Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for March 20, 2023


Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for March 20, 2023

March 20, 1854 saw a meeting in Ripon, Wisconsin that is generally considered the founding of the Republican Party.

[F]ormer members of the Whig Party meet to establish a new party to oppose the spread of slavery into the western territories. The Whig Party, which was formed in 1834 to oppose the “tyranny” of President Andrew Jackson, had shown itself incapable of coping with the national crisis over slavery.

The Civil War firmly identified the Republican Party as the party of the victorious North, and after the war the Republican-dominated Congress forced a “Radical Reconstruction” policy on the South, which saw the passage of the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to the Constitution and the granting of equal rights to all Southern citizens. By 1876, the Republican Party had lost control of the South, but it continued to dominate the presidency until the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933.

The Georgia State Capitol was completed on March 20, 1889. Ron Daniels, the Poet Laureate of GaPundit, has written an ode to the Gold Dome:

Well I guess it was back in eighteen eighty nine,
When a couple of boys in Dahlonega went down in a mine,
And found it was slap full of gold.
Then these folks in Atlanta wanted to keep growing,
So they told the legislature the Capitol had to be going,
And so those politicos said “Good Bye Milledgeville! Our attorneys will be in touch.”
Now the Capitol had been moved before,
Savannah, Louisville, and more,
They’d even moved it down to Macon on an overloaded poultry wagon.
Atlanta sure wanted to lend the State a hand,
Giving the legislature plenty of land,
Hammers started swingin’ and, boy howdy, they sure were buildin’.
The architect of this here building was feeling bold,
Covering the building’s dome all in beautiful gold,
Leaving the gold mine empty, and leaving someone with the shaft.
Well, Governor Gordon was slap full of delight,
When his eyes did recognize that impressive sight,
On March 20, 1889, a completed Capitol building.
He grabbed the keys and a few words he spoke,
The words he uttered were no joke,
“Boys when you’re hot, you’re hot! Now thanks a lot.”

On March 20, 1943, Governor Ellis Arnall signed legislation authorizing a referendum to amend the Georgia Constitution and make the Public Service Commission a Constitutional agency.

On March 20, 1965, President Lyndon Baines Johnson notified Alabama Governor George Wallace that Alabama National Guard troops would be called up to maintain order during a third march from Selma to Montgomery. Within five months, the Voting Rights Act would be passed by Congress.

On March 20, 1970, Governor Lester Maddox signed legislation designating the Brown Thrasher the official state bird, and the Bobwhite Quail the official state game bird.

Happy birthday to Georgia-born actress Holly Hunter (1958) and film director/actor Spike Lee (1957).

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Baldwin County Voters head to the polls tomorrow to decide on a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST), according to 13WMAZ.

“A one cent sales tax is already existing, so we’re asking our voters to extend it for another six years,” [County Manager Carlos] Tobar said.

Tobar says they use SPLOST funds to help improve the infrastructure.

“Water, sewer lines, road bases, resurfacing, airport improvements, public safety improvements, parks and recreation,” he said.

“In my opinion, it’s the fairest way to get the resources we need for public safety and to protect the community,” [Baldwin Fire Department’s Lt. Kevin Meek] says.

Election day will be held at the Baldwin County Government building from 7 a.m.- 7 p.m.

Voters in Twiggs and Jones counties are also voting Tuesday on extending their penny sales tax.

Jones County wants to raise $23 million over the next five years for schools.

Also headed to the polls are Clayton County voters, who will decide on a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax for Education (E-SPLOST) according to the AJC.

Clayton residents will vote on the SPLOST on Tuesday as part of a special election that will also choose a new sheriff and the county’s District 75 state House representative. If approved, the county’s 1-cent special purpose local option sales tax for education would be collected for five years.

Unlike past referendums, however, the school system is asking residents to approve the issuance of $435 million in district bonds to pay for the $350 million in projects. Ronick Joseph, the district’s chief capital improvement officer, said Clayton historically has been a “pay as you go district” and that seeking bonds would allow the school system to get funding quicker.

Like many districts, Clayton is seeking the new funding while the most recent SPLOST, which will expire on Dec. 31, 2024, is still in effect.

[Interim Clayton County Schools Superintendent Anthony] Smith said the district has about $30 million in its account balance from past SPLOSTs.

“This is how you pay for capital improvements in a school system,” he said during the town hall. “The federal government doesn’t come in and build all this stuff for you. The state has a minimum role. It’s the local taxpayers, the ones who really provide for the bulk of the funding for this stuff.”

On the Clayton County election for Sheriff, from the AJC:

Five current and former Clayton County law enforcement officials are competing to fill the remainder of former Clayton Sheriff Victor Hill’s four-year term in office.

Levon Allen, Clarence Cox, Terry Evans, Dwayne Fabian and Chris Storey have been crisscrossing the south metro Atlanta community for the past several months hoping to persuade voters that they can lead the Clayton sheriff’s office and jail, which has been embroiled in controversy for more than a decade because of Hill.

Voters will go to the polls Tuesday to select a new sheriff, a state house District 75 representative and the issuance of $435 million in bonds for the construction of new schools, school buses and early learning centers for pre-K students.

Mableton will have a chance to elect their first Mayor and City Council tomorrow, according to the AJC.

Turnout was low during the three-week early voting period in the new city of Mableton, where residents are electing their first mayor and council.

In total, 2,518 people voted early in person in the March special election and 112 returned absentee ballots so far, according to unofficial results from the elections department.

In comparison, over 18,500 people voted early in person at the two advanced voting locations in Mableton during the November election; turnout in general elections is typically much higher than in special elections.

The city’s first mayor and council will be responsible for establishing the municipal government, creating a budget and determining what services the city will provide. During the roughly two-year transition period, city leaders will work together with the county to establish service provision and other governing essentials.

While residents consider who those first leaders will be, one group of residents has been pushing state lawmakers to remove them from the city completely, citing concerns over how the cityhood movement was conducted.

At the same time, they are supporting a slate of candidates in six of the seven elected offices, meaning those backed by the de-annexation movement could potentially form a majority on the council.

The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene is advertising in Georgia for its abortion services, according to the Augusta Chronicle via the Savannah Morning News.

New York City rolled out a new phone line, the Abortion Access Hub, in November. The hub would be confidential, and connect callers to abortion providers within the five boroughs. It would be funded with $1 million dollars and staffed 12 hours a day, six days a week, with bilingual staff.

In the coming months, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene began advertising the hub on multiple platforms and in multiple languages. But they also spent hundreds of thousands of dollars advertising the hub hundreds of miles away in three other states — Georgia, Florida and Texas.

“The Dobbs decision may have been the Supreme Court’s latest attack on human rights and health care, but New York City will continue to be a safe haven for anyone seeking to access a safe, legal abortion,” said New York City Mayor Eric Adams at the time.

“This is the biggest waste of government resources since Andrew Cuomo’s trip to Savannah to lecture us on Covid,” wrote Garrison Douglas, press secretary for Gov. Brian Kemp, in response to an inquiry about the program.

Internal records show the Health Department contracted for a 36-billboard campaign to run in January. Billboards were set up in Augusta, Martinez and Atlanta in Georgia, along with Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, Orlando, Houston, Dallas and San Antonio. A signed contract with Lamar for the billboards shows a total cost of $138,370 for the advertising.

At the same time, the department planned to spend $371,000 on Google and Snapchat adds to run from Jan. 3 to the end of June, bringing the total estimated cost of the out-of-state advertising more than $500,000.

The Department of Health spokesperson confirmed the advertisement buy through Snapchat in Florida, Georgia and Texas because those states have abortion restrictions. They also confirmed that they had not bought ads in surrounding states, including Alabama and Tennessee, where abortion has been completely banned. No further explanation was provided for why particular states were targeted.

Zombie Season has begun in the State Capitol, according to the AJC.

No bill is ever truly dead at the Georgia Capitol during a legislative session — not when it can rise like a zombie at any moment.

Without warning, a bill that would have honored a southeast Georgia soap box derby suddenly transformed last week into legislation to legalize sports betting across the state.

An elections bill abruptly gained several sections that had previously fallen short, requiring more audits and clarifying wording on absentee ballot applications, just before a final committee vote Wednesday.

It’s the time of the year when Georgia lawmakers cut and paste language from bills that previously failed into legislation that has survived, a practice that avoids public scrutiny, vetting and transparency in the rush to make laws before midnight on the final day of a session.

But these kinds of legislative machinations are allowed as long as the new bill fits into the same section of state code as the original.

It doesn’t matter whether a totally different bill passed one chamber. Leaders in the the other chamber can change it, without a requirement for public comment or debate. Both the House and Senate ultimately must vote on the same version of a bill for it to become law.

Replacing the language of a bill to include new ideas avoids the General Assembly’s internal deadline for measures to pass their first chamber, either the state House or Senate, by the 28th day of the 40-day legislative session.

During the last days of this year’s legislative session, any bill can rise from the grave.

All it takes is leaders in the state’s Republican majority to write it into a completely different bill, followed by approval in the House and Senate.

Under the Gold Dome Today – Legislative Day 36

TBD Senate Rules: Upon Adjournment – 450 CAP
8:00 AM HOUSE Education Policy Sub – 506 CLOB
10:00 AM HOUSE FLOOR SESSION (LD 36) – House Chamber
10:00 AM Senate Floor Session (LD 36) – Senate Chamber
1:00 PM Cancelled – Senate Agriculture & Consumer Aff – 450 CAP
1:00 PM Senate Transportation – Mezz 1 CAP
2:00 PM Senate Gov’t Oversight – 307 CLOB
2:00 PM Senate Health & Human Services – 450 CAP
3:00 PM Senate Finance – Mezz 1 CAP
4:00 PM Senate Judiciary – 307 CLOB
4:00 PM Senate Appropriations: Compensation Sub – 450 CAP

Governor Brian Kemp signed Executive Order #, calling a Special Election to be held May 16, 2023 in State House District 68 to fill the vacancy created by the death of State Rep. Letitia “Tish” Naghise.

Lieutenant Governor Burt Jones (R-Jackson) discussed legislative priorities in the remaining days of the Session, according to the Capitol Beat News Service.

Speaking of the budget, Jones is pleased about across-the-board $2,000 pay raises for state employees as well a property tax rebate drawn from Georgia’s historic budget surplus.

And he’s applying his equanimous approach to a sports betting measure making its way through the legislature.

It’s a proposal Jones supports personally but, even if it doesn’t pass, “the following day will still come,” he said.

Sports betting — after appearing to have died prior to the all-important “Crossover Day” deadline earlier this month– may have gained new life this week when it was tacked onto an unrelated bill about soap box derbies.

Jones said he thought it was wise for the legislature to consider sports betting apart from other gambling measures.

“History has shown that when you either put sports betting and casinos or sports betting and horse racing together, they usually don’t go anywhere,” he said.

Jones also would like to see a school vouchers measure pass. The bill would provide Georgia students in low-performing schools with $6,000 scholarships to pay for private school or certain other educational costs.

“If we can get final passage, that will be a big win for us,” Jones said.

A vouchers bill passed by the Senate is slated to be taken up by a House committee. If approved, it could be sent to the full House for a floor vote.

“I’ve seen school voucher bills fail in the Senate. I’ve seen them fail in the House, and I’ve seen them pass both chambers,” Jones said. “But there’s never been a time when they were successful in passing both chambers, so we’ll just have to wait and see.”

Jones is also optimistic about prospects for this year’s mental health bill.

The AJC writes about Senate Bill 99 by Sen. Greg Dolezal (R-Forsyth County), also supported by Lt. Gov. Jones.

A few weeks ago, the Georgia Senate passed a measure to make it easier for new hospitals to be built in smaller counties without the state’s approval. Lt. Gov. Burt Jones is now taking steps to pressure House leaders to follow suit, a move that would allow a proposed hospital to move forward in his own home county.

Several House lawmakers say Jones’ camp has made clear Senate Bill 99 is a priority of his ahead of a vote on the proposal scheduled for Tuesday in the House Health Committee. Unspecified arm-twisting is underway, we’re told, including the potential delay of House bills if SB 99 isn’t taken up.

The legislation would allow new hospitals to be built in counties of fewer than 50,000 people without a “certificate of need” from state regulators, even if they’re close to existing hospitals. The program, which dates to the 1970s, was designed to control health care spending and spread services across rural areas. But some critics say they also prevent competition.

In this case, the debate hits home for the lieutenant governor. The sponsor, state Sen. Greg Dolezal, R-Cumming, has frequently said the legislation is inspired by, and would greenlight, the proposed 100-bed hospital in Jones’ Butts County.

Also involved in the push is Bill Jones, the millionaire businessman who is the father of the lieutenant governor.

He testified last year in favor of a similar measure at a hearing where he argued that Sylvan Grove needed to be replaced with a newer hospital as part of a valuable pending real estate development in the area.

The elder Jones also told lawmakers that when he needs certain medical care, he goes to Emory University hospital, according to our AJC colleague Ariel Hart. That’s about 60 miles from the Jones’ home base in Jackson.

The lieutenant governor is not shying away from his support. His spokeswoman Ines Owens said Jones is fighting for “quality health care rather than those who want to protect the status quo every single time.”

“There are Gold Dome special interests fighting against the expansion of rural hospitals,” she said. “It’s the same special interests that shut down Atlanta Medical Center last fall, causing overflow to other hospitals throughout Atlanta. The irony is rich.”

The Senate Economic Development and Tourism Committee voted to recommend passage of an amended version of HB 514, the “Housing Regulation Transparency Act” by State Rep. Dale Washburn (R-Macon), according to the Capitol Beat News Service via the Albany Herald.

As passed by the state House earlier this month, the bill barred only such local government moratoriums on single-family housing. The Senate Economic Development and Tourism Committee approved an amendment broadening the bill to include all housing.

Sponsored by Rep. Dale Washburn, R-Macon, the bill also would prohibit local governments from continually renewing moratoriums and instead require a 180-day break between such moratoriums.

The bill also would let local governments extend moratoriums if they need more than 180 days to allow for the completion of studies on topics such as land use or infrastructure, whether those studies are completed in-house or by third-party contractors.

The bill has drawn the support of a newly formed housing coalition made up of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, the Home Builders Association of Georgia, the Georgia Association of Realtors and Habitat for Humanity.

Atlanta Regional Commission Board Chair Kerry Armstrong talked about affordable housing’s affect on the economy, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

ARC Board Chairman Kerry Armstrong said housing is a major issue facing Gwinnett County, and the Atlanta region as a whole, as he addressed the Gwinnett Chamber this week.

“About one-in-three households in Gwinnett are considered ‘cost-burdened’ because they spend a third or more of their income on housing,” Armstrong said. “These trends are by no means isolated to Gwinnett. It’s occurring across the region and it’s just not sustainable.”

Armstrong said there are a number of issues that face the metro Atlanta region, including transportation, resiliency in areas such as water, homeland security, infrastructure and equal access to opportunity remain challenges the area has to continually address.

But, he added that a lack of affordable housing is an issue that can threaten the region’s sustainability if it not addressed, particularly with metro Atlanta’s population expected to grow by 1.8 million people — the equivalent of metro Nashville’s entire current population — by 2050.

“The Atlanta region stands at a critical crossroads,” Armstrong said. “The decisions and investments that we make in the next few years will go a long way in determining the quality of our future.”

“By 2021, almost the entire northern side of our region, including nearly all of Gwinnett, is seeing median (home) prices north of $400,000,” Armstrong said. “It really makes you wonder how people like police officers, nurses, teachers alike can afford homes in our region, and that is a huge problem.”

In Gwinnett in particular, Armstrong said building permits for new homes is still half of what it was before the Great Recession of the late 2000s and early 2010s. At the same time, the county’s population is estimated to have grown by nearly 180,000 residents between 2010 and 2022.

House Bill 528, the “Georgia Online Automatic Renewal Transparency Act” by State Rep. Houston Gaines (R-Athens) would require some companies to allow online termination of subscription services, according to WRDW.

A bill moving through the state house would make it easier to cancel subscription services, including gym memberships. HB 528 requires companies that offer online subscription signups and renewals to allow people to cancel online rather than having to call or cancel in person.

If the legislation passes companies are also required to notify people when they’re charged. If the bill passes, the law would go into effect in January 2024.

The bill passed the State House and was recommended for passage by Committee Substitute by the Senate Committee on Agriculture & Consumer Affairs.

The Georgia Supreme Court ruled that Gwinnett County District Attorney Patsy Austin-Gatson (D) may continue to prosecute cases involving “Delta-8 THC” products, according to GPB News.

The Georgia Supreme Court has cleared the way for Gwinnett County to resume raids, arrests and prosecutions to stop the sale of cannabis-derived products Delta-8 and Delta-10.

Cannabis-derived products containing very low THC amounts are broadly considered legal in Georgia and are widely available at shops around the state.

Gwinnett County District Attorney Patsy Austin-Gatson, however, stresses what she sees as the dangers of Delta-8 and Delta-10, especially when children get their hands on them.

“These products may appear to be legitimate,” she said. “However, they contain controlled substances that in some cases are lethal. The edibles that come from these stores cause children to lose focus in school and be at a point where they can’t learn.”

THC remains classified as a Schedule I controlled substance under federal law, so Austin-Gaston argues that because Georgia law doesn’t specifically allow Delta-8 and Delta-10, they should be considered illegal.

“I think at this juncture, we need more clarification from the courts or the legislature,” she said. “Right now, there are too many nuances involved that cause people like me to get sued when we’re just trying to uphold the law.”

A ruling from the state’s highest court on Wednesday doesn’t address the underlying legal grey areas of the products, which are sold under various names.

Instead, the court ruled against the plaintiffs, by lifting an injunction against enforcement, based on their pursuit of the case using an unauthorized legal procedure.

Georgia lawmakers introduced a bill this year that would treat all THC-containing products the same and strengthen measures preventing the sale of hemp products to minors.

That bill, Senate Bill 22, has passed in the state Senate but not in the state House.

From 11Alive:

Currently the products exist in a kind of gray area, which the bill – HB 458 – could clear up if it passes the legislature. It’s already passed in the Georgia House, and on Thursday a Georgia Senate committee held a hearing on it.

But if the bill doesn’t pass, the products – commonly sold for vaping or in gummy/candy forms, usually at gas stations or smoke shops – will continue to exist in uncertain territory, thanks to the state Supreme Court decision.

The FDA also says the manufacture of some Delta-8 products is not well-regulated and may contain “potentially unsafe household chemicals” as well as other chemicals to change the color.

“Manufacturing of delta-8 THC products may occur in uncontrolled or unsanitary settings, which may lead to the presence of unsafe contaminants or other potentially harmful substances,” the FDA states.

Gwinnett County commemorated the Atlanta spa shootings, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

Gwinnett County legislators, District Attorney Patsy Austin-Gatson and U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath participated in a remembrance marking the two-year anniversary of two shootings that shook the local Asian-American community.

The shootings happened on March 16, 2021 at two Asian-owned spas in metro Atlanta, one in Atlanta and another in Cherokee County, and resulted in the deaths of eight people. Many people have labeled the shootings as racially-motivated hate crimes because most of the victims were Asian-Americans.

“We stand with, we mourn for and we pray for the survivors and the families of the victims of that terrible, terrible shooting,” state Rep. Sam Park, D-Lawrenceville, said. “Much remains to be done to ensure justice is delivered for our community and for the victims (and) these families.

[United States Representative Lucy] McBath, D-Ga., said supporters of gun control legislation must rededicate themselves to fighting for laws to be passed address gun violence. She highlighted the passage, last year, of the Safer Communities Act in Congress.

“You are honoring the memory and the legacy of your loved ones in your advocacy,” McBath told the family members of people who were killed in the spa shootings. “Thank you for your courage and thank you for standing here and being a voice for this movement.

“We, in Georgia, are on the front line to end gun violence.”

The Burke County Sheriff’s Office will receive a $100,000 federal grant from the Rural Violent Crime Reduction Initiative, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

The funding will support a two-year program to increase the understanding, capacity and access to resources to implement rural violent crime reduction initiatives, according to a news release.

Specifically, the sheriff’s office will use the funds for a crime analyst position within the department, according to the release. It will also go toward crime analysis training and consultant support.

“As violent crime continues to rise in many jurisdictions, rural communities are no exception,” the sheriff’s office noted in the release. “Rural law enforcement agencies, like ours, must address violent crime while also navigating other challenges, including personnel shortages, expansive geographic territory, and lack of access to necessary resources and medical treatment.”

Hall County Courts have a temporary phone number during an interruption in service, according to AccessWDUN.

According to a press release from the county, those who need to reach the Hall County Courthouse should dial 770-533-7183 until a permanent solution is found and services are fully restored.

The county said the services were disrupted due to technical issues.

“In order to ensure services are not impeded, a temporary number has been established for anyone needing to contact court services,” the release reads.

Augusta Regional Airport installed Georgia’s first charging station for electric airplanes, according to WJBF.

AGS also added electric car chargers at the airport.

A ribbon cutting is being held March 22nd to commemorate the occasion.

Columbus Mayor Skip Henderson discussed Police Chief Freddie Blackmon’s strategic plan to fight crim, according to WTVM.

“Well I do think he did a good job, i think it was difficult to manage all of those 70 odd recommendations and get them all into a manageable format,” says Henderson. The mayor saying he was most impressed with the 4 directions listed in the plan.

“I thought coming up with the 4 strategic direction, was a great idea and all the other plans are going to feed into that,” says Henderson.

Those four areas of focus are personnel, operations, training, and community engagement. The mayor saying to us it takes every single citizen to fight crime. “I don’t care if it’s up to your toes or your nose, get in as deep as you can. If you are in this community, you want to help effect crime for the entire community you need to get involved,” says Henderson. Community policing also mentioned in the plan, making sure officers are engaged at neighborhood watch meetings. After the executive session, which is not open to the public nor the media, the mayor made it clear no votes were taken in the meeting.

“We are now back from executive session, on real estate procurement and personnel and there were no votes were taken,” says Henderson. but the mayor says moving forward the chief’s strategic plan should be implemented. “I absolutely think if this plan is implemented, and he’s able to utilize some of the recommendations, I absolutely think it will start making a difference,” says Henderson.

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