Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for March 26, 2024


Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for March 26, 2024

On March 26, 1734, the British House of Commons voted for spending £10,000 to subsidize the Georgia colony, down from £26,000 the previous year.

On March 26, 1920, This Side of Paradise, the debut novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald was published. The author was 23 years old.

On March 26, 1982, a groundbreaking ceremony was held in Washington, DC for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial; the design approved a couple weeks earlier was by 21-year old Yale architecture student Maya Lin.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Governor Brian Kemp issued Executive Order #, appointing Amy B. Godfrey as the new Solicitor General for Coweta County.

Legislative Session Schedule

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

Under the Gold Dome Today

8:00 AM Senate Rules Committee – 450 CAP
10:00 AM HOUSE FLOOR SESSION (LD39) – House Chamber
10:00 AM Senate Floor Session (LD 39) – Senate Chamber

The Senate Rules Calendar and the first House Rules Calendar have been set for the penultimate day of the Georgia General Assembly’s 2024 Session. I suspect the House Rules Committee will add to it in their 9 AM meeting, or in subsequent meetings held through the day. In fact, the House did adopt a (first) Supplemental Calendar for today.

From the AJC:

Each chamber’s Rules Committee becomes increasingly important as the speeding train that is the legislative session heads to a stop — scheduled to adjourn late Thursday — because it is in charge of selecting the bills that get debated and have a chance of passing. This year’s final meeting is even more so as lawmakers close out the second year of the two-year cycle of a legislative session.

Shortly after concluding Monday’s meeting, Senate Rules Chairman Matt Brass, a Newnan Republican, scheduled another meeting for early Tuesday, likely after getting feedback that a high-priority bill was left off the list.

A typical late-session Rules Committee scene goes like this: Brass calls an anxious lawmaker to the podium to present his or her bill — or bills.

Brass is wrapping up his first biennium in this role, replacing former Chairman Jeff Mullis, who retired two years ago.

“You’ve got every author of every bill that’s (passed a committee) stop me in the hallways, at lunch and call me on the weekends,” he said. “But, to them, their bills are the most important bills. Unfortunately, the committee has to pick (bills), and we’ve only got so much bandwidth. And so it was tough because you’re having to tell your friends ‘no.’ ”

Once the dust settled, the 19 committee members emerged from their meeting having placed about 75 bills and resolutions up for debate during the final two days of the legislative session. More could be added Tuesday.

From another article in the AJC:

The state budget is the single bill that must pass. The spending plan, with pay raises for about 300,000 state employees, has already cleared the House and awaits Senate approval. That’s on top of the midyear budget that passed earlier this year adding $5.5 billion in spending for a new medical school at the University of Georgia and a revamp of the state Capitol complex, as detailed by the AJC’s James Salzer.

Along with the must-pass bill are dozens of measures championed by members in both chambers. Those range from nuts-and-bolts tax bills, such as a child care tax deduction and property tax relief legislation favored by House Speaker Jon Burns, R-Newington, to a host of bills related to culture war social issues that started in the state Senate.

An education “Frankenbill” is still alive after Senate Republicans took a freshman Democrat’s suicide prevention bill and added four Republican-backed measures, including banning transgender athletes from playing sports, requiring that students use restrooms that align with their gender identity, and preventing sex education in schools before the sixth grade.

With nursing student Laken Riley’s killing still on lawmakers’ minds, two closely watched immigration bills need final action before they can head to Gov. Brian Kemp’s desk. House Bill 301 and HB 1105 aim to force local law enforcement officials to comply with federal immigration laws.

Several big industries are watching the Capitol this week for bills that could affect their business, including a measure narrowing the state’s lucrative film tax credit and a mining-related bill that would keep a titanium mine planned near the Okefenokee Swamp at bay for the time being. Then there are the perennial sports betting bills — could this be the year?

House Bill 1172 by State Rep. James Burchett (R-Waycross) is among the bills that made the Senate Rules Calendar. It’s a radical rewrite of Georgia’s historical riparian rights and threatens small businesses that rely on river access for boating and fishing. From the Georgia Recorder:

The bill, sponsored by Waycross Republican Rep. James Burchett, has been presented as a follow-up fix after the agriculture industry and private property owners objected to changes made in the final hours of last year’s legislative session.

The Senate’s gatekeeping Rules Committee ushered the measure forward Monday for a potential vote this week as the legislative session winds down. Thursday is the final day of the 2024 session.

Opponents of the proposal are urging lawmakers to reject the bill after Burchett told a Senate panel last week that standing on a streambed would be trespassing under his proposal if the landowner has a land grant dating back to before 1863. Many anglers wade into the water when fishing and boaters use anchors to stay put while casting a line.

A similar proposal, sponsored by Moultrie Republican Sen. Sam Watson, unanimously passed out of the Senate last month but has stalled in the House. That bill, which is supported by advocates for river access, says that a member of the public can access these streambeds “only when incidental to passage and when actively hunting and fishing.”

“The concern I have is ‘takings,’” Burchett told the group of senators last week. “And if we are giving an explicit right to walk on somebody’s streambed that they own with a valid grant pre-1863, I think that’s the first time in statute we would put a statutory right to trespass on somebody’s property.”

But Burchett’s comments about standing on a streambed amounting to trespassing have alarmed the same groups that cheered on the surprise passage of last year’s measure.

Gordon Rogers, executive director of Flint Riverkeeper, argued this interpretation could apply to anglers who anchor along rivers, like many people do when fishing for catfish on Georgia’s river bottoms or when trolling for redbreast sunfish and bream.

And Rogers and others worry more private property owners can and will follow suit and close off more public access to the state’s rivers.

Mike Worley, president and CEO of the Georgia Wildlife Federation, said the proposal is a “big step” toward privatizing the wild places that people have paddled and fished for centuries.

“More and more of the streams that have always been available to us, as Georgians, will be off limits to do a lot of the things that we’re accustomed to doing. That’s a troubling precedent,” Worley said.

“We may get to the point where all we can do is go to places where there’s a state park bordering a stream or public land bordering a stream, or have to get permission from private landowners to go on to their stream, and we might even see people charging for it, which is what we saw on the Yellow Jacket Shoals,” he said, referring to the Flint River case that spurred last year’s bill.

Burchett, who is the House majority whip, has said he is trying to clarify when property owners along navigable waterways can restrict public access in hopes of heading off more of the violent encounters that have sprung up over misunderstandings on the river.

Paddling groups had already raised concerns that the bill would cut off their access to smaller streams.

Burchett had also attempted to push a separate measure that identified which waterways are navigable – and therefore open to the public – and which ones are non-navigable and require permission from property owners. That bill stalled.

“That was a lot like water over the dam. It was too hard to track it, too hard to keep up with it. It was moving too fast. So that got delayed,” said Rep. Lynn Smith, a Newnan Republican who chairs the House Natural Resources and Environment Committee.

Instead, Smith has introduced a late proposal calling for another study committee that would this time take a closer look at which streams are navigable.

Governor Brian Kemp visited the Port of Savannah to support the next deepening project, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Three U.S. Congressmen accompanied Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp on a visit to the Georgia Ports Authority on Monday to show unified support for funding a new study on deepening the Savannah River channel less than two years after crews finished dredging the channel to 47 feet.

U.S. Reps Buddy Carter (R-St. Simons), Mike Collins (R-Jackson), and Sam Graves (R-Missouri) all serve on the U.S. House Committee that authorizes the Water Resources Development Act, which authorizes U.S. Army Corps of Engineers activities.

“If you’re not moving forward, you’re moving backward. We need to continue moving forward, and that’s why we need this study so much,” Carter said.

Graves, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, was asked by Carter and Collins to make the trip. Graves agreed to do so to demonstrate his his support for a deepening study.

The study is supported by every member of Congress from Georgia, including Sen. Raphael Warnock. The GPA says that the deepening is needed to accomodate larger ships, and the GPA signaled in October 2023 its ambition to study deepening the Savannah River’s shipping channel another time.

Kemp sent a letter last year to Georgia’s congressional delegation urging support of the deepening study. The continued growth of the Georgia Ports is crucial to servicing the state’s growing economic development, Kemp said. He referenced in his remarks the Hyundai Metaplant in Bryan County, the state’s largest economic development project in its history.

Kemp also touted $1.5 billion in the state’s 2024 amended budget for Georgia Department of Transportation projects. About $500 million of that is devoted to improving freight infrastructure.

From WSAV:

“Congressman Graves, you’ll probably hear a lot while you’re here that we are the number one state in the country for business for 10 years in a row,” Gov. Kemp said. “So, I wanted to state that again. The ports are a big reason why we are.”

“We know that we must continue growing our ports to meet both the needs of our company and our consumers,” Gov. Kemp said.

“I sent a letter last year to every member of our congressional delegation to support the new study for further deepening and widening the port of Savannah,” Gov. Kemp said.

Graves said the Water Resources Development Bill will be on the house floor by the September 30 deadline.

Savannah has the fourth busiest U.S. port for cargo shipped in containers.

From WTOC:

That process to study a new expansion to Savannah’s port would fall under a water resources development bill – it’s something House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Rep. Sam Graves says its set to be marked up this spring and on the floor of the house by sometime this summer. Graves, throwing his support behind the port expansion today.

“It is important to me. It’s a priority of mine to get this study done and see the port widened and deepened,” said Graves.

Rep. Mike Collins says they hope to bring lessons learned from the last deepening of the harbor completed in 2022 to the next potential expansion.

“It should be a lot quicker. I hope that the Governor is right that we can keep this on a good pace,” said Rep. Mike Collins, Georgia.

Statesboro City Council is considering reducing the distance required between churches and facilities that sell alcohol, according to WSAV.

The Statesboro city council is considering changing a rule that forbids alcohol sales within 100 yards of a church, educational campus or rehab facility.

“We’re trying to make it a vibrant downtown and have businesses,” said city manager Charles Penny.

“You look across the country, people are trying to create that energy in the downtown area because downtown is the living room of the city,” said Penny. “What we want to see is more people in downtown after 5 o’clock.”

Only churches built into storefronts would be affected. Penny says keeping churches out of downtown is not their intention.

“By having this issue and having council approve it, we take off the issue of limiting what can go in the downtown area,” said Penny. “If a church decides they want to go into the downtown area and be a storefront church, they would make that decision knowing that a bar could be right next door to it.”

The office of United States Senator Raphael Warnock (D-Atlanta) will host an in-person constituent services event in Blakely, according to WALB.

The event will take place Tuesday, March 26 from 10:00 a .m. to 2:00 p.m. at the Blakely Senior Center.

According to the release, in collaboration with local officials, community partners and staff will assist Georgians with issues relating to medicare and medicaid, social security, veterans and servicemembers benefits, federal taxes, passports, visas, and more.

Senator Reverend Warnock says, “As a United States Senator for all Georgians, providing Georgians with quality, accessible, and personable constituent services will always be a top priority for me. We are ready to serve you and your families, and we hope to see you there.”

Senator Warnock’s team will gather insights on community needs and concerns to inform policy decisions and advocate for positive change, all while educating residents on navigating government systems and accessing resources independently. The flagship event offers a one-day opportunity for residents to access resources, and attend educational workshops and presentations.

The Atlanta Veterans Affairs Regional Office was renamed in honor of the late U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, according to the Capitol Beat News Service via the Albany Herald.

The Atlanta Veterans Affairs Regional Office was formally renamed in honor of the late U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson Monday during a ceremony at the building in Decatur.

Isakson, who died in 2021, served as chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee from 2015 until he retired from the Senate in 2019.

“Senator Isakson’s values and example continue to influence the United States Senate for the better,” Sen. Jon Ossoff, D-Ga., said during Monday’s ceremony. “Senator Isakson was a statesman among mere politicians, whose work ethic, whose commitment to the national interest over small partisan interests, and whose unyielding commitment to America’s veterans continues to have a positive impact on the Senate.”

Isakson, a Republican elected to the Senate in 2004 after serving five years in the U.S. House of Representatives, gained a reputation as a lawmaker willing to reach across the aisle to Democrats in order to pass meaningful legislation.

Ossoff sponsored the bipartisan bill naming the VA office after Isakson, which the Senate passed in 2022.

The Savannah Morning News spoke to Chatham County District Attorney Shalena Cook Jones about her reelection campaign.

Jones faces two challengers for the job.

Her first contest will come on May 21, during the party primaries. Jones is running against Jenny Parker in the Democratic primary. Parker is a former Chatham County Chief Assistant District Attorney (ADA), who most recently served as an assistant district attorney in the Ogeechee Judicial Circuit.

The winner of that race will face Andre Pretorius, a Republican and a former Deputy Chief Assistant for the Chatham County State Court. He works now on a part-time basis as an assistant Chatham County attorney.

From 2010 to 2014, Jones worked as an ADA in the Chatham County DA’s office under Meg Heap before leaving to open her own law firm. In November 2020 she challenged heap, and Jones won with 68,944 votes for a total vote share of 52.83%.

In an interview last week, Jones touted her track record, including the implementation of the conviction integrity and cold case units and tackling of the case backlog, which ballooned to nearly 30,000 cases after her first year in office, primarily because of COVID restrictions.

“To put it plainly, I’m running for re-election to complete the work of change that we promised citizens in 2020. We won the 2020 election by a margin of 8,000 people, and what that suggests to me is that our voters are looking for the type of change that we were offering. So, I’m running to complete the work.”

“Four years is not enough time to make the criminal justice system run efficiently and make it effective and make sure that it’s equitable and put all those quality controls in place. So, I’m running because I think I’m proud of the work that our office did, and we need to continue to move the office in the direction of change.”

Davin Pandy discussed his campaign in the Special Election for Gainesville City Council Ward 4 with AccessWDUN.

Pandy served in the U.S. Army for 21 years and wanted to serve his community back home after he retired. He currently volunteers with multiple area organizations.

“Well, first will be to serve as an example, as something that people can look up to. I am Afro-Latino, with a touch of British and Irish. So I have a wealth of cultures running within my veins, and I try to identify with those cultures, with the cultures that make me who I am, as much as possible,” Pandy said. “And so being such a diverse person, I definitely look at the world and Gainesville, in a diverse way. So having my input on the council, I believe, could open the eyes of our leaders to some of the issues that they may not be aware of, or that they may not know, are as serious as it is.”

Pandy expressed his admiration for the late Ward 4 Councilman George Wangemann. Wangemann resigned late in 2023, prior to his passing early in 2024.

“George was amazing. I almost hesitate to say was, because his influence still affects my life,” Pandy said. “I use this acronym a lot that we learned in the military. The acronym that I speak of, spells out L.D.R.S.H.I.P. And that acronym stands for loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage. And my interactions with George, from the time we first met years ago, until we got close last summer. Everything he did lived up to the leadership acronym and he just wasn’t even trying to be a role model. He just was.”

Judy Wangemann, wife of Councilman Wangemann, recently announced her husband’s posthumous endorsement of Pandy for City Council.

“Amidst our grief, it is crucial for the people to know that George, even in his final moments, was thinking about the future of Gainesville,” Wangemann said. “His endorsement of Devin Pandy reflects his deep trust and confidence in Devin’s ability to lead with the same dedication and compassion that defined George’s service to our community. George had written a heartfelt letter of endorsement, a testament to his commitment, but unfortunately, he passed away before it could be published.”

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