The Dawson County Republican Party heard updates on the 2019 legislative session that concluded this month during Monday night’s meeting.
Fresh from Sine Die, Sen. Steve Gooch and Rep. Kevin Tanner met with local Republicans on April 8 where they provided updates on key pieces of legislation that were passed by the General Assembly.
As the first year under newly elected Gov. Brian Kemp, Gooch said the session began with a slow start with legislators adapting to the new administration, but picked up traction after the Super Bowl with big legislation being passed.
The final passage of HB 481, known as the “heartbeat” bill, passed the state legislature on March 29.
The bill prohibits abortion once a heartbeat is detected by a doctor which typically happens around six weeks into a pregnancy.
It is one of the strictest anti-abortion bills in the nation.
Under HB 481, women in Georgia would still be legally able to receive abortions after the heartbeat detection in situations involving rape or incest when the woman has filed a police report, if the mother’s life is in danger or when the fetus would be unable to live after birth.
“Saving hundreds of thousands of unborn children was probably the best vote I’d taken in the eight years or nine years that I’d been there, so I was proud of that,” Gooch said. “I truly believe that was a vote that will go down in the history in Georgia, one I’m proud to be a part of.”
While on the campaign trail, Gov. Kemp said that he would support anti-abortion legislation and he has until May 12 to sign or veto the bill.
The bill received 100 percent support from senate Republicans Gooch said.
“It took courage of a lot of men and women in the house and the senate to vote for that,” he said.
Rep. Tanner also voted in support of the bill in the house, with only a couple Republicans voting in opposition.
“That was a very tough issue,” Tanner said.
Protestors, threats and pressure from Hollywood to abandon filming projects in Georgia were challenges legislators faced while the bill was on the table.
Ultimately, Tanner said the issue was a “moral fiber issue” and that there was no way to make everyone happy with a decision on a controversial subject.
“That’s one of those issues and I tell people that come to my breakfast and I have several in Lumpkin that are very much opposed to that legislation,” Tanner said. “I told them early on there’s very few things that we do at the general assembly that’s either black or white.”
New voting machines
On April 2, Gov. Kemp signed a wide-ranging elections bill authorizing the statewide purchase of new voting machines that will be in place in time for testing during municipal elections in November.
Gooch said the cost for the new touchscreen machines is estimated to be between $150-200 million once bids come back.
The new machines will be electronic but will print a paper ballot that the voter will take to a second machine where it will be scanned and dropped into a locked bin.
“If the electronic numbers are in dispute for any reason or there is a very close election you would actually be able to pull the drawer out and pull the manual ballots out be able to count them and lay those numbers side by side to the electronic numbers,” Gooch said. “It’s more transparent and more accountability, and we think that’s a good system.”
Tanner said that it is statistically proven that the best way to rig or cheat in an election is with paper ballots.
“If you want to stuff ballot boxes and rig an election, paper ballots are the best way to do that,” Tanner said. “These machines make it very, very difficult if not impossible for that to happen because if there is an audit there is a trail with paper ballots we can follow.”
Broadband and infrastructure expansion
Since the 2018 session, Sen. Gooch has worked to improve broadband expansion to rural areas of Georgia and provided an update on what is to come in the next few months with the passage of SB 66, the “Streamlining Wireless Facilities and Antennas Act.”
The bill allows for a standardized application process for 5G companies to place antennas on existing or new poles in order to streamline the transition to the 5G network that is expected to rollout in the summer.
In the next few months, Gooch said the community will see towers going up and work beginning on the 5G network where antennas will be placed on light poles, streetlights and buildings so that the technology can be deployed in public right of ways.
Another concern Gooch mentioned was Winderstream’s chapter 11 bankruptcy that was filed earlier this year and said that there is concern about the future because rural areas like Dawson County rely so heavily on Windstream as an internet provider.
With the passage of SB 2, electronic membership corporations (EMCs) providing broadband services will be permitted to use existing easements to provide or expand broadband access which will allow more opportunities for broadband connection in rural areas across Georgia.
“Allowing the EMCs to get in the business I think is a good option and a good tool,” Gooch said. “It’s not the silver bullet. We have 41 EMCs in the state that represent about 4.5 million rural customers and we believe that they would be a good option to deploy internet services to those rural customers.”
In other business:
Other big moments from the 2019 legislative session included the approval of $3,000 pay raises for all certified education employees that will go into effect in July. The cost of the raises is close to $600 million in the approved 2019 state budget.
Legislation was passed that will enable the business courts that were approved in 2018 to be set up. The courts will be established so that cases involving specialized business issues can go before business courts rather than going before a superior court.
“A lot of business issues are very specialized and certain specialty issues, even medical or whatever, a lot of superior court judges have no experience in that,” Gooch said. “In this business court they would be able to bring in experts that would know more about that subject matter and a better decision would be made.”
The Dawson County Republican Party also heard from Nathaniel Darnell, who is running for Treasurer of the Georgia Republican Party.
Darnell said that after the dust settled after the gubernatorial and secretary of state races in 2018, he was moved to run for the party’s treasurer to get the party back on track.
“When the dust settled at the end of the year according to the Republican disclosure reports for the Republican Party of Georgia, we were $238,000 in debt and can you believe it because the Republican Party of Georgia,” Darnell said. “We’ve been running the show here for about 14 years and you’d think that with us being in charge of the governor’s mansion and both houses of the legislature and everything we’d be doing a little better than that.”
Darnell said with crucial elections coming up in 2020 that it is important the Georgia Republican Party gets its house in order so that Republicans maintain control before Democrats have a chance to control redistricting.
“A lot of people tell me ‘I will give money to a Republican candidate but I will not give money to the Republican Party,’ Darnell said. “I think it’s because of a lack of trust, a lack of trust because we’ve developed a reputation too often times of promises made, promises not kept.”
Darnell said that he wants to get the party back in order and be a “grassroots treasurer” and will hold fundraisers across the state including rural areas and will implement a budget on the state party if elected.