Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for May 17, 2023


Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for May 17, 2023

Georgia’s trustees asked Britain to repeal the law against importing slaves to the colonies on May 17, 1749.

On May 17, 1769, George Washington introduced resolutions in the Virginia House of Burgesses, drafted by George Mason, criticizing Britain’s “taxation without representation” policies toward the colonies.

George Washington continued his tour of Georgia on May 17, 1791, staying overnight in Waynesboro; on May 18 he arrived in Augusta.

General Winfield Scott issued an order on the removal of Cherokee people from Georgia on May 17, 1838.

Abraham Lincoln was nominated for President by the Republican National Convention on May 18, 1860.

On May 17, 1864, Sherman and Johnston engaged in the Battle of Adairsville, Georgia.

The United States Supreme Court handed down its decision in Plessy v. Ferguson on May 18, 1896.

The U.S. Supreme Court rule[d] seven to one that a Louisiana law providing for “equal but separate accommodations for the white and colored races” on its railroad cars is constitutional. The high court held that as long as equal accommodations were provided, segregation was not discrimination and thus did not deprive African Americans of equal protection under the law as guaranteed by the 14th Amendment.

The United States Supreme Court released its unanimous decision in Brown v. Board of Education on May 17, 1954, overturning Plessy v. Ferguson.

The historic decision, which brought an end to federal tolerance of racial segregation, specifically dealt with Linda Brown, a young African American girl who had been denied admission to her local elementary school in Topeka, Kansas, because of the color of her skin.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

State House District 68 voters sent two candidates to a Special Runoff Election to elect a successor to the late State Rep. Tish Naghise, according to the AJC.

A runoff will decide a race between two Democrats seeking the last vacant seat in the Georgia House, when former City of South Fulton Councilman Mark Baker will face former state Rep. Derrick Jackson.

Baker and Jackson each received about 33% of votes cast among five candidates in the special election Tuesday for the district covering parts of Fulton and Fayette counties, according to unofficial results.

Because they fell short of the majority of votes needed to win outright, a runoff will be held June 13.

Governor Brian Kemp signed local legislation affecting Gwinnett County, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

“When we work together on a bipartisan basis, we can do incredible things,” said Georgia House Majority Leader Chuck Efstration, who is a member of Gwinnett’s delegation. “We have great opportunities to work together to do great things for Gwinnett County irrespective of how we feel on other issues.”

Among the bills that Kemp signed into law are three that dealt with tax exemptions.

Two of them, House Bill 711 and House bill 748 deal with homestead exemption on school district taxes in particular. House Bill 711 would call for a referendum to double the exemption from $4,000 to $8,000. House Bill 748 would call for a referendum to create a new $2,000 exemption for teachers, hospital workers, members of the military, police, firefighters, sheriff’s deputies and other law enforcement officers.

“Newly elected Rep. Matt Reeves brought legislation to give Gwinnett homeowners an opportunity to earn the first residential property tax cut since 1988,” Efstration said. “This helps to protect the American dream of home ownership in the midst of a historic housing crisis and housing affordability crisis.”

Kemp also signed three bills — House Bills 671, 672 and 673 — dealing with referendums on the homestead exemptions for Sugar Hill property taxes.

House Bill 671 raises the city property tax homestead exemption for anyone 65 and older from $2,000 to $10,000 while House Bill 673 creates a $10,000 exemption fore residents who are 62 or older. Meanwhile, House Bill 672 increases the homestead exemption for other homeowners, whose properties are less than one acre in size, from $2,000 to $10,000.

As is the case with the school district tax exemptions, the three Sugar hill tax exemption changes would have to be go through a referendum before they can happen. That’s because Georgia law requires voters have the final say before any changes to tax exemptions goes into effect.

The referendums for House Bill 711 and House Bill 748 will be placed on the ballot in 2024. The date of the referendums for the three Sugar Hill exemptions would be up to city leaders to decide although this fall’s municipal elections would be a likely candidate.

House Bill 777 would tie the commission chair’s salary to the Gwinnett County sheriff’s salary so that they are always the same amount, including any salary supplements the county commission gives the sheriff.

“It’s a very appropriate measure considering the over $2 billion county budget and the full time job-type responsibilities that come with that position so I’m very proud of our work on that,” Efstration said.

Chatham County District Attorney Shalena Cook Jones blamestorms opines about Governor Kemp’s signature of legislation creating an oversight agency for prosecutors. From the Savannah Morning News:

Over the past few days, several people have reached out to ask how I feel about the governor’s recent visit to Savannah to sign Georgia SB 92 into law and create a Prosecuting Attorneys Qualifications Committee. This law, more widely known by its original name, “The Prosecutorial Oversight Bill,” is designed to keep reform-minded prosecutors in line by constraining their prosecutorial discretion.

Moreover, it is another tool certain politicians use to silence voters, keep them out of decisions about our criminal legal system, and undermine our democracy.

For centuries now, more than 97% of the prosecutors in this nation were white males, while more than 90% of those incarcerated in jails and prisons were people of color. Oddly, no one found this strange, even though studies have consistently shown that institutional racism, systemic bias, and economic disparities are primary drivers of mass incarceration.

But now that reform-minded prosecutors, who also happen to be people of color, are leading the largest and most profitable regions of the State, Georgia lawmakers have suddenly decided that a qualifications committee is necessary.

S.B. 92 ignores public opinion on reform and silences the voices of voters. Public opinion polls confirm that attitudes in Georgia and nationwide have evolved on criminal justice. A recent national bipartisan poll conducted ahead of the 2022 elections found that 8 in 10 Americans support criminal justice reform, including 74% of Republicans, 80% of independents, and 85% of Democrats.

What we are witnessing in this law is not a coincidence but another page torn from the partisan politics playing out across this nation. In Missouri, the legislature forced the resignation of District Attorney Kim Gardner by threatening to change her office to an appointed position rather than an elected one. Iowa just passed a law giving the Attorney General sweeping authority to prosecute criminal cases bypassing Kimberly Graham, the newly elected Polk County District Attorney. In Florida, State’s Attorney Aramis Ayala had all murder cases stripped from her office after expressing her opinion on the death penalty. Most recently, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis removed State’s Attorney Andrew Warren from office for simply sharing his prosecutorial priorities.

Macon-Bibb County Mayor Lester Miller announced the proposed FY 2024 budget, according to 13WMAZ.

Miller plans to roll back the millage rate by five mills. The rate is $1 per every $1,000 of your property’s value, up to 40%. It’s used to calculate property taxes.

The rollback means as long as your property value stays the same when assessments come out, you should pay less this year. Folks with a $100,000 house would pay about $200 less. A $150,000 house would have the property owner paying $300 less.

Much of the rollback is from the OLOST, the penny sales tax Bibb voters approved in 2021. Miller says they were legally required to roll the rate back by five mills this year, but when they rolled it back two mills last year, it put them ahead.

“We’re providing a better quality of service, and more of it, for less money for the taxpayer, and I think that’s something we can all take away. Our top items continue to be the top items. We’re funding public safety,” Miller said.

About $87 million of the nearly $204 million budget would go to public safety in 2024. They’ve increased that budget nearly $12 million since Miller took office.

The University System of Georgia Board of Regents voted unanimously to adopt their budget for FY2024, according to the Capitol Beat News Service via the Albany Herald.

The system’s Board of Regents voted unanimously Tuesday in favor of a $3.18 billion Fiscal 2024 operating budget with no increase in tuition for the sixth time in the last eight years at 25 of the system’s 26 institutions.

Georgia’s public colleges and universities rank seventh-lowest in the nation for tuition costs, Tracey Cook, the system’s chief fiscal officer, told the regents.

The Fiscal 2024 budget, which takes effect July 1, increases spending by 2.1% over the budget lawmakers approved last spring. It includes $87 million in cost-of-living raises for eligible employees and $7.5 million to cover enrollment growth.

System Chancellor Sonny Perdue was unhappy with the reduction and said so the day after the legislature approved it.

“We’re working hard to make our case for restoration of those funds,” board Chairman Harold Reynolds said following Tuesday’s vote.

In addition to the $66 million cut, Gov, Brian Kemp ordered the university system to “disregard” $6.2 million in spending approved by the General Assembly when he signed the state budget May 5.

Cook said those funds will be retained in the system office rather than allocated to the schools while the system awaits further information on how to handle those reductions.

From the Associated Press via AccessWDUN:

Regent Neal Pruitt Jr. of Atlanta said the system is “trying to balance affordability with quality of instruction” and is relying on lawmakers to restore $66 million that was cut from the teaching budget as a part of a hospital licensing dispute.

State senators, who insisted on the funding cut, said universities should cover the shortfall with some of their roughly $500 million in cash on hand. Officials said schools would decide how each should handle the decrease in state cash, and that dipping into reserves was only one possibility. They said it was too soon to tell whether workforces would be cut by layoffs or not replacing departing employees.

Chancellor Sonny Perdue said the decision to hold student costs mostly flat despite the cuts shows how committed regents are to affordability and should encourage lawmakers to give more state money to maintain instructional quality at current prices.

“Bluntly, with our decision today, I think it’s evident and clear we’re not trying to recover that through any other means,” Perdue said. “We’ve got to go and appeal to our public funders of the challenges that we have.”

Perdue warned that state funding wasn’t keeping up with the cost of covering pay raises and health insurance increases, and that schools face “troubling inflationary pressures” including higher electricity costs, saying presidents will be “under a tremendous amount of pressure” to manage budgets this year.

“We’re about to reach a tipping point here in our university system, where we’re going to need more resources in the future to maintain the quality of our academic programs and our college experiences, so that our students and families continue to receive a great education for their money here,” Perdue said.

Glynn County Commissioners heard a staff budget proposal for the coming fiscal year, according to The Brunswick News.

Teresa Munson, the county’s chief financial officer, said she had no plans to go over the proposed budget in great detail. Instead, she gave commissioners a brief overview of the $91.4 million proposal.

The general fund is the largest individual fund, making up 36% of the entire county budget. Special revenue funds make up 44% of the county’s total budget, including police, EMS, fire, accommodation excise tax and grant funding, along with multiple special revenue funds.

Increasing property values, strong property tax collections by the tax commissioner, and conservative budgeting have enabled the county to propose a rollback of the general fund millage rate for the third year in a row, giving Glynn County one of the lowest millage rates in the state while maintaining county operations in a highly inflationary economic environment, she said.

The general fund millage rate proposed at 3.798 mills crosses all tax districts in the county, she said. Four special service districts, fire, EMS, police and Sea Island Police, total 4.94 mills, and the remaining capital project millage rate is 0.53 mills.

Bulloch County Commissioners adopted resolutions to bring their pension plan online, according to the Statesboro Herald.

The defined benefit plan, or pension, Bulloch County commissioners agreed to make available to the county government’s nearly 300 full-time employees last November – after more than a year of study and discussion – is now set for launch July 1. The commissioners unanimously approved two resolutions Tuesday to make it so.

July 1 is the start of the new fiscal year, for which the county is budgeting support for the new pension plan. One of the resolutions that were approved 6-0 Tuesday morning freezes the county’s previous 401(a) “defined contribution” plan so that it is not open to new employees but leaves accumulated amounts in place for current employees who don’t wish to buy into the new system. The other resolution formally adopts the new pension plan and some attached “plan amendments” about how it will be carried out.

The new plan, like the old one, is administered through Association County Commissioners of Georgia, or ACCG, Retirement Services.

The Muscogee County Board of Education adopted new schedules, according to the Ledger-Enquirer.

All Columbus public schools will start and end their class days at different times next year after the board approved changes to the schedules Monday night. The Muscogee County School District Board voted 6-2 to approve the administration’s proposal to adjust the times. Last month, the board tabled the vote to allow more time for feedback from the community.

Houston County property values rose, according to 13WMAZ.

The county tax office says they mailed out statements for those new values last Thursday.

Chief Appraiser James Moore says property values countywide rose about 15 percent this year.

He says that’s about the same as last year, but people have until June 26 to appeal the new values.

Property owners won’t know whether their tax bills will go up, down, or stay the same until sometime this summer when county commissioners plan to set the 2024 millage rate.

Statesboro City Council voted to change a polling location, according to WTOC.

Under the plan, people who’ve traditionally voted at the Board of Education complex on Williams Road would come to the community building here at Luetta Moore Park.

The Jones-Love Cultural Center would give voters a parking lot they would not share with school district employees. Inside, the building offers space for poll workers, their equipment, and cubicles for voters.

County commissioners are expected to vote in June to move county elections here as well.

The first time voters would come here if passed would be city elections in November.

A Democratic member of the Ware County Board of Elections was removed, according to WABE.

Until this year, Republicans and Democrats each picked two people for the Ware County Election Board. But a new state law remaking the board gives the Republican-dominated county commission the final say.

That’s how Michael Hargrove, whose Facebook page is plastered with support for former President Donald Trump and GOP Senate candidate Herschel Walker, assumed a seat that, until last week, was held by Democratic appointee Shawn Taylor.

“I was the person they were going to take off the board because I was the person who fought against voter suppression, the consolidation of precincts, things that affect, I’ll just be honest, the Black community in Waycross,” Taylor says.

Similar bills were introduced this year to remake election boards in Ben Hill, Cherokee, Columbia, Schley, Screven and Wilkes counties.

GOP sponsors say the boards need to comply with a 2018 Georgia Supreme Court ruling that found seats on DeKalb County’s ethics board couldn’t be appointed by a private entity, like political parties.

Fulton County Commission Chair Robb Pitts rescinded his nomination of a former Commissioner to chair the county Board of Elections, according to the AJC.

In a surprise move at the start of the Fulton County Commission meeting Wednesday, Chairman Robb Pitts dropped the nomination of Republican former commissioner Lee Morris to chair the Fulton County Board of Elections — a move that would have flipped control of the board from Democrats to Republicans.

Instead, Pitts substituted Patrise Perkins-Hooker, a former Fulton County attorney and current president of the State Bar of Georgia.

Perkins-Hooker voted in Democratic primaries from 2016 to 2020, according to voter registration records. However, Georgia is an open primary state, so voters can participate in any party primary.

Pitts’ announcement drew applause from the audience, but Commissioner Bridget Thorne, a Republican, objected to the sudden change since a vote is expected in today’s meeting. She said this was the first that she and other commissioners had heard of it.

Before public comments and the vote on Perkins-Hooker’s nomination, Pitts read an email he said came Wednesday morning from Morris.

Morris wrote that he has always tried to avoid “the hyper-partisanship that has been so destructive,” and thought he could bring that balance to the board of elections. But on reflection Morris ultimately agreed with his Democratic friends that a Democratic-leaning county like Fulton should have a Democratic majority on its elections board.

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