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March 29 – MIDNIGHT – It’s a Wrap! 2018 Session of General Assembly Ends; Pensions, Voting Machines, Voting Days and Runaway Creek in the 11th Hour

Hidden Predator Bill dies in Last Hour of the Session

By Lou Phelps, Savannah Business Journal

March 29, 2018 – The final few hours of the 40th Day got underway at 7:30 p.m., with a visit by Governor Nathan Deal, whose 8th and final session of the General Assembly as Governor will end at midnight tonight.  Deal is term-limited, and will be Governor through December.

“The Georgia economy has grown every month during the eight years he has been Governor, as well as state productivity,” said Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle in welcoming him for remarks. “We have worked through some big issues,” Deal said to the Senators, including fully funding QBE for the first time since its inception in 1985, the formula used to end money for public education revenue back to local school systems. Deal also oversaw the approval of the largest state tax cut in Georgia’s history.  

“And, if you can’t get re-elected on the things we did this year, you probably don’t need to be here in the first place,” he joked with Senators, in concluding his remarks.   

The legislation sought by the City of Savannah, to allow cities and municipalities to hire professional realtors to sell surplus property, has passed the Senate and House, as amended.  The House added county governments to the language. The bill was part of the City’s 2018 Legislative Priorities, proposed by Alderman at Large Brian Foster, who states that he believe that local staffs, while well intended, do not have the professional knowledge to assess what land owned by the City is worth. It is a change statewide.

HB 787 was back from the Senate tonight with amendments.  The bill would change funding for Charter Schools, increase their accountability, and allow charter schools to receive regional funding.

HB 840 – Passed in the Senate which will allow military families serving in combat zones to not be penalized for failing to pay business and occupation taxes and would allow them to pay the taxes within 60 days of their return from active duty.

HB 214 – Passed in the Senate 48 – 0, which defines captive insurance companies and provides for the formation of captive insurance companies.

HB 189, the Contract Cancellation Act passed 34 – 13.

Sen. Lester Jackson’s bill to rename Runaway Nigro Creek in the Skidaway Island area of Chatham County, got attached to HB 685, and will come up for a vote late in the evening.

HB 992 required a conference committee be appointed, as the Senate did not agree to accept the latest round of amendments to the bill from the House.

And, Sen. Lester Jackson successfully attached his bill to create a Georgia Commission on African American History to HB 783 in the Senate, sending the bill back to the House in the final hours. The goal is to study the feasibility of building a major museum in Georgia to “discover, document, preserve, collect, and promote Georgia’s African American heritage with a primary focus on educating the citizens of this state about the significance of the African American experience in Georgia,” which goes back over 500 years, to when slaves came into Georgia with Spanish explorers in the 1500’s.

HB 867, sponsored by Rep. Bill Hitchens, who represents West Chatham and Effingham counties, provides for training of Georgia Peace Officers, creating a Standards and Training Council.  The bill also provides for assistance with traumatic experiences. A last minute amendment added 911 dispatchers to those who can access help after a traumatic episode.

SB 330 – The Quality Basic Education Act, passed the House and Senate unanimously, but the House updated some language regarding Future Farmers of America. The amendment passed the Senate.

SB 131

The House has agreed to amendments by the Senate on HB 344, HB 494, HB 760, HB 995, but disagreed to the Senate amendments on HB 605. A conference committee will have to be created.

HB 906 –

SB 321, SB 458, SB 406 and SB 330 - Senate agreed to the House substitutions on all four bills.

SB 194 - 

Larry Walker

HB 339 – House Free Speech Zones. Senate approved House substitutes to the bill, after Senate amendments.

SB 331 – 50 – 4. Senate agrees to House substitute.

SB 427 - The Conference Report on SB 402 – the “Achieving Connectivity Everywhere (ACE) Act” was received in the Senate at 10:00 p.m. The bill is aimed at investing in highways, bridges, ferries and local governments for deployment of broadband services “and other emerging communications technologies throughout the state,” and to establish fees regarding the use of poles in state rights-of-way.

The Speaker of the House David Ralston came to talk with the Senate at 10:05 p.m., not a normal procedure, to bid ‘best wishes’ to Lt. Gov. Cagle, in his last day of bring President of the Senate.  

At 10:10, the Conference Report on HB 930, one of the most important bills of the session, was received in the Senate. The bill creates a 13-county regional transportation board, to be known as the “ATL” Authority – the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority – and allows the voters in each county to vote on whether to levy a 1 cent sales tax fee to fund expansion of public transportation.   

Senate approved House amendments to SB 376 by 51 – 0.

Senate passed HB 85 43 – 1

HB 329 – Final amendments from the House on the ‘Hands Free’ driving bill passed in the Senate. Those cited for texting, etc. can show the court that they have purchased a hands-free device, on their first offense.  Hands free driving goes into effect as of July 1.

HB 657, as amended by the House, passes. The bill was filed by members of the Chatham County delegation to make it a felony to provide a gun to a convicted felon, who is not able to lawfully purchase a gun. It passed 49 – 1.

HB 65 – The Senate agreed to House amendments 38 – 14.

SB 263 – The bill that would allow the newly created City of Eagles Landing to de-annex a portion of the City of Stockbridge came back to the Senate, after more than a month of discussion, with amendments from the House. Sen. Jackson offered a language amendment, as well. The bill will allow the citizens in the areas affected to vote on the change during the November General Election, and the new amendments will resolve the issue of Stockbridge’s existing bonds. Opponents allege that Stockbridge will possibly lose its more affluent areas and tax base, but be stuck with existing bonds.  But Cagle ruled the amendments out of order.

Sen. Emanuel Jones, who represents the majority of the City of Stockbridge, implored the body not to pass the bill, saying “the bill never should have been allowed to be introduced. This bill will drive this city into ruin” … and “every city in this state will be impacted,” according to the bond counsel for Stockbridge, he said, “because this action has never been undertaken before.”

He termed the bill “divisive and racist,” and urged Gov. Deal to veto the bill if the Senate passes it. “I don’t know why this legislation has made it this far in this session,” he added, and said that he has not received “a single letter from the Eagles Landing area that support this.”   It passed 33 to 19, mostly along party lines.

The Last Hour

HB 605, the ‘Hidden Predator Bill,’ was received in the Senate at 10:47 p.m., not act in time for the Senate’s two-hour rule, ruled Lt. Gov. Cagle. A motion was made to wave that rule, but it failed 19 – 20.  And then a motion for reconsideration failed 36 – 27, as they gathered Senators back into the Chamber. It kills the bill for the year, a piece of legislation opposed by the Boys Scouts and the Catholic Church, according to Atlanta-area media companies reporting on the bill over the past year.  (See story on afternoon session when an amended version of the bill passed the Senate and was sent over to the House.)

HR 993 passed, which is a constitutional amendment, which if adopted by a referendum question on the November ballot will create a statewide small business court. The bill was an initiative of the Small Business organization known as the NFIB, passing 46 – 7.  

SB 315 – The Senate agreed to the House substitutions, passing 42 – 7.

HB 695 was moved off the table at 11:22 p.m., creating special license plates for Georgia Forestry; it  passed 47 – 0.

A motion was made that the Senate disagree with the House amendments to SB 430. Dekalb County Commissioners granted themselves a 60% raise recently. The amended bill would roll it back to a 10% raise.  Proponents said that they are a ‘duly-elected government,’ and the Commissioners vote should be honored; and the bill had already failed in the Senate earlier in the session. The amendment failed 32 – 19.

HB 930 – Motion made to accept the Conference Committee report on the ATL Regional Transit bill, creating a 13-county, unified region, and a 1 cents sales tax SPLOST, but not to be levied on the sale of jet fuel.  It passed 48 – 6.

HB 898 – Agree to House Amendment to Senate substitution, the police vehicle bill. Passed 51 – 0.

HB 978 was moved to the table, adopting the committee substitute, on a school bus safety bill.  Passed.

HB 951 – Rural Prosperity bill, as amended passed 47 – 2.

SB 478 was brought up for a vote at 11:53 p.m. to agree to the House substitute. 45 - 2

SB 402 – Conference committee report adopted 50 – 2.

SB 332 – 43 – 1 passes, agreeing to House substituted bill.

SB 385 - Recede from Disagreement passed 46 -5, allowing a surcharge to be imposed for solid waste disposal facilities.  

SB 485 – The City of Atlanta, independent school district homestead exemption passed 53 – 1.

At midnight, all other bills up in the air died for this session. At 12:11 a.m., negotiations were ongoing up on the platform, as Lt. Gov. Cagle, who was calling over to the House, which was still in session.  But at 12:12, paper flew in the air, as is the tradition, and it was declared “Sine Die.”

Significant bills that died were a new voting machine system for the state, the possible elimination of voting on Sunday, and increasing the pensions of members of the General Assembly.

Sen. Jackson’s efforts to create a commission to study a museum for African American history and preservation, died in the House during that body’s Thursday night session.

During the last hours, senate also honored three members who are giving up their seats to run for higher office:  David Shafer, running for Lt. Governor; Josh McKoon, running for Secretary of State; and Sen. Michael Williams, running for Governor.

 

 

FEATURE: Critical Worker Pass information outlined Glynn County Emergency Management Agency

Brunswick Business Journal Staff Report

Sept. 4, 2017 – With the latest information on the possible track of Hurricane Irma, it’s important to start following alerts by the Glynn County Emergency Management Agency, and address obtaining a ‘Critical Worker Pass’ if a company will need early re-entry to the county in case of a mandatory evacuation. 

As conditions allow following a major disaster which caused the Glynn County Command Policy Group to order the mandatory evacuation of the County, a controlled and restricted 2-Phase re-entry into the affected area (back home) will begin.

The affected area may be limited in size, may include all of Glynn County, or possibly extend to multiple counties in the region. Re-entry into this designated area during Phase I is very restricted. There will be local and state law enforcement officers and other security personnel posted on all roads and highways checking the identification and justification of those attempting to return.

It is the responsibility of the Requesting Authority to make sure the permits issued to your agency/company/organization or facility are used only by those individuals authorized to be in the affected area during Phase I.

Individuals not authorized access will be delayed at the controlled entry points mentioned above. Therefore, transportation arrangements for returning responders during Phase I must be independent of those persons not authorized to re-enter prior to Phase II.

This includes the authorized responder’s family members and friends. Individuals not authorized in the area during Phase I may be subject to prosecution.

LIFE-SAFETY issues are conditions that if not addressed by properly trained and equipped personnel would pose a continuing or additional risk to the public’s health and welfare. Examples of LIFE-SAFETY issues are (but not limited to): blocked roadways, damaged bridges, downed (energized) power lines, natural gas leaks, releases of other gas or solid hazardous materials, uncontrolled fires, unstable buildings, flooding, etc.

When conditions allow, The Glynn County Command Policy Group will announce the beginning of Re-Entry Phase II which is the return of the general population. In an attempt to mitigate possible traffic congestion problems, Phase II may be announced and conducted by geographical area or by municipality.

However, even after LIFE-SAFETY issues have been dealt with, conditions in Glynn County will still be far from back to normal. There is a very real possibility it will take weeks to restore basic utilities such as electricity, water, and sewer services. Living conditions throughout the County may be difficult at best. Prepare now, they state.

A Re-Entry Permit Application can be mailed or dropped off at 1725 Reynolds Street, Suite 224, Brunswick, GA 31520 or scan completed application and email.

For more information contact the EMA office at 912-554-7734 or Call: 912-554-7734.

Apr. 4 - COMMENTARY: Hatchett’s Effort for Public Input at School Boards Deserves Praise and Support

By Lou Phelps, Publisher

April 4, 2017 – You have to have been there last week, to really understand the level of confusion, stress, hallway last-ditch-efforts by lobbyists, negotiations, conference committees and just plain arm-twisting that could be observed during the final two days of the Georgia General Assembly - March 28 and 30. 

A long list of bills were ultimately passed by the House and moved up to the Senate – the higher body – and will now move to Governor Deal’s desk for his consideration.   More than 75 bills were passed on Tuesday and Thursday by the Senate along, as the session wound to a close, not finishing until almost 1:00 a.m. Friday morning. Add to that a LONG list of Amendments to the Amendments ... you get this picture. 

But, it’s important to take a moment to look at a bill that didn’t make it - to understand, praise and support the effort by Dublin’s State Rep. Matt Hatchett (R) - who worked on a bill that died in committee on the final day.

HB 625 never got to the floor for a vote by either the House or the Senate, sent on the final day to the House Education Committee.

We hope it will live another day, next year.

Rep. Hatchett’s bill would require local boards of education to have a public comment period at every meeting. And, the citizen would not have to tell the school board in advance what they wanted to talk about. 

It seems a shame for it to be necessary to pass a State law to require school boards to do the right thing - to listen to the parents of the children that they are responsible for educating. But, we see this in multiple counties covered by Coastal Empire News in Middle and Coastal Georgia.  Parents have concerns, questions, and opinions.  Too often, it is either cumbersome to ‘get on the Agenda,’ or there is no public comment period allowed at all.  

If a School Board is not willing to listen to its constituents, local voters need to take a hard look at who is arrogantly representing them.

Rep. Hatchett’s bill had additional elements, such as “it shall be the duty of each local board of education to hold a regular meeting during each calendar month for the transaction of business pertaining to the public schools.”  Again, sort of sad that a State law may be necessary.

“The local board shall annually determine the date of its meeting and shall publish it either in the official county organ or, at the option of the local board of education, in a newspaper having a general circulation in said county at least equal to that of the official county organ for two consecutive weeks following the setting of the date,” the bill also provides.  Some of this is covered by the Georgia Open Meeting laws, but unfortunately, those laws are not always followed … and there is little to no action against public bodies that fail to comply by the Attorney General’s Office.

“A local board of education shall not require notice by an individual prior to the date of the meeting as a condition of addressing the local board during such public comment period. The chairperson of the local board of education shall have the discretion to limit the length of time for individual comments and the number of individuals speaking for or against a specific issue,” is also language of the bill.

Play it again next year, Matt. 

FEATURE: Georgia Southern Univ. Study Confirms Spaceport Camden as Economic Boon for Coastal Georgia

Brunswick Business Journal Staff Report

Sept. 1, 2017 - The Camden County Board of Commissioners and the Bureau of Business Research and Economic Development (BBRED) at Georgia Southern University released an economic assessment of Spaceport Camden this past week showing more than $22 million in annual economic activity to be generated by Spaceport Camden in Camden County.

The annual economic activity is in addition to the more than $9 million in economic activity that will be generated from construction activities at the spaceport in the first 15 months of operations.  Most importantly, these estimates are based on Camden County’s employment figures in the Environmental Impact Statement currently under review and do not include the effect of employment and direct investment space companies may make in Camden.

“When we started the process, we knew we had something special,” said County Administrator Steve Howard.  “Even the most conservative estimates of Spaceport Camden’s potential shows tens of millions of dollars in economic activity and more than 100 new jobs,” added Howard.

While the report only studied the economic activity generated by Spaceport Camden’s filings with the FAA, significantly more revenue is possible as more space companies call Coastal Georgia home.  In addition, BBRED’s economic analysis also foreshadows a massive uptick in tourism, one of Camden County’s largest economic sectors.  According to the study, Camden’s tourism industry supported $90.32 million in economic activities and 777 jobs in 2015.  Launches at other spaceports around the country see an influx of 10,000 to 15,000 visitors that stay for an average of 2-3 days for orbital and suborbital launches.

“Across the United States rocket launches have become another opportunity to showcase the host community and are a good way to attract new visitors,” said Benjamin McKay Research Specialist with BBRED. “This analysis illustrates that by adding a Spaceport in Camden County, existing industries also stand to benefit from these investments,” added McKay.

The full summary is available on the Spaceport Camden website at www.spaceportcamden.us.

The Bureau of Business Research and Economic Development (BBRED) is a member of the Business Innovation Group (BIG) at Georgia Southern University. BIG is the business outreach arm for the College of Business and Georgia Southern University. BBRED has performed numerous studies for local governments and private businesses across Georgia. These studies focus on economic impact analysis, market analysis, project feasibility or program evaluation. For more information, visit: www.bbred.org.

The County’s vision “is to develop a successful world class spaceport through a public-private partnership that establishes Camden County as the Commercial Space Center of the United States,” according to their public relations firm.

“The mission is to create the premier spaceport strategically positioned to provide economic diversity with a competitive advantage for the space sector, Camden County, the State of Georgia and the United States of America,” according to County officials. 

Jan. 7 - Latest Unemployment data for Brunswick area: U.S. holds at 4.7 percent

Brunswick Business Journal Staff Report

January 7, 2017 – The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today that total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 156,000 in December, and the unemployment rate was little changed at 4.7 percent.  The most recent data on the Savannah MSA shows an unemployment rate of 4.7 percent as of November, down from 5.2 percent in June, but up from a year ago, slightly.  

In the most recent available detailed labor information for the the Brunswick MSA, there were 51,400 people in the labor force working as of November 2016, down from 52,400 in June 2016.  The Unemployment rate was 5.2 percent, down from 5.6 percent in June.

The U.S. average weekly wage in October was $1,043.00.

As of November, Georgia’s unemployment rate was 5.3 percent, down from 5.5 percent in June.

The National Labor Force and Unemployment Data

Job growth occurred in health care and social assistance across the U.S.

For the U.S., the unemployment rate, at 4.7 percent, and the number of unemployed persons, at 7.5 million, changed little in December. However, both measures edged down in the fourth quarter, after showing little net change earlier in the year.  Among the major worker groups, the unemployment rates for adult men (4.4 percent), adult women (4.3 percent), teenagers (14.7 percent), Whites (4.3 percent), Blacks (7.8 percent), Asians (2.6 percent), and Hispanics (5.9 percent) showed little change in December, as well. 

The number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) was essentially unchanged at 1.8 million in December and accounted for 24.2 percent of the unemployed. In 2016, the number of long-term unemployed declined by 263,000.

And, the U.S. labor force participation rate, at 62.7 percent, changed little in December and was unchanged over the year.  Also, the number of persons employed part time for economic reasons (also referred to as involuntary part-time workers), was at 5.6 million, also essentially unchanged in December but was down by 459,000 over the year. These individuals, who would have preferred full-time employment, were working part time because their hours had been cut back or because they were unable to find a full-time job.

In December, 1.7 million persons were marginally attached to the labor force, little changed from a year earlier. (The data are not seasonally adjusted.) These individuals were not in the labor force, wanted and were available for work, and had looked for a job sometime in the prior 12 months. They were not counted as unemployed because they had not searched for work in the 4 weeks preceding the survey.

Among the marginally attached, there were 426,000 discouraged workers in December, down by 237,000 from a year earlier. Discouraged workers are persons not currently looking for work because they believe no jobs are available to them. The remaining 1.3 million persons marginally attached to the labor force in December had not searched for work for reasons such as school attendance or family responsibilities.

Job growth totaled 2.2 million in 2016, compared to an increase of 2.7 million people who found work in 2015.  Employment in health care rose by 43,000 in December, with most of the increase occurring in ambulatory health care services (+30,000) and hospitals (+11,000). Health care added an average of 35,000 jobs per month in 2016, roughly in line with the average monthly gain of 39,000 in 2015.

Social assistance added 20,000 jobs in December, reflecting job growth in individual and family services (+21,000). In 2016, social assistance added 92,000 jobs, down from an increase of 162,000 in 2015.

Employment in food services and drinking places continued to trend up in December (+30,000). This industry added 247,000 jobs in 2016, fewer than the 359,000 jobs gained in 2015.

Employment also continued to trend up in transportation and warehousing in December (+15,000). Within the industry, employment expanded by 12,000 in couriers and messengers.

In 2016, transportation and warehousing added 62,000 jobs, down from a gain of 110,000 jobs in 2015.

Employment in financial activities continued on an upward trend in December (+13,000). This is in line with the average monthly gains for the industry over the past 2 years.

In December, employment edged up in manufacturing (+17,000), with a gain of 15,000 in the durable goods component. However, since reaching a recent peak in January, manufacturing employment has declined by 63,000.

Employment in professional and business services was little changed in December (+15,000), following an increase of 65,000 in November. The industry added 522,000 jobs in 2016.

Employment in other major industries, including mining, construction, wholesale trade, retail trade, information, and government, changed little in December.

What’s the Latest ‘Average Workweek’ and Wages?

The average workweek for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls was unchanged at 34.3 hours in December. In manufacturing, the workweek edged up by 0.1 hour to 40.7 hours, and overtime edged up by 0.1 hour to 3.3 hours. The average workweek for production and nonsupervisory employees on private nonfarm payrolls remained at 33.6 hours. In December, average hourly earnings for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls increased by 10 cents to $26.00, after edging down by 2 cents in November. Over the year, average hourly earnings have risen by 2.9 percent. In December, average hourly earnings of private-sector production and nonsupervisory employees increased by 7 cents to $21.80.

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