Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for March 9, 2022

9
Mar

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for March 9, 2022

On March 9, 1862, CSS Virginia and USS Monitor, a Union ironclad, fought to a draw in the Chesapeake Bay.

On March 9, 1866, Governor Charles Jones Jenkins signed two pieces of legislation dealing with African-Americans, one recognized their marriages, the other legitimized children born to African-American couples prior to the act and required parents to maintain their children in the same way white were required.

Bobby Fischer, the Eleventh World Champion of Chess, was born on March 9, 1943 and is considered by many the greatest player of all time.

Governor Ellis Arnall signed two important pieces of legislation on March 9, 1945. The first created the Georgia Ports Authority, with its first project being the expansion of the Port of Savannah. The second authorized the placement of a referendum to adopt a new state Constitution (in the form of a single Amendment to the Constitution of 1877) on the ballot in a Special Election to be held August 7, 1945.

On March 9, 1970, Governor Lester Maddox signed legislation setting the Georgia minimum wage at $1.25 per hour.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Camden County voters passed the referendum that limits the county government’s ability to purchase real estate for the proposed Spaceport Camden, according to The Brunswick News.

Spaceport Camden was rejected by an overwhelming margin in a special election Tuesday.

With all 12 precincts reporting, 4,168 yes votes were cast or 72%, and 1,611 voted no, or 28%. A yes vote in the referendum was to prohibit Camden County commissioners from spending any more money to establish a spaceport.

Commissioners will not be allowed to close on a deal with Union Carbide to purchase the 4,000-acre tract for a launch site.

The vote ends a seven-year quest costing more than $10.3 million on the effort to establish a spaceport.

The vote does not end the debate over a spaceport, however.

The county filed an emergency order with the Court of Appeals of Georgia on Monday to prohibit Camden County Probate Court Judge Robert C. Sweatt, Jr. from certifying the results of Tuesday’s referendum until the validity of the election can be resolved.

The county contends the election does not meet the standards required to overturn local legislation.

[Longtime spaceport opponent Steve] Weinkle announced his candidacy to run for the District 2 Camden County Commission seat held by Republican Chuck Clark. Weinkle said he will qualify to run as a Republican.

St. Marys City Councilman Jim Goodman also announced his candidacy Tuesday night as a Republican to seek the District 4 county commission seat held by Chairman Gary Blount, who has already qualified to seek another term in office.

From the AJC:

Camden County officials who spent a decade and $10.3 million pursuing the spaceport seemed determined to fight on in court. They asked the Georgia Court of Appeals to prohibit certification of the vote as the county presses a legal argument that the election should be declared invalid.

“Right now they are guilty of ignoring the will of the voters,” said James Goodman, a spaceport critic and a city councilman in the Camden County community of St. Marys. He added: “What they will do if they persist is to demonstrate utter contempt for the voters.”

County officials had no immediate comment on the outcome, said John Simpson, a spokesman for the spaceport project.

Megan Desrosiers, executive director of the coastal Georgia conservation group One Hundred Miles, said the vote Tuesday “sent a clear message to Camden County officials.”

“Stop spending money on the Spaceport Camden boondoggle,” said Desrosiers, who helped organize the petition drive to put the project on the ballot. “It’s time to move on and come up with a real solution that will provide jobs to Camden County residents and not pose a threat of destruction to Georgia’s coast.”

As voters cast ballots Tuesday, county commissioners asked the Georgia Court of Appeals to temporarily halt certification of the election. Commissioners argued unsuccessfully in a lower court that Georgia’s constitution doesn’t give voters power to veto the spaceport project with a referendum.

The Court of Appeals passed the legal motion to the Georgia Supreme Court, calling the county’s request “an extraordinary remedy.”

Commissioners also voted in a special meeting Friday to appoint its first members to a Camden County Spaceport Authority approved by Georgia lawmakers in 2019. The state law authorizing the spaceport authority gives it the power to purchase property.

Opponents suspect the commissioners may try to use the authority to buy the spaceport property if voters successfully block the county commission from closing the deal.

Port Wentworth Mayor Gary Norton announced state legislation that would unincorporate the coastal georgia municipality, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Members of Chatham’s state legislative delegation drafted the legislation. If adopted the measure would mean the end of Port Wentworth’s cityhood, which dates to 1957. The bill states that the city of Port Wentworth will become an unincorporated area within Chatham County.

Under the county jurisdiction, the city will follow county ordinances, rules and regulations and will be provided county governmental services.

“The city is dysfunctional and has been for years,” said Georgia House Rep. Ron Stephens (R-Savannah), the chairman of the Chatham legislative delegation, which includes six House reps and two state senators.

Stephens said the bill may be introduced into the Georgia Legislature as soon as next week. Since it is a local bill, the March 15 crossover day deadline for bills to pass either legislative chamber does not apply.

From WTOC:

The two biggest issues discussed at the meeting Tuesday were the city being $150,000 behind in bills and opposition to dissolving the city charter.

The interim city manager says since December they’ve been $150,000 behind in bills that keep the city running.

“We’re doing what we can to catch up,” Steve Davis, Interim city manager said.

Senator Lester Jackson says dissolving the city isn’t even at the proposal stage yet.

Governor Brian Kemp wants to suspend collection of gas taxes, according to the Associated Press via the Valdosta Daily Times.

Republican Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp said Tuesday he wants to suspend collections of state motor fuel taxes amid rising pump prices, on the same day Democratic President Joe Biden announced a ban on U.S. imports of Russian oil, a move likely to continue the upward pressure on prices.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock of Georgia has already been advocating for the federal government to suspend collection of its gas tax, responding to discontent over rising fuel prices, a marker of inflation.

Georgia’s gasoline price includes a federal tax of 18.4 cents per gallon and a state tax of 29.1 cents per gallon. A number of cities and counties also charge taxes. Federal taxes on diesel fuel are 24.4 cents per gallon, while Georgia’s tax on diesel is 32.6 cents per gallon.

Kemp did not say how long he would want to suspend taxes for or how much it would cost, pending a bill likely to be introduced Wednesday in the General Assembly. Kemp did say the plan would not imperil his proposal to give $1.6 billion in state income tax refunds out of a state budget surplus.

“Because of our strong, fiscally conservative budgeting, I’m confident we will be able to provide relief to hardworking Georgians — both in the form of a tax refund and lower gas taxes,” Kemp tweeted.

Kemp’s office said the administration was still developing details and could not say how he would replace the revenue used to build and maintain roads and other transportation infrastructure. It’s also unclear if the governor would seek to suspend local levies.

From 13WMAZ:

Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan Tweeted shortly after Gov. Kemp’s announcement, showing his support for the plan to temporarily suspend fuel taxes in the Peach State.

“This much needed action will help to minimize the impact of Russia’s selfish brutal dictator on millions of hardworking Georgians. I look forward to working with Gov. Kemp and Speaker Ralston to quickly get this relief effort passed into law,” he said.

Under the Gold Dome Today – Legislative Day 26

TBD Senate Rules Committee upon Adjournment 450 CAP

8:00 AM HOUSE INSURANCE COMMITTEE 606 CLOB HYBRID

8:00 AM HOUSE BANKS & BANKING COMMITTEE 506 CLOB HYBRID

8:00 AM HOUSE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE 132 CAP HYBRID

8:00 AM Senate Ethics Committee- canceled 307 CLOB

8:30 AM HOUSE AGRICULTURE AND CONSUMER AFFAIRS COMMITTEE 406 CLOB HYBRID

8:30 AM HOUSE Regulated Industries Lottery Oversight-Gaming Subcommittee 515 CLOB

8:30 AM HOUSE CODE REVISION COMMITTEE 132 CAP HYBRID

9:00 AM HOUSE RULES COMMITTEE 341 CAP

10:00 AM HOUSE FLOOR SESSION (LD 26) House Chamber

10:00 AM Senate Floor Session LD 26 Senate Chamber

10:00 AM Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities Committee- canceled 450 CAP

1:00 PM HOUSE HIGHER EDUCATION COMMITTEE 606 CLOB HYBRID

1:00 PM Senate Natural Resources and Environment – canceled 307 CLOB

1:00 PM Senate Health and Human Services – canceled 450 CAP

1:30 PM HOUSE WAYS & MEANS SUBCOMMITTEE 403 CAP HYBRID

2:00 PM HOUSE EDUCATION COMMITTEE 341 CAP

2:00 PM HOUSE GOVERNMENTAL AFFAIRS COMMITTEE 406 CLOB HYBRID

2:00 PM Senate Education and Youth Committee – canceled 307 CLOB

2:00 PM Senate Retirement Committee 310 CLOB

3:00 PM HOUSE Special Committee on Election Integrity 606 CLOB HYBRID

3:00 PM HOUSE CANCELED JUDICIARY NON-CIVIL 132 CAP HYBRID

3:00 PM Special Committee on Access to Quality Health Care 406 CLOB HYBRID

3:00 PM HOUSE BUDGET & FISCAL AFFAIRS OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE 403 CAP HYBRID

3:00 PM HOUSE Energy, Utilities and Telecommunications Solar Consumer Subcommittee 506 CLOB HYBRID

3:00 PM Senate Finance Committee 450 CAP

3:30 PM HOUSE ENERGY, UTILITIES & TELECOMMUNICATIONS COMMITTEE 506 CLOB HYBRID

4:00 PM Senate Transportation Committee – canceled 450 CAP

Senate Rules Calendar

SB 562 Department of Administrative Services; companies owned or operated by Russia to bid on or submit a proposal for a state contract; prohibit (GvtO-53rd)

SB 333 Education; agents and agent’s permits; to repeal definitions of such terms; provisions; remove (Substitute) (H ED-56th)

SB 510 Motor Vehicle; operation of motor vehicles by Class D license holders with certain passengers in the vehicle; remove a restriction (PUB SAF-47th)

SB 371 Fraud; for-profit credit repair services; authorize (Substitute) (AG&CA-20th)

SB 203 Motor Vehicles; use of mounts on windshields for support of wireless telecommunications devices and stand-alone electronic devices; allow (Substitute) (TRANS-47th)

SR 565 Northwest Georgia Logistics Corridor; official logistics growth corridor in Georgia; designate (Substitute) (TRANS-31st)

HOUSE RULES CALENDAR

Modified Structured Rule

HB 849 Domestic relations; add human resources personnel and supervisory personnel in a workplace that employs minors as mandatory reporters for child abuse (Substitute)(I&L-Smith-41st)

HB 884 Professions and businesses; expedited licenses for military spouses; provisions (Substitute)(RegI-Belton-112th)

HB 1043 Georgia Endowment for Teaching Professionals; create (HEd-Jasperse-11th)

HB 1279 Controlled substances; certain persons to carry prescription medications in a compartmentalized container; authorize (Substitute) (H&HS-Gambill-15th)

HB 1295 Quality Basic Education Act; group of performance evaluation ratings; remove needs development rating (Substitute)(Ed-Corbett-174th)

HB 1357 Professional Standards Commission; standards and procedures for certification programs; provisions (Substitute)(Ed-Smith-18th)

HB 1371 Rural Health Advancement Commission; create (Substitute) (SCQHC-Jasperse-11th)

HB 1372 Georgia Utility Facility Protection Act; revise provisions and short title (EU&T-Smith-133rd)

HB 1381 Local government; water and sewer authority board members to complete yearly continuing training courses; require (GAff-Stephens-164th)

HB 1383 Fair Employment Practices Act of 1978; hearing before an administrative law judge; provide (Judy-Wilensky-79th)

HB 1385 Legislative and Congressional Reapportionment Office; revise annexation reporting requirements (Substitute)(GAff-Anderson-10th)

HB 1396 Georgia Municipal Court Clerks’ Council; create (Judy-Yearta-152nd)

HB 1406 Zoning; changes to ordinances that revise single-family residential classifications; provide additional notice and hearing provisions (Substitute)(GAff-Martin-49th)

HB 1455 Georgia Ports Authority; provide for powers of authority (PS&HS-Hitchens-161st)

Structured Rule
HB 1280 Revenue and taxation; county tax commissioner duties; revise provisions (Substitute)(W&M-Lim-99th)

House Bill 1013, the “Mental Health Parity Act,” passed the State House yesterday, according to the Capitol Beat News Service via the Albany Herald.

“Mental health touches almost every family in Georgia,” House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, who has made the bill his top priority this year, told lawmakers before the 169-3 vote. “These are Georgians who are hurting because the mental health-care system has failed them and hopelessness is winning the battle for their future.”

House Bill 1013 would require health insurance companies to treat mental illness the same way they treat physical illness. The parity provision also would apply to Georgia’s Medicaid and PeachCare for Kids programs and to the State Health Benefit Plan for teachers, university system employees and state workers.

Ralston said the legislation is being supported by $29 million in the fiscal 2022 mid-year budget and the fiscal 2023 spending plan on top of $58 million the General Assembly appropriated for mental health services last year.

The coronavirus pandemic has added a sense of urgency to the issue, with suicides, opioid abuse and Fentanyl overdose deaths on the rise in Georgia.

“There is no holy grail of how do you solve this,” said Rep. Todd Jones, R-South Forsyth, who worked with Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver, D-Decatur, to shepherd the bipartisan bill through the House Health and Human Services Committee. “[But] we have the ability to at least make a material change. … This is the first step that must be taken.”

Ralston dropped a strong hint on the state Senate, where the bill now is headed, that he considers the issue too important for the typical give-and-take that occurs between the two legislative chambers.

“Lives are at stake with this bill,” he said. “I hope they will think twice before nitpicking or trying to take apart the work that has been done by this commission.”

From Georgia Health News via the Rome News Tribune:

Ralston, a Blue Ridge Republican, said it’s “completely unacceptable” that Georgia, which he called the top state for business in the nation, should have a mental health system ranked at the bottom.

The bill, approved by a 169-3 vote, requires that health plans cover mental health and substance use treatment at the same levels as physical conditions. It also changes the protocols on involuntary commitment of mentally ill people, creates incentives for the training of mental health professionals, and facilitates “co-response” teams with police officers and mental health professionals around the state.

The mental health bill sets up a multi-step process for involuntary commitment of someone who’s undergoing a mental health crisis.

Before the vote, state Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver (D-Decatur), who’s a co-sponsor of HB 1013, said the legislation largely targets people with severe mental health or substance abuse problems who are repeatedly in and out of jails and hospital emergency rooms. “Let us move forward for those who are truly in crisis,” she said.

From the AJC:

The bill passed 169-3, with Republican state Reps. Charlice Byrd of Woodstock, Sheri Gilligan of Cumming and Philip Singleton of Sharpsburg the only votes in opposition.

“No matter how long you stay here, few will remember most of the votes that we put up there (on the vote board) or the issues that we worked on,” Ralston said. “But on rare occasions you will be called to vote on a defining issue, an issue bigger than you, bigger than me. I submit to you that this is such an issue.”

Senate Bill 393, the “Common Carrier Non-Discrimination Act” passed the state Senate, according to the Capitol Beat News Service via the Albany Herald.

A bill prohibiting giant social media platforms from censoring content based on the author’s viewpoint passed the Republican-controlled Georgia Senate Tuesday along party lines.

The Senate bill, which passed 33-21 and now moves to the state House of Representatives, would prohibit social media platforms with more than 20 million followers from discriminating against an author posting content based not only on the person’s viewpoint but his or her race, color ethnicity, religious or political beliefs, national origin, sex, gender or sexual orientation.

Social media companies still would be allowed not to publish obscene material, said Sen. Greg Dolezal, R-Cumming, the bill’s chief sponsor. The Georgia Public Service Commission would enforce the legislation’s provisions, he said.

A federal judge blocked a similar bill Florida lawmakers passed earlier this year after lawyers for Big Tech companies argued it violated their free-speech rights under the First Amendment.

State Senator Chuck Hufstetler (R-Rome) faces opposition in his reelection campaign, according to the Rome News Tribune.

What appears to be a power struggle in the newly minted Senate District 52 between Floyd and Bartow Counties is already shaping up. Changes to the district this past year took District 52 out of northern Floyd County and moved it into all but the very southeastern portion of Bartow.

Former state representative Jeff Lewis as well as Derek Keeney are forming the Bartow side of a match to unseat Floyd County’s state Sen. Chuck Hufstetler.

Democrat Stacey Abrams qualified for Governor, according to WTVM.

Abrams, who lost to Gov. Brian Kemp in the 2018 gubernatorial race, previously ran on the platform of “opportunity for all” pushing for Medicaid expansion, full funding of education, and building economic opportunity. She says many today, many of those issues remain.

“Sadly, those are still the issues we need to focus on,” Abrams said. “The last four years of inaction and ineptitude by the current governor means that I am simply trying again to do what’s right for Georgia, and I believe this time we will get it done,” she explained.

Minutes later, The Kemp campaign responded with a statement saying, “If Stacey Abrams had it her way, Georgia businesses would have spent the last two years shuttered, children would have been barred from their classrooms, government mandates would rule the everyday lives of Georgia families, and woke politics would be the law of the land.” The campaign went on to claim Abrams sees the Governor’s seat as a stepping stone to the white House.

“In 2020 and 2021 we demonstrated that Georgia is a force to be reckoned with in Democratic politics,” Abrams said. “Instead of catering to the powerful or an ideological group, I am running to be the leader of all of Georgia even those who don’t like me because I believe expanding Medicaid serves us all. Defending our right to vote serves us all. Insuring access to education whether you live in rural areas or the cities serves us all.”

Savannah Mayor Van Johnson continues pushing for a higher hotel/motel tax, according to WSAV.

Savannah’s top priority under the gold dome in Atlanta may have to wait until next year. But Mayor Van Johnson is continuing to advocate for an increased hotel/motel tax in the Hostess City.

The Savannah mayor says the “ongoing saga” has dragged on for too long with this being the third delay after a promise it would be on top of the agenda in 2022.

Rep. Ron Stephens, chairman of the Chatham County delegation, told WSAV News 3 state legislators will not pass the increase this year. Stephens said hoteliers did not approve of the proposal, saying they are still recovering from pandemic losses.

“This is revenue-neutral to the hotels, it is revenue-positive for the city of Savannah,” Johnson said Tuesday. “I think our delegation should really, frankly, be more concerned about the residents and citizens than they are about the hoteliers.”

Floyd County Commissioners approved a settlement with the Georgia Attorney General’s office over teh 2020 elections, according to the Rome News Tribune.

Floyd County commissioners approved a consent order from the Georgia Attorney General’s Office concerning the Floyd County Elections Board’s role in the 2020 general election that left 2,600 ballots initially uncounted.

As for the elections board’s portion of that case, Harman said Floyd County has agreed to pay a $3,000 fine for, essentially, not overseeing [Former Chief Elections Clerk Robert] Brady’s conduct.

After the approval, a representative from the Georgia Attorney General’s Office will present it to the State Elections Board at their meeting next Wednesday, where it will be included in a consent agenda for the board to approve.

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