Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for March 14, 2019


Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for March 14, 2019

Albert Einstein was born on March 14, 1879.

S. Truett Cathy, founder of Chick-fil-A, was born on March 14, 1921.

Elvis Presley played the Fox Theater in Atlanta on March 21, 1956.

The largest traffic accident in Georgia history occurred on March 14, 2001 on I-75 in Catoosa County, involving 125 cars, injuring 39 people and killing 5.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections




8:00 AM HOUSE Insurance Life & Health Subcommittee 415 CLOB


10:00 AM HOUSE FLOOR SESSION (LD 32) House Chamber







2:00 PM – Senate Mystery Committee/Wildcard





2:00 PM HOUSE Occupational/Professional Licensing Subcommittee of Regulated Industries 515 CLOB





Georgia Exports exceeded $40.5 billion dollars in 2018, according to the Albany Herald.

Gov. Brian Kemp announced on Wednesday that Georgia’s 2018 international trade numbers set a new record with exports surpassing $40.5 billion. This reflects a 9 percent increase over 2017.

Kemp said total trade between Georgia and the world spanned 223 countries and territories, reaching a new high at $139.3 billion.

“Trade is a vital part of our state’s economy, and it is exciting to see Georgia products in such high demand across the globe,” Kemp said. “I thank Gov. (Sonny) Perdue and Gov. (Nathan) Deal for prioritizing Georgia’s success on the international stage and their commitment to expanding our state’s trade industry. With nearly 90 percent of exporters classified as small businesses, the 2018 trade numbers showcase the strength and diversity of Georgia’s economy.”

Georgia reclaimed its rank last year as the 11th-largest exporting state in the United States, and in the past decade Georgia exports have grown by 71 percent. Companies in Georgia exported to 212 unique countries and territories. The top five markets for Georgia products were Canada, Mexico, China, Germany and Singapore.

The United States Department of Defense included $86 million in its new budget for new hangars near Savannah, according to the Savannah Morning News.

“The hangars at Hunter Army Airfield are more than 50 years old and are not in suitable condition to meet the needs of the Army’s aviation units,” said Carter. “In fact, the Army has even rated the hangars at Hunter as a ‘failing facility.’ This is completely unacceptable and it has been a top priority of mine to ensure our military has what it needs to be the most well equipped and well prepared force on the planet.”

The proposed DOD budget also includes $24 million for new hangars at the Air National Guard’s Air Dominance Center off Robert B. Miller Jr. Road.

“A new hangar will help facilitate more training exercises and more units at the Air Dominance Center,” said Carter. “A new hangar is especially necessary to accommodate the fifth-generation fighters that utilize the facility for exercises. The Air Dominance Center is an elite training center and I will continue looking for ways to support their important work.”

The South Carolina State House is considering legislation aiming to stop the lowering of the Savannah River, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

South Carolina legislators are trying to use an amendment to a bill to block lowering the pool of water in the Savannah River through a proposed U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plan by keeping a key state agency from issuing a permit to the Corps.

The state’s governor and attorney general are also vowing to fight to keep the pool from being lowered, said Rep. William “Bill” Hixon, R-North Augusta.

The South Carolina House of Representatives passed what is called a proviso to a bill that would essentially prevent S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control from issuing a permit to the Corps if it plans to carry through on a recommended plan to replace New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam with a rock weir fish passage that would leave the pool nearly two feet lower on average at the Fifth Street Bridge by downtown Augusta. Hixon said he is confident the Senate will also pass it and Gov. Henry McMaster will sign it because he has already approved the language in the bill.

House Bill 316 by State Rep. Barry Fleming (R-Harlem) passed the State Senate, according to the Rome News Tribune.

The state Senate on Wednesday approved a House plan calling for the statewide purchase of new electronic touchscreen voting machines that print a paper ballot.

The vote, along party lines, comes just months after a highly contentious race for Georgia governor, and amid several lawsuits challenging the state’s handling of elections and a probe by U.S. House Democrats.

A conference committee will be appointed to iron out the differences between the two versions and Gov. Brian Kemp is expected to sign it into law.

But Robert Brady, Floyd County’s chief elections clerk, said he’s not convinced the new system will be ready to use in the 2020 elections. Brady, a member of the Georgia Elections Officials Association who’s been involved in the testing and discussions, said there’s a lot to get done in a year.

“First they have to pick a system,” he told the county’s board of elections members Tuesday. “There are nine official — seven real — contenders and they haven’t decided which one to buy.”

“The state will pay for the bulk of this,” Brady told his board. “They have about $180 million allocated … But it appears the counties will get stuck with the training for deputies. This is some of the turmoil.”

From The Brunswick News:

The bill is favored by the governor and legislative Republican leadership, though generally opposed by Democrats and even some Republicans — notably the conservative group FreedomWorks — because of a number of factors that include possible corruption, undefined cost to the state and localities, problems with auditing and unreliability of the machines themselves. Opponents frequently point to hand-marked paper ballots as the preferred alternative.

“The audit language itself in this bill is extremely weak,” state Sen. Elena Parent, D-Atlanta, said. “It doesn’t require any risk-limiting audits, except for the pilot program, which is in one county. It doesn’t require them after that. So, all this talk about audits — not only can you not even do them with these machines, the bill doesn’t even say we’re going to have them anyway. What a joke. The pre-certification audit isn’t even a risk-limiting audit in this bill — it’s a tabulation audit, and there is a difference. Shame on any of you who have not bothered to ask that question.”

From the AJC:

The partisan divide over how to best safeguard democracy in Georgia comes after November’s heated race for governor. Democrat Stacey Abrams, who opposes electronic voting, alleged that widespread problems with voting machines caused inaccurate counts, while Kemp said the state’s voting system conclusively showed he won.

Members of both political parties agreed on one thing: Georgia should switch to a voting system that includes a paper ballot to check electronic vote counts. Georgia is one of just four states that relies entirely on electronic voting machines without a verifiable paper trail, along with Delaware, Louisiana and South Carolina.

Georgia would become the first state in the country to rely entirely on ballot-marking devices for every voter on Election Day. Some jurisdictions in 24 states use similar voting systems, often to assist voters with disabilities.

Republican Senate Rules Chairman Jeff Mullis said he fears paper ballots completed with a pen could be used to manipulate election results. He suspected fraud occurred during his campaign for office in 1998, when initial results showed he had won by 23 votes but an additional 151 paper ballots appeared during a recount, handing the election to his opponent.

“Paper ballots are a way to fraud an election. I for one will not stand for that,” said Mullis, who represents the Chickamauga area. “The ballot process should be the most secure place in our voting structure in America.”

House Bill 525 to restructure the Georgia International Maritime Trade Center Authority passed out of the Senate Economic Development and Tourism Committee, according to the Savannah Morning News.

The bill, which was sponsored by Ron Stephens (R-District 164) and passed the house last Thursday, establishes the Savannah-Georgia Convention Center Authority. It replaces the local authority with a state authority that provides bonding capacity, as well as a tax-exempt status for the operation of the facility, bringing the Savannah Convention Center’s operation and governance in line with other convention facilities in Georgia.

Stephens previously told the Savannah Morning News that while there is still no guarantee that the project will be funded, the move would at least put the budget request into consideration. Smith echoed those comments on Wednesday.

“We know we’re not going to get any money if we don’t have the proper structure, and the bill creates the proper structure in the governor’s mind, so whether we’ll get money because we have the proper structure is still unknown, but we know we won’t get any if we don’t have the proper structure in place,” Smith said.

The bill still has to pass the senate before the governor can sign it into law. It passed the Senate Economic Development and Tourism Committee on Wednesday afternoon and now heads to the Senate Rules Committee next week.

Senate Bill 77 by State Sen. Jeff Mullis (R-Upper Left Hand Corner) would add protections to public monuments, and passed the House Governmental Affairs Committee, according to The Brunswick News.

Most talk in the House about the legislation occurred in subcommittee Tuesday, which was held in a room that so often has livestreamed meetings that the General Assembly homepage has a link to it — Room 341 in the Capitol, which is also referred to as the Appropriations Room. However, while a lot of work occurs in subcommittees, they’re rarely broadcast. Out of eight meetings held Tuesday in Room 341, to see six of them, you had to actually be physically present.

State Rep. Park Cannon, D-Atlanta, livestreamed the meeting on Facebook, which may well be the only audio and visual record available to the public as to what occurred. Much of the testimony centered around Confederate monuments, though Mullis made a point of saying the legislation protects all monuments. A leader of the state Sons of Confederate Veterans testified, as did people educated in the contemporary history of when these monuments were erected.

The lead sponsor of Senate Bill 77 — state Sen. Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga — was in the Senate for the debate on House Bill 316 and was unavailable for the committee meeting, so state Sen. Matt Brass, R-Newnan, presented it. The representatives, in their questions, deftly talked around the the elephant in the room.

Gwinnett County leaders are worried about the early voting demographics in the MARTA referendum, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

Depending on who you ask in the group, which spoke at an Atlanta Press Club panel discussion in Atlanta on Monday, the March 19 referendum could — in their opinion — pass by a margin as narrow as 51.5 percent or as wide as 54 percent.

But even as Gwinnett County Commission Chairwoman Charlotte Nash, MARTA CEO Jeff Parker, ARC Executive Director Doug Hooker and State Road and Tollway Authority Executive Director Chris Tomlinson made those predictions, there was an undercurrent of concern.

A chief concern was that not enough young people are showing up during early voting to cast their ballots on the issue. People under 50 are believed to make up less than one-quarter of the voter turnout so far during early voting.

“It’s about the turnout,” said Nash, who predicted a 52.75 percent vote in favor of passage. “Right now, we need very much to see younger folks wake up to the fact that there is a referendum and get to the polls. I’m surprised that the younger folks are not recognizing that it’s really their future that we’re talking about with this referendum.”

Opponents of the Camden County Spaceport are speaking up at public hearings, according to The Brunswick News.

David Kyler, director of the Center for a Sustainable Coast, was among those who opposed the creation of the authority and spaceport itself, saying the arguments in support of the proposal don’t add up.

“If ever licensed by the Federal Aviation Authority, so-called Spaceport Camden would be the only such facility ever approved that features inhabited areas in the flight path hazard zones where dangerous debris from launches falls to the earth,” he said in an email after the meeting.

Kevin Lang, a lawyer and Little Cumberland Island resident, said county commissioners are intent to create a spaceport, even though it’s unlikely commercial rockets will ever be launched at the site.

In the three public hearings held to discuss the creation of an authority, Lang said 47 people spoke against the spaceport and the creation of an authority, and three spoke in favor of the proposal.

Despite the public opposition expressed at the meetings, Lang predicted the General Assembly will approve the local legislation to allow the county to establish the authority.

“They’re going to approve it,” he said. “If it wasn’t a local bill, I don’t think it could pass. There’s a lot of deference to local legislation.”

Congressman Austin Scott‘s office will make a road trip in March and April, according to the Albany Herald.

staff from Scott’s Tifton and Warner Robins district offices will offer constituents assistance with a number of federal issues, ranging from Medicare and Social Security to veterans’ benefits.

“We encourage those who have questions on various issues to come by during these hours and meet privately with staff,” a news release from Scott’s office said. “Call either Rep. Scott’s Tifton office at (229) 396-5175 or Warner Robins office at (478) 971-1776 for questions regarding an upcoming mobile office.”

The Muscogee County Board of Education is considering docking the pay of elected members who miss meetings, according to the Ledger-Enquirer.

District 5 representative Laurie McRae, the board’s vice chairwoman, told the Ledger-Enquirer on Wednesday that her proposals still aren’t in a written draft yet, so they might not be ready in time for the March 18 meeting. Plus, like any policy change, they would have to wait for 30 days before a vote can be taken after they are formally presented. Still, they generated debate during Monday’s work session.

According to current policies, board members are paid $1,000 per month regardless of their attendance, but three consecutive absences not excused by a majority of the board “shall be held to be a resignation” from the board.

At a Georgia School Boards Association conference in December, McRae said, she heard about another school district that pays its board members per the number of meetings they attend.

“I thought that’s a good idea,” McRae said. “… Attendance is the basic responsibility of all board members to the public taxpayers as well as to the school district and other board members. It’s an essential component of a healthy, functioning board.”

Dougherty County Sheriff Kevin Sproul released his department’s 2018 report, according to the Albany Herald.

The Landings Bird Cam on Skidaway Island allows viewers to watch an osprey family in its nest, according to the Savannah Morning News.

The Landings Bird Cam debuted in mid-2014 with internet-connected cameras aimed at what had been an active bald eagle nest. In the next breeding season, though, great horned owls took over and raised two owlets each in 2015 and 2016. Then ospreys moved into the site in 2017, laying eggs that year and last and successfully fledging one chick in 2018.

The camera takes in the sunrise over the marsh and captures a surprising number of other species, including recent visits by a wood stork, eagles, and bluebirds. Attentive volunteer camera operators zoom in on any action.

“From the camera we see so many of them up close and personal,” Lambright said.

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