Local lawmakers are heading back to Atlanta for the 40-day Georgia General Assembly session that starts Monday.
It’s the final year of the two-year session, so all legislation that didn’t pass last year is still alive for potential action. Priorities, however, may have changed and new proposals also are expected. All state lawmakers’ seats will be on the ballot this year.
Floyd County is currently represented by state Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome, and Reps. Katie Dampsey, R-Rome; Eddie Lumsden, R-Armuchee; and Mitchell Scoggins, R-Cartersville. That won’t be the case in 2023.
The voting district lines for the election later this year will shift to put Scoggins’ seat wholly in Bartow County. His constituents will mostly be redistributed to Dempsey’s district, although a segment on the west will go into Lumsden’s.
A northern piece of Floyd that voted for Lumsden in 2020 will see the seat currently held by Rep. Matt Barton, R-Calhoun, on their ballot. And a few people on the western edge of Dempsey’s district will be in Lumsden’s district. The bulk of Floyd County will remain in Hufstetler’s district, but a segment north of Armuchee and into the pocket will be in the district currently represented by Sen. Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga.
So, lots of lawmakers to watch this session. Information about their activities, along with livestreams and video archives of committee and chamber deliberations, are available online at Legis.Ga.Gov.
Voters will be able to check their districts on the Georgia My Voter Page online, although it had not yet been updated as of Friday. Qualifying for the seats isn’t until March — near the end of the session — and the primary will be in May.
♦ Hufstetler chairs the Senate Finance Committee, overseeing state taxes and revenue. It also deals with the financial services industry, including the securities and housing industries.
He has meetings already scheduled next week, at 1 p.m. Monday and 3 p.m. Wednesday. But the first one will likely be canceled in favor of the Georgia vs. Alabama National Championship.
“I doubt I’ll get a quorum,” Hufstetler said with a laugh. “We’re (the legislature) mandated to meet the first Monday in January but a lot of people will be going to Indianapolis right after that.”
♦ Mullis chairs the powerful Senate Rules Committee. While each committee’s chair can control the movement of legislation assigned to it, the Rules Committee determines what bills that make it out of a committee will go to the Senate floor for a vote.
♦ Dempsey chairs the human resources subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, which sets the budgets for state agencies and departments. The human resources segment covers social services, including the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, the Division of Family and Children Services and Aging Services.
♦ Lumsden chairs the House Insurance Committee, in charge of all aspects of insurance and the insurance industry. He’s also a member of the special House Rural Development Council, tasked with finding ways to encourage growth and economic development in outlying areas.
♦ Scoggins is secretary of the House Judiciary Committee, which handles a wide variety of measures relating to law, courts and judges, and constitutional amendments.
♦ Barton is vice chair of the House Motor Vehicles Committee, which deals with issues concerning driver’s licenses, motor carrier laws, and the Uniform Rules of the Road. Tags, titles and registration also come under its jurisdiction.
Committee and office assignments rarely change, but House Speaker David Ralston said he expects to make a few shifts due to resignations. That will happen during the first week in session.
Gov. Brian Kemp is scheduled to present his State of the State address and proposed budget Thursday. The legislature will be in recess the next week but there will be committee work sessions and joint House and Senate budget hearings with presentations from agency and department heads.
COVID-19 protocols are in place and testing is scheduled twice a week for the session.
While local police are strongly encouraging the installation of speed cameras near Armuchee Elementary School, Floyd County Board of Education members are hesitant to immediately jump on board.
The Floyd County Police Department were originally inspired to implement the speed cameras after seeing the success Rome Police Department had with their Redspeed cameras along Veterans Memorial Highway near Rome Middle School and Rome High School.
With last year’s major increase in wrecks along major roads, county police began working on possibly installing the cameras in the Armuchee community along Highway 27.
Armuchee Elementary School was chosen over Armuchee High School since there’s a traffic light in place already at the high school.
The school zone has a speed limit of 45 miles per hour during school hours, and for an hour before and after. However, multiple speeding surveys were conducted in that zone and found many drivers going 11 miles and more over the speed limit.
With the Redspeed cameras, anybody travelling 11 miles over the speed limit or more would be clocked and fined for speeding.
Because of this, some of the school board members voiced concern over this becoming a speed trap.
During a work session Monday, boardmember Chip Hood said that the sign notifying the driver of the cameras is too small and people driving might not realize the cameras are active.
RedSpeed representative and Senior Vice President Greg Parks said they can adjust the speed at which the cameras clock depending on the time of day. For instance, a school in Duluth has the cameras clocking anyone travelling 11 miles per hour over the speed limit during the drop-off and pick-up times, but they change it to 16 miles per hour over during the middle of the day.
Parks also said they can adjust the size of the sign, depending on what the Georgia Department of Transportation allows.
The initial speeding fine would be $75 after a warning; any subsequent fine would be $125. About 65% of the fines would go to Floyd County police and 35% would go to RedSpeed, the company that provides the cameras.
None of the fines will go to the county school system, Superintendent Glenn White said.
The Floyd County Commission would have to approve the speed cameras first then Floyd County Schools would have to apply for a permit through the Georgia Department of Transportation to operate the cameras.
Parks also said there would be a lot of public service announcements and advertising to let the community know about the cameras before the fines begin.
School Board Attorney King Askew said he will discuss with County Attorney Virginia Harman before the board makes a final decision.
Several of Rome’s schools have shifted to the resumption of COVID-19 prevention measures while the county schools, whose policies require more reported infections, are continuing business as usual.
As of Friday West End, Anna K Davie, West Central and East Central elementary schools as well as Rome Middle School have reached a mark of 1% of the student population infected and have shifted to Phase 2 of the system’s COVID-19 prevention plan.
That essentially means students and staff will wear face coverings and take other measures like eating lunches in classrooms instead of cafeterias.
Other schools within the system are likely to follow, Rome High School was one case below its 1% margin of 22 new cases in a seven day period on Thursday.
Rome reports their numbers a day behind, a total of 87 students and staff members in the school system tested positive as of Thursday.
The Floyd County School Board has set a higher bar before taking precautions, and as of Friday several schools had nearly reached that infection rate. The county requires 2% of the student population to be infected before requiring masks at a school.
Armuchee Elementary and Middle as well as Model Elementary and Pepperell Elementary were near the 2% mark. According to the information published on the county schools website, it doesn’t appear the county schools factor infected staff members into that percentage.
As of Friday, the county reported 69 students and staff members infected with COVID-19.
Under county policy any school that exceeds the threshold of a 5% student infection rate will be closed for 5 days.
The Georgia Department of Public Health has reported issues with its COVID-19 website throughout the week, and there were no new local numbers reported on Friday.
State numbers continued up at record rates with 26,033 new cases reported Friday. The DPH also reported 33 COVID-19 deaths in Georgia on Friday.
So what can we tell locally? The number of COVID-19 hospitalizations continued to increase at local hospitals, but with less rapidity than earlier this week.
For reference, that’s up from an average of 20-30 patients being treated with serious cases of COVID-19 in early to mid-December before new cases spiked locally.
Voting rights organizations and a group of Georgia voters filed a federal lawsuit Friday challenging new congressional district lines the Republican-controlled General Assembly drew during a special session last fall.
The suit claims the new boundaries for Georgia’s 6th, 13th and 14th congressional districts unlawfully diminish the voting strength of voters of color.
The new map for the 14th District, which includes Floyd County and much of Northwest Georgia, dips down into a more racially diverse portion of southwest Cobb County.
“The Georgia legislature has ‘cracked’ and ‘packed’ communities of color in the congressional districts map, denying voters of color an equal voice in elections,” said Jack Genberg, senior staff attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center. “This map must be remedied to prevent harm to Georgia’s communities of color for years to come.”
The legal challenge to the congressional map (congress-prop1-2021-packet.pdf (ga.gov) follows a lawsuit filed last month making similar arguments in opposition to new state House and Senate maps Republican lawmakers drew over the objections of legislative Democrats.
The new lawsuit charges the newly drawn congressional map violates the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution by intentionally denying Black communities in Georgia representation and, therefore, equal protection under the law.
Specifically, the plaintiffs accuse GOP legislative leaders of shifting voters of color out of Democratic U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath’s 6th Congressional District in Atlanta’s northern suburbs and replacing them with white voters from suburban and rural counties further north.
McBath, D-Marietta, responded to the changes by declaring her candidacy for the 7th Congressional District seat, pitting her against incumbent Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux, D-Lawrenceville, in May’s Democratic primary.
On the other hand, according to the suit, Republicans pieced together Black voters from six counties to pack the 13th Congressional District served by Rep. David Scott, D-Atlanta, reducing Black voting strength in surrounding districts.
The suit also objects to a move late in the special redistricting session to draw voters from predominantly Black portions of Cobb County into the 14th Congressional District of conservative Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Rome, made up primarily of white rural voters.
“Georgia’s political maps must reflect the interests of the people — not the politicians,” said Aunna Dennis, executive director of Common Cause Georgia. “These maps intentionally discriminate against Georgians of color by silencing our voices at the ballot box.”
The League of Women Voters is also a plaintiff in the case.
During the special session, Republicans cited the need to balance the populations of each congressional district within a single voter in drawing a new map that is expected to help the GOP build its majority in Georgia’s congressional delegation from 8-6 to 9-5.
State legislature across the country redraw legislative and congressional maps every 10 years to reflect changes in population reflected in the decennial U.S. Census.
This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.