Tuesday, January 10, 2023


Georgia Speaker of the House Jon Burns calls for a vote in his first day as leader of the state House of Representatives. Credit: General Assembly video

State lawmakers get to work

Effingham County’s Jon Burns became speaker of the state House of Representatives yesterday, as the 157th Georgia General Assembly kicked off the new legislative session in Atlanta.

With his swearing-in as leader of the 180-member House, Burns is now the Georgia state government’s second most powerful lawmaker, after Gov. Brian Kemp.

“Kicked off” is the operative phrase here, since much of the chatter under the Golden Dome yesterday was focused 2,200 miles to the east, in Los Angeles, where the University of Georgia Bulldogs were preparing to take on the Texas Christian Horned Frogs for a second straight college football championship.

After the confetti is swept from the field, Kemp and the Republican-controlled legislature will get busy, though, tackling a long agenda, starting with what to do with the state’s $6.6 billion budget surplus.

Kemp is calling for another $2 billion in tax relief — a $1 billion income tax rebate and a $1 billion property tax rebate. There are also calls to use the surplus to advance education, health care, and workforce development programs in the state.

As the new legislative session convenes, the national media is speculating about Kemp’s political future. The governor is “done being underestimated,” the Associated Press writes.

Kemp is seeking, the AP says, to expand his influence and change his image as the “gun-toting, pickup-driving, migrant-catching country boy that emerged during his first campaign for governor.” Kemp hasn’t ruled out running for the U.S. Senate in 2026 or even seeking the White House, it added.


Rep. Carl Gilliard

Coastal Georgia’s Burns, Gilliard enter political limelight

With the start of a new legislative session, two Coastal Georgians —Burns and Carl Gilliard — have entered the political limelight. A profile in yesterday’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution describes Burns as a “classic conservative” who is not afraid to “get his boots scuffed up.”

The profile, by the AJC’s Shannon McCaffery, also notes that the 70-year-old Republican lawmaker, who attended law school in Savannah, has “amassed thousands of acres of land worth millions of dollars, according to financial disclosure forms filed with the state. Much of that property is tied to his family’s business in timber, an industry he has helped over his years at the Capitol.”

Last month, Gilliard, a Democrat who represents District 162, which covers southwest Savannah, was elected chairman of the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus.

A native of Savannah who attended Morris Brown College, Gilliard was mentored by the late civil rights icon, Rev. Hosea Williams, who led marches and sit-ins to protest segregation in Savannah in the early 1960s and brought the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to the city to aid the effort.

“My focus would be to get a justice package of a few bills that we need to address for Black folk and underserved folk across Georgia. One is dealing with economic inclusion. The number of contracts in the state of Georgia for our minorities and Black businesses are less than 2%. We need to be at the table,” Gilliard, 59, told Capital B Atlanta’s Chauncey Alcorn.

He also has said he intends to take on the problems of gang violence and recidivism in Savannah.

“You know, statewide, there is a proliferation of violence. We’ve got to find a way to break the link in the recidivism. Prevention is the biggest tool,” Gilliard told WTGS in an interview.


South Carolina abortion ruling

South Carolina’s Supreme Court ruled last week that the state’s constitutionally enshrined right of privacy includes the right to abortion.

The 3-2 decision in Planned Parenthood South Atlantic v. South Carolina overturns that state’s law banning abortions after roughly the sixth week of pregnancy. It means that abortion in South Carolina is now legal until around 20 weeks of pregnancy.

The court said that “few decisions in life are more private than the decision whether to terminate a pregnancy,” and that restricting abortion at six weeks “leav[es] no room for many women to exercise that choice [and] prohibits certain South Carolinians from making their own medical decisions.” Many women don’t even know they’re pregnant at six weeks, the plaintiff argued.

For Georgia, the ramifications of the court’s decision are profound, abortion advocates say.

South Carolina is likely to become a destination for women in Coastal Georgia and elsewhere in the state seeking abortions past six weeks of pregnancy. Under Georgia law, it’s legal for them to do so.

While access is important, having to travel to South Carolina to undergo the procedure places an undue and unjust burden on women in Coastal Georgia, where health care for women and mothers is already inadequate, says Alicia Stallworth, southeast campaigns director for NARAL Pro-Choice America.

“Most people who are impacted by this have to worry about job security, taking time off from work, getting someone to take care of their other kids if they have them, and getting together the funds to travel there,” Stallworth said.

Georgia’s Supreme Court is currently hearing a case, SisterSong v. the State of Georgia, that cites the fundamental right to privacy in Georgia’s constitution as the basis to overturn the state’s strict abortion law. The court, meanwhile, has left in place the state’s ban on abortions after roughly six months of pregnancy.

Anti-abortion lawmakers in Atlanta are expected to focus this legislative session on measures to keep physicians from sending out abortion pills by mail after telemedicine consultations. Last week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration finalized a rule that makes it easier for pharmacies to dispense the pills in-person and online.


(L-R) Roger Moss, Rev. Paul Smith, Dr. David Bringman, Dr. Tonia Howard-Hall, Savannah, Jan. 5, 2023

Chatham County gets new school board president

Roger Moss, co-founder of the Savannah Children’s Choir, was sworn in as the new Savannah-Chatham County school board president last week at a ceremony at H.V. Jenkins High School. He succeeds longtime board president Joe Buck.

Moss, who also helped establish the Savannah Classical Academy, a charter school, won election in May with bipartisan support, garnering more than 50% of the vote, over opponents Tye Whitely and Todd Rhodes.

In brief remarks following his swearing-in, Moss gave few hints of how he sees the road ahead, as the school board faces ferment over administrator salaries, administrator salaries, parents’ rights, school choice, charter schools, and books deemed obscene.

As he stepped to the podium, he sang several lines from Stephen Sondheim’s “Children Will Listen,” (“Careful the things you say/Children will listen. . .”) then cited the essential roles played by his mother and father in his success. Before ending with more Sondheim, he quoted extensively from a speech by Martin Luther King, Jr.

Also taking the oath of office from Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley for four-year terms were first-time board member Rev. Paul Smith (District 5) and incumbents Dr. David Bringman (District 6) and Dr. Tonia Howard-Hall (District 8).


Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C. [Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mathew Ahmann in a crowd., 8/28/1963″ Original black and white negative by Rowland Scherman. Taken August 28th, 1963, Washington D.C, United States (The National Archives and Records Administration). Colorized by Jordan J. Lloyd. U.S. Information Agency. Press and Publications Service. ca. 1953-ca. 1978. https://catalog.archives.gov/id/542015 Credit: Unseen Histories via Unsplash / Library of Congress

ICYMI

Biden Comes to Atlanta: President Biden will deliver remarks during this Sunday’s service at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church to celebrate the birthday of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. It will be Biden’s first trip to Georgia since January 2022 and an opportunity for him to appear alongside U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock, who was recently sworn in for his first full six-year term. He is also head pastor at the historic church where King once served.

Unlike other senators in battleground states, the president never campaigned with Warnock for his reelection, in part because the Warnock campaign was built around his ability to work across the aisle — and push back on the Biden administration when necessary.

Report: Carter Loses Budget Chair Bid: Coastal Georgia Congressman Buddy Carter has lost his bid to head the House Budget Committee, Roll Call reported late last night.

In a secret vote, the Republican House Steering Committee last evening selected Rep. Jodey Arrington of Texas for the post, ahead of both Carter and Rep. Lloyd Smucker of Pennsylvania, the newspaper said.

The full Republican membership of the House must still ratify the panel’s choice, which could come as soon as today, but that’s typically a formality, it added.

The steering committee is a panel of about 30 lawmakers, both leadership and regional representatives, who selected committee chairmanships and assignments in the 118th Congress.

Carter, a five-term congressman, was appointed a member of the Budget Committee in February 2021. He told constituents of his plans to run for the chairmanship of the committee last spring, and in the weeks leading up to last night’s vote, he sought among to burnish his credentials as a fiscal conservative.

Appearing on conservative and right-wing skewing media outlets such Fox News, Newsmax and OAN, he repeatedly condemned pork-barrel budgeting and what he termed excessive government spending as “intergenerational theft” and “mugging of the taxpayer” — most of it, he said, the fault of Democrats.

Legendary Black Savannah Banker Steps Aside: In the early 1970s, Bob James did what few others would do. James, the president and CEO of Savannah’s Carver State Bank, decided to serve inner-city neighborhoods and low-income people when other financial institutions were scaling back. James, who is Black, “stayed true” to his bank’s mission and his community, he tells GPB’s Peter Biello. After 50 years, he’s turning over the day-to-day operations of the bank to his son, Robert James III.

Speaker Vote: “What you’re seeing play out on the floor right now is democracy at work,” Rep. Carter tells Hank Rowland of the Brunswick News last week, after the 12th round of voting for a new House speaker. “I know this is messy but democracy is messy,” Carter tells WJCL’s Andy Cole after the 13th round of voting. California Rep. Kevin McCarthy finally was elected speaker on the 15th round of voting.


2023 Georgia legislature kicks off; Burns officially elected speaker

Lawmakers elected House Majority Leader Jon Burns, R-Newington, to move up to speaker of the House in just a single ballot and by acclamation.

Expect delays: Slow start expected for Georgia legislature

The General Assembly will take up an agenda likely to include mental health, public safety, tax policy, education funding, electric vehicles, and the perennial debate over legalizing gambling.

Broadband grants headed to 28 Georgia counties

The grant awards follow an earlier round of funding last February of $408 million in pandemic relief aid. Together, the two rounds of funding are aimed at serving about 200,000 of the remaining 455,000 unserved locations in Georgia.


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Craig Nelson is a former international correspondent for The Associated Press, the Sydney (Australia) Morning-Herald, Cox Newspapers and The Wall Street Journal. He also served as foreign editor for The...