Federal District Dismisses Challenge to Georgia’s Voter Roll Maintenance Law

On Friday, a federal district court dismissed a lawsuit claiming that Georgia’s voter roll maintenance law is illegal and unconstitutional. Judge Timothy Batten, who was appointed by President George W. Bush in 2006, ruled that the law is legally permissible and does not run afoul of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) nor the First Amendment.

The Georgia Conference of the NAACP and Common Cause, a government watchdog typically associated with left-leaning causes, filed suit in 2016, alleging that Secretary of State Brian Kemp was using the law to throw voters off the rolls ahead of the 2016 elections. They claimed that Kemp used the law to remove nearly 400,000 voters between 2012 and 2014, violating the portion of the NVRA that says states cannot remove persons from the voting rolls solely because of a failure to vote. They also claimed that the law violates the First Amendment right to not vote (a right which has not been legally recognized). Continue reading “Federal District Dismisses Challenge to Georgia’s Voter Roll Maintenance Law”

Senator Perdue Cosponsors Cyber Scholarship

Georgia is getting serious about training students for careers in cyber security. In January, Governor Nathan Deal announced a $50 million investment in the FY2017 amended budget for the Georgia Cyber Innovation and Training Facility in Augusta. The new center will complement the U.S. Army Cyber Center for Excellence at Fort Gordon, which has been in operation since 2010. On Thursday, Senator David Perdue announced that he is cosponsoring S.592, the DOD Cyber Scholarship Program Act of 2017.

S.592 (a bipartisan bill with Democratic Senator Mark Warner of Virginia as the first signer) reauthorizes funding for and “reinvigorates” the Information Assurance Scholarship, a federal program first instituted by the 2001 National Defense Authorization Act that fell by the wayside. Although a summary is not yet available for S.592, the original scholarship program prepared undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral students for information security careers and then required them to pay back the DOD for each year of funding with a year of service. S.592 will presumably direct students into cyber training courses like those that will be offered in Augusta. It will also expand cyber scholarships for students earning associate’s degrees at community colleges and 2-year program students at schools designated as Centers of Academic Excellence by the NSA and Department of Homeland Security.

Several of Georgia’s leaders in higher education have praised S.592. Comments from these leaders were highlighted in Senator Perdue’s press release and can be found below the fold. Continue reading “Senator Perdue Cosponsors Cyber Scholarship”

All Good News for Georgia Ports in November

The Georgia Ports Authority had a productive November meeting. First, it was announced that a record 251,566 TEUs were moved through the Port of Savannah in October. TEU stands for Twenty-Foot Equivalent Unit and is the standard measurement used for a ship’s cargo carrying capacity. This record was achieved despite interference from Hurricane Matthew in early October and the South Korean cargo company Hanjin filing for bankruptcy in August.

The GPA board approved over $4 million in funding to build a multimodal rail connector that will be part of the Mid-American Arc, an expansion of rail lines from Savannah to Midwestern cities. This project should be completed by 2020. It will cost $140 million, but will double the rail lift capacity to 1 million containers and connect Georgia ports to cities like St. Louis and Memphis.

The board also announced a $15.5 million expansion of vehicle processing infrastructure at the Port of Brunswick. Three projects and an additional 85 acres will be developed on Colonel’s Island Terminal.

Unterman Holds Press Conference in Support of Safe Harbor

unterman-pressLess than two weeks from Election Day, State Senator Renee Unterman (R-Buford) is stepping up her advocacy for  Amendment #2, the Safe Harbor Amendment. On Thursday, Senator Unterman and State Representative Mary Margaret Oliver (D-Decatur) held a press conference at the State Capitol in support of Amendment #2.

Here is what Senator Unterman had to say:

It is an honor to have everyone here today to highlight a decade of collaboration and bi-partisan work on behalf of Georgia’s children. Funding this program will continue a decade long journey and will take care of Georgia’s children who are tragically abused. This fund is critical because it will address what we do with these victims after they are off the streets. Helping victims of sex trafficking and preventing future cases is what today was all about.

In case you are unfamiliar with it, the Safe Harbor Amendment creates a permanent fund to rehabilitate victims of child sex trafficking. This fund would not require legislative reauthorization each year. Atlanta is a hub for such activity, with about 7,200 annual cases of child prostitution. The amendment requires a majority of voters for Safe Harbor to become part of the Georgia Constitution.

While the goal is uncontroversial, the source of the money has raised a few eyebrows. Funds would come from seizing the assets of persons involved in sex trafficking and from a 1 percent tax on establishments providing adult entertainment. According to Jessica at GeorgiaPol, the assets could be seized before the accused is convicted of any crime, a possible infringement on “innocent until proven guilty.” She also argues that there is not much data showing that strip clubs are involved in human trafficking.

Right or wrong, there’s a little bit more to this amendment than meets the eye. Take a peek at it before voting on November 8th.

MARTA Chairman Robbie Ashe to Speak at “Millennials and Transit Event” on Wednesday

For anyone interested in learning more about the future of transportation funding in the Atlanta metro area, MARTA Chairman Robbie Ashe will be speaking at the “Millennials and Transit Event” on Wednesday, October 26th. He will be discussing the half penny sales tax for MARTA funding that will be on the November ballot for residents of Atlanta. The event details are below.

What: Millennials and Transit Event

Who: MARTA Chairman Robbie Ashe

Where: Front Page News (DeKalb), 351 Moreland Avenue Atlanta, Georgia

When: Wednesday, October 26th from 6:30 PM to 8:30 PM

There’s a little more to the issue than the MARTA sales tax that Ashe will be discussing. The enabling legislation from the Georgia General Assembly actually authorizes three referendums on transportation funding.  In addition to the half-penny sales tax for MARTA, there are two other referendums that would also  provide for sales tax increases to pay for new transportation projects (most likely roads and transit) in Atlanta and certain parts of Fulton County, respectively.

Georgia Ports Quickly Reopen Following Hurricane Matthew

After a close call with Hurricane Matthew on Saturday, Georgia’s ports are up and running again. As of Wednesday morning, the Savannah River Channel was reopened and the ports at Brunswick and Savannah were both operational. Savannah, which hosts the country’s largest single-terminal container facility, had a quick recovery. 8,500 trucks were expected to pass through the Port of Savannah’s Garden City Terminal on Wednesday and that number is expected to grow throughout this week and the next.

Griff Lynch, the Executive Director of the Georgia Ports Authority, had this to say:

Georgia’s ports are now fully operational which is a testament to the efforts of countless individuals to ensure our port customers experienced minimal impact. We would like to thank our many service providers, port stakeholders, first responders, GPA employees and Governor Nathan Deal’s Office for working around the clock to bring the ports of Brunswick and Savannah back online so quickly.

So kudos to the Georgia Ports Authority for patching things up in a timely manner. When Hurricane Matthew hit the Georgia Coast, it was a Category Two storm. Three Georgians were killed, hundreds lost power, and some coastal cities experienced record flooding. For now, the worst seems to be behind us as the tens of thousands of evacuees began to return home on Monday.

The speedy return of the Georgia ports will surely facilitate a much smoother return to normalcy than would be expected after a storm of this magnitude hits. The GPA employees who were back on the job the day after the storm hit deserve our praise as does the U.S. Coast Guard for its diligent work in repairing the channel.

Also give some love to this furry little guy. His name is Toby and he was tied up to a house in Brunswick throughout the storm. He survived the hurricane and has since been adopted by a local family. His vet bill is pretty expensive though. If you can spare a dime, here’s a link to his GoFundMe page.

A Truly Great Debate at UGA

Last night, UGA’s College Republicans and Young Democrats faced off in the annual rendition of The Great Debate, an event where each organization argues its party’s platform in front of a student audience. I was dispatched to cover it and must say that if we are to judge these debates by their entertainment value, I would give this one a 10/10. Students turned out in droves for a miniature version of what is certainly the most divisive presidential campaign that millennials have seen thus far. And we were not disappointed. What we saw was just as exciting as the first presidential debate, complete with thunderous policy disputes, borderline character assassinations, and plentiful disruptions from the loyal followers of one Gary Johnson.

The College Republicans were represented by Amber Webb and Michael Sowell, the Chairman and Vice Chairman of the organization, as well as Brennan Mancil, the Chairman of the Georgia Association of College Republicans. Representing the Young Democrats were President Campbell Wilks, Field Director Grace Maultsby, and Miriam Mokhemar.

Much like the presidential debate, things started out calmly with both sides opining on how to combat the loss of manufacturing jobs. Predictably, the Democrats focused on workforce development and the expansion of energy and infrastructure jobs while the Republicans emphasized pro-business policies to attract industry and innovative new sectors like space tourism. The first sign that this would be a heated debate came when Mancil criticized the Democrats for wanting to “punish success” and also suggested that some non-STEM college degrees aren’t as valuable as others (you can imagine how this played over with a crowd that was presumably full of Political Science majors). Continue reading “A Truly Great Debate at UGA”

Price Hits Affordable Care Act in Weekly Republican Address

Georgia Rep. Tom Price delivered the Weekly Republican Address on Saturday morning. Price, who is a former orthopedic surgeon, criticized the Affordable Care Act and discussed the GOP alternative that was released as part of Speaker Paul Ryan’s Better Way policy initiative. The full text of the speech is below the fold.

Continue reading “Price Hits Affordable Care Act in Weekly Republican Address”

Buddy Carter and Congressional Republicans Protest Private Prison Closure in South Georgia

Representative Buddy Carter was joined by many of Georgia’s congressional Republicans in deriding the Bureau of Prisons’ decision to shut down a private prison in Folkston. Carter, Senator David Perdue and Representatives Lynn Westmoreland, Tom Price, Austin Scott, Doug Collins, Jody Hice, and Rick Allen all criticized the BOP and the Department of Justice for rescinding the contract for the D. Ray James Correctional Facility held by The Geo Group, a Florida-based company that manages private prisons. The contract was supposed to last until 2018.

Here is an excerpt from the letter that Carter and the Georgia Republicans wrote to Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates about the contract termination: Continue reading “Buddy Carter and Congressional Republicans Protest Private Prison Closure in South Georgia”

Georgia’s Uninsured Rate is Among Highest in Nation

Although the number of people in Georgia without health insurance fell between 2014 and 2015, the Peach State still has the country’s third highest uninsured rate at 13.9 percent. This is somewhat higher than the 9.1 percent national rate. The 13.9 percent uninsured rate comes outs to nearly 1.4 million Georgians, which accounts for about 4.8 percent of the 29 million Americans lacking insurance. By comparison, Georgia has about 3.1 percent of the country’s overall population.

One contributing factor to Georgia’s relatively high rate of uninsured people (and don’t be fooled, there are many factors) is the state’s failure to expand Medicaid. Expansion of government-provided health insurance for people with lower-incomes was a major plank of the Affordable Care Act, which had the primary policy goal of reducing the number of Americans without health insurance. As passed, the law required states to expand Medicaid (with the federal government covering the costs for the first several years) to persons whose incomes reached 138 percent of the federal poverty line. However, the Supreme Court later struck down that provision and made expansion voluntary.

Georgia’s leaders, along with many other Republican governors and legislatures, have refused to expand Medicaid thus far, citing the long-term costs to the state. Continue reading “Georgia’s Uninsured Rate is Among Highest in Nation”