more than 3,000 new scanners, at a cost of more than $10 million.

“I believe the investment would be worth the intent and the achievement of this goal,” Burns said.

Raffensperger last week proposed a separate audit system using optical character recognition software, but it’s not clear how that would work or how much it would cost. No one from Raffensperger’s office attended the Thursday Senate hearing.

Raffensperger told lawmakers last week that he supports a move to scan “human readable text,” the names printed on ballots, to count votes.

His proposed method for doing so involves buying more than 32,000 ballot printers statewide that could print longer ballots. His office has estimated that cost at $15 million.

But Raffensperger said it was impossible to make such a change before the November presidential election.

“You’re talking about major change, and just the timeframe…,” Raffensperger said. “We’re already in the election cycle of 2024.”

From the Capitol Beat News Service:

Under Senate Bill 189, only the text portions of paper ballots would be counted.

“We’re simply taking the ballot as it’s currently printed and eliminating the QR code,” said Sen. Max Burns, R-Sylvania, the committee’s chairman and the bill’s chief sponsor.

Burns said implementing the legislation would require the state to invest about $15 million to buy 3,400 to 3,500 new scanners capable of reading text from paper ballots.

“I believe the investment would be worth the achievement,” he said.

Senate Minority Leader Gloria Butler, D-Stone Mountain, suggested it might be wise to undertake a pilot project with the new technology before rolling it out statewide.

Burns said Raffensperger and the State Election Board might decide to do just that.

Sen. Derek Mallow, D-Savannah, said the cost of getting rid of the QR codes could overburden local elections agencies.

“Local taxpayers would have to foot the bill,” he said.

But Burns said the state likely would provide the funding to implement his bill.

The legislation heads next to the Senate Rules Committee, which will decide whether it reaches the full Senate for a vote.

Georgia State House Speaker Jon Burns (R-Newington) said the chamber’s GOP caucus is prioritizing tax cuts, according to the Associated Press via AccessWDUN.

House Speaker Jon Burns on Wednesday said his GOP caucus will back a plan to raise the amount that parents can deduct per child from their yearly state income taxes to $4,000 from the current $3,000. With Georgia’s income tax rate currently at 5.49%, that works out to as much as $55 more per child, or about $150 million statewide.

“While rising child care costs are here with us every day, we’re hoping this extra $1,000 deduction per child will help alleviate some of those costs for the parents,” Burns, of Newington, told reporters at a news conference.

The speaker also reiterated his earlier proposal to increase the state homestead exemption from $2,000 to $4,000. That amount could save homeowners nearly $100 million statewide, according to projections. Senators have countered with a plan that would cap the rate at which assessed property values could rise for tax purposes, which could limit future property tax increases.

Burns is also backing a plan announced by Republican Gov. Brian Kemp in December to speed up an already-planned cut in the state income tax rate. As of Jan. 1, Georgia has a flat income tax rate of 5.49%, passed under a 2022 law that transitioned away from a series of income brackets that topped out at 5.75%.

Burns also unveiled a plan to move all of Georgia’s unallocated surplus cash into its rainy day account, a bill also being pushed by Kemp. Georgia had $10.7 billion in unallocated surplus at the end of the last budget year, in addition to a rainy day fund filled to the legal limit of $5.4 billion, or 15% of the prior year’s tax revenue.

Burns said the move would “allow the state to save responsibly, build our reserves, and provide more taxpayer relief to Georgia families both in the short term and the long term when our financial situation may not be as strong.”

From the Capitol Beat News Service:

“Taken together, these bills will provide significant tax relief for Georgia taxpayers … and continue to boost the economy,” House Speaker Jon Burns, R-Newington, told reporters during a news conference at the state Capitol.

The four-bill package includes legislation increasing Georgia’s child-tax credit from $3,000 to $4,000, doubling the state’s homestead tax exemption from $2,000 to $4,000, and removing the cap on Georgia’s “rainy-day” budget reserves.

Rep. Matt Reeves, R-Duluth, who will sponsor the homestead tax exemption bill, pointed to high mortgage rates as a reason to give Georgia homeowners additional tax relief.

“We want to lessen the financial burden for Georgians to purchase a home,” he said. “This sends a message to current homeowners and young people in their twenties and thirties.”

The state’s reserves have long been capped at 15% of the previous fiscal year’s tax revenue.

Rep. Shaw Blackmon, R-Bonaire, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said removing the cap would help protect Georgia from future economic slowdowns..

“This gives us better insurance looking forward to the future,” he said.

Burns said the new package of bills would come in addition to $5 billion in tax relief the governor and General Assembly have provided during the last four years.

Gwinnett County Commissioners asked state legislators to consider the impact on county government of a proposed new city, according to AccessWDUN.

Gwinnett County commissioners passed a resolution Tuesday urging state legislators looking to create a new city in the northeast corner of the county to consider the potential impacts of such a move.

Georgia House Majority Leader Chuck Efstration (R-Auburn) and State Senator Clint Dixon (R-Buford) have spearheaded the effort to create the city of Mulberry. The city would encompass an area stretching from the Hall County line and the town of Braselton southward to nearly the city of Dacula.

The resolution passed by Gwinnett commissioners Tuesday said the city’s creation could have negative impacts on county residents.

“Incorporation without careful consideration of the proposed city’s structure and service delivery impacts as well as the revenue and taxation impacts could negatively impact the ability of the proposed city, Gwinnett County and the 16 existing cities to provide services to all residents and businesses of the county,” a release issued by the county said.

Gwinnett County Commission Chairwoman Nicole Hendrickson sent a letter earlier in the week to the chairpersons of the county’s legislative delegation citing her concerns with the proposed city.

“Through thoughtful, deliberate and fiscally responsible planning, Gwinnett County is recognized as a National Benchmark County in the delivery of superior services,” Hendrickson said. “As Gwinnett County provides all services to the residents and businesses within the area proposed to be incorporated as the new city, the Board of Commissioners urges the members of the General Assembly to take the time to carefully study and thoughtfully deliberate on the creation of a seventeenth city in Gwinnett County.”

From the Gwinnett Daily Post:

The commission unanimously voted to approve a resolution urging the county’s legislative delegation to “carefully consider” the ramifications of the creation of the proposed city of Mulberry. State Rep. Chuck Efstration introduced legislation earlier this month to call for a referendum on creating what would be Gwinnett’s second largest city if voters approve it.

Two bills, one in the Georgia House of Representatives and one in the Georgia Senate, are currently pending in General Assembly.

“Through thoughtful, deliberate and fiscally responsible planning, Gwinnett County is recognized as a National Benchmark County in the delivery of superior services,” said Chairwoman Nicole Love Hendrickson said in a statement.

County officials pointed to the current service delivery strategy between Gwinnett County and its 16 existing cities. Commissioners argue that agreement “has resulted in an efficient and comprehensive service delivery model that is responsive to the service needs of all residents countywide.”

The commissioners also argue that structure for the proposed city, which would offer only a few services of its own but still rely on Gwinnett County for services such as police and fire protection, may have a negative impact on the city of Mulberry as well as the other 16 cities and Gwinnett as a whole.

Earlier this week, Hendrickson sent Gwinnett legislators a letter with a fact sheet outlining the impacts and concerns about the proposal.

Coastal Georgia experienced record low unemployment last month, according to The Brunswick News.

Unemployment rates were at an all-time low in Coastal Georgia in December, according to the Georgia Department of Labor.

The rate dropped down one-tenth in December to 2.6%. The rate was 2.7% a year ago.

The labor force was down 1,563 over the month and up 4,715 over the year to 348,832, according to the report. The number of employed was down 995 over the month but up 4,985 over the year to 339,896.

Initial claims for the month were up 108, or 14%, for December and down 209, 19%, for the year to 885.

“Georgia posted incredible numbers in 2023, sporting a blockbuster year with over 5.1 million Georgians employed,” [Labor Commissioner Bruce] Thompson said. “With existing companies continuing to expand and a stream of new companies calling Georgia home, 2024 appears to be headed for all-time highs again.”

“Georgia’s success story is nothing short of phenomenal, boasting a blockbuster year with over 5.1 million hardworking Georgians driving our state forward,” Thompson said. “As existing businesses scale new heights and a steady influx of new enterprises proudly choose Georgia as their home, the Peach State appears headed toward continued economic success.”

Metro Valdosta posted lower unemployent numbers in December also, according to the Valdosta Daily Times.

Metro Valdosta finished 2023 with a slight dip in the unemployment rate.

The city’s jobless rate in December was 3.0%, down from 3.1% in November, a Georgia Department of Labor statement said. A year earlier, the rate was also at 3.0%.

The labor force decreased in Valdosta by 625 and ended the month with 62,548, up by 291 when compared to December of 2022, the statement said.

Valdosta finished December with 60,652 employed residents, a drop of 546 over the month and up by 250 when compared to the same time a year ago.

Valdosta ended the month with 57,300 jobs. That number remained unchanged from November to December and went up by 400 when compared to this time last year, the labor department said.

In December, initial unemployment claims decreased by 1 (-1%) in Valdosta. Comparing December 2023 claims to December 2022, claims were up by 21 (11%).

 

The Port of Brunswick will receive a $15 million dollar federal grant for improvements, according to the Associated Press via WRDW.

The Port of Brunswick, about 70 miles (113 kilometers) south of Savannah, will receive the funding through a U.S. Department of Transportation grant funded by the 2021 bipartisan infrastructure law, Democratic Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock said.

Ossoff called the funding “a big win for coastal Georgia” and the state’s economy overall, noting Brunswick’s rapid growth as a U.S. hub for imports and exports of automobiles. He also told reporters the infrastructure law’s bipartisan backing shows that lawmakers from rival parties can still work together.

“This is an investment in Georgia that is the fruit of cooperation between Democrats and Republicans,” Ossoff told an online news conference Tuesday.

The project includes building a new 540-foot (165-meter) dock after demolishing the old one, as well as replacing half of a second dock on the site. The federal money will also help pay to install new electrical and water systems at the terminal and to dredge one berth to add depth for docking ships.

In a statement, Warnock said the port project will “ease vessel traffic and the flow of commerce at a major economic hub for our state.”

The federal grant is expected to cover roughly half of the total cost of the terminal improvements, which the Georgia Ports Authority hopes to finish by 2027.

“This $15 million federal grant will enable Georgia grown forest products and other commodities to compete stronger in world markets through a competitive port,” Jamie McCurry, chief administrative officer for the Georgia Ports Authority, said in a statement.

Ring doorbell manufacturer will no longer honor law enforcement requests for doorbell camera footage, according to the Associated Press via WTOC.

In a blog post on Wednesday, Ring said it will sunset the “Request for Assistance” tool, which allows police departments and other public safety agencies to request and receive video captured by the doorbell cameras through Ring’s Neighbors app.

The company did not provide a reason for the change, which will be effective starting this week.

Eric Kuhn, the head of Neighbors, said in the announcement that law enforcement agencies will still be able to make public posts in the Neighbors app. Police and other agencies can also still use the app to “share helpful safety tips, updates, and community events,” Kuhn said.

Critics have stressed the proliferation of these relationships – and users’ ability to report what they see as suspicious behavior – can change neighborhoods into a place of constant surveillance and lead to more instances of racial profiling.

In a bid to increase transparency, Ring changed its policy in 2021 to make police requests publicly visible through its Neighbors app. Previously, law enforcement agencies were able to send Ring owners who lived near an area of an active investigation private emails requesting video footage.

“Now, Ring hopefully will altogether be out of the business of platforming casual and warrantless police requests for footage to its users,” Matthew Guariglia, a senior policy analyst at the digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation, said in a statement on Wednesday.

Law enforcement agencies can still access videos using a search warrant. Ring also maintains the right to share footage without user consent in limited circumstances.

In mid-2022, Ring disclosed it handed over 11 videos to police without notifying users that year due to “exigent or emergency” circumstances, one of the categories that allow it to share videos without permission from owners. However, Guariglia, of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said the group remains skeptical about the ability of police and the company to determine what is or is not an emergency.

Last summer, Ring agreed to pay $5.8 million to settle with the Federal Trade Commission over allegations that the company let employees and contractors access user videos. Furthermore, the agency said Ring had inadequate security practices, which allowed hackers to control consumer accounts and cameras. The company disagrees with those claims.

Columbus City Council heard about the results of an audit of the city finance department, according to WTVM.

In December, the city’s internal auditor, Donna McGinnis revealed to council the finance department was apparently missing $45.1 million in unprocessed transactional activity for fees.

At Tuesday’s city council meeting, an attorney hired by the city to investigate the finance department shared the results of the investigation. Mayor Henderson says the outside audit done by the law firm, Troutman Pepper was done because citizens deserve transparency.

“We owe the truth and we owe council the truth. We had actually made some of supporting documentation available for the internal auditor and for whatever reason we did not get anything back, so we had to do something [external audit] to either validate or refute that the money had been not been deposited,” said Henderson.

According to Peeler and the investigation, there is “no evidence to support the claim that there is $45.1 million in unbanked, unworked revenue.”

After Tuesday’s meeting Mayor Henderson said he hopes citizens can gain confidence that their money is “pretty well protected.”

“What I hope the public knows is that the city government works very hard to try and protect tax dollars and make sure that it’s spent and to account for it, but they also learned that there’s areas we can approve right. Whether if it’s finance, parks & rec, whatever it is, there’s always room for improvement. I hope that they take away that there was no $45 million that went undeposited it was right where it was supposed to be. It was put into the bank account; that was verified and validated by Troutman Pepper, the individual that did the investigation. We’re going to improve. The citizens deserve us to continue to work better and that’s what we’re going to do.”

Mayor Henderson says the Troutman Pepper audit roughly cost $400,000. According to his knowledge and the law firm, there was never any indication of criminal activity from the city’s finance department.

The arrest warrant for Pineview Mayor Brandon Holt alleges he stole city funds via cash app, according to 13WMAZ.

The GBI announced the arrest in a press release on Monday, but it did not include any details about how the theft occurred and how much money Holt is believed to have taken.

But now, the arrest warrant accuses Holt of siphoning $64,455 from the city’s general account over a nearly three-month period.

Between June 26 to Oct. 11, 2023, the arrest warrant says Holt made 75 transactions through the mobile payment app Cash App, sending funds from the city of Pineveiw’s general account and funneling them into his own personal bank account.

[Wilcox County Sheriff Steve] Mauldin and [District Attorney Brad] Rigby asked the GBI to investigate Holt on Oct. 20, only nine days after the last Cash App transaction is believed to have been made.

After the GBI’s investigation, Holt was charged with 75 counts of theft by taking, corresponding to each alleged Cash App transaction.

But this is not the first time the 34-year-old mayor has been charged in a theft investigation.

Fort Valley Mayor Jeffrey Lundy issued an Executive Order allegedly threatening to fine and remove from office several members of City Council, according to 13WMAZ.

An executive order, filed by Fort Valley Mayor Jeffery Lundy on Thursday, is a public rebuke against four members of the city’s own council. It also accuses the city councilors of abusing their power.

According to the executive order, Kendrick was fired as the city of Fort Valley’s public works director. He appealed the termination and, in December 2023, the city upheld its decision to fire Kendrick.

That is until new city council members rolled into city hall.

At the first city council meeting of the year on Jan. 18, new council members Laronda Eason, Sandra Marshall, Henry Howard and long-time councilwoman Juanita Bryant voted to rehire Kendrick.

The executive order alleges the effort to rehire Kendrick was “a political move that involves special relationship, and conflict of interest,” but it does not describe the alleged relationship between the councilmembers and Kendrick.

But, at its core, the executive order blocks Kendrick’s rehiring, using the mayor’s executive powers to stop it.

The order required Kendrick to “leave the Public Works Department immediately” or face a criminal trespassing charge, but Lundy also threatened to fine the council members and remove them from office for abuse of power.

That would have to go through the court system but, if found guilty, the council members could be fined up to $500 and be removed from their post.

Dougherty Judicial Circuit Superior Court Chief Judge Willie W. Lockette announced he will not run for reelection, according to WALB.

Lockette has nearly 33 years of judicial experience. He was appointed by former State Court Judge Rosser A. Malone as associate judge of the Magistrate Court of Dougherty County in 1991. He was later appointed Chief Judge of the Magistrate Court by former State Court Judge John F. Salter in 1993.

Lockette made history by becoming the first African American since Reconstruction to win a contested county-wide election, and also the first African American to win a seat on the Dougherty Superior Court by election rather than appointment. Since 1996, Judge Lockette has been re-elected without opposition for seven consecutive 4-year terms.

Lockette became chief judge of the Dougherty Superior Court in 2009 and has continued to serve in the role. During his judicial career, Judge Lockette has also served by designation on the Probate and Juvenile Courts of Dougherty County, and the Supreme Court of Georgia.

After his current term comes to an end in Dec. 2024, Lockette intends to continue serving Dougherty County as a senior superior court judge, as well as serving throughout the state of Georgia when judicial assistance is needed, per a statement from Dougherty County.

Former Dougherty County Republican Party Chair Tracy Taylor announced he will run for State House District 153 as a Democrat, according to the Albany Herald.

A year ago Tracy Taylor was the chairman of the Dougherty County Republican Party. Today, he is seeking office in the Georgia House of Representatives as a Democrat while he insists that he will still continue to be true to his conservative ideals.

Compare that to an October 2022 story from WALB:

Hailing from Waycross, Taylor said if he’s elected, he will bring life back to the Good Life City.

“I came here in like 2005 because the title is the Good Life City. So I came here for change and to fulfill the obligations of becoming a young man,” Taylor said.

When Taylor is not speaking to groups like the Rotary Club of Albany, you can find him at Fire Station No. 5 in Albany where he works as a full-time firefighter.

Taylor said the election of President Barack Obama inspired him to work with those in Congress.

“It gave me real-world experience, grassroots experience. Getting out and greeting people, and being able to be a piece of the stamp so to speak, and a representation of a candidate. It gave me insight and knowledge over a campaign,” Taylor said.

Although Taylor is a Republican, not all of his views are conservative.

“One thing that’s resonating is the decriminalization of marijuana, legalizing marijuana. I know that’s something Republicans don’t traditionally run on, but that’s why I’m here.” Taylor said.

Taylor is confident in his campaign, especially because of his political background and has high hopes for this election season.

Comments ( 0 )