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State & Regional Govt & Politics

    Gov. Brian Kemp on Monday extended the state’s public health emergency, certain business restrictions and his shelter-in-place order for the medically fragile amid a record spike in new cases of the coronavirus. The governor also announced Monday that he’s set to go on a statewide fly-around tour ahead of the July Fourth weekend to encourage Georgians to wear masks, but he said he doesn’t plan to require residents to do so. Joining Atlanta’s Morning News on Tuesday, Gov. Kemp spoke with WSB’s Scott Slade about the extended orders and road ahead for Georgians. >>Listen to Kemp’s FULL interview with Scott Slade below. The extended orders and Kemp’s media blitz on masks comes after Georgia set a record last week with more than 11,000 cases of the coronavirus. The state Department of Public Health on Monday reported 2,207 new cases of the coronavirus, which almost matched Sunday’s single-day record of 2,225. Georgia had set daily records for three straight days prior to Monday. The public health emergency, which is now extended to Aug. 11, grants Kemp sweeping authority to impose new restrictions and take other actions to stem the spread of the virus. The shelter order for the medically fragile and residents of long-term care facilities, which had been set to expire Wednesday, was extended for two weeks to July 15. In another sign of concern over the increased cases, Kemp extended coronavirus restrictions two weeks for businesses and restaurants that were set to expire Wednesday. It’s a break from a string of orders that steadily relaxed regulations. The order also required the state Board of Education to draft rules to guide local officials planning to reopen public schools. Kemp is set to travel to Albany, Augusta, Columbus, Dalton, Savannah and Valdosta ahead of the holiday weekend to “encourage citizens to heed public health advice and wear a mask” to stem the spread of the disease, his office said. “Wear a mask, practice social distancing, wash your hands and continue to follow the guidance provided by public health officials,” said Kemp, who has made a point to wear a mask in public and on social media. >>Read MORE on AJC.com.
  • Gov. Brian Kemp said Friday he doesn't plan to impose new restrictions or require the use of masks to combat the spread of the coronavirus in Georgia, as he tried to balance a new increase of confirmed cases of the disease while trying to justify his decision to rollback limits.  The Republican said mandating masks is a “bridge too far for me right now” and said the state continues to “hold our own” in the quest to contain the disease, citing increased troves of life-saving personal protection equipment and testimony from hospital executives encouraged by new treatments.  “I’m certainly not imposing new restrictions right now. I think what we have on the books has done very well for us,” said Kemp at a media briefing outside a testing facility in Gwinnett County, where there’s been a recent spike in cases of the disease.  “We’re not letting our guard down,” he added, urging Georgians to wear masks and practice social distancing. “We’ve got to continue to fight the fight hard everyday. We’ve got to continue to jump on the hotspots.”  His remarks come as rising outbreaks in Georgia and across the region threaten to reverse months of efforts, such as social distancing and economic restrictions, aimed at slowing the spread of the disease.  The hospitalization rate of the disease in Georgia is climbing and the state hit new daily coronavirus case records on four days this week.  Some of the largest spikes have occurred in rural counties in south and West Georgia over the last few weeks, and in recent days metro Atlanta counties have experienced increases.  An Atlanta Journal-Constitution analysis showed adults under 30 make up the fastest growing group of new infections, calling into question whether the state can keep its economy open while also keeping the virus at bay.  The governor said “miraculously” there doesn’t appear to be a link between the spread of the disease and protests over race and justice that have brought thousands to the streets, but he said he was particularly concerned about a broader rise in cases in younger people.  “The summer has approached. More people are getting out. That’s certainly created an uptick in cases, not only Georgia but around the country,” he said. “The younger population are starting to realize that they’ve got to be careful, too.” Asked specifically about the use of masks, Kemp said he was concerned there was no widespread “public buy in” to a requirement while noting that he dons protective gear in public and private.  “There’s some people that just do not want to wear a mask. I’m sensitive to that from a political environment of having people buy into that, and creating other issues out there,” he said. “But it’s definitely a good idea.” >>Read MORE on AJC.com.
  • Gov. Brian Kemp is set to sign hate-crimes legislation on Friday just days after state lawmakers brokered a compromise over the proposal after 16 years of debate over whether to extend protections to people who are targeted because of biases. The Republican is set to sign the legislation at the state Capitol at 2 p.m. Kemp said earlier this week he would sign the measure after a customary legal review. It will take effect on July 1. House Bill 426 would allow enhanced criminal penalties to be levied against those who target their victims on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation, sex, national origin, religion, or physical or mental disability. The Senate overwhelmingly approved the measure 47-6, followed by a House vote of 127-38.  >>Read MORE on AJC.com. Watch a live stream of the signing below
  • Gov. Brian Kemp signed hate-crimes legislation into law on Friday after state lawmakers brokered a compromise over the proposal after 16 years of debate over whether to extend protections to people who are targeted because of biases. The Republican signed the proposal at the state Capitol surrounding by bipartisan supporters of the measure, saying it was a step toward righting a historical wrong.   “It’s a sign of progress and it’s a milestone worth applauding,” said Kemp, adding: “Frankly, it’s the silver lining in these difficult times and stormy days.” The proposal, House Bill 426, would allow enhanced criminal penalties to be levied against those who target their victims on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation, sex, national origin, religion, or physical or mental disability. Read more on ajc.com.
  • The Georgia legislative session comes to an end on Friday with something of an anti-climactic feel. State lawmakers have already settled some of the most pressing debates during a two-week reboot that started with a massive protest for social justice at the Capitol’s steps.  A landmark hate crimes bill was adopted, a deal struck over a $26 billion spending plan and a proposal that allows some stores and restaurants to deliver beer, wine and booze won final approval.  But plenty of major issues are still on the table, and the pressure of the Sine Die deadline can spark a legislative frenzy to pass measures before the clock runs out.  Here’s a look at some of the key proposals up for debate: Gambling It was the scuttlebutt in the halls of the Capitol throughout Thursday: Well-connected lobbyists were making a late push for legislation that would let Georgia voters decide whether to legalize casinos, horse racing and sports betting.  Advocates have compared the revenue windfalls from gambling to the expansion of the film tax credit in 2008, the last time the state faced a steep economic downturn. And as lawmakers streamed out of the Capitol late Thursday, some supporters held out hope that a vote was near. Skeptics see it as unlikely. Supporters in the House believe they have the two-thirds majority needed for passage, but the tally in the Senate is murkier.  Just as uncertain is whether Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan and Senate leaders are ready to push the issue this late in the session or wait another year.  Elections law An overhauled elections proposal that would ban Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger from mailing absentee ballot request forms to voters as he did before this month’s primary infuriated Democrats and voting rights advocates. But was it intended purely as a message for Raffensperger or a legit policy discussion? We’ll soon find out. The measure is still pending days after a Georgia House committee voted to prevent the kind of large-scale voting effort undertaken during the June primary.  The latest version of the proposal also no longer requires election officials to add precincts, poll workers or voting equipment if voters had to wait in line for more than an hour in the previous election – a provision that Democrats worried could lead to more confusion at the ballot box.  >>Read MORE on AJC.com.
  • Grocery and liquor stores and some restaurants would be able to deliver beer, wine and booze to the front doors of their customers under legislation that won final approval in the Georgia House Thursday. The measure won final passage 114-45 and now heads to Gov. Brian Kemp’s desk for his consideration. The idea has been pushed in recent years by House Ways and Means Chairman Brett Harrell, R-Snellville, who called it part of the changing way Georgians shop.  More and more Georgians have their purchases delivered to their homes, and the coronavirus pandemic expanded the market as many have sought to avoid grocery stores, restaurants and other businesses in hopes of steering clear of COVID-19. Some restaurants in metro Atlanta have already been delivering alcoholic beverages with food orders during the pandemic. Harrell’s legislation, House Bill 879, passed his chamber before the General Assembly suspended the 2020 session in March because of the pandemic. When it returned earlier this month, he made passing the measure a priority. Under the delivery bill, beer or wine couldn’t just be left on the front porch like Amazon deliveries. The delivery person would have to check IDs to make sure the buyer is old enough to purchase alcohol. The measure would allow local municipalities to opt out of allowing alcoholic beverage delivery.  Whether restaurants could deliver would depend on local laws that govern their business. Not everyone likes the bill. While some liquor store owners told senators they wanted to be included in the delivery business, Stony McGill, a lobbyist for the Georgia Alcohol Dealers Association, said the 500 small stores he represents would be at a disadvantage because they are not set up with websites and a delivery system. Harrell’s original bill excluded liquor stores from being able to deliver liquor to customers, but Senate President Pro Tem Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, added them to the measure Monday, saying local retailers need help.  Religious groups have also traditionally opposed these kinds of bills. >>Read MORE on AJC.com.
  • State House and Senate leaders agreed Thursday on a final budget for the upcoming fiscal year that cuts $950 million in basic k-12 school funding but doesn’t force state agencies to furlough staffers. That is big news for tens of thousands of state workers, some of whom were expecting to have to take weeks off without getting paid. Whether there are still furloughs in the university system next year will be up to the Board of Regents. Budget writers also said most school systems have reserves and federal money to make up for state funding cuts. The $26 billion spending plan for fiscal 2021 - which begins Wednesday - cuts spending $2.2 billion to meet the expected decline in revenue due to the coronavirus pandemic recession. Read more on ajc.com.
  • A bill to improve staffing, training and accountability in Georgia’s senior care homes is headed to Gov. Brian Kemp after the House on Wednesday approved a Senate version of HB 987. The House unanimously signed off on the Senate’s version of the bill, which added requirements for handling COVID-19 to the bill’s reforms of the senior care industry. “I am so proud of Georgia’s House and Senate for making the necessary changes to ensure the safety of our seniors who choose to live in assisted living facilities,” said Rep. Sharon Cooper, R-Marietta, the lead sponsor of the bill. Kemp has said he strongly supports the legislation, which will bring dramatic changes to the state’s assisted living communities and large personal care homes. Memory care units would have to get certified and have more staff, directors would have to be licensed and homes that break the rules would face higher fines. Assisted living homes would be required to have nurse staffing. Homes would also have to disclose financial problems to residents and families. Plus, senior care homes must plan for a pandemic, have a short-term supply of personal protective gear, test residents and staff and notify residents and families of an outbreak. >>Read MORE on AJC.com.
  • State representatives demanded improvements in Georgia’s elections Tuesday as they confronted Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger with questions about what went wrong. Raffensperger acknowledged that long lines in Georgia’s June 9 primary were “unacceptable” but downplayed problems with the state’s new voting system. He said most difficulties in the election occurred in Fulton County, which had some of the most extreme wait times. The state Capitol hearing, part of an investigation ordered by Republican House Speaker David Ralston, came as legislators are seeking ways to avoid a repeat of three-hour waits, precinct closures and equipment difficulties during a high-turnout presidential election in November. “It’s not going to work and it’s not going to be good enough for you to just keep saying it’s in Fulton County and not my issue,” said state Rep. Renitta Shannon, a Democrat from Decatur. “What specific policies are you going to put in place?” Raffensperger, a Republican, responded that election officials need to add voting locations, improve hands-on training and encourage early voting. He said he’s reaching out to community groups such as Rotary Clubs, Boy Scouts and sororities to ask whether they can host precincts. “You need larger polling locations or you need more polling locations,” Raffensperger said. “The most important thing obviously is training, training and retraining, and having more technicians in there.” While voting problems were concentrated in Fulton County, voters reported delayed openings and long lines across other parts of the state, particularly in highly populated areas with many registered voters. Twenty counties held precincts open late on election night. Raffensperger said he plans to put a tech support expert in every voting location in November after poll workers struggled to set up voter check-in tablets, touchscreens and printers for the primary. Georgia’s $104 million voting system prints out paper ballots for the first time after 18 years of the state’s reliance on electronic voting. Just 14 pieces of voting equipment had to replaced for mechanical issues on election day, Raffensperger said. But that figure doesn’t account for the troubles poll workers faced logging into check-in tablets, encoding voter access cards and hooking up equipment correctly. It also omits voting machines taken out of service by poll workers who couldn’t get through for help on busy phone lines. Lawmakers are considering a bill pushed by Raffensperger that would force some changes in elections in time for November. >>Read MORE on AJC.com.
  • The Georgia Senate cleared legislation on Tuesday that would shield businesses and health care providers from lawsuits if workers or customers contract COVID-19 at their establishments.House Bill 167, passed on a largely party-line vote of 31-19, would limit legal liability for companies unless they engage in “gross negligence, willful and wanton misconduct or intentional infliction of harm.”