The blog.


Adoptable (Official) Georgia Dogs for January 24, 2020

Dusty Albany Humane

Dusty is a young male Labrador Retriever mix puppy who is available for adoption from the Albany Humane Society/Sally Wetherbee Adoption Center in Albany, GA.

Sidney Albany Humane

Sidney is a young male Hound mix puppy who is available for adoption from the Albany Humane Society/Sally Wetherbee Adoption Center in Albany, GA.

Crane Albany Humane

Crane is a young male Labrador Retriever puppy who is available for adoption from the Albany Humane Society/Sally Wetherbee Adoption Center in Albany, GA.


Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for January 24, 2020

Georgia History

The Supreme Court of Georgia held its first meeting on January 26, 1846 at Talbotton, Georgia.

John Sammons Bell was born on January 26, 1914 in Macon, Georgia. He would go on to serve as Chairman of the Democratic Party of Georgia, as a Judge on the Georgia Court of Appeals, and as chief judge of the appellate court. He is today best known as the designer of the state flag featuring the Confederate battle flag, which was adopted by the General Assembly in 1956.

Jekyll Island

On January 24, 1915, the first transcontinental telephone call was placed from Jekyll Island, Georgia

Emory Window 628

On January 25, 1915, a charter was issued in DeKalb County Superior Court to Emory University.

January 24, 1933 saw the first sales tax in Georgia proposed to fund schools and aid for farmers.

On January 25, 1943, Georgia Gov. Ellis Arnall signed legislation eliminating the governor as an ex officio member of the State Board of Education, State Board of Regents, Department of Public Safety, and State Housing Authority, as part of a proposal to reduce the Governor’s power over education.

On January 24, 1960, Martin Luther King, Jr. became co-pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, sharing the pulpit with his father.

On January 24, 1987, some 12,000 to 20,000 civil rights protesters marched in Forsyth County, a week after a smaller protest. From the New York Times reporting:

CUMMING, Ga., Jan. 24— This small town in Forsyth County was overwhelmed today by civil rights marchers, members of the Ku Klux Klan and their sympathizers and an army of National Guardsmen and law-enforcement officers who kept the opposing groups separated.

Guarded by what a spokesman for the Governor’s office called ”the greatest show of force the state has ever marshalled,” a crowd of marchers estimated at 12,000 to 20,000 funneled slowly into Cumming, where a week earlier counterdemonstrators, throwing stones and bottles, disrupted an interracial ”walk for brotherhood” prompted by the all-white county’s racist legacy.

As the marchers headed into Cumming, which has a little more than 2,000 people, they found waiting for them, behind a stern-faced force of 2,300 guardsmen and police officers, a group of hundreds if not thousands of white, mainly young, rural men and women, repeatedly shouting, “N***er, go home!”

Whatever the final figure, the march was one of the largest civil rights demonstrations since a 1965 rally that followed a march from Selma, Ala. to Montgomery. The rally, led by Dr. King, drew 25,000 people.

Seriously, read the Times report.

On January 24, 2001, the Georgia House of Representatives approved legislation changing the state flag to the Barnes design with the state seal on a blue background and a banner depicting five previous flags that flew over Georgia.


On January 26, 2001 a new state flag, first designed by Atlanta architect Cecil Alexander, passed out of committee in the General Assembly by a 4-3 vote and would be voted on later that week. Click here to view the floor debate from 2001.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Voters in House District 171 will go to the polls Tuesday in a Special Election, according to The McDuffie Progress.

The seat became vacant Nov. 25, 2019, after Jay Powell (R) passed away. A runoff election, if necessary, is scheduled for February 25, 2020.

Jewell Howard (D), Tommy Akridge (R), and Joe Campbell (R) will face off in the special election. Powell was first elected to District 71 in 2008. He was unopposed in his 2014, 2016, and 2018 re-election bids. In 2012, Powell was opposed by Howard (D), whom he defeated with 59% of the vote.

Republicans have a 104-74 majority with two vacancies in the state House. Georgia has a Republican trifecta. A state government trifecta exists when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and both state legislative chambers.

Governor Brian Kemp continues his economic development trip to Germany, according to the Athens Banner Herald.

Kemp left on Tuesday, accompanied by First Lady Marty Kemp and Pat Wilson, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Economic Development. They will return to Georgia on Saturday.

The trip will be highlighted by the opening of the economic development agency’s new Europe office in Munich, which is relocating from its old digs into a larger space. The delegation also will visit with large and small German companies with a Georgia presence, including manufacturers with operations in the Peach State.

“Marty and I are honored to travel to Germany – Georgia’s fourth largest export market … to reaffirm our strategic partnership and strengthen business ties across multiple industry sectors,” Kemp said.

Georgia exports to Germany in 2018 were valued at $2.29 billion, while Georgia imported $9.8 billion in goods from Germany that year, making Germany Georgia’s No.-2 source of imports.

Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget Director Kelly Farr spoke at Joint Budget Hearings this week, according to The Brunswick News.

State Rep. David Knight, R-Griffin and chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Higher Education, questioned Farr on whether or when the governor would take into account expected revenue by the recently-passed online sales tax legislation. The state estimate is it should bring in around $150 million annually.

“We haven’t talked to him about it and I certainly can’t speak for what the governor would do, but if he asked my advice, the one thing I would caution him on is using estimates to change anything,” Farr said. “That’s kind of maybe why we’re in the challenge we’re in now, is because a lot of people relied on the estimate from when the 25 basis-point reduction was made last time. And it didn’t quite perform like we had hoped.

“And so, I think it would be prudent, if the governor asked my opinion, to wait and see what the performance actually was for marketplace facilitator legislation before making any changes to the revenue estimate.”

Some state legislative leaders are questioning additional raises for teachers, according to AccessWDUN.

Both Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Jack Hill and House Appropriations Committee Chairman Terry England said Thursday that more than $200 million in budget cuts are hard to swallow when the Republican Kemp wants to spend $376 million to give $2,000 raises to K-12 and preschool teachers. That’s the back end of a $5,000 raise Kemp promised when running for governor. He also seeks $45 million for a $1,000 pay increase for state employees now earning less than $40,000 a year.

“It would be easy to explain the cuts if we weren’t turning around and spending it on raises,” said Hill, a Reidsville Republican. England echoed that in a separate interview, with the Auburn Republican saying, “There’s a lot of truth to that.”

The focus now turns to the House, which is likely to pass an amended budget for 2020, and then a spending plan for the 2021 year beginning July 1. England said he is particularly worried about proposed cuts to mental health, county health departments, university agricultural and research programs and the state Department of Agriculture.

“Members are concerned about the cuts, which is to be expected when you put a face to it,” Hill said.

Bartow County‘s state house delegation is busy, according to the Cartersville Daily Tribune News.

The lone piece of legislation, as of Wednesday, sponsored by all three of Bartow’s State representatives is House Bill 737, which would allow the Bartow County Board of Education to “change the definition of the education districts.”

The only other bill District 15 State Rep. Matthew Gambill (R, Cartersville) has sponsored in the 2020 Legislative session to date is House Bill 765, a bill which looks to increase the minimum compensation for Georgia’s chief magistrates and “to provide for the calculation of future increases in the minimum compensation for chief magistrates.”

The legislation was also sponsored by District 14 State Rep. Mitchell Scoggins (R, Cartersville.) In addition to sponsoring HB 737 and HB 765, he also sponsored House Bill 538, a bill that was withdrawn by the House and recommitted on Jan. 14.

Of Bartow’s three House lawmakers, District 16 State Rep. Trey Kelley (R, Cedartown) has sponsored the most bills thus far, lending his signature to seven pieces of legislation since the General Assembly reconvened on Jan. 13.

That includes House Bill 276, a piece of legislation that seeks to amend State Code relating to sales and uses of taxes. In particular, it adds a section defining a “marketplace facilitator,” describing such individuals as those who “contract with a seller in exchange for any form of consideration to make available or facilitate a retail sale that is taxable under this chapter.”

Bartow County state Senators are also busy with legislation, according to the Daily Tribune News.

District 52 State Sen. Chuck Hufstetler (R, Rome) is the primary sponsor of Senate Bill 293, also known as the “Balance Billing Consumer Protection Act.”

The proposed legislation would add a new chapter to the Georgia Code section pertaining to insurance practices, with an emphasis on addressing “surprise bills” — i.e., unanticipated health care costs stemming from insured patients “inadvertently” receiving services from an out-of-network provider.

Hufstetler has also sponsored House Bill 276, a piece of legislation that would, essentially, reclassify Georgia’s “marketplace facilitators” as dealers for taxation purposes.

“A marketplace seller shall not be obligated to collect and remit or be liable for the taxes levied or imposed by this chapter on any retail sale for which its marketplace facilitator is obligated and liable,” the bill text reads.

To date, District 14 State Sen. Bruce Thompson (R, White) has sponsored three bills in the 2020 Legislative session, two of which were prefiled in the Senate on Jan. 6.

Senate Bill 285 would amend Georgia Code to allow “military spouses licensed in other states to practice certain professions and occupations without being required to obtain a license” in Georgia. Among other changes, the bill would address reciprocal licenses for Class I electrical contractors, journey plumbers, Class I conditioned air contractors and utility foremen.

Senate Bill 282 by Sen. Brandon Beach (R-Alpharetta) would require that 90% of early admissions to some Georgia universities be to in-state students, according to The Brunswick News.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Brandon Beach, would require the university system to make sure at least 90% of early-action admissions to the University of Georgia, Georgia Tech, Georgia State University and Augusta University are offered to in-state students.

“In my eight years in the Senate, the most calls I get are from parents who say, ‘Can you help my daughter or son get in Georgia or Georgia Tech?’ ” said Beach, R-Alpharetta. “I want to take care of our parents, who are hardworking taxpayers, and our students.”

With growing demand for admission, colleges have been setting higher standards for incoming students. It’s not uncommon for high school students carrying a 4.0 grade-point average or better with high standardized test scores to be denied admission.

At the same time, Beach said, slots at Georgia’s top-tier schools are going increasingly to high-achieving out-of-state students.

Dallas Mayor Boyd Austin will run for the State Senate District 31 seat being vacated by the retirement of Sen. Bill Heath, according to the AJC.

Austin was first elected to lead the Paulding County city in 1995, and he’s the presumed front-runner in the race to represent the west Georgia district.

He would also have been a formidable U.S. House candidate, but his calculations may have changed when Ben Bullock, the real estate investor, decided to enter the race. Their families have long been close.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is working to reduce a backlog of cases, according to the Dalton Daily Citizen News.

As of Jan. 1, the crime lab operated by the GBI were backlogged with 44,020 cases, up from 37,000 cases in February of 2019.

“We did a lot of work in 2019 on the issue of gangs and we have more work to do there,” [GBI Director Vic] Reynolds said, “but there is no issue to me any more important today than addressing the issues of this crime lab … I give you my word I will do the very best I can to make sure those issues are looked at from top to bottom.”

Of the backlogged cases, 77% require forensic biology, including processes such as DNA testing, and chemistry (drug identification).

House Bill 470 that passed during last year’s session and became effective in April of 2019 sent for the first time DNA collection and analysis for first offenders to the GBI. The change added about 8,000 cases to the GBI’s list, Reynolds said.

Of the backlogged cases, 46% range from 31 to 180 days old, the ideal shelf life of a case. A total of 70% fall under a two-year shelf life. But out of the remaining cases, 13% are between three to six years old.

The Port Wentworth City Council remains stalled as two members missed a second meeting, preventing a quorum, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Port Wentworth council members Thomas Barbee and Mark Stephens were no-shows Tuesday night (Jan. 21) for the second council meeting in a row.

The deliberate move to avoid having a quorum of members Tuesday was made clear by an email sent by Stephens to the mayor and council on Tuesday morning.

“Thomas and I will not attend a meeting and you will not have a quorum until we have an opportunity to discuss the future of this city where you, Linda and Pig show some respect to the needs of the northside,” Stephens wrote. Stephens was referring to council members Linda Smith and Glen “Pig” Jones in the email.

Hall County Commissioner Billy Powell announced he will run for reelection, according to the Gainesville Times.

Billy Powell has represented District 2 for nearly sixteen years. He says he still has some things he hopes to accomplish while a commissioner, but singled out one particular project he hopes to see begin: the Sardis Connector linking Dawsonville Highway (SR53) with Thompson Bridge Road (SR60).

“One major project planned for the near future is the Sardis Connector,” Powell said during the commission meeting, “which I would thoroughly enjoy seeing ground-breaking for that project before I leave office.”

Powell’s name will appear on the May 19th ballot for the general primary. (Currently no other Republicans have announced an intention to seek the District 2 seat.) He will then be on the ballot November 3rd for the general election along with the candidate chosen to represent the Democratic Party. (No one has been named as of this writing.)

The Richmond County Board of Elections will hire high school students as poll workers, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

Board of Elections executive director Lynn Bailey said the Student Poll Worker Program will accommodate the introduction of a new voting system and hopefully give students a unique experience at the same time.

“Georgia has a new voting system coming in this year, and in anticipation of that, and the big election year in general, the Board of Elections was seeking ways to beef up the number of poll workers we have, and we immediately thought of bringing more young people into the mix, knowing that young people, generally speaking, have a fairly good technical background,” Bailey said. “We felt like it was a perfect fit for our purposes, and also, we believe, it’s a great opportunity for students to have this experience and this opportunity for public service.”

Student poll workers will be paid $60 per shift and an additional $20 for attending training. Shifts are from 5:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. or from 1 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Students will also learn how elections are conducted and work closely with existing poll officers.

Augusta City Commissioners are considering ending curbside recycling pickup, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

Citing the program’s operating loss, Commissioner Sammie Sias called for ending the program last month, but commissioners decided to hold off until they could conduct a workshop, which happened Thursday.

The program, attached to city garbage pickup, is underused. Of Augusta Environmental Services’ nearly 63,000 residential customers, 38 percent or around 24,000 have a recycling cart, but only around 4,800 or 20 percent put the cart on the curb each week, interim deputy Environmental Services Director Becky Padgett told commissioners.

Since China quit accepting foreign recyclables due to contamination, prices for them have collapsed, Padgett said.

The low prices have helped push the recycling program’s annual operating loss to around $380,000, Padgett said. Some $100,000 of that is to supply or replace damaged $50 carts used for recycling, she later added.


Adoptable (Official) Georgia Dogs for January 23, 2020

Stella Clover Run

Stella is a five-year old female Springer Spaniel who is available for adoption from Clover Run Rescue in Jefferson, GA.

Otis Clover Run

Otis is a young male Terrier mix who is available for adoption from Clover Run Rescue in Jefferson, GA.

Otis lost his home and is looking for a family who won’t leave him behind. Otis is friendly and playful.

Hayden Clover Run\

Hayden is an 18-month old male Chihuahua & Jack Russell Terrier mix who is available for adoption from Clover Run Rescue in Jefferson, GA.

Hayden was left at Animal Control by his owner; he is 18 mos old and great with other dogs and kids.


Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for January 23, 2020

On January 22, 1733, James Oglethorpe arrived at Yamacraw Bluff, where the colony of Georgia would be founded.

On January 23, 1775, the Georgia Commons House elected three delegates to the Second Continental Congress.

On January 22, 1861, following the passage of Georgia’s Secession Resolution, six delegates, including both from Gwinnett County, signed a statement protesting the decision to secede.

On January 23, 1861, Georgia’s members of the United States House of Representatives resigned following passage of the Secession Ordinance; her Senators had resigned earlier. The next day, the secession convention in Milledgeville elected ten delegates to a conference of Southern states in Montgomery, Alabama.

On January 22, 1866, Georgia Governor Charles Jenkins signed a resolution by the legislature asking for federal troops to be removed from Georgia.

On January 23, 1923, Georgia ratified the Twentieth Amendment to the US Constitution, which ended Presidential terms on January 20th following an election and those of Congress to January 3d.

On January 22, 1959, Atlanta buses were integrated after a federal court decision.

On January 22, 1973, the United States Supreme Court issued its 7-2 decision in the case known as Roe v. Wade.

On January 23, 1973, President Richard M. Nixon announced that terms had been reached to settle the Vietnam War, a document known as the “Paris Peace Accords.”

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

United States Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas will speak at the dedication of the Nathan Deal Judicial Center, according to the Gainesville Times.

Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold Melton announced Wednesday, Jan. 22, that Thomas will be on hand for the Feb. 11 dedication of Georgia’s new judicial center. The new building is near the state Capitol building.

Thomas is a Georgia native having been born in the Pin Point community near Savannah. He has served on the nation’s highest court for 28 years.

The new building is devoted entirely to the judiciary. The Supreme Court of Georgia and the Georgia Court of Appeals moved into the building last month. A new statewide business court will also be housed there.


1:00 PM Joint Block Grant Hearings 341 CAP

Governor Brian Kemp announced that Amazon will open a new fulfillment center in Newnan, creating 500 new jobs.

Governor Brian P. Kemp [on Wednesday] announced that Amazon will expand its Georgia presence by launching a new fulfillment center in Newnan. Starting on day one, the e-commerce retail company will create 500 new, full-time jobs with industry-leading pay and comprehensive benefits at the new facility.

“I am excited to welcome yet another expansion of Amazon’s operations here in Georgia,” said Governor Kemp. “Our logistics infrastructure, top-ranked workforce, and nationally recognized business climate have earned us the distinction of No. 1 State for Business seven years in a row, and Amazon’s investments in the Peach State are a testament to that record of success. I am grateful for their continued partnership and looking forward to the opportunities this facility will create for hardworking Georgians and their families in Coweta County.”

“Amazon is proud to serve customers across Georgia and throughout the southeast region of the U.S.,” Alicia Boler Davis, vice president of global customer fulfillment, Amazon. “Georgia has been integral to Amazon’s ability to provide the great selection, competitive prices, and super-fast Prime shipping speeds we know our customers love. We are excited to add an additional 500 full-time jobs, industry-leading pay, and benefits starting for employees on day one, to the 3,500 Georgians already working for the company across the state.”

Amazon will lease a more than 1-million-square-foot facility at The Cubes at Bridgeport in Coweta County. The company considered multiple locations before settling on the site in Newnan.

“We are excited that Amazon, one of the world’s largest e-commerce companies, has chosen to locate in Coweta County,” said Trae Westmoreland, president of the Coweta County Development Authority. “Their significant capital investment will strengthen our local economy, and the addition of good jobs will create economic opportunity for our residents and neighboring communities. We look forward to having Amazon as a valued corporate citizen as Coweta continues to thrive.”

Amazon employees at the new facility will pick, pack, and ship customer orders.

Georgia Department of Economic Development (GDEcD) Assistant Director Hank Evans represented the Global Commerce Division in partnership with Georgia EMC and the Coweta County Development Authority.

“Georgia has become a magnet for investment from top brands like Amazon, and we are thrilled they continue to grow and create jobs in our state,” said GDEcD Commissioner Pat Wilson. “We are proud to work with our incredible economic development partners in Coweta County and throughout the state to continue churning out exciting announcements like this one as we begin the new year.”

Governor Kemp also announced Georgia will receive an $11.2 million dollar grant for education, according to the Coosa Valley News.

Georgia has received a three-year, $11.2-million Preschool Development Renewal Grant (PDG) from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Education.

Georgia is one of only 20 states to receive this grant that will allow the state to expand efforts to help families access high quality early childhood services statewide. This funding builds on an initial $2.9 million PDG planning grant the state received in January 2019.

“Georgia’s success in receiving this grant demonstrates the state’s continued leadership in early education,” Governor Kemp said. “High quality early education is foundational for children and families, and this grant will enable the state to develop and implement innovative strategies to better prepare Georgia’s children for success in school and in life.”

Gov. Kemp is in Germany on an economic development trip, according to WGXA.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp is visiting Germany on an economic development mission for his second official trip abroad.

The Republican governor departed on Tuesday and plans to return this weekend. One of Kemp’s first planned stops is a ribbon cutting at the state’s new European office in Munich.

Kemp also plans to visit several German companies with a presence in Georgia.

Governor Brian Kemp and First Lady Marty Kemp announced legislation to further combat human trafficking, according to WABE.

The proposals will include a provision making it easier for victims of human trafficking to restrict access to their criminal records and another allowing the state to permanently revoke a person’s commercial driver’s license if they’re convicted of trafficking and used their commercial vehicle to commit the crime. It would add several felonies to the list of crimes that require registration as a sex offender, including keeping a place of prostitution when the victim is less than 18.

The legislation will also seek to close what Marty Kemp called a “loophole” in current state law that allows for a guardian to engage in a sexual relationship with a foster child over the age of 16.

“Together we have made great strides to raise awareness and tackle this issue head on. But there’s still more work to be done,” Marty Kemp said. “We must strengthen our laws to hold bad actors accountable and aid our survivors in the path to healing.”

From the Gwinnett Daily Post:

The bills Kemp plans to introduce during the coming days would:

• Allow victims of human trafficking to restrict access to their criminal records. Victims caught up in prostitution networks formed by traffickers often have trouble finding jobs and/or places to live.

• Close a loophole in the state’s sex offender registry law that does not require Georgians convicted of a felony for keeping a place of prostitution, pimping and pandering to register as a sex offender. The legislation also would criminalize improper sexual contact by a foster parent .

• Allow the state to revoke the commercial driver’s license of anyone convicted of trafficking an individual for labor servitude or sexual servitude, in accordance with a new federal rule.

State Budget

Governor Kemp spoke to the Joint Budget Committee to discuss his priorities in the state’s budget cycle. From Fox5Atlanta:

The state has experienced falling tax revenues in recent months. In addition, Kemp pledged to make state government leaner and more efficient while running for governor back in 2018 and cuts in some areas will make room for him to spend money on his priorities in other areas, specifically education and public safety.

Under his budget proposal, the state’s public school teachers would get an additional $2,000 raise next year – the second portion of his $5,000 campaign promise. Kemp has also included $45 million in the budget for a $1,000 raise for full-time state employees who make less than $40,000 per year.

“I’m proud of the common sense savings included in this budget,” Kemp told lawmakers. “I believe that we’ve shown taxpayers that we’re good stewards of their hard-earned money and with this blueprint, we will continue to build a state that Georgia will be proud to call home.”

Budget hearings are scheduled through Thursday at the State Capitol.

From the (Chattanooga) Times Free Press:

Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, speaking to lawmakers Tuesday about his proposed budget, focused on efforts to cut spending without harming state services as well as his spending priorities — including $376 million for additional $2,000 raises for K-12 and preschool teachers.

“Even in this positive economic climate, to fully support our students and teachers and care for our most vulnerable Georgians and strengthen our economic development efforts, we must prioritize our existing financial resources,” Kemp said. “It means reducing costs to government while continuing to deliver excellent service for our citizens.”

Kemp left the speech without taking questions from reporters and his office didn’t immediately respond to an Associated Press inquiry about why his spending proposal doesn’t include a plan to cut the state’s top income tax rate from 5.75% to 5.5%, which had been envisioned when lawmakers cut the top rate from 6% in 2019.

But state economist Jeffrey Dorfman told a joint House-Senate budget committee hearing that Kemp’s budget omits the additional cut. Dorfman told lawmakers that changes in income taxes had been meant to avoid a state windfall because of changes in federal tax law but appear to have overshot the mark.

Kemp is seeking midyear budget cuts this year and further cuts next year because of a slowdown in state revenue. Tax receipts were barely above last year through December, although Kemp projected growth of more than $800 million through June 30. Growth from income tax receipts tanked after the tax cut, and sales tax growth also slowed.

But agency directors who spoke after Kemp on Tuesday told lawmakers that cuts would curtail services.

Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black was the most blunt. A Republican elected statewide, Black isn’t appointed by Kemp and told lawmakers the budget presents “challenges.” He said his department has eliminated 18 full-time and seven part-time vacancies, plus laid off six regular and four contract employees. Black said that, with fewer employees, his department will conduct fewer food safety, animal, gas pump and scale inspections.

“This is uncomfortable information,” Black said. ““It is of no comfort to me to present it, but it is truthful and accurate.”

From the Dalton Daily Citizen News:

Black noted his confusion of budget cuts to lawmakers Tuesday during the joint budget hearing, saying he’s never seen a perfect piece of legislation or a perfect budget — but he’s never seen “across the board cuts as a method of implementing strategic planning.”

On top of the mandated 4% and 6% cuts, the Department of Agriculture saw an additional $300,000 budget cut, which Black said he “will be seeking clarity” during committee meetings, because he hasn’t received any clarification on it.

“The challenges this budget presents [are] as follows,” Black said, “over the next 18 months there will be fewer food safety inspections. There’ll be fewer animal industry inspections. The span between fuel pump and scale inspections will grow. And the growing demand for meat inspection will have to be shifted to our federal partners.”

The Department of Agriculture will not compromise any of its emergency management abilities, Black said.

In Kemp’s budget proposal, the Department of Agriculture is set to be cut more than $1.8 million for fiscal year 2020 and more than $6.5 million in fiscal year 2021.

The department cut $161,000 of support for the Georgia Grown Program — a marketing program that promotes purchasing locally grown products. Half-a-million in vehicle cuts were in the governor’s proposal that were not in the original budget recommendations from the department, Black said.

From the Albany Herald and Capitol Beat News Service:

Georgia Commissioner of Agriculture Gary Black warned job losses in his department could seriously hamper the state’s No.1 industry.

On the first day of hearings on Kemp’s $28.1 billion fiscal 2021 budget plan, Black said he has been forced to eliminate 18 full-time vacancies, four part-time vacancies, phase out six employees and cut loose four call-center workers by not renewing their contract.

“These critical positions in food safety, animal industry, meat inspection and marketing were not held in reserve on the books,” Black told members of the Georgia House and Senate Appropriations Committees. “These were vacant positions we would have tried to fill, but due to a competitive job market, we have been unable to find qualified applicants.”

The agriculture department also needs $1 million to jump-start the growth of industrial hemp in Georgia, a lucrative crop the General Assembly voted to legalize last year.

Kemp’s budget proposes giving the new Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission $200,000 this fiscal year and just under $155,000 for fiscal 2021. Part of Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s office, the commission is the oversight arm of Georgia’s fledgling medical cannabis sector.

But those funding amounts “may be inadequate” to run the cannabis commission full-steam, Raffensperger said Tuesday, noting his staff wants a budget closer to $500,000.

From the Capitol Beat News Service:

Georgia lawmakers on both sides of the aisle showed hesitation Wednesday to sign off on budget cuts Gov. Brian Kemp has proposed for criminal justice and public safety agencies through July 2021.

“I think we all have a responsibility to reduce the fat, but we need to be careful not to be overzealous and cut into the muscle of the criminal justice system,” said Sen. Randy Robertson, R-Cataula, a retired major with the Muscogee County Sheriff’s Office.

Those cuts and others discussed Wednesday gave Rep. Al Williams pause. He said a much closer look is needed to avoid creating unexpected costs elsewhere in Georgia’s criminal justice system.

“Whether you end up paying on the front end or the back end, it’s going to cost you,” said Williams, D-Midway. “It’s a difficult time.”’

The feeling was mutual for Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold Melton. He highlighted cuts totaling about $3.5 million to the state’s accountability courts, a popular program created under former Gov. Nathan Deal that provides alternative sentencing for thousands of inmates.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Terry England also singled out the accountability courts, noting lawmakers may want to tread cautiously with a program many criminal justice advocates feel is working.

“We certainly want to take a closer look at that,” said England, R-Auburn. “We put a lot of time and energy into that over the years.”

Rep. Darlene Taylor, R-Thomasville, traced a lack of mental health services to instances of repeat crimes that she said are cropping up especially in rural parts of Georgia.

“I’m pleased that we’re looking for ways to be more efficient,” Taylor said, “But I am concerned about health care and mental health.”

Proposed changes to funding for district attorneys and public defenders has drawn scrutiny, according to The Appeal.

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp has unveiled his proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year, which will begin on July 1, 2020. In it, he asks lawmakers to slash the funds available to state public defenders by more than $3 million—and to increase the funds available to prosecutors by about the same amount.

More than $2 million of the anticipated savings would come from freezing positions that have been vacant since January 2019—in other words, from ensuring that there are no incoming public defenders to provide current public defenders with some measure of relief.

“The Public Defender Council has been under pretty much constant pressure to cut expenses, even though these cuts are already to the bone,” says Sara Totonchi, Executive Director of the Southern Center for Human Rights. “What we’re looking at is a system that is going to be reduced to the point where constitutionally-required representation is simply not going to be delivered.”

The $3 million reduction is separate from the more than $1.2 million in cuts to public defender funding that the governor recommended for the current fiscal year, which runs through June 30. Nearly all of those savings in the amended budget, too, would be attributable to a freeze on filling open positions.

On the other side of the ledger, Kemp’s fiscal year 2021 proposal would allocate $2 million for “recruitment and retention for assistant district attorneys,” and $1.2 million to hire a dozen new assistant district attorneys to work in Georgia’s Juvenile Courts. Legislators will consider Kemp’s budget in a series of hearings in Atlanta this week.

From the AJC Political Insider:

The governor’s people have quickly informed us that while the proposed cut to public defenders was their doing, the proposed increased funding for district attorneys was a decision made by the judicial branch — over which they have no control.

The Georgia State Elections Board approved changes to voting rules, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Georgia’s elections board on Wednesday approved a set of rule changes to govern the use of new voting machines that are being rushed out statewide for the state’s fast-approaching presidential primaries in March.

State Election Board members acknowledged some of the newly adopted rules may need further fine tuning. They were approved regardless because of the tight deadline for rolling out the new machines.

“Because of the timeline … what seems to work best is that we actually would implement the rules that have already been posted,” said Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, the state board’s chairman. “Then we would consider amending those rules further, to further tweak this and hone down the rules as we want them.”

Georgia’s presidential primaries are set for March 24, but advance voting begins three weeks earlier on March 2. The state is racing to distribute more than 33,000 new machines, which combine touchscreen voting with printed ballots, to Georgia’s 159 counties.

Many of the changes adopted Wednesday updated rules by replacing references to the old voting system with references to the new one. One rule, for example, specifies how the new machines are to be stored, transported and tested, as well as and how polling places are to be set up.

Former candidate for Governor Stacey Abrams had some advice for losers of elections, according to the Washington Free Beacon.

Failed Democratic Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams is urging Democrats to move beyond past elections and focus on the future.

Abrams’s Wednesday remarks to a crowd of University of New England students came despite her refusal to concede to Republican governor Brian Kemp and continued insistence that she actually won the race. Abrams struck a different tone when asked about the current 2020 Democratic presidential field.

“We have to stop re-litigating past elections and have to start planning for future elections,” she said, according to an Associated Press report. She called on Democrats to fight voter ID laws and efforts to purge voter rolls.

A Washington Free Beacon analysis found that Abrams had publicly stated she won the gubernatorial election a dozen times within six months of losing. Abrams, a former state representative, told the New York Times “I won” and argued on MSNBC that the election was “stolen” by Georgia Republicans.

Republican Public Service Commissioner Chuck Eaton was elected Chair of the Public Service Commission by his colleagues, according to PV Magazine.

Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler noted record employment numbers set through 2019, according to AccessWDUN.

Butler said in his monthly report for December the year-end numbers in all three categories were record highs. At the same time, the December unemployment rate was another record low.

“Georgia closed out 2019 on a very high note,” Butler said. “We set records right across the board on all the major indicators. It’s kind of hard to have any better year than Georgia had.”

The unemployment rate settled at 3.2 percent as 2019 came to a close. That’s down from 3.7 percent a year ago. Georgia has now set a new record low two months in a row after first tying the old record in October.

Georgia ended 2019 with a record-high 4.97 million employed residents, an increase of nearly 47,000 over the past 12 months. The number also climbed by more than 12,000 in December.

Butler said Georgia’s labor force continued to grow but struggled to keep pace with job creation and employment numbers.

“We do need our labor force to expand at a faster pace,” Butler said. “Right now, we are growing jobs three times as fast.”

For the year, unemployment insurance claims also went down. There were 291,962 unemployment claims filed in 2019 – down 6 percent from the number filed in 2018. For the month of December, however, claims rose about 78 percent.

State Rep. Kevin Cooke (R-Carrollton) announced he will run for the Fourteenth Congressional District seat being vacated by Rep. Tom Graves, according to the Rome News Tribune.

State Rep. Kevin Cooke, who is also the assistant athletic director at Shorter University, made his announcement Wednesday morning via his campaign website. He’s now the sixth Republican who has stated they’ll run for the seat.

Cooke, who has represented Georgia House District 18 — primarily Haralson and Carroll counties — since 2011, will not be stepping down from his post for the U.S. congressional run.

“Representing the people of Haralson and Carroll counties in Atlanta has been an honor, but the last nine years have not always been easy,” Cooke stated in his release. “Being in the majority taught me that political party alone is not an accurate way to measure a person’s principles and beliefs in limited government.”

He also makes the third candidate to enter the race from outside the 14th District, Floyd County Republican chair Luke Martin said.

“I’m sure they have well-thought-out reasons for why they’re running in our district instead of their own,” Martin said. “I look forward to hearing from them at our meeting this Thursday and our debate scheduled for April 17.”

 The Gwinnett County Commission approved an $800,000 study of bus rapid transit running parallel to I-85, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

 Gwinnett County commissioners approved an $800,000 contract with Kimley-Horn and Associates Inc. on Tuesday to conduct the corridor study. The county is working with the Atlanta Regional Commission as well as the Gateway85, Gwinnett Place and Sugarloaf Community Improvement Districts to pay for the study.

Funding from the ARC will cover 50% of the cost of the study while the CIDs are collectively contributing 9.4%.

“The study will establish recommendations for premium, high-capacity bus service in its own dedicated lane as well as associated complimentary land uses,” Gwinnett Transportation Director Alan Chapman said. ““The study area will include corridors just west of I-85, between Jimmy Carter Boulevard and Sugarloaf Parkway at the Infinite Energy Center.”

Rome hosted the first two of five roundtable discussions on transit service, according to the Rome News Tribune.

The firm was brought on board in November to help Rome “rebrand” its transit system after the city lost its Tripper service for public schools. It began by collecting data from riders and other community members through anonymous surveys both online and on board Main Line and Paratransit buses.

Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta and the CDC will begin screening some international arrivees for coronavirus, according to WSB-TV.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed the first U.S. case of a deadly virus that’s been spreading in Asia.

The news comes just a day after health officials confirmed the first human-to-human transmissions, which means the disease may spread more rapidly. Hundreds of people have been sickened by the virus in China and at least six people have died.

The CDC said the patient is a man in his 30s and he is in good condition. The man returned to the Seattle area Jan. 15 after traveling to the Wuhan area of China, where the outbreak began.

Officials in Atlanta said in a statement Tuesday that Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport will begin screening passengers from affected areas for the virus.

“In the wake of the coronavirus outbreak in China, Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport (ATL) is working with partners at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to mitigate the spread of all passengers and employees at ATL is of paramount concern.”

“Currently, ATL has two direct flights to Asia — to Shanghai, China and Seoul, South Korea. The CDC will be onsite at ATL’s International Terminal to process any passengers who exhibit severe symptoms or who may have come in contact with the disease.”

Lula Mayor Jim Grier gave his State of the City address and three council members were sworn in to new terms, according to the Gainesville Times.


Adoptable (Official) Georgia Dogs for January 21, 2020

Milo Rome

Milo is a young male Miniature Pinscher and Dachshund mix who is available for adoption from the Amal Animal Rescue Foundation Inc in Rome, GA.

Bella Rome

Bella is a young female Lab mix who is available for adoption from Public Animal Welfare Services in Rome, GA.

Peaches Rome

Peaches is a young female mixed breed puppy who is available for adoption from Public Animal Welfare Services in Rome, GA.


Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for January 21, 2020

On January 20, 1788, the First African Baptist Church was established in Savannah, Georgia, one of the first black churches in the United States.

John Marshall was nominated as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States by President John Adams on January 20, 1801.

Lieutenant William T. Sherman was ordered to Georgia for the first time in his military career on January 21, 1844.

On January 20, 1920, DeForest Kelley was born in Atlanta and he grew up in Conyers. Kelley sang in the choir of his father’s church and appeared on WSB radio; he graduated from Decatur Boys High School and served in the United States Navy. Kelley became famous as Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy in the original Star Trek series.

On January 20, 1928, Franklin Delano Roosevelt visited Warm Springs, Georgia for the tenth time, staying through February 11th. During the visit, he spoke to the Chamber of Commerce of Americus and Sumter County, telling them

“In Georgia the movement towards the cities is growing by leaps and bounds and this means the abandonment of the farms or those farms that are not suited to the uses of agriculture. It means that we will have vacant lands but these can and should be used in growing timber.”

January 20th became Inaugural Day in 1937; when the date falls on a Sunday, a private inauguration of the President is held, with a public ceremony the following day. The Twentieth Amendment moved inauguration day from March 4 to January 20. Imagine six additional weeks of a lame duck President.

Roosevelt was sworn-in to a fourth term as President on Jauary 20, 1945 and died in Warm Springs on April 12, 1945.

On January 20, 1939, Paul D. Coverdell was born in Des Moines, Iowa. Coverdell was one of the key figures in the development of the Georgia Republican Party.

United States Senator and former Georgia House Speaker and Governor Richard B. Russell, Jr. died on January 21, 1971.

On January 20, 1977, former Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter was inaugurated as the 39th President of the United States.

On January 21, 1977, President Jimmy Carter pardoned draft resistors from the Vietnam War era and urged Americans to conserve energy.

On January 21, 1978, the Bee Gees Saturday Night Live album hit #1 on the sales charts, where it would stay for 24 weeks.

On January 20, 1981, Ronald Wilson Reagan was inaugurated 40th President of the United States.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

9:00 AM Joint Budget Hearings 341 CAP

Governor Brian Kemp won’t answer hypothetical questions from the AJC that a federal lawsuit made moot. From the AJC:

Gov. Brian Kemp won’t say whether Georgia will keep the door open to refugees days after a federal judge temporarily blocked a Trump administration order that gave state and local officials discretion over their resettlement.

The court’s ruling halted a policy by President Donald Trump that required resettlement agencies to obtain written consent from mayors, county leaders and governors by Tuesday, when they were set to submit federal funding requests.

Kemp has not commented on the plan, aside from suggesting he has more flexibility with his timeline. His aides indicate he’s not likely to decide until the legal challenge is settled.

Congressman Doug Collins (R-Gainesville) was named among the eight members who will assist the President’s team in the impeachment trial, according to the AJC.

It does not appear that Collins, who lives in Gainesville, or the other members will actively participant in arguing the case before the Senate. Earlier in the weekend, Trump announced the team of lawyers who will handle that job.

However, Monday’s announcement says these GOP representatives have already been providing guidance as attorneys prepare for trial. “The President looks forward to their continued participation and is confident that the Members will help expeditiously end this brazen political vendetta on behalf of the American people,” the release said.

Nearly 57 percent of respondents told an AJC poll that voters should decide in 2020 whether President Trump stays in office, according to the AJC.

The poll of 1,025 registered Georgia voters shows the state’s electorate remains divided over the Democratic-led push to impeach Trump, which enters a new phase of fraught debate and bitter legal wrangling as the Senate readies to hear testimony. Half of Georgia voters say the president has not committed an impeachable offense; 45% say he has.

But it found voters were far more settled about whether Trump should be sent packing at the trial’s end. About 57% of respondents said voters should decide his fate in the 2020 election, including a majority of independents and roughly one-quarter of Democrats.

The survey was conducted Jan. 6-15 and has a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points.

Also notable in the poll results was a 58 percent approval rating for Governor Brian Kemp.

Republican Ben Bullock is withdrawing from the campaign for the 7th Congressional District and will now run for the 14th, according to the AJC.

The U.S. Air Force veteran told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Tuesday that he made his decision after U.S. Rep. Tom Graves announced he wouldn’t stand for another term. Though he lives in Gwinnett County, Bullock’s family has deep roots in Paulding County – part of Graves’ sprawling district.

“For over 200 years, my family has lived, served in both the military and elected office, farmed and operated small businesses in the 14th District,” he said. “To continue that legacy is a dream come true, and moving in that direction is where I truly believe that God is leading this campaign team.”

He said he plans to base his campaign out of his family’s store in Dallas, the seat of Paulding County, which would make him the fifth generation of his family to use the building for business.

His decision leaves the GOP race to several other Republican rivals including state Sen. Renee Unterman, former Home Depot executive Lynne Homrich, businessman Mark Gonsalves and emergency room doctor Richard McCormick.

The Rome News Tribune writes about additional candidates for the 14th District.

On Monday, the number of announced candidates for the seat increased to four. Kyle Perkins, a Dallas Republican, announced he’s running for the seat in Congress.

In his announcement letter, Perkins — the lone black candidate in the race so far — voiced his support for President Donald Trump as well as accusing current candidates of attempting to purchase the election.

An announcement is expected soon from Georgia state Rep. Kevin Cooke, R-Carrollton, who has represented the 18th District since 2011. He’s also employed locally by Shorter University as their assistant athletic director.

Three other Republican candidates have previously stepped up to run for the seat to be vacated by current U.S. Rep. Tom Graves:

Senate Bill 291, the “Georgia Death with Dignity Act,” would allow some physician-assisted suicides, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Under Senate Bill 291, dubbed the “Georgia Death with Dignity Act,” patients given a prognosis of six months or less to live would qualify to request aid-in-dying medication that they may take themselves.

Several requests and assessments from at least two physicians would be required before the person could receive the medication, which supporters say would reduce the risk for abuse.

If passed, doctors or loved ones who help the terminally ill end their lives would not longer be subject to criminal prosecution. Currently, the practice is a felony under the state’s assisted-suicide law that can result in a prison sentence.

The bill is poised for pushback from religious groups. The Georgia Baptist Missionary Board passed a resolution in 2017 opposing life-ending medication. The conservative Faith and Freedom Coalition also rejects it.

Senate Bill 298 by Senator Renee Unterman would increase regulation of vaping, according to the Valdosta Daily Times.

A new bill would raise the minimum age to purchase vapor products to 21 from the current age of 18 and toughen penalties for selling tobacco, nicotine and vaping products to minors. It also sets penalties for marketing of vaping products that is specifically designed to be “attractive to minors.”

Sen. Renee Unterman, R-Buford, introduced the legislation last week that would also require schools to teach about the risks of vaping and smoking as part of their curriculum.

Unterman told The Valdosta Daily Times she learned about the problem from roundtables with youth.

“The main thing that’s in the bill is about education, because that’s what I’ve learned from these kids, the main part of prevention is education,” she said. “This particular bill which is not anything to do with the federal order is requiring the state board of education and individual counties and cities to incorporate vaping into their current drug and alcohol awareness.”

The legislation comes after the the state Department of Public Health issued a health advisory on vaping in October, following the second vaping-related death in Georgia.

State Rep. Emory Dunahoo (R-Gainesville) announced he will run for reelection, according to the Gainesville Times.

“I have a record of being a strong conservative voice for my constituents. Georgia Democrats are fighting to turn Georgia into a purple state,” Dunahoo said in a statement. “Under no circumstances can we allow them the opportunity to undo all of the great work, prosperity, and accomplishments our state has enjoyed in recent years.”

“As we enter a crucial election cycle, it is now more important than ever that the people of this district have a strong, unapologetic, experienced conservative voice speaking for them in the House of Representatives,” he said.

Gwinnett County should begin receiving its new voting equipment beginning this week, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

Gwinnett County Communications Director Joe Sorenson said the old equipment was picked up Jan. 6. The delivery of the new equipment is expected to take several days, beginning Jan. 24.

Along with 220 polling place scanners, one central scanning device, 543 poll pads, one election management system and four mobile ballot printers, Gwinnett County will also get 188 more new electronic voting machines than were purchased by the state in the original request for proposals, according to the latest numbers from the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office.

“A review of the purchases that our office is making for elections equipment shows a cumulative cost of approximately $100 million,” Raffensperger said. “If each county had made these purchases individually, the total cost would have been closer to $160 million … Had your county individually purchased the elections equipment, the cost would have been $11,621,917.89.”

The Secretary of State’s Office has called this is the largest single implementation of a new voting system in U.S. history, with GPB News reporting 31,826 ballot-marking devices are slated to be delivered to counties ahead of the March 24 presidential preference primary.

Georgia Right to Life will hold their annual March for Life on Wednesday, January 22, 2020 at the State Capitol, beginning at 11:30 AM. Click here for more information.

Macon-Bibb County ran a $13.5 million dollar surplus for FY 2019, according to the Macon Telegraph.

Macon-Bibb County Public Affairs Director Chris Floore explained that in Fiscal Year 2019, which ended June 30, the county budgeted 1 percent under their own projections and took in 3 percent more revenue than expected.


Adoptable (Official) Georgia Dogs for January 17, 2020

Maisey Glynn County

Maisey is a young female Labrador Retriever mix who is available for adoption from Glynn County Animal Services in Brunswick, GA.

Dixie Glynn County

Dixie is a female Bloodhound who is available for adoption from Glynn County Animal Services in Brunswick, GA.

Hank Glynn County

Hank is a male Labrador Retriever mix who is available for adoption from Glynn County Animal Services in Brunswick, GA.


Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for January 17, 2020

On January 17, 1733, Georgia’s Trustees in London voted to ban Jews from the colony.

On January 18, 1776, James Wright, Royal Governor of Georgia, was arrested by John Habersham, a member of the Provincial Congress.

Robert E. Lee was born on January 19, 1807 at his family home, Stratford Hall, Virginia.

Delegates to the Secession Convention in Milledgeville voted 208-89 in favor of seceding from the United States on January 19, 1861.

On January 19, 1871, Savannah, Georgia became the first city to recognize Robert E. Lee’s Birthday as a public holiday.

L.Q.C. Lamar, born near Eatonton, Georgia, was sworn in as an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court on January 18, 1888.

On January 16, 1919, the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, prohibiting alcoholic beverages, when Nebraska became the 36th of the 48 states then in the Union to ratify the Amendment.

Martin Luther King, Jr. began the Chicago civil rights campaign on January 17, 1966.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Click here for the text of the State of the State address.

From the AP/US News:

ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp said raising teacher pay is one of his top goals as he gave his second annual State of the State address Thursday, a stance that could put him on a collision course with legislative leaders who want to cut income taxes.

The Republican governor announced that his budget proposal includes a $2,000 pay raise for public school teachers, at a projected cost of more than $380 million. It’s the second part of a campaign promise for a $5,000 teacher pay raise, after Kemp was able to secure a $3,000 raise for educators last year. He also wants a $1,000 pay raise for other state employees making less than $40,000 a year, at a cost of $45 million.

In his budget proposal, also released Thursday, Kemp projects strong growth in the income tax in the year beginning July 1. A spokesman didn’t immediately answer whether that means Kemp isn’t planning for the tax cut to happen.

Kemp called not only for a teacher pay raise, but for lawmakers to continue fully funding Georgia’s public school funding formula, which suffered a long period of reduced funding coming out of the recession, leading to teacher layoffs and furloughs.

Kemp also announced a plan to triple the adoption tax credit from $2,000 to $6,000, lower the minimum age for a person to adopt a child from 25 to 21 and launch a commission focused on the operation of the state’s foster care system.

Kemp honored former Gov. Nathan Deal and former U.S. Sen Johnny Isakson in his speech, suggesting a call for Republican unity as Democratic competition rises in the state. He also mentioned his appointment of GOP Sen. Kelly Loeffler to replace Isakson, saying she will do an “incredible job” representing the state and its best interests.

The governor also announced that the University of Georgia will create a faculty position to research treatments for Parkinson’s disease. Isakson has the disease, which helped prompt his retirement.

From WTOC:

Governor Kemp, during his speech highlighted, the unemployment rate that is just 3.3 percent, the lowest in Georgia history. He says in the past 12 months the state has added 64,000 private sector jobs and of the 371 economic development projects announced in 2019, 79 percent were outside of Atlanta. Governor Kemp says he feels the State of the State is strong and it’s only just beginning.

From the AJC’s Greg Bluestein:


Decrying a “rigged” system, Kemp backed legislation that would bring more transparency in healthcare billing and combat “surprise” bills that have fast become a target of lawmakers. A Senate plan unveiled this week designed to curb patients’ risk of facing unexpected charges could be the framework.

“Families are living on a prayer because the system is rigged against them,” said Kemp. “This year, we will implement long overdue reforms that put our families first.”


The governor invoked the story of Deborah Rider, whose 10-year-old son Nicholas was killed a decade ago in a drive-by shooting, as he outlined legislation to “empower” law enforcement and prosecutors to better combat gang violence.

He offered scant details on the proposal, though he’s recently said he would boost funding for an anti-gang task force he launched last year and a promised database to track gang members.

From the AJC’s James Salzer:

The $2,000 raise [for teachers] in the upcoming fiscal year — which begins July 1 — would cost the state about $350 million. If approved by the General Assembly, how much teachers receive will depend on whether school districts pass along the raise. Most did last year.

The governor’s $28 billion budget plan for fiscal 2021 does not account for the huge hit state finances would take if lawmakers vote to cut the top state income tax rate from 5.75% to 5.5%. Lawmakers reduced the rate in 2018 and set up a possible vote on another cut this year.

Reducing the rate again would cost the state — and save taxpayers — about $550 million. If lawmakers vote to cut the rate again, they will have to cut the budget or find another way to raise money.

Kemp’s spending plan includes nearly $2 million for seven new positions in the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s Gang Task Force and resources to set up the statewide gang database.

From another story by the AJC’s Greg Bluestein:

The Republican’s State of the State address Thursday was not targeted at his conservative base. It seemed tailor-made, instead, to appeal to another audience: suburban voters, particularly women, whose recent exodus threatens GOP control of Georgia’s Statehouse in 2020.

Kemp’s narrow election victory two years ago, squeezed tight by Democratic gains in the General Assembly from across metro Atlanta’s suburbs, seemed firmly on his mind as he unveiled his legislative agenda to a crowd of hundreds of lawmakers and state officials packed into the House chamber.

Absent from his address was mention of measures that would promote “religious liberty,” curb illegal immigration or expand gun rights — campaign promises sure to fire up his conservative base but risk alienating moderate voters.

From the Savannah Morning News and Capitol Beat News Service:

Gov. Brian Kemp unveiled a $28.1 billion budget proposal Thursday that would set a new record for state spending in fiscal 2021 despite the air of fiscal uncertainty surrounding this year’s General Assembly session.

While the spending plan would surpass the then-record $27.5 billion fiscal 2020 budget lawmakers passed last spring, the increase would be far less than the $1.3 billion spending hike the legislature adopted a year ago.

Just keeping up with enrollment growth in Georgia’s public schools is a big budget driver. Kemp is asking for $257.2 million to cover enrollment growth in the schools.

A commission the General Assembly created last year to oversee Georgia’s new medical cannabis program would receive $354,577. Supporters of expanding the availability of cannabis oil in Georgia to treat a number of diseases have been complaining about the program’s slow start due to a lack of funding.

Another $316,461 would go toward increasing election security as the state switches over to new voting machines that feature both electronic touch screens and paper ballot backups.

From the Valdosta Daily Times:

Health care initiatives on the horizon

During the State of the State address, Kemp defended his highly criticized health-care waiver proposals. He said the waivers “shake up the status quo and put patients first, not special interests.”

In additional health-care legislation, Kemp pushed lawmakers to address “surprised billing” which Senate leaders noted early on it’s on their list and already filed legislation.

“Surprise” or balance[] billing is when patients receive bills following medical treatment for doctors and staff that are independent contractors of a hospital, but not covered by the patient’s insurance.

“We will demand transparency, embrace empathy and insist on fairness,” Kemp said.

The Savannah Convention Center could receive $70 million dollars in bond financing under Governor Kemp’s budget, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Governor Brian Kemp is recommending $70 million in bond funding to keep the planned expansion of the Savannah Convention Center on Hutchinson Island on track in his Amended Fiscal Year 2020 and Fiscal Year 2021 Governor’s Budget Report, which was released Thursday, Jan. 16.

During the 2019 State Legislative Session the Center’s governing board, then known as the Georgia International Maritime Trade Center Authority, requested $234 million for the expansion, which would be among numerous statewide projects funded through revenue public bonds underwritten by the state, which typically issues more than $1 billion in bonds each year.

House Bill 276, addressing sales tax collections, passed the House and Senate after a conference committee proposed a compromise bill. From the AJC:

The House and Senate agreed Thursday to legislation aimed at forcing “marketplace facilitators” whose websites or apps are used to sell goods or services, provided by someone else, to collect and remit sales taxes. It would go into effect April 1.

Different versions of the bill passed the chambers last session, but the two sides couldn’t strike a deal.

“This money is owed. There hasn’t been an efficient way to collect it,” said Senate Finance Chairman Chuck Hufstetler R-Rome.

House Ways and Means Chairman Brett Harrell, R-Snellville, the measure’s sponsor, and Hufstetler said the bill, if signed into law by Gov. Brian Kemp as expected, would put internet- and app-based companies on par with Georgia stores that have always charged sales taxes for their goods.

From the Dalton Daily Citizen News:

Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, asked legislators to vote in favor of House Bill 276 to speed up the bill adoption process, so the law could go into effect April 1 and taxes could be collected.Both Hufstetler and Brett Harrell, R-Snellville, the House lead on the bill, were quick to tell colleagues the measure does not impose new taxes “on anybody” but only collects taxes already owed.

“Georgia has a tax on transportation services,” Harrell told reporters after the vote. “Our traditional transportation services, taxis and limos, have been paying a sales tax for years and years and years in the state of Georgia.”

“If you are a private owner of a property that you make available on the VRBO, this does two things that should be an advantage to us as private property owner,” he said. “Number one, it puts the responsibility on the platform, that entity, to collect and remit. Number two, it relieves you of the responsibility and the liability for collecting it.”

From the Cherokee Tribune & Ledger News:

Both chambers in the Georgia General Assembly passed the bill Thursday afternoon. It now heads to Gov. Brian Kemp’s desk. If signed, tax collections would begin on April 1.

Along with retail giants Amazon, Google, and Walmart, the tax would apply to sales made on mobile apps run by Uber. Earlier versions of Thursday’s compromise bill stalled last year in the legislature when Uber sought an exemption to the tax.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome, said the compromise bill nixes exemptions across the board. It would set up a structure to recoup taxes that Hufstetler said the Georgia Department of Revenue are already owed under state law, but are not being collected.

“There’s no special breaks for anybody in it,” he said.

Some lawmakers like Sen. Renee Unterman voted against the bill on grounds that it seemed too close to a tax increase to stomach. Unterman, R-Buford, said she would have backed the compromise bill if she felt more certain that lawmakers would also pass an income tax decrease later this session.

“I’m just concerned about it being a tax increase,” Unterman said of the bill after Thursday’s floor vote.

House Resolution 882, praising the killing of Qassem Soleimani, passed the State House, according to the AJC.

House Defense and Veterans Affairs Chairman Heath Clark, R-Warner Robins, said Thursday he introduced the resolution as a way to laud the death of Qassem Soleimani, the leader of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ elite Quds Force.

“It was a way to show our support for the men and women of the intelligence community, the men and women of our armed forces that carried out the mission and the commander-in-chief of the military for giving the order for the mission to be executed,” Clark said.

House Resolution 882 says the members of the chamber “urge the American people to support” Trump and the military for the successful killing of Soleimani.

Only one Republican — Tiger Republican state Rep. Matt Gurtler — crossed party lines to vote against the resolution, which passed 93-68. Gurtler, who votes “no” more than any other legislator, is known for voting against nearly every proposal that passes through the chamber.

Wes Wolfe of The Brunswick News receives the GaPundit award for best opening line of a story about state legislation.

If House Resolution 882 were to pass through the state House of Representatives any faster than it did this week, it’d have to be attached to a greased pig.

But with extensive talk about the time needed to address budget cutbacks this session and the limited time to do so, the House took more than 30 minutes after the governor’s State of the State address to talk about the killing of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani.

State Rep. Heath Clark. R-Warner Robins and chairman of the House Defense & Veterans Affairs Committee, spoke on the resolution to the House.

“This resolution we have today is simple, and it’s to urge the support of and commend the intelligence agencies that gathered the information, the brave men and women of the United States armed forces, and the commander-in-chief, President Trump, for this successful mission,” Clark said. “A mission that resulted in the loss of zero innocent civilian life because of the precision and the excellence of our men and women in the armed forces and the intelligence community that gathered the information to carry out this successful mission.”

H.R. 882 passed the House with just a few votes more than the majority needed, 93-68. Along with Sainz, St. Simons Island Republican state Reps. Jeff Jones and Don Hogan voted yes.

New State House Rules Chairman Richard Smith (R-Columbus) discussed how his committee will run this year, according to The Brunswick News.

State Rep. Richard Smith, R-Columbus, took over chairmanship of the committee from former state Rep. Jay Powell, R-Camilla, who died in November.

“Somebody asked me the other day why we weren’t meeting at 8 o’clock, and I said, ‘That’s too early for me to have a meeting,’” Smith said at the outset of the meeting. “I used to be harassed a lot about my 8 o’clock meetings.”

Among the guidelines he set down were that if the meetings were scheduled at a certain time, they would begin at that time so as not to waste others’ time.

“Also, this is not a place for debate,” Smith said. “This is a place to evaluate a piece of legislation to see if it’s good enough to make it to the House floor for a vote. In regard to that, it’s the place to ask legitimate questions about a bill, or a piece of legislation, not to debate it.”

He said legislators introducing bills would get about a minute and a half to explain themselves, and there would only be four questions allowed per bill.

“Four questions,” Smith said. “Not, ‘If I ask one, can I get a second?’ It’s going to be a total of four questions. So, when the time comes for you to ask your questions, push a button (to activate your microphone) and we’ll proceed from there.”

Georgia continues delivery of new voting systems to local governments, according to the AJC.

It’s the largest rollout of elections equipment in U.S. history, with more than 75,000 computers and printers destined for 2,600 voting precincts across Georgia.

State election officials say they’re ahead of schedule. About 88% of voting touchscreens have been received and passed acceptance testing at the state’s warehouse.

About 37% of counties had received their voting equipment as of Tuesday, a number that’s expected to rise to 70% by Jan. 23, according to the secretary of state’s office.

All voting equipment is scheduled for delivery to counties by mid-February, in time for early voting to begin March 2.

The Lowndes County Board of Elections met and discussed rollout of new voting machines and budget changes, according to the Valdosta Daily Times.

The Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles commuted the death sentence of Jimmy Fletcher Meders, according to AccessWDUN.

Jimmy Fletcher Meders, 58, had been scheduled to receive a lethal injection at 7 p.m. Thursday at the state prison in Jackson. But the State Board of Pardons and Paroles released its decision granting him clemency around 1 p.m.

The board held a closed-door clemency hearing for Meders on Wednesday.

Meders is only the sixth Georgia death row inmate to have a sentence commuted by the parole board since 2002. The last to have a sentence commuted was Tommy Lee Waldrip, who was spared execution on July 9, 2014.

Meders was sentenced to death in 1989, four years before a change in the law that allowed a sentence of life without the possibility of parole for capital cases. In the clemency application submitted to the parole board, his lawyers argued that it was clear that the jury wanted that option.

The application cited a note the jurors sent to the judge after 20 minutes of deliberations: “If the Jury recommends that the accused be sentence to life imprisonment, can the Jury recommend that the sentence be carried out without Parole??”

Meders’ lawyers also gathered sworn statements from the six jurors who are still alive and able to remember the deliberations. They all said they would have chosen life without parole if it had been an option and supported clemency for Meders.

University of Georgia Terry College of Business Dean Ben Ayers discussed the state of the economy, according to The Brunswick News.

The economic outlook for 2020 is a “good news forecast,” according to the state forecast by Ben Ayers, dean of the University of Georgia Terry College of Business. Ayers was the keynote speaker Thursday at the Georgia Economic Outlook luncheon at the Jekyll Island Convention Center.

The good news is Georgia’s economy is expected to expand this year, though not as much as 2019. Geopolitical risks could slow down the state’s growth, however.

“We have a greater exposure to the trade war than the average state, especially in rural Georgia,” Ayers said. “At this point, we’re not expecting a recession.”

More new companies will move to Georgia, adding a 1 percent increase in the job market, but rural areas could struggle with a “minor recession,” Ayers said.

The region’s 2.7 percent unemployment rate is “truly extraordinary,” he said.

“We’re not the only local economy doing well, which makes it difficult to attract workers,” he said. “Each county is growing.”

Savannah City Council approved a legislative agenda, according to the Savannah Morning News.

the council voted unanimously to adopt the 2020 City of Savannah Legislative Agenda. This document of legislative priorities was given some last-minute amendments after concerns were raised on some proposals during the pre-meeting workshop, including one about requesting sovereign immunity to limit the city’s liability when trees on public property cause damages.

The City Council is expected to further discuss the 2020 legislative agenda at their next regular meeting.

Ogeechee Technical College professor Michele Fiorelli-Rupar will run for Bulloch County Coroner as a Democrat, according to the Statesboro Herald.

Hall County Tax Commissioner Darla Eden announced she will run for reelection, according to the Gainesville Times.

An injured Right Whale calf off the coast of Georgia and Florida received antibiotics in an attempt to help it survive injuries, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Wildlife officials on Wednesday administered antibiotics to a newborn right whale calf seriously injured by the propeller of a vessel.

Two teams in Zodiac boats relocated Derecha and her injured calf off Fernandina Beach Wednesday Jan. 15. Once the aerial team confirmed it was the correct pair and re-assessed the baby, an on-site veterinarian determined antibiotics would benefit the calf.

The boat-based team administered the drugs with the hopes of preventing infection.

The calf received nearly 50 ml of the long-acting antibiotic Excede delivered by dart launched from about 7 meters away, said Barb Zoodsma, who oversees the right whale recovery program in the U.S. Southeast for NOAA Fisheries.

Both mother and calf remained calm throughout the procedure, Zoodsma said.

From The Brunswick News:

The mother, Derecha, is around 27 years old, having been first spotted in December 1993. She’s calved three other times, with the last time being 2010. The 10-year gap in calving is one of many factors putting North Atlantic right whales on a path toward extinction. With around 400 whales or less in existence — and only around 100 or so of those are calving-age females — each calving cycle counts.

Right whales only give birth to one calf per cycle, and these cycles used to occur every three or four years. Calving females have to build up a significant amount of blubber on which to sustain themselves and their calf before traveling south to calve, returning north. However, warming oceans is causing their main food source, zooplankton, to move north, which causes issues with finding food and with making the trip south and back a longer one.

As a result, in the last several years, these calving cycles lengthened, as seen with Derecha.


Adoptable (Official) Georgia Dogs for January 16, 2020

Waldo Rescue Me GA

Waldo is a young male Hound and Jack Russell Terrier mix puppy who is available for adoption from Rescue Me Ga Inc in Dunwoody, GA.

Marcus Rescue Me GA

Marcus is a young male Labrador Retriever and Dachshund mix who is available for adoption from Rescue Me Ga Inc in Dunwoody, GA.

Tesla Rescue Me GA

Tesla is a young female Hound mix puppy who is available for adoption from Rescue Me Ga Inc in Dunwoody, GA.


Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for January 16, 2020

On January 16, 1786, the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, drafted by Thomas Jefferson, was adopted by the Virginia General Assembly.

On January 16, 1919, the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, prohibiting alcoholic beverages, when Nebraska became the 36th of the 48 states then in the Union to ratify the Amendment.

At 4:30 PM on January 16, 1991, the Persian Gulf War began as air attacks against Iraq launched from US and British aircraft carriers, beginning Operation Desert Storm.

On January 16, 1997, a bomb exploded in a Sandy Springs abortion clinic, later determined to be the work of Eric Rudolph, who also bombed Centennial Olympic Park in 1996, a lesbian bar in Atlanta in February 1997, and a Birmingham abortion clinic in 1998.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Under the Gold Dome Today – LD4











Governor Brian Kemp will deliver the State of the State address today, according to the Albany Herald.

“Tomorrow, I will outline my blueprint for a stronger, safer and more prosperous Georgia to the people of our state,” Kemp posted on his Twitter account. “But for today, let’s focus on a historic 2019.”

Georgia House Speaker David Ralston warned the 2020 session is likely to be a long one, as lawmakers grapple with decisions on the spending cuts Kemp will recommend to adjust for a sluggish revenue outlook.

“Georgia is a big, growing, dynamic state,” said Ralston, R-Blue Ridge. “Budget decisions that impact the people of this state are too important to be influenced by a legislative calendar. We’ll take the time necessary to get the work done.”

A foster care system overhaul is expected to be part of today’s address, according to the AJC.

Gov. Brian Kemp will unveil an overhaul of Georgia’s adoption and foster care system on Thursday that will triple a tax incentive for some adoptive parents and reduce the minimum age for unmarried people to adopt children.

The Republican is set to unveil the legislation at his State of the State address, where he will cast the proposal as part of “incredible progress” in recent years to make it easier for families to adopt children.

“Our goal is simple: to keep our kids safe, to encourage adoption and to ensure that every young Georgian — no matter where they live — has the opportunity to live in a safe, happy, loving home,” Kemp said in prepared remarks.

The legislation would increase the tax credit for adoptions out of the state foster care system from $2,000 to $6,000 for the first five years. The incentive would then drop back down to $2,000 a year until the child turns 18.

Governor Kemp appointed new members of the State Board of Education, according to AccessWDUN.

WDUN radio host Martha Zoller was one of three people appointed Tuesday to the Georgia state Board of Education by Gov. Brian Kemp.

Kemp also appointed Phenna Rene Petty to represent the 14th Congressional District in northwest Georgia, and Sally Lynn Nabors to represent that 13th Congressional District in the southern and western suburbs of Atlanta.

He reappointed Lisa Kinnemore of the 4th Congressional District in the eastern suburbs of Atlanta and Jason Downey of the 8th Congressional District in central and south Georgia.

Gov. Kemp also nominated Jannine Miller as the new Planning Director for the Georgia Department of Transportation, according to the AJC.

Jannine Miller is senior advisor to U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and former advisor to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. If approved by the state Senate and House transportation committees, she’ll become Kemp’s point person at GDOT, which is otherwise independent. She’ll replace Jay Roberts, who left the post last September to join a lobbying firm.

As GDOT’s planning director, Miller will have a big say in which highway projects become priorities for funding.

“This role is vitally important to our state’s economic success, and there is no better candidate for this job than Jannine Miller,” Kemp in a statement announcing her nomination. “Jannine’s experience in transportation policy, budgetary analysis and planning, and big-picture infrastructure development is truly unparalleled, and I look forward to working with her in the years ahead.”

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger wants to change the date of qualifying for the United States Senate seat currently held by Senator Kelly Loeffler (R), according to the Gainesville Times.

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger wants to hold candidate qualifying for Loeffler’s Senate seat during the first week of March, spokesman Walter Jones said Wednesday. That’s the same window that candidates in other 2020 Georgia races must officially declare to get on the ballot.

But before Raffensperger sets that deadline, he’s asking the legislature to amend a state law dealing with special elections to specify that his office has discretion to decide the qualifying dates. He said he’s trying to avoid potential lawsuits at a time when Georgia courts are already busy with litigation challenging the fairness and security of the state’s elections.

“This is about providing Georgia voters certainty and order by putting into law what has been the practice for over 30 years,” Raffensperger, a Republican, said in a statement. “The last thing voters need now is another frivolous politically motivated lawsuit based on muddled legal reasoning.”

Georgia law says candidates in special elections to fill vacancies in the U.S. Senate and U.S. House can’t qualify to run before the election is officially called and must sign up no later than 60 days before the election. That window doesn’t close until early September.

From the AJC:

The legislation, House Bill 757, would give the secretary of state authority to set the candidate qualifying period for the November election. Raffensperger’s spokesman said he wants to hold candidate qualifying during the first week in March, the same time that candidates in other races will file their intention to run.

If that [existing] law were interpreted to mean candidate qualifying must remain open until September, candidates could have potentially sought to run in two Senate races this year. A candidate who lost a primary election in May for the seat held by Republican U.S. Sen. David Perdue could have then jumped into the race against Loeffler.

Lieutenant Governor Geoff Duncan (R-Pitcher’s Mound) will appoint an advisory committee to develop proposals to foster the tech industry in Georgia, according to the AJC.

Duncan appointed a panel that includes retired U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, former Georgia Tech president G.P. “Bud” Peterson and 10 others to advise him on developing policy or legislation that could accelerate the growth.

Georgia Tech has been a major driver of tech-business development in Georgia. Companies moving to Georgia — mostly to Atlanta — often cite the research and deep pool of talent the university provides.

The Georgia Innovates Task Force will hold a first meeting this month.

“I want Georgia to be a national leader in technology research, development and implementation and allow for growth and evolution across all parts of Georgia,” Duncan said in a press release. Atlanta has become a center for tech companies that facilitate financial payment.

Senate Bill 293, addressing surprise medical billing, could pass the General Assembly soon according to the Rome News Tribune.

Georgia Senate leaders have targeted surprise billing early in the 2020 legislative session, which started on Monday. At a news conference Monday, Hufstetler said he has backing for legislation to curb the practice from both Gov. Brian Kemp and influential House members like House Rules Committee Chairman Richard Smith, R-Columbus.

“We’re going to finally this session get the consumer out of the middle of this issue and leave it between the health-care provider and the insurer to take care of,” Hufstetler said.

Hufstetler’s latest bill calls for patients receiving medical services at an in-network facility to be charged the same amount regardless of whether the work was performed by an in-network or out-of-network provider. That arrangement would apply for all health plans contracted as of July 1, 2021.

The bill leaves it to medical providers and insurance companies to work out the cost difference. Any disputes between the two parties would be resolved through arbitration overseen by the Georgia Insurance Commissioner’s office.

House Bill 444 by State Rep. Bert Reeves (R-Marietta) would change dual enrollment rules for high school students, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

Changes to Georgia’s dual enrollment program could be in the offing that would nix free college-level classes for freshman high schoolers.

Costs for the program allowing high-school students to take post-secondary classes have swelled from around $23 million in 2015 to around $140 million projected for the 2021 fiscal year. A revised bill presented to a state Senate committee Wednesday would cap enrollment enough to keep the program within its roughly $100 million budget for this year, Georgia Student Finance Commission President Caylee Noggle said.

Sponsored by state Rep. Bert Reeves, R-Marietta, the bill aims to keep growing enrollment in the program from overwhelming its budget. It has the backing of Gov. Brian Kemp. On Wednesday, Reeves said the program’s taxpayer-funded offerings have evolved beyond their original intent, noting some students can now enroll in exercise classes like Zumba.

Reeves will carry the legislation as a substitute to a bill he introduced last year on dual enrollment. His original bill largely mirrors the replacement legislation, which was crafted with staff from Kemp’s office.

State Rep. Terry Rogers (R-Clarkesville) was appointed Chair of the Georgia Film, Music, and Digital Entertainment Commission, according to NowHabersham.

Rogers was appointed to the post this week. He’s served on the commission for several years, since first being appointed by former governor Nathan Deal. Gov. Kemp reappointed Rogers to the panel last November.

The 18-member commission serves as an advisory committee to the governor on matters relating to the state’s entertainment industry.

Augusta has a shortage of census workers for this year, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

A bill introduced Tuesday in the Georgia House by Judiciary Chairman Barry Fleming, R-Harlem, would add language that candidates will sign up “during a period designated by the Secretary of State” of at least 2 1/2 days during the wider window prescribed by the current law.

The Lowndes County Board of Education is considering purchasing a crisis alert system, according to the Valdosta Daily Times.

Steve Coleman, Lowndes County school safety coordinator, presented the proposal to the board. Both Dewar elementary and Hahira elementary schools received state security grants for $30,000 each and three different systems made a bid.

The Hall County Board of Elections is adding early voting locations for the March 24 Presidential Preference Primary and the May 21 Primary, according to the Gainesville Times.

Both elections will have three weeks of early voting as usual, but for the third week of early voting, the county will have three additional locations open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the North Hall Community Center, East Hall Community Center and Spout Springs Library. The Hall County Government Center, the main early voting location, will also be open.

The additional cost for the new locations is $22,400, Elections Director Lori Wurtz said. The change was unanimously approved by the Hall County Board of Elections on Tuesday.

After the March and May elections, the board will spend time at its June meeting looking at turnout and discussing feedback from poll workers and may adjust the early voting plan if needed.

Oconee County discussed security of voting equipment, according to the Oconee Enterprise.

During a Board of Commissioners Town Hall, Oconee Elections Director Fran Leathers assured voters that Oconee’s new 119 ballot devices and corresponding printers, as well as 17 precinct scanners, are safe and secure.

“Security is at a much higher level with the paper back-up used for auditing purposes or a recount,” Leathers told The Oconee Enterprise.

During a presentation of the new equipment, however, Watkinsville City Councilman Dan Matthews told a representative of the Secretary of State’s Office that he was not confident the state has tested for every possible scenario.

The precinct for North High Shoals has moved from the fire station to the new Town Hall within the town park. Malcom Bridge Middle School will no longer serve as a polling site due to security reasons, said Leathers, explaining that the precinct will move to Philothea Greek Orthodox Church, located at 3761 Mars Hill Road.

The county has also closed the Government Annex precinct, leaving City Hall as the sole voting place for Watkinsville residents.

Leathers said that in addition to signage explaining those changes, the Elections Office will assign poll workers to the defunct precincts at peak hour in order to redirect voters to the correct polling site.

Gainesville will spend $2.1 million on upgrading the county administration building, according to the Gainesville Times.

An injured Right Whale calf spotted off Georgia is not expected to survive, according to The Brunswick News.

The then-week-old calf and its mother, nicknamed Derecha, were first spotted Wednesday, Jan. 8, off Georgia’s Altamaha Sound by biologists with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Photographs revealed the calf has deep gashes on either side of its head.

Two days later aerial and on-water surveys with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources re-spotted the pair Friday afternoon about 12 miles south off St. Simons Island.

Most worrisome is the gash on the left side of the calf’s mouth, which appears deep enough to have exposed bone and injure the underlying structure that produces baleen.