Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for March 16, 2023


Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for March 16, 2023

James Madison, drafter of the Constitution and fourth President of the United States, was born on March 16, 1751.

The United States Military Academy was established at West Point, New York on March 16, 1802.

On March 16, 1861, delegates in Savannah unanimously ratified the Confederate Constitution and voted to have a new state constitution drafted.

On March 16, 1976, former Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter won the Illinois Democratic Primary. His spiritual successor President Barack Obama, from Illinois, would visit Carter’s home state of Georgia on March 16, 2012.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

From the AJC Political Insider:

[O]n Wednesday, Lt. Gov. Burt Jones ended the day’s Senate floor session with a quip about the slow pace of work on the House side when it comes to passing bills that originated in and passed the Senate.

“We might need to work on our March Madness bracket tomorrow because the House isn’t doing anything with any of our bills,” Jones said. “So I think Mr. Pro Tem, if you’re alright with it, maybe we should just work on the brackets tomorrow, because they’re not taking up any of our stuff.”

Rules Committee Chairman Matt Brass went to the well to hammer the point with a handful of papers.

“In my hand I hold nine bills, nine Senate bills. That’s how many they have passed over there,” Brass said. “We are at 60 House bills we have passed. I tell you that to tell you the Rules Committee meeting will be very brief today.”

But who’s keeping score?

Under the Gold Dome Today – Legislative Day 35

TBD Rules Committee: Upon Adjournment – 450 CAP
8:00 AM HOUSE Nat’l Ressource Env’tal Quality Sub – 606 CLOB
8:00 AM Canceled- Senate Ethics – 307 CLOB
8:15 AM HOUSE Natl Res Resource Mgmt Sub (upon adjournment of Env’tal Quality Sub) – 606 CLOB
8:30 AM HOUSE NATL RESOURCES FULL (upon adjournment of Resource Mgmt Sub) – 606 CLOB
8:30 AM Senate Appropriations – 450 CAP
9:00 AM HOUSE FLOOR SESSION (LD 35) – House Chamber
9:00 AM Senate Econ Dev & Tourism – 450 CAP
10:00 AM Senate Judiciary – 307 CLOB
10:00 AM Senate State & Local Gov’tal Ops – Mezz 1 CAP
11:00 AM Cancelled- Senate Public Safety – 450 CAP
12:00 PM HOUSE WAYS & MEANS (upon House adjournment) – 406 CLOB HYBRID
1:00 PM Senate Floor Session (LD 35) – Senate Chamber
3:00 PM Senate Children & Families – 307 CLOB
4:00 PM Senate Regulated Industries – 450 CAP
4:00 PM Senate Higher Education – 307 CLOB

Governor Brian Kemp signed House Bill 162, authorizing a one-time tax refund for Georgia income tax payers, according to WSAV.

The bill, named HB 162, provides for a state income tax refund for Georgians who filed returns in both the 2021 and 2022 taxable years. The bill is made available by over $1 billion in surplus funds in the state’s budget.

The tax breaks were key pledges in Kemp’s successful reelection campaign.

From Atlanta News First via WTOC:

The AFY 2023 budget signed by Gov. Kemp on March 10 accounts for the special refund, with over $1 billion in surplus funds on its way back to taxpayers. This is the second year in a row of income tax refunds.

“While some in Washington D.C. are calling for tax increases, we’re sending money back to hardworking Georgians,” said Gov. Brian Kemp. “And while they want to grow government, we’re growing opportunity. Last year, we returned over a billion dollars to the taxpayers of our state, and I’m proud we’re doing it again. Thank you to those in the General Assembly who supported this measure to help Georgia families fighting through 40-year high inflation.”

Wayne County voters are casting ballots ahead of the March 21 referendum on a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax for Education (E-SPLOST), according to WTOC.

The county has a special election on Tuesday to decide on an ESPLOST renewal for Wayne County Schools.

The Wayne County School System is looking to renew a one percent sales tax to be used for education. It’s expected to raise around $30 million over five years.

Sales tax in Wayne County is currently 8 percent. This one percent renewal would maintain sales tax at the same rate.

Early voting for the ESPLOST continues until Friday at 5 p.m. at the Hall Richardson Rec Center on North 4th Street. Voting resumes on Election Day on Tuesday.

On Tuesday, voters will cast their ballots in their regular precincts in Wayne County.

Senate Resolution 300 by Sens. Josh McLaurin (D-Atlanta) and Chuck Huffstetler (R-Rome) urges members of the Georgia Public Service Commission to protect ratepayers of the state’s dominant electric utility from increases due to the construction of Plant Vogtle reactors 3 and 4, according to the Augusta Chronicle via the Savannah Morning News.

The resolution has not yet been put up for a vote, but it is sponsored by 23 senators, half the members of the chamber.

The resolution, SR 300, is to urge the PSC, the elected officials who regulate utilities in Georgia, to “pursue actions to protect 2,700,000 electricity customers from unjustly paying” for cost overruns.

Commissioner Tricia Pridemore, chair of the PSC, said the PSC oversight of construction has been rigorous. She re-iterated that the commission is following the lawful process.

“I’m disappointed to see some friends in the Legislature take some cheap political shots” at the PSC, she said.

Note: the Senate comprises 56 members, half of which is 28, not 23.

House Bill 71, to protect the Okefenokee Swamp, languishes in that chamber. From the Capitol Beat News Service via the Statesboro Herald:

House Bill 71 failed to make last week’s Crossover Day deadline for bills to pass at least one legislative chamber to remain alive for this year’s General Assembly session. However, the measure boasts 91 cosponsors among the 180 House members and could be resurrected by being attached to another bill that is still before the legislature.

Rep. Darlene Taylor, R-Thomasville, the bill’s chief sponsor, urged her colleagues on the House Natural Resources & Environment’s Resource Management Subcommittee to give the measure a chance.

“The Okefenokee is one of the largest remaining intact freshwater ecosystems in the world,” she said. “It cannot be replaced. A miscalculation cannot be corrected.”

Rhett Jackson, a professor of hydrology and water resources at the University of Georgia, said the proposed mine would remove enough water from the drought-sensitive swamp to render it more susceptible to wildfires.

Other supporters touted the Okefenokee’s economic benefits as a popular tourist attraction. Michael Lusk, refuge manager at the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, said the swamp draws about 400,000 visitors a year, is responsible for 955 jobs, and generates $24 million in annual economic impact.

Senate Bill 222 by Sen. Max Burns (R-Sylvania) passed out of the House State and Local Government Subcommittee and heads to the full Committee, according to the Georgia Recorder via the Albany Herald.

A Georgia House panel has advanced legislation that prohibits local government officials from directly receiving donations from outside organizations to administer elections after accusations that millions of dollars were unfairly given to Democratic-leaning counties during the 2020 election cycle.

Senate Bill 222 was approved by the House State and Local Government Subcommittee with the support of Republican legislators following a lengthy debate over creating new criminal penalties and forcing a county to return donations it received from a private organization to help pay for election administration.

The Senate approved the updated donation restrictions earlier this month along party lines, so if the House also approves it, the bill can advance to the governor’s desk.

If the bill passes, all private donations would have to be funneled to local election administrations through the secretary of state’s office and the State Election Board.

The bill also makes it a felony carrying up to a year in jail and a $10,000 fine if someone violates the law by applying for private grants or receiving donations for election operations.

A lawsuit against Mountain Judicial Circuit District Attorney Deborah Gonzalez (D-Athens) claims she is “unable and unwilling” to do her job, according to The Current GA.

The suit, filed by Athens bar owner Jarrod Miller, seeks to compel Western Judicial Circuit DA Deborah Gonzalez to “perform the duties of her office” as outlined in Georgia law and comes as Republican lawmakers have invoked Gonzalez’s name as reasons to create a prosecutor oversight commission in this legislative session. Miller said in the suit he voted for Gonzalez in her election for district attorney.

While the application for the writ of mandamus wants a judge to force the DA to follow broad statutes that spell out duties of the district attorney, the 20-page filing and accompanying exhibits more specifically outlines numerous examples of alleged failures within the DA’s office that paints a picture of turmoil and inexperience that has hampered efforts to successfully prosecute crimes.

Gonzalez, Georgia’s first Hispanic district attorney who serves Athens-Clarke and Oconee counties, did not have criminal law experience before winning a December 2020 election on a progressive criminal justice platform that included sending a Day 1 memo recommending certain minor drug offenses not be prosecuted, reducing the use of probation and not seeking the death penalty.

The suit alleges Gonzalez’ inexperience also led to issues with the performance of assistant district attorneys, including a letter from the Superior Court judges in October 2022 that expressed concern with the “efficacy, preparation, and procedural readiness” of the ADAs in court, including improperly pursuing cases under a repealed code section, offering pleas and providing discovery in a timely manner and handling a growing backlog of cases.

Statesboro Police Chief Mike Broadhead is addressing the rising numbers of overdoses, according to the Statesboro Herald.

Statesboro Police Chief Mike Broadhead sent out an email to area media and posted a release on the department’s social media detailing the deadly beginning to 2023 caused by drug overdoses.

In Tuesday’s email, Broadhead said the department had responded to seven incidents of drug overdoses so far in 2023 and five of the incidents resulted in a fatality. For all of 2022, officers responded to seven overdose incidents, four of which resulted in fatalities, he said.

Broadhead said all the overdose victims were in their mid-20s and he believes all the deaths were accidental, not suicide. Also, he believes all the victims were previous drug users who were struggling with recovery from their addictions.

“Illegal street drugs are currently more lethal than perhaps at any time in US history,” Broadhead said. “This corresponds with an increase in the presence of Fentanyl.”

“A tiny amount can be lethal, and in many cases, the presence of Fentanyl is unknown to the user until it’s too late,” Brodhead said.

“Even people who are or have been habitual users of these hard drugs – heroin, oxy, opiod drugs – there’s no way to build up a tolerance to Fentanyl. It’s measured in micrograms when administered in a surgical setting, but when people are mixing the drugs themselves, they don’t have the skill set or equipment to measure that tiny amount. People can mix Fentanyl with anything and sell it as something they’ve stolen out of a medicine cabinet.”

Broadhead said he believes a primary reason behind the sudden increase in overdose deaths since Jan. 1 is an increased availability of street drugs laced with Fentanyl.

“I think that only because I don’t have any definitive way to say it’s anything else,” he said. “It’s possible a particularly hot load of drugs came into the community at some point, but I look at the seven incidents and they are spread out over more than a month. That leads me to believe they are not from one batch.”

Broadhead said users of illegal drugs are currently playing a version of “Russian Roulette” with catastrophic results.

Statesboro officers have been carrying Naloxone, a drug used to counter the effects of opioid drugs, for the past few years.

“But if they cannot locate the overdose in a timely manner, it cannot be used effectively,” Broadhead said. “Georgia law allows for people to have immunity from arrest or prosecution if they call for emergency help for someone suffering an overdose.”

Former Savannah Police Chief Roy Minter’s nomination as U.S. Marshal for the Southern District of Georgia was forwarded for a vote of the full Senate by the Senate Judiciary Committee, according to WSAV.

The Floyd County Board of Elections will host voter education programs, according to the Rome News Tribune.

The voter education series will have three sessions relating to voting procedures, voter registration practices and the elections process.

“Voters in Georgia have a lot of responsibility,” said Floyd County Election Supervisor Akyn Trudnak. “We’re trying to educate them and help them through this process by being as transparent as possible… Our goal is to explain to people the requirements to get on, and stay on, the voter rolls, and what exactly it is that our office does.”

Laketha Ashe announced as the second candidate in a Special Election to fill a vacancy on the Muscogee County Board of Education, according to the Ledger-Enquirer.

Last month, Home for Good vice president Patricia Frey was the first candidate to announce a campaign for the board’s District 7 seat. The special election day will be June 20.

District 7 representative Cathy Williams has resigned, effective April 1, from the nine-member MCSD board to join the 14-member Georgia Department of Transportation Board. She received the most votes for the appointment last month among the 24 state legislators whose districts are in or contiguous to the 2nd Congressional District.

This will be Ashe’s third time on a District 7 ballot. She ran for the district’s Columbus Council seat last year. She finished second in May’s four-candidate race to qualify for the June runoff, which Joanne Cogle won 454-373.

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