Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for March 15, 2022

15
Mar

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for March 15, 2022

On March 15, 44 BC, Julius Caesar was assassinated at a meeting of the Senate.

Hmmm, back-stabbing Senators. I’m so glad that’s not a thing anymore.

On March 15, 40 BC, Octavian executed 300 Senators and knights in vengeance for Caesar’s death.

On March 15, 1758, Georgia’s Royal Governor Henry Ellis signed legislation dividing the colony into eight parishes, primarily for religious administration, but with some parishes having secondary government functions.

On March 15, 1933, Governor Eugene Talmadge negotiated bank loans totalling $2 million dollars to keep the state’s public schools open.

On March 15, 1943, Sea Island was officially named as Governor Ellis Arnall signed legislation designating the island that had informally been given several different names.

On March 15, 1980, USS Carl Vinson, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, was launched at Newport News Shipbuilding in Virginia. Vinson was the first Navy ship named after a living American.

Howard “Bo’ Callaway, the father of the modern Georgia Republican Party, died on March 15, 2014.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Under the Gold Dome Today – Ides of March

8:00 AM Senate Appropriations- Transportation Subcommittee 125 CAP

8:30 AM HOUSE RULES COMMITTEE 341 CAP

10:00 AM HOUSE FLOOR SESSION (LD 28) House Chamber

10:00 AM Senate Floor Session LD 28 (Crossover Day) Senate Chamber

3:00 PM Senate Finance Committee 450 CAP

6:00 PM Senate Rules Committee 450 CAP

Today is Crossover Day in the Georgia General Assembly. Only bills that have passed in either chamber by the end of this legislative day will be eligible for final passage this year. May the odds be in your favor.

From the Associated Press via WSAV:

Lawmakers on Tuesday will decide questions including whether they should legalize horse racing.

Some key proposals have already moved forward, like a mental health reform measure, but lawmakers will consider additional proposals on Tuesday.

It’s still possible for lawmakers to later resurrect many proposals that don’t pass Tuesday.

From the AJC:

State senators will take up two pieces of legislation to decide whether they want to allow Georgians to expand gambling to allow horse racing.

Senate Resolution 131 would ask voters whether they support allowing horse racing and, if voters approve the measure, Senate Bill 212 would establish a Georgia Horse Racing Commission tasked with licensing and regulating up to five racetracks. Since SR 131 would ask voters to amend the state constitution, it needs the support of two-thirds of each chamber to pass. SB 212 only needs a majority vote.

Senate Bill 171 would increase the penalties for crimes such as blocking a highway, assaulting someone or damaging property if it involves groups of two or more.

SB 171 would also punish local governments that instruct public safety officers to “stand down” during protests. There were reports that city leadership instructed police officers not to engage with protesters who began to damage property during protests in Atlanta in summer 2020.

From the AJC Political Insider:

[I]f you’re a lawmaker worried that your legislation will die on the vine after today’s Crossover Day session, take heart in the advice retiring Senate Rules Committee Chairman Jeff Mullis gave to state Sen. Kim Jackson Monday as she tried to move her anti-stalking bill through the committee.

Since Mullis was unfamiliar with the details of the Atlanta Democrat’s proposal, he suggested he work with her on the bill before moving it on for Senate floor consideration.

Seeing her concern that missing Tuesday’s deadline would doom it, a cheerful Mullis told her, “It’s not over because it doesn’t go today,” he said. “I’ll teach you some sneaky bastard tactics later.” When the hearing room erupted in laughter at his apparent candor, Mullis, in his last pre-Crossover hearing ever, said, “I apologize….Oh wait a minute, I don’t care!”

New cannabis legislation is moving in both chambers, according to the Capitol Beat News Service.

A state House committee approved legislation Monday that would cancel the current program and authorize a new request for proposals (RFP) from companies interested in growing marijuana in Georgia and converting the leafy crop into low-THC oil for eligible patients.

Also Monday, a committee in the Georgia Senate approved a bill aimed at moving the current program forward by restarting the evaluation of companies that already have bid for state licenses.

The General Assembly legalized possession of cannabis oil in 2015 but gave Georgians no way to obtain the drug. In 2019, lawmakers created a state commission to oversee the growth of marijuana and the production and sale of cannabis oil.

Under House Bill 1425, the state Department of Administrative Services would oversee the RFP in partnership with an independent third party. Licenses evaluated during the RFP process would have to be issued by the end of December.

Meanwhile, Senate Bill 609 also is due for a floor vote on Tuesday. The Senate legislation, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga, contains the same provision for expanding the number of licenses as more Georgians are added to the cannabis oil registry.

The State House passed a budget for 2023, according to the Associated Press via WALB.

House Bill 911 goes to the Senate for more debate after passing the House 155-3 on Friday. The document would spend $30.2 billion in state tax money, and $57.9 billion overall.

Those are big boosts from where the state began its 2022 budget, thanks to bountiful tax revenues and federal assistance.

The spending plan would continue $2,000 raises for teachers and $5,000 raises for state employees that will begin in the amended 2022 budget.

House Bill 1464 would give the Georgia Bureau of Investigations jurisdiction over election investigations, according to the Dalton Daily Citizen News.

House Bill 1464 tasks the GBI with elections investigations, which are currently conducted by the state elections board. GBI would be allowed to issue subpoenas for documents and materials.

The House Special Committee on Election Integrity approved HB 1464 Wednesday with all Republican support, and all Democrats voting against it. The proposal now heads the House for a vote.

Opponents of the 40-page proposal say the changes would burden elections staff by adding procedural duties and intimidate voters by allowing GBI to oversee elections investigations.

The bill largely focuses on “chain of custody” procedures for security paper used to print ballots, and receiving and counting absentee ballots. Any election official who comes into contact with the paper and ballots has to fill out tracking forms with the date, time and their signature upon each encounter.

Lieutenant Governor Geoff Duncan (R-Forsyth County) discussed his efforts to change law enforcement responses to mental health issues, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

“But the pandemic itself was an undeniable catalyst moment that said we’ve got to do something,” he said. “So many folks experienced and continue to experience accelerated mental health episodes and issues and concerns.”

Duncan’s contribution to alleviating those would be to have trained behavioral health personnel available to respond with law enforcement for potential mental health issues. It came to him from his home county of Forsyth, where Sheriff Ron Freeman has a pilot program partnering with a behavioral health agency to provide those co-responders.

“He said, ‘Geoff, you’ve got to find a way to do this statewide,’” Duncan said. “‘It is such an improvement, it is such a powerful tool for us here locally. I think other parts of the state would appreciate it.’”

The Georgia Behavioral Health and Peace Officer Co-Responder Act passed the Senate unanimously and will be taken up soon by the House Health and Human Services Committee. It would allow the state’s 23 Community Service Boards that provide outpatient mental health and substance abuse treatment and Crisis Stabilization Units to partner with local law enforcement to provide those co-responders when there is a 911 call that appears to be related to mental health.

“When we have a mental health crisis, we call the police, we don’t call an ambulance,” he said. A survey of more than 2,400 senior law enforcement found that 84% said the number of calls for people with mental health problems had increased and 56% blamed it on an inability to be able to get people into treatment, according to Mental Illness Policy Org.

“In a lot of those instances, they don’t need a jail cell,” he said. “They need therapy or they need counseling or they need medication to help them navigate through a difficult condition.”

Democrat Stacey Abrams kicked off her “One Georgia” tour in Cuthbert this weekend, according to WALB.

She will also have events in Warner Robins and Atlanta on Monday.

Abrams is the lone Democrat that has qualified in the race. On the Republican side, Gov. Brian Kemp has qualified, along with Catherine Davis, David Perdue, Kandiss Taylor and Tom Williams.

Cuthbert was the site of the Southwest Ga. Regional Medical Center, chosen to highlight Abrams’ promise to expand Medicaid. From WALB:

Gubernatorial Candidate Stacey Abrams made her first campaign stop in Cuthbert to talk about Medicaid expansion.

A closed sign and no emergency services offered are all that’s left at what was the only hospital in Cuthbert.

″At that time we needed the hospital to stay open because we had so many people in Randolph County dying from COVID. They feel like they are left here to die because they don’t have an emergency room,” said Jones Johnson.

The issue they’re hoping can bring the hospital back is expanding Medicaid — one of the major issues Abrams is running on in her race to become governor.

Abrams said Medicaid expansion would give 520 more people in Cuthbert alone health insurance.

“Our responsibility is to not impose our own notions who deserves to be healthy and who deserves to have support. We need to do what the Bible tells us and to take care of the sick and poor among us,” said Abrams.

Abrams said Medicaid expansion would take care of uncompensated care where people who can’t afford to go to the doctor get seen through emergency services — a cost the taxpayer takes care of.

“When you see your property tax inch up but the value of your house hasn’t, part of that is to pay for uncompensated care. When we expand Medicaid, that county government gets that money back,” said Abrams.

From WTVM:

Democrat Stacey Abrams made a stop at the closed Southwest Georgia Regional Medical Center in Cuthbert today – emphasizing widespread access to healthcare for all Georgians. Abrams says places like Cuthbert, a town about an hour outside Columbus, could benefit from.

People living in Cuthbert now have to travel more than 30 minutes away for hospital care in Eufaula, Alabama, Albany, Georgia or Columbus, Georgia.

“When you lose 40 jobs in a town like Cuthbert, that is a cut that doesn’t heal,” said Abrams. “But I know if we expand Medicaid in the state of Georgia, we will create 3,000 jobs in this region. Three-thousand good paying jobs. Not only the jobs inside this hospital but we will create jobs in the café to feed the doctors and the nurses. We will create retail opportunities. There’ll be construction opportunities, there will be jobs that don’t leave this place.”

Abrams ensured Cuthbert citizens that if elected, she will work diligently to help reopen the hospital that has been closed since October of 2020.

From WJBF:

She says expanding Medicaid would prevent rural hospitals from closing, bring more jobs to the area and increase medical resources like more ambulances.

All things Abrams believes will grow rural areas and prevent rural residents from having to drive long distances to receive care.

“It is business 101, transportation, education and investment and you center that around access to healthcare that’s how you grow communities,” said Abrams. “And so rather than slapping the name rural investment on a policy I’m going to work with local governments to actually find out what you need and work with you to pay for what you need, because when we grow rural Georgia we grow our state and when we grow our state we grow our economy.”

From the News-Observer:

Expanding the Medicaid health insurance program to cover uninsured adults remains the central plank of Abrams platform. In the southwest Georgia town of Cuthbert, Abrams spoke in front of a rural hospital that closed in 2020, saying that Medicaid expansion could have saved it.” She called the initiative “biggest economic development project in history” saying it would infuse money and jobs into the state’s economy, but said at its base, Medicaid expansion is about a society that takes care of everyone.

“Because the thing of it is, if you are a childless adult in Georgia, no matter how poor you are, you’re not poor enough for Georgia to look out for,” Abrams said.

Abrams also talked about some other parts of her platform, saying she would seek statewide policies on what should be done to help schoolchildren recover from what they missed during the COVID-19 pandemic and do more to promote economic opportunity for all.

“We need a governor who doesn’t leave it to every school system to decide what should be done because he’s too lazy or too inept to decide what should be done,” she said of COVID-19 recovery. Kemp has deferred to local districts on most instructional policy, part of a long history of local control in Georgia’s 180 school districts.

Three members of the Fulton County Board of Education are not seeking reelection, according to the AJC.

Fulton County Board of Education President Julia Bernath and two other long-serving members will not seek reelection this year.

In addition to Bernath, Katie Reeves, a board member since 1999, and Linda McCain, who joined the board in 2011, are not running again.

Nine candidates qualified for Mayor of Augusta, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

Meanwhile, fifteen candidates vie for five open seats on the Augusta Commission, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

The Ledger-Enquirer updates qualified candidates for local offices in Columbus and Muscogee County.

Augusta Transit still requires masks for bus patrons, according to WRDW.

The announcement came after the Transportation Security Administration extended the wearing of masks on public transportation and in public transportation hubs through April 18.

To comply with federal regulations, the city is following that extension.

Southern Judicial Circuit Assistant District Attorney Catherine Mims Smith is running for an open seat for Superior Court Judge, according to the Valdosta Daily Times.

“I am running to serve as the next superior court judge for the Southern Judicial Circuit because my commitment to the law and our community run deep,” Smith said. “I have spent my entire career in Georgia court rooms, and when it comes to delivering justice with fairness experience matters, I believe my extensive legal experience and deep involvement in our communities provide me with a unique background and perspective to serve as our next superior court judge.”

Smith is seeking to use her 25 years of experience serving in private practice, criminal defense and as a prosecutor to “continue protecting our communities,” according to the statement.

Smith has received the endorsement of her candidacy for superior court judge from Brooks County Sheriff Mike Dewey, Colquitt County Sheriff Rod Howell and Thomas County Sheriff Carlton Powell.

“Catherine Mims Smith’s qualifications for superior court Judge speak for themselves, and in our profession, experience matters,” Powell said. “A good judge must possess impeccable character, a high intellect and knowledge of all sides of the courtroom. Her background and family values would compel her to be fair to all people. There is no question Catherine meets these requirements and I am proud to support her.”

The Southern Judicial Circuit serves Brooks, Colquitt, Echols, Lowndes, and Thomas Counties.

Lee County voters will decide contested elections, according to the Albany Herald.

Four candidates, two Democrats and two Republicans, are vying for the District 1 County Commission seat. Incumbent Commissioner John Wheaton is not seeking re-election.

The two Democrats seeking the seat are William J. Simmons Jr. and Otis Lee Westbrook. In the Republican field, the candidates are Arthur J. Ford and Dennis Roland.

District 3 County Commissioner Billy Mathis, a Republican who serves as chairman, did not draw an opponent.

The other two competitive races are for the Lee County School Board, where District 3 incumbent Melvin Asher Newell III is the only incumbent not facing opposition in the nonpartisan races.

The final day for unregistered voters to qualify to vote in the primaries or for registered voters to make an address change is April 23. The last day for voters to request a mailed absentee ballot is May 23.

Changes in Georgia election laws include one that mandates two Saturdays when polls will be open for in-person absentee voting, generally referred to as early or advance voting. Those will be on May 7 and May 14, with voting hours extended by an hour to run from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

“That’s (good) for people who work Monday through Friday and want to vote early,” Johnson said. “They now have two Saturdays available.”

Voters can check registration status and address information at https://www.mvp.sos.ga.gov/MVP/mvp.do.

The Albany Municipal Court is starting an accountability court designed to reduce re-offending, according to WALB.

“[T]he court realized a lot of people were coming to court had a lot of social and community needs that were not being addressed. And through a pilot program, they added a few years ago they were able to get some grant funding to address these needs. And those needs could be dealing with child care, education, employment. Housing even. And we realized we had a lot of community partners that we were not connected to, and needed a case manager to facilitate that. So that’s why this program was born. It’s diverted from a program called the Red Hook Project, out of New York City, that’s been around 30 or 40 years,” replied [Municipal Court Case Manager Nicole] Saint-Cyr.

“Because it actually costs the city money to send them to jail, and you are not addressing the problems that people have. So if you have someone who is unemployed or doesn’t have a GED, or wants to change what is going on in their life, you have to address the issues. So if Judge Weaver sends someone to a GED, but they have no photo ID, no Social Security card, no birth certificate, it’s hard for them to be able to make that change and adhere to the court order. So I’m here to help them connect with the community partners that we have,” said Saint-Cyr.

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