Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for March 8, 2023


Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for March 8, 2023

March 8, 1862 saw the Confederate ironclad CSS Virginia at Hampton Roads, VA, take ninety-eight hits from Union warships without sinking. Virginia sank USS Cumberland after ramming it, blew up USS Congress, and ran USS Minnesota aground. It was the worst day in US Naval history at that time.

On March 8, 1946, a conference convened on Wilmington Island, near Savannah, that would lead to the creation of the International Monetary Fund and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, commonly called the World Bank.

On March 8, 1946, a special train arrived at Savannah’s Union Station from Washington, holding nearly 300 delegates, government officials, technical experts and reporters from 35 nations. Thousands of Savannahians watched as a 100-car motorcade rolled along flag-bedecked streets to the General Oglethorpe Hotel on Wilmington Island.

Treasury Secretary Fred M. Vinson headed the American delegation; the British were led by John Maynard Keynes, “the father of modern macroeconomics.”

The stakes were enormous.

Two years earlier, as World War II neared its murderous end, the winning Allies pondered the nature of the postwar global economy. The United States was emerging as the leader of the free world, largely supplanting the British Empire, gravely weakened by the war.

The IMF and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (better known as the World Bank) were born at a July 1944 conference in Bretton Woods, N.H., where 44 countries established rules for the global monetary system.

The IMF was intended to promote international economic cooperation and secure global financial stability, providing countries with short-term loans. The World Bank would offer long-term loans to assist developing countries in building dams, roads and other physical capital.

The Bretton Woods agreements were ratified internationally by December 1945. Vinson, seeking a site for the new organizations’ inaugural meetings, sent Treasury agents around the country. “They made some fine reports on Savannah,” he later told the Morning News. He had never visited the city.

On March 8, 1982, President Ronald Reagan called the Soviet Union “an evil empire” for the second time, in an address to the National Association of Evangelicals.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

United States District Court Judge J.P. Boulee ordered State Rep. Ginny Ehrhart (R-Cobb County)to open her social media account to differing views, according to the AJC.

U.S. District Judge J.P. Boulee found that the Powder Springs Republican’s blocks and deletions infringed upon the First Amendment rights of retired communications software executive Thomas Biedermann.

Biedermann filed suit in March 2020 after Ehrhart deleted his disapproving comments to her post about her legislation to criminalize transgender surgeries performed on children. Biedermann, who used the pseudonym Tom Alfred, was then blocked from her legislative Facebook page.

Boulee’s ruling noted that Ehrhart has blocked more than 60 people from the Facebook page and that they have joined together on social media calling themselves #blockedbyginny.

In granting Biedermann a preliminary injunction, Boulee noted that Ehrhart has both a personal and a legislative Facebook page. The official page “was used in furtherance of (Ehrhart’s) work as a government official,” he wrote. “Further, the official Facebook page was open to the public and, at the very least, the interactive component of the official Facebook page invited a public exchange of views.”

He also found there is a substantial likelihood that Biedermann will establish that Ehrhart’s blocks and deletions constitute “viewpoint discrimination in a public forum in violation of (Biedermann’s) First Amendment right to freedom of speech and expression.”

But Boulee wrote that “an ongoing infringement of (Biedermann’s) constitutional right to freedom of speech and expression outweighs (Ehrhart’s) desire to exclude opposing public viewpoints from the official Facebook page.” This is particularly true considering Ehrhart “has alternative options to communicate her message within constitutional boundaries, such as disabling public comments or responses on her posts altogether,” the judge said.

Under the Gold Dome Today – Legislative Day 30

TBD Senate Rules Committee: Upon Adjournment – 450 CAP
7:00 AM HOUSE Appropriations Sub – 341 CAP
7:00 AM Senate Approp: Crim Jstc & Pub Safety Sub – 450 CAP
7:00 AM Senate Approp: Gov’t Operations Sub – 310 CLOB
10:00 AM HOUSE FLOOR SESSION (LD 30) – House Chamber
10:00 AM Senate Floor Session (LD 30) – Senate Chamber
1:00 PM Senate Public Safety – 450 CAP
2:00 PM Senate Approps: Trans Sub – Mezz 1 CAP
2:00 PM Senate Approps: Judicial Sub – 450 CAP
4:00 PM Senate Approps: Econ Dev Sub – 307 CLOB
4:00 PM Senate Finance – Mezz 1 CAP

House Bill 181 by State Rep. Rick Townsend (R-Brunswick) restricts the sale of Kraton and passed the House, according to The Brunswick News.

House Bill 181 made it out of the House on Crossover Day and now goes to the Senate. Monday was the last day for legislation approved in one chamber to cross over to the other.

The substitute, approved by the House in a 171 to 3 vote, restricts the sale of kratom to adults 21 years of age and older, and requires stores to keep it behind the counter or in a secure display accessible only by employees.

“It’s going to be harder for those teenaged kids to get a hold of it like they do now,” Townsend said. “You’re going to have to actually ask for it.”

Townsend’s original bill sought to make it illegal in Georgia. “I hit a lot of resistance,” Townsend said. “There was pushback from the other side.”

“It’s a billion dollar industry,” Townsend said. “They had the money to fight it.”

The substitute carries other requirements. Kratom cannot be ingested via a heating element or vaporizing mechanism such as an electronic cigarette.

“They will now know what concentration they’re getting, what dosage they’re getting,” Townsend said. “Right now you’re not sure if it’s a weak dose, a strong does or whatever.”

One bill that failed to cross over to the Senate by the deadline that was introduced by a member of Glynn County’s state delegation would have allowed counties in Georgia with significant state forest lands to sponsor bingo games and bingo machines to help make up for lost tax revenue. Rep. Buddy DeLoach, R-Townsend, was the sponsor of House Bill 473.

Senate Bill 227 by Senators John F. Kennedy (R-Macon) and Rick Williams (R-Milledgeville) would revamp the election of Macon-Bibb County’s elections supervisor, according to 13WMAZ.

Kennedy says it’s aimed at clarifying how Macon-Bibb County chooses its election supervisor. Opponents argue it’s an overreach of power.

“Since 1969, this board has worked with the mayor and commission to recommend supervisors for appointment, and ensure a smooth election process,” Joshua-James Billings, the chair of Macon-Bibb’s Democratic Party said.

He’s talking about the board of elections.

“Where Democrat, Republican and Independent members serve to insure the integrity and efficiency of our county’s elections,” Billings said.

On Tuesday, he led a press conference protesting Senate Bill 227, which would change how Macon-Bibb County chooses its election supervisor. He says it would officially give Macon-Bibb County all the authority to choose the supervisor, and take power away from the election board.

According to the county’s current charter, if the supervisor leaves, the board of elections recommends a candidate to the county commission. Then, the commission approves or denies the candidate.

Kennedy’s office says SB 227 would clarify that process. They say the word ‘recommendation’ is what causes some of the confusion. Legally, they say, ‘recommendation’ implies the election board can provide their input, but the county commission has the final decision.

House Bill 514, the “Housing Regulation Transparency Act” by State Rep. Dale Washburn (R-Macon) passed the House and would limit local housing moratoria, according to the Capitol Beat News Service.

The Housing Regulation Transparency Act, which passed 127-43, would prevent local governments from extending moratoriums that bar the building of single-family homes beyond 180 days.

“[The bill] allows them to declare a moratorium for any reason for 180 days, but they cannot continue to extend moratoriums over and over again,” said the bill’s chief sponsor, Rep. Dale Washburn, R-Macon.

“If a local community can just declare a moratorium and say, ‘We just don’t want anyone else coming,’ – well, then we’re allowing them to build economic walls around that county and city.”

The bill also allows local governments to waive impact fees for houses that are 2,500 square feet or less in order to incentivize more single-family construction, Washburn said. Local governments sometimes impose impact fees to cover the infrastructure costs of new housing developments.

House Bill 189 by State Rep. Steven Meeks (R-Screven) passed the House and would allow heavier trucks on some Georgia roads, according to the Capitol Beat News Service via the Ledger-Enquirer.

Lawmakers passed House Bill 189 by a margin of 93-81 during a marathon Crossover Day session Monday, the General Assembly’s self-imposed deadline for bills to get through at least one legislative chamber and remain alive for the year. It takes at least 91 votes in the 180-member House to pass a bill.

The legislation would allow commercial trucks to exceed the current legal weight limit of 80,000 pounds by 10%, for a total of 88,000 pounds, on roads other than interstate highways, which are subject to federal restrictions.

When the measure was introduced last month, it would have applied to commercial trucks no matter what they were hauling. But following complaints from the Georgia Department of Transportation (DOT), representatives of local governments and highway safety advocates, the bill’s sponsors scaled it back to apply only to trucks hauling farm products – including poultry – timber, granite, concrete, or solid waste.

“We bring Georgia in line with at least three of the states around us: Tennessee, Alabama, as well as Florida,” Rep. Steven Meeks, R-Screven, the bill’s chief sponsor, told his House colleagues.

But the bill’s opponents said allowing heavier trucks permanently would wreak tremendous damage on the state’s roads and bridges, forcing the DOT and local highway departments to spend huge amounts of money on repairs and maintenance at the expense of new badly needed road construction.

House Bill 129 by State Rep. Soo Hong (R-Gwinnett) would expand TANF eligibility for some Georgia women, and is headed to Governor Kemp’s desk for signature, according to the Associated Press via WRDW.

Senators voted 50-1 to pass House Bill 129, which was sought by the Republican governor. It would allow poor pregnant women to seek cash assistance under the state’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program before a child is born. But because of Georgia’s work requirements and long-frozen income guidelines, its unlikely to aid many people.

Kemp and others say it’s another way Georgia can support women before and after birth, aiming to reduce the rate at which new mothers and babies die. It’s also driven in part by Georgia’s ban on abortion except in the earliest weeks of pregnancy. The state in November extended Medicaid coverage for new mothers for a year after birth.

“Georgia’s current standards are more restrictive than the federal government’s denying this assistance to pregnant women who are among the state’s neediest,” said Sen. Mike Hodges, a Brunswick Republican and floor leader for Kemp. “Expanding eligibility to pregnant women would continue to build on the steps Georgia has taken to improve maternal health for low income populations.”

But the measure is unlikely to lead to a boom in payments. Currently, fewer than 500 adults get aid under the program statewide, officials said in a hearing earlier this month. The Georgia Budget and Policy Institute estimates about 300 women might benefit. A woman with one child who becomes pregnant again would get up to $280 a month.

Few benefit because of state and federal work requirements imposed in the 1990s. The program requires 30 hours of work or training per week, but a family of three must make less than $784 a month to be eligible for TANF. So anyone making more than minimum wage, at $7.25 an hour, would make too much income to be eligible.

The bill would change Georgia’s rules to allow women who are already on welfare to be eligible for an increase in benefits if they become pregnant again. Sen. Colton Moore, a Trenton Republican, failed in his attempt to amend the bill to keep benefits frozen if a woman becomes pregnant again.

From the Capitol Beat News Service:

“Expanding eligibility to pregnant women would continue to build on the steps Georgia’s taken to improve maternal health for low-income populations, such as extending Medicaid postpartum coverage to 12 months,” said [Sen. Mike] Hodges.

An amendment proposed by Sen. Colton Moore, R-Trenton, drew sharp criticism from Moore’s fellow Republicans, who argued it does not fit the GOP’s pro-life philosophy.

Moore’s amendment would have removed a provision from the bill that increases the amount of TANF aid if a woman becomes pregnant with an additional child while already receiving the assistance.

“I don’t feel comfortable [with] state dollars going to incentivize more children in that situation,” Moore said.

“You’re assuming someone has made themselves a baby factory to earn a minimum amount of money per month,” responded Sen. Mike Dugan, R-Carrollton. “In that dire situation, your solution is to take the money from them … to teach them a lesson?”

Sen. Blake Tillery, R-Vidalia, harkened back to the 2019 vote for Georgia’s Republican-sponsored heartbeat law, which prohibits most abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy.

“This chamber’s already spoken,” Tillery said. “We spoke four years ago. We said that we believe that heartbeat began life, and if you still take that position or if you believe that you should support families, then you’re going to have to reject … the amendment.”

Senate Bill 146 by State Sen. Steve Gooch (R-Dahlonega) is intended to govern the build out of electric vehicle infrastructure, according to the Capitol Beat News Service via the Gwinnett Daily Post.

Under Senate Bill 146, which passed 55-1, utilities selling electricity to EV owners charging either at home or at public charging stations would charge by the kilowatt hour rather than according to the amount of time a charge takes.

“This bill is a framework, a structure to get us started,” Senate Majority Leader Steve Gooch, R-Dahlonega, told his Senate colleagues Monday. Gooch co-chaired a joint legislative study committee that held hearings last summer and fall to develop policies aimed at welcoming the EV industry to Georgia.

On Monday, Gooch cited Gov. Brian Kemp’s pledge to make Georgia a national leader in electric mobility.

Besides the kilowatt hour mandate, the bill also authorizes the Georgia Department of Agriculture to oversee inspection and permitting of public EV charging stations and the state Department of Revenue to calculate how much to tax EV owners to offset the anticipated loss of gasoline tax revenue that will occur as more motorists switch to EVs.

Legislators will consider a six-bill package designed to reduce “hoteling” of foster children, according to the AJC.

The six-bill package, backed by the state’s child welfare agency, is moving as vulnerable kids are still being placed in hotels for long stretches of time. The practice, referred to as hoteling, has persisted for years and was made worse by the pandemic: more child welfare providers lost staff and fewer people volunteered to become foster parents, making it very difficult to find foster homes for some children with the greatest needs. In turn, the state had to place kids with some of the most complex needs in hotel rooms and even office spaces.

Candice Broce, the DHS commissioner earlier told the Legislature she was ‘hellbent’ on ending hoteling. She says these bills will fix statutory loopholes to keep more families intact and work to eliminate hoteling in Georgia.

The state now has about 11,000 children under age 18 in foster care, according to the Department of Human Services, which oversees the Division of Family and Children Services or DFCS. On any given night in Georgia, approximately 50 to 70 kids in foster care are placed in temporary housing, like a hotel room. The state has spent tens of millions of dollars in hoteling costs, and the recent amended budget included another $10 million for hoteling costs and other alternative housing options for kids with complex needs.

DHS says that Senate Bill 133 clarifies procedures in custody hearings, and works to ensure that all agencies involved in juvenile court cases are making efforts to avoid children coming into their care unnecessarily, by granting the right services. DHS says these changes will have an “immediate and direct impact” on preventing kids from being temporarily placed in a hotel. Bill sponsors say the legislation could potentially undergo further changes.

The bill package were crafted over several months by a coalition of veteran Juvenile Court Judges, child welfare attorneys, and child welfare staff, according to DHS. The bills are backed by Gov. Brian Kemp, and all cleared the Senate unanimously last week, except for one no vote on Senate Bill 133. The bills will now need to move through the House before becoming law.

More generally, the bill package aims to streamline the state’s custody and guardianship procedures to ensure more kids stay with their parents and are able to be adopted with ease. For example, Senate Bill 135 would allow a child’s biological father to utilize prior genetic testing to petition the court for custody.

Another bill, Senate Bill 134, makes it clear that kids are allowed to testify in parental rights hearings. Additionally, the bill allows juvenile court parties to use more medical records in court proceedings without needing to have a doctor testify. The changes are intended to make it easier for children to stay with their parents.

Georgia’s Secretary of State will speak on a panel at the SXSW event, according to the Albany Herald.

Presenting alongside Nevada Secretary of State Francisco Aguilar, Raffensperger will make the case for commonsense, conservative election reforms on the state and national level. The 2022 gubernatorial election in Georgia saw record midterm turnout, with wait times of less than 3 minutes across the state on Election Day and continues to be a model for successful election administration, the secretary’s office said in a news release.

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