Primary Election postponed to June 9

ATLANTA — Today, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger announced that, pursuant to the authority vested in him by O.C.G.A. § 21-2-50.1, he is postponing the Statewide General Primary/Presidential Preference Primary Election until June 9, 2020.
Yesterday, Governor Brian Kemp extended the current public health state of emergency until May 13, 2020. Lieutenant Governor Geoff Duncan and Speaker of the House David Ralston concurred in the Governor’s extension of the state of emergency.
“Due to the Governor’s extension of the state of emergency through a time period that includes almost every day of in-person voting for an election on May 19, and after careful consideration, I am now comfortable exercising the authority vested in me by Georgia law to postpone the primary election until June 9,” said Secretary Raffensperger. “This decision allows our office and county election officials to continue to put in place contingency plans to ensure that voting can be safe and secure when in-person voting begins and prioritizes the health and safety of voters, county election officials, and poll workers.”
Throughout this crisis, the Secretary of State’s office has been in close contact with county election officials across the state. Over the past week, the reports of mounting difficulties from county election officials, particularly in Southwest Georgia, grew to a point where county election officials could not overcome the challenges brought on by COVID-19 in time for in-person voting to begin on April 27. Additionally, current modeling by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation projects the COVID-19 pandemic in Georgia will peak around April 24, only days before in-person voting was scheduled to begin. While challenges will certainly remain on June 9, these additional three weeks will give the Secretary of State’s office and counties time to shore up contingency plans, find and train additional poll workers, and procure supplies and equipment necessary to clean equipment and protect poll workers.
Emergency authority is something that should be exercised carefully, and moving an election should only take place in the rarest of circumstances. While Secretary Raffensperger previously expressed concern that he did not have the authority to move the primary election again, the Governor’s extension of the state of emergency to a time that includes almost every day of in-person voting for a May 19 election is sufficient to allow the Secretary to exercise the emergency authority given to him by O.C.G.A. § 21-2-50.1 and move the primary election to June 9.
“I certainly realize that every difficulty will not be completely solved by the time in-person voting begins for the June 9 election, but elections must happen even in less than ideal circumstances,” said Raffensperger. “Just like our brave healthcare workers and first responders, our county election officials and poll workers are undertaking work critical to our democracy, and they will continue to do this critical work with all the challenges that the current crisis has brought forth. This postponement allows us to provide additional protection and safety resources to county election officials, poll workers, and voters without affecting the November election.”
The voter registration deadline for the June 9, 2020 election will be May 11, 2020. Early voting will begin on May 18, 2020. Pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 21-2-501, moving the primary election to June 9, 2020 will move the primary runoff to August 11, 2020. Pushing back the primary to June 9 gives Georgia election officials additional time to put in place contingency plans to allow for safe and secure voting, but pushing back the primary election any further could potentially have negative consequences on preparation for the November 3, 2020 General Election. Given existing deadlines to prepare and send ballots for the November election, particularly for military voters, moving forward on June 9 is the best way to ensure a successful election year in Georgia.
Absentee ballot applications for the upcoming primary election will continue to be accepted and processed by counties even if the application said May 19. Once county election officials properly verify the signature on the application, the voter will be sent an absentee ballot for the primary election now to be held on June 9.

Georgia declared federal disaster area because of coronavirus  

By Dave Williams
Bureau Chief
Capitol Beat News Service

ATLANTA – President Donald Trump has declared Georgia a major disaster area due to the impacts of coronavirus, Gov. Brian Kemp announced Sunday.
“Georgia is grateful for this designation, as it will enable the state to continue partnering with federal agencies in a coordinated fight against this pandemic,” Kemp said. “The presidential declaration is a critical step in providing additional assistance to our state and local governments as they continue to respond to COVID-19.”
The disaster declaration came as the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases rose to 2,651. Eighty Georgians had died of the virus as of noon Sunday.
Kemp declared a statewide public health emergency on March 14, and the General Assembly ratified the action two days later during a one-day special session. The governor’s declaration made available state resources to help deal with the coronavirus outbreak.
The federal disaster declaration will allow federal agencies to provide direct assistance to Georgia. The record $2 trillion economic stimulus package Congress passed on Friday includes $150 billion in direct aid to state and local governments, money that can be used to help offset the impact the loss of businesses and jobs will have on state budgets.
COVID-19 now has spread to 113 counties. Fulton County has the most with 407 confirmed cases, followed by DeKalb County with 272 cases, Dougherty County with 239, Cobb County with 222, Gwinnett County with 143 cases and Bartow County with 119 cases.
However, the most deaths have occurred in hard-hit Dougherty County, where 17 have died from coronavirus. Fulton County has had 12 deaths, followed by Cobb County with nine.

Georgia public schools shutting down through April 24

By Dave Williams
Bureau Chief
Capitol Beat News Service

ATLANTA – Gov. Brian Kemp Thursday ordered Georgia’s public schools closed through April 24 as cases of coronavirus continue to rise.
“I am deeply grateful to State School Superintendent Richard Woods, the Georgia Department of Education, superintendents, and parents for keeping us informed and helping us make the right decision for our students,” Kemp said in a prepared statement.
“Throughout this process, we will continue to seek the advice of public health officials, school leaders, and families to ensure the health and safety of the educational community. As we approach April 24, 2020, we ask for continued patience and flexibility since circumstances may change, but we encourage families to stay strong and follow the guidance of federal, state, and local leaders in the weeks ahead.”
Georgia’s public colleges and universities and technical colleges, which were shut down earlier this month for the rest of the current semester, will continue to provide online instruction.
As Kemp made his announcement on the schools, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Georgia moved past 1,500, with 48 deaths reported from the virus.
As of noon Thursday, 1,525 Georgians had tested positive for COVID-19. Of those patients, 473 – or 31% – were hospitalized.
More than 8,900 Georgians have been tested for coronavirus, 1,646 by the state Department of Public Health and 7,280 by a commercial lab.
The virus has spread to 97 of Georgia’s 159 counties. Fulton County has the most COVID-19 cases with 211. Cases in Dougherty County have soared to 156, a huge number considering the county’s population.
DeKalb County was third as of noon Thursday with 129 positive cases, followed by Cobb County with 115, Bartow County with 86 and Gwinnett County with 75.

Two charged with murder

Justin Payton Hooker of Dalton and Nadya Catherine Schwartz of Chatsworth have been charged with the murder of Kenneth Bunn of Chatsworth.
Bunn’s body was found under the Conasauga River Bridge on Carlton Petty Road on Monday. His body was identified “through pictures, clothing, tattoos, and other information provided by witnesses,” according to a release from the Murray County Sheriff’s Department.
Hooker and Schwartz were arrested on Thursday. They are now in the Murray County Jail.

General Assembly approves emergency declaration  

By Dave Williams
Bureau Chief
Capitol Beat News Service

ATLANTA – The General Assembly ratified Gov. Brian Kemp’s public health emergency declaration Monday in a one-day special session that took several hours longer than expected.
The governor called the special session last Friday, one day before he declared the first public health emergency in Georgia’s history to give him additional authority to deal with the coronavirus crisis.
Lawmakers convened under the Gold Dome just three days after suspending the regular 2020 session indefinitely due to coronavirus.
Unlike the political conflicts that typify the 40-day regular sessions, legislative leaders called for and got bipartisanship on Monday.
“Now is the time for us to speak with one voice and act with one heart,” Rep. Calvin Smyre, D-Columbus, the longest serving member of the state House of Representatives, told his colleagues from the House podium.
The emergency declaration gives Kemp the power to limit the size of public gatherings, a step the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending, and to restrict travel.
While the governor has yet to do either, he called up as many as 2,000 members of the Georgia National Guard during the weekend to work with local governments to ensure adequate supplies of medical equipment, food and shelter.
Georgia Senate Majority Leader Mike Dugan, R-Carrollton, said handing the governor unique executive powers is needed to “get in front of” the spreading virus. He noted the expanded powers include limiting truck operations and boosting support for the state Department of Public Health to keep elderly and chronically ill Georgians safe.
“This is one of those situations where half the population is going, ‘Are they overreacting? And the other half is going, Are they doing enough?’ ” Dugan said. “Unfortunately, the only way to know if we were overreacting is to not do anything and to see where the disease takes us.”
House Speaker David Ralston pledged his chamber’s help with the crisis in a brief address to House members before Monday’s vote.
“We will do what we must to protect the safety, health and wellbeing of the people of Georgia,” said Ralston, R-Blue Ridge. “There is no higher obligation that we have.”
While Democrats and Republicans stuck together in passing the resolution, the votes came only after House and Senate leaders spent hours behind closed doors hashing out a disagreement over the measure’s wording.
The original House version of the ratifying resolution called for the public health emergency declaration to last until April 13 unless Kemp acted to renew it beyond that date, subject to the General Assembly ‘s approval of the extension.
The Senate resolution, however, left the decision on renewing the emergency declaration strictly up to the governor.
Because of the dispute, a special session that began shortly after 8 a.m. lasted until after 3:30 p.m.
Lawmakers eventually agreed to schedule another special session April 15 to ratify any extension of the emergency declaration Kemp decides to issue. However, the governor will have the authority to renew the declaration unilaterally if the General Assembly is unable to return to the state Capitol because the coronavirus has rendered such large gatherings unwise.
Senate Minority Leader Steve Henson, D-Stone Mountain, said he thought the arrangement devised Monday would be enough to provide a legislative check on the governor’s power amid uncertain times.

“I think we have to be optimistic that he’s going to work for the best interest of Georgians and the state,” Henson said.
The Senate passed the resolution unanimously. It cleared the House 142-1, with Rep. Matt Gurtler, R-Tiger, voting “no.”

Staff writer Beau Evans contributed to this report.

Municipal Court suspends dates

City of Chatsworth Municipal Court will be rescheduling all court dates from March 18 until at least April 13. On March 14, the Honorable Harold D. Melton, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Georgia, did order and declare a Statewide Judicial Emergency in the State of Georgia. The nature of this emergency is the continued transmission of Coronavirus/COVID-19 throughout the State and the potential infection of those who work in or are required to appear in our courts.

Chatsworth Municipal Court will mail new court dates to the address that is on file with the court system. We would encourage anyone that is concerned about their court date to contact 706-422-3028 between 8:00 am – 5:00 pm. We apologize for any inconvenience that this may cause.

School situation fluid

Murray County School Superintendent Steve Loughridge said the school system is conducting “business as usual:” but that could change based on what President Trump says during his national TV broadcast Friday afternoon.
Murray School will remain open until further notice, Loughridge said.
The superintendent said the decision to close school because of the coronavirus was his to make and that so far he did not believe there was a crisis situation that demanded closure.
Whitfield County and Dalton schools remain open.
Gordon County, Calhoun, Catoosa, Chattooga and Dade county schools have sent students home for at least one week.

Loughridge: Business as usual

Murray County School Superintendent Steve Loughridge on Wednesday said local schools will remain open because there was “not a sufficient threat” to require closure.
On Tuesday the schools acknowledged that a teacher at Spring Place Elementary and student at Northwest Elementary were currently under self-quarantine. Both had been in contact with a person with a confirmed case of coronavirus. In both cases the contacts were made outside Murray County.
As of Tuesday, neither the teacher nor the student had reported any symptoms of the virus.
Loughridge made his remarks at the Murray County Family Connection Community Champion Awards. He said he was made aware of the teacher’s situation about 6 a.m. on Tuesday morning.
“The governor’s recommendation and Richard Woods, the state superintendent of schools … they are all recommending to not close schools. It’s not a sufficient threat.”
Loughridge said on Tuesday school officials “did their best to notify everyone, to put it on the website. We’ve had numerous calls at our office. I’ve talked to several.”
“The parents are just concerned about their children,” he added. “They want to know why we aren’t closing the schools.”
Loughridge continued, “What we are telling everyone is we are monitoring it, we’re cleaning extra. We have on our website the best practices, what your mother and your old teacher told you. Wash your hands, don’t touch anybody, cough into your elbow — those kinds of things. If you’re sick, stay home.”
“The safety of the children is the main thing,” He added. “If we thought there was any threat or any risk we’d certainly close the schools. But right now it’s just not a significant threat. The best thing to is go on about your normal business. Do things in a normal way.”