General Assembly to adjourn 2022 legislative session in early April

ATLANTA – Striking a blow for certainty in scheduling, the General Assembly has designated Monday, April 4, as Sine Die, the final day of this year’s legislative session.

The Georgia House and Senate unanimously passed an adjournment resolution Tuesday setting the schedule for the remainder of the 2022 session. The votes came on Day 6 of the 40-day session, earlier than legislative leaders typically let rank-and-file lawmakers know when they can return to their homes and regular jobs.

“It gives us some certainty in our lives,” said House Majority Leader Jon Burns, R-Newington.

Some lawmakers questioned the comparatively late date for Sine Die, particularly in an election year when they are anxious to get out on the campaign trail. The General Assembly often adjourns in late March and has left Atlanta in recent years as early as mid-March.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Dugan, R-Carrollton, said because of staffing shortages, Senate employees still on the job need extra time to complete their work.

“The pandemic has affected all of us,” he said. “If we’re going to do our jobs, we need to do them well.”

“[The schedule] sets aside enough time for us to get our work done properly,” added House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge.

Under the adopted schedule, Crossover Day this year will fall on Tuesday, March 15. Bills that have not passed either the House or Senate by that deadline are considered dead for the year, barring 11th-hour maneuvering that can resurrect dead legislation by inserting it into a related bill.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

Port of Savannah sets calendar year cargo record

Port of Savannah

ATLANTA – The Port of Savannah moved a record 5.6 million twenty-foot equivalent container units (TEUs) last year, a 20% increase over 2020, the Georgia Ports Authority reported Tuesday.

“While Georgia’s maritime logistics community has been tested by a challenging year, I am proud of our ports’ achievements to keep cargo flowing, support jobs and industry across the region and the world, and to serve customers in every corner of the state,” Gov. Brian Kemp said.

“The Georgia Ports Authority (GPA) not only powers economic success in the Peach State. It has served as an example to the nation in solving the supply chain crisis.”

The Savannah port set a new monthly record every month last year. In December, the port’s Garden City Terminal handled 465,000 TEUs. Counting Roll-on/Roll-off cargo processed at Savannah’s Ocean Terminal, the port moved 668,166 TEUs, during the month, up 11% over December 2020.

Rail drove much of the growth. The Port of Savannah topped a record 538,000 container lifts to rail last year, or nearly 1 million TEUs. The addition of nine working tracks in November with the completion of the Mason Mega Rail Terminal expanded Savannah’s rail lift capacity to 2 million TEUs per year, an immediate increase of 30%.

“Our expanded rail and yard capacity, along with new operational practices, allowed GPA to overcome serious headwinds in the international supply chain,” authority Executive Director Griff Lynch said.

Activity at the Port of Brunswick also increased last year despite the supply chain challenges. Colonel’s Island Terminal handled 649,550 units of cars, trucks and machinery, up 10.6% over 2020.

The authority will add 500,000 TEUs of annual capacity in March, growing to a total of 1.6 million TEUs of new capacity by June. That marks a 25% increase in Savannah’s previous capacity for container trade.

At the Port of Brunswick, major expansion efforts are under way at Colonel’s Island that will increase Ro/Ro capacity to 1.3 million units by the end of the year.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

Georgia Senate Democrats shoot down constitutional ban on non-citizen voting

Georgia Senate President Pro Tempore Butch Miller

ATLANTA – A constitutional amendment to prohibit non-U.S. citizens from voting in Georgia failed to gain a two-thirds majority in the state Senate Monday after Democrats charged Republicans with playing election-year politics.

Senators supported the constitutional change sponsored by Senate President Pro Tempore Butch Miller 33-14. But 38 votes are required in the 56-seat Senate to approve constitutional amendments and put them on the ballot for Georgia voters to decide.

Miller, R-Gainesville, who is running for lieutenant governor, warned that New York City recently added 800,000 residents to its voter rolls by passing an ordinance allowing non-citizens to vote in local elections.

“We want to guard against that sort of thing in Georgia,” he said.

“The ballot box should be the most sacred, protected place in our government,” added Senate Rules Committee Chairman Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga.

Senate Democrats didn’t object to banning non-citizens from voting but complained such a prohibition already exists both in state law and in the Georgia Constitution.

Sen. Harold Jones, D-Augusta, argued the legislation would only serve to further divide Georgians.

“Our law is clear that non-citizens cannot vote,” he said. “It’s all foolishness. But it’s not funny. It’s sad.”

Sen. Emanuel Jones, D-Decatur, couched his words but essentially accused Republicans of pushing a constitutional change that would have no real impact purely for political gain.

“The intent of this legislation may be to incite a particular base in this state to gin up support,” he said.

Miller put the Senate on notice that he plans to seek reconsideration of the constitutional amendment when the chamber convenes on Tuesday.

This story available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

Lieutenant governor hopeful Burt Jones reports robust campaign war chest

Georgia Sen. Burt Jones

ATLANTA – State Sen. Burt Jones had raised $3.75 million toward his campaign for lieutenant governor through the end of last year, the Republican from Jackson announced Friday.

Jones, who has been endorsed by former President Donald Trump, ended 2021 with $3.4 million cash on hand.

“The outpouring of support for our campaign from every corner of the state has been truly incredible and humbling,” Jones said. “From President Trump’s endorsement to support from grassroots leaders across the state, we hit the ground running from day one and never looked back.”

Jones is part of what is essentially a Trump ticket in Georgia, which also includes U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker; former Sen. David Perdue, who is challenging GOP Gov. Brian Kemp; and U.S. Rep. Jody Hice, who is running for secretary of state.

All back Trump’s allegations – disproven by the outcome of numerous lawsuits – that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from the former president.

With Republican Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan not seeking reelection, Jones will square off in May’s GOP primary against Georgia Senate President Pro Tempore Butch Miller of Gainesville and Savannah activist Jeanne Seaver.

Democrats running for lieutenant governor include Charlie Bailey, who ran unsuccessfully for attorney general in 2018; Bryan Miller, grandson of the late Gov. and U.S. Sen. Zell Miller; and state Reps. Renitta Shannon of Decatur, Erick Allen of Smyrna and Derrick Jackson of Tyrone.

The deadline for candidates for state office to file year-end campaign financial disclosure reports doesn’t fall until the end of this month.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

Georgia Republicans rankled by Biden’s voting rights agenda

An early voting line outside South Cobb Regional Library in Mableton (Photo by Beau Evans)

ATLANTA – President Joe Biden put the spotlight on Georgia when he traveled to Atlanta Jan. 11 to pitch federal voting rights legislation stalled in the U.S. Senate.

But to the Peach State’s Republican leaders, it was unwelcome attention. They bristled at the Democratic president’s portrayal of the Peach State as ground zero for a GOP-led voter suppression movement aimed at reversing Republican losses in 2020.

“We’re the No.-1 state in the nation for election integrity,” Georgia House Speaker David Ralston said the day after Biden’s visit. “More Georgians are voting now than ever before.”

Indeed, record voter turnout in November 2020 helped Biden become the first Democratic presidential candidate to carry Georgia since Bill Clinton in 1992. Two months later, another huge turnout lifted Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock to victory over two incumbent Republican senators in runoff elections.

Georgia Republicans reacted by passing sweeping election overhaul legislation last March.

Among other things, the bill requires voters casting absentee ballots to present ID. It also limits the number of absentee-ballot drop boxes, which became a popular method of voting in 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic raged and vaccines weren’t yet available.

While Republicans argued such steps promote election integrity, Democrats charged they were part of an effort by the GOP to make it harder for voters – particularly voters of color – to cast ballots. Minority voters historically have supported Democratic candidates.

Warnock made a business case against the new state law and in favor of federal voting rights legislation Jan. 12 when he spoke at the annual Eggs and Issues breakfast sponsored by the Georgia Chamber of Commerce. He said Georgia’s new restrictions on voting have cost the state business investment, notably Major League Baseball’s decision to pull last summer’s All-Star Game out of Georgia.

“Voter suppression is not good for business,” Warnock said. “Opening up [voter] access is the right thing to do and the smart thing to do.”

But in an election year, some Georgia Republicans are looking to double down on the election-law changes the General Assembly adopted last year.

State Senate President Pro Tempore Butch Miller, who is running for lieutenant governor, has introduced legislation to abolish drop boxes altogether and a constitutional amendment prohibiting non-U.S. citizens from voting.

Warnock said the General Assembly should not consider getting rid of drop boxes while COVID-19 is still a threat.

But Miller, R-Gainesville, noted there was no provision in state law for the boxes until the virus hit Georgia in March 2020.

“Drop boxes were introduced as an emergency measure during the pandemic, but many counties did not follow the security guidelines in place, such as the requirement for camera surveillance on every drop box,” he said last fall when he pre-filed his bill. “Moving forward, we can return to a pre-pandemic normal of voting in person.”

Miller’s constitutional amendment banning non-citizen voting won approval in the state Senate Ethics Committee last Thursday largely along party lines over objections from opponents who pointed out such a ban already exists in both state and federal law.

But the measure could be headed for trouble when it reaches the full Senate. Constitutional changes require support from a two-thirds majority in each legislative chamber, and the Senate doesn’t have enough Republicans to attain that margin without help from Democrats.

Even if Miller’s proposals make it through the Senate, their prospects in the House appear slim.

Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, said the legislature has too many important priorities to tackle to get caught up in election-year politics.

“I refuse to allow this state to be used by those who would change longstanding rules for political gain,” he said.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation