Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for September 30, 2021

30
Sep

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for September 30, 2021

Wyoming adopted the first state constitution to allow women to vote on September 30, 1889.

President Woodrow Wilson spoke in favor of Women’s Suffrage in an address to Congress on September 30, 1918. The bill to pass the 19th Amendment would die in the Senate that year after passing the House.

On September 30, 1927, Babe Ruth hit his 60th home run of the season.

On September 30, 1976, Democrat Jimmy Carter led the Harris Poll for President over President Gerald Ford by a 50-41 margin. In November 1976, the popular vote tallied 50.08% for Carter to 48.01% for Ford, with an Independent taking nearly a point.

A replica of Christopher Columbus’s Santa Maria will call on Brunswick this week, according to The Brunswick News.

the Nao Santa Maria is a replica of the hearty vessel that joined the Niña and Pinta on that daunting voyage of discovery to the uncharted Americas more than 500 years ago.

But this tall-masted sailing ship bears a striking resemblance to the actual Santa Maria. Folks can see for themselves over the next four days.

The ship will be open for tours from 10 a.m. through 7 p.m. Thursday through Sunday at Brunswick Landing Marina, where it is docked on the East River. The cost is $15 adults, $5 for children and $35 for a family pass.

This Santa Maria was constructed in March of 2018 in Huelva, Spain, according to the 15th century nautical specifications. The ship has a 93-foot-long wooden hull and an 82-foot-tall mainmast. This replica was designed based on detailed Spanish records dating back to the original Santa Maria’s construction. Nao is a term describing a particular model of sailing ship from the late Middle Ages.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

President Joe Biden (D) has nominated two new U.S. District Court Judges for Atlanta, according to the AJC.

President Joe Biden has nominated two women to fill open seats on the U.S. District Court in Northern Georgia: a criminal defense attorney and a lawyer who works for a nonprofit that advocates for prison reform.

Victoria Calvert is set to become the circuit’s second Black female district judge and the first former federal defender to serve in the role. She is currently a staff attorney in the district court’s Federal Defender Program, and before that she was an associate at Atlanta’s King & Spalding firm.

Sarah Geraghty is senior counsel of the Southern Center for Human Rights, an organization that has been involved in lawsuits regarding the conditions and treatment of prisoners in Georgia. Prior to that, she served as a staff attorney in an appellate defender’s office in New York.

Georgia U.S. Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock had forwarded both women’s names to Biden after receiving input from the Federal Nominations Advisory Commission, which the senators created to help review applicants for those jobs and others. Biden still must fill other positions at the federal court, including nominating three U.S. attorneys.

Governor Brian Kemp announced a new Visa office hub in Atlanta that will bring 1000 new jobs, according to a press release.

“It’s always great to see a world-renowned company like Visa capitalize on the exceptional pool of diverse talent in Georgia and choose to invest in our state,” said Governor Kemp.“Georgia is a growing hub for the FinTech industry thanks in part to our strategic investment in workforce development initiatives, and I look forward to seeing the countless opportunities this significant expansion creates for hardworking Georgians.”

Visa’s mission is to connect the world through the most reliable, innovative, and secure payment network, which enables individuals, businesses, and economies to thrive. While Visa has been employing Georgians for years, its new office will significantly expand its presence. This increased presence and additional investment in the market will serve to support Visa’s clients, partners, and local communities across the Atlanta metropolitan area.

“Atlanta brings together a wealth of expertise and talent with entrepreneurial spirit and a deep sense of community culture,” said Michelle Gethers-Clark, Chief Diversity Officer and Head of Corporate Responsibility at Visa. “We are thrilled to enhance our long-term presence in Atlanta; an expansion that comes with a commitment to invest in Atlanta’s diverse talent pool by fostering the next generation of leaders through rewarding career development and growth opportunities.”

Visa’s new 123,000-square-foot office, located at 1200 Peachtree Street in Midtown Atlanta, is expected to open in 2022. The office will represent a wide range of Visa teams and functions, with a particular concentration of technology and client services teams. The company is actively hiring for careers in client services, product management, software development, risk and security, finance and more. Individuals interested in opportunities with Visa are encouraged to visit: https://vi.sa/AtlantaCareers.

“As the starting point for Atlanta’s Transaction Alley, Fulton County is a national leader in FinTech talent,” said Chairman of the Fulton County Board of Commissioners Robb Pitts. “We are thrilled such a strong company like Visa has decided to invest in our vibrant and tech-centric community.”

“Metro Atlanta is the global hub of the FinTech and payment processing industries as a result of years of strategic ecosystem support and the collaboration of many partners,” said Metro Atlanta Chamber President and CEO Katie Kirkpatrick. “Visa will no doubt benefit from initiatives like Fintech Atlanta, the Fintech Academy, and FinTech South as well as the diverse and industry-specific expertise of our metro Atlanta workforce. Congratulations to Visa and all of the organizations that supported this decision.”

Director of Corporate Solutions and Cybersecurity Kristi Brigman represented the Georgia Department of Economic Development’s (GDEcD) Global Commerce division on this competitive project in partnership with Fulton County, the Metro Atlanta Chamber, and Georgia Power.

“For decades, leadership in Georgia has placed a priority on supporting the university system and educating Georgians for the jobs of the future. Visa’s investment in Georgia is a testament to the strong pipeline of diverse talent we continue to produce in the state,” said GDEcD Commissioner Pat Wilson. “In back to back years, Atlanta has been named the No. 1 tech hub in the U.S., and it is very exciting to see a company like Visa join our roster of world-renowned payment and FinTech leaders that have chosen to invest and build the industry here. Many thanks to Visa for choosing to invest in Georgia.”

The Georgia Department of Education opened a new webpage to show where local districts are spending COVID relief funds, according to WTOC.

You can head to the agency’s COVID resource website to see how much schools receive, what budgets have been approved and the time left in the grant period.

The funds given to school districts so far total almost $6 million in three rounds. The dashboard shows spending under all three rounds.

Twenty percent of the third round of funding must be used to address student learning loss; the remainder of the funds are flexible and can be used to support at-risk student populations, distance/remote learning, school meals, mental and physical health, supplemental learning, facilities and equipment, continuity of core staff and services, and more.

Suspended Nashville Mayor Taylor Scarbrough was convicted on theft-related charges, according to WALB.

The indictment stemmed from an August 17, 2020 incident. According to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI), the Berrien County Sheriff’s Office was dispatched to Scarbrough’s home after James Hobbs alleged that Scarbrough had taken and used Hobbs’ excavator without permission and caused significant damage to the machinery.

The GBI was then requested to assist in the investigation by the sheriff’s office.

Following the indictment, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp selected a commission to investigate the impact of Scarbrough’s indictment.

On March 16, the commission “found that the indictment of Taylor Scarbrough does relate to and does adversely affect the administration of the office of mayor and that the rights and interests of the public are adversely affected thereby; and recommended that Taylor Scarbrough be suspended from office.”

Georgia’s state debt totals about $3500 per taxpayer, according to the Center Square via the Gwinnett Daily Post.

Based on the state’s fiscal year 2020 audited financial report, the state had $30.9 billion available to pay $40.9 billion worth of bills, resulting in its shortfall at the onset of the pandemic, TIA’s annual Financial State of the States report showed. As a result, each taxpayer has a debt burden of $3,500.

Georgia ranked 23rd out of 50 states for fiscal health and budget management, and it earned a C grade in the TIA analysis. Any government with a taxpayer burden between $0 and $4,900 received a C grade. A dozen other states received a C grade.

Georgia’s financial problems mostly resulted from unfunded retirement obligations that have piled up over the years, TIA said. TIA found Georgia did not fund $8.6 billion in pension liabilities and $6.2 billion in retiree health care benefits promised to state employees.

“Georgia’s overall financial condition worsened by $1.3 billion during the onset of the pandemic mostly because pension plan liabilities grew faster than the plan’s assets,” TIA said.

The state’s net tax collections were nearly $27 billion for fiscal 2021, a 13% year-over-year increase. Net tax revenue in Georgia was $2.5 billion in June, representing a $563 million increase – or 29.1% – compared with June 2020, Gov. Brian Kemp’s office said.

Georgia’s rainy day fund grew from $2.7 billion on July 1, 2020, to nearly $4.3 billion by June 30, 2021, because of the surplus. State law requires 15% of the state’s general revenue funds be placed in the reserve account. Lawmakers must decide how to spend the additional revenue

I’m not sure that story is accurate.

Rental eviction filings are up in Metro Atlanta as moratoriums expire, according to the AJC.

In the four weeks after the Supreme Court struck down the moratorium against evictions, landlords in the five core counties filed for nearly 11,000 evictions, more than in the same period last year but still fewer than in 2019, according to the Atlanta Regional Commission.

In the most recent two weeks, though, filings were 19% higher than two years ago, said Erik Woodworth, an ARC data scientist.

During the moratorium, introduced early in the pandemic and then renewed, landlords filed for evictions against roughly 100,000 renters in those core counties. The vast majority are still pending, which means a wave could be coming, he said.

Filings are only part of the story. Typically, most filings do not lead to a tenant’s removal, but there is no central database on the number of times that local sheriffs or marshals execute those writs.

Eviction filings are rising even as the state government, counties and some cities are disbursing rental assistance in two rounds of federal funding appropriated by Congress and administered by the U.S. Treasury Department.

The five core metro counties have disbursed the bulk of funds allocated to them in the initial round. But Georgia’s Department of Community Affairs, which controls the lion’s share of nearly $1 billion in federal rental relief funds earmarked for the state, has moved much more slowly.

The Georgia State Senate Committee on State and Local Government Operations is scheduled to hear legislation to create a new city in Buckhead, according to the AJC.

At a press conference Wednesday announcing the next steps for the controversial cityhood push, Sen. Brandon Beach, the sponsor of the legislation, said Sen. Lee Anderson, chair of the Senate’s local government operations committee, agreed to hold hearings on the matter. “Buckhead City” proponents are also pushing for hearings in the state House of Representatives.

Beach said lawmakers will not take a vote on the bill during the special session, which begins the day after Atlanta’s mayoral election. The bill would allow Buckhead residents to vote in November 2022 on whether they want to split from the city. The discussion has become a major factor in the city’s mayor’s race, which is likely to head to a runoff.

While legislation involving cityhood and annexation typically requires the support of local representatives, Beach said the cityhood bill would bypass that process by being drafted as a “general bill,” meaning it would not necessarily need support from the local delegation to move forward.

Beach said he has talked to Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, who serves as president of the Senate, about the proposal.

“He’s not really for this at this point but he is willing to allow it go forward with discussion,” Beach said.

Nursing homes are working to vaccinate their staffs as a federal mandate will go into effect, according to the Valdosta Daily Times.

Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced the mandate in August, with plans to strip Medicaid and Medicare funding from noncompliant facilities.

Nationwide, 64.4% of nursing homes staff has already been vaccinated, according to the CMS report published through Sept. 12; however, more than half of nursing homes staff in many states fall below the national average of employee vaccination rate.

As CMS is expected to release a final rule and deadline in October, uncertainty remains in many agencies as some anticipate a larger staffing shortage due to the required vaccine.

An estimated 220 of Georgia’s nearly 360 nursing homes have less that 64.4% of its staff full vaccinated.

The Coastal Health District will offer $100 gift cards to vaccine recipients in Long County, according to WTOC.

For the first time, on Thursday, the Coastal Health District will be offering $100 visa gift cards for vaccinations only in Long County, which has 19 percent of their population fully vaccinated.

You will get a $100 visa gift card for the Johnson and Johnson and $50 visa gift card for Moderna first dose and another $50 for the second dose in 4 weeks. This clinic is only for people 18 and older since they will not be offering the Pfizer vaccine. Dr. Davis says in the rural counties, it is easier to have Moderna and Johnson and Johnson for storing purposes and with less waste of the vaccine.

They will provide gift cards to the first 100 people that get their shot on Thursday of either vaccine. “I would be happy if we got to be 50, I would be ecstatic if we got to 100 and anything about that not only great but Icing on the cake,” said Dr. Lawton Davis.

Vaccinations will be available from 8:30 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. and from 1 p.m. – 5 p.m. The giveaway is only for first and second doses given today — it does not apply to past shots, booster shots or third doses. Appointments are required to get the vaccine in Long County.

Bulloch County lags its neighbors in vaccination rate, according to the Statesboro Herald.

The vaccine effort continues to lag in Bulloch, with all seven of the contiguous counties having higher vaccine rates for both people who have received at least one shot and those fully vaccinated. The county experienced an uptick in people getting vaccinated following the onset of the latest COVID surge in July, as the vaccine rate for one shot jumped from 29% on July 27 to 36% on Sept. 3.

The numbers, however, started dropping about four weeks ago and the Georgia Department of Public Health reported that only five Bulloch residents received their first shot on Tuesday – the lowest number for a non-Sunday single day since vaccinations started being given locally in January.

Across the area, only Bulloch and Jenkins County are below 40% for people getting at least one shot. Bulloch is at 37%, while Jenkins is at 38%. Bryan County has a 50% one-dose rate, followed by Screven County at 50%. Also, Bulloch and Jenkins are the only area counties under 35% fully vaccinated, sitting at 32% and 33%, respectively.

Middle Georgia lags national vaccination rates, according to the Macon Telegraph.

Since the COVID-19 vaccine rollout began in late 2020, more than 5 million Georgians have been fully vaccinated, but the state still ranks in the bottom 15 U.S. states for fully vaccinated residents: 54% of Georgians have received at least one dose of the vaccine, while 45% are fully vaccinated.

Georgia is currently ranked 37th in the country in vaccination rate for first doses.

According to data from the state health department, most Middle Georgia counties have lower vaccination rates that the Georgia average. Only Twiggs County (which has just over 8,000 residents) and Wilkinson County (almost 9,000 people) have rates over 50%. In Bibb County, 41% of residents are fully vaccinated.

Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in Tifton will receive near $300,000 in grant funding from UGA, according to the Albany Herald.

Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College has been awarded a three-year $297,000 collaborative grant with the University of Georgia-Tifton Veterinary Diagnostic and Investigational Laboratory to encourage more veterinary medicine students to practice in rural south Georgia.

Activities will center around student recruitment, retention and experiential learning at the UGA diagnostic lab aimed at increasing the overall number of underrepresented and rural undergraduate students qualified to apply to veterinary medicine programs.

Moody Air Force Base is replacing the HH-60G combat rescue helicopters in the 41st Rescue Squadron with a newer model, according to the Valdosta Daily Times.

The Port of Savannah had its second-busiest month ever, according to the Capitol Beat News Service via the Statesboro Herald.

The port handled 485,595 twenty-foot equivalent container units (TEUs) last month, a 10% increase over August of last year and second only to the 498,000 TEUs that moved through the Garden City Terminal last March.

Meanwhile, the authority’s Board of Directors has allocated more than $34 million to add 1.6 million TEUs of new capacity due to come on line in December.

In total, the developments will add 230 acres of container handling space, due to come online in phases by 2023.

“The GPA’s expansion strategy will not only maintain Savannah’s position as the hub port of the U.S. Southeast, but strengthen its ability to drive economic growth and private investment for communities across Georgia,” said Joel Wooten, chairman of the authority’s board.

“In light of unprecedented demand, it is incumbent on the board to maintain our ports to promote job growth for the state.”

Savannah Mayor Van Johnson (D) traveled to Washington and sought funding for local projects, according to WTOC.

Mayor Johnson says he wanted to take the opportunity to meet with Georgia’s two leaders in the U.S. Senate to emphasize that the decisions that are made in D.C. really do impact residents right here in Savannah and all of coastal Georgia.

The $3.5 trillion infrastructure plan aims to invest in areas anywhere from public transportation, to roads and bridges, airports and internet access. After his meeting in D.C. with both Georgia senators, Savannah Mayor Van Johnson says he believes they both understand how much of an impact the spending plan could have on the Hostess City.

“They both recognize the impacts that passing this infrastructure bill will have on local communities, probably unlike anything else. And so the Senate is one thing, the House is something totally different,” said Mayor Johnson.

Georgia’s delegation to the United States Senate is seeking Medicaid expansion, according to WTOC.

“We must expand Medicaid because people are literally dying, especially the working poor,” said Sen. Raphael Warnock.

He recently appeared with Sen. Jon Ossoff and several other senators to say they are working to get a measure to expand Medicaid in the reconciliation bill now slowly making its way through Congress.

Warnock says up to 600,000 Georgians could benefit from an expansion of the program. He says the pandemic has magnified the gap between those who can afford health insurance and those who have none.

“Access to health care shouldn’t depend on where you live or who you are,” said Ossoff.

“Nine hospitals in Georgia have closed in 11 years,” said Ossoff. “And these hospitals have closed, in large part, because our state’s political leaders have refused to expand Medicaid.”

But Georgia Congressman Buddy Carter, a Republican from District 1, said “this is why reconciliation is so dangerous because they add everything to it in order to get their policies essentially passed and this is nothing more than another policy.”

“Now what they want to do is they want to federalize Medicaid,” said Carter. “It should be held at the state level, it should not be federalized. That is essentially what’s happening.

“This is nothing more than socialist medicine, and that’s what they’re trying to do.”

Western Judicial District District Attorney Deborah Gonzalez (D) will receive a grant aimed at reducing racial disparities, according to the Athens Banner Herald.

When Deborah Gonzalez took office in January as the district attorney for the Western Judicial District of Georgia, she noticed that too few defendants, especially Black defendants, qualified for a program that promised treatment for addiction or mental health and not jail.

Like many court diversion programs elsewhere, potential participants in the Athens-Clarke and Oconee counties programs were being disqualified for certain previous charges or police contact. People living in poverty also had a hard time qualifying because of weekly program fees.

“My philosophy is there is racial injustice and disparities of how people are treated in this system. And we have to be intentional in how we address it,” Gonzalez said.

In Gonzalez’s district, for example, about 22% of the district’s overall population is Black. Of the more than 6,800 people charged during 2019 and 2020, the majority were Black. Fewer than 150 were referred to the pretrial program, and most came from a county that is only 5 % percent Black.

She hopes to double participation in her program by 2022, and will put in checks to monitor that the diversity is increasing.

Floyd County Commissioners are considering a performance review of the voting office, according to the Rome News Tribune.

Floyd County commissioners are debating a potential performance review for the elections board as some community members continue the push for an investigation based on the 2020 election and 2021 runoff election.

Trump won Floyd County by a large margin. However, the first ballot audit, ordered by Georgia’s secretary of state, found over 2,500 ballots weren’t counted. The ballots, which elections workers said followed Floyd County voting trends, were entered and counted. Another hand recount followed that audit.

The missed ballots, alongside long lines at polling locations and a confrontational attitude during an elections board meeting, led to the dismissal of the county’s former chief elections clerk.

[County Attorney Virginia] Harman specifically went over a special tool included in the broad legislation that allows local governments and legislators to request a performance review of their local elections boards or superintendents.

The request can be made by either the county commissioners, local state legislators or the Georgia State Elections Board. Commissioners would also have to write out a formal request and the reasons why they think the board should be reviewed.

Commissioners would have to vote on a resolution to initiate the panel. The State Elections Board would then put together a bipartisan panel to review the issues and look into the local elections board.

The Gainesville Times looks at local municipal elections on the November ballot.

The Federal Aviation Administration delayed a decision on licensing a spaceport in Camden County, according to The Brunswick News.

The countdown to a final decision on a license for a commercial spaceport in Camden County was T-24 hours and counting Wednesday when it was put on hold.

The new countdown is five weeks and counting, with a final decision by the Federal Aviation Administration due Nov. 3.

John Simpson, a spokesman for Spaceport Camden, said the FAA was still evaluating the license request.

“We understand the FAA is still working to make sure all the I’s are dotted and the T’s are crossed and remain optimistic for a final decision on Spaceport Camden in a few weeks,” he said.

Hall County Commissioners will vote on raising their pay, according to AccessWDUN.

According to a legal ad regarding the proposal, the commission chairman’s base salary would be raised to $50,000, while the salary of each district commissioner would be raised to $45,000. If approved at the Hall County Commission voting session on Oct. 14, the increased salaries would go into effect on Jan. 1, 2023.

Currently, the chairman and commissioners are each paid varying base salaries. According to Hall County, the commission’s current base annual salaries are as follows:

Chairman: $8,629
District 1: $7,060
District 2: $9,260
District 3: $6,887
District 4: $8,839

Each commissioner also currently receives a per diem of $173 for each meeting they attend, up to 12 times per month. The current maximum per diem per year per commissioner is about $25,000.

[District Three Commissioner Shelly] Echols said she does support a pay raise for the chairman due to the nearly full-time nature of the job. However, she said she will still vote against the proposal as it does not separate the pay increases by chairman and district commissioners.

Habersham County Commissioners voted to waive aquatic center fees for 2022, according to AccessWDUN.

A statement released by the county said anyone who has purchased passes that extend beyond Jan. 1, 2022 will receive a pro-rated refund check.

“The waived daily fee of $4 will allow free access to the gymnasiums and pools, as long as scheduled events are not in session,” the statement said.

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