Capitol Recap: Window tightens if Georgia lawmakers meet

Gov. Brian Kemp said earlier this month that he thought it was necessary to bring lawmakers back to the state Capitol to fix legislation providing tax breaks to South Georgia victims of 2018's Hurricane Michael. This past week, Kemp said if that session happens, it would come after the Nov. 3 election.  BOB ANDRES  /BANDRES@AJC.COM
Gov. Brian Kemp said earlier this month that he thought it was necessary to bring lawmakers back to the state Capitol to fix legislation providing tax breaks to South Georgia victims of 2018's Hurricane Michael. This past week, Kemp said if that session happens, it would come after the Nov. 3 election. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM

Credit: Bob Andres

Credit: Bob Andres

Calendar options dwindle for special session of Legislature

Timing is becoming a problem if Gov. Brian Kemp calls the special legislative session he said earlier this month was needed to fix legislation critical to victims of Hurricane Michael in 2018.

“It’s going to be really hard to do that before the election,” Kemp told WGAU radio in Athens. “I don’t think anyone wants to see that happen.”

Two people who definitely fall into that category are House Speaker David Ralston and Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, who have been critical of the idea, in part because they feared a special session would rob GOP lawmakers of crucial time for campaigning before the Nov. 3 election. It would also prevent them from collecting campaign cash because fundraising is taboo for lawmakers during a legislative session.

Other lawmakers questioned the need to spend state money — conducting a special session would cost $40,000 to $50,000 a day — when the Legislature could fix the measure in question, House Bill 105, when it opens its regular session Jan. 11, only 69 days after the election.

Besides, there’s so much else for a legislator to do. Between the election and the opening of the regular session, there’s Thanksgiving and Christmas and possibly a big bowl game of interest to many of Georgia’s college football fans.

Then there’s the question of whether HB 105 really needs to be fixed.

Kemp said Aug. 5 that he thought the special session was necessary because of “legitimate questions” involving an incorrect tracking number in the measure, which granted a state tax exemption on federal aid to Michael’s victims and also included a 50 cents-per-ride fee on ride-share, taxi and limo services. But Rick Ruskell, the General Assembly’s legislative counsel, said he was asked about the issue that Kemp cited before the bill was passed and that he believes no fix is needed.

Whether the special session happens could depend on whatever else Kemp, who as governor has control over the agenda, wants to get done. When he signed HB 105 into law, and mentioned the possibility he would call back legislators to work on the measure, he also noted that “such special session may also be timely to address other budgetary and oversight issues.”

That generated talk that Kemp, who at the time was feuding with Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms over coronavirus restrictions, might want to put the city’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport under state control.

Others thought it could mean the governor wanted to do more work on the state budget after lawmakers in June approved $2.2 billion in spending cuts — including $950 million from k-12 schools — because of the coronavirus recession. But since then, revenue collections have been stronger than expected — which Kemp’s office has attributed to the governor’s decision to open Georgia’s economy early from the COVID-19 shutdown.

Trolls posted racist comments and graphic porn in the Zoom chat of a meeting U.S. Senate candidate Raphael Warnock held with the Hall County Democratic Party.  (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Trolls posted racist comments and graphic porn in the Zoom chat of a meeting U.S. Senate candidate Raphael Warnock held with the Hall County Democratic Party. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Racists bust into U.S. Senate candidate’s Zoom meeting

“The worst of human awfulness” invaded U.S. Senate candidate Raphael Warnock’s discussion with Hall County Democrats this past week when racist trolls broke into a Zoom meeting to say the kinds of things racists say.

Others then joined in the virtual attack, spewing inanities from discredited QAnon conspiracy theories and sharing video of “various hirsute people” engaging in graphic porn, said Candice Dyer, a writer and party volunteer.

Party Chairman Kim Copeland was moderating the meeting when racists started plopping slurs on the Zoom chat.

“I had to play ‘Whack a Troll,” Copeland said. “To say I was shocked was an understatement. I’m still in shock, to be honest.”

Dyer described the scene as “a cacophony of the worst of human awfulness, in response to a dignified public servant and person of faith.” She added that the experience left her “broken-hearted.”

Warnock, the pastor of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.‘s home church, Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, pledged to persevere.

In a Tweet, he wrote that a “hateful few won’t stop us from going everywhere and speaking to everyone.”

“It is more important than ever to hear each other out — that’s what I’ll do in the Senate,” added Warnock, one of 20 candidates challenging Republican U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler in a November special election.

‘Know the facts,’ critics tell Loeffler after tweet about deaths in Kenosha

U.S Sen. Kelly Loeffler opened a debate on Twitter with a post following unrest this past week in Kenosha, Wisconsin, with her critics pointing out big parts of the story that the Republican had left out, specifically that a teenager from Illinois was charged with fatally shooting protesters.

Here’s what Loeffler wrote:

“2 people died in WI last night because of rioters, & its governor still turned down help.

“I intro’d a bill to restrict funding from cities & states where leaders don’t take action against killers like this.

“They must be held accountable. Take action now.”

DeKalb County District Attorney Sherry Boston was among the many Democrats who replied, accusing the appointed senator of misplacing blame for the deaths.

“This is untrue and irresponsible,” Boston tweeted. “Know your facts!! 2 people are dead and a 3rd injured because a 17 year old armed with a gun decided to intentionally shoot into a crowd of protesters. This is unacceptable violence but not the fault of protesters.”

Georgia is lagging behind the nation in responding to this year's U.S. census. The national response rate, according to federal data, was 76.5% through Aug. 23. Georgia was at 67.9%. (Jonathan Weiss/Dreamstime/TNS)
Georgia is lagging behind the nation in responding to this year's U.S. census. The national response rate, according to federal data, was 76.5% through Aug. 23. Georgia was at 67.9%. (Jonathan Weiss/Dreamstime/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

Fair Count ups effort to boost census response

In its ad urging Georgians to respond to the 2020 U.S. census, the nonprofit Fair Count stresses the importance the tally could play in setting the state on the “road to recovery” from the coronavirus pandemic.

The Georgia count has been moving in the slow lane.

The national response rate to the census, according to federal data, was 76.5% through Aug. 23. Georgia was lagging behind at 67.9%.

That’s throwing money away. Fair Count, which Democrat Stacey Abrams founded after losing the 2018 race for governor, says Georgia could lose as much as $3,600 in federal funding each year for a decade for every person who goes uncounted.

Such a loss, the ad says, would affect communities’ access to “quality health care, a safe environment for our kids and a sense of hope as we move into the future.”

There’s also the matter of deciding who represents whom in Congress and the General Assembly — the census will help determine how congressional and legislative districts are redrawn — and how many Electoral College votes Georgia gets.

Fair Count is targeting its efforts, in the form of radio and TV buys, on Middle Georgia and South Georgia, where communities’ response rates are particularly low.

Democrats seek eviction moratorium, help for jobless

Georgia House Democrats have called for a new 60-day moratorium on evictions as part of a package of proposals aimed at stemming the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.

The Democrats, who hope to gain 16 state House seats in November’s election to gain control of the chamber, are also seeking:

  • More staffers to deal with a flood of unemployment claims.
  • The immediate granting of stalled jobless benefits.
  • Money taken from the state’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families reserve fund to provide emergency housing assistance.
  • An appeal to charities to help with rental assistance.
  • A statewide mask mandate.

The Democratic House Caucus sent its recommendations in a letter to Gov. Brian Kemp.

The proposed moratorium, the caucus said, is both a “moral priority” and a public health imperative.

While more than 10,000 eviction cases were on hold in metro Atlanta during the health crisis, some county court systems resumed landlord-tenant hearings this past week. Housing advocates say a wave of evictions would disproportionately affect the Black and Hispanic communities.

The caucus suggested that Kemp draw at least $46 million from Georgia’s TANF reserve fund for emergency housing assistance and devote an additional $60 million in federal CARES Act funds to help renters.

Nonprofits send out absentee ballot request forms

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger opted not to send out absentee ballot request forms to state voters ahead of the Nov. 3 presidential election — as he did in advance of the Georgia primary — so others have taken on the task.

Two nonprofit organizations, the Center for Voter Information and the Voter Participation Center, have mailed more than 2.2 million absentee ballot application forms to Georgia voters.

The mailings went primarily to people of color, unmarried women and young people, said Tom Lopach, the president and CEO of both nonprofits. The groups also targeted mailings to voters by geographic area based on nonpartisan data sources and public voter registration lists, he said.

“They have a right to vote, they’ve signed up to vote, and we should do anything we can to help them vote,” Lopach said.

But election officials say voters should decide on their own whether they will vote by absentee ballot.

“There are many special-interest groups around the country who are targeting key voters for absentee ballot applications,” Deputy Secretary of State Jordan Fuchs said. “Most simply want to help you. Others may aim to confuse you — or worse, steal your private information.”

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger told GOP congressmen that while the state has "learned the lessons from the June 9 election," when many voters stood in line for hours to cast their ballots. But he still expects some difficulties on Nov. 3 for the presidential election. “No election is ever perfect," he said. "It’s likely November will have its issues. We have dedicated time, effort and significant resources to make November a success.” JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger told GOP congressmen that while the state has "learned the lessons from the June 9 election," when many voters stood in line for hours to cast their ballots. But he still expects some difficulties on Nov. 3 for the presidential election. “No election is ever perfect," he said. "It’s likely November will have its issues. We have dedicated time, effort and significant resources to make November a success.” JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Raffensperger: Election problems likely, but absentee ballots will be secure

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger tried to reassure several of the state’s Republican congressmen that voting by mail will be secure in Georgia this November.

He told them absentee ballots will only be sent to voters who requested them, and those ballots will be verified by matching voters’ signatures and registration records.

Absentee ballot fraud is rare in Georgia, with few violations in recent years, according to State Election Board records.

Raffensperger, however, did say he expected some trouble would occur during the presidential election.

“We have learned the lessons from the June 9 election,” Raffensperger said, referring to Georgia’s primary when some voters waited in line for hours to cast their ballots. “No election is ever perfect. It’s likely November will have its issues. We have dedicated time, effort and significant resources to make November a success.”

Those efforts include recruiting more poll workers, increasing training and installing absentee ballot drop boxes.

Candidates, endorsements, etc.:

— State Reps. Angelika Kausche, Donna McLeod and Bee Nguyen were among a group of 20 to receive the first round of endorsements from the Our American Dreams PAC. Sarah Riggs Amico, a former candidate for lieutenant governor and the U.S. Senate, formed the political action committee to help left-leaning women win state and local offices in Georgia. The political action committee is also backing state House candidate Zulma Lopez and Deborah Gonzalez, a former state legislator who is running to be the top prosecutor in Athens-Clarke County.