Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for March 14, 2023


Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for March 14, 2023

Albert Einstein was born on March 14, 1879.

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

Mikhail Gorbachev was elected President of the Soviet Union on March 14, 1990.

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

Under the Gold Dome Today – Legislative Day 33

TBD Senate Rules Committee: Upon Adjournment – 450 CAP
7:00 AM Senate Transportation – 450 CAP
8:00 AM CANCELED HOUSE Ways & Means Income Tax Sub – 403 CAP
8:00 AM HOUSE Public Safety Greene Sub – 406 CLOB
8:00 AM Senate Veterans – 450 CAP
8:15 AM CANCELED HOUSE Ways & Means Ad Valorem Sub – 403 CAP
10:00 AM HOUSE FLOOR SESSION (LD 33) – House Chamber
10:00 AM Senate Floor Session (LD 33) – Senate Chamber
1:00 PM HOUSE Gov’tal Affairs Elections Sub – 415 CLOB
1:00 PM HOUSE Public Safety 2-A Sub – 506 CLOB
1:00 PM Senate Banking & Financial Inst – 450 CAP
1:00 PM Senate Retirement – Mezz 1 CAP
2:00 PM HOUSE Natl Res Resource Mgmt Sub – 506 CLOB
2:00 PM HOUSE Gov’tal Aff State & Local Govt Sub – 415 CLOB
2:30 PM Senate Joint Children & Families and Education & Youth – 450 CAP
3:00 PM HOUSE Special Committee on Healthcare – 341 CAP
4:00 PM Senate Regulated Industries & Util – 450 CAP
5:00 PM Senate Ethics – 307 CLOB
6:00 PM Senate Insurance & Labor: Life Health and Specialty Sub – 310 CLOB

The Georgia State House will pause to honor the late Speaker David Ralston on his birthday today, according to the AJC.

The state House will pause this morning to honor the late House Speaker David Ralston on what would have been his 69th birthday. Ralston died in November after an illness.

State Rep. Mack Jackson, a Sandersville Democrat, will serve as the House’s Chaplain of the Day. Jackson is a pastor who delivered the eulogy for Ralston during his memorial service in November.

Jackson will begin the remembrance this morning, which will include a video and a resolution to honor Ralston. The late Speaker’s family will also be in the House chamber for the events.

A Special Grand Jury has subpoenaed Camden County documents relating to the proposed Spaceport Camden, according to The Brunswick News.

A grand jury has issued subpoenas seeking public records regarding Spaceport Camden that the Camden County Commission refuses to release.

The subpoenas seek records that will show how more than $12 million was spent in an attempt to establish a spaceport in Camden County.

The Camden County Commission, County Attorney John Myers and Camden County Administrator Shawn Boatright will appear before the grand jury at noon on Wednesday at the Camden County Courthouse in Woodbine.

Camden County voters approved a referendum overwhelmingly in March 2022 prohibiting the county from spending more money to establish a spaceport. The Georgia Supreme Court has upheld the county’s legal challenge about the validity of the referendum vote, leaving no reason for the records to be withheld from the public, those seeking the records say.

Camden County Commissioner Jim Goodman said he has called for the release of the spaceport records since taking office in January. He said he responded to the grand jury summons to explain his position.

Governor Brian Kemp discussed his proposed FY 2024 state budget, according to WJBF.

Gov. Kemp says his focus is to strengthen school security, invest in healthcare, tackle public safety, and spur job growth.

Georgia homeowners will get a one-time tax credit of about $500 on property taxes for each home as part of the “homeowner tax relief grant.”

The amended fiscal budget will also help schools, allocate $50,000 per school, and allocate $5 million for paraprofessionals who want to become teachers to expand the workforce.

As well, $3.5 million will be allocated to assist nursing programs due to current wait lists and to increase student capacity.

Gov. Kemp also talked about the state’s budget surplus which will give back $250 for single taxpayers and $500 for joint taxpayers who filed a 2022 tax return.

Governor Kemp also discussed the Supplemental Budget for the current Fiscal Year, according to the Associated Press via the Augusta Chronicle.

The Republican said he signed House Bill 18 on Friday, boosting spending by $2.4 billion through the June 30 end of the budget year. That includes nearly $1 billion for a property tax break and also diverts nearly $1.1 billion in state revenue to the state Department of Transportation to make up for uncollected fuel taxes while gas and diesel taxes were suspended.

The state Senate is scheduled to debate a separate Kemp-backed bill Tuesday that would issue another $1 billion of state income tax refunds for a second year. Senators will also consider separate legislation ratifying Kemp’s extension of the fuel tax break.

“While some on the federal level are pushing a budget that raises taxes on Americans, we’re giving the money back to the people through our budget, because they know best how to use it,” Kemp said in a speech at the state Capitol.

Under the $950 million property tax rebate plan, Kemp says taxpayers with homestead exemptions will get an average of about $500 from the state. Taxpayers will get state income tax refunds of $250 to $500 under House Bill 162, set for debate Tuesday. As with the first year of rebates last year, no one can get back more than they paid in state income taxes in 2021.

Besides the tax break, the amended budget includes one-time $500 bonuses for 54,000 retirees in the state Employees Retirement System. Those retirees haven’t seen regular cost-of-living increases.

Representatives and senators agreed to give the State Health Benefit Plan another $50 million to stretch out a health insurance premium increase for school district employees who don’t have teaching certificates over two years.

From the Capitol Beat News Service:

The General Assembly also backed Kemp’s request to fully fund Georgia’s Quality Basic Education k-12 student formula (QBE) and earmark $128.2 million to cover student enrollment growth in the state’s public schools since last year.

Also in the education arena, the spending plan provides $5 million to help paraprofessionals obtain teaching certificates and $3.5 million in grants to help nursing programs with waiting lists increase student capacity.

The mid-year budget adds $105 million for a new electronic medical records system at the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta.

Lawmakers approved Kemp’s request for $73.1 million to help train workers for the electric vehicle manufacturing plants being built in Newton and Bryan counties.

Law enforcement officers will receive $2000 pay raises in the House version of the next Fiscal Year’s budget, according to WRDW.

The bill allows a $4,000 pay increase for Georgia police officers. House Bill 19 also emphasizes paying higher reimbursement rates to health care providers and expanding opportunities to train new health care workers.

On average, Georgia police officers make approximately $40,000 to $50,000 a year. Their pay is based on market size and location. Research shows larger cities do make more money.

It’s not just about the money that causes police officers to leave. It’s also the pressure and mental challenges they face on the job. Chris Harvey, executive director of the Georgia Peace Office Standards and Training Council, says people are just retiring earlier than usual.

“Georgia is down about 7,000 police officers over the last several years. Everybody is having to work harder, longer under more difficult conditions. So, people are choosing to do other things, or more likely, probably choosing not to get involved in the first place,” Harvey said.

House Bill 520 by State Reps. Todd Jones (R-Forsyth County) and Mary Margaret Oliver (D-Decatur) , according to the Georgia Recorder.

Sen. Kay Kirkpatrick, a Marietta Republican who is leading the review of the bill, said a substitute bill will likely emerge.

Conservative activists are also once again pushing state senators to reject the bill, raising concerns about the lack of clear definitions while also lodging claims supporters have flagged as conspiracy theories.

“My inbox probably should have crashed today with the volume of emails from both sides,” Kirkpatrick said after the meeting Monday.

The measure would streamline data sharing among state agencies, study the state’s crisis bed space capacity and expand a loan repayment program meant to grow the behavioral health workforce. It cleared the House early this month with a 163-to-3 vote.

An analysis of the bill’s cost released Monday puts the price tag at as much as nearly $72 million annually and one-time expenses of up to $3.7 million for the studies outlined in the measure, including a critical look at the state’s crisis bed capacity and needs. The fiscal note projecting the estimated cost was not available at the time the Senate committee held Monday’s hearing.

The most expensive recurring item is for health-related social supports – like for housing and employment – for eligible Medicaid recipients under the age of 19. Such a change would require federal review and cost the state treasury $45 million with an additional $90 million federal match.

Jeff Breedlove, chief of communications and policy with the Georgia Council for Recovery and who also co-leads the broad coalition of advocacy organizations, dismissed some of the criticism flooding lawmakers’ inboxes as “conspiracy theories.”

“It requires the willing suspension of disbelief to take the position that the people who worked on the commission, that the advocates who have worked for a year, that 163 members of the House care any less about kids and families, and civil liberties and constitutional rights then people sitting behind a keyboard, sending inaccurate stigmatizing emails,” Breedlove said Monday.

House Bill 147, the “Safe Schools Act” by State Rep. Will Wade (R-Dawsonville) passed the Senate, according to the Associated Press via WSAV.

The Georgia Senate gave final approval Monday to a school safety bill pushed by Gov. Brian Kemp that includes annual active shooter drills, sending it to the Republican governor’s desk for his signature.

The Senate voted 52-3 for House Bill 147 after rejecting a series of amendments sought by Democrats on votes mainly along party lines.

The measure requires every public school to complete an active shooter drill by Oct. 1 of each year. Students would be required to participate, although districts could choose to allow parents to opt their children out.

“This is a good bill. It promotes the safety of our children and our educational personnel,” said Sen. Mike Hodges, a Brunswick Republican who carries Kemp’s bills as one of his floor leaders.

Hodges said the bill is part of Kemp’s “commitment to keeping our students, teachers and schools safe.” The governor has emphasized fighting youth gangs and crime as his second term begins.

“Research on active shooter drills show that active shooter drills make students feel unsafe, scared, helpless and sad, and their efficacy is sadly questionable,” said Sen. Elena Parent, an Atlanta Democrat.

The Dekalb County Ethics Board is a rolling dumpster fire bloodied but unbowed, according to the AJC.

The four remaining members of the DeKalb County Ethics Board defended their ability to act as a full board, chose a new chair and agreed to hire lawyers during a 20-minute Zoom meeting Monday — but said they’ll take no further action on regular business until new members have been appointed to the board’s five open seats.

Five of the board’s members have resigned in the last month, leaving just two regular members and two alternates.

The resignations came after [Chair Alex] Joseph’s failed attempt to remove Clark, whom she accused of insulting and obstructive behavior. Bonnie Levine, the board’s general counsel, quit on March 3, citing conflicts with the remaining members and fears of the remaining board members conducting business illegally.

On Friday, Joseph filed a petition with the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Office to remove Waymon, Clark and Simelton-Treminio. She accuses them of noncompliance with state laws, concealing corruption, unbecoming conduct and breaching public trust. Joseph did not ask for Ali’s removal.

Remaining board members have not responded to calls and emails seeking comment.

The board also faces a federal lawsuit and civil rights complaint from its former deputy ethics officer LaTonya Nix Wiley, alleging racial discrimination and retaliation.

Anti-semitic flyers were distributed in Athens, according to the Athens Banner Herald.

“It was this flyer making a lot of implications about Jewish people controlling the media and stuff like that. It had pictures of high ranking people with Stars of David plastered on their foreheads,”[Walter Lane] told the Banner-Herald. “It was just disgusting.”

Upon picking it up, Lane, who lives just north of downtown Athens in Chicopee-Dudley, glanced up and down his block.

“And they are literally in every driveway or walkway on my street,” he said.

Last week, several neighborhoods in Athens were littered with anti-Semitic flyers. The majority of flyers showed up in Chicopee-Dudley and Newtown, with some folks finding more in Normaltown. After coming face-to-face with anti-Semitic hate speech, Athenians are figuring out what to do next.

In early February, Atlanta residents found dozens of flyers with similarly antisemitic messages scattered throughout Dunwoody and Sandy Springs. One of those residents was Esther Panitch, who represents Dunwoody in the Georgia House of Representatives. She is the only Jewish member of the General Assembly.

The United States Department of Agriculture will send $7.1 million to Georgia for a new school nutrition program, according to the Albany Herald.

Students in the Dougherty County School System will soon be getting more access to nutritious meals. A United State Department of Agriculture (USDA) initiative is providing $7.1 million for a food-for-school cooperative agreement.

Georgia joins 33 states in a new $200 million initiative created by the USDA — which will get local farmers involved and put locally grown produce in lunchrooms.

“Making sure that children from an early age are learning healthy eating habits and have access to fresh local produce grown by Georgia farmers is so important,” Georgia U.S. Senator Jon Ossoff said. “There’s nothing more important than making sure that our kids have access to nutritious, fresh, healthy foods. It’s the foundation for all other success.”

“66% of students in America and in our local school systems receive their food and nutritious meal in the school lunch program. And so we want to make sure that it’s a win-win for our local community’s producers as well as the children,” U.S. Representative for Georgia’s 2nd Congressional District Sanford Bishop said.

A multi-agency task force resulted in 25 people indicted on 210 counts, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

Twenty-five people named in a 210-count indictment — for crimes ranging from racketeering to murder, gang activity and armed robbery — have been arrested by multiple law enforcement agencies, including agencies from Gwinnett County.

Gwinnett County police announced their Gang Unit worked with the Gwinnett Sheriff’s Office Fugitive Unit, the Gwinnett County District Attorney’s Office, the FBI, the U.S. Marshals Service, the DeKalb County Police Department, the Fulton County district Attorney’s Office and the DeKalb County District Attorney’s Office to make the arrests.

“In August 2021, multiple shooting cases along Boggs Road in Duluth, Ga, led investigators to discover ongoing violence between ‘Blixtz’ gang and ‘56 Gang,’ “Master Police Officer Hideshi Valle said. “On Aug. 29, 2021, ‘56 Gang’ members shot and killed Jeremiah Pretto (an 18-year-old male from Duluth).”

“While investigating Pretto’s murder, numerous violent crimes were linked to the “56 Gang.’ These included multiple armed robberies, carjackings, aggravated assaults, and more.’

The case evolved into a RICO investigation against the “56 Gang” in December 2021 as several members were charged with violent cases. Investigators also discovered the ‘56 Gang’ was working with the ‘Drug Rixh’ gang as cases began to emerge where members of both gangs were accused or committing crimes began to emerge.

Some Hispanic Gwinnettians are asking whether their community is safe, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

“With all of this, we’ve had more awareness of different families who have also, not necessarily been in the same situation, but they feel as if Gwinnett County is not listening to them,” Zaira Garcia said.

The Hispanic community got a chance to address its concerns to Gwinnett police officials, including Police Chief J.D. McClure, during a community meeting at Universal Church on Thursday night.

“The Gwinnett County Police Department has a long history of serving our community with dignity and respect,” McClure told attendees. “We take crime seriously and we will do everything in our power to keep you safe.

Attendees highlighted a number of issues, asking police what they are doing about concerns such as fentanyl, gangs, curfews for young people, missing persons cases and human trafficking.

“A big part of the community concern is definitely fentanyl,” Duluth resident Laura Zarate said. “Definitely (also) the drug world, but also the gangs, violence and a little bit of a taboo between having a relationship with the Latino community and the Gwinnett police department, or any police in general.”

Macon Judicial Circuit Chief Superior Judge Howard Simms ordered a bail-bond monitoring company no longer be able to monitor suspects, according to 13WMAZ.

Judge Simms says Sheriff David Davis, who also has the authority to terminate the monitoring service by law, has been “diplomatic” handling the allegations against SuperCom not monitoring suspects.

Simms said on the bench Monday that the monitoring service operated by Corey Dunlap “wouldn’t monitor any more suspects as long as I’m Chief Superior Judge.”

Davis says Simms and him are “on the same page.”

Sheriff Davis placed Anytime Bail and SuperCom on a 90 day suspension from tracking new ankle monitor clients beginning February 14.

However, on February 23, just a week after Sheriff David Davis and Anita Howard met with Anytime and SuperCom, murder suspect Keymarion Manor was out on the streets with a gun. SuperCom was supposed to be tracking his ankle monitor and making sure he stayed under house arrest. Manor died from his injuries in the shootout.

Muscogee County Coroner Buddy Bryan has resorted to transporting bodies in rented U-Haul vans, according to the Ledger-Enquirer.

“Our van’s got over 300,000 miles on it. It’s antiquated. It’s constantly down at the shop,” said Bryan. “It’s dangerous to drive back and forth to Atlanta on a regular basis that we do.” Atlanta is where autopsies are performed.

The van is over a decade old now and is now almost unusable with how often it stays in the shop.

At one point a few weeks ago Bryan rented a U-Haul in order to transport six bodies to Atlanta due to an overcrowding at the county morgue and the van being in the shop again.

Bryan said he along with three deputies and a forensic driver met at the morgue at 4:30 a.m. in order to get the bodies into the U-Haul and up to Atlanta before decomposition began. “We gotta do the best we can,” Bryan said.

Shortly after interviewing Bryan, the coroner’s office had to once again employ the use of a U-Haul van to transport bodies to Atlanta as their van was in the shop again.

Tybee Island will offer shuttle service to the Savannah St. Patrick’s Day festivities, according to WTOC.

The shuttles are going to run pretty much all day long starting at 6 a.m. on Friday until 1 a.m. on Saturday.

You can buy a wristband at any of the pickup locations.

“That gets you back and forth all day, as many times as you want. Say you forgot something at your bed and breakfast, you need to run back, you want to come back downtown later, your wristband is good all day.”

“We have a good amount of people that decide to stay on Tybee to travel into Savannah for the parade, which hopefully that’ll bring more tourists to the island to be able to travel that way,” said Akash Patel, the CFO of Tybee Lodging Group.

The Old Savannah Tours shuttle is the only shuttle service to and from Tybee on St. Patrick’s Day.

Dougherty County Commissioners discussed impending Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) collections, according to the Albany Herald.

The fund collection for Albany’s sales taxes will begin in April. Residents will now have to pay a penny sales tax.

Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, or SPLOST 8, funding will go towards various projects.

The anticipated collection amount is set to be around $49 million.

Dougherty County could also potentially be seeing a new and improved morgue.

“It was placed on SPLOSTS 7 as the coroner’s office needed to have its own morgue facility,” McCoy said. “The referendum was approved by the voters. And this is just the executive of a project that was on SPLOSTS 7.”

Retired FBI Agent Jimmy H. Hammock, Jr. announced he will run as a Republican for Hall County Sheriff, according to the Gainesville Times.

Hall County Sheriff Gerald Couch was first elected as sheriff in 2012 and would be up for re-election in 2024. Couch, also 60, said Monday he will be running again.

Hammock moved to Hall County in 2013 when he was promoted to supervisory special agent in the Atlanta division of the FBI. He retired in 2018.

Hammock said he had a host of reasons for running for sheriff including the death of Sheriff’s Office Deputy Blane Dixon, who was fatally shot in the line of duty in 2019.

Former Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill faces sentencing after being convicted of civil rights violations, according to the AJC.

Almost two years after he was indicted in April 2021 on federal charges of violating the civil rights of jail detainees, the controversial former lawman will be sentenced to a federal prison Tuesday by U.S. District Judge Eleanor Ross.

Hill was found guilty in October of strapping detainees in the Clayton County jail into restraint chairs as punishment. Restraint chairs can only lawfully be used in cases when a detainee is a threat to himself or others.

Federal officials last week recommended 46 months of prison time, arguing that Hill’s methods abused his authority and physically harmed pre-trial detainees.

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