Political Notes: June 2015
O’Neal Steps Down: Georgia’s House majority leader, Larry O’Neal (R-Bonaire), resigned his seat to accept an appointment as judge on the Georgia Tax Tribunal, which settles disputes between citizens and the state Department of Revenue. O’Neal, first elected in 2000, is a tax attorney.
Brooks Resigns: Longtime State Rep. Tyrone Brooks (D-Atlanta) resigned his house seat just before pleading guilty to one count of federal tax fraud and no contest to additional charges of mail and wire fraud.
The charges related to Brooks’ use of funds from two organizations he headed: Universal Humanities and the Georgia Association of Black Elected Officials. Government lawyers say he used much of the money he solicited from Atlanta corporations for his own expenses. Former Gov. Roy Barnes served as one of Brooks’ attorneys.
Brooks, a civil rights activist for many years, was first indicted in 2013 on 30 counts and pleaded not guilty. He was re-elected to his District 55 House seat in 2014.
A special election to fill the seat is set for Tuesday, June 16; run-off date is Tuesday, July 14.
Nunn At CARE: Michelle Nunn, the 2014 Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, becomes the new CEO of CARE on July 1. The international humanitarian agency has its headquarters in Atlanta. She succeeds Helene Gayle, who has led the organization for nine years.
Nunn has a long career leading nonprofits and was a founder of Hands On Atlanta and CEO of Points of Light, founded by former President George H.W. Bush.
She lost her Senate race to Republican David Perdue, now serving his first term in Washington.
Going Up: All of Georgia’s public colleges and universities will see tuition increases for the 2015-16 academic year, ranging from 2.5 percent to 9 percent.
Four institutions will see a 9 percent hike: The University of Georgia, Georgia Tech, Middle Georgia State University and Atlanta Metropolitan State College.
Twenty schools will raise tuition by 2.5 percent, and six will see increases ranging from 3 percent to 8.3 percent.
“To ensure we can continue to offer quality public higher education, we must continue to invest in our institutions,” said University System of Georgia [USG] Chancellor Hank Huckaby in a statement. “We have carefully assessed the tuition rates for our institutions.”
The system says Georgia funds about 50 percent of the cost of public higher education, and the other 50 percent is covered by tuition. Georgia has some of the lowest tuition rates among peer states’ public institutions, according to the USG.
In Memoriam: Longtime civic activist Eva Galambos, who served as the first mayor of Sandy Springs, died in April at the age of 87. She led a nearly 40-year effort to create the city, which was incorporated in 2005 as the first new city in Georgia in nearly 50 years. Her work paved the way for several other new cities established in the last few years, among them Milton, John’s Creek, Dunwoody and Brookhaven.
Pete Wheeler, who served as commissioner of the Georgia Department of Veterans Services from 1954 until this year, also died in April. Sen. Johnny Isakson said of him, “He will be deeply missed by all Georgians and the millions of veterans across the country who have benefited from his immeasurable contribution and courageous leadership.”
Medical Cannabis Oil: The long fight to legalize medical cannabis oil – often, but somewhat inaccurately called medical marijuana – ended when Gov. Nathan Deal signed HB 1, Haleigh’s Hope Act, at a ceremony attended by Haleigh Cox, for whom it was named, and Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon), who championed the bill. The measure permits the use of medical cannabis for patients with eight different medical conditions, including cancer and seizure disorders like the one that affects 5-year-old Haleigh.
Peake, the sponsor of the law, said it will allow “medical refugees,” families and patients who left Georgia for other states that permitted the use of cannabis oil, to return home for their treatment.
Unfortunately, a few hurdles remain for those families, since it is still illegal to manufacture or sell the oil, but the Department of Public Health is working on a system to provide documentation to individuals who need the oil.
The expectation is that the 2016 legislative session will consider recommendations from a newly created Commission on Medical Cannabis to make it easier for patients to obtain the oil.