03/12/2020 -- Atlanta, Georgia -- Georgia Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan (center) speaks with Senate majority leader Mike Dugan (left), R - Carrollton, and Senate minority leader Steve Henson (right), D-Stone Mountain, before presenting a suspension to the legislative session until further notice due to coronavirus during the Georgia Legislatures Crossover day, Thursday, March 12, 2020. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)
Photo: Alyssa Pointer/alyssa.pointer@ajc.com
Photo: Alyssa Pointer/alyssa.pointer@ajc.com

The Jolt: General Assembly pauses session as coronavirus upends GA life

Members of the General Assembly were sent home to be with their families, and there is no determination when they will return to finish this year’s legislative session.

Not only are dozens of bills pending, but the Senate still needs to approve the budget and by the time that happens the economy may have shifted and affected Georgia’s bottom line.

Think about it: the NCAA Tournament is cancelled, the stock market is diving and major tourism destinations are dark right as the busy season gets underway.

The AJC’s Michael Kanell has an overview of the economic impact:

While the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 remains small, efforts to contain the outbreak mean canceled events, fewer visitors and chilled consumer spending.

“We are expecting a 30 to 50% drop in the hospitality business over the next two months,” said William Pate, chief executive of the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau. “You don’t need people to clean rooms that aren’t occupied. You don’t need people to work in restaurants if no one is eating there.”

His grim assessment came as Wall Street had its worst day since the 1987 Black Friday crash while the worlds of business, sports and travel reeled from cancellations.

President Donald Trump announced late Wednesday a one-month ban on travelers from much of Europe — a huge blow to the economy of metro Atlanta, which generates revenue and jobs from Hartsfield-Jackson, the world’s busiest airport.

State leaders are hoping the break will not only keep lawmakers from contracting or spreading the disease but also create space to see how greatly the coronavirus impacts Georgia.

That will allow them to determine what stimulus might be needed and adjust the budget accordingly. However, this could affect other priorities like teacher pay while possibly encouraging what before now were uncertain developments, such as the expansion of gambling.

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Because the General Assembly is suspended and not adjourned, state lawmakers cannot fundraise during the hiatus. 

AJC Statehouse reporters Maya T. Prabhu and James Salzer recounted the back-and-forth after one state senator raised campaign concerns with Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan:

Some lawmakers worried about their inability to raise campaign money while the legislative session is suspended. Georgia law forbids state lawmakers from fundraising while they are in session, and the Republican and Democratic primaries are only a few months away.

“Those of us who have primary opposition, if the session is in, you can’t raise money. That’s the state law,” Sen. David Lucas, a Macon Democrat, said to Duncan when he announced the suspension of the session. “So how do we deal with the election and the raising of money for our campaign?”

Duncan, who doesn’t face voters again until 2022, replied, “Senator, that’s not my concern right now.”

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The Supreme Court standoff heads to the courthouse today, and it’s set to be an interesting hearing. The Daily Report has more:

A former congressman battling to reinstate an election for Georgia Supreme Court Justice Keith Blackwell’s seat has subpoenaed Blackwell, the secretary of state, the governor’s executive counsel and the head of the state Judicial Nominating Commission to appear in Fulton County Superior Court Friday.

The subpoenas order them to appear as witnesses at Friday’s hearing on a petition for a writ of mandamus that former U.S. Rep. John Barrow filed last week after he was told he couldn’t qualify to run for the seat. The secretary of state canceled the election on March 1 at the governor’s request, the day before qualifying was supposed to begin.

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The “self-quarantine” of U.S. Rep. Doug Collins is over and he’s headed back to Washington for votes. The Gainesville congressman isolated himself for much of the week after discovering he was exposed to someone with coronavirus. So did two members of his staff.

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Georgia members of Congress have limited operations amid the coronavirus outbreak, and a couple closed their Washington offices completely.

U.S. Sen. David Perdue and U.S. Reps. Doug Collins, Tom Graves, John Lewis, Hank Johnson and Barry Loudermilk all announced that employees have begun to work from home. U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop said teleworking isn’t in place yet, but staff meetings are now happening virtually.

Lewis’s Washington office is closed until further notice and all staffers are working remotely. The congressman, who is 80 and undergoing treatment for pancreatic cancer, is among those at highest risk for serious illness if he is exposed to COVID-19.

U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter was the only member from Georgia to report that his office is operating as normal for now.

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One of every seven Georgians whose names were removed from the rolls in what is considered the largest voter purge in U.S. history were eligible to vote after all.

The state removed 560,000 names from its list of registered voters in July 2017. Since then, 87,000 of those people have re-registered, which tells us they were eligible all along, according to an analysis by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and APM Reports, the investigative reporting division of American Public Media.

A state law allows election officials to remove names from the list of eligible voters if the person has not participated in recent elections. Lawmakers said the rule was intended to target people who died or moved out of state and are no longer eligible to vote in Georgia, but the AJC/APM analysis found that this often was not the case.

They also found that nearly 56,000 of these purged voters re-registered within the same county and almost 30,000 of them did not do so in time to participate in the 2018 election, which included a close race for governor.

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Bills requiring companies to publicly report their ethylene oxide emissions unanimously passed both the Georgia House and Senate and are ready for Gov. Brian Kemp’s signature, the AJC’s Amanda C. Coyne reports.

The bills would make it mandatory for facilities to make these notifications if they want to continue operating in Georgia. Reports would be posted on the state Environmental Protection Division’s website.

Ethylene oxide is used in industrial processes, including medical sterilization. People living near facilities in Covington, Smyrna and south Fulton County where it is used voiced concerns after reports linked the chemical to higher cancer risks.

Last year, the AJC investigated the issue and found that state regulators initially downplayed the risk of ethylene oxide exposure, failed to inform the public and contributed to residents’ panic by being slow to respond.

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