Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for January 30, 2017


Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for January 30, 2017

What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.

Ecclesiastes 1:9 (NIV)

Today’s historical moments below combine to show some of the major influences on Georgia politics and governance since her founding, and how the same conflicts have played out across the world, from Northern Ireland to India, to stages of rock and roll shows.

On January 30, 1788, the Georgia legislature passed a resolution calling for a state Constitutional Convention in Augusta to adopt a state Constitution that conformed to the new Constitution of the United States.

On January 30, 1862, the United States launced its first ironclad warship, USS Monitor.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was born on January 30, 1882 in Hyde Park, New York. In 1942, Roosevelt ordered Japanese-Americans on the west coast of the United States into concentration camps, leaving German and Italian Americans free.

On January 30, 1935, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Sr. protested segregated elevators at the Fulton County Courthouse.

On January 30, 1948, Mohandas K. Gandhi was assassinated.

1920 Georgia Flag

On January 30, 1956, six members of the Georgia State House of Representatives introduced House Bill 98 to replace the red and white stripes on Georgia’s flag (above) with a Confederate battle flag (below). That same day, a bomb was thrown at the Birmingham, AL home of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

1956 Georgia Flag

January 30, 1972 is remembered as Bloody Sunday in commemoration of the shooting of 26 civilians by British troops in Northern Ireland.

On January 30, 2001, the Georgia State Senate passed a house bill changing the state flag from the 1956 version to one that aggregated the State Seal and five former state flags, pictured below.


Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Committee Meeting Schedule

8:00 AM SENATE FINANCE – Public Policy &Fin. Sub 122 CAP



1:00 PM Judiciary (Civil) Fleming Subcommittee 132 CAP




2:00 PM SEN APPROP – Higher Ed Sub 341 CAP

2:00 PM SEN APPROP – Econ Dev’t Sub 310 CLOB

2:00 PM House Regs Sub on Regulated Ind 403 CAP




3:00 PM SEN APPROP – Judy Sub 341 CAP

3:00 PM SEN APPROP – Transportation Sub 307 CLOB


3:00 PM House Judy (Civil) Kelley Sub 132 CAP





4:00 PM SEN APPROP – Human Dev, Behavioral Health & Dev’tal Disabilities, Public Health Sub 341 CAP

4:00 PM SEN APPROP – Criminal Justice & Public Safety Subcommittee 307 CLOB

Senate Bill 70 by Sen. Butch Miller (R-Gainesville) appears poised for quick action today. Senate Bill 70 renews the Hospital Provider Fee that receives a roughly 2:1 match of federal dollars.

The Senate Finance Committee’s Public Policy & Finance Subcommittee had SB 70 on it’s agenda for 8 AM today. Then at 2 PM, the full Senate Finance Committee meets and the agenda lists SB 70.

Governor Deal, in his State of the State address, urged the legislature to reauthorize the provider fee “expeditiously.”

Americans for Tax Reform, a Washington, DC-based lobbying group, opposes reauthorization of the provider fee.

Hunting and fishing license fees may be going up if legislators consider a departmental recommendation.

“Georgia’s resident licenses are some of the cheapest in the nation, and certainly in the Southeast, and we have not increased those in 24 years,” said Wes Robinson, director of public and government affairs for the Department of Natural Resources, at a budget hearing earlier this month.

He did not give details about where the department wants to see prices set, but he said the they will propose bringing licenses “in line” with the regional average.

Raising more state money in license fees would draw more federal matching dollars. With the money, Robinson said the department would like to increase the number of game wardens, among other things.

Senator Renee Unterman has introduced legislation to address the issue of “surprise emergency room bills.”

A surprise bill can be the result of “balance billing.” This occurs when the patient is pursued for the balance after his or her health insurer pays its share to the medical provider. The problem is that the balance often turns out to be much more than the patient anticipated.

Two state lawmakers have introduced separate bills in the General Assembly to prevent these surprise bills. Other states, including Florida, recently have passed legislation to address the problem.

Physician groups, insurers and consumer advocates in Georgia all say they want to solve the problem – taking the patient out of the middle of the current tug-of-war. These situations currently confound and upset many consumers receiving medical care, leading to unpaid bills and harsh collection practices.

Physician groups and insurance groups are at the opposite ends of the billing equation, says state Sen. Renee Unterman, R-Buford, who introduced legislation on surprise billing last year and is updating it this year. “It’s a very, very complicated issue.”

“The main goal is to take the patient out of the conflict between providers and insurance companies,” says Unterman, who chairs the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.

Both her proposal and a House bill on the issue call for greater transparency about which doctors are in an insurer’s network, and an estimated cost of the procedure.

Democratic state legislators are proposing an expansion of voter registration and removal of the ID requirement for voting.

Democratic State Sen. Vincent Fort introduced a bill to allow voters to both register and cast a ballot on Election Day. Last year, the deadline to register to vote was more than a month before the presidential election. The bill would increase voter turnout and widen democracy, Fort said.

Fort also introduced legislation essentially repealing the requirement for voters to show photo ID at a polling place. Georgia was one of the first states to implement a voter ID law in 2008. Proponents of the law say it helps to eliminate widespread fraud, but multiple studies have shown that there is no evidence of such fraud in the U.S. Those groups also contend that the ID requirement disproportionately targets people of color and the elderly.

A proposal from Rep. Roger Bruce would allow voters to cast a ballot at any precinct in their home county. Additionally, a bill sponsored by Rep. David Dreyer would require polling places to be located within 25 miles of every voter in a county.

Sen. Lester Jackson introduced a bill to expand the window for early voting. The bill adds an additional Saturday to the current schedule, which Democrats say would make it easier to vote for people who work or can’t otherwise get to a polling place during weekdays.

DeKalb County Commissioners voted to support development by Integral Group at the old GM plant site in Doraville.

DeKalb County is putting $180 million into public infrastructure at the old General Motors plant site in Doraville.

The county’s seven commissioners unanimously approved the investment and created a Tax Allocation District (TAD) that will freeze taxes on the project for 30 years.

The BOC vote means that the $60 million mixed-use development proposed that had been stalled can finally proceed. The project near Spaghetti Junction at the intersection of I-285 and I-85 in Doraville, now called Assembly, is expected to generate 500 jobs in the near future, and possibly 8,000 eventually.

It is also expected to attract $1.5 billion in private investment and increase daily MARTA ridership by 30,000.

Marie Willsey joined the field of candidates in a March 21 special election for Roswell City Council.

Polk County Board of Education members voted against paying for an election to pass another Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax for Education (E-SPLOST).

Rural Georgia Rises Up

Maggie Lee of the Macon Telegraph writes about the focus on rural Georgia in this year’s legislative session.

Lawmakers are talking about the problems that plague some of Georgia’s smaller communities. Main Street businesses that have closed. Financially struggling hospitals. Poor internet connections. Schools that don’t offer all the classes that will help students get into the University of Georgia or Georgia Tech. Young people moving to cities and never coming back.

Now there’s a move afoot in the state House to try and look at all these things comprehensively.

So far it doesn’t have a formal name, but House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, is calling it the rural development initiative. He mentioned it in a speech in front of Georgia mayors on Monday.

The needs of rural Georgia are starting to get more attention. The Georgia Chamber of Commerce recently announced its own rural development plans and said it would open an office in Tifton.

Powell foresees the need for some kind of investment to jump-start a turnaround in rural Georgia. But he does not want a scattershot approach that just works on one problem.

“That’s why it has to be a coordinated plan, because if all you do is attract doctors, then you are going to have to subsidize them from now until kingdom come,” [State Rep. Jay] Powell said. “But if you’re doing jobs and doctors and education and transportation, then at some point in time you develop a self-sustaining community.”

Charlie Hayslett writes about one of the issues that defines rural Georgia – lack of population density and lower incomes – by comparing most of South Georgia to Gwinnett County.

Compare all 56 counties of interior South Georgia to Gwinnett County alone.

Gwinnett County’s 2013 population was estimated at 859,304 – just under three-fourths of the 1.16 million people living in our 56-county South Georgia region.

But despite that population disadvantage, Gwinnett County:

  • Generates more income and contributes more in taxes than all 56 counties of South Georgia combined. According to IRS data, Gwinnett County’s total income for 2013 was $21.2 billion versus $17.4 billion for South Georgia.  Similarly, Gwinnett County taxpayers paid $2.5 billion in federal taxes while South Georgia taxpayers contributed $1.7 billion.
  • Is substantially healthier than South Georgia. Using premature death rates as a proxy for health status, Gwinnett County is about twice as healthy as South Georgia.  The 2015 YPLL 75 rate for the 56-county South Georgia region was 9,823.3; for Gwinnett County, it was 5,163.2 (with YPLL 75 rates, the lower the number, the better).   In this category, South Georgia has actually gained a little ground over the past 20 years.  It’s improved about 5.4 percent over that period while Gwinnett County has been essentially flat.  But South Georgia’s numbers in this category are abysmal while Gwinnett County’s are pretty close to optimal, especially for a county as large and diverse as it is.  For 2015, Gwinnett County’s YPLL 75 rate was the fifth best in the state, and it has consistently been in the top tier of counties in this category.

State Rep. Geoff Duncan (R-Cumming) has an radically ambitious proposal to reshape health care delivery and assist rural Georgia communities.

The first part of Duncan’s plan would move Georgia’s State Health Benefit Plan, which manages about $8 billion in state insurance policies, from the Department of Community Health the the Department of Administrative Services – and require the agency to hire a chief data officer skilled in predictive modeling and other tools of the trade to run the program.

The second part seems likely to grab more attention.  That department would be authorized to create as many as 100 federally qualified health centers – nonprofit centers that provide healthcare to low-income patients regardless of insurance coverage or ability to pay – and then give families covered by the state health insurance plan incentives to use the centers.

Each new center – there are already about 200 in Georgia – would be required to handle mental illnesses and opioid addictions, and the department would be encouraged to create a co-op for all the centers to buy their medical equipment and other supplies in bulk.

Duncan doesn’t have the backing of the governor or other top GOP leaders yet, nor does he have a fiscal note. But he estimates the measure could cost as much as $25 million if all 100 centers are opened. He said cost-savings in the long run from consolidating  expenses, cheaper pharmaceutical costs and leveraging federal aid would be worth the short-term funding.

Monroe County voters will cast ballots on March 21, 2017 in a non-binding referendum on whether to increase property taxes to keep their local hospital open.

The hospital is six million dollars in debt. Administration has tried everything to keep the facility open. Last summer, Navicent Health partnered with the hospital to help.

The hospital doesn’t have the funds to keeping serving the area. So administration and commissioners came up with options.

The first option, “Basically, closing the hospital systematically within three to six months,” said Evans. Option two would, “keep the hospital open, and it would require ten million dollars.”

These options are being left to residents to vote on March 21st. Option two would require an increase in resident’s taxes.

“It will only increase average tax payer’s house, $100,000 dollar house,” explained Evans. “Their taxes will go up approximately thirty dollars a year.”

Senator Dean Burke (R-Bainbridge) and other doctors spoke about rural health care access.

“When it comes to the state of Georgia, there are two states, the urban part of the state and the rural part of the state,” said Charles Ruis, health director in the Southwest Health District. “What we want to do is have equity. To have the kind of healthcare that we all need and all desire. We live differently currently in the rural part of the state than the folks in the urban part of the state. Life is different.”

Ruis displayed a map that illustrated the poverty rate in Georgia, with an almost clear line being drawn from Columbus to Augusta. Almost every county below that line, with the exception of coastal counties, were considered in poverty. Counties around Atlanta had very little poverty.

The causes of death between Decatur County residents and Georgia residents at large are fairly similar. Both have their leading cause of death listed as heart disease and cancer, which are also the second (and third) biggest cause of death in the U.S. Ruis, however, said that doesn’t reveal the whole picture.

The death rate from behavioral health and other mental health problems in Decatur County is almost twice the rate in the state of Georgia. The death rate of diabetes in Decatur County is also twice the rate as that in Georgia.

Sen. Dean Burke, Chief of Staff at Memorial Hospital, argued that the community would need to work together to improve healthcare in the Decatur County.

“Our community needs the hospital. Our region needs our hospital,” Burke said. “We don’t communicate, and certainly not well. For us to improve the healthcare outcomes of our individual citizens, we are going to have to work together. Quit having duplication of services, missing services and gaps because somebody thought somebody else was doing it. This to me is the kickoff of the ability for our county and city to take responsibility.”


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