Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for March 25, 2024

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Mar

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for March 25, 2024

The British Parliament closed the Port of Boston on March 25, 1774, passing the Boston Port Act in retaliation for the destruction of $1 million worth of tea in the Boston Tea Party.

Flannery O’Connor was born on March 25, 1925 in Savannah, Georgia. She would come to be recognized as one of the greatest American fiction writers. O’Connor graduated from the Georgia State College for Women, now called Georgia College and State University. She returned to Milledgeville in 1951, living at the family farm, called Andalusia, until her death at age 39 in 1964.

At GCSU, the Flannery O’Connor Room is located in the GC Museum, the Flannery O’Connor Collection includes manuscripts, and the College includes a program in Flannery O’Connor Studies.

O’Connor died of Lupus, which also killed her father.

Horton Smith won the first Masters tournament on March 25, 1934.

On March 25, 1937, Governor E.D. Rivers signed legislation creating the Georgia Department of Labor; in 1945, the Commissioner of Labor was upgraded from statutory office to Constitutional.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Governor Brian Kemp today visits the Georgia Ports, according to WSAV.

Governor Brian Kemp is scheduled to visit the ports here in Savannah on Monday with federal lawmakers.

Kemp plans to host House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman, Sam Graves, along with Representatives Buddy Carter and Mike Collins.

Former Georgia Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine (R) pled guilty to a federal fraud charge, according to the Associated Press via WTVM.

John W. Oxendine of Johns Creek entered the guilty plea Friday in federal court in Atlanta. The 61-year-old had been indicted in May 2022 on charges of conspiracy to commit health care fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

The crime is punishable by up to 10 years in prison, but Oxendine is likely to be sentenced to less. Federal sentencing guidelines discussed in the plea agreement suggest prosecutors will recommend Oxendine be imprisoned between 4 years, 3 months, and 5 years, 3 months, depending on what U.S. District Judge Steve Jones decides at a sentencing hearing set for July 12. Jones could also fine Oxendine and order him to serve supervised release.

Oxendine also agreed to pay nearly $700,000 in restitution to health insurers who lost money in the scheme, the plea document states. Prosecutors agreed to dismiss the money laundering charge as part of the plea.

“John Oxendine, as the former statewide insurance commissioner, knew the importance of honest dealings between doctors and insurance companies,” U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Buchanan said in a statement. “But for personal profit he willfully conspired with a physician to order hundreds of unnecessary lab tests, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

Oxendine served as the elected state insurance commissioner from 1995 to 2011. He ran for governor in 2010 but lost the Republican primary. The state ethics commission began investigating and prosecuting campaign finance cases against him in 2009, alleging Oxendine broke state law by using campaign funds to buy a house, lease luxury cars and join a private club.

Oxendine settled that case with the Georgia Ethics Commission in 2022, agreeing to hand over the remaining $128,000 in his campaign fund while admitting no wrongdoing.

Legislative Session Schedule

Monday, March 25 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . committee work day
Tuesday, March 26 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .convene for legislative day 39
Thursday, March 28 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .(Sine Die) convene for legislative day 40

Under the Gold Dome Today – Committee Work Day

9:00 AM HOUSE ECON DEV & TOURISM – 406 CLOB
9:00 AM HOUSE JUDICIARY – 132 CAP
9:30 AM Senate Rules – 450 CAP
11:00 AM HOUSE DEFENSE & VETS AFF – 606 CLOB
1:00 PM HOUSE TRANSPORTATION – 341 CAP
1:00 PM HOUSE WAYS & MEANS – 406 CLOB
1:00 PM HOUSE AGRICULTURE – 606 CLOB
1:30 PM HOUSE JUDICIARY NON-CIVIL – 132 CAP
2:00 PM HOUSE HIGHER EDUCATION – 406 CLOB
2:00 PM HOUSE RULES – 341 CAP
2:00 PM Senate Education & Youth – 307 CLOB
3:00 PM HOUSE RETIREMENT – 506 CLOB

Senate Bill 578 by State Sen. Sam Watson (R-Moultrie) would call for revoking agricultural water withdrawal permits from property housing solar farms, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Senate Bill 578, sponsored by Republican Sen. Sam Watson of Moultrie, would require revoking state permits for irrigation wells on farms with solar arrays covering at least 10 acres.

Opponents agree with the overarching premise of the proposed legislation because solar farms don’t need water for irrigation.

The problem, critics contend, is that Watson’s bill applies to farmers who commit a “portion” of their land to panels while continuing to grow crops on other sections.

In those cases, SB 578 says, the Georgia Environmental Protection Division “shall revoke such permit and may reallocate ground-water capacity to another permittee or to an applicant for a new permit as may be authorized by law.”

“(SB 578) will only apply to farmers who use that portion of the land in solar so those irrigated acres can be relocated to another location or farm,” he said in an email to the Savannah Morning News. “If a farmer commits to solar for 30 years and is not going to use the (permitted) water, he or she should be able to reallocate to another farm or the State should or could … reallocate.  Current law does not allow you to move irrigated acres.”

But, as it is now worded, SB 578 could limit farmers’ ability to water fields still used for crops. For example, if a farmer has an irrigation permit for 300 acres but uses 50 acres for solar panels, he or she would lose water rights for the other 250 acres.

The farmer would have to weigh the potential for increased income – through lease payments from the operator of the panels and revenue from selling the electricity to a power company – with the inability to irrigate a large swath of cropland.

Senate Bill 420 by State Sen. Jason Anavitarte (R-Paulding County) is being criticized and would limit businesses in some foreign countries from buying farms in Georgia, according to Georgia Recorder.

In a heated floor debate, Democrats and Asian-American lawmakers said the bill would do little to defend U.S. interests but could increase unfair scrutiny of and racism against Asian-Americans and others.

Businesses housed in countries with governments designated as a foreign adversary by the United States Secretary of Commerce – China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Russia and Venezuela – would be banned from purchasing agricultural land under Senate Bill 420.

So would any non-U.S. citizen or legal resident who is an agent of one of those governments, provided they have either been absent from the U.S. for six months out of the last year before the purchase or absent from Georgia for two months out of the year.

Republicans said the measure is a common-sense way to protect the nation’s food supply.

GOP lawmakers pointed to a February drug bust in Pierce County, where investigators arrested four Chinese nationals after turning up a major cannabis operation with more than 11,000 marijuana plants as evidence of the countries’ ill intent inside the Peach State.

Dallas Republican Rep. Martin Momtahan described how his father emigrated from Iran before that country’s Islamic revolution and said both sides should come together and support the measure.

“According to the last three FBI directors in this country, the last three, including the current sitting FBI director, FBI director Christopher Wray, he said that China was the number one national security threat to this country. That’s bipartisan. I don’t care if you voted for red or you voted blue. I can tell you today that both agree that China is the number one threat.”

Johns Creek Democratic Rep. Michelle Au, whose parents came to the U.S. from China, said regardless of intent, the bill would be perceived as racist and xenophobic by the people it could affect most.

“This bill does not target intent, it restricts rights based on national origin, which is illegal,” she said. “Legality aside, put that aside for a moment, this bill, whether it’s supposed to be or not, paints a picture that residents from certain parts of this world cannot be trusted. They are essentially suspect and potentially traitors simply by dint of their nationality. Think about the message this sends to the international community. Think about the message this sends to business partners who’ve been proud to welcome and cultivate in the state, bringing vehicle and battery plants, manufacturing, huge technology, and export industries, and thousands of jobs that come with them.”

Pending state legislation could affect voting procedures, according to the Georgia Recorder.

Local election supervisors across Georgia have been keeping an eye out for proposed changes that could be in place in time for the November presidential election and the months to follow if runoffs are required. Election bills that could be passed ahead of the Legislature’s adjournment Thursday would add watermark security requirements to paper ballots, require the secretary of state develop an online system for the public to inspect ballots after elections and also require that text portions of ballots be used to tabulate votes instead of QR codes.

The Senate is expected to vote on House Bill 976, which states that a local registrar can uphold an eligibility challenge for reasons such as a voter is registered in a different jurisdiction, the voter lists a nonresidential address like a post office box, or is they obtain a homestead exemption in a different county.

Under the latest version of HB 976, anyone who is homeless or without a permanent address will list the local registrar’s office as their voter registration address.

Senate Ethics Committee Chairman Max Burns, a Sylvania Republican, told committee members last Tuesday that his proposed rewrite of the legislation would add some standards for county election boards to uphold challenges and remove voters from rolls.

Burns said the election bills he supports are part of his mission to ensure every legal vote is counted in Georgia, that all counties follow the same voting laws and that voters are confident in the election process.

Democratic Sen. Jason Esteves of Atlanta criticized the suggestion that tens of thousands of voters across Georgia should be glad to take time to respond anytime someone questions if they are voting illegally.

Esteves also said it’s unfair for someone who lives at the same address where they work to be subject to a challenge to their voting status.

“When you’re met with the fact that you’ve been challenged at the ballot box, that is not the opportunity to be joyful about the democratic process,” he said.

Another measure, House Bill 974, that could make its way to the Senate floor this week would require the secretary of state to set up and maintain an online system where scanned paper ballots could be viewed by the public following an election.

The bill proposes to allow the public to observe the scanning of physical ballots by the local election office under an open records request. Anyone who requests a copy of a ballot after an election will pay a fee determined by the local elections office.

“A garden variety type of issue would be if the original (scanned online) image is at a lower resolution that raised some question,” said Bonaire Republican Rep. Shaw Blackmon. “You could follow up and access those through the open records request.”

The state House chamber has until Thursday’s Sine Die to vote on a bill removing the controversial QR code used to count votes in Georgia’s elections. Instead of voting machines confirming votes embedded in QR codes, Senate Bill 189 would require ballots with readable text be used to tally votes.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis (D) is back on the offensive in the Trump case, according to CNN via WRDW.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis said that the election interference prosecution against Donald Trump hasn’t been delayed by proceedings over her romantic relationship with a special prosecutor she hired for the case.

“I don’t feel like we have been slowed down at all,” Willis told CNN on Saturday. “I think there are efforts to slow down the train, but the train is coming.”

Willis told CNN that she didn’t think her reputation needed to be reclaimed and that she hadn’t done anything embarrassing.

“I’m not embarrassed by anything I’ve done,” Willis said. “I guess my greatest crime is that I had a relationship with a man, but that’s not something I find embarrassing in any way.”

Effingham County Commissioner Reginald Loper will be arraigned on felony charges on April 10, 2024, according to WTOC.

Reginald Loper, the District 4 Commissioner of Effingham County, has been indicted on one count of sexual battery against a child under 16 and one count of sexual battery.

Georgia Law outlines specifically what happens if a County Commissioner is indicted on felony charges which applies here.

The law states that once an indictment is handed down, it needs to be send to the Governor by a DA or the Attorney General.

The Governor then will appoint a review commission, which three people will sit on: the Attorney General, and two other people that hold the same office as the indicted person- in this case, county commissioners.

From there, the commission has 14 days to decide whether to suspend the Commissioner or reinstate him.

Governor Brian Kemp can’t appoint the review commission for at least 14 days from the time he received the indictment- but can take longer.

Governor Kemp’s office confirmed to WTOC that the indictment has been received, and that this process is in motion.

As of right now, Reginald Loper has not been suspended from the Commission, but is due back in court for an arraignment on the charges on April 10th.

Willacoochee Mayor Dante Griffin was arrested and charged with DUI, according to WALB.

The Willacoochee mayor was arrested for a DUI on Friday night, according to Georgia State Patrol (GSP).

During the stop, the driver stated several times that he was Dante Griffin, the mayor of Willacoochee, according to GSP.

Officials say he was arrested without incident.

Officials with the Atkinson County Sheriff’s Office said Griffin bonded out of the Atkinson County Jail on Saturday.

Brooklet City Council accepted the resignations of a City Council member and the County Solicitor, according to the Statesboro Herald.

Brooklet City Council, during its regular meeting Thursday, formally accepted the resignations of Post 5 Councilmember Johnathan Graham from his elected position and of Cain Smith as appointed Brooklet Municipal Court solicitor and city attorney.

So far, Brooklet officials have not determined when a special election might be held to replace Graham, but the council did appoint a temporary city attorney and a permanent new solicitor.

As previously reported, Smith, who had served as Brooklet’s city court solicitor – in effect prosecutor – for more than a decade but as its city attorney for slightly less than a month, submitted a note resigning for from both positions Feb. 28. Then Graham submitted a letter March 1 resigning from the council.

In his letter, Graham alleged that new Brooklet Mayor Nicky Gwinnett had engaged in “questionable actions regarding water well usage and business licenses,” and shown “complete disregard for the well-being and morale of the city staff.”

In his note, Smith had written that he was prepared to deal with official city business but not “personal disputes” and a “toxic … atmosphere,” around grievances brought by two staff members against Gwinnett and instead advised Brooklet officials “to put the past in the past and move forward in the best interest of the city.”

Georgia will receive $207 million in federal funding for low-income housing, according to the Ledger-Enquirer.

A new government funding bill passed by the Senate will help to house approximately 130 low-income senior residents in Columbus.

The state of Georgia will receive federal funding totaling $207 million for 74 projects across the state after advocacy from Senator Raphael Warnock, according to a news release on the senator’s website.

Warnock helped secure $2.5 million for Providence Pointe, the low-income senior rental phase of Elliott’s Walk in south Columbus, according to information provided by Warnock’s team.

Warnock told the Ledger-Enquirer that growing up in south Georgia he saw firsthand the challenges of securing affordable housing.

“My parents worked very hard every single day and still they couldn’t afford a home until years after I left for college and grad school,” said Warnock. “When I look at what’s going on in Columbus, I saw a particular need.”

Warnock said he “leaned in” on funding for Columbus.

“I was struck by the fact that there had been no housing developments built in south Columbus in over 50 years, “ Warnock said. “That’s an area that has been sorely neglected.”

A new Medical School in Athens will create an economic uplift, according to the Athens Banner Herald.

It may be a bit premature to accurately assess the economic impact of a new medical school at the University of Georgia, a project approved in February by the University System Board of Regents.

Beyond that, local officials say, a full-blown UGA medical school will dovetail nicely with the Athens-Clarke County government’s economic development strategy.

Of course, there is some work to be done before a UGA medical school becomes a reality. State legislators have only recently approved a $50 million outlay for the initiative, with the expectation that UGA will match that amount.

And, as UGA President Jere Morehead noted in February, the university has only just begun the process of seeking the needed accreditation. At the same time, Morehead announced the creation of a School of Medicine Implementation Team “… to guide the school’s formation … .”

Overall, the AU/UGA partnership added more than $30 million in goods and services to the Athens-area economy in the 2022 fiscal year, according to the UGA study.

Beyond those local numbers, and looking forward to the eventual establishment of a UGA medical college, there is nationwide data to support the positive economic impact of medical education on host communities. A 2022 study for the Association of American Medical Colleges, comprising all 155 accredited medical colleges in the United States, posted impressive numbers.

Floyd County Commissioners will consider a moratorium on new vape shops, according to the Rome News Tribune.

The cities of Rome and Cave Spring recently enacted temporary freezes that will run for six months. Local officials have long expressed concern about their inability to regulate those activities, which are controlled by state law. However, the resolutions adopted by the cities cite zoning powers as the authority.

County Manager Jamie McCord is scheduled to raise the question of following suit during the board’s regular meeting, set for 6 p.m. in the County Administration Building, 12 E. Fourth Ave. The open session follows a 4 p.m. caucus that includes a presentation on the accomplishments and plans of the United Way of Rome and Floyd County.

The Bulloch County Republican Party will host a meet and greet tonight for local candidates, according to the Statesboro Herald.

This event is open to the public, and will include some candidates for nonpartisan offices such as judgeships and Board of Education seats, as well Republican candidates for partisan offices. All are candidates in the May 21 party primary and nonpartisan general election.

In a social media posting about the event, the Bulloch County GOP listed these candidates as “confirmed”: for Bulloch County Board of Commissioners, Seat 1-A, R. Ryan Brannen; Seat 2-A Ray Davis; Seat 2-C Brian Pfund and Nick Newkirk; for commission chairman, David Bennett; for sheriff, Keith “Possum” Howard; tax commissioner, Leslie Deal Akins; for coroner, Chuck Francis; for Ogeechee Judicial Circuit District Attorney, Robert Busbee.

Also listed were these nonpartisan candidates:  for Bulloch County Board of Education, District 7 Lisha Nevil and Heather Mims; District 1 Lannie Lanier, and District 3 Jennifer Campbell Mock; and for Ogeechee Circuit Superior Court judge: Matt Hube and Ronnie Thompson (who are running unopposed for different seats on the court).

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