Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for March 7, 2023


Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for March 7, 2023

On March 7, 1861, delegates to the Georgia Secession Convention reconvened in Savannah to adopt a new state Constitution. A resolution offering to host the Confederate Capitol did not pass.

On March 7, 1965, a group of marchers led by Martin Luther King, Jr., met Alabama State Troopers on the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma, Alabama.

“I was hit in the head by a state trooper with a nightstick… I thought I saw death.”

—John Lewis, SNCC leader

John Lewis, now the United States Congressman from the Fifth District was in the front row wearing a light-colored overcoat and backpack.

GaVoice talked to Lewis about what was in his backpack on that day.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Low numbers of voters are turning out early in the March 21 Special Election for St Marys City Council, according to The Brunswick News.

The city has 15,064 registered voters. In the past six days of early voting for the March 21 special election, only 423 voters have showed up to cast their early vote. Another 26 absentee ballots have been issue[d] and one has been received.

A South Carolina woman was arrested and faces charges after taking an “abotion pill,” according to WJBF in Augusta.

A woman is facing charges in Greenville, accused of breaking a controversial law. The police report said her crime was taking an abortion pill.

The alleged crime happened in October 2021.

Greenville Police said after taking a pill to end her pregnancy, the woman went to the hospital and gave birth to a stillborn baby girl.

According to the police report, the woman is now facing charges for abortion/performing or soliciting abortion.

“The hospital did nothing wrong. The hospital was in a situation where they have an affirmative duty to report,” said Reckenbeil.

The investigation continued until September 2022 and the woman in question was arrested just days ago. The police department said they just located her and she had two warrants on her, including failure to appear.

South Carolina is one of only three states to criminalize self-managed abortions.

Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Mike Boggs will deliver the “State of the Judiciary” at 11 AM on Wednesday, according to the Albany Herald.

In his first State of the Judiciary address, Chief Justice Michael P. Boggs will focus on the status of grant funds used by trial courts to address the backlog of serious violent felony cases, the innovative solutions employed by judges across the state to improve the administration of justice, and ongoing initiatives aimed at upholding the rule of law.

The speech to the joint session of the House and Senate will take place in the House Chambers of the Capitol. The speech will be live-streamed by Georgia Public Broadcasting as well as shared on the Supreme Court’s website at

Under the Gold Dome Today – Legislative Day 29

Tuesday – March 7, 2023

TBD Senate Rules Committee: Upon Adjournment – 450 CAP
10:00 AM Senate Insurance & Labor – 450 CAP
10:00 AM Cancelled – Senate Higher Ed – 307 CLOB
11:00 AM Senate State Inst & Prop – 450 CAP
1:00 PM HOUSE FLOOR SESSION (LD 29) – House Chamber
1:00 PM Senate Floor Session (LD 29) – Senate Chamber
2:00 PM Cancelled – Senate Children & Fam – 307 CLOB
3:00 PM Senate Education & Youth – 307 CLOB
4:00 PM Senate Regulated Ind & Utilities – 450 CAP
5:00 PM Senate Health & Human Svcs – 450 CAP

Yesterday was Crossover Day, the deadline by which legislation must have passed one Chamber of the General Assembly in order to be eligible for final passage in this Session. From 13WMAZ:

House Bill 462 would give juvenile courts jurisdiction over 17-year-olds accused of most crimes. This passed 145 to 22.

House Bill 364 would create a commission to determine how the state should compensate people who are wrongly convicted. It passed 157 to 17.

Senator Rick Williams’ proposed SB 68 which would call dog fightng a racketeering crime. It passed the senate by a 47 to 7 vote.

Senate Bill 155 is called the cruelty to K-9s act. It updates punishments for taunting, injuring, or causing the death of a law enforcement animal. This bill passed 41 to 14.

Also on the table, a bill to let cites and counties create homeless camps, and to force them to enforce laws against the homeless camping in public place. Senate Bill 62 passed 49 to seven.

Senate Bill 147 has to do with electric vehicles. It says facilities who have EV chargers must charge customers per kilowatt hour for the electricity they sell rather than time spent charging. This comes as more electric vehicles enter the market. The bill passed 55 to one.

Senate Bill 233 would give $6,000 to Georgia students to cover assorted education-related costs, including private school tuition. This bill passed 33 to 23.

From Atlanta News First via WRDW:

SB 158 passed with a unanimous 56-0 vote.

There was a celebration by many as HB30 moved along.

The bill would create a legal definition of anti-Semitism.

When Georgia lawmakers convened back in January, legislative leaders published a schedule that also committed the General Assembly to adjourn on Wednesday, March 29.

Senate Bill 140 by Sen. Carden Summers (R-Cordele) passed on a party-line vote, according to the Capitol Beat News Service via the Augusta Chronicle.

Sponsored by Sen. Carden Summers, R-Cordele, Senate Bill 140, which passed 33-22 along party lines, would prohibit hospitals and doctors from providing either hormone-replacement therapy or gender-affirming surgeries to minors.

“This is simply saying … we’re asking for the children to be 18 years or older before they make a decision that will alter their lives forever,” Summers said.

The bill would allow the revocation of a hospital’s or physician’s license if the rules are violated, Summers said. It does allow for some exceptions, including for treatment of certain medical conditions and for those who are already on hormone-replacement therapy as of July 1, 2023.

“What we’ve tried to do is strike a really good balance,” said Sen. Ben Watson, R-Savannah, noting that the bill would allow transgender youth to continue with gender-affirming mental health and puberty blocker treatments but not irreversible hormone-replacement therapies or gender-affirming surgeries.

The bill now moves to the state House for consideration.

Senate Bill 233, the “Georgia Promise Scholarship Act” by Sen. Greg Dolezal (R-Forsyth County) also passed on a party line vote, according to the Associated Press via the Augusta Chronicle.

The Georgia Senate is supporting a plan to give $6,000 educational vouchers to students who would otherwise attend low-performing schools, part of a nationwide push for what supporters call education savings accounts following the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Senate voted 33-23 on Monday to pass Senate Bill 233 along party lines, sending it to the House for more debate. Voucher bills have historically gotten cooler receptions in that chamber.

Facing opposition, supporters on Monday cut the bill down so that only children who live in the attendance zones served by the schools scoring in the lowest 25% of the state’s rating system could benefit. Before then, students who attended all public schools statewide, as well as any student eligible to enter kindergarten or first grade could have benefitted. Students currently in private school would not qualify.

Opponents argue the bill would pressure the state’s $12.5 billion K-12 school funding formula, and that $6,000 would not be enough to pay tuition at most private schools, meaning the money would benefit middle class and rich families more than poor ones.

House Bill 231, by State Rep. Houston Gaines (R-Athens) would create a Prosecuting Attorneys Oversight Commission and passed out of the State House on Crossover Day, according to the Augusta Chronicle via the Athens Banner Herald.

Rep. Houston Gaines, R-Athens, co-sponsored House bill 231 on prosecutorial oversight. Both the House and the Senate bills would create a commission overseeing prosecutors with the ability to discipline local prosecutors, including for “willful and persistent failure to perform his or her duties” in the words of the House bill. The Senate bill, SB 92, contains similar language and was co-sponsored by Sen. Bill Cowsert, R-Athens.

“This bill does nothing to take away the discretion of elected solicitors and district attorneys,” Gaines told his colleagues during the debate on the bill.

“On day one, when our district attorney was elected she put out a memo outlining what cases and what issues she was simply not going to prosecute,” Gaines said.

The House bill passed 98-75.

From WRDW on related news:

If you are the victim of crime in Richmond, Columbia, or Burke Counties, and you haven’t heard anything about your case in a while, you might want to check on it.

An all-new I-TEAM investigation is exposing local judges dropped at least 2,600 charges, and we’re not talking about misdemeanors.

“So I contacted the judge’s office. The judge’s office was like “yeah, that got signed off. You’ll have to contact the DA’s office,” Aspen said. “So I contacted the DA’s Office. They sent me to the victim advocacy office.”

She learned her case had been dismissed on a “want of prosecution.” Basically, the “case is closed” because Judge Wade Padgett noted nothing had happened with it since 2010. The document reads as follows: “the case has not been tried.” “The arrest warrant has not been executed.”

“Had I not looked into it, I would have never known,” Aspen said. “I would have never found out because they didn’t have the decency to call either.”

In Burke County alone, the I-TEAM uncovered judges dismissed 1,1556 charges in June of 2021. Richmond County was reluctant to give us the information at first, but eventually gave us a list of 1,143 dismissed charges.

They range in severity from murder to armed robbery to aggravated assault to rape to child molestation.

Senate Resolution 140 by Sen. Bill Cowsert (R-Athens) won a majority of votes in the State Senate but fell short of the requisite Constitutional majority required to setup a statewide Constitutional Amendment referendum, according to the Capitol Beat News Service via the Augusta Chronicle.

While 30 of the 56 senators voted in favor of Senate Resolution 140, it fell short of the two-thirds majority needed to pass a constitutional amendment.

On Monday, Sen. Bill Cowsert, R-Athens, the chief sponsor of Senate Resolution 140, argued the constitutional route was the best way to go because it would have let Georgia voters decide whether to legalize sports betting.

“I don’t get why it’s wrong to let the people of Georgia vote on this issue,” Cowsert said. “We’re not dictators up here.”

But Sen. Marty Harbin, R-Tyrone, said it would be irresponsible for senators to pass the issue to voters.

“They do not all the information you and I have,” he told his Senate colleagues. “When we put it out there, we’re washing our hands of it.”

Harbin also opposed legalizing gambling because of its potential to lead to addictive gambling.

The loss of the underlying constitutional amendment as well as the defeat of last week’s Senate bill left supporters of sports betting with just one remaining option. A House bill legalizing sports betting without a constitutional amendment was pending in the House Rules Committee on Monday and subject to a vote sending it to the House floor.

House Bill 30 by State Rep. John Carson (R-Cobb County) defines “antisemitism” in criminal law and passed the lower chamber, according to the Capitol Beat News Service via the Rome News Tribune.

House Bill 30, which passed 136-22, would establish as part of state law the definition of antisemitism used by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, an intergovernmental organization founded by Sweden’s prime minister in 1998.

Like the hate crimes measure the General Assembly adopted following the murder of Black jogger Ahmaud Arbery near Brunswick, the bill provides for additional penalties when crimes are committed because of the victim’s identity, in this case because he or she is Jewish.

While Jews make up only 2% of Georgia’s population, they’re the victims of about 60% of hate crimes committed across the state, Carson said.

Rep. Esther Panitch, D-Sandy Springs, the only Jewish member of the House, was among those who found flyers in her driveway that day.

“House Bill 30 would not stop those flyers,” she said. “But it would make sure that if, God forbid, someone shot a Jew, it would be a hate crime.”

State Rep. Edna Jackson (D-Savannah), former Mayor of Savannah, says she will sponsor local legislation to increase the hotel-motel tax from 6% to 8%, according to the Savannah Morning News.

The goal of the hotel-motel tax – for the city, Visit Savannah and for hotel owners themselves – is to make Savannah more attractive as a vacation destination. The money spent will be used to improve amenities and infrastructure aspects that appeal to tourists , yet also benefits residents. The selling point is that the extra two pennies on every dollar spent is paid by out-of-towners, not Savannahians.

A resolution crafted by Savannah City Council in February 2021 refined how revenues generated by the hotel-motel tax will be distributed under the proposed 8% tax, with 37.5% going to the City of Savannah’s general fund, 33.8% to Visit Savannah and 14% to the Savannah Convention Center.

The remaining 14.7% would go toward a project list that fits the parameters of what the state defines as “tourism product development.”

The current 6% rate generated $34.6 million in 2022, according to a city report on the fee. The same report anticipated an 8% hotel-motel tax would have generated $46.2 million the same year.

From another story in the Savannah Morning News:

The legislation hasn’t been finalized or signed yet, but Jackson says she’s confident it will be approved. The measure will be a local bill, meaning only members of the Chatham County legislative delegation need to approve it, not the entire Georgia General Assembly.

Local bills typically come up for consideration after Crossover Day, the last day for legislation to be approved by one chamber and still receive consideration – cross over – in the other. Crossover Day was Monday, March 6.

The breakthrough in the hotel-motel tax saga, at least according to Georgia House Rep. and Chatham Delegation Chairman Ron Stephens (R-Savannah), was support for the increase from hoteliers. Last year, he said he wouldn’t support the bill until hotel leadership was on board.

This year, with support from Visit Savannah and the hotel leaders they represent, Stephens is in full support, noting the measure might even pass unanimously.

For hotel owners, the incentive for taxing themselves at a higher rate is that money raised from the tax will be used to improve tourist destinations. Visitors don’t come to Savannah for the city’s hotels; they come for Savannah itself, Stephens noted.

Currently more than 90 cities and counties in Georgia, including Atlanta, Vidalia, Dahlonega, Dublin and Macon-Bibb County, have an 8% hotel-motel tax. Just down the road, Tybee Island falls in the middle at a 7% hotel/motel tax. In 2021, Thunderbolt also passed a hotel-motel tax.

House Bill 230 by State Rep. Mark Newton (R-Augusta) would allow a referendum on whether to build a new arena to replace the James Brown Arena in Augusta, and passed the State House, according to WRDW.

House Bill 230 would allow the public to vote on a new half-percent sales tax to fund construction.

It passed by a 165-7 vote in the House on Friday ahead of a key deadline in the legislative process to ensure measures get to both the House and the Senate.

The bill would get around some of the problems of a SPLOST measure like the one local voters rejected last year.

He said unlike the SPLOST plan, which was a property tax, this proposal would be a sales tax on purchases in Richmond County.

And because people from outside Richmond County buy things here, “probably roughly 30 to 40% of the people that will help pay for the arena don’t actually live in Augusta,” Johnson said.

From the Augusta Chronicle:

The bill would ask Augusta voters whether or not they support a sales tax of up to 0.5% for up to five years for the purpose of funding “coliseum capital outlay projects and project costs” and not to exceed the project’s guaranteed maximum price.

If approved by Augusta voters, the tax would be imposed on the first day of the next calendar quarter.

A few years ago, the plan was to fund the project, which was valued at the time at $235 million, with a special property tax that would have added almost $100 a year more in property owners’ taxes for every $100,000 of their property’s assessed value. It was heavily criticized and voted down in November 2021.

The sales tax would collect funds from anyone making purchases in Augusta, meaning residents could expect to pay much less. Augusta-Richmond County Coliseum Authority Chairman Cedric Johnson said, at the time, they misjudged residents’ anger over their homes being taxed this way, but believes the sales tax will be more agreeable.

Senate Bill 231 by Senators Max Burns and Lee Anderson (both R-Augusta area) would allow a referendum on whether the Mayor of Augusta should be given full voting rights on Augusta City Commission, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

A referendum to amend the charter of Augusta-Richmond County and give the mayor a full seat on the commission made it through the Georgia Senate on Monday — Crossover Day, the last day for bills to pass one legislative bodies in order to move forward this session.

Under the current rules, the mayor presides over meetings of the Augusta Commission but can only vote in the event of a tie.

Augusta residents would be able to vote on the referendum during the general primary in 2024.

Sen. Harold Jones II, D-Augusta, then rose to speak against the bill.

“There’s just a split in the community in the commission on whether we should have a vote, shouldn’t have a vote,” he said. “It’s not even an ideological split, it’s not even a racial split … it basically puts myself and (Burns) in a bad position.”

The vote was 32-22 along party lines, with Republicans backing the proposal and Democrats voting against.

Freshman State Rep. Lehman Franklin (R-Statesboro) passed three bills through his chamber, according to the Statesboro Herald.

In order of passage, these have to do with “alternative” investments by the state Employees Retirement System, workers compensation payments for injured workers and the surviving dependents of those who die from on-the-job injuries, and judges’ ability to make protective orders permanent in cases of stalking.

None of the bills had passed the Senate yet, but Monday, March 6, was 2023’s Crossover Day, the deadline date for bills that originate in the House to be sent on to the Senate, and vice versa.  A first-year legislator, even a Republican like Franklin when Republicans hold the majority, has no guarantee of getting bills passed.

“I’ve been told that it’s pretty good to get three out,” Franklin said during the lunch break Monday. “I think there are one or two  other  freshmen who  have gotten some bills out like that as well, but I’m pretty proud  of it, actually.”

Supreme Galactic Emperor former State Rep. Stacey Abrams (D-Atlanta) spoke in Columbus, according to WTVM.

The Gamma Tau Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority sponsored the event. The ceremony honored women with careers in STEAM – science, technology, engineering, arts and math.

This year’s guest speaker was former Georgia Gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, who gave the crowd three essential rules to success.

“My message was you do things that scare you, ask forgiveness, not permission, and learn your lessons, not your losses, because I want women, especially young women, to understand that their ability to change the world is to do things that are hard and what they have never seen before,” said Abrams.

Dougherty County Commissioners voted to rescind some COVID-19 rules, according to the Albany Herald.

The Dougherty County Commission unanimously approved Monday the revision to discontinue paid leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act and American Rescue Plan Act.

“The primary deal is we are no longer paying the Families First Coronavirus Response for 80 hours (of leave),” County Administrator Michael McCoy said. “The county was paying that to allow affected employees time to recover from COVID.”

The federal government eliminated payments for the program about a year ago, but the county had continued the payments, McCoy said. The number of employees sickened, particularly for lengthy periods of time, has declined.

Dougherty County is seeing rising numbers of evictions, according to WALB.

Out of 27,861 civil papers, Dougherty County Sheriff Kevin Sproul received last year, there were 7,600 evictions executed.

“That was up tremendously. In 2021, we had 1,053 evictions. 2020 during the main year of COVID, we had 979,” he said. “People are having a hard time. A lot of folks lost their jobs during COVID. They’ve had a hard time going back and finding work that was comparable to what they had previously.”

According to the Dougherty County Magistrate Court, as of Jan. 1 of this year up to March 1, there have already been 1,049 eviction cases filed. That number continues to climb because of COVID-19. The eviction moratorium that restrained landlords from evicting their tenants for a period of time ended in October 2022. The after-effects have been taking a toll on some residents.

It doesn’t help that the City of Albany doesn’t have a lot of affordable housing options. But Hawthorne said the cost of construction because of inflation has made it difficult to provide that housing option for low-income families.

The Bacon County Sheriff’s Department has released a smartphone app, according to WTOC.

The sheriff’s office rolled out their app to, not only give people urgent alerts, but also helpful details they might need too.

Sheriff Andy Batten says they’ve been working on the app for months before they rolled it out on Thursday. They can use it to alert people of things like an accident or a person on the run.

They can also find useful information on local courts and how to pay tickets. The sheriff says it’s just the latest way to reach the most people quickly.

“Pretty much everybody has at least one in their hand or in their pocket or close by. They’ll interact with that cell phone throughout the day. It gives us the opportunity to reach them with information,” said Sheriff Batten.

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